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Newsline - February 10, 2003


RUSSIAN, GERMAN LEADERS DEMONSTRATE JOINT STAND ON IRAQ
President Vladimir Putin arrived in Berlin on 9 February at the beginning of a European tour to consult with the leaders of France and Germany to find a "peaceful solution" to the Iraq crisis, ORT and RTR reported. Putin, who was officially in Berlin to launch the "Year of Russian Culture in Germany," said after meeting with German Chancellor Gerhard Schroeder that "the positions of Russia, France, and Germany practically coincide" on the Iraq issue, Russian and Western news agencies reported. "We are convinced that efforts for a peaceful resolution of the situation regarding Iraq should be persistently continued," he added. "Our foreign ministers and UN representatives are coordinating their actions. China also has such a position," he said. VY

PUTIN SAYS UNILATERAL ACTION AGAINST IRAQ WOULD BE A MISTAKE...
Without naming the United States, Putin said in Berlin on 9 February, "We are convinced that unilateral use of force will only lead to the suffering of millions of people and an escalation of tension throughout the region," international media reported. In a 9 February interview with France 3 television, Putin said unilateral U.S. military action against Iraq could cause a "split in the UN Security Council and the antiterrorism coalition," RIA-Novosti reported. "This could lead to the breakup of Iraq with difficult-to-predict consequences for its neighbors." He reaffirmed the need to solve the current Iraq crisis through peaceful, political, and diplomatic methods, relying on the work of the UN inspectors. VY/VC

...AS HE AVOIDS ANTI-AMERICANISM...
President Putin on 9 February dismissed a question on whether a joint Russian-German-French position could effectively counter the United States in global affairs. "I do not want to incite anti-Americanism in connection with the Iraq situation," Germany's ntv television quoted him as saying. He said the same day that a split between Europe and the United States "would be a bad option for world development -- bad for the United States and for Europe," izvestiya.ru reported. In his 9 February interview with France 3 television, Putin said: "Practically all leaders of the countries that are permanent members of the UN Security Council, including [U.S. President George W.] Bush, have told me they believe the Iraq problem can be solved peacefully. And [Bush] does not want a war." RTR commented on 9 February that despite his differences with the United States on the Iraq issue, Putin is being careful not to harm the country's still-fragile partnership with the United States or the expanded international role Russia gained from its participation in the antiterrorism coalition. VY

...AND REITERATES SUPPORT FOR THE UNITED STATES...
There is "nothing in the United Nations Charter that would allow the UN Security Council to take a decision to change the political regime in one or another country -- whether we like this regime or not," Putin declared in his 9 February interview with France 3 television, RIA-Novosti reported. However, he stressed that Russia supports the United States in its desire to see the removal of weapons of mass destruction in Iraq. "Only one task is facing the international community: to make sure that Iraq does not have weapons of mass destruction or to find them and force Iraq to destroy them. And in this connection, we share the position with our American partners that we must do everything possible so that Iraq cooperates completely with the UN inspectors," Putin said. VC

...BEFORE HEADING TO FRANCE
President Putin was expected to arrive in France on 10 February for a three-day official visit, international media reported. The main issue on the agenda is the current situation in Iraq and a possible diplomatic coalition between Russia, Germany, and France. In his 9 February interview with France 3 television, Putin reaffirmed that Russia and France believe the future architecture of international security should be based on a "multipolar world." Putin acknowledged that the two countries have often disagreed on how to achieve this goal, notably during the crisis in the former Yugoslavia, but reaffirmed Russia's willingness to work collectively. "I think that the world is developing in a way that means we have a great number of dangers and a common threat. We need to pool our efforts -- and not to divide countries -- to counteract these threats," Putin said. VC

RUSSIAN DEFENSE MINISTER SUPPORTS FRANCO-GERMAN PLAN
Defense Minister Sergei Ivanov said on the sidelines of the 39th International Conference on Defense and Security in Munich on 9 February that Russia might back a reported Franco-German plan that is intended as an alternative to a possible U.S.-led military campaign against Iraq, RTR and ORT reported. According to this initiative, the United Nations would send several thousand peacekeepers to Iraq, the number of international inspectors would be tripled, and Baghdad would allow international reconnaissance aircraft to be used over all of Iraq's territory. Ivanov said that if the UN Security Council approves the plan, Russia would be prepared to send reconnaissance planes, observers, and experts to Iraq. VY

RUSSIAN EXPERT SAYS MOSCOW SHOULD SIDE WITH THE UNITED STATES...
Foundation for Effective Politics head Gleb Pavlovskii commented in "Russkii zhurnal" on 6 February that Russia should not exhibit compassion for the Iraqi regime. He said Iraq in the 20th century -- using support from the Soviet Union, the United States, and Europe -- unleashed aggressive campaigns in the region. Pavlovskii wrote that by invading Kuwait in 1990, Iraq dealt the first blow to the world order that had existed since World War II and gave the United States the opportunity to form and lead a coalition of countries from the East, West, and "south." While Russia discovered in the early 1990s that there was no role for Russia in the "new world order," Pavlovskii argued, that situation changed following the 11 September 2001 terrorist attacks on the United States. Pavlovskii noted that Russia is a member of the international antiterrorism coalition, which he said could help Russia regain its political standing in the future world order. VY

...AS ANOTHER SAYS RUSSIA CAN USE SITUATION TO ITS ADVANTAGE
Sergei Karaganov, chairman of the Council for Defense and Foreign Policy, wrote in the 10 February "Nezavisimaya gazeta" that Russia should look out for its own interests regarding Iraq. He said that while much of Europe differs with the United States on the crisis, Russia has no great differences with the U.S. position. He said the negative economic impact Russia stands to suffer from a war in Iraq is exaggerated. In addition, Karaganov said Russia cannot tolerate allowing states near its borders to possess weapons of mass destruction, adding that Iraq does possess some types of bacteriological weapons. He said Russia should think about its long-term strategy regarding a post-Saddam Hussein Iraq, and start to bargain with United States before a war begins. VY

PUTIN CLAIMS SUCCESS IN BATTLE WITH CAUCASUS SEPARATISM
Putin claimed in his 9 February interview with France 3 television that Russia has practically succeeded in quashing attempts by "international extremist Islamic forces" to separate the North Caucasus from Russia and establish an Islamic state on that territory, Russian news agencies reported. He said the upcoming referendum on a new draft Chechen constitution and election legislation will mark the first step toward a political settlement of the Chechen conflict under which Chechnya will have "broad autonomy" within the Russian Federation. LF

RUSSIAN DEFENSE MINISTER ACCUSES GEORGIA OF ABETTING CHECHEN TERRORISTS...
Defense Minister Ivanov told the International Conference on Defense and Security in Munich on 8 February that "the whole of Georgia has turned into a haven for terrorists," and that nationals of over 40 states, including Georgia and Azerbaijan, are funneling aid to the Chechen resistance, an RFE/RL correspondent in Munich reported. Ivanov further claimed that Chechen gangsters operating in Georgia have taken control of some Georgian cargo companies and use them to transport arms, drugs, and gunmen to Chechnya, Caucasus Press reported. He added that during the Moscow hostage crisis in October 2002, the hostage takers held telephone conversations with accomplices in Georgia, Turkey, and the United Arab Emirates. Ivanov also claimed that a base for manufacturing toxins, including ricin, exists in Georgia's Pankisi Gorge, and that the terrorism suspects arrested last month in London and France underwent training in Pankisi. He said there is "irrefutable evidence" that Chechen militants remain in Georgia. LF

...BUT RULES OUT MILITARY INTERVENTION...
Ivanov told journalists in Munich on 9 February that Moscow has no intention of using military force against "terrorists" located on Georgian territory, ITAR-TASS reported. Responding to Ivanov's allegations, Georgian National Security Council Secretary Tedo Djaparidze said on the sidelines of the defense and security conference in Munich on 9 February that Georgia has "largely succeeded" in eliminating the terrorist infrastructure and criminal armed groups in the Pankisi Gorge, an RFE/RL correspondent in Munich reported. Djaparidze admitted that "we still have to destroy some criminals...and the operation is still in progress," but nonetheless insisted that "Pankisi represents no problem for Georgia any more and no threat to the international community," Caucasus Press reported. In Tbilisi, Georgian State Border Department Chairman Lieutenant General Valeri Chkheidze denied on 8 February Ivanov's claims that Chechen militants are taking control of Georgian transportation companies, Caucasus Press reported. Georgian Interior Troops commander Giorgi Shervashidze said in Tbilisi the same day that there could be up to 50 "criminals" still in Pankisi but that they are not Chechens, Caucasus Press reported. Shervashidze added that all "terrorist leaders" left the region during the operation last fall to restore order in Pankisi. LF

...OR TALKS WITH MASKHADOV
Ivanov also said in Munich on 9 February that Moscow will never agree to negotiations with Chechen President Aaslan Maskhadov, whom he described as "a terrorist, just like [field commander Shamil] Basaev or international terrorist Abu al-Walid," Russian news agencies reported. At the same time, Ivanov said Moscow "has never rejected the possibility" of embarking on the process of seeking a political settlement to the Chechen conflict. LF

RUSSIA, NATO SIGN ACCORD ON JOINT SEA-RESCUE OPERATIONS
Defense Minister Ivanov and NATO Secretary-General Lord George Robertson inked an agreement in Munich on 8 February regarding joint sea-rescue cooperation, Interfax and other Russian news agencies reported. Both sides agreed to standardize search-and-rescue procedures, make equipment compatible, and to cooperate in exchanging information and the training of personnel. Ivanov said the August 2000 sinking of the "Kursk" nuclear submarine led to the idea of the agreement on sea-rescue cooperation. VY

MOLDOVAN PRESIDENT VISITS MOSCOW
Russian President Putin met with his Moldovan counterpart Vladimir Voronin in Moscow on 7 February to discuss bilateral economic and political relations, ITAR-TASS and Moldovan news agencies reported. Putin said he and Voronin agreed that negotiations on settling the Transdniester conflict must continue with the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE), Russia, and Ukraine serving as mediators. He also said Russia wants the Transdniester to be granted special status, while Moldova's sovereignty and territorial integrity must be strictly respected. Putin also said Russian investors should participate in the privatization process in Moldova. Voronin told journalists after the talks that the nature of relations between the two countries is one of a "long-term strategic partnership." He also said Moldova has no plans to join NATO, as its constitution defines it as a neutral state, but that the country will strive to achieve EU integration. "In April I will go to Brussels. The sooner we begin this work, the better the results will be," he said. Voronin also insisted that the "backbone" of future CIS efforts must be geared at establishing an economic free-trade zone among its members. He said Moldova insists on the immediate evacuation from or the on-the-spot destruction of the obsolete Russian arsenal in the Transdniester, because it poses a danger to the population. Voronin also said he hopes that the Russian language will be granted official status in Moldova in 2003. MS

FISTS FLY ON FLOOR OF DUMA...
A fight broke out in the State Duma on 7 February when Communist Deputy Vasilii Shandybin threw a punch at independent Deputy Aleksandr Fedulov, TVS reported. Shandybin was reportedly defending the honor of Communist Party leader Gennadii Zyuganov, whom Fedulov called a "political prostitute" during the session. Fedulov made the comment while defending Vladimir Zhirinovskii, deputy speaker and head of the Liberal Democratic Party, whose use of "colorful language" in reference to U.S. President Bush (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 4 and 6 February 2003) is being examined by the Duma's Ethics Committee. Fedulov, who has proposed legislation banning the Communist Party (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 5 February 2003), had contrasted Zyuganov's conduct unfavorably to Zhirinovskii's. Ethics Committee Chairwoman Galina Strelchenko said the committee will study a transcript of the 7 February proceedings at its next hearing and will evaluate not only Zhirinovskii's conduct but also that of Fedulov and Shandybin. JAC

...BUT LEGISLATORS STILL MANAGE TO PASS SOME LEGISLATION
Despite the scuffle, deputies managed to pass some legislation on 7 February. They approved the last of four bills intended to reform Russia's railway system. All four bills were passed by the Duma last year, but the fourth, "on the peculiarities of administering and distributing railway-transport property," was subsequently rejected by the Federation Council and submitted to a conciliation commission, polit.ru reported. The new version was supported by 284 deputies, while 70 voted against and no one abstained, ITAR-TASS reported. The same day, deputies approved a revised version of a bill on currency regulation that had been rejected by Federation Council, Interfax reported. Under the bill, the law on currency regulation would be amended to allow Russian citizens to carry up to $3,000 in foreign currency out of the country without possessing supporting documents. The amount was $10,000 in the original version passed by the Duma. Another bill that would amend the law on the organization of the insurance industry was passed in its first reading on 7 February with the support of 361 deputies, RosBalt reported. The proposed amendments are intended to clarify the procedure for licensing insurance companies in Russia. JAC

ANOTHER NTV STAR TO DEFECT TO TVS?
TVS Editor in Chief Yevgenii Kiselev has suggested that popular NTV host Leonid Parfenov work at his channel -- a suggestion Parfenov has called very "realistic," Ekho Moskvy reported on 8 February. However, Parfenov said he has also received offers from other channels and it is "too early to say anything." Parfenov announced last week that he considers working conditions at NTV "impossible" and is pulling his program off the air for at least three months (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 7 February 2003). "Kommersant-Daily" reported on 8 February that both TVS Information Broadcasting Director Grigorii Krichevskii and NTV Editor in Chief Tatyana Mitkova have been offered the position of deputy general director of NTV and have both rejected it. RFE/RL's Moscow bureau reported that Gazprom officials are denying they made Krichevskii an offer; however, eyewitnesses claim they saw Grichevskii having coffee with the new leadership of NTV. Kiselev, Krichevskii, Parfenov, and Mitkova all worked at NTV before Gazprom installed new management in April 2001 (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 17 April 2001). JAC

ANOTHER PARTY ATTEMPTS TO ORGANIZE 'LIBERAL' POLITICAL FORCES
The Liberal Russia party has called on other "democratic" parties to form a single party list for December's State Duma elections, RFE/RL's Moscow bureau reported on 8 February. Liberal Russia co-Chairman Sergei Yushenkov suggested that parties that want to join the union submit lists to which the names of 20 persons who are not in any party would be added. Then the voters, after looking through the lists on the Internet and in newspapers, would select the persons who would appear on the final joint list. According to the bureau, the nonparty persons who would be added to the list are former World Chess Champion Garry Kasparov, television hosts Svetlana Sorokina and Yevgenii Kiselev, and writers Vasilii Aksenov and Vladimir Voinovich. According to the bureau, Novgorod Governor and Democratic Party of Russia leader Mikhail Prusak has already expressed his support for Liberal Russia's suggestion, which he said will be discussed at the Congress of Democratic Forces on 22 March. JAC

LEGISLATORS WANT THIRD TERM FOR LOCAL LEADER
Deputies in the Supreme Council of the Republic of Khakasia on 5 February finished gathering signatures to an appeal to the presidium of the republican parliament about introducing changes to the republican constitution that would allow the head of the government to serve more than two consecutive terms, "Kommersant-Daily" reported on 6 February. If the amendment is adopted, current republican President Aleksei Lebed would be allowed to seek a third term in December 2004. Under current federal legislation, his first term is considered to have begun in 1999 (when the relevant legislation came into force), and he is allowed to seek an additional term only if doing so would not violate regional legislation. Irina Smolina, a spokeswoman for the republican government, denied that it played any role in the deputies' initiative, saying it was "their personal matter." However, Lebed himself revealed last year during one of his Internet conferences with voters that his deputy, Vasilii Tsyganok, was personally organizing the collection of signatures. JAC

COSSACKS TAKE ANOTHER CRACK AT CREATING THEIR OWN POLITICAL PARTY
Approximately 300 delegates from almost 50 regions of Russia met in Samara recently to declare their interest in creating an all-Russia patriotic party called Cossacks of Russia, "Vremya MN" reported on 6 February. The last attempt to create such a party occurred last year, but the Justice Ministry subsequently returned the party's founding documents and party charter on the grounds that they were legally flawed. Boris Gusev, ataman for the Volga Cossack formation, said a party is necessary to defend the Cossacks' interests within the government, particularly since the State Duma has yet to pass a bill on the Cossacks (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 28 June 2000). According to the daily, the Kremlin is planning to disband its administration for Cossack affairs. JAC

CIS PRESIDENTS TRAVEL IN STYLE BEFITTING GERMAN TOURISTS
A bus stolen from a German tour group on an excursion to see the Brest Fortress in Belarus was later used in Sochi to escort presidents of the Commonwealth of Independent States (CIS) during the August 2001 CIS summit in Sochi, TVS reported on 7 February. The stolen bus was reportedly sold for $200,000 through a company registered in Voronezh in the name of a retired woman who apparently did not have any idea she was a company owner. The bus was then purchased by railway management in Sochi, a popular resort city in Krasnodar Krai. TVS reported that law enforcement officials estimate there are at least dozens -- if not hundreds -- of stolen buses in Russia. According to the station, the bus was a "deluxe" Man air-conditioned luxury coach, and the CIS presidents were thus spared from the humid August weather during the summit. JAC

RUSSIAN, SOUTH CAUCASUS PARLIAMENT SPEAKERS MEET
Russian Federation Council Speaker Sergei Mironov met behind closed doors in Kislovodsk on 8 February with his counterparts from the three South Caucasus states -- Armen Khachatrian (Armenia), Murtuz Alesqerov (Azerbaijan), and Nino Burdjanadze (Georgia), Turan and Caucasus Press reported. No details of the talks were made public. "Kommersant-Daily" on 8 February quoted Mironov's Press Secretary Lyudmila Fomicheva as saying that the rationale for such meetings, of which this is the third within 12 months, is to provide an opportunity for the representatives of Armenia and Azerbaijan, and of Russia and Georgia, to discuss sensitive issues face to face. LF

ANOTHER CANDIDATE QUITS ARMENIAN PRESIDENTIAL RACE
Former Prime Minister Aram Sargsian announced in a televised speech on 8 February that he is withdrawing his candidacy in the 19 February presidential election in favor of People's Party of Armenia (HZhK) Chairman Stepan Demirchian, RFE/RL's Yerevan bureau reported. Sargsian appealed to his supporters and members of his opposition Hanrapetutiun party to campaign on behalf of Demirchian, whom opinion polls place second of the remaining nine candidates after incumbent President Robert Kocharian. Sargsian said his decision is tantamount to the creation of a new electoral alliance between Hanrapetutiun and the HZhK and a bid to revive the now-defunct Miasnutiun bloc that won a majority in the 1999 parliamentary elections. That bloc was jointly led by Demirchian's father and predecessor as HZhK chairman, Karen, and by Sargsian's brother and predecessor as premier, Vazgen Sargsian. Both men were among the eight victims of the October 1999 parliament shootings. LF

AZERBAIJANI OFFICIAL VOWS PRESIDENTIAL ELECTION WILL BE DEMOCRATIC...
Speaking at a press conference in Baku on 7 February, Azerbaijani presidential-administration department head Novruz Mamedov pledged that the presidential elections due this fall will be "more democratic, free, and transparent than ever before," Interfax reported. But in an allusion to Azerbaijani opposition parties' refusal to attend OSCE-sponsored talks on the new draft election legislation, Mamedov acknowledged that there are "certain difficulties" in achieving that goal (see "RFE/RL Caucasus Report," 10 and 27 January 2003). LF

...AND CALLS ON IRAQ TO DISARM
Mamedov also said Iraq should comply with all UN Security Council resolutions and disarm, and that any military operation against that country must be conducted in full compliance with international law, Interfax and Turan reported. He stressed Azerbaijan's "support for the U.S. in international issues," including the international antiterrorism campaign. Mamedov acknowledged that "all countries throughout the world are in favor of preserving Iraq's territorial integrity," and warned that developments in that country should not impact on Iraq's neighbors, by which he presumably meant Turkey in the first instance. LF

FORMER AZERBAIJANI PRESIDENT STILL PLANS TO CONTEST UPCOMING ELECTION
Former Azerbaijani President Ayaz Mutalibov, who has lived in Moscow since his failed attempt to regain the presidency in May 1992, will return to Baku to contest this fall's presidential elections, Civil Unity Party secretary Sabur Gadjiev told Caucasus Press on 8 February. Mutalibov first announced that he would run for president in December 2000, shortly after the Civil Unity Party elected him as its chairman (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 27 December 2000). LF

GEORGIAN-RUSSIAN TALKS END WITHOUT AGREEMENT
Georgian and Russian government officials failed during talks in Moscow on 6-8 February to reach agreement on the terms for extending the mandate of the Russian peacekeeping force deployed under the CIS aegis in the Abkhaz conflict zone, Caucasus Press reported on 8 February, citing the Georgian Foreign Ministry. That mandate expired on 31 December, and the Georgian National Security Council on 26 January set specific conditions for prolonging it (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 27 January 2003). Interfax on 8 February quoted Russian Foreign Ministry spokesman Aleksandr Yakovenko as saying that the Georgian side "expressed interest" in having the mandate prolonged. On 30 January, the UN Security Council set a deadline of 15 February for Russia and Georgia to reach agreement over the mandate. If they fail to do so, the unarmed UN observers in Abkhazia -- who rely for security on the Russian peacekeeping force -- might be withdrawn. Georgian President Eduard Shevardnadze said on 10 February during his regular Monday radio interview that the talks will be resumed, but did not specify where or when, Caucasus Press reported. LF

GEORGIAN PRESIDENT BACKS U.S. OVER IRAQ
Georgian President Shevardnadze issued a statement on 7 February expressing "open support" for the U.S. position on military action against Iraq, a position he termed historically just, ITAR-TASS reported. Shevardnadze said that any regime that manufactures weapons of mass destruction, whether nuclear, chemical, or bacteriological, should be punished. LF

GEORGIAN, BALTIC REPRESENTATIVES DISCUSS INTEGRATION INTO NATO
Georgian military officials met with their Baltic counterparts on 9 February on the sidelines of the 39th International Conference on Defense and Security in Munich to discuss how Georgia could profit from the Balts' experience in adapting their armed forces to NATO standards, Caucasus Press reported on 10 February, quoting Georgian National Security Council Secretary Tedo Djaparidze. Djaparidze also said he believes Georgia will join NATO in 2006 despite Russian opposition, Caucasus Press reported on 10 February. LF

KAZAKH JOURNALISTS TO PROPOSE ALTERNATIVE NEW MEDIA LAW
Journalists attending a nationwide congress in Turkestan expressed concern on 7 February at the implications of the new draft law on the media, khabar.kz reported on 7 February. They argued that it cannot protect journalists' interests unless corresponding changes are also made to the Criminal, Civil, and Administrative codes. Inter-News-Kazakhstan Director Oleg Katsiev argued that the new law will only serve to strengthen the power of government ministries. Congress participants decided to form a working group that will draft an alternative new law. LF

ANOTHER HUMAN RIGHTS WATCHDOG SLAMS KYRGYZ CONSTITUTIONAL REFERENDUM...
The International Helsinki Federation for Human Rights (IHF) wrote on 7 February to Kyrgyz President Askar Akaev listing what it termed serious irregularities during the 2 February referendum on draft constitutional amendments, and called on the Kyrgyz government to investigate reported violations in an open and transparent manner, RFE/RL's Kyrgyz Service reported. The IHF pointed to efforts to prevent Kyrgyz nongovernmental organizations from monitoring the ballot; major discrepancies between the number of voters counted by unofficial observers and the official figures; coercion of voters by local officials; and university students being ordered to vote in favor of the draft amendments. LF

...AS KYRGYZ NGOS REJECT EARLIER CRITICISM
Also on 7 February, the Assembly of Peoples of Kyrgyzstan and 35 other Kyrgyz NGOs released a statement criticizing as lacking objectivity the negative assessment of the referendum vote issued on 4 February by the Washington-based National Democratic Institute (NDI), akipress.org and RFE/RL's Kyrgyz Service reported (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 6 February 2003). The 7 February statement accused the NDI of "unethical behavior" and of "interfering" in the referendum process by providing financial support for independent observers from the "For Democracy and Civil Society" coalition. It further accused the NDI of attempting to split Kyrgyz society, and claimed that the NDI assessment did not cite a single specific incident to substantiate its allegations, akipress.org reported. LF

KYRGYZ OPPOSITION PARTY EVICTED FROM HEADQUARTERS
The opposition Ar-Namys Party was forced on 9 February to leave the offices it leased in Bishkek, RFE/RL's Kyrgyz Service reported. Party member Emil Aliev explained that all visitors to the office were filmed by the National Security Service and subsequently summoned for questioning. The party's next move is still unclear. LF

IMF WARNS TAJIKISTAN AGAINST PRIVATIZING KEY INDUSTRIAL ENTERPRISE
Rupert Christiansen, who headed an International Monetary Fund (IMF) delegation that visited Dushanbe on 29 January-7 February, noted at a press conference in Dushanbe on 7 February that in 2002 Tajikistan succeeded in reducing its foreign debt from $1.16 billion, or 98 percent of GDP, to $985 million, or 88 percent of GDP, Asia Plus-Blitz reported. He also noted that GDP grew by 9 percent in 2002 but expressed concern that the annual inflation rate has risen to 14-15 percent. ITAR-TASS on 8 February quoted Christiansen as advising the Tajik government not to proceed with the privatization of either the country's main aluminum plant or its main energy company. The aluminum plant last year produced 307,600 tons of aluminum, almost all of which was exported, accounting for 54 percent of the country's total exports. The energy company exported $66.2 million worth of electricity last year. LF

TAJIK BORDER GUARD COMMANDER DENIES AL-QAEDA PRESENCE CLOSE TO TAJIK BORDER
Tajik State Border Guard Committee head Nuralisho Nazarov told Interfax on 8 February that the Afghan government "fully controls" its territory adjacent to the border with Tajikistan and that there are no longer any Al-Qaeda or Islamic Movement of Uzbekistan militants in the regions in question. He said Tajik and Russian border guards are closely monitoring the situation on the Tajik-Afghan border. LF

UZBEK GOVERNMENT ISSUES DECREE ON LOCAL COMMUNITIES
The cabinet endorsed on 7 February a program of measures aimed at strengthening the role of mahallas (local communities) in both local administration and economic life, uza.uz and uzreport.com reported. The program provides for strengthening the legal, financial, and organizational underpinning for such communities as a component of civil society; creating 160,000 new jobs, primarily in the service and trade sectors; increasing assistance to impoverished families and the elderly; and improving medical facilities and recreational opportunities for children. President Islam Karimov designated 2003 the "Year of the Mahallas" two months ago (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 10 December 2002). LF

