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Newsline - January 29, 2003


MOSCOW FIRMLY AGAINST MILITARY ACTION IN IRAQ
Russian officials maintained Moscow's position against the use of military force against Iraqi President Saddam Hussein in the wake of U.S. President George W. Bush's 28 January State of the Union address, Russian news agencies reported on 29 January. "We do not see grounds for the use of military force," Foreign Ministry spokesman Aleksandr Yakovenko was quoted by Reuters as saying. "The potential for political and diplomatic regulation has not been exhausted." Foreign Minister Igor Ivanov told journalists that Russia and UN weapons inspectors are prepared to study any new evidence that the U.S. administration produces, but added that "we have to do everything that is necessary so that there is no war." Federation Council Chairman Sergei Mironov told ITAR-TASS that no goals justify the use of unilateral military force. Ivanov also said that Russia has prepared a contingency plan to evacuate its nationals from Iraq in the event that "the situation deteriorates." RC

GOVERNMENT CONCERNED ABOUT DEPENDENCE ON NATURAL-RESOURCES EXPORTS...
At the first cabinet session of the new year, Prime Minister Mikhail Kasyanov on 28 January called on the government to prepare immediately its medium-term economic program for 2003-05, gazeta.ru reported on 29 January. According to Economic Development and Trade Minister German Gref, who was tasked with overseeing preparation of the plan, a major goal of the program will be altering the character of Russian exports in order to reduce the economy's dependence on natural-resources sales. "Russia's orientation toward the export of nonrenewable natural resources -- especially oil and natural gas -- is causing the Russian economy serious harm," Gref was quoted as saying. A preliminary report prepared by Gref's ministry states that the government will use tax and customs policies to increase exports of processed and finished goods and to reduce the export of raw natural resources. These policies will be particularly shaped to create the most attractive possible conditions for the high-technology sector. The Finance Ministry is expected to support these proposals, gazeta.ru reported. RC

...AND LOOKS TO CURB FOOD IMPORTS
At the same government session, Prime Minister Kasyanov announced that the government will sharply restrict imports of meat, rice, and dairy products, apparently in response to heavy lobbying by domestic producers, strana.ru reported on 28 January. Imports of beef will be limited to 315,000 tons, compared to 638,000 tons in 2002. Poultry imports will be reduced to 744,000 tons, compared to 1.15 million last year, according to the report. RC

FEDERATION COUNCIL CHAIRMAN GETS ANOTHER TERM
Sergei Mironov was unanimously re-elected as chairman of the Federation Council on 29 January, Russian news agencies reported. The vote was 159 in favor, zero against, and two abstentions. The council also confirmed three new members: Vladimir Fedorov, representing the legislature of the Republic of Karelia; Aleksandr Matveev, representing the legislature of the Sakha (Yakutia) Republic; and Aleksei Shishkov, representing the legislature of Krasnoyarsk Krai. In his acceptance remarks, Mironov refuted recent media reports that the upper chamber would be reorganized and a number of its committees liquidated. He said only that there could be a "redistribution of authority among some committees and commissions" and that any such decisions would be made by the entire council. He also urged council members -- whom he described as "a team of like-minded thinkers" -- to work closely with the State Duma and to ensure that the December Duma elections do not negatively impact the legislative process. RC

CHIEF JUDGE BACKS IDEA OF REGISTERING CITIZENS...
Constitutional Court Chairman Marat Baglai on 29 January called for the "temporary" registration of Russian citizens according to their place of residence, RBK reported. Baglai said the system should not be "regulatory," as was the Soviet-era "propiska" system, but merely "informative." Although the Constitutional Court has in the past struck down local legislation on registration, Baglai said, "a real problem does exist -- the uncontrolled mass migration that is choking Russia's major cities, including Moscow." He added that although the Russian Constitution guarantees citizens the right freely to choose their place of residence, it also stipulates that the exercise of the constitutional rights of one citizen cannot impinge upon the rights of others. RC

...AS MOSCOW PREPARES TO REGISTER CHILDREN
The city of Moscow plans to register all children between the ages of six and 18, RIA-Novosti reported on 29 January. The city government on 28 January endorsed a draft law that would restore the practice of registering all students enrolled at Moscow's more than 4,000 educational establishments that was abandoned several years ago. "Now we want to restore this experience and obligate all educational institutions to create a unified database with information about every child," Lyubov Kezina, head of the municipal Education Department, was quoted as saying. The report did not specify exactly what information would be included in the database. The Moscow City Duma must approve the bill before it becomes law. RC

DEFENSE MINISTRY OFFICIAL ARRESTED IN BRIBERY CASE
An unidentified Defense Ministry official was arrested on 23 January in his office in Vladivostok on suspicion of accepting a large bribe, lenta.ru reported on 29 January, citing the press office of the military prosecutor. The arrested officer is a senior specialist in the ministry's resource-management department, and he was reportedly arrested in the act of accepting $5,000 in cash, an amount which was reportedly only a fraction of the total bribe that he is accused of accepting. The military prosecutor of the Pacific Fleet, Major General Valerii Suchkov, is overseeing the investigation. RC

PROSPECTS OF A LIBERAL COALITION DIM
Yabloko party leader Grigorii Yavlinskii refused on 28 January to attend a planned meeting with Union of Rightist Forces (SPS) heads Boris Nemtsov and Irina Khakamada, lenta.ru and other Russian news agencies reported on 29 January. The failure of the meeting to take place was widely interpreted as meaning that the two parties will not agree to endorse a common platform in December's State Duma elections or to support a single candidate in next year's presidential election. SPS spokeswoman Elena Dikun lamented that "an historic opportunity" had been lost and said that "SPS was ready for any necessary compromise." However, on 28 January Russian news agencies reported that SPS's leadership was unwilling to accede to Yabloko's demand that SPS co-Chairman Anatolii Chubais be expelled from the party prior to any coalition agreement. Despite the failure of the two parties to meet, Dikun said, "the process of unifying the democratic forces will continue." RC

INCREASE IN TECHNOLOGICAL AND NATURAL DISASTERS COULD PLAY ELECTION-YEAR ROLE
The analytical department of the Emergency Situations Ministry is forecasting that the number of emergencies will continue to rise in 2003, "Nezavisimaya gazeta" reported on 28 January. In 2002, there were 1,200 emergencies, a 24 percent rise over the 901 registered in 2001. The ministry's analysts are particularly worried about equipment breakdowns in the housing, fuel, and energy sectors, where equipment is particularly worn out and in regard to which local authorities often neglect to take adequate precautions. Likewise, dams and other water-management infrastructure have not been repaired for years. Transport Ministry official Nikolai Smirnov said recently that much of Russia's water infrastructure is in an extremely poor condition (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 23 January 2003). "Nezavisimaya gazeta" noted that since this year is an election year, any misfortune will be viewed as a chance for politicians to boost their ratings at the expense of their rivals. JAC

DUMA RESOURCES TO BE REDIRECTED TOWARD CAMPAIGN
Aleksandr Lotarev, the head of the State Duma's apparatus, has prepared a 100-page document outlining the necessity of reforming the lower chamber's apparatus, "Gazeta" reported on 28 January. According to the daily, Lotarev is proposing reductions in the staffs assigned to committees and increases in those working for the parliament's central apparatus. An unidentified source in the Duma's apparatus told the daily the changes are being proposed so that the Duma's personnel can be more easily directed to assist Unified Russia's election campaign. The daily reported that Lotarev is a Unity faction member, although when he gave up his Duma seat in 2002, he was a member of Russian Regions. According to the daily, the staff of the Duma's apparatus is well paid and receive salaries that are no lower than those of deputies. Staffers also qualify for free housing, cars, health care in prestigious clinics, and vacations at sanatoriums and resorts run by the presidential administration. Lotarev's predecessor, Nikolai Troshkin, was dismissed in part because of accusations that the Communist Party benefited under his reign (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 31 January and 5 April 2002) JAC

POST OFFICES GET WIRED
There are currently some 6,600 public-access Internet outlets in post offices across Russia, Prime-TASS reported on 28 January, citing Ilya Genkin of the postal-services department of the Communications Ministry. According to Genkin, this number represents a more than six-fold increase from the beginning of 2002 when there were just over 1,000 such outlets. Under a project launched in August 2001, Internet access is to be set up at all of Russia's 40,000 post offices, the agency reported. JAC

KOZAK GOES ON THE ROAD TO SELL LOCAL GOVERNMENT REFORMS...
At a Khabarovsk conference on improving local self-government on 28 January, Deputy Economic Development and Trade Minister Vitalii Shipov said that "many of [Russia's] existing laws are mere declarations and are not being implemented," RIA-Novosti reported. "More than half of [Russia's] 11,500 municipalities do not have budgets of their own, thus making a mockery of local government," Shipov said. Shipov traveled to the conference with deputy presidential administration head Dmitrii Kozak, who headed a commission to draft local self-government reforms. According to the agency, some of the mayors and raion administration heads attending the conference made critical remarks about the so-called Kozak reforms, which were submitted to the Duma in December. Kozak responded to these criticisms by noting that the regions have until 14 February to present their proposals and amendments to the bill amending the law on general principles for organizing legislative and executive organs of the Federation subjects. The State Duma will consider that bill in its first reading on 21 February, according to regions.ru. JAC

...AS FAR EAST GOVERNOR CLAIMS PUTIN FAVORS REVIVING GOVERNORS UNION
On 26 January, Khabarovsk Krai Governor Viktor Ishaev told reporters in Khabarovsk that President Vladimir Putin has ordered presidential administration head Aleksandr Voloshin to oversee the activities of the Union of Governors, "Kommersant-Daily" reported on 27 January. Ishaev met with Putin during a recent trip to Moscow, and the topic of reviving the union came up during their conversation. Putin reportedly expressed his support for the idea. According to the daily, the union was started in 1992 and subsequently actively participated in the 1993 State Duma campaign in support of Our Home is Russia (NDR). It stopped functioning in 1996 in connection with the new rules for forming the Federation Council. Ishaev first raised the idea of reviving the union last year (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 24 July 2002). JAC

UNIFIED RUSSIA CONDUCTS MINI-PURGE
Unified Russia's General Council decided on 27 January to expel political consultant Yulia Krizhanskaya from the party for activities that discredit the party, RosBalt reported on 28 January citing Duma Deputy Vladislav Reznik (Unity). Krizhanskaya was formerly an influential person in the party hierarchy and a deputy chairwoman of the party's Central Executive Committee. According to RFE/RL's Russian Service, Krizhanskaya sent an appeal to regional party branches in which she accused party leaders of usurping authority. RosBalt noted that Krizhanskaya worked on the recent, successful campaign of St. Petersburg legislator and Balteximbank head Yurii Rydnik, who was also recently expelled from the party. JAC

ST. PETERSBURG BEATS MOSCOW IN LOOKS CATEGORY...
According to a survey of more than 1,500 Russians, St. Petersburg is Russia's most attractive city, "Moskovskie novosti," No. 2, reported. Moscow came in second by a considerable gap. Among Russia's least attractive cities are Chelyabinsk, Magadan, Kemerovo, Norilsk, Podolsk, Vorkuta, Magnitorgorsk, Naberezhnye Chelny, and Novosibirsk. According to the weekly, these cities were viewed unfavorably not because of their architectural or artistic aspects, but because of their extreme climatic conditions and social "negatives" such as a pollution, crime, and "ethnic phobias." JAC

...AS NEW POLITICAL ORDER FOR CITY PONDERED
"Novoe vremya," No. 4, argued that the construction of a "post-Yakovlev" political order in St. Petersburg has already started. According to the weekly, "knowledgeable" people in the city are predicting that Governor Vladimir Yakovlev will resign his post early in the summer, since his chances of being able to run for a third term are considered slim (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 16 January 2003). The weekly forecast that there will also be an attempt to consolidate a new centrist majority led by the city legislature's new speaker, Vadim Tyulpanov. JAC

FEWER RUSSIANS TO TRAVEL TO MECCA?
Just over 3,000 Russian Muslims are expected to make the annual pilgrimage to Mecca between 7-14 February, Interfax reported on 28 January, citing an unidentified source at the Council of Russian Muftis. According to the agency, this figure is significantly less than the quota of nearly 7,000 designated by the Saudi authorities. However, on the same day, "Vremya novostei" reported that the quota awarded by the Saudis was 14,000 and only an estimated 5,000 pilgrims would be traveling. According to the daily, some 2,500 people are expected to travel from Daghestan, but fewer than 200 are expected from Tatarstan. According to ITAR-TASS on 27 January, about 112 will travel from Kabardino-Balkaria. JAC

MOSCOW COUGHS UP MONEY FOR KAMCHATKA
The federal government has disbursed 308 million rubles ($9.7 million) to Kamchatka to ease social tensions in that city, ITAR-TASS reported on 28 January, citing the oblast administration's press service. According to the agency, the money comes from the sale of fishing quotas off of the Kamchatka Peninsula. The money will enable local authorities to restart a number of social programs that were suspended earlier in the month when the area was dangerously short of fuel. The oblast capital Petropavlovsk-Kamchatskii was plagued by a weeks-long strike of municipal workers earlier this winter. Also on 28 January, the Supreme Court ruled that a Kamchatka Oblast law on removing city legislators and mayors conflicts with the federal constitution, thereby forestalling an attempt by a local group to impeach Petropavlovsk-Kamchatskii Mayor Yurii Golenishchev (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 9 December 2002). JAC

RUSSIAN OFFICIALS SLAM PROPOSAL TO POSTPONE CHECHEN REFERENDUM
Several senior Russian officials on 28 January condemned calls by Parliamentary Assembly of the Council of Europe Rapporteur Lord Frank Judd to postpone the referendum scheduled for 23 March on the new Chechen draft constitution and election legislation, Russian news agencies reported. Presidential envoy to the Southern Federal District Viktor Kazantsev said it is "unethical" for Judd to issue such recommendations, according to ITAR-TASS. Federation Council Chairman Mironov denied there are any obstacles to holding the referendum. Human rights ombudsman Oleg Mironov argued that 90 percent of Chechnya's residents support holding the referendum, according to Interfax. But at the same time he expressed reservations over some aspects of the draft, including the reference to Chechnya's sovereignty and the sweeping powers granted to the Chechen president, who names half the members of the republic's Central Election Committee. LF

RUSSIAN FOREIGN MINISTER DISCUSSES CHECHNYA WITH VISITING ISLAMIC OFFICIAL
During talks in Moscow on 28 January with visiting Organization of the Islamic Conference Secretary-General Abdelouahed Belkeziz, Russian Foreign Minister Igor Ivanov said the upcoming Chechen referendum will constitute an important stage in the process of achieving a political settlement in Chechnya, ITAR-TASS reported. Belkeziz for his part assured Ivanov that his organization views the conflict as Russia's internal affair and will do "everything possible" to prevent Arab countries from channeling funds to the Chechen fighters, Interfax reported. He also pledged assistance in post-conflict reconstruction in Chechnya. LF

INCUMBENT PLEDGES ARMENIAN PRESIDENTIAL ELECTION WILL BE 'CIVILIZED'
Addressing supporters at a 28 January election rally in the southern town of Armavir, President Robert Kocharian pledged to ensure that the 19 February presidential ballot will be "civilized and legitimate," RFE/RL's Armenian Service reported. Kocharian said the poll should demonstrate that Armenia deserved to be accepted two years ago into full membership of the Council of Europe (see "End Note" below). Meanwhile, an opinion poll of 2,502 people across Armenia conducted by the pro-government Globe News information agency between 12-14 January established that Kocharian's popularity increased over the previous month from 39.1 percent to 46.7 percent, according to Arminfo on 27 January, as cited by Groong. Support in December for his closest challenger, National Unity Party Chairman Artashes Geghamian, fell from 9.4 percent to 9 percent, while the rating of People's Party of Armenian Chairman Stepan Demirchian increased from 8.2 percent to 9 percent. LF

FORMER ARMENIAN FOREIGN MINISTER FOUNDS NEW POLITICAL MOVEMENT
U.S.-born former Foreign Minister Raffi Hovhannisian announced in Yerevan on 28 January the formation of a new political movement called Zharangutiun (Heritage), Noyan Tapan and RFE/RL's Yerevan bureau reported. "The nation needs a political force of a new quality," Hovhannisian told supporters. "We are capable of returning to the people what they have lost in the past 10 years." Hovhannisian added that the movement's leadership will decide within one week whether to register it as a political party or as a civic group. Civic groups are not entitled to contest parliamentary elections. He also said Zharagutiun will endorse one of the opposition presidential candidates. Hovhannisian was barred from contesting the 19 February presidential election on the grounds that he was granted Armenian citizenship only in 2001. Candidates must have been citizens of the Republic of Armenia for a minimum of 10 years prior to the ballot. LF

AZERBAIJANI OPPOSITION DOWNPLAYS IMPORTANCE OF PRESIDENT'S SON'S NEW POST
Leaders of Azerbaijani opposition parties dismissed on 28 January the announcement the previous day that President Heidar Aliev's son Ilham, who heads the Azerbaijani delegation to the Parliamentary Assembly of the Council of Europe (PACE), has been named one of that body's 19 vice presidents,Turan reported. Democratic Party of Azerbaijan secretary-general Sardar Djalaloglu said it is "dangerous" and a blow to the prestige of the PACE to elevate to such a position a man "who plays quite a role in the worsening democratic situation in Azerbaijan." Musavat Party Chairman Isa Gambar expressed the hope that the new position will teach Ilham Aliev how to adopt a democratic approach to political issues. And Mirmahmoud Fattaev, who heads the "conservative" wing of the divided Azerbaijan Popular Front Party, argued that Aliev's appointment is irrelevant as Azerbaijan's PACE delegation cannot influence that body's decisions on key issues. LF

COURT IMPOSES NEW FINE ON EMBATTLED AZERBAIJANI OPPOSITION NEWSPAPER
Baku's Sabail District Court has ruled in favor of the Azersun Holding in its libel suit against the opposition paper "Yeni Musavat" and ordered the paper to pay a fine of some $100,000, Turan reported on 28 January. Azersun was seeking damages of $100 million in connection with three articles the newspaper published in November-December alleging the company has links with the Kurdistan Workers' Party (PKK). Also on 28 January, several Azerbaijani editors and NGO heads staged a one-day hunger strike in solidarity with "Yeni Musavat" journalists, who began such a protest action last week against a series of such libel suits that threaten to bankrupt the publication (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 10 December 2002 and 23 January 2003). LF

THREE TORTURE DEATHS REPORTED IN AZERBAIJAN IN 2002
In 2002, 75 people were tortured in Azerbaijan and three of them died as a result, Elchin Behbudov, who heads the public committee against torture, was quoted by the newspaper "Ekho" on 28 January as saying, Turan reported. LF

GEORGIAN, RUSSIAN PRESIDENTS MEET
Eduard Shevardnadze met with his Russian counterpart Vladimir Putin in Kyiv on 28 January on the sidelines of the informal CIS summit, Caucasus Press reported. The talks lasted over two hours instead of the planned 40 minutes. Putin told journalists afterward that the passenger-train service that resumed last month between the Russian Black Sea city of Sochi and Sukhum will be suspended until the gradual repatriation of the Georgian displaced persons who fled Abkhazia during the 1992-93 war gets under way. The suspension of the train service was one of three conditions that the Georgian National Security Committee set on 26 January before Georgia would agree to the renewal of the mandate of the Russian peacekeeping force deployed since 1994 under the CIS aegis in the Abkhaz conflict zone (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 27 January 2003). Shevardnadze said that the CIS summit participants might decide on 29 January on a renewal of the peacekeepers' mandate. Putin characterized his talks with Shevardnadze as "productive" and "useful," while Shevardnadze noted there are still "some unresolved issues" in bilateral relations, according to ITAR-TASS. LF

GEORGIAN BORDER-GUARD CHIEF ANTICIPATES GELAEV INCURSION
Georgian State Border Service head Lieutenant General Valeri Chkheidze told the independent television station Rustavi-2 on 28 January that he believes the Russian military is setting the stage for an incursion into Georgia from Russian territory in May by Chechen field commander Ruslan Gelaev and his men, Caucasus Press and Interfax reported. Chkheidze's Russian counterpart, Federal Border Guard Service Colonel General Konstantin Totskii, told journalists in Moscow on 27 January that, "as far as we know," Gelaev is currently in Chechnya (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 28 January 2003). LF

PIPELINE OPERATOR STARTS PAYING GEORGIAN LANDOWNERS
British Petroleum, which is the operator of both the planned Baku-Tbilisi-Ceyhan oil-export pipeline and the South Caspian gas-export pipeline on 27 January made the first payments to persons whose land has been acquired by the consortium building the pipeline, Caucasus Press and "Mtavari gazeti" reported on 28 January. The maximum compensation is estimated at 25,000-30,000 laris ($11,887-$14,265). Meanwhile, two cisterns of Azerbaijani oil being transported by train to the Georgian Black Sea port of Batumi plunged into a river in western Georgia early on 29 January when a bridge collapsed, Caucasus Press reported. Some 120 tons of oil were spilled. Initial reports that the bridge was blown up have not been officially confirmed. LF

KAZAKH JOURNALIST SENTENCED
An Almaty Oblast court handed down a 3 1/2-year prison sentence on 28 January to opposition journalist Sergei Duvanov, Reuters and Interfax reported. Duvanov was found guilty of the statutory rape last October of a girl whom he knew to be under the age of consent. Observers in Kazakhstan and abroad consider the charge politically motivated. President Nursultan Nazarbaev said before Duvanov's trial began on 24 December that scientific testing had established his guilt (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 2 December 2002). In a 28 January statement, the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE) characterized Duvanov's trial as "seriously flawed" and called on the Appeals Court "to review carefully the accusations against Mr. Duvanov as well as all allegations of procedural violations during the pretrial investigation and the trial." The International League for Human Rights addressed a letter to Nazarbaev on 28 January demanding "that the case of Sergei Duvanov be reviewed in an impartial and thorough manner, in full compliance with international standards of justice." The letter also urged Nazarbaev and the Kazakh government "to stop persecuting independent journalists and all persons who express disagreement with official policies." LF

KAZAKH GOVERNMENT HOPES FOR SUSTAINED ECONOMIC GROWTH
Kazakhstan's Prime Minister Imanghaliy Tasmagambetov told a cabinet session in Astana on 28 January that most economic targets for 2002 were met, Russian news agencies reported. He said GDP increased by 9.5 percent compared with 2001 and industrial production rose by 9.8 percent. Inflation was 6.6 percent. Economy and Budget Planning Minister Kairat Kelimbetov predicted that GDP will grow by 6.3 percent in 2003, ITAR-TASS reported. Energy Minister Vladimir Shkolnik told the session that oil production in 2003 is planned at 52 million tons, ITAR-TASS reported. Last year, Kazakhstan produced some 47 million tons, a 5 percent increase over 2001, according to Interfax on 9 December. LF

U.S. OFFICIAL VISITS KYRGYZSTAN
Visiting Bishkek on 27-28 January, U.S. Assistant Secretary of State Elizabeth Jones met with President Askar Akaev and Foreign Minister Askar Aitmatov to discuss the war on international terrorism, the situation in Afghanistan, human rights, and domestic political issues in Kyrgyzstan, RFE/RL's Kyrgyz Service reported. Jones told journalists that the military base at Manas International Airport near Bishkek will not be used for any possible strikes on Iraq. She stressed that base will continue to be used only by coalition forces serving in Afghanistan. She also said that in talks with members of the Kyrgyz leadership her delegation stressed the importance of participatory democracy and of ensuring that the ongoing constitutional-reform process in Kyrgyzstan meets international standards and that an independent judiciary be in a position to protect Kyrgyz citizens from government pressure. LF

KYRGYZ PRESIDENT PROMISES TO INCREASE WAGES, PENSIONS
Continuing a series of visits to various regions of Kyrgyzstan, President Akaev told residents of Issyk-Kul Oblast on 28 January that pensions, wages, and student stipends will be raised this year but failed to specify by how much, according to akipress.org on 28 January. LF

TAJIK, RUSSIAN PRESIDENTS DISCUSS DRUG MENACE
Russian President Putin suggested to his Tajik counterpart Imomali Rakhmonov during talks on 28 January on the sidelines of the informal CIS summit in Kyiv that the two countries' intelligence services should cooperate more closely in an effort to stem the flow of drugs from Afghanistan via Tajikistan to Russia and Europe, Russian media reported. Putin noted that payments to Afghan farmers to induce them to stop cultivating opium poppies have not had the desired effect. Rakhmonov, for his part, sought to offload the blame for the growing stream of drugs onto Afghanistan. On 27 January, Tajik Foreign Minister Talbak Nazarov and U.S. Ambassador to Dushanbe Franklin Huddle signed a bilateral agreement on combating drug trafficking, Asia Plus-Blitz reported. Under that agreement, the United States will provide training programs and financial assistance worth $215,000 to the presidential Drug Control Agency and the Tajik Border Protection Committee. LF

CZECH GOVERNMENT DELEGATION ASSESSES TRADE OPPORTUNITIES IN TAJIKISTAN
A Czech delegation headed by Deputy Economy and Trade Minister Miroslav Somol held talks in Dushanbe on 27 January with Foreign Minister Nazarov, Industry Minister Zayd Saidov, and Minister of Power Engineering Abdullo Yorov, Asia Plus-Blitz reported the following day. Both sides agreed that the potential exists to increase the very modest $3 million trade turnover between the two countries. Possible spheres for cooperation are mechanical engineering, hydropower engineering, health care, and the chemical and pharmaceutical industries. In addition, the Czech Republic could provide machinery for the Dushanbe Cement Plant, which is currently under reconstruction, and for hydroelectric-power stations. LF

UZBEK PRESIDENT SEEKS SPANISH INVESTMENT
Islam Karimov paid an official visit to Madrid on 27-29 January at the invitation of King Juan Carlos I, uza.uz and uzreport.com reported. Karimov met with Prime Minister Jose Maria Aznar, members of both chambers of the Spanish parliament, and Madrid Mayor Jose Maria Alvares to discuss bilateral political and economic cooperation and the battle against international terrorism and drug trafficking. Karimov also met with Spanish businessmen, to whom he enumerated the investment opportunities Uzbekistan can offer. Several bilateral agreements were signed, including ones on protecting investments and on financial and educational cooperation. LF

JAPANESE DELEGATION VISITS UZBEKISTAN
A Japanese delegation headed by Deputy Foreign Minister Shinako Tsuchiya held talks in Tashkent on 28 January with Uzbek Prime Minister Utkir Sultanov and parliament chairman Erkin Khalilov, Interfax reported. The talks focused on bilateral relations, regional security, and the situation in Afghanistan and ongoing post-conflict reconstruction in that country. LF

