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Newsline - January 30, 2003


PUTIN: RUSSIA MIGHT 'CHANGE ITS POSITION' ON IRAQ
Speaking to journalists in Kyiv on 28 January, President Vladimir Putin said Russia might change its long-standing opposition to military action against Iraqi President Saddam Hussein if Baghdad hinders UN weapons inspectors, Russian and Western news agencies reported. "If Iraq resists inspections or makes difficulties for inspectors, I cannot exclude that Russia might change its position," Putin said. "We will work together with the other permanent members of the UN Security Council, including the United States, on new resolutions...much tougher than the existing ones." Foreign Minister Igor Ivanov, who said the same day that Moscow will not alter its position on Iraq, was probably unaware of Putin's position, rusenergy.ru commented. VY

FOREIGN MINISTER DETAILS PLANS TO EVACUATE RUSSIANS FROM IRAQ
Foreign Minister Ivanov told RIA-Novosti on 29 January that Moscow has developed a contingency plan to evacuate the estimated 700 Russian specialists currently working in Iraq. If the situation deteriorates, "the Russian government will do everything possible to ensure the safety of its citizens," Ivanov said. Foreign Ministry spokesman Aleksandr Yakovenko on 28 January refuted a newsru.com report that day that the Russian Embassy in Baghdad had summoned representatives of Russian companies working in Iraq to discuss an evacuation reportedly scheduled for between 5-15 February. VY

MOSCOW EXPELS AMERICAN, ALLEGES ATTEMPTED TERRORISM LINKS
Russia on 29 January expelled a U.S. citizen identified as 34-year-old Megan McRee for being in the country with an unregistered visa, Russian and Western news agencies reported. However, a spokesman for the Federal Security Service (FSB) accused McRee of contacting Islamic extremist organizations, including Al-Qaeda, via the Internet and of offering to advise them on "how to stage acts of terror, particularly in the United States." McRee, however, denied the allegations and said, "I was simply targeted by these people because I happen to have a high IQ," Reuters reported. The news agency added that McRee had earlier posted an open letter on the Internet in which she said that she fled the United States in the early 1990s because she had been persecuted by the CIA. The FSB spokesman said that McRee, a computer programmer who had been living in Russia for two years, "is full of hatred toward the United States." He added that most of the Islamic organizations that she contacted did not respond, apparently fearing an FBI or CIA trick, and those that did respond declined her help. McRee was escorted onto a flight bound for Los Angeles, and the U.S. Embassy in Moscow declined to comment on the incident. VY/RC

MOSCOW POLICE REPORT ON 'OPERATION BEGGAR'
The Moscow Interior Ministry directorate (GUVD) completed this month "Operation Beggar," during which 6,500 homeless people were detained, RIA-Novosti reported on 29 January. About 1,000 of those detained were juveniles. Nearly 4,000 were charged with infractions; 900 were determined to be ill and sent for medical treatment; and 300 were turned over to social-welfare agencies. A GUVD spokesman said the operation was a great success and that it will be repeated every three months for "prophylactic-sanitary purposes." VY

DEPUTY PRIME MINISTER THINKS NUMBER OF CONTROL OFFICES IS 'EXCESSIVE'...
Deputy Prime Minister and Finance Minister Aleksei Kudrin believes that the "number of control organs in the state structure is excessive," "Argumenty i fakty," No. 5, reported on 29 January. According to Kudrin, "in Evenk Autonomous Okrug, which has a total population of about 20,000 including pensioners and young children, there are more than 1,000 employees of control organs." Kudrin heads a commission charged with reducing administrative barriers that plans to examine the question of reducing the number of control organs within the Agriculture Ministry. In the future, Kudrin said, these control personnel will be occupied primarily with epidemiological issues, and the number of veterinary and health inspectors will be sharply reduced. JAC

...AS GOVERNMENT PONDERS NEED FOR SUNSHINE LAW
On 28 January, the government held a session devoted to discussing a project designed to increase the informational openness of federal organs, "Vedomosti" reported on 29 January. Explaining the need for the project, Higher Economics School First Rector Lev Yakobson commented, "Russian power as always remains within a black box." "Ministries report about themselves only what they consider necessary and not what civil society and business demands," he said. "Vremya MN" reported on 22 January that some federal officials are panicking because of President Putin's order in his annual address last April that the government prepare legislation to require executive-branch departments to post information on the Internet for public access. According to the daily, more 30 departments have attached comments to a draft of the bill currently being circulated. One objection was that publicizing the names of members of tender commissions would expose the commission members and their families to threats. JAC

SEPARATED AT BIRTH?
The first Harry Potter movie, "Harry Potter and the Philosopher's Stone," is currently the top seller in Russia's video market, Ekho Moskvy reported on 29 January. Meanwhile, the producers of the second film in the series, "Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets," could face litigation for allegedly creating the elf character Dobby in the likeness of President Putin, RFE/RL's Moscow bureau reported on 22 January. A group of Russian lawyers, who have not identified themselves publicly, are considering filing the lawsuit. Viktor Dolgishev, head of public relations for the Guild of Russian Lawyers, told the bureau that it is possible some firm with a dubious reputation wants to raise its profile. However, he did not reckon that the case would be an easy one to win. So far, the presidential administration has not commented on the controversy, RosBalt reported on 27 January. For side-by-side photos of Dobby and Putin, see http://news2000.libero.it/editoriali/edp13.html. JAC

NUMEROUS POLITICAL GROUPS STILL SEEKING REGISTRATION
As of 29 January, the Justice Ministry had received notifications of intention to form political parties from 75 organizing committees, strana.ru reported. According to Justice Minister Yurii Chaika, the ministry has already registered some 50 political parties. JAC

UPPER HOUSE APPROVES BILL ON VICTIMS OF POLITICAL REPRESSION
The Federation Council on 29 January approved a series of laws, ITAR-TASS reported. Among them was a bill amending the law on the rehabilitation of victims of political oppression. Under the bill, children who lost one or both parents because of political oppression before they became adults are themselves granted the status of victims of political oppression and become eligible for state benefits. There are approximately 150,000 such people, and implementing the bill will require some 28 million rubles ($880,000) a year, according to the agency. JAC

MORDOVIA RESIDENTS PRESSURED TO SUPPORT INCUMBENT
A local election official has said that residents of Mordovia who declined to sign petitions in support of the current re-election bid of incumbent President Nikolai Merkushkin were subjected to overt pressure, RFE/RL's Saransk correspondent reported on 16 January. The election is scheduled for 16 February. Republican election commission member Boris Troshkin said that signature collectors threatened that the names of those who declined to sign the petitions would be given to the administration, which would deny them housing. However, such violations of election law were not used to deny Merkushkin registration as a candidate. Members of the local Communist Party branch are concerned that some pretext might be found to cancel the registration of their candidate, Anatolii Chebukov, as was done during the republic's last election five years ago. Chebukov is general director of the Saransk Instrument-Making Factory. JAC

CENTRAL ELECTION COMMISSION TO GET ONE NEW SEAT ON LOCAL BOARD
Legislators in Novgorod Oblast on 29 January adopted a law on gubernatorial elections in the region that introduces some significant changes, ITAR-TASS reported. Oblast legislature Chairman Anatolii Boitsev said the bill will bring local law into conformity with federal legislation. Under the bill, the oblast election commission will comprise 14 people, of whom at least one must be appointed on the recommendation of the Central Election Commission. Elections are considered valid if at least 20 percent of registered voters participate, and a candidate must receive 50 percent of the vote to win. The next gubernatorial election in the oblast is scheduled for September, but it might be rescheduled for December to coincide with State Duma elections (see "RFE/RL Russian Political Weekly," 23 January 2003). JAC

PACE YIELDS TO RUSSIAN PRESSURE OVER RESOLUTION ON CHECHNYA
The Parliamentary Assembly of the Council of Europe (PACE) on 29 January amended the wording of a draft resolution on Chechnya, removing the demand supported by rapporteur Lord Frank Judd for postponing the planned 23 March referendum on a new Chechen constitution and election legislation, Russian news agencies reported. Instead, the final version of the resolution notes concern that "the necessary conditions for the holding of the referendum may not be created by the stated date." Duma Foreign Affairs Committee Chairman Dmitrii Rogozin warned on 29 January that Moscow might demand Judd be replaced as rapporteur if he continues to advocate a postponement, adding that Judd "completely misunderstands" the situation in Chechnya, ITAR-TASS reported. Interfax quoted Judd as saying he will continue to lobby for a postponement. Judd said again in Strasbourg on 29 January that the conditions set down by the PACE Political Committee for holding a referendum have not been created, an RFE/RL correspondent reported. He said holding the referendum before such political and security conditions are in place could prove "a terrible mistake." LF

