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Newsline - February 11, 2003


PUTIN, CHIRAC IN AGREEMENT ON PEACEFUL SOLUTION TO IRAQ CRISIS
President Vladimir Putin said following his talks with French President Jacques Chirac in Paris on 10 February that Russia and France have a "moral and measured position on Iraq" aimed at exposing weapons of mass destruction but in such way that the civilian population will not be harmed and international law will not be violated, Russian news agencies reported. Coercive action against Iraq could lead to an "unpredictable escalation and growth of tension," he said. Putin also said Russia's and France's position of seeking a diplomatic solution to the crisis is supported by most UN Security Council members. Putin advised against overdramatizing the different approach the United States and some European countries are taking on the Iraq issue. He declined to answer a journalist's question regarding the position Russia would take should the United States conduct an invasion of Iraq without approval from the UN Security Council. "You are trying to push me into a debate, but I do not want to discuss this topic," Putin said, gzt.ru reported on 11 February. VY

RUSSIAN MEDIA REACT TO KREMLIN'S AMBIGUOUS POSITION ON IRAQ
"Izvestiya" commented on 11 February that President Putin's trip to Europe to discuss the Iraq crisis has placed him at the epicenter of the trans-Atlantic rift that has emerged due to France, Germany, and Belgium's opposition to possible military action against Iraq. The newspaper said Putin's main task in the current situation is to avoid quarreling with all sides at once, and that he should not return to the Soviet-era ploy of playing on controversies between the United States and Europe. Arguing that the latter tactic never panned out for Russia, the daily noted that France, for example, will be able to preserve its oil interests in Iraq regardless of the outcome of the current situation. Thus, "Izvestiya" commented, one should not exclude the possibility that if Russia were to enter the fray involving the United States and "Old Europe," it could be "depicted as the main anti-American force" on the continent. Meanwhile, "Nezavisimaya gazeta" on 11 February stressed that each side in the internal NATO dispute sparked by France, Germany, and Belgium's 10 February veto of an initiative to begin planning for Turkey's defense in the event of a war with Iraq interprets Russia's position in its own way. The daily said some NATO states "believe that Putin is on the side of Paris and Berlin and is very negative to possible U.S. military intervention in Iraq; the others think that his approach is, in fact, closer to Washington's." Such ambiguity should please Putin, the newspaper opined. VY

RUSSIAN, ITALIAN DEFENSE MINISTERS DISCUSS IRAQ
Defense Minister Sergei Ivanov said after his talks in Rome with his Italian counterpart Antonio Martino on 10 February that any initiative on Iraq should originate from international inspectors, strana.ru reported on 11 February. "We have only one authority -- the international inspectors, whom we completely trust," according to Ivanov. He also said Russia wants to increase military-technical cooperation with the European Union and is banking on the support of Italy, which is slated to take over the EU Presidency later this year. "We believe that Italy, France, and Germany can be the driving force for cooperation with Russia," he said. Ivanov stressed the importance of the antiterrorism coalition and warned: "In some regions neighboring Afghanistan there are camps for training terrorists who are prepared to use weapons of mass destruction and toxic materials in any place in the world -- including Europe." VY

RUSSIA, FRANCE EXPAND BILATERAL TIES
In Paris on 10 February, President Putin and French President Chirac signed an extradition treaty as well as cooperation agreements pertaining to domestic security and combating crime and money laundering, Russian news agencies reported. The two sides also agreed to extend bilateral cooperation in the energy sphere "based on the comparability of both economies" and the "fact that most energy in both countries is produced by nuclear stations," ITAR-TASS reported on 11 February. France and Russia also agreed to intensify negotiations on Russian space launches from France's Kourou, French Guiana, launch site. VY

NEW PARTY ON THE LEFT EMERGES
"Zavtra" Editor in Chief Sergei Prokhanov was selected on 9 February to head the political council of the Union (Soyuz) party at the party's extraordinary congress held in Moscow, lenta.ru reported on 10 February, citing a party press release. Prokhanov's deputy will be Vladimir Rubanov, former head of the KGB's chief analytical administration. The party's presidium includes Aleksandr Vladimirov, vice president of the College of Military Experts, Duma Deputy Konstantin Khudyakov (Communist), "Konservator" Editor in Chief Dmitrii Olshanskii, and "Zavtra" Deputy Editor in Chief Vladislav Shurygin. According to "Nezavisimaya gazeta," Duma Deputy Viktor Alksnis (Russian Regions) is the party's co-chairman. The Union party's leaders declared they are "comrades in arms of the Communist Party," but vowed to work with "the non-Communist patriotic electorate," lenta.ru reported. According to the news agency's website, Union registered as a political party with the Justice Ministry last year. Last fall, Prokhanov met with self-exiled oligarch Boris Berezovskii and raised the possibility at that time of a "tactical" alliance between Berezovskii and the Communist Party (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 9 October 2002). JAC

FISHERIES COMMISSION WANTS TO CHANGE RULES FOR FOREIGNERS...
State Fisheries Committee Chairman Yevgenii Nazdratenko indicated to reporters in Moscow on 10 February that the committee seeks to reduce foreign participation in fishing-quota auctions, Prime-TASS reported. Nazdratenko said Russia's "economy is still weak, and Russian fishermen do not have the resources to compete with foreign companies." Therefore, he said, if foreign companies are to take part in auctions they should be obliged to catch not only valuable kinds of seafood but low-value kinds as well. According to the agency, in the first 10 months of 2002 only 8,500 tons out of 781,999 tons of seafood quotas were awarded to foreigners. In 2001, foreign fishermen purchased 234,580 tons -- or 47 percent -- of the total quotas sold. JAC

...AS MORE COMPLAINTS FLOW IN REGARDING FISHERIES CHAIRMAN
Primorskii Krai Governor Sergei Darkin and the leadership of Magadan Oblast have sent complaints about the State Fisheries Committee to the cabinet of ministers, polit.ru reported on 7 February. Nazdratenko has been accused of "paralyzing the activities of the regional fishing fleets" and has so far not signed an order that would allocate by region one type of fishing quota, the season for which ends on 1 April. Nazdratenko's policies sparked a slew of criticism last month (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 17 January 2003). JAC

MORE REGIONS PROTEST RENT HIKES
About 3,000 people gathered in Nizhnii Novgorod on 9 February to protest a planned reform of the city's public-housing and utilities sectors, polit.ru reported on 10 February, citing NTV. The meeting was organized by the local Communist Party, and participants demanded the cancellation of a recent decision by city legislators to require residents pay 90 percent of the cost of communal services rather than the local standard of 62 percent (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 17 January 2003). The previous day, more than 8,000 Kaliningrad residents gathered in one of the city's main squares to protest a sharp rate hike for public utilities, ITAR-TASS reported. Vladislav Dvurechenskii, chairman of Kaliningrad's regional trade-union federation, said the recent resolution adopted by Mayor Yurii Savenko doubled the cost of heat and hot water for city residents, whose average wage is 18 percent lower than in the rest of Russia. JAC

PREPARATION FOR ST. PETERSBURG GALA FOUND WANTING
Audit Chamber head Sergei Stepashin told reporters on 10 February that the chamber has recommended that the government of St. Petersburg return to the federal budget some 521.35 million rubles ($16.39 million), RosBalt reported. According to Stepashin, an audit revealed that this sum was not used for its designated purpose; that is, the preparations for the city's 300th anniversary in May. The city administration allegedly failed to fulfill its responsibility to see that roadwork was completed, and a report about the city's failures was sent to St. Petersburg Governor Vladimir Yakovlev on 28 January. Yakovlev has until 28 February to respond to the Audit Chamber's findings. Earlier in the month, Deputy Prime Minister Valentina Matvienko publicly expressed the government's dissatisfaction with the pace of restoration efforts for architectural monuments in St. Petersburg, "Gazeta" reported on 3 February. JAC

NORILSK NICKEL CONFIDENT OF WORKERS' SUPPORT
Labor-union leaders representing workers at Norilsk Nickel have declared that a hunger strike launched on 6 February will continue until an agreement is reached with the company's leadership, RFE/RL's Russian Service reported on 10 February. According to "Vremya MN" on 11 February, some 25 workers are participating in the hunger strike. According to Interfax on 4 February, the unions are demanding higher wages, longer vacations as compensation for working in a hazardous environment, and more complete information about how finances are managed at the company. According to Interfax, an all-out strike needs approval from two-thirds of the employees. Sergei Chernitsyn, Norilsk Nickel's public-relations chief, warned on 4 February that if negotiations with the labor-union leaders failed to produce an agreement by 5 February, management would then exercise its right to convoke a conference of employees. "We are absolutely confident of their support," he said. That meeting has been called for 12 March, the news agency reported. Former Norilsk Nickel executives have had a series of successes in regional elections in both Taimyr Autonomous Okrug, where the company is based, and neighboring Krasnoyarsk Krai (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 27 January 2003). JAC

AN OKRUG BY ANY OTHER NAME
Khanty-Mansii Autonomous Okrug Governor Aleksandr Filipenko and speaker of the okrug's legislature Vasilii Sondykov have sent a letter to President Putin asking him to change the name of the okrug to Khanty-Mansii Autonomous Okrug --Yugra, "Kommersant-Daily" reported on 10 February. Yugra is the ancient name of the region populated by the Khanty and Mansii ethnic groups. Okrug legislators on 7 February adopted an amendment to the okrug's charter conferring the new name. The legislators are now asking that Putin introduce legislation that would amend Article 65 of the Russian Constitution that lists all of the federation subjects. JAC

NEW PRIME MINISTER OF CHECHNYA NAMED
Chechen administration head Akhmed-hadji Kadyrov appointed Anatolii Popov as Chechnya's new prime minister on 10 February, Russian media reported. Popov, 42, has worked for the Menatep Bank and as finance director of the arms-export monopoly Rosvooruzhenie, according to the "Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung" on 11 February. Most recently he headed the Russian government directorate for reconstruction in Chechnya. Popov said he plans no sweeping personnel changes, and praised Chechen Finance Minister Eli Isaev, whose appointment led to the resignation of Popov's predecessor Mikhail Babich (see "RFE/RL Caucasus Report," 10 February 2003), as "competent" and "one of the best workers in this field," ITAR-TASS reported. Popov declined to comment on reports that his candidacy was backed by President Putin. "Vremya novostei" reported on 10 February without disclosing its sources that when Popov's name was first proposed for the position on 7 February, it came as a surprise to both Kadyrov and to his backers, presidential envoy to the Southern Russia federal district Viktor Kazantsev, and federal Minister for Chechen Reconstruction Stanslav Ilyasov. LF

FORMER ARMENIAN FOREIGN MINISTER ENDORSES OPPOSITION PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE
Raffi Hovannisian, who served as Armenian foreign minister in 1991-92, issued a statement in Yerevan on 10 February urging his supporters to vote for People's Party of Armenia Chairman Stepan Demirchian in the 19 February presidential election, Noyan Tapan and RFE/RL's Yerevan bureau reported. Hovannisian characterized Demirchian as "a statesman whose balanced, prudent, and dignified steps may lay the foundations of a modern public order." Hovannisian was barred from contesting the election on the grounds that he has not been a citizen of the Republic of Armenia for the required minimum 10 years (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 16 January 2003). LF

ARMENIA SEES PROGRESS TOWARD RESOLVING KARABAKH CONFLICT
In an interview with Armenian Public Television on 9 February, Foreign Minister Vartan Oskanian said whereas in 1996 the international community placed the emphasis in assessing possible solutions to the Karabakh conflict on preserving Azerbaijan's territorial integrity, today it focuses on resolving that conflict by means of peaceful negotiations, according to Arminfo, as cited by Groong. Oskanian said trends toward a resolution of the conflict are positive, and that he is sure Armenia will make "serious advances" toward doing so in the coming five years. On 10 February, Iran's Ambassador to Armenia Mohammad Farhad Koleini again said Tehran is prepared to continue its efforts to bring about a peaceful solution of the Karabakh conflict, according to Arminfo, as cited by Groong. LF

STUDY CONCLUDES THAT KILLINGS OF ARMENIANS IN 1915 CONSTITUTED GENOCIDE
A study conducted by the New York-based International Center for Transitional Justice has concluded that the killings of an estimated 1.5 million Armenians in Ottoman Turkey in 1915 fit the internationally accepted definition of genocide, RFE/RL's Armenian Service reported on 10 February. The study was commissioned by the Turkish-Armenian Reconciliation Commission (TARC), whose members announced in a statement on 10 February that they "will meet soon and resume their work for reconciliation." First formed in mid-2001, TARC appeared on the verge of collapse by December of that year but reconvened in July 2002 (see "RFE/RL Caucasus Report," Vol. 4, No. 41, 13 December 2001 and Vol. 5, No. 24, 15 July 2002). LF

SOME DETAINED AZERBAIJANI VILLAGERS RELEASED
Four of the eight Azerbaijani villagers detained by police in a 5 February raid on the village of Nardaran near Baku were released on 10 February following talks between village elders and Interior Minister Ramil Usubov and Prosecutor-General Zakir Garalov, Turan and Interfax reported (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 5 February 2003). The talks were mediated by Azerbaijan's top Islamic cleric, Sheikh-ul-Islam Allakhshukur Pashazade, who met with the villagers on 9 February. Pashazade pledged that arrest warrants for 14 villagers will be cancelled, that the villagers currently on trial for their role in the violent clashes with police in June 2002 will receive a fair sentence, and that the villagers' grievances concerning appalling socioeconomic conditions will be addressed. In return, the villagers undertook to dismantle the tent on the village's main square that has been the center of ongoing protests, and to drop their demand that President Heidar Aliev resign, zerkalo.az reported on 11 February. LF

OSCE OFFICE HEAD FAILS TO PERSUADE AZERBAIJANI OPPOSITION TO BEGIN ELECTION-LAW TALKS
Peter Burkhard, who heads the OSCE office in Baku, met on 10 February with representatives of the nine opposition parties aligned in the Opposition Coordinating Center (MKM) but failed to persuade them to participate in talks on the new draft election law together with representatives of all other political parties that garnered over 1 percent of the vote in the November 2000 parliamentary elections, Turan and zerkalo.az reported. The MKM continues to insist that a conciliatory commission first be established on which representatives of the opposition and authorities should be equally represented. The opposition also rejected as pointless the proposal that they meet in Strasbourg with representatives of the authorities to discuss the draft law. Azerbaijan National Independence Party Deputy Chairman Ilgar Mamedov pointed out that there is no guarantee that any consensus reached during such talks would be reflected in the final version of the law. LF

SOUTH OSSETIAN PRESIDENT SIGNALS READINESS FOR COOPERATION WITH GEORGIAN POLICE
At a meeting in Tskhinvali on 9 February with representatives from the OSCE, the UN, Georgia, North Ossetia, and the Russian peacekeeping force in South Ossetia, Eduard Kokoyty, president of the unrecognized Republic of South Ossetia, said he is prepared to consider a joint operation between Georgian and South Ossetian police to halt the smuggling of stolen cars from Georgia via South Ossetia to the Russian Federation, Caucasus Press reported on 10 February. Kokoyty rejected as untrue reports that Russia has deployed large quantities of armor and heavy weaponry in South Ossetia (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 4 and 7 February 2003). LF

KAZAKHSTAN, LUKOIL ENVISAGE JOINT VENTURE
The presidents of Kazakhstan's state-owned KazMunayGaz and Russia's LUKoil, Lazzat Kiinov and Vagit Alekperov, respectively, signed a memorandum of understanding in Astana on 10 February to create by 30 November 2003 a joint venture to explore and develop an unspecified block in the Caspian Sea, Interfax reported. ITAR-TASS quoted Alekperov as saying the block may contain recoverable reserves of up to 100 million tons of oil. Alekperov also met in Astana with Kazakhstan's President Nursultan Nazarbaev, khabar.kz reported. Alekperov said an agreement is being prepared on the joint exploitation by Russia and Kazakhstan of Russia's Khvalyn oil field, but that it is proving more difficult to reach agreement on the joint exploitation of Russia's Tsentralnoe oil field, in which Gazprom will also participate together with LUKoil and KazMunayGaz. LF

NEW LAW ON STATE OF EMERGENCY TAKES EFFECT IN KAZAKHSTAN
President Nazarbaev has signed the new law on the state of emergency passed by both chambers of parliament, Interfax reported on 10 February. The law stipulates that consultations between the president, prime minister, and speakers of both chambers of parliament are a precondition for declaring a state of emergency either throughout Kazakhstan or in one or more oblasts. If the armed forces are deployed to maintain order, parliament must be informed of that fact immediately. The key difference between the new law and the one it supercedes is that the new law provides for declaring a state of emergency for 30 days nationwide and 60 days in a given area, as opposed to three and six days, respectively, under the old law. LF

MORE SCHOOLS CLOSED AS FLU EPIDEMIC CONTINUES IN KYRGYZSTAN
All schools have been closed until 19 February in the town of Naryn, capital of the eponymous oblast in northern Kyrgyzstan, as a flu epidemic continues, akipress.org reported (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 30 January and 6 February 2003). More than 7,000 cases of the disease have been registered in the oblast to date. LF

GAZPROM HEADS EMBARKS ON TALKS IN TURKMENISTAN
Aleksei Miller met for 90 minutes with Turkmenistan's President Saparmurat Niyazov in Ashgabat on 10 February to discuss further cooperation in the exploitation of Turkmen natural gas and its export via Russia, turkmenistan.ru and ITAR-TASS reported. The talks focused specifically on reconstruction of existing gas-export pipelines and the construction of new ones. Miller said a long-term cooperation agreement will be signed "in the near future," and that "we have a full understanding of what steps should be taken...to meet each other halfway." ITAR-TASS said Niyazov invited Gazprom to develop deposits in the Turkmen sector of the Caspian. LF

IMF EXPERT CALLS BELARUS'S ECONOMIC PERFORMANCE 'MIXED'
Thomas Richardson of the International Monetary Fund (IMF) told journalists in Minsk on 10 February that Belarus showed a "mixed" macroeconomic performance in 2002, Belapan reported. Richardson, who is deputy head of the IMF's European II Department, led a team that has been working in Minsk since 28 January to prepare a report on the country's macroeconomic situation. Richardson said the reported economic growth in 2002 (4.7 percent) is a positive microeconomic factor but added that, at the same time, the competitiveness of Belarusian enterprises fell and their wage and tax arrears increased. Among other positive economic trends, Richardson singled out the government's decision to expand price liberalization in a number of areas. He noted, however, that the country's inflation rate (35 percent in 2002) remains the highest among the former Soviet states and discourages foreign investment. JM

UKRAINIAN NATIONAL BANK WANTS TO CURB MONEY LAUNDERING, CAPITAL OUTFLOWS
Newly installed National Bank head Serhiy Tyhypko told journalists on 10 February that his institution will pass a resolution this week to combat money laundering and stem illegal flows of capital from Ukraine, UNIAN reported. Last week, the central bank resolved that Ukrainian companies will have to obtain National Bank licenses before buying shares in other domestic companies from nonresidents. Tyhypko said the purchase of domestic shares by local companies from offshore entities leads to capital outflows. According to National Bank figures, capital outflows amounted to $385 million in 2000, $898 million in 2001, and $2.2 billion in 2002. JM

U.S. AMBASSADOR SAYS UKRAINE DESERVES REMOVAL OF FATF SANCTIONS
U.S. Ambassador to Ukraine Carlos Pascual said on 10 February that Ukraine has made all the necessary legislative amendments to justify removing sanctions recommended by the Financial Action Task Force (FATF) on Money Laundering (see "RFE/RL Poland, Belarus, and Ukraine Report," 11 February 2003), Interfax reported. "It was clear as early as at the start of 2001 which steps needed to be taken by the Ukrainian side [to combat money laundering]. I am pleased to note that all of these major steps have been taken in the past few weeks. Amendments were made to anti-money-laundering legislation, the Criminal Code, and laws on banking," Pascual said. At the same time, the ambassador said the international community needs "solid guarantees" from the Ukrainian government that the newly created body for fighting money laundering -- the State Financial Monitoring Department -- will act within the limits of its jurisdiction and will not be used for political purposes. The FATF will hold a conference on 12-14 February to consider Ukraine's new anti-money-laundering legislation in light of international standards. JM

ESTONIAN CENTER PARTY CAUCUS GETS NEW CHAIRMAN
The Center Party deputies group, parliament's largest with 28 members, chose Kalev Kallo as its new chairman on 10 February, BNS reported. He replaced Toomas Varek, who was sworn in as interior minister earlier that day to fill the gap created when Ain Seppik resigned following suggestions he acted improperly as a Soviet-era Supreme Court judge (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 4 February 2003). Varek's seat in parliament was assumed by 62-year-old academician Juri Martin, who has directed Eurouniversity since 1997. The 54-year-old Kallo has been a member of parliament since 1999. He previously served as transportation and communication minister in 1995 and as Tallinn deputy mayor in 1996-99. SG

LATVIA TO REPLACE NEGOTIATOR IN RUSSIAN-OIL TALKS
Deputy Prime Minister Ainars Slesers announced in an interview in the paper "Komersant Baltic" on 10 February that Ventspils Mayor and Latvian Transit Association President Aivars Lembergs will no longer serve as a negotiator for Latvia in talks with Russian oil companies, LETA reported. Slesers, who is co-chairman of the Latvian-Russian intergovernmental working group, said the move reflects the government's position, adding, "It looks like Russia is also dissatisfied with such mediation." Slesers said the export of Russian oil through the port of Ventspils, managed by partly state-owned Ventspils nafta, has virtually halted following a decision by Russian state-owned monopoly Transneft not to send any oil to Ventspils via pipelines in the first quarter of the year (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 13 and 22 January 2003). The Russian newspaper "Nezavisimaya gazeta" on 10 February wrote that the Transneft board will soon discuss the purchase of shares in Ventspils nafta, whose value is questionable without Russian oil contracts. SG

POLISH LAWMAKERS CALL FOR SUSPENSION OF PUBLIC-TV BOSS OVER 'RYWINGATE'...
A parliamentary commission investigating the bribery scandal involving film producer Lew Rywin (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 10 February 2003) has called for the suspension of public-television head Robert Kwiatkowski and asked the prosecution for the right to look into Kwiatkowski's phone billings, PAP reported on 10 February. "In light of certain facts uncovered in the course of the commission's work...and doubts as to the public television station's objectiveness in covering its sittings, as well as Mr. Kwiatkowski's use of public television to disseminate his private views, the commission believes Mr. Kwiatkowski should be suspended from his functions until [the commission] has completed its work," the commission said in a statement. The commission's move followed a public interrogation on 10 February of "Gazeta Wyborcza" Editor in Chief Adam Michnik, whose daily published an article in December claiming that Rywin tried to solicit a bribe from Agora, the paper's publisher, purportedly on behalf of Prime Minister Leszek Miller. According to Michnik, Rywin mentioned Kwiatkowski among those allegedly behind his bribery proposal. Kwiatkowski said on 10 February that he can prove his innocence. JM

...AS PREMIER DENIES ASKING EDITOR TO HUSH UP SCANDAL
Prime Minister Miller on 10 February said he never told Michnik to hush up Rywin's alleged bribery attempt, Polish Radio reported. Miller was reacting to an interrogation of Michnik by the parliamentary commission on 8 February (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 10 February 2003), when the latter said he did not remember all his conversations with Miller and cannot rule out Miller having asked him to keep quiet about the scandal. "No, never," Miller said in a response to the question of whether he ever pressured Michnik. "After all, I was convinced that a report would be written, because Adam Michnik told me about it, saying that his team would carry out a journalistic investigation and that, after that, the findings would be made public," Miller added. JM

CZECH UNEMPLOYMENT REACHES POSTCOMMUNIST HIGH
The jobless rate in the Czech Republic has climbed to its highest level since the fall of the communist regime in 1989, dpa reported. Unemployment for the first time in 13 years ran into double digits, reaching 10.2 percent of the work force in January, according to Labor Ministry statistics released on 10 February. The ministry said 539,000 Czechs were registered as unemployed -- 24,500 more than in December. Half of the jobless are women. Unemployment was highest in the rust-belt regions dominated by communist-built factories around Ostrava and Most -- totaling 21 percent. The lowest rate, 3 percent, was registered in Prague. MS

SLOVAKIA CONCERNED OVER LACK OF NATO SOLIDARITY
Slovak Ambassador to NATO Peter Burian said in Brussels on 10 February that his country is concerned by NATO indecision over the protection of Turkey in the event of a U.S.-led attack on Iraq, TASR reported. Presumably in a reference to the positions of France, Germany, and Belgium on the issue, Burian said: "Slovakia is joining the [NATO] alliance primarily in order to strengthen its own security, and is therefore interested in seeing the alliance capable of efficiently applying to all its member states the mechanisms for protection [prescribed in its charter]." He was speaking after a meeting with NATO Secretary-General Lord George Robertson. Burian also said NATO members have taken an interest in an initiative launched in Slovakia to force a referendum on joining the alliance and the implications the initiative might have on the accession process, but he quoted Robertson as saying that NATO members "look at Slovakia with optimism, even if the referendum drive succeeds." MS

VISEGRAD DEFENSE MINISTERS SAY IRAQ CRISIS NEEDS PEACEFUL SOLUTION
The defense ministers of the four Visegrad countries, meeting in the High Tatras in eastern Slovakia on 10 February, said the Iraqi crisis needs to be solved through peaceful means and diplomacy, CTK reported. Jaroslav Tvrdik (Czech Republic), Ferenc Juhasz (Hungary), Jerzy Szmajdzinki (Poland), and Ivan Simko (Slovakia) told journalists after their meeting that they all would prefer a peaceful solution to the crisis, but added that they understand the need to dispatch military forces to the Persian Gulf to make credible the threat to disarm Iraqi President Saddam Hussein. "We are all for peace and we are all interested in global security and want to see the situation stabilized," Juhasz said. "Sometimes, however, it is necessary to use the threat of military force." The four ministers also discussed a project for jointly financing the modernization of Russian-made MI-24 helicopters. MS

MAJORITY OF SLOVAKS OPPOSE PARTICIPATION IN WAR AGAINST IRAQ
A clear majority of 57.3 percent of Slovaks are opposed to any form of participation by their country in a possible war against Iraq, TASR reported on 10 February, citing a public-opinion poll carried out by Slovak Radio's Media Research Department. Only 2.8 percent of respondents support Slovak participation under any circumstances, while 37.2 percent are ready to back participation if the UN Security Council approves a resolution allowing for the use of force. The government's decision to allow overflights by U.S. aircraft is supported by 28.1 percent and opposed by 67.8 percent of respondents. Four in five Slovaks (81.1 percent) are opposed to granting foreign forces the right to use Slovak military bases in the event of a military strike, a similar number (80.8 percent) oppose granting transit rights, and an even higher number (85.6 percent) are opposed to Slovakia's deploying combat troops in the area. MS

SLOVAK FOREIGN MINISTER IN LONDON
Foreign Minister Eduard Kukan said in London on 10 February after meeting his counterpart Jack Straw that the United Kingdom appreciates the Slovak decision to dispatch an antichemical-, antibacteriological-, and antinuclear-warfare unit to Kuwait, TASR reported. Kukan also met British Minister for Europe Denis MacShane and Donald Anderson, chairman of the House of Commons' Foreign Affairs Committee. During the talks, Kukan emphasized Slovakia's insistence on having the visa obligation lifted from Slovak nationals visiting Great Britain. The visa requirement was imposed in 1998 in response to a flux of asylum seekers from Slovakia, most of them Roma. TASR said there is little indication that the United Kingdom intends to meet that Slovak request. MS

SLOVAK AUTHORITIES ALLEGEDLY UNDERMINE PROBE INTO FORCED ROMANY STERILIZATIONS...
The New York-based Center for Reproductive Rights and Slovakia's Center for Civic and Human Rights on 10 February said police and health workers are intimidating Romany women to prevent them from giving evidence in a probe of whether Roma were forcibly sterilized, TASR and CTK reported. An investigation was launched after those two organizations published reports that alleged women were duped or otherwise forced into sterilization procedures after giving birth. Barbora Bukovska, director of the Center for Civic and Human Rights, said police threatened women with up to three years in prison if they make false accusations or field a criminal complaint against employees of the hospital where sterilizations are alleged to have occurred. The two nongovernmental organizations also said they were "shocked" to learn that the office of Pal Csaky, deputy premier in charge of minority rights and European integration, has filed a criminal complaint against the two organizations (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 31 January 2003). MS

...AS EUROPEAN REPRESENTATIVE URGES SLOVAKIA TO OUTLINE REMEDIES IN KEY AREAS
Eric van der Linden, the European Commission's ambassador to Slovakia, on 10 February said the European Parliament wants the Slovak government to provide additional information on how it intends to resolve problems facing the Romany minority and on coping with corruption, TASR reported. He told journalists in Bratislava that "Slovakia should prepare a detailed report on these issues, as they will be monitored by the European Parliament and by the parliaments of the [current] EU member states during the ratification process," ahead of the European Parliament's March vote on the accession treaties of Slovakia and nine other candidate countries MS

MAJOR HUNGARIAN PARTIES GEAR UP FOR EU-ACCESSION CAMPAIGN...
Representatives of all four of Hungary's parliamentary parties on 10 February signed a joint declaration vowing cooperation in the campaign to get out the "yes" vote in the upcoming EU-accession referendum, Hungarian media reported. The declaration states that the referendum is crucial to Hungary's future, as dropping out of the EU might mean depriving itself of the opportunity to catch up with the developed world. The signatories stressed that a decision on accession must be made with the largest possible participation by all members of society and that the government, along with parliamentary parties, must provide all the information necessary for a successful turnout. MSZ

...WHILE MINISTRY INAUGURATES ACCESSION WEBSITE
The Hungarian Foreign Ministry on 10 February launched an information page (http://www.eu2004.hu) concerning the EU and the accession process on its official website (http://www.kum.hu). Interested parties can also call a toll-free phone number and, if no immediate answer can be provided to a question, the ministry will call back or the requested information will be relayed via e-mail or fax. Meanwhile, the full English-language text of the accession treaty was delivered to the ministry and is now being studied by ministry experts, "Magyar Hirlap" reported on 10 February. The accession countries are required to indicate whether the draft is acceptable by 13 February, the daily reported. MSZ

HUNGARIAN NATIONAL BANK 'GIVES UP' ANTI-INFLATIONARY LINE
The Hungarian National Bank (MNB) said in a report released on 10 February that it has changed its 2003 inflation target from the 4.6 percent forecast in November to 5.2 percent, Budapest dailies reported. Governor Zsigmond Jarai told reporters following a meeting of the Monetary Council that, in light of the recent speculative attack on the forint (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 16 January 2003), the central bank will not intervene to bolster the currency. He suggested the bank will neither tighten its monetary policy nor raise interest rates. "This is a shocking and unexpected move on the part of the MNB," financial analyst Maria Zita Petschnig told "Magyar Hirlap." "This means that the bank has completely given up on its anti-inflation policy," Petschnig concluded. The MNB has come under fire recently for its tough interest-rate policy and has been accused of "strangling" the Hungarian economy with a strong forint. MSZ

KOSOVAR LEADER CALLS FOR MILITARY STRIKE ON IRAQ
Veton Surroi, who is Kosova's best-known journalist and a highly respected political figure, wrote in the "International Herald Tribune" of 11 February that the current Western debate on Iraq reminds him of the discussion regarding Kosova at the start of 1999. Surroi argues that "though peace was given a chance through European-sponsored negotiations, [President Slobodan] Milosevic only used those talks to entrench his position in Kosova. In the end, it was only the bombing of Serbia that stopped genocide of Kosovars and ultimately allowed the return of almost a million refugees to their homes." He added that "since Saddam is of the same ilk as Milosevic, we know something about them both: Only falling bombs will shake them from their hold on power.... I know from my experience in Kosova that the day after comes far earlier than you expected. The [Iraqi] opposition must be prepared to take up the cause for which the battle was won." Surroi concluded, "The world ought to recall how the war for Kosova unfolded and how Europe's unfounded fears never materialized. One should remember from the case of Milosevic that it takes military might to topple tyrants, after everything else has failed." PM

BOSNIA SEEKS PEACEFUL SOLUTION IN IRAQ
The joint Bosnian Presidency agreed on 10 February that the Iraqi crisis must be solved by peaceful means in keeping with UN Security Council Resolution 1441, RFE/RL's South Slavic and Albanian Languages Service reported (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 7 and 10 February 2003). Mirko Sarovic, who holds the rotating Presidency chairmanship, said Iraq must quickly meet all UN demands. He added that the Presidency's decision does not conflict with the recent announcement on Iraq by Foreign Minister Mladen Ivanic, which was widely understood as an endorsement of the U.S. position. PM

CROATIA POSTPONES EU APPLICATION BECAUSE OF IRAQ CRISIS
Government press spokesmen said in Zagreb on 10 February that Croatia will not submit its application to join the EU on 17 February as planned because the EU summit scheduled for that date will concentrate almost exclusively on Iraq, dpa reported. Croatia will instead submit its application later, probably on 3 March. In Brussels, European Commission President Romano Prodi told Croatian President Stipe Mesic that he welcomes Croatia's earlier decision to apply for membership soon, RFE/RL's South Slavic and Albanian Languages Service reported. Prodi reminded his visitor, however, that Croatia still has much to do before it can expect to qualify for membership. Prodi said Zagreb needs to facilitate the return of refugees, cooperate fully with The Hague-based war crimes tribunal, and institute unspecified social and economic reforms (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 28 January 2003 and "RFE/RL Balkan Report," 22 November and 6 December 2002 and 17 January 2003). PM

KOSOVAR DEPUTIES PUT OFF PLANNED DEBATE ON INDEPENDENCE
After much pressure from the international community, the Presidency of the Kosovar parliament decided on 10 February to postpone indefinitely debate on a measure calling for independence that 42 legislators had proposed, RFE/RL's South Slavic and Albanian Languages Service reported (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 4, 5, and 6 February 2003 and "RFE/RL Balkan Report," 31 January 2003). The 42 legislators put forward their measure in response to the inclusion in the preamble of the Constitutional Charter of Serbia and Montenegro of a reference to Kosova as part of Serbia. The Kosovar legislators had wanted the debate included on the legislative agenda for 13 February. PM

IMF AND MACEDONIAN GOVERNMENT AGREE ON CONSUMER-TAX INCREASES
During the recent negotiations about a new stand-by agreement, the International Monetary Fund (IMF) and the Macedonian government agreed on sharp increases in the value-added tax (VAT) on some products, Macedonian media reported. The current, discounted VAT rate of 5 percent on electricity, water, heating, medicines, books, and other products will be raised to 18 percent. The standard VAT rate will meanwhile be reduced from the current 19 to 18 percent. The lower rate on basic foodstuffs will not be changed. Vanco Muratovski, who heads the Federation of Trade Unions in Macedonia (SSM), said on 10 February that he expects "mass protests on a scale previously not seen" if the government implements the increases. Muratovski demanded that the government revise the agreement with the IMF (see "RFE/RL Balkan Report," 20 December 2002 and "RFE/RL Newsline," 5 and 10 February 2003). UB

ROMANIA ACCEPTS U.S. REQUEST FOR PARTICIPATION IN POSSIBLE STRIKE AGAINST IRAQ
"There is no need to panic, we are not at war." This is how Romanian President Ion Iliescu began his announcement on 10 February on the Supreme Council of National Defense's (CSAT) decisions regarding participation in a possible war against Iraq, the private Antena 1 television reported. The council decided to accept the U.S. request to dispatch to the conflict zone a Romanian antichemical-, antibacterological- and antinuclear-warfare unit, engineering troops, as well as military medical corps and military police, RFE/RL's Bucharest bureau reported. CSAT also decided to open Romanian airspace to U.S. overflights, and allow the use of military airfields and bases. Government sources cited by Reuters said Romania has also offered the Constanta Black Sea port for the transport of U.S. troops. Parliament is to meet on 12 February to debate the decision. MS

FORMER ROMANIAN TRANSPORTATION MINISTERS SUSPECTED OF CORRUPTION
Three former transportation ministers -- Aurel Novac, Paul Teodoru, and Traian Basescu, the current Bucharest mayor and Democratic Party chairman -- are under investigation by the National Anticorruption Prosecution, Mediafax reported on 10 February. The three ministers are being investigated in connection with the sale of Romania's maritime fleet under what prosecutors allege were disadvantageous conditions. They might be charged with abuse of office and harming national interests. Basescu rejected the allegations on Romanian Radio on 10 February. He said an investigation into the affair conducted after he voluntarily resigned from parliament in 1995, thus renouncing his parliamentary immunity, was closed due to lack of evidence. Basescu said the reasons for reopening the case now are "a dirty and incorrect political game" aimed at discrediting him and his party. MS

IMF CHIEF NEGOTIATOR IN ROMANIA
International Monetary Fund (IMF) chief negotiator for Romania Neven Mates arrived in Bucharest on 10 February to join a team of IMF experts that has been conducting talks with Romanian officials since last week, Romanian Radio reported. If the talks are successfully concluded, it is expected that a new memorandum of understanding will be signed between the sides outlining targets to be met by Romania in 2003. Pending agreement, the IMF team is likely to recommend to the fund's executive board the release of the fourth tranche of a $383 million loan concluded in October 2001. Pending fulfillment of the expected memorandum's conditions, the last two installments of the loan are to be disbursed in July and August. MS

