PRESIDENTIAL ADVISER SAYS FOREIGN DEBT COULD BE PAID IN 10 YEARS
Presidential economics adviser Andrei Illarionov said that Russia could pay off its foreign debts completely within a decade if it continues to follow its current economic course, nns.ru reported on 25 January. In 1998, Russia's foreign debts amounted to $158 billion, but that amount has now fallen to $110 billion. Illarionov noted that in the intervening years, some debt has been paid, some has been restructured, and some has been written off. He added that if Russia pays off its debts, that would open up new paths of economic and political development for the country and alter its standing in the international arena. VY
RUSSIA TO BANK ON THE EURO...
Russia will reduce the percentage of its hard-currency reserves that it holds in U.S. dollars, "Vedomosti" and other Russian news agencies reported on 24 January, quoting Central Bank Deputy Chairman Oleg Vyugin. Russia's gold and hard-currency reserves currently stand at $47.9 billion, about one-half of which is denominated in dollars. The bank will increase the percentage of euros, British pounds, and Swiss francs that it holds. According to Vyugin, the changes are not only dictated by the relative weakness of the dollar on international markets but by the fact that Russia's hard-currency reserves have increased by a factor of four since 1999. Vyugin declined to specify what the precise percentage of Euro-denominated reserves will be, saying the bank's policy is to withhold such information. VY
...AS EXPERTS SAY STRONG EURO WEAKENS THE RUBLE
Valerii Petrov, chief analyst of Rosbank, said that now that the Central Bank has indicated heightened interest in the euro, other Russian financial institutions and the general population will follow suit, strana.ru reported on 24 January. Meanwhile, the rising value of the euro will lead to increases in the costs of imported goods and a relative devaluation of the ruble on domestic markets, strana.ru quoted chief financial analyst for MegaTrustOil Aleksandr Razuvaev as saying. The depreciation of the ruble will eventually increase the competitiveness of Russian producers as the prices of their goods declines. Gazprom, which supplies natural gas to Europe in euro-denominated sales, also stands to gain if the ruble falls. VY
MOSCOW MAYOR JOINS CAMPAIGN AGAINST WAR IN IRAQ
Yurii Luzhkov has joined a petition signed by the mayors of several European capitals urging a peaceful resolution to the Iraq situation, newsru.com reported on 26 January. The petition says a military action in Iraq would cause more problems than it would solve, including increasing the tension between the West and the Islamic world and provoking an increase in terrorism. "[Unilateral military action] would also lead to a dangerous weakening of international organizations such as the United Nations, the role of which should be being strengthened," Luzhkov was quoted by his press office as saying. The petition has already been signed by the mayors of Paris, London, Brussels, and Vienna. VY
NGO EQUATES MARRIAGE MIGRATION WITH HUMAN TRAFFICKING
Speaking to journalists in Moscow on 24 January, Olga Makhovskaya, director of the Moscow Center for Social Aid to Migrants, said her organization intends to present to the Duma draft legislation aimed at preventing Russian women from emigrating to the United States to marry, "Izvestiya" and newsru.com reported on 24 January. Makhovskaya estimated that 75,000 Russian women have gone to the United States over the last decade for the purpose of getting married. The same number have gone to that country on other types of visas but also with the intention of marrying, she said. Makhovskaya said that the reason for the mass emigration is the collapse of the traditional model of the family in Russia and "the Western stereotype of Russian beauty, which has stimulated the demand for Russian brides." However, she said that 80-90 percent of these marriages last less than two years because the women encounter "an unexpectedly harsh reality" in the United States. She said her organization's bill will include legal penalties for agencies that arrange "mail-order" marriages. VY
BILL ON STATE SERVICE GETS INITIAL NOD
The State Duma approved on 24 January in its first reading a presidential bill on government service, polit.ru reported. The bill, which the administration introduced on 21 November, establishes three types of government service: civil, military, and law enforcement. It also introduces different categories of responsibilities such as "directors," "advisers," "specialists," and "providers," and defines the legal status of each category. The goal of the legislation, according to polit.ru, is to create an administrative system for state service at the federal and regional levels, along with delimiting sources for financing these services. The number of civil servants has almost doubled in the past 10 years, growing to 1.053 million. There are 2.8 civil servants for every 1,000 Russians, compared with 3.9 in the United States and 5.2 in England. JAC
POWER PARTY PICKETS JEWISH ORGANIZATION'S HEADQUARTERS
Members of the National Power Party of Russia (NDPR) on 26 January picketed the Moscow office of the World Congress of Russian Jewry (VKRE), lenta.ru reported. According to Interfax, about 55 demonstrators carried posters with slogans such as "Attacks against the National Power Party of Russia are a strike against the Russian people!" and "No to International Zionism's Interference in Russian Affairs." NDPR co-Chairman Sergei Terekhov was among the picketers, according to lenta.ru. Last week, Terekhov filed a defamation suit against chief rabbi Berl Lazar and the VKRE because that organization issued an appeal to President Vladimir Putin that characterized the NDPR as anti-Semitic, "fascist," and "extremist." Another co-chairman of the party, Boris Mironov, got in trouble recently with the Justice Ministry for giving an interview in which he suggested that certain ethnic groups, including Jews, should be stripped of their voting rights (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 10 January 2003). JAC
GOVERNMENT CLAIMS PROGRESS IN RAILWAY REFORMS
Speaking at a cabinet session on 23 January, Prime Minister Mikhail Kasyanov said the Railways Ministry has made progress in creating a favorable environment for competition in the rail sector, "Izvestiya" reported on 24 January. There are now 74 private operators in the field, accounting for about 10 percent of all rail transport. Speaking at the same cabinet meeting, Railways Minister Gennadii Fadeev said that under recent reforms, a new company called Russian Railroads will receive a certain percentage of the ministry's assets, but the land beneath the railroads and stations will remain state-owned. According to Fadeev, the final details about the distribution of assets will be decided by 18 May when two new laws on rail-transport reform come into effect. JAC
NORILSK NICKEL SCORES ANOTHER WIN
Preliminary election results released on 26 January show that Norilsk Mayor Oleg Budargin has been elected governor of Taimyr Autonomous Okrug, RIA-Novosti reported. Budargin will replace former Norilsk Nickel head Aleksandr Khloponin, who resigned the post after being elected governor of neighboring Krasnoyarsk Krai in September. An official at the local election commission told the agency that Budargin got 69 percent of the vote, compared with 7 percent for his closest rival, okrug legislator Gennadii Subbotkin. Budargin was widely considered the candidate favored by Norilsk Nickel, the area's biggest employer. Budargin once worked for Norilsk Mining and Metallurgical Complex. JAC
PILOTS CHARGED IN LEBED'S DEATH
The Prosecutor-General's Office has filed a criminal case against two members of the helicopter crew involved in the 28 April 2002 helicopter crash that claimed the lives of Krasnoyarsk Krai Governor Aleksandr Lebed and seven other people, RIA-Novosti reported (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 29 April 2002). According to the agency, investigators found the pilots violated "an entire set of flight-safety regulations, and the flight itself took place in conditions unsuitable for flying." The prosecutor's office has forwarded the 27 volumes of the criminal case to the affected parties and the accused. According to the agency, conviction for violating flight-safety regulations carries a sentence of four to 10 years in prison. JAC
IN HIS FATHER'S FOOTSTEPS?
Ural Rakhimov, the son of Bashkir President Murtaza Rakhimov, will run for the republican legislature as a candidate from the Blagovar Raion, an RFE/RL Ufa-based correspondent reported on 22 January. Ural Rakhimov, who heads the boards of Bashneftekhim, Bashneft, and Bashkirenergo, has not previously held public office. Last October, "Ekspert-Ural" reported that President Rakhimov is reportedly grooming Ural Rakhimov to replace him as president following the end of his current term later this year (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 23 October 2002). JAC
ANOTHER MEDIA-MANAGEMENT CHANGE
All-Russia State Television and Radio Company (VGTRK) Chairman Oleg Dobrodeev on 24 January appointed Svetlana Mironyuk as chairwoman of the board of the RIA-Novosti news agency, RIA-Novosti reported on 25 January. The former chairman, Aleksei Zhidakov, has been transferred to an unspecified post in the Media Ministry. From 1992 to 2000, Mironyuk worked as deputy head of information, analysis, and public and media relations for the Most Group. JAC
TO BE OR NOT TO BE
Galina Frolova, a pensioner in Novosibirsk, is in the odd position of having to prove that she is still alive, ITAR-TASS reported on 24 January. A death certificate with her name on it was signed by mistake, and as a result, the city administration crossed her name off the list of people eligible for pensions and other benefits. According to the agency, Frolova has filed a lawsuit but has not yet managed to have her pension payments restored. JAC
PRESIDENT CRITICIZES PREPARATIONS FOR CHECHEN REFERENDUM
Meeting on 24 January in Moscow with Central Election Commission Chairman Aleksandr Veshnyakov, President Putin complained that insufficient efforts are being made to familiarize the people of Chechnya with the text of the new draft constitution, Reuters reported. Veshnyakov pointed out that 50,000 copies of the draft (which has been translated from Russian into Chechen) will be distributed in the run-up to the 23 March referendum, but Putin said that number is insufficient, according to Interfax. In separate interviews published in "Kommersant-Daily" on 26 January and "Nezavisimaya gazeta" on 27 January, Lord Frank Judd, who is the Parliamentary Assembly of the Council of Europe's point man for Chechnya, proposed postponing the referendum. He said he does not doubt the good intentions of the draft's authors but added that it should not be put to a referendum while the fighting in Chechnya continues. Interfax on 24 January quoted Judd as again calling for negotiations on a political solution to the conflict and naming Chechen presidential envoy Akhmed Zakaev as the man best-qualified in his opinion to represent the Chechen side in such talks. LF
THREE MORE CHECHENS ARRESTED IN CONNECTION WITH MOSCOW HOSTAGE CRISIS
Three Chechens suspected of involvement in last October's hostage taking at a Moscow theater have been arrested in Penza, Interfax reported on 25 January, quoting Penza city Police Chief Aleksandr Gulyakov. He said the three men arrived in Penza immediately after the hostage crisis and were placed under surveillance, after which investigators from the Interior Ministry and the Federal Security Service confirmed that at least two of the three participated directly in the hostage taking. LF
ARMENIAN PRESIDENT STRESSES VALUE OF POLITICAL STABILITY
Incumbent President Robert Kocharian told supporters at an campaign rally in Yerevan on 25 January that continued economic growth is contingent upon political stability, which he implied he can guarantee if re-elected on 19 February for a second term. RFE/RL's Yerevan bureau reported. Visiting a large aluminum plant at Arabkir the same day, Kocharian pointed out that as a result of his economic policies dozens of formerly idle factories have resumed production in recent years, while none has been shut down since the beginning of his first term in 1998. Also on 25 January, residents of two villages near Yerevan who gathered for a meeting with opposition presidential candidate Stepan Demirchian told RFE/RL's Yerevan bureau that men led by a Defense Ministry official loyal to Kocharian tried to dissuade villagers from attending Demirchian's rally. LF
COUNCIL OF EUROPE DISCUSSES KARABAKH CONFLICT
The Ministers Council of the Council of Europe met in Strasbourg on 23 January to assess the Armenian and Azerbaijani commitments to their respective pledges to work for a peaceful solution of the Karabakh conflict, according to Turan on 24 January and other Azerbaijani media cited by Groong. Those sources reported that the participants considered "shallow" a report delivered by the U.S., French, and Russian co-chairmen of the OSCE Minsk Group that focused on the anticipated impact on the mediation process of the upcoming Armenian and Azerbaijani presidential elections. The co-chairmen left the session without hearing statements by the deputy foreign ministers of the two countries, Tatul Markarian and Araz Azimov. The Armenian Foreign Ministry announced on 21 January that in their capacity as representatives of their countries' presidents, the two deputy foreign ministers would continue their talks on approaches to resolving the Karabakh conflict, RFE/RL's Armenian Service reported. It is not clear, however, whether such talks took place. LF
AZERBAIJANI DEMONSTRATORS AGAIN CALL FOR PRESIDENT TO RESIGN
Tens of thousands of people attended a sanctioned rally convened by the opposition Democratic Party of Azerbaijan (DPA) in Baku on 25 January, Turan reported. The demonstrators demanded the resignation of President Heidar Aliev and free and fair presidential elections in which DPA leader and former parliament speaker Rasul Guliev would be permitted to participate. Guliev left Azerbaijan in September 1996 for exile in the United States after incurring Aliev's criticism. He has since been charged with large-scale embezzlement during the years he headed the country's main oil refinery (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 16 January and 8 April 1998). The opposition newspaper "Hurriyet" on 23 January quoted Guliev as saying he intends to return to Azerbaijan "soon," Turan reported. LF
IS THERE A HIZB UT-TAHRIR PRESENCE IN AZERBAIJAN?
A representative in Pakistan of the Islamic organization Hizb ut-Tahrir, which aims to establish a caliphate in Central Asia, has issued a press release claiming the organization operates a network on Azerbaijan, according to "Ekho" on 23 January, as cited by Groong. The Azerbaijani National Security Ministry announced in August 2001 that it had discovered a Hizb ut-Tahrir network in Baku (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 31 August 2001) but declined to comment to "Ekho" on 23 January on the recent Hizb ut-Tahrir press release. LF
CASPIAN TALKS POSTPONED
A meeting of representatives of Caspian littoral states scheduled to take place in Tehran on 25-26 January has been postponed indefinitely because of Turkmenistan's refusal to attend, zerkalo.az reported on 25 January. The participants were to have signed a framework convention on ecological issues. The signing was originally scheduled for October 2002. LF
RUSSIA RESUMES NATURAL-GAS SUPPLIES TO ARMENIA, GEORGIA
Gazprom resumed normal supplies of natural gas to Armenia and Georgia on 24 January, acting on orders issued the previous day by Russian President Vladimir Putin, Interfax reported. Supplies had been disrupted by damage over the preceding 10 days to both the main and the backup export pipelines from Russia to the South Caucasus (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 23 January 2003). LF
GEORGIAN PRESIDENT TURNS 75
Eduard Shevardnadze cancelled several meetings planned for 25 January, his 75th birthday, as he caught cold the previous day, Caucasus Press quoted his personal physician Guliko Chapidze as saying on 25 January. Russian President Putin, Azerbaijani President Aliev, and former Soviet President Mikhail Gorbachev were among those who sent felicitations, Russian news agencies reported. Georgian Patriarch Ilia I, who baptized Shevardnadze, presented him on with the Order of St. George to mark the occasion, ITAR-TASS reported. Shevardnadze also cancelled his traditional Monday radio broadcast on 27 January, Caucasus Press reported. LF
GEORGIAN NATIONAL SECURITY COUNCIL DEBATES ABKHAZIA
At five-hour meeting on 26 January, Georgia's National Security Council adopted a statement stipulating that Tbilisi will agree to extend the mandate of the Russian peacekeeping force deployed under the CIS aegis in the Abkhaz conflict zone only if the zone is expanded to encompass the whole of Abkhazia's southernmost Gali Raion and if Russia halts the recently resumed passenger train service between Sochi and the Abkhaz capital, Sukhum, and the distribution of Russian passports to citizens of Abkhazia, Caucasus Press reported. President Shevardnadze and National Security Council Secretary Tedo Djaparidze had earlier warned that the Russian peacekeepers should not be withdrawn until a substitute for them is found. Shevardnadze hopes to reach an agreement with President Putin on the peacekeeping force at the 28-29 January CIS summit in Kyiv. But Russian presidential administration deputy head Sergei Prikhodko told Interfax on 25 January that the planned meeting between the presidents might be thwarted by scheduling difficulties. LF
GEORGIAN OFFICIAL AGAIN DEMANDS UN PEACE-ENFORCEMENT OPERATION IN ABKHAZIA
Tamaz Nadareishvili, who is chairman of the Tbilisi-based Abkhaz parliament-in-exile, told journalists that he presented to the 26 January Security Council session a draft demand that the UN launch a peace-enforcement operation in Abkhazia and that the session agreed to submit that demand to the UN. Nadareishvili has been calling for several years for such an operation (see "RFE/RL Caucasus Report," 1 July 1999 and "RFE/RL Newsline," 22 February and 11 November 2002). But a state chancellery official said that the draft document will not be considered at the 31 January Security Council meeting that is to focus on Abkhazia, Caucasus Press reported. LF
BOMB FOUND ON SOCHI-SUKHUM TRAIN
An explosive device equal to 2 kilograms of TNT has been found on the Sochi-Sukhum train, Caucasus Press reported on 27 January, quoting an unidentified Abkhaz official. One person has been apprehended in connection with the bomb. The Abkhaz official said there are indications that Georgian guerrillas were behind the planned bombing. Dato Shengelia, a former leader of the Forest Brothers guerrilla formation, threatened earlier this month to blow up the rail line (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 22 January 2003). LF
GEORGIAN PRISONERS RIOT
Inmates of a Tbilisi remand center clashed early on 25 January with a special Interior Ministry team brought to conduct a search for forbidden objects, Caucasus Press and Russian news agencies reported. Three police officers and up to 30 prisoners were injured in the fighting. Police confiscated two AKM sub-machine guns, five hand grenades, homemade bombs, several dozen knives, and other banned items including a large quantity drugs and numerous mobile phones. A Justice Ministry spokesman denied on 27 January that the Interior Ministry troops used gas to pacify the prisoners, Caucasus Press reported. On 17 January, human rights activist Giorgi Lagidze predicted a wave of unrest in Georgian prisons beginning in the west of the country. LF
KAZAKH JOURNALIST'S LAWYERS QUIT
Lawyers Vitalii Voronov and Serik Sarsenov and public defenders Yevgenii Zhovtis and Maria Pulman announced on 23 January that they will no longer represent opposition journalist Sergei Duvanov, who is on trial in Almaty on what are widely believed to be fabricated charges of raping an underage girl, Interfax reported on 24 January. Zhovtis explained that after the presiding judge rejected their complaints that numerous procedural violations were committed during the pretrial investigation (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 15 January 2003), Duvanov made a statement thanking them for their efforts on his behalf and waiving his right to defense. LF
KAZAKH DEFENSE MINISTER ENDS VISIT TO U.K.
During a visit to London on 21-24 January, Colonel General Mukhtar Altynbaev met with British Defense Secretary Geoffrey Hoon and other senior officials to discuss expanding bilateral contacts, the Conference on Cooperation and Confidence-Building Measures in Asia, and the situations in Afghanistan and Iraq, Interfax reported on 24 January. LF
KYRGYZ OPPOSITION URGES VOTERS TO REJECT CONSTITUTIONAL AMENDMENTS
Some 80 people representing eight Kyrgyz opposition parties attended the third kurultai (congress) of the Kyrgyz People, which took place in Bishkek on 25 January, RFE/RL's Kyrgyz Service reported. The kurultai was held in secret at a private home after the authorities refused to make premises available for the gathering. Participants criticized the draft amendments to the Kyrgyz Constitution approved by an experts group convened by President Askar Akaev, arguing that the proposed changes serve to strengthen what they termed Akaev's "authoritarian rule." The amendments are to be put to a national referendum on 2 February. Kurultai participants called on voters to reject the amendments and for the proceedings at every polling station to be monitored to ensure the vote is free and fair. Participants also appealed to President Akaev to released jailed opposition Ar-Namys Party Chairman Feliks Kulov and to bring to trial those officials responsible for authorizing police to open fire on participants in a protest demonstration in Aksy in March 2002. LF
KYRGYZ PRESIDENT CONDEMNS OPPOSITION BID TO THWART REFERENDUM
In an interview published on 24 January in the independent newspaper "Aghym," President Akaev said opposition plans to persuade the electorate to reject the planned constitutional amendments are just "idle talk," RFE/RL's Kyrgyz Service reported. Visiting the isolated southern Batken Oblast the same day, Akaev again rejected opposition criticism of the amendments and urged voters to endorse them. On 24 January, the OSCE's Warsaw-based Office for Democratic Institutions and Human Rights issued a statement expressing "regret" that the referendum was announced at such short notice that it was impossible to schedule an OSCE mission to monitor the vote. The statement also noted that the Kyrgyz authorities asked the Council of Europe's Venice Commission to provide comments on the proposed amendments, but failed to incorporate any of the commission's proposals into the final draft, RFE/RL's Kyrgyz Service reported. The Bishkek office of the National Democratic Institute issued a statement the same day saying the changes made by the experts group to the previously agreed amendments endanger the democratization process in Kyrgyzstan, RFE/RL's Kyrgyz Service reported. LF
NEW TAJIK DEPUTY PREMIER NAMED
President Imomali Rakhmonov dismissed Deputy Prime Minister Faridun Muhiddinov on 24 January and reprimanded Dushanbe city officials and Energy Ministry personnel for failing to take adequate preparations to ensure heating, natural-gas, and electricity supplies to Dushanbe during the winter months, Interfax and Asia Plus-Blitz reported on 24 and 27 January, respectively. Rakhmonov named as deputy prime minister with responsibility for the energy sector a former Dushanbe district mayor, Asadullo Ghulomov. LF
TURKMEN PRESIDENT REWARDS PROSECUTOR-GENERAL, INTERIOR MINISTER
Saparmurat Niyazov has bestowed the Turkmenbashi award on Prosecutor-General Kurbanbibi Atadjanova, Interior Minister Annaberdy Kakabaev, National Security Minister Batyr Busakov, and Supreme Court Chairman Yagshigeldy Esenov for their roles in apprehending and sentencing the putative participants in the alleged 25 November attempt to assassinate Niyazov, turkmenistan.ru reported on 25 January. In addition, Niyazov promoted Busakov and Kakabaev and the latter's first deputy, Geldymukhammed Ashirmukhammedov, to the rank of general. On 24 January, Niyazov said the number of people tried and sentenced in connection with the assassination attempt has risen to 46, and that "the trial is over," Reuters reported. He said the search for five or six other suspects has been shelved. LF
U.S. ASSISTANT SECRETARY OF STATE VISITS UZBEKISTAN
On a two-day visit to Tashkent on 24-25 January, Elizabeth Jones met with Uzbekistan's President Islam Karimov, Foreign Minister Abdulaziz Komilov, Defense Minister Kadyr Gulyamov, Interior Minister Zohirdjon Almatov, and Economics Minister Rustam Azimov, uza.uz reported on 27 January. Jones expressed Washington's appreciation of Uzbekistan's role in the war on terrorism, but denied that the United States plans to establish a permanent military presence in Central Asia, ITAR-TASS reported. But she also registered concern at the human rights situation in Uzbekistan and criticized recent restrictions on cross-border trade with Kazakhstan and Kyrgyzstan (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 21 January 2003). Jones said those restrictions are incompatible with building a free-market economy, ITAR-TASS reported on 25 January. LF
BELARUSIAN SOCIAL DEMOCRATIC PARTY DENIED REGISTRATION
The Constitutional Court on 22 January upheld a Justice Ministry decision not to register the United Social Democratic Party (ASDP), Belapan reported on 24 January, quoting ASDP leader Alyaksey Karol. The ASDP was founded in Minsk in August (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 26 August 2002). In denying registration to the party, the ministry said the ASDP's founding conference was illegitimate. Belapan added that the ASDP is considering merging with the Belarusian Social Democratic Assembly led by Stanislau Shushkevich to legalize its activities. JM
BELARUSIAN BANKING SECTOR EMBRACES FOREIGN INVESTMENT
The National Bank has asked President Alyaksandr Lukashenka to approve a measure to increase the limit on foreign ownership of Belarusian banks from 25 to 50 percent, Belapan reported on 24 January, quoting National Bank spokesman Mikhail Zhuravovich. Zhuravovich said 23 of the 28 banks registered in Belarus include foreign capital, representing 10.2 percent of their combined authorized funds. He added that foreign investment in the Belarusian banking sector has been on the rise in recent years, totaling $9 million in 2001, $18 million in 2002, and $33 million in January (due presumably to Austrian Raiffeisenbank's planned purchase of a 50 percent stake in Priorbank). JM
BELARUSIAN PRESIDENT WANTS 25 MEDALS AT 2004 OLYMPIC GAMES
President Lukashenka on 23 January tasked newly appointed Sports Minister Yury Sivakou (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 23 January 2003) with ensuring that Belarusian athletes win at least 25 medals at the 2004 Summer Olympic Games in Athens, Belapan reported. Sivakou, who was the country's interior minister from February 1999 to April 2000, was also told to establish "systematic order" and "strict control over spending" in the sports sphere. "There is a whole lot of cash in sports, but it mostly bypasses the government," the presidential press service quoted Lukashenka as saying. "Sports are a tool of achieving our priorities, because they ensure the health of our nation and the image of our state," the Belarusian leader stressed. JM
UKRAINIAN PREMIER SOLICITS FOREIGN INVESTMENT
Speaking at the World Economic Forum in Davos on 25 January, Premier Viktor Yanukovych said Ukraine is ready and willing "to reach cardinal growth of foreign investments" into its economy, Interfax reported. Yanukovych said that Ukraine's investment climate is relatively attractive and that legislation is in place to protect investors' interests. He also said Ukraine hopes for closer cooperation with the EU following its enlargement. "Today Ukraine is able to make [a] significant contribution to improve the EU's competitiveness in the field of security, economy, science and technology, [and] ecological safety," he said. He noted there are three basic motives for such a conclusion: "First, we have gone through the most difficult stage of transformation," Yanukovych said. "Second, the existing critical mass of reforms yields positive results. Third, Ukrainian society is getting more and more consolidated around the idea of integration into the family of European nations." JM
UKRAINIAN RIGHT-WING PARTY HOLDS CONGRESS, CHANGES NAME
The moderate nationalist Ukrainian Popular Rukh led by Yuriy Kostenko held a congress in Kyiv on 25 January and changed its name to Ukrainian Popular Party (Ukrayinska Narodna Partiya), Ukrainian media reported. Kostenko was elected leader of the new party. Kostenko told the congress that the Ukrainian Popular Rukh failed to unify with the Popular Rukh of Ukraine led by Hennadiy Udovenko because of "essential differences of opinion" regarding the principles of such unification. According to Kostenko, Udovenko's faction suggested that the Ukrainian Popular Rukh disband itself and its members join the Popular Rukh of Ukraine. The previously monolithic Rukh split into Kostenko's and Udovenko's factions in 1999. JM
BALTIC, NORDIC ARMY CHIEFS STRESS CONTINUED COOPERATION
A meeting of commanders of the Nordic and Baltic states in the northern Estonian town of Rakvere on 24 January discussed regional security and the future of joint projects, emphasizing the importance of continued cooperation, BNS reported. The last such working meeting took place in January 2002 in Norway. Estonian Vice Admiral Tarmo Kouts said joint Baltic defense projects supported by the Nordic countries should continue and be adapted to NATO needs. He said, "Small countries can make an efficient contribution to the alliance if they develop and specialize in a particular capacity." SG
LATVIAN PRESIDENT ATTENDS DAVOS ECONOMIC FORUM
Vaira Vike-Freiberga is the only Baltic leader attending the annual World Economic Forum in Davos, Switzerland, on 23-28 January. On 25 January, Vike-Freiberga held talks with EU Commissioner for Education and Culture Viviene Reding on preserving Latvia's cultural heritage, LETA reported. Recalling her visit to Riga 10 years ago, Reding called the Latvian capital part of European culture and, like her homeland, Luxembourg, deserving of EU support for the preservation of historical monuments and cultural environment. Ukrainian Prime Minister Yanukovych asked Vike-Freiberga to share Latvian experience in the run-up to EU accession. The Latvian president also discussed the situation in Iraq with U.S. Secretary of State Colin Powell. SG
LATVIAN, LITHUANIAN INTERIOR MINISTRIES TO PROMOTE COOPERATION
Interior Minister Juozas Bernatonis and his Latvian counterpart Maris Gulbis said in Vilnius on 24 January that the close cooperation between their ministries should continue, ELTA reported. Noting that 3.5 million people and 1.2 million vehicles cross the Lithuanian-Latvian border each year, they agreed that the procedure for checking documents at border crossings should be simplified and accelerated. The ministers also discussed streamlining coordination between police forces in fighting organized crime. Before the meeting, Gulbis visited the Salociai border checkpoint and the reception office of the Lithuanian Migration Department. SG
LATVIAN RULING PARTIES OPPOSE LOCAL VOTING RIGHTS FOR NONCITIZENS
The leaders of the four parties in the ruling coalition told BNS on 25 January that they oppose the recent proposal by civic group The Union of Citizens and Noncitizens to grant noncitizens the right to vote in local elections. The union submitted a similar proposal four years ago and has argued that noncitizens pay taxes and thus should have a say in their distribution, at least at the local level. For the Fatherland and Freedom/LNNK faction Chairman Maris Grinblats said such a move would lessen the desire of noncitizens to acquire citizenship and hinder their integration, resulting in a divided society. New Era faction Chairman Krisjanis Karins noted, "Our country has no restrictions preventing people from getting citizenship, but passing such legislative amendments may put brakes on the naturalization process." SG
POLISH ARCHBISHOP ATTACKS CATHOLIC DAILY FOR ANTI-EU POSITION
The metropolitan archbishop of Lublin, Jozef Zycinski, on 25 January criticized the "Nasz Dziennik" daily for "seeking to combine faith in God with political pathology," PAP reported. "On the pages of 'Nasz Dziennik,' everyday news is combined with a frivolous concern for the political interest of Russia and with an obsessive prejudice against Europe, the United States, and Israel," Zycinski said. "Nasz Dziennik" is controlled by Father Tadeusz Rydzyk, the head of the ultra-Catholic and fiercely anti-EU broadcaster Radyjo Maryja (see "RFE/RL Poland, Belarus, and Ukraine Report," 17 September 2002). "Granting air time or space in the press to politicians who praise the charms of life inside Auschwitz remains contrary to the evangelical responsibility for truth and constitutes a betrayal of that clear, patriotic tradition that was taught throughout his whole life by the primate of the millennium [Cardinal Stefan Wyszynski, 1901-81)]," Zycinski said. The archbishop said there will be no pro-European campaigning in churches but added that the future of Europe cannot be a matter of indifference to the Catholic Church. "It is sometimes suggested that a priest who speaks positively of Europe is practicing politics, whereas those who make a scarecrow of Europe are supposed to be the true Catholics. Meanwhile, their fear is one that is completely alien to Christian spirituality," Zycinski stressed. JM
SECOND CZECH PRESIDENTIAL BALLOT ENDS IN FAILURE...
