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Newsline - January 17, 2003


FOREIGN MINISTER DENOUNCES U.S. CRITICISM OF IRAQ INSPECTORS
Igor Ivanov has expressed Russia's concern over what it perceives as Washington's mistrust of the activities of UN weapons inspectors, ORT and other Russian news agencies reported on 16 January. Speaking to journalists following a meeting with his Italian counterpart Franco Frattini, with whom he discussed the Iraqi situation, Ivanov said Russia is worried by "the increasing pressure on the international inspectors and the heads of the inspection groups on the part of certain circles in Washington." "Some publications and official statements question the activities of international inspectors," Ivanov added. "Our duty is trust and support them." VY

PUTIN REVISES LIST OF TECHNOLOGIES BANNED FOR EXPORT
President Vladimir Putin has signed a decree that cuts back the list of nuclear technologies and equipment banned for export, ITAR-TASS reported on 15 January. An unidentified spokesman for the Atomic Energy Ministry told the news agency that restrictions on some unspecified dual-use technologies have been lifted because "they have become irrelevant for the security of the country and may be exported." International demand for Russian high technology has been growing in recent years. Putin's decree comes in the wake of reports that Russia will provide two nuclear reactors to Syria, reports that have been vigorously denied by the Foreign Ministry (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 15 and 16 January 2003). VY

COMMANDER HAILS NAVY'S RETURN TO OCEANS...
Fleet Admiral Vladimir Kuroedov, commander of the Russian Navy, has confirmed that "the 2003 military budget allows for the conduct of military exercises by all Russia's fleet commands," strana.ru reported on 16 January. Kuroedov stressed the importance of the Pacific Fleet exercises scheduled for later this year. He also said that no Russian ships will be sent to the Indian Ocean before the end of February (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 16 January 2003). Kuroedov's aide, Captain First Rank Igor Dygailo added that the navy's operations in the world's oceans -- rather than just in the seas near Russia's borders -- "is a normal activity for the realization of Russia's naval doctrine," the website reported. President Putin signed that doctrine in July 2001, and it calls for Russia's fleets to be present in all the world's oceans (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 30 and 31 July and 24 August 2001). Retired Colonel General Leonid Ivashov, a leading Russian military strategist, said he welcomes Russia's possible return to the Indian Ocean, strana.ru continued. Ivashov, known as a defense hardliner, said the navy should be present everywhere, especially in regions facing potential crises. VY

...AS GENERAL STAFF PREPARES CALL-UP DRILL
Lieutenant General Vasilii Smirnov, head of the General Staff's Main Mobilization Directorate, announced on 16 January that the Defense Ministry is ready to begin a short-warning drill in which two brigades of reservists will be called to active duty in a simulated emergency, strana.ru reported. The exact date of the drill is being kept secret even from the commanders of the country's military districts. Reserve soldiers and sergeants up to the age of 50 and officers up to the age of 65 will participate in the mock mobilization. VY

...AND GOVERNMENT BOOSTS DEFENSE ORDERS
Speaking to journalists after a cabinet meeting on 16 January, Deputy Economic Development and Trade Minister Vladislav Putilin announced that the government has decided to increase state defense purchases by 33 percent this year compared with 2002, nns.ru reported. Sixty percent of the 2003 military budget, or 109.8 billion rubles ($3.41 billion), has been allocated for procurements, Putilin said. Putilin, who formerly served in the Defense Ministry as the head of the General Staff's Mobilization Department, was appointed to the Economic Trade and Development Ministry in July despite the fact he has no background in economics (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 11 July 2002). To prevent the misuse of funds, the government has ordered that all procurements be conducted without intermediaries, Putilin added. He also said the military will get about 200 new types of equipment in 2003, with special attention paid to antiterrorism equipment. VY

RUSSIAN PRESIDENTIAL AIDE SAYS PANKISI STILL A PROBLEM
Presidential aide Sergei Yastrzhembskii told journalists in Moscow on 16 January that Georgia's Pankisi Gorge "remains an international problem that requires permanent attention" despite the large-scale Georgian police operation conducted there last fall, Russian news agencies reported. Georgian officials have repeatedly claimed over the past two months that there are no longer any Chechen militants encamped in the gorge. On 17 January, the "Financial Times" quoted Georgian National Security Minister Valeri Khaburzania as saying that up to 800 Arabs and Chechens were allowed to leave the gorge "without bloodshed" during the operation last year. The paper also quoted unnamed Western intelligence and security officials as saying that Muslim militants who developed chemical weapons, including ricin, at camps in the Caucasus are now moving via Turkey into Western Europe. LF

FSB PREVENTS TWO MOSCOW CAR-BOMB BLASTS...
Officers of the Moscow Directorate of the Federal Security Service (FSB) found two cars containing plastic explosives in a Moscow garage, Russian news agencies reported on 16 January. One of the bombs was built into the car's gasoline tank, while the other was in the trunk of the other car. Both devices also included metal balls intended to increase damage and casualties from the explosions, the FSB's press service reported. The explosives were disarmed without causing any injuries, and the agency is investigating the owners of the garage and the cars. VY

...AS MAYOR, FSB WARN ABOUT POSSIBLE TERRORIST ACTS IN MOSCOW
Moscow Mayor Yurii Luzhkov announced on 16 January that he intends to introduce additional security precautions against possible terrorist attacks in Moscow, TV-Tsentr reported. The measure will include developing sources of information within "terrorist and criminal groups," Luzhkov said. Lieutenant General Viktor Zakharov, head of the FSB's Moscow Directorate, told a meeting of the city administration on 14 January that Interpol has provided information indicating that Chechen field commander Shamil Basaev is planning a terrorist act in the capital (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 15 January 2003). Zakharov noted that Basaev has taken responsibility for the 23-26 October hostage taking at a Moscow theater that took the lives of 129 civilians, most of whom were killed from the effects of the sleeping gas used by security forces during the storming of the building. VY

FISHERIES HEAD ISSUES FISHY QUOTAS...
The State Fisheries Committee has assigned 50 percent of the national fish quota for 2003 to Primorskii Krai, while Khabarovsk Krai and Magadan Oblast were together allotted just 10 percent, despite the fact that their combined shoreline is four times longer than that of Primorskii Krai, presscenter.ru reported on 16 January, citing RIA-Novosti. An unidentified federal official told the news agency the unusual quota distribution stemmed from the personal interests of the committee's chairman, Yevgenii Nazdratenko, a former Primorskii Krai governor whose relatives work in the krai's fishing industry. "Kommersant-Daily" speculated the same day that it is unlikely the news item appeared without the approval of Prime Minister Mikhail Kasyanov. The daily noted that Nazdratenko was appointed to his job by President Putin and not by Prime Minister Kasyanov, who had his own person in mind for the position (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 26 February and 1 March 2001). JAC

...AS FAR EAST FISHERMEN UP IN ARMS...
The unidentified government source cited by RIA-Novosti also commented that the fishing sector in Primorskii Krai is one of the country's most criminalized and said an estimated $2 billion worth of fish is sold illegally to Japan each year. According to "Kommersant-Daily," Japanese media have reported that Japanese companies have paid some $10 million in bribes to the State Fisheries Committee for rights to fish in Russian waters. On 8 January, TVS reported that an announcement earlier in the month that the krai's fishing quotas would be cut by 30 percent triggered protests from the Primorskii Krai administration and the local fishermen's trade union. Sergei Soloviev, deputy chair of the krai's union, said President Putin has apparently reneged on a promise made to local fishermen to give them preferential treatment. JAC

...AND OCTOBER ASSASSINATION OF FAR EAST GOVERNOR LINKED TO QUOTAS
The unidentified government source also told RIA-Novosti that former Magadan Oblast Valentin Tsvetkov was one of the initiators of a protest by Khabarovsk and Magadan against the fishing-quota allocations prior to his murder in Moscow in October. At the time of the murder, some analysts speculated he had been trying to determine what happened to a $75 million credit granted to Magadan Oblast by the federal government (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 22 October 2002). JAC

IS RULING A BLOW TO MOSCOW MAYOR?
The Moscow City Court ruled on 16 January that a provision of the Moscow Charter allowing the election of the city's deputy mayor at the same time as the mayor is contradicts federal law and is therefore invalid, Interfax and TV-Tsentr reported. A lawyer for the city government, Pavel Astakhov, said the decision will be appealed all the way to the Supreme Court. Analyst Yevgenii Razin writing on politcom.ru concluded that the court's decision, if upheld, will be a significant blow to Luzhkov, since the current system "gives Luzhkov a wonderful opportunity to prepare his successor for the 2007 elections." The court's ruling would mean that if Luzhkov tried to resign just before his term expired in 2007, the functions of his office would not be transferred automatically to the deputy mayor, but a new mayor would be appointed. The Kremlin would indubitably participate actively in such an appointment. Razin also noted that Luzhkov faces a new election in 2003, but his victory in that race is virtually assured. The current deputy mayor is Valerii Shantsev. JAC

SPY OR BRIDEGROOM: TOMSK OFFICIALDOM DOESN'T WANT TO WAIT TO FIND OUT
David Richardson, a U.S. citizen and former intelligence worker, has been fired from the faculty of the Tomsk Polytechnic University for absenteeism, Interfax reported on 16 January. In November and December, Richardson reportedly missed 22 of the 32 hours of English-language classes he taught without a valid reason. According to the agency, Richardson has more than 10 years experience in radio intelligence in the United States and "participated in U.S. special services' operations against the Soviet Army in Germany, Afghanistan, and Indochina." The 45-year-old Richardson came to Tomsk in the middle of 2002 to marry an employee of the Tomsk Oblast Duma with whom he had corresponded by electronic mail for more than a year. The ceremony is scheduled for 21 January. The would-be groom is currently in Vilnius waiting to get a new visa, according to the agency. Interfax also noted that there is one other teacher of English at the university, identified as Tim Estes, who earlier worked for 15 years as a police detective in Nebraska. JAC

