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Newsline - February 14, 2003


RUSSIA CALLS FOR UNITY ON IRAQ...
Speaking to journalists on 13 February in New York on the eve of a crucial UN Security Council discussion of Iraq, Foreign Minister Igor Ivanov called for the preservation of the unity of the Security Council in order to resolve the crisis, RIA-Novosti reported. He said that the council must demonstrate that it can solve this problem and "even more complicated problems such as international terrorism, arms proliferation, and drug trafficking." In an interview published in the "Financial Times" on 14 February, Ivanov said he considers "the preservation of a unified Euro-Atlantic community, with Russia now a part of it" to be immensely important. He added that the 11 February joint statement on Iraq by France, Germany, and Russia (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 12 February 2003) was not directed against the United States. "Attempts to portray this initiative as an anti-American maneuver are completely unfounded. Those who make such suggestions are either unable to discern new trends in world politics or are unable to abandon a Cold War mentality," Ivanov said. VY

...AS U.S. OFFICIAL SAYS IRAQ THREATENS RUSSIA AS WELL AS U.S.
U.S. national security adviser Condoleezza Rice, in an exclusive interview with ITAR-TASS on 13 February, expressed the hope that Russia will eventually adopt the U.S. position on Iraq. Rice said that the Iraq dispute should be viewed through the prism of the war on terrorism and combating the proliferation of weapons of mass destruction. She added that the international terrorists allegedly succored by Iraq threaten not only the United States, but Russia as well. "We should not allow the situation in Iraq to mar our relations [with Russia]," Rice added. She noted that the United States is prepared to declare that some Chechen militant groups are terrorist organizations, but added that Washington remains committed to finding a political settlement in Chechnya and urges Moscow to work toward peace talks with legitimate Chechen leaders. VY

MOSCOW AUTHORITIES HOLD ANTITERRORISM DRILL...
Major General Aleksandr Yeleseev, head of the Moscow Municipal Civil Defense and Emergency Situations Administration, announced that his agency on 14 February conducted an exercise in the Moscow metro "on the liquidation of the consequences of a terrorist act involving chemical and bacteriological weapons," ITAR-TASS and other Russian news agencies reported. Rescue teams had three hours to identify what type of weapon had been used, to decontaminate the affected metro station, and to evacuate all those injured in the mock attack. Yeleseev added that the drill was a success. VY

...AS GENERAL SAYS RUSSIA IS NOT READY FOR TERRORIST ACTS
Speaking to reporters in Moscow on 13 February, Duma Defense Committee Chairman General Andrei Nikolaev (People's Deputy) said Russia is not able to prevent terrorist attacks, RosBalt and other Russian news agencies reported. Nikolaev added that he believes any U.S. military intervention in Iraq would produce an increase in terrorist acts globally. "The threat of terrorism comes from places where no one expects it, and it is impossible to guarantee that there will be no terrorist attacks," Nikolaev said. VY

MINISTER'S APARTMENT ROBBED
Unidentified thieves broke into the Moscow apartment of Atomic Energy Minister Aleksandr Rumyantsev during the day on 13 February, lenta.ru and other Russian news agencies reported on 14 February, citing police spokesmen. According to RTR, police are refusing to disclose details of what was stolen, saying only that the take included "money and valuables." RC

VOLUNTEERS TO DEFEND IRAQ STEP FORWARD IN RUSSIAN CITIES...
Some 2,500 Russian citizens have told the Iraqi Embassy in Moscow that they are interested in volunteering to defend Iraq against a possible U.S. military action, Ekho Moskvy reported on 13 February. In Chally, Rafis Kashapov, head of the local Tatar Public Center office, said that several dozen Chally residents have appealed to his group to help them fight in Iraq. However, Kashapov informed them that his group does not involve itself in military-recruitment efforts, "Trud" reported on 13 February. Kashapov told RFE/RL's Tatar-Bashkir Service that the would-be recruits belong to many ethnic groups, including Russians, Chavashs, Tatars, Maris, and Udmurts. In Sverdlovsk Oblast, more than 10 residents between the ages of 30 and 40 have also expressed their desire to assist Iraq, regions.ru reported, citing the local branch of the Liberal Democratic Party of Russia (LDPR). The volunteers include not only Muslims but also ethnic Russians "who are ready to fight against American commands and force," according to the agency. JAC

...AS CHIEF MUFTI SPEAKS AGAINST MILITARY ACTION AGAINST IRAQ
Regions.ru reported the same day that rallies against war in Iraq will be held on 15 February in Voronezh, Moscow, St. Petersburg, Nizhnii Novgorod, Yaroslavl, Perm, and Yekaterinburg. On 11 February, the head of the Ufa-based Central Religious Board of Muslims of Russia and the European countries of the CIS, Supreme Mufti Telget Tajetdin, said during his morning sermon that he opposes the use of force to resolve the crisis in Iraq, RFE/RL's Ufa correspondent reported the next day. JAC

CRITICS LAMBASTE PROPOSED MEDIA LEGISLATION
"Nezavisimaya gazeta" provided on 13 February more details about a presidential package of bills that would amend election and mass-media laws to allow the authorities to shut down media outlets that violate election rules during campaigns (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 6 February 2003). Under the bill, journalists would not be permitted to disseminate any information -- even if it is accurate -- that could harm a candidate's dignity or damage his or her reputation, unless the media outlet is prepared to give the candidate similar space or air time free of charge for a rebuttal, the newspaper reported. Commenting on the bills, Sergei Markov of the Institute for Political Research said they "might seriously distort the electoral process" and that "politicians will stop canvassing for votes and will concentrate on winning court cases." "The outcome of the election will depend on the court bureaucracy rather than the will of the people," Markov said. Georgii Satarov of the INDEM Foundation added that he considers the amendments "extremely harmful." When the media are not allowed to explain to citizens what is happening, "expect some highly negative consequences," Satarov said. JAC

FISHERIES HEAD SUSPENDED
Prime Minister Mikhail Kasyanov on 14 February "temporarily suspended" State Fisheries Committee Chairman and former Primorskii Krai Governor Yevgenii Nazdratenko, Russian news agencies reported. Kasyanov said he took the step in response to continuous protests by Far Eastern fishermen and officials complaining about the reductions of fishing quotas, RFE/RL's Russian Service reported. At the same time, Kasyanov annulled two of Nazdratenko's directives on quotas. Kasyanov noted that on 31 December the government confirmed the national fisheries quotas and that regional authorities then submitted their recommendations on dividing those quotas among the regions, but the State Fisheries Committee has failed to issue the required licenses, newsru.com reported. Kasyanov commented that he has received many complaints from regional authorities saying that Nazdratenko has overruled their decisions. Such encroachment on the prerogatives of local administrations is impermissible, Kasyanov said. VY

YABLOKO LEADER SLAMS ELECTRICITY-SECTOR REFORMS
Yabloko leader Grigorii Yavlinskii told reporters on 13 February that his party's Duma faction will vote against a set of six electricity-sector reforms that was expected to be considered in its second reading on 14 February, RFE/RL's Moscow bureau reported. The bills were passed in their first reading on 9 October, newsru.com reported. Yavlinskii said the "reforms will lead to unrestrained price and rates increases and bring the reform of the communal-housing and public-utilities sector to a dead end." The reforms "will also stimulate inflation and lead to a further decapitalization of businesses" and will "destabilize all economic markets," Yavlinskii said. According to the bureau, Yavlinskii also charged that the reform of Unified Energy Systems (EES) devised by EES head Anatolii Chubais with the support of Prime Minister Kasyanov is a struggle not only for influence over the economy but also for political power. EES "is forming a supermonopoly so that in this year of elections -- and even after that -- it can get as close to power as possible, and, if there is an opportunity, wield it," Yavlinskii declared. JAC

MMM CO-FOUNDER SENTENCED
A Moscow court on 13 February sentenced Vyacheslav Mavrodi, younger brother of MMM investment firm founder Sergei Mavrodi, to five years and three months in prison for his conviction on charges of conducting illegal banking and precious-commodities operations, regions.ru and other Russian news agencies reported. After the collapse of MMM, which Vyacheslav Mavrodi founded with his brother, he formed two other pyramid-type investment companies called MMM-96 and MMM-97. The court ruled that by accepting "deposits" from investors, Mavrodi violated Russian banking laws and that the companies acquired gold from the Central Bank without having the necessary license. Mavrodi's lawyers said they will appeal the conviction. Sergei Mavrodi was arrested in Moscow on 31 January (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 3 and 4 February 2003) after almost five years on the run and now faces fraud charges stemming from MMM's activities. RC

