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Newsline - January 21, 2003


ENVOY WORKS TO DEFUSE NORTH KOREA CRISIS
Deputy Foreign Minister Aleksandr Losyukov visited Pyongyang on 20 January as President Vladimir Putin's special envoy and told reporters that his meeting with North Korean leader Kim Jong Il was "successful and meaningful," ITAR-TASS and other Russian news agencies reported. Losyukov, who met with Kim for six hours, laid out a package of Russian initiatives intended to defuse the crisis triggered by North Korea's withdrawal last month from international nuclear controls. The Russian proposal includes maintaining the nuclear-free status of the Korean Peninsula through North Korea's pledge to observe all international non-proliferation conventions and its 1994 agreement with the United States on developing a non-military nuclear program. The plan also includes a proposal to resume bilateral and multilateral talks including Japan, South Korea, and the United States on security guarantees for North Korea. Finally, it envisions the resumption of the humanitarian- and economic-aid programs that were functioning in North Korea before the current crisis began. Deputy U.S. Secretary of State Richard Armitage has said that if North Korea renounces its nuclear program, the United States would consider guaranteeing that country's national security, Western news agencies reported on 20 January. VY

GAZPROM-MEDIA HEAD SHOWN THE DOOR
The board of directors of Gazprom-Media on 17 January dismissed its chairman, U.S. citizen Boris Jordan, who took over the holding after the state-controlled gas monopoly took over NTV and other media properties owned by magnate Vladimir Gusinskii in 2000, Russian news agencies reported. Jordan retains his position as general director of NTV for the time being. Although officially the dismissal was attributed to management differences, newsru.com speculated that it was prompted by President Putin's irritation over NTV's coverage of the 23-26 October hostage drama in Moscow. "Kommersant-Daily" on 17 January said the decision to fire Jordan might have been made following the airing of a show called "Kazakhstan Transit" on 26 December. That program sharply criticized the oil-export policies of Kazakhstan. "Rossiiskaya gazeta" on 16 January reported that Gazprom's management believes the film damaged Russia's interests in the region and torpedoed some major Gazprom projects. U.S. Ambassador to Russia Alexander Vershbow met in Moscow on 20 January with Deputy Foreign Minister Georgii Mamedov and expressed U.S. concern that Jordan's dismissal might have a negative impact on Russia's independent media, nns.ru reported. VY

LUKOIL MENDS FENCES IN IRAQ, LOOKS TOWARD IRAN
A delegation of Russian diplomats and oilmen led by First Deputy Economic Development and Trade Minister Ivan Matlashov and Deputy Foreign Minister Aleksandr Saltanov managed on 17 January to reverse an Iraqi government decision to cancel a contract with LUKoil to develop the Qurna-2 oil field (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 13 and 16 December 2002), rusenergy.ru and other Russian news agencies reported. A LUKoil spokesman told "Izvestiya" on 17 January that all differences about the deal have been resolved. Matlashov, though, was more reserved in his comments, telling the daily that Iraq merely postponed its decision to give the contract to another Russian company or even to one from another country. Iraqi Ambassador to Russia Abbas Halaf has said that he cannot confirm that the LUKoil contract has been restored, Ekho Moskvy reported on 20 January. Rusenergy.ru reported that same day that LUKoil hopes to sign a long-term contract with Tehran to supply Russian oil to Iran. According to the plan, LUKoil will supply about 1 million tons of oil annually via the Caspian Sea to refineries in northern Iran, which are currently working at less than full capacity because of the underdeveloped infrastructure. VY

SAKHAROV MUSEUM VANDALIZED...
Six people allegedly broke into Moscow's Andrei Sakharov Museum and vandalized it on 18 January, Russian news agencies reported the next day. The vandals, who call themselves "Russian Orthodox believers," broke windows, spray-painted walls, and destroyed an exhibition entitled "Caution, religion." Police arrested the six at the scene and opened an investigation under the Criminal Code article on hooliganism. Valerii Gribakin, head of the Interior Ministry's Moscow directorate, said the six have been released from custody but will remain under house arrest until the investigation is completed. VY

...AS CHURCH SYMPATHIZES WITH VANDALS
The head of the International Relations Department of the Moscow Patriarchate, Archbishop of Smolensk and Kaliningrad Kirill, said the Sakharov museum's exhibition "Caution, religion" was a provocation that itself constitutes a "crime," RIA-Novosti reported on 20 January. "I am deeply convinced that we should be very sensitive to the religious feelings of the people, and any assault on these feelings should be considered a crime," Kirill said. He added that the exhibition was "prepared openly" and expressed bewilderment that it was permitted. VY

GOVERNMENT, DUMA LOCK HORNS...
Prime Minister Mikhail Kasyanov's failure on 17 January to brief Duma deputies on the situation with public utilities during the recent spell of cold weather prompted legislators to cancel the entire session, NTV reported. Deputies refused to hear Deputy Prime Minister Viktor Khristenko, State Construction Committee Chairman Nikolai Koshman, and Unified Energy Systems head Anatolii Chubais, who were sent in Kasyanov's stead. In an interview with ORT, Kasyanov accused the legislators of playing election politics. JAC

...AS COMMUNIST TO SEEK ANOTHER VOTE OF CONFIDENCE
Meanwhile in an interview with gazeta.ru on 17 January, Mark Urnov of the Moscow-based Center for Political Technologies, said the work of the Duma this year will be "populist to the utmost degree" and that "everyone...except the Communists will be actively demonstrating full loyalty to the president." According to Urnov, the Communists are in the most complicated situation because they need to be seen as the party of the opposition, but at the same time the electorate wants the president treated with respect. On 21 January, the party presented to the Duma Council a request to include a vote of no confidence in the government on the legislature's agenda, newsru.com reported. JAC

FAR NORTH ELECTION LOOMS...
The election for a new governor of Taimyr Autonomous Okrug will take place on 26 January with seven candidates competing. The election has been called to replace former Norilsk Nickel head Aleksandr Khloponin, who was elected governor of Krasnoyarsk Krai in September. The front-runner in the Taimyr race is Norilsk Mayor Oleg Budargin, who is the former personnel director of the Norilsk Mining and Metallurgical Complex (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 17 December 2002). JAC

...AS STRIKE IMMINENT AMONG METAL WORKERS
Meanwhile, Valerii Melnikov, leader of Norilsk Nickel's trade union, announced on 20 January that the company's personnel might go on strike next week, Interfax reported. Workers are seeking an increase in monthly wages from 24,000 rubles ($755) a month to 28,000 rubles, as well as extra vacation time to compensate for hazardous working conditions. Aleksandr Bugaev, president of the All-Russia Labor Confederation, told RosBalt the same day that Norilsk Nickel's new management is trying to reduce all company social programs to a minimum. Bugaev added that the current management is also struggling directly against the labor union using "KGB methods" such as "spreading negative information about union activists" and convincing people "one by one" to leave the union. JAC

YUKOS STEPS IN WHERE KOMSOMOL LEFT OFF...
"Izvestiya" on 17 January published a long article about the social programs that the oil company Yukos is implementing in various regions, particularly in Khanty-Mansii Autonomous Okrug where it is based. According to the daily, Yukos is active in 42 Russian regions, pays about 120 billion rubles ($3.8 billion) in taxes annually, and employs more than 100,000 people. In Khanty-Mansii Autonomous Okrug, according to okrug Governor Aleksandr Filipenko, the company participates in the region's housing program and builds projects such as sports complexes in various cities. The company also runs its own educational program in the Federation of Internet Education, in which students receive stipends from Yukos and eventually jobs. According to the daily, participation in the program is considered prestigious and the atmosphere in the classes is unlike that in regular schools, with girls dressed in white blouses and boys in jackets. In the summer, the students get a trip to camp run by the youth movement New Civilization, which was also organized by Yukos. According to the daily, the residents of Nefteyugansk "love" Yukos head Mikhail Khodorkovskii and "seriously believe that when he flies to the city it becomes warmer." Prior to a recent visit, the temperature in the city had been hovering at minus 40 degrees Celsius, but rose upon Khodorkovskii's arrival to minus 12. JAC

...AND IS ALLEGEDLY TRYING TO COUNTER BEREZOVSKII'S OVERTURES TO COMMUNISTS
Yukos is prepared to donate $70 million to the Communist Party over the next five years, kreml.org reported on 16 January. According to the report, the purpose of the assistance would be to neutralize the party's "radical left wing," which has been active in recent months and is reportedly seeking an alliance with magnate Boris Berezovskii (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 8 October 2002). Yukos would presumably be acting on behalf of the Kremlin and, in exchange for the money, would receive a number of slots on the Communist Party's party list. The company would reportedly also place its representative -- former KGB Major General Aleksei Kondaurov -- as chairman of the People's Patriotic Union's (NPSR) executive committee. NPSR's current head is Deputy Gennadii Semigin (Agrarian). The kreml.org website was launched in October by consultant Gleb Pavlovskii's Fund for Effective Politics. Semigin was the subject of a 20 January article in "Gazeta" that reported that Communist Party leader Zyuganov is unhappy with him. Semigin is reportedly suspected of being a Kremlin "mole" and of abusing his financial authority. JAC

ANOTHER REGION TECHNICALLY BANKRUPT
Nizhnii Novgorod Oblast's Finance Minister Vadim Sobolev announced on 20 January that the only way the region will be able to pay the first tranche of money it owes for a Eurobond taken out in 1997 is to borrow more money, RosBalt reported. According to Sobolev, the region must pay 1.6 billion rubles ($50 million) this year in principle and another 320 million rubles in interest on the $100 million loan. Meanwhile, the oblast budget allocates just 220 million rubles to pay this debt. The loan was already been restructured in December 1999. Last week, it was reported that the city of Novgorod in Novgorod Oblast is also essentially bankrupt, with debts amounting to 67 percent of its revenues (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 17 January 2003). JAC

HEATING SYSTEM BREAKDOWNS ON THE RISE
The number of breakdowns in municipal utilities has increased 19 percent since the beginning of the heating season in comparison with last year, RosBalt reported on 20 January. Since the middle of January, the State Construction Committee has registered 75 emergency situations and serious accidents in 38 regions of Russia. Although this winter has been unusually cold, the committee's experts believe the main reason for the rise in the number of accidents is a lack of preparation for the winter by the municipal utilities. Meanwhile, additional regions have been affected by pipeline breakdowns. Approximately 10,000 people in Novosibirsk were without heat on 19 January following a pipeline rupture that left more than 100 apartment blocks without heat. The temperature in the city was expected to dip to minus 7 degrees Celsius on 20 January. JAC