NEW LEFT PARTY WANTS TO REUNITE RUSSIA, BELARUS, AND UKRAINE
A new coalition of national "patriotic" parties has emerged called the Union for Our Fatherland, Interfax reported on 16 January. The organization comprises the People's Will Party of National Revival, Russia's Union of Patriotic and National Organizations, Russia's Slavic Party, the Great Brotherhood of Cossack Troops, For Holy Rus, and other movements. Nina Zhukova, deputy head of the People's Will Party of National Revival, said among the goals of the new public organization are "reuniting Russia, Belarus, and Ukraine and improving Russia's internal and external security." Zhukova is the former head of the Union of Realists. JAC

NEW PROTESTS AGAINST UTILITY-RATES HIKES
More than 1,500 people participated on 16 January in a protest in the Nizhnii Novgorod Oblast town of Balakhna against a planned hike in utility rates, NTV reported. The picketers are calling the pending rates extortionate. On 1 January, the city duma decided to make a transition to the federal standard of requiring residents to pay 90 percent of the cost of housing and communal services. The current local standard is 62 percent, RosBalt reported on 15 January. The city administration believes the switch to the new system will bring more than 900 million rubles ($28 million) a year into the city budget. Last spring, thousands of residents of Voronezh took to the streets to protest a planned reform of the local housing and communal services sector (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 14 and 16 April 2002). Municipal workers in Petropavlovsk-Kamchatskii went on strike for more than five weeks this winter to protest against similar reforms (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 8 and 16 December 2002 and 6 January 2003). JAC

PERM GETS ANOTHER VOTE OF APPROVAL
Union of Journalists head Vsevolod Bogdanov reconfirmed on 16 January that the local authorities in Perm Oblast do not own the mass-media outlets, making it the only region in Russia where this is true, regions.ru reported on 16 January, citing Region-Inform-Perm. When the governor does not have his own newspaper, this is a luxury, Bogdanov said. "This means that the governor is sure of himself and does not need the artificial support of administered media," he added. Earlier, Perm Oblast was named the most democratic region of Russia based on a variety of different measures in a multi-year study carried out by Nikolai Petrov, formerly of the Carnegie Moscow Center (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 17 October 2002). In November, local agents of the FSB in Perm searched the offices of the independent regional newspaper "Zvezda" and confiscated documents and computers (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 15 November 2002). At the time, the head of the local branch of the Union of Journalists said the search was most likely prompted by the newspaper's investigations of local criminal groups. JAC

OPPOSITION IN KALUGA CLEARS OUT
Kaluga Oblast Governor Anatolii Artamonov lost his chief political opponent this week when the head of the Kaluga branch of Sberbank, Aleksei Demichev, resigned his post, regions.ru reported on 16 January. The report did not say why Demichev resigned or what his plans are. Demichev ran against Artamonov in the 2000 gubernatorial elections. After his loss in that race, according to the website, Sberbank began to "sponsor" the local newspaper "Kaluzhskie gubernskie vedomosti," which regularly criticized Artamonov and his policies. JAC

CHECHEN PREMIER REPRIMANDED
Upon his return from Moscow to Grozny, Chechen administration head Akhmed-hadji Kadyrov issued a decree on 16 January reprimanding Chechen Prime Minister Mikhail Babich for "violating labor discipline" by ignoring Kadyrov's appointment of a new Chechen finance minister and naming his own candidate to that post, Interfax reported (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 14 and 15 January 2003). In Moscow, Russian presidential aide Yastrzhembskii said it is "inadmissible" for Kadyrov and Babich to engage in public arguments over personnel questions, Interfax reported Yastrzhembskii added that Russian presidential envoy to the Southern Federal District Viktor Kazantsev has been tasked with reconciling the two men. "Trud" on 17 January quoted Kazantsev as downplaying the incident, which he attributed to "poor coordination." LF

EUROPEAN COURT TO ADDRESS ALLEGED RUSSIAN ABUSES IN CHECHNYA
The European Court for Human Rights agreed on 16 January to hear the cases of six Chechens who claim their relatives were tortured or killed by Russian troops in 1999-2000, AP and the "Financial Times" reported. The court rejected the Russian government's argument that the plaintiffs have not exhausted all possibilities to address their grievances offered by the Russian legal system. Russian human rights ombudsman for Chechnya Abdul-Khakim Sultygov rejected the court's decision as an attempt to exert pressure on Moscow on the eve of the Parliamentary Assembly of the Council of Europe (PACE) session that is to focus on Chechnya, Interfax reported. But Russian Human Rights ombudsman Oleg Mironov commented that "all citizens of Russia, including those of Chechnya, have the right to appeal to the European Court" and that Moscow will regard that court's ruling as binding, Interfax reported. LF

CHECHEN DRAFT CONSTITUTION SUBMITTED TO PACE
The Chechen authorities have submitted the republic's new draft constitution to PACE Secretary-General Bruno Haller, Russian news agencies reported on 16 January. The draft is to be put to a referendum on 23 March. Chechen Central Election Commission Chairman Abdul-Kerin Arsakhanov said on 16 January that mobile polling stations will be set up in five displaced-persons' camps in Ingushetia to enable the Chechen residents of those camps to vote in the referendum. LF

CHECHEN FIELD COMMANDER SENTENCED FOR ATTACKS IN DAGHESTAN
Acceding to the prosecutor's request, the Criminal Cases Collegium of Daghestan's Supreme Court sentenced Chechen field commander Zaur Akavov to life imprisonment on 16 January, Interfax reported. Akavov and his six subordinates were found guilty of committing 13 terrorist acts in Daghestan between August 2001 and February 2002, including the bombing of a Russian military vehicle in January 2002 in which seven servicemen died (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 22 January 2002). The other six men received prison terms ranging from seven to 22 years. LF

ARMENIAN OPPOSITION ACCUSES PRESIDENT OF ELECTION IRREGULARITIES
In three separate statements released in Yerevan on 16 January, the 16 Armenian opposition parties that aligned in late August 2002 to coordinate tactics in the run-up to the February presidential poll accused President Robert Kocharian of resorting to illegal means to ensure his reelection, RFE/RL's Yerevan bureau reported. Specifically, they charged that Kocharian is exerting "strong pressure" on the Central Election Commission and that state-controlled media are "glorifying" the president before the official start of the election campaign. They also claimed that Defense Minister Serzh Sarkisian, who is Kocharian's campaign manager, has instructed the security apparatus to take whatever steps are necessary to ensure that Kocharian is reelected. LF

ARMENIAN PRESIDENT ASSESSES RELATIONS WITH RUSSIA...
During an address to the Russian Foreign Ministry's Diplomatic Academy on 16 January, the first day of his three-day visit to Moscow, President Kocharian noted the success of efforts in recent years to raise bilateral economic cooperation to the level of the two countries' close political and military ties, Noyan Tapan reported. But he acknowledged that closer bilateral economic ties are contingent on resuming rail communication between the two countries. He noted that while Russia is the single largest investor in the Armenian economy, the EU is Armenia's largest trading partner. Kocharian reaffirmed Armenia's commitment to regional cooperation in the South Caucasus and to consultations among Russia and the three South Caucasus states. He lauded Russia's efforts to promote stability in the region. LF

...REAFFIRMS COMMITMENT TO PEACEFUL SOLUTION TO KARABAKH CONFLICT
President Kocharian also stated during his 16 January address that Yerevan remains committed to a peaceful solution to the Karabakh conflict and that his meetings in recent years with his Azerbaijani counterpart Heidar Aliev, together with the mediation of the Russian, French, and U.S. co-chairs of the OSCE Minsk Group, are contributing to such a solution. But at the same time, he argued that the pogroms against Armenians in Azerbaijan in 1988 and 1990 testify to "ethnic incompatibility" and show it is impossible for the Armenian population of Karabakh to live within an Azerbaijani state. Kocharian also warned Turkey against compounding the strains in relations with Armenia by siding overtly with Azerbaijan over Karabakh. LF

AZERBAIJANI PRESIDENT QUESTIONS RATIONALE FOR CIS SUMMIT
Meeting in Baku on 16 January with CIS Executive Committee Chairman Yurii Yarov, who is touring CIS capitals in the run-up to the informal CIS summit in Ivano-Frankivsk, Ukraine, on 28-29 January, President Aliev asked what the point of that meeting is meant to be, Turan reported. It was not clear whether Aliev will attend the gathering. LF

AZERBAIJANI VILLAGERS APPEAL TO OMBUDSMAN
Residents of the village of Nardaran have appealed to ombudsman Elmira Suleymanova to monitor the ongoing trial of 18 fellow villagers on charges resulting from the violent clashes in early June 2002 between villagers and police, Turan reported on 16 January (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 9 January 2003). They complained that no residents were questioned during the preliminary investigation into the clashes. LF

GEORGIAN OFFICIALS STEP UP PRESSURE ON MOSCOW OVER ABKHAZ RAIL LINK
Russian news agencies on 16 January quoted Georgian Transport Minister Merab Adeishvili as warning that Georgia might block access to and communications with Russian military bases in Georgia unless Moscow suspends the rail communication resumed last month between the Black Sea city of Sochi and the Abkhaz capital, Sukhum. During talks in Moscow on 14-15 January, Russian Transport Ministry officials told Adeishvili that a commercial company is responsible for operating the railway (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 16 January 2003). Also on 16 January, Georgia's Ambassador to Russia Zurab Abashidze conveyed a formal protest to Russian First Deputy Foreign Minister Valerii Loshchinin in connection with the rail link, Caucasus Press reported. Loshchinin argued that boosting economic ties between Abkhazia and Tbilisi would be beneficial for the entire South Caucasus. LF

GEORGIA PROPOSES EU APPOINT ENVOY FOR SOUTH CAUCASUS
Georgia hopes the EU will appoint a special representative for the South Caucasus who will be tasked with mediating the region's conflicts, Interfax quoted Georgian Deputy Foreign Minister Kakha Sikharulidze as saying on 16 January. LF