NEW PUBLICATION AIMS FOR THE ACQUISITIVE CLASS
The former publisher of "Kommersant-Daily" and some of its former staff are starting a new weekly called "Stolichnaya," aimed at Russia's growing middle class, smi.ru reported on 13 February. According to a press release, the new publication will be aimed at people who "know that they live better today than they did yesterday, and who want to believe that they will live better tomorrow than they do today." The weekly's potential readers are people "who already have what they lost and who hope to have more in the future." Researchers at the Sotsioekspress Research Center estimate that there are around 1.1 million such people in Moscow. JAC

COMMUNISTS SAY THEY'RE GETTING YOUNGER...
At a conference in Moscow devoted to the 10th anniversary of the Communist Party of Russia (KPRF), party leader Gennadii Zyuganov said that those who consider the KPRF a party of pensioners are mistaken, RFE/RL's Moscow bureau reported. He said that in the recent years, the party's ranks have grown significantly younger, and the party leadership is full of young, energetic cadres. However, RIA-Novosti reported that Zyuganov acknowledged that the average age of party members is over 55. Aleksandr Kuvaev, secretary of the Moscow city Communist Party branch, told RFE/RL that his organization has become younger as older members pass away. He said that this year more than 1,000 new members have joined his branch of the party, 700 to 800 of whom are students. JAC

...AS SPS, OVR REPEAT BID FOR TEEN VOTE
The Union of Rightist Forces (SPS) and Fatherland-All Russia (OVR) factions have proposed amending the law on voting rights to lower the voting age to 16, "Izvestiya" reported on 12 February. The authors of the amendment are Aleksandr Barannikov (SPS), Andrei Vulf (SPS), and Vladimir Koptev-Dvornikov (OVR). According to "Gazeta," such a change would add some 4.9 million voters to the rolls. A similar bill was considered last April, but only 159 deputies of the required 226 supported it, "Izvestiya" reported. Central Election Commission Chairman Aleksandr Veshnyakov opposes the bill for a number of reasons, including the fact that the overall voter-participation rate would drop since younger voters tend not to bother to vote. JAC

PRO-PUTIN YOUTH GROUP MOCKS COMMUNISTS, BEREZOVSKII
The pro-Putin youth movement Walking Together, which has undertaken a number of flamboyant public demonstrations in recent months, held a downtown Moscow event on 13 February to mark the 10th anniversary of the KPRF, strana.ru reported. Demonstrators hung a large banner on the Moskva Hotel featuring portraits of Karl Marx, Friedrich Engels, Vladimir Lenin, Josef Stalin, Zyuganov, and self-exiled magnate Boris Berezvoskii. Mikhail Myasoedov, spokesman and chief ideologue for the movement, said the point of the demonstration was to show that the KPRF has been transformed into something like a commercial brand, "just like a type of washing machine." Marchers also played a "musical present" for Zyuganov -- Liza Minelli's "Money Makes the World Go Round." VY

AND THEN THERE WERE 88?
Legislators in Perm Oblast voted unanimously on 13 February to confirm the text of a letter to President Putin calling for merging the oblast with neighboring Komi-Permyak Autonomous Okrug, polit.ru reported. Legislators in the okrug voted on 11 February to support the idea, according to "Vedomosti." State Duma Deputy Andrei Klimov (Russian Regions), who was elected from the okrug's single-mandate district, told the daily that the desirability of joining the two regions has been discussed for the last 12 years but starting the process only became possible in 2002 with the passage of a federal bill outlining the procedure for combining federation subjects (see "RFE/RL Russian Political Weekly," 30 January 2003). Klimov said that regional leaders plan to hold a referendum about merging the two regions this December at the same time as the State Duma elections. JAC

BUREAUCRATS ASPIRE TO WALK ALL OVER PUTIN
State officials at all levels from the presidential administration to city hall have lined up to obtain a special limited-edition rug bearing a portrait of President Putin, "Simbirskii kurer" reported on 11 February. In its first edition, the rug, which was produced by the Nometeks textile factory in Dimitrovgrad, depicted Putin against the background of the Russian flag. However, the plant ran out of red thread, and the flag has subsequently been dropped. In the newer version, the flagless Putin appears to be unshaven. However, the rug makers explain that this is only because the density of the weave makes it difficult to render straight lines. The factory declined to name names, but it did acknowledge that officials from Moscow, Ulyanovsk, Dimitrovgrad, Samara, and other cities have purchased the carpet, which costs some 4,000 rubles ($126). An unidentified source told the newspaper that Ulyanovsk Oblast Governor Vladimir Shamanov was among the purchasers. JAC

CHECHEN PRESIDENT'S NEW ENVOY MAKES DEBUT
Salambek Maigov, whom President Aslan Maskhadov named on 3 February as his envoy in Moscow, told a press conference on 13 February that "there are no doubts" that Maskhadov is currently in Chechnya, Russian news agencies reported. Maigov admitted that Maskhadov does not control all armed formations in Chechnya, especially the so-called "irreconcilables," but argued that this does not detract from his status as Chechnya's legitimate president. Maigov said the planned 23 March referendum on a new draft Chechen constitution will not contribute to a political settlement of the conflict and that the only way to do so is to resume talks between Maskhadov's representatives and the Russian government. A former Russian military-intelligence (GRU) officer, Maigov ran unsuccessfully against Maskhadov in the January 1997 Chechen presidential election. He is currently chairman of the Chechen Anti-War Congress and one of the leading members of the Eurasia Party. One veteran military analyst has compared his political charisma with that of the late General Aleksandr Lebed. LF

ARMENIAN COURT RULES INCUMBENT ELIGIBLE TO CONTEST PRESIDENTIAL ELECTION
A Yerevan court rejected on 13 February a suit brought by six opposition presidential candidates asking the court to annul a police document certifying that President Robert Kocharian has been a citizen of, and resident in, the Republic of Armenia for 10 years, Noyan Tapan and RFE/RL's Armenian Service reported. The six plaintiffs argued that until March 1997 Kocharian lived in the unrecognized Nagorno-Karabakh Republic, of which he was then president. But the court ruled that a 1989 vote by the Armenian SSR Supreme Soviet that designated Karabakh a constituent part of Armenia remains valid. In the run-up to the March 1998 presidential election, the Armenian press published photographs of Kocharian's newly issued Armenian passport. LF

IMF GIVES POSITIVE ASSESSMENT OF ARMENIAN ECONOMIC TRENDS
An International Monetary Fund (IMF) team that recently spent two weeks in Armenia has positively assessed the country's macroeconomic performance and has signaled that there are no obstacles to the disbursement of the fourth tranche -- worth approximately $13 million -- of the fund's $91 million Poverty Reduction and Growth Facility Loan, Noyan Tapan and RFE/RL's Yerevan bureau reported on 13 February. In a statement released by its Yerevan office, the IMF noted that Armenia met all but one of the quantitative targets set for December 2002. It further registered Armenia's strong economic performance, as reflected in its 12.9 percent GDP growth, annual inflation of 2 percent, and reductions in its fiscal and current-account deficits. At the same time, the fund urged the government to "improve the transparency of the operations of state-owned companies in the energy sector, control their large debts, and improve their efficiency and accountability." The statement did not, however, indicate any timeframe for the disbursement of the next loan tranche. LF

AZERBAIJANI VILLAGERS LOOK TO CONTINUE DIALOGUE WITH AUTHORITIES
Islamic Party of Azerbaijan Deputy Chairman Gadji-aga Nuriev told journalists in Baku on 13 February that following their talks on 10 February between village residents and Interior Minister Ramil Usubov and Prosecutor-General Zakir Garalov they are confident of reaching agreement with the authorities during further talks next week on resolving the villagers' socioeconomic problems, zerkalo.az reported on 14 February (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 11 February 2003). But he warned that if agreement is not reached, the villagers will resume their protests. Nuriev said village representatives might also meet with Baku Mayor Hadjibala Abutalibov and President Heidar Aliev. Turan on 13 February quoted Nuriev as saying that during the 10 February talks the villagers gave Usubov and Garalov a carpet woven by the children of one of the village elders depicting President Aliev, which they asked the two officials to present to the president. LF

NEW AZERBAIJANI FIRST DEPUTY PRIME MINISTER NAMED
President Aliev has appointed Deputy Prime Minister Yakub Eyyubov to the post of first deputy premier, Turan reported on 13 February. Eyyubov, who is 57, trained as a construction engineer and taught at a Baku institute until 1997, when he was named to head the State Committee on Safety in Factories and Mines. He was appointed deputy prime minister in July 1999. LF

