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Newsline - February 4, 2003


PUTIN URGES COLLECTIVE, PEACEFUL RESOLUTION TO IRAQ CRISIS
President Vladimir Putin met on 3 February with Italian Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi, who arrived in Moscow directly from talks in Washington with U.S. President George W. Bush, ITAR-TASS and other Russian news agencies reported. Speaking to reporters following the meeting, Putin said that Moscow prefers to transform "the Iraq issue from a political matter into a technical one." Putin insisted that the UN weapons inspections should continue and noted that so far they "have found nothing." Following the completion of the inspections, the UN Security Council should decide what comes next, Putin said. He added that "he and most Russians" continue to believe that a peaceful solution to the Iraq crisis can be found. He said that military force should be used only "in the most extreme case." VY

LDPR LEADER SAYS RUSSIA SHOULD GET PAID FOR SUPPORTING STRIKE ON IRAQ...
Deputy State Duma Speaker and leader of the Liberal Democratic Party of Russia (LDPR) Vladimir Zhirinovskii has said that Moscow should support a U.S. military strike against Iraqi President Saddam Hussein if Washington promises Russia financial and political benefits in exchange, newsru.com and other Russian news agencies reported on 3 February. Zhirinovskii, who is known for his long-standing close personal contacts with Hussein's regime, said Moscow should demand the right "to pump at least $30 billion worth of Iraqi oil" and completely free-transit access between the Kaliningrad exclave and the rest of Russia. He added that Russia should participate in a post-Hussein "peacekeeping operation" in Iraq and insist upon joint military administration on the model of post-World War II Berlin. VY

...AS DUMA CONSIDERS PUNISHING HIM FOR SCANDALOUS IRAQ INTERVIEW
Deputy State Duma Speaker Konstantin Kosachev (Fatherland-All Russia) has said that Zhirinovskii might be stripped of his post as deputy speaker because of a harshly anti-American interview that he gave to Russian television journalists in Baghdad in October, nns.ru and lenta.ru reported on 2 February. In an interview with Moskoviya and TVS that was never aired but which has appeared in recent weeks on the Russian Internet, Zhirinovskii used a number of unprintable expressions to assault the U.S. administration. Duma Ethics Committee Chairwoman Galina Strelchenko said that her committee has dealt with Zhirinovskii's misbehavior many times in the past and added that now is the time for "the toughest possible measures," including stripping him of his post as deputy speaker. Deputy Gennadii Raikov, head of the People's Deputy faction, said his group would support such a motion. Duma Speaker Gennadii Seleznev, however, said that nothing should be done because of the interview, lenta.ru reported on 4 February. VY

CHARGES FILED AGAINST MMM FOUNDER
The Interior Ministry's Investigations Department has filed an indictment on charges of massive fraud against MMM investment company founder Sergei Mavrodi, Russian news agencies reported on 4 February. Police have also asked all those who believe they were victims of MMM's operations to submit evidence supporting their allegations. Investigators believe that more than 100,000 such victims could ultimately be identified, and damages could amount to more than $100 million. Mavrodi faces up to 10 years' imprisonment under the charges, RosBalt reported. Mavrodi was arrested in Moscow on 31 January after being sought for nearly five years (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 3 February 2003). The total number of deceived investors in the case is estimated anywhere from 5 million to 15 million. Business leader and Yeltsin-era insider Konstantin Borovoi, who now heads an association of deceived investors, told TVS on 3 February that it would have been impossible for Mavrodi to build his investment pyramid without the tacit support of the state. Borovoi alleged that only 10 percent of the money that MMM took in went to Mavrodi, while the rest was distributed among a number of entities, including commercial companies and corrupt officials. He also claimed that some of the largest MMM investors were criminal groups using the pyramid scheme as a way of laundering illegally acquired money. VY

GOVERNMENT SHIES AWAY FROM RADICAL TAX REFORM?
The Finance Ministry, acting in agreement with the Economic Development and Trade Ministry, introduced on 3 February a plan for reforming the country's tax system during 2003-05, "Kommersant-Daily" reported the next day. According to the daily, the plan does not propose radically reducing taxes. The reform of the single social tax, which was planned for 2004, will now come into force only in 2005. That tax will be lowered by 5 percent. The VAT rate might be decreased in 2006, but "only if the financial situation permits this." JAC

PAPER PREDICTS COMMUNISTS WILL HAVE TO STRUGGLE FOR ATTENTION OF CENTRAL TV NEWS...
"Nezavisimaya gazeta," which is owned and controlled by self-exiled tycoon Boris Berezovskii, concluded on 3 February that the Communist Party (KPRF) should expect to be excluded from the air waves during the run-up to the December State Duma elections, judging by the lack of attention that the central television stations paid to a recent press conference by KPRF leader Gennadii Zyuganov. According to the daily, Zyuganov gave a press conference on 30 January at which he made a number of provocative statements, and not one word about it was mentioned on ORT, REN-TV, or NTV. RTR quoted one of Zyuganov's statements regarding Chechnya in a story about the Parliamentary Assembly of the Council of Europe (PACE). Only TV-Tsentr reported Zyuganov's presentation as the main political event of the day and commented on it in detail. "Nezavisimaya gazeta" commented that ORT did not send a camera crew to the press conference. NTV did but apparently chose not to use any of the footage. JAC

...AS SPLIT AMONG COMMUNISTS SAID TO STRETCH NORTH
The press secretary of the KPRF branch in St. Petersburg, Aleksandr Bezzubtsev, told RosBalt on 3 February that Yurii Belov, a former first secretary of the KPRF's local branch, is "constantly exerting pressure to force the current first secretary, Oleg Koryakin, from his post" and has even resorted to the use of "kompromat," or black public relations. According to Bezzubtsev, the conflict raging among Communists in Moscow "is even more pronounced" in St. Petersburg. He characterized the situation as one in which Duma Deputy Sergei Glaziev personifies the wing of the party that believes the Communists should lead a wide coalition of left-patriotic forces. Another wing is represented by party leader Zyuganov, who believes that left-wing forces should contest the elections under the banner of the KPRF. JAC

DOES THE KREMLIN WANT A MERGER BETWEEN YABLOKO AND SPS?
Both Gleb Pavlovskii of the Foundation for Effective Politics and Igor Bunin of the Center for Political Technologies believe the Kremlin supports an alliance of Yabloko and the Union of Rightist Forces (SPS), "Nezavisimaya gazeta" reported on 3 February. According to Pavlovskii, the two parties are partners of President Putin and Unified Russia in the State Duma, and the fireworks surrounding their possible merger are, according to Pavlovskii, just a ploy to consolidate their supporters. According to Bunin, the Putin administration wants to have a liberal party as a front-line group so that it can count on support when it adopts pro-Western policies, as it did following the 11 September 2001 terrorist attacks in the United States. However, in an interview with "Novye izvestiya" on 1 February, Yabloko Deputy Sergei Mitrokhin commented, "Frankly speaking, I do not think that the Kremlin could seriously make any of its own strategic interests dependent on the quality of relations between our two parties." JAC

COSSACKS TO UNITE
The Zaporozhian, Don, and Tersk Cossacks plan to conclude a cooperation agreement at a meeting in May in Novocherkassk, regions.ru reported on 3 February, citing Ekho Rostova. This decision was made during a meeting of the atamans of the Don and Tersk Cossacks with the Zaporozhian hetman. According to Ekho Rostova, the leaders also expressed support for the longer-term goal of uniting the Cossacks of Russia, Belarus, and Ukraine into a "union government." JAC

MORDOVIAN HEAD GETS ENDORSEMENT FROM CENTRIST FACTION
A group of State Duma deputies from the Fatherland-All Russia (OVR) faction led by faction leader Vyacheslav Volodin began an official visit to Saransk on 3 February, RosBalt reported. According to the agency, the legislators do not disguise the fact that their trip is directly connected with the 16 February republican presidential election and their desire to show their support for incumbent President Nikolai Merkushkin, who is seeking a second term. JAC

INTERNET USE IN TATARSTAN PROJECTED TO SOAR OVER NEXT FEW YEARS
By 2010, the number of Internet users in Tatarstan is slated to rise to 900,000, about 10 times as many as there are today, RFE/RL's Kazan bureau reported, citing "Izvestiya Tatarstana." According to the republican Economy and Industry Ministry, some 90,000 residents of Tatarstan are currently said to be using the Internet regularly, after last year's eightfold upsurge in the number of Internet users. The government expects to cooperate with all 24 Internet service providers in the republic to establish Internet centers in all schools and hospitals and eventually to include Internet access on the list of guaranteed services to all residents. JAC

CHECHEN PRESIDENT DENOUNCES PLANNED REFERENDUM, WARNS OF NEW OFFENSIVE
In a 20-minute pirate-television address screened in Ingushetia and western regions of Chechnya on 2 February, Aslan Maskhadov denounced as "an affront to our people" the referendum scheduled for 23 March on a new Chechen draft constitution and election legislation, Reuters reported on 3 February. Maskhadov warned that his forces will renew their partisan war against the Russian military as soon as spring vegetation provides cover for military maneuvers. He noted that "our fighters have been doing well lately in clashes with Russian troops" and predicted that "this year will be decisive for Chechnya." LF

MAJORITY BOYCOTTS ARMENIAN PARLIAMENT SESSION
Parliament failed to reconvene on 3 February after its one-month winter recess because of the lack of a quorum, Noyan Tapan and RFE/RL's Yerevan bureau reported. Only 46 of the 131 deputies registered for the session, fewer than the 66 required. Most of the 46 represent opposition parties, and only a handful of deputies from the majority Miasnutiun faction were present. Opposition deputies accused the pro-government majority of deliberately blocking debate until after the 19 February presidential election. LF

ARMENIA TO USE TRANSPARENT BALLOT BOXES FOR PRESIDENTIAL POLL
The German government will provide Armenia with some 2,000 transparent plastic ballot boxes for use in the 19 February presidential election, Central Election Commission (CEC) Chairman Artak Sahradian announced in Yerevan on 3 February. Opposition politicians argued in November for the use of such ballot boxes to help prevent ballot-box stuffing, but the CEC rejected the proposal, saying the Armenian government could not afford them. LF

AZERBAIJANI PRESIDENT DECREES CONSTRUCTION OF MONUMENT TO FIRST INDEPENDENT REPUBLIC
Heidar Aliev signed a decree on 3 February ordering the erection of a monument in Baku to commemorate the Azerbaijan Democratic Republic that existed between 1918-20, Turan reported. LF

PREMISES OF GEORGIAN MODERATE OPPOSITION PARTY ATTACKED
Some 20-25 heavily armed men forced their way into and ransacked the Tbilisi offices of the New Rightists party on 3 February, physically assaulting party leader David Gamkrelidze and other party members, Caucasus Press and Interfax reported. According to an eyewitness report posted on 4 February by Eurasia View, the gunmen were prevented from opening fire on Gamkrelidze only by the arrival of Parliament Defense and Security Committee Chairman Irakli Batiashvili. Batiashvili joined the New Rightists in October 2001, but quit at the request of other party members after voting for the government's draft 2003 budget in its third reading against the wishes of other members of the party's parliamentary faction. Other opposition parties issued a statement the same day condemning the assault as "a terrorist attack" and demanding the Georgian authorities apprehend those responsible within 24 hours. LF

GEORGIAN PRESIDENT PROPOSES MIXED OR EU FORCE TO REPLACE CIS PEACEKEEPERS IN ABKHAZIA...
In his regular Monday radio address, Eduard Shevardnadze suggested on 3 February that the Russian peacekeeping force currently deployed under the CIS aegis in the Abkhaz conflict zone be replaced by a force modeled on that currently deployed in the unrecognized Republic of South Ossetia, Interfax reported. That force comprises Russian, Georgian, and Ossetian service personnel. Shevardnadze also suggested that the EU might send troops from its rapid-reaction force to Abkhazia, Caucasus Press reported. At a press conference later on 3 February, Shevardnadze told journalists he will raise with Azerbaijan's President Aliev the possibility of Azerbaijani troops serving in such an EU force, BS-Press reported. He said Azerbaijan has "a strong interest" in resolving the Abkhaz conflict. LF

...BUT ABKHAZ, AZERBAIJANIS, RUSSIANS SAY 'NO'
Astamur Tania, who is an aide to Abkhaz President Vladislav Ardzinba, ruled out Abkhazia's consent to the deployment in the Abkhaz conflict zone of a mixed peacekeeping force that includes Georgian troops, Caucasus Press reported on 4 February. Tania said only Abkhaz police should patrol Gali Raion. But at the same time, Tania signaled that Abkhazia might agree to extending the zone controlled by the CIS peacekeepers. Georgian officials have said they will agree to prolong the CIS peacekeepers' mandate, which expired on 31 December, only if the conflict zone is expanded to encompass the entire Gali Raion (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 27 January 2003). Also on 4 February, Azerbaijan's Ambassador to Georgia Gadjan Gadjiev denied that Azerbaijan has agreed to send peacekeepers to Abkhazia, Caucasus Press reported. Meanwhile in Moscow, Russian Federation Council Constitutional Legislation Committee Chairman Yurii Sharandin told Interfax on 3 February that the council is "perplexed" by Tbilisi's efforts to involve the EU in mediating a solution to the Abkhaz conflict. LF

ABKHAZ FOREIGN MINISTER PROPOSES AXING UN BODY
Sergei Shamba said in Sukhum on 3 February that the UN-sponsored Coordinating Council intended to promote confidence-building measures between the Georgian and Abkhaz sides should be abolished unless its effectiveness improves, Caucasus Press and ITAR-TASS reported. The Coordinating Council was established in November 1997, but has not met since January 2001. Following the standoff last April between Russian peacekeepers and Georgian troops in the Kodori Gorge, the Abkhaz said they will not participate in council sessions unless Georgia withdraws its remaining troops from the upper reaches of Kodori. LF

ABKHAZ PRESIDENT'S RELATIVE GUNNED DOWN IN MOSCOW
Salibey Ardzinba, who was an unspecified relation to the Abkhaz president, was shot dead on 3 February in the foyer of the Moscow apartment building where he lived, Caucasus Press and Interfax reported. Police said the crime appeared to be a contract killing. A businessman, Salibey Ardzinba owned two restaurants in Sochi. He had moved to Moscow only recently. LF

GEORGIA ACCUSES RUSSIA OF VIOLATING CFE TREATY
In a 3 February statement cited by Caucasus Press and ITAR-TASS, the Georgian Foreign Ministry accused Russia of deploying in the unrecognized Republic of South Ossetia arms and military vehicles in excess of what Russia is permitted in the North Caucasus under the revised version of the Treaty on Conventional Forces in Europe (CFE). The statement demanded an explanation of why the equipment was brought to South Ossetia and its immediate removal. On 30 January, Georgian media reported that Russia had provided South Ossetia with large quantities of arms and military hardware, including four tanks, 20 armored personnel carriers, several dozen grenade launchers, and a large number of submachine guns. South Ossetian President Eduard Kokoyty and Russian First Deputy Foreign Minister Valerii Loshchinin both denied those reports later that day (see "RFE/RL Caucasus Report," 31 January 2003). Interfax on 3 February quoted President Shevardnadze as saying that the buildup does not pose a threat to Georgian security and that Tbilisi will do everything possible to find a common language with the Ossetians." On 4 February, ITAR-TASS quoted Russian Deputy Defense Minister Colonel General Nikolai Kormiltsev as saying, "There is not a single piece of military hardware in the zone of the South Ossetian conflict." LF

KAZAKH OPPOSITION PARTY SOFTENS STANCE TOWARD PRESIDENT
In a 31 January statement posted two days later on eurasia.org.ru, the opposition party Democratic Choice for Kazakhstan (DVK) announced that at a meeting of the DVK leadership on 18 January, members agreed to adopt less confrontational tactics vis-a-vis the country's leadership. Specifically, they decided to abandon the slogan "Kazakhstan Without [President Nursultan] Nazarbaev." The DVK is one of two major opposition parties whose status remains unclear after they failed to meet stringent conditions for reregistration under the law on political parties passed last year (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 24, 26, and 27 June and 16 July 2002). The deadline for reregistration was 20 January. LF

KAZAKH SENATOR RECEIVES SUSPENDED SENTENCE FOR EMBEZZLEMENT
The Stepnogorsk City Court has found Marat Koishibaev guilty of large-scale embezzlement, abuse of office, and forgery and has imposed a 5 1/2-year suspended sentence, Interfax reported on 3 February. Koishibaev was also barred from holding public office for two years. Koishibaev, a member of the pro-presidential OTAN party, was elected to the senate -- the upper chamber of Kazakhstan's parliament -- from an Aqmola constituency in October 2002 with 80 percent of the vote. LF

KYRGYZ OFFICIALS CLAIM REFERENDUM VALIDATED CONSTITUTIONAL AMENDMENTS...
Central Election Commission (CEC) Chairman Sulayman Imanbaev on 3 February announced the preliminary results of the previous day's referendum on draft constitutional amendments, akipress.org and RFE/RL's Kyrgyz Service reported. He said that 2,128,150 voters -- or 86.36 percent of the electorate -- participated in the referendum. Imanbaev said that 75.5 percent voted in favor of the proposed amendments, while 10.2 percent voted against, and 78.68 percent approved of the proposal that President Askar Akaev remain in office until his term expires in December 2005 in order to preside over the implementation of those amendments. Only 7.46 percent said he should not do so. LF

...WHILE OPPOSITION SAYS TURNOUT FIGURES WERE INFLATED
Djypar Djeksheev of the opposition Public Headquarters for Monitoring the Referendum told RFE/RL's Bishkek bureau on 3 February that the official turnout figures for the referendum were significantly exaggerated. He said that nationwide some 40 percent of voters participated in the referendum, while in Bishkek the figure was no higher than 30 percent. A minimum of 50 percent turnout was necessary to validate the referendum. Also on 3 February, Edil Baysalov, who heads the coalition "For Democracy and Civil Society," told akipress.org that government officials at all levels mobilized all their resources to falsify the outcome of the referendum. He expressed concern that the number of registered voters both nationally and in individual oblasts was deleted from the CEC website -- which was periodically unavailable -- during the course of the day. Baysalov also noted that some independent observers were denied access to polling stations. LF

TAJIK PRESIDENT SACKS EMPLOYMENT MINISTER
Addressing a cabinet session on 31 January, Imomali Rakhmonov harshly criticized the work of the Labor and Social Security Ministry, Asia Plus-Blitz reported on 3 February. Rakhmonov highlighted what he termed the ministry's failure to address the problem of labor migration, which, he continued, is a serious obstacle to sustainable economic development. He further criticized the failure to secure agreements with other CIS states that would create a legal foundation and safeguards for the temporary employment of Tajik citizens abroad. Rakhmonov subsequently issued a decree dismissing Labor Minister Rafiqa Musoeva, Asia Plus-Blitz reported. LF

RUSSIA HANDS OVER BANK FRAUD SUSPECT TO TURKMENISTAN
Murad Garabaev, one of the suspects in the theft of $41.5 million from the Central Bank of Turkmenistan, was flown from Moscow to Ashgabat on 1 February, turkmenistan.ru reported on 3 February, citing unidentified "reliable sources." Russian police detained Garabaev, a former Turkmen Central Bank employee, in Moscow last fall shortly after the theft was made public (see "RFE/RL Central Asia Report," 26 September 2002 and "RFE/RL Newsline," 8 October 2002). LF

BELARUSIAN OPPOSITION PARTIES REGISTER CANDIDATES FOR LOCAL ELECTION, BUT NOT ALL
The opposition Belarusian Popular Front (BNF) has managed to register 107 candidates for the 2 March local elections, Belapan reported on 3 February, quoting BNF leader Vintsuk Vyachorka. He said election commissions rejected the applications of 47 BNF members and that many of them were denied registration for far-fetched reasons, mostly for alleged irregularities in income and property declarations. He cited as an example BNF Deputy Chairman Yury Khadyka's rejection for allegedly failing to mention 24,000 rubles ($12) in his income declaration. Belapan also reported that the opposition Youth Front registered 20 candidates out of the 35 who applied for registration and that the officially unrecognized opposition United Social Democratic Party managed to place 53 candidates on ballots through the collection of voters' signatures. In all, 24,012 seats on local soviets (councils) will be contested in the elections. JM

UKRAINE CONTINUES TO DISCUSS FURTHER LOANS FROM WORLD BANK, IMF
The allocation of the second $250 million tranche of the World Bank's $750 million Programmatic Adjustment Loan to Ukraine is still subject to negotiation, Interfax reported on 3 February, quoting Economy and European Integration Minister Valeriy Khoroshkovskyy. Khoroshkovskyy was commenting on the results of last week's visit by a Ukrainian delegation he headed to Washington, D.C. The sum was included in Ukraine's 2002 state budget but its allocation was later postponed by Premier Anatoliy Kinakh's cabinet until the first quarter of 2003. Commenting on his talks with International Monetary Fund (IMF) representatives, Khoroshkovskyy said the fund is being "rather harsh" in determining conditions for resuming cooperation with Ukraine. In particular, the IMF requires that Ukraine proceed with structural and administrative reform and increase the share of private capital in the economy. Ukraine reportedly expects that the IMF's new loan program for Ukraine could be implemented within three to five years, and its size could vary from $600 million-$800 million. JM

UKRAINIAN PROSECUTORS PROBE POWER ABUSE IN OIL-AND-GAS GIANT
The Prosecutor-General's Office has initiated criminal proceedings into abuse of authority by officials of Naftohaz Ukrainy in 1998-2000, when the company was headed by Ihor Bakay, Interfax reported on 3 February, quoting Deputy Prosecutor-General Tetyana Kornyakova. She told journalists that during a recent inspection of the company, prosecutors uncovered a scheme in which Naftohaz Ukrayiny and Itera had signed a contract for the delivery of 8 million cubic meters of gas worth approximately $400 million. In operations involving offshore companies, $5 million ended up in a Lithuanian bank account registered to an individual named Yeryomin, whose identity has yet to be established. JM

SOVIET PAST CLAIMS ESTONIAN INTERIOR MINISTER
Ain Seppek resigned as interior minister on 3 February after Prime Minister Siim Kallas urged him to step down amid intense criticism over actions Seppek took as a Soviet-era Supreme Court justice, BNS and Reuters reported. With just one month to go before parliamentary elections, Seppek said he wanted to avoid damage to his ruling Center Party by "this slander campaign." Opposition parties called for Seppik's resignation on 29 January after two newspapers reported that, as a judge in 1985, he participated in the sentencing of five youths opposed to Soviet rule in what was later discovered to be a highly flawed trial. A no-confidence motion failed on 30 January, gathering just 29 votes in the 101-seat parliament. Seppik denied any guilt and asserted on 31 January that the accusations were not targeted against him alone, adding that his resignation would effectively write off a whole generation of individuals active in public life before Estonian independence in 1991. Former President Lennart Meri and noted writer Jaan Kros also called for Seppik's dismissal. Center Party Chairman Edgar Savisaar nominated Toomas Varek, head of the party's parliamentary caucus, to replace Seppek. President Arnold Ruutel immediately approved the appointment, partly allaying fears that Prime Minister Kallas's stand against Seppek might drive a wedge between his Reform Party and its coalition partner. SG