MOLDOVAN PRESIDENT PROPOSES DRAFTING NEW CONSTITUTION TOGETHER WITH TRANSDNIESTER
President Vladimir Voronin said on Moldovan Television on 10 February that he is proposing to draft a new constitution for the state, together with the breakaway Transdniester authorities, Infotag reported. Voronin said: "We do not impose on the Transdniester our rules, we do not demand unconditional surrender. Today we propose to the Transdniester to become a participant and coauthor of the new Constitution of the Republic of Moldova." The president added, "We need a constitution people can be proud of, which will be the result of the joint work of civic institutions on both banks of the Dniester River." He said the new basic document should be one that "solves problems, rather than push them into the corner." He said he will soon offer a new draft agreement for the settlement of the conflict to the authorities in Tiraspol and to the three mediators -- the OSCE, Russia, and Ukraine. MS

MOLDOVAN PPCD LEADER WARNS AGAINST GRANTING RUSSIAN LANGUAGE OFFICIAL STATUS
Popular Party Christian Democratic (PPCD) Deputy Chairman Vlad Cubreacov on 10 February said any attempt by the authorities to grant official status to the Russian language would be seen as "provocative" and would generate "the destabilization of the political situation in the entire [Moldovan] society," Flux reported. Cubreacov was reacting to a statement President Voronin made in Moscow the previous day, according to which the Russian language will be granted official status this year (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 10 February 2003). MS

TRANSDNIESTER LEADER HONORS LEBED POSTMORTEM
Separatist leader Igor Smirnov on 10 February issued a decree honoring five Russian citizens for their contribution to the "pacification" of the breakaway region, RFE/RL's Chisinau bureau reported. The list is headed by the first commander of Russia's 14th Army, the late General Aleksandr Lebed. It also includes former Russian President Boris Yeltsin, current President Vladimir Putin, former Vice President Aleksandr Rutskoi and former Foreign Minister Andrei Kozyrev. MS

LAWMAKERS LEAVE BULGARIA'S RULING COALITION
Six legislators quit the parliamentary group of the senior ruling National Movement Simeon II (NDSV) on 10 February, BTA reported, reducing the governing coalition's majority to nine seats in the National Assembly. The lawmakers pledged to establish a new parliamentary group called National Ideal of Unity (NIE, which is Bulgarian word for "we") together with other former NDSV lawmakers who left the party in March. The latest NDSV defectors have alleged widespread corruption within the ruling coalition and criticized NDSV parliamentary group Chairman Plamen Panayotov for what they call his authoritarian style of leadership. The NDSV now has 109 seats in the 240-seat parliament, while the junior coalition, ethnic Turkish Movement for Rights and Freedoms (DPS) holds 20 seats. UB

FOREIGN MINISTRY URGES BULGARIAN CITIZENS TO LEAVE MIDDLE EAST AND GULF REGION
The Foreign Ministry on 10 February urged Bulgarian citizens to "seriously consider" leaving the Middle East and Persian Gulf region, BTA reported. A statement said the ministry is following the situation, adding that the lives and personal security of Bulgarian citizens remain its primary concern. UB

SENIOR FOREIGN-POLICY OFFICIALS CRITICIZE BULGARIAN PRESIDENT
Foreign Minister Solomon Pasi and Stanimir Ilchev, who heads the parliamentary Committee on Foreign Affairs, on 10 February criticized President Georgi Parvanov for perceived passivity on the Iraqi question, mediapool.bg reported. Pasi said the current level of cooperation between the government, parliament, and the president pales in comparison to that demonstrated during earlier crises by Parvanov's predecessor, Petar Stoyanov. "I would like to see this question -- the Iraqi question -- discussed in the [presidential] Consultative Council on National Security," Pasi added. Ilchev cited consultations held between the government and then-President Zhelyu Zhelev during the 1991 Gulf War. Parvanov did not attend a 7 February parliamentary session during which a U.S. request for military support was approved. In an earlier statement, Parvanov had urged parliamentarians not to hurry that decision. UB

BULGARIAN PROSECUTOR-GENERAL BLASTS U.S. LOBBYIST
Prosecutor-General Nikola Filchev reacted sharply on 10 February to implicit criticism leveled the previous day by Bruce Jackson, who heads the nongovernmental, pro-expansion U.S.-NATO Committee (U.S. Committee on NATO), "Sega" reported. Filchev labeled Jackson "some international swindler who takes himself seriously," according to "Sega." Jackson had suggested that the chances of the U.S. Senate ratifying Bulgaria's NATO membership might be improved by Filchev's departure from his post, among other things (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 10 February 2003). U.S. Ambassador James Pardew said on 10 February that he does not believe Filchev poses a threat to Bulgaria's NATO accession, but he repeated his view that the prosecutor-general is a "controversial personality" in Bulgaria, according to mediapool.bg. Jackson is a former military-intelligence officer in the U.S. Army who has since worked in the Defense Department, with investment bank Lehman Brothers, and for aerospace giant Lockheed Martin Corporation. UB/AH

There is no End Note today.


AFGHANISTAN OFFICIALLY ACCEDES TO INTERNATIONAL CRIMINAL COURT TREATY
Afghan commanders or warlords who commit atrocities may face prosecution by the new International Criminal Court (ICC), Human Rights Watch said on 10 February, the same day that Afghanistan formally acceded to the ICC Treaty at the United Nations. Under ICC provisions, the treaty will come into force in Afghanistan on 1 May. After that date, the ICC will have the authority to investigate and prosecute serious war crimes, genocide, or crimes against humanity committed on Afghan soil. "This is a historic day for Afghanistan," said John Sifton, a researcher with Human Rights Watch. "For over two decades, perpetrators of war crimes and crimes against humanity in Afghanistan have enjoyed total impunity. On May 1, that impunity will formally end." It was unclear from the reports whether there is any cut-off date for when past crimes were committed. A spokesman for President Hamid Karzai said on 13 January that the cabinet voted the same day in support of accession to the ICC, Reuters reported. AT

NATO HEAD SAYS 'NO CREDIBLE ALTERNATIVE' IN AFGHANISTAN...
NATO Secretary-General Lord George Robertson said on 8 February during an annual security conference in Munich that the alliance "should take a far bigger role in Afghanistan," dpa reported. Robertson stressed the necessity of NATO involvement in Afghanistan because he sees "no credible alternative." Meanwhile, German Defense Minister Peter Struck the same day echoed that sentiment, suggesting NATO's role should expand after the joint German-Dutch command of the International Security Assistance Force (ISAF) runs out in October, dpa reported. On his way to Kabul for an official visit, Struck pledged to discuss the possibility of "a NATO flag flying in Kabul" with Afghan authorities. The issue of NATO's involvement in Afghanistan has been the topic of intense discussion since early 2002, and NATO logistical support for the ISAF was formally approved during the Atlantic alliance's Prague summit in November (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 22 November 2002). Some alliance members remain opposed to involvement in Afghanistan, however (see "RFE/RL Afghanistan Report," 20 December 2002). AT

...AS GERMAN DEFENSE MINISTER REJECTS ISAF EXPANSION
During the handover of ISAF command from Turkey to joint German-Dutch forces on 9 February, Struck said he has made it clear to Afghan President Karzai that ISAF's "area of operation will be restricted to Kabul and its surroundings," "Welt am Sonntag" reported. Karzai and the UN have requested the expansion of ISAF's area of operations beyond Kabul, but major troop contributors have repeatedly dismissed the idea. AT

