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Newsline - February 18, 2003


DUMA DEPUTIES VISIT BAGHDAD...
A delegation of 42 State Duma deputies, primarily representing leftist and centrist factions, arrived in Baghdad on 17 February to show solidarity with the Iraqi people and to discuss ways of preventing a war, RTR and other Russian news agencies reported. The deputies were accompanied by about 30 scientists and other public figures. Communist Party leader Gennadii Zyuganov, who is heading the delegation, declined to say whether the deputies will meet with Iraqi President Saddam Hussein, newsru.com reported. Delegation member Deputy Vasilii Shandybin (Communist) proposed the creation of a committee "to save us from George Bush." Deputy Oleg Korgunov (People's Deputy) said the delegation will urge Hussein to comply fully with its international obligations and to increase his regime's transparence in order to avoid a war, newsru.com reported. VY

...AS COMMUNISTS PROTEST ACROSS RUSSIA
Demonstrations against a possible U.S.-led military action in Iraq were held across Russia on 15 February as part of a coordinated global public action, NTV reported (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 14 February 2003). About 1,000 people gathered in front of the U.S. Embassy in Moscow, and some 5,000 people reportedly gathered in the southern city of Krasnodar. An estimated 1,000 people attended a rally organized by the Communist Party in Voronezh's central square, presscenter.ru reported. An effigy of U.S. President George W. Bush with a swastika on his sleeve was burned next to a statue of Vladimir Lenin. Pskov and Yekaterinburg hosted rallies of about 100 people each at which effigies of Bush were also immolated, region.ru reported on 15 February. In Krasnoyarsk, heavy snow prevented demonstrators from setting the U.S. flag on fire, but each of the orators at the protest wiped their feet on the flag, according to NTV. At the end of the rally, at which about 100 people attended, the flag was torn up. Rallies were also held in St. Petersburg and other Russian cities. JAC

DUMA DEPUTY OUTLINES MOSCOW'S POSITION ON IRAQ...
Duma Deputy Speaker Vladimir Lukin (Yabloko) said that the Communists are supporting President Hussein because they have forgotten that his regime suppresses opposition; represses all dissent, including Iraqi communists; and has unleashed two aggressive wars; and used weapons of mass destruction against Iraqi civilians, TV-Tsentr reported on 15 February. Moreover, Lukin added, Iraq's ruling Ba'ath Party is essentially a national-socialist organization. Lukin added that Russia supports Baghdad's unconditional disarmament and the international antiterrorism coalition and continues to combat the proliferation of weapons of mass destruction. Moscow's position is closer to that of France -- which has not ruled out the eventual use of force against Iraq -- than it is to that of Germany, which opposes the use of force from pacifist considerations. Lukin said that he does not support unilateral U.S. action against Iraq. "Both policemen and bandits use coercion, but the difference is that policemen do it with a mandate," Lukin remarked. VY

...AS COMMENTATOR DESCRIBES PUTIN'S IRAQ DILEMMA
President Vladimir Putin is proceeding cautiously on Iraq because the price of a mistake could be very high, commented TV-Tsentr anchorman Aleksei Pushkov on 15 February. A wrong move threatens to destroy Russia's oil interests in Iraq and could transform the current "cool friendship" with the United States into a "cold peace." Moreover, Moscow runs the risk that Europe, China, and the Islamic world could begin to view Russia as a "vassal of the United States," Pushkov added. Therefore, Putin has chosen the least risky option -- an alliance with "old Europe," represented by France and Germany. Pushkov argued, though, that the chances of avoiding a war in Iraq are slim since the United States has already advanced quite far with its military deployments and preparations. Any peaceful solution would have to look like a victory both for those who oppose war and for the United States, Pushkov added, and this has become virtually impossible. VY

ELECTRICITY-SECTOR REFORMS PASS CRITICAL BARRIER...
The State Duma on 14 February approved in its second reading a package of legislation reforming Russia's electricity sector, Russian news agencies reported. One of the key bills in the package, entitled "on electrical energy," sets up two open joint-stock companies, one that will manage the national electricity grid and another that will be the system operator of the unified energy system, Radio Rossii reported. The package of bills was adopted in its first reading in October. The legislation was opposed by the Yabloko and Communist factions, and according to Interfax, the final bill in the package passed with 262 votes -- just 36 more than necessary -- with 152 against and one abstention. Economic Development and Trade Minister German Gref hailed the passage of the bills, saying that a very important step has been taken in the market reform of the electricity industry. At the same time, Gref promised the government will strictly control rates policies in the sector until at least 2008, RFE/RL's Moscow bureau reported. JAC