LATVIA LAYS GROUNDWORK FOR REORGANIZATION OF NATIONAL-SECURITY SYSTEM
Prime Minister Einars Repse has decided to form a task force of ministers to prepare proposals for reforming national-security institutions, LETA reported on 3 February. In addition to Repse, it would include Justice Minister Aivars Aksenoks, Finance Minister Valdis Dombrovskis, Interior Minister Maris Gulbis, Foreign Minister Sandra Kalniete, and Defense Minister Girts Valdis Kristovskis. The task force will consult with officials and experts as well as the leaders of parliamentary commissions in preparing proposals for the government on how and why the structure of national-security organizations should be changed. Repse said he has received numerous proposals on how to improve national security by reforming such organizations. He invited any cabinet minister to sign up if they wish to work on the task force. SG

CATHOLIC CHURCH IN LITHUANIA SUPPORTS EU ENTRY
After a meeting with Foreign Minister Antanas Valionis, Archbishop of Vilnius Cardinal Audrys Juozas Backis told reporters on 3 February that his church will urge people to vote in favor of membership in the European Union, BNS reported. Backis said it is still unclear how the Catholic Church will express its opinion on the matter but emphasized that there "will be no canvassing during the services in the churches." The most likely method might be a public statement issued by the Council of Bishops. SG

POLISH AMBASSADOR SUMMONED FROM IRAQ
The Polish Foreign Ministry has summoned Ambassador to Iraq Andrzej Biera for what it described as "long consultations," Polish Radio reported on 3 February. PAP reported on 4 February that the consultations will take place in Amman, Jordan. Poland has also represented U.S. interests in Baghdad since the 1991 Gulf War. Biera, who is expected to leave Baghdad on 5 February, will reportedly be accompanied by Krzysztof Biernacki, the chief of the embassy's section dealing with U.S. interests, and one more diplomat. "We do not envisage other decisions in the foreseeable future, but the situation is very dynamic and has been developing all the time. That is why it is difficult to foresee what is going to happen in the coming days," Foreign Ministry spokesman Boguslaw Majewski told journalists. "I cannot confirm the information about withdrawing our diplomats representing U.S. interests in Baghdad," Reuters quoted Majewski as saying. JM

POLISH FARMERS BLOCK ROADS OVER ECONOMIC PLIGHT
Some 3,500 farmers set up road blockades at seven locations in Wielkopolska Province (western Poland) on 3 February, Polish media reported, citing police sources. Protesters demanded that the parliament pass a proposed law on biofuels as well as one on a system of state support for the agricultural sector. They also protested low prices for pork and milk and the European Commission's proposed subsidy system for Polish farmers (see "RFE/RL Poland, Belarus, and Ukraine Report," 4 February 2003). Last month, President Aleksander Kwasniewski vetoed the controversial bill on biofuels that, in the opinion of its authors, was intended to boost agricultural production and provide 70,000-100,000 new jobs (see "RFE/RL Poland, Belarus, and Ukraine Report," 21 January 2003). "I warned time and again that these protests will erupt if the government doesn't change its economic and social policies," PAP quoted radical farmers leader Andrzej Lepper as saying. JM

POLAND REPORTEDLY IMPOSES FUEL LIMITS ON BELARUSIAN HAULERS
Polish customs authorities at the Berastavitsa-Bobrowniki border checkpoint on 1 February began to inspect the amount of fuel in the tanks of vehicles owned by Belarusian haulers, Belapan reported on 3 February, quoting a Belarusian Transport Ministry official. If the amount of fuel exceeds the limits stipulated by Polish legislation -- 200 liters for trucks and 600 liters for buses -- excise and VAT taxes will be levied. The ministry expressed "serious concern" over the move and stressed that it violates an intergovernmental accord reached in Warsaw in mid-January. According to the Belarusian side, Poland suggested at those talks that fuel limits for Belarusian haulers should be imposed no sooner than March. JM

MOST CZECH DIPLOMATS LEAVE IRAQI CAPITAL
Most of the Czech diplomats serving in Baghdad have been withdrawn and all diplomats' families have left the Iraqi capital, CTK reported on 3 February, citing Foreign Ministry spokesman Karel Boruvka. He said that "only diplomats of lower rank who ensure the basic embassy functions" remain. Boruvka noted that similar measures are being taken by other European states, including Poland (see item above), and that the Yugoslav and Spanish ambassadors to Iraq have already left for consultations at home. MS

CZECH OFFICIALS DOWNPLAY 'PALESTINIAN TERRORIST' REPORT...
Interior Ministry spokeswoman Gabriela Bartikova said on 3 February the ministry has concluded that the Palestinian detained last week at Prague's international airport did not intend to carry out a terrorist attack, CTK and international news agencies reported (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 3 February 2003). She said the man has applied for asylum in the Czech Republic and is now at a camp for asylum seekers. The daily "Mlada fronta Dnes" the same day cited the ministry as saying the man might have wanted to "provoke" Czech authorities -- and thus divert attention from the fact that his travel papers were not in order -- by claiming he is a member of a radical group, according to dpa. Frantisek Bublan, director of the Office for Foreign Contacts and Information within the Czech military-intelligence service, on 3 February told the BBC that this was not the first incident of its kind. He said people seeking asylum often use such tricks to attract the attention of police. MS

...AS COMMON TRICK TO GRAB ATTENTION
The group with the detained Palestinian was traveling included seven Palestinians and, contrary to a 3 February report in the German weekly "Focus," was not on its way to Berlin, AP reported the same day. The group was flying from Moscow to Beirut via Prague, and, when urged to board the plane for Lebanon, some individuals reportedly took out razor blades and threatened to mutilate themselves. All members of the group demanded asylum and the detained man -- apparently intentionally -- gave the authorities a different name than that recorded in his passport. MS

CZECH OPPOSITION PARTY DEMANDS DATE FOR PRESIDENTIAL ELECTION
Civic Democratic Party (ODS) Chairman Miroslav Topolanek on 3 February accused the ruling coalition of undermining respect for candidates to succeed Vaclav Havel as head of state, CTK reported. He said the three ruling parties -- the Social Democratic Party, the Christian Democratic Union-People's Party, and the Freedom Union-Democratic Union -- are delaying setting a date for the third attempt to elect a president because they are still unable to agree on a joint candidate. He said the date of the elections must be set to comply with Czech law. (The constitution declares that a presidential vote must be held within 30 days of that office being vacated, which in Havel's case occurred on 2 February.) Topolanek also reiterated his party's backing of its honorary chairman, former Premier Vaclav Klaus. MS

SLOVAK COMMUNISTS STAGE DEMONSTRATION AGAINST ATTACK ON IRAQ
Some 100 members of the Communist Party of Slovakia (KSS) demonstrated in Bratislava on 3 February against a possible war in Iraq and the participation of Slovak soldiers in such a military action, CTK reported. "The KSS rejects any military intervention in Iraq, be it with the consent of the Security Council or without it," KSS Chairman Jozef Sevc told the protesters. He accused Prime Minister Mikulas Dzurinda of seeking to pave a path to the apex of his career with "the blood of innocent Iraqi children." MS

SLOVAK NATO OPPONENTS SAY REFERENDUM CAMPAIGN IS THRIVING
Opponents of Slovakia's entry to NATO who launched a petition drive aimed at forcing a referendum on the issue announced on 3 February that they have collected 100,000 signatures so far, TASR reported. Under Slovak law, 350,000 signatures are required to compel the Slovak president to call a referendum. MS

BRATISLAVA COURT ORDERS RAILWAY WORKERS BACK TO WORK
A Bratislava District Court judge on 3 February ordered the trade unions representing striking Slovak Railways workers to suspend the labor action until the court rules on the legality of the strike, TASR reported. The strike was launched on 31 January (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 3 February 2003). Also on 3 February, Premier Dzurinda, Trade Unions Confederation Chairman Ivan Saktor, and Association of Slovak Employees Union Confederation Deputy Chairman Jozef Kollar agreed to seek a compromise solution to end the strike. They said they will try to use their personal influence to achieve that goal but refused to reveal the nature of such a solution. MS

HUNGARIAN CABINET APPROVES $913 MILLION LEASE OF FIGHTER JETS
The center-left cabinet on 3 February authorized Defense Minister Ferenc Juhasz to sign a lease contract for 14 Gripen fighter jets manufactured by the British-Swedish BAE Systems-SAAB consortium, Hungarian media reported. Juhasz made the announcement after a cabinet meeting. He said the deal allows for Hungary to purchase the jets at no extra cost once the lease expires in 2016, thus safeguarding air defense for at least 30 years. Juhasz told reporters that Hungary will take out a loan for the lease of the jets, which will cost 210 billion forints ($913 million), including interest. The first jets will be delivered to Hungary in 2006, and talks on weaponry for the jets reportedly are still under way with a U.S. company. MSZ

HUNGARIAN LAWMAKERS SUBMIT ASSET DECLARATIONS
According to the asset declarations of Hungarian parliamentarians published in local dailies on 4 February, Prime Minister Peter Medgyessy is the richest of Hungary's party leaders or former prime ministers, with a considerable sum beyond his 200 million-forints-plus ($870,000) fortune placed in insurance securities. Former FIDEZS leader and Prime Minister Viktor Orban draws a monthly salary of 770,000 forints ($3,350) as that party's honorary chairman and owes 20 million forints in debt. Socialist Party Chairman Laszlo Kovacs has two flats in Budapest and slightly more than 5 million forints in National Savings Bank (OTP) investment coupons. Free Democrat Chairman Gabor Kuncze has 18 million forints in savings and 26 million in debt. Socialist deputy and Social Democratic Party Chairman Laszlo Kapolyi is the wealthiest member of parliament: He draws 216 million forints in annual dividends from his own consulting company. MSZ

WORLD COURT GIVES GREEN LIGHT TO BOSNIAN GENOCIDE CASE AGAINST YUGOSLAVIA...
The World Court in The Hague on 3 February rejected a Yugoslav claim that Bosnia's 1993 lawsuit against Belgrade is unlawful, paving the way for Bosnia's genocide case to go ahead after nearly a decade of legal wrangling, regional and international media reported. The court added that its decision is final. Yugoslav authorities claimed that the court has no jurisdiction in the matter, since Yugoslavia was not a member of the UN at the time that Bosnia filed its charges. Ivan Simonovic, who is Croatia's representative to the court, said he expects that body to reach a similar ruling in a case that Zagreb has filed against Belgrade, RFE/RL's South Slavic and Albanian Languages Service reported. The World Court, also known as the International Court of Justice, was set up after World War II to deal with claims between states. In 1949, it ruled in favor of Britain against Albania, which it fined $1.38 million in conjunction with the 1946 Corfu Channel incident in which two British ships sank after hitting mines. Yugoslavia currently has a case pending before the World Court, charging eight NATO member states in conjunction with their actions against Serbia in the 1999 Kosova conflict. PM

...WHICH BOSNIA WILL CONTINUE TO PRESS
Sulejman Tihic, who is the Muslim member of the Bosnian joint Presidency, said in Sarajevo on 3 February that he expected the World Court to reach the decision it did and that Bosnia's case will now go forward, RFE/RL's South Slavic and Albanian Languages Service reported. Vojin Dimitrijevic, an international legal expert dealing with this case for the World Court, advised the Bosnian authorities to avoid a long and costly legal battle and settle out of court. Predrag Simic, who is foreign policy adviser to Yugoslav President Vojislav Kostunica, said, "This case is not so much about the damages claim. It seeks to define the [nature of the] conflict in Bosnia," Reuters reported from The Hague. Yugoslav attorney Tibor Varady noted that Belgrade has offered to rebuild the historical Ferhadija mosque in Banja Luka, which Serbian nationalists destroyed in 1993, if Sarajevo drops the case, AP reported from The Hague. The mosque was built in 1583, and its destruction was of great symbolic importance to both sides in the conflict. PM

SERBIAN RADICAL LEADER TO GO TO THE HAGUE?
In the latest chapter of the ongoing saga of Serbian Radical Party (SRS) leader Vojislav Seselj and his possible indictment for war crimes by The Hague-based tribunal, Seselj told a press conference in Belgrade on 3 February that he has booked a flight to The Hague for 24 February and will turn himself in voluntarily, the "Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung" reported (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 3 February 2003). He added that he "will defend Serbian interests" before the tribunal and prove his innocence of any charges stemming from the 1991-95 conflicts in Croatia and Bosnia, during which he was a paramilitary leader. He has previously called his activities during those years a legitimate defense of Serbian interests. Seselj told the 3 February press conference that he expects formal indictments against himself and former state security chief Jovica Stanisic to arrive in Belgrade shortly, RFE/RL's South Slavic and Albanian Languages Service reported. Florence Hartmann, spokeswoman for chief prosecutor Carla Del Ponte in The Hague, declined to comment on the Seselj case, "Vesti" reported. PM

SERBIAN FORMER MAYOR SENTENCED FOR WAR CRIMES
A district court sentenced former Mayor Andjelko Kolasinac of Rahovec to eight years in prison for war crimes against ethnic Albanian civilians in 1998 and 1999, regional and international media reported on 3 February. The court convicted him of aiding in deportations of Albanians and registration of Albanians for forced labor, and of failing to prevent looting. The court declared him innocent of charges that he helped to conceal evidence of murder and forced deportations. He had appealed a previous conviction and five-year sentence to the Supreme Court, which then ordered a retrial. Kolasinac's lawyer said he will launch another appeal on the grounds that the district court reached its decision under unspecified pressure from local Albanians. PM

LEGISLATIVE SHOWDOWN LOOMING IN KOSOVA?
Oliver Ivanovic, a Kosovar Serbian political leader and member of the Presidency of the Kosovar legislature, said on 3 February that continued Serbian participation in the parliament is out of the question if ethnic Albanian politicians go ahead with a plan to pass a declaration on 13 February calling for the province's independence, Deutsche Welle's Serbian Service reported from Prishtina. Ivanovic noted that some Albanian deputies proposed the measure just after the Serbian legislators decided to end their two-month boycott of the parliament (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 13 January 2003). Serbian Prime Minister Zoran Djindjic recently called for talks on the future status of Kosova and for the return of Serbian security forces to the province (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 3 February 2003 and "RFE/RL Balkan Report," 31 January 2003). PM

YUGOSLAV PARLIAMENT DEBATES CONSTITUTIONAL CHARTER
Both houses of the Yugoslav parliament are scheduled to debate the Constitutional Charter governing relations between Serbia and Montenegro on 4 February as well as a second document on the implementation of the charter, RFE/RL's South Slavic and Albanian Languages Service reported. Both documents have already been approved by the Serbian and Montenegrin legislatures and will take effect immediately upon adoption by their Yugoslav counterpart (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 28 and 30 January 2003). The Serbian and Montenegrin parliaments will elect a new joint parliament 10 days after the two documents go into effect. PM

JOINT CIVIL-DEFENSE EXERCISES IN BOSNIA
Military and civil-defense personnel from both the Croat-Muslim federation and the Republika Srpska are scheduled to hold joint civil-defense exercises in three separate localities on 4 February, RFE/RL's South Slavic and Albanian Languages Service reported. The exercises will simulate a joint response in the event of natural disasters. PM

CROATIAN-AMERICAN POLITICAL LEADER SAYS CROATIA COMMITTED AGGRESSION AGAINST BOSNIA
Ivo Banac, the newly elected chairman of the Liberal Party, said in Zagreb that "Croatia, unfortunately, committed aggression against Bosnia" during the 1992-95 conflict there, the BBC's Serbian Service reported on 4 February. Banac, who has written extensively on the politics, history, and culture of former Yugoslavia, sharply criticized the policies of the late President Franjo Tudjman. "Tudjman's Croatia participated in one of the great traumas of the 20th century," he added. PM

ROMANIAN FOREIGN MINISTER MEETS WITH ANNAN
Foreign Minister Mircea Geoana met in New York on 3 February with UN Secretary-General Kofi Annan, with whom he discussed the current crisis in Iraq, Romanian Radio reported. Geoana invited Annan to visit Romania later this year, when a UN Information Center and UN House are to be inaugurated in Bucharest. On 3 February Geoana began a five-day visit to the United States. MS

ROMANIAN PRESIDENT URGES PSD LAWMAKERS TO RESIGN FROM COMPANY BOARDS
President Ion Iliescu on 3 February urged lawmakers representing the ruling Social Democratic Party (PSD) to resign from the executive boards of state-owned or private companies to avoid possible conflicts of interest, Mediafax reported. Iliescu spoke at a meeting with Prime Minister Adrian Nastase and the chairmen of the two chambers of parliament, Nicolae Vacaroiu and Valer Dorneanu. He said PSD lawmakers should set an example by resigning from such positions, even if pending legislation obliging parliamentarians to do so has yet to be approved. Chamber of Deputies deputy speaker Viorel Hrebenciuc the same day announced his resignation from the board of an insurance company "in order to end speculation in the media about a conflict of interest." The insurance company on whose board he sat won a tender to insure automobiles used by Romanian parliamentarians. Earlier on 3 February, Rompres quoted PSD Secretary-General Cozmin Gusa as saying that it is "immoral" for anyone to use official positions to serve private interests, and that he had no doubt Hrebenciuc would act accordingly. MS

BUCHAREST POLICE COMMANDERS REPLACED
Interior Minister Ioan Rus on 3 February replaced the entire commanding echelon of Bucharest police for inefficiency, Romanian Radio reported. Police commanders were also replaced in 12 other counties. Attending a meeting the same day that reviewed the activities of Bucharest police, Iliescu said it is "intolerable" that violence is used with "impunity" by people who disobey the law and "intimidate whole communities," while police display "incompetence, immorality, and corruption" in the face of increasing delinquency. MS

ROMANIAN PEASANT PARTY SUSPENDS FORMER MINISTERS FROM MEMBERSHIP
Decebal Traian Remes and Ioan Muresan were suspended on 3 February from membership in the extraparliamentary National Peasant Party Christian Democratic (PNTCD) for having attended meetings of the newly formed Popular Action, which is led by former President Emil Constantinescu, Rompres reported. The sanction is to be in force for two years. Muresan, who was a deputy chairman of the PNTCD until his suspension, said he does not consider the sanction valid and continues to consider himself a PNTCD member, Mediafax reported. MS

ROMANIAN PARTY LEADER TO APPEAL TO ECHR AGAINST OUTLAWING OF HIS PARTY
Sabin Gherman, chairman of the Transylvania-Banat League, said on 3 February that he will appeal to the European Court for Human Rights against a Bucharest Court of Appeals' decision that outlawed his party on the grounds that its program would negatively affect national security, Mediafax reported. Gherman's party applied for registration at the Bucharest tribunal in October 2002. The party advocates a new administrative system under which the country would be divided into seven autonomous regions, each having its own parliament and receiving 65 percent of the taxes paid by the region's inhabitants. Gherman, a former Cluj-based telejournalist, is a well-known opponent of the unitary state and in 1998 published a manifesto entitled "I Am Fed Up With Romania." MS

MOLDOVAN PRESIDENT OUTLINES EUROPEAN-INTEGRATION CONCEPT...
Speaking at a reception for members of the diplomatic corps on 31 January, President Vladimir Voronin said the opposition's insistence on immediate European integration is an "absurd populist promise, transformed into an aggressive political slogan designed to serve the needs of the hour," Infotag reported on 3 February. Voronin said Moldova must be ripe for European integration and his administration is pursuing a three-pronged strategy to advance this objective. First, the Transdniester conflict must be solved on the basis of European values by granting rights to people living on both banks of Dniester River and eradicating what caused that conflict in the first place -- chauvinism and nationalism. Second, Moldova must become economically capable of facing the challenges of an integrated Europe, and for this purpose must eliminate corruption, protectionism, and clans headed by local officials. It must also fight international lending institutions' "practice of applying double standards" in their treatment of Moldova. Finally, political institutions must undergo restructuring through the devolution of power and the promotion of local self-management in line with the practices of a market-oriented democratic state. MS

...APPOINTS NEW CHIEF NEGOTIATOR IN TRANSDNIESTER PARLEYS
President Voronin on 3 February appointed Reintegration Minister Vasilii Sova as new chief of the Moldovan negotiating team in the parleys under way with the Transdniester, RFE/RL's Chisinau bureau reported. Sova replaces Vasile Sturza. MS

SMIRNOV INVITES OSCE MISSION TO INSPECT LOCAL ENTERPRISES
Separatist leader Igor Smirnov said on 3 February that the Tiraspol authorities are ready to allow Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE) mission members to monitor industrial enterprises in the region to refute allegations that Tiraspol is engaged in producing and trafficking illegal weapons, ITAR-TASS and Infotag reported. According to ITAR-TASS, the proposal was handed to OSCE mission head William Hill by separatist Foreign Minister Valerii Litskay at a meeting in Chisinau last week. Moldova has often accused Tiraspol of engaging in the illegal arms trade. Moldovan Foreign Minister Nicolae Dudau spoke at length on this at the OSCE summit meeting in Porto, Portugal, in December. MS

BULGARIAN OPPOSITION CHALLENGES CONTROVERSIAL DRAFT LAW IN CONSTITUTIONAL COURT
The Constitutional Court announced on 3 February that it has accepted an appeal by the conservative opposition United Democratic Forces (ODS) against the controversial draft law on religious organizations adopted by parliament (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 20 and 23 December 2002), mediapool.bg reported. The ODS argues that a number of bill's provisions pertaining to the registration of religious communities are unconstitutional because they set different standards for the registration of the Bulgarian Orthodox Church as opposed to other faiths. The opposition is challenging provisions in the bill that regulate the internal structure as well as property issues concerning the Orthodox Church (see "End Note," "RFE/RL Newsline," 15 May 2002). UB

BULGARIAN ECONOMY MINISTER CRITICIZES MUNICIPALITIES FOR HIGH LEVEL OF CORRUPTION
Speaking to mayors from northern Bulgaria's Lovech Oblast on 3 February, Economy Minister Nikolay Vasilev said the level of corruption is much higher in municipal administrations than in the central administration, mediapool.bg reported. Vasilev said most foreign investors are driven away by corrupt and ineffective local authorities, not by state ministries. Vasilev advised the mayors to employ English-speaking, computer-literate personnel to deal with foreign investors. He also said it is necessary for municipalities to draw up special business plans. Those municipalities with a high unemployment rate should also consider setting up business parks that would exempt tenants from corporate taxes, he suggested. UB

BULGARIAN DELEGATION WRAPS UP VISIT TO KUWAIT, PROCEEDS TO IRAN
A delegation headed by parliamentary speaker Ognyan Gerdzhikov and his deputy Unal Lutfi ended its visit to Kuwait on 3 February, BTA reported. During their visit, representatives of Bulgarian companies who accompanied the parliamentarians signed an agreement on the construction of a gas pipeline in Qatar as well as on the supply of gas masks to Kuwait. The delegation proceeded to Tehran, where they are scheduled to meet with parliamentary speaker Hojatoleslam Mehdi Karrubi and Foreign Minister Kamal Kharrazi. UB

There is no End Note today.


RECONSTRUCTION TEAMS EXPAND WORK IN AFGHAN PROVINCES...
The opening on 2 February of the first Civil-Military Operations Center (CMOC) in Gardayz, the capital of Paktiya Province, marked another step in the shift of emphasis by U.S.-led coalition forces in Afghanistan increasingly to promote reconstruction of the country rather than just security, Integrated Regional Information Networks (IRIN) reported on 4 February. The Gardayz CMOC should serve as " a place for NGOs, international institutions, and others to meet, exchange information, and facilitate the rebuilding" of the area, according to IRIN. Provincial Reconstruction Teams (PRTs), which include U.S. civilian and military personnel, began work in Gardayz in December (see "RFE/RL Afghanistan Report," 30 January 2003). Ben Mixon of the Gardayz CMOC said PRTs have "already completed the reconstruction of 10 schools, three wells, and one health clinic" in and around the city, IRIN reported. U.S. Ambassador to Afghanistan Robert Finn said new PRTs will start to work in additional provinces each month, adding that the central Bamyan Province is next in line, according to IRIN. Afghan Reconstruction Minister Mohammad Amin Farhag said the PRTs will help his government "focus on larger, long-term reconstruction work," IRIN added. AT

...AS AFGHANS EXPRESS GRATITUDE BUT WANT THEIR VOICES HEARD
Sher Mangal, a tribal leader from Paktiya Province, said his people want the PRTs to construct schools, clinics, bridges, and irrigation systems, but he added that if their purpose is "more than reconstruction and the center [CMOC]...is established to deceive people and achieve concealed objectives, we will not tolerate such activities," Hindukosh News Agency reported on 3 February. Mangal did not elaborate on what he meant by "concealed objectives." Wakil Amanullah, a tribal elder, expressed his gratitude for the reconstruction projects under way and said the projects are concentrated in the city of Gardayz, adding that no plans have been presented by the PRTs "regarding reconstruction in other parts of the province," Hindukosh reported. AT

AFGHAN PRESIDENT HINTS HE WON'T SEEK RE-ELECTION...
Hamid Karzai, head of Afghanistan's Transitional Administration, said on 3 February that he is "very strongly" committed to Afghanistan holding national elections next year under the requirements of the 2001 Bonn Agreement, but he added that "he may not run in them for a full term as elected president," "The Washington Post" reported on 4 February. "There may be a real possibility that I will not run," Karzai is quoted as saying, adding that he does not want Afghanistan "to develop personality cults or icons." Karzai said he wants to see other candidates come forward to give Afghans a choice in selecting their next leader. Possible candidates include former President Burhanuddin Rabbani, current Interior Minister Yonus Qanuni, and unspecified associates of former Afghan King Mohammad Zahir, "The Washington Post" reported. AT

...AS PROSPECTS FOR ELECTIONS LOOK DIM
Although Afghanistan is required under the Bonn Agreement to hold general elections in June 2004, the prospects for such voting are a "daunting one in a country still fighting Islamic extremists and with powerful militia leaders still controlling many of the provinces," "The Washington Post" reported on 4 February. However, the alternative also poses dangers for Afghanistan, the paper added, particularly since there are no mechanisms in the Bonn Agreement for transferring power in the event that the president is unable to perform his duties. Afghanistan does not have a history of smooth successions, and the last time a planned transfer of power took place without coercion or bloodshed was in 1901. AT

MAZAR-E SHARIF HOSTS CONFERENCE ON FEDERALISM
A seminar titled "Federalism in the Future Afghan Political System" was held in the northern Afghan city of Mazar-e Sharif on 1 February, Radio Free Afghanistan reported on 2 February. Enayatullah Shahrani presented his proposed federal system for Afghanistan at the gathering, the broadcaster added. In response to Shahrani's proposal, a participant and deputy to the Loya Jirga, Mohammad Azam Dadfar, said that without peace, security, and the establishment of a democratic system in which suffrage and free speech are guaranteed to all Afghans, any discussion of a federal system is impossible since the people would have no voice in its selection. The conference established a commission to draft a study on a model of federalism for Afghanistan. The seminar concluded by issuing a report expressing the desire for a federal, democratic parliamentary system or a union in which all central and provincial organs of government are chosen by direct and secret ballot and in which people in the provinces have a right to choose their own leaders. (For more on the issue of federalism and the future Afghan constitution, see "RFE/RL Afghanistan Report," 16 January 2003). AT

UNODC ASSESSES IMPACT OF AFGHAN OPIUM ON IRAN
The Iranian authorities in 2000 identified 90 places in Khorasan Province and 50 places in Sistan va Baluchistan Province at which opiates from Afghanistan enter the country, according to a UN Office on Drugs and Crime (UNODC) report released on 3 February entitled "The Opium Economy in Afghanistan" (http://www.odccp.org/pdf/afg_opium_economy_www.pdf). This pattern shifted in 2001 and Sistan va Baluchistan was used more frequently. Most of the opium that enters Iran is meant for domestic consumption, while the heroin and morphine is normally intended for foreign markets and leaves via the border with Turkey, Iran's southern coast, and the borders with Azerbaijan and with Turkmenistan. Nevertheless, some 29 tons of heroin is consumed in Iran annually. Iran's Drug Control Headquarters estimates that counternarcotics efforts cost the country as much $1 billion a year and that Iranian criminal groups make more than $1 billion a year in gross profits from Afghan opiates. BS

IRAN TO BUILD SCHOOLS IN AFGHANISTAN
A delegation from the Iranian Education and Training Ministry on 3 February signed an agreement in Kabul to cover the expenses of building five and rebuilding another 10 schools in Afghanistan, according to an Afghan Education Ministry press release cited by IRNA and Kabul Television. The Iranian delegation also said Iran is prepared to provide pedagogical training and physical-education training, and it is ready to rebuild the Afghan Education Ministry's publishing house and to launch an educational-television channel. According to IRNA, only 3 million of Afghanistan's 4.5 million primary-school-age children had enrolled in schools by 21 December 2002. BS

IRANIAN OFFICIAL: STATE OF THE UNION COMMENTS BASED ON MISINFORMATION
Guardians Council member and former judiciary chief Ayatollah Mohammad Yazdi said during the 31 January Friday prayer sermon that although U.S. President George W. Bush in his 28 January State of the Union address did not repeat the "axis of evil" phrase he used in his 2002 address, "he could not leave well enough alone and he did not leave Iran out of what he said," state radio reported. Yazdi said Iran is not pursuing weapons of mass destruction, and he rejected accusations of human rights violations. Bush's comments are based on misinformation, Yazdi said. "Do you think that if two people phone up a phony imperialist radio like your Radio Farda and say something, or if someone in some corner of the country phones up Radio Farda, then that is what the Iranian nation is saying?" he asked the congregation. BS

STONINGS WILL CONTINUE
Judiciary chief Ayatollah Mahmud Hashemi-Shahrudi told visiting EU Commissioner for External Relations Chris Patten on 3 February that executions by stoning are seen as a way of protecting the family, state television reported. "At present, we are not considering a substitute for that punishment," Shahrudi said. Shahrudi said the West has double standards regarding human rights, terrorism, and weapons of mass destruction. Shahrudi asked, "Why is it that today -- while Israel is engaged in perpetrating state terrorism in Palestine; and America, without any regard for the UN Security Council resolutions, is preparing to attack a country -- the EU is showing no reaction?" BS

IRANIAN BALLISTIC MISSILE APPEARS ON TELEVISION
Iran's single-stage solid-fuelled Fateh A-110 (formerly Mershad) short-range ballistic missile has been shown on Iranian television, "Jane's Defense Weekly" reported on 3 February. It was the first visual evidence of this missile's existence. According to Jane's, the missile has an inertial guidance system with a global-positioning system, and its control fins can shape its trajectory for low-level flight and maneuvering. It is believed to have a range in excess of 200 kilometers. The missile has been launched from a fixed platform but it is believed that a mobile, wheeled launcher has been developed for it. BS

JUDICIARY TO INVESTIGATE ACTIVIST'S COMPLAINTS
Judiciary chief Ayatollah Hashemi-Shahrudi in a 3 February letter to Parliament Speaker Hojatoleslam Mehdi Karrubi said that any complaints by national-religious activist Ezatollah Sahabi will be looked into, the "Iran Daily" reported on 4 January. Sahabi had written to Karrubi and to President Mohammad Khatami that security personnel harassed him in prison and this has continued since his release (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 3 February 2003). Shahrudi also said Sahabi should make his complaint through the proper channels, rather than sending letters to the press. BS

POLLSTERS' SENTENCES INCREASE...
The court has added one year each to the sentences of Ayandeh Research Institute Managing Director Hussein Qazian and board member Abbas Abdi, IRNA reported on 4 February, citing the daily "Abrar." The original sentences were handed down on 2 February (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 3 February 2003), and this brings Qazian's and Abdi's total prison terms to nine and eight years, respectively. The third clause of the indictment against them, which focuses on the alleged collection of classified documents, remains open pending responses from the Ministry of Intelligence and Security, the president's office, the Supreme National Security Council, and other bodies. ISNA reported on 3 February that Qazian has been granted a temporary release. BS

...BUT QUESTIONS REMAIN ABOUT CLASSIFIED DOCUMENTS
Tehran Justice Department chief Abbas Ali Alizadeh said during a 3 February gathering at the Fayzieh seminary in Qom that confidential, secret, and top-secret documents were found at the homes of pollsters Abdi and Qazian, ISNA reported. These documents contained information about Iran's army and the country's military capabilities. Abdi and Qazian provided this information to the Washington-based Gallup Organization, Alizadeh claimed, and were paid a total of up to 450 million rials (approximately $56,000) on three separate occasions. Alizadeh added that the Justice Department has not had the chance to study the documents to determine their origins. BS

IRAQI PRESIDENT BRIEFED BY ARMY COMMANDERS...
President Saddam Hussein was briefed by commanders of the Al-Quds Army brigade in a meeting broadcast on Iraq Satellite Television on 3 February. Several commanders briefed Hussein on the level of readiness of their divisions. One unidentified brigadier general spoke of having upgraded light weapons and vehicles, while another said that "eight air rifles were purchased for each and every firing range" and "recruits have achieved 80 percent [of their] target hits." The latter brigadier general noted that his division has "ranges for violent training." Another commander noted that his men have been trained to use laser-guided rifles. Yet another commander said his units were trained in using "supporting weapons" -- the training of which involved a mock landing of a foreign force in the area of Tal Al-Lahm. "We and our fighters are ready now for martyrdom more than ever before," one brigadier general told the Iraqi president. Hussein was also told that recruits have been trained to read maps and move over rough terrain. KR

...AND SAYS U.S. RIDING A 'CRAZY MULE'
President Hussein evidently believes that any upcoming confrontation with U.S.-led forces will be at close range and on the ground. He told his commanders that he hopes the British will tell the United States about their experience in Iraq in 1920. "The Iraqis were poor. They fought the British Army with axes and shovels," Hussein said. "The difference was between the stick and cannon and between machineguns and old rifles. Despite this, the Iraqis defended the honor of the homeland and defeated the British Army," he said. "If [the British], give [the United States] this piece of advice, then they will be rewarded by God and humanity," he said. "They should enlighten the Americans so that they will not continue to ride a crazy mule." Hussein added that he recognizes the technological disparity between the Iraqi and U.S. armies, but said, "We are superior in other fields." Hussein then advised his commanders to remain vigilant and continue training their recruits. KR

UNMOVIC FINDS MISSILE MOLDS AT AL-NIDA'
An UNMOVIC team of biological inspectors visiting the Al-Nida' State Company located in a Baghdad suburb "noticed the existence of a neglected small-missile mold whose size is 20 centimeters in diameter," according to a report by Iraq Television on 3 February. According to the report, inspectors were given "the necessary technical clarifications regarding the reason for the existence of this mold there," and "additional clarifications would be provided later." Inspectors also "noticed" the "existence of a modified warhead for a 70-kilometer Luna missile, which Iraq Television reported as "a neglected and damaged warhead." "The head of the [inspection] team was told that this warhead is neglected and has nothing to do with the previous banned programs," according to the report. Iraq Television added that the modified warhead was listed in a 1996 report to the UN Special Commission (UNSCOM) and again in the December 2002 declaration to UNMOVIC. The Al-Nida' State Company has been inspected several times by both UNMOVIC biological and missile inspectors. It is affiliated with the Iraqi Military Industrialization Organization and manufactures molds and spare parts for missiles, according to previous statements by UNMOVIC. UNMOVIC has yet to release a statement on the 3 February inspection. For further information on this and other inspections, see RFE/RL's "Tracking Inspections" webpage (http://www.rferl.org/specials/iraq-inspec/). KR

TURKEY CONTINUES WITH PREPARATIONS FOR REFUGEE INFLUX
The Turkish government and international aid agencies continue to prepare for the possibility of a massive influx of refugees across the Iraqi border, should a U.S.-led military strike against Iraq occur in the coming weeks. "Anatolia" reported on 3 February that the Red Crescent Society has begun to assign personnel to refugee camps that are being constructed along the border. The Ankara-based newspaper reported that Red Crescent will erect tents outside the Turkish town of Zakho, located approximately 10 kilometers from the southeastern border crossing of Habur. "More than 300 people who were working at public institutions and organizations in the southeastern provinces of Sirnak and Mardin [will] be assigned to those camps," "Anatolia" quoted unidentified sources as saying. The newspaper also quoted "sources" as saying that 24,000 tents will be erected outside the town of Sirnak in the event of a massive influx of Iraqi refugees. Meanwhile, Istanbul's NTV reported on 2 February that a "comprehensive humanitarian-aid drill" will take place on 5 February in "the area of [a] tent city [near the Habur border crossing] where some 200 tents have been erected so far." KR

BRITISH PRIME MINISTER STILL FAVORS UN ROUTE
British Prime Minister Tony Blair on 3 February briefed the House of Commons on his weekend trip to the United States to meet with U.S. President George W. Bush. "We are entering the final phase of a 12-year history of the disarmament of Iraq," he said in his comments posted on Downing Street's website (http://www.number-10.gov.uk/output/page1.asp). "President Bush and I agreed we should seek maximum support for [a second UN Security Council] resolution, provided, as ever, that seeking such a resolution is a way of resolving the issue [and] not delaying or avoiding dealing with it at all," he said. "I continue to believe [that] the UN is the right way to proceed," Blair added, saying there "is an integrity in the process set out in [Security Council Resolution] 1441 and we should follow it." Blair went on to stress that the U.K. should not exhibit weakness on the issue of Iraq. "Show weakness now and no one will ever believe us when we try to show strength in the future," he said. KR

SPANISH PRIME MINISTER SAYS HE HAS 'EVIDENCE' THAT IRAQ IS A THREAT
Spanish Prime Minister Jose Maria Aznar told Spain's Europa Press news agency on 3 February that he has confidential information that proves President Hussein's regime represents a threat to "peace, world security, and to Spain," the Spanish daily "El Pais" reported. Aznar told Europa Press that all governments "have information that Saddam Hussein's regime, from the biological and chemical weapons it has and its links to terrorist groups, does, in effect, represent a threat to peace, to world security, and to Spain. We have sufficient evidence to that effect," Aznar said. KR

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