BELARUS REGISTERS CANDIDATES FOR LOCAL ELECTIONS
Local election commissions on 28 January began registering candidates for the local elections on 2 March, Belapan reported, quoting Central Election Commission Secretary Mikalay Lazovik. Voters will have only one candidate on the ballot in the overwhelming majority of constituencies, since just 26,567 people have applied to compete for 24,012 seats on local councils (soviets). The toughest competition is expected in the capital, Minsk, where 305 people were proposed for 55 seats on the City Council. JM

BELARUSIANS PAY FINAL TRIBUTE TO FOLK-ROCK SINGER
Thousands of people arrived at the Central House of Officers in Minsk on 28 January to pay last respects to singer and composer Uladzimir Mulyavin, who died in Moscow on 26 January at the age of 62, Belapan reported. Mulyavin was injured in a car crash in May, after which he remained partially paralyzed while undergoing treatment in hospitals in Minsk and Moscow. Mulyavin was the leader of the celebrated Belarusian folk-rock band "Pesnyary" for almost 40 years. JM

KYIV HOSTS CIS SUMMIT...
Four of the 12 presidents of the Commonwealth of Independent States for various reasons failed to arrive for the informal summit in Kyiv on 29 January, ITAR-TASS reported. Kazakhstan is represented by its state secretary, Turkmenistan by the head of the presidential administration, and Kyrgyzstan and Uzbekistan by their prime ministers. "There will be no politics here," Ukrainian Foreign Ministry spokesman Serhiy Borodenkov told the agency. "Ukraine, as the summit organizer, will propose consideration of a package of economic issues, including the creation of a free-trade zone within the scope of the Commonwealth of Independent States." JM

...AT WHICH UKRAINIAN PRESIDENT IS ELECTED TO HEAD CIS COUNCIL...
Leonid Kuchma was elected to chair the Council of CIS Heads of State at the group's informal summit on 29 January, ITAR-TASS and Interfax reported from Kyiv. Ukraine's status within the CIS is a point of dispute, since Ukrainian diplomats and officials routinely described it as an "associate member" throughout the 1990s because the Verkhovna Rada never ratified the 1994 CIS Charter. But Kuchma on 28 December noted that the same charter makes no mention of "associate member" status. Ukrainian Hromadske Radio on 15 January suggested that Ukraine's chairmanship of the CIS Heads of State Council might thus be "legally vulnerable" (see "End Note," "RFE/RL Newsline," 17 January 2003). AH

...ON RUSSIA'S INITIATIVE
Russian President Vladimir Putin, speaking to journalists after the CIS summit on 29 January, noted that Kuchma was elected on the initiative of the Russian side. "I made this proposal without taking counsel with other leaders, who feared this move might weaken the organization. But my logic was that Ukraine is one of the biggest CIS member states and the second by the economy volume," Putin said. He added that the rotation principle must be observed as well. Putin first proposed that Ukraine head the council in November. Before Kuchma, the CIS Councils of the Heads of State was led by Boris Yeltsin and Putin himself. JM

UKRAINE, RUSSIA SIGN BORDER TREATY...
Presidents Kuchma and Putin signed a treaty in Kyiv on 28 January defining the 2,063-kilometer land border between Ukraine and Russia, Ukrainian and Russian media reported. It took four years for the two countries to delimit the frontier. Putin said the agreement is "not so much a pragmatic as a political document," according to ITAR-TASS. Ukrainian Foreign Minister Anatoliy Zlenko said the same day that the two countries need a separate accord on the division of the Azov Sea. Commenting on the disagreements regarding the delimitation of the sea border, Zlenko said, "Ukraine thinks it necessary to divide the bottom and waters," while Russia suggests treating the sea as internal waters of the two countries. Meanwhile, a source at the Russian Foreign Ministry told ITAR-TASS that Article 5 of the signed treaty defines the status of the Azov Sea and the Kerch Strait as internal waters of Russia and Ukraine. JM

...AND NINE OTHER ACCORDS
Also on 28 January, Ukraine and Russia signed nine agreements relating to cooperation in education, health and youth, and information policies, Interfax reported. In particular, the documents concern the establishment and functioning of branches of Russian universities in Ukraine and Ukrainian ones in Russia, combating the spread of HIV/AIDS, and cooperation between the Ukrinform and the ITAR-TASS news agencies. "The quality of our relations has improved and mutual trust has grown. This is a solid foundation for our future relations," Putin said later the same day in a lecture at Kyiv's Shevchenko State University. "We are developing our relations as two European nations, both contributing to stability in Europe." JM

GERMAN LAB FINDS DIOXIN LEVELS ACCEPTABLE IN ESTONIAN FISH
A German laboratory conducting tests on 15 fish samples from Estonia informed the Environmental Studies Center that the dioxin level in one of the fish, caught in the open part of the Baltic Sea, slightly exceeded allowed levels, ETA reported on 28 January. The results from five fish samples from the Gulf of Riga are expected later in the week. Estonian fishermen had feared less favorable results since recent tests conducted in the United Kingdom on Latvian fish revealed excessive dioxin levels (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 23 January 2003). SG

LATVIA SUBMITS MILITARY-REFORM PLAN TO NATO
Foreign Ministry State Secretary Maris Riekstins told BNS on 28 January that Latvia submitted its draft military reform plan to NATO headquarters in Brussels earlier that day. The reform plan has five sections: politics and economy, defense and military matters, information security, resources, and legal issues. "The purpose of the reform plan is to ensure that Latvia will be able to work in line with NATO standards by its accession to the alliance on 1 May 2004," Riekstins said. NATO officials will examine the document and review it with Latvian officials on 4 February. NATO may propose certain amendments and alterations to the plan, which after revisions will be submitted to the government for approval. Riekstins noted that the plan will be made public once its final version is approved, aside from certain items with "the status of restricted information." SG

LITHUANIAN AMENDMENT ON LOCAL COUNCILS RADICALLY ALTERS MAYORS' DUTIES
Parliament amended Lithuania's law on local administration on 28 January in response to a Constitutional Court ruling in December that banned local-council members from wielding executive powers, "Kauno diena" reported the next day. The amendments radically change the role of mayors, who will retain their posts as heads of local councils but must transfer their executive powers to the newly created post of directors of administration. Such directors will be responsible for the implementation of laws, other legal acts, and decisions of local councils, as well as for administering city or raion budgets. Mayors belonging to the Association of Lithuanian Local Governments strongly criticized the planned amendments and even left the session in protest once it became clear that the amendments would pass. They appealed to President Valdas Adamkus to veto the amendments and are considering launching a referendum drive, which would require 300,000 signatures to force a plebiscite. SG

POLAND PROPOSES NEW EASTERN POLICY TO EU
Jaroslaw Pietras, an undersecretary of state on the Polish government's Committee for European Integration, confirmed a 28 January report in the "Financial Times" asserting that Poland has proposed to the European Union a new strategy for relations with Ukraine, Belarus, Moldova, and Russia, Interfax reported. The British daily wrote that in a paper commissioned by the Danish EU Presidency last year, Warsaw proposed aid programs to promote stability, security, and prosperity in those countries. Other inducements suggested in the paper reportedly include the "long-term perspective" of EU membership and the establishment of a "European democracy fund" that would work through local nongovernmental organizations to promote democratic values in the region. JM

POLISH OPPOSITION PARTY WANTS GOVERNMENT TO PUBLISH EU SETTLEMENTS
The Law and Justice (PiS) parliamentary caucus on 28 January demanded that the government make public what was agreed at the EU summit in Copenhagen in mid-December, PAP reported. "We are indignant over the fact that these texts have not been made available at least to parliamentary caucus heads and the [parliamentary] Commission for European Integration," PiS lawmaker Michal Kaminski told journalists. Kaminski added that the recent Polish-EU controversy over the outcome of negotiations regarding direct subsidies to farmers (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 28 January 2003) should be resolved as soon as possible "because its protraction may suggest that the international position of Leszek Miller's government is so poor that it has been fooled by its partners from Brussels." JM

POLISH PRESIDENT NOT SEEKING TOP NATO JOB
Polish President Aleksander Kwasniewski said in Prague on 28 January that he will not seek the post of NATO secretary-general after Lord George Robertson steps down, CTK reported. Robertson recently announced that he will leave his job at the end of 2003 and mentioned Kwasniewski among possible successors. The Polish president told journalists that he wants to exercise in full his presidential mandate, which expires in December 2005. He added that he will not accept any proposals that would otherwise engage him until the end of his term. Commenting on Iraq, Kwasniewski said UN inspectors should have more time to search for weapons of mass destruction in Iraq, but added that such time must be limited. JM

COMMUNIST-ERA POLISH FIGUREHEAD DIES
Professor Henryk Jablonski died on 27 January at the age of 93, PAP reported on 28 January. In 1977-85, Jablonski was the chairman of the Council of State, a collective-presidency body that wielded symbolic powers. JM

