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Newsline - February 7, 2003


MOSCOW: NO NEW RESOLUTION ON IRAQ, NO NEED FOR FORCE
In their initial response to U.S. President George W. Bush's 7 February call for a new UN Security Council resolution authorizing the use of military force against Iraqi President Saddam Hussein, Russian officials unanimously spoke out against any new resolution at this time, izvestiya.ru and polit.ru reported on 7 February. "There are no grounds for a military operation against Iraq," said Foreign Minister Igor Ivanov. Deputy Foreign Minister Yurii Fedotov added that "there is currently no reason for a new resolution on Iraq." Defense Minister Sergei Ivanov was quoted by the Italian newspaper "La Stampa" on 7 February as saying that "there are still [political and diplomatic] possibilities that must be used completely." "Even if the inspectors in Iraq find weapons of mass destruction, we believe it is essential to achieve Iraq's disarmament without the use of military force," Sergei Ivanov added. VY

RUSSIA TO EXPAND ECONOMIC TIES WITH BAGHDAD
Speaking to journalists in Baghdad, Russian Ambassador to Iraq Vladimir Titarenko said the two countries are almost ready to sign contracts worth about $200 million in the energy and transportation spheres, Interfax and neftegaz.ru reported on 7 February. Titarenko added that the contracts will be finalized within two to three months and that Russia in 2002 signed humanitarian-assistance agreements with Iraq worth a total of $1.52 billion. VY

POPULAR NTV PROGRAM TO TAKE A HIATUS
After meeting with Gazprom CEO Aleksei Miller on 6 February, popular NTV host Leonid Parfenov announced that he has decided to pull his weekly analytical program "Namedni" off the air for at least three months, ITAR-TASS reported. Parfenov said he plans to use up 99 days of leave that he has accumulated after 10 years of work at the station. He added that "it's impossible to work in such conditions" and that he was told "the recent changes at NTV to which we objected wouldn't be cancelled." "I respect the shareholder's [Gazprom's] right to make decisions and mistakes, but we also have to make certain decisions concerning ourselves," Parfenov said. Parfenov has been outspoken in his criticism of the appointment of Aleksei Zemskii as NTV's first deputy director in charge of information programming (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 31 January 2003). JAC

PUTIN SUPPORTS INCREASING STATE ROLE IN CULTURE
Addressing a meeting of the Presidential Council for Culture and Art on 6 February, President Vladimir Putin said that he supports calls for "reviving the so-called state-order system for the creation of culture and works of art that have an indisputable social value," RTR and polit.ru reported on 6 February. Putin said that the state can create conditions to ensure creative freedom and provide sufficient compensation. "The market approach to culture is not very good, and sometimes it is not good at all," Putin said. "But it is impossible to exist without the market." The president also praised the state-controlled Kultura television channel, but said that it must increase programming content from the regions. However, this must be done in such a way as to avoid providing a propaganda platform for regional administrations, Putin warned. VY

RUSSIA PLAYS HARDBALL WITH LATVIAN OIL TERMINAL
Russia has halted the shipment of oil to the Latvian port of Ventspils until April (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 14 January 2003), "Finansovye izvestiya" reported on 7 February, quoting Deputy Prime Minister Viktor Khristenko. Western analysts cited in the report believe the step was taken in order to lower the value of -- or even bankrupt -- the oil-terminal operator Ventspils Nafta because Russian state oil-pipeline operator Transneft is hoping to acquire a stake in the company. Transneft Vice President Sergei Grigoriev confirmed his company's interest in Ventspils Nafta and said the moratorium on oil shipments will be lifted if management of the terminal is handed over to Russia in exchange for $143 million offered by a group of Russian oil majors, rusenergy.ru reported on 7 February. Representatives of the Latvian side are insisting on payment of at least $200 million. However, Grigoriev retorted, with no Russian oil passing through it, the terminal is worthless. VY

NEWS AGENCY ANNOUNCES ITS FLIGHT FROM 'MOST CORRUPT REGION'...
The news agency Novyi region is moving its main office from Sverdlovsk Oblast, which it describes as "the most corrupt region in Russia," to Perm Oblast, reportedly in order to have more freedom to write about and investigate corruption in Sverdlovsk, the agency announced on 6 February. According to its website (http://region.urfo.org/), the agency made the decision after the Kirov Federal Court in Yekaterinburg ruled in favor of former Federal Tax Police head for Sverdlovsk Oblast Aleksei Zakamaldin in a defamation suit and ordered the agency and one of Zakamaldin's superiors to pay 3 million rubles ($94,000) damages. Zakamaldin was dismissed from his post last year and has been accused of receiving a bribe of more than $1 million and allegedly arranging for the transfer of almost a dozen apartments in the Urals Federal District, regions.ru reported on 6 March 2002. JAC

...AND IMPLICATES SIBERIAN ALUMINUM IN AFFAIR INVOLVING TAX POLICE
In its announcement of its move to Perm, Novyi region asserted that representatives of a structure "close to SUAL [Siberian Aluminum] Holding" were present in the court during the hearings of Zakamaldin's case. The agency promised it would, "as before, follow developments in the situation in Sverdlovsk Oblast, in particular the activities of SUAL in the upcoming gubernatorial elections." JAC

PERM JOURNALIST ACCUSED OF SEEKING STATE SECRETS
Konstantin Bakharev, a crime reporter for the Perm-based daily newspaper "Zvezda," has been accused by local Federal Security Service (FSB) investigators of instigating the disclosure of state secrets, polit.ru reported on 6 February. In November, FSB officers confiscated documents and hard disks from the newspaper's office (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 15 November 2002). While the investigation is being conducted, Bakharev is not allowed to leave the city. He has not been told precisely what state secret he unearthed, according to the report. His colleagues believe that a series of stinging articles on local law enforcement organs sparked the FSB's interest. JAC

PARTY OF POWER, PARTY OF THE STARS
Both NTV and TVS carried stories on 6 February about some 50 Russian celebrities, including pop singer Rosksana Babayan and actor Mikhail Derzhavin, picking up Unified Russia party membership cards in Moscow from party leader and Moscow Mayor Yurii Luzhkov. "I was never a young pioneer or a Komsomol member -- so I'm just making up for that," pop singer Aleksandr Buyanov told TVS. Recently there have been reports that some members of the party's top leadership are concerned about a recent drop in the pro-Kremlin party's ratings (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 5 February 2003). JAC

NEW KRASNOYARSK GOVERNOR TO APPOINT FORMER OPPONENT TO UPPER CHAMBER?
Krasnoyarsk Mayor Petr Pimashkov has announced that he is resigning his office because he plans to accept a new position as the krai executive branch's representative in the Federation Council, regions.ru reported on 6 February. If this report is confirmed, Pimashkov will be appointed to that office by krai Governor Aleksandr Khloponin, who was elected in September. Pimashkov and krai legislative speaker Aleksandr Uss were Khloponin's chief rivals in that race. JAC

FORMER FSB OFFICIAL APPOINTED TO SENIOR POST IN UFA
Bashkir President Murtaza Rakhimov on 6 February appointed Emir Nigamedzyanov as a republican deputy prime minister, RosBalt reported. Nigamedzyanov has been chief adviser on mass communications and public organizations to presidential envoy to the Volga Federal District Sergei Kirienko since September 2002. Up to the mid-1990s, he was deputy head of the Federal Security Service (FSB) in Bashkortostan. He later headed the FSB directorate in Sakhalin Oblast. JAC

CITIZEN TRIES TO FIGHT GOVERNMENT MOTORCADES
Ufa resident Yevgenii Kareev on 5 February filed suit in a Moscow court against the Russian government for allegedly illegally blocking traffic for government motorcades, RFE/RL's Tatar-Bashkir Service reported on 6 February. Kareev declared the government has "persistently and demonstratively violated Russian citizens' constitutional rights of equality before the law and freedom of movement" by blocking streets to ensure speedy passage for high-ranking government officials' motorcades. Kareev filed a similar lawsuit against the Bashkortostan government two days earlier and decided to take his fight to the next level following the positive reaction of the mass media and the public. Leonid Olshanskii, vice president of the Russian Automobile Movement, told Ekho Moskvy on 3 February that Kareev has little chance of winning on the case's legal merits. However, State Duma Deputy Sergei Yushenkov (independent) said he hopes Kareev will prevail and that a legal precedent will be set. JAC

LIBERAL RUSSIA LEADER PROPOSES CREATING MINI-VATICAN WITHIN THE KREMLIN
In an interview with RosBalt on 6 February, Deputy Yushenkov said he plans to suggest in the Duma that an independent Russian Orthodox state be created on the territory of the Kremlin in Moscow with a status similar to that of the Vatican in Rome. Yushenkov said that 2018, the 100th anniversary of the beginning of the campaign of state terror against the church, would be a fitting time to launch the new religious state. Fifteen years would also allow enough time to sort out all of the procedural questions raised by creation of a new federal entity within the borders of the Kremlin. Although formally an independent in the Duma, Yushenkov is a co-chairman of the Liberal Russia party. JAC

ABORTIONS STILL OUTSTRIPPING BIRTHS?
In Arkhangelsk Oblast in 2002, there were almost twice as many abortions as live births, regnum.ru reported on 5 February, citing the oblast's chief gynecologist Sergei Krasilnikov. According to the agency, some 13,940 babies were born, compared to 22,318 abortions or "mini-abortions." In addition, for every 1,000 live births, 12 infants are born dead. Almost five years ago, Yekaterina Lakhova -- who at the time headed a presidential commission on women, family, and demographics -- noted there are 192 abortions for every 100 births in Russia and called for increased efforts to expand family-planning programs (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 10 April 1998). JAC

COMMUNIST CANDIDATE WITHDRAWS FROM ARMENIAN PRESIDENTIAL ELECTION
Communist Party of Armenia Chairman Vladimir Darpinian announced in Yerevan on 5 February that he is withdrawing from the 19 February presidential election, Noyan Tapan reported the following day. He called on his supporters to vote instead for National Unity Party Chairman Artashes Geghamian. Spokesmen for Geghamian, People's Party of Armenia Chairman Stepan Demirchian, and National Democratic Union Chairman Vazgen Manukian all indicated on 6 February that none of the three men is likely to quit the race to endorse one of the others as the single opposition candidate, RFE/RL's Yerevan bureau reported. LF

ARMENIAN POLICE PLEDGES TO INCREASE ELECTION SECURITY
Deputy Police Chief General Hovannes Varian announced on 6 February that additional security measures will be taken to maintain law and order at campaign rallies by opposition presidential candidates, Noyan Tapan and RFE/RL's Yerevan bureau reported. He said an investigation is under way into the possible participation of 15 people in the 4 February attack in Artashat on Hayk Babukhanian, campaign manager for Aram Karapetian. Eyewitnesses said some 30-40 people were involved in that attack (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 5 February 2003). Echoing a 4 February Interior Ministry statement, Varian claimed Babukhanian provoked the assault, in which he was stabbed in the back, by firing his pistol into the air. LF

AZERBAIJANI PRISONER OF WAR RELEASED
The authorities of the unrecognized Nagorno-Karabakh Republic handed Azerbaijani serviceman Elmeddin Abiev back to Azerbaijani representatives on the Line of Contact on 6 February, Turan reported. Abiev was taken prisoner after being injured in an exchange of fire between Azerbaijani and Karabakh forces on 8 January (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 9 January 2003). His release was negotiated at the highest level, first during talks in Kyiv on the sidelines of the CIS summit between the presidents of Armenia and Azerbaijan and then during a telephone conversation between Armenian Catholicos Garegin II and Karabakh President Arkadii Ghukasian. It was facilitated by the International Red Cross. The Azerbaijani Russian-language newspaper "Ekho" on 31 January quoted Azerbaijani Defense Ministry spokesman Ramiz Melikov as saying Baku would not establish any contact with the Karabakh leadership to discuss Abiev's release. LF

AZERBAIJANI PRESIDENT MEETS WITH BORDER GUARDS
Meeting on 6 February in Baku with senior officers of the Azerbijan State Border Guard Service, President Heidar Aliev stressed the importance of increasing vigilance to ensure that international terrorists are prevented either from entering Azerbaijan or transiting the country en route for Europe, Turan reported. Border Guard Service commander Major General Elchin Guliev listed negative trends that affected the work of the border guards in 2002. They included an increase in attempts by citizens of Third World countries to enter Azerbaijan en route for Western Europe; tensions in Daghestan, the border regions of Belakan and Zakatala, and along the border with Georgia; and an increase in attempts to smuggle separatist and extremist religious literature into Azerbaijan. He said 8,922 people were detained for border violations in 2002, and 178 persons with forged travel documents were detained at the Baku airport en route for Europe. LF

AZERBAIJANI VILLAGERS PROTEST LATEST POLICE VIOLENCE
Residents of the village of Nardaran on the outskirts of Baku staged a meeting on 6 February to protest the police raid early the previous day during which eight villagers were detained and 22 injured, according to Turan on 6 February and zerkalo.az on 7 February (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 5 February 2003). Participants demanded that the Azerbaijani leadership resign on the grounds that it responded with violence to their legitimate demands for solutions to socioeconomic problems. Islamic Party of Azerbaijan Deputy Chairman Gadji-aga Nuriev told zerkalo.az that police claims to have confiscated weapons from the villagers are untrue. He added that the eight persons detained have not been permitted to consult lawyers. He also said that local communities from all over Azerbaijan have sent messages of support for the residents of Nardaran. LF

GEORGIAN OFFICIALS MAKE CONTRADICTORY STATEMENTS ON PANKISI GORGE
Responding to U.S. Secretary of State Colin Powell's 5 February presentation to the UN Security Council, in which he said that colleagues of Abu Mus'ab al-Zarqawi, an alleged Palestinian associate of Osama bin Laden, "have been active in Georgia's Pankisi Gorge," Georgia's Ambassador to the UN Rezo Adamia said on 6 February that he does not know how many Al-Qaeda members are in Pankisi, but that the Georgian government should continue its mop-up operation until the gorge is free of terrorists, ITAR-TASS reported. Adamia said that during the search operation in Pankisi last fall, Georgian troops detained several suspected Al-Qaeda members and handed them over to the United States. In Tbilisi, Georgian National Security Ministry spokesman Nika Laliashvili told journalists in Tbilisi on 6 February that "there are currently no persons directly connected with Al-Qaeda in the Pankisi Gorge," ITAR-TASS reported. National Security Minister Valeri Khaburzania said there are currently some 60 "criminals," including two or three criminal kingpins, in Pankisi, Caucasus Press reported. He did not specify their nationalities. Georgian President Eduard Shevardnadze said on 6 February he has ordered forces from the Interior and Security ministries to rid Pankisi of "undesirable persons" within one month, Caucasus Press reported. LF

GEORGIAN FOREIGN MINISTRY AGAIN ACCUSES RUSSIA OF VIOLATING CFE TREATY
The Georgian Foreign Ministry has issued a further statement rejecting Russian Deputy Defense Minister Colonel General Nikolai Kormiltsev's rebuttal of its 31 January statement accusing Russia of deploying armor and weaponry in South Ossetia in excess of the amount to which it is entitled under the Treaty on Conventional Forces in Europe (CFE), Caucasus Press reported on 6 February (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 4 February 2003). The second statement claims that on 19 December 2002 Russia deployed in South Ossetia's Djava Raion 19 T-55 and T-62 tanks and that on 23 January Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE) observers found a 122-millimeter howitzer at a new Russian post in the village of Grubeda, 10 kilometers from Tskhinvali. LF

GEORGIAN REMANDED FOR ATTACK ON OPPOSITION PARTY HEADQUARTERS
Although an estimated two dozen men participated in the 3 February attack on the Tbilisi headquarters of the moderate opposition New Rightists party, only one alleged participant has been remanded in pretrial custody for three months, Caucasus Press reported on 6 February (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 4 February 2003). He is Koba Kvachantiradze, a supporter of parliament Defense and Security Committee Chairman Irakli Batiashvili, who quit the New Rightists earlier this month. Some 20 supporters of Kvachantiradze traveled to Tbilisi on 6 February from Akhaltsikhe to stage a demonstration of solidarity with him, Caucasus Press reported. LF

GEORGIAN, RUSSIAN OFFICIALS START TALKS ON PEACEKEEPING FORCE
Georgian and Russian government officials met in Moscow on 6 February to begin discussions aimed at reaching an agreement on the terms under which the mandate of the Russian peacekeeping force deployed under the CIS aegis in the Abkhaz conflict zone should be renewed, Caucasus Press reported (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 27 January 2003). The talks will continue on 7 February. The Abkhaz government, which under the original agreement to deploy the peacekeeping force must give its consent to any change in or termination of its mandate, is not represented at the talks, Caucasus Press reported on 7 February. LF

KAZAKH PRESIDENT OFFERS TO MEDIATE IN IRAQ CRISIS...
On 5 February, President Nursultan Nazarbaev held talks in Rome with Italian Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi, after which he announced at a joint press conference that he is prepared to mediate with Iraq in a bid to persuade that country to disarm, Interfax reported on 6 February. He recalled that Kazakhstan voluntarily scrapped the nuclear arsenal it inherited from the USSR and expressed his support for the enlargement of nuclear-free zones. LF

...SEEKS PAPAL SUPPORT FOR CONFERENCE OF WORLD RELIGIOUS LEADERS
At an audience at the Vatican on 6 February, President Nazarbaev solicited Pope John Paul II's support for his proposal to hold a conference of world religious leaders in Kazakhstan and to create a permanent interconfessional council, according to centrasia.ru which quoted a Vatican press release published in "Kazakhstanskaya pravda" on 7 February. The two men discussed such a conference during the pontiff's visit to Kazakhstan in 2001 (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 24 September 2001). LF

OPPOSITION DETAILS VIOLATIONS DURING KYRGYZ REFERENDUM
The Public Headquarters for Monitoring the Referendum convened a press conference in Bishkek on 6 February at which its staff provided evidence of official attempts to rig the outcome of the 2 February referendum on constitutional amendments, akipress.org reported. Video footage was screened in which a young factory worker, Bakytbek Chordoev, described how he and colleagues were taken by bus to three separate polling stations in Bishkek and voted three times. Headquarters representatives also cited the case of a student whom they encountered in Djalalabad with 50 voting papers, all endorsing the proposed amendments. Ata-Meken Party Chairman Omurbek Tekebaev told akipress.org that the referendum has undermined people's trust in the Kyrgyz authorities, especially in the south of the country. LF

KYRGYZ DEFENSE MINISTRY OFFICIAL SAYS COLLEAGUE'S IMU REMARKS MISQUOTED
Kyrgyz Defense Ministry spokesman Mirbek Koylubaev said in Bishkek on 6 February that a 4 February Interfax report quoting a ministry official was incorrect, RFE/RL's Kyrgyz Service reported. Interfax quoted Colonel Malik Djumagulov as telling journalists on 4 February that members of the banned Islamic Movement of Uzbekistan (IMU) might be encamped in Tajikistan. Kouylubaev, however, said Djumagulov never mentioned the possibility of "terrorists" operating from the territory of a neighboring country. He said he and Djumagulov have visited Tajikistan several times and saw no signs of any IMU presence there. In July 2002, Kyrgyz Security Council Secretary Misir Ashyrkulov similarly disassociated himself from statements attributed to him that IMU leader Djuma Namangani's gunmen were moving from Afghanistan to Tajikistan (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 25 July and 2 August 2002). LF

OSCE PARLIAMENTARY ASSEMBLY'S MISSION SIGNALS NO PROGRESS IN BELARUS
The chairwoman of the OSCE Parliamentary Assembly's Working Group on Belarus said on 6 February that she has noted no democratic progress in Belarus with respect to many issues since the group's last visit to Minsk in May (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 23 May 2002), Belapan reported. Bundestag deputy Uta Zapf, leading a 5-7 February visit by the Working Group to Minsk, made the comment at a meeting with Chamber of Representatives Deputy Chairman Uladzimir Kanaplyou and other Belarusian legislators. Zapf said the group is particularly interested in the government's treatment of the nonstate media, ongoing local-election campaigns, and the situation of trade unions. Kanaplyou disagreed with Zapf, saying, "Belarus is one of the top-ranked countries in Europe with regard to progress." He stressed that Belarus's nonstate media have enough freedom, adding that when journalists "begin to lie blatantly, they are punished according to the law." JM

UKRAINIAN PRESIDENT URGES PEACEFUL SETTLEMENT OF IRAQ DISPUTE
President Leonid Kuchma said at a meeting with foreign diplomats in Kyiv on 6 February that he hopes the UN Security Council finds adequate measures to settle the Iraqi crisis, Interfax reported. "We are still speaking for the settlement of the [Iraqi] situation by political-diplomatic means," Kuchma said. At the same time, he said, "Ukraine fully shares the concern of the world community about the possibility of the spread of weapons of mass destruction." Kuchma also said Ukraine will remain devoted to the ideals of strategic partnership with the United States despite the current bilateral problems. "I would like to emphasize with full responsibility that we have never intended and are not going to revise our policy regarding the U.S.," Kuchma stressed. JM

UKRAINIAN PARLIAMENT AMENDS LAWS TO CURTAIL MONEY LAUNDERING...
The Verkhovna Rada on 6 February passed a bill introducing amendments to a number of laws intended to curb money laundering, UNIAN reported. In particular, the legislature reduced the minimum sum subject to financial monitoring to 80,000 hryvnyas ($15,000). Another major legislative change prohibits banks from opening anonymous bank accounts and obliges them to identify customers who perform banking operations exceeding 50,000 hryvnyas and not involving bank accounts. JM

...AND EASES RULES FOR PRISONERS
Parliament on 6 February also passed a bill amending a number of laws to ease rules for prisons and their inmates, UNIAN and Interfax reported. In particular, the bill revokes the Security Service of Ukraine's right to run its own detention facilities (isolation wards) independent of the Interior Ministry. Another measure removes a rule limiting the size of packages that may be received by prisoners from family or friends to 8 kilograms once a month. Prisoners will now be allowed two packages of unlimited weight twice a month. The bill also extends the monthly maximum visiting time for prisoners to four hours from the current two hours. JM

U.S. AMBASSADOR EXPLAINS AID REDUCTION TO UKRAINE
U.S. Ambassador to Ukraine Carlos Pascual told journalists in Kyiv on 6 February that the planned reduction of U.S. assistance to Ukraine under the Freedom Support Act to $94 million in 2004 (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 5 February 2003) is due to the fact that Ukraine has reached a "certain level of financial independence," Interfax reported. The diplomat said the U.S. government now needs to focus on financing priority projects in Ukraine, including support for civil society, the independent media, and small and medium-sized private businesses. JM

NAZI HUNTER SEEKS TO ROOT ESTONIAN OUT OF VENEZUELAN 'HAVEN'
The Simon Wiesenthal Center on 6 February urged the Venezuelan government to expel or put on trial an ethnic Estonian suspected of crimes during the Nazi occupation of Estonia, BNS reported the next day. The U.S. Justice Department believes Harry Mannil was a high-ranking member of the Nazi political police in Estonia during World War II, a fact that prompted Costa Rica to expel him after he requested residency there, the news agency cited Costa Rican Security Minister Rogelio Ramos as saying. Mannil, 82, has spent much of his postwar life in Venezuela and was informed of his status as an "undesirable" by Costa Rican officials after he boarded a plane back to Venezuela on 5 February, BNS added. He has been barred from entering the United States since 1994. Efraim Zuroff, the Wiesenthal Center's chief Nazi hunter, said in a statement issued from Jerusalem: "Now that Harry Mannil has been expelled from Costa Rica and has been barred...from the United States, it should be crystal clear to the Venezuelan authorities that he is no innocent refugee. The time has come for Venezuela to join the list of countries that have made it clear that they will not afford a haven to the perpetrators of the Holocaust. They should either put him on trial or at least expel him." AH

ESTONIAN PRIME MINISTER VISITS IRELAND
After flying to Dublin on the evening of 4 February, Siim Kallas held talks with Irish President Mary McAleese, Prime Minister Bertie Ahern, and Foreign Minister Brian Cowen on 5 February, BNS reported the next day. In discussing the future role of small countries in the EU, McAleese noted that her country's entry to the EU boosted the Irish ethnic and cultural identity and, having found partners on most issues, Ireland is active in molding the European future. The premiers discussed Ireland's experience in innovation and agreed that their countries could be allies on several economic questions. That evening, Kallas opened an exhibition of 23 Estonian graphic artists in Dublin's Lemon Street Gallery. On 6 February, Kallas had meetings with Senate (Seanad Eireann) Chairman Rory Kiely, House of Representatives (Dail Eireann) Chairman Rory O'Hanlon, and parliamentary Foreign Affairs Committee Chairman Michael Woods. Kallas was scheduled to return to Tallinn on 7 February. SG

LATVIAN OPPOSITION PROTESTS BACKING OF U.S. ON IRAQ
The leftist coalition For Human Rights in a United Latvia (PCTVL) issued a statement on 6 February charging that President Vaira Vike-Freiberga, Prime Minister Einars Repse, and Foreign Minister Sandra Kalniete acted unconstitutionally when they expressed support for the U.S. position on Iraq without first consulting parliament, LETA reported. Aleksandrs Kirsteins, a deputy of the right-of-center People's Party, told parliament the same day that statements by the president, foreign minister, and Ambassador to Washington Aivis Ronis were "unwarranted." Polls released the previous day by SKDS and "Latvijas fakti" indicated that 81 percent and 74 percent of respondents, respectively, do not support the U.S. waging war on Iraq to overthrow the regime of Saddam Hussein. SG

EU COMMISSIONER BACKS LITHUANIA'S STANCE ON KALININGRAD
EU Commissioner for Enlargement Guenter Verheugen told parliament Chairman Arturas Paulauskas and Foreign Minister Antanas Valionis in Brussels on 6 February that he supports Lithuania's position on the issue of Russian transit to the exclave of Kaliningrad Oblast, ELTA reported. He said EU regulations on simplified travel documents for Kaliningrad, which have already been agreed with Russia, will probably be adopted by April. Verheugen expressed the hope that turnout for the EU membership referendum in Lithuania on 11 May will be high and indicated his willingness to meet personally and explain EU principles to different groups within Lithuanian society. In another meeting that day, European Parliament speaker Patrick Cox told Paulauskas that despite his busy schedule, he will visit Lithuania before the referendum and take part in the government's information campaign by explaining the benefits of EU membership. SG

POLISH PREMIER TRIES TO LURE U.S. INVESTORS
Premier Leszek Miller on 6 February met with U.S. entrepreneurs in California, urging them to invest in Poland, Polish Radio reported. Miller admitted that during the meeting U.S. businessmen bitterly criticized conditions for investment in Poland -- citing an unwieldy legal system and high taxes, in particular. A Polish government delegation is trying to convince Americans that they should invest in Poland's modern-technology sector as part of the offset proposals connected with Poland's purchase of F-16 fighter jets. Miller also met with American Poles in Los Angeles and appealed to them to invest, as far as possible, in Poland. The previous day, following his talks with President George W. Bush (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 6 February 2003), Miller discussed visa issues with Vice President Richard Cheney. Polish tourists have reportedly complained to the Polish government that U.S. visa fees are too high and their treatment by U.S. immigration officers is poor. JM

POLISH AGRICULTURE MINISTER DEFENDS FARM PROTESTERS
Deputy Prime Minister and Agriculture Minister Jaroslaw Kalinowski on 6 February said he is going to suggest that the government introduce intervention purchases of some 150,000 tons of pork, Polish Radio reported. Kalinowski said the situation in the pork market is so bad that ongoing protests by farmers and road blockades are justified. Kalinowski recalled that the price of a kilogram of pig for slaughter is less than 2.50 zlotys (65 cents), while its production cost exceeds 3 zlotys. Meanwhile, on 6 February, farmers' protests spread to three more provinces beyond the Wielkopolska Province that has already seen three days of demonstrations (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 4 and 5 February 2003). JM

CZECHS AMBIVALENT FOLLOWING POWELL SPEECH
In a statement issued on 5 February, the Czech Foreign Ministry said the 5 February address to the UN Security Council by U.S. Secretary of State Colin Powell provided further evidence that "may lead to the conclusion that Iraq is not interested in disarming on a verifiable basis and thus honoring its commitments," CTK and dpa reported. The statement said it is now up to the Security Council to decide how to compel Iraq to disarm. While Prague would prefer a peaceful solution, the statement added, "If the UN Security Council confirms that Iraq is in breach of its obligations, the Czech Republic is prepared to assume its part of responsibility for keeping global peace and security." Foreign Minister Cyril Svoboda said Powell's statements have not changed the Czech government's position, and that position will not change as long as the Security Council does not pass a resolution on military action against Iraq. MS

CZECH PARTIES AGREE ON DATE FOR THIRD PRESIDENTIAL VOTE
Leaders of the five Czech parliamentary parties on 6 February decided that a third attempt to elect a successor to former President Vaclav Havel will be scheduled for 28 February, CTK reported. The center-right Freedom Union-Democratic Union (US-DEU) was the only governing-coalition member to advocate immediate direct presidential elections. Chamber of Deputies speaker Lubomir Zaoralek (Social Democratic Party) said no potential presidential candidates were discussed at the gathering. Foreign Minister Svoboda, who is chairman of the coalition Christian Democratic Union-People's Party, earlier in the day told the BBC that he was confident the three coalition partners would be able to agree on a joint candidate. On 7 February, Zaoralek officially convoked the presidential vote. MS

DIRECTOR ACCUSES INTELLIGENCE SERVICE OF SPYING ON CZECH BANK
Ivan Langer (Civic Democratic Party) said on 6 February the head of one of the country's largest banks has requested a parliamentary investigation into whether Czech Security Information Service (BIS) illegally spied on his institution, AP reported. Komercni Banka General Director Alexis Raymond Juan, who joined the bank after French Societe Generale bought the Czech bank from the state in 2001, told the commission that oversees the intelligence services that BIS agents violated the law with a probe of the French investor, the daily "Pravo" reported on 6 February. Langer, who is a member of that parliamentary commission, declined to elaborate but added that the commission will convene later this month to discuss the allegations. BIS Director Jiri Ruzek denied the allegations, saying the service only carried out routine work to investigate whether the French bank would honor its obligations resulting from the privatization. MS

U.S. DIPLOMAT CONFESSES TO VISA ABUSES IN CZECH REPUBLIC
The U.S. State Department reported on 6 February that a career Foreign Service officer pleaded guilty in a U.S. federal district court to visa fraud stemming from his stint as a consular officer in the Czech Republic from 1999-2002. On its website (http://www.state.gov), the State Department stresses its "zero tolerance" for such improprieties and adds that an investigation is continuing into "the full extent of [Alexander Meerovich's] criminal activity." Meerovich faces a maximum sentence of 10 years in prison and a fine of $250,000, the statement added. Speculation of U.S. visa irregularities in Prague heightened in the mid- to late 1990s after bribery was uncovered to secure visas for prostitutes and U.S. federal police detained a group of prostitutes, many of whom were from the Czech Republic, at a Manhattan nightclub, CTK added on 6 February. The Czech female employee fingered in that case was dismissed and subsequently cooperated with Czech police investigating the case. AH

SLOVAK LAWMAKERS APPROVE DISPATCH OF TROOPS TO POSSIBLE ANTI-IRAQ OPERATIONS...
Parliament on 6 February approved sending a 75-member Slovak unit to Kuwait to participate in "rescue and humanitarian operations" linked to a possible conflict in Iraq, CTK and TASR reported. The antichemical-, anti bacteriological-, and antinuclear-warfare unit's participation in military operations is conditioned in the parliament's decision on a specific resolution of the UN Security Council on enforcing Iraqi disarmament. Eighty-one deputies backed the decision, 54 opposed it, and there were six abstentions. Only two deputies from the coalition Christian Democratic Movement (KDH) supported the resolution, which was also backed by some deputies representing the opposition Movement for a Democratic Slovakia. Deputies representing Smer (Direction) and the Communist Party of Slovakia opposed the resolution. MS

...BUT MOST SLOVAKS OPPOSE TROOP DEPLOYMENT
Only 11.6 percent of Slovaks are in favor of deploying Slovak troops to participate in a possible military action against Iraq, CTK reported on 6 February, citing a telephone survey carried out by Polis Slovakia. Over 60 percent oppose the deployment. About one in five respondents (20.3 percent) said they would agree to it if such military operations received the prior approval of the UN Security Council. MS

HUNGARIAN GOVERNMENT WANTS IRAQ ACTIONS APPROVED BY SECURITY COUNCIL
Foreign Minister Laszlo Kovacs said on 6 February that the Hungarian government considers the evidence presented to the UN Security Council the previous day by Secretary Powell to be "solid," "Nepszabadsag" reported. Kovacs said Powell succeeded in demonstrating that Iraq refuses to cooperate with UN arms inspectors and is trying to mislead them. Kovacs added that Hungary expects all questions related to the Iraqi crisis to be decided within the Security Council and suggested that intervention would require a Security Council resolution in the interest of world and regional peace. Foreign Ministry Tamas Toth the same day echoed statements that Hungarian troops will not participate in any possible military strike on Iraq (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 6 February 2003), but he added that the country might offer its airspace for overflights. MS

FORMER HUNGARIAN PREMIER SPEAKS OUT AGAINST POSSIBLE WAR IN IRAQ...
Former Premier Viktor Orban on 6 February said Hungarian foreign policy is failing to pursue Hungarian interests and is merely following foreign expectations, Hungarian media reported. Orban said it is a mistake for the government to back a war against Iraq, since the vast majority of Hungarians want peace. He also said a nation with a legacy that includes the 1956 Revolution that was quashed by a Soviet invasion must make it unequivocally clear that military operations against an independent country are unacceptable without the authorization of international organizations. MS

...URGES SUPPORTERS TO BACK EU ACCESSION DESPITE SKEPTICISM...
Orban, who on 6 February delivered a "state of the nation" speech before supporters, also blamed the government for fading support among Hungarians for EU accession and urged his conservative supporters to vote in favor of joining the EU despite misgivings, "Nepszabadsag" and Reuters reported. At the same time, he urged the government to "hear the voices of the doubters and not exploit accession for partisan interests." He said Hungary could have won better entry terms, but now it needs to fight for equal terms within the enlarged union. MS

...AND REITERATES CALL FOR CIVIC 'MOVEMENT FROM BELOW'
Orban also said on 6 February that the right wing is now stronger than ever and emphasized the importance of organizing civic groups from below, according to "Nepszabadsag." "We must be there, in all communities, as parliament is not the primary component of public life," he said. Orban repeated his calls for the creation of a broad-based party based on the European model of People's Parties and ended his speech with the words "Hajra Magyarorszag, hajra magyarok" (Go Hungary, go Hungarians!). MS

BUDAPEST PROSECUTORS MOVE TO DISBAND NEO-NAZI GROUP
The Budapest Prosecutor's Office on 6 February asked the Metropolitan Court to delete from the official registry the neo-Nazi Blood and Honor Cultural Society and to examine the possibility of disbanding it, Hungarian media reported. The prosecution argues that since its establishment in 2001, the organization has not conducted any regular activities and does not meet the legal conditions for registration, since it has fewer than 10 members. It also alleged that the group's ideology is neo-Nazi. Also on 6 February, police rejected the society's application to stage a demonstration in Budapest's Kossuth Square on 15 February instead of a street procession, per the original request. MS

INTERNATIONAL COMMUNITY FIRMLY REJECTS TALKS ON STATUS OF KOSOVA
In response to recent statements by Serbian Prime Minister Zoran Djindjic that he wants talks on the status of Kosova to begin soon, U.S. Ambassador to Serbia and Montenegro William Montgomery told the Belgrade daily "Blic" that the new state will harm its relations with the United States if it opens the Kosova question, RFE/RL's South Slavic and Albanian Languages Service reported on 6 February (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 6 February 2003). Elsewhere in Belgrade, EU security policy chief Javier Solana said the time has not yet come to discuss the status of Kosova. In New York, UN civilian administration (UNMIK) chief Michael Steiner told the Security Council that "jobs, security, and multiethnicity" are UNMIK's priorities, Reuters reported. He added: "This is what the international community wants. This is what people in Kosovo want." He criticized Belgrade for saying Kosova is part of Serbia while being concerned only with the Serbian minority there. Steiner also said the Albanian majority fails to deal with the problems facing Serbs and other minorities. Also at the UN, U.S. Ambassador John Negroponte said the time has come increasingly to transfer responsibilities from UNMIK to the elected authorities in Kosova, "Koha Ditore" reported on 7 February. PM

MACEDONIA THREATENED BY 'CRIMINALS'?
Macedonian Defense Minister Vlado Buckovski and Serbian Deputy Prime Minister Nebojsa Covic met in the southern Serbian town of Vranjska Banja on 6 February to discuss the activities of "criminal groups" in southern Serbia and northern Macedonia, which have large ethnic Albanian populations, RFE/RL's South Slavic and Albanian Languages Service reported. The Serbian news agency Beta reported that the two men agreed those two regions will not become stable until the question of Kosova's status is resolved. But in Skopje, NATO Ambassador to Macedonia Nicholas Biegman said criminal groups active in several parts of Macedonia do not pose a serious threat to that country's stability and are not supported by the local population. He added that police are coping with the problem, dpa reported. Among the groups he referred to was the shadowy Albanian National Army (AKSH). PM

EU PEACEKEEPERS TO BE IN MACEDONIA BY APRIL
Greek Prime Minister Kostas Simitis said in Athens on 6 February that he expects the 650-strong EU peacekeeping force to be stationed in Macedonia by 10 April, dpa reported (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 28 January 2003 and "RFE/RL Balkan Report," 7 February 2003). PM

MACEDONIA REPORTEDLY RECEIVES U.S. REQUEST FOR MILITARY SUPPORT...
The U.S. government has formally asked Macedonia for military and logistical support, RFE/RL's Macedonian broadcasters reported on 5 February, quoting unspecified government sources. The request, which was sent the army's commander in chief, President Boris Trajkovski, is said to be similar to the ones received by the Bulgarian and Turkish governments. It reportedly includes overflight rights as well as allowing the presence of U.S. troops on Macedonian territory (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 5 February 2003). UB

...WHILE MAINTAINING AMBIGUOUS POLITICAL STAND ON IRAQ
Macedonia is among the signatories of the 5 February declaration of the so-called Vilnius 10 group of NATO candidate states in support of the United States. However, it has not yet formulated a clear position in the Iraqi question. "Macedonia does not choose between the United States on the one hand, and Germany, France, or any other state on the other hand," www.pressonline.com.mk quoted presidential spokesman Borjan Jovanovski as saying on 6 February. "Macedonia will continue to seek a solution of the Iraqi question within the framework of the United Nations," he added. UB

BOSNIA SUPPORTS PRO-U.S. DECLARATION ON IRAQ
Among the signatories of the Vilnius 10 declaration were Albania, Croatia, and Slovenia, the "Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung" reported on 7 February. Bosnia and Serbia and Montenegro, which are not part of the Vilnius group, did not have an opportunity to be included. The Bosnian Foreign Ministry issued a statement of its own on 6 February in which it backed the U.S. stand on Iraq as presented by Secretary of State Colin Powell before the UN Security Council the previous day, dpa reported. The statement called on Iraq to implement all relevant Security Council resolutions and expressed Bosnia's support for the role of that body in dealing with the crisis. PM

CROATIA OFFERS THE U.S. LOGISTICAL SUPPORT
Defense Minister Zeljka Antunovic said in Zagreb on 6 February that Croatia is prepared to provide the United States with logistical support in the event of a conflict in Iraq but did not elaborate. Local media reports suggested that such support could involve overflight and refueling rights for U.S. aircraft. Elsewhere, President Stipe Mesic expressed support for efforts to disarm Iraq but stressed that peace should be "given a chance." PM

SLOVENIA CONFIRMS THAT IRAQ TRIED TO BUY URANIUM-ENRICHING EQUIPMENT
A Foreign Ministry spokesman told AP in Ljubljana on 6 February that Iraqi officials attempted to buy equipment for enriching uranium from Slovenian firms in 1999 and 2000 but that Slovenian officials blocked the deal. The spokesman provided no details. PM

BIG HUNT FOR STOLEN CARS IN BOSNIA
The new EU Police Mission (EUPM) and more than 1,000 Bosnian police launched a search across Bosnia to identify stolen cars, dpa reported. An initial check of 6,000 cars revealed that 31 of them were stolen. Much of the western Balkans has become a market for stolen vehicles in recent years. A Montenegrin joke has it that the state tourist board might run ads with the slogan: "Come to Montenegro. Your car is waiting for you." PM

ROMANIAN PRESIDENT SAYS U.S. SECRETARY POWELL BROUGHT 'SUBSTANTIAL EVIDENCE' ON IRAQ...
Presidential spokeswoman Corina Cretu said on 6 February that President Ion Iliescu believes U.S. Secretary of State Colin Powell exhibited "substantial evidence" that Iraq is in breach of UN resolutions during his 5 February speech to the UN Security Council, Romanian Radio reported. Cretu also said Romania "associates itself" with the general position of the European Union (expressed in the EU Greek Presidency's 4 February declaration), which estimates that "time is not running in Iraq's favor," and with the declaration of the Vilnius 10, which has called on the Security Council to eliminate the threat Iraq poses to the international community (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 6 February 2002). Cretu said Iliescu believes that the Security Council is currently "giving Iraq a last chance," and that procrastination on the part of Iraq would be "counterproductive to Iraq's own interests and dangerous for the region's stability and peace." A similar statement was published separately by the Romanian government on 6 February. MS

...INSISTS ON IMPORTANCE OF ANTICORRUPTION LEGISLATION
Speaking on Romanian Television on 6 February, President Iliescu said he has asked the ruling Social Democratic Party leadership to submit for his examination before parliament starts debating it the pending legislation on combating corruption and avoiding conflicts of interests on the part of politicians (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 5 February 2003). Iliescu said he did so because passage of the legislation is an urgent priority and he does not want to be in the position of having to refuse promulgation and send the package back for reexamination by parliament. Iliescu also said he would participate in a 7 February meeting of the parliamentary ad hoc commission that examines proposed amendments to constitution. He said it is "essential" that the amendments be backed by the required two-thirds majority in parliament and that public debates be organized to help people understand them, since the amendments would have to be approved in a referendum. MS

ROMANIAN PARLIAMENTARY OPPOSITION PARTIES SIGN COOPERATION AGREEMENT
An agreement on cooperation in parliament was signed on 6 February between the National Liberal Party and the Democratic Party, RFE/RL's Bucharest bureau reported. The signatories pledged to adopt joint positions on issues related to Euro-Atlantic integration, economic and institutional reforms, and the struggle against corruption. They are to jointly monitor the activities of the government and to back each other's no-confidence motions submitted in parliament. MS

MOLDOVAN OPPOSITION PARTIES PICKET, BOYCOTT PARLIAMENT
Leaders of 16 parliamentary and extraparliamentary parties on 6 February picketed the parliament building and the presidential office, while deputies representing the Popular Party Christian Democratic and most deputies representing the Braghis Alliance boycotted parliamentary debates, RFE/RL's Chisinau bureau and Infotag reported. They carried banners reading: "Free and correct elections"; Give us TVR" (Romanian Television); "We demand fulfillment of the PACE resolutions"; "Down with the mafia"; and "NATO-EU Referendum." Former Premier Dumitru Braghis, chairman of the Braghis Alliance, told journalists that the opposition was forced to resort to "an act of desperation" in the face of the government's refusal to engage in genuine dialogue and its blocking of the opposition's legislative initiatives. The protesters handed the leadership of the parliament and President Vladimir Voronin's staff a list of seven demands, which include the cancellation of the new law on party registration, transforming Teleradio Moldova into a public company, and amending the election law. The picketing was to continue on 7 February. The protesting leaders said if they do not receive a reply by 16 February they will organize large-scale rallies in Chisinau. MS

MOLDOVAN OPPOSITION PARTY EXPELS FOUR DEPUTIES
The Braghis Alliance's parliamentary group on 6 February expelled from its ranks four deputies who defied the decision to boycott the parliamentary debates, Flux reported. The four took part in the debates while most of the parliamentary group's members were picketing parliament (see above). One of the four, Mihail Camerzan, is a deputy speaker of the parliament and the Braghis Alliance has asked that he be dismissed from that position. MS

MOLDOVAN PARLIAMENT APPROVES PROPOSED AMENDMENT TO ELECTION LAW
The parliament on 6 February approved an amendment to the election law that would restore direct elections for mayors, Infotag and Flux reported. In 2002, the majority Party of Moldovan Communists (PCM) reintroduced the Soviet-era system whereby mayors were elected by the Municipal Council, but the Constitutional Court subsequently ruled that the change violated the constitution. The amended law has yet to be promulgated by the president. However, alongside the amendment required by the court's ruling, the PCM majority on 6 February introduced several other changes to the law, including one that prohibits mayors from serving more than two consecutive terms. Infotag said that, according to political observers, the change is aimed at preventing Chisinau Mayor Serafim Urechean from running for the post after his term expires in May. Lawyers cited by Flux said the amendment will not prevent Urechean from running, because he was appointed to his first term by former President Mircea Snegur, rather than being elected to the post. MS

BULGARIAN GOVERNMENT TO ASK PARLIAMENT FOR APPROVAL OF U.S. REQUEST FOR MILITARY SUPPORT
The government formally decided on 6 February to ask parliament to approve the U.S. request for support in the event of a military operation against Iraq, mediapool.bg reported. The United States has asked Bulgaria to grant overflight rights, allow the presence of U.S. troops on Bulgarian territory, as well as the stationing of refueling aircraft at the Sarafovo air base in eastern Bulgaria and the supply of aircraft fuel from the nearby Neftohim refinery. The parliament is also to be asked to approve the deployment of an antinuclear-, antibiological-, and antichemical-warfare unit to the crisis area. The government wants the parliamentary approval to be valid for six months. Defense Minister Nikolay Svinarov said negotiations with the U.S. government on financing the support are under way. UB

BULGARIAN MEDIA COALITION SLAMS DRAFT MEDIA LAW
The Bulgarian Media Coalition (BMK), an umbrella organization of journalists unions, nongovernmental organizations, and media operators (such as cable-television companies), has criticized the draft law on radio and television in an open letter to Prime Minister Simeon Saxecoburggotski, President Georgi Parvanov, members of the Council on Electronic Media (SEM), and others, mediapool.bg reported on 6 February (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 6 February 2003). According to the BMK, there was no public debate on the draft law. The letter stated that the alleged attempt on the part of the ruling coalition to rush the legislation through parliament without discussion provides more evidence of the coalition's use of undemocratic means to gain influence in the state-owed media. UB

BULGARIAN PARLIAMENT APPROVES PROPOSED AMENDMENTS TO LAW ON INTERIOR MINISTRY
The parliament approved proposed amendments to the law on the Interior Ministry on 6 February, mediapool.bg reported. The amendments would allow the National Service for Combating Organized Crime (NSBOP) to use undercover agents to infiltrate private companies and the state administration to aid the NSBOP's corruption-fighting efforts. The changes would also stipulate that personal data and DNA tests of persons under investigation must be registered by police. Vladimir Donchev, the chairman of the parliamentary Commission for Internal Affairs, assured lawmakers that the proposed amendments respect the rights of suspects. UB

IRAN'S DISTANT 'SECOND REVOLUTION'
Iranian officials this week once again are vainly trying to rekindle revolutionary fervor as the country marks the 24th anniversary of the Islamic revolution. They are mobilizing crowds of conscripts, low-level bureaucrats, and other cheerleaders to commemorate the "Days of Dawn," the 10 days of revolutionary transition that began with Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini's 1 February 1979 return to Iran. But many Iranians are simmering with discontent, and the conservative clerics wielding the reins of power have lost the legitimacy they once derived from public support. The revolution's moral, social, and economic promises remain undelivered by a corrupt and dysfunctional government.

But if the revolution has failed, there are no prospects on the horizon for its overturn. Many outside Iran expected otherwise when university students across the country last November and December protested the death penalty against outspoken liberal Professor Hashem Aghajari. At the same time the power struggle between the regime's major factions was intensifying and perennial hopes for a "second revolution" soared -- at least among Western journalists and a few Washington officials. Some Iranian expatriates used satellite television to urge their fellow countrymen to join the students, but few did so other than those who went to make sure that their children did not get arrested.

Political apathy once again dominates Iran's mood. The public's enthusiasm for new political upheaval appears to be no greater than its long-faded zeal for the Islamic revolution.

One reason the student activists failed to attract wider support is that Aghajari's death sentence was simply not an issue that affects most people's lives. It was dreadful to be sure, even if it has not been carried out, but most people have gotten used to the harsh judgments and penalties (although rarely death sentences) imposed by the conservative courts against Islamic modernists and reform-minded activists.

Similarly, few Iranians consider that the relentless economic stresses of life in the Islamic Republic warrant mounting an open challenge to the regime. The steep housing prices and pervasive corruption, the high rates of unemployment and inflation, and other chronic problems wrought by governmental economic mismanagement might breed widespread discontent, but Iranians are used to gradually worsening daily living conditions. They have not been hit by the sort of sudden economic catastrophe, such as a steep drop in oil prices, that would be much more likely to breed serious unrest.

As for the so-called student movement, expectations in the West that it poses a serious threat to the regime are clearly too high. Compared to their counterparts in the United States, Iranian university students are keenly interested in politics, but those willing to put their academic futures on the line by joining in demonstrations are relatively few. Western journalists covering the demonstrations of late last year reported fewer than 5,000 participants at the largest rallies. That does not amount to much in a total university population exceeding 1 million.

There is no nationwide coordinating mechanism that would make the students an effective force. The main student organization on most campuses, the Office for Strengthening Unity, might enable students to air views on some controversial issues but ultimately it functions to support the ruling order. It secures official permits for student demonstrations in apparent return for ensuring that the students do not get out of hand. The student protests against Aghajari's death sentence were tolerated, but chants of "Death to [Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali] Khamenei" are not, and the student-organization leaders try to prevent such occurrences.

Without independent institutions, civil society cannot be established, and no viable opposition can develop. Institutions in such civil sectors as education, religion, labor, law, and women's rights, like the students' Office for Strengthening Unity, are connected to the government, either through direct funding or by intimidation. There is at present no means for workers to generate a general strike, nor is it yet possible for the more modernist, dissident clerics to become an organized threat when their seminaries in Qom are government connected.

The government, although riven by factional conflict, is not on the brink of collapse. The two main political trends remain in a deadlock that keeps the conservatives in power and the reformists perpetually frustrated. The conservatives have no popular legitimacy and no hopes of winning elections in the manner that President Hojatoleslam Mohammad Khatami and the reformist parliamentarians have, but they hold all the coercive reins of power and are constantly able to thwart reform efforts.

In a political maneuver meant to give an appearance of fighting back, President Khatami last year proposed two bills that would strengthen him vis-a-vis the conservative judiciary and curtail the Guardians Council's role in vetting election candidates. The Guardians are certain to reject the bills if they ever emerge from parliament. It is doubtful that Khatami, who rarely speaks about the two bills now, feels seriously enough about them to resign in the event of their rejection, as some reformists say he should. Khatami has not carried out his own, earlier threats to resign during his troubled presidency. Above all he wants to avoid fomenting domestic chaos. In his view, according to reformists disillusioned with him, order is more important than freedom.

Disillusionment with Khatami is now widespread, and at present the outlook for political reform is grim. Some conservatives talk of closing remaining reformist newspapers and of disbanding major reformist parties such as the Islamic Iran Participation Party, one of whose leaders, Abbas Abdi, was sentenced to eight years in prison this week. A U.S.-led war with Iraq could make the situation worse if, as reformists fear, conservatives adduce domestic security needs in order to further crush Iran's democratic impulse.

Stephen C. Fairbanks is an RFE/RL regional analyst on Iran.

PAKISTANI PRESIDENT SAYS BIN LADEN HIDING IN AFGHANISTAN
President Pervez Musharraf said on 6 February that Osama bin Laden is alive and hiding in neighboring Afghanistan, AFP reported. While Pakistani officials previously thought the leader of the Al-Qaeda terrorist network was dead, Musharraf said on the final day of a three-day visit to Moscow that now "there are indications that he is alive." He did not elaborate. "I am 100 percent sure, well 99 percent because only God can be 100 percent sure, that he is not in Pakistan," Musharraf added. "Al-Qaeda has ceased to exist as an organized body," he said, adding that the terrorist network is "dispersed and they are on the run and they are hiding," according to AP. AH

PAKISTANI MINISTER INSISTS NO AL-QAEDA IN BORDER REGION, U.S. FORCES SHOULD LEAVE
Pakistan's chief minister in charge of the country's border regions denied on 6 February that there are any Al-Qaeda or Taliban fighters in the area and demanded that U.S. forces depart, AP reported. "We don't have any Al-Qaeda or Taliban here," said Akram Durrani, who heads the conservative Islamic coalition that governs the North-West Frontier Province. "Absolutely nothing is here." U.S. military and government sources were quoted by the news agency as disagreeing, noting that Pakistani Army troops have recently exchanged fire there with Al-Qaeda and Taliban forces and a U.S. Army sergeant was killed in a December gun battle. Durrani added in an interview at his Peshawar residence: "We don't want any foreigners here," according to AP. He also said his government does not support terrorism, but added that he does not agree that Taliban are terrorists. AH

JOINT RAID IN EASTERN AFGHANISTAN NETS TWO FORMER TALIBAN OFFICIALS...
A raid by U.S. Special Forces and Afghan troops resulted in the arrest on 7 February of two former Taliban officials at a Paktiya hideout in eastern Afghanistan, dpa reported the same day, citing Afghan Islamic Press (AIP). AIP quoted sources in the town of Zurmat saying the two are Mullah Mohammad Qasim and Mullah Abdul Ghafoor, whom it adds are former district officials for the Taliban regime. Mullah Ghafoor's arrest came after a shootout in which no casualties were reported, the news agency said. U.S. fighter aircraft reportedly lent support during the raid, in which allied forces used light weapons and rocket launchers. AH

...AS COALITION TROOPS COME UNDER FIRE IN THE SOUTHEASTERN AFGHAN PROVINCE
Coalition forces arrested several people after troops came under hostile fire while searching a compound southwest of Gardayz, the capital of Paktiya Province, international news agencies reported. "Enemy forces were in a compound firing at coalition forces with small arms and machine guns," dpa quoted U.S. military spokesman Colonel Roger King as saying. "Close air support was requested but not used." King also said fighting erupted within 1,000 meters of Bagram Air Base on 6 February. "Small arms fire, mortar and grenade rounds were heard in the evening...and coalition forces fired mortar illumination and launched Apache helicopters to observe the situation," King said. "The fighting, which appears to be between Afghan factions, ceased when the Apaches flew over." MES

CIA OFFICER KILLED IN LIVE-FIRE ACCIDENT
Helg Boes, a 32-year-old officer from the Central Intelligence Agency's (CIA) Counterterrorist Center, was killed on 5 February during a live-fire exercise in eastern Afghanistan, international news agencies reported. The CIA said in a statement that Boes was killed "when a grenade detonated prematurely." "He was no stranger to Afghanistan and its dangers, having served there before and done outstanding work," CIA Director George Tenet told CIA staff, according to a CIA statement cited by Reuters. "In fact, he was on the weapons training range yesterday, preparing for yet another intelligence collection operation. He died doing what he loved," Tenet said. MES

AFGHAN GOVERNMENT SAYS IT WILL SUPPORT ANY UN DECISION ON IRAQ
Presidential spokesman Sayyed Fazel Akbar said on 7 February that Afghanistan "will support any decision by the United Nations on Iraq because Afghanistan is a member of the United Nations like any other country," AP reported. However, he said it is "to early to comment" on the possibility that the United States would launch an attack on Iraq without first seeking UN approval. Akbar expressed his hope that the Iraq crisis will be resolved peacefully. "Afghanistan and Iraq are both Muslim" states, he said. "Both want peace, security, and good life for their people." MES

HUNDREDS OF AFGHAN REFUGEES RETURN FROM SHIRAZ
Thirteen buses and four trucks have returned some 500 Afghan refugees to their homeland from the Fars Province in southern Iran during the past week, IRNA reported on 6 February, citing the head of the provincial Bureau of Alien and Foreign Immigrant Affairs. Mahmud Musavi said more than 27,900 refugees have returned to Afghanistan since the launch of the UN-backed Voluntary Repatriation Program. That program envisages the repatriation of some 400,000 Afghan refugees by the end of March, however, out of an estimated total of 2 million, according to IRNA. AH

IRANIANS OPEN HEALTH CENTER IN AFGHANISTAN'S HERAT PROVINCE
The Iran Clinic was inaugurated in Herat Province on 6 February, Mashhad radio reported. The 30-bed clinic has two operating rooms, a laboratory, and a radiology room and is intended to serve the inhabitants of Herat. This is not the only example of Iranian assistance to the Afghan health sector. Afghan Public Health Minister Sohaila Sediq visited Iran in mid-December, and an Iranian health delegation went to Kabul at the end of December. The Iranian Red Crescent Society opened a clinic in Nimruz Province on 25 October, according to Mashhad radio. Nimruz Province Governor Karim Barahowi said at the time that work on the clinic began one year earlier, and the clinic provides emergency services and disease treatment. BS

IRAN CONTINUES TO DENIGRATE U.S. PRESENCE IN AFGHANISTAN
U.S. Ambassador to Afghanistan Robert Finn has said the U.S. military will remain in Afghanistan for up to seven years, according to a Pashtu-language commentary broadcast on 5 February by Iranian state radio. The Iranian commentary stated that "the majority of experts" believe the United States is pursuing colonial goals in Afghanistan and Central Asia, and that the United States intends to use Afghanistan as a base. "The allocation of $3 billion to build permanent military bases inside Afghanistan demonstrates America's intentions," the commentary claimed, adding that reports about remaining Taliban and Al-Qaeda members are only a pretext for a long-term U.S. presence. "The lasting presence of American forces in Afghanistan will not only lead to failure to ensure security in this country but also add to the lack of security and give rise to more confrontations," the commentary concluded. BS