Legislative voting on 24 January failed to break a political stalemate and elect a president to succeed Vaclav Havel when his final term ends on 2 February, CTK and international news agencies reported. Neither of the two candidates who advanced to the second round managed to secure a majority in the Chamber of Deputies or the Senate. Civic Democratic Party (ODS) candidate and former Premier Vaclav Klaus received 85 votes among deputies and 33 votes among senators. His rival, Jaroslava Moserova, a senator for the Civic Democratic Alliance (ODA) backed by the coalition Christian Democratic Union-People's Party (KDU-CSL) and Freedom Union-Democratic Union (US-DEU), received 32 votes in the lower house and 42 in the upper chamber. In the third round, in which the two chambers voted together, Klaus fell 14 votes short of the required combined majority with 127 votes; Moserova garnered 65 votes in the round. Social Democratic Party (CSSD) candidate and former Premier Milos Zeman was eliminated from the race after the first round of the 24 January ballot (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 24 January 2003). Lawmakers failed in their first attempt to elect a president on 15 January. MS
...AND LEADS INCUMBENT TO APPEAL FOR DEAL MAKING OR DIRECT ELECTIONS
Reacting to the electoral outcome, President Havel on 24 January said through a spokesman that parliamentary parties should either agree on a joint candidate before the third attempt or reach an agreement on amending the constitution to introduce direct presidential elections, CTK reported. Under Czech law, the next vote must be held within 30 days. Havel said that in the event of a deal, the next presidential vote should come only after several weeks of preparations. A constitutional amendment, on the other hand, could leave the country without a head of state for several months, he added. In the absence of a president, presidential powers are divided between the premier and the speaker of the lower house, both of whom are from the senior coalition member CSSD. MS
CZECH PREMIER ATTRIBUTES PRESIDENTIAL GRIDLOCK TO FLAWED STRATEGY
Prime Minister and CSSD Chairman Vladimir Spidla said on 25 January that a "badly chosen strategy" was the main reason for his party's failure in the second round of the presidential contest, CTK reported. Spidla said it was a mistake to nominate Zeman, whom he described as "a member of the party's core." Spidla on 24 January said he intends to convene a meeting of parliamentary-party leaders to search for a solution to the current stalemate. "The next round must be successful; otherwise, direct presidential elections will be introduced," he said. Against the background of reports that Spidla will face a challenge for the CSSD chairmanship at a party conference on 28-30 March in light of his lackluster support for Zeman, Spidla said he intends to defend his position at that gathering. Meanwhile, US-DEU Chairman and Deputy Premier Petr Mares said on TV Nova on 26 January that his party will insist on direct presidential elections as a solution to the stalemate. MS
TOP VOTE GETTER INTENT ON STAYING IN CZECH PRESIDENTIAL RACE
Defeated CSSD presidential candidate Zeman said on 26 January he will not compete in the legislature's third attempt to elect a new head of state, CTK reported. In a statement carried by the daily "Pravo" Internet magazine (http://www.novinky.cz), Zeman said: "One must acknowledge one's own mistakes, not lay blame on other people. My mistake was that I was unable to convince some 20-25 CSSD deputies not to vote for Vaclav Klaus." ODS presidential candidate Klaus said on 24 January that he is ready to run in a third round and, if necessary, as a candidate in direct presidential elections, CTK reported. Moserova, his chief rival in the second round, said she will not run again. She suggested that Ombudsman and former Constitutional Court Justice Otakar Motejl, an independent, might be a candidate acceptable to all three coalition parties: CSSD, KDU-CSL, and US-DEU. Motejl was defeated by Zeman in a nonbinding CSSD primary. MS
PRAGUE DEMONSTRATORS MARCH AGAINST WAR IN IRAQ
Some 200 people protesting a possible war in Iraq clashed in the streets of the Czech capital on 26 January with a group of demonstrators carrying portraits of Iraqi President Saddam Hussein to the gathering, CTK and dpa reported. They accused the Hussein supporters of "abusing" their protest, saying they do not support the Iraqi leader. Waving signs reading "Hussein and Bush, get lost!" and "War is Terrorism," the demonstrators marched down the city's main square and to the historical Charles Bridge to deliver an antiwar petition to the U.S. Embassy. Police reported no arrests. MS
U.S. ASKS SLOVAKIA FOR HELP IN POSSIBLE ACTION AGAINST IRAQ
Prime Minister Mikulas Dzurinda on 26 January said the United States has officially asked Slovakia for help in the event of military action against Iraq, CTK reported. Dzurinda said the request was delivered through the U.S. Embassy in Bratislava and that it asks Slovakia to consider participation in a possible multinational military coalition. Dzurinda said U.S. Ambassador Ronald Weiser also submitted a list of "concrete demands" that the Slovak leader declined to enumerate, saying he first wants to brief his coalition partners. Dzurinda said a reply will be sent to Washington this week, following those consultations. MS
SLOVAK CHRISTIAN DEMOCRAT SEES NO DANGER TO RULING COALITION
Christian Democratic Movement (KDH) and parliamentary speaker Pavol Hrusovsky said in 25 January that he does not expect a split in the governing coalition as a result of the current crisis over allegations that security services bugged Alliance for a New Citizen (ANO) leaders' telephones, CTK reported. Hrusovsky has come to the defense of Interior Minster Vladimir Palko, a KDH member, saying Palko is doing a good job and should not resign, as ANO Chairman Pavol Rusko has urged. Hrusovsky also said the previous coalition headed by Dzurinda suffered from considerably worse problems than the current one, adding that that cabinet completed its four-year term. The Coalition Council is expected to address the crisis on 28 January. MS
NEW ROMANY ORGANIZATION SET UP IN SLOVAKIA
The newly established Council of Slovak Roma (RRS) held its constituent conference in Kosice on 25 January, CTK reported. Chairman Frantisek Gulas told journalists that the RRS has some 15,000 members and wants to cooperate with other Romany organizations. He said the RRS wants to work with the government to implement projects aimed at solving Romany problems and working toward the integration of the minority in Slovak society. Gulas said the RRS welcomes the ANO-proposed draft for solving Romany issues. ANO Chairman Rusko told journalists in Kosice the same day that his party will submit its proposals to the cabinet in February. The proposals envisage an Office for Romany Affairs in Kosice that would be set up in 2004 and would focus on training social workers, as well as on fund-raising and project design. MS
FORMER SLOVAK CULTURE MINISTER TO HEAD PRIVATE TV STATION
Former Culture Minister Milan Knazko on 24 January told the daily "Sme" that he has accepted an offer to become the director of private broadcaster TV Joj, CTK reported. He replaces Richard Rybnicek, who was appointed earlier this month as director of state-owned Slovak television. TV Joj continues to broadcast many programs beamed by Czech TV Nova, although the Slovak station is no longer owned by MEF Holding, which is controlled by embattled Czech television magnate and Senator Vladimir Zelezny. It is the least popular of Slovakia's three private televisions, behind TV Markiza and the newly established TA3. MS
HUNGARY DISCUSSES PURCHASE OF GRIPEN JETS
The cabinet on 24 January authorized Defense Minister Ferenc Juhasz to negotiate with Sweden the purchase of Gripen supersonic fighter jets, Hungarian media reported. The cabinet also intends to amend the contract signed by the previous government on leasing 14 JAS-39 Gripen fighters, but a final decision has been postponed until the end of the week. The 10-year lease was to cost 108 billion forints ($472 million). The cabinet said it is considering buying a newer version of the same aircraft, which could remain in service for the next 30 years. Reports say Sweden has agreed to annual installments of 12 billion forints, instead of 35 billion, and other financial concessions. MS
U.S. TRAINERS ARRIVE AT HUNGARIAN BASE
The first group of U.S. personnel in charge of training Iraqi volunteers arrived at the Taszar air base on 24 January, Hungarian and international news agencies reported. U.S. General David Barno, commander of the Taszar operations, told journalists the base can now receive Iraqi opposition members for training; but for security reasons, announcements on arrivals will not be made more than 12 hours in advance. MS
HUNGARIAN SOCIALISTS, FIDESZ EXCHANGE BARBS OVER EU ACCESSION
The ruling Socialist Party and the opposition FIDESZ continue to exchange accusations over a decline in support for EU membership in recent opinion polls, Hungarian media reported (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 23 January 2003). Socialist Party National Council Chairman Gyorgy Janosi said on 25 January that he expects former Premier Viktor Orban, as well as FIDESZ leaders Janos Ader and Joszef Szajer, to express unequivocal support for EU accession. Orban said the same day on right-wing HirTV that the real reason for public uncertainty over EU accession is the government's inability to address related questions, thus producing skepticism. MS
FORMER HUNGARIAN PREMIER ATTACKS EU COMMISSIONER
Former Premier Orban said on HirTV on 26 January that European Commissioner for Enlargement Guenter Verheugen should realize that Hungary "is an independent state," Hungarian media reported. Reacting to a December letter by Verheugen that was critical of envisaged amendments to the Status Law, Orban said Hungary has been forced for more than 40 years to accept Moscow's dictates, and Brussels should know better than to follow the example set by Moscow. He said that with his letter, Verheugen effectively cast tens of thousands of Hungarian votes against EU accession. In related news, Orban said on HirTV on 25 January that if FIDESZ undergoes the changes he envisages, he will not hesitate to take over the party chairmanship once again. He said FIDESZ must become a party with a broad popular appeal and a firm leadership. Many things might change in the party's political environment, he added, but the "soul' of FIDESZ will remain unchanged and consist of the pursuit of political goals that reflect national civic values. MS