DID GEORGIAN PRESIDENT OFFER USE OF AIRFIELDS FOR U.S. STRIKE AGAINST IRAQ...
Georgian National Security Council Secretary Tedo Djaparidze told journalists in Tbilisi on 13 February that during talks earlier this week with U.S. Assistant Secretary of State Stephen Rademaker, President Eduard Shevardnadze offered both military and political support for the United States in a possible war against Iraq, Caucasus Press and Interfax reported. Djaparidze said the United States has not yet formally responded to that offer. But acting presidential press secretary Bondo Mdzinarishvili and parliament speaker Nino Birdjanadze both declined to confirm that Shevardnadze had made such an offer. ITAR-TASS quoted Georgian presidential adviser Gela Charkviani as denying that the United States has requested the use of Georgian airfields, while Interfax on 13 February quoted Georgian presidential administration official Shalva Pichkhadze as denying that Shevardnadze and Rademaker specifically discussed the use by the United States of the Vaziani base near Tbilisi (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 12 February 2003). Pichkhadze explained that Georgian airfields are not suitable for use by U.S. military aircraft and that it would be too expensive to upgrade them, according to Interfax. LF

...AND DEMAND QUID PRO QUO?
Reporting Tbilisi's alleged offer to the United States of the use of its military infrastructure in the event of a war against Iraq, Georgian news agencies quoted the BBC as saying that Shevardnadze conditioned that offer on a pledge from Washington to pressure Russia to close its remaining military bases in Georgia. Georgian parliament Defense and Security Committee Chairman Irakli Batiashvili declined on 13 February to comment on that report, saying that "the president is not obliged to inform me" about his decisions, Caucasus Press reported. LF

U.S. RECOMMENDS EXTENDING MANDATE OF CIS PEACEKEEPERS IN ABKHAZIA...
Caucasus Press and ITAR-TASS on 13 February quoted U.S. State Department spokesman Richard Boucher as saying that Washington supports prolonging for a further six months the mandate of the Russian peacekeeping force deployed under the CIS aegis in the Abkhaz conflict zone. That mandate expired on 31 December, and Tbilisi has imposed specific conditions for extending it (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 27 January 2003). Boucher said Washington "fully understands" Tbilisi's concern over unilateral Russian actions, including the renewal of the commuter-train service between Sochi and the Abkhaz capital, but advises against any actions that would make the process of negotiating a settlement to the conflict more difficult. He also urged Georgia and Abkhazia to begin talks on the UN-drafted document "Basic Principles for the Division of Competencies Between Tbilisi and Sukhumi." LF

...AS UN ENVOY MEETS WITH ABKHAZ LEADERS
Ambassador Heidi Tagliavini, who is UN Secretary-General Kofi Annan's special envoy for the Abkhaz conflict, has met in Sukhum with Abkhaz Prime Minister Gennadii Gagulia and Foreign Minister Sergei Shamba, Caucasus Press reported on 13 February. Tagliavini told journalists they discussed the possibility of renewing talks between the Abkhaz and Georgian sides within the framework of the UN-sponsored Coordinating Council. Tagliavini too argued that it would be premature to withdraw the CIS peacekeeping force from Abkhazia at this juncture, ITAR-TASS reported. LF

OSSETIANS FLEE GEORGIA'S PANKISI GORGE
Residents of five predominantly Ossetian-inhabited villages in the Pankisi Gorge have solicited help in leaving Georgia to settle in North Ossetia, according to the Georgian newspaper "Tribuna" on 13 February, as quoted by Caucasus Press. The villagers cite increasing crime, the influx of Chechen refugees, and appalling socioeconomic conditions as their reasons for wishing to leave Georgia. LF

EUROPEAN PARLIAMENT CONDEMNS HUMAN RIGHTS ABUSES IN KAZAKHSTAN
In a special resolution unanimously adopted on 13 February, the European Parliament condemned in unprecedentedly tough terms the recent trials of opposition politicians and an independent journalist in Kazakhstan, Reuters and eurasia.org.ru reported. The resolution focuses specifically on the trial on charges of statutory rape of journalist Sergei Duvanov and on the sentencing last year on embezzlement charges of opposition politicians Mukhtar Abliyazov and Ghalymzhan Zhaqiyanov. It calls on the Kazakh authorities to conduct independent investigations of all three cases and to make public their findings. It also calls on Kazakhstan to make available information on all ongoing investigations and trials, to criminalize the use of torture, to review the new law on the reregistration of political parties, and to embark on a dialogue with the opposition on ways to end the existing standoff between them. LF

KAZAKHSTAN HOSTS CONFERENCE ON PEACE AND ACCORD
Speaking on 13 February at the International Conference on Peace and Accord in Almaty, Kazakhstan's President Nursultan Nazarbaev affirmed participants' shared belief that all civilizations are equal and that no one religion should be considered superior to others, Interfax reported. Conference participants -- who included Kyrgyz President Askar Akaev; Tajik President Imomali Rakhmonov; Turkish Minister of State Mehmet Aydin; and Muslim, Christian, and Jewish religious leaders -- adopted a resolution denouncing all manifestations of terrorism and calling for a dialogue among civilizations in which, they said, all religions can play important roles. Azerbaijan's President Heidar Aliev declined to attend the conference, saying that it was "untimely" given the impending crisis over Iraq, Interfax reported on 12 February. Azerbaijan was represented instead by Foreign Minister Vilayat Quliev. LF

U.S. HANDS OVER AID TO TAJIK ARMY, WILL FINANCE BUILDING BRIDGE TO AFGHANISTAN
U.S. Ambassador to Dushanbe Franklin Huddle presented Tajik Defense Ministry officials on 13 February with the first of a consignment of 10,000 uniforms for the Tajik armed forces, Interfax reported. Huddle termed that aid a token of U.S. appreciation for Tajikistan's contribution to the international antiterrorism coalition. Huddle also announced on 13 February that Washington will contribute 95 percent of the estimated $12 million cost of building an automobile bridge linking Tajikistan and Afghanistan across the Pyandj River, Interfax reported. LF

UZBEKISTAN, CHINA SEEK TO EXPAND ECONOMIC COOPERATION
Uzbek and Chinese government delegations attended the fifth session of the intergovernmental commission on trade and economic cooperation in Tashkent on 13 February, Interfax, uza.uz, and uzreport.com reported. The officials noted that bilateral trade turnover increased in 2002 by more than 20 percent to reach $130 million. The possibility of creating further joint ventures, of which there are already more than 100 in Uzbekistan, was also discussed. LF

REGIONAL EDITORS COMPLAIN OF STATE PRESSURE IN BELARUS
The editors and publishers of several private, regional newspapers have appealed to the Belarusian public demanding the restoration of "law and justice" with regard to their periodicals and readers, Belapan reported on 13 February. According to the appeal, the authorities are currently clamping down on the regional press through lawsuits and administrative measures in order to "purge the information sector on the eve of the local elections" of independent regional publications. The appeal cites a recent court ban handed down against Ramuald Ulan, the publisher of "Novaya gazeta Smorgoni," on entrepreneurial activities as an example of such harassment. It also mentions administrative barriers erected by regional authorities to the distribution process. The appeal was signed by Anatol Hulyayeu, editor in chief of "Mestnoye vremya"; Yury Kamzolau, editor in chief of "Regionalnye vedomosti" (Horki); Ramuald Ulan; Andrey Shentarovich, editor in chief of "Mestnaya gazeta" (Vaukavysk); and Uladzimir Yanukevich, publisher of "Inteks-pres" (Baranavichy). JM

UKRAINIAN, POLISH PRESIDENTS AGREE ON 'LIBERAL' VISA REGIME...
Polish President Aleksander Kwasniewski on 13 February offered Ukrainians visas at no fee under a new border regime that will be introduced on 1 July, in line with EU demands, Ukrainian and Polish media reported. "The Polish side announces that it will introduce the most liberal visa regime for Ukrainian citizens while meeting the demands of the European Union and the Schengen agreement. It will include free visas for Ukrainians," said a joint statement issued after Kwasniewski's talks with his Ukrainian counterpart Leonid Kuchma in Ivano-Frankivsk, western Ukraine, earlier the same day. Speaking to journalists after the talks, Kuchma said Polish citizens will not need visas to visit Ukraine after 1 July. "A joint decision on the visa regime between our countries -- free Polish visas for Ukrainian citizens and a visa-free regime for Polish citizens -- is the Polish president's personal achievement, I want to emphasize this," Kuchma noted. JM

...AND JOINT COMMEMORATION OF 1943 MASSACRE
Kwasniewski and Kuchma also decided that both sides will organize -- in Volhynia, northwestern Ukraine, in July -- joint commemoration of the massacre of Poles by Ukrainian nationalists in 1943 (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 13 February 2003). Kuchma spoke in favor of clarifying all the circumstances of the tragedy. "Crimes against humanity cannot be justified. Let it be the last such 'celebration' in our relations," PAP quoted Kuchma as saying. The joint statement stresses that it is "extremely essential to make the commemoration of the anniversary [of the 1943 massacre] a significant step toward overcoming divergences in understanding mutual history." JM