MISSILES HIT ISAF CAMP DURING SENIOR GERMAN VISIT
Two missiles hit ISAF headquarters in Kabul on 10 February as Defense Minister Struck was visiting troops there, "Spiegal" reported. The attack took place hours after Germany and the Netherlands assumed joint command of the peacekeeping force, the report added. The missiles caused no injuries, and no one has claimed responsibility for the attack. AT

GERMANS TO REMAIN IN AFGHANISTAN IN THE EVENT OF CONFLICT IN IRAQ
Struck said on 9 February that German troops will remain in Kabul in the event of military conflict in Iraq. He said Berlin is trying to avoid a war in Iraq, but, if a conflict erupts, the ISAF mandate "is based on UN Security Council resolutions and the declared will of 29 states to actively participate in the fight against international terrorism," "Welt am Sonntag" reported. Struck added that he sees neither a political nor a military connection between ISAF and the Iraq issue. AT

AFGHAN TROOPS FIGHT EACH OTHER
One Afghan soldier was killed as a result of a brief firefight on 10 February that apparently broke out among troops belonging to the 744th Brigade near Torkham on the Afghan-Pakistani border, Afghan Islamic Press (AIP) reported from Peshawar. There was no information on the cause of the fighting, but the report indicated that calm had been restored. AT

AFGHAN-PAKISTANI PRISONERS RELEASED
Afghanistan on 10 February released 19 Pakistani prisoners on the occasion of the Muslim holiday of sacrifice that marks the end of the Hajj, "Dawn" reported the next day. Pakistan recently released 39 Afghans from its prisons, the Karachi daily added without providing details. Most Pakistani nationals in Afghan prisons are thought to have been volunteer fighters who had joined the Taliban. AT

FURTHER STEPS TAKEN AGAINST AFGHAN OPIUM TRADE
Afghan police on 9 February made a bonfire of 2.5 tons of narcotics -- opium, hashish, and heroin -- in Kabul's Chaman-i Hazori park, Radio Afghanistan reported. An Interior Ministry official said the narcotics were seized in Kabul's outskirts. In the South Waziristan tribal area of Pakistan, which borders Afghanistan, authorities have suspended the salaries and other benefits of 4,000 members of the Wazir, Suleman, and Detain tribes, Karachi's "Islam" newspaper reported on 7 February. This step was taken because they have not reduced opium-poppy cultivation in the area, and Assistant Police Agent Seyyed Anwar Ali Shah said he hopes people will be more cooperative or the administration will take even tougher measures. Speaking on the sidelines of a joint Afghanistan-Iran-Turkmenistan border-guards conference in Mashhad on 9 February, Afghan Consul-General Torialai Ghiasi called for international cooperation in countering narcotics smuggling but admitted that "some time is needed, and I think we cannot say that we can overcome this problem overnight," Mashhad radio reported. BS

IRANIANS KILL PAKISTANI INFILTRATORS
Pakistani Prime Minister Mir Zafarullah Khan Jamali has ordered an inquiry into the killing of seven Pakistanis as they crossed the border into Iran, and he also has instructed the Pakistani Interior and Foreign ministries to send a delegation to Tehran to ensure that there are no recurrences, Islamabad's PTV World reported on 9 February. Iranian security forces in Sistan va Baluchistan Province had cautioned 44 men to halt as they attempted to cross the border illegally, and the Iranians opened fire when the border crossers failed to respond, Lahore's "Daily Times" reported on 9 February. Iranian security personnel arrested the 37 survivors. Pakistani Foreign Office spokesman Aziz Ahmad Khan told reporters on 10 February that the killings have not been confirmed, and the Pakistani Embassy in Tehran is trying to verify the reports. BS

IRANIANS COMMEMORATE 1979 REVOLUTION
Participants in 11 February state rallies will get "special tips, including life and accident coverage," and the government has set up "special facilities" to transport people to and from the rallies, IRNA reported. Known as 22 Bahman (its date on the Iranian calendar), the rally in Tehran's Azadi Square commemorates Iran's 1979 Islamic Revolution. State officials, military personnel, parliamentarians, clerics, scholars, veterans, students, athletes, and Basijis are making their way from seven pre-determined points to Azadi Square. On the sidelines of the rally, Speaker of Parliament Hojatoleslam Mehdi Karrubi said that through their participation, "our people have...showcased their unity and cohesion to the world people, nullifying enemy conspiracies," IRNA reported. BS

IRANIAN PRESIDENT CONDEMNS U.S. AT RALLY
President Hojatoleslam Mohammad Khatami warned Washington in his speech to the 11 February rally not to support the Iranian opposition, IRNA added. "America has once tried its luck in confronting this nation by supporting the regime of [the] shah, but I hope it will not be under further illusion to support the remnants of the former regime." Not only would an attack against Iraq lead to regional tensions, Khatami said, but it would be "in line with America's unilateral policy and its illegitimate intervention in other countries' fates." "But, world countries have announced that they object [to] unilateral and bullying policies," he said. A 10-point resolution passed at the end of the rally expressed the Iranian people's readiness to confront the United States, condemned the military buildup in the Persian Gulf, and announced support for the Palestinian nation. State television featured crowds chanting "Death to America," among other things. BS

WASHINGTON, EU WORRIED ABOUT IRANIAN URANIUM MINING...
U.S. State Department spokesman Richard Boucher said at a 10 February press briefing: "Iran's admission that it's been mining uranium, when Russia has agreed to provide all the uranium fuel for the lifetime of the Bushehr reactor, raises serious questions about Iran's supposedly peaceful nuclear program. Iran's ambitious and costly pursuit of a complete nuclear fuel cycle only makes sense if it's in support of a nuclear weapons program." European Union spokeswoman Emma Udwin said on 10 February that Iran should sign a protocol with the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) that would allow inspections of its nuclear activities with little advance warning, Reuters reported. It would "help Iran's cause greatly...to persuade the doubters," she said. BS

...BUT TEHRAN REJECTS SUCH FEARS
Iranian government spokesman Abdullah Ramezanzadeh said in Qom on 10 February that there is no limit to the IAEA's ability to conduct inspections in Iran, and he denied that Iran plans to use nuclear technology for military purposes, IRNA reported on 11 February. Ramezanzadeh added that Iran's nuclear pursuits are based on the desire to avoid dependence on fossil fuels and hydroelectric power to meet the country's energy needs. Vice President for Atomic Energy Qolam Reza Aqazadeh-Khoi said on 10 February that Iran requires a nuclear capability for electrical-energy production, not for weapons, IRNA and state television reported. President Khatami had announced on 9 February that Iran is mining uranium near Yazd and has built facilities for extracting uranium and making "yellow cake," which is made into fuel pellets, state television reported (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 10 February 2003). BS

U.S. AIRCRAFT SPOTTED OVER IRAN
Iran on 9 February rejected a report in "The Washington Post" the previous day that described Tehran-Washington discussions about a possible war in Iraq, dpa reported. "We deny the report published in 'The Washington Post' on contacts with American officials in Europe regarding Iraq," Foreign Ministry Spokesman Hamid-Reza Assefi said. According to that report, "Bush administration officials held a rare private meeting with Iranian envoys in Europe last month to seek...an assurance that the Tehran government would not interfere in military operations if the United States goes to war against Iraq." This could explain why U.S. combat aircraft that was flying north-to-south was seen in "the northern part of Abadan near the border" on 2 February, and a few days later more aircraft were heard over Khorramshahr, the "Mardom Salari" daily reported on 4 February. BS