YUGOSLAV MINISTER DOUBTS WAR CRIMINALS CAN BE ARRESTED
Foreign Minister Goran Svilanovic told AP in Belgrade on 26 January that he doubts that his government is in a position to arrest indicted war criminals, even though failure to do so by 31 March might lead to a loss of U.S. assistance (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 22 and 23 January 2003). Svilanovic said there are "several problems involving the arrest" of former Bosnian Serb General Ratko Mladic, whom The Hague-based war crimes tribunal insists is living in Serbia under army protection. "It is questionable whether our forces have the ability to arrest him without serious incidents. The question is: Do we have adequate resources [to seize him]?" Svilanovic said. "We would have to be sure that the arrest is feasible" before attempting to capture Mladic, he added. On 25 January, Yugoslav President Vojislav Kostunica repeated his charge that the tribunal is biased against Serbs. He added, "This fragile state cannot remain the hostage of that court, which is struggling to justify its mere existence." But Yugoslav Prime Minister Miroljub Labus called on the authorities to cooperate with The Hague lest Belgrade encounter further pressure from international financial institutions, RFE/RL's South Slavic and Albanian Languages Service reported on 24 January. PM
WILL THE WAR CRIMES ISSUE AFFECT YUGOSLAV MEMBERSHIP IN THE COUNCIL OF EUROPE?
Beta news agency reported from Strasbourg on 25 January that the only obstacle standing in the way of Yugoslavia's membership of the Council of Europe is the continuing absence of a Constitutional Charter for the new state of Serbia and Montenegro. The news agency added, however, that an unspecified number of members of the council's legislative body also want to link Belgrade's membership to its cooperation with The Hague. PM
MONTENEGRO SEEKS BETTER TREATMENT FROM EU
In Podgorica on 25 January, Montenegrin Foreign Minister Dragisa Burzan said he hopes the EU will recognize that there are important differences between Serbia and Montenegro in the level of progress each has made toward European integration, RFE/RL's South Slavic and Albanian Languages Service reported. He stressed that Brussels should accordingly treat Belgrade and Podgorica differently. PM
BOSNIAN SERB AUTHORITIES CALL ON WAR CRIMINALS TO SURRENDER
At a press conference in Banja Luka on 24 January with Pierre-Richard Prosper, the U.S. special envoy in charge of war crimes, Republika Srpska Prime Minister Dragan Mikerevic said: "We are determined to make the necessary progress [toward arresting war criminals], as this is a condition for future economic growth in the Republika Srpska and in this region," Reuters reported (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 23 January 2003). "I call on all war crimes indictees, including Radovan Karadzic, to voluntarily surrender to The Hague tribunal." Mikerevic noted that his Interior Ministry and secret service will improve their cooperation with SFOR and the EU Police Mission, Hina reported. Prosper stressed that "the key to progress for [the Bosnian Serb entity] is the apprehension of Radovan Karadzic." Prosper and a statement from the office of High Representative Paddy Ashdown said the international community will soon take steps to put political and financial pressure on the network of people protecting Karadzic, dpa reported from Sarajevo. Ashdown's statement noted that those targeted are "more than likely...based in organized crime." PM
FIRST ALL-BOSNIAN COURT BEGINS WORK
The state Court and Prosecutor's Office formally launched their activities in Sarajevo on 27 January, RFE/RL's South Slavic and Albanian Languages Service reported (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 17 January 2003). The main purpose of the two bodies is to promote the rule of law and combat crime. PM
DISSOLUTION OF CONTROVERSIAL POLICE UNIT DIVIDES MACEDONIAN GOVERNMENT
Representatives of the controversial special police unit known as the Lions met with Prime Minister Branko Crvenkovski, Interior Minister Hari Kostov, and President Boris Trajkovski on 23 January, Macedonian media reported. After the talks, which ended a two-day roadblock of the key highway between Skopje and the Blace border checkpoint, Crvenkovski announced that the Lions will be dissolved and new tasks found for many of its members. (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 23 January 2003). However, ethnic Albanian Democratic Union for Integration (BDI) spokeswoman Ermira Mehmeti told "Dnevnik" of 27 January that her party opposes the solution as announced by Crvenkovski. Mehmeti said the plan to employ 600 members of the Lions in the army and the Interior Ministry contravenes the Ohrid peace accord of August 2001. The agreement stipulates that all armed groups formed during the interethnic conflict must be dissolved, and not transformed. The Interior Ministry denied a statement by a spokesman of the unit according to which the government has agreed to grant an amnesty for those members who were not involved in serious crimes such as murder, rape, or drug trafficking. UB
YUGOSLAV MINISTER WANTS HIS SECURITY FORCES TO RETURN TO KOSOVA
Interior Minister Zoran Zivkovic said in Belgrade on 24 January that he wants NATO and the UN civilian administration in Kosova (UNMIK) to allow an unspecified but "limited" number of Serbian police and Yugoslav military personnel to return to the province, Beta news agency reported. He cited a need to control Kosova's borders with Macedonia and Albania because "the greatest share of the evils" affecting Kosova come from those regions. Zivkovic also noted a need to better protect Serbian religious and historical monuments. The eventual return of some Serbian forces is provided for in UN Security Council Resolution 1244 of 1999, but international officials have said conditions in Kosova are not yet ripe for this. Many observers say the Serbian forces would provide a tempting target for Albanian extremists and hence cause more security problems than they could possibly solve. Serbian Orthodox Archbishop Artemije and many other local Serbian leaders have, however, asked that Serbian forces be allowed to return. PM
AMERICAN PROFESSOR TO HEAD CROATIAN PARTY
Yale University Professor Ivo Banac was elected chairman of the small Liberal Party in Zagreb on 25 January, RFE/RL's South Slavic and Albanian Languages Service reported. Banac stressed that the most important task facing the Liberal Party and most other parties is to prevent the Croatian Democratic Community (HDZ) from returning to power and the establishment of a "bipolar" political system. PM
ROMANIA'S LEADERSHIP WALKS TIGHTROPE ON IRAQ
President Ion Iliescu said in Iasi on 24 January he believes the United States will in the end find "a joint platform" with its European NATO partners and bridge their differences over the Iraq crisis, Romanian Radio reported. Reacting to U.S. Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld's 22 January statement that in Europe the "center of gravity is shifting to the East" and that the German-French attitudes represent the postures of "old Europe," Iliescu said Romania should not "interfere" in what is a "democratic dispute" that will find a "democratic solution." Premier Adrian Nastase said Rumsfeld's statement is "an honor to the East European countries," but added that "for Romania it is important to have good relations with the U.S. and NATO, as well as with the EU," Mediafax reported. Foreign Minister Mircea Geoana said the East European countries "should not fall pray to a false dilemma of loyalty" and should not "introduce any hierarchy...in the values of the world to which they [recently] integrated or are about to integrate." MS
ROMANIAN PRESIDENT, PREMIER WELCOME FORMER PRESIDENT'S OFFER
President Iliescu on 24 January said he welcomes former President Emil Constantinescu's offer to place his and his advisers' expertise at the disposal of the country's current leaders, RFE/RL's Bucharest bureau reported. Premier Nastase likewise welcomed the offer, adding that when Social Democratic Party (PSD) General Secretary Cozmin Gusa rejected it he was not speaking on behalf of the party (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 24 January 2003). MS
ROMANIA'S LIBERALS NOD LEFT AND RIGHT
National Liberal Party (PNL) Chairman Theodor Stolojan said on 25 January that he would not rule out a coalition of the PNL and the PSD if the 2004 elections produce a situation in which neither of the two formations can rule without the other, Romanian Radio reported. However, Stolojan added that the PNL would prefer ruling in a coalition with the Democratic Party, the Hungarian Democratic Federation of Romania, and the National Peasant Party Christian Democratic. Meeting one day earlier in Iasi, the PNL leadership said it is "prepared to engage in any form of cooperation" with the Democrats, at both the local-government level and in parliament. MS
GREATER ROMANIA PARTY PROVOKES INCIDENT IN TRANSYLVANIAN TOWN
A group of supporters of the Greater Romania Party (PRM) headed by its Mures County parliamentary representatives on 26 January forced its way into the offices of the Targu-Mures-based County Council and replaced a bust of former Mayor Gyorgy Bernady with a plaque in memory of Romanians executed during the regime of Miklos Horthy, Hungary's head of state from 1920-44, Romanian Radio and the private Antena 1 television channel reported. Bernady was mayor of Targu Mures in the 1930s. The plaque commemorates 35 Romanians who during the Hungarian rule of Transylvania (1940-44) were executed in the cellar of the building that hosts the council. The building was erected by Bernady. MS
DRACULA TO BE BUCHAREST RESIDENT
Tourism Minister Dan Matei Agathon announced on 26 January that PricewaterhouseCoopers (PwC) has recommend that the controversial Dracula theme park be constructed in Bucharest or the surrounding area, Romanian Radio and Reuters reported. The consultants from PwC, which was hired to determine the most suitable site for the project, said that -- taking into account issues such as infrastructure, the vicinity of Otopeni International Airport, and the number of tourists -- Bucharest is a more suitable place for the planned park than the medieval town of Sighisoara, considered to be Prince Vlad the Impaler's birthplace. Conservationists have protested the plan to build the park in or near the 13th-century Transylvanian locality (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 17 January 2003). MS
ROMANIAN PRESIDENTIAL ENVOY MEETS WITH MOLDOVAN PRESIDENT...
Romanian President Ion Iliescu's Foreign Affairs Counselor Simona Miculescu was received on 25 January by Moldovan President Vladimir Voronin, RFE/RL's Chisinau bureau reported. The talks focused on ways to overcome the political and economic crises in the two countries' relations. Miculescu later participated in the first meeting of a joint Moldovan-Romanian team of experts who are to provide recommendations on improving bilateral relations. The team was set up in line with an agreement reached in October by the two presidents at a meeting in Beirut, Lebanon. MS
...AS BUCHAREST SAYS NEW BORDER-CROSSING REGIME WILL NOT AFFECT MOLDOVAN CITIZENS
Romanian Embassy sources in Chisinau on 24 January told Flux that the new regulations introduced at border-crossing points as of 27 January will not affect Moldovan citizens. Following a visit to Chisinau by a team of Interior Ministry experts, the sources said Moldovan citizens will be able to enter Romania under the same conditions as before. No further details were provided and the Romanian Embassy's "clarification" leaves in the dark how Bucharest intends to introduce the Schengen border regime while at the same time leaving in place conditions that are obviously out of line with those stipulations. MS
MOLDOVAN PARLIAMENTARY SPEAKER CRITICIZES OPPOSITION IN LETTER TO PACE PRESIDENT...
Parliamentary speaker Evgenia Ostapchuk on 25 January wrote in a letter to Parliamentary Assembly of the Council of Europe Chairman Peter Schieder that the implementation of the council's recommendations of April and September 2002 is "unilateral." Ostapchuk wrote that the Moldovan authorities implement their obligations, but claimed the opposition does not reciprocate. She pointed to the recent renewal of street protests organized by the opposition Popular Party Christian Democratic (PPCD) as an example. Ostapchuk wrote that the use of pro-European slogans by the PPCD carries the risk of discrediting idea of European integration among Moldovans. MS
...WHILE PPCD RESUMES PROTESTS
About 1,000 people on 26 January attended a protest rally organized in central Chisinau by the opposition PPCD, ITAR-TASS reported. Participants carried the NATO, EU, and Romanian flags, protesting the Central Election Commission's refusal to register a drive for a referendum on Moldova joining NATO and the EU. The organizers said another rally will be held next weekend. MS
PROMINENT MOLDOVAN WRITERS PROTEST DECORATION OF FORMER COMMUNIST LEADER
Eight prominent Moldovan writers on 24 January returned their highest state orders to President Voronin to protest his decoration of former Moldovan Communist Party First Secretary Ivan Bodiul on 3 January, on the occasion of Bodiul's 85th birthday, Infotag reported (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 6 January 2003). MS
BULGARIAN GOVERNMENT APPROVES PROPOSED CHANGES TO PRIVATIZATION ACT...
The government on 23 January approved proposed amendments to the law on privatization that would transfer the final say on privatization deals to the cabinet and the parliament, while judicial control over deals would be restricted, mediapool.bg reported. The amendments must yet be approved by parliament. According to the proposed amendments, the state Privatization Agency would continue to announce tenders, but would not choose the winners. This decision would be made by the government on the basis of the agency's final report. The government's decision would then be passed to parliament for approval. With the amendments, the government aims at restricting the judiciary's ability to interfere in privatization deals involving strategic state-owned companies. Courts have recently halted the privatizations of Bulgartabac and the Bulgarian Telecommunications Company (BTK) (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 3, 4, 11, and 19 December 2002 and 9 and 22 January 2003). UB
...AS IT CITES SECURITY CONCERNS AS THE REASON...
The proposed amendments would apply to a number of state-owned companies that the government considers important to national security, according to mediapool.bg. The list has already been approved by the National Security Service and the military counterintelligence service. It includes ordnance factories and arms-trading companies, but also BTK and the state tobacco company Bulgartabac. The secret services believe the Bulgartabac privatization could destabilize the country, should the potential buyer decide to shut down tobacco-processing facilities or purchase less tobacco from domestic suppliers. Some 460,000 people depend on the country's tobacco industry for their livelihood, according to the news agency. UB
...AND IS CRITICIZED BY JUDICIARY, TRADE UNIONS, AND PARLIAMENTARY OPPOSITION
Supreme Administrative Court head Vladislav Slavov said on 24 January that he expects the courts to challenge the proposed amendments because they are unconstitutional, mediapool.bg reported. Slavov also cited European standards, according to which every administrative act can be challenged before the courts. Confederation of Independent Trade Unions (KNSB) Deputy Chairman Nikolay Nenkov said he is almost sure the proposals will be challenged before the Constitutional Court. According to Nenkov, the only positive element of amendments would be additional control by the parliament. Both the conservative opposition Union of Democratic Forces (SDS) and the Socialist Party (BSP) have ruled out supporting the proposed amendments, mediapool.bg reported on 26 January. UB
DOES TURKMENISTAN CARE WHAT THE WORLD THINKS?
In sentencing former Foreign Minister Boris Shikhmuradov to lifelong imprisonment, Turkmen President Saparmurat Niyazov has not only disposed of his most prominent political opponent but has taken another step in isolating his country from the outside world.
When Shikhmuradov fled to Moscow and launched his first attack against Niyazov's regime in late 2001, he garnered little sympathy from average Turkmen citizens, who saw the former minister as merely a Niyazov loyalist who for some reason -- probably personal -- had fallen out with his master. The opinion was widely expressed that, should the former government officials who were gathering around Shikhmuradov as an opposition in exile succeed in unseating Niyazov, there would be little improvement within Turkmenistan because the self-designated oppositionists were of the same stamp as the president.
Whatever Shikhmuradov's personal sins, however, he was one of the few senior officials in Turkmenistan with a reasonable familiarity with the international community. He was skillful in his dealings with foreign visitors to Ashgabat, with whom he could converse in English, though he generally did so only privately. While foreign interlocutors might not have agreed with Shikhmuradov's dogged insistence on the necessity of dealing with the Taliban regime in neighboring Afghanistan, he gained respect for Turkmenistan's active efforts to broker a political solution to the Afghan civil war.
Shikhmuradov was able as well to invest the Foreign Ministry with an authority within the Turkmen government that it has not had since his removal from his post. While his immediate successor had considerable experience abroad -- Batyr Berdyev was Turkmenistan's ambassador to Austria, the UN agencies headquartered in Vienna, and the OSCE and also has a good command of English -- he lacked Shikhmuradov's strong personality and ability to maintain Foreign Ministry's stature. Now Turkmenistan presents the world with the odd phenomenon of a "power" ministry that has little power.
Even before Shikhmuradov was packed off to his final assignment as Turkmenistan's ambassador to China, he was telling foreign acquaintances of his disillusionment with Niyazov's regime. This was remarkably reckless, given the growing power of agencies -- particularly the National Security Committee (KNB) -- that view the outside world as a source of undesirable influences that they were charged with restricting.
The weakening of the Foreign Ministry might have been to some extent the result of Niyazov's falling out with Shikhmuradov, but it is also part of the president's efforts to isolate Turkmenistan from foreign ideas and influences that could undermine his personal power and endanger his efforts to create a country shaped only by his own conceptions. The activities of the Turkmen opposition in exile have, unfortunately, provided a convenient pretext for intensifying xenophobic rhetoric and actions within Turkmenistan, some of which have reflected negatively on the country within the international community.
It is hard to imagine that the Foreign Ministry under a strong and experienced minister would have failed to warn Niyazov of the probable international reaction to the decree, later adopted as law, that restricts marriages between citizens of Turkmenistan and foreigners by requiring that the foreigner deposit $50,000 with the state insurance agency. The intent of the marriage decree was to solve a real problem -- the abandonment of Turkmen women and their children by foreign businessmen who concluded marriages of convenience while residing in Turkmenistan. The exceptionally inept way in which the authorities addressed the issue resulted in not only a negative reaction abroad but a failure to solve the problem. As some members of the international community in Ashgabat have noted, in the future such marriages of convenience probably will continue; but they will not be registered with the authorities, thus depriving abandoned women of any legal recognition of their relationships.
The restriction on marriage with foreigners is only one of the more spectacular international public-relations disasters that have befallen Turkmenistan since the weakening of the Foreign Ministry. Accusing the Russian Federation of complicity in organizing the assassination attempt was of doubtful wisdom, given Turkmenistan's dependence on that country to export its natural gas. The expulsion of the Uzbek ambassador was an unwise provocation against a powerful neighbor that was already irritated by other actions Turkmenistan had taken.
The question that must be raised, of course, is whether Niyazov cares about the opinion of the outside world. There is evidence that he does, at least to some extent. Otherwise, why would he try to manipulate it, with actions such as the abolition of the death penalty in 1999 and the exit-visa regime in 2001?
Was the alleged 25 November assassination attempt only an excuse to reinvigorate the campaign against the opposition? Or was it also a bid for international understanding for the Turkmen regime? If the latter consideration played any role, it seems to have turned into another public-relations disaster thanks to the heavy-handed arrests of relatives of oppositionists.
It remains a mystery why Shikhmuradov gave himself up to Turkmen authorities for trial and a predictable prison sentence. If he was able to slip into the country undetected, he might well have been able to slip out of it again. As far as is known, his family is beyond Niyazov's reach, so it seems unlikely Shikhmuradov was coerced into surrender through threats to his relatives. Could it be that some sort of secret deal was worked out between Niyazov and his formerly loyal supporter? If he has not been completely unhinged by the supposed assassination attempt -- and there is little evidence that he has been -- could the erratic dictator be hoping to make some use of Shikhmuradov's diplomatic skills? In Turkmenistan, nothing can be absolutely excluded.
In fairness, one must note that a foreign minister reasonably well attuned to international opinion has not guaranteed that Turkmenistan avoid all public-relations disasters. It was Shikhmuradov, after all, who formally proposed to the Halk Maslahaty (People's Assembly) in 1999 that the constitution be altered to allow Niyazov to remain president for as long as he cared to remain in office.
Bess Brown is an independent analyst specializing in political and economic developments in Central Asia.
UN CONVOY ATTACKED IN AFGHANISTAN'S NANGARHAR PROVINCE...
Two Afghan policemen were killed on 26 January when the UNHCR convey they were escorting came under attack in Nangarhar Province, the BBC reported. The police killed one of the assailants and captured another during the gun battle, in which no UN employees were hurt, Reuters reported on 26 January. According to the BBC, another four people were killed in the shootout. An Afghan security commander said the attack was carried out to protest reconstruction projects the UN is carrying out in eastern Afghanistan. However, an anonymous UN source indicated that the attack might have been connected to tensions resulting from local commanders' opposition to UN programs to eradicate opium poppies, the BCC reported. Nangarhar Province is one of the main areas of opium-poppy production in Afghanistan and, in the absence of authorities to control cultivation, local commanders are encouraging farmers to plant the illegal crops and pocketing most of the profits. Attacks on international forces in Nangarhar Province have risen considerably in the last few months. AT
...AS AFGHAN ARMY BASE IS ATTACKED IN KHOST
An Afghan official from Zhawar military base in Khost said on 26 January that six long-range artillery rockets were fired at the base, Radio Afghanistan reported. No casualties were reported from the attack, which the international antiterrorism coalition has blamed on the Taliban and remnants of Al-Qaeda. Two U.S. soldiers were injured in a bomb blast near Khost on 18 January ("RFE/RL Newsline," 21 January 2003). AT
ARIANA TO GET THIRD PLANE FROM INDIA
Afghanistan's Ariana Airlines is to soon receive from India a third Airbus passenger jet, which it will use to expand its international routes, the Kabul daily "Arman-e Melli" reported on 26 January. Ariana Airlines Chairman Khalil Ahmad Najemyar said that with the plane, the third of four used airliners India has promised to donate in an effort to revive the airline, Ariana will begin flights a Kabul-Baku-Moscow-London route, as well as Kabul-Tashkent and Kabul-Dushanbe routes. In the next phase, the airline plans to launch a route from Kabul to Urumchi, China, the paper reported. AT
U.S. TO HELP REBUILD WOMEN'S HOSPITAL IN KABUL
The U.S. Department of Health and Human Services and the Defense Department are joining forces and will spend $5 million this year to rebuild and expand the Rabia Balkhi women's hospital in Kabul, "The New York Times" reported on 27 January. According to the report, U.S. "officials have come to realize that stabilizing Afghanistan is impossible without addressing the vast development needs of the country." A survey released in December 2002 by the Centers for Disease Control and UNICEF indicated that Afghanistan has one of the world's highest maternal mortality rates -- 1,600 per 100,000 births. In the United States the rate is 12 per 100,000 births, according to "The New York Times." AT
AFGHAN PAPER COMMENTS ON NEW CONSTITUTION
Saying that the constitution is a country's most authoritative document, the Kabul daily "Nega-e Naw" on 23 January commented that the new Afghan constitution must be one that is acceptable to all Afghan citizens. The paper writes that, while much has been said about the drafting of a new constitution, it can only be accepted "when every member of the community takes part in its drafting and approval" process (see "RFE/RL Afghanistan Report," 16 January 2003). "Nega-e Naw" added that the new Afghan constitution should pave the way for the advancement of Afghan society, which in turn would turn away from conservative views as well as the tradition of conflicts stemming from cultural differences. The paper recommends that the new draft constitution should reflect all customs prevalent in the country and respect the traditions of all tribes and religious groups, especially non-Muslim Afghans; be flexible enough to respect all of the customs in Afghanistan while allowing for progress and change and not be a "chain to tie Afghanistan in dark and blind beliefs"; and be forward-looking and prepare Afghanistan's next generation for democracy and respect for human rights. "Nega-e Now" commented that such a document would be acceptable to all communities in Afghanistan. AT
IRAN, INDIA VOW TO HELP AFGHAN RECONSTRUCTION
"The international community should think about the reconstruction and real development of Afghanistan and help the central government of that country," President Mohammad Khatami said during a question-and-answer session in New Delhi on 25 January. "Both Iran and India believe in this and they will continue to cooperate with each other," Iranian state radio quoted him as saying. On 24 January, Iranian Ambassador to Kabul Mohammad Ebrahim Taherian met with Afghan Finance Minister Ashraf Ghani Ahmadzai, Mashhad radio reported. Taherian said the meeting dealt with agreements reached when Afghan Foreign Minister Abdullah Abdullah visited Tehran in early January (see "RFE/RL Iran Report," 13 January 2002). One topic was the disbursement of financial assistance, and they also addressed work on the Dogharun-Herat highway from Iran to Herat Province, the Milak Bridge between Iran and Nimruz Province, and other projects in Herat Province, Taherian said. BS
IRANIAN GOVERNMENT CRACKS DOWN ON PLEASURE
Eleven students have been flogged in Robat-Karim, west of Tehran, for drinking alcohol, IRNA reported on 25 January, citing "Seda-yi Idalat." The students received 80 lashes for drinking and 20 more for hollering in public while under the influence of alcohol, for a total of 100 lashes each. In a separate incident, a Tehran court has sentenced a 19-year-old male to death by hanging for his third alcohol-related offense, "Iran News" reported on 12 January. The Islamic Revolution Guards Corps (IRGC) announced on 4 January that Prohibition of Vice and Promotion of Virtue units have dismantled 32 "centers of corruption" and arrested 138 people in the past nine months, IRNA reported. This crackdown included breaking up parties at which males and females intermingled, as well arresting runaway girls and returning them to their families. BS
CLERIC CALLS FOR SEX EDUCATION IN IRAN
Grand Ayatollah Yusef Sanei said on 25 January that sex education is essential to public health and would not undermine public values, IRNA reported. "We should not ignore this grave issue only under the illusion that education of sexual issues could destroy the decency of the religion," he said. "There are other factors that corrupt the society, and experts' discussion of sexual issues is in line with the aim to protect the society's health." Sanei said that in today's open society people should be able to distinguish between moral and health issues. Iran is facing a rise in HIV/AIDS and prostitution is rife. BS
SUPREME NATIONAL SECURITY COUNCIL SECRETARY QUESTIONS U.S. INTENTIONS
Supreme National Security Council Secretary Hassan Rohani said during a 25 January meeting with Japanese Ambassador Takekazu Kawamura that the United States -- which he described as the self-appointed leader of the world -- seeks to dominate the region and Iraqi oil, IRNA reported. Rohani said UN inspectors should be allowed enough time to complete their work, and he added that the outbreak of war in Iraq is acceptable only if it takes place under UN auspices and is serious about disarming Iraq. Rohani went on to say that the entire Middle East should be free of weapons of mass destruction, and he referred to the threat posed by, in IRNA's words, "the Zionist regime's chemical, biological, and nuclear-arms arsenal." BS
IRAN DOES NOT ANTICIPATE ATTACK BY UNITED STATES
Iranian Deputy Foreign Minister Alireza Moayeri told reporters after the Third Pakistan-Iran Roundtable Meeting at the Institute of Strategic Studies Islamabad on 24 January that he believes the United States will not target Iran after it deals with Iraq, the Lahore edition of Islamabad's "The Nation" reported on 25 January. Moayeri said the United States recognizes that Iran is not Iraq. During his address to the meeting, Moayeri said Iran opposes unilateral action against Iraq and that the issue should be dealt with through the UN. BS
IRANIAN PRESIDENT SIGNS 'NEW DELHI DECLARATION'
President Khatami and Indian President Atal Bihari Vajpayee on 25 January signed the "New Delhi Declaration," which identifies the main bases of bilateral cooperation between the two countries, Iranian state radio reported. They signed six other agreements dealing with economic, scientific, educational, and training cooperation. And at the end of their talks, the two executives signed a statement calling for a peaceful resolution, under UN auspices, to the Iraq crisis. BS
IRAQI OPPOSITION MEETS IN TEHRAN...
Muhsen al-Hakim of the Supreme Council of the Islamic Revolution in Iraq (SCIRI) said on 25 January that a meeting of Iraqi opposition groups is under way in Tehran, IRNA reported. According to al-Hakim, the focus of the meeting is an opposition conference in northern Iraq that is planned for February. Al-Hakim said participants include Ahmad Chalabi of the Iraqi National Congress, Brandeis University Professor Kanan Makiya, Iraqi National Movement leader Muzar Shukat, and Kurdish representatives Latif Rashid and Kuran Talabani. Another participant is Major General Wafiq al-Samarra'i, a former chief of Iraqi military intelligence who defected in 1994, according to "The New York Times" of 25 January. BS
...BUT IRANIAN PRESIDENT IS NOT INVOLVED
Professor Makiya said the oppositionists at the meeting turned down an Iranian offer to protect them in Iraq, "The New York Times" reported on 25 January. But this helpfulness is coming from only one faction within the Iranian hierarchy, and Makiya said the opposition members did not meet with anybody from President Khatami's office or from the Foreign Affairs Ministry. "We're not involved with the Khatami group. They have absolutely no say over Iraqi affairs," Makiya said. Formally, the main participants in the Iranian foreign-policy process are the IRGC, the Ministry of Intelligence and Security (MOIS), the Defense Ministry, and the Foreign Affairs Ministry, and they are all supposed to coordinate their activities through the Supreme National Security Council chaired by President Khatami. In reality, the IRGC and the MOIS have a great deal of autonomy and are the real players in Iranian foreign policy. BS
IRAQI FOREIGN MINISTER SENDS LETTER TO UN SECRETARY-GENERAL...
Foreign Minister Naji Sabri on 24 January sent a letter to UN Secretary-General Kofi Annan detailing the extent of Iraq's cooperation with the former inspection regime, UNSCOM, as well as the present UNMOVIC/IAEA team. In the letter, Sabri cited previous reports by UN inspectors to the UN that stated that Iraq was no longer capable of producing weapons of mass destruction (WMD). "Since 1992, the [UN] Special Commission (UNSCOM) and the IAEA have not discovered any banned weapon or activity in Iraq," he insisted. Sabri criticized the UN Security Council, saying: "The council has never viewed what has been implemented [in Iraq] in a comparative and fair manner. In fact, it has behaved in an unprecedented arbitrary and harsh manner in the previous and current international dealings." He went on to detail how Iraq addressed "outstanding issues" in its 7 December report to the UN Security Council. Sabri insisted that, since inspectors have never found evidence of WMD in Iraq, the Security Council "should...implement the obligations it has pledged under the relevant resolutions; that is, lifting the unfair embargo, which is now 13 years old." The letter can be found on the Iraqi Foreign Ministry's website (http://www.uruklink.net/mofa). KR
...AND SHOWS HE IS KEEPING COUNT ON INSPECTIONS
Sabri's letter also detailed the work of UNMOVIC/IAEA inspectors thus far. He noted that the number of inspectors and support personnel in Iraq reached 237 by 23 January. Inspectors have carried out 440 inspections thus far, including 365 at sites that are subject to permanent monitoring, and have visited 75 new sites, according to Sabri. He added that inspectors have visited 297 sites in the northern and southern no-fly zones. Inspectors have visited military and government sites as well as universities, oil refineries, and private businesses and residences, he said. Inspectors have conducted extensive radiation testing, according to the foreign minister, and "took samples of heavy water, soil, vegetation, river water, [and] air waste from mechanical industries and other sources. This is in addition to their use of [aerial] photos and detailed maps obtained via satellite." He added in his letter to Secretary-General Annan that the "inspection teams' visits included interviews with the officials in charge of the sites," Sabri said. The inspections of these sites "have proven the veracity of Iraq's declaration that it is free of weapons of mass destruction and banned activities. They also confirmed the falsehood of the U.S. and British claims," the Foreign Minister concluded. KR
SWISS OFFER TO HOST U.S.-IRAQ TALKS
The Swiss government has offered to host talks between Iraq and the United States in an attempt to avert a war, swissinfo news agency reported on 25 January. Swiss Foreign Minister Micheline Calmy-Rey reportedly proposed the talks to U.S. Secretary of State Colin Powell during the World Economic Forum in Davos, Switzerland. "Everyone talks a great deal about oil and sanctions, but Switzerland is concerned above all with people," Calmy-Rey said. "I urged him [Powell] to consider the consequences of a war," the website quoted Calmy-Rey as saying. Powell did not comment on the offer, according to the report. KR
IRAQI GOVERNMENT CANCELS TRAVEL RESTRICTIONS
The Baghdad-based daily "Babil," which is published by President Saddam Hussein's son Uday, posted the following note on its website (http://www.iraq2000.com/babil) on 25 January. "The higher authorities have issued instructions to cancel restrictions on travel of Autonomous Region's citizens that [had] required securing the security authorities' approval of their travel. Hence, Autonomous Region's citizens are treated like Iraqi citizens in other governorates." The report is apparently referring to the Kurdish autonomous areas. KR
IRAQI SCIENTIST ASKS UN TO POSTPONE INTERVIEW
Ala al-Ja'fari, an Iraqi scientist from the Al-Fatah Military Industries Establishment, met for two hours on 25 January with inspectors at the Burj Al-Hayah Hotel and asked them to postpone the interview, Al-Jazeera television reported. National Monitoring Directorate head Major General Husam Muhammad Amin said that al-Ja'fari was one of three scientists summoned to the hotel that day, and that all three refused to be interviewed unless an Iraqi official was present, Al-Jazeera reported. However, UPI reported on 25 January that the other two scientists never showed up for their interviews. Al-Ja'fari reportedly did not comment when he left the hotel. KR
IRAQIS ARREST TWO CITIZENS WHO GOT TOO CLOSE TO INSPECTORS
Iraqi authorities arrested two men over the weekend, one of them for attempting to enter the inspectors' headquarters while carrying two knives, Al-Jazeera television and UPI reported on 25 January. The second man was arrested in a separate incident after he jumped into an automobile belonging to inspectors as they were preparing to leave the headquarters. The man refused to get out and had to be removed by force by Iraqi guards. The incidents happened in rapid succession, according to UPI. UN spokesman Hiro Ueki said the first man tried to storm the inspector's headquarters at 7:50 a.m. local time. The second man snatched papers from the UN automobile, forced the driver from the car, and attempted to flee, UPI reported. KR
U.S. BEGINS TRAINING IRAQIS IN HUNGARY
Budapest's MTV-2 reported on 24 January that the U.S. military is prepared to begin receiving Iraqis at the Taszar military base. The Iraqis will begin training early in February, the report added. "The Hungarian police, the [Hungarian] Border Guard, and the U.S. Army have built multiple defense lines around the base," MTV-2 reported on 26 January, adding that aircraft continue to land "one after another" at the base. Meanwhile, canada.com carried a story from the "Ottawa Citizen" of 24 January that said, "Although Pentagon officials originally claimed that this Iraqi formation was to perform 'civil administration' duties, they now admit that these 'volunteers' will wear uniforms and carry weapons." The report quoted U.S. Pentagon spokesman Dan Hetlidge as saying that "this group will include former Kurdish opposition fighters as well as many Iraqis who served their basic national conscription." He added: "Depending on their capability and experience, they will be tasked as guides for U.S. ground troops -- who better than those who know the territory? (They will also be tasked with) prisoners-of-war handling and rear-area security." The Iraqi volunteers will receive a $3,000 "signing bonus" as well as free transportation to Taszar, the website reported. KR
The northern Iraqi city of Kirkuk has been "militarized," tehrantimes.com reported on 26 January. "Iraq has dug trenches around Kirkuk's Oil Refinery and...evening working hours in the refinery have been [suspended]" to better control the flow of pedestrian traffic, the daily reported. The report also noted that the Iraqi government has warned citizens to "stay indoors" once the war begins. KR