FATF WITHDRAWS CALL FOR SANCTIONS ON UKRAINE
The Financial Action Task Force on Money Laundering (FATF) has decided to withdraw the recommendation of countermeasures against Ukraine for that country's insufficient efforts to combat money laundering (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 12 February 2003), the FATF website (http://www1.oecd.org/fatf/) reported on 14 February. The FATF said its move was prompted by Ukraine's recent enactment of "comprehensive anti-money-laundering legislation" (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 7 February 2003). The FATF added, however, that Ukraine will remain on its list of "noncooperative countries and territories" until Kyiv has efficiently implemented this legislation. JM

ESTONIAN PREMIER: EU BODIES MUST HAVE NO POWER OVER GOVERNMENTS
Siim Kallas declared during a parliamentary discussion of EU enlargement on 13 February that no institution or body wielding even the slightest power over national governments may be created in the enlarged EU, BNS reported. He decried talk of the creation of a permanent president of the European Council and called for continuing the practice of "the presidency of the European Union rotating on a basis of equality." Kallas also said the EU should continue its current policy of granting each member country a European commissioner. He said he opposes plans to unify tax policy in the EU, adding that every state should retain the right to determine its direct taxes independently. SG

PROTEST AGAINST WAR IN IRAQ STAGED AT U.S. EMBASSY IN LATVIA
Three youth organizations -- the nationalist Visu Latvijai (All for Latvia) and Klubs 415, along with the leftist Social Democratic Youth Union -- organized a picket in front of the U.S. Embassy in Riga on 13 February to oppose Washington's seeming intention to use military force against Iraq, BNS reported. The protest was attended by more than 100 people, including about 20 members of the Environmental Protection Club and about a dozen members of the ultraright Latvian National Front. Fearing that there might be an attempt to provoke public disorder, the organizers asked police to remove a group from the radical-left Russian National Bolshevik Movement who had come carrying a flag with a swastika on it. All For Latvia leader Raivis Dzintars pledged that his organization will soon stage a protest against Russian military intervention in Chechnya by marching from the U.S. Embassy to the Russian Embassy in Riga with burning torches. SG

LITHUANIA FRETS OVER RUSSIA'S ENVIRONMENTAL FOOT-DRAGGING...
Foreign Minister Antanas Valionis and Environment Minister Arunas Kundrotas on 12 February threatened to turn to the UNESCO World Heritage Center in their ongoing effort to have an international environmental-impact study conducted on oil extraction at the D-6 deposit in the Baltic Sea, BNS reported the next day. Vilnius will request that UNESCO appoint international experts to conduct the research if Russia continues to ignore Lithuania's insistence on such a study, they said. Russia continues to rebuff requests that it conduct such a study along with Lithuanian experts, prompting Lithuania to issue a June deadline to Moscow. SG

...AHEAD OF PLANNED LUKOIL EXTRACTION
Russia's LUKoil has declared plans to begin extracting oil this year from the D-6 deposit, which is located 22 kilometers off the Curonian Spit and 7 kilometers from the Lithuanian-Russian maritime border. The spit is a narrow strip of land in Lithuania and the Kaliningrad Oblast with unique dunes and other natural features that was placed on the UNESCO World Heritage Center's list of protected areas in 2001. Ministers Valionis and Kundrotas also decided on 12 February to ask the European Commission's Environment Directorate to acquire more information about the environmental situation of D-6 at the March meeting of the EU-Russian Energy, Environment, and Nuclear Energy Subcommittee and to raise the D-6 issue at the 3rd session of the Lithuanian-Russian intergovernmental commission at the end of March. SG

LITHUANIA TO DOWNGRADE EU VOTE TO 'ADVISORY' REFERENDUM?
The Coordination Council of the Information Campaign for Entry to the EU decided on 13 February to recommend to an extraordinary session of parliament on 24 February that the upcoming EU-accession referendum be downgraded to an "advisory" plebiscite rather than a "mandatory" one, ELTA reported. The council is headed by parliamentary Chairman Arturas Paulauskas. Lithuania's chief negotiator with the EU, Petras Austrevicius, said other EU aspirants will hold advisory referendums and there is no need for Lithuania to set higher standards. "An advisory referendum is equally significant and will provide a possibility for each Lithuanian citizen to express his opinion," Austrevicius said. Advisory referendums still require the participation of a majority of eligible voters, but there is no requirement that at least one-third of eligible voters (902,550 voters) must vote in favor to ensure passage. The council also suggested that the voting take place over the course of two days (10 and 11 May) and not one. SG

POLISH FARMERS PELT DEPUTY PREMIER WITH EGGS
Angry farmers bombarded Deputy Premier and Agriculture Minister Jaroslaw Kalinowski with eggs during a public meeting in Poznan on 13 September, Polish media reported. The incident came one day after police were accused of brutality in a clash in which one farmer lost an eye (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 13 February 2003). Kalinowski, who has publicly suggested the farmers' roadblock tactics are justified, said during the meeting that he does not approve of the use of force against protesting farmers. JM

POLISH CATHOLIC-RADIO HEAD GRANTED TV LICENSE
The National Radio and Television Broadcasting Council on 13 February granted a license to Father Tadeusz Rydzyk, head of the ultra-Catholic Radio Maryja, to operate a television channel called Trwam ("I abide" in Polish), Polish media reported. The new station's stated goal is to cover issues connected with religion and education, as well as to provide information. It will be available by satellite and cable, and will broadcast five hours a day at the outset with an eye to expanding to 15-16 hours. Radio Maryja broadcasts a strident anti-EU message to a regular listenership of several million Poles. JM

POLAND'S EU REFERENDUM MIGHT LAST TWO DAYS
The Sejm on 13 February voted by 297 to 97, with seven abstentions, to approve a bill on national referendums allowing such plebiscites to last two days, Polish media reported. Foreign Minister Wlodzimierz Cimoszewicz said a two-day referendum on Poland's EU entry would ensure a higher turnout, Reuters reported. Polls in recent months show support in Poland for EU entry to be stable around 70 percent, but the government is afraid many EU supporters will not turn up to vote. JM

EC PRESIDENT, CZECH AMBASSADOR DISCUSS EUROPEAN RIFT OVER IRAQ
European Commission President Romano Prodi told the new Czech ambassador to the EU, Pavel Telicka, in Brussels on 13 February that the EU is concerned over the lack of unity among EU candidate countries and some current members over the Iraq crisis, CTK reported. Telicka, who in his new position continues his previous duties as chief Czech negotiator with the EU, informed Prodi of the Czech government's position in the matter and said there is concern in Prague over the EU's inability to adopt a joint position. Prodi mentioned the so-called letter of the eight, to which former Czech President Vaclav Havel was a signatory, saying that document's timing was "unfortunate." Prodi told the Czech ambassador that the dispute over Iraq has left him "bitter," according to CTK, which quoted Telicka. Telicka told Prodi the Czech Republic wants the EU to be strong and capable of action, with a functioning joint foreign and security policy. MS

U.S. AMBASSADOR CALLS CZECH REPUBLIC ONE OF 'MOST STALWART ALLIES'...
U.S. Ambassador to the Czech Republic Craig Stapleton, addressing a forum on Czech-U.S. relations on 13 February, called the Czech Republic "among the most stalwart allies in the war against terrorism," according to an "RFE/RL Newsline" correspondent. He also welcomed the Czech government's announcement the previous day that it is ready to come to Turkey's defense if that country is threatened by any Iraqi counterstrike in the event of conflict (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 12 February 2003). Stapleton emphasized that a resolution approved by the Czech government at the end of last month (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 14 and 17 January 2003) specifies that the Czech nuclear, biological, and chemical (NBC) unit stationed in Kuwait may be deployed in Turkey or Israel, for instance, or "into battle if weapons of mass destruction are used" by Iraq. He stressed that "there are no quid pro quos in the U.S.-Czech relationship." AH

...BUT NOTES LINGERING CORRUPTION...
Addressing the same forum, Stapleton said corruption in the Czech Republic creates problems for U.S. and other foreign companies operating in the country, according to an "RFE/RL Newsline" correspondent. "The Czech Republic continues to drop in Transparency International's Corruption Perception Index," he said, noting that its ranking is "below all other EU members and accession states." He added, "Prime Minister [Vladimir] Spidla's reputation and public statements are important, but what investors, friendly governments, and international institutions want to see are concrete actions." If the Czech Republic wants to see more investments coming from the U.S., he said, it should "correct" the environment in which "too many anticorruption campaigns or criminal investigations are launched with great fanfare, but their results are either ambiguous or nonexistent" and "high-powered individuals sometimes seem immune from prosecution." AH

...AND SIGNALS TOUGHER VISA POLICY
Stapleton also said the visa requirement for Czechs visiting the United States is unlikely to be lifted in the near future, and "in fact [the U.S. visa regime] is going to be tightened," according to an "RFE/RL Newsline" correspondent. He cited terrorism and the current international situation as justifying the new tack. "The United States is one of the most porous countries in the world, and that's going to change," he warned. He told the audience that Czechs can expect longer delays, interview processes, and other administrative precautions in the future as a result of the more comprehensive security. AH

CZECH CHRISTIAN DEMOCRATS READY TO SUPPORT SOKOL'S PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDACY
Christian Democratic Union-People's Party (KDU-CSL) Chairman and Foreign Minister Cyril Svoboda said on 13 February that his party would support the presidential candidacy of former Education Minister Jan Sokol if its Social Democratic Party (CSSD) coalition partner officially proposes him, CTK reported. Sokol's name was recently floated as a possible CSSD candidate by Premier Spidla (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 10 February 2003). Sokol, an education minister under the Milos Zeman government who now teaches philosophy at Prague's Charles University, told Czech Radio that, before accepting, he wants "reasonable guarantees" that the fractured CSSD would rally behind his candidacy. He added that he would not expect "100 percent support" in the party, however, dpa reported on 13 February. Sokol also said he wants CSSD's coalition partners, KDU-CSL and the Freedom Union-Democratic Union, to support him. A dissident under the communist regime, Sokol said he is not ready to renounce his critical stance toward the expulsion from Czechoslovakia of ethnic Germans under the 1946 Benes Decrees. In 1995, he signed a petition calling for reconciliation with the expelled German minority, calling the expulsion "a shame" and adding that reconciliation should occur for the sake of Czechs, not of Germans. "We should not have any skeletons in our closet," CTK cited Sokol as saying. MS

CZECH COURT CLEARS EXTRADITION TO GERMANY OF IRA SUSPECT
A Prague court on 13 February ruled that suspected Irish Republican Army terrorist Michael Dickson should be extradited to Germany to face charges linked to a 1996 grenade attack on British Army barracks in Osnabruck, dpa and Reuters reported. Dickson, who was arrested on 6 December on an international warrant after arriving from Dublin, immediately appealed the decision. Dickson is also suspected of participating in a 1996 IRA bomb attack on military barracks in Lisburn, Northern Ireland, in which one officer was killed, and in the 1999 shooting of former IRA member Martin McGartland. MS

SLOVAKIA CLEARS TRANSIT OF U.S. TROOPS IN THE EVENT OF WAR WITH IRAQ
The center-right government on 13 February granted a request by the United States to use Slovak Railways and roads to transport military personnel and machinery in the event of war with Iraq, TASR and international news agencies reported. The request was received the same day via the U.S. Embassy in Bratislava. According to CTK, two of the three ministers representing the Christian Democratic Movement opposed the decision: Interior Minister Vladimir Palko and Education Minister Martin Fronc. Palko said the request was not one of a humanitarian nature. On 29 January, the cabinet approved overflights by U.S. military planes if war breaks out and dispatched a 75-strong NBC unit to the Persian Gulf, a move that was subsequently approved by the parliament (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 7 February 2003). MS

REBEL DEPUTIES IGNORE SLOVAK OPPOSITION-PARTY CHAIRMAN'S WARNING
The deadline set by Movement for a Democratic Slovakia Chairman (HZDS) and former Premier Vladimir Meciar to dissidents in the HZDS who formed a separate group in parliament passed on 13 February without their acting on it in any manner, TASR reported. Meciar on 10 February said the group, which includes 11 of the 36 HZDS deputies in the legislature, should either recant or quit the party (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 11 February 2003). Also on 13 February, HZDS Bratislava Chairman Ladislav Polka resigned his position, citing a lack of communication with the party's central leadership. Polka is one of the 11 dissenting HZDS deputies. TASR reported that just three of the eight HZDS regional-branch leaders continue to back Meciar. It said Kosice Chairman Gustav Krajci is expected to resign on 14 February, while Banska Bystrica Chairman Ivan Kino resigned in January. The new parliamentary group, led by Vojtech Tkac, has been joined by the leaders of the Presov and Trnava regional branches -- Peter Chudik and Igor Pinkava, respectively. MS

SLOVAK GYNECOLOGISTS DENY REPORTS OF FORCED STERILIZATION
Gynecologists from eastern Slovakia on 13 February rejected as an "expedient, unfounded, and unprovoked attack" on Slovak gynecology a report by the New York-based Center for Reproductive Rights and the Kosice-based Center for Civic and Human Rights alleging that Romany women underwent sterilization after being duped into signing consent papers, TASR and CTK reported (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 30 and 31 January 2003). Professor Stefan Lukacin, an expert in natal care representing the gynecologists, said they have filed charges against the authors of the report, adding that the gynecologists suspect "political pressure from abroad" is behind the allegations. MS

HUNGARIAN PREMIER REFUSES LUNGO DROM REQUEST
Prime Minister Peter Medgyessy on 13 February stated in a letter to Florian Farkas, president of the Romany Lungo Drom organization, that the government cannot fulfill his request to appoint a government commissioner to supervise repeat Romany-authority elections scheduled for 1 March, "Nepszabadsag" reported. Last month the Supreme Court established that the 12 January Romany assembly had no quorum, after Lungo Drom representatives walked out of the election hall in protest over voting procedures (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 14 and 17 January 2003). Medgyessy said the government must not influence the voting, either by appointing a commissioner or by instituting technical rules pertaining to the elections. However, he has asked the Interior Ministry to ensure that the National Elections Office examines other concerns and proposals by Lungo Drom. MSZ

HUNGARY'S FIDESZ POLITICIAN SAYS EU CONSTITUTION SHOULD REFER TO GOD
Opposition FIDESZ parliamentary member Jozsef Szajer on 13 February consulted Hungary's Roman Catholic Church leaders regarding the future EU constitution, Budapest dailies reported. Szajer said that together with more than 20 European parliamentary members, he will propose that the EU constitution incorporate Christian values and a reference to God. Bench of Catholic Bishops Chairman Archbishop Istvan Seregely pointed out that Christianity is the predominant religion in all European states. MSZ

CROATIA TO APPLY THIS MONTH FOR EU MEMBERSHIP
The Croatian government formally decided on 13 February that Croatia will officially apply for EU membership, RFE/RL's South Slavic and Albanian Languages Service reported. Prime Minister Ivica Racan will hand over the country's application to the Greek EU Presidency in Athens on 21 February. UB

POLICE UNIONS DEMAND RESIGNATION OF CROATIAN INTERIOR MINISTER
Two police unions demanded on 13 February that Interior Minister Sime Lucin resign, charging that he was responsible for the death of a police officer killed the previous day, RFE/RL's South Slavic and Albanian Languages Service reported. The unions insist that police have neither the necessary equipment, adequate protection, nor sufficient powers. The latest police killing was the third in the past year. UB

BOSNIAN PRESIDENT NAMES PRIME MINISTER
Bosnian President Niko Lozancic on 13 February nominated Ahmet Hadzipasic to be the next prime minister, while Dragan Vrankic and Gavrilo Grahovac were named deputy prime ministers, RFE/RL's South Slavic and Albanian Languages Service reported. Cabinet nominations still require approval by the House of Representatives. Meanwhile, the parliament's second chamber, the House of Nations, on 13 February passed legislation regulating arms exports. It also approved amendments to the law on citizenship enabling the government to sign bilateral treaties on dual citizenship until 2013. UB

SERBIAN PARLIAMENT AGREES ON DIVISION OF SEATS IN NEW STATE'S PARLIAMENT...
The Serbian parliament on 13 February agreed on the distribution of seats reserved for legislators from Serbia in the new state of Serbia and Montenegro's parliament, RFE/RL's South Slavic and Albanian Languages Service reported. The governing Democratic Opposition of Serbia (DOS) will send 46 legislators to the new parliament, while 16 seats will be reserved for President Vojislav Kostunica's Democratic Party of Serbia (DSS), 12 for the Socialist Party of Serbia (SPS), eight for the Serbian Radical Party (SRS), five for Party of Serbian Unity (SSJ), and two each for the New Serbia group and the Socialist People's Party. UB

...AS DOES THE MONTENEGRIN PARLIAMENT
Also on 13 February, the parliament in Podgorica decided on the distribution of seats reserved for Montenegrin legislators in the new joint parliament, RFE/RL's South Slavic and Albanian Languages Service reported. The governing coalition led by Prime Minister Milo Djukanovic's Democratic Party of Socialists (DPS) will be given 19 seats in the federal parliament and the opposition Alliance for Change coalition 14, while the opposition Liberal Alliance and ethnic Albanian parties will have one seat each. UB

ALBANIANS STAGE PROTEST IN SOUTHERN SERBIA...
Some 2,000 ethnic Albanians staged a peaceful protest in the southern Serbian town of Bujanovac on 13 February to demand the release of seven ethnic Albanians suspected of weapons violations, RFE/RL's South Slavic and Albanian Languages Service reported. The suspects were arrested by Serbian police in the area of Bujanovac on 8 February for illegal possession of arms (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 10 February 2003). In other news, the Serbian Interior Ministry has stepped up security measures in the Presevo Valley region amid reports of a growing danger of terrorist attacks, RFE/RL reported (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 12 February 2003). UB

...WHILE INTERNATIONAL COMMUNITY VOICES CONCERN ABOUT GROWING TENSIONS
EU foreign and security policy chief Javier Solana said in Brussels on 13 February that he is deeply concerned over growing tensions in the Presevo Valley region, RFE/RL's South Slavic and Albanian Languages Service reported. Solana demanded that all attacks on the multiethnic police force and the intimidation of local authorities by extremist groups stop immediately. Elsewhere, Ambassador Maurizio Massari, who heads the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE) mission to Serbia, told the OSCE Permanent Council in Vienna on 13 February that the latest incidents must not call into question the reconciliation, adding that the economic development of Kosova is the key to regional stability. UB

MACEDONIAN DEFENSE MINISTER MEETS UNMIK, KFOR HEADS
Defense Minister Vlado Buckovksi met in Prishtina on 13 February with Michael Steiner, who heads the UN civilian administration in Kosova (UNMIK), and KFOR Commander Lieutenant General Fabio Mini to discuss the security situation in the region, Macedonian media reported. According to NATO's official website (http://www.nato.int/kfor), Buckovski and Mini reviewed the existing liaison arrangements between KFOR and the Macedonian Army and discussed cooperation to ensure border security. Buckovski's talks with Steiner also focused on issues related to the border between Kosova and Macedonia. In addition, they spoke about plans to set up a Macedonian liaison office in Prishtina to enhance cooperation between UNMIK and the Macedonian government on the one hand, and between Macedonian and Kosovar companies on the other. UB

ALBANIA, EU START TALKS ON STABILIZATION AND ASSOCIATION AGREEMENT
Minister for Integration Sokol Naku and EU representatives held the first round of talks on the Association and Stabilization Agreement between Albania and the EU in Tirana on 13 February, ATA reported. The talks focused on the first three chapters of the agreement regarding general principles, political dialogue, and regional cooperation. Also in Tirana, the Joint Albania-European Union Committee met on 12-13 February to assess the country's progress in implementing reforms, trade relations, and the impact of EU assistance. UB

STRUGGLE FOR SLOVENIAN RADIO IN AUSTRIA
Representatives from the Austrian Center for Ethnic Groups and the European Bureau for Lesser-Used Languages have wrapped up a three-day visit to the Council of Europe and European Parliament in Strasbourg, "Delo" reported on 14 February. The representatives drew attention to the situation of the Slovenian language in the Austrian province of Carinthia, prompted by a decision by the Austrian broadcasting corporation ORF to stop funding the radio program "Radio Dva" (Radio Two). "Radio Dva" has served Austria's Slovenian minority since 1998 in line with Austria's obligations under the Framework Convention for the Protection of National Minorities and the Charter for Regional or Minority Languages, and its staff now works on a volunteer basis. Four radio-staff members held a five-day hunger strike last week to raise awareness and seek guarantees for all-day Slovenian-language programming in the province. Otherwise, they threaten an unlimited hunger strike starting in mid-March. Activists have gathered 8,600 signatures that they plan to deliver to Austrian State Secretary for the Arts Franz Morak on 20 February, and "Radio Dva" has posted messages of support on its website (http://www.radio-dva.at). DR

ROMANIAN POLL SHOWS PSD STILL LEADING, BUT LOSING STEAM
A public-opinion poll released on 13 February by the Center for Urban and Rural Research shows that the governing Social Democratic Party (PSD) continues to lead the field, but its backing (46 percent) has dropped below 50 percent for the first time in recent months, Mediafax and the private Antena 1 television reported. The PSD is trailed at great distance by the National Liberal Party (PNL), which has been the second most popular party since the 2000 parliamentary elections, with 15 percent support. Third is the Greater Romania Party (14 percent), followed by the Democratic Party (10 percent), the Hungarian Democratic Federation of Romania (6 percent), and the PSD-allied Humanist Party (4 percent). Forty-nine percent of those questioned said they "greatly trust" or "trust" President Ion Iliescu, who is trailed in popular trust by Premier Adrian Nastase (42 percent), PNL Chairman Theodor Stolojan (41 percent), Democratic Party Chairman Traian Basescu (37 percent), Greater Romania Party Chairman Corneliu Vadim Tudor (18 percent), and Humanist Party Chairman Dan Voiculescu and National Peasant Party Christian Democratic Chairman Victor Ciorbea (14 percent each). MS

ROMANIAN PRESIDENT MEETS WITH DEMOCRATIC PARTY LEADERSHIP
President Iliescu on 13 February met with parliamentary groups of the Democratic Party, in the absence of party Chairman Basescu, who was attending an international forum in Brussels, RFE/RL's Bucharest bureau reported. Iliescu thus accepted the Democrats' invitation to meet -- the first time in Romania that a head of state has met with an opposition party at the latter's request. He told the Democrats he will try to mediate in the ongoing conflict between Chairman Basescu, who is also Bucharest mayor, and the PSD majority in Bucharest's Municipal Council over a loan granted to the mayoralty by the European Bank for Reconstruction and Development (EBRD) and later nullified by the council and the cabinet (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 13 and 16 January 2003). Iliescu said he considers it "normal" for an opposition party to criticize the government, but that criticism should be based on real facts and not on claims such as those that the economy fared better under the 1996-2000 government. MS

REMAINS OF ROMANIAN KING CAROL II BROUGHT HOME FROM PORTUGAL
The remains of controversial King Carol II and of his last wife, Elena Lupescu, were flown from Portugal on 13 February and were to be reburied at the Curtea de Arges Monastery the next day, RFE/RL's Bucharest bureau and Mediafax reported. A military ceremony at Bucharest's international Otopeni Airport was attended by Premier Nastase, cabinet members, and Princess Margareta, who was representing former King Michael I. The former monarch is not attending either of the two ceremonies. In a message read by Margareta's spouse, Prince Radu von Hohenzollern-Sigmaringen, Michael I said the debates over his father's achievements and failures must be left to historians and "will undoubtedly continue." He saluted as " a patriotic and Christian" gesture the government's decision to return to King Carol II's remains. Prince Radu was quoted by Romanian Radio as saying that by agreeing to have Carol II's remains returned from Portugal, the former monarch has "once again fulfilled his [national] duty," while adding that Michael's personal feelings are "a private matter that must be treated discreetly." King Carol II divorced Michael's mother, Queen Elena, because of his scandalous extramarital affair with Lupescu, whom he married in exile. Queen Elena was banned from Romania until Carol was forced to abdicate in 1940. MS

CONFLICTING REPORTS ON TIRASPOL'S REACTION TO MOLDOVAN PRESIDENT'S PROPOSAL
The official separatist Olivia Press agency on 13 February said in a commentary that President Vladimir Voronin's recent proposals for jointly working out a new constitution with the Tiraspol authorities are unacceptable because they allegedly treat the Transdniester "from a position of [Moldovan] superiority," RFE/RL's Romania-Moldova Service reported (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 12 and 13 February 2003). The commentary said the only acceptable solution would be one based on the Serbia-Montenegro model, ensuring "an equitable partnership" of both sides. According to Infotag, however, the Transdniestrian Foreign Ministry stated on 13 February that the proposals are "timely and adequate." A spokesman for the ministry said the proposals amount to "a public recognition of previous mistakes" by Voronin. The spokesman went on to say that Voronin has thereby launched a "propaganda campaign aimed at preparing public opinion for the necessity to transform the unitary state into a federal one." He added that the nature of the future federation "remains an open question that can be solved only in the course of the current negotiation process." MS

MOLDOVAN GOVERNMENT APPROVES BILL OUTLAWING DEMONSTRATIONS IN CENTRAL CHISINAU
The government on 13 February approved a bill outlawing protest demonstrations and other public gatherings on Chisinau's Grand National Assembly Square, Flux reported. The bill, which has yet to be approved by parliament, stipulates that protest demonstrations would be allowed only at specially designated venues, at considerable distance from official government buildings and where they would not block traffic. It also stipulates that those requesting authorization for organizing such public meetings would be required to submit 50,000-100,000 lei ($3,521-$7,042) "financial guarantees" that they would not violate the conditions of the authorization. Government sources cited by Flux said the cabinet intends to rush the bill through parliament in order for President Voronin to promulgate it before a planned 23 February protest demonstration organized by opposition parties. MS

MOLDOVAN PARLIAMENT REJECTS OPPOSITION BILL ON CHANGING ELECTORAL SYSTEM...
Parliament on 13 February rejected a bill proposed by the Braghis Alliance to have the electoral system changed from proportional representation to a mixed system, Infotag reported. The proposal envisaged 50 out of Moldova's 101 lawmakers being elected in single-mandate constituencies and the rest on party lists. The vote was taken in the absence of Braghis Alliance and Popular Party Christian Democratic deputies, who are boycotting parliamentary debates. The Party of Moldovan Communists (PCM) majority also rejected a Braghis Alliance bill that would have recognized the results of a plebiscite as valid if 50-percent-plus-one-voter cast a ballot in the referendum. Under current legislation, three-fifths of registered voters must participate in order for a referendum to be considered valid. MS

...AND MAJORITY PARTY BILL LIMITING MAYORS' MANDATES TO TWO
Parliament also rejected on 13 February a bill submitted by the PCM majority that would have limited the number of mandates mayors can serve to two consecutive terms, RFE/RL's Chisinau bureau reported. Chisinau Mayor Serafim Urechean is widely considered to be the target of the proposed change. After the vote was taken in the legislature, Urechean announced he will run for the post again in the local elections scheduled for May. Moldovan observers believe the opposition will unite in his support. MS

BULGARIAN SOCIALIST LEADER WARNS THAT GOVERNMENT POSITION ON IRAQ MIGHT IMPEDE EU ACCESSION
Socialist Party (BSP) Chairman Sergey Stanishev said after meeting on 13 February with the U.S., French, and Greek ambassadors to Bulgaria that the government's one-sided position on Iraq might have a negative effect on the country's chances of EU membership and the pace of accession talks, BTA reported. "We [the Socialist Party] acknowledge the fact that Bulgaria is in a delicate position, but a balance should be sought more actively between the stands of the U.S. and of the EU," Stanishev said. He added that he believes there is a difference between the government's words and actions. "During my talks with Prime Minister Simeon Saxecoburggotski before the parliament put to a vote the Bulgarian stand on the Iraqi situation, I was left with the impression that [Saxecoburggotski] holds a more balanced and reserved position than Foreign Minister Solomon Pasi and Bulgarian [Ambassador to the UN Stefan Tafrov]," Stanishev said (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 10 and 13 February 2003). UB

CANADIAN BANKS, COMPANIES EXPRESS INTEREST IN INVESTING IN BULGARIA
The Energy Ministry announced on 13 February that the Canadian International Development Agency (CIDA) and the Bank of Montreal have told Energy Minister Milko Kovachev that they are interested in participating in the construction of a nuclear-power plant near the northeastern Bulgarian town of Belene, bnn reported (see "End Note" "RFE/RL Newsline," 15 October 2002 and "RFE/RL Newsline," 9 April and 18 December 2002). Kovachev, who is on an official four-day visit to Canada at the invitation of Canadian Natural Resources Minister Herb Dhaliwal, on 11 February visited the Chalk River nuclear-power research facility, which is run by the company Atomic Energy of Canada Limited. On 13 February, the Economy Ministry announced that the Canadian company Dundee Precious Acquisition, Inc. has been granted a 90-day period of exclusivity to take over the Bulgarian assets of the London-based Navan Mining company, including a gold mine near the southeastern Bulgarian town of Krumovgrad, bnn reported. UB

There is no End Note today.


CONTRIBUTION TO ISAF NOT RELATED TO GERMAN POLICY ON IRAQ
Lieutenant Colonel Thomas Loebbering, a spokesman for the International Security Assistance Force (ISAF), told RFE/RL on 13 February that there is no link between Germany's refusal to contribute forces to a possible military campaign against Iraq and Berlin's enhanced commitments in Afghanistan. "Germany's commitment to ISAF has been very strong from the very beginning onward. It has nothing to do with Iraq," he said. However, German Chancellor Gerhard Schroeder on 13 February told the Bundestag that German special forces "are serving side by side with the Americans in Afghanistan" because Germany places importance on fighting international terrorism, RFE/RL reported. "German soldiers -- together with the Netherlands -- assumed command of the UN ISAF international security force in Kabul," as part of this commitment, he said. There has been speculation that Germany assumed greater responsibility in the ISAF as part of an effort to mend relations with the United States, which have been strained by Germany's refusal to back U.S. policy vis-a-vis Iraq (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 12 November 2002). AT

U.S. SAYS NO CIVILIANS KILLED IN BAGHRAN BOMBING CAMPAIGN
The U.S. Central Command on 13 February refuted reports that at least 17 Afghan civilians have been killed as a result of a bombing campaign that began in Helmand Province on 10 February (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 13 February 2003), American Forces Press Service (AFPS) reported. "Battle damage assessment conducted in support of Operation Eagle Fury has not indicated any noncombatant casualties" as of 13 February, AFPS quoted a U.S. military spokesman in Afghanistan as saying. AT

UNIDENTIFIED DISEASE KILLS SIX AFGHAN CHILDREN
At least six Afghan children under the age of five have died in Chahab District of Takhar Province, northeastern Afghanistan, from an unidentified disease suspected to be meningitis, the Voice of the Islamic Republic of Iran reported on 13 February. According to doctors, preliminary analyses have indicated that the disease is meningitis, but no conclusive diagnosis has been made. The report added that the outbreak of the disease is under control in the area. Since mid-November at least 300 children have died in northeastern Afghanistan as a result of different diseases, especially whooping cough, the Iranian radio station added. AT

AFGHAN PRESIDENT CALLS FOR VOLUNTEERISM
Transitional Administration President Hamid Karzai on 13 February called on Afghans to work together and to rebuild their country, Radio Afghanistan reported. In his radio address, Karzai called volunteerism a "very good Afghan custom" that should be followed. Karzai said that if the Afghans begin to work together to rebuild Afghanistan, foreign donors will also help in the effort, but he insisted that the task is an Afghan one, Radio Afghanistan reported. The Afghan president warned his people that if they do not unite and work in cooperation to repair the damages incurred during years of war, despair will prevail in Afghanistan. AT

TEHRAN BACKS SUPPORT FOR HIZBALLAH
Foreign Ministry spokesman Hamid Reza Assefi on 13 February did not deny that Iran supports the Lebanese Hizballah, according to Iranian state television. U.S. Director of Central Intelligence George Tenet said in his 11 February testimony before the Senate Select Committee on Intelligence (SSCI) that Iran "sponsors" Hizballah and "supports the most active Palestinian terrorist groups, Hamas and the Palestinian Islamic Jihad" (see intelligence.senate.gov). According to Assefi, however, Hizballah is not a terrorist organization. "The spiritual support of Iran for the legitimate and legal Hizballah group is in line with supporting the freedom-seeking struggles of the Lebanese nation and government," he said. Assefi accused the United States of having double standards and added, "America cannot hope to distort the righteous popular struggles against the Israeli occupiers and label them as terrorism." Tenet noted that conservatives in the Iranian government control the "more aggressive aspects" of foreign policy, such as sponsorship of "violent opposition to Middle East peace." BS

TEHRAN DENIES AL-QAEDA LINKS
Foreign Ministry spokesman Assefi on 13 February rejected allegations that Iran is hosting Al-Qaeda personnel, Iranian state television reported. "The seriousness of Iran in fighting against terrorism and its expulsion of individuals suspected of affiliation to Al-Qaeda are abundantly clear," he said. Assefi was reacting to Director of Central Intelligence Tenet's 11 February testimony to the SSCI in which he said, "We see disturbing signs that Al-Qaeda has established a presence in both Iran and Iraq." Earlier on 13 February, an Iranian state radio analyst using the name "Mr. Kheradmand" said the U.S. Central Intelligence Agency was the main creator of Al-Qaeda, and such accusations reflect America's failure to defeat the Iranian revolution. "America knows better than any other state that Iran fundamentally disagrees with Al-Qaeda on the principles of [Islamic] belief and on the principles of struggle [against the enemies]," Kheradmand said. BS

BIN LADEN'S SON REPORTEDLY IN IRAN
An anonymous "diplomatic source" has said that Sa'd bin Laden, the eldest son of Al-Qaeda leader Osama bin Laden, has been sighted in Iran, the London-based "Al-Sharq al-Awsat" reported on 13 February. The anonymous source refused to provide details on the status of bin Laden's son or on his relationship with the Iranian government. Sa'd bin Laden is believed to have taken on more of a leadership role in Al-Qaeda since many of its top officials have been killed. BS

EVEN ROMANCE IS POLITICAL IN IRAN
Eighty-two couples participated in a mass wedding on 13 February in Iran's northern Gulistan Province, ISNA reported. Local dignitaries and families of the happy couples attended the ceremony in Gorgan's soccer stadium. The wedding was staged by the headquarters responsible for providing young couples with a dowry, an organization that was established in 2001 with the express purpose of organizing mass weddings in order to reduce the financial burden of weddings on families who otherwise could not afford them. This event should put to rest concerns that romance is forbidden in Iran, since on 12 February the police in Tehran ordered shops to remove heart and flower decorations and confiscated symbols of Valentine's Day. The police forced several shops in northern Tehran to close. "For weeks, I've been waiting for Valentine's Day to offer my boyfriend a gift of love and affection," a 19-year-old woman identified only as Atena told AP. "The crackdown only strengthens my position in rejecting the hard-line clerical rule." BS

IRAN LOOKS INTO KUWAITI WATER DEMANDS
Deputy Energy Minister Reza Amrollahi said during a 3 February ceremony in Ahvaz, Khuzestan Province, that a joint commission is looking into the legal, economic, and technical aspects of a Kuwaiti request for the provision of fresh water, IRNA reported. Amrollahi said that the water would come from the Karkheh and Karun rivers in southern Iran, "which are currently unused and flow into the Persian Gulf." Iranian Energy Minister Habibullah Bitaraf and Kuwaiti Minister of Electricity and Water Talal al-Ayyar on 13 January signed an agreement on cooperation in the water sector, IRNA reported. "Iran Daily" had reported on 12 November 2001 that the project to transfer water to Kuwait is expected to be completed by 2004 and envisions a 330-kilometer pipeline from the Karkheh Dam to the Persian Gulf coast, and then a 210-kilometer pipeline along the seabed to Kuwait. The Energy Ministry devised the plan in 1999 and 2000, when oil revenues were down, and the water-export plan has the potential to earn billions of dollars, according to "Iran Daily." The newspaper questioned the wisdom of such a project, when residents of southern Iran are faced with a drought. BS

WATER SHORTAGE IN ISFAHAN REGION
Isfahan Province official Mansur Shisheh-Forush said that rains from this and last year have not compensated for the drought of previous years in Isfahan, "Jomhuri-yi Islami" reported on 20 January. Water behind the Zayandeh Rud Dam is 45 percent lower than normal, he said. According to "Iran Statistical Yearbook, 1380 (March 2001-March 2002)," which is the official publication of the Statistics Center of Iran, inflow at the Zayandeh Rud Dam was 939 million cubic meters, and this water was used for hydroelectric-power generation, agriculture, human consumption, manufacturing, and other purposes. BS

UN SECURITY COUNCIL TO MEET AS U.S. WORKS ON NEW IRAQ RESOLUTION
Diplomatic discussions are under way to prepare another UN Security Council resolution concerning Iraq, White House Press Secretary Ari Fleischer confirmed at a 12 February press conference (http://www.whitehouse.gov). "Iraq is testing the United Nations," Fleischer said. "The president wants to make certain the United Nations passes the test. And that's why we are going through the United Nations." Asked whether a second UN Security Council resolution is being discussed, Fleischer responded, "It is. I think it's fair to say that there are conversations under way about the language. I'm not going to get into the drafting of it in public. And, again, I think it still remains somewhat early in UN time." Fleischer noted that U.S. President George W. Bush set a timetable several weeks ago that allowed for weeks, not months, of weapons inspections, adding that "the clock is ticking" for Iraq. KR

FRENCH UNMOVIC OFFICIAL SAYS BLIX REPORT WILL BE 'BALANCED, NOT NEUTRAL'
Therese Delpech, French commissioner for the United Nations Monitoring, Verification, and Inspection Commission (UNMOVIC), told Paris-based RTL Radio on 14 February that UNMOVIC Executive Chairman Hans Blix will present a balanced but critical report on Iraq to the UN Security Council when it meets on 14 February. "Hans Blix considers that there is regular progress, mainly with regard to procedures, but with regard to disarmament, progress is extremely weak," Delpech said. She noted that UNMOVIC has made headway regarding U-2 surveillance flights and interviews with scientists, but added that Iraq has not been forthcoming with the necessary documentation on weapons of mass destruction. "The fact that the report is balanced doesn't mean that it is going to be completely neutral," Delpech said. KR

IRAQI PARLIAMENT TO MEET IN EXTRAORDINARY SESSION
The Iraqi parliament will meet in an extraordinary session on 14 February to address a draft law prohibiting individuals and companies from owning certain weapons, Reuters reported on 13 February. "The national assembly will hold an extraordinary session on Friday afternoon. The assembly asks members to attend the session at the set time," iribnews.com quoted an announcement that ran in Iraqi newspapers on 13 February as saying. The parliament was reportedly scheduled to meet nearly 2 1/2 hours prior to the planned opening of a UN Security Council session at which UNMOVIC chief Blix and International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) Director-General Mohammad el-Baradei are scheduled to brief the council. The UN has been pushing in recent weeks for Iraq to approve such a law. KR

IRAQI ENGINEER REPORTEDLY DEFECTS, GIVES NEW LEADS
An Iraqi engineer described only as "close to several weapons scientists" has defected to an unnamed European country and is providing "new and credible leads," abcnews.go.com reported on 10 February. The defector reportedly told ABC News that Iraqi scientists and researchers are under extreme pressure from Iraqi authorities and are too afraid to speak freely to UN weapons inspectors. "They [scientists] were scared and threatened in different ways, including threatening to go after their families if they leave Iraq to meet with inspectors and going after their relatives if their families go with them and going after them even if they were in exile," the purported defector added. He said many of the scientists working within Iraq's weapons-of-mass-destruction (WMD) program are now being housed with their families at a secret compound in downtown Baghdad. He added that scientists have been forced to sign two documents -- one stating that they will fully accommodate UN inspectors, the second stating that they are "legally responsible" and will not divulge any Iraqi "secrets." "The first pledge is public and a copy is sent to the UN, while the second is only for some Iraqi security agencies," the defector reportedly said. KR

ANOTHER IRAQI DEFECTION?
Israel's Channel 2 Television reported on 13 February that Uday Hussein's "bureau chief" has defected to the West. Adib Sha'ban reportedly defected after a trip to Saudi Arabia, where he was conducting official sports business. (President Saddam Hussein's son Uday heads the Iraqi Olympic Committee.) Channel 2 Television reported that Sha'ban left Saudi Arabia for Beirut and has not been heard from since. While Sha'ban is generally regarded as a member of President Hussein's inner circle, it is unclear what information, if any, he can provide authorities in the West about the inner workings of the Iraqi regime. KR

IRAQI OPPOSITION WORKING GROUPS PRESS FORWARD
Iraqi Opposition Working Groups continued to meet in Washington, D.C., this week, according to 12 February press statements by the U.S. State Department (http://www.state.gov). The local-government working group was to meet on 12-13 February to discuss the "separation of local, regional, and central government powers, local governmental accountability, and how private institutions, community organizers, and businesses can work with local governments to provide more effective services to the Iraqi people," a briefing stated. Meanwhile, the anticorruption working group was to meet on 14-15 February to discuss "the importance of open and transparent government procedures in public contracting, public appointments, banking, and other institutions that must earn and keep the public trust," the State Department announced. The meetings are part of an ongoing effort by the United States to encourage the participation of Iraqis in any post-Hussein government. KR

VOLUNTEERS TO DEFEND IRAQ STEP FORWARD IN RUSSIAN CITIES...
Some 2,500 Russian citizens told the Iraqi Embassy in Moscow that they are interested in volunteering to defend Iraq against a possible U.S. military action, Ekho Moskvy reported on 13 February. In Chally, Tatarstan, Rafis Kashapov, head of the local Tatar Public Center office, said several dozen Chally residents have appealed to his group to help them fight in Iraq. However, Kashapov informed them that his group does not involve itself in military-recruitment efforts, "Trud" reported on 13 February. Kashapov told RFE/RL's Tatar-Bashkir Service that the would-be recruits come from many ethnic groups, including Russians, Chavashs, Tatars, Maris, and Udmurts. In Sverdlovsk Oblast, more than 10 residents between the ages of 30 and 40 have also expressed their desire to assist Iraq, regions.ru reported, citing the local branch of the Liberal Democratic Party of Russia (LDPR). The volunteers include not only Muslims but also ethnic Russians "who are ready to fight against American commands and force," according to the agency. JAC

...AS CHIEF MUFTI SPEAKS AGAINST MILITARY ACTION AGAINST IRAQ
Regions.ru reported the same day that rallies against war in Iraq will be held on 15 February in Voronezh, Moscow, St. Petersburg, Nizhnii Novgorod, Yaroslavl, Perm, and Yekaterinburg. On 11 February, the head of the Ufa-based Central Religious Board of Muslims of Russia and the European countries of the CIS, Supreme Mufti Telget Tajetdin, said during his morning sermon that he opposes the use of force to resolve the crisis in Iraq, RFE/RL's Ufa correspondent reported the next day. JAC

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