...AS MEDIA, DEPUTIES CRITICIZE REFORM PACKAGE...
The electrical-sector reform package proposed by Unified Energy Systems (EES) head Anatolii Chubais and strongly backed by Prime Minister Mikhail Kasyanov could lead to a loss of control over the energy sector and unhindered rates increases, Duma Deputy Vyacheslav Volodin (Fatherland-All Russia) told TV-Tsentr on 15 February. Volodin said, however, that he voted for the reform package because the government promised to maintain control over tariffs and to halt the reforms if the Duma is unhappy with their progress. The breakup of EES "will beget a predatory herd of new monopolists that will appropriate billions of dollars in EES assets and gain new levers of political pressure over the government," said TV-Tsentr commentator Pushkov. Deputy Sergei Mitrokhin (Yabloko) said that the privatization of EES is being carried out like the privatizations of the early 1990s "when property was divvied up in the dark among those with insider information." Mitrokhin said that it is clear that only EES's top management will benefit from the privatization and society will gain nothing. VY

...AND OLIGARCHS WAIT IN THE WINGS
Following his election over two years ago, President Putin pledged that the "oligarchs will cease to exist as a class." However, today more than 70 percent of Russia's $330 billion gross domestic product is controlled by just 20 conglomerates, according to an assessment by "The Economist," "Figaro" reported on 11 February. Eight oligarchic clans control Russia's 64 leading companies, including the Yeltsin-era Family, which still controls more than 20 percent of the GDP, "Figaro" argues. One member of that clan, Chukotka Autonomous Okrug Governor Roman Abramovich, has business interests in oil, aluminum, airlines, automaking, media, and finance and maintains close ties to former President Boris Yeltsin's daughter Tatyana Dyachenko. Abramovich's associate, oligarch Oleg Deripaska, is married to the daughter of Valentin Yumashev, Dyachenko's husband and a former high-ranking official in the Yeltsin administration. All in all, "Figaro" argues that the oligarchs have grown more powerful during the Putin era and are now poised to gain control of the country's remaining state assets, including the electrical system and the oil pipelines. VY

PUTIN PLEDGES TO SUPPORT GAZPROM
Speaking at a celebration of the 10th anniversary of the founding of Gazprom on 14 February, President Putin described the company as "a powerful lever of political and economic influence in the world," Russian news agencies reported. Because of this, the government is very cautious regarding gas-sector reforms and will continue to be cautious in the future, Putin said. "The government will never support plans to break up Gazprom," Putin said. Under a liberal reform program drafted last year by the Economic Development and Trade Ministry, Gazprom would lose control of its transport, storage, and distribution networks. VY

SECOND ROUND OF MAGADAN RACE ENDS IN UPSET
Acting Magadan Oblast Governor Nikolai Dudov on 16 February won the second round of the oblast gubernatorial election with 50.41 percent of the vote, compared to 42.38 percent for rival Magadan Mayor Nikolai Karpenko, ITAR-TASS reported. Karpenko had been the favorite to win the race, beating Dudov in the first round by a 12 percent margin (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 3 February 2003). According to "Kommersant-Daily" on 17 February, Karpenko was the victim of a number of dirty tricks, or "black public relations," between the two rounds. For example, reworked film clips of Karpenko were shown with his campaign slogan "Nikolai Karpenko is our man!" altered to read "Nikolai Karpenko is whose man?" Karpenko's supporters in Magadan and Moscow are reportedly attributing Dudov's victory with the aggressive media campaign that he waged between rounds. Karpenko had the strong support of the pro-Kremlin Unified Russia party, and an unidentified party official told the daily that his loss came as a complete surprise. JAC

MORDOVIAN HEAD WINS THIRD TERM IN LANDSLIDE
Mordovia's head Nikolai Merkushkin won a re-election bid on 16 February, with more than 87 percent of the vote, ITAR-TASS reported. His closest rival, Communist-backed candidate Anatolii Chubkov, head of the Saransk Instrument-Making Factory, received only about 7 percent of the vote, RFE/RL's Saransk correspondent reported. Merkushkin had strong support from the federal center, and during the weeks prior to the election he hosted visits from Deputy Prime Minister Valentina Matvienko, as well as from members of the Duma's Fatherland-All Russia faction, including former Prime Minister Yevgenii Primakov. JAC