BP EXECUTIVE ASSESSES POLITICAL SITUATION IN GEORGIA
John Herson, who is a political adviser to British Petroleum, the operator of the planned Baku-Tbilisi-Ceyhan export pipeline for Caspian Sea oil, is currently in Georgia assessing the political and situation there and the steps being taken by the Georgian authorities to ensure the security of the pipeline, Interfax and Caucasus Press reported on 16 January. Caucasus Press quoted Georgian Minister of State Avtandil Djorbenadze as having asked Herson to lobby on behalf of Georgia's efforts to join NATO. Djorbenadze reportedly said BP has enough political influence to undertake such a lobbying effort. LF

KAZAKH OPPOSITION SEEKS TO CIRCUMVENT LEGAL PRESSURE
In a 9 January statement posted on the website forumkz.org, the heads of nine Kazakh NGOs and two independent publications, all of them members of the opposition Republican People's Party of Kazakhstan (RNPK), announced the creation of a new Republican Independent Political Club. The Russian acronym for that organization is likewise RNPK. They pointed out that under the draconian new law on political parties, the Republican People's Party of Kazakhstan's regional branches will be liquidated as of 23 January and that the new club is intended to create an alternative forum for political cooperation. They note that the creation of clubs is permitted under Article 23 of Kazakhstan's constitution. The statement stressed the readiness of the club's founders to cooperate with all other democratic-opposition movements and groups. The founders unanimously elected as the club's chairman exiled former Premier and Republican People's Party of Kazakhstan leader Akezhan Kazhegeldin. LF

KAZAKHSTAN TO APPEAL TO U.S. TO RELEASE GUANTANAMO DETAINEES
The Kazakh leadership will ask Washington to release two young Kazakh citizens detained at the U.S. military base at Guantanamo, Cuba, First Deputy Foreign Minister Kairat Abuseitov told Interfax on 16 January. He said Kazakh security officials have questioned the two men, who deny participating in any military operations in Afghanistan or having any connections with Al-Qaeda. LF

MORE KYRGYZ GROUPS EXPRESS OPPOSITION TO PLANNED REFERENDUM...
Representatives of 11 political parties and seven NGOs issued a statement in Bishkek on 16 January criticizing the amended constitution that is to be put to a national referendum on 2 February, akipress.org and RFE/RL's Kyrgyz Service reported. They pointed out that in violation of assurances given by President Askar Akaev, the main changes agreed on by the Constitutional Council have been removed by an experts' group created by Akaev earlier this month. Specifically, they objected to the abolition of party-list voting in parliamentary elections and of the public's right to appeal to the Constitutional Court. They demanded that the referendum be postponed and that the draft constitution be altered to keep the number of parliament deputies at 90, of whom 45 would be elected from party lists, akipress.org reported. LF

...AS PARLIAMENT CALLS FOR ITS POSTPONEMENT
Also on 16 January, the lower chamber of the Kyrgyz legislature discussed a resolution proposed by opposition deputy Ishenbai Kadyrbekov that requests President Akaev to postpone the planned referendum until parliament adopts a law on the conduct of referendums, akipress.org and RFE/RL's Kyrgyz Service reported. The chamber also proposed its own amendments to the new amended draft, in particular cutting the article empowering the government to impose temporary new taxes. Kadyrbekov argued that article would serve to deter investors. Deputies also called for restoring citizens' right to appeal to the Constitutional Court. LF

TAJIK SENTENCED FOR MURDER OF MEDIA HEAD
The Dushanbe City Court sentenced 27-year-old Rakhim Qalandarov to death following his conviction on charges of the May 2000 murder of Tajik State Committee for TV and Radio Chairman Saifullo Rakhimov, ITAR-TASS reported on 16 January (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 22 May 2000). Qalandarov was arrested several days after the murder but was subsequently convicted only of illegal weapons possession, for which he served an 18-month prison term. He was rearrested after his release, according to Asia Plus-Blitz on 17 January. Qalandarov pleaded not guilty to the murder, claiming that he initially confessed only under police pressure in order to ensure that "he stayed alive until the trial," Asia Plus-Blitz reported. He said he plans to appeal to the Supreme Court. LF

RUSSIA PLEDGES TO DEFEND ITS CITIZENS IN TURKMENISTAN
Russian presidential aide Sergei Yastrzhembskii told journalists in Moscow on 16 January that the Russian government will "aggressively defend" any Russian citizens, including journalists, who face persecution in Turkmenistan, Russian news agencies reported. Five Russian citizens are among a group of 32 people currently on trial in Ashgabat on charges of participating in the alleged 25 November attempt to assassinate President Saparmurat Niyazov. On 17 January, Turkmen state media published the text of a resolution adopted on 30 December by the People's Council (parliament) branding as traitors the three putative organizers of the assassination attempt, former Foreign Minister Boris Shikhmuradov, former Ambassador to Turkey Nurmukhammed Khanamov, and former Deputy Prime Minister Khudaiberdy Orazov, turkmenistan.ru reported. LF

BELARUSIAN OPPOSITION GROUP COMPLAINS TO RUSSIA OF ABUSES
The United Civic Party (AHP) has filed two appeals with Russian Embassy in Minsk aimed at drawing Russian attention to human-rights abuses in neighboring Belarus, Belapan reported on 16 January. The group is seeking to draw Russian President Vladimir Putin's attention to the Belarusian government's suppression of free speech and to disappearances of President Alyaksandr Lukashenka's opponents. Putin is scheduled to arrive in Minsk on 19 January for a two-day visit. "Belarus is the only European country in which political censorship, information blockade, and purges in the information sector are part of the state policy," the AHP said in one of the statements. The AHP also urged Putin to "make an effort to prevent the ousting of Russian media outlets from the Belarusian information sector as sources of alternative information." JM

BELARUSIAN JOURNALISTS SACKED FROM TRADE-UNION NEWSPAPER
The leadership of the Federation of Trade Unions of Belarus (FPB) has sacked six journalists from its "Belaruski Chas" publication in a move condemned as politically motivated by the Belarusian PEN Center, Belapan reported on 15 January. The dismissal came five months after FPB Chairman Leanid Kozik sacked "Belaruski Chas" Editor in Chief Alyaksandr Starykevich, saying he can only work with a newspaper that shares his views. "The dismissal of the six journalists eliminated the independent trade-union press in Belarus," Mikhail Pastukhou of the Belarusian Association of Journalists said. Meanwhile, "Belaruski Chas" Editor in Chief Svyatlana Balashova told "Belorusskaya delovaya gazeta" of 16 January that her decision to lay off the six journalists was motivated by the need to trim expenses. "We had an excessively large staff for a weekly. Having correspondents in every region, it was inexpedient to keep so many journalists in Minsk," Balashova added. JM

RUSSIA-BELARUS UNION APPROVES 2003 BUDGET
On 16 January in Moscow, the Parliamentary Assembly of the Russia-Belarus Union approved a union budget for 2003 totaling 2.4 billion Russian rubles ($75 million), of which Russia is expected to provide 1.53 billion and Belarus 82O million rubles, ITAR-TASS reported, quoting the union's executive secretary, Pavel Borodin. The two countries have earmarked funds for 36 union programs, including reinforcement of the union's external border, protection of common information resources, training of Belarusian servicemen at Russian military schools, and development of railways. Borodin told journalists that the Russia-Belarus Union has been developing along the same lines as the European Union. Borodin said the EU has picked up a great deal from the former USSR -- in particular, common citizenship, customs, and currency, as well as unified financial and tax policies. "Now we are about to borrow those main principles back. The fundamentals of the Soviet Union may prove very helpful in creating our union state," Borodin noted. JM

UKRAINIAN BECOMES VICE CHAIRMAN OF UN BODY
Permanent Representative of Ukraine to the United Nations Valeriy Kuchynskyy on 15 January was appointed vice chairman of the UN Economic and Social Council, Interfax and UNIAN reported on 16 January. JM

UKRAINIAN AIRLINE RESUMES FLIGHTS TO NORTH AMERICA
Ukrainian airline Aerosvit is resuming routes between Ukraine and North America after a four-year break, Interfax reported on 16 January, quoting Aerosvit General Director Hryhoriy Hurtovyy. The relaunch of weekend Boeing 767 flights is scheduled for 30 March. Hurtovyy added that Aerosvit will begin another trans-Atlantic route linking Kyiv with Toronto in May. JM

UKRAINIAN BOY SUES SCHOOL OVER SOVIET TRADITION OF 'EXPLOITATION'
A Ukrainian boy has taken his school to court for exploiting children after he was made to adhere to the Soviet practice of sweeping schoolyards and cleaning school buildings to instill the work ethic, Reuters reported on 16 January, quoting Interfax. The boy's father said his son came home dirty and complained about feeling humiliated by teachers who made him clean the schoolyard instead of going to physical education or art classes. A court in the Dnipropetrovsk Oblast said it will investigate the unprecedented case and then decide whether to pursue it. JM

NATO PRAISES ESTONIAN PREPARATIONS FOR MEMBERSHIP
NATO negotiators consider Estonia "a well-prepared candidate" to join the Atlantic military alliance, Estonian delegation head Ambassador Juri Luik said after the second round of NATO membership talks in Brussels on 16 January, ETA reported. The talks focused primarily on financial and legal issues. Estonia confirmed that 2 percent of its GDP will be allocated for defense expenditures. In regard to legal issues, the delegations discussed the roughly 10 international agreements and other documents that Estonia will accede to when joining NATO. Estonia also pledged to create the required legal basis for information protection and security as quickly as possible. The accession talks are expected to be completed at the end of March with the signing of the accession protocols. SG

ELEVEN PARTIES, NEARLY 1,000 CANDIDATES TO COMPETE IN ESTONIAN ELECTIONS
The Estonian Central Election Commission announced on 16 January that 11 political parties have registered 947 candidates for the 2 March parliamentary elections, with another 16 individuals running independently, ETA reported. Lists with the maximum 125 names were submitted by the Center, Reform, and Moderate parties, the People's Union, Pro Patria Union, and Res Publica. The United Russian People's Party expects to field 106 candidates, the Independence Party 37, the Christian People's Party 30, and the Social Democratic Labor Party and Russian Party in Estonia 12 candidates each. SG

LATVIAN PARLIAMENT REJECTS PUBLIC HOLIDAY FOR RUSSIAN ORTHODOX CHRISTMAS
A legislative vote fell short of the absolute majority required for approval of a bill aimed at making Russian Orthodox Christmas a public holiday, LETA reported. Lawmakers voted 39 to zero with 54 abstentions in favor of a state holiday on 7 January, which marks Christmas according to the Julian calendar. Fifty-one votes were required in the 100-seat chamber. The chairman of Latvia's First Party (LPP), Eriks Jekabsons, presented the bill and called for its passage as a sign of respect to the 360,000 Russian Orthodox Christians in Latvia. The bill was also supported by the leftist opposition party For Human Rights in a United Latvia (PCTVL). Deputy Aleksandrs Kirsteins of the People's Party said his party supports celebrating Orthodox Christmas in "the modern way" -- according to the Gregorian calendar, on 25 December -- similar to the date observed in Greece and Romania. He said tsarist Russia forced Latvia to return to the Julian calendar, adding that other holidays, including New Year's, would have to be celebrated twice if the country acknowledges it. SG

FORMER LATVIAN PREMIER WITHDRAWS FROM POLITICS
Parliament deputy Andris Skele, who served as Latvia's prime minister three times and was the founder and former leader of the liberal People's Party, announced to parliament on 16 January, his 45th birthday, that he is giving up his legislative seat and withdrawing from active political life, LETA reported. The announcement was not a complete surprise, since Skele did not seek re-election as People's Party chairman in November. He later hinted that he might withdraw from politics, as his participation was a factor in the party not being invited to the ruling center-right coalition -- even though it placed third with 21 seats. His parliamentary seat was taken over by the mayor of the northeastern city of Valmiera, Maris Kucinskis, who was sworn in after Skele's announcement. SG

LITHUANIAN SEAPORT SUSPENDS OPERATIONS
Strong winds and ice drifts at the port of Klaipeda halted operations in mid-afternoon on 16 January, BNS reported. An unloaded refrigerated freighter that tried to leave port earlier in the day was soon icebound, and it took several hours to free the vessel and tow it back to port. Ilona Kabosyte of the Marine Information Center noted that such closings are very rare, the last such occasion coming 10 years ago. The port resumed partial operations the next day, allowing large ferries and other ships with adequate-capacity engines to enter and leave the facility. SG

POLISH RIGHT-WING CATHOLIC PARTY TO STEP UP ANTI-EU CAMPAIGN
Roman Giertych, the leader of the fiercely anti-EU League of Polish Families (LPR), told journalists on 16 January that his party wants to mobilize 200,000 people for a campaign to persuade Poles to say "no" to EU integration in a referendum expected in June, PAP reported. Giertych said the LPR wants to conduct its anti-EU campaign in "every village and block of flats in the entire country." A CBOS poll in early January found that 63 percent of respondents want to take part in the EU referendum, and 74 percent of those Poles said they are in favor of EU entry. JM

POLISH GOVERNMENT TRIES TO CURB REGIONAL DISPARITIES
Leszek Miller's cabinet on 16 January adopted a National Development Plan for 2004-06 to prevent the development gap between eastern and western Poland from growing, PAP reported. "We have no special financial scheme for our eastern territories, but National Development Plan funds will be distributed in such a way as to prevent regional discrepancies from increasing," Deputy Economy and Labor Minister Ewa Freyberg said. She added that the funds will be distributed proportionally to a given area's population, per capita income, and unemployment. Last week, the weekly "Polityka" published a map showing that present-day Poland's wealthiest areas essentially overlap with territories administered by Prussia and Austro-Hungary in the 19th century, whereas the poorest areas are located in the territory administered formerly by the Russian Empire. JM

CZECH LAWMAKERS CLEAR ARMY PARTICIPATION IN IRAQ
Both houses of the Czech legislature have approved a government decision conditionally to allow Czech participation in military action against Iraq, CTK and international news agencies reported on 16 and 17 January (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 14 January 2003). Seventy of 76 senators present on 16 January backed the Social Democratic Party-led government in the vote, while three rejected the proposal and three others abstained. In voting the following day, the Chamber of Deputies approved the decision by a vote of 144 in favor and 43 against, according to dpa. The possible deployment would include an esteemed Czech antichemical- and antibiological-warfare unit under the terms of the motion. Defense Minister Jaroslav Tvrdik on 16 January told legislators that the Czech Republic has offered to send a team of experts to join the UN arms inspectors who are currently in Iraq, according to AFP. Speaking to the lower house's Defense and Security Committee, he said around 15 military doctors, biologists, and chemical-protection experts could be dispatched to the UN inspection team searching for weapons of mass destruction in Iraq. MS

...AS CZECH DEFENSE MINISTER SAYS IRAQI AGENTS SURVEILLED HIM
Tvrdik told the Chamber of Deputies on 16 January that Czech intelligence reports indicate he was under surveillance for about two months by "persons from the underworld with contacts with the regime in Baghdad," CTK reported. He did not say when the alleged monitoring took place. Tvrdik's statement came during a plea in support of the government's Iraq request (see item above). He said security for himself and his family was stepped up after hints that they might be in danger, the news agency added. "If this country participates in a possible conflict, I and my family will be under threat," Tvrdik said, according to AFP. MS

FORMER CZECH PREMIER'S PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDACY GAINING MOMENTUM?
Opponents of former Prime Minister Milos Zeman within his own Social Democratic Party (CSSD) were reported by CTK on 16 January to have given up their opposition to his nomination as the party's presidential candidate. The party's candidate on 15 January, Jaroslav Bures, failed to advance to the second round (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 15 and 16 January 2003). Zeman's opponents now believe he will likewise lose in his presidential bid and thus help clear the air within the divided party, according to deputy Michal Kraus. Prime Minister Vladimir Spidla, who according to a "Pravo" report on 16 January is encouraging a bid by former Interior Minister Vaclav Grulich, refused to comment, however. MS

CZECH COMMUNISTS ANGLE FOR ROLE OF KINGMAKER...
Communist Party of Bohemia and Moravia (KSCM) Chairman Miroslav Grebenicek told journalists on 16 January that if Zeman is nominated by the CSSD, he has "a good chance of getting our support," CTK reported. Grebenicek said that despite opposition from CSSD politicians, he and Zeman used to meet regularly during Zeman's 1998-2000 tenure as premier. However, Grebenicek said he is also ready to enter negotiations on possible support for likely Civic Democratic Party (ODS) candidate and former Premier Vaclav Klaus. Grebenicek added that the KSCM does not intend to field a candidate of its own in the legislature's second attempt to elect a president. A dpa analysis on 16 January concluded that the KSCM played a key role in the failure to elect a president, with many of its representatives in the two chambers refusing to back either Klaus or Petr Pithart, the candidate of the Christian Democratic Union-People's Party (KDU-CSL). The report cited Freedom Union-Democratic Union (US-DEU) Senate Deputy Chairman Jan Ruml as saying that after the inconclusive election, the KSCM has "taken us hostage." MS

...AS JUNIOR COALITION PARTNERS RESURRECT IDEA OF DIRECT PRESIDENTIAL ELECTION
Representatives of the two junior coalition partners, the KDU-CSL and the US-DEU, are reconsidering the idea of a constitutional amendment that would introduce direct presidential elections, CTK reported on 16 January. KDU-CSL Chairman Cyril Svoboda said a second presidential vote in parliament might "end just as badly as the first, regardless of who runs." CTK also reported that the KDU-CSL might abandon the candidacy of Senate President Petr Pithart despite his having advanced to the second and third rounds of the first vote because the party believes a confrontation between Klaus and Zeman in a new, three-round parliamentary vote is unavoidable. MS

SLOVAK FOREIGN MINISTER'S PRESIDENTIAL BID CONFIRMED
Prime Minister Mikulas Dzurinda on 16 January confirmed that his Slovak Democratic and Christian Union (SDKU) intends to field Foreign Minister Eduard Kukan as its presidential candidate in 2004, CTK reported (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 16 January 2003). Dzurinda said he does not doubt that Kukan, who is backed by the SDKU leadership, would win a party primary for the nomination. He added that he hopes the SDKU's coalition partners will also back Kukan. However, Alliance for a New Citizen (ANO) Deputy Chairman Lubomir Lintner criticized Dzurinda for announcing Kukan's candidacy without consulting with coalition partners, TASR reported. He said ANO considers it "premature" to discuss whom the coalition will back, as President Rudolf Schuster has more than a year left in office before the May 2004 elections. Schuster spokesman Jan Fule said the president will announce whether he intends to seek a second term "as soon as he considers it appropriate." MS

SLOVAKIA 'INCLINED TO SUPPORT' MILITARY OPERATION AGAINST IRAQ
Foreign Ministry spokesman Boris Gandel said on 16 January that Slovakia is "inclined to support" a possible military operation against Iraq, but an official position on the matter has yet to be expressed by either the cabinet or the parliament, CTK reported. Gandel said that so far the United States has not asked Slovakia to take an official stand. However, he added, Slovakia, "a potential NATO member" asked to join at November's NATO summit, will under all circumstances "behave responsibly, as it has done in the past." MS

SLOVAK INTELLIGENCE SERVICE FILES COMPLAINT AGAINST BRITISH JOURNAL
The Slovak Intelligence Service (SIS) on 16 January filed a complaint with the Prosecutor-General's Office against "Jane's Intelligence Digest," TASR reported. The journal is accused of "spreading false information" about the activities of the SIS and of defamation of the Slovak state. The complaint follows the publication of an article claiming illegalities continue under SIS Director Vladimir Mitro, just as under the tenure of former Director Ivan Lexa (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 16 January 2003). MS

SLOVAK PRIVATIZATION AGENCY MEMBERS APPOINTED
New members of the management and the supervisory board of the Slovak Privatization Agency (FNM) were appointed on 16 January by Jan Rusnak, chairman of parliament's Committee for the Economy, Privatization, and Commerce, TASR reported. Parliament one day earlier elected the FNM management, replacing six of its members. Daniel Vegh, a banking expert, was appointed chairman of the FNM's executive committee, while the opposition Movement for a Democratic Slovakia's Marta Lobotkova was appointed chairwoman of the FNM's seven-member supervisory board. She noted that this is the first time the position has been held by a member of the opposition. FNM President Jozef Kojda was reappointed to his position. MS

NEW SLOVAK TV CHIEF FIRES DEPUTIES
Richard Rybnicek, the recently appointed new director of Slovak Television, on 16 January dismissed Deputy Directors Jozef Filo and Jozef Mracna, to whom former Director Milan Materak delegated authority after his dismissal in August, TASR reported. MS

UN REPORT CRITICIZES ROMANY LOT IN CENTRAL EUROPE
A report issued on 16 January by the United Nations Development Program (UNDP) said living conditions for Romany minorities in Bulgaria, the Czech Republic, Hungary, Slovakia, and Romania are more similar to those in Africa than Europe, TASR and AFP reported. Based on a survey among the Romany population in the five countries, the report called for positive discrimination by those governments in order to "promote active participation and opportunities for Roma to solve their problems regarding education, employment and political participation." UNDP Director for Europe and CIS Kalman Mizsei told journalists in Brussels that the situation of the Roma has worsened in the region since the fall of communism 12 years ago. Only 8 percent of 5,000 Romany respondents said their living standards rose after 1989. "Africa has been created inside Europe," Mizsei said, adding, "The figures for Roma polled [in the five countries] compare with those for Botswana." A spokesman for Slovak Deputy Premier Pal Csaky said the report lacks objectivity and is "exaggerated." MS

HUNGARIAN DEFENSE MINISTER TOURS TASZAR
Defense Minister Ferenc Juhasz told reporters after an official inspection of the Taszar military base on 16 January that "it must become obvious to all that no military training will materialize at Taszar," Budapest dailies reported. Juhasz visited the air base with local mayors and journalists to acquaint them with preparations for the training of Iraqi oppositionists by the U.S. military (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 6 and 13 January 2003). He said the Hungarian government is proud to make a substantive and active contribution to combating international terrorism. He also said Hungary would conceivably make its airspace available if such a need arose in connection with a potential war in Iraq, although he pointed out that no such request had been made. MSZ

HUNGARIAN COURT ORDERS NEW ELECTIONS FOR ROMANY AUTHORITY
The Supreme Court on 16 January struck down a decision by the National Election Commission approving the results of last week's Romany-authority elections and ordered that new elections be held before 15 February, Hungarian media reported. The court established that the 12 January assembly had no quorum, as only 1,347 of the 4,592 eligible electors took part in the process after Lungo Drom representatives walked out of the election hall to protest voting procedures (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 14 January 2003). Minority rights Ombudsman Jeno Kaltenbach said the ruling is final and indisputable. Lungo Drom Chairman Florian Farkas said the Supreme Court "restored faith in the idea that a state governed by the rule of law exists in Hungary." He went on to propose that international observers monitor the next Romany elections. Aladar Horvath, candidate of the Democratic Roma Coalition, the winners of the disputed election, said he accepts the court ruling. He added that he is confident his organization will win again. MSZ

HUNGARIAN DEMOCRATIC FORUM NIXES UNION WITH FIDESZ
Democratic Forum Chairwoman Ibolya David told "Nepszabadsag" on 14 January that her party does not intend to join a right-wing union as envisaged by former Prime Minister Viktor Orban. David made her statement a few days after FIDESZ announced its intention to transform itself into a more broadly based party, and Orban stated that a right-wing "Hungarian Christian Democratic Union" must be established before the 2004 European Parliament elections (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 15 January 2003), in which Hungary and the other nine aspiring members are expected to participate. David made it clear that the forum is not interested in joining a right-wing union party, saying, "Two is always more than one." MSZ

HUNGARY, SLOVAKIA CLASH OVER CONTROVERSIAL PAYMENT OF EDUCATION BENEFITS
Hungarian Foreign Ministry political State Secretary Andras Barsony on 16 January summoned Slovak charge d'affaires Milan Kuruc to his office after Slovakia complained through the press that the Illyes Foundation recently handed out 20,000 forint ($90) payments to ethnic Hungarian parents in Slovakia as education benefits. Barsony reportedly expressed bewilderment that the Slovak government had voiced its displeasure via the media. He told "Nepszabadsag" that the Illyes Foundation has no authorization from the current government to implement the Status Law in Slovakia and thus has no authority to pay out education benefits. For his part, Vilmos Szabo, the political state secretary in the Prime Minister's Office, said the Office for Ethnic Hungarians Abroad is unaware of benefits having been distributed. Under the Status Law, ethnic Hungarian parents in neighboring countries are entitled to an annual 20,000 worth of education benefits if their children attend Hungarian-language schools. However, no specific agreement has been reached with Slovakia on the implementation of the contentious law. MSZ

SERBIAN MINISTERS WANT TALKS NOW ON KOSOVA'S STATUS...
Breaking ranks with most other prominent Serbian politicians, Prime Minister Zoran Djindjic said in Belgrade on 16 January that "now is the time" to discuss the final political status of Kosova, Reuters reported (see "RFE/RL Balkan Report," 17 January 2003 and "RFE/RL Newsline," 16 January 2003). He did not specify who should take part in the talks. "My personal stand is that the waiting period is over, that an independent state is being created in Kosovo, and that behind the facade of a status quo...some irreversible processes are turning Kosovo into a de facto state," Djindjic told a press conference. "That is why I ask that the discussion on the final status of Kosovo start today." He also called on the EU to take a greater interest in what he called Serbia's security, dpa reported. "We demand that the EU takes us under protection and treats security in Serbia with the same concern it treats security in other countries in the region," Djindjic said. He was supported by Deputy Prime Minister Nebojsa Covic, who is the government's point man for Kosova: "I'm glad the time has come for all of us to tell facts and the truth.... [Djindjic] and I share the position that the creation of an independent Kosovo must be stopped," Covic said. PM

...BUT THE YUGOSLAV PRESIDENT'S ALLY DISAGREES
Dragan Marsicanin, vice president of Yugoslav President Vojislav Kostunica's Democratic Party of Serbia (DSS), said in Belgrade on 16 January that a discussion on the future status of Kosova is "inconceivable" at present, dpa reported. He added, "At this time, it is necessary to create the conditions to open a dialogue on the final status of Kosovo." He stressed that it is "completely unclear" why Djindjic has "radically and unexpectedly changed his position on this question, and whose interests he is representing" in doing so, RFE/RL's South Slavic and Albanian Languages Service reported. Like Marsicanin, most Serbian politicians believe that time is on Belgrade's side and prefer a delay of perhaps several years before starting status talks. They also argue that the basic rights of Kosova's Serbian minority -- including freedom of movement and the right to return to their homes in safety -- must be secured before status talks may begin (see "RFE/RL South Slavic Report," 16 January 2003). It is not clear what prompted Djindjic and Covic to reassess the situation (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 8 and 9 January 2003). PM

MORE PROGRESS TOWARD A NEW STATE OF SERBIA AND MONTENEGRO?
The commission charged with drawing up the Constitutional Charter for the new state of Serbia and Montenegro approved a measure on 16 January dealing with the mechanism by which the charter will become law and enter into force, RFE/RL's South Slavic and Albanian Languages Service reported (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 13 and 16 January 2003). The commission agreed to postpone a decision on the division of federal Yugoslav property, including military property, until six months after the charter comes into force. PM

MACEDONIAN LEADERS HOLD TALKS IN BELGRADE
Macedonian Prime Minister Branko Crvenkovski, Interior Minister Hari Kostov, and Economy Minister Ilija Filipovski were scheduled to begin a two-day visit to Belgrade on 17 January for talks with Kostunica, Djindjic, and Covic, RFE/RL's South Slavic and Albanian Languages Service reported. PM

MACEDONIAN DEFENSE MINISTER VISITS NATO HEADQUARTERS
On 15 January, Defense Minister Vlado Buckovski began an official visit to NATO Headquarters in Brussels, where he met with NATO Secretary-General Lord George Robertson, MIA news agency reported. Robertson and Buckovski discussed the Macedonian government's preventive security measures, as well as the work of the NATO advisers who will supervise Macedonia's military reforms. On 16 January, Buckovski spoke with Assistant Secretary General for Political Affairs Guenther Altenburg; Robert Serry, who is the director of NATO's Balkans Task Force; and General Harald Kujat, the chairman of NATO's Military Committee. The talks focused mainly on Macedonia's political and military reforms and its future integration into NATO (see "RFE/RL Balkan Report," 22 November 2002). UB

SLOVENIA TO HOLD REFERENDUMS ON NATO AND EU MEMBERSHIP
Prime Minister Anton Rop said in Ljubljana on 16 January that nonbinding referendums on joining NATO and the EU will be held on 23 March, dpa reported (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 7 and 8 January 2003). Polls suggest that some 60 percent of Slovenes favor joining the EU but that only 49 percent support NATO membership, which many consider unnecessary and too costly. All parliamentary political parties support membership in both organizations, which have invited Slovenia to join (see "RFE/RL Balkan Report," 29 November 2002 and 10 January 2003). PM

REGIONAL PRIME MINISTERS MEET IN CROATIAN CAPITAL
Prime Minister Ivica Racan hosted a meeting in Zagreb on 17 January of Italy's Silvio Berlusconi, Hungary's Peter Medgyessy, and Slovenia's Anton Ton, dpa reported. The agenda of the "quadrilateral group" session includes various defense, security, economic, cultural, and ecological issues. A "trilateral group" was founded on Italian initiative in 1996. Croatia joined it in 2000. PM

NEW JUDICIAL BODIES SET UP IN BOSNIA
The High Judicial and Prosecutorial Council (HJPC) on 16 January named eight judges to the new supreme court, known as the Court of Bosnia-Herzegovina, and set up a Bosnian Prosecutor's Office, dpa reported from Sarajevo. The new judges are Lada Simic, Jasminka Orucevic-Cohadzic, Zarko Radovanovic, Vlado Adamovic, Davorin Jukic, Salem Miso, Mehmed Sator, and Branko Peric. The four state-level prosecutors are Marinko Jurcevic, Medzida Kreso, Jasmina Gafic, and Bozo Mihajlovic. The two bodies are regarded as central to the overall reform of the judiciary. PM