JOURNALIST CRITICAL OF THOUGHT CRIMES
Iranian journalist Emadedin Baqi, who was jailed in May 2000, was released from Evin Prison on 6 February, according to ISNA, and in an 8 February interview with ISNA he criticized the jailing of individuals for their opinions. Baqi urged the judiciary to be more far-sighted and said that imprisonment is not an effective way to deal with crime, that those who use imprisonment to solve political problems accomplish the opposite, and that such imprisonments undermine society's credibility. Baqi also said the methodology of right-wing ideologues has in fact damaged the conservatives' prestige, and they will not be able to get back on their feet in 100 years. Baqi advised rational conservatives to abandon the conservative faction. BS

MONTAZERI WARNED AGAINST POLITICAL INVOLVEMENT
Expediency Council member Mohammad Reza Bahonar announced on 8 February in Qom that Ayatollah Hussein-Ali Montazeri-Najafabadi, whose house arrest ended recently, "must not get involved in politics, but he can continue to lecture and go about his own business," IRNA reported. Bahonar also cast doubt on reports about Montazeri's ill health, which was one of the reasons the ayatollah's supporters gave for ending his confinement (see "RFE/RL Iran Report," 27 January and 3 February 2003). Montazeri went to the hospital late on 4 February due to heart problems, and Montazeri's office sent a fax on 8 February that stated he will not be receiving visitors for a while because the doctors have told him to rest, ISNA reported. BS

NO MORE POWER FAILURES IN IRAN
Deputy Minister of Energy Reza Amrollahi said during the inauguration of Tehran's Water and Sewage Treatment Organization's website on 10 February that in the year starting on 21 March there will be no more power failures, IRNA reported. BS

IRANIAN PAINT MANUFACTURERS FACE DIFFICULTIES
Iran Paint Industry Association Secretary Ahmad Emdadi said on 9 February that just 70 of 345 paint-production facilities are in good financial and technical shape, IRNA reported. Emdadi said factors that are hindering the paint sector include a lack of liquidity and investment, as well as smuggling from neighboring countries. Emdadi said some of the materials used in Iranian paint are banned in the United States and Europe. Moreover, "the [exorbitant] tax and fees levied on the sector are reasons for squeezing the profit rates to about 5 to 7 percent," he said. BS

IRANIAN DEFENSE INDUSTRY INAUGURATES NEW PROJECTS
The Aerospace Industries Organization's factory for producing solid-fuel engines for missiles has begun operations and the first Iranian-built engine was tested on 9 February in the presence of Minister of Defense and Armed Forces Logistics Admiral Ali Shamkhani, Iranian state television reported. The production line for manufacturing Tariq and Ashura small, fast boats (qayeq-ha-yi tondro) and Zulfaqar fast boats (navcheh) was inaugurated in Shamkhani's presence on 8 February, state television reported. Shamkhani said these vessels are consistent with modern tactics, local conditions, and the country's economic means. "Today, we can state categorically that not only we are independent of foreigners, but in fact, we ourselves are producers of both the necessary know-how and the equipment and hardware required by ourselves and others," he added. BS

RUSSIA OFFERS PLANE TO UN INSPECTORS
Russian Air Force spokesman Colonel Aleksandr Drobyshevskii announced that Russian aircraft equipped for surveillance will be demonstrated on 11 February at an air base at Kubinka, near Moscow, ITAR-TASS reported. Russia offered the use of reconnaissance planes on 7 February in an effort to break the impasse between Iraq and UN inspectors over the use of U.S. U-2 spy planes. KR

IRAQ AGREES TO ALLOW U-2 OVERFLIGHTS...
Iraq has agreed to allow UN inspectors to conduct aerial reconnaissance using U-2 spy planes, Iraq News Agency reported on 10 February. Major General Husam Muhammad Amin, director-general of the Iraqi National Monitoring Directorate, issued a statement saying, "We [Iraq] have reached an agreement with UNMOVIC on a formula for aerial reconnaissance as per [UN Security Council] Resolution 1441." Iraq had voiced strong objections to the use of U-2 reconnaissance planes, first contending that they would be used to spy on Iraqi antiaircraft installations. Later, Iraqi officials stated they could not guarantee the safety of U-2 flights over Iraqi airspace unless the United States and the United Kingdom halted flights over the northern and southern no-fly zones while the U-2s were in the air. KR

...AS LEADER SAYS WAR IS 'ALREADY UNDER WAY'
Iraqi President Saddam Hussein commented on the issue of U-2 overflights in Iraq during a meeting with South African Deputy Foreign Minister Aziz Pahad, saying, "The war is already under way," Iraq Satellite Television reported on 10 February. Hussein complained about U.S. and U.K. near-daily air strikes on Iraqi military installations, adding, "They even want the inspectors to use their espionage U-2 aircraft in the aggression against us." Hussein compared the UN request for U-2 overflights to "asking Iraq to surrender to the U.S. military forces, because telling our air defenses not to open fire on raiding planes means surrendering to the United States and Britain, which is not reasonable." KR

NATO MEETS AGAIN TO DISCUSS IRAQ
NATO members were to meet for the third time in two days on 11 February in an attempt to break the impasse over Iraq, AFP reported. Secretary-General Robertson told reporters following an emergency NATO session on 10 February that "unfortunately, we are not yet at the stage where we can achieve consensus and arrive at a decision," according to NATO's website (http://www.nato.int/). Robertson said later the same day that France, Belgium, and Germany's veto on 10 February (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 10 February 2003) "is about the timing," adding, "If we haven't achieved agreement after three weeks of discussion, then that argument is of a serious nature." KR

IS NATO IMPASSE A PRELUDE TO SECURITY COUNCIL DEBATE?
The 10 February veto against initiating NATO planning to support Turkey militarily in the event of a U.S.-led war in Iraq might signify larger problems for the United States and the United Kingdom when the UN Security Council meets next on 14 February to hear a report by UNMOVIC Executive Chairman Hans Blix and his IAEA counterpart Mohammad el-Baradei. Chinese Foreign Ministry spokeswoman Zhang Qiyue expressed China's support on 11 February for the French, Belgian, and German NATO veto, telling a news conference that China "supports any effort that is beneficial to settling the Iraq issue politically," Reuters reported. Meanwhile, an unnamed source within the German government told Reuters that Britain, Bulgaria, and Spain are the only Security Council members supporting the U.S. position on Iraq. Russian President Vladimir Putin stated that Russia and France "have a common position" concerning Iraq, but tempered the international debate on 10 February, stating, "A clash of opinions and views as such is not damaging at all. The important thing is that this clash of opinions, this confrontation should remain peaceful and that all discussions are held within certain rules which are nothing else but international law," NTV reported. Putin arrived in France on 10 February for a three-day visit for meetings with President Jacques Chirac. KR

TURKISH PRIME MINISTER AGAIN ASKS FOR ASSISTANCE
Turkish Prime Minister Abdullah Gul reiterated Turkey's request for NATO protection in the event of a U.S.-led war with Iraq, saying, "Turkey defended the whole of Europe during the Cold War period. It was a shield for Europe. So there is no doubt that NATO must do what falls to it," Reuters reported on 11 February. Gul referred to the current conflict within NATO as a "diplomatic struggle," saying Turkey was not the direct target of the 10 February veto. "The Turkish armed forces are already very strong. There is no need for them [NATO allies]. Our own power is one of the important forces in the world. But there is no doubt that [NATO member states] have a responsibility because of our treaty rights," Gul added. Meanwhile, an 11 February Reuters report cited an article in the Turkish mass-circulation daily "Milliyet" of the same day reporting an offer of asylum allegedly made by Turkish Prime Minister Gul to Iraqi President Hussein. The offer was reportedly made through Iraqi Vice President Taha Yassin Ramadan during his recent visit to Ankara, Reuters reported. Gul, however, has denied offering Hussein asylum, according to the Ankara-based daily "Anatolia." KR

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