YABLOKO INTRODUCES HUMAN-TRAFFICKING BILL
Addressing a Duma Legislation Committee hearing devoted to combating human trafficking, Deputy Chairwoman Yelena Mizulina (Yabloko) said that her faction has introduced a bill that defines human trafficking as "a form of organized crime and a source of terrorism," strana.ru and other Russian news agencies reported on 17 February. She said that human trafficking in Russia is flourishing because of loopholes in existing legislation that make such crimes punishable only as "forced prostitution" or smuggling. In reality, Mizulina said, human trafficking constitutes a modern form of slavery that entails many other types of crimes and human rights violations. Yabloko's bill includes new legal concepts such as "debt slavery" and "human-trafficking victim." It would introduce seven new articles into the Criminal Code dealing with all aspects of human trafficking and includes the creation of a special commission and public centers dealing with the issue. She said that public oversight is necessary because human trafficking thrives on official corruption. VY

DOGGED BY SCANDALS, STATE FISHERIES HEAD IS DISMISSED
After temporarily suspending him the previous day, Prime Minister Kasyanov signed an order on 15 February dismissing State Fisheries Committee Chairman Yevgenii Nazdratenko from his post, Interfax reported (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 14 February 2003). According to "Rossiya," the official reason for Nazdratenko's dismissal is the scandal over the uneven distribution of fishing quotas among Magadan and Khabarovsk oblasts and Primorskii Krai (see "RFE/RL Russian Political Weekly," 23 January 2003). An unidentified source close to the White House told "Vremya-MN" on 16 February that the situation had taken on a "political character," because people had started to hold meetings calling for Nazdratenko's resignation. Nazdratenko took over at the State Fisheries Committee after a controversial career as governor of Primorskii Krai (see "RFE/RL Russian Political Weekly," 12 March 2001). JAC

NTV LURES ONE OF ITS FORMER WORKERS BACK...
Aleksandr Gerasimov on 17 February was named deputy general director of NTV in charge of information programming, TVS reported. Gerasimov was most recently deputy general director for information and public/political broadcasting at REN-TV. Before that, he worked at NTV until Gazprom-Media took over the station in 2001. Gerasimov said he will strive to raise the level of informational programming so that it is no worse than it was when the team headed by Yevgenii Kiselev worked at NTV, lenta.ru reported. Kiselev is now general director of TVS. JAC

...AS CONTROL OF REN-TV POSSIBLY UP FOR GRABS
The sale of the 70 percent stake in REN-TV owned by Unified Energy Systems (EES) will be discussed at a meeting of the EES board of directors at the end of this month, ITAR-TASS reported on 14 February, citing Deputy Economic Development and Trade Minister Andrei Sharonov. In the fall of 2000, LUKoil sold its REN-TV stake to EES (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 2 October 2000). JAC

DUMA FOREIGN-POLICY LEADER TO JOIN PRO-KREMLIN PARTY UPPER RANKS
Dmitrii Rogozin, chairman of the State Duma's International Relations Committee and presidential envoy on Kaliningrad, has signed a declaration announcing his departure from the People's Party, polit.ru reported on 17 February. Rogozin is reportedly leaving that party after being offered a leadership post in the Unified Russia party. According to Gennadii Raikov, head of the People's Deputy faction in the Duma, Rogozin will remain in that faction despite his change in party affiliation. JAC

PRESIDENTIAL AIDE RULES OUT TALKS WITH NEW CHECHEN ENVOY
Sergei Yastrzhembskii told NTV on 14 February that Chechen President Aslan Maskhadov's election in January 1997 was not legitimate and that therefore Moscow sees no reason to hold talks with Maskhadov's newly appointed envoy, Salambek Maigov, Russian news agencies reported. Yastrzhembskii did not explain why in late 2001 Russian presidential envoy to the Southern Federal District Viktor Kazantsev met with another Maskhadov envoy, Akhmed Zakaev (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 19 November 2001). Yastrzhembskii also denied that the idea of the 23 March referendum of a new draft Chechen constitution and election legislation originated with the Russian leadership. He argued that the referendum will contribute to stabilizing the situation in Chechnya and hence to the withdrawal of some Russian troops and a reduction in the number of search operations. He claimed that support within Chechnya for the referendum is increasing. Also on 14 February, Chechen administration head Akhmed-hadji Kadyrov issued a statement questioning how Maigov was able to convene a press conference in Moscow just three months after the theater hostage taking by Chechen radicals, Interfax reported. LF