ANOTHER ROMANIAN POLITICIAN RETURNS 'HOME'
On the heels of Victor Babiuc's return to the Democratic Party (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 16 January 2003), another Romanian politician announced on 17 January that he is returning to his former political party. Constantin Ticu Dumitrescu has re-joined the extraparliamentary National Peasant Party Christian Democratic (PNTCD) and will become a PNTCD deputy chairman, RFE/RL's Bucharest bureau reported. Dumitrescu is also the chairman of the Association of Former Political Prisoners in Romania (AFDPR) and the main promoter of the legislation on accessing the files of the former Securitate. PNTCD Chairman Victor Ciorbea said the "natural ties" linking the PNTCD and the AFDPR have been reestablished with Dumitrescu's return to the party. The former senator's party membership was suspended for one year in October 1997 after he accused members of the former PNTCD leadership of procrastinating on, and distorting the intention of, the legislation on accessing the Securitate's files. Dumitrescu did not renew his PNTCD membership when the sanction ended. MS

WESTERN CONSULTANTS OPPOSE ROMANIAN DRACULA PARK PROJECT
A feasibility study conducted by PricewaterhouseCoopers (PwC) has, as Reuters put it on 16 January, "driven a stake" through the heart of Romanian Tourism Minister Dan Matei Agathon's plan to build a grisly Dracula theme park near Vlad the Impaler's birthplace in Sighisoara. Prince Vlad Tepes rule in the principality of Walachia in the 15th century and his legendary methods of handling political enemies and criminals inspired Bram Stoker's novel "Dracula," which has very little to do with real history. The PwC consultants' opinion is viewed as a victory for conservation groups and UNESCO, which fought the plan, arguing that it would ruin the 13th-century town, which is listed as a World Heritage Site. A Romanian Tourism Ministry official said the consultants are likely to propose alternative sites for the park, which Agathon hopes will bring revenues of some $30 million and create some 3,000 jobs by capitalizing on the West's fascination with the alleged vampire. MS

ROMANIAN OFFICIAL SAYS TARLEV STATEMENT ON BILATERAL RELATIONS INADEQUATE
Radu Podgoreanu, chairman of the Romanian Chamber of Deputies' Foreign Affairs Committee, said on 16 January in an interview with RFE/RL that a recent statement by Moldovan Premier Vasile Tarlev on relations between the two countries represents "progress" but "is insufficient." Tarlev said Moldovan-Romanian relations should be based on "pragmatic economic and commercial relations." Podgoreanu said the declaration should not be viewed "as negative," but that "two neighborly countries that have a Romanian population cannot focus only on economic interests" when bilateral relations are on the agenda. "Political aspects [of the relationship] also need to be clarified," he stressed. MS

BULGARIAN PRESIDENT IN MOLDOVA
Bulgarian President Georgi Parvanov, on a two-day visit to Moldova, on 16 January met with his Moldovan counterpart Vladimir Voronin to discuss ways to boost bilateral economic and regional cooperation, their countries' quests for European integration, and the situation of the Bulgarian minority in Moldova, RFE/RL's Chisinau bureau reported. Voronin pledged to promote the ratification in parliament of a 1997 agreement that was refused approval by the Moldovan legislature. The agreement deals with the transit of nuclear waste from Bulgaria's Kozloduy nuclear-power plant to Russia, and was also signed by Ukraine and Russia. Parvanov told journalists after the meeting that cooperation must be intensified, including in energy, tourism, and the mutual stimulation of investments. Voronin said that due to its geographic position, Moldova is particularly well-placed to act as "a bridge" between Bulgaria and Russia. He also said Moldova will consult with Bulgaria on the process of EU integration, in which Sofia is far more advanced. Parvanov also met with Premier Tarlev. On 17 January, Parvanov is to visit the district of Taraclia, which has a substantial Bulgarian minority. MS

BULGARIA PREPARES FOR WAR
The Interior and Defense ministries will step up security measures for strategic facilities such as the Kozloduy nuclear-power plant and the Neftohim oil refinery and for the embassies of countries involved in a possible military strike against Iraq, Deputy Foreign Minister Lyubomir Ivanov told journalists after a meeting of the National Security Council on 16 January, mediapool.bg reported. Ivanov added that the security measures are similar to those adopted during the NATO attacks on Yugoslavia in 1999. He confirmed that the government is also increasing the country's oil reserves. In related news, Finance Minister Milen Velchev said a war against Iraq would have only limited effects on the Bulgarian economy. According to a study carried out by his ministry, increased oil prices would lower the country's 2003 GDP growth from the expected 4.8 percent to 4.6 percent, while inflation would rise by 0.5 to 1 percent. UB

PROSECUTOR SAYS CRIMINAL CHARGES TO BE FILED AGAINST FORMER BULGARIAN MINISTERS
Deputy Prosecutor-General Hristo Manchev announced on 16 January that the Prosecutor-General's Office will soon file criminal charges against one or two former ministers of the previous government, Bulgarian media reported. Manchev did not name which ministers face charges, Media speculate they will be former Transport Minister Vilhelm Kraus and former Health Minister Ilko Semerdzhiev, who have been accused of abuse of office (see "End Note," "RFE/RL Newsline," 28 June 2002). UB

BULGARIAN SOCIALISTS SIGNAL READINESS TO AMEND CONSTITUTION
Mladen Chervenyakov, the chairman of the Socialist Party's (BSP) Council on Legislation, Order, and Judiciary, told mediapool.bg on 16 January that his party is ready to support introducing minimal amendments to the constitution in order to carry out judicial reform. He explained that his party will assess amendments to the laws relating to the judiciary as well as the procedural law that aim at improving the judiciary's effectiveness. Such changes could be carried out by the current parliament. He called demands to elect a constituent Grand National Assembly "premature, to say the least." The BSP has long opposed any constitutional changes (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 8 January 2003). UB

IS UKRAINE A MEMBER OF THE CIS?
Ukrainian President Leonid Kuchma offered a novel response to a question posed to him at a 28 December press conference in Chernihiv, a town located near the Belarus-Russia border. Eleven years after the CIS was created by the three eastern Slavic states to replace the USSR, Kuchma disagreed with the description of Ukraine as merely an "associate member" of the CIS.

Throughout the 1990s, Ukrainian diplomats and officials had routinely employed that formulation to demonstrate that Ukraine was opposed to the integration within the CIS that then Russian President Boris Yeltsin assiduously promoted. The logic of the Ukrainian argument was based on the assumption that, as the Ukrainian parliament had never ratified the 1994 CIS Charter, Ukraine was not a full member of the CIS. It was therefore only an "associate member."

The only problem, as Kuchma has now finally pointed out, is that the CIS Charter makes no mention of any "associate member" status with respect to the CIS. Unfortunately, Kuchma failed to bring his point to its logical conclusion -- namely, how could a nonmember (Ukraine) have participated in so many CIS institutions and signed countless CIS documents? At the November CIS summit in Chisinau, Russian President Vladimir Putin even proposed that this nonmember head the CIS Heads of State Council. Luckily, the proposal was opposed by three other CIS states and therefore failed to pass. At the upcoming CIS summit on 28 January, Ukraine will again be proposed for that position. But as Ukraine's Hromadske Radio pointed out on 15 January, Ukraine's "bid for chairmanship is legally vulnerable."

Ukraine's de jure nonmembership of the CIS reflects three factors. First, there is the general widespread legal nihilism that pervades the CIS. It has long been pointed out that documents signed by CIS members (and "nonmembers" like Ukraine) are rarely implemented. A legal, contractual, and political culture that would guarantee the implementation of interstate documents, whether signed within the CIS or internationally in general, is simply absent within CIS states. The same is true of the yawning gap between domestic legislation and government-executive policies.

Second, there is the very nature of the CIS. The CIS is often criticized for being a moribund and ineffective structure. Why then does it still exist, when it was created in December 1991, according to then Ukrainian President Leonid Kravchuk, for the sole purpose of facilitating a "civilized divorce" among the then-Soviet republics?

One answer to that question was given by two Russian authors writing in "Izvestiya" in November 2000 on the ninth anniversary of the formation of the CIS. CIS members and nonmembers "are not so much friends as compelled to co-exist with one another, like divorced spouses who cannot make the final break." "The CIS is a communal apartment for people who are tired of one another, who no longer live together, but do not yet live apart," the authors continued.

For most CIS states, neither option -- living within the CIS or outside it -- is preferable. At the same time, living together in the CIS "communal apartment" provides psychological support to CIS leaders, most of whom hail from the same Communist Party or KGB background and have similar political cultures and understandings of the outside world. Although the phrase "near abroad," used by Russia to denote the CIS as distinct from the "far abroad," has fallen into disuse, it still reflects the general tendency to view the CIS as a family club.

This shared perception can become vitally important during periods of international isolation, such as that Ukraine has experienced since late 2000, when the "Kuchmagate" crisis began. At such times, Russia and the CIS become vitally important to Kuchma's survival. Russian State Duma Speaker Gennadii Seleznev said on a visit to Ukraine last month, "Ukraine has realized that the West is not going to open its embrace. There is a far more reliable partner and ally it should stay side by side with [i.e. Russia]."

Russia has preferred not to formalize its Soviet-era frontiers with neighboring CIS states, agreeing only to delimit them on maps but not to demarcate them. The Antiterrorist Center of the CIS, established in June 2000, is headed by Major General Boris Mylnikov, who served in the KGB from 1975-91 and was the first deputy head of the Federal Security Service (FSB) department responsible for the "protection of constitutional order and the struggle against terrorism." Pointedly, the center is headed and staffed by the FSB, Russia's internal intelligence agency, not the external intelligence body, the Foreign-Intelligence Service (SVR).

During his December visit to Ukraine, Seleznev contrasted the actions of the U.S. ambassador to Ukraine, Carlos Pascual, with those of Russian Ambassador to Ukraine Viktor Chernomyrdin. When Pascual (or the U.S. Congress, as in the March 2002 elections) talks about democratization, human rights, free elections, and reform in Ukraine, this is understood by Ukraine and Russia as "interference" (just as in the Soviet era). When Chernomyrdin tells Ukrainians whom not to vote for and demands the upgrading of Russian to a second state language, this is seen as brotherly advice, Seleznev claimed.

Third, Ukraine's multivector foreign policy is a reflection of the country's history and competing identities. Ukraine has jealously guarded its sovereignty since the disintegration of the USSR. It has therefore declined to join Russian-led supranational institutions, such as the Eurasian Economic Community (EEC), which Ukrainian leaders believe could undermine its sovereignty. By contrast, it was a founding member in 1997 of the GUAM alignment, which also includes Georgia, Azerbaijan, and Moldova but not Russia. Similarly, Ukraine never acceded to the CIS Collective Security Treaty (signed in Tashkent in June 1992), although even before 11 September 2001, full membership of the CIS Antiterrorist Center was deemed compatible with Ukraine's sovereignty.

Ukraine's involvement in the various CIS sub-organizations is as confusing and selective as is its membership (or nonmembership) of that structure. In 1995, Ukraine joined the CIS Air Defense Agreement as an "associate member," even though no such status formally exists and no other CIS state has claimed it. In 1998, Ukraine joined the CIS Interparliamentary Assembly, which seeks to harmonize legislation across the CIS. (It remains unclear why membership of this body does not conflict with membership of the Council of Europe.)

While refusing to join the EEC, Ukraine has also agreed to "observer" status in that body. Ukrainian officials argue that full membership of the EEC conflicts with Ukraine's steps toward Euro-Atlantic integration. Chernomyrdin, however, disagrees because he knows full well that none of the six members of the EEC seeks EU membership. Meanwhile, the EU has not voiced any opinion, as Ukraine's hypothetical future membership of the EU is not in the cards.

Dr. Taras Kuzio is a resident fellow at the Centre for Russian and East European Studies and adjunct professor, Department of Political Science, University of Toronto.

U.S. TROOPS INJURED IN CAR-BOMB BLAST IN EASTERN AFGHANISTAN...
Two U.S. troops were injured on 15 January when a makeshift bomb fixed to the bottom of the automobile they were riding in exploded, Reuters reported. The incident occurred approximately 50 kilometers northeast of the Nangarhar Province capital of Jalalabad. According to Reuters, the U.S. military confirmed that the explosion occurred and that U.S. soldiers had been injured, contradicting earlier reports that all the soldiers in the vehicle were killed in the attack. The area has been the scene of a number of violent incidents recently, as well as the discovery of large arms caches (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 30 December 2002), including one reported by AP on 16 January that included 20 rifles, machine-gun ammunition, antipersonnel mines, plastic explosives, and timers. KM

...AND COME UNDER ROCKET ATTACK NEAR BORDER WITH PAKISTAN
In a separate incident on 15 January, the U.S. military came under rocket fire at a base in Asadabad, close to the border with Pakistan, Reuters reported. U.S. B-52 bombers were called in, although it is unclear whether any bombs were dropped. As Reuters noted, "The use of the heavy bombers for air support in Afghanistan is relatively rare, although B-52s, used extensively to defeat the Taliban and Al-Qaeda in late 2001, did drop bombs last month to break up fighting between warlords in western Afghanistan." KM

AFGHANS ON THE STREETS OF KABUL REPORT SERIOUS SECURITY PROBLEMS...
The "Kabul Weekly" on 16 January published an article in which Kabul residents complained of serious lapses in security in the capital despite the extensive coverage provided by the International Security Assistance Force (ISAF). For example, the paper reported that locals said "the people who mastermind murders, thefts, and kidnappings in western Kabul are really security personnel and soldiers." It added that "military safe houses for militias have recently sprung up in the center of Kabul, fronting as guesthouses, but security officials do not budge.... Arms smuggling happens in Kabul, right in front of the eyes of security officials, who do nothing to stop it." Other grievances related to minor issues such as taxi drivers ignoring regulations and overcharging passengers. KM

...AS CEREMONY MARKS END OF TRAINING FOR FIRST AFGHAN PRESIDENTIAL-GUARD RECRUITS
A ceremony was held in Kabul on 16 January to celebrate the completion of a two-month course to train individuals to serve in the presidential guard, Radio Free Afghanistan reported on 17 January. Fifty-two men were trained by U.S. security officers and will now serve alongside U.S. Special Forces to protect President Hamid Karzai and his family. Zalmay Rasool, secretary of the National Security Council and a security adviser to Karzai, said that, "After proving successful in its duties and gaining the required experience, [the Afghan presidential guard] will gradually take over the job of guarding Karzai," Iranian state radio reported. "The Afghan government hopes the country's security will be guaranteed by the people of the country and that U.S. Special Forces will leave Afghanistan," Rasool added. KM

U.S. DEPUTY DEFENSE SECRETARY PROMISES LASTING SUPPORT FROM THE UNITED STATES
"The U.S. commitment to participate in the reconstruction process is a long-term one," Paul Wolfowitz told journalists in Kabul on 15 January following a meeting with President Karzai, "Kabul Weekly" reported. "Whatever happens in other parts of the world, the U.S.A. will not let Afghanistan down." Wolfowitz was on a one-day fact-finding mission to Afghanistan. At a time when many Afghans are fearful that a U.S. attack on Iraq could lead to a diversion of energy and resources from U.S. reconstruction efforts in Afghanistan, government officials and citizens alike welcomed this clearly stated promise. Foreign Minister Abdullah Abdullah told the "Kabul Weekly" that Wolfowitz held lengthy discussions with Karzai, as well as with several government ministers, on issues such as continued military cooperation in fighting terrorism, Al-Qaeda, and the Taliban; demilitarization and the adaptation of current and former militia men to civilian life; and humanitarian reconstruction programs supported by the U.S. Army. KM

HERAT DAILY DEFENDS NEW SEGREGATIONIST EDUCATION REGULATIONS
The Herat daily "Etefaq-e Eslam" has come to the defense of new education regulations imposed this week by Herat Province Governor Ismail Khan that were criticized by Human Rights Watch on 16 January (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 16 January 2003). "Why do some people insist on criticizing the situation by shouting and making a big deal" out of it just "because some rules have been adopted regarding regulations at educational centers so female and male students can study in more comfort and a better teaching environment?" the daily asked in a commentary published on 15 January. While defending the new educational codes, the commentary recognized at the same time that debate about them "without spite and rancor" is acceptable. "[We] do not claim that decisions adopted by the education [department] are never without shortcomings and cannot be criticized, but it is malicious and unrealistic to make judgments too hastily, to look through dark glasses, and to connect this issue to human and women's rights," the commentary concluded. KM

U.K. SELLS IRAN DUAL-USE ITEMS
The British Foreign Office on 16 January denied making any exceptions in its arms embargo against Iran, IRNA reported. An anonymous Foreign Office spokesman told IRNA the ban on dual-use goods and military equipment remains in place. Baroness Valerie Amos had said in a 15 January written reply to the House of Lords that although HMX pellets could be used in antipersonnel mines, the government is convinced that Iran would only use the HMX pellets the United Kingdom sells to it for oil-and-gas drilling and would not divert them to the military. Moreover, Amos on 13 January told the House of Lords the government has issued a license for the export of equipment used on the Fokker-100 aircraft, IRNA reported one day later. She said that the specific items -- synchros -- are made as military electronic equipment, but Her Majesty's Government is "satisfied that these synchros are to be used only for the upkeep of the Fokker-100, a civilian aircraft." BS

IRAN SUPPORTS THE PHILIPPINES' INTEGRITY
President Mohammad Khatami has told visiting Philippines Foreign Affairs Secretary Blas Ople, "We uphold the sovereignty and territorial integrity of the Philippines," Manila's "The Daily Tribune" reported on 17 January. Ople met with Khatami and Commerce Minister Mohammad Shariatmadari together on 14 January, and he had a separate meeting with Foreign Affairs Minister Kamal Kharrazi the same day, according to IRNA. Kharrazi discussed expansion of economic cooperation, mentioning investment opportunities, the energy sector, and the skilled work force. Kharrazi also called for collaboration between the Economic Cooperation Organization, of which Iran is a member, and the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN), of which the Philippines is a member. BS

DAILY CALLS FOR INVESTIGATION OF TEHRAN COUNCIL...
A committee comprising representatives of the presidency, the judiciary, and the legislature should be appointed to investigate allegations of financial misconduct in the affairs of the recently dissolved Tehran municipal council, according to a 16 January editorial in the conservative "Resalat" daily. President Khatami's government sees the councils as a success, but the daily notes that apart from some small achievements in the outlying regions the public sees the Tehran council's performance as a major failure. The council's problem, according to "Resalat," was its infection with "the virus of politicization." BS

...AND ANOTHER ASKS 'WHAT HAPPENED?'
Dissolution of the Tehran Council does not explain why it had problems in the first place, according to an editorial in the 16 January issue of "Entekhab" daily. The daily mentioned the fiscal questions, and it too suggested that a committee investigate them. "Entekhab" asked why the council, rather than the mayor, was removed, and it noted that many of the individuals who backed dissolving the council now are listed as candidates for the February council election. The "Entekhab" editorial said that dissolving the council violates the constitution. Since the councils are popularly elected, it should be up to the people to dissolve them, the editorial argued. BS

KERMAN GOVERNOR DESCRIBES ECONOMIC PLANS, ROLE OF COUNCILS
Mohammad-Ali Karimi, the governor of Kerman Province, said in early December that a development project has been launched through which the province will have 1 million tourist visits a day, Kerman's "Sarallah" publication reported on 10 December. Karimi explained that if a tourist says in Kerman for five days, this would count as five tourists. Karimi went on to say that negotiations on the construction of new hotels have started, and steps are being taken to develop the necessary infrastructure. Turning to other topics, Karimi described the municipal councils, the elections for which will be held in late February, as the "source of prosperity and welfare in small towns and villages," and he said Kerman has fewer urban problems than Tehran, because it is less densely populated. BS