OSCE ENVOY SEES 'NO SUFFICIENT GROUNDS' FOR RECOGNIZING BELARUSIAN LEGISLATURE
The chairwoman of the OSCE Parliamentary Assembly's Working Group on Belarus said in Minsk on 7 February that there are "no sufficient grounds" for allowing the National Assembly to represent Belarus in the OSCE Parliamentary Assembly, Belapan reported. Uta Zapf made the comment at a news conference at the end of a three-day visit along with Urban Ahlin of Sweden and Lord Ponsonby of the United Kingdom. Zapf stressed that Belarusian authorities have failed to made any progress on the OSCE's four requirements for democratizing life in the country: improving election laws, enhancing the functions of parliament, respecting media freedom, and ending harassment of opposition figures. In a statement on its visit, the OSCE delegation welcomed the restoration of the OSCE presence in Belarus and the appointment of Ambassador Eberhard Heyken as head of the OSCE office in Minsk. Belapan reported that Heyken arrived in Minsk on 9 February. JM

BELARUSIAN PRESIDENT SIGNALS ABOUT-FACE IN AGRICULTURAL POLICY
President Alyaksandr Lukashenka said on 7 February that the government should dramatically change its role in the agricultural sector, Belarusian Television reported. Speaking at a government conference in Homel, he said, "I categorically forbid you to impose [agricultural policies].... There must be no tough administration despite our strict and authoritarian system of government." Lukashenka insisted that Belarus is going to integrate into the world economy and seeks to join the World Trade Organization. "The world has changed. I am ready to defend you somehow, protect, erect barriers, and so on, but this is not efficient. This does not depend on me anymore. That is why we should adapt ourselves to what is going on," Lukashenka said. He also said the country's agricultural reform might even envisage the introduction of private ownership of land in the future, but he added that "our population is not yet ripe for it." JM

SENIOR EU OFFICIAL URGES UKRAINE TO ASPIRE TO EU STANDARDS
Javier Solana, secretary-general of the EU Council and high representative for the common foreign and security policy, urged Ukraine to enact judicial reform, guarantee the freedom of independent media, and improve relations between the government and the opposition on the country's path toward the EU, Interfax reported on 7 February. Solana was briefing journalists following a Ukraine-EU Troika meeting in Kyiv the same day. JM

OPPOSITION LEADER CALLS ON WEST TO SUPPORT INDEPENDENT MEDIA IN UKRAINE
The West should support independent Ukrainian media because protecting freedom of expression is among that country's most serious issues, Interfax quoted Our Ukraine leader Viktor Yushchenko as saying to journalists in Washington on 8 February. According to Yushchenko, Ukrainian authorities "keep the electronic media on a short leash" by their approach to distributing licenses. "This is why the electronic media are most dependent among the Ukrainian media on the authorities," Yushchenko said. JM

UKRAINE TO LAUNCH SATELLITE RADIO
Satellite-radio channel Ukrayina-svit (World Ukraine) will be inaugurated in March, UNIAN reported on 10 February, quoting State Committee for Broadcasting head Ivan Chyzh. The channel is to broadcast five hours a day -- primarily to Eurasia and, in the future, to North America. "[The channel will make it possible] for Ukraine to speak in its own language to the world, while bypassing interpretations by competitors," Czyzh said, adding that the government has allocated 8 million hryvnyas ($1.5 million) to develop the channel. JM

CENTER PARTY STUMPS FOR ESTONIAN LANGUAGE
Center Party public-relations chief Evelyn Sepp released a statement on 8 February to ward off suggestions ahead of the 2 March elections that the party is attempting to boost the status of the Russian language at the expense of Estonian, BNS reported. "The official language in Estonia is Estonian; it is and will remain the official and only state language. For its protection and development, the teaching of the native language in Estonian schools must be substantially increased," the statement said. She pushed for raising the quality of instruction in Estonian, in general, and at preschool institutions and schools, in particular, to improve the integration of Estonian residents who are not ethnic Estonians and to create the prerequisites for a smooth transfer to Estonian-language high-school education. The statement seemingly was prompted by the recent proposal of a bill by two Russian-speaking Center Party lawmakers, Mikhail Stalnukhin and Vladimir Velman, to clarify the legal status of the cultural autonomy of ethnic minorities. SG

LATVIAN ECONOMY MINISTER TAKES ON LATVENERGO CHAIRMAN
Juris Lujans released a statement on 6 February saying he has lost confidence in Karlis Mikelsons, who is chairman and president of state-owned power utility Latvenergo, LETA reported the next day. Lujans criticized spending decisions at the company and said Mikelsons has insufficiently advanced national interests. He questioned Latvenergo's having spent 12 million lats ($19 million) on a marketing campaign in 2002 when it is a monopoly provider. The minister faulted Mikelsons for allegedly not informing him about the salaries of board members, who he said also have lucrative golden parachutes included in their contracts. Lujans turned up in person at a Mikelsons press conference the following day to repeat those criticisms. SG

LITHUANIAN PARLIAMENT CHAIRMAN MEETS WITH BELGIAN COUNTERPARTS
In addition to his meeting with EU officials in Brussels on 6 February (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 7 February 2003), Arturas Paulauskas held talks with Belgian Senate Deputy Chairman Sabine de Bethun and House of Representatives Chairman Herman de Croo, BNS reported on 7 February. The talks primarily focused on the prompt ratification of Lithuania's accession treaties with the European Union and NATO this year or in spring of 2004. Paulauskas also met with the parliamentary chairman of Belgium's French-speaking region of Wallonia, Francoise Schepmans, and talked about the need to ratify the cooperation agreement signed in October between Lithuania and Wallonia (see "Baltic States Report," 16 October 2002). SG

U.S. INTERESTS SECTION AT POLISH EMBASSY IN IRAQ CLOSES
The U.S. State Department on 7 February said the U.S. interests section in Baghdad, which has been run by Polish diplomats since the 1991 Gulf War, has been closed, Reuters reported. "Conditions throughout Iraq remain unsettled and dangerous," the U.S. State Department commented on the decision. "Foreigners present in Iraq have in the past been used as 'human shields' by the regime during periods of confrontation with the international community. There are credible reports that foreigners may face the risk of kidnapping." Polish Ambassador to Iraq Andrzej Biera last week was summoned from Baghdad for what the Polish Foreign Ministry termed "long consultations" (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 4 February 2003). JM

POLISH EDITOR TESTIFIES IN 'RYWINGATE'...
"Gazeta Wyborcza" Editor in Chief Adam Michnik on 8 February was questioned by a special parliamentary commission about an alleged attempt by film producer Lew Rywin to solicit a $17.5 million bribe from the media group Agora -- the publisher of "Gazeta Wyborcza" -- on behalf of Prime Minister Leszek Miller (see "RFE/RL Poland, Belarus, and Ukraine Report," 14 January 2003), PAP reported. Michnik reportedly told the commission he does not remember whether he was asked by Miller to hush the case up or whether he informed President Aleksander Kwasniewski about the case before it was publicized on 27 December. On 8 February, Michnik was interrogated about the same case, dubbed "Rywingate" in Polish media, by prosecutors. "I don't understand why this case continues so long. More and more often I come to the conclusion that Lew Rywin has mighty defenders and protectors who are doing everything to drown this case," Michnik commented. Rywin, who was charged last month with bribery, has refused to testify to prosecutors. JM

...AS ANOTHER IS CHARGED WITH INSULTING PONTIFF
The Regional Prosecutor's Office in Warsaw has charged Jerzy Urban with insulting Pope John Paul II, Polish Radio reported on 7 February, quoting the office's spokesman, Maciej Kujawski. The case concerns an article published by Urban in his tabloid-format "Nie" weekly in August. "Urban is charged with insulting the head of the Vatican, Pope John Paul II, in an article entitled 'Sado-masochism on Wheels' in which he went beyond the boundaries of legally permitted free-speech criticism, he did not respect commonly accepted ethical rules of the journalistic profession and socially accepted rules, and used offensive, disrespectful, and sneering expressions which aimed at defamation and humiliation of Pope John Paul II," Kujawski said. "The dear old man.... You [better] stay in bed.... Munch some caviar, lick at an ice cream.... Pick your nose or pick at your toes, whatever you prefer. Don't make a horror show out of yourself," Urban wrote during the pope's last trip to Poland. JM

CZECH OPPOSITION PARTY RENOMINATES KLAUS FOR PRESIDENT...
The Civic Democratic Party (ODS) on 7 February again nominated its honorary chairman, former Premier Vaclav Klaus, as its official candidate in the third attempt to elect a successor to former President Vaclav Havel, CTK reported. The third presidential vote is scheduled for 28 February. All 26 ODS senators backed the nomination. MS

...WITH NEW SOCIALIST CANDIDATE IN THE OFFING
Prime Minister Vladimir Spidla on 7 February floated the name of former Education Minister Jan Sokol as the possible presidential candidate of his Social Democratic Party (CSSD), CTK reported. According to the agency, Sokol said he will await the reaction of other parties to the proposal before deciding whether to accept. Czech Television reported that the Christian Democratic Union-People's Party and the Communist Party of Bohemia and Moravia did not rule out a Sokol candidacy. According to a survey carried out by CTK on 8 February, Sokol would not win unanimous support among CSSD lawmakers -- reminiscent of former CSSD candidates Jaroslav Bures and ex-Premier Milos Zeman (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 14 and 24 January 2003). The cabinet at its 10 February meeting is expected to discuss a proposal by the junior coalition party Freedom Union-Democratic Union to introduce direct presidential elections. MS

MAIN SLOVAK OPPOSITION PARTY SUFFERS SPLIT
Eleven of 26 deputies from the opposition Movement for a Democratic Slovakia (HZDS) officially announced on 7 February that they will launch a separate parliamentary group in the legislature, TASR and CTK reported. The group is headed by former HZDS Deputy Chairman Vojtech Tkac and wants to be registered as "independent." It also includes former HZDS Deputy Chairman Rudolf Ziak, whose inclusion surprised many. Tkac said that, for now, he is not seeking to set up a new political party, but would do so under extreme circumstances. He urged reform of the HZDS, saying his group's members would then return to its ranks. But he added that he is "too much of a pessimist" to believe that might happen. He reiterated that the HZDS, headed by former Premier Vladimir Meciar, has been turned into an undemocratic party based on "the principle of the leader." He also said his group intends to be a "constructive opposition." As a result of the split, the HZDS will cease to be the strongest group in the legislature. The senior ruling Slovak Democratic and Christian Union is now the strongest faction with 28 seats. MS

EUROPEAN OFFICIALS SUGGEST STANCES ON IRAQ MIGHT AFFECT ACCESSION
The European Parliament's Foreign Affairs Committee chairman, Elmar Brok, on 7 February said the speed with which some candidate countries recently rallied to the U.S. position in the Iraqi crisis and disregarded EU positions might ultimately endanger those candidates' accession, TASR reported. Brok said the atmosphere in the EU toward those invitees -- including Slovakia, whose premier, Mikulas Dzurinda, belatedly joined the "appeal of the eight" earlier this month -- has become "very nervous" (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 31 January 2003). Former French President Valery Giscard d'Estaing, who chairs the EU Convention on the future of Europe, warned that the Maastricht treaty calls for EU member countries to support without reservation the EU's joint foreign policy and to refrain from steps that might diminish its effectiveness. European Parliament speaker Patrick Cox meanwhile called for a special EU summit to work out a joint position for members and candidate countries toward the Iraqi crisis. MS

IRANIAN FOREIGN MINISTER VISITS BRATISLAVA
Visiting Iranian Foreign Minister Kamal Kharrazi said in Bratislava on 7 February that his country wants the world to rely on diplomacy rather than military force in dealing with Iraq, RFE/RL's Bratislava bureau reported. Kharrazi was speaking after talks with his Slovak counterpart Eduard Kukan. He said Iran wants to see a "coalition of peace" rather than a "coalition of war" established to cope with the crisis. "We are not going to support either side" in the event that a military conflict breaks out, Kharrazi said after meeting with Premier Dzurinda, according to CTK. Kharrazi also met with Economy Minister Robert Nemcsics, saying there is room to improve bilateral cooperation -- singling out the auto industry, heavy industry, and possible Slovak participation in the construction of power plants in his country. He also met with parliamentary speaker Pavol Hrusovsky, according to TASR. MS

VISEGRAD FOUR TO INSTITUTE CULTURE AWARD
The Culture Ministries of the four Visegrad states announced at a meeting in Bratislava on 7 February that they have decided to establish a Visegrad Award for Exceptional Cultural Activity, CTK reported. The distinction is to be first awarded at their 10th meeting in the Czech town of Telc in October. Pavel Dostal (Czech Republic), Waldemar Dabrowski (Poland), and Rudolf Chmel (Slovakia) met in Levoca, eastern Slovakia. Hungary was represented by Culture Ministry State Secretary Laszlo Kocsi. The countries agreed to continue cooperation after their likely accession to the EU in 2004. MS

HUNGARIAN POLICE CRITICIZED OVER DEMONSTRATIONS PERMISSION
The Metropolitan Court on 7 February rejected an application by Civilians for Peace to stage a demonstration in downtown Budapest on 15 February against war with Iraq, Hungarian media reported the next day. The court upheld a police decision to reject the proposed route for the march that cited traffic concerns. Civilians for Peace, which comprises more than 100 civic groups, will submit a new application that includes a different route. Organizer Annamaria Artner said she finds it shocking that her organization's request was turned down, while a neo-Nazi group was issued a permit to stage a demonstration the same day. Budapest police have said they will permit the Blood and Honor Cultural Society to stage a demonstration on Kossuth Square on 15 February. Government spokesman Zoltan Gal told reporters on 9 February that Prime Minister Peter Medgyessy expressed hope that Civilians for Peace might stage their demonstration. MSZ

IMF ISSUES WARNING FOR HUNGARY
An International Monetary Fund (IMF) report on Hungary that was published on 7 February on the Finance Ministry's website (http://www.p-m.hu) warns that loose fiscal policy, along with a quick increase in overall wages, last year limited the room for maneuver in monetary policy and increased inflationary pressure. Wage costs also increased simultaneously with the strengthening of the forint, which was disadvantageous for exporters, making Hungary less attractive for foreign investors. The report says that while the Hungarian National Bank's response to the appreciation of the forint was appropriate, avoiding the whole situation would have been preferable. The IMF supports the government's aim of lowering the budget deficit to less than 3 percent of GDP by the year 2005, and it suggests setting spending limits, approved by parliament, three years in advance. MSZ

MONTENEGRO'S PRESIDENTIAL ELECTION FLOPS AGAIN
For the second time in less than two months, Montenegro held a presidential election that was not valid because less than 50 percent of the electorate cast ballots, international and regional media reported. Unofficial figures put the turnout at about 47 percent, compared to 45.9 percent on 22 December (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 23 December 2002). The main reasons for the low turnout were voter apathy, a boycott of the ballot by the opposition, and harsh winter weather in some mountainous areas. Many voters are reportedly disgusted by what they regard as the failure of politicians visibly to improve living standards. The governing coalition, moreover, has been tainted by a scandal involving charges of human trafficking (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 20 and 28 December 2002). The coalition's reputation was not enhanced by persistent but unconfirmed recent reports that the government has been pressuring state employees to vote. The coalition's candidate, Filip Vujanovic, will become acting president by virtue of his position as speaker of the parliament. It is widely expected that the 50 percent clause will be removed from electoral legislation before a third vote is taken in the coming weeks, as the OSCE again recommended on 10 February. PM

BOSNIA NOT SUPPORTING PRO-U.S. DECLARATION AFTER ALL?
On 10 February, the joint Bosnian Presidency is scheduled to discuss Bosnia's position on the declaration by the so-called Vilnius 10 countries in support of the U.S. position on Iraq, RFE/RL's South Slavic and Albanian Languages Service reported (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 7 February 2003). Foreign Minister Mladen Ivanic recently endorsed the declaration, but Sulejman Tihic, who is the Muslim representative on the Presidency, objected, saying that Ivanic was expressing nothing more than his own view and that of his ministry. Mirko Sarovic, who is the Serbian representative on the Presidency and its current chairman, called the meeting to discuss the matter. PM

EU TELLS BOSNIA TO SET UP JOINT CUSTOMS ADMINISTRATION
The ambassadors of EU member states appealed on 8 February to authorities in Bosnia to set up a unified customs administration and value-added-tax system, RFE/RL's South Slavic and Albanian Languages Service reported from Sarajevo. In Banja Luka, Republika Srpska President Dragan Cavic warned against taking quick decisions and called for the matter to follow a normal parliamentary course. Many in the Republika Srpska fear that any surrender of these important revenues to the central authorities would undermine the financial foundations of the Bosnian Serb entity. PM

YUGOSLAV PRESIDENT'S ADVISER CALLS ON SERBS TO DEFEAT BOSNIAN CASE IN THE WORLD COURT
Predrag Simic, who is foreign policy adviser to outgoing Yugoslav President Vojislav Kostunica, told the Novi Sad daily "Dnevnik" that Serbs risk being branded a "genocidal people" if Bosnia wins its genocide case against Yugoslavia before the International Court of Justice (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 4 February 2003). Simic stressed that it is incumbent on the new state of Serbia and Montenegro to prove in court that the 1992-95 conflict in Bosnia was a civil war and not a war directed by Belgrade. He added that the conflict could have had a very different outcome if more Serbs had gone into the army rather than rejecting their mobilization orders from President Slobodan Milosevic. PM

KOSOVAR ALBANIANS CHARGED IN KILLINGS OF ALLEGED COLLABORATORS
Officials of the UN civilian administration in Kosova (UNMIK) have charged 11 ethnic Albanians with the murder of five members of the Hajra family in Gllogovc in 2001, Reuters reported from Prishtina on 8 February. The father of the family was known as a "close collaborator of the Serbs," the news agency added. Elsewhere, KFOR troops arrested one Kosovar Albanian in southeastern Kosova in conjunction with a grenade attack on 7 February that left four Serbs injured. In related news, Serbian police in the Bujanovac area arrested 12 ethnic Albanians on 8 February for illegal possession of weapons, Hina reported. Police soon released five of the 12 for lack of evidence amid peaceful protests in Bujanovac by some 1,000 local Albanians. The seven remaining detainees were each sentenced to one month in prison on 9 February by the district court in Vranje. PM

MACEDONIA'S SOCIAL DEMOCRATS RE-ELECT PARTY LEADER
At their fourth congress on 8 February, the ruling Social Democratic Union (SDSM) re-elected Prime Minister Branko Crvenkovski as party leader, the private a1 television (www.a1.com.mk) reported. Crvenkovski ran unopposed. In his acceptance speech, Crvenkovski called on party members to steer clear of corruption, adding that no government or party is immune to this problem. He said the country's biggest challenge is interethnic relations. He added, "The fire has been extinguished, but the problems still persist. The risk of new tensions has been reduced, but it would be irresponsible to underestimate the danger." Nikola Kjurkciev was elected as the party's new secretary-general. The congress also approved changes to the party statutes regarding several ideological and organizational questions. UB

MACEDONIA AND IMF REACH DEAL
Macedonia concluded a long-awaited agreement with the International Monetary Fund (IMF) in Skopje on 7 February to launch a $26 million stand-by arrangement that is expected to pave the way for a further $300 million in outside assistance, dpa reported. PM

ROMANIA TO SEND TROOPS TO POSSIBLE ANTI-IRAQ MILITARY OPERATIONS?
The daily "Evenimentul zilei" reported on 8 February that U.S. and Romanian military experts last week examined how Romania might contribute to possible military action against Iraq. The daily said a 70-strong Romanian antichemical-, antibacteriological-, and antinuclear-warfare unit might be dispatched to the Persian Gulf, together with police forces. It added that the Supreme Council on National Defense (CSAT), slated to meet on 10 February, will examine the possibility of dispatching troops, together with granting U.S. fighters overflight rights and the use of Romanian military airfields. Gheorghi Prisacaru, chairman of the Romanian Senate's Foreign Policy Committee, said on 8 February that parliament does not have to approve overflight or landing rights, since those were granted on 19 September in a resolution on Romania's participation in the international campaign against terrorism, Mediafax reported. Meanwhile, Foreign Minister Mircea Geoana discussed the Iraqi crisis on 7 February with several U.S. officials, including deputy national security adviser Stephen Hardey and Deputy Defense Secretary Paul Wolfowitz, Romanian Radio reported the next day. MS

ROMANIA SETS UP IRAQ-CRISIS ANALYTICAL TEAM...
The cabinet on 7 February set up a special governmental team to analyze developments vis-a-vis Iraq and their possible impact on Romania, RFE/RL's Bucharest bureau reported. The group includes Foreign Minister Geoana, Defense Minister Ioan Mircea Pascu, and representatives of the Foreign Intelligence Service and the Romanian Intelligence Service. The group held its first meeting the same day, examining the U.S. request for Romanian participation in possible military action. Prime Minister Adrian Nastase said the authorities must be on the alert against attempts to undermine national security and public order, adding that the "relevant bodies" must make recommendations to the CSAT regarding measures aimed at protecting sensitive and vital potential targets from terrorist attack. Local authorities are also to take protection measures. MS

...AND RECOMMENDS AVOIDING TRAVEL TO IRAQ AND NEIGHBORING STATES
The Foreign Ministry on 7 February issued a recommendation to Romanian citizens to avoid travel to Iraq or neighboring states, RFE/RL's Bucharest bureau reported. It also recommended that Romanian nationals working in Iraq verify the validity of travel documents and make preparations for possible evacuation on short notice. The ministry also said measures have been taken to recall part of the Romanian Embassy's staff in Baghdad. According to the private Antena 1 television channel, over 100 Romanian citizens are now in Iraq and, in the event of emergency, they might be evacuated via special flights. MS

ROMANIA STREAMLINES GOVERNMENT STRUCTURE
Prime Minister Nastase announced on 7 February that the government has cut 20 minister-secretary-of-state and three undersecretary-of-state positions, RFE/RL's Bucharest Bureau reported. No fewer than 90 officials held that rank before the streamlining decision, according to the private Antena 1 television channel. MS

ROMANIAN PREMIER ACCUSES FOREIGN INVESTORS OF CORRUPTION
Prime Minister Nastase said on 7 February that corruption in his country is not necessarily limited to the involvement of Romanian nationals, RFE/RL's Bucharest bureau. Nastase said many foreign investors have used ties to local politicians or international-financial institutions to buy enterprises at prices well below market value. In some cases, he said, enterprises worth $5 million were privatized for only $45,000. Nastase did not cite concrete examples. MS

ROMANIAN PRESIDENT SIDES WITH OPPOSITION ON AMENDING CONSTITUTION
President Ion Iliescu on 7 February met with representatives of the ad hoc parliamentary commission crafting possible changes to the Romanian Constitution and in several cases sided with opposition opinion, RFE/RL's Bucharest bureau reported. National Liberal Party (PNL) Deputy Valeriu Stoica said he was "pleasantly surprised" that Iliescu backed his party's position on the need to restrict parliamentary immunity. Stoica also said Iliescu rejected a proposal by the ruling Social Democratic Party (PSD) to grant the premier, rather than the president, the right to dissolve parliament, agreeing that this would lead to an inadmissible concentration of power in the premier's hands. Democratic Party Deputy Emil Boc said Iliescu agrees with the Democratic proposal for curbing "political immigration" from party to party by having the constitution specify that lawmakers who change affiliation lose their seats in parliament. MS

ROMANIA'S LIBERALS AGAIN FACE RIFT
PNL Chairman Theodor Stolojan on 8 February told the party's Bucharest branch that the party will strive to win 20 percent of the vote in the parliamentary elections due in late 2004 or early 2005, adding that it might forge an electoral alliance with the Democratic Party if surveys indicate mutual advantages, Romanian Radio reported. PNL parliamentary deputy Dinu Patriciu, a former PNL deputy chairman, countered that an alliance with the Democrats would be "unnatural." He said the PNL should "absorb" those Democrats who are close ideologically and let the others migrate to the ruling PSD. Patriciu added that the PNL should not create the impression that it is weak and needs somebody's help. He also said the party should not "impose on itself" percentage targets for the next elections. MS

ROMANIAN GOVERNMENT TO GRANT AGRICULTURAL PLOTS TO ROMANY MINORITY
The government on 7 February approved a plan to grant plots of farmland to members of the Romany community in the countryside. The program is to be financed by the government, which will contribute the plots from state-owned land or purchase them and grant property rights to eligible individuals. MS

ROMANIAN PRETENDER RAISES PROPERTY CLAIMS
Paul Lambrino, son of Carol Mircea Grigore Lambrino, whom a Romanian court recently recognized as the first legitimate son of King Carol II, on 7 February submitted claims for property restitution, including the Peles Castle in Sinaia, Mediafax reported on 7 February. "Prince" Paul, who submitted the claims as representative of his ill father in London, says Carol Mircea Lambrino is entitled to 62 percent of all claims for property restitution submitted by former King Michael I because, in addition to half of the properties that belonged to Carol II, he is also the testamentary inheritor of Carol II's last wife, Elena Lupescu, and of Carol II's brother, Prince Nicolae. The earthly remains of Carol II and Elena Lupescu are to be reburied at the Curtea de Arges Monastery on 14 February (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 19 December 2002 and 16 January 2003). MS

MOLDOVAN PRESIDENT SETS OUT CONDITIONS FOR IMPROVED RELATIONS WITH ROMANIA
President Vladimir Voronin on 8 February told Romanian Radio that the main condition for improved Moldovan-Romanian relations rests in Bucharest's renouncing talk of the existence of "two Romanian states." Voronin was speaking after a meeting in Moscow with Russian President Vladimir Putin. Voronin said he and Romanian President Ion Iliescu agreed at a meeting in Beirut in October on a series of measures aimed at improving relations, which, he added, must be not "merely good, but very good," befitting two neighboring countries. He said a second condition for improving relations is concentrating attention on economic rather than "all sorts of political or national problems." In response to a question, he said Romania's likely membership of NATO can only positively influence Moldovan-Romanian relations and will probably speed up the ratification of the basic treaty between the two states. MS

MOLDOVAN COMMUNISTS RALLY TO IRAQ'S DEFENSE
In a resolution on the Iraq crisis, the Central Committee of the ruling Party of Moldovan Communists (PCM) on 7 February denounced what it said are attempts to substitute the struggle against international terrorism with "open aggression against other countries and peoples," Infotag reported. The PCM said it opposes a possible strike against Iraq and added that war cannot be an instrument for solving contentious issues. Any forcible action against Iraq, it added, must be sanctioned by a UN Security Council resolution. MS

MOLDOVAN OPPOSITION CONTINUES TO PICKET PARLIAMENT
Opposition parties on 7 February continued their picket of the parliament, while both parliamentary opposition formations -- the Braghis Alliance and the Popular Party Christian Democratic (PPCD) -- said they will also continue boycotting legislative sessions, RFE/RL's Chisinau bureau reported (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 7 February 2003). The organizers of the protests also said they will hold a rally in Chisinau's central square on 23 February to mark two years since the PCM obtained control of parliament in the wake of the December 2000 elections. That venue, however, has already been requested by a youth organization close to the PCM, which intends to organize a rally denouncing a possible military strike against Iraq. Meanwhile, an enlarged forum of the Supreme Court on 7 February returned to the Chisinau Court of Appeals for reexamination a 30 January decision in which that court rejected the PPCD's appeal of the Central Election Commission's refusal to register a PPCD-led drive for a referendum on joining NATO and the EU, Flux reported. MS

MOLDOVAN AUTHORITIES STOP RUSSIAN TV BROADCASTS
Moldovan authorities on 7 February suspended the broadcasts of Russian television channel Pervyi Kanal (formerly ORT), RFE/RL's Chisinau bureau and international news agencies reported. Authorities cited the failure by the channel to pay debts of over 3 million lei ($211,577) dating back to 1999. The Russian channel's broadcasts, also known as ORT-Moldova, include a number of locally produced programs, including the popular "Moldovan News on the First Channel." ORT-Moldova Director Anatol Golea said the real grounds for the decision might be political. Golea was a counselor to former President Petru Lucinschi, and AP said ORT-Moldova is considered close to the opposition Braghis Alliance, whose chairman, Dumitru Braghis, was Moldovan premier under Lucinschi. The alliance protested against the closure, calling it "just another step toward a communist dictatorship." It pointed out that "under different pretexts," authorities have already shut down broadcasts by the Romanian Television's First channel, and withdrawn the license of privately owned Romanian Stil-TV and the private "Voice of Bessarabia" radio station. MS

BULGARIAN PARLIAMENT APPROVES U.S. REQUEST FOR MILITARY SUPPORT
Parliament on 7 February approved the government's decision to respond positively to a U.S. request for support in the event of a military operation against Iraq, mediapool.bg reported. The government's decision was supported by the ruling coalition of the National Movement Simeon II (NDSV) and the ethnic Turkish Movement for Rights and Freedoms (DPS), as well as by the conservative opposition United Democratic Forces (ODS). The opposition Socialist Party (BSP) abstained from the vote after the majority had outvoted a BSP proposal to link the parliamentary approval to a second UN Security Council resolution. The United States has asked Bulgaria to grant overflight rights and allow the presence of U.S. troops and refueling aircraft on Bulgarian territory (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 7 February 2003). UB

U.S. LOBBYIST ATTACKS BULGARIA'S PROSECUTOR-GENERAL
Bruce Jackson, the president of the U.S.-NATO Committee, said on the sidelines of the 39th International Conference on Defense and Security in Munich that problems within the judiciary and the secret services could impede ratification of Bulgaria's NATO accession treaty by the U.S. Senate, mediapool.bg reported on 9 February. Jackson insisted Bulgarian support for the United States on Iraq will have a positive impact on the Senate vote. He added, however, that Bulgaria must resolve problems within its judiciary. Jackson said Prosecutor-General Nikola Filchev, who is facing mounting domestic pressure to resign (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 22 January 2003), is not the right person to head the judiciary and should therefore be replaced. Jackson also criticized government plans to make retired General Brigo Asparuhov head of the National Intelligence Service (NRS) because of Asparuhov's alleged involvement in the communist-era secret service and his contacts with the KGB (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 18 December 2002). UB

There is no End Note today.


GERMANY, NETHERLANDS ASSUME ISAF LEADERSHIP
Turkey handed over leadership of the International Security Assistance Force (ISAF) to Germany and the Netherlands at a 10 February ceremony in Kabul, Ankara's Anatolia news agency reported. Afghan President Hamid Karzai said that "Germany and Holland, [who] are taking over now, I'm sure will do as good a job as was done by [Major] General [John] McColl of the British command and as was done by [Major] General [Hilmi Akin] Zorlu of the Turkish command; and I'm sure the new command headed by Germany and Holland will contribute significantly to the peace and security of Kabul," RFE/RL reported. Turkey assumed ISAF command on 20 June, and now the size of the Turkish presence will be reduced to 182 soldiers. German Defense Minister Peter Struck, who was at the ceremony, said he favors a NATO assumption of ISAF leadership after six months, ddp news agency reported. When he was attending the 39th International Conference on Defense and Security in Munich on 8 February, however, Struck pledged to talk to his Spanish counterpart Federico Trillo-Figueroa regarding a Spanish takeover of ISAF leadership after the six-month German-Dutch command, Reuters reported. BS

AFGHAN POLICE UNDEREQUIPPED
Afghanistan's new interior minister, Ali Ahmad Jalali, said in a 9 February interview with Iranian state radio that guaranteeing security is the police department's most important job. Unfortunately, he said, Afghan police do not have the equipment and facilities to do their jobs. Jalali expressed confidence that the existing shortcomings will be overcome soon. BS

AFGHAN, IRANIAN, TURKMEN BORDER AUTHORITIES MEET FOR REGIONAL CONFERENCE
A one-day joint Afghanistan-Iran-Turkmenistan border-guards conference was held in Mashhad on 9 February, IRNA reported. Iskandar Momeni, the police chief in Iran's Khorasan Province, said that with improved security in Afghanistan, refugees can be repatriated, opium-poppy-crop substitution can go ahead, and frontier security can be improved by reducing drug trafficking. BS

AFGHANS GET IRANIAN HANDOUT
President Karzai on 7 February met with visiting Iranian Deputy Foreign Minister Mohsen Aminzadeh, expressed his gratitude for Iran's contribution to Afghan reconstruction and called for the provision of assistance to be accelerated, Iranian state radio's domestic service reported. Aminzadeh handed over $1 million in cash, Iranian state radio's external Pashtu service reported on 8 February. Aminzadeh also met with Interior Minister Jalali and invited him to Tehran, Afghan state television reported on 7 February, and he held other meetings with Foreign Minister Abdullah Abdullah, Defense Minister Mohammad Fahim Khan, and Education Minister and presidential adviser on national security Yunis Qanuni. BS

IRAN PLANS TO EXPLOIT URANIUM
President Hojatoleslam Mohammad Khatami said in a 9 February meeting with university teachers and officials from the Ministry of Science, Research, and Technology that the Iranian government plans to exploit uranium mines near Yazd and set up plants in Isfahan and Kashan to extract uranium for electricity generation, IRNA reported. The Saghand uranium-ore deposit in Yazd has an estimated reserve of 3,000-5,000 tons, and in October 1989 Iran announced that it had built a milling plant near the mine. Dariush Forughi, who heads Iran's Center for Research on Energy and Environment, said Iran has 12,000 tons of uranium reserves, "Hamshahri" daily reported on 23 June. M. Ghannadi-Maragheh, deputy head of the Atomic Energy Organization of Iran, asserted in a paper for the World Nuclear Association Annual Symposium 2002 that Iranian uranium exploration began in the 1970s and has continued over the last two decades (http://www.world-nuclear.org/sym/2002/ghannadi.htm). BS

NEW DRUG-CONTROL PROJECT IN IRAN
Iranian Drug Control Headquarters head Ali Hashemi said on 8 February that the police, judiciary, and Prisons Organization are participating in a project to round up drug addicts who have been released, IRNA reported. Hashemi said that other parts of the national counternarcotics project include international cooperation, private-sector involvement, reforming relevant laws, interdiction, and treatment. Hashemi said 267,500 people were arrested for drug-related crimes between March 2002-January 2003, and the drug haul of 113 tons is 15 percent higher than for the same period one year earlier. BS

IRANIAN FOREIGN MINISTER VISITS AUSTRIA...
Foreign Minister Kamal Kharrazi met with Austrian President Thomas Klestil on the evening of 7 February, IRNA reported the next day. Kharrazi told Klestil that all Middle East countries are skeptical of U.S. intentions in Iraq because "there are already clear signs that all the U.S. politicians care for is achieving their own objectives, ignoring even their closest allies' interests, humiliating the international community, and issuing orders for all." Kharrazi said Iran favors Iraqi disarmament but this should be a UN initiative. BS