ARMENIAN PRESIDENTIAL ELECTION CAMPAIGN ENDS
Campaigning for the 19 February presidential election ended on 17 February, RFE/RL's Yerevan bureau reported. Speaking to supporters in Yerevan on 17 February, incumbent President Robert Kocharian again pledged that the ballot will be free and fair. Central Election Commission Chairman Artak Sahradian said the same day that the commission "will try" to provide a complete breakdown of data from all 2,000 polling stations. The Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE) Observer Mission has said doing so would greatly contribute to allaying fears of fraud (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 21 and 24 January 2003). On 14 February, a spokeswoman for Armenia's largest independent election-monitoring group accused Kocharian's campaign managers of violating the law by using government funds to ensure Kocharian's re-election. She also alleged that government ministers are pressuring subordinates to vote for Kocharian. Also on 17 February, the A1+ website, as cited by Groong, reported that branches of the Armenian Savings Bank in Yerevan were distributing between 5,000-10,000 drams ($8.60-$10.20) to voters who pledged to cast their ballots for Kocharian. LF

ARMENIAN INCUMBENT CONFIDENT OF FIRST-ROUND VICTORY...
Kocharian's election campaign manager, Defense Minister Serzh Sarkisian, said on 16 February that he is certain Kocharian will win a landslide victory, obviating the need for a runoff ballot, RFE/RL's Yerevan bureau reported. Sarkisian dismissed the chances of the eight opposition candidates, most of whom he branded as inexperienced, weak, and inarticulate. AFP on 17 February estimated popular support for Kocharian at 55.6 percent. LF

...AS IS HIS MAIN CHALLENGER
People's Party of Armenia (HZhK) Chairman Stepan Demirchian was feted by thousands of supporters at campaign rallies in eastern Armenia on 14 February, Abovian on 15 February, and Yerevan on 16 February, RFE/RL's Yerevan bureau reported. Interfax estimated attendance at the Yerevan rally at around 25,000, noting that the organizers cited a figure of 30,000-50,000. On 14 February, the former ruling Armenian Pan-National Movement (HHSh) issued a statement saying it will not endorse any presidential candidate, Noyan Tapan and RFE/RL's Yerevan bureau reported. But the statement implied that the HHSh considers Demirchian the least objectionable candidate. On 16 February, Armenian National Television aired a cartoon ridiculing opposition candidates Demirchian, Artashes Geghamian, Vazgen Manukian, and Aram Karapetian. Then-Armenian State Television aired a similar cartoon ridiculing Stepan Demirchian's father Karen on the eve of the 1998 presidential election in which Karen Demirchian lost to Kocharian in a disputed runoff. LF

FORMER ARMENIAN PREMIER WARNS THAT ELECTION FRAUD COULD TRIGGER UNREST
National Democratic Union Chairman Manukian, whose narrow defeat by then-incumbent Levon Ter-Petrossian in the 1996 presidential election triggered mass protests in Yerevan, warned in Yerevan on 17 February that an attempt by Kocharian's supporters to manipulate the outcome of the ballot could lead to new upheavals and political instability, RFE/RL's Yerevan bureau reported. Manukian said it does not appear that Kocharian has enough support to garner the 50 percent plus one of all votes cast for a first-round win. LF

CASPIAN TALKS AGAIN POSTPONED
A meeting of deputy foreign ministers of the five Caspian littoral states scheduled to take place in Baku on 18 February has been postponed for the third time, probably until the end of the month, Interfax reported on 17 February, quoting an unnamed Azerbaijani Foreign Ministry official (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 16 January 2003). LF

GEORGIA APPROVES EXTENDING MANDATE OF RUSSIAN PEACEKEEPERS IN ABKHAZIA
Meeting on 17 February, Georgia's National Security Committee decided not to block the extension for a further six months of the mandate of the Russian peacekeeping force deployed under the CIS aegis in the Abkhaz conflict zone, Caucasus Press and Interfax reported. The mandate expired on 31 December, and on 26 January the Security Council listed conditions for its renewal (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 27 January 2003). President Eduard Shevardnadze said on 17 February in his regular Monday radio address that the decision to extend the mandate was made at the urging of "friendly countries," which asked Tbilisi to avoid "radical steps" in the light of "global processes." The U.S. State Department issued a statement last week advising that the mandate be renewed (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 14 February 2003). ITAR-TASS on 17 February quoted National Security Council Secretary Tedo Djaparidze as saying the decision was preceded by a "heated debate" and that this is "the last time" that the peacekeepers' mandate will be extended in the current format. LF