CZECH COALITION LEADERS FAIL TO AGREE ON JOINT PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE
The leaders of the three Czech ruling parties on 28 January failed to agree on a joint candidate for a third set of legislative balloting to elect a president, CTK reported. Two previous efforts ended in stalemate (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 16 and 27 January 2003), and legislators have not yet set a date for the third vote. The three leaders -- Social Democratic Party (CSSD) Chairman and Premier Vladimir Spidla, Christian Democratic Union-People's Party Chairman and Foreign Minister Cyril Svoboda, and Freedom Union-Democratic Union Chairman and Deputy Premier Petr Mares -- said they will continue to try and reach an agreement and will discuss the options with other parliamentary parties as well. Spidla said he intends to have all parliamentary parties participate in the search for an agreed candidate and he will soon set the date for a meeting. Spidla also said he intends to find out whether the Civic Democratic Party (ODS) intends to persist in fielding the twice-defeated candidacy of its honorary chairman, former Premier Vaclav Klaus. The premier received an immediate response from ODS Chairman Miroslav Topolanek, who vowed that the ODS will back Klaus in a third parliamentary vote or, in the event of direct presidential elections, in that campaign. MS

END OF SLOVAK COALITION CRISIS IN OFFING?
Alliance of a New Citizen (ANO) Chairman Pavol Rusko said on 28 January after a meeting of the coalition council that, for the first time, coalition leaders made an "effort to solve the problem instead of belittling it," CTK reported. Tensions rose after Rusko accused the Interior Ministry of tapping his telephone (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 21, 22, and 23 January 2003). Rusko said coalition leaders have not "a priori" rejected his proposal to institute "cross supervision" of Slovak security services in order to prevent abuses, adding that they are considering the proposal "very seriously." He did not indicate the precise nature of the proposal. Rusko also said there will be no change in the four-party coalition agreement, but an addendum will be attached to the document. The coalition council did not discuss any possible personnel changes at the head of the Interior Ministry, controlled by the Christian Democratic Movement (KDH), or the Slovak Intelligence Service. MS

EARLY FAVORITES EMERGE IN SLOVAK PRESIDENTIAL POLL
Foreign Minister Eduard Kukan and Movement for a Democratic Slovakia Chairman and former Premier Vladimir Meciar would face each other in a runoff if Slovak presidential elections were held now, TASR reported, citing the MVK pollsters. Kukan, whose candidacy for the 2004 elections has been announced by his Slovak Democratic and Christian Union (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 17 January 2003), would receive 24.3 percent of the vote, while Meciar would be backed by 20.4 percent of the electorate, according to the survey. The Slovak president is elected by popular vote every five years. Outgoing President Rudolf Schuster would garner only 7.7 percent of the vote, the poll found. MS

HUNGARIAN DEFENSE MINISTER REJECTS U.S. REQUEST FOR CHANGE OF ARRIVAL VENUE FOR TASZAR TRAINEES...
Defense Minister Ferenc Juhasz on 28 January informed the Pentagon by letter that the Hungarian government will assent to the training of Iraqis at the Taszar military air base if the volunteers are flown by special planes directly to the air base and do not leave the camp during training, as previously agreed, "Nepszabadsag" reported. Juhasz sent the letter after the U.S. military informed the Hungarian government that Iraqis recruited in Europe will arrive at Budapest airport on scheduled civilian flights and then be taken to Taszar by U.S. vehicles. Juhasz rejected the proposal and suggested that the Hungarian government will not agree to the training under such conditions. U.S. officials at Taszar confirmed that a considerable portion of U.S. trainers have arrived, but the Iraqi trainees have not. MSZ

...WHILE A MAJORITY OF HUNGARIANS REJECT WAR IN IRAQ
Some 76 percent of Hungarians would oppose a U.S. war on Iraq even if it were authorized by the United Nations, according to a survey published by the Gallup Institute on 28 January. Budapest dailies reported that, according to the survey, 55 percent of respondents expect the United States to attack Iraq, even without UN authorization, while 32 percent believe the United States will launch a war only with UN authorization and another 13 percent believe there will be no war at all. The poll also reveals that Hungarians are unhappy with the way they are being informed about the training of Iraqi opposition groups at Taszar. In addition, half of the respondents fear the presence of the Iraqis will make Hungary a terrorist target. The poll was taken between 16-21 January and encompassed 1,016 respondents from 62 communities. MSZ

HUNGARIAN GOVERNMENT, OPPOSITION BATTLE FOR MEDIA ATTENTION
The opposition FIDESZ party will hold press briefings twice a day if necessary, and even call in party specialists from the countryside on holidays to Budapest to ensure that the party is not left out of major evening newscasts, "Magyar Hirlap" reported on 29 January. Alleged efforts by governing Socialist Party politicians to disrupt FIDESZ media events prompted the party to issue a statement condemning such actions. On 27 January, Foreign Minister Laszlo Kovacs telephoned a television program on which FIDESZ politician Istvan Simicsko was a guest, while on 28 January two Socialist politicians sought to grab journalists' attention at a joint FIDESZ-Democratic Forum press briefing. Socialist parliamentary group leader Ildiko Lendvai accused the FIDESZ communication policy of being aimed more at frequent appearances than at substantive ones. MSZ

HUNGARIAN NEO-NAZIS PICK NEW VENUE FOR DEMONSTRATION
The Blood and Honor Cultural Society, regarded by critics as a front for neo-Nazi groups, has informed police that it wants to stage a function on Budapest's Heroes Square on 9 February, "Magyar Hirlap" reported on 29 January. The authorities have banned the group from honoring the German and Hungarian fascist troops who defended Buda Castle against Soviet forces in February 1945 at the castle. MSZ

MACEDONIAN GOVERNMENT DISSOLVES CONTROVERSIAL POLICE UNIT
Interior Minister Hari Kostov announced on 28 January that the government has formally dissolved the controversial rapid-reaction police unit known as the Lions, "Utrinski vesnik" reported. Some of the unit's 1,200 members will be employed by the Interior Ministry or the army. A commission will determine whether those Lions without valid employment contracts will be given jobs in the security forces. Kostov added that the amnesty granted to the ethnic Albanian rebels in late 2001 will also apply to the Lions' members. According to Kostov, this decision is supported by the junior coalition partner, the ethnic Albanian Democratic Union for Integration (BDI), which previously opposed the reassignment of Lions members. The hard-line nationalist unit, which was often referred to as former Interior Minister Ljube Boskovski's private army, was formed in June and July 2001 (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 23 and 27 January 2003 and "RFE/RL Balkan Report," 15 November 2002). UB

EUROPEAN PARLIAMENT LEADERS SAY 2003 WILL BE CRUCIAL FOR MACEDONIA
The head of a European Parliament delegation visiting Macedonia, Doris Pack, said in Skopje on 28 January that 2003 will be crucial for implementing the August 2001 Ohrid peace agreement that ended the interethnic crisis, dpa reported. Pack added that she hopes implementation will be complete by July. She also called on Macedonia to work against crime and corruption: "Security must be improved all over the country." She stressed that organized crime, in particular "trafficking in human beings, must be brought to a halt." PM

SFOR WILL NOT HAND OVER TERRORIST SUSPECT TO BOSNIAN AUTHORITIES
SFOR spokesman Shawn Mell told reporters in Sarajevo on 28 January that peacekeepers will not comply with a request by the Bosnian joint Presidency to give the authorities of the Muslim-Croat federation custody of Sabahudin Fiuljanin, whom SFOR has held since late October on suspicion of having links to Al-Qaeda, Reuters reported. Mell did not say why peacekeepers denied the request, which the Presidency made after being ordered to do so by Bosnia's top human rights court, the Human Rights Chamber. Amnesty International and some other human rights groups have charged that SFOR is holding Fiuljanin illegally. PM

BOSNIA ACCUSES YUGOSLAVIA OF APPLYING DOUBLE STANDARDS
Bosnian Ambassador to Yugoslavia Zeljko Komsic said that Belgrade wrongly applies one set of standards to the Republika Srpska and its citizens and a tougher set to the Muslim-Croat federation and its citizens, Deutsche Welle's "Monitor" reported on 27 January. Komsic noted that border officials charge relatively low fees to people from the Republika Srpska and higher fees to individuals from the federation. He added that the Yugoslav Post Office applies domestic rates to the Republika Srpska but foreign rates to the federation. The ambassador demanded that Yugoslavia treat Bosnia as a whole. PM

BOSNIAN SERB AUTHORITIES FILE WAR CRIMES CHARGES...
The Republika Srpska's commission for relations with The Hague-based war crimes tribunal filed charges with the tribunal's office in Banja Luka on 28 January against seven unnamed individuals for alleged war crimes against Serbs during the 1992-95 conflict, Deutsche Welle's Bosnian Service reported. The atrocities reportedly took place at the Viktor Bubanj military barracks in Sarajevo. PM

...AS DOES CROATIA
Former Croatian Serb rebel leader Milan Martic pleaded not guilty in The Hague on 28 January to war crimes charges stemming from the 1991-95 conflict in Croatia, RFE/RL's South Slavic and Albanian Languages Service reported. Meanwhile in Zagreb, the County Attorney General's Office filed charges against Martic and his former military commander, Milan Celeketic, for rocket attacks on Zagreb, Karlovac, and Jastrebarsko in 1995 that led to civilian casualties. Attorney General Krunoslav Canjuga said these charges should not be seen as calling into question those already filed by the tribunal. PM

MONTENEGRINS CONTINUE TO DEBATE NEW TIES WITH SERBIA...
The Montenegrin parliament on 28 January broke off its discussion of the proposed Constitutional Charter governing relations between Serbia and Montenegro and a bill on its implementation after opposition-coalition leader Predrag Bulatovic said he needs to consult with his coalition partners, RFE/RL's South Slavic and Albanian Languages Service reported (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 28 January 2003). The parliament was scheduled to resume its debate on 29 January. PM

...AS THE EU ISSUES A WARNING
In Brussels, EU foreign and security policy chief Javier Solana said the time has come for Serbia and Montenegro to finalize their new relations if they want European institutions to open their doors to them, RFE/RL's South Slavic and Albanian Languages Service reported. He also stressed that UN Security Council Resolution 1244 remains in force for Kosova and that no unilateral move by any side can change the status of the province (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 17, 21, and 22 January 2003). Solana made his remarks on Kosova after meeting with Michael Steiner, who heads the UN civilian administration (UNMIK) there. PM

ROMANIA SAYS IRAQ MUST FULLY IMPLEMENT RESOLUTION 1441
Foreign Minister Mircea Geoana told Mediafax on 28 January that Iraq must implement UN Security Council Resolution 1441 to the letter. Regarding the report issued by weapons inspectors to the UN Security Council on 27 January on Iraq's compliance with inspections, Geoana said the authorities in Baghdad "have yet to satisfactorily answer a number of questions." Geoana also expressed hope that differences of opinion between some European countries and "the Euro-Atlantic partners [the United States and Britain]" will be bridged. "We must not allow a dictator who has defied the international community for 12 years to drive a wedge between the international democratic community," he said. In related news, Defense Minister Ioan Mircea Pascu on 28 January refused to answer journalists' questions as to whether Romania has received specific requests from the United States to participate in a possible military action against Iraq. He said such questions should be addressed to the Foreign Ministry. Pascu added that the Supreme Council of National Defense will discuss Romania's possible participation in such an action on 10 February. MS

ROMANIAN PRESIDENT HOLDS CONSULTATIONS WITH PARLIAMENTARY PARTIES
President Ion Iliescu on 28 January held consultations with the leaders of parliamentary political parties on a possible wall-to-wall declaration in support of Romania's efforts to gain membership of the EU by 2005, RFE/RL's Bucharest bureau reported. They also discussed envisaged amendments to the constitution and the proposal to hold the next parliamentary elections separately from the presidential elections. The consultations are a sequel to those held by the president with the ruling Social Democratic Party (PSD) on 17 January. All participants agreed to back the EU-integration effort. The Greater Romania Party opposes the proposed amendments to the constitution as well as holding elections separately. The Hungarian Democratic Federation of Romania said a solution must be found to ensure that the possible introduction of a system of single-constituency representation in Senate elections does not place the Hungarian ethnic minority at a disadvantage. MS

FORMER ROMANIAN PRESIDENT RETURNS TO ACTIVE POLITICS
Former President Emil Constantinescu, in an interview with the daily "Evenimentul zilei" on 28 January, said he is now heading the recently established Popular Action (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 10 December 2002). He described Popular Action as a civic movement that could turn into a political party "if the dialogue with the people shows they wish it to do so." Constantinescu said Popular Action was set up by many of his former young advisers, most of whom held the rank of deputy minister when he was president from 1996-2000. He deplored the fact that their appeal for the unification of center-right parties has been ignored. The same day, the extraparliamentary National Peasant Party Christian Democratic (PNTCD), to which Constantinescu belonged before becoming president, harshly criticized the formation of Popular Action. PNTCD Chairman and former Premier Victor Ciorbea said the initiative is directed against his formation's attempts to make a political comeback and serves the interests of the PSD, the daily "Adevarul" reported. MS

ROMANIAN PREMIER AWARDED FRENCH ACADEMIC DISTINCTION
Prime Minister Adrian Nastase on 28 January received in Paris the "Political Courage" distinction awarded by Sorbonne University's Association for Foreign Politics and the journal "Politique Internationale," according to a press release issued by the Romanian Public Information Ministry. Nastase met on 27-28 January in Paris with several members of the French cabinet and with French corporate executives. MS

PACE RESOLUTION SLAPS AUTHORITIES OVER TELERADIO MOLDOVA
A resolution approved on 28 January by the Parliamentary Assembly of the Council of Europe (PACE) criticized the Moldovan authorities for "regrettably continuing to disregard" the Council of Europe's recommendations over ending political interference in Teleradio Moldova's operations, Flux reported. In the resolution -- which deals with general aspects of media freedom in different countries -- PACE said the legislation passed by parliament on the transformation of the former state company into a public company did not bring about the end of political interference in the company's functioning. MS

CHISINAU MAYORALTY APPROVES NEW PPCD PROTEST RALLY
The Chisinau mayoralty on 28 January approved the request of the opposition Popular Party Christian Democratic (PPCD) to organize a new protest rally in the Moldovan capital on 2 February, RFE/RL's local bureau reported. The mayoralty conditioned the approval on changing the intended route of the protest march and keeping the demonstrators at a distance from the seats of the presidential office, the parliament, and the Russian Embassy. The mayoralty thus overrode objections from police and representatives of Chisinau's Prosecutor-General's Office who claimed the planned rally violates current legislation. PPCD Chairman Iurie Rosca said the route approved by the mayoralty will be strictly observed. MS

EXPECTED NEGOTIATIONS IN CHISINAU FAIL TO TAKE PLACE
Transdniester Foreign Minister Valerii Litskay failed to arrive in Chisinau on 28 January for the scheduled resumption of the negotiations with Moldova, Infotag reported. The news agency speculated that separatist leader Igor Smirnov might have ordered Litskay to stay home because William Hill, the new chief of the OSCE mission in Moldova, has not visited Tiraspol since his recent reappointment to the position. The negotiations are taking place under the sponsorship of the three mediators -- Russia, Ukraine, and the OSCE. MS

FORMER MINISTER CRITICIZES BULGARIAN GOVERNMENT
Former Regional Development Minister Kostadin Paskalev said on 28 January on "Blitz," the joint television and radio program of RFE/RL's Bulgarian Service and the private television station bTV, that the government has no clear vision. According to Paskalev, the government has set clear priorities in its foreign and security policies, but it lacks domestic and economic policies. As an example, Paskalev cited the failed financial decentralization of the state administration, which leaves the municipalities with only half the funding Paskalev envisioned in his original reform plan. UB

ROMANY YOUTH SHOT DEAD IN BULGARIA
A retired army colonel allegedly shot dead a 16-year-old Rom and wounded a 12-year-old Rom on 23 January near the eastern Bulgarian town of Sliven, the Sofia-based NGO Human Rights Project said in a press release. The NGO claimed the colonel fired on a group of about 15 Romany youths who allegedly destroyed fences in a settlement of summer homes in order to sell them as scrap. The press release alleged that the colonel attempted to burn the victim's body. UB

LAST STATE-OWNED BANK IN BULGARIA TO BE PRIVATIZED
National Bank Governor Svetoslav Gavriyski said on 28 January that three potential buyers have submitted bids for the state-owned State Savings Bank (DSK), BTA reported. The bidders include Hungary's OPT Bank, Austria's Erste Bank, and Greece's Piraeus Bank. All three bidders have announced they are interested in taking over 100 percent of DSK's shares. Finance Minister Milen Velchev said he expects the privatization deal to be finalized by the end of March or early April. UB

THE WEST WATCHES ARMENIA CHOOSE
Armenia will face what could be the biggest test yet of its democratic credentials when it holds presidential elections next month, elections that President Robert Kocharian hopes will give him another five-year term.

The United States and Europe strongly criticized the 1998 Armenian elections and are again keeping a watchful eye on the intensifying election campaign. This time, Western officials say, the scrutiny will be far more focused.

"The process will be put under a microscope to a much larger extent than it was in the past," said a Western diplomatic source in Yerevan who asked not to be identified. "This will be a real test of Armenia's international commitments."

Peter Eicher, head of a monitoring mission from the OSCE, likewise describes the 19 February vote as a "big challenge for Armenia." "I think it's a test this time to see whether the authorities have progressed far enough to run an election which is really clean and really meets international standards," Eicher said in an interview. "I think there is going to be a lot of interest internationally on this."

Eicher's mission is the largest Western-led group to monitor the polls, and its judgment will therefore be crucial for their international legitimacy. The mission currently numbers 25 long-term observers from 16 OSCE member countries. They will be joined by more than 250 short-term monitors on the eve of the voting.

Eleven candidates representing virtually the country's entire political spectrum are vying for the presidency. Kocharian, who is far ahead of his rivals in opinion polls, is aiming for a landslide victory in the first round. But some independent pollsters say he is not popular enough to avoid a risky runoff with an opposition contender. Their surveys show that the opposition vote, though split among several candidates, exceeds Kocharian's current approval ratings.

Two left-wing opposition politicians -- Stepan Demirchian and Artashes Geghamian -- are currently seen as Kocharian's main challengers. Also in contention are two former prime ministers: Vazgen Manukian and Aram Sargsian. The latter is the younger brother of another former premier, Vazgen Sargsian, who was killed in the October 1999 terrorist attack on the Armenian parliament.

Opposition leaders are already accusing Kocharian, who is backed by the state apparatus, of planning to manipulate the vote on a massive scale. There have been numerous reports of senior government officials ordering their subordinates to campaign for Kocharian in breach of the law. Justice Minister David Harutiunian was forced to admit last week that he had summoned school principals in Yerevan and told them to "propagate" Kocharian's re-election among their students' parents.

Although Kocharian has repeatedly pledged to ensure a clean election, one Western diplomat cautioned, "There is still a lot of potential for fraudulent voting." He pointed to the biased media coverage of opposition candidates, persistent inaccuracies in voter lists, and a lack of transparency in the tabulation of ballots. OSCE observers have singled out the latter problem and urged the authorities to publish a precinct-by-precinct breakdown of election results.

"It is an absolutely key control that allows every citizen to see that the results of their polling station were included accurately as the count went forward," Eicher explained. "Very often, in countries where elections are manipulated, the manipulation is found not so much in the stuffing of ballot boxes, but rather that the results somehow change as they move up the tabulation process." Armenia's Central Election Commission, according to Eicher, has promised to consider this antifraud suggestion.

An additional source of concern is Kocharian's decision to appoint powerful Defense Minister Serzh Sarkisian as his campaign manager. The Western source termed the move as "at best, questionable," saying that Sarkisian effectively continues to perform his ministerial duties despite his announcement in November that he would take a three-month leave of absence. Sarkisian was a member of an Armenian government delegation that accompanied Kocharian during his official visit to Russia earlier this month.

Voting by the military has been a major source of vote irregularities in Armenia, with tens of thousands of army conscripts reportedly constrained to vote for the incumbent in the past.

The lingering concerns about the freedom and fairness of the upcoming presidential ballot were underscored last week by U.S. Ambassador to Armenia John Ordway, who warned authorities against resorting to fraud. "Any significant irregularities in the process will cast doubt on the legitimacy of the whole process and, therefore, on the result," Ordway said in a brief statement.

Voting irregularities have become a tradition in Armenia, with none of the elections held since independence judged by international monitors to have been democratic. For example, the OSCE concluded that the preterm presidential election in 1998 did not meet democratic standards to which Armenia had committed itself.

Such negative international reaction did not, however, prevent Armenia from joining the Council of Europe two years ago. Still, membership of the unofficial club of European democracies brings with it higher international expectations of political reform, which might explain why the West's patience with Yerevan now seems to be wearing thin.

Emil Danielyan is an RFE/RL correspondent based in Yerevan.

CABINET RESHUFFLE IN AFGHANISTAN
President Hamid Karzai on 28 January appointed Ali Ahmad Jalali as the new interior minister, replacing Taj Mohammad Wardak, who was appointed ministerial adviser on tribal affairs and named a member of the National Security Council, Radio Free Afghanistan reported. Jalali completed his military studies in Afghanistan, the United Kingdom, and Turkey and served as an army officer in Afghanistan until the communist takeover in 1978, the report added. Prior to his appointment, Jalali served in Washington as the head of Voice of America's Pashtu service. After the conclusion of the 2001 Bonn Agreement, Mohammad Yunus Qanuni was selected interior minister, but following the June Loya Jirga he stepped down as part of a compromise to balance the ethnic representation of the Afghan cabinet. Qanuni now serves as education minister. During Wardak's tenure, criminal activity increased in Kabul, and he was criticized for his handling of the 11-12 November student protests at Kabul University (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 14 November 2002). AT

UNHCR OFFICES REMAIN OPEN
Mohammad Nader Farhad, a spokesman for the UNHCR in Kabul, told Radio Free Afghanistan on 28 January that despite the 26 January attack on a UNHCR convoy (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 27 and 28 January 2003), the agency's offices in eastern Afghanistan will remain open. Farhad said no delegation will be dispatched to eastern Afghanistan for the next few days, but the overall situation in the area remains satisfactory, the RFE/RL service reported. No information on the identities or motives of the attackers is available, Farhad said. AT

COMMISSION FORMED IN AFGHANISTAN TO REVIEW CABLE-TV BAN...
The cabinet on 27 January formed a special commission headed by Vice President Nematullah Shahrani, who also serves as chairman of the Constitutional Drafting Commission, to review the Supreme Court's recent ban on cable-television networks in Afghanistan (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 22 January 2003), Voice of the Islamic Republic of Iran reported from Mashhad on 28 January. According to presidential spokesman Sayyed Fazel Akbar, the new commission will consult with religious scholars to formulate regulations for cable television that would allow such broadcasting "within the framework of Afghanistan's high national interests and take into consideration respect for the holy religion of Islam and the customs and cultural values" of Afghanistan, the Iranian state radio network reported. AT

...AS KANDAHAR REFUSES TO FOLLOW THE BAN
A spokesman for Kandahar Province Governor Gul Agha Sherzai told Radio Free Afghanistan on January 28 that the province will not implement the Supreme Court's ban on cable television. Spokesman Khaled Pashtun stressed Kandahar's loyalty to Kabul, but he said the world is moving forward and cable television can help advance Afghan society and the province's citizens will thus be allowed access to cable television. Pashtun added that only films and programs deemed potentially harmful to children and society -- namely, those showing sexually explicit scenes -- will be banned in the province. He noted that most of those programs are available not on cable but on satellite television. Pashtun further said that cable programs or videos showing women singing as well as Indian movies will not be banned. AT

CLASHES IN FARYAB LEAVE FIVE DEAD...
Five people were killed and a undisclosed number injured in fighting that occurred on 26 and 27 January between rival commanders in the northern Afghanistan's Faryab Province, Voice of the Islamic Republic of Iran reported from Mashhad on 28 January. The fighting began when a local commander in the village of Almar refused to surrender weapons in accordance with the disarmament program in northern Afghanistan (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 27 November 2002), the Iranian state radio network reported. Fayzullah Zaki, a spokesman for Deputy Defense Minister General Abdul Rashid Dostum, described the fighting as "not serious" and said it resulted from "a misunderstanding." Forces loyal to Dostum's Jumbish-e Islami party and its rival, the Jamiat-e Islami party, which is represented in northern Afghanistan by General Mohammad Ata, have fought against each other on different occasions but have cooperated as of late in the joint disarmament program. AT

...AND FOUR ARE KILLED IN SAMANGAN
A local commander belonging to the Wahdat-e Islami party was assassinated on 28 January in Dara-ye Suf District in northern Afghanistan's Samangan Province, Voice of the Islamic Republic of Iran reported from Mashhad. Mohammad Sarwar Sayyedi, an official from Wahdat-e Islami, said commander Gholam Nabi and three of his bodyguards were killed while traveling to Mazar-e Sharif, the capital of Balkh Province, the radio station reported. The report did not provide information on the assailants' identities or their possible motives. AT

ADB CALLS FOR SECURITY PLAN FOR TRANS-AFGHAN PIPELINE
Yoshihiro Iwasaki, the director-general of the Asian Development Bank's (ADB) South Asia Department, on 28 January called on Afghanistan, Pakistan, and Turkmenistan to "set up a multilateral security agency to make sure that no harm is done" to the planned Trans-Afghan Pipeline, the Karachi daily "Dawn" reported. Iwasaki said the ADB is "interested in the project" and has "allocated considerable funds for its feasibility study," the paper added. Afghanistan, Pakistan, and Turkmenistan signed an agreement on 27 December (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 27 December 2002) that established the legal framework for companies to invest in the Trans-Afghan Pipeline project. However, many market analysts are skeptical of the project's success, citing high security risks and India's hesitation to rely on gas transported via Pakistan. Pakistan alone does not represent a sufficient market for Turkmen gas. AT

U.S. PRESIDENT: IRAN REPRESSES PEOPLE, PURSUES WMD, AND SUPPORTS TERROR...
In his 2002 State of the Union address, U.S. President George W. Bush said Iran is part of an "axis of evil." In this year's address on 28 January, Bush said, "In Iran, we continue to see a government that represses its people, pursues weapons of mass destruction, and supports terror." He added: "We also see Iranian citizens risking intimidation and death as they speak out for liberty and human rights and democracy. Iranians, like all people, have a right to choose their own government and determine their own destiny -- and the United States supports their aspirations to live in freedom." BS

...AND TEHRAN DENIES EVERYTHING
Iranian Foreign Minister Kamal Kharrazi on 29 January said President Bush's comments about Iran in his State of the Union address were "baseless, superficial, and wrong," IRNA reported. Kharrazi said the United States has launched a propaganda campaign with the aim of expanding its global hegemony. "America continues its wrong approach toward Iran," Kharrazi said. An unidentified "official close to the reform-oriented foreign policy commission of the parliament" on 29 January rejected the accusations that Iran supports terrorism and is trying to produce weapons of mass destruction, dpa reported. The anonymous source was similarly dismissive of Bush's comments about Iran's domestic affairs. "The Iranian people do not need Bush to gain what they want and such remarks are an uncivilized approach toward Iranian leaders and a totally unjustified interference in Iran's internal affairs," the source said. BS

STILL NO SIGN OF MONTAZERI
"Resalat" reported on 29 January that Special Court for the Clergy Judge Gholam-Hussein Mohseni-Ejei announced that the restrictions on Ayatollah Hussein-Ali Montazeri-Najafabadi were to be lifted that day. Iranian media previously reported that Montazeri's house arrest, which was imposed in 1997, would be lifted on 28 January (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 28 January 2003). Parliament Speaker Hojatoleslam Mehdi Karrubi told reporters on 28 January that the Supreme National Security Council's decision to end Montazeri's confinement is welcomed, IRNA reported. An anonymous source cited by London's "Al-Sharq al-Awsat" on 28 January said that Montazeri will undergo medical testing and meet with his students and supporters before deciding on his possible political future. However, "Iran" reported on 29 January that Montazeri's children have promised the Supreme National Security Council that their father will stay out of politics. Ahmad Montazeri told AP on 28 January that whether or not his father's detention ends and regardless of his political future, "The house arrest will remain as a black page in the history of the Islamic republic." BS

SENTENCES REDUCED AGAIN IN SERIAL-MURDER CASE
The Judicial Organization of the Armed Forces announced on 28 January that the Supreme Court has revised several of the sentences in the case of the serial murders that took place in Iran in 1998, IRNA reported. Nationalist dissident Dariush Foruhar and his wife Parvaneh, as well as poet Mohammad Mokhtari and writer/translator Mohammad Jafar Puyandeh were murdered in late 1998, and Ministry of Intelligence and Security (MOIS) chief Qorban-Ali Dori-Najafabadi was forced to resign when it was determined that so-called rogue elements in the MOIS were responsible for the murders. The murderers were sentenced in January 2001. The death sentences for Mustafa Kazemi and Mehrdad Alikhani have been changed to life imprisonment, and the death sentence for Ali Roshani is under review. The sentences of Mahmud Jafarzadeh and Ali Mohseni have been changed to 10 years in prison, although in January 2001 they were sentenced to death. Hamid Rasuli, Mohammad Azizi, and Morteza Fallah all received life sentences but new sentences are forthcoming. The Supreme Court upheld the three-year sentences of Hussein Asna-Ashr and Ali Safaipur, as well as the sentences of Ali Nazeri (2 1/2 years), Asqar Sayyah (six years), and Khosrow Barati (10 years). The sentences were reduced because the victims' families requested clemency. The Supreme Court reduced the January 2001 sentences in August 2001 (see "RFE/RL Iran Report," 29 January and 27 August 2001). BS

TEHRAN NEIGHBORHOODS CLEANSED OF VICE
Colonel Ahmad Ruzbehani has announced that the Basij on 27 January detained 233 "hoodlums and thugs" in a recent operation to clean up Tehran, "Entekhab" reported on 29 January. According to the Prohibition of Vice and Promotion of Virtue headquarters, 600 members of the Basij participated in operations in 30 Tehran neighborhoods that yielded narcotics, syringes, alcoholic beverages, and pornographic pictures. The operations were in conducted in response to Tehran residents' request that wicked people, drug dealers, and purveyors of social corruption be confronted, Ruzbehani said. BS

IRGC READY TO DEFEND REVOLUTION
Islamic Revolution Guards Corps commander Major General Yahya Rahim-Safavi told a gathering of personnel from the 27th Mohammad Rasulallah Division on 28 January that the United States and Israel have launched a propaganda campaign in order to promote blasphemy and to wipe out religion in Iranian society, ISNA reported. Rahim-Safavi accused the United States of "creating political, religious, and ethnic divisions and encouraging corruption." The IRGC is ready to defend the Islamic revolution, he said. BS

IRAQI PRESIDENT ADVISES COMMANDERS...
President Saddam Hussein continues his almost-daily meetings with army commanders. In a meeting broadcast on 28 January on Iraq Television, Hussein commented on leadership skills, noting, "Leadership is a big responsibility...like that of the honorable head of the family, who cares for his family. [The leader] is like the big brother in the family." The Iraqi president added, "We should all share the honor of defending Iraq and crossing to the other bank in a calculated manner and known time." The various commanders briefed Hussein on the readiness of their brigades. Hussein then told the commanders: "The U.S. enemy depends on one of two choices. One of them is indirect engagement...in areas where there are no weapons or men. They think that by indirect engagement they can affect the morale of the fighters. The other choice is shooting from afar, either by aircraft or missiles. If you render these two factors, on which the enemy depends, unable to shake the fighters, and if you keep our sacrifices at a minimum level, then the enemy attack on you will fail." KR

...AS COMMANDERS DISCUSS READINESS
Iraqi commanders outlined their troops' readiness during their meeting with President Hussein. Brigadier General Sabah al-Dulaymi, commander of the Dhat al-Sawari naval base, noted that the base "is ready for combat and for undertaking any task," Iraq Satellite Television reported. "The base has completed all the required measures of deployment and all the required ammunition, fuel, and food-storing operations," he said. Staff Brigadier General Khalid Dawud Ya'qub al-Janabi said: "Concerning the combat field, the brigade is fully ready..., be it in the field of alternative positions, preparations, or in the field of training. We have focused on night training.... My brigade has important characteristics, including swift reaction, which is one of the principles of air defense." Staff Colonel Thabit Ghayth Salih al-Ubudi told President Hussein that the Third Commandos Brigade has "97 modern vehicles" and "1,548 fighters and 66 officers." Hussein told the commanders that trainees should also be taught about cleanliness, adding, "We teach [recruits] life affairs in terms of fitness, cleanliness, and culture." KR

UNMOVIC CHIEF SAYS 'TWO MONTHS ARE ENOUGH'
UNMOVIC Executive Chairman Hans Blix told Al-Jazeera television on 29 January that unlike International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) Director-General Mohammad el-Baradei, he did not request that the UN Security Council (UNSC) grant additional time for inspections in Iraq. "The two situations are rather different," Blix said. " For the chemical and biological weapons, we have seen everything that was supposed to be seen," he said. "Therefore, we believe that two months are enough to answer outstanding questions." He added: "If we feel that we need more time, we will request this. Despite the Iraqi cooperation, which seemed insufficient, I felt that there was no need to extend the inspection operations. This does not at all mean that I do not welcome such an extension if the UNSC so decides." Regarding the work of el-Baradei and the IAEA inspectors, Blix added, "[El-Baradei] needs more time to shed light on the situation in issues under his mandate." KR

ARAB DAILY'S NEWS EDITOR SAYS IRAQI REGIME SHOULD NOT BE DEFENDED
"Al-Sharq Al-Awsat" Editor in Chief Abd al-Rahman al-Rashid wrote a commentary entitled "Why the Baghdad Regime Does Not Deserve to be Defended" in the London-based daily's 28 January edition. "A history such as this is not worth defending and it is not worth the tears that are shed for its sake," al-Rashid wrote. "In the absence of the Iraqi regime, the Arab world will be able to breath and find a glimpse of hope that the region will see stability." He acknowledged that the "process will be bloody and painful," but added that those who defend the regime based on the idea that all the Arab regimes are under threat from foreign interference are wrong. "Protecting the Arab regimes by using the Iraqi regime as an example makes all the Arab regimes a subject of ridicule for the whole world," al-Rashid noted. He said that Arabs should "choose a regime that deserves to be defended," adding, "Instead of the United States, it ought to have been us who took the initiative ourselves." KR

ARAB LEAGUE HEAD SAYS WAR WILL COMPOUND REGION'S FRUSTRATION
Arab League Secretary-General Amr Musa has said inspectors should be allowed to complete their task and that war can be averted. His comments appeared in an interview published on 29 January in the "Berliner Zeitung." Musa noted that Iraq needs to increase its level of cooperation. Asked what the true reason for war is, Musa said: "That is something you have to ask the United States.... Why do they wish to plunge the whole region into chaos? Especially when the situation in the territories occupied by Israel is already so difficult." "If the wrath over a war on Iraq is added to this, this will double the frustration [in the region], and then things will be bad for all of us," Musa added. On the issue of possible exile for President Hussein, Musa said, "The Arab League and the Arab countries have nothing to do with it. Nor do I know whether the idea would really be feasible." KR

WHAT THE IRAQI PEOPLE WERE TOLD ABOUT THE UN SECURITY COUNCIL BRIEFING
A 28 January commentary broadcast by Iraq Satellite Television outlined the 27 January UNMOVIC/IAEA briefings to the UN Security Council, arguing that the briefings "prove the failure of the U.S. and British deception to sell their false claims against Iraq." The commentary listed "an important number of facts that cannot be obliterated." First, the commentary noted, "the two reports did not indicate that there are banned weapons in Iraq." Second, Blix and el-Baradei's reports contained only "a repetition of old and well-known issues." Third, the UNMOVIC/IAEA heads both noted "Iraq's full cooperation with the inspectors." "Thus, it is inevitable, logical, and legitimate that the international rejection of the aggression against Iraq will increase after listening to these reports," the commentary concluded. KR

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