ARMENIAN NGOS AFFIRM SUPPORT FOR PRESIDENT'S RE-ELECTION BID
At a joint meeting in Yerevan on 29 January, representatives of some three dozen NGOs unanimously adopted a statement expressing their hope that incumbent President Robert Kocharian will be reelected for a second term in the 19 February presidential ballot, RFE/RL's Yerevan bureau reported. They argued that Kocharian is "the real guarantor of the country's normal development." LF

COUNCIL OF EUROPE SAYS SOUTH CAUCASUS ELECTIONS MUST BE FREE AND FAIR
Council of Europe Secretary-General Walter Schwimmer warned on 29 January at a session of the Parliamentary Assembly of the Council of Europe in Strasbourg that failure by the authorities in Armenia, Azerbaijan, and Georgia to ensure that presidential and parliamentary elections this year are free and fair could negatively affect those countries' status in the Council of Europe, RFE/RL's Armenian Service reported. Georgia became a full member of the council three years ago, and Armenia and Azerbaijan in January 2001. Schwimmer said the council will monitor the polls closely. He also stressed the importance for the entire South Caucasus of finding a peaceful solution to the Nagorno-Karabakh conflict, adding that regional economic cooperation and similar confidence-building measures could expedite such a solution. Armenia has repeatedly called for such cooperation, which Azerbaijan has said can only follow, not precede, a solution to the conflict. LF

AZERBAIJAN, TURKEY TO LIFT VISA REQUIREMENTS?
Turan on 29 January quoted Azerbaijani parliament deputy speaker Ziyafat Askerov as saying that the visa regime between Turkey and Azerbaijan will be abolished in the near future. Turkish businessmen who accompanied Justice and Development Party leader Recep Tayyip Erdogan to Azerbaijan earlier this month complained about the high cost of Azerbaijani visas (see "RFE/RL Caucasus Report," 17 January 2003). LF

AZERBAIJANI, UKRAINIAN PRESIDENTS MEET ON CIS SUMMIT SIDELINES
Heidar Aliev and Leonid Kuchma met late on 28 January to discuss the export of Azerbaijani oil and gas, bilateral cooperation within international organizations, GUUAM, and the proposed CIS free-trade zone, Interfax reported, quoting Kuchma's spokeswoman Olena Hromnytska. Aliev also met with his Georgian counterpart Eduard Shevardnadze and with the U.S., French, and Russian co-chairmen of the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE) Minsk Group. But he did not meet separately with Armenian President Kocharian. The three South Caucasus presidents met collectively late on 28 January with Russian President Vladimir Putin, Caucasus Press reported. Aliev told journalists on his return to Baku on 29 January that those talks focused on the situation in the South Caucasus, security issues, and economic cooperation, Turan reported. Aliev added that he will meet on 30 May in St. Petersburg with the Armenian president on the sidelines of the 300th anniversary of that city's founding. LF

CIS SUMMIT FAILS TO RENEW MANDATE OF PEACEKEEPING FORCE IN ABKHAZIA
CIS presidents failed during their informal summit in Kyiv on 29 January to extend for a further six months the mandate of the Russian peacekeeping force deployed since 1994 in the Abkhaz conflict zone, Russian and Georgian news agencies reported. As on previous occasions, Russian President Putin told journalists on 29 January that Russia will not insist on the peacekeepers remaining in Georgia if Tbilisi demands their withdrawal. The Georgian National Security Council on 26 January listed three conditions that Russia must meet before Georgia will agree to renewing the mandate, which expired on 31 December (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 27 January 2003). U.S. envoy for the South Caucasus Rudolf Perina told Shevardnadze on 28 January that Washington does not recommend terminating the peacekeepers' mandate at this juncture, according to Caucasus Press. Shevardnadze for his part told journalists upon his return to Tbilisi on 29 January that a bilateral commission will study the National Security Council's demands and the expediency of extending the peacekeepers' mandate. LF

GEORGIAN PARLIAMENT ADOPTS 2003 BUDGET
Parliament deputies overwhelmingly approved the 2003 budget late on 29 January in its second reading and in its third reading at 1 a.m. on 30 January, Caucasus Press reported. The basic parameters for revenues and expenditures were left unchanged from the first reading at 1.239 billion laris ($587.3 million) and 1.478 billion laris, respectively (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 21 January 2003). LF

PUBLIC DEFENDER TO APPEAL KAZAKH JOURNALIST'S SENTENCE
Human rights activist Yevgenii Zhovtis, who defended Kazakh journalist Sergei Duvanov at his trial on charges of statutory rape, said in Almaty on 29 January that he will appeal the 3 1/2-year sentence handed down to Duvanov on 28 January and will continue his efforts to prove Duvanov is innocent, Interfax reported. Duvanov, who last year published articles criticizing Kazakhstan's President Nursultan Nazarbaev, has denied the charges of which he was convicted, which international human rights organizations believe were politically motivated (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 29 January 2003). LF

U.S. DIPLOMAT VISITS KAZAKHSTAN
U.S. Assistant Secretary of State Elizabeth Jones continued her tour of Central Asian states, paying a one-day visit to Astana on 29 January, Interfax reported. Jones met with Deputy Prime Minister Karim Massimov, presidential aide Uraz Djandosov, and First Deputy Foreign Minister Kairat Abuseitov to discuss bilateral relations, cooperation in the energy sector, and joint efforts to eradicate international terrorism. President Nazarbaev, Prime Minister Imanghaliy Tasmagambetov, and Foreign Minister Qasymzhomart Toqaev were all out of the country on 29 January. LF

U.S. CRITICIZES KYRGYZ REFERENDUM
The United States is increasingly concerned about the constitutional-reform process in Kyrgyzstan, State Department spokesman Richard Boucher said in a 29 January statement, Reuters reported. Boucher said that scheduling the referendum for 2 February does not allow enough time for public discussion of the draft constitutional amendments approved by the Kyrgyz government and that the published draft amendments do not take into consideration alternative proposals. He expressed concern that if approved, the amended constitution "would further concentrate power in the presidency and weaken the role of civil society." In Bishkek, Kyrgyz Foreign Minister Askar Aitmatov on 29 January rejected calls by the OSCE to postpone the referendum and denied it is being held with undue haste, Interfax reported. But Kyrgyz human rights activist Tursunbek Akunov told RFE/RL's Kyrgyz Service the same day that residents of some remote villages have not seen the draft amendments and therefore do not know what changes they are being required to approve or reject. LF

FLU EPIDEMIC CLOSES SCHOOLS IN KYRGYZ CAPITAL
All 88 schools in Bishkek have been closed for 10 days, from 30 January to 8 February due to a steep rise in the reported number of cases of influenza and other respiratory infections, akipress.org reported on 29 January. During the third week in January, the incidence of such illnesses reached 41.6 per 10,000 people. Of a total 4,467 registered cases, 2,854 are children or adolescents. LF

TURKMEN PRESIDENT MEETS WITH VISITING IRANIAN MINISTER
Saparmurat Niyaov met in Ashgabat on 28 January with Iranian Minister of Roads and Transport Ahmad Khoram, ITAR-TASS and turkmenistan.ru reported. Khoram briefed Niyazov on the seventh session, which opened that day, of the bilateral intergovernmental commission on economic cooperation. He stressed Iran's interest in construction projects in Turkmenistan, including grain silos and a plant to produce polyethylene. Niyazov advocated establishing a special working group to discuss those projects. Khoram also noted that Iran wants to increase the amount of natural gas it purchases from Turkmenistan from 5 billion cubic meters last year to 7 billion cubic meters in 2003. LF

UZBEK, UKRAINIAN PREMIERS VOW TO STEP UP COOPERATION
Meeting in Kyiv on 29 January on the sidelines of the informal CIS summit, Utkir Sultanov and Viktor Yanukovych pledged to reverse the decline in bilateral economic cooperation registered over the past two years, uzreport.com reported on 30 January. Yanukovvych suggested that the intergovernmental commission on economic cooperation should prepare specific proposals on priority areas for such cooperation. Sultonov expressed his support for efforts to expedite the creation of the planned CIS free-trade zone. LF

BELARUSIAN OPPOSITION URGES EUROPE TO STOP GIVING IN TO LUKASHENKA
The leaders of several Belarusian opposition parties have adopted a statement in which they urge European organizations to refrain from "unilateral concessions" to the regime of President Alyaksandr Lukashenka, Belapan reported on 29 January. The statement is signed by, among others, Anatol Lyabedzka of the United Civic Party, Stanislau Shushkevich of the Belarusian Social Democratic Assembly, Alyaksandr Bukhvostau of the Belarusian Party of Labor, Syarhey Kalyakin of the Belarusian Party of Communists, and Valyantsina Palevikova of the United Social Democratic Party. "The Belarusian authorities regard the agreement on the OSCE mission's presence in Minsk [under a new mandate] as a diplomatic victory. The main conclusion that Minsk has drawn is that if it shows firmness and inflexibility in its relations with the West, it can win," the statement says. Meanwhile, Council of Europe Secretary-General Walter Schwimmer told the current session of the Parliamentary Assembly of the Council of Europe on 28 January that he is encouraged by the recent agreement on reestablishing an OSCE mission in Belarus. He added, however, that "real progress has yet to be demonstrated, notably in the protection of human rights and freedom of the media, if closer contacts with the Council of Europe are to be established." JM

BELARUSIAN PRESIDENT SEEKS CUTBACKS IN AGRO-INDUSTRIAL SECTOR...
President Lukashenka has decreed a reduction of the administrative staff in the agro-industrial sector from the current 51,000 to 43,000, Belapan reported on 29 January, quoting the presidential office. The move is expected to save some $38 million. The decree also reduces the number of vehicles available for use by sector managers by 544. JM

...AND HIKES SOCIAL PAYMENTS FOR SMALL TRADERS
President Lukashenka has also signed a decree increasing the obligatory contribution of individual entrepreneurs -- this category consists of small-business owners not registered as legal entities, primarily traders -- to the state-run social-security fund, Belapan reported on 29 January. The traders are now obliged to pay 36 percent of their net income into the fund, whereas formerly they were obliged to transfer only 15 percent. "The individual entrepreneurs thus pay social-security contributions at the highest rate in the country, as other economic entities [companies] pay 35 percent, and there are privileged organizations that pay much less," the agency quoted independent economic expert Syarhey Balykin as saying. JM

U.S. SAYS LIFTING FATF SANCTIONS ON UKRAINE CONDITIONAL ON INDEPENDENT MONITORING
The absolute political independence of Ukraine's State Financial Monitoring Department is a key condition for the removal of anti-money-laundering sanctions imposed on Ukraine by some Western countries following recommendations by the Financial Action Task Force on Money Laundering (FATF) (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 23 January 2003), Interfax reported on 30 January, quoting Ukraine's Economy Ministry. This condition was reportedly communicated by the U.S. side to its Ukrainian partners at ongoing deliberations of the Ukraine-U.S. Economic Cooperation Committee in Washington, D.C. The other conditions mentioned by the U.S. side include amendments to Ukraine's Criminal Code and the law on banking, as well as a reduction of the maximum transaction sum that is not subject to monitoring. JM

UKRAINIAN PRESIDENT URGES CREATION OF CIS FREE-TRADE AREA
President Leonid Kuchma called on the informal summit of leaders of the Commonwealth of Independent States in Kyiv on 29 January (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 29 January 2003) to make every effort to create a "full-scale free-trade zone" in the CIS, Interfax reported. "A common [CIS] market will help us feel safe in the rough sea of globalization," Kuchma asserted. Kuchma's appeal was supported by Belarusian President Lukashenka, who said in Kyiv that "a free-trade zone in the CIS would initiate the liquidation of all those economic and semi-economic formations like the Eurasian Economic Community or GUUAM, etc.," according to Belarusian Television. The CIS presidents signed an agreement pledging to create a CIS free-trade zone in April 1994, but that agreement has not been systematically implemented. Then-CIS Executive Secretary Boris Berezovskii resurrected the idea in 1998 (see "End Note," "RFE/RL Newsline," 24 November 1998). JM/LF

ESTONIAN OPPOSITION PARTIES CALL FOR INTERIOR MINISTER'S RESIGNATION
Twenty-eight deputies of the Pro Patria Union and Moderates factions on 29 January initiated a no-confidence motion against Ain Seppik, ETA and BNS reported. The motion was prompted by newspaper articles that morning charging that Seppik, while a judge in 1985, participated in the sentencing on fabricated charges of youths opposed to the Soviet regime. After talks with Seppik and Center Party Chairman Edgar Savisaar, Prime Minister Siim Kallas said he has asked Legal Chancellor Allar Joks to look into the possibility that Seppik violated his oath of conscience. The no-confidence motion will be discussed in parliament on 10 February. Seppik has denied the charges, saying the youths were charged with hooliganism for vandalizing a national monument with Nazi symbols and setting fire to a Soviet monument. The board of the Center Party has ruled the charges are false and that there is no reason for Seppik to resign. SG

IMF COMMENTS ON LATVIA'S LARGE 2002 BUDGET DEFICIT
Johannes Mueller, the head of an International Monetary Fund (IMF) delegation visiting Latvia, told BNS on 29 January that Latvia's 2002 budget deficit of more than 2.5 percent of GDP was caused by the late adoption of budget amendments, Riga's large budget deficit, and the government's failure to curb unnecessary spending. Mueller noted that the deficit after 11 months was 26.7 million lats ($45 million), but ballooned to 71.6 million lats in December. Spending was curbed prior to the parliament elections in October, but extra allocations were subsequently passed and spent. Many municipal governments, especially Riga, also increased their deficits in the last months of the year. Finance Minister Valdis Dombrovskis explained that most of the postelection expenses such as compensation to farmers for drought damages were spent in December. IMF resident representative in Latvia Adalbert Knobl expressed regret that the goal of limiting the budget deficit to 1.8 percent of GDP was not met. SG

LITHUANIA WILL ALLOW U.S. TO USE ITS AIRSPACE FOR OPERATIONS AGAINST IRAQ
Foreign Ministry Secretary Giedrius Cekuolis noted on 29 January that Lithuania has extended until the end of 2003 permission for the United States and 10 other NATO countries to use its airspace and airports for possible operations against Iraq, ELTA reported. The permission was first given in September 2001 for antiterrorism operations in Afghanistan and was later extended to include Belgium, the Czech Republic, Denmark, France, Germany, Great Britain, Greece, the Netherlands, Portugal, and Turkey. Defense Minister Linas Linkevicius is scheduled to travel to the United States in early February to discuss other possible Lithuanian contributions to any operation in Iraq. Linkevicius plans to visit CENTCOM in Tampa, Florida, which would coordinate any operations in Iraq. Earlier this month, Linkevicius said that, if requested, the government would seek parliament's authorization to send doctors, engineers, and staff officers to participate in a mission in Iraq. SG

POLISH OPPOSITION PARTY WANTS PARLIAMENTARY DEBATE OVER EU-ACCESSION CONDITIONS...
The League of Polish Families (LPR) has requested that Sejm speaker Marek Borowski call a parliamentary debate on 31 January at which the government will present the "true results" of its EU-membership negotiations at the EU summit in Copenhagen in mid-December, PAP reported on 30 January. According to LPR leader Roman Giertych, the information presented by Premier Leszek Miller immediately after the EU summit (see "RFE/RL Poland, Belarus, and Ukraine," 17 December 2002) was either untrue, or Miller "did not understood the content of the agreement he initialed," or "the EU is now cheating and introducing other provisions than those agreed-upon in the negotiations." The latest controversy pertains to EU direct subsidies to Polish farmers. According to Minister for European Affairs Danuta Huebner, Poland was assured at the EU negotiations that Polish farmers will get 55 percent, 60 percent, and 65 percent of the full EU farm-subsidy level based on farm size in 2004, 2005, and 2006, respectively. Meanwhile, Polish media have recently reported that Brussels is working on an accession treaty in which these subsidies to Polish farmers during those years will be paid to levels of 25 percent, 30 percent, and 35 percent based on farm size, while the remainder will be paid, if ever, based on productivity. JM

...AS RULING PARTNER WARNS AGAINST COALITION SPLIT
Eugeniusz Klopotek, the deputy chairman of the Polish Peasant Party (PSL), told journalists on 29 January that if the government backs the EU-proposed mixed system of direct subsidies to Polish farmers based on farm size and farm production and the PSL Supreme Council opposes it, then the ruling coalition of the Democratic Left Alliance with the PSL might collapse, PAP reported. "[Given what] the EU is now doing with Poland, [I foresee that] the circle of people associated with the PSL and sympathizing with European integration will dramatically shrink," Klopotek added. According to Giertych, the difference between the EU direct subsidies based on farm size and those paid under a mixed system would amount to $5 billion over two years to the detriment of Polish farmers. JM

POLAND SEEKS EU ASSURANCES ON ANTI-ABORTION LAW
Poland has asked the European Union for guarantees that Brussels will not try to influence the country's strict anti-abortion law when it joins the EU in 2004, Reuters reported on 29 January, quoting government spokesman Michal Tober. Malta, another staunchly Catholic candidate for EU membership, has negotiated a declaration stating that national law will always take precedence over EU law in the area of abortion. Tober said Warsaw wants a similar declaration added to Poland's accession treaty. "The declaration will make it impossible to mislead many Poles by possible suggestions that EU integration could have a negative impact on issues of morality and protection of life," Tober explained. JM

EUROPEAN LEADERS APPEAL FOR UNITY WITH U.S. OVER IRAQI DISARMAMENT
In a joint letter published in "The Times" on 30 January, the leaders of eight European countries called for unity with the United States over the Iraqi crisis and wrote that the UN must ensure that Baghdad give up any weapons of mass destruction, AFP reported. The signatories include Czech President Vaclav Havel, Hungarian Premier Peter Medgyessy, and Polish Premier Leszek Miller. The letter was also signed by the premiers of Britain, Denmark, Italy, Portugal and Spain. The premiers wrote that allowing "a dictator to systematically violate [UN] resolutions" would cost the Security Council "its credibility, and world peace will suffer as a result." It said reports by UN weapons inspectors confirmed Saddam Hussein's pattern of "deception, denial, and noncompliance," adding that relations between the United States and Europe "must not become a casualty of the current Iraqi regime's persistent attempts to threaten world security." The leaders said: "We must remain united in insisting that his regime is disarmed. The solidarity, cohesion and determination of the international community are our best hope of achieving this peacefully." MS

CZECH OFFICIAL DOWNPLAYS TERRORIST THREAT
Interior Minister Stanislav Gross said on 29 January after a cabinet meeting that there is no information indicating that the Czech Republic is the target of an imminent terrorist attack, CTK reported. Gross was reacting to reports, originally appearing in Germany's "Bild Zeitung," that Afghan terrorist commandos are seeking to infiltrate Europe and the Czech Republic is among the countries targeted (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 28 January 2003). "At this particular moment, we have no information showing that a specific attack is to be launched against the Czech Republic," Gross said, adding that he has nevertheless decided to convoke a meeting of the Central Emergency Committee at the end of next week. A statement issued by the Czech Security Information Service (BIS) likewise said the information is not specific and that the service is checking its details. MS

CZECH PRESIDENT BIDS OFFICIAL FAREWELL TO SLOVAKIA
In his last official visit as Czech president, Vaclav Havel on 29 January was decorated by his Slovak counterpart Rudolf Schuster with Slovakia's highest state order for his contribution to Czech-Slovak relations, CTK reported. Havel, who served as Czechoslovak president until the so-called Velvet Divorce in 1993, steps down on 2 February. At a ceremony in Bratislava, Schuster said he wanted to thank Havel for "everything he has done," from contributing to the dismemberment of the Warsaw Pact to promoting Slovakia's recent invitation to join NATO. Havel also decorated 11 Slovak citizens with Czech state honors. He also met with Premier Mikulas Dzurinda and parliamentary speaker Pavol Hrusovsky and laid a wreath at the grave of Alexander Dubcek, a key figure during the Prague Spring in 1968, whom he decorated posthumously. MS

SLOVAK GOVERNMENT AGREES TO SEND TROOPS TO PERSIAN GULF...
The center-right cabinet on 29 January decided by a vote of 14 in favor and two against to dispatch to the Persian Gulf an antichemical-, antibacteriological-, and antinuclear-warfare unit and to open Slovak airspace to U.S. overflights or grant landing rights to U.S. planes, TASR and international news agencies reported. The decision is subject to parliamentary approval at a special session that has been called for 6 February. Ministers from the Christian Democratic Movement (KDH) opposed the decision, saying there is "not enough clear and objective evidence" to justify military action at this point, according to AP. It is unclear whether the decision can garner a majority without KDH support in the legislature, where the government holds a slim four-vote majority. Prime Minister Dzurinda said the unit will exclusively comprise volunteers. Czech Defense Minister Jaroslav Tvrdik announced in Prague the same day that 75 Slovak soldiers will join the Czech unit stationed in Kuwait. The Slovak contingent is to serve as a backup unit with the possibility of moving to combat status if military action is backed by the UN Security Council. MS

...WHILE PREMIER CITES NEED FOR REGIME CHANGE IN IRAQ
Premier Dzurinda said in a televised address to the country on 29 January that "there are situations when the desire for peace...is not sufficient to face the danger and eliminate evil," CTK reported. In such moments, he said, "it is not possible to step aside and convince ourselves that the situation is not our concern." Slovakia, he added, must side with the international community and act to "eliminate forever the hotbed of a dangerous evil." Dzurinda said the regime of Saddam Hussein "trains and supports terrorists who threaten the world," making it "a matter of self-preservation and self-protection to end it," AP reported. "We all want to feel free and secure," he said, adding that this is not possible when "Saddam's weapons are targeted against our civilization." Earlier the same day, Dzurinda told journalists: "We are not sending soldiers to fight, but to avoid human misery." He said war can still be avoided if the international community acts quickly and forcefully, according to AFP. Defense Minister Ivan Simko estimated the costs of the operation at about 300 million crowns ($7.8 million). MS

SLOVAK GOVERNMENT ORDERS INVESTIGATION INTO REPORTS OF FORCED STERILIZATION OF ROMANY WOMEN
The government on 29 January ordered an investigation into allegations that Romany women are undergoing forced sterilization in state-run hospitals, Reuters reported. Peter Miklosi, spokesman for Deputy Premier Pal Csaky -- who is in charge of minority affairs -- said police will investigate the allegation. Human rights activists said earlier this week that they have gathered reports of about 110 cases of Romany women being forcibly sterilized. MS

SLOVAK RAIL WORKERS ANNOUNCE GENERAL STRIKE
Representatives of Slovak Railways workers on 29 January announced an open-ended, "general strike" starting on 31 January. The announcement follows a six-hour warning strike on 29 January. Unions oppose a government decision to reduce rail traffic on 25 regional lines and abolish 200 other links that it says are not economically viable. Transportation Minister Pavol Prokopovic said the measures are essential to reduce mounting losses. The 29 January strike was the first labor action by the Railways Workers' Union since the 1993 breakup of Czechoslovakia. MS

HUNGARIAN JUDGES JOIN VOICES URGING PREMIER'S RESIGNATION
A panel of judges in charge of screening senior politicians have again urged Prime Minister Peter Medgyessy to resign in light of a 1994 law that threatens to make the Socialist premier's vetting dossier public, Hungarian media reported on 29 January. The law stipulates that senior politicians who received information on Hungarian citizens collected by communist-era secret services should resign or face the publication of the findings from their own screenings. While serving as deputy prime minister from December 1987 to May 1990, Medgyessy reportedly was briefed on data obtained by the domestic-security department of the Interior Ministry. Politicians' pasts have been screened throughout previous parliamentary cycles, and the judges repeated their demand that those politicians who have not stepped down from those functions forbidden by law do so immediately. Government spokesman Zoltan Gal said the ruling has not yet arrived at Medgyessy's office. The prime minister's past initially brought a measure of political turmoil to Hungary after the daily "Magyar Nemzet" on 18 June published a front-page story claiming that Medgyessy worked in communist counterintelligence. MSZ

CHAIRMAN'S OPPONENTS EXPELLED FROM HUNGARIAN EXTREMIST PARTY
The extreme-right Hungarian Justice and Life Party (MIEP) on 29 January expelled four members who called for reform within the party, Budapest dailies reported. In announcing the news, MIEP Chairman Istvan Csurka claimed the four politicians -- Laszlo Bognar, Erno Rozgonyi, Peter Deak, and Tibor Jozsef Biber -- were "guided from outside" the party. Csurka alleged that the appeal for reform was linked to the upcoming referendum on EU accession. "MIEP had to be made lame and rendered inactive now so that it cannot mediate a 'no' vote in society," he said. Meanwhile, Gyorgy Metes, a member of MIERT, the party's reform faction, announced that Bognar will be the group's candidate for party chairman at MIEP's upcoming conference. MSZ

FIRST IRAQIS ARRIVE AT HUNGARIAN AIR BASE
An airplane carrying the first group of Iraqis to be trained as possible liaisons between U.S. troops and Iraqi citizens during a potential military conflict in Iraq arrived at the Taszar military air base on 29 January, MTI news agency reported. The exact number of trainees will not be made public for security reasons, but the news agency put the number of arrivals at about 50. Both U.S. and Hungarian sources said the two governments agreed to fly the Iraqis directly to the air base after Hungary refused to give consent for Iraqis to arrive at Budapest airport on regularly scheduled flights (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 29 January 2003). MSZ

HUNGARIAN REPORT SAYS EU SATISFIED WITH PLANNED STATUS LAW AMENDMENTS
EU officials have taken a favorable view of the latest draft of Hungary's Status Law, unnamed sources close to EU Commissioner for Enlargement Guenter Verheugen were quoted as saying by "Nepszabadsag" of 30 January. The draft takes international objections into account but does not curtail benefits extended to ethnic Hungarians abroad. The EU sources said the revised law will meet EU norms without further scrutiny. Under the process entailed in the draft, Hungarian certificates would continue to be issued, but they would only provide cultural and educational benefits to their holders and would not serve as travel documents. Special benefits for those who take up jobs in Hungary would be eliminated, the daily reported. MSZ

MONTENEGRIN PARLIAMENT APPROVES CONSTITUTIONAL CHARTER...
Lawmakers adopted the Constitutional Charter on future relations between Serbia and Montenegro on 29 January along with an accompanying law on implementing the charter, RFE/RL's South Slavic and Albanian Languages Service reported. The Serbian parliament approved the document on 27 January (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 28 January 2003). Prime Minister Milo Djukanovic's Democratic Party of Socialists (DPS) and the opposition Socialist People's Party (SNP) supported the charter. Lawmakers of the ruling coalition's Social Democrat Party (SDP) and Albanian minority politicians voted against it. UB

...WHILE SERBIAN PRIME MINISTER EXPECTS NEW STATE TO COME INTO EXISTENCE SOON...
Zoran Djindjic told RFE/RL's South Slavic and Albanian Languages Service on 29 January that he believes the structures of the future state Serbia and Montenegro will be formed by mid-March at the latest. Djindjic said he expects federal institutions to begin at least basic operations by spring. He added that lawmakers of President Vojislav Kostunica's Democratic Party of Serbia (DSS) and the Serbian Radical Party (SRS) might block the approval of the Constitutional Charter and the measure implementing the charter in the Yugoslav federal parliament. UB

...WHILE HIS JUSTICE MINISTER REMAINS SKEPTICAL
Justice Minister Vladan Batic of the Christian Democratic Party (DHSS) told a press conference on 29 January that he doubts the new state will actually begin functioning, Tanjug reported. Batic said he believes both Serbia and Montenegro will seek full independence much earlier than after the three years stipulated in the Constitutional Charter. He added that he expects Serbia to become an independent and sovereign state by 2004. UB

CROATIAN, SERBIAN LEADERS QUARREL OVER WAR REPARATIONS
Croatian President Stipe Mesic and Serbian Prime Minister Djindjic are exchanging mutual demands for the payment of war reparations, RFE/RL's South Slavic and Albanian Languages Service reported on 30 January. In response to an assertion by Mesic that Serbia should pay Croatia some $14 billion in reparations, Djindjic said it is rather incumbent on Croatia to pay about $140 billion in reparations to Serbia. Djindjic cited damage caused by the Croatian Army during the forced expulsion of about 200,000 ethnic Serbs from Slavonia. Mesic countered that Croatia did not expel anyone, adding that his country will support Croatian citizens whose houses were damaged during the war. "If it is proven that Croatia has damaged a single house in Serbia, then we can talk about reparations," he added. UB

SLOVENIA INTRODUCES RESTRICTIONS ON ALCOHOL SALES
As part as its effort to reduce alcohol-related illnesses and traffic accidents, parliament on 28 January adopted a law introducing age limits and other restrictions on alcohol sales, AP reported. The new regulations stipulate that alcohol may not be sold to anyone under 18 years of age. Bars and cafes are also banned from selling alcohol before 10 a.m. An opposition lawmaker of the Slovenian National Party called the new law "bad and stupid," saying it curtails the Slovenian drinking culture. According to the country's Health Ministry, almost 40 percent of all traffic incidents involve drunken driving. UB

ALBANIAN LAWMAKER CRITICIZES MEDIA OVER COVERAGE OF NEEDED REFORMS
In an interview with the national news agency ATA on 28 January, the head of the parliament's media commission urged the media to adopt European standards, the "Southeast European Times" reported. Musa Ulqini said the media are ill prepared to inform the public about the reforms society must undergo on the road to NATO and the EU membership. He added that many Albanians are still unclear about the benefits of the integration process and harbor serious misconceptions. He demanded the creation of a professional class of journalists "who should be maximally objective in the information they offer to the public." UB

MACEDONIAN PARLIAMENTARY SPEAKER CRITICIZES EU PARLIAMENTARIAN
Parliamentary speaker Nikola Popovski told a press conference on 29 January that he sees no reason for a generous approach to problems regarding the use of the Albanian language in parliament, Macedonian media reported. Popovski was reacting to a statement the previous day by the head of a recent European Parliament delegation, Doris Pack. Pack called on Macedonian lawmakers to interpret liberally the 2001 Ohrid peace accord in order to overcome a dispute about which language should be used in parliamentary commissions. "The interpretation that 'what is not forbidden is allowed' is an absurd interpretation, according to which even the Spanish language could be [officially] used in the state," Popovski said. He said European representatives should be more precise in their statements and better prepared when they come to Macedonia. UB

NATO OFFICIAL PRAISES ROMANIAN MILITARY PROGRESS
NATO Deputy Secretary-General Edgar Buckley on 29 January praised the Romanian military's progress in reforming its structures and in the modernization of its equipment, but said "there is still a lot to do," Mediafax reported. Buckley headed a NATO team that on 28-29 January inspected the country's progress in military reforms. He said following talks with Romanian Defense Minister Ioan Mircea Pascu that NATO expects Romania to be a "fully functional and trustworthy partner" by the spring of 2004. He said that once the country becomes a full member of the Atlantic alliance, NATO expects Romania to "fully assume and fulfill its tasks" in the organization. Pascu said the discussions with Buckley and his team went into "far more detail" than was the case before Romania was officially invited to join NATO in November. Buckley was also received by President Ion Iliescu. MS

DEFENSE MINISTER SAYS ROMANIA HAS RECEIVED NO REQUESTS FROM NATO, U.S. REGARDING IRAQ
Defense Minister Pascu told journalists after his talks with NATO Deputy Secretary-General Buckley that the prospect of Romania participating in a possible military strike against Iraq was not discussed, Mediafax reported. He added that Romania has not received any request from the United States to participate in such a strike, and that NATO discussions on the matter are being conducted only with current members of the alliance. Pascu said the public will be informed if the United States makes such a request. MS

ROMANIA, LOCKHEED MARTIN EXTEND COOPERATION
The Romanian arms company CN Romtehnica and the U.S. Lockheed Martin Corporation signed an agreement on 29 January to continue their cooperation and joint production of Multi-Mission Surveillance Radar (MMSR) systems, also known as "gap fillers," dpa reported, citing Rompres. The deal involves the production of 21 of the mobile radar systems, which are to be delivered to the Romanian Army by the spring of 2004. The first two MMSR systems are to be produced in the United States, using Romanian components. Lockheed Martin is to later transfer the technology to Romania and the remaining systems are to be built there. The company has already cooperated with Romania in putting in place an integrated air-traffic control system that conforms to NATO's system. Defense Minister Pascu was present for the signing. MS

ROMANIA'S LIBERALS PROPOSE GOVERNMENT RESTRUCTURING
The opposition National Peasant Party (PNL) on 29 January made public the details of a draft law aimed at restructuring the government, Mediafax reported. The proposed bill would reduce the number of ministries from the current 23 to 11 and drastically reduce the number of civil servants. MS

ROMANIAN GOVERNMENT SEEKS 'AMICABLE SOLUTION' TO ROYAL PROPERTY RESTITUTION
Public Administration Minister Octav Cozmanca said on 29 January that the government hopes to reach an "amicable solution" with King Michael I on the restitution of properties claimed by the former monarch. Cozmanca said experts continue to evaluate Michael I's claims, which include, among other real estate, the former royal Peles Castle in Sinaia (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 30 August and 10 September 2001). In related news, Public Administration Ministry State Secretary Adrian Marasoiu said on 29 January that former owners of nationalized real estate that cannot be restituted will begin receiving compensation in annual installments in 2005. Marasoiu said compensation will be paid in euros through a special fund set up for this purpose. The fund will be financed by the Privatization Authority and the amount of the annual installments will be determined by revenues from the privatization process. MS

ROMANIAN PREMIER TO MEET HUNGARIAN COUNTERPART AT UDMR CONGRESS
Hungarian Democratic Federation of Romania (UDMR) Chairman Bela Marko announced on 29 January that Prime Minister Adrian Nastase will meet with his Hungarian counterpart Peter Medgyessy at the UDMR congress, which is scheduled to take place on 30 January-1 February in Satu-Mare, Mediafax reported. Hungarian Foreign Minister Laszlo Kovacs will also attend the event. MS

ROMANIAN PRESIDENT TO VISIT MOLDOVA?
Romanian presidential Foreign Policy Counselor Simona Miculescu told RFE/RL's Romania-Moldova Service on 29 January that President Iliescu might visit Moldova, although no date for the visit has been set. Miculescu said she discussed the possibility with Moldovan President Vladimir Voronin during their meeting in Chisinau on 25 January (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 27 January 2003). She said she delivered a "constructive, pragmatic message" from Iliescu to Voronin that envisaged "a return to the natural, normal framework of cooperation" between the two countries. According to Miculescu, there is "still a long way" to go to make the visit possible. Miculescu also said an agenda has been set for experts and officials representing the two sides to meet and work out frameworks for overcoming their differences. MS

EU BACKS RESUMPTION OF NEGOTIATIONS ON TRANSDNIESTER
The European Union said in a statement released in Athens on 29 January that it supports the renewal of negotiations aimed at easing tensions between Chisinau and the separatist Tiraspol authorities, AP reported. The statement made no direct reference to the talks, which have centered on the OSCE's proposal for solving the conflict through the federalization of Moldova, stating only that "the EU looks forward to significant progress in finding a solution to the conflict, in full conformity with the territorial integrity of the Moldovan state." Greece currently holds the six-month rotating EU Presidency. President Voronin and his Russian counterpart Vladimir Putin met on 29 January in Kyiv, where they attended the informal Commonwealth of Independent States' summit. Among other things, the two leaders discussed the stalled negotiations on the Transdniester conflict. MS

MOLDOVA, BELARUS SIGN PARLIAMENTARY COOPERATION AGREEMENT...
Visiting Belarus Council of the Republic Chairman Alyaksandr Vaytovich and Moldovan parliamentary speaker Evgenia Ostapchuk signed an agreement in Chisinau on 29 January on cooperation between their respective legislatures, Infotag reported. The agreement stipulates, among other provisions, that the two countries will support each other in various international organizations. Vaytovich told journalists that Belarus is counting on Moldova's support for its bid to join the OSCE Parliamentary Assembly when Moldova takes over the chairmanship of the Council of Europe's Committee of Ministers in May 2003. Although Belarus is an OSCE member, its lawmakers are not represented in the OSCE's parliamentary body. Vaytovich said Belarus faces a "fairly complicated situation" in a number of international organizations. But he also added that Moldova and Belarus face practically the same problems, which he said is a reason to increase bilateral ties. Vaytovich said Belarusian President Alyaksandr Lukashenka is planning to visit Moldova in late March or early April. MS

...WHILE MOLDOVAN OFFICIALS SAY JOINING RUSSIA-BELARUS UNION IS STILL ON AGENDA
Moldovan parliamentary speaker Ostapchuk and her deputy, Vadim Mishin, told Vaytovich that Moldova has not shelved the idea of joining the Russia-Belarus Union, Infotag reported. Mishin said that as soon as the Russia-Belarus Union Parliamentary Assembly agrees on a constitution for the union, Moldova "will begin taking steps in this direction." Shortly after the February 2001 parliamentary elections in Moldova, President Voronin said there was "no hurry" to join the union, and that a referendum might be called on the issue. The Party of Moldovan Communists included union membership in its 2001 electoral platform. MS

BULGARIAN PRESIDENT WANTS SECURITY GUARANTEES IN EVENT OF MILITARY STRIKES AGAINST IRAQ...
President Georgi Parvanov of the Socialist Party (BSP) said on 29 January that Bulgaria should be granted special security guarantees in the event of a possible military operation against Iraq, "Monitor" reported. "The guarantees, which we demand, are those granted to all NATO members. Since Bulgaria is a serious candidate [for NATO membership], and since it expressed solidarity with operations of NATO and the international community in certain periods, it should receive those guarantees," Parvanov said. He did not specify whether that demand will stand in the event that the United States acts without the support of NATO. He added that the government will decide on the extent of its involvement in a possible campaign against Iraq if and when it is asked to participate. Parvanov also reiterated that "the international community should give more time to UN weapons inspectors to complete their mission, and international pressure on Iraqi President Saddam Hussein should be increased." UB

...AS DOES CONSERVATIVE OPPOSITION...
Vladimir Kisyov, the deputy chairman of the conservative opposition Union of Democratic Forces (SDS), on 28 January likewise demanded security guarantees in the event of military action against Iraq, BTA reported. "The United Democratic Forces [the ODS, of which the SDS is the major formation] is in favor of support for the fight against international terrorism, but in exchange for national security guarantees to Bulgaria by NATO and the international powers," Kisyov said. He said he believes the government and NATO should outline guarantees for Bulgaria's national security in diplomatic notes similar to those exchanged between NATO and the SDS-led government during the Kosova crisis in 1999. UB

...WHILE PRESIDENT'S PARTY IS MORE CAREFUL
Angel Naydenov, a Socialist Party (BSP) spokesman, announced on 28 January that his party might support a possible military strike against Iraq, BTA reported. "For the time being, the [BSP parliamentary faction] does not rule out support for Bulgarian participation in a military operation -- even one unilaterally launched by the U.S. -- under certain conditions," Naydenov said. He added, "The BSP is satisfied with the insistence that the international inspectors be given extra time and, possibly, that a second report be presented, and hopes that this will be accepted." UB

MOSCOW HOSTAGE DRAMA: THE CRUELEST QUESTION
Judge Marina Gorbacheva ruled on 23 January that the city of Moscow is not obligated to provide material compensation to the Chernetsov, Karpov, and Khramtsov families for the loss of their loved ones in the 23-26 October hostage taking at a Moscow theater. The decision by the Tverskoi Municipal Court effectively dooms a group of lawsuits, over 60 in all so far, that have been filed against Moscow over the hostage standoff and subsequent loss of life. The aggrieved vow to carry their fight to the highest Russian court and, if that fails, to the European Court of Human Rights in Strasbourg.

On 23 October, a group of Chechen radicals interrupted the musical "Nord-Ost" with a burst of automatic gunfire, seizing a full house of some 900 theatergoers. Special forces stormed the theater on 26 October, using a special gas that incapacitated hostage takers and captives alike. When the smoke cleared, 129 hostages were dead, almost all of them from the effects of the sleeping gas.

On 28 October, the city of Moscow issued Directive No. 1645, titled "On aid to the victims and the families of those who died as a result of the terrorist act...." Families of the dead were to receive 100,000 rubles ($3,144) and survivors 50,000 rubles, in addition to some compensation for lost property (up to 10,000 rubles) and help with burial expenses (14,200 rubles per person). Although the directive qualifies the sums as "onetime material assistance," it does not otherwise define the nature of the compensation nor specify precisely what the largest sums are for.

On 25 November, former hostages Aleksandra Ryabtseva and her father sued Moscow for $1 million each. Led by lawyer Igor Trunov, who hung out his shingle in the form of a small advertisement offering free legal assistance to the victims of the hostage taking, a minor avalanche of suits ensued. By the time Gorbacheva ruled on 23 January, claims against the city of Moscow totaled $60 million.

Hemmed in by legal restrictions that make it impossible to file suit against security forces, Trunov constructed his case around a 1998 antiterrorism law that places responsibility for a terrorist act on the subject of the federation -- Moscow, in the case of the October hostage taking -- where the crime takes place. According to a 9 December article in "Kommersant-Vlast," No. 48, the lawyer based the amount of compensation -- the bulk of the individual claims are for $1 million -- on a 2002 defamation suit against the newspaper "Novaya gazeta." Though eventually appealed and settled out of court, the initial 30 million-ruble ($943,100) judgment represented a landmark decision and apparently inspired Trunov to advise his clients that $1 million was not too much to ask.

The lawsuits became a magnet for commentary. In Russia, where millions of people make frayed ends meet on $100 to $200 a month, attention focused on the sheer amount of the compensation requested. In the West, "The Wall Street Journal" noted with approval on 17 January, "In a country where most people suffer in silence, the idea of seeking compensation for damages is something of a watershed."

Not everyone welcomed the suits. Putinophile television commentator Mikhail Leontiev, holding forth on state-run ORT on the eve of Gorbacheva's ruling, trotted out an age-old interpretation of lawyers and lawsuits. "Beyond the formal procedure, this case is much more about public relations, political speculation, and self-promotion. On that level, the ambitious Trunov looks like a profiteer advancing his career on someone else's blood and grief," Leontiev said. Moscow officials also stressed the profiteering motive, grumbling that the former hostages and relatives could, if successful, spawn a rash of copycat suits that would endanger the municipal budget and even rob the old of their meager pensions. Peering into some nightmare future of their own imagining, even "The Wall Street Journal" editors carefully qualified their position, "We wouldn't wish an American-style tort system on Russia, of course."

The actual court proceedings were largely anticlimactic. Trunov made numerous motions to challenge the judge, introduce additional evidence, and bring in expert witness. Gorbacheva rejected all of them. The case resists serious discussion on its merits. The antiterrorism law, with its jurisdictional focus, provided the most vague possible basis for a claim. The claims themselves were couched in terms of pain and suffering, leaving aside concrete questions of culpability. As a result, former hostages and surviving relatives testified in general about the anguish they endured during and after the siege. News of a hitherto unknown videotape recorded inside the theater during the hostage taking provided excitement but added nothing of substance. Finally, from the outset, the judge's demeanor seemed to presage the negative ruling she duly delivered.

Against this rather confused backdrop, what stood out in bright relief was the base and basic question of monetary compensation for death and suffering. As "Gazeta" reported on 21 January, widow Valentina Khramtsova asked bitterly in her testimony before the court how much a life is worth in Russia: "The 100,000 rubles they paid us? The price of a used car? A purebred puppy? A Yorkshire terrier puppy costs about $3,000."

For those who wanted to see a brave challenge mounted through the legal system to the Kremlin's sanitized account of the hostage tragedy, the proceedings and ruling must have come as a disappointment. Appeals, even if successful, are unlikely to produce answers to the questions that have plagued sensitive observers since the siege and storm that claimed so many lives. Queries about security lapses in Moscow, the quality of the first aid the hostages received, and the strangely convenient deaths of all the hostage takers will have to wait, if they are to be pursued at all.

The question Khramtsova asks is, in the end, what the hostage lawsuits are really about, and Gorbacheva's ruling will not make it go away. The question's simultaneous complexity and crudity do not make it any less important. Far too often in Russia, the answer has been "almost nothing."

AFGHANISTAN'S VICE PRESIDENT EXPLAINS CONSTITUTION-DRAFTING PROCESS
Vice President Nematullah Shahrani, who chairs the Constitutional Drafting Commission (CDC), told Radio Free Afghanistan on 29 January that the preliminary draft of the new Afghan constitution will be ready by 1 March. After that draft is reviewed, the text will be circulated to legal scholars in the provinces and discussions will be held with religious scholars, tribal leaders, and jurists. Shahrani said the system of government envisaged in the new constitution is based on the republican model, but that the Afghan people must decide whether it will be presidential or parliamentary republic. Shahrani said the new constitution will guarantee press freedoms and allow the formation of political parties, adding that laws relating to those rights must conform to the constitution. One stipulation in the draft constitution, he said, states that no action can oppose the tenets of Islamic religion, key national interests, or the national unity of Afghanistan. AT

THREE MEN ARRESTED IN KABUL FOR POSSESSION OF EXPLOSIVES
U.S. and Afghan security forces arrested three unidentified men in Kabul on 30 January on charges of possessing explosives and bomb-making equipment, the BBC reported. U.S. military spokesman Colonel Roger King alleged that the men "were trying to blow up a U.S. or coalition facility in Kabul with a bomb," the BBC reported. According to the report, the number of attacks on international forces stationed in Afghanistan has increased in recent weeks. The report did not indicate what group the arrested men might have belonged to. AT

GENERAL DOSTUM'S COMMENTS PROVE COUNTERPRODUCTIVE...
Prior to the fighting that broke out between fighters loyal to General Abdul Rashid Dostum and those belonging to General Mohammad Ata on 26-27 January (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 29 January 2003), General Dostum made a number of provocative statements about his rivals. Balkh Television reported on 25 January that General Dostum, a deputy defense minister and presidential representative for Northern Afghanistan, said during his 25 January visit to the 200th Army Corps in Faryab Province that General Ata, "who talks of Islam and holy war [jihad], [in fact] has weak beliefs." In the same speech, Dostum warned radical Hizb-e Islami leader Gulbuddin Hekmatyar that "I will eliminate [Hekmatyar] as I did the Taliban" if his former ally does not stop his propaganda campaign against him, Balkh Television reported. Regarding the assassination attempt against him on 15 January (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 15 and 16 January 2003), General Dostum said: "By the grace of God I passed through danger, and I tell all the enemies of Afghanistan that they cannot do anything [to destabilize the country] while I am alive." AT

...AS HE ENCOURAGED DISARMAMENT
In the same 25 January speech reported by Balkh Television, General Dostum called on fighters in the 200th Army Corps to surrender their arms and to work toward peace. He advised the Afghan population to "stop the fighting and end the misfortune in the country," but added that he understands that the "gun is sometimes necessary in a country," Balkh Television reported. AT

POOR WATER AND AIR QUALITY PLACES CITIZENS OF AFGHAN CITIES AT RISK
Pekka Haavisto, the task-force commander of the United Nations Environmental Program (UNEP), told RFE/RL on 29 January that citizens of Afghanistan's largest cities are at immediate risk due to poor-quality air and water. Haavisto said that tests of drinking-water samples from four cities -- Kabul, Kandahar, Herat, and Mazar-e Sharif -- showed high levels of fecal contamination and that E. coli bacteria was found "in most of the samples." He said the presence of E. coli is a clear indication of "the cross-contamination between wastewater and drinking water." Haavisto said the contaminated water "puts people immediately at risk." AT

INTERNATIONAL CRISIS GROUP CALLS FOR AFGHAN CHIEF JUSTICE'S DISMISSAL
The Brussels-based International Crisis Group (ICG) issued a report on 28 January that concludes that factions within the Transitional Administration that are reluctant to initiate judicial reform have consolidated their position. The report, entitled "Afghanistan: Judicial Reform, and Transitional Justice," singles out Chief Justice Fazl Hadi Shinwari, whom it describes as "an ally of the Saudi-backed fundamentalist [former Mujahedin] leader Abd al-Rabb al-Rasul Sayyaf." The report notes that Shinwari was appointed to his position in December 2001 by former Afghan President Burhanuddin Rabbani and was reappointed by President Hamid Karzai in June 2002. However, the ICG claims that Shinwari is unqualified for the position, as the 1964 Afghan Constitution stipulates that the chief justice must be under 60 years of age and have knowledge of both religious and secular law practiced in Afghanistan. Shinwari, according to the report, is "believed to be in his 80s and does not have formal training in secular sources of law." The ICG called on President Karzai to "request the retirement of ...Shinwari as chief justice and appoint a successor who meets the constitutional requirements on age and education." The full text of the report can be found on the ICG's website (http://www.intl-crisis-group.org). AT

IRANIAN CLERIC FREE AT LAST
Ayatollah Hussein-Ali Montazeri-Najafabadi left his home in Qom on 30 January for the first time since being placed under house arrest in 1997, Reuters reported. The cleric, accompanied by sons Ahmad and Said, waved to a crowd of about 100 supporters and then visited the shrine where another son, who was killed in 1981, is buried. Ahmad Montazeri met on 29 January with officials from the Ministry of Intelligence and Security (MOIS) and Islamic Revolution Guards Corps (IRGC), ISNA reported, and they told him that they still have to "remove a [police] booth outside the house and open up my father's meeting room." Ahmad Montazeri said that a timetable must be organized for those who would like to see his father, and he downplayed the possibility of Ayatollah Montazeri seeing large groups. Nevertheless, observers wonder about Ayatollah Montazeri's political future, and there have been suggestions that his freedom was gained in exchange for promises of restraint. Ayatollah Montazeri denied this. "There have been no conditions," he said, according to Reuters. "These rumors that my children have asked for my pardon -- all are lies and baseless." BS

IRANIAN LEGISLATURE LOOKS INTO SERIAL-MURDER SENTENCE REDUCTION
Parliamentarian Davud Hasanzadegan said on 29 January that the legislature's Article 90 Committee -- which looks into citizens' complaints -- has asked the Supreme Court to provide it with the complete text of the verdicts that reduced the sentences of individuals convicted of involvement in the serial killings of dissidents in late 1998, the "Iran Daily" reported on 30 January. Hasanzadegan said the victim's families had filed complaints against the sentence reductions (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 29 January 2003). Hasanzadegan said the commission is unhappy with the general course of the investigation into the serial murders. BS

IRANIAN STUDENTS FALL ILL AFTER VACCINATIONS
A sit-in by female school students from Sardasht, West Azerbaijan Province, is continuing at the Health, Treatment, and Medical Education Ministry's prayer hall in Tehran, the "Entekhab" daily newspaper reported on 30 January. The girls say they fell ill after being vaccinated by the Health Ministry. A girl identified only as Khatavan alleged that the physician who vaccinated her and the other girls did not vaccinate her own daughters. One girl's brother told "Entekhab" that the officials said it was a measles vaccine, but they did not identify the composition of the injection on the girls' vaccination cards. Another girl's mother said that officials from the ministry claimed the symptoms -- which were not specified in the "Entekhab" report -- would gradually disappear. The girls have sent written appeals to the Supreme Leader, the president, the judiciary chief, and the speaker of parliament. Piranshahr and Sardasht parliamentarian Hasel Daseh said that Health Ministry physicians had examined the girls and found nothing wrong with them. Other physicians said that similar illnesses have been seen in Yazd and Kerman, but the girls eventually recovered. BS

IRANIAN LEGISLATURE CONTINUES BUDGET DEBATE
The legislature late on 28 January approved the outline of the state budget for the year beginning 21 March 2003, IRNA reported on 29 January, and discussions of the final budget are continuing. Parliamentarian Mohsen Farahani said beforehand that President Mohammad Khatami's government needs access to foreign loans and the removal of impediments to foreign investment in Iran. Experts from government agencies, however, were prevented from discussing the budget with the relevant parliamentary commission, "Resalat" reported on 27 January. The conservative daily also warned that the draft budget forecasts unrealistically high oil and tax revenues, increased domestic borrowing through bond sales, and an excessively high rial-dollar exchange rate. "Resalat" added that official imports of household appliances and computers will increase, and this will undermine domestic industries. The daily also criticized the reduced defense budget in a period of regional tensions. BS

IRANIAN NATURAL-GAS OUTPUT TO INCREASE
The Public Relations department of the Iranian Petroleum Ministry announced on 29 January that the country's natural-gas production will increase by 14.2 million cubic meters when the Persian Gulf's Salman field is developed, IRNA reported. Hussein Ahmadi-Jazani, director of Phase I of the South Pars gas field, said on 25 January that when the first stage of the project comes on stream in March, it will yield 14.2 million cubic meters of natural gas, and by June it will produce a total of 28.3 million cubic meters, IRNA reported. This initial output of 28.3 million cubic meters will go for domestic consumption, Ahmadi-Jazani said, and an additional 28.3 million cubic meters of natural gas expected to be produced when the project is totally developed will be exported. BS

INTERNATIONAL GAS DEALS ADDRESSED
A Pakistani delegation met with Qatari officials in Doha on 29 January to discuss the construction of a sub-sea natural-gas pipeline that would originate in Qatar's northern gas field, pass through Iranian and United Arab Emirates territory, and terminate in Pakistani Baluchistan, the Associated Press of Pakistan reported. An Iranian delegation headed by Roads and Transport Minister Ahmad Khoram was in Ashgabat, Turkmenistan, on 28 January to discuss the export of Turkmen gas to Iran and to discuss cooperation in the oil and gas sectors, Turkmen Radio 1 reported (see also Part I). Romanian Minister of Industry and Resources Dan Ioan Popescu on 26 January met with Iranian Petroleum Minister Bijan Namdar-Zanganeh, and they signed a memorandum of understanding on the transfer of Iranian natural gas to Romania and the rest of Europe, IRNA reported. The Romanian and Iranian sides agreed to create committees to determine the requirements for such a project. BS

IRAQI PRESIDENT UPS THE RHETORIC...
President Saddam Hussein met with yet another group of commanders, officers, and soldiers, according to Iraq Television on 29 January. Hussein chatted with his guests before launching a diatribe against the United States in which he expressed hope that he has "enlightened" the Americans "so that they would not imagine that Iraq is an easy target." He added, "They [can] harm Iraq, but how much will they be harmed at the strategic level in the long run?" Hussein went on to say that U.S. citizens cannot travel freely, adding: "They fear the world as a whole. Their embassies in most countries of the world have been withdrawn. This is the price of aggression on Baghdad and on others, including their support for the aggression of the criminal Zionists." KR

...AND THREATENS TO 'BREAK U.S. NECKS' IN WAR
President Hussein went on to say: "If the evil ones [U.S.] act obstinately, we, by God, will break their necks in Iraq." He also spoke of Iraqi preparedness for war with the United States, saying: "The United States would be harmed in such a manner, and the U.S. people do not have an interest in having this harm inflicted on the United States and on its economy and reputation worldwide. A major change will take place in the current U.S. state of affairs, although it has reached now a state of affairs where it is hated worldwide. But if they commit the aggression [against Iraq] about which they speak, their state of affairs will be something else and far more worse than their present state of affairs, be it in terms of their reputation or the material results that this aggression entails." Hussein added, "Now, the Americans cannot walk in the world without having in mind that bombs could explode in their face from this or that person who hates the policy of their rulers." He concluded, "If [the U.S.] pursues its stupidities and evil dealings by depending on force alone without taking justice into consideration, then it will be defeated." KR

IRAQI NATIONAL-MONITORING HEAD CALLS BUSH SPEECH A 'CHEAP LIE'
Major General Husam Muhammad Amin, head of the Iraqi National Monitoring Directorate (NMD), told Republic of Iraq Television on 29 January that U.S. President George W. Bush's State of the Union address on 28 January was a "distortion of facts and a cheap lie." He maintained that Iraq has fulfilled its obligations under UN Security Council resolutions. Amin went on to refute all allegations made by Bush in his annual speech to the U.S. Congress. KR

EIGHT EUROPEAN LEADERS PEN LETTER SUPPORTING U.S. POSITION ON IRAQ...
The leaders of Britain, Denmark, Italy, Portugal, and Spain, along with EU candidates Czech Republic, Hungary, and Poland are signatories to a letter published in European newspapers on 30 January calling for united European support of U.S. policy toward Iraq, according to a report on the website of London's Sky News (http://www.sky.com). The letter states that President Hussein's regime "and its weapons of mass destruction represent a clear threat to world security." It also notes, "The transatlantic relationship must not become a casualty of the current Iraqi regime's persistent attempts to threaten world security. Our strength lies in unity." Meanwhile, AFP reported on 30 January that the European Parliament has adopted a resolution in opposition to unilateral military action against Iraq. According to the report, the resolution was adopted by 287 deputies with 209 members voting against. The resolution further stated that the parliament "believes that a preemptive strike would not be in accordance with international law," AFP reported. KR

...AS NATO REMAINS UNDECIDED
Meanwhile, NATO's North Atlantic Council on 29 January failed for the second week in a row to decide on a U.S. request for indirect support for a U.S.-led attack on Iraq, AFP reported. The council meets once a week. According to AFP, "Officials reiterated that the blockage was one of timing, rather than fundamental disagreement over whether NATO should support the U.S." Belgium, France, Germany, and Luxembourg prefer exhausting diplomatic initiatives before endorsing NATO involvement, AFP reported. KR

FOREIGN MINISTER DETAILS PLANS TO EVACUATE RUSSIANS FROM IRAQ
Igor Ivanov told RIA-Novosti on 29 January that Moscow has developed a contingency plan to evacuate the estimated 700 Russian specialists currently working in Iraq. If the situation deteriorates, "the Russian government will do everything possible to ensure the safety of its citizens," Ivanov said. Foreign Ministry spokesman Aleksandr Yakovenko on 28 January refuted a newsru.com report that day that the Russian Embassy in Baghdad summoned representatives of Russian companies working in Iraq to discuss an evacuation reportedly scheduled for 5-15 February. VY

PUTIN: RUSSIA MIGHT 'CHANGE ITS POSITION' ON IRAQ
Speaking to journalists in Kyiv on 28 January, President Vladimir Putin said Russia might change its long-standing opposition to military action against President Hussein if Baghdad hinders UN weapons inspectors, Russian and Western news agencies reported. "If Iraq resists inspections or makes difficulties for inspectors, I cannot exclude that Russia might change its position," Putin said. "We will work together with the other permanent members of the UN Security Council, including the United States, on new resolutions...much tougher than existing ones." Foreign Minister Igor Ivanov, however, said the same day that Moscow will not alter its position on Iraq, rusenergy.ru reported. VY

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