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Newsline - January 23, 2003


ECO-JOURNALIST FREED
Jailed military journalist and ecologist Grigorii Pasko was released from prison on 22 January after an Ussuriisk court reduced his four-year sentence on the grounds of "good behavior," Russian and Western news agencies reported. Pasko, who was convicted by a military court in December 2001 of passing classified information about the Russian Pacific Fleet to Japanese journalists (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 28 December 2001), served two years and eight months of his sentence, including his time in pretrial detention. In 2002, he refused an offer of a state pardon, saying that accepting it would be tantamount to admitting his guilt. RFE/RL reported on 22 January that Pasko's lawyer, Ivan Pavlov, said the authorities have been pressuring Pasko for the last month to admit his guilt in exchange for an early release. "We will continue to fight to clear Grigorii's name," Pavlov said. "We have submitted an appeal to the chairman of the Supreme Court, who has not yet ruled on the case." A spokesman for the Prosecutor-General's Office criticized the Ussuriisk ruling, dpa reported on 22 January, saying that only prisoners who accept the legitimacy of their sentences are eligible for early release. Pasko said that he will resume work as a journalist, Reuters reported. VY

PUTIN PROPOSES NEW BODY TO MONITOR REGIONAL INTERNATIONAL CONTACTS...
Speaking to a 21 January State Council session devoted to coordinating the international contacts of the Russian regions (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 21 January 2003), President Vladimir Putin noted that 46 of the federation's 89 subjects are on the country's frontiers and Russia has 22,000 kilometers of borders with foreign countries, Russian news agencies reported on 22 January. Putin proposed the creation of a council of regional heads attached to the Foreign Ministry that would participate in determining the course of Russia's foreign policy and its international strategies. He also said the country's foreign missions should do more to monitor the foreign relations of the regions, noting that the foreign colleagues of Russian diplomats have already been working for years on the level of regional cooperation. VY

...MOLLIFIES CONCERNS OVER CHINA...
President Putin also told the State Council that the issue of border delimitation between Russia and China will be resolved in the near future, RIA-Novosti reported on 22 January. He said that talks on the issue are under way, but noted that both sides still need to make compromises. Khabarovsk Krai Governor Viktor Ishaev, speaking after Putin, said that China is carrying out a policy of active expansion in his region. "The political and business elite of China believes that Russia has annexed 1.5 million square kilometers of [Chinese] territory," Ishaev was quoted as saying. Ishaev claimed that the border-delimitation process is linked with Chinese domestic problems, including the fact that the number of unemployed people in China exceeds the entire population of Russia. He also noted that 1.2 million people left the Russian Far East in recent years, and he called for a reevaluation of "the strategy of relations with China." Putin responded to Ishaev's remarks by saying that such a strategy already exists and the cornerstone of it is the Sino-Russian friendship treaty that was signed in July 2001 (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 17 July 2001). VY

...AND URGES END TO 'ESPIONAGE SYNDROME'
At the same State Council session, President Putin called on regional leaders to put an end to the "manic espionage syndrome" that has gripped the bureaucracy, especially in regard to nuclear security and the processing of nuclear waste, newsru.com reported on 21 January. The president endorsed a proposal by Murmansk Oblast Governor Yurii Yevdokimov that would delegate the right to grant inspection access to nuclear facilities from the federal center to the regions. "Excessive bureaucracy and espionage mania only make it difficult to work," Putin said. He added that officials "should accept the criticisms of human rights organizations and be more careful in observing the rights of foreigners in the Russian Federation." VY

OFFICIALS ACCUSE CHINESE POACHERS OF SPOILING THE ENVIRONMENT
Chinese poachers have been pouring a strong toxic substance into rivers that flow into Primorskii Krai, NTV reported on 21 January. According to the station, the poachers pour the poison into the water in order to scoop up valuable dead frogs with ease. The poison has spread to all the rivers near the Chinese border. JAC

ANALYSTS PREDICT RUSSIA'S RUIN
Speaking at a St. Petersburg conference entitled "Globalization and National Self-Determination," political scientist Sergei Kurginyan said that "the integration of Russia into the international community and the preservation of Russia's integrity as a state are mutually exclusive goals," RosBalt reported on 21 January. "If we strive for a global community, we will lose Russian values," added St. Petersburg State University Professor Aleksandr Kuropyatnik. VY

LITHUANIAN-TRANSIT SQUABBLE FLARES UP
Lithuania has decided to halt transit through its territory for Russian military personnel traveling between Kaliningrad Oblast and the rest of Russia as of 1 February, nns.ru reported on 21 January, citing a Russian Foreign Ministry statement. As of that date, Lithuania will stop recognizing military identification cards and birth certificates as legitimate travel documents. The Foreign Ministry charged that the new policy violates the agreement reached by Moscow and Vilnius concerning Russian access to Kaliningrad (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 12 November 2002). However, the Lithuanian Bureau for European Integration responded that that agreement contains a complete list of acceptable travel documents and that list does not include military identification cards or birth certificates, "Nezavisimaya gazeta" reported on 21 January. A spokesman for the Kaliningrad Oblast-based Baltic Fleet said that 95 percent of its servicemen do not have foreign passports, "Kommersant-Daily" reported on 21 January. VY

ZHIRINOVSKII NO LONGER AN ANTI-SEMITE?
Nationalist politician and State Duma Deputy Speaker Vladimir Zhirinovskii, who heads the Liberal Democratic Party of Russia, arrived in Israel on 21 January for his first-ever visit to that country, Russian and international news agencies reported. Zhirinovskii renounced his many notoriously anti-Semitic remarks, saying, "they are in the past [and] I now think differently." "I am not anti-Semitic, fascist, or a provocateur," Zhirinovskii said. He also denied that he has Jewish roots, although the "Jerusalem Post" on 21 January quoted one of his books in which he writes that his father was an ethnically Polish Jew. It is not clear who invited Zhirinovskii to Israel, which is currently in the throes of an election campaign, but the Israeli Foreign Ministry has warned local and national officials to avoid contacts with him. VY

INTERIOR MINISTRY TO MANAGE WATER INFRASTRUCTURE
By the end of the year, the Transport Ministry will transfer control over Russia's water infrastructure -- including bridges, canals, dams, and dikes -- to the Interior Ministry, RosBalt reported on 22 January, quoting Transport Ministry official Nikolai Smirnov. Smirnov revealed that the Interior Ministry in 2002 took over responsibility for the Volga-Don Canal and that this year it will take control of the Volga-Baltic Sea and the White Sea-Baltic Sea canals. All in all, about 65,000 objects comprise Russia's water infrastructure, and many of them are in extremely poor condition, Smirnov said. Some analysts believe that the transfer of responsibility to the Interior Ministry is part of the country's new antiterrorism measures. VY

CONTROVERSIAL LAW ON AGRICULTURAL-LAND SALES TO COME INTO EFFECT NEXT WEEK
The law on buying and selling agricultural land, which was passed by the State Duma after much drama last year, will come into force on 27 January, Interfax reported on 21 January. The law covers the use and sale of arable land. Individuals without Russian citizenship will have the right only to lease agricultural land for up to 49 years. Some regional leaders, including Krasnodar Krai Governor Aleksandr Tkachev, have said the new law will not be implemented on their territories (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 20 February 2002). JAC

PUTIN CAN'T GET ENOUGH OF BASHKIR PRESIDENT?
President Putin was scheduled to meet with Bashkortostan President Murtaza Rakhimov on 22 January, "Novye izvestiya" reported that day. According to the daily, the meeting "promises to be tense," because Putin was reportedly planning to repeat his request that enterprises in Bashkortostan pay the taxes that they owe to the federal treasury. According to the daily, which cited no sources in its report, Putin attempted to retrieve the money when he met with Rakhimov last year, but his request failed to achieve results. Putin's involvement in the saga reportedly started in February 2002 when Finance Minister Aleksei Kudrin sent him a letter informing him about the shortfall in tax receipts from enterprises registered in Bashkortostan. Putin interrupted his vacation to meet with Rakhimov on 1 January, his fifth visit to Ufa since becoming president (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 7 January 2003). JAC

NEW RELIGIOUS GROUP FORMED IN DUMA
A new interfactional association for State Duma deputies has been formed under the name of For Traditional Spiritual and Moral Values in Russia, Interfax reported on 22 January. The coordinator of the new group is Deputy Valerii Galchenko (People's Deputy), and it boasts some 41 members, including representatives of all of Russia's "traditional religions." According to Galchenko, the group's purpose is to give "traditional religious communities the opportunity to participate in a modern parliament and to influence the formation of the legislative base in the spiritual/moral sphere of society." JAC

YUKOS DENIES FINANCING COMMUNISTS, ENGAGING IN POLITICS
Oil giant Yukos has issued a statement denying reports that recently circulated in the Russian media that it is planning to contribute millions of dollars to the Communist Party, Interfax reported (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 21 January 2003). Yukos "respects the different political views of its colleagues and shareholders," the statement said. "However, it does not participate in the financing of any kind of party or movement and strictly adheres to the principle of non-participation in political activities." Regarding the publication of the story about Yukos and the Communist Party, "Vremya-MN" commented that those experts who had predicted the disappearance of "black PR" in the current election campaign were apparently incorrect. The daily attributed the story to presscenter.ru, but that site on 20 January cited a story published four days earlier on kreml.org, a website launched by political consultant Gleb Pavlovskii's Foundation for Effective Politics. JAC

GAZPROM FLAK GETS PROMOTION
The board of directors of NTV television on 22 January selected Nikolai Senkevich as the company's new general director, replacing U.S. citizen Boris Jordan, Ekho Moskvy reported (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 22 January 2002). Senkevich was previously deputy head of Gazprom's information-policy department. Senkevich promised to maintain the station's current editorial policies. Senkevich is also the son of the well-known travel journalist and television host Yurii Senkevich, according to Interfax. JAC

SENATORS STILL VULNERABLE TO DISMISSAL
State Duma deputies on 22 January rejected a bill that would have amended the law on the formation of the Federation Council and made it more difficult for regions to dismiss their senators, ITAR-TASS reported (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 22 January 2003). The bill, which was submitted by the Union of Rightist Forces (SPS), got 162 votes in favor, with 29 against, and two abstentions. It needed 226 votes to pass. SPS leader Boris Nemtsov argued the bill would protect Federation Council members from arbitrary recall practices. Some deputies called instead for the direct election of Federation Council members. JAC

DEPUTY MINISTER LINKS LOCAL-GOVERNMENT REFORMS WITH QUASHING OF SEPARATISM IN TATARSTAN...
Deputy Economic Development and Trade Minister Vitalii Shipov told reporters in Moscow on 22 January that the proposed local self-government reform "will put a stop to separatist tendencies in Tatarstan," RosBalt reported. According to Shipov, the separatist mood arose in Tatarstan "as a result of the fact that there was no strict demarcation among federal, regional, and local powers." Earlier in the month, President Putin introduced to the Duma a package of bills to reform local self-government drafted by a commission headed by deputy presidential administration head Dmitrii Kozak (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 6 January 2003). JAC

...AS TATAR CLERGY SAY WAHHABISM FINDING LOCAL STRONGHOLDS
Tatarstan's First Deputy Mufti Valiulla Yakupov said on 22 January that the most radical followers of Islam are starting to become more active in Tatarstan, Interfax reported. According Yakupov, Wahhabis are most well-established in Naberezhnye Chelny and Almetevsk and in the southwestern raions of the republic. Yakupov said he does not think Wahhabism will spread to Kazan. JAC

NEW THEORY SURFACES IN GROZNY CAR-BOMBING
"Novye izvestiya" on 22 January suggested a possible explanation for Chechen Interior Minister Ruslan Tsakaev's statement that two of the three perpetrators of the 27 December car-bomb attack on the Chechen government building in Grozny were blond and all three wore Russian Army uniforms and spoke fluent Russian without accents (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 30 December 2002). The paper suggests that a Russian security service might have staged the attack either in revenge for the October Moscow theater hostage taking by Chechen radicals, or to exacerbate tensions in Chechnya, or to destroy evidence of embezzlement of Russian funds allocated for restoration projects. According to that hypothesis, the perpetrators would have been informed that they were participating in an antiterrorism training exercise, but not that the vehicles they used were packed with explosives. LF

CHECHEN NGOS REJECT CHARGE OF ANTI-RUSSIAN BIAS
In a 22 January statement, the heads of the Council of NGOs, the Chechen Committee for National Salvation, and of the public organizations Echo of War, Union of Women of Chechnya, and Mothers of Chechnya for Peace deny that the information posted on the websites of the first two of those organizations is anti-Russian, chechenpress.com reported. They characterized their materials as "antiwar," which, they suggested, is the real motive for the threat to shut down the websites. The owner of the Internet provider mastak.ru informed the two organizations earlier this week that it will no longer host the two sites because their materials are "anti-Russian" (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 22 January 2003). LF

CHECHEN OFFICIALS BRIEF PACE ON PREPARATIONS FOR REFERENDUM
Chechen administration head Akhmed-hadji Kadyrov in Mineralnye Vody on 22 January assured Lord Frank Judd, the co-chairman of the Parliamentary Assembly of the Council of Europe-Russian State Duma working group on Chechnya, that preparations for the 23 March referendum on a new draft Chechen constitution and election legislation are almost complete, Russian news agencies reported. Kadyrov said an estimated 17,000 Chechen displaced persons still in Ingushetia will have the opportunity to cast their ballots. At a meeting in Grozny the same day with members of the Chechen Election Commission, Judd posed a series of questions concerning how many people were involved in drafting the new basic law and whether the independent media were able to participate in the debate on its merits and shortcomings, ITAR-TASS reported. LF

FORMER ARMENIAN PREMIER RESPONDS TO PRESIDENT'S SLUR
Former Prime Minister and opposition Hanrapetutiun Party leader Aram Sargsian rejected on 22 January President Robert Kocharian's veiled accusation the previous day that Sargsian is trying to extract political capital from the unanswered questions that still surround the 1999 killing of his brother and predecessor as prime minister, Vazgen Sargsian, RFE/RL's Yerevan bureau reported (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 22 January 2003). In an election campaign speech in the central province of Aragatsotn, Sargsian alleged that Kocharian "himself came to power over corpses." "What else can one expect from such a person?" he asked rhetorically. Sargsian is one of 10 challengers to Kocharian in the presidential ballot scheduled for 19 February. LF

ARMENIA SUSPENDS ELECTRICITY SUPPLIES TO GEORGIA
Armenia has halted exports of electricity to Georgia following explosions that have damaged both the main and the reserve natural-gas pipelines from Russia to Georgia and Armenia, ITAR-TASS reported on 22 January. Caucasus Press on 22 January quoted North Ossetian Premier Mikhail Shatalov as predicting that repairs to the reserve pipeline could take between five and seven days. Tbilgazi Director Vakhtang Tsaava said one day earlier that repairs to the main pipeline will take about one week. The loss of gas supplies to gas-fired power stations in Tbilisi has necessitated rationing power in the Georgian capital to eight hours per day. In Yerevan, the shortage of natural gas, which many fixed-route minibuses (marshrutki) use for fuel, led to severe transportation problems, RFE/RL's Yerevan bureau reported. LF

FORMER KARABAKH FOREIGN MINISTER NAMED ADVISER TO ARMENIAN PREMIER
Naira Melkumian, who served from 1997 until October 2002 as foreign minister of the unrecognized Nagorno-Karabakh Republic, was named an adviser to Armenian Prime Minister Andranik Markarian on 22 January, Noyan Tapan and RFE/RL's Yerevan bureau reported. Melkumian was dismissed on 20 January as Yerevan-based adviser to Karabakh President Arkadii Ghukasian, according to Arminfo, as cited by Groong. Melkumian was named to that post last fall after Ghukasian failed to reappoint her to the post of foreign minister in the wake of his re-election as president. Ghukasian denied at that time that there were any disagreements between himself and Melkumian (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 11 and 15 October 2002). Melkumian is said to be close to President Kocharian. LF

AZERBAIJANI PRESIDENT OVERTURNS JUSTICE MINISTRY RULING
President Heidar Aliev issued a decree on 22 January annulling the 13 January Justice Ministry ruling revoking the registration of the "progressive" wing of the divided Azerbaijan Popular Front Party (AHCP) and registering as the successor organization to the AHCP a party of the same name headed by Gudrat Gasankuliev, Turan reported (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 14 and 16 January 2003). Aliev suggested that the ministry had failed to take into consideration relevant articles of the law on political parties. Other opposition parties, which are convinced that Gasankuliev's group is covertly supported by and cooperates with the Azerbaijani authorities, have protested the Justice Ministry's ruling as illegal. LF

AZERBAIJANI OPPOSITION ANNOUNCES BOYCOTT OF ELECTION-LAW DISCUSSION
The nine political parties aligned in the Opposition Coordinating Center decided on 22 January not to attend the 23 January roundtable discussion of the new draft election code convened by the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe's (OSCE) Baku office, Turan reported (see "RFE/RL Caucasus Report," 10 January 2003). Ali Kerimli, leader of the progressive wing of the AHCP, said the rationale for not attending was that it remains unclear which parties or politicians will represent the Azerbaijani authorities at the discussion. The opposition boycotted an earlier roundtable discussion of the draft election code convened by the OSCE last month (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 17 December 2002). LF

JOURNALISTS AGAIN ALLEGE PKK PRESENCE IN AZERBAIJAN
The editors of the opposition newspapers "Hurriyet" and "Yeni Musavat," Aydin Guliev and Rauf Arifoglu, told a press conference in Baku on 22 January that a Kurdistan Workers' Party (PKK) network, including four training camps, exists in Azerbaijan, Turan reported. They named several Azerbaijani enterprises, including a bank, that they claimed that are controlled by the PKK. They said the Azerbaijani network includes Azerbaijani Kurds and a Turkish businessman of Kurdish origin and that it is part of a far broader organization that encompasses the entire CIS. They said there is one PKK training camp in Krasnodar Krai in southern Russia. The two editors rejected as untrue National Security Minister Namig Abbasov's 17 January denial that the PKK maintains a presence in Azerbaijan. Abbasov was responding to a statement made in Baku 10 days earlier by Recep Tayyip Erdogan, the leader of Turkey's ruling Justice and Development Party, (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 9 January 2003). LF

AZERBAIJANI OPPOSITION JOURNALISTS LAUNCH HUNGER STRIKE
"Yeni Musavat" editor Arifoglu began a hunger strike on 22 January to protest the 12 lawsuits brought against the paper by representatives of the Azerbaijani authorities in recent months, Turan and Interfax reported. He said that, if his health permits, he will fast for one week and that other members of the paper's staff will join the protest on 23 January. LF

U.S. CONGRESSMAN SLAMS DESTRUCTION OF ARMENIAN MONUMENTS IN AZERBAIJANI EXCLAVE
U.S. Representative Frank Pallone (Democrat, New Jersey) has written to President Aliev deploring what Pallone termed "your government's deliberate destruction" of an Armenian cemetery in the Azerbaijani exclave of Nakhichevan close to the border with Armenia, according to Arminfo on 21 January, as cited by Groong. "I formally request that your government not only cease this destruction, but also work with UNESCO to designate this cemetery as an international protected historical and cultural zone," Pallone continued. He said the destruction "undermines" Aliev's stated commitment to negotiate a peaceful solution to the Karabakh conflict. Pallone is co-chairman of the Congressional Caucus on Armenian issues. LF

GEORGIAN-RUSSIAN MEETINGS CONTINUE IN MOSCOW
A Georgian parliament delegation headed by speaker Nino Burdjanadze met in Moscow on 22 January with Russian State Duma speaker Gennadii Seleznev, his first deputy Lyubov Sliska, and with Russian Foreign Minister Igor Ivanov, Russian news agencies and Caucasus Press reported. Burdjanadze again said that Georgia would agree to an extension of the mandate of the Russian peacekeeping force deployed under the CIS aegis in the Abkhaz conflict zone only if Russia halts the recently resumed commuter-train service between Sochi and Sukhum and the granting of Russian citizenship to residents of Abkhazia. Burdjanadze acknowledged that the peacekeepers' withdrawal could precipitate a new conflict, according to ITAR-TASS. Seleznev, for his part, warned that it would be "irresponsible" to withdraw the contingent as it provides security for the unarmed UN Observer Mission. Ivanov characterized bilateral relations as unsatisfactory but stressed that an improvement is contingent in the first instance on Georgia's commitment to the fight against terrorism. Meanwhile, a Georgian National Security Council meeting to discuss Russia's actions in Abkhazia, originally scheduled for 18 January but postponed until 22 January, has again been put off until a later date, Caucasus Press reported. LF

ABKHAZ COURT HANDS DOWN SUSPENDED SENTENCES TO TWO GEORGIANS
The Gali Raion Court in southern Abkhazia on 22 January handed down two-year suspended sentences to two Georgians detained on 25 December on charges of entering Abkhazia illegally, Caucasus Press reported. The two were the last of a group of 36 people detained on that date to be released (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 6 and 21 January 2003). LF

GEORGIAN BUSINESSMEN CRITICIZE DRAFT BILL ON MONEY LAUNDERING
Meeting in Tbilisi on 22 January, the Union of Large Taxpayers criticized unspecified shortcomings in the draft bill on countering money laundering, Caucasus Press reported. They argued that adopting the bill in its present form would encourage corruption. The bill was drafted by the National Bank of Georgia on the basis of recommendations from the Financial Action Task Force (FATF), an international organization that monitors money laundering, and unveiled at a government session in late November 2002. It provides for monitoring bank accounts with deposits of over 10,000 laris ($4,741) and clearing accounts containing over 30,000 laris. LF

KAZAKH ANALYSTS HIGHLIGHT POSSIBLE CONSEQUENCES OF WAR ON IRAQ
At a roundtable discussion in Almaty on 21 January, Zhanna Baisalbaeva of the National Security Committee's Military Institute expressed concern that a change of regime in Iraq could fuel demands for Kurdish autonomy, including among Kazakhstan's Kurdish minority, or lead to ethnic or religious clashes or conflicts among groups in Central Asia espousing pan-Islamism and pan-Turanism, Interfax reported. Two economists predicted that a war would result in a drop in world prices for crude oil, which would negatively impact Kazakhstan's economy. The 2003 budget is predicated on an average world oil price of $19 per barrel and an average export price for Kazakh crude of $15.6 per barrel, according to Interfax on 12 December. LF

FURTHER CHANGE MADE TO KYRGYZ DRAFT CONSTITUTIONAL AMENDMENTS...
Cholponkul Arabaev, who heads the experts group tasked by President Askar Akaev with preparing the final draft of the constitutional amendments to be submitted to a national referendum on 2 February, said on 22 January that one final change has been made to the draft, RFERL's Kyrgyz Service reported. He explained that by a "technical oversight" the article guaranteeing freedom of the press had been omitted and has now been restored. On 21 January, Central Election Commission Chairman Sultan Imanbaev told representatives of international NGOs that the preliminary referendum results will be available on 3 February and that updated results will be posted on the Internet every four hours, akipress.org reported on 22 January. Imanbaev estimated the number of eligible voters at 2.54 million. LF

...AS PRESIDENT CANCELS PARTICIPATION IN CIS SUMMIT
Visiting the southern city of Djalalabad on 22 January, President Akaev announced that in light of preparations for the referendum he will not attend the CIS summit to be held in Kyiv on 28-29 January, RFE/RL's Kyrgyz Service reported. LF

TURKMEN PRESIDENT ORDERS PUBLICATION OF ASSASSINATION-TRIAL MATERIALS
President Saparmurat Niyazov has ordered Prosecutor-General Kurbanbibi Atadjanova to publish as a separate volume the materials of the investigation into the alleged 25 November attempt to assassinate Niyazov and the proceedings of the trials of those charged with that alleged attack, ITAR-TASS and turkmenistan.ru reported on 22 and 23 January, respectively. Niyazov said it is necessary to make those materials public so that in 10 or 20 years those sentenced in connection with the attack cannot claim they were innocent. Also on 22 January, Lidiya Shikhmuradova, whose brother Boris Shikmuradov, a former deputy prime minister and foreign minister, was sentenced to 25 years' imprisonment for his imputed role in the attack, appealed to the international community -- and to Russia in the first instance -- to exert pressure on the Turkmen leadership to show leniency toward those sentenced, Interfax reported. In Moscow, Russian First Deputy Foreign Minister Valerii Loshchinin denied in an interview published on 22 January in "Vremya novostei" that Arkadii Dubnov, that newspaper's correspondent in Ashgabat, has been charged in connection with the attack on Niyazov. LF

CIVIL SERVANTS' WAGES, PENSIONS TO DOUBLE IN TURKMENISTAN
President Niyazov signed a decree on 22 January raising to 1.5 million manats ($290 at the official exchange rate) the average monthly salary of government employees, ITAR-TASS reported. Niyazov said the increase was made possible by economic growth, which he said amounted to 21.5 percent in 2002. International financial organizations have long regarded Turkmen claims of double-digit economic growth with some skepticism. LF

UZBEKISTAN, XINJIANG SEEK TO EXPAND ECONOMIC TIES
A delegation of businessmen from China's Xinjiang Autonomous Region have held talks in Tashkent with their Uzbek counterparts on the prospects for expanding economic cooperation, in particular by creating joint ventures, uza.uz reported on 22 January. The Chinese expressed interest in investing in Uzbekistan's oil-and-gas sector, highway construction, agriculture, and the communications, automobile, food-processing, pharmaceutical, and chemical industries. LF

OPPOSITION GROUP CONDEMNS 'MORAL, PHYSICAL TERROR' IN BELARUS
An opposition committee organizing events to mark the 85th anniversary of the proclamation of the non-Bolshevik Belarusian Democratic Republic on 25 March 1918 has condemned in a statement "moral and physical terror built up in Belarusian society," Belapan reported on 22 January. The statement was prompted by the recent physical assault on opposition-minded geologist Radzim Haretski. Haretski, a member of the Belarusian and Russian academies of science, was severely beaten by unidentified assailants last week. He sustained a head injury and a broken nose and is currently undergoing treatment at a neurosurgical hospital. "This [was] not the first case of violent assaults. [Writer] Artur Volski, [philologist] Adam Maldzis, [stage director] Valery Mazynski, [filmmaker] Yury Khashchavatski, and dozens of other prominent art and public figures who defend Belarus's sovereignty, the ideas of democracy, and human rights and liberties have been beaten and injured lately," the statement says. It adds that the character of such assaults suggests they are "well-organized and purposeful action by professionally trained units serving to intimidate and destroy the politically conscious part of the Belarusian intelligentsia." JM

BELARUSIAN POPULATION SHRINKING
In the two years to December 2002, Belarus's population decreased by 46,200 persons to 9.9 million, Belapan reported on 22 January, quoting the Ministry of Statistics and Analysis. JM

UKRAINE, NATO PUBLISH ACTION PLAN...
The Ukrainian Foreign Ministry and NATO on 22 January published on their official websites the text of the Ukraine-NATO Action Plan adopted by the NATO-Ukraine Commission at the NATO summit in Prague in November (see http://www.nato.int/docu/basictxt/b021122a.htm), Ukrainian media reported. "The purpose of the Action Plan is to identify clearly Ukraine's strategic objectives and priorities in pursuit of its aspirations towards full integration into Euro-Atlantic security structures, and to provide a strategic framework for existing and future NATO-Ukraine cooperation under the Charter," the text says, adding that the plan will be reviewed periodically. The plan lays out jointly agreed principles and objectives in five sections: Political and Economic Issues; Security, Defense and Military Issues; Information Protection and Security; Legal Issues; Mechanisms of Implementation. JM

...AMID UKRAINE'S DWINDLING FAITH IN NATO
Meanwhile, a December poll released on 22 January by the Social Monitoring Center and the Ukrainian Social Studies Institute found that Ukrainian trust in NATO has fallen considerably over the last six months. In December, 44 percent of respondents said they do not trust NATO; 28 percent claimed they believe NATO is trustworthy; and the remainder were unable or unwilling to answer. A similar poll conducted in June showed some 39 percent of the population trusting NATO, with 34 percent harboring doubts and the remainder unable or unwilling to answer. JM

UKRAINE SEES FIRST SANCTIONS OVER MONEY LAUNDERING
The Financial Action Task Force on Money Laundering (FATF) has confirmed that the United States and Canada introduced sanctions against Ukraine because of the country's flawed legislation to fight money laundering, ITAR-TASS reported on 22 January, quoting FATF spokeswoman Helen Fischer. FATF in December recommended that its 29 member states scrutinize financial transactions before any business is done with Ukrainian companies or individuals, regularly report on transactions with Ukrainian businesses and bankers, and follow stringent procedures in opening foreign branches of Ukrainian banks. "We should look for the solution of this situation together to find the way to cancel the FATF recommendations in February," Interfax quoted Ukrainian Minister Anatoliy Zlenko as saying on 22 January. JM

ESTONIAN, FINNISH PREMIERS DISCUSS FUTURE OF EU
In talks in Helsinki on 22 January, Siim Kallas and Paavo Lipponen discussed bilateral relations and the future of the European Union, BNS reported. Lipponen expressed satisfaction that both countries have maintained similar positions at the European Convention on the future of the EU, opposing proposals that would curb the interests of small countries and create problems for the EU's leadership. The prime ministers also agreed on the need for greater cooperation on safety and environmental issues in the Baltic Sea, in which Estonia has proposed banning single-hulled oil tankers. Kallas on 23 January was scheduled to visit the Loviisa nuclear-power plant and the Santahamina cadet school, where many Estonian officers have received specialized training, before returning to Tallinn. SG

LATVIAN FISH FAIL EU DIOXIN TESTS
Latvia's Food and Veterinary Service announced on 22 January that tests conducted in the United Kingdom found excessive dioxin levels in six of the 16 Baltic herring and sprat samples from the Gulf of Riga and Latvia's Baltic Sea coast, BNS reported. The service stated that it believes tests should be carried out in Latvia, as the busy EU laboratories are unable to provide results more quickly than six months. The EU forbids the export of fish and fish products contaminated with dioxin. Since Latvia, Estonia, Finland, and Sweden are the only countries now undergoing such dioxin tests, the EU has no data on the situation in other waters, such as the Mediterranean Sea. The head of an Estonian fishery company said that if tests being conducted in Germany confirm excessive dioxin levels in Estonian-caught herring, the Estonian fishing industry, which depends on exports, will be ruined, ETA reported the next day. SG

LITHUANIAN ARMY TO BE DOWNSIZED
Defense Minister Linas Linkevicius told parliament on 21 January that Lithuania's entry to NATO will result in considerable changes within the country's armed forces, BNS reported the following day. He said an earlier idea that the armed forces should be prepared only to defend Lithuanian territory must be amended because, after joining the alliance, NATO will contribute to defending Lithuania. Linkevicius noted that NATO expects Lithuania to create smaller but more efficient and mobile units, resulting in an increase of professional soldiers and a reduction in the number of conscripts and active reservists. The size of the armed forces will be reduced from the current 14,000 to 13,000 and the active reserves from 20,000 to 6,000 by 2008. The functions of the National Defense Volunteer Forces will change significantly, as their major functions will be supporting allied reinforcement units, the protection and defense of strategic sites, and support for civil authorities. SG

POLISH PARLIAMENT MULLS FOREIGN-POLICY PRIORITIES
The Sejm on 22 January discussed a report presented the same day by Foreign Minister Wlodzimierz Cimoszewicz on the country's foreign policy in 2003, Polish media reported. Cimoszewicz said the priorities for his ministry this year will be bringing about the implementation of the EU accession treaty and striving to ensure its ratification by the 15 EU member-state parliaments. Cimoszewicz also stressed that Poland will develop a strategic partnership with the United States. "We consider that a flagrant violation of [UN Security Council] Resolution 1441 by Iraq would call for a firm response, and Poland is ready to back it," Cimoszewicz told lawmakers on 22 January. The previous day, he reportedly told a parliamentary committee that Poland may back a U.S.-led war on Iraq "even without the agreement of the United Nations." JM

POLISH PRESIDENT DENIES RUMORED AFFAIR WITH POP STAR
President Aleksander Kwasniewski on 22 January told journalists that speculation among some Polish media about his alleged romance with 30-year-old pop singer Edyta Gorniak are untrue and "base," PAP reported. "Firstly, this is all a complete untruth; secondly, I feel that the dissemination of these rumors is base, both in relation to myself and my wife and family, and in relation to Miss Gorniak and those close to her," Kwasniewski said. Some Polish media have suggested that during his visit to Korea during the World Soccer Cup in 2002, Kwasniewski had a love affair with Gorniak, who is 18 years his junior. "This is simply inexplicable and unjustifiable," the president stressed. "It is not the case that every rumor is suitable to be used, even if it is used with the conviction that we are responding to the interest of public opinion. This is quite simply too easy an explanation," he added. JM

POLISH ECONOMY GREW BY 1.2 PERCENT IN 2002
Poland's gross domestic product increased by 1.2 percent in 2002 compared to the previous year, PAP reported on 22 January, quoting an official from the Finance Ministry. JM

CZECH PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE ATTACKS RIVAL'S TACTICS
Right-wing presidential candidate and former Premier Vaclav Klaus on 22 January criticized his rival Milos Zeman for using "unfair new methods" in seeking to advance his chances ahead of the second presidential vote on 24 January, CTK reported. Klaus, the candidate of the Civic Democratic Party (ODS) that he founded and which recently made him honorary chairman, said he does not believe the campaign should involve "promises, deals, and bargains" reportedly made or sought by Social Democratic Party (CSSD) candidate and former Premier Zeman. Zeman, in turn, denied that at meetings he held with representatives of various parties he promised any lucrative positions in exchange for support. He added that Klaus is "becoming nervous" in the face of the possibility of losing the elections. Meanwhile, Communist Party of Bohemia and Moravia (KSCM) Deputy Chairman Miloslav Ransdorf said after a brief meeting with Zeman that he stands a better chance than Klaus of enlisting the support of the KSCM. "Few can imagine a right-wing candidate getting the support of our deputies and senators," Ransdorf said, adding that Zeman is "the lesser evil" in the KSCM's view. MS

CZECH SOLDIERS IN KUWAIT OFFERED INCENTIVE TO CONTINUE SERVING
Defense Minister Jaroslav Tvrdik has offered a cash bonus to soldiers currently stationed in Kuwait in the event that they are deployed in a war against Iraq, dpa reported on 22 January, citing the Czech daily "Pravo." Tvrdik reportedly offered an extra $800 per month, which is considerably more than the average Czech salary, shortly after he gave permission to return home to 27 members of the 250-strong antichemical-, antibacterological-, and antinuclear-warfare unit stationed in that country. The move came during Tvrdik's visit to the unit on 20 January. MS

CZECH EXPATS DENIED VOTE IN EU REFERENDUM?
The government on 22 January approved a draft bill under which Czech expatriates and Czech citizens temporarily stationed abroad will not be able to cast a ballot in a planned referendum on EU accession, CTK reported. The cabinet cited experience from the 2002 parliamentary elections, in which few expatriates took advantage of their right to vote, as well as economic considerations. The draft has yet to be debated in parliament. The plebiscite is likely to be held on 15-16 June, subject to the promulgation of a law approved by the legislature by the next Czech president. MS

DOCUMENTS ON CONTROVERSIAL CZECH SENATOR'S IMMUNITY REPORTED STOLEN
Jan Hadrava, chairman of the Senate's Mandate and Immunity Committee, was robbed in Prague on 22 January of a suitcase containing the documents on which the committee based its recent decision to recommend the lifting of media mogul and Senator Vladimir Zelezny's immunity (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 15 January 2003), CTK reported, citing TV Nova, which Zelezny controls. The Senate was expected to vote on the recommendation on 23 January. Hadrava (Freedom Union-Democratic Union) told CTK he does not believe the robbery was connected with Zelezny's case and views it as "an ordinary theft." But he added that it is "strange" that other items were not stolen from the car along with those documents. The controversial television magnate was elected to the upper house in late October, thus potentially gaining immunity from prosecution for longstanding charges of tax evasion and harming creditors. Despite his no-show before Hadrava's committee, Zelezny recently complained that the committee has handled his case unfairly and that he has not been granted the opportunity to defend himself. MS

CZECH POLICE SHELVE COMPLAINT AGAINST FORMER MILITARY INTELLIGENCE OFFICERS
Police on 22 January decided to shelve a complaint launched by Defense Minister Tvrdik in September against the former head of the Military Intelligence Service (VZS), Andor Sandor, and against former military attache to India Miroslav Kvasnak, CTK reported. Tvrdik launched the complaint on suspicion of "abuse of office," but police said the investigation failed to produce evidence of any crime. Sandor was dismissed in August (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 12 August and 5, 9, 10, and 11 September 2002). According to media reports, Tvrdik fired Sandor for having disregarded an order to cease cooperation with former Foreign Ministry Secretary-General Karel Srba, who is awaiting trial on suspicion of having commissioned the failed killing of a journalist. MS

CUBAN DISSIDENT MEETS CZECH LEADERS
Prominent Cuban dissident Oswaldo Paya, on a visit to Prague, met with President Vaclav Havel on 22 January, thanking him and the Czech people for setting an example Cuban people can follow, CTK reported. Paya said the Czech transition from a communist to a democratic system is an example of how nonviolent resistance can lead to the fall of a totalitarian regime. He said he represents thousands of Cubans who share this belief. Paya is one of the organizers of the Varela Project, based on the model of the Czechoslovak Charter 77 dissident manifesto. Paya also met with Senate President Petr Pithart and Chamber of Deputies speaker Lubomir Zaoralek. MS

SLOVAKIA EXPECTS TO SIGN NATO TREATY IN MARCH
Prime Minister Mikulas Dzurinda said on 22 January that he expects Foreign Minister Eduard Kukan to sign the accession treaty with NATO on 26 March, CTK and Reuters reported. The current NATO members are expected to ratify the treaties with the seven countries invited into the alliance in November by May 2004. In related news, Slovak National Security Office (NBU) head Jan Mojzis told journalists on 22 January that a total of 2,044 people underwent security vetting, receiving clearance for access to classified information in connection with Slovakia's expected future membership of NATO. Mojzis said 19 civil servants failed the vetting, three of whom worked for the NBU. MS

SLOVAK PREMIER SATISFIED WITH CABINET'S PERFORMANCE
Premier Dzurinda told journalists on 22 January that he is satisfied with the performance of his cabinet in its first 100 days in office, during which Slovakia was invited to join both NATO and the EU, CTK reported. He also praised the fact that the government has started large-scale reforms of the social and health-care systems. He said the reforms might be painful but are necessary for a healthy economy and a more just social policy. Dzurinda refused to comment on the ongoing government crisis triggered by allegations that the Slovak Intelligence Service tapped the phones of Alliance for a New Citizen leaders (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 22 January 2003), and only said that he is interested in the cabinet's stability. MS

SLOVAK GOVERNMENT APPROVES EU REFERENDUM STRATEGY
The cabinet on 22 January approved a strategy aimed at ensuring that enough voters cast a ballot in the referendum on EU accession, likely to take place on 16-17 May, and that a majority votes "yes" on accession, CTK reported. Fifty million crowns ($1.2 million) has been earmarked for this purpose. Deputy Premier Pal Csaky told journalists the government will strive to explain to Slovak citizens that they are about to "become part of a great economic and political power" and, while participating in global decision-making, membership of the EU will also mean the allocation of funds for regional needs in Slovakia. Nongovernmental organizations and the media are to be involved in advocating accession, Csaky said, and a new, toll-free Information Center for European Integration has recently been set up. MS

SUPPORT IN HUNGARY FOR EU ACCESSION DROPS
Just 45 percent of Hungarians believe the country's EU accession will be advantageous, whereas 62 percent believed so six months ago, "Nepszabadsag" reported on 23 January, citing a survey conducted by Szonda-Ipsos. Fifty-five percent of the poll's respondents favor EU accession. The percentage of those who believe accession will bring more disadvantages than advantages almost doubled from 20 percent to 39 percent. Socialist Party Chairman Laszlo Kovacs has blamed FIDESZ for the rise in anti-EU sentiment, claiming that the opposition party repeatedly emphasizes the disadvantages of joining while outwardly claiming to support it. FIDESZ Chairman Josef Szajer said the government bears responsibility for the waning support because of its poor handling of the accession negotiations. MS

HUNGARIAN OPPOSITION POLITICIAN ATTACKS 'PRO-WAR GOVERNMENT'
Democratic Forum parliamentary deputy Peter Karsai on 22 January accused the government of pursuing a "pro-war" policy that endangers Hungarians, "Magyar Nemzet" and "Nepszabadsag" reported. Karsai said the use of the Taszar base by the U.S. military to train Iraqi oppositionists endangers residents of the area. In an apparent reference to U.S. claims that Iraq possesses weapons of mass destruction, he added, "No state is entitled to launch a war that could lead to the death of thousands of people on the basis of insufficient [evidence for the] charges." MS

SERBIAN PRIME MINISTER SKEPTICAL OF WAR CRIMINALS' EARLY DETENTION...
Prime Minister Zoran Djindjic said on 22 January that he doubts Serbian authorities can meet a U.S.-imposed deadline of 31 March to arrest former Bosnian Serb military leader Ratko Mladic and two former officers wanted for alleged war crimes in Vukovar in 1991, RFE/RL's South Slavic and Albanian Languages Service reported. Pierre-Richard Prosper, the U.S. special envoy in charge of war crimes, announced the deadline on 21 January (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 22 January 2003). After a meeting at the Serbian Interior Ministry, Djindjic said it is a priority of his government to cooperate with the international war crimes tribunal in The Hague. But he added that he does not know where Mladic is. The two other indictees, Veselin Sljivancanin and Miroslav Radic, are believed to be hiding in Serbia, Djindjic said. UB

...WHILE U.S. SPECIAL ENVOY CONTINUES BALKAN TOUR
U.S. special envoy Prosper continued his tour of the former Yugoslavia in the Montenegrin capital of Podgorica on 22 January, where he conferred with Prime Minister Milo Djukanovic, acting President Filip Vujanovic, and Svetozar Marovic, the chairman of the parliamentary Foreign Affairs Committee, RFE/RL's South Slavic and Albanian Languages Service reported. Prosper stressed that the arrest of Mladic, Sljivancanin, Radic, and former Bosnian Serb leader Radovan Karadzic would contribute to peace and stability in the region. Prosper's next scheduled stop was Sarajevo on 23-24 January, where he was expected to urge the authorities of Bosnia-Herzegovina and the Republika Srpska to fulfill their commitments stemming from the Dayton peace agreement and arrest war criminals living there, according to the U.S. Embassy in Sarajevo. UB

BOSNIAN UPPER HOUSE FAILS TO CONFIRM ELECTION OF PRESIDENT
The upper house of the Muslim-Croat federation's parliament, the House of Peoples, on 22 January failed to confirm Niko Lozancic as president of the federation, Deutsche Welle's "Monitor" reported. The candidate, who was elected by the Croat and Muslim majority in the lower house, was not supported by the necessary quorum of delegates from the Serbian minority. The upper house may repeat the nomination of the presidential candidate and his running mates. The parliament's lower house may then confirm the president and his deputies, Sahbaz Djihanovic and Desnica Radivojevic, without a second vote in the upper house. UB

STRIKING DOCTORS IN CROATIA HOLD TALKS WITH GOVERNMENT
Representatives of striking physicians and the government met on 22 January for the first time since the strike began eight days ago, RFE/RL's South Slavic and Albanian Languages Service reported. Health Minister Andro Vlahusic announced after the meeting that his ministry advised hospitals to ignore an earlier order to count and impose sanctions on striking physicians. The HLS physicians union claims that 90 percent of the country's doctors are participating in the strike, HINA reported. They are demanding wage hikes (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 21 January 2003). UB

CROATIAN POLICE ARREST FORMER MILITARY-POLICE OFFICER
Police arrested a former military-police officer on charges of illegally possessing drugs in the Adriatic port town of Split on 21 January, RFE/RL's South Slavic and Albanian Languages Service reported. The former colonel was previously found guilty of smuggling cars and food to Bosnia in 1999 using the insignia of the Croatian Army. UB

ALBANIAN GOVERNMENT ASSESSES ARMY REFORM, WHICH SLOVENIA PLEDGES TO SUPPORT
Prime Minister Fatos Nano said on 22 January that 2002 was a year of genuine defense reforms in accordance with the country's 2002-10 strategy for the armed forces, ATA reported from Tirana. Defense Minister Pandeli Majko lauded the international support for the army's reform process, saying cooperation "will be fruitful and continuous, so that the Albanian Army reaches NATO standards." In related news, Slovenian Foreign Minister Dimitrij Rupel sent a message to his Albanian counterpart Ilir Meta pledging that Slovenia will continue to support Albania's NATO aspirations. UB

MACEDONIAN SPECIAL POLICE BLOCK MAJOR HIGHWAY
Some 600-800 heavily armed members of a special police unit known as the Lions blocked the highway between Skopje and the Blace border checkpoint on 22 January, "Dnevnik" reported. The situation briefly escalated when regular police faced resistance from the protesters while trying to clear the road. The Lions demanded that either Prime Minister Branko Crvenkovski or President Boris Trajkovski meet with their representatives to hold talks on the unit's unresolved status within the framework of the Interior Ministry. The international community has repeatedly demanded that the Lions be dissolved. The unit was a pet project of former hard-line Interior Minister Ljube Boskovski (see "RFE/RL Balkan Report," 15 November 2002 and "RFE/RL Newsline," 21 March and 19 April 2002). UB

MACEDONIAN BUSINESSMEN SLAIN IN BULGARIA
Two businessmen from the central Macedonian town of Veles -- Trajko Prendzov and Pance Bobevski -- were found dead in an apartment in the southern Bulgarian town of Sandanski, Bulgarian and Macedonian media reported. The two were killed by single shots to the head. Prendzov, a former mayor of Veles, and Bobevski owned a marble mine near Sandanski. UB

ROMANIAN FOREIGN MINISTER OUTLINES POSITION ON IRAQ...
Foreign Minister Mircea Geoana on 22 January said Romania must display its solidarity "with the family of democratic nations to which we belong" while in parallel making "all possible efforts to give diplomacy a last chance" to avoid a military conflict with Iraq, RFE/RL's Bucharest bureau reported. Geoana said the next week will prove "decisive" in view of the international weapons inspectors' expected report to the UN Security Council on 27 January. Regardless of the contents of that report, "we clearly must insist that Baghdad display not merely passive, but an active form of cooperation with the UN inspectors," Geoana said. MS

...WHILE OPPOSITION PARTIES EXPRESS THEIR OWN STAND
National Liberal Party (PNL) Deputy Chairman Teodor Melescanu said on 22 January the PNL would back NATO military action against Iraq but that Romania should restrict its participation in such a conflict to offering the alliance "material or logistic support" without participating in military action, RFE/RL's Bucharest bureau reported. Democratic Party Chairman Traian Basescu said the same day that "taking...guns away" from Iraqi President Saddam Hussein is not sufficient. Basescu said the most important problem posed by Iraq is not its military potential but its political leadership, which poses a threat to the region as a whole, Mediafax reported. MS

ROMANIA TO REPLACE SOVIET-MADE JETS
Chief of Staff General Mihail Popescu told journalists on 22 January that Romania has grounded its 18-strong MiG-29 fleet "for technical reasons," Romanian Radio reported. He said Romania must replace its military jets with NATO-compatible fighters and that in the meantime Romanian pilots will conduct exercises using Romania's older Soviet-made MiG-21 Lancer jets, which are to be replaced by 2010. By that date, Popescu said, military airfields in Romania will be modernized to accommodate NATO aircraft and Romania will "in all likelihood direct its attention toward [purchasing] F-16 airplanes." MS

EU OFFICIAL ENDS ROMANIAN VISIT
Eneko Landaburu, the European Commission's director-general for enlargement, on 22 January ended a two-day visit to Romania after meeting with Prime Minister Adrian Nastase and attending a meeting of the government's Executive Committee for European Integration, Romanian Radio reported. Landaburu said the European Commission is "determined" to back Romania's efforts to become an EU member by 2007. However, Landaburu urged Romanian officials to do more to reform the country's judicial system, saying inefficiency and corruption are hampering foreign investment, AP reported. Landaburu also said the EU seeks guarantees that the problems caused by international adoptions of Romanian children will not resurface, Mediafax reported. MS

ROMANIAN PRESIDENT SAYS FRENCH-GERMAN RECONCILIATION IS MODEL FOR ROMANIA, HUNGARY
Addressing a forum in Bucharest that marked the 40th anniversary of the French-German Elysee Treaty, President Iliescu said the reconciliation between the two Western countries serves as a model for Romania and Hungary, Romanian Radio reported. Iliescu said Bucharest and Budapest are currently finalizing a treaty of "strategic partnership" and are about to become partners in European and Euro-Atlantic integration. In related news, Hungarian parliamentary speaker Katalin Szili, on a visit to Oradea on 22 January, said the parliament she heads will ratify Romania's NATO membership "without any problem." Szili also said all parties represented in parliament have agreed on the pending amendments to the Hungarian Status Law, Romanian Radio reported. MS

ROMANIAN 'REVOLUTIONARIES' BESIEGE PRESIDENTIAL PALACE
Several hundred members of the National Bloc of Revolutionaries (BNR) on 22 January protested in front of the presidential palace in Bucharest, demanding the dismissals of officials in charge of legislation granting benefits to participants of the 1989 uprising against the communist regime, RFE/RL's Bucharest bureau reported. They demanded to be received by President Iliescu, and several BNR members attempted to force their way past guards. Traffic in the zone was interrupted, and forces guarding the Cotroceni Palace were increased. Realizing they could not force their way in, the BNR members began chanting anti-Iliescu slogans. The BNR is demanding that the current legislation granting tax breaks and other privileges to those officially recognized as participants in the uprising be expanded to grant additional benefits, which the PSD opposes. President Iliescu said he "deplores" the behavior of the protesters. He also said he continues to believe the law granting privileges to revolutionaries must be amended to ensure that only those wounded or heirs of those who died in the revolution benefit from its provisions. MS

ROMANIAN SENATOR TO TESTIFY IN ECHR INVESTIGATION OF 'ILASCU GROUP' CASE
Ilie Ilascu, who has long been detained in Tiraspol and is now a senator representing the Greater Romania Party in parliament, will testify in the European Court of Human Rights' (ECHR) investigation of the "Ilascu group" case. Ilascu told an RFE/RL correspondent on 22 January that he will travel to Moldova on 10-18 March to testify before the ECHR, which is hearing testimonies by witnesses. Ilascu said Russia is exerting pressure on the plaintiffs -- among whom he is the foremost -- and on the Romanian authorities in an effort to prevent an ECHR decision that would acknowledge "the aggressive role" played by Russia in the armed clashes in Moldova in 1992. He said he expects the ECHR to "reveal the truth" that the conflict was "an aggression launched by regular Russian troops belonging to the 14th Army against the Moldovan Republic." Ilascu also said he hopes the ECHR will bring about the liberation of the members of the group who remain in detention and will rule that he and his comrades are entitled to compensation for their prolonged detention and suffering. MS