GERMANY WARNS OF POSSIBLE CHECHEN TERRORIST THREAT IN EUROPE
Germany's Bundeskriminalamt has warned that it has "credible evidence" that Chechen terrorists are planning terrorist acts in Western Europe, ITAR-TASS reported on 18 January. On 19 January, ITAR-TASS quoted Chechen radical ideologue Movladi Udugov as saying that Chechen President Aslan Maskhadov's forces were involved in the 27 December car-bomb attack on the Chechen government building in Grozny. The Russian agency also quoted Udugov as telling an unnamed Georgian publication that similar acts by suicide bombers can be expected soon. Maskhadov has repeatedly ordered his fighters to refrain from terrorist acts outside Chechnya and from any assault that could injure civilians. LF

ARMENIAN, RUSSIAN PRESIDENTS HAIL RELATIONS AS 'CLOSE TO IDEAL'
Following talks in Moscow on 17 January, Robert Kocharian and Vladimir Putin praised the level of bilateral political, economic and military cooperation between their respective countries, which Kocharian characterized as "close to ideal," RFE/RL's Armenian Service reported. Kocharian described the two Russian military bases in Armenia as "a stabilizing factor" and argued that the redeployment to Armenia of the Russian forces currently serving at two bases in Georgia would not "significantly" change the balance of forces in the region, AFP and Interfax reported. Putin, for his part, stressed the importance for Russia of maintaining cordial and balanced relations with both Armenia and Azerbaijan, Interfax reported. He added that Russia should participate actively in the search for a solution to the Karabakh conflict "based on compromise and justice that will suit both countries." LF

ARMENIAN PRESIDENT ANTICIPATES FIRST-ROUND ELECTION VICTORY...
Kocharian told RFE/RL in Yerevan on 20 January that he thinks it "quite realistic" that he will be re-elected president on 19 February, obviating the need for a runoff vote. Government-sponsored polls indicate that Kocharian is the favorite among the 11 registered presidential candidates, but Aleksandr Avetisian, who heads the private Center for Pre-Election Techniques, said he considers Kocharian's chances of an outright win in the first round as only 50-50. His center's weekly poll gives Kocharian between 22-25 percent of the vote, followed by People's Party of Armenia Chairman Stepan Demirchian with less than 11 percent. LF

...AS OSCE URGES FREE AND FAIR BALLOT
Peter Eicher, a U.S. diplomat who heads the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe's (OSCE) special mission to observe the 19 February Armenian presidential election, told a press conference in Yerevan on 20 January he hopes the Armenian authorities will take steps to preclude a recurrence of the serious irregularities that marred previous presidential ballots in 1996 and 1998, Noyan Tapan and RFE/RL's Yerevan bureau reported. "We hope that this year's mission will be able to report further progress and conclude that Armenia is now meeting its international and domestic obligations on democratic elections," Eicher said. He proposed specifically that the press should publish the election results for every polling station. LF

ARMENIA CEDES FINANCIAL MANAGEMENT OF NUCLEAR-POWER PLANT TO RUSSIAN COMPANY
Armenian officials confirmed on 18 January that during his visit to Moscow President Kocharian agreed that the Russian power utility Unified Energy Systems (EES) will take over financial management of the Medzamor nuclear-power plant in exchange for paying off Armenia's $32 million debt to the nuclear-fuel supplier TVEL and covering the purchase for $8 million of a new consignment of nuclear fuel, RFE/RL's Yerevan bureau reported. Medzamor will in turn repay EES from the proceeds of its sales of energy. The Armenian and Russian governments have been trying for several months to reach agreement on payment for a new consignment of nuclear fuel to restart Medzamor, which shut down for refueling in mid-October. LF

U.S. PRESIDENT EXTENDS SUSPENSION OF SANCTIONS AGAINST AZERBAIJAN
George W. Bush signed a resolution on 17 January prolonging for a further 12 months the suspension of Section 907 of the Freedom Support Act, which bars direct U.S. government aid to Azerbaijan as long as that country continues to blockade Armenia, Turan reported. Section 907 was waived one year ago in acknowledgment of Azerbaijan's support for the international antiterrorism coalition (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 29 January 2002). LF

AZERBAIJAN MARKS ANNIVERSARY OF SOVIET REPRISALS
Azerbaijani leaders on 20 January laid wreaths at the graves of some of the estimated 130 people killed during the night of 19-20 January 1990 when Soviet troops advanced into Baku to curtail demonstrations against the republic's leadership and violent reprisals against the city's Armenian population, Turan and Interfax reported. LF

GEORGIA MULLS RESPONSE TO OPENING OF RUSSIAN RAIL LINK
An 18 January meeting of the Georgian National Security Council that was to have considered how Georgia should respond to the resumption of rail communication between the Russian city of Sochi and Sukhum and the granting of Russian citizenship to citizens of Abkhazia was postponed for several days, ITAR-TASS reported on 18 January, quoting council Secretary Tedo Djaparidze. Djaparidze did not specify what measures Tbilisi might take in retaliation, but he denied that Georgia would close its airspace to Russian aircraft. On 16 January, Georgian Transport Minister Merab Adeishvili warned that Georgia might block road and rail communications with the Russian military bases in Georgia (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 17 January 2003). On 18 January, Russian Foreign Ministry spokesman Aleksandr Yakovenko said it would be regrettable if Georgia resorted to such measures, Russian news agencies reported. An unidentified Russian Defense Ministry official told Interfax on 20 January that such a blockade could endanger the normal functioning of Russia's bases in both Georgia and Armenia. LF

CIS OFFICIAL VISITS GEORGIA
CIS Executive Secretary Yurii Yarov held talks in Tbilisi on 17 January with Georgian Foreign Minister Irakli Menagharishvili, Minister for Special Assignments Malkhaz Kakabadze, and President Eduard Shevardnadze, Caucasus Press and Russian news agencies reported. The talks focused on the agenda for the 28-29 January CIS summit in Ukraine that is to decide whether to renew the mandate of the Russian peacekeeping force deployed under the CIS aegis in the Abkhaz conflict zone. Yarov told journalists that Shevardnadze might meet on the sidelines of the summit with Russian President Putin. Shevardnadze described his meeting with Putin in October on the sidelines of the previous CIS summit in Moldova as a potential turning point in relations between the two countries (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 8 October 2002). LF

OPPOSITION POLITICIANS ACCUSE GEORGIAN PRESIDENT OF PLANNING NEW WAR IN ABKHAZIA...
Speaking at a press conference in Tbilisi on 20 January, United Democrats leader Zurab Zhvania and National Movement head Mikhail Saakashvili accused President Shevardnadze of preparing to launch a new war in Abkhazia in order to create a pretext for postponing the parliamentary elections due this fall in which, they predicted, the opposition will defeat Shevardnadze's Union of Citizens of Georgia, Caucasus Press reported. In his traditional Monday radio broadcast on 20 January, Shevardnadze said that all efforts made in recent years to improve the competence of the Georgian military, including the Train and Equip program launched last year by the United States, were undertaken with the intention of bringing Abkhazia back under the control of the central Georgian government. Zhvania and Saakashvili declared their support for the Georgian veterans of the Abkhaz war who are currently on hunger strike outside the Russian Embassy in Tbilisi to demand the withdrawal of the Russian peacekeeping forces from the Abkhaz conflict zone. On 17 January, Zhvania had called on the Georgian authorities to render all possible to support to the Georgian guerrillas operating in the Abkhaz conflict zone and to include representatives of the Abkhaz government in exile in negotiations on resolving the Abkhaz conflict, Caucasus Press reported. LF

...AND CALL FOR HIS OVERTHROW
Georgian parliament deputy leader Djemal Gogotidze (Revival) has urged the Georgian displaced persons who since 6 January have blocked traffic across the bridge over the Inguri River to overthrow President Shevardnadze, Caucasus Press reported on 20 January (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 7 and 13 January 2003). Gogitidze argued "the main responsibility for losing Abkhazia lies with Shevardnadze.... We shall not win Abkhazia back as long as Shevardnadze is president." In his 20 January radio address, Shevardnadze admitted, as he has on previous occasions, that the August 1992 invasion of Abkhazia was a mistake he was powerless to prevent. LF

GEORGIAN GUERRILLA LEADER ACCUSES ABKHAZ OFFICIALS OF PLOTTING HIS KILLING
Police in Tbilisi have arrested two men, one Russian and one Georgian, who have reportedly confessed to having been hired to kill Dato Shengelia, head of the Forest Brothers guerrilla organization, who was recently named deputy head of the Gali Raion administration, Caucasus Press reported on 20 January. Shengelia told a press conference the same day he believes senior Abkhaz officials, including Interior Minister Amazbey Kchach and presidential guard head Valmer Butba, commissioned his killing after he threatened to blow up the Sochi-Sukhum railway line. LF

ABKHAZIA RELEASES TWO DETAINED GEORGIANS
The Abkhaz authorities have released two Georgians detained in Gali Raion on 26 December for allegedly violating passport regulations, Caucasus Press reported (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 6 January 2003). Two other Georgians remain in custody and will stand trial on the same charges on 22 January. LF

GEORGIAN PARLIAMENT APPROVES BUDGET IN FIRST READING
Parliament deputies approved the draft budget for 2003 in its first reading late on 17 January by a vote of 129 in favor and eight against, Caucasus Press reported. Four opposition factions -- Revival, the United Democrats, 21st Century and United Georgia -- walked out of the chamber before the vote, claiming the number of deputies present was fewer than that displayed on the electronic monitor. The budget envisages total revenues of 1.239 billion laris ($587.3 million) and expenditures of 1.478 billion laris, resulting in a 240 million laris deficit. The second and third readings are expected to take place on 28 January. LF

KAZAKH PRESIDENT HIGHLIGHTS NEGATIVE ECONOMIC TRENDS
At a cabinet session on 16 January, Nursultan Nazarbaev expressed concern that the pace of economic reform has slackened and inflation is rising, reaching 6.6 percent in 2002, Interfax reported on 17 January, quoting the presidential press service. He further criticized the government for failing to devote adequate attention to the extraction industries and to import substitution; for the inefficient use of budgetary funds, especially those allocated for combating crime and the incidence of tuberculosis; and for unspecified mistakes during tenders and state purchases. Nazarbaev reminded ministers that the overall goal of doubling GDP in 10 years requires annual GDP growth of 8 percent. He also condemned the 16 percent increase in 2000 in the number of government employees and ministers' penchant for "endless business trips." LF