IRANIAN PARLIAMENTARIANS VISIT AGHAJARI
Delijan and Mahallat parliamentary representative Ali Asghar Hadizadeh said on 6 February in a letter to Parliament Speaker Hojatoleslam Mehdi Karrubi that a delegation from the legislature has visited Hashem Aghajari in prison, IRNA reported. Political activist and university Professor Aghajari, who was sentenced to death for blasphemy and is awaiting the outcome of his appeal in a Hamedan prison, said his conditions in the prison are generally satisfactory and he denied reports that his requirements are unfulfilled. On the other hand, Aghajari's lawyer Saleh Nikbakht said his client's appeal was addressed to Supreme Court chief Ayatollah Mohammad Mohammadi-Gilani in order to "inform him of the way that Mr. Aghajari had been maltreated," ISNA reported on 26 January. "The verdict issued by the judge, in its entirety, reflects an extremist approach and is against the law," Nikbakht said. BS

TEHRAN DENIES GIVING INDIA BASING RIGHTS
"India will get access to Iranian military bases in the event of a war with Pakistan," Stanley Wiess of Business Executives for National Security opined in the 6 February "International Herald Tribune." Wiess added that a partnership between Iran and India could serve as the foundation for regional stability. The Iranian Embassy in New Delhi on 5 February denied the existence of an agreement to allow Indian use of Iranian bases for possible operations against Pakistan, IRNA reported. The denial was in response to a 23 January report published by defensenews.com that said an agreement signed when Indian naval chief Admiral Madhvendra Singh visited Iran in January called for India to support warship construction at Chahbahar and station engineers at Iranian air bases; to refit and maintain Iranian tanks, infantry fighting vehicles, and artillery pieces; and to train Iranian troops. In exchange, according to the defensenews.com report, India wants to deploy troops, armored personnel carriers, tanks, and light armored vehicles to Iran during crises with Pakistan. The Iranian Embassy cited a clause in the Iranian Constitution that forbids use of its land, airspace, and ports by the armed forces of foreign countries, according to IRNA. BS

IRANIAN FOREIGN MINISTER MEETS WITH WEAPONS-INSPECTION CHIEF...
Foreign Minister Kamal Kharrazi on 6 February stopped in Vienna after leaving London and met with UNMOVIC Executive Chairman Hans Blix, IRNA reported. In discussing the disarmament of Iraq, Kharrazi described Iran's stance on the issue and Blix described the inspectors' work. BS

...AND ARRIVES IN SLOVAKIA...
Foreign Minister Kharrazi arrived in Bratislava on 6 February for a two-day visit focusing on economic and political cooperation. Kharrazi was expected to meet with his Slovak counterpart Eduard Kukan to discuss Iraq, the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, and Slovakia's ambitions in terms of Euro-Atlantic integration, according to a 5 February report from the Slovak news agency SITA. Kharrazi also was scheduled to meet with Prime Minister Mikulas Dzurinda, parliament speaker Pavol Hrusovsky, and Economy Minister Robert Nemcsics. At a 7 February press briefing, Kharrazi mentioned regional fears about Iraq, saying: "There is such a concern in the whole region, not only in Iran but in other countries in the Middle East, that the Americans have a hidden agenda for the whole region. That is a reality, that there is such a concern." Kharrazi called for continued inspections in Iraq. BS

...BEFORE HEADING FOR MUNICH
Foreign Minister Kharrazi is to speak at the 39th Munich Conference on Security Policy that is scheduled for 7-9 February, IRNA reported. Normally this is a NATO-related event, but Persian Gulf security is becoming increasingly relevant. Conference organizer Horst Teltschik confirmed this on 4 February, according to IRNA, saying, "Iran is a key country in the Persian Gulf region." Teltschik added that the German government concurs with Iranian participation in the meeting. (For more on the conference, see http://www.securityconference.de/.) BS

NORWAY AND IRAN DISCUSS OIL AND FISH
Less than a week before his current European tour began, Foreign Minister Kharrazi visited Oslo. Kharrazi boasted during a 31 January meeting with Norwegian Minister of Petroleum and Energy Einar Steensnaes that Iran has high potential in the energy business because of its abundant oil-and-gas resources and because it offers short, cheap, and secure routes to other countries, IRNA reported the next day. Steensnaes responded, "Norway, as an oil-producing country, attaches great importance to the stability of the market." Kharrazi also met with King Harald V, Prime Minister Kjell Magne Bondevik, and Foreign Minister Jens Petersen. Norwegian Fisheries Minister Svein Ludvigsen told Iranian Agriculture Jihad Minister Mahmud Hojjati during an 8 January meeting that bilateral relations would improve with the transfer of Norwegian products and technology to Iran, IRNA reported. Ludvigsen also mentioned the potential for the Norwegian private sector to invest in Iranian fisheries industries. BS

UN INSPECTORS INTERVIEW IRAQI SCIENTIST...
An Iraqi scientist agreed to a private interview with UN weapons inspectors on 6 February, according to a statement by UNMOVIC/IAEA spokesman Hiro Ueki (http://www.iaea.org). "A UN team conducted a private interview with an Iraqi biological scientist alone. The interview lasted 3 hours and 32 minutes. During the interview, a number of issues were addressed," Ueki stated. The scientist, identified as Sinan Abd-al-Hassan, did not speak to the press following the interview, Reuters reported on 6 February. KR

...WHO WORKED FOR NATIONAL MONITORING DIRECTORATE
Abd-al-Hassan worked for the Iraqi National Monitoring Directorate (NMD) in 1999 and it is possible that he still works there. The NMD was established as a liaison between United Nations inspectors (beginning with UNSCOM) and the Iraqi government. It is the agency that provides Iraqi "minders" to accompany UN inspectors throughout Iraq, and was often accused of obstruction during the 1991-98 inspection process. An unnamed UN official reportedly stated that it appeared Abd-al-Hassan had been "coached" by Iraqi officials before the interview, according to AP on 7 February. KR

IRAQI PRESIDENTIAL ADVISER REBUTS U.S. CHARGES ONE BY ONE
Iraqi presidential adviser Amr al-Sa'di has refuted U.S. allegations related to Iraq's weapons-of-mass-destruction (WMD) programs that were presented by U.S. Secretary of State Colin Powell on 5 February (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 6 February 2003). Speaking to international media on 6 February, Al-Sa'di frequently referred to Powell's presentation to the UN Security Council as "conveniently forgetting" or "omitting" facts and "concocting" others. Al-Sa'di charged that the United States fabricated the recordings Powell presented of telephone conversations between Iraqi officials, saying the "concoction" was "below the level of a superpower," Iraq Satellite Television reported. Al-Sa'di also addressed U.S. charges of hidden documents and missing computer hard drives. "There is one answer.... Secretary Powell was in the U.S. Army and he should know that we have our defense secrets.... We have military secrets relating to defending our country," Al-Sa'di said. Regarding U.S. allegations that Iraq is constructing a roof over a 40-meter-long missile-launch pad, Al-Sa'di confirmed the construction, but added, "It is true there is a roof...but it is not for that purpose. It is [to protect the missile] against the elements, against the sun, and against rain, and it is open from the sides so that [workers there] can work." KR

FOREIGN MINISTRY ADDRESSES PRESENCE OF ANSAR AL-ISLAM...
Sa'id al-Musawi, head of the Foreign Ministry's Organizations Department, joined Amr Al-Sa'di at the 6 February press conference in Baghdad to address U.S. charges of a link between Iraq and international terrorism, Iraq Satellite Television reported. Al-Musawi called the charges "a sheer allegation"; however, he acknowledged the presence of Ansar Al-Islam in northern Iraq but said the group is based in an area outside the control of the Iraqi government. "A number of [members] of this organization infiltrated Iraq cities, including Baghdad. They carried out acts of sabotage and bombings, including a bombing at a restaurant in one of the quarters of Baghdad," al-Musawi added. He noted that "some" of the terrorists were arrested and have admitted to their crimes. KR

...AND ADMITS AL-QAEDA TERRORIST IS IN IRAQ
Sa'id al-Musawi also briefed reporters on the presence of Abu Mus'ab al-Zarqawi in Iraq during his 6 February press conference (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 6 February 2003), Iraq Satellite Television reported. Al-Musawi stated that Jordanian officials informed Iraq that al-Zarqawi had entered Iraq in November 2002. Al-Musawi noted that Iraq did not register al-Zarqawi as having entered the country under his name or any of the aliases provided by Jordan. However, he added that as of 1 February, "Our information says that he is present in the Al-Sulaymaniyah area, particularly the Bayyarah area in northern Iraq, which is outside the control of the central government." KR

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