ANOTHER RUSSIAN TRAINLOAD LEAVES TRANSDNIESTER
A trainload carrying engineering equipment of the Operative Group of Russian Forces in Transdniester left the separatist region on 22 January, Infotag reported. It was the third such transport to leave the region in 2003. Four trainloads removing military hardware and ammunition left the region last year. MS

MOLDOVAN PREMIER SAYS OPPOSITION PROTESTS AIMED AT UNDERMINING ECONOMY
Prime Minister Vasile Tarlev said on 22 January that the protests recently resumed and organized by the opposition Popular Party Christian Democratic (PPCD) are aimed at undermining the country's economic performance and bringing about "economic stagnation," RFE/RL's Chisinau bureau reported. He said the protests are organized by "destructive forces" that do not enjoy the support of the population. PPCD Chairman Iurie Rosca called the statement "an illustration of the authorities' disdain" for the protesters and added that the protests will continue until the demise of the communist administration. MS

MOLDOVAN ECOLOGISTS THREATEN PROTEST...
Moldovan Ecologist Movement Chairman Alecu Renita on 22 January said that if parliament follows the recommendation of President Vladimir Voronin and ratifies the agreement on the transiting of nuclear waste from Bulgaria's Kozloduy nuclear-power plant via Moldovan territory, large-scale protests will be organized in the country, Flux reported. MS

...WHILE FORMER ECOLOGY OFFICIAL IS DETAINED ON SUSPICION OF ILLEGAL AMMUNITION POSSESSION
George Maieru, former director of the State Ecology Inspectorate, has been detained on charges of illegal possession of ammunition, Infotag reported on 22 January. During a search of his residence, police reportedly found ammunition, grenades, stolen icons, and ID cards that do not belong to members of Maieru's family. Five hunting rifles and two pistols for which Maieru had a license were not found in the residence, and investigators suspect him of having sold them to "criminal structures." Maieru was dismissed in December on suspicion of abuse of office. MS

BULGARIA WILL NOT PROVIDE TROOPS FOR STRIKE AGAINST IRAQ
Foreign Minister Solomon Pasi told journalists on 22 January that his country will not provide troops for a possible military strike against Iraq, BTA reported. Speaking at Sofia Airport upon his arrival from New York, where he attended a UN Security Council meeting on terrorism, Pasi said, "The support we could provide, if a peaceful settlement of the question cannot be achieved, will not go beyond the parameters within which we have participated in the operations of the international community since 1990." Bulgaria has provided air corridors for combat aircraft in recent military campaigns, including Operation Enduring Freedom. General Boyko Borisov, the chief secretary of the Interior Ministry, said that in the event of a war against Iraq he expects a wave of Iraqi refugees to arrive at the Turkish-Bulgarian border within three to four weeks from the beginning of the campaign. UB

SOUTHEAST EUROPEAN POLICE CHIEFS MEET IN SOFIA
Police chiefs belonging to the Southeast Europe Police Commissioners Association (SEPCA) met in Sofia on 22 January for a two-day workshop, bnn and BTA reported. The participants from Albania, Bosnia, Bulgaria, Croatia, Montenegro, Republika Srpska, Romania, and Serbia discussed joint measures against organized crime. SEPCA, which organizes joint training, cooperation, and coordination of crime-fighting activities, is supported financially by the Canadian Royal Mounted Police. UB

There is no End Note today.


AFGHAN COMMANDER WARNS OF POSSIBLE RETURN TO CIVIL WAR...
Veteran mujahedin commander Haji Mohammad Zaman Ghamsharik has warned that President Hamid Karzai's government must be wary of opposition factions and the possibility of the country reverting to a state of civil war and anarchy, Peshawar's Pashtu daily "Wahdat" reported on 21 January. Ghamsharik told reporters that "ascending to power is one thing, but maintaining it and running the government is quite another." He complained that the Transitional Administration is imbalanced and internally weak, although he acknowledged it is "successful in its foreign policy." Nonetheless, Ghamsharik denounced those who would oppose the government. "They should give time to Mr. Karzai to reunite and consolidate Afghanistan, which has been destroyed by two decades of civil war," he said. Ghamsharik added that Afghan leaders chose Karzai to lead them and that they should fulfill their promises to support the central government. "The time of jihad has now gone, and instead it is the people who are demanding the fruits of the previous jihad from the jihadi leaders," Ghamsharik said. He also called upon the international community to help Afghanistan strengthen central rule, and said priorities should be disarmament, establishing law and order, and giving the people a voice in government affairs. KM

...AS AFGHAN MILITARY VEHICLE ATTACKED NEAR PAKISTANI BORDER...
An Afghan military vehicle was reportedly destroyed in a 22 January rocket attack in southern Afghanistan near the Pakistani border town of Chaman, Reuters reported the next day. Chaman residents claimed to hear large explosions on the evening of 22 January, and witnesses said that a rocket struck an Afghan military vehicle. Local officials confirmed that the blasts occurred, but declined to comment further, Reuters reported. Local residents claimed that U.S. aircraft were seen flying over the area following the explosion, and there were no reports on possible casualties in the incident. KM

...AND U.S. FORCES COME UNDER ATTACK TWICE IN CENTRAL AFGHANISTAN
U.S. forces were attacked on two occasions on 22 January in Uruzgan Province, Radio Afghanistan reported. In the first attack, U.S. forces came under light artillery fire in the central province's Dehraud District, and the second incident occurred in provincial capital city of Tarinkot, about 30 kilometers away. Kelly Tyler, the U.S. military spokesperson in Afghanistan, reported that there were no casualties. KM

AFGHAN INFORMATION MINISTER ANNOUNCES THAT CABLE-TV BAN WILL BE LIFTED...
Information and Culture Minister Sayyed Makhdum Rahin announced on 22 January that the ban on cable-television networks that was imposed earlier this week by the Afghan Supreme Court (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 22 January 2003) will soon be lifted, Iranian Radio reported. Rahin claimed that the ban was intended to be temporary in order to give the government a chance to adopt laws regulating cable television. However, Supreme Court Chief Justice Mullah Fazl Hadj Shinwari on 22 January reiterated his stance that "smutty" programming on cable television is against Islamic law. Shinwari told Iranian Radio on 22 January that the regulation of cable-television networks should be done within the framework of specific standards established by Afghan law. KM

...AS CABLE-TV COMPANIES IN AFGHANISTAN TO FORM ASSOCIATION
In an interview with RFE/RL on 22 January, Mohammad Zalmay, the owner of a small cable-television company in Nangarhar Province, announced that cable-television companies in Afghanistan will form an association to fight for their right to operate. Zalmay said the restrictions imposed this week "hark back to the days of the Taliban." Companies that are legally registered with government authorities should be allowed to continue providing programming that gives Afghans information on international and domestic events, cultural and historical topics, sports, and other subjects, Zalmay argued. KM

AFGHAN FORCE IN KONAR STRUGGLES TO RETAIN SOLDIERS IN REGION OF ISLAMIC-MILITANT ACTIVITY
With a poorly trained force of 1,800 men and little in the way of resources or arms, the Afghan commander charged with guarding the northeastern province of Konar, identified only as Najibullah, is nervous, according to a report on 22 January in "The Christian Science Monitor." Unable even to provide his soldiers with the meager salary of $1 a month, he is concerned that radical Islamists -- from Al-Qaeda, the Taliban, and Afghan opposition factions, especially those involved in Hizb-e-Islami led by Gulbuddin Hekmatyar -- will buy them off. Sher Hassan, the local deputy chief of the Afghan intelligence agency Amniat, said that "in this region, [Hizb-e Islami] is very strong, because the local people fought with Hekmatyar against the Soviets," "The Christian Science Monitor" reported. Hassan also added that Hekmatyar is believed to be receiving funds from "neighboring countries." Hassan noted that only minor attacks on U.S. and Afghan forces in the region have occurred up to this point, but he expressed concern that if other countries continue to provide assistance to the opposition, larger-scale conflicts might erupt. KM

AFGHANS TO BE ISSUED IDENTITY CARDS
Interior Minister Taj Mohammad Wardak told journalists in Kabul on 22 January that Afghans will be issued identity cards and that a company has been contracted to make them, IRNA reported. Wardak said the cards will be printed and distributed upon approval of the Afghan cabinet. In addition, Mohammad Ali Watanyar, head of the Central Statistics Department, said on 22 January that preliminary work on a national census began last week. KM

IRAN PLEDGES MORE AID FOR AFGHAN RECONSTRUCTION
Iranian Foreign Minister Kamal Kharrazi on 21 January pledged $120 million in Iranian aid for reconstruction in Afghanistan in 2002-03, Kyodo News Service reported. Kharrazi is attending a two-day donors' conference in Tokyo. At a similar meeting last year, Tehran pledged $560 million in aid over a five-year period. BS