...BUT SKIPS MUNICH...
Iranian Deputy Foreign Minister Gholamali Khoshru, Foreign Ministry Political Director Amir Zamani-Nia, and Ambassador to Germany Seyyed Shamseddin Khareqani arrived in Munich on 8 February to participate in the international security conference, IRNA reported. A conference spokesman had said Iranian Foreign Minister Kharrazi would be in attendance (see "RFE/RL Iran Report," 27 January 2003), but conference spokesman Klaus Treude said on 7 February that Kharrazi would not make the trip, IRNA reported. BS

...TO MEET WITH SABRI IN TEHRAN
Iraqi Foreign Minister Naji Sabri arrived in Tehran on 9 February in response to an invitation from Kharrazi, Iraqi television and IRNA reported. Iraqi television said they would discuss a possible U.S. attack against Iraq and bilateral relations. Kharrazi told Sabri that Iran opposes war and unilateralism, and he encouraged Iraq to cooperate with UN inspectors, IRNA reported. From a bilateral perspective, the two sides discussed prisoner-of-war and missing-in-action issues. Sabri met with President Hojatoleslam Mohammad Khatami on 10 February, IRNA reported. BS

U.S.-IRAN MEETINGS ON IRAQ
U.S. officials said on 7 February that Bush administration officials met with Iranian envoys in Europe the previous month to discuss Iranian assistance for downed U.S. aviators and to ask Tehran to deny sanctuary to fleeing Iraqi combatants, "The Washington Post" reported on 8 February. The U.S. envoys also reassured the Iranians that they would not be targeted in a war for control of Baghdad. The Iran-U.S. meeting reportedly coincided with a gathering on the future of Afghanistan. Minister of Defense and Armed Forces Logistics Rear Admiral Ali Shamkhani on 15 January had denied that there were any Iran-U.S. contacts regarding a war in Iraq (see "RFE/RL Iran Report," 20 January 2003). "Iran does not have any relations with the Americans," he said at the time. "No one in Iran is authorized to make such contacts. Furthermore, Iran does not need this relationship." BS

IRAN'S RAFSANJANI QUESTIONS U.S. MOTIVES...
Ayatollah Ali Akbar Hashemi Rafsanjani in the first and second sermons of the 7 February Friday prayers in Tehran decried the U.S. attitude toward Iran and accused the United States of having ulterior motives in the region, according to state radio. "Today, Iran is no longer willing to accept the dictates of America or any other former master," he said. "This is very important, and this is very bitter for them [Americans]." Rafsanjani also said the U.S. faces an energy shortage, so, "they think that acquiring energy from this region necessitates their military presence." U.S. concerns about Iraqi weapons of mass destruction (WMD) are just a ruse, according to Rafsanjani. "America is threatening to use nuclear weapons itself. Even if takes control of Iraq and puts a ruler in power over there, it will use the same instruments against Iraq's neighbors.... What is even worse than Saddam's possession of such weapons is the American presence in our region. Therefore, we explicitly oppose America's coming here." BS

...AND SUPREME LEADER ALSO SKEPTICAL
Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei said during an 8 February ceremony for air-force officers and personnel, "The Americans are seeking to control the abundant oil reserves of Iraq, secure the interests of international capitalists and Zionists, and ensure [a] presence in the sensitive Persian Gulf region," state television reported. Khamenei dismissed U.S. concerns about Iraqi WMD. BS

HIZBALLAH STAND ON IRAQ CONFLICT SIMILAR TO TEHRAN'S
Hizballah Secretary-General Sheikh Hasan Nasrallah on 7 February gave a speech at the Iranian Embassy in Beirut that mirrored Tehran's official view, Beirut's Al-Manar Television reported. "Any assistance to the Americans, even by the enemies of Saddam Hussein, is not assistance against Saddam Hussein. They would be working against the entire nation; against Palestine and its Intifada; against Lebanon, Syria, and against all the Arab and Islamic countries," he said. BS

SOME FELLOW NATO MEMBERS REFUSE TO BACK MILITARY SUPPORT FOR TURKEY
NATO members France, Belgium, and Germany have formally vetoed a U.S.-proposed military-support package for Turkey in the event of a U.S.-led strike against Iraq, AP reported on 10 February. Belgian Foreign Minister Louis Michel said on 9 February that it is still too soon for NATO to decide on such matters, adding, "It would signify that we have already entered into the logic of war, that...any chance, any initiative to still resolve the conflict in a peaceful way was gone," AP reported. Meanwhile, French Defense Minister Michele Alliot-Marie reportedly stated: "If Turkey was really under threat, France would be one of the first at its side.... Today we don't feel that threat is there," AP reported. A veto by any one NATO member would prevent the alliance from considering any proposals to start planning military support. KR

TURKEY INVOKES NATO'S ARTICLE 4
In response to the triple veto, Turkey invoked Article 4 of NATO's founding treaty in an emergency session on 10 February. That article states: "The parties will consult together whenever, in the opinion of any of them, the territorial integrity, political independence, or security of any of the parties is threatened" (http://www.nato.int/docu/basictxt/treaty.htm). The move by Turkey marks the first time in the alliance's history that Article 4 has been invoked, AP reported. KR

A FRENCH-GERMAN PLAN ON IRAQ?
German Defense Minister Peter Struck has confirmed the existence of a Franco-German plan to avert a U.S.-led war in Iraq, euobserver.com reported on 10 February. The plan, reportedly called the "Mirage" project, was detailed in the German weekly "Der Spiegel" on 9 February. It calls for tripling the number of UN inspectors on the ground, as well as the "placement of thousands of UN soldiers in Iraq to help facilitate the inspection process," "Der Spiegel" reported. The plan also calls for the use of French Mirage IV reconnaissance aircraft to support the inspections from the air. "Der Spiegel" speculated that the plan will be presented at the next Security Council meeting on Iraq, which is scheduled for 14 February. However, French officials deny the existence of such a plan. Foreign Ministry Deputy Spokesman Bernard Valero said, "France confirms that there is no Franco-German secret plan on the disarmament of Iraq," AFP reported on 9 February. Valero did say, however, that France is consulting with Germany over ideas presented by French Foreign Minister Villepin to the UN Security Council session on 5 February. KR

U.S., UNMOVIC RESPOND NEGATIVELY TO REPORTED PLAN
Responding to rumors of a Franco-German plan to disarm Iraq, U.S. Secretary of State Colin Powell told ABC Television's "This Week" program on 9 February, "If it is a plan that ignores continued Iraqi noncompliance and says the solution is more inspectors, that doesn't solve the problem. It is attacking the problem in the wrong way. It is not the need for more inspectors; it is the need for Iraqi compliance." Meanwhile, UNMOVIC Executive Chairman Hans Blix told reporters on 10 February, "The principal problem is not the number of inspectors but rather the active cooperation of the Iraqi side, as we have said many times," Reuters reported. KR

IRAQI OFFICIAL SAYS BURDEN OF PROOF ON U.S., NOT IRAQ...
Iraqi presidential adviser Amr Al-Sa'di briefed reporters on 9 February at the conclusion of two days of talks between Iraqi officials and UNMOVIC/IAEA representatives, Iraq Satellite Television reported. Asked whether he felt Iraq has done enough to satisfy international demands, including those of the United States, Al-Sa'di said, "If they [the U.S.] claim that these things [weapons of mass destruction] exist, they should come here and present evidence." Referring to U.S. Secretary of State Powell's 5 February presentation to the UN Security Council, Al-Sa'di asked, "Why do they not present the evidence they have to UNMOVIC to find out [weapons sites] instead of presenting them to the public and asking us to prove the opposite?" Al-Sa'di reiterated Iraq's stance that it is difficult for Iraq to prove it does not have banned weapons, adding, "As long as they [the U.S.] want to wage war based on this evidence [presented by Powell], then the burden of proof falls on them and not us." KR

...AND DETAILS IRAQI POSITION
Presidential adviser Al-Sa'di told reporters on 9 February that since 1 January Iraq has submitted 11 letters to the UN that he claims answered all of the outstanding IAEA questions regarding Iraq's nuclear program, Iraq Satellite Television reported. All that remains, Al-Sa'di contended, is information "concerning an Iraqi person" who is outside Iraq. "He will come back soon and that question will be clarified," Al-Sa'di added. Iraqi officials also handed over 24 documents pertaining to all outstanding UMMOVIC questions, and Iraqi officials proposed "some constructive ideas" as to how Iraq and UNMOVIC can resolve these questions through "joint work." The Iraqi delegation also submitted the findings of the inquiry commission that was set up to investigate the original 12 empty chemical warheads found at Al-Ukhaydir Munitions Stores (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 17 January 2003). Al-Sa'di added that a second committee has been established to search for documents to substantiate Iraq's claims regarding the destruction and cessation of weapons-of-mass-destruction programs. He further noted that the issue of U-2 overflights was not resolved, but stated that "we believe a formula can be reached" to resolve the issue, adding that Iraqi security officials and Air Defense Command experts are now examining ways that Iraq can guarantee the safety of UN aerial-surveillance planes. KR

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