FARMERS HOUSE COULD ALTER NATIONAL DECISION-MAKING
The Iranian decision-making system suffers from a lack of societies that represent producers and consumers, but the recent creation of a Farmers House might change this situation, according to a commentary in the 21 December 2002 "Hambastegi" daily. Previously, the only economic organizations related to a small number of industries, and because many industries are state owned, the influence of their managers is the most powerful covert lobby in the system. The formation of the Farmers House (see "RFE/RL Iran Report," 6 January 2003) could change this situation. By getting involved in the parliament and its elections, the Farmers House could influence Iran's decision-making process. BS

IRGC'S CULTURAL MISSION AND THE U.S. THREAT
Islamic Revolution Guards Corps (IRGC) Commander Brigadier General Yahya Rahim-Safavi told a three-day seminar of IRGC cultural commanders in Mashhad on 16 January that the United States intends to dominate the economic resources of Muslim countries, ISNA reported. He claimed that American strategists depict all Asian and African Islamic states as a belt of strategic instability that threatens the United States and that must be confronted. The IRGC has a military, security, and cultural mission to defend the revolution, he said, and the cultural mission has the highest priority. He encouraged preparation of cultural programs for the IRGC's Basij Resistance Force. BS

OFFICIAL: U.S. PSYOPS AGAINST IRAQ 'BACKFIRED'
"The Americans are currently faced with a serious problem in this region, and the psychological war they launched against Iraq has backfired against them," Expediency Council Chairman Ayatollah Ali-Akbar Hashemi-Rafsanjani said on 15 January in Mashhad, IRNA reported the next day. Rafsanjani said that the United States expected Iraqi President Saddam Hussein to step down, but now the whole region opposes the United States. Under these tense circumstances, Rafsanjani said, clerics and the people should be extremely alert. On the night of 16 January, Hashemi-Rafsanjani told clerics assigned to the armed forces in Khorasan Province, "If the clergy remain united, they will be able to defend the country well," IRNA reported on 17 January. BS

IRAQI PRESIDENT SAYS 'MONGOLS OF OUR AGE' FACE SUICIDE...
President Saddam Hussein said in his 17 January speech in Baghdad on the occasion of the 12th anniversary of the 1991 Gulf War that Iraq has mobilized its forces to fend off a possible U.S. attack, international news agencies reported. "Baghdad, its people and leadership, is determined to force the Mongols of our age to commit suicide at [Baghdad's] gates," Reuters quoted Hussein as saying. The president was apparently comparing the United States to the Mongol invaders who destroyed Baghdad and killed its ruler in 1258. "We have determined and planned to defeat the aggressors. We have mobilized our abilities, including those of the army, people, and leadership," he said. Hussein called on the Iraqi people to "raise high your swords and rifles" and to "remind anyone who may still be under a delusion so that he might not be deluded of your stand." But if an attack is launched, he said, "Let your guns wait in ambush for him, preceded and guided by the radiation and light of your faith." MES

...AND OFFERS ADVICE TO NEW 'HULAGU'
The Iraqi president in his 17 January speech did not directly refer to U.S. President George W. Bush. However, he did allude to Hulagu, the grandson of Chingiz (Genghis) Khan who led the 1258 sacking of Baghdad, international news agencies reported. "The army of Hulagu has now come at this age to clash with Baghdad after it has been born anew," President Hussein said. "So tell him in a clear, loud voice: 'Oh evil one, cease your evil doings against the mother of civilization...the cradle and birthplace of prophets and messengers," Reuters quoted him as saying. MES

UN INSPECTORS UNCOVER EMPTY WARHEADS...
UN weapons inspectors discovered "11 empty 122-millimeter chemical warheads and one warhead that requires further evaluation," UNMOVIC and International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) spokesman Hiro Ueki said in the organizations' daily press briefing of 16 January. Inspectors found the warheads at the Ukhaidar Ammunition Stores, 70 kilometers south of Karbala. The site was last visited by a joint team of inspectors on 7 January (see RFE/RL's "Tracking Inspections" at http://www.rferl.org/specials/iraq-inspec). "The warheads were in excellent condition and were similar to ones imported by Iraq during the late 1980s," Ueki said. "The team used portable X-ray equipment to conduct a preliminary analysis of one of the warheads and collected samples for chemical testing." An unidentified UN arms expert on 16 January said the discovery "was not a significant issue by itself," AFP reported. KR

...AS IRAQI MONITORING DIRECTORATE CHIEF REACTS TO DISCOVERY
In response to the UNMOVIC/IAEA announcement, National Monitoring Directorate (NMD) head General Husam Muhammad Amin on 16 January said: "It is neither chemical, neither biological. It is empty warheads. It is small artillery rockets. It is expired rockets, and they were forgotten without any intention to use them," AFP reported. Amin said that inspectors found some sealed boxes during their inspection at the Ukhaidar Ammunition Stores and requested that they be opened. "When they opened it, it appeared that they are [122-millimeter] artillery rockets. They are not weapons of mass destruction," he said. The NMD head added that warheads of this type were declared in the 7 December 2002 Iraqi declaration to the UN Security Council. The warheads in question were imported by Iraq in 1986 and have expired, he said. KR

NATIONAL MONITORING DIRECTORATE HEAD GIVES BRIEFING ON INSPECTIONS
NMD head General Amin said during his weekly briefing broadcast on Al-Jazeera television on 16 January that inspectors have thus far visited 380 sites, "including 62 sites not listed under the monitoring regime or visited for the first time." The numbers Amin provided do not add up, but according to him the number of missile sites visited is 57; the number of chemical sites inspected is 27; biological inspections stand at 96; and nuclear inspections total 176. The number of sites mentioned in the 7 December 2002 Iraqi declaration total 456, according to Amin. KR

FOREIGN MINISTER DENOUNCES U.S. CRITICISM OF IRAQ INSPECTORS
Igor Ivanov has expressed Russia's concern over what it perceives as Washington's mistrust of the activities of UN weapons inspectors, ORT and other Russian news agencies reported on 16 January. Speaking to journalists following a meeting with his Italian counterpart Franco Frattini, with whom he discussed the Iraqi situation, Ivanov said Russia is worried by "the increasing pressure on the international inspectors and the heads of the inspection groups on the part of certain circles in Washington." "Some publications and official statements question the activities of international inspectors," Ivanov added. "Our duty is [to] trust and support them." VY

IRAQI SCIENTIST SAYS INSPECTORS SEARCH OF HIS HOME WAS 'PROVOCATIVE'
Scientist Shaker al-Jabouri, in an interview with Iraq Satellite Television, called the 16 January inspection of his home by UN weapons inspectors "provocative" (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 16 January 2003). "This is a provocative act and is intended to pressure and harm the Iraqis," he said. "Pressuring our families and harming them and entering houses are illegal acts." The scientist said inspectors searched the house completely, including "personal things, furniture, and beds." Asked whether inspectors confiscated documents from the house, he answered, "no." "They turned papers and personal documents, such as pictures and others, in order to find any document that can harm Iraq," al-Jabouri claimed. He also said his personal office, a storage room and refrigerator and freezer were also inspected. "Although they tried to harm us, we cooperated with them," he said. KR

JORDANIAN KING SAYS CHANCES TO AVOID WAR IN IRAQ 'SLIM'
Jordan's King Abdullah II told reporters on 16 January that he had seen "no information on an initiative to settle the Iraqi question through peaceful means," AP reported. King Abdullah II added that Jordan "has exerted tenacious efforts with various international powers to prevent the war against Iraq, but the chances of averting it had become slim in view of the reality we're facing in this area and the world." A war in Iraq would cost Jordan an estimated $1 billion a year in lost trade, according to the news agency. KR

ARE IRAQ'S NEIGHBORS ORCHESTRATING COUP?
Arab states, led by Saudi Arabia, are orchestrating a coup to overthrow Iraqi President Hussein's regime, AFP reported on 16 January, citing an article posted on "Time" magazine's website (http://www.time.com). "Riyadh fears that war in Iraq could lead to chaos, civil war among ethnic factions, and military incursions by neighbors like Turkey and Iran," AFP quoted from the "Time" article. The article reportedly posits that Arab leaders fear the United States will not remain in Iraq long enough to reestablish stability after a war and that a coup in Iraq might offer more stability by preserving state institutions. KR

CZECH LAWMAKERS CLEAR ARMY PARTICIPATION IN IRAQ
Both houses of the Czech legislature have approved a government decision to conditionally allow Czech participation in military action against Iraq, CTK and international news agencies reported on 16 and 17 January (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 14 January 2003). Seventy of 76 senators present on 16 January backed the Social Democratic Party-led government in the vote, while three rejected the proposal and three others abstained. In voting the following day, the Chamber of Deputies approved the decision by a vote of 144 in favor and 43 against, according to dpa. The possible deployment would include an esteemed Czech antichemical- and antibiological-warfare unit under the terms of the motion. Defense Minister Jaroslav Tvrdik on 16 January told legislators that the Czech Republic has offered to send a team of experts to join the UN arms inspectors who are currently in Iraq, according to AFP. Speaking to the lower house's Defense and Security Committee, he said around 15 military doctors, biologists, and chemical-protection experts could be dispatched to the UN inspection team searching for weapons of mass destruction in Iraq. MS

...AS CZECH DEFENSE MINISTER SAYS IRAQI AGENTS SURVEILLED HIM
Tvrdik told the Chamber of Deputies on 16 January that Czech intelligence reports indicate he was under surveillance for about two months by "persons from the underworld with contacts with the regime in Baghdad," CTK reported. He did not say when the alleged monitoring took place. Tvrdik's statement came during a plea in support of the government's Iraq request (see item above). He said security for himself and his family was stepped up after hints that they might be in danger, the news agency added. "If this country participates in a possible conflict, I and my family will be under threat," Tvrdik said, according to AFP. MS

CORRECTION:
Faleh Hassan Hamza is the correct name of the head of the Al-Razi State Company mentioned in "RFE/RL Newsline" on 16 January.

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