PRESIDENT DENIES THAT U.S. REQUESTED USE OF GEORGIAN AIRSPACE
President Shevardnadze denied on 14 February media reports that Washington had requested the use of Georgian airfields to launch military strikes against Iraq, Russian news agencies reported (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 14 February 2003). But he added that the Georgian leadership would consider any such request, although he thinks it more likely that the United States would prefer to use Turkish military facilities. On 17 February, Shevardnadze again denied that he had discussed with U.S. Assistant Secretary of State Stephen Rademaker one week earlier making Georgian bases available to U.S. forces, Caucasus Press reported. LF

GEORGIAN OPPOSITION FIGURE CALLS ON PRESIDENT TO RESIGN
Opposition National Movement leader Mikhail Saakashvili told a government session on 14 February that President Shevardnadze should leave office and take his supporters with him, Caucasus Press reported. Saakashvili also criticized the alleged illegal sale of land in Tbilisi and corruption in the police force. He challenged the minister of education to explain how a credit for reforming the education system was spent, and branded regional governor Levan Mamaladze a "bandit." Mamaladze retaliated by accusing Saakashvili of creating his own illegal armed formations under the guise of private detective agencies. Shevardnadze for his part said he would not resign, as he believes Georgia still needs him, Caucasus Press reported. Shevardnadze added that he will not fire either Mamaladze or Tbilisi Mayor Vano Zodelava, whose dismissal Saakashvili also demanded. LF

GEORGIAN OFFICIALS CLAIM ABKHAZIA HARBORS WAHHABIS
Addressing a Georgian government session on 15 February, State Security Minister Valeri Khaburzania claimed that Islamic militants who left Georgia's Pankisi Gorge last fall have taken refuge in regions of Abkhazia where they have joined forces with local criminals and pose a threat both to Georgia and the international community, Caucasus Press reported. Khaburzania claimed that some Wahhabis from Saudi Arabia who moved to Abkhazia have received Russian passports. Georgian National Security Council Secretary Djaparidze similarly said on 17 February that he cannot exclude the possibility that international terrorists, including members of Al-Qaeda, might have moved from Pankisi to Abkhazia. Djaparidze dodged the question how such terrorists could have traveled across Georgia undetected. Abkhaz Vice President Valerii Arshba on 17 February denied that Islamic militants have taken refuge in the unrecognized republic, Interfax and Caucasus Press reported. Arshba said that Abkhazia is ready to cooperate with the intelligence services of Russia and other countries to prove the Georgian claims are unfounded. LF

KAZAKH PRESIDENT LISTS BANKING SECTOR'S PRIORITIES
Addressing the third Congress of Kazakh Financiers, President Nursultan Nazarbaev expressed satisfaction on 14 February that Kazakhstan's banking sector and financiers are acknowledged to be among the best in the CIS, Interfax reported. At the same time, he ordered the government to "rein in" inflation and tasked the government and the National Bank with drafting a new concept for developing the financial sector over the next few years. He further complained that the stock market is not developing as fast as it should and that investors show little interest in it. LF

KYRGYZ OPPOSITION PARTY APPEALS TO OMBUDSMAN ON BEHALF OF JAILED LEADER
The opposition Ar-Namys party has appealed to the Constitutional Court and to ombudsman Tursunbai Bakir uulu to pressure the Supreme Court to deliver a ruling on an appeal launched by the party's leader, Feliks Kulov, against two prison sentences handed down to him upon his conviction on charges of embezzlement and abuse of his official position, RFE/RL's Bishkek bureau and akipress.org reported on 14 and 17 February respectively. LF

KYRGYZ POLICE PRACTICE COPING WITH MASS DISTURBANCES
Some 2,000 police held a staff exercise on 14 February in Kyrgyzstan's northern Chu Oblast practicing riot-control tactics, Interfax and RFE/RL's Bishkek bureau reported. A second such exercise is planned for next month. LF

TAJIKISTAN URGES IRAN TO DELIVER ON EARLIER AGREEMENTS
Tajikistan's President Imomali Rakhmonov has told visiting Iranian Deputy Foreign Minister Mohsen Aminzadeh that Dushanbe hopