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Newsline - January 24, 2003


PUTIN, BUSH DISCUSS IRAQ, NORTH KOREA
President Vladimir Putin and U.S. President George W. Bush spoke by telephone on 23 January at Putin's initiative, Russian news agencies reported. The presidents reportedly discussed the crisis over North Korea's recent withdrawal from international nuclear controls and the situation in Iraq. Putin briefed Bush on the results of Deputy Foreign Minister Aleksandr Losyukov's recent trip to Pyongyang and Beijing (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 21 January 2003) and expressed confidence that a political resolution to the North Korea crisis can be found. Regarding Iraq, Putin told Bush that Moscow is reserving judgment until it reviews the preliminary report of international weapons inspectors that is due next week. VY

RUSSIAN PEACEKEEPERS TO LEAVE THE BALKANS?
The military command of Russia's ground forces has issued a secret directive to the Russian peacekeeping contingents in Bosnia and Kosova ordering them to curtail their activities and to be prepared to return to Russia, "Nezavisimaya gazeta" reported on 22 January. The daily speculated that the order might have been prompted by the Kremlin's perception that the current deployment there is not bringing the desired political advantages and does not justify the annual expenditure of about $20 million. Moscow currently maintains about 1,000 troops in the Balkans. The article argues that Russia has failed to gain political leverage vis a vis NATO through its deployment in Kosova and that that deployment is pointless because most of the Serbian population of Kosova has left the province. General Valerii Yevnevich, deputy commander of Russia's ground forces, told "Nezavisimaya gazeta" on 23 January that the training of Russian peacekeepers in the Balkans has been suspended because of the malfeasance of two senior Russian officers responsible for that training. Yevnevich added that he does not see any sense in continuing the peacekeeping mission, although only President Putin can initiate a withdrawal from the Balkans. Defense Minister Sergei Ivanov told journalists on 22 January that no decision has been made regarding the peacekeepers, although "various options have been considered," Interfax reported. VY

RUSSIA A HAVEN FOR HUNDREDS OF THOUSANDS OF STOLEN EUROPEAN CARS
Speaking to reporters in Moscow on 23 January, Walter Schmoelzing, a representative of the leading European insurance companies operating in Russia, said that as many as half of the 1.5 million cars illegally imported into Russia in recent years were stolen in Europe, mainly in Germany, Ekho Moskvy and "Komsomolskaya pravda" reported on 23 and 24 January, respectively. However, only a few hundred of the vehicles have been recovered because the stolen cars have been registered in Russia, making it difficult to take them away from their new owners. Schmoelzing said the situation is further complicated by the fact that many state officials, including high-ranking Interior Ministry officers, are using stolen cars. "Komsomolskaya pravda" noted that no Interior Ministry representatives attended Schmoelzing's press conference. VY

PRESIDENT COMMENTS ON MISSILE DEFENSE
President Putin met in Moscow on 23 January with Russian-American scientist Roald Sagdeev and said that Russia might cooperate with the United States in the development of a missile-defense shield, RIA-Novosti and other Russian news agencies reported. Putin stressed, however, that such cooperation must be carefully coordinated in order to prevent missile-technology leaks. The latter statement could lead to the creation of a joint coordination center that will track data about missile launches for transmission to command centers in the United States and Russia, Aleksandr Pikaev, an expert with the Moscow Carnegie Center, told polit.ru on 23 January. VY

CELLULAR OPERATOR'S DATABASE STOLEN, PIRATED
The database of cellular-telephone operator MTS, which contains the telephone numbers of more than 5.5 million cell-phone users, is being sold illegally on CD-ROM at Moscow markets, newsru.com and other Russian news agencies reported on 21 January. The database, which is selling for about $150, contains the names, home addresses, and telephone numbers of all MTS clients. The pirate CD-ROM also contains a search function that links clients to their bank accounts. An MTS spokesman said that an investigation into the apparent theft is under way, but emphasized that the accounts of MTS clients have not been compromised. Under Russian law, security agencies have access to such databases, leading to speculation that corrupt security agents might be responsible, abnews.ru reported on 23 January. VY

IS KREMLIN HITTING UP BUSINESSMEN FOR CAMPAIGN CONTRIBUTIONS?
Although President Putin and his administration have vowed to remove the oligarchs from active engagement in national politics, officials apparently have not abandoned the practice of soliciting money from them for political campaigns, "Yezhenedelnyi zhurnal," No. 2, reported this week. According to the weekly, the presidential administration has been actively seeking funds not only for the pro-Kremlin Unified Russia party but also for other competing parties in order to maintain the "illusion" that Russia is a democracy. The weekly alleges there "are some valid reasons to assume that [oil giant] Yukos became Yabloko's major sponsor six months ago, on explicit orders from the top." The weekly claims that Yukos head Mikhail Khodorkovskii rebuffed a similar order to fund the Communist Party (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 22 and 23 January 2003). An unidentified "analyst close the Kremlin" is quoted as saying some oligarchs have complained about not being able to raise enough money in time and have asserted that they want to monitor the spending of their contributions. The weekly concludes that the conflict between the Kremlin and the oligarchs "indicates that big business has retained at least some influence in political processes and essentially remains the only social force with which the regime is forced to enter into some dialogue." JAC

PAPER ACCUSES ALFA GROUP OF PLAYING ROLE IN PLANNED REMOVAL OF SENATOR...
Admiral Vyacheslav Popov, former Northern Fleet commander and the Federation Council representative for the Murmansk Oblast legislature, said the current effort to remove him from office is part of a "struggle for power in the region," "Nezavisimaya gazeta" reported on 23 January (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 23 January 2003). He said that one faction within the oblast legislature is trying to seize control over that body. In addition, he said certain influential financial groups, which he declined to identify, are struggling for control of the oblast's natural resources. The daily asserted that Mikhail Fridman's Alfa Group has been playing an active role in the move to recall Popov. However, it also quoted an unidentified Kremlin source as saying the Alfa Group does not have any interests in Murmansk and that Popov is being challenged because he has taken an excessively independent position on many issues. However, the Norwegian telecommunications company Telenor reported on its website that it, together with the Alfa Group and telecom operator Vimpelcom, has investments in Murmansk-based telecom provider Kolatelecom. JAC

...AS FORMER SENATOR SAYS HE DIDN'T GIVE ENOUGH AT THE OFFICE...
"Nezavisimaya gazeta" also reported on the details of last June's recall of Federation Council member Aleksandr Pleshakov, who represented Penza Oblast Governor Vasilli Bochkarev in the upper chamber and was recalled after just over a year in office. According to the daily, Pleshakov, who is chairman of Transaero, accused Penza Oblast Governor Vasilii Bochkarev at the time of "blackmail." Polit.ru quoted Pleshakov on 14 June as saying that someone close to the governor told him he was removed because he failed to provide adequate financing to Bochkarev's spring 2002 re-election campaign. JAC

...AND ALROSA TAKES ANOTHER SLOT
Legislators in Sakha (Yakutia) Republic have selected Aleksandr Matveev, former first vice president of diamond-producer Alrosa, as their representative in the Federation Council, "Kommersant-Daily" reported on 24 January. Matveev replaces Robert Burnashov. Burnashov, a former deputy head of the republican administration, served less than a year (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 29 January 2002). The election of a new representative was required following the 29 December parliamentary elections in the republic. Alrosa personnel did well in that race, winning 14 of the 69 seats available (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 7 January 2003). JAC

TAKES DIFFER ON MEANING OF NEW LEADERSHIP AT NTV
In an article on politcom.ru on 23 January, analyst Oleg Chursin argued that newly appointed NTV General Director Nikolai Senkevich is a member of the so-called St. Petersburg clan. Chursin noted that while many people have pointed out how little television experience the new NTV head has, Senkevich did host a program on the Moskoviya channel, which is owned by Mezprombank head and Petersburg insider Sergei Pugachev. Meanwhile, ORT Deputy General Director Marat Gelman told "Kommersant-Daily" on 24 January he believes that "television needs qualified management," and "Senkevich is a just a temporary figure." He added that many people are now equating former NTV General Director Boris Jordan's departure (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 21, 22, and 23 January 2003) with the end of independent television in Russia, but "the fact of the matter is that Jordan was dismissed not because he managed the station in his own way, but because he didn't manage it in general." JAC

DID LAWMAKERS BREAK THE LAW TO GET WIRED?
Telecoms provider Vimpelcom has concluded a three-month contract with the State Duma to provide all 450 legislators with mobile phones, direct numbers, and $100 in calling credits, "Kommersant-Daily" reported on 23 January. According to the daily, the phones and credits will be paid for out of the federal budget. Vimpelcom's competitors are crying foul, because the contract was not put up for a competitive tender as required by federal law. The initiator of the contract, Duma apparatus head Aleksandr Lotarev, has not responded to journalists' inquiries about the matter, the daily reported. JAC

MASKED MEN FIRE AT LOCAL TELEVISION STATION
Late in the evening of 22 January, a group of masked men armed with hunting rifles fired at the building housing the television station Svobodnoe TV in the Saratov Oblast city of Balakovo, RFE/RL's Russian Service reported the next day. No one was hurt in the incident, but some equipment was damaged. In the opinion of station management, the attack was connected its coverage of violations during local elections. At the same time, Aleksandr Naumov, director of the firm Virma, which founded the station, said the attack might be related to the station's support for Fatherland-All Russia (OVR) faction leader Vyacheslav Volodin, newsru.com reported. Volodin, according to several unidentified sources, might run in the December Duma election from Balakovskii Raion. In the last election, Volodin entered the Duma on OVR's party list. JAC

METALS GIANT HEADED FOR ANOTHER POLITICAL WIN
Experts in Taimyr Autonomous Okrug believe that only the weather can prevent a victory for Norilsk Mayor Oleg Budargin in the 26 January gubernatorial election, "Izvestiya" reported on 23 January. If the temperatures dip to minus 60 degrees Celsius, then there might not be sufficient turnout to validate the poll. Otherwise, the only question mark regarding the election, the daily contends, is the percentage by which Budargin will win. Budargin, who is a former personnel director at Norilsk Mining and Metallurgical Complex, is supported by Norilsk Nickel, for whom the majority of the region's population work (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 17 December 2002). The election is being held to replace former okrug Governor Aleksandr Khloponin, who is also a former head of Norilsk Nickel and who was elected governor of neighboring Krasnoyarsk Krai in September. JAC

MVD CONTINUES TO IGNORE PLIGHT OF MUSLIM WOMEN?
State Duma Deputy Flyura Ziyatdinova (Russian Regions) told the information bulletin of People's Party that the Interior Ministry has ignored two appeals that she and other deputies have sent regarding the refusal of the ministry's passport service to accept photographs of women in headscarves for their passports, islam.ru reported on 22 January (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 17 December 2002). Ziyatdinova, who was elected from a single-mandate district in Tatarstan, said police officials are not taking the appeals seriously, and she promised that she will take the issue up at the next level if the ministry's silence continues. Muslim women without passports have faced such difficulties as not being eligible for employment or subsidized health care. JAC

RUSSIA REFUSES TO RENEW OSCE CHECHEN MISSION MANDATE
Russia informed the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE) last week that it has no interest in negotiating a new mandate for the OSCE office in Chechnya, which must now close by 21 March, an OSCE spokesman told RFE/RL on 23 January. The mission's mandate expired on 31 December, but the United States, Germany, and the Netherlands, which currently holds the OSCE chairmanship, all urged Moscow to continue efforts to reach consensus on a new mandate (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 3 and 6 January 2003). LF

RUSSIAN ENVOY RECONCILES CHECHEN ADMINISTRATION HEAD, PREMIER
At a four-hour, closed-door meeting in Moscow on 22 January, Russian presidential envoy to the Southern Federal District Viktor Kazantsev persuaded Chechen administration head Akhmed-hadji Kadyrov and Chechen Prime Minister Mikhail Babich to "freeze" their recent public dispute over the appointment of a new finance minister, ITAR-TASS reported (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 14, 15, and 17 January 2003). Also on 22 January, ITAR-TASS reported that on 24 January Kadyrov will depart, accompanied by senior Muslim clerics from other North Caucasus republics, on a one-week visit to Libya and Jordan. "Novye izvestiya" on 24 January suggested that the purpose of the visit is to dissuade the leaders of those two countries from providing financial aid to the Chechen resistance. LF

ARMENIAN ELECTION OFFICIAL PLEDGES COOPERATION WITH OSCE OBSERVERS
Central Election Commission (CEC) Chairman Artak Sahradian told members of the OSCE Election-Monitoring Mission in Yerevan on 23 January the CEC will ensure that the 19 February presidential ballot is legal and transparent, Noyan Tapan and RFE/RL's Yerevan bureau reported. He said the results of voting in the country's estimated 2,000 precincts will be made available to OSCE observers and the media more swiftly than during earlier elections. But he did not explicitly agree to a request made by Peter Eicher, the U.S. head of the OSCE monitoring mission, to publish a precinct-by-precinct breakdown of the results. Eicher said on 20 January that doing so would contribute to assessing the transparency of the vote (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 21 January 2003). Opposition candidates believe that in previous elections results were falsified by government-controlled local election bodies during the counting of the votes. LF

ARMENIAN BANKER SAYS HE FINANCED BRIBE TO CENTRAL BANK CHAIRMAN
Boris Arakelian, a former chairman of the board of the Credit Service Bank, has said that in the spring of 1999 he advanced two fictitious loans amounting to $150,000 to a fellow bank executive to enable the latter to bribe Armenian Central Bank Chairman Tigran Sargsian to appoint Artashes Davtian as a department head at the Central Bank, according to an article published in "Aravot" on 21 January and reposted by Groong. The paper notes that Davtian was subsequently appointed to the post in question. Arakelian admitted that he made a mistake and expressed his readiness to cooperate with any official investigation. "Aravot" is sympathetic to former President Levon Ter-Petrossian and has consistently criticized the present Armenian leadership. LF

SENIOR AZERBAIJANI OFFICIAL HINTS AT CONCESSIONS OVER LAW ON GRANTS
Presidential administration official Ali Hasanov told Turan on 23 January that the Azerbaijani leadership "will consider" a collective demand by NGOs for the abolition of amendments introduced last year to the law on grants. The NGOs staged a sanctioned picket in Baku the previous day to protest the amendments, which strip NGOs of the tax privileges they previously enjoyed and require them to pay a 27 percent social-insurance tax. The amendments further stipulate that NGO employees must pay 2 percent of their salaries into the State Social Security Fund, and that NGOs must register all grant agreements with the Justice and Tax ministries. In a statement released on 13 January and summarized by Turan, the Federation of Human Rights Organizations of Azerbaijan criticized the amendments as an attack by the authorities on democratic institutions. LF

NON-SPECIALISTS NAMED TO AZERBAIJANI NATIONAL TV AND RADIO COUNCIL
Azerbaijani media specialists on 23 January criticized the selection of members of the newly created National Council for State Television and Radio, Turan reported. On 22 January, President Heidar Aliev named six of the nine members of the council. Only two have worked as journalists. One is a former member of the presidential administration, and another served in the financial department of the former Committee for State Television and Radio. LF

GEORGIAN-RUSSIAN TALKS CONTINUE
Georgian parliament speaker Nino Burdjanadze met in Moscow on 23 January with Russian State Duma Deputy Speakers Vladimir Lukin and Irina Khakamada and with Duma International Affairs Committee Chairman Dmitrii Rogozin to discuss how to overcome the current tensions in Russian-Georgian relations, ITAR-TASS reported. Burdjanadze also met with Russian presidential administration head Aleksandr Voloshin. Speaking to journalists after those meetings, Burdjanadze contrasted Russia's policy of intimidation toward Georgia with the U.S. policy of offering incentives. She again warned that it is unlikely Tbilisi will agree to extend the mandate of the Russian peacekeeping forces deployed in the Abkhaz conflict zone unless Russia suspends the rail passenger service between Sochi and Sukhum and stops granting Russian citizenship to residents of Abkhazia (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 23 January 2003). LF

GEORGIAN, ABKHAZ MILITARY PREPARE TO TAKE OVER PEACEKEEPING FUNCTIONS IN ABKHAZIA
Meanwhile the Georgian Armed Forces General Staff has prepared a contingency plan to deploy Georgian troops "to maintain the status quo" in the Abkhaz conflict zone should the Russian peacekeeping contingent be withdrawn, Interfax and Caucasus Press quoted Deputy Defense Minister Gela Bezhuashvili as saying on 23 January. He did not divulge further details. On 21 January, Abkhaz Deputy Defense Minister Garri Kupalba told journalists in Sukhum that Abkhazia is ready to deploy its servicemen at the control posts currently manned by the Russian peacekeepers should that force be withdrawn, Caucasus Press reported. LF

OSCE OFFICIALS VISIT ABKHAZIA
Representatives of the OSCE office in Georgia met on 23 January in Sukhum with Abkhaz parliament chairman Nugzar Ashuba to discuss the economic and social situation in the unrecognized republic and unspecified aspects of the ongoing search for a political solution to the conflict, Caucasus Press reported. Ashuba said such a solution depends primarily on the attitude of the five states that belong to the "Friends of the UN Secretary-General Group," one of which, Ashuba said, is biased in favor of Georgia. He was most likely referring to the United States. Meanwhile, Abkhaz President Vladislav Ardzinba's representative in Moscow, Igor Akhba, told RIA-Novosti that Georgian claims to have transferred international humanitarian aid to Abkhazia are "a blatant lie," and that Abkhazia "has not received a single cent" of such aid, Caucasus Pres reported on 23 January. LF

GEORGIA, ISRAEL CONSIDER MILITARY-INDUSTRIAL COOPERATION
Visiting Israel earlier this week, Georgian Minister of State Avtandil Djorbenadze met with the leadership of the state-run company IMI, which provides arms and equipment to the Israeli armed forces and ammunition to many NATO members, Caucasus Press reported on 24 January. Djorbenadze reportedly remarked that there are "vast prospects" for cooperation between the Israeli and Georgian military-industrial complexes. LF

GEORGIAN MINISTER OF STATE VISITS TURKEY
Djorbenadze paid a one-day working visit to Ankara on 23 January during which he met with Turkish President Ahmet Necdet Sezer and Prime Minister Abdullah Gul to discuss bilateral military and energy-sector cooperation and security for planned oil and gas pipelines from Azerbaijan via Georgia to Turkey, Caucasus Press reported on 24 January. LF

GEORGIA REGISTERS STEEP INCREASE IN AIDS CASES
Eleven new AIDS cases have been registered in Georgia since the beginning of this year, Caucasus Press reported on 23 January, compared with four in January 2002 and a total of 83 during the whole of last year. There were five deaths from the disease in 2002, and the number of registered AIDS patients at the end of the year was 361, of whom some 70 percent were drug addicts, and some 40 percent live in Tbilisi. Experts believe the real number of HIV-infected people is closer to 2,000, according to Caucasus Press on 23 December. LF

OPPOSITION PARTY IN KAZAKHSTAN LAUNCHES NEW BLOC...
The opposition party Democratic Choice for Kazakhstan (DVK) has invited some other opposition parties to align with it in a bloc to be named Democracy-Elections-Kazakhstan, Interfax reported on 22 January, quoting DVK member Petr Svojk. Svojk explained that the bloc, which was officially launched on 18 January, intends to unite those opposition parties that were unable to reregister with the Justice Ministry under the restrictive new law on political parties. But a spokesman for one of those parties, the Republican People's Party of Kazakhstan, told RFE/RL's Kazakh Service on 23 January that it has not been invited to join the new bloc. LF

...AS REREGISTRATION CONTINUES
Three political parties have been reregistered by the Justice Ministry after proving that they have the requisite minimum 50,000 members, according to the 23 January issue of the "Kazakhstan News Bulletin" issued weekly by the Kazakh Embassy in Washington. They are the pro-government Otan and Civic Parties and Aq Zhol, which was founded one year ago by a splinter group including former government ministers that broke away from the DVK (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 30 January 2002). Eight other parties -- the Agrarian, Alash, Auyl (Village), Renaissance, and Compatriot parties, the Party of Patriots, the Communist Party, and El Dana (the former Women's Democratic Party) -- submitted reregistration applications to the Justice Ministry before the 20 January deadline. LF

KYRGYZSTAN, RUSSIA AGREE ON USE OF MILITARY AIRFIELD
During talks in Bishkek on 22-23 January, Russian Air Force Deputy Commander Lieutenant General Anatolii Nogovitsin and Kyrgyz government officials reached agreement on the terms under which Russian fighter aircraft will be deployed at the Kant airbase near Bishkek under the aegis of the CIS Collective Security Treaty Rapid-Reaction Force, Russian news agencies and akipress.org reported. Russia will shoulder most of the cost of equipping the base and modernizing its infrastructure, akipress.org quoted Nogovitsin as saying on 23 January. He did not mention specific sums or stipulate how many aircraft and personnel will be deployed at Kant. According to ITAR-TASS on 23 January, Kyrgyzstan will contribute four training aircraft, two helicopters, and two fighters to the rapid-reaction force. LF

KYRGYZSTAN POSTS SLIGHT DROP IN GDP
Kyrgyzstan's GDP declined by 0.5 percent in 2002 compared with the previous year, akipress.org reported on 23 January, quoting the National Statistics Committee. The government had predicted 4.5 percent GDP growth. The decline was attributed to a fall in industrial production. Agricultural output, by contrast, increased in 2002 by 3.5 percent compared with 2001. Retail-trade turnover increased by 8.2 percent. LF

RUSSIAN HUMAN RIGHTS ACTIVIST PREVENTED FROM ENTERING UZBEKISTAN
Nikolai Mitrokhin of the Russian human rights organization Memorial was detained at the Tashkent airport on 23 January for the second time this month and refused entry into Uzbekistan, Interfax and centrasia.ru reported. As on 18 January, Mitrokhin was put on a plane back to Moscow. Interfax quoted the Russian Embassy in Tashkent as saying it had been informed by the Uzbek authorities that Mitrokhin is persona non grata. Interfax quoted an unnamed Uzbek Foreign Ministry official as saying that following earlier visits to Uzbekistan, Mitrokhin wrote biased and negative articles about the situation in the country. LF

UZBEK DEPUTY PREMIER'S DUTIES REDEFINED
President Islam Karimov issued a decree on 22 January naming Deputy Prime Minister Rustam Azimov to head the entire economic complex, Interfax and uza.uz reported. Azimov was first named deputy prime minister in August 2000 when he occupied the post of finance minister. He was subsequently named to head the Ministry of Macroeconomics and Statistics that Karimov abolished last month, creating in its place a Ministry of Economics, which Azimov now heads, and a State Statistics Committee (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 27 December 2002). LF

CORRECTION:
The OSCE-moderated talks that the Azerbaijani opposition boycotted on 23 January were not a roundtable discussion of the draft election law, as incorrectly reported in "RFE/RL Newsline" on 23 January, but an interparty discussion on establishing a conciliation commission, on which both the opposition and the authorities would be represented. That commission would then seek to reach a consensus on those articles of the draft bill that the opposition considers unacceptable.

BELARUSIAN INDEPENDENT NEWSPAPER SUED BY DISTRICT AUTHORITIES
District authorities in Smarhon (Hrodna Oblast) have filed a lawsuit with the Hrodna Oblast Economic Court requesting that it close the independent twice-weekly publication "Novaya gazeta Smorgoni." The authorities also want the court to deprive its publisher, Ramuald Ulan, of the right to engage in business activities. "Novaya gazeta Smorgoni" has double the circulation within the district of the newspaper issued by the district authorities. According to Ulan, his problems with the authorities began after he decided to expand his business by launching two more publications in the region. The authorities denied him permission to open editorial offices for the new periodicals. After the Hrodna Oblast Economic Court ordered the authorities to reverse their decisions in favor of Ulan, they accused him of violating tax laws, fire-safety rules, and labor regulations. JM

FORMER BELARUSIAN INTERIOR MINISTER BECOMES SPORTS MINISTER
President Alyaksandr Lukashenka has appointed Yury Sivakou minister of sports and tourism, Belapan reported on 23 January. Sivakou replaces Yauhen Vorsin, who held the post for 3 1/2 years. Sivakou, 56, served in a number of government posts connected with state security, including deputy interior minister and Internal Troops commander (1995-99), interior minister (February 1999-April 2000), and deputy chief of the presidential administration (November 2000-September 2001). Two Belarusian investigators who defected to the United States in 2001 alleged that Sivakou was involved in the kidnapping and killing of opposition figures Yury Zakharanka, Viktar Hanchar, and Anatol Krasouski in 1999 (see "RFE/RL Poland, Belarus, and Ukraine Report," 12 June and 28 August 2001). It has become something of a tradition in Belarus to appoint law enforcement officials to leading positions in the sports sphere. Interior Minister Uladzimir Navumaw is currently in charge of the Belarusian Ice Hockey Federation, KGB Chairman Leanid Yeryn heads the Belarusian Biathlon Federation, and Lew Pimenau, chief of the KGB archives, presides over the Belarusian Basketball Federation. JM

BELARUSIAN COURT REJECTS OPPOSITION LEADER'S SUIT AGAINST KGB
A district court in Minsk on 23 January dismissed United Civic Party leader Anatol Lyabedzka's suit alleging that the KGB infringed on his rights, Belapan reported. Lyabedzka wanted the court to declare illegal the official warning that he received from the KGB on 5 November. KGB agents detained Lyabedzka on that day as he walked out of the U.S. Embassy in Minsk. He was taken to KGB headquarters and warned that his activities might lead him to commit high treason (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 6 November 2002). According to Judge Valery Yesman, the KGB did not violate Lyabedzka's civil rights by issuing a written warning. "No evidence that could justify the warning was presented to the judge," Lyabedzka commented. He added he intends to appeal the verdict. JM

GAS SUPPLIES TO UKRAINIAN ENERGY PRODUCERS HALVED OVER DEBTS
Haz Ukrayiny, a component of the Naftohaz Ukrayiny oil and gas supplier, has decided to cut gas deliveries to Ukraine's power-generating and distributing companies to 16 million cubic meter per day as of 24 January, which means a 50 percent reduction of the current supplies, Interfax reported on 24 January. The company said the move was prompted by the fact that power producers now pay for just 5.6 percent of the gas they consume. Last year, the power-generating companies accumulated more than 77 million hryvnyas ($14.4 million) in debt to Haz Ukrayiny. Moreover, they have not yet paid for 1.3 billion cubic meters of gas delivered to them in 1999-2001. JM

UKRAINIAN MINISTER CONTENDS LAWS SUFFICIENT TO COMBAT DIRTY MONEY
Justice Minister Oleksandr Lavrynovych said on 23 January that Ukraine has met all the demands of the Paris-based Financial Action Task Force on Money Laundering (FATF) regarding legal measures to combat money laundering, Interfax reported. On 28 November, the Verkhovna Rada passed an anti-money-laundering law; on 24 December, it amended the law following criticism from FATF; and on 16 January, lawmakers adopted amendments to the Criminal Code toughening penalties for money laundering. Some FATF member states recently introduced sanctions against Ukraine, citing the country's flawed anti-money-laundering legislation (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 23 January 2003). JM

ESTONIAN PARLIAMENT PASSES NEW BANKRUPTCY LAW
Lawmakers approved a new bankruptcy act on 22 January with 54 votes in favor in the 101-seat legislature, BNS reported the next day. The government had proposed the legislation, which is aimed at speeding up bankruptcy proceedings and making supervision of trustees more effective. The new law reduces the number of stages in which creditors are entitled to payments from bankrupt estates, establishes a limit on the extent to which holders of secured claims must cover the cost of proceedings, and introduces special terms for bankruptcy proceedings for individuals. Backers say it also offers an improved framework for the recovery of companies facing insolvency, rather than liquidation, and provides more clearly defined rules for preventing abuses by people involved in bankruptcy proceedings. SG

LATVIA'S PEOPLE'S PARTY DEMANDS DISMISSAL OF HEALTH MINISTER
The opposition liberal-right People's Party on 23 January demanded the dismissal of Health Minister Aris Auders for allegedly receiving double payment for surgery he performed in the fall of 2002, LETA reported. Prime Minister Einars Repse requested a written explanation from Auders, adding that he thinks the claims are "exaggerated" and linked to the minister's recent probes at a number of hospitals. Both officials believe the case should be looked into by the Office for Prevention and Abatement of Corruption. Repse expressed greater concern about the recent purchase without a tender of a Volvo S80 automobile for Auders's use by the State Obligatory Health Insurance Agency. SG

LITHUANIA APPROVES LAND SALES TO FOREIGNERS -- EVENTUALLY
By a vote of 116 to four with four abstentions, parliament on 23 January amended Article 47 of the constitution to grant foreign legal entities and natural persons the right to acquire agricultural land in Lithuania, BNS reported. The law will come into force in a month, but the land sales will effectively become possible only in 2011 -- seven years after Lithuania officially joins the EU -- since the country negotiated a transition period in its membership negotiations. The land-sale amendment was first approved last year (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 8 March 2002), but the required second approval by two-thirds majority following an interval of at least three months was postponed as the transition period was being negotiated with Brussels. SG

LITHUANIA ANNOUNCES KALININGRAD TRAVEL CONCESSION...
Lithuanian Foreign Ministry Secretary Darius Jurgelevicius on 23 January announced a list of documents required of Russian citizens for transit to and from Kaliningrad Oblast that includes an apparent concession but does not recognize a military identification card as a legitimate travel document, as Moscow has urged, BNS and ITAR-TASS reported. Jurgelevicius was speaking after consultations with Russian Deputy Foreign Minister Sergei Razov aimed at hammering out details of the new travel policies, which will take effect on 1 February. Jurgelevicius said Lithuania decided not to accept a Russian request to include military IDs because they are not mentioned in the agreement signed between the EU and Russia in November (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 12 November 2002). SG/AH

...REGARDING CHILDREN'S BIRTH CERTIFICATES
Vilnius's primary compromise concerns travel for children: Lithuania will regard children's birth certificates as valid travel documents if they are traveling with their parents, provided there is an entry about the child in the parents' passport, BNS reported on 23 January. Jurgelevicius said that, from February, Russian citizens will only be able to enter Lithuania if they can show one of the following documents: a Russian diplomatic, service, or international passport; an international passport with Soviet seal and a stamp denoting Russian citizenship; a Russian internal passport; an internal passport with Soviet seal and a stamp denoting Russian citizenship; or a maritime passport and special return permit, which is issued to soldiers and sailors as well as to citizens who lose their documents abroad. Jurgelevicius also rejected the Russian demand that Lithuania not stamp internal passports because Russian law does not recognize the validity of internal passports that have been tampered with. He called that issue "a problem of Russian internal laws." SG

POLAND REWORKS DEAL TO REDUCE RUSSIAN GAS SUPPLIES
Poland has managed to renegotiate a 1996 gas contract with Russia allowing for a 35 percent reduction in Russian gas imports, Polish media reported on 23 January. According to the 1996 deal between Russia's Gazprom and the Polish Oil and Gas Company, Poland was to import 218.8 billion cubic meters of gas from 2003-20. Later it became clear that forecasts of domestic gas demand were overestimated at the time of the signing, and Poland started negotiations to lower Russian gas supplies. Deputy Prime Minister Marek Pol, who negotiated the reduction of gas supplies with Russian partners, told journalists in Moscow on 23 January that the 1996 contract was prolonged to 2022, while the amount of gas to be imported by Poland was reduced to 161 billion cubic meters: 6.6 billion cubic meters annually up to 2010 and some 9 billion cubic meters annually thereafter. Poland consumes roughly 11 billion cubic meters of gas per year, 7 billion of which comes primarily from Russia and the remaining 4 billion from domestic gas fields. JM

NEW POLISH TREASURY MINISTER PLEDGES TO MEET PRIVATIZATION TARGET
Treasury Minister Stanislaw Cytrycki, who replaced Wieslaw Kaczmarek earlier this month, told journalists on 23 January that he will do everything possible to raise 9.1 billion zlotys ($2.35 billion) through privatization in 2003, as stipulated by this year's budget, Polish media reported. "The period of easy privatizations has ended. And today we are not dealing with long queues of investors who are waiting for this process in various sectors," Polish Television quoted Cytrycki as saying. Cytrycki said the government will continue the privatizations of the PKO BP savings bank and the Telekomunikacja Polska SA telecommunications giant. Last year, the government earned less than half of the 6.5 billion zlotys in privatization revenues forecast in the 2002 budget. According to estimates, the Treasury Ministry still have some 120 billion zlotys in assets slated for privatization. JM

POLAND, IRAN DISCUSS IRAQ
Polish Foreign Minister Wlodzimierz Cimoszewicz discussed the Iraq situation with his Iranian counterpart Kamal Kharrazi in Warsaw on 23 January, PAP reported. Cimoszewicz said Poland strongly supports a peaceful, UN-backed solution to the Iraq dilemma but added, "We cannot rule out the possibility that in particular circumstances military solutions will have to be applied." Kharrazi emphasized that unilateral attempts to resolve the Iraq crisis should be avoided, adding that Iran will not participate in a war against Iraq, even if it is authorized by the UN. Kharrazi was received by President Aleksander Kwasniewski and Premier Leszek Miller the previous day. JM

CZECH PRESIDENTIAL REDUX PRODUCES FIRST-ROUND SURPRISE
Former Premier and Social Democratic Party (CSSD) candidate Milos Zeman failed to advance past the first round on 24 January in legislative voting to select a successor to outgoing President Vaclav Havel, CTK reported. Civic Democratic Party (ODS) candidate and former Premier Vaclav Klaus and Senator Jaroslava Moserova, a member of the center-right Civic Democratic Alliance (ODA) who is backed by the Christian Democratic Union-People's Party and by the Freedom Union-Democratic Union, advanced to the second round of voting, which was expected to take place later the same day. Klaus received 89 votes in the Chamber of Deputies and 32 votes in the upper house, while Moserova garnered 25 votes in the lower house and 43 in the 81-seat Senate. Zeman, whose candidacy highlighted divisions within the party, was backed by 78 deputies in the lower house and five senators in the upper house. In order to win the second round of voting, a candidate must receive majorities within both chambers. A third-round winner requires a combined majority of legislators present. Some leading parties have suggested they will push to amend the constitution to allow for a direct presidential vote if the legislature is unable to break its deadlock. MS

CZECH SENATE LIFTS IMMUNITY OF CONTROVERSIAL TV MOGUL...
The Senate's plenum on 23 January lifted the immunity from prosecution of controversial Senator Vladimir Zelezny, CTK reported (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 23 January 2002). The decision was supported by 61 of 81 senators present. Before the vote, the upper house rejected proposals for postponing the vote from the opposition ODS party -- with which the TV Nova director, who was voted into the Senate in October, reportedly has close ties -- and the Communist Party of Bohemia and Moravia. Zelezny has been charged with tax fraud and two counts of harming creditors in connection with TV Nova, where he pulled the plug on investors from Central European Media Enterprises in 1999. Zelezny, 57, said he is disappointed by the Senate's "hasty" decision, adding that the evidence on which it was based had been manipulated. He claimed his case "sets a very dangerous precedent." MS

...AND APPROVES APPOINTMENT OF CONSTITUTIONAL COURT JUDGE
Also on 23 January, the upper house approved President Vaclav Havel's proposal to appoint Jiri Mucha to the Constitutional Court. The proposal was supported by 68 of 70 senators present. Mucha, a lawyer by training, is a former Czech ambassador to the Council of Europe. He replaces Vlastimil Sevcik, who died last year. Under the constitution, members of the Czech Constitutional Court are appointed by the head of state, subject to Senate approval. MS

CZECH CHIEF OF STAFF DISMISSES COMMANDER IN PRESTIGIOUS MILITARY UNIT
Newly appointed Chief of Staff General Pavel Stefka on 23 January dismissed Petr Skop, a commanding officer in the Czech Army's prestigious antichemical-, antibacteriological-, and antinuclear-warfare unit, also stripping Skop of his rank of officer, CTK reported. Skop is suspected of having falsified travel expenses. The estimated damage, 73,000 crowns ($2,468), was discovered during a recent audit. The unit to which Skop belongs is not among the forces currently deployed in Kuwait. Stefka said Skop's behavior tarnished the army's image, adding that it is "particularly shameful, as it involves a commander who should set an example to soldiers." MS

SLOVAK SUPPORT FOR NATO MEMBERSHIP PLUMMETS AS IRAQ CONFLICT LOOMS...
Slovak support for NATO membership has dropped sharply, CTK and Reuters reported on 23 January. A public-opinion poll conducted by the Slovak Statistical Office's Center for Public Opinion Research in January shows that for the first time since Slovakia was invited to join NATO (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 21 November 2002), opponents of membership are more numerous (48 percent) than supporters (46 percent). Defense Minister Ivan Simko, cited by Reuters, said the drop can be attributed to fears that Slovakia might be dragged into a war against Iraq or other global conflicts. "It is a challenge for us to explain why we should be part of the [world's] only functioning system of collective security," Simko said. An initiative for holding a referendum on accession was recently launched by a nongovernmental organization but is opposed by the government and parliamentary parties with the exception of the Communist Party of Slovakia (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 16 January 2003). MS

...AND KUKAN SAYS POLITICIANS FIND IT DIFFICULT TO EXPLAIN NEED FOR WAR
In related news, Foreign Minister Eduard Kukan said in a 23 January interview with the Austrian daily "Die Presse" that as a future member of NATO, Slovakia is prepared to meet its share of responsibility in a possible military conflict with Iraq but would prefer any action to be based on a UN Security Council resolution, CTK reported. Kukan said NATO can count on being allowed to use Slovak airspace, but he added that a Security Council resolution would prompt a more positive view of the action among Slovaks than would be the case if the United States acted alone or jointly with allies. "I do not want to hide the fact that there is fear of war among our citizens, and it is a difficult task for political leaders to explain the necessity of military intervention," Kukan said. MS

SLOVAK BUGGING SCANDAL PRODUCES QUESTIONS, BUT NO ANSWERS
Interior Minister Vladimir Palko on 23 January told journalists that his ministry has received from the Slovak Intelligence Service (SIS) "unsolicited" tapes of telephone conversations by Alliance for a New Citizen Chairman Pavol Rusko, CTK reported. Palko said only the SIS has the equipment to monitor telephone conversations. SIS Director Vladimir Mitro instantly denied the allegation, saying the police, who are under Interior Ministry control, have similar technical capabilities. Palko said the tapes obviously have been manipulated and the voice of a person different from Rusko has been inserted. MS

CUBAN DISSIDENT MEETS SLOVAK PARLIAMENTARY SPEAKER
Cuban dissident Oswaldo Paya on 23 January met in Bratislava with parliamentary leader Pavol Hrusovsky, CTK reported. Echoing statements one day earlier in Prague (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 23 January 2003), Paya said the regime of communist President Fidel Castro will in the end collapse with no need for violence. Paya said the world talks only about Castro, but in Cuba there is also a civic movement that has adopted the model of Czechoslovakia's 1989 Velvet Revolution. Paya drew attention to the persecution of those who signed the Varela Project manifesto, modeled on the Czechoslovak Charter 77, adding that there are 300 political prisoners in his country, while the number those persecuted for their political views runs into the thousands. MS

HUNGARIAN SOCIALISTS ACCUSE NATIONAL BANK OF FAILURE
Socialist Party members of the parliamentary Budget Committee on 23 January approved a resolution stating that the Hungarian National Bank (MNB) has violated the Central Banking Act by failing to support the stability of the financial system, Hungarian media reported. The resolution comes against the backdrop of a sharp depreciation of the forint against the U.S. dollar and was approved after opposition deputies walked out of the session. It states that central-bank policy has not helped to reduce inflation in the long run, although it has contributed to lower inflation in the short term. It also demands that the central bank submit a written report on the issue by 11 February. Budget Committee Chairman Mihaly Varga (FIDESZ) told journalists the resolution is invalid, since it was voted on after he declared the meeting closed. The agenda did not include a debate on the central bank's performance, he added. Deputy Zsigmond Jarai, from the ruling Socialists, told journalists that grave errors by the National Bank led to recent speculative attacks on the forint. "Nepszabadsag" alleged that investment banks JP Morgan, ING, and Deutsche Bank are the leading speculators seeking to drive the forint's exchange rate upward (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 16 January 2003). MS

HUNGARIAN, CZECH FOREIGN MINISTERS TALK IRAQ
Visiting Czech Foreign Minister Cyril Svoboda and his Hungarian counterpart Laszlo Kovacs said on 23 January international pressure on Iraq must be intensified in order to compel it to disarm and abide by the relevant UN Security Council resolutions, CTK reported. Svoboda said, "A knife in the hands of a butcher is not dangerous, but a knife in the hands of a murderer is." According to Kovacs, it is preferable to "disarm [Iraqi President] Saddam Hussein before he acts than to do so only after he attacks someone." Kovacs also said there are risks involved in the fact that U.S. experts are training Iraqi oppositionists at the Taszar air base in southwest Hungary, but he added that they are "not bigger than the risks of sending soldiers to the region and certainly lesser than those of facing the weapons of mass destruction that are in Saddam Hussein's hands." Hungarian media have reported that Kovacs requested Svoboda's help in offsetting Budapest's trade deficit with Prague by expanding the list of Hungarian agricultural products that are exempt from customs duties. MS

NEW DATE SET FOR ROMANY ELECTIONS IN HUNGARY
The National Elections Commission on 22 January decided that the new date for the election of the Romany authority will be 1 March, Hungarian media reported. The commission was responding to a Constitutional Court ruling on an appeal by the Lungo Drom Romany party (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 14 and 17 January 2003). Commission head Lajos Ficzere warned that if the ballot is again declared invalid, no Romany authority may be formed for the next four years. MS

CROATIAN DEFENSE MINISTER DENIES REPORTS OF AIR-FORCE LABOR STOPPAGE
Defense Minister Zeljka Antunovic said on 23 January that no part of the country's armed forces is on strike, RFE/RL's South Slavic and Albanian Languages Service reported. Croatian media had reported that some 60 air-force instructors were on strike in Zadar. Officially citing depression as a reason for their inability to fly, the instructors have protested a recent cut in pay. UB

BOSNIAN, YUGOSLAV OFFICIALS DISCUSS REFUGEES' RETURN
Representatives of the Bosnian and Yugoslav governments met in Sarajevo on 23 January for two days of talks on the return of refugees, Tanjug reported. The officials are to prepare a bilateral agreement on the voluntary return of refugees from both countries. The news agency quoted the Bosnian Ministry for Human Rights and Refugees, according to which 130,000 refugees from Bosnia are currently living in Yugoslavia, while some 6,200 displaced persons from Yugoslavia are living in Bosnia. UB

YUGOSLAV PHYSICIANS TO EXAMINE MILOSEVIC
Three physicians from Belgrade's Military Medical Academy left for The Hague on 23 January to examine former President Slobodan Milosevic, Tanjug reported. The trial against Milosevic before the international war crimes tribunal has been repeatedly interrupted amid reports that he is suffering from exhaustion and high blood pressure (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 12 November 2002). UB

YUGOSLAV PRESIDENT'S PARTY CHALLENGES ELECTION LAW IN COURT
Vojislav Kostunica's Democratic Party of Serbia (DSS) asked the Serbian Constitutional Court on 23 January to annul the provision of the Serbian election law stipulating that presidential elections require at least a 50 percent turnout, RFE/RL's South Slavic and Albanian Languages Service reported. The DSS also wants a provision to be canceled according to which the speaker of the Serbian parliament may call presidential elections. On 3 January, parliamentary speaker Natasa Micic took office as interim president of Serbia after two presidential elections were declared invalid due to low voter turnout (see "RFE/RL Balkan Report," 13 January 2003 and "RFE/RL Newsline," 3 January 2003). UB

MONTENEGRIN POLITICIAN DEMANDS TV STATION FOR ETHNIC MINORITIES
Nikolle Camaj, the government's deputy information secretary, demanded on 21 January that a special channel for ethnic minorities be created within the country's state-television broadcasting, Deutsche Welle's "Monitor" reported. Camaj said most of that television programming should be in the Albanian language, while a smaller portion should be reserved for the country's other minorities. Camaj expressed confidence that the international community will support the project financially. UB

SERBIAN DEPUTY PRIME MINISTER SAYS UNMIK APPLIES DOUBLE STANDARDS
Deputy Prime Minister Nebojsa Covic said on 23 January that the UN civilian administration in Kosova is applying "double standards" on important issues in the northern parts of the province, Tanjug reported. Covic complained that Kosova's Albanian leaders iterate that independence is the only answer to the question of Kosova's status. He added that, on the one hand, Serbia may not interfere when institutions of an independent Kosova are being created; but on the other hand, initiatives by Serb municipalities to unite in northern Kosova are criticized by the international community. UB

MACEDONIAN PARLIAMENT ELECTS DEPUTY SPEAKERS
Lawmakers on 23 January elected Liljana Popovska of the Liberal Democratic Party (LDP) and Agron Buxhaku of the ethnic Albanian Democratic Union for Integration (BDI) as the chamber's deputy speakers, "Utrinski vesnik" reported. The opposition nationalist Internal Macedonian Revolutionary Organization (VMRO-DPMNE) leveled accusations against Buxhaku, saying he faces criminal charges in Belgium, where he lived before returning to Macedonia last year. Lawmakers of the VMRO-DPMNE and the Liberal Party were participating in a parliamentary session for the first time since the 15 September elections. The VMRO-DPMNE and Liberal Party boycott came in protest at the election of BDI lawmakers, some of whom are former members of the ethnic Albanian National Liberation Army (UCK). UB

OPPOSITION POLITICIAN TURNS AGAINST FORMER MACEDONIAN PRIME MINISTER
Mane Jakovlevski, the leader of the VMRO-DPMNE's emigrant organization, has accused VMRO-DPMNE leader and former Prime Minister Ljubco Georgievski of having inflicted serious damage on the country, "Dnevnik" reported on 24 January, quoting an interview in the weekly "Aktuel." "I cannot understand how somebody can ruin his country by looking only at his own material interests," Jakovlevski said. "Until the election victory in 1998, I believed...he was a successful party leader. But as soon as he took [office as prime minister], he and his family revealed their insatiable appetite for money." Jakovlevski predicted that dissatisfied party members will turn against Georgievski if he does not resign. UB

ROMANIAN PREMIER CONTRADICTS OWN CABINET MINISTER ON REGIONAL GOVERNORS
Prime Minister Adrian Nastase said on 23 January that he does not favor the creation of economic regions headed by governors (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 21 January 2003), Mediafax reported the next day. Nastase called Public Administration Minister Octav Cozmanca's recent proposal a "patched-up idea" born of the effort to qualify for EU funds that encourage "regionalization." He said such regionalization should not add another bureaucratic layer to the local-administration structure but be aimed at "genuine decentralization." He also said that in Romania the idea has been somewhat discredited because it is associated with territorial separatism. Nastase admitted his views contradict those of Cozmanca, but he remarked sarcastically: "Even canon law allows for appeals to the pope, who might be better informed." Nastase made his comments after meeting with Hungarian Democratic Federation of Romania (UDMR) Chairman Bela Marko. Marko said the UDMR also opposes "regionalization" based on economic-development criteria and the nomination of regional governors. The two leaders agreed that their parties will negotiate a new cooperation agreement for 2003. MS

FOREIGN MINISTER SAYS ROMANIA'S MAIN CONTRIBUTION TO IRAQ COULD COME THE MORNING AFTER
Foreign Minister Mircea Geoana said on 23 January that Romania has little to offer militarily in the event of a possible attack on Iraq, RFE/RL's Bucharest bureau reported. Its main contribution, Geoana said, could materialize "when the future of Iraq and its reconstruction will be on the agenda, when Romania's know-how could be of interest to our [NATO] partners." Geoana added that the Supreme Council of National Defense will meet on 10 February to discuss the issue. MS

PROMINENT DEMOCRATIC PARTY POLITICIANS DEFECT IN ROMANIA
Democratic Party parliamentary deputies Alexandru Sassu and Bogdan Niculescu-Duvaz on 23 January announced they are leaving the formation to join the ruling Social Democratic Party (PSD), RFE/RL's Bucharest bureau reported. They both said their decisions stemmed from the Democratic Party's retreat from its social-democratic ideology and the likelihood of an alliance between the Democrats and the center-right National Liberal Party. Democratic Party Deputy Chairman Adrian Videanu responded that the defections have been "long predictable" and that a third, unidentified Democratic parliamentary representative is expected to follow in their footsteps. Sassu resigned last week as chairman of the party's group in the lower house. Niculescu-Duvaz has represented the Democrats in several governments. Since the 2000 elections, the Democrats have lost eight out of their 44 parliamentarians through defections, and most of them have joined the PSD, Mediafax reported. MS

FORMER ROMANIAN PRESIDENT MAKES OFFER THAT CAN BE REFUSED
Former President Emil Constantinescu on 23 January told a press conference in the presence of several former ministers and presidential counselors that he is ready to offer his own and his team's experience to the government in fulfilling the country's main tasks -- obtaining current NATO members' ratification of Romania's membership in the alliance and progressing in negotiations with the EU, Romanian Radio reported. Constantinescu said diplomatic skills alone will not be sufficient to achieve these goals, and that European integration requires the reform of Romanian society itself. He criticized the government's intention to set up eight economic regions under regional governors, saying the measure will only boost bureaucracy and further paralyze local-administration structures. Constantinescu also called for streamlining the government through merging or abolishing ministries. PSD General Secretary Cozmin Gusa responded that Constantinescu's offer is "nice, but hardly tempting," according to Mediafax. Gusa said he could not think of one valuable contribution made by Constantinescu as president and compared the offer to a "poisoned apple." MS

MOLDOVANS MUST MEET SCHENGEN CONDITIONS TO VISIT, TRANSIT ROMANIA
Moldovan Foreign Minister Nicolae Dudau on 23 January told RFE/RL's Romania-Moldova Service that his country realizes that Romania must change entry regulations at its border with Moldova as part of the country's conditions for joining the EU and NATO. Dudau said a Romanian delegation will arrive in Chisinau this weekend to discuss with Moldovan experts the implementation of an ordinance issued by the Romanian government on 13 December 2002. The ordinance stipulates that foreign citizens who visit or transit Romania must prove at the border that they possess at least 100 euros ($107.32) for every day they intend to spend in the country. The ordinance is to go into effect on 27 January, and Dudau said he hopes to negotiate a "simplified visa regime" with Bucharest in view of "the good-neighborly relations between our countries." MS

CHISINAU MAYOR ATTACKED IN GOVERNMENT DAILY
The government daily "Moldova suverana" on 22 January wrote that by authorizing the protest demonstrations in Chisinau organized under the auspices of the Popular Party Christian Democratic (PPCD), Chisinau Mayor Serafim Urechean has become an accomplice of PPCD Chairman Iurie Rosca in his attempts to undermine the negotiation process with Tiraspol, Flux reported on 23 January. Urechean told a 23 January meeting of the Chisinau City Council that by authorizing the demonstrations he merely observed current legal provisions. He also said that those who are genuinely guilty of undermining the negotiations are the "mafia-like clans on both banks of Dniester River." The same day, Urechean authorized a new PPCD-organized demonstration planned for 26 January. MS

BULGARIAN PRESIDENT MARKS FIRST YEAR IN OFFICE
President Georgi Parvanov on 23 January said that in his first year in office he tried to fulfill his promises to protect the interests of all Bulgarians and to defend the nonpartisan nature of the presidency, BTA reported. He underscored that he will continue to advocate governance through consensus, admitting that dialogue with some state institutions did not always run smoothly. He also noted that the government tended to restrict the president's influence. At a later press conference, Parvanov criticized the government for not being interested in his initiatives, such as the regulation of the country's visa regime with Russia, or the improvement of business relations with Germany. Bulgarian media reported that Parvanov also proposed the introduction of a new, independent institution to combat corruption. UB

BULGARIAN INTERIOR MINISTER RESTRUCTURES ANTITERRORISM UNIT
Interior Minister Georgi Petkanov announced on 23 January that the ministry has begun restructuring its Special Antiterrorism Unit (SOBT), bnn reported. According to Petkanov, the SOBT's entire leadership has been replaced. His announcement came one day after a Foreign Ministry spokesman confirmed that a member of the unit was arrested in Greece on 19 January on drug-trafficking charges. Current and former members of the unit have repeatedly been accused of involvement in organized crime, ranging from drug trafficking to contract killings. The unit's commander, Filko Slavov, resigned in January. The Interior Ministry's chief secretary, General Boyko Borisov, complained that his ministry lacks control over the unit, according to the daily "Trud" of 23 January. He added that Slavov resigned because he had not succeeded in cleaning up corruption in the unit (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 29 August 2002 and 6 January 2003). UB

BULGARIA'S FINANCES IMPROVE
Finance Minister Milen Velchev told a press conference on 22 January that state revenues in 2002 exceeded initial projections by $157 million and further reduced the country's budget deficit, BTA reported. According to Velchev, the additional funds mainly resulted from better-than-expected customs-tax revenues, which exceeded projections by nearly 90 percent, and corporate-tax revenues (20 percent higher than planned), as well as other, non-tax-related revenues (17 percent higher). The additional revenues allowed for spending increases that were mainly used to settle overdue payments to municipalities, hospitals' debts, and wage and pension supplements. UB

There is no End Note today.


AFGHAN PRESIDENT SAYS NATIONAL ASSEMBLY SHOULD INCLUDE ALL STRATA OF SOCIETY
President Hamid Karzai on 23 January told the commission charged with creating a new National Assembly (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 22 January 2003) that it should include all segments of Afghan society, Bakhtar news agency reported. "Efforts should be taken to ensure that that the leaders and the representatives who have risen from among the people are elected to the [National Assembly]," Karzai said in addressing the commission. He also made it clear that he expects the commission to achieve timely results and to ensure that the nationwide elections for choosing the assembly's representatives are held under the supervision of the UN. KM

UN REPORT NOTES 'TENUOUS NATION BUILDING' IN AFGHANISTAN
A report issued on 20 January by the UN Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (UNOCHA) reviewed the progress of reconstruction in Afghanistan in 2002, saying the country was in the process of "tenuous nation building." The report highlighted many positive developments, including the influx of international aid, the repatriation of Afghan refugees and the relocation of displaced persons, progress in agricultural recovery, and the commencement of landmine destruction and education programs throughout the country. At the same time, the UN report also highlighted the many challenges that lie ahead, including the general lack of security throughout the country; continued fighting between various factions; the pervasive power of warlords; the increase in opium-poppy cultivation; interethnic tension; the lack of a viable economy; widespread famine and disease; continued human rights abuses; and the lack of infrastructure. KM

AFGHAN WOMEN DRIVING AGAIN
Women are once again driving on the streets of Kabul nearly a decade after the Taliban deprived them of that right. "The move [to allow women to drive again] is seen as symbolic of the development of women's rights," the UN news agency IRIN commented in a 23 January report. The first women's drivers-training class has just been completed in Kabul, thanks to the efforts of Medica Mondiale, a Germany-based NGO that works to support traumatized women in war zones. Medica Mondiale seeks to help "women have the same choices as men by allowing them to travel independently," IRIN wrote. The Kabul Traffic Department has reported delays in issuing driver's licenses to women, however, as it is necessary to first obtain a national ID card, which most Afghan women do not have. In addition, the department needs to construct separate testing facilities for women. KM

NEW HOMES FOR AFGHANS JUST NORTH OF KABUL...
Approximately 1,000 homes that were destroyed by Taliban forces during the Afghan civil war have been rebuilt in the Bagram District of Parwan Province and many former residents have returned to their homes, Radio Afghanistan reported on 23 January. The Afghan rural-development charity organization NPO rebuilt the homes using modern construction techniques. The project is estimated to have cost approximately $1 million. Another 4,000 homes in 36 villages remain in ruin in Parwan Province, but the project is expected to reconstruct another 500 homes by July. KM

...AS POLICE FAMILIES IN AFGHAN CAPITAL PROTEST 'POLICE HARASSMENT'
Approximately 550 demonstrators gathered in front of the Afghan presidential palace on 23 January, calling for an end to alleged "police harassment," RFE/RL reported the same day. The protestors, many of them the widows of police officers, claimed that Interior Ministry police officers and officials, intent on occupying their homes, have been forcing them to vacate housing provided to them 15 years ago under former President Najibullah's government. Demanding that President Karzai pressure personnel from the Interior Ministry to stop harassing them, they said they have no alternative housing options and would risk being forced onto the streets. They requested that Karzai issue them new property deeds that would recognize their legal right to remain in their homes and prevent government employees from arbitrarily forcing them to leave. KM

AFGHAN FORCES COME UNDER ATTACK ON PAKISTANI BORDER
Afghan troops were attacked on 20 January in the vicinity of Spin Boldak near the Afghan-Pakistani border, Radio Afghanistan reported, citing Bakhtar news agency. "On 30 Marghumi [20 January], a border checkpoint in Boldak District, Kandahar Province, came under heavy artillery attack from two unidentified vehicles," said Defense Ministry Chief of Operations General Abdurrahman. "The border [military] personnel retaliated and the unidentified attackers fled. None were injured in the incident," he added. KM

JAPAN INVITES KARZAI TO G-8 TALKS ON PROMOTING AFGHAN SECURITY
The Japanese government has invited President Karzai to attend a February G-8 conference in Tokyo to discuss a Japanese proposal for demobilizing Afghan soldiers who are not working for the government, "The Japan Times" reported on 23 January, citing Kyodo News Service. The project, first proposed by Foreign Minister Yoriko Kawaguchi during his visit to Afghanistan last May, would facilitate fighters' return to civilian life by providing job training and other incentives. The project would also attempt to reduce the power of local commanders who continue to threaten stability in many regions in Afghanistan. Japan, reportedly prepared to commit several million U.S. dollars to finance this project, will seek financial support from other G-8 members. KM