KAZAKHSTAN HOSTS SECURITY GATHERING
Deputy foreign ministers of the 16 member states of the Conference on Cooperation and Confidence-Building Measures in Asia (CCCBMA) -- together with representatives from the UN, the OSCE, and the League of Arab States -- attended a two-day meeting in Almaty on 16-17 January, the first such gathering since the first CCCBMA summit in June, Interfax and RFE/RL's Kazakh Service reported (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 5 June 2002). Participants agreed to establish working groups to draft regulations on the working of the CCCBMA secretariat and a catalogue of confidence-building measures to be approved at the organization's next summit, which will take place in 2006, Russian news agencies reported. LF

KYRGYZ GOVERNMENT HINTS THAT CONSTITUTIONAL AMENDMENTS MIGHT BE REVISED...
First Deputy Prime Minister Kurmanbek Osmonov told the Legislative Assembly (the lower chamber of Kyrgyzstan's parliament) on 20 January that a team of experts will reconsider two controversial draft amendments to the constitution that grant the president the absolute right of veto and deprive citizens of the right to appeal to the Constitutional Court, RFE/RL's Kyrgyz Service reported. But Djypar Djeksheev, who is deputy head of the opposition headquarters established on 17 January to monitor preparations for the 2 February national referendum on the draft amendments, said that simply changing those two articles in the draft is not enough. He said the opposition wants the existing draft to be abandoned and replaced with that approved by consensus by the Constitutional Council. Legislative Assembly speaker Abdygany Erkebaev told a press conference on 20 January that he opposes the clauses giving the president an absolute-veto right and that granting former presidents and their families immunity from prosecution. LF

...AS MINISTERS PREPARE TO ARGUE THEIR MERITS...
Kyrgyz government officials were sent to their home provinces or villages on 19 January to join some 200 lecturers who will give public lectures arguing the merits of the amended draft constitution, RFE/RL's Kyrgyz Service reported. The previous day, Prime Minister Nikolai Tanaev appealed to local administration heads to ensure the electorate takes part in the referendum and that the opposition does not resort to "illegal actions," including a boycott. The referendum will be considered valid if 50 percent of the electorate participates, and the amendments will take effect if 50 percent of those who vote approve them, according to Interfax on 20 January. LF

...AND OPPOSITION COORDINATES COUNTERMEASURES
As noted above, on 17 January opposition party leaders and some members of the Constitutional Council established a headquarters to coordinate measures against the planned referendum. The body is headed by Omurbek Tekebaev, who is leader of the Socialist Atameken (Motherland) Party. Tekebaev told RFE/RL on 18 January that the headquarters will urge voters throughout the country not to participate in the referendum or, if they insist on voting, to reject the proposed changes. In addition, opposition parties opposed to the referendum agreed on 19 January to launch a website, RFE/RL's Kyrgyz Service reported. LF

TAJIK PRESIDENT ASSESSES ECONOMIC SITUATION...
Addressing a government session on 18 January, Imomali Rakhmonov noted that GDP increased by 9.1 percent in 2002, industrial production by 8.2 percent, and agricultural output by 15 percent compared with the previous year, Asia Plus-Blitz reported on 20 January. At the same time, Rakhmonov highlighted economic shortcomings that he attributed to the inefficiency of various governmental and local bodies, including failure to collect the required amount of land tax and domestic excise duties. He said that while production of cotton -- the second most important export commodity -- grew by 62,800 tons, 20 cotton-producing raions failed to meet production targets, and productivity declined in 14. Rakhmonov also chided oblast-level administrators for failing to ensure adequate heating supplies prior to the onset of winter and for neglecting to provide adequate assistance to the most impoverished strata of the population. LF

...MAKES SWEEPING PERSONNEL CHANGES
At the same cabinet session, Rakhmonov announced the dismissals of Health Minister Alamkhon Akhmedov, Communications Minister Nuriddin Muhidddinov, and Council of Judges Chairman Mizrob Kabirov and Deputy Chairman Sharif Saidov, Asia Plus-Blitz reported on 20 January. In addition, four raion-level administrators in Khatlon Oblast and one city mayor in Sughd Oblast were retired. Tajik National Medical University Rector Nusratullo Faizulloev was named health minister. Saidmahmad Zubaidov was appointed communications minister; Zarif Aliev was named Constitutional Court chairman, and Mahmadnazar Solehov was appointed Council of Judges chairman. First Deputy Foreign Minister Erkin Qosimov was named Tajikistan's permanent representative to the OSCE. LF

MORE ALLEGED PLOTTERS SENTENCED IN TURKMENISTAN...
Ten men -- including businessman Yklym Yklymov, former parliament speaker Tagandurdy Khallyev, and Uzbek citizen Khorsaid Safarov -- were sentenced to between 20-25 years' imprisonment on 18 January on charges of involvement in the reputed 25 November attempt to assassinate President Saparmurat Niyazov, ITAR-TASS reported. Yklymov's brother Sapar, who lives in exile in Sweden, embarked on a hunger strike on 20 January to protest human rights abuses in Turkmenistan, Reuters reported. He said the human rights situation in that country "is worse than in Iraq or North Korea." LF

...AS RUSSIAN LIBERAL PARTIES ACCUSE TURKMEN LEADERSHIP OF 'MASS POLITICAL PERSECUTION'
In a statement released on 17 January, Yabloko and the Union of Rightist Forces condemned the arrests over the past two months in Turkmenistan as "mass political persecution aimed at wiping out the political opponents of [Saparmurat] Niyazov and all those who disagree with the regime of personal power established by him," Interfax reported. The two parties called for an independent investigation by international -- including Russian -- representatives into the coup and assassination allegations and the investigation and trial of opposition leaders implicated in them. Russian State Duma Deputy Speaker Lyubov Sliska of the pro-Kremlin Unity faction, however, downplayed the statement as unwarranted interference into the affairs of a sovereign state, Interfax reported. She commented that such statements will not solve the problems that exist in Turkmenistan or do anything to improve Russian-Turkmen relations. LF

TURKMEN PARLIAMENT GLORIFIES PRESIDENT'S MOTHER
The Turkmen parliament has adopted a resolution declaring 2003 the "Year of the Turkmen heroine Gurbansoltan edzhe, the mother of the first and eternal President of Turkmenistan Saparmurat Turkmenbashi," Interfax reported on 18 January. The resolution praised her as a spiritual and moral ideal to which all women and mothers should aspire. When he renamed the months of the year in August 2002, President Niyazov named April "Mother." LF

UZBEKISTAN BLOCKS ACCESS TO INTERNET DEFAMATION OF PRESIDENT
Access in Uzbekistan to the website centrasia.ru has been blocked, although the government has disclaimed responsibility for doing so, according to "The Washington Post" and centrasia.ru on 21 January. On 13 January, the site posted a lengthy article by political scientist Usman Khaknazarov (the name is believed to be a pseudonym) giving details of how Islam Karimov engineered his election to the post of first secretary of the Communist Party of Uzbekistan in the late 1980s and of his relations with Afghan Deputy Defense Minister General Abdul Rashid Dostum and the various Uzbek "clans" engaged in drug trafficking. LF

NUMBER OF INTERNET USERS DOUBLES IN UZBEKISTAN
The number of Internet users in Uzbekistan rose in 2002 to 275,000, compared with 137,000 the previous year, according to uza.uz on 20 January. Some 73 percent of those users, however, are in Tashkent and make use of Internet cafes, of which there are more than 100 in the Uzbek capital, compared with only one each in Karakalpakistan and the Surkhandarya Oblast. The country's population is 25 million. LF

UZBEK FOREIGN MINISTER VISITS IRAN
Abdulaziz Komilov held talks in Tehran on 17-18 January with Iranian President Mohammad Khatami, National Security Council Secretary Hassan Rowhani, Foreign Minister Kamal Kharrazi, and Roads and Transportation Minister Ahmad Khorram, Interfax and Caspian News Agency reported on 20 January. The talks focused on bilateral relations; economic, trade, and transport cooperation; and the situation in Afghanistan. Komilov reportedly stressed the importance of increasing support for post-conflict reconstruction in Afghanistan. Khorram told Komilov that the planned North-South Transport Corridor would benefit the Uzbek economy and contribute to stabilization in Afghanistan. He said Iran is prepared to contribute to the transport-corridor project by opening its eastern ports of Shahid Rajaei and Chahabar. LF

UZBEK GOVERNMENT TIGHTENS ANTISMUGGLING MEASURES
Uzbekistan has intensified customs and border controls to combat the smuggling of inferior Chinese commodities into Uzbekistan, Interfax reported on 20 January, quoting an unidentified Uzbek government official. The goods are primarily smuggled through Kazakhstan. The official said that up to 20 unofficial markets have been established in regions of Kazakhstan and Kyrgyzstan that border on Uzbekistan, at which Uzbek citizens purchase small quantities of such goods and bring them into Uzbekistan illegally. LF

BELARUSIAN-RUSSIAN SUMMIT MULLS INTEGRATION
Belarusian President Alyaksandr Lukashenka and his Russian counterpart Vladimir Putin took part in a meeting of the Russia-Belarus Union Supreme Council in Minsk on 20 January, Belarusian and Russian media reported. The meeting reportedly focused on socioeconomic matters of the union and brought no new decisions. Lukashenka and Putin stressed their commitment to introduce the Russian ruble as the sole Russian-Belarusian currency as of 1 January 2005, as previously agreed. The countries still face disagreement over currency and monetary controls, which Russia would like to see orchestrated from Moscow, while Belarus would like to create a joint central bank. Lukashenka said a joint company to transport Russian gas through Belarus to Western Europe will be established by July. Putin confirmed media reports that Russia's migration law does not apply to Belarusian citizens, who will not have to fill out migration cards when entering Russia. JM

SOME 57 PERCENT OF BELARUSIANS OPPOSE THIRD TERM FOR LUKASHENKA
According to a poll conducted by the Independent Institute for Socioeconomic and Political Studies (NISEPI) among 1,478 Belarusians in December, 57 percent of respondents said they oppose a constitutional amendment that would lift the current two-term restriction on presidents. Lukashenka has suggested he might organize a constitutional referendum to enable him to run for a third term (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 18 September 2002). The poll also indicated that Lukashenka's popularity has increased for the first time in 16 months, from 27 percent in September to 30.5 percent in December (see "RFE/RL Poland, Belarus, and Ukraine Report," 21 January 2003). JM

UKRAINIAN PRESIDENT TOURS MIDDLE EAST
President Leonid Kuchma visited Saudi Arabia on 18-19 January and Kuwait on 20-21 January, Ukrainian media reported. Later on 21 January, Kuchma was scheduled to make an official visit to Bahrain. In Riyadh, the secretary-general of the Gulf Cooperation Council, Abdelrahman bin Hamad al-Atiyyah, assured Kuchma that the council is ready to develop cooperation with Ukraine in the economic, trade, and investment spheres. He added that Ukraine's potential in technical areas, investment, and technology can be useful for countries in the Persian Gulf region. On 20 January, Kuchma held talks with Kuwaiti government officials, followed by the signing of an intergovernmental agreement on avoiding double taxation and preventing tax evasion. JM

UKRAINIAN SPEAKER DENIES HARBORING PRESIDENTIAL AMBITIONS
Verkhovna Rada speaker Volodymyr Lytvyn told journalists on 17 January that he is not going to run for president in the 2004 elections, Interfax reported. Lytvyn speculated that candidates might include Our Ukraine leader Viktor Yuschenko, Communist Party leader Petro Symonenko, Yuliya Tymoshenko, Socialist Party leader Oleksandr Moroz, Premier Viktor Yanukovych, and presidential administration chief Viktor Medvedchuk. Last week, the 4th Verkhovna Rada concluded its second plenary session. The next session will begin on 4 February. JM

UKRAINIAN JOURNALIST FOUND DEAD
Well-known Ukrainian journalist Serhiy Naboka was found dead in a hotel room in Vinnytsya, in western Ukraine, on 18 January, UNIAN and Interfax reported. Naboka, 47, a veteran journalist for RFE/RL's Ukrainian Service, was in Vinnytsya with a group of journalists to prepare a series of reports on the living conditions of prisoners. Preliminary reports indicated that Naboka's death was caused by a blood clot. JM

CIS SUMMIT RELOCATED TO KYIV
Ukrainian Foreign Minister Anatoliy Zlenko on 21 January confirmed media reports that the CIS informal summit originally scheduled for Ivano-Frankivsk, western Ukraine, on 28-29 January, will be held at the same time but in Kyiv, Interfax and UNIAN reported. UNIAN on 20 January quoted a diplomatic source from Moscow as saying that some CIS presidents objected to meeting in Ivano-Frankivsk, citing insufficient transport and accommodation infrastructure. Earlier, the radical nationalist Ukrainian National Assembly-National Self Defense announced it would stage protests against holding the CIS summit in western Ukraine. JM

ESTONIAN MODERATES APPROVE ELECTION PLATFORM
A conference of Moderates candidates for the March parliamentary elections approved the party's election platform in Tallinn on 18 January, BNS reported. Its first and foremost pledge is to ensure speedy, sustainable economic growth, particularly taking into account the interests of employees. It also includes support for a package of employment measures entitled "Working Estonia," which is being discussed in the parliament. The party also favors the introduction of an income-tax rate of 33 percent for incomes greater than 300,000 kroons ($20,400) per year instead of the current uniform rate of 26 percent. The platform also calls for gradually raising the income-tax exemption to the level of the minimum wage. It also contains a pledge to pay a parent who stays at home after the birth of a child a tax-exempt annual salary of 50,000 kroons. While avoiding any pre-election coalitions, the party conference expressed its willingness to form a postelection alliance with any parties that share its views on labor policy and the demographic situation. Party Chairman Ivari Padar said the People's Union, Pro Patria Union, and Res Publica are considered the Moderates' most likely allies. SG

GOVERNMENT BACKS LATVIAN MEDICS' PARTICIPATION IN OPERATION IN AFGHANISTAN
During an extraordinary session on 20 January, the cabinet approved a proposal to send eight Latvians to Afghanistan as part of a Dutch military contingent, LETA reported. The contingent is part of the UN's International Security Assistance Force (ISAF). Latvia is ready to send two volunteer teams -- including one physician, two paramedics, and a driver -- for a term of six months at an estimated cost of 260,000 lats ($450.000), which would be covered from the Defense Ministry budget. The decision still requires parliamentary approval. This would be Latvia's first direct support for peacekeeping operations in Afghanistan. Baltic neighbors Estonia and Lithuania have sent a medical unit and a mine-detection unit, respectively. SG

CENTRAL BANKER SAYS LITHUANIA COULD REPLACE LITAS WITH EURO IN 2006
After a meeting with parliamentary Chairman Arturas Paulauskas, Bank of Lithuania Chairman Reinoldijus Sarkinas told a press conference in Vilnius on 20 January that he sees no obstacle to Lithuania's adoption of the euro in 2006 or January 2007 at the latest, BNS reported. Sarkinas previously mentioned 2007 or 2008 as possible dates for introducing the euro, but after the Estonian and Latvian prime ministers stated that their countries expect to join the European Exchange Rate Mechanism (ERM II) in 2004 and enter the euro-zone in 2006, he revised his position. Sarkinas said Lithuania should meet the ERM II criteria that the national budget deficit and state debt be less than 3 percent and 60 percent of GDP, respectively, and that annual inflation not exceed the average inflation among the three lowest EU states plus 1.5 percentage points. Lithuania's expected budget deficit for 2003 is 2.4 percent of GDP, the state debt in November 2002 was 26.4 percent of GDP, and there was a 1.0 percent deflation in 2002 -- although the consumer price index was significantly reduced by a repegging of the currency, the litas. SG

POLISH DEBATE OVER ABORTION SAID TO INTENSIFY AHEAD OF EU REFERENDUM...
Polish Television on 20 January predicted that the recently resurfaced public debate about Poland's restrictive abortion law of 1997 will become even hotter as the EU referendum date approaches. Last week, Sejm speaker Marek Borowski from the ruling Democratic Left Alliance (SLD) proposed that Poland hold a referendum on easing the abortion law. "The SLD is against such tough abortion laws and understands women's rights differently than groups linked to the church or those on the political right," Borowski told PAP. President Aleksander Kwasniewski commented on 18 January that the abortion law "works" and need not be amended. "There is no majority that would support either amendments to the [abortion] law or the Sejm's resolution to hold a referendum on this issue," Premier Leszek Miller noted on 20 January. JM

...AS PARLIAMENT MULLS EU REFERENDUM BILL
The bill on an EU referendum submitted by President Kwasniewski is still being considered in committee in parliament, Polish Radio reported on 17 January. Kwasniewski has proposed that the final decision on Poland's accession to the European Union be made by the Sejm and the Senate if less than 50 percent of those eligible to vote cast their ballots in the EU referendum. Meanwhile, the pro-EU opposition Civic Platform has proposed amending the constitution to drop the requirement of a 50 percent turnout. "At the moment, the constitution is the most solid legal act that we have managed to create in the last five years.... If the [EU] referendum is to take place on 8 June, and everything indicates that this will be the case, we don't have time for this very complicated procedure of amending the constitution," Kwasniewski commented. Another opposition party, the right-wing Law and Justice, decided on 18 January that it will campaign for a "yes" vote in Poland's EU entry referendum. JM

POLISH PREMIER DISMISSES HEALTH MINISTER
Premier Miller has replaced Health Minister Mariusz Lapinski with Senator Marek Balicki, Polish media reported on 17 January. Miller said he recalled Lapinski for signing a pledge to Solidarity in Silesia to remit a loan committed to health-care funding in the region from the state budget in 2000. Under the law, only the parliament may adopt a decision regarding the debts of health-care funds. JM

POLISH PRESIDENT VETOES BIOFUELS LAW
President Kwasniewski on 17 January vetoed a bill under which all gasoline marketed after 1 July would have to contain at least 4.5 percent bioethanol (dehydrated alcohol), Polish media reported. According to the president, a majority of experts he consulted "commented negatively" on the bill. He advised the Sejm to make changes to the bill, including adding provisions about the gradual introduction of biofuels, offering consumers a choice, and providing for the creation of an effective inspection system in the biofuels market (see "RFE/RL Poland, Belarus, and Ukraine Report," 21 January 2003). JM

CZECH DEFENSE MINISTER IN KUWAIT
Visiting Defense Minister Jaroslav Tvrdik on 20 January discussed with his Kuwaiti counterpart the deployment of the Czech unit stationed in that country, the struggle against international terrorism, and the threat posed by Iraqi weapons of mass destruction, CTK reported. In addition to meeting with Deputy Prime Minister and Defense Minister Sheikh Jabir Mubarak al-Hamad al-Sabah, Tvrdik visited soldiers belonging to the Czech Republic's antichemical-, antibacterological-, and antinuclear-warfare unit. In related news, the Chamber of Deputies' approval on 17 January for the participation of Czech military forces in possible action against Iraq, which gave a green light to the unit's deployment in action, made that participation conditional on the government's acting on the basis of "a new resolution by the UN Security Council," CTK reported (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 17 January 2003). Senate President Petr Pithart said he does not see any need for the upper house to re-debate the deployment in order to "just approve those few words" added to the Senate's earlier resolution. MS

CZECH LAWMAKERS SCHEDULE SECOND PRESIDENTIAL VOTE
Chamber of Deputies speaker Lubomir Zaoralek told CTK on 17 January that he has scheduled a second joint session of parliament aimed at electing a president for 24 January. Zaoralek was speaking after meeting with parliamentary-party leaders. MS

CZECH SOCIAL DEMOCRATS ANOINT ZEMAN AS PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE...
The executive committee of the senior coalition Social Democratic Party (CSSD) on 18 January nominated former Premier Milos Zeman as the party's candidate in the second presidential vote, CTK reported. Prime Minister Vladimir Spidla, who has labored to mute a strong Zeman wing within the party, made the announcement, adding that he will not lobby on Zeman's behalf. An overwhelming majority of committee members voted for Zeman, who won the party's nonbinding primary for the candidacy. He said after the nomination that he is confident he can defeat the Civic Democratic Party's (ODS) candidate, former Premier Vaclav Klaus (see below), if his party unites behind him. "I have already beaten Vaclav Klaus three times" in the past, CTK quoted him as saying. "Let us now...do everything to win for a fourth time." Zeman also denied that if he fails to win the election, he intends to return to the chairmanship of the CSSD. CSSD's junior coalition partners, the Christian Democratic Union-People's Party (KDU-CSL) and the Freedom Union-Democratic Union (US-DEU), reacted by announcing that Zeman is not the joint presidential candidate of the coalition. MS

...WHILE OPPOSITION PARTY STICKS WITH FORMER LEADER KLAUS...
The ODS parliamentary group in the Chamber of Deputies on 17 January officially submitted its honorary chairman Klaus' candidacy for the second presidential electoral round, CTK reported. Klaus said on the same day that CSSD candidate Zeman "is a serious, worthy rival -- definitely worthier that [my] opponents in the [15 January] first presidential round...I must take him very seriously and I am doing so," he said. On 18 January, Klaus said on Czech Television that he would be pleased if the Communist Party of Bohemia and Moravia (KSCM) backed his candidacy in the forthcoming round. In the course of the program, Klaus and KSCM Deputy Chairman Jiri Doles dismissed rumors that the KSCM has agreed to support Klaus in exchange for positions for its members on the Constitutional Court and on the executive board of the National Bank. MS

...AND SENATE HEAD PULLS OUT OF RACE
Senate President Petr Pithart has declined to compete in the second presidential vote, KDU-CSL Chairman Cyril Svoboda said on 17 January, according to CTK. Pithart and Klaus advanced to the second and third rounds in the first vote, held on 15 January. Svoboda said the KDU-CSL still believes Pithart is the most suitable candidate for the presidency and that he might run again if a successor to outgoing President Vaclav Havel is not elected on 24 January. MS

NEW COALITION-PARTY CHAIRMAN HINTS AT GOVERNMENT INSTABILITY
Petr Mares, the government's deputy premier in charge of research and development, human rights, and human resources, was elected on 19 January as the new chairman of the center-right US-DEU, CTK reported. Before his election, Mares, 50, said the US-DEU might go into opposition if Zeman becomes the country's next president. Mares's predecessor, Hana Marvanova, resigned in July when her party opted to enter a coalition with the left-wing Social Democrats. Acting Chairman Ivan Pilip, a political veteran and former finance minister, chose not to run for the party leadership. The party conference that elected Mares also rejected a proposal by Marvanova to leave the coalition in view of the growing budget deficit. MS

CZECH PRESIDENT MAKES FAREWELL VISIT TO GERMANY
In a symbolical farewell visit, outgoing President Havel on 17 January met in Berlin with Chancellor Gerhard Schroeder, discussing relations between the two countries and the possible U.S.-led military action against Iraq, CTK and international news agencies reported. Havel told journalists after the meeting, "I consider it a gift from fate that I could participate in the breakthrough events that followed the fall of the Iron Curtain and that I could witness the reunification of Germany." Schroeder called Havel a "great European" and a man who "has influenced history." Havel also held talks with Foreign Minister Joschka Fischer and decorated five German personalities for their contributions to improving relations between the two countries. German President Johannes Rau hosted Havel at an official dinner at his Bellevue Palace residence and thanked him "for everything you have done for freedom." MS

FORMER CZECH RIGHT-WINGERS TURN LEFT
A group of former members of the extreme-right Assembly for the Republic-Republican Party of Czechoslovakia (SPR-RSC) on 18 January set up a new political formation to compete with the Communist Party of Bohemia and Moravia (KSCM). The group is headed by Jiri Stepanek and calls itself the Workers' Party, CTK reported. The agency cited a press release stating that the party intends to fight the "uncontrolled" influx of foreign capital, which it says turns Czech workers into a cheap labor force. "We shall not tolerate the unbearable situation of people being literally terrorized by their employers, particularly by supranational companies," the statement said. The party is also opposed to EU accession but says it will respect the public's decision if membership is approved by the planned plebiscite. MS

SLOVAK COALITION PARTY THREATENS TO LEAVE GOVERNMENT OVER ALLEGED BUGGING...
Alliance for a New Citizen (ANO) Chairman and media mogul Pavol Rusko on 18 January told journalists after a meeting of the ANO leadership that the party is considering leaving the ruling center-right coalition, CTK reported. Rusko said a police investigation was secretly launched against him and his telephone has been bugged as a result. CTK said the investigation was launched after a meeting between Rusko and reputed Slovak mafia boss Mikulas Cernak, who was recently released from jail on good behavior. Rusko denied having met with Cernak during a recent winter vacation in the High Tatras and said he only met there with former Economy Minister Ludovit Cernak. Rusko said that unless an agreement is reached with the coalition partners to immediately stop the "use of undemocratic procedures" against any coalition members, ANO will leave the cabinet. ANO controls 15 of the coalition's 78 seats in the 150-member parliament. MS

...WHILE INTERIOR MINISTER DENIES EAVESDROPPING
Interior Minister Vladimir Palko through a spokesman on 20 January rejected the ANO leadership's bugging allegation as unfounded, CTK reported. Palko said he has ordered an investigation into the affair in order to prove the buggings never took place. In turn, Rusko denied on 20 January that the purpose of his complaint was to bring about changes in the leaderships of the Interior Ministry and the Slovak Intelligence Service and replace their heads with ANO members. President Rudolf Schuster met with Rusko the same day and said the coalition leadership should resolve the dispute, adding that he would not like to see the coalition fall apart. MS

SLOVAK GOVERNMENT APPROVES EU REFERENDUM DATE
The government on 20 January approved 16-17 May as the dates for a referendum on the country's EU accession, CTK reported. Premier Mikulas Dzurinda said he hopes the plebiscite will "break the tradition" of referendums being invalidated due to low turnouts. Deputy Premier Pal Csaky said on 17 January he does not believe Slovak voters will reject joining the EU in the referendum, but added that there is a genuine fear that the legally required 50 percent turnout will not materialize, TASR reported. Csaky is to submit a proposed strategy for informing the electorate on the advantages of joining the organization. MS

SLOVAK NATIONALIST PARTIES AGREE ON DATE OF MERGER
Slovak National Party (SNS) Chairwoman Anna Malikova and Real Slovak National Party Chairman Jan Slota on 17 January agreed that the merging congress of their formations will take place in April, TASR reported (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 20 December 2002). They both apologized to their supporters for the 2001 split that triggered the failure of the nationalists to gain parliamentary representation in the 2002 elections. They also agreed that neither will run for the reunited party's chairmanship, although Slota added that he might reconsider that decision if asked to do so by two-thirds of the reunited party's members. They also called on their supporters to sign a petition, launched earlier this month, in favor of a referendum on NATO membership, which they oppose. MS

SLOVAK POLICE DETAIN YOUTH OVER ASSASSINATION THREATS
Slovak police on 17 January detained a 17-year-old youngster from Bratislava who in recent weeks allegedly has sent several e-mails to President Rudolf Schuster threatening to assassinate him, TASR and CTK reported. MS

OPPOSITION CALLS FOR HUNGARIAN INTERIOR MINISTER'S DISMISSAL
FIDESZ Deputy Chairman Janos Ader on 17 January told reporters that, following last week's Supreme Court ruling that ordered new Romany-authority elections (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 17 January 2003), Interior Minister Monika Lamperth should dismiss the leader of the National Election Office and Prime Minister Peter Medgyessy should sack Lamperth, Hungarian media reported. The election office had previously ratified the 12 January elections. Lamperth thus collected her "second yellow card," Ader said, as barely one month ago she was admonished by the Constitutional Court for breaching the law on electoral procedures. Government spokesman Zoltan Gal countered that Lamperth continues to enjoy the support of the prime minister. Lamperth said she is not considering resignation, as the Supreme Court struck down a ruling by the National Election Office, not her. She called for changes to the law on ethnic-minority elections. MSZ

HUNGARIAN CULTURE MINISTER EXPANDS CONTROVERSIAL MUSEUM BOARD AMID PROTESTS
Culture Minister Gabor Gorgey has asked the Institute on History and several archives to nominate six historians who could serve on an enlarged board of trustees of the foundation that runs the controversial House of Terror museum in Budapest, "Magyar Nemzet" reported on 18 January. The proposed 11-member board could replace current museum Director Maria Schmidt and revamp the exhibition. Schmidt called the expansion of the board an "unequivocally political decision" and wondered aloud why the same energy is not directed toward building a Holocaust Museum more quickly. Such an institution would present the era that is missing from the House of Terror, Schmidt said. Meanwhile, the museum's leadership has informed German, Austrian, U.S., British, and Israeli sister museums, friends, and fellow researchers of the "attack" on the museum, "Nepszabadsag" reported on 21 January. MSZ

HUNGARY, RUSSIA SIGN DEBT-SETTLEMENT AGREEMENT, BUT NOT WITHOUT CONTROVERSY
Visiting Hungarian Finance Minister Csaba Laszlo and his Russian counterpart Aleksei Kudrin in Moscow on 20 January signed an agreement on the repayment of Soviet-era debt owed to Hungary, Budapest dailies reported. The agreement includes the payment of $82 million in cash within a few weeks, rather than the $92 million previously announced. The Russian state debt to Hungary stood at $467 million in December. Russia has agreed to deliver goods worth some $177.7 million over the next four years, including trains and ships. Hungary has forgiven a further $61 million, as Russia claimed to have already delivered goods worth that amount, although the recipient Hungarian companies have failed to pay it into the state budget. On 21 December, the Hungarian government announced that Moscow agreed to repay 36 percent of the remaining $229 million, or $92 million, as full settlement of all state debts (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 23 December 2002). Laszlo now insists that he signed the original settlement, so it is not clear when the missing $10 million turned into "goods delivered to Hungary." MSZ

VENUE FOR HUNGARIAN NEO-NAZI DEMONSTRATION BOOKED UP
The Budapest first district's local government will organize a cultural event at Buda Castle from 20 January to 28 February, which implies that the Blood and Honor Cultural Society will not be able to stage any approved functions there, Hungarian media reported on 18 January. The society, widely regarded as a neo-Nazi organization, announced to police in October that it wants to pay tribute to those killed in the 11 February 1945 breakout from Buda Castle and the preceding siege (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 3, 6, 7, and 9 January 2003). Neo-Nazis traditionally gather at the castle on 11 February to honor the Hungarian Arrow Cross and German soldiers who unsuccessfully fought Soviet troops for control of Budapest. MSZ

FORMER SERBIAN PRESIDENT SURRENDERS TO THE HAGUE
Milan Milutinovic surrendered to the international war crimes tribunal in The Hague on 20 January, RFE/RL's South Slavic and Albanian Languages Service reported. Milutinovic arrived in the Netherlands aboard a Yugoslav government airplane and was taken to the tribunal's detention unit. He is charged with war crimes and crimes against humanity committed during the Kosova crisis in 1999. Milutinovic denies the charges, citing his lack of real political power. Yugoslav and Serbian government officials have repeatedly signaled that both governments are willing to submit guarantees to the tribunal so that Milutinovic, who reportedly suffers from heart problems, may remain free until his trial. Milutinovic is being represented by British lawyer John Livingston and two Belgrade lawyers (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 3, 6, 7, 9, 13, and 14 January 2003). UB

FORMER BOSNIAN OFFICIALS FOUND GUILTY OF ARMS SMUGGLING
The Bosnian Supreme Court found three former high-ranking Bosnian officials guilty of smuggling arms to Kosova, the "Southeast European Times" reported on 20 January. The court sentenced the officials to terms of one to three years in prison and acquitted four other former officials. The defendants, including senior police and military officers, were arrested in 2001. UB

PHYSICIANS STRIKE IN CROATIA
State-employed medical doctors went on strike on 20 January, RFE/RL's South Slavic and Albanian Languages Service reported. The physicians are demanding higher wages. They initially demanded a 45 percent pay hike, but offered a compromise wage increase of 28 percent and have given the government until 22 January to respond. Health Minister Andro Vlahusic claimed most hospitals are functioning normally, while physicians union head Ivica Babic insisted that participation in the strike is high. UB

BOSNIAN SERB PARLIAMENT APPROVES CABINET
The Bosnian Serb parliament elected Dragan Mikerevic as the Republika Srpska's new prime minister on 17 January, the "Southeast European Times" reported. Lawmakers also elected a new, multiethnic government as stipulated by the constitution. Eight government members are ethnic Serbs, five are Muslims, and three are Croats (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 23 December 2002). UB

ALBANIAN PRESIDENT PLEDGES TO STEP UP FIGHT AGAINST JUDICIAL CORRUPTION
President Alfred Moisiu told representatives of local authorities on 18 January that he will step up efforts to combat corruption within the judiciary, the "Southeast European Times" reported. Moisiu said he is confident that recent measures will improve the courts' efficiency and prevent arbitrary verdicts and injustice. UB

U.S. RULES OUT TALKS ON KOSOVA INDEPENDENCE
U.S. State Department spokesman Richard Boucher told a press briefing on 17 January that Washington's position on the future status of Kosova remains unchanged, according to the State Department's official website (http://www.state.gov/r/pa/prs/dpb/2003/16752.htm). In response to a question concerning Serbian Prime Minister Zoran Djindjic's proposal to open talks on the status of Kosova, Boucher said, "Our view has been and continues to be that questions of the final status of Kosovo need to be handled in accordance with Resolution 1244 of the United Nations and that it's not time at this point to begin talks on the final status questions." He added that "much remains to be done in returning refugees and displaced persons, ensuring safety and freedom of movement for minorities, combating organized crime, and nurturing inclusive and effective self-governance" (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 17 January 2003). UB

SERBIAN SOCIALISTS RE-ELECT MILOSEVIC CHAIRMAN
At its sixth extraordinary congress in Belgrade on 18 January, the Socialist Party of Serbia (SPS) re-elected former President Slobodan Milosevic as chairman, Beta reported. Milosevic, who is on trial before the international war crimes tribunal in The Hague, opposed his nomination. The party congress elected Ivica Dacic to fill the newly created position of chairman of the party's steering committee. Acting party Chairman Bogoljub Bjelica, who was appointed by Milosevic, walked out of the congress along with 40 followers after criticizing Dacic and other members of the party leadership (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 26 and 29 August 2002). UB

SENIOR MACEDONIAN OFFICIALS VISIT BELGRADE
Prime Minister Branko Crvenkovski, Interior Minister Hari Kostov, and Economy Minister Ilija Filipovski made an official visit to Belgrade on 17 January for talks with the Serbian and Yugoslav governments, MIA news agency reported. The talks focused on economic cooperation, joint efforts to combat organized crime and terrorism, and the status of Kosova. Crvenkovski and his Serbian counterpart Zoran Djindjic signed an agreement to improve cooperation between the two countries' security forces. "Crime in the region can be eliminated only in an organized way. The agreement that we signed today provides specific activities in that direction," Djindjic told a joint press conference. Reacting to Djindjic's reiteration that the status of Kosova must be resolved soon, Crvenkovski said the status of the province is of secondary importance until the rule of law is implemented in the region. UB

ROMANIAN PRESIDENT, PREMIER AGREE ON 2003-04 PRIORITIES
President Ion Iliescu met on 17 January with Prime Minister Adrian Nastase to discuss the government's priorities for 2003-04, RFE/RL's Bucharest bureau reported. They agreed that over the next two years the government must focus on raising living standards, continuing economic reforms, and preventing and combating corruption. The two also agreed that particular attention should be paid to reducing bureaucracy, increasing the efficiency of central and local public administration, and that NATO and EU integration should be top priorities. Senate Chairman Nicolae Vacaroiu, who attended the meeting, said Iliescu is not opposed to the Social Democratic Party's (PSD) intention to introduce single-constituency elections for the Senate, but wants to consult with other parliamentary parties on the issue. MS

ROMANIA TO STREAMLINE MINISTRIES, LOCAL ADMINISTRATION
The government intends to streamline the cabinet by merging several ministries, the private Antena 1 television channel reported on 17 January. Public Administration Minister Octav Cozmanca confirmed this in an interview with Romanian Radio on 20 January. Reducing the number of deputy ministers with the rank of state secretary is also envisaged, as well as changing prefects whose performance is unsatisfactory, according to Cozmanca. At a meeting with local administration managers in Cluj on 19 January, President Iliescu said government officials must in the future fully introduce the EU model of civil service, Mediafax reported. He said public administration must realize that it should serve the citizenry and that citizens do not serve it. MS

ROMANIA TO HAVE REGIONAL GOVERNORS?
Public Administration Minister Cozmanca said at the 19 January meeting in Cluj that Romania might institute the post of regional governor by the end of 2003, the daily "Curentul" reported on 20 January. Eight such governors are envisaged, their main function being that of supervising the administration of EU-allocated funds and overseeing regional development. The eight regions would be based on Romania's eight historical provinces, but Cozmanca emphasized that there is no intention to do away with the current local-administration structure based on counties. However, President Iliescu warned at the same meeting against any "declared or disguised attempts to tear off any part of Romania, Transylvania included, from the structure of the Romanian unitary state," Romanian Radio reported. The warning reflects traditional fears that demands for Transylvanian autonomy could lead to the province's separation from Romania or be a first step toward unification with Hungary. MS

ROMANIAN PREMIER REVEALS ELECTORAL PLANS
Speaking in Rome, where he attended a meeting of the Socialist International on 20 January, Premier Nastase said the cabinet has not yet made a final decision on when to hold the next elections but that it is examining the possibility of holding parliamentary and presidential elections separately, Romanian Radio reported. The two ballots were held simultaneously in 1990, 1992, 1996, and 2000. Nastase said the presidential contest could take place at the end of 2004 and the parliamentary elections three months afterward in early 2005, in order to avoid "discontinuities" that could affect both institutions as a result of the elections, Mediafax reported. Local elections should be scheduled in the first six months of 2004, the premier said. Nastase also said one of the envisaged constitutional amendments would introduce a five-year mandate for the head of state instead of the current four-year term. MS

ROMANIAN FOREIGN MINISTER ENDS DIPLOMATIC TOUR
Foreign Minister Mircea Geoana said on 19 January upon his return from a weeklong tour of India, Iran, and the Middle East that the main topics of discussion during his visits were bilateral relations, the Iraq conflict, and the situation in the Middle East, Romanian Radio reported. On the last leg of his tour, Geoana was received on 18 January in Riad by Saudi King Fahd Bin Abdulaziz al-Saud, Crown Prince Abdullah bin Abdul Aziz, and held talks with his Saudi counterpart Saud al-Faisal. On his way home, Geoana stopped over in Jordan, meeting an unidentified member of that country's government. Geoana told Romanian Radio that one of the main purposes of his visits was to open new markets for Romanian products. MS

FIRST FINES FOR NAZI SYMBOLS IN ROMANIA
A Timisoara tribunal on 20 January fined a young man 5 million lei ($153.50) for having painted a swastika on a building in the town, Mediafax reported, citing the BBC. The fine is the smallest that can be imposed on those who infringe on the stipulations of last year's government ordinance forbidding the display of Nazi symbols (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 19 March 2002). Another trial is under way in Timisoara in which a man is charged with having painted a swastika on a building restituted to a Jewish family. The man is a tenant in the building. If convicted, he faces up to five years in jail. MS

ANTIGOVERNMENT PROTESTS RENEWED IN MOLDOVA
Several thousand people on 19 January heeded the Popular Party Christian Democratic's (PPCD) call to renew the protest demonstrations against the communist government, RFE/RL's Chisinau bureau and international news agencies reported. PPCD Chairman Iurie Rosca vowed that the demonstrations will not stop until the country's current rulers are forced to resign. He said the protests will initially be repeated every Sunday and eventually become more frequent. MS

IMF POSTPONES DISBURSEMENT OF MOLDOVAN LOAN
The International Monetary Fund (IMF) on 17 January officially announced that it is postponing the disbursement of a $12 million tranche of an approved loan for Moldova, Romanian Radio reported. The IMF said the decision reflects its dissatisfaction with the failure of the Moldovan government to implement an agreement with the fund reached in October 2002. The decision is likely to lead the World Bank to take similar steps against Moldova. MS

RUSSIA SUSPENDS ORDER DISBANDING TRANSDNIESTER-STATIONED CONTINGENT
Russian Chief of the General Staff General Anatolii Kvashnin on 16 January suspended his previous order to disband the Operative Group of Russian Forces, Infotag reported on 20 January, citing grani.ru. Kvashnin issued an order six months earlier that envisaged the removal of the Russian arsenal and the 2,000-strong group by 31 December 2002, in line with the OSCE's decision at its November 1999 Istanbul summit. The deadline for the withdrawal was extended by one year at the OSCE's December 2002 summit in Porto, Portugal. MS

FORMER OSCE MISSION HEAD RETURNS TO MOLDOVAN POST
U.S. diplomat William Hill will take over the post of OSCE mission head in Moldova as of 24 January, Flux reported on 20 January, citing mission spokesman Matti Sidoroff. Hill previously headed the mission in 1999-2001. Former mission head David Schwartz recently completed his one-year term. MS

BULGARIAN PRESIDENT ENDS MOLDOVAN VISIT
Bulgarian President Georgi Parvanov on 17 January ended a two-day visit to Moldova after inaugurating the new Bulgarian Embassy in Chisinau and visiting the Taraclia district with President Vladimir Voronin, RFE/RL's Chisinau bureau reported. Parvanov thanked Voronin for the "tolerant attitude displayed by the [Moldovan] authorities toward national minorities, the Bulgarian minority inclusive," and pledged Bulgarian aid for setting up a Bulgarian-language university in the district. Romanian Radio reported that a majority among Moldova's 90,000-strong Bulgarian minority lives in Taraclia. The district was established as a separate administrative unit in 1998. MS

BULGARIAN, U.S. FOREIGN MINISTERS MEET IN NEW YORK
Foreign Minister Solomon Pasi met with Secretary of State Colin Powell on the sidelines of the UN Security Council meeting in New York on 20 January, BTA reported. After the meeting, Pasi said on Bulgarian National Radio that the talks focused on Bulgaria's future NATO membership as well as on the crises in Iraq and North Korea. Pasi was confident that there will be no problems regarding U.S. ratification of Bulgaria's NATO membership. Powell and Pasi also discussed whether and how Bulgaria could participate in a possible military strike against Iraq. Asked about Iraq's $1.7 billion debt to Bulgaria, Pasi said he does not expect the sum to be paid back as long as President Saddam Hussein is in power, but that he hopes that any future Iraqi government would do so after the Iraq crisis is resolved. UB

BULGARIAN GOVERNMENT MEMBER SAYS HE EXPECTS RESHUFFLE IN PARTY LEADERSHIP
Defense Minister Nikolay Svinarov told Bulgarian National Radio on 20 January that he expects a reshuffle within the leadership of the ruling National Movement Simeon II (NDSV) to be carried out soon, bnn reported. Svinarov said otherwise the parliamentary faction could split. Members of the NDSV's parliamentary faction have repeatedly expressed their discontent with Plamen Panayotov, the chairman of the faction. In related news, Svinarov said in the northern Bulgarian town of Lovech that the question of a government reshuffle will be resolved within one month. The NDSV currently holds 115 seats in the 240-seat parliament, while its junior coalition partner, the ethnic Turkish Movement for Rights and Freedoms, holds 20 seats. UB

BULGARIAN SUPREME JUDICIAL COUNCIL MEMBER REPEATS DEMAND THAT PROSECUTOR-GENERAL RESIGN
Supreme Judicial Council member Neli Kutskova said on 20 January on "Blitz," the joint television and radio program of RFE/RL's Bulgarian Service and the private television station bTV, that Prosecutor-General Nikola Filchev should resign. Kutskova, who heads the Sofia District Court, cited Filchev's lack of professional competence and his psychological problems as the basis for this demand. Her statement came one day after Filchev gave an extensive interview on National Television in which he ruled out that he will give in to the mounting pressure on him to resign. Regarding his alleged psychological problems, Filchev said he is prepared to undergo a medical examination if the members of the Supreme Judicial Council, government members, and the leaders of parliamentary factions do the same. The Supreme Judicial Council, which appointed Filchev as prosecutor-general in 1999, in December called on Filchev to resign on moral grounds (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 17 January and 19 December 2002). UB

THE EU TAKES A FRESH LOOK AT THE BALKANS, PART 1
The countries of the western Balkans all seek rapid integration into Euro-Atlantic institutions. The EU seems on the way to realizing that it must offer them serious prospects of membership, much as NATO already has.

On 14 January, the "Frankfurter Rundschau" published an interview with Christoph Zoepel, who is one of the leading Balkan policy experts within Germany's governing Social Democratic Party (SPD). He warned the EU not to be "arrogant" toward the countries of the western Balkans -- Albania, Bosnia, Croatia, Macedonia, and Yugoslavia -- nor to leave them outside that organization. To neglect the five countries would be a great "historic mistake," he added.

Zoepel thinks one way to defuse tensions surrounding such delicate issues as the status of Kosova would be to hold out the prospect of a common European citizenship to Serbs and Albanians alike. To give weight to his argument, he suggested that Belgium would have split up long ago along ethnic lines if it were not for that country's membership in the EU. (And he might have also recalled the positive role that European integration played in Western Europe as a whole in the decades since World War II, particularly in terms of Franco-German reconciliation.)

The Social Democratic legislator also noted that people throughout the Balkans are enthusiastic about joining the EU, adding that he has not met a single serious politician there who is opposed to membership. Zoepel recalled that Kosovar President Ibrahim Rugova once told him that an independent Kosova could do without its own foreign minister and leave that job to the EU. Zoepel added that he has not seen such eagerness to delegate prerogatives to Brussels anywhere else.

To bring the countries of the western Balkans into the EU, he continued, amounts to nothing more than carrying out a decision that was, in effect, made already in 1981 when the then-European Community voted to admit Greece. Zoepel stresses that the decision in favor of Greece meant Brussels accepted in principle that "everything to the northwest of Athens" would some day belong to the EU.

That decision is well on its way to being realized by holding out prospects of admission in 2007 to Romania and Bulgaria, he continued. What Zoepel now misses is a readiness to engage the other five countries of the region and give them realistic possibilities for membership.

He noted there are several obstacles to doing so. One is simple ethnic prejudice, particularly against peoples of Islamic heritage, such as the Bosnian Muslims and many Albanians. This prejudice is more intense than those against, for example, Poles or Czechs and ignores the fact that Albania is a highly secular country, much more so than Turkey.

When asked whether the five should be admitted as a group, Zoepel suggested that Croatia is farther along toward meeting the EU's criteria for membership than the others and could proceed ahead of them. But the other four, in his view, are so "interdependent" when it comes to ethnic and religious disputes that it would not be practical or wise to separate them on the road to membership.

Zoepel noted that Macedonia has met the criteria for membership that the EU leaders set down at their recent Copenhagen summit -- but only formally. Albania is a democracy and has a market economy, but has problems bringing its institutions into line with European standards. Bosnia and Yugoslavia are handicapped by what he called "unresolved status questions."

But the SPD legislator does not feel the EU should wait for the five countries to meet its standards before engaging them. On the contrary, he argued that they can develop modern market economies only when they have a clear perspective for EU membership. And that, Zoepel concluded, could be a reality in 10 years.

GOVERNORS IN SOUTHEASTERN AFGHANISTAN MEET TO IMPROVE SECURITY
The Ghazni Province governor has met with his counterparts from Khost, Loghar, Paktiya, Paktika, and Vardak provinces to discuss the southeastern region, Radio Free Afghanistan reported on 20 January. The topics ranged from reconstruction to improving security and fighting terrorist elements in the region. In an exclusive interview with Radio Free Afghanistan, the governor of Ghazni said the purpose of the meeting was to establish cooperation in the region in order to improve security and to foster a better environment for reconstruction efforts. The five governors agreed to secure the roads in the region by establishing security checkpoints to monitor travelers. In addition, the governor said the private sector is contributing by providing supplies, such as cement, to facilitate the reconstruction of roads and other infrastructure. KM

TWO U.S. TROOPS INJURED IN BLAST IN AFGHANISTAN
Two U.S. soldiers were injured on 18 January in an explosion that occurred as they were driving through the Salon-e Now area near the city of Khost, according to Colonel Roger King, the U.S. military spokesman in Afghanistan, Iranian Radio reported. Attacks against U.S. soldiers by opposition elements in Afghanistan have increased over the last two weeks. "The eastern and southeastern areas of Afghanistan are a geographical zone of the most active opposition to the U.S. military presence," Iranian Radio commented on 19 January. KM

HERAT TEACHERS MEET TO DISCUSS EDUCATION
A three-day seminar was held at the education department in Herat to discuss "financial management and logistics," Iranian Radio reported on 19 January. In attendance were "dozens of teachers from Herat, Farah, Ghowr, and Badghis provinces." In addition to administrative tasks, the meeting was also to discuss "how to deal with the inaccessibility of education and to put schools back in operation, especially those for girls," according to Iranian Radio. The meeting came in the wake of the recent international criticism of Herat's new educational regulations segregating males and females (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 13 and 16 January 2003). Representatives from both the United Nations International Children's Emergency Fund (UNICEF) and the United Nations Mission in Afghanistan (UNAMA) were present and reportedly pledged their cooperation. KM

PAKISTANI REPORT CLAIMS PRESIDENT KARZAI WILL INSTITUTE HIGH-LEVEL GOVERNMENT CHANGES
"High-level changes are expected in [the] Hamid Karzai-led transitional government in Kabul to strengthen the Afghan president and put checks on the powers enjoyed by warlords, especially the self-acclaimed army generals and commanders of the Northern Alliance," the Pakistani daily "The News" reported on 20 January. Karzai intends to begin by replacing at least two of his cabinet ministers, including Interior Minister Taj Mohammad Wardak and Higher Education Minister Sharif Fayez, according to the report. "The News" claimed that Ali Ahmad Jalali, a former army officer and most recently head of Voice of America's Dari, Pashto, and Persian services, will return to Kabul to take over for the aging Wardak. In addition, the government in Kabul also plans on sending incumbent governors to other provinces in a bid to weaken powerful warlords, according to the commentary. If Karzai does, in fact, make such moves, he is likely to irritate many, including Defense Minister Marshal Mohammad Qasim Fahim, whose powers would also be reduced under the reshuffling. Suggesting that a coup against Karzai could result, the report concluded that "only time will prove if Karzai's plans are materialized the way he wishes." KM

REPATRIATED AFGHANS SUFFERING
Repatriated Afghans are suffering due to a lack of housing and the unavailability of jobs, factors that are compounded by severe winter temperatures, the Kabul daily "Anis" reported on 18 January. According to a report published by the United Nations on 31 December, more than 2 million Afghan refugees have returned to Afghanistan, the majority of them to the capital city of Kabul, which cannot sustain the influx. "The repatriation comes following the destitution inflicted by the war that has destroyed the economic and social infrastructure. In addition, the four years of drought have intensified the misfortune by contributing to the devastation in the spheres of agriculture and livestock," "Anis" reported. "The hardship of homelessness and other handicaps of the refugees are visible to the government authorities and donor agencies, but as the refugees are scattered, and the Refugees and Repatriation Ministry lacks facilities, no effective steps have been taken to overcome their problems," according to the newspaper. KM

AFGHAN MINISTRY TO BEGIN REGISTERING FOREIGN EXPATRIATES FOR SECURITY REASONS
The Afghan government plans to start requiring foreigners living in Afghanistan to register with the Interior Ministry, the Hindukosh news agency reported on 19 January. "The Interior Ministry has taken the measure after a number of NGO personnel were attacked and injured by gunmen in Zabul [Province] and in Mazar-e Sharif [in Balkh Province]. According to the pronouncement by the Interior Ministry, details of all foreign expatriates working in various capacities will be registered with the Interior Ministry and will be utilized when necessary," the news agency reported. KM

CONTRADICTORY REPORTS EMERGE ON IRANIAN DISSIDENT'S HEALTH...
Ahmad Montazeri, the son of dissident cleric Ayatollah Hussein-Ali Montazeri-Najafabadi, said on 19 January that his father's health problems have been cured and the only remaining problem is sleepiness, ISNA reported. "My father continues to sleep about 16 hours a day," Ahmad Montazeri said. "He is not very lively even when he is not sleeping." The conservative "Resalat" newspaper on 18 January reported that Ahmad Montazeri said his father is using a great deal of medication to deal with his heart and kidney problems and diabetes, and doctors believe that the situation is dangerous. BS

...WHICH PROMPTS CLERICAL AND PARLIAMENTARY CONCERN
The former Friday prayer leader of Isfahan, the immensely popular Ayatollah Seyyed Jalaledin Taheri, has sent a letter to Iran's top clerics voicing his concern about Ayatollah Montazeri's well-being, "Iran" newspaper reported on 18 January. The letter is addressed to Grand Ayatollahs Musa Shobeyri-Zanjani, Mohammad Hussein Vahid-Khorasani, Javad Aqa-yi Tabrizi, Mohammad Taqi Bahjat, Mohammad Fazel-Lankarani, Lotfollah Safi-Golpayegani, Yusef Jannati-Sanei, Abdol-Karim Musavi-Ardabili, and Hussein Nuri-Hamedani. Najafabad parliamentary representative Mustafa Taheri-Najafabadi said on 17 January that it is no longer expedient to detain Montazeri in light of his ill health and the length of time he has been under house arrest, ISNA reported. The parliamentarian said this is why more than 100 members of the legislature wrote a letter to President Mohammad Khatami in which they called for lifting the restrictions on Montazeri. BS

BAN ON IRANIAN NEWSPAPER CONTINUES
The temporary ban on the "Noruz" daily newspaper was due to expire soon but Judge Said Mortazavi has extended it indefinitely, IRNA reported on 20 January. Mortazavi cited complaints from the Basij and the police when he announced the closure's continuation on 19 January. The Islamic Iran Participation Party (IIPP) criticized the ban in a public statement. The newspaper was to resume publication under the new name of "Ruz-i No" with IIPP founder and parliamentarian Mohammad Reza Khatami as its editor. The IIPP's statement also criticized the "temporary" ban on the "Mosharekat" daily that was imposed 30 months ago, ISNA reported on 20 January. BS

IRANIAN ACTIVIST'S DEATH SENTENCE STILL IN PLACE
Attorney Saleh Nikbakht, who represents political activist and university Professor Hashem Aghajari, said on 20 January that his client's death sentence has not been changed yet, IRNA reported. A Hamedan court in August sentenced Aghajari to death for blasphemy. Ayatollah Mohammad Sajjadi, who is one of the three judges examining the appeal against the death sentence, said on 19 January that the death sentence should be revoked, IRNA reported. Sajjadi added that the charges against Aghajari are groundless. BS

INDIAN NAVY CHIEF SIGNS AGREEMENT IN TEHRAN
Indian naval chief Admiral Madhvendra Singh arrived in Tehran on 16 January for a four-day visit, IRNA reported the next day. (Another IRNA dispatch reported that he left on 17 January for a five-day visit.) Singh said during 18 January discussions with Iranian Minister of Defense and Armed Forces Logistics Rear Admiral Ali Shamkhani that Iran and India are excellently situated to cooperate, IRNA reported. Singh added that the signing of a memorandum of understanding at the end of his visit will indicate the two countries' resolve to exchange technology. Shamkhani expressed an interest in further cooperation in the energy, trade, transport, culture, military, and security spheres. BS

TURKS MAY WANT FURTHER GAS DISCOUNTS
Turkey currently is buying Iranian natural gas for $.08 per cubic meter, which is $.04 cheaper than originally agreed, the "Iran Daily" reported on 18 January, citing "Entekhab." Moreover, Turkey is pushing for a further reduction in the price it pays. Iran was forced to give in to Turkish demands because it faces competition from cheap Russian and Qatari natural gas, according to "Iran Daily." Turkey suspended its imports of Iranian natural gas last summer until it received a discount in October (see "RFE/RL Iran Report," 16 September and 21 October 2002). BS

IRANIAN PRESIDENT TELLS SYRIAN FOREIGN MINISTER HE OPPOSES IRAQ WAR
Syrian Foreign Minister Faruq al-Shara stopped in Tehran on 18-19 January on his way to Riyadh and met with President Khatami and Foreign Minister Kamal Kharrazi, according to IRNA and Syrian Arab Republic Radio on 19 January. Khatami told his guest that Iran opposes a unilateral war against Iraq and it supports Iraq's territorial integrity, and he expressed support for regional diplomatic efforts to preclude a war in Iraq. Khatami also told the visiting Syrian, in IRNA's words, that "the Zionist regime is taking advantage of the current situation in the region by intensifying its attacks against Palestinians." Shara said Iranian-Syrian relations are strong and there are constant Damascus-Tehran contacts, according to Damascus radio. Such statements and the brevity of the visit reflect an effort to dispel rumors of a chill in Tehran-Damascus relations that were strengthened by the sudden "postponement" of President Bashar al-Assad's visit to Iran (see "RFE/RL Iran Report," 20 January 2002). BS

IRANIAN DIPLOMAT MEETS SABRI IN BAGHDAD
Hussein Sadeqi, who heads the Iranian Foreign Ministry's Gulf Desk, was in Baghdad on 19 January to discuss bilateral relations, Iraq Satellite Television reported. Sadeqi met with Iraqi Foreign Minister Naji Sabri, who discussed the work of international arms inspectors, Republic of Iraq TV reported. Sabri described for his guests what he perceives as a U.S. threat to regional security. BS

IRAN DENIES PRESENCE OF GEORGIAN SCIENTISTS
Foreign Ministry spokesman Hamid Reza Assefi on 19 January dismissed reports on Iran-Georgia nuclear cooperation, IRNA reported. Meanwhile, Minister of Defense and Armed Forces Logistics Shamkhani on 15 January denied that any Georgian nuclear experts are in Iran, although he conceded that Georgian technicians are working in Iran on the Su-25 Frogfoot ground-attack aircraft, according to AFP. Georgian President Eduard Shevardnadze said during a 13 January briefing in Tbilisi that Georgia has not sold Su-25's to Iran but it cannot stop Georgian technicians from going there, ITAR-TASS reported. Shevardnadze also said that nuclear specialists from the Sukhum Institute of Physics and Technology, in the breakaway republic of Abkhazia, have worked in Iran. BS

IRAQ, UNMOVIC REACH CONSENSUS ON HOW TO PROCEED
Iraqi and UNMOVIC officials concluded two days of talks on 20 January in Baghdad and signed a 10-point statement on how inspections should proceed. The statement notes that Iraq has provided unrestricted access to inspection sites thus far and will continue to do so, and will encourage access to private sites. Iraq has also agreed to provide assistance to UNMOVIC in setting up an office in Basra. It will also investigate and search for other 122-millimeter munitions, like the ones found on 16 January. Iraq has provided UNMOVIC with documents requested and has pledged to "clarify" outstanding issues; it will also provide the names of "persons engaged in various disciplines" per UNMOVIC's request. Iraq also agreed to discuss and clarify issues related to its 7 December declaration to the UN Security Council, and to encourage Iraqis who are asked to be interviewed by UNMOVIC to do so in private. Iraq will work with the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) to clarify issues regarding aluminum tubes, uranium imports, and its use of high explosives, and will "enact national legislation...regarding proscribed activities." In addition, UNMOVIC and IAEA agreed to take an "appropriate" number of Iraqi "minders" on board their helicopters. The statement can be found at http://www.un.org/depts/unmovic. KR

ARAB LEAGUE ASKS MEMBER STATES TO NOMINATE INSPECTORS FOR IRAQ
Arab League Secretary-General Amr Musa has sent a letter to member states requesting that they nominate qualified citizens to act as weapons inspectors in Iraq. Musa told the London-based "Al-Hayat" that he has received responses from Algeria, Egypt, Jordan, Lebanon, Morocco, and Tunisia, the daily reported on 17 January. Musa reportedly estimated at 10 to 15 the number of Arab scientists who would join UN inspectors in Iraq. Meanwhile, Iraqi Information Minister Muhammad Sa'id al-Sahhaf commented on the nomination of Arab scientists by saying, "Iraq was informed of these ideas from the beginning." He added that the UN Security Council "agreed the teams would include various nationalities. Why would there not be Arabs among them?" "Al-Hayat" reported. KR

IRAQI PRESIDENT MEETS WITH MILITARY PERSONNEL, SON
Iraqi President Saddam Hussein has met with his son Qusay, head of the elite Republican Guard unit; Defense Minister Staff General Sultan Hashim Ahmad; as well as a number of "fighters" from the army, Iraq Satellite Television reported on 18 January. During the meeting, the president inquired as to the condition of the troops and praised their morale. "When the fighter believes he is fighting for a just cause, he should be confident that those who lead him are able to use his capability -- or even his blood if that is required by the homeland -- and the result will be in favor of higher honor and meanings," Hussein said. "When [the soldier] trusts his leaders and commanders he becomes an Iraqi fighter." The president went on to speak about Arab solidarity and how the entire Iraqi nation is depending on its soldiers to win should a confrontation with the West arise. Hussein then asked his guests to "say 'hello' to the fighters." KR

KUWAITI ARRESTED FOR SPYING FOR IRAQ
The Kuwaiti Interior Ministry announced on 17 January that it has arrested a Kuwaiti national, Muhammad Hamad Fahd Al-Juway'ed, a sergeant in the National Guard, for providing Iraq with secret security and military information, Kuwait News Agency (KUNA) reported. The information reportedly includes the travel routes of senior Kuwaiti officials. The Kuwait daily "Al-Watan" reported on 18 January that al-Juway'ed was also asked to provide information that would facilitate the entry of Iraqis into Kuwait in order to carry out terrorist activities, such as bombings at gas stations and power plants. Iraqi intelligence officers also reportedly asked al-Juway'ed, who worked as a food supervisor at the Kuwaiti National Guard's Al-Sumud Camp, to provide information on how and through which companies food was supplied to U.S. troops, apparently in an effort to penetrate and poison food supplies. Al-Juway'ed, who was arrested two weeks ago, had been under surveillance by Kuwaiti authorities for one year and often met his handlers in the United Arab Emirates, according to "Al-Watan." KR

KURDISH LEADER SAYS IRAQI OFFICERS WILL DEFECT
Barham Salih, prime minister of the PUK-led government in Al-Sulaymaniyah, has told Italy's RAI Uno Television that President Hussein's regime will "crumble quickly." His comments came during an interview aired on 19 January. "Many Iraqi officers, some of them high-ranking ones, are getting in touch with us in Kurdistan," Salih said. "They say they are not happy and are waiting for the day of freedom. In other words, many, many people are really beginning to jump ship," he added. Salih predicted that the fall of the regime will be similar to that of Nicolae Ceausescu's in Romania. KR

'AL-HAYAT' PREDICTS SUCCESSOR TO IRAQI PRESIDENT
The London-based daily "Al-Hayat" has predicted the successor to President Hussein. In an 18 January article, the paper named Adnan al-Bachachi as the man who will run the transitional phase in Iraq, should Hussein be removed from power due to a U.S.-led attack. Al-Bachachi is the former foreign minister and Iraqi delegate to the United Nations. He now lives in the United Arab Emirates. KR

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