IRAN INVITED TO FEBRUARY NATO CONFERENCE
A spokeswoman for the 39th NATO Security Conference scheduled for 7-9 February in Munich told IRNA on 22 January that Iranian Foreign Minister Kharrazi has been invited and will participate, the "Tehran Times" reported. An anonymous Foreign Ministry official, however, told the paper that the invitation is under consideration and a final decision has not been made. Foreign Ministry spokesman Hamid Reza Assefi said on 21 January that Iran will participate in the conference, adding that the conference is important in the context of Persian Gulf security, IRNA reported. BS

PRISON OFFICIALS ARRESTED AFTER FATAL FIRE
The warden and deputy warden of a Gorgan prison at which a fatal fire broke out in December have been arrested on the order of Majid Elahian, the acting Justice Department chief in Gulistan Province, IRNA reported on 21 January, citing "Hambastegi." Bail has been set at $280,000 each. Twenty-seven inmates died in the blaze (see "RFE/RL Iran Report," 6 January 2003), and Elahian said there are 27 complaints pending against the warden and his deputy. BS

TEHRAN DAILY SUSPENDED
The publication of "Hamshahri," a popular daily newspaper put out by the Tehran municipality, has been suspended for 10 days, Tehran Justice Department deputy head Ali-Asghar Tashakori said on 22 January, IRNA reported. The suspension stems from Labor House Secretary Alireza Mahjub's complaint that the newspaper refused to print his clarification regarding one of its articles. "Hamshahri" Editor Zahra Ebrahimi said on 22 January that an article in the newspaper last summer suggested that Mahjub and the Labor House played a secret part in choosing the leaders of the Islamic Labor Party, AP reported. She added that "Hamshahri" published Mahjub's response two months ago and intends to publish another reply from him. BS

QAZVIN WEEKLY CLOSED
Qazvin Judge Fereidun Parvinian said on 21 January that the weekly "Taban-i Qazvin" has been closed down for libel, IRNA reported. The weekly's unidentified managing editor has been summoned by the court. BS

CONSERVATIVE PROPOSES IRANIAN SATELLITE REBROADCASTS
Hamid Reza Taraqi of the conservative Islamic Coalition Association proposed on 22 January that the state broadcasting network launch its own channel to broadcast selected satellite-television programs, the "Iran Daily" reported on 23 January. Taraqi said such a move would be appropriate because the Guardians Council recently rejected legislation that would end the ban on private ownership of satellite receiving equipment. The Guardians Council cited discrepancies with the constitution and with Islamic law, IRNA reported on 22 January. The Guardians Council feared that the legislation might open the way to unauthorized satellite-dish use. BS

IRANIAN EXPEDIENCY COUNCIL CHAIRMAN COMPLAINS ABOUT U.S. PROPAGANDA
Ayatollah Ali Akbar Hashemi Rafsanjani told a 22 January meeting of officials responsible for the celebrations of the revolution's anniversary that the United States is promoting a secular system in Iran, IRNA reported. Rafsanjani said this is a mistake and reflects U.S. leaders' attention to the propaganda of the opposition; namely, "ex-revolutionaries, liberals, Marxists, and monarchists." The Iranian people's participation in anniversary celebrations would discourage Iran's enemies, he said. BS

TEHRAN CITES RADIO FREE IRAQ
The official Islamic Republic News Agency (IRNA) on 22 January cited a report by RFE/RL's Radio Free Iraq on Baghdad's execution of three Kuwaitis taken captive in 1991. The three Kuwaitis -- Abdul-Hussein al-Salimi, Muhammad al-Najjar, and Rashed al-Ahmadi -- were all employed in Baghdad's clandestine military industry, according to IRNA. IRNA also cited a Radio Free Iraq report about the Ansar al-Islam Kurdish group. Tehran previously issued a circular forbidding use of RFE/RL's Persian Service as a source. BS

IRAQI, KUWAITI OFFICIALS MEET TO DISCUSS GULF WAR MISSING...
Representatives from Iraq, Kuwait, and Saudi Arabia met at the Jordanian headquarters of the International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC) in Amman on 22 January to discuss the hundreds of people still missing from the 1991 Gulf War, CNN reported. It was the second meeting in Amman following the meeting earlier this month (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 7 and 9 January 2003) that reopened discussions after Iraq boycotted the talks following the December 1998 U.S.-British bombing campaign. Of the 605 people reported missing after Iraq's 1990-91 occupation of Kuwait, 550 are Kuwaiti citizens. UN POW coordinator Yulii Vorontsov, who is in charge of accounting for missing people and property resulting from the Gulf War, said Iraq does "not deny the presence of prisoners, but they say it is very difficult to get information on their whereabouts because many witnesses have disappeared and because prisoners are being held in areas outside the control of the Iraqi government." SH

...AS IRAQI PRESIDENT GIVES PEP TALK...
President Saddam Hussein continued his talks with staff officers, commanders, Staff General Husayn Rashid, Defense Minister Staff General Sultan Hasim Ahmad, and his son Qusay Hussein on 22 January, Iraq Television reported (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 22 January 2003). President Hussein called for "national mobilization to confront a danger threatening the country and its people..., [and] to defeat the aggressor." He also said the United States "will disintegrate, because it does not have the historical depth Iraq has." He added that although the United States is technologically advanced, it can only make economic progress by promoting its "ties of cooperation with the world." However, he added, "If [the Americans] brandish their swords against the world and mount horses, as cowboys did in the past, they will not be able to nurture stable relations." SH

...AND IRAQ CLAIMS SECOND 'LUCKY SHOT'
Iraq claimed on 22 January that it shot down an unmanned U.S. Predator reconnaissance drone, AP reported. A spokesman for Iraq's Air Defense Command told Iraq News Agency that "the spy plane that breached the sanctity of Iraq's international airspace is used by the American enemy to spy on our civilian and military installations." According to the Iraqi government, the Predator entered Iraqi airspace from Kuwait, but it did not state where the drone was shot down. The White House and the U.S. Central Command rejected the claim. "As far as I know, everything's accounted for," Central Command's Lieutenant Colonel Martin Compton said. Iraqi jets downed a Predator in December "in what the Pentagon called a 'lucky shot,'" according to AP. SH

IMAM, FOREIGN MINISTRY PROTEST UNMOVIC'S INSPECTION OF MOSQUE
Sheikh Qutaybah Sa'di Ammash, imam of the Yawm Al-Nida Mosque, on 22 January protested UNMOVIC inspectors' 20 January inspection of the mosque. The imam stated during a news conference broadcast on Iraq Television that he wants to "ask the inspectors whether they are searching for weapons of mass destruction or measuring the level of the faith embedded within our chests." He added that "this is a provocation to the Muslims of Iraq, to the people of the Koran, to all Muslims, and also to honorable people in the United States, in Europe, in the West in general, and around the world." According to Sheikh Ammash, the inspectors asked him questions regarding the congregation and the architecture of the mosque. The Foreign Ministry cited the visit as an example of "the information-gathering aspect of the inspection that the inspectors are trying to engage in under cover of their mission, which has absolutely no place for such despicable and deplorable acts." The UN has not reported inspectors visiting the mosque. SH

SAUDI FOREIGN MINISTER COMMENTS ON ISTANBUL CONFERENCE ON IRAQ...
Saudi Foreign Minister Prince Saud al-Faysal bin Abd al-Aziz al-Saud on 22 January commented on the Istanbul conference on Iraq scheduled for 23 January, Saudi Press Agency (SPA) reported. "Should the United Nations reach a decision to use force against Iraq we hope there would be a grace period left for Arab countries to intervene and resolve the crisis peacefully," Prince Saud said. He added that Saudi Arabia "will not allow the use of its territories in an attack against Iraq," and that Saudi Arabia will not become involved in Iraq's internal affairs. Turkish Prime Minister Abdullah Gul is hosting the foreign ministers of Syria, Jordan, Iran, Egypt, and Saudi Arabia in a conference "to find a peaceful solution to the Iraq issue," according to Istanbul's ntvmsnbc.com (http://www.ntv.com.tr). SH

...AS IRAQI CHICKEN FARMER TAKES ON THE UN
Iraqi chicken farmer Sabah Anwar Muhammad complained to the international media in Baghdad on 22 January about damage caused by UN weapons inspectors, "The Guardian" reported. Muhammad claimed that the inspectors visited his farm south of Baghdad on 20 January and demolished the wall of a building while looking for a "biological unit." Reporters discovered a damaged brick wall when they visited the farm. Muhammad said he intends "to file suit against the United Nations and the inspectors." A UN statement on 20 January acknowledged that a biological-inspection team "revisited an agricultural site in the southern outskirts of Baghdad...[and] completed the inspection of the remaining buildings that were sealed during their first inspection on 15 January." SH

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