IRANIAN PRESIDENT HEADS TO INDIA
On the eve of a four-day trip to New Delhi, President Mohammad Khatami met on 23 January with Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, IRNA reported. Khatami is expected to sign the "Delhi declaration," which creates a framework for the development of bilateral ties, Calcutta's "The Telegraph" reported on 23 January. Delhi University will grant Khatami an honorary doctorate, and Indian Prime Minister Atal Bihari Vajpayee will host a private dinner for him. Indian President A.P.J. Abdul Kalam will host a banquet in Khatami's honor on 25 January at the presidential residence Rashtrapati Bhavan. Khatami will participate in Republic Day celebrations on 26 January, AFP reported on 23 January, and he will discuss terrorism, the Iran-Pakistan-India natural-gas pipeline, and construction of a highway to Afghanistan. BS

IRAN-INDIA MILITARY EXERCISES FORTHCOMING
Indian naval chief Admiral Madhvendra Singh said after a meeting in Tehran with his Iranian counterpart Rear Admiral Abbas Mohtaj that the two countries will conduct joint military exercises, New Delhi's Doordarshan Television reported on 23 January. Singh said he is in Iran to foster naval cooperation, and he visited Iranian naval forces in Bandar Abbas. BS

FORMER TEHRAN MAYOR GETS PRISON SENTENCE
Former Tehran Mayor Mohammad Hassan Malek-Madani has been sentenced to five months' imprisonment, banned from holding public office for three years, and banned from holding any municipal functions for five years, the "Resalat" daily newspaper reported on 23 January. The judge found Malek-Madani guilty of misappropriating state funds and, in the words of "Resalat," "failing to respect state laws." Malek-Madani's lawyer, identified only as Mr. Behestian, told the daily he has no information on his client's conviction. BS

FORMER CITY COUNCILORS EXPECT VERDICT'S REVERSAL
Hassan Abedini, a member of the recently dissolved Tehran City Council, said on 23 January that he hopes the appeals court will overturn the sentence against Malek-Madani, ISNA reported. Mahmud Alizadeh-Tabatabai, another former council member, said the verdict is not final and he hopes it will be reversed. He also questioned the legal basis of the sentence. Alizadeh-Tabatabai said that imprisonment is not the correct sentence for misappropriating state funds, and he is certain the verdict will be overturned. BS

SUPREME NATIONAL SECURITY COUNCIL TO CONSIDER LIFTING MONTAZERI HOUSE ARREST
Unidentified "informed sources" said the Supreme National Security Council (SNSC) has placed on its agenda a proposal to end the house arrest of Grand Ayatollah Hussein Ali Montazeri, "Jomhuri-yi Islami" reported on 23 January. This proposal stems from concerns about the cleric's poor health. According to a 23 January ISNA report, the intention is to give Montazeri better access to medical facilities. A commentary in the "Resalat" daily on 21 January suggested the SNSC lift the house arrest because Montazeri's family and associates convey his views regardless of his confinement. The commentary also hinted obliquely that criticisms such as those made by Montazeri should be dealt with more effectively and efficiently than by locking people up in their homes. BS

IRGC COMMANDER DESCRIBES U.S. REGIONAL AMBITIONS
Brigadier General Mohammad Baqer Zolqadr, deputy commander of the Islamic Revolution Guards Corps, said at the 23 January meeting of the air force politico-ideological tutors that the United States wants to dominate the Middle East's energy resources, IRNA reported. "After America dominates Iraq and the region, it will try to exert pressure on Iraq's neighbors, who are against the policies of the United States and the Zionist regime." Zolqadr added that the United States also intends to dominate Central Asia so it can pressure Iran, Russia, and China. BS

REGIONAL FOREIGN MINISTERS ATTEND IRAQ MEETING IN ISTANBUL
Iranian Foreign Minister Kamal Kharrazi arrived in Istanbul on 23 January to participate in discussions about Iraq with his counterparts from Egypt, Jordan, Saudi Arabia, Syria, and Turkey, IRNA reported. Kharrazi on 22 January called on Iraq's neighbors to work together to forestall a war in Iraq and the "interference" of foreign countries in its domestic affairs. The Istanbul group's joint statement called on Iraqi President Saddam Hussein to cooperate fully with UN weapons inspectors and said that the countries do not want another war in the region, AP reported on 23 January. The statement urged Baghdad to respect international borders, resolve outstanding issues with its neighbors, and take steps to preserve Iraq's sovereignty. It pledged support for maintaining Iraq's territorial integrity. "We have to stick to multilateralism and urge the United States not to resort to unilateralism," Kharrazi said, according to "The Washington Post" on 24 January. "The United Nations system has to be the center of any decision to be made." BS

IRAQI NMD DIRECTOR HOLDS CONFERENCE...
Husam Muhammad Amin, director of National Monitoring Directorate (NMD), held a press conference on 23 January at which he discussed UN weapons inspections, the inspectors' interviews with Iraqi scientists, and the upcoming report that UNMOVIC Executive Chairman Hans Blix and International Atomic Energy Agency Director-General Mohammad el-Baradei will submit to the UN on 27 January, Al-Jazeera television reported. Asked if he expects the report to be positive, Amin said: "It will not be 100 percent spotless. It will be gray. However, we expect Mr. Blix and Mr. el-Baradei to be objective and professional." The report will assess Iraq's level of cooperation with UN inspections and will be a decisive factor in any U.S. decision to use force against Iraqi President Saddam Hussein. Amin confirmed that Foreign Minister Naji Sabri has agreed to meet with Blix and el-Baradei again in March to discuss the inspections. SH

...AND EXPLAINS WHY SCIENTISTS REFUSE TO SPEAK IN PRIVATE
Iraqi scientists have refused to speak to UN inspectors without Iraqi government officials being present, "The Guardian" reported on 23 January. Iraq promised during recent talks with inspectors to encourage scientists to agree to private interviews, but U.S. Deputy Defense Secretary Paul Wolfowitz stated that President Hussein "has ordered that any scientist who cooperates during interviews be killed, as well as their families.'' NMD Director Amin claimed that "[Iraq] did our best to push the scientists...but they refused to give such interviews without the presence of [Iraqi] officials.'' Wolfowitz accused Iraq of using intelligence officers to pose as scientists during interviews with UN inspectors, according to AP. SH

IRAQI PRESIDENT'S SON ACCUSED OF HIDING WEAPONS...
President Hussein's son, Qusay, heads a committee established to transfer and hide weapons of mass destruction (WMD), the Kurdish newspaper "Al-Sulaymaniyah Hawlati" alleged on 23 January. In addition to Qusay Hussein, alleged committee members include Military Intelligence official Taha Muhammad Hamid and Deputy Director of the Special Security Agency General Khalil Ibrahim, according to the report. The committee's goal is to move "20 warheads filled with cyanide gas" to the Tikrit Governorate and to hide the weapons near the Tigris River. Documents, including videocassettes, were also taken from Baghdad to Tikrit, according to "Al-Sulaymaniyah Hawlati." SH

...AS ELDEST SON THREATENS UNITED STATES
President Hussein's eldest son, Uday, said on 23 January that the United States will be defeated if it attacks Iraq, Al-Jazeera reported. Speaking to members of the board of the Iraqi Journalists Association, which he heads, Hussein threatened that "if [the Americans] come, what they wept for on 11 September and what they view as a major event, will appear as a picnic for them." "We are honest in saying that we have no prohibited weapons. But we know what they will do. They will fire their missiles on machines, which, according to their laws, are permitted," Hussein added. SH

IRAQI INTERNET SERVICE EXPERIENCING 'TECHNICAL DIFFICULTIES'
Shakir Abd-al-Aziz Abdullah, the general director of the Iraqi State Internet Company, has denied allegations that the company or the Transport and Communications Ministry blocked Iraq's Internet service, according to Iraq Television on 23 January. Abdullah attributed any problems with Internet services to technical difficulties. All Internet access within Iraq was shut down on 10 January, and partial service was resumed the following day. The shutdown was viewed as a "response to a blanket e-mail campaign by the U.S. military urging dissent and defections," according to Hilversum Radio (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 13 January 2003). Abdullah voiced the hope that despite the problems there will be an increase in the number of Internet subscribers this year. The company currently operates 34 centers and has 3,000 subscribers in Baghdad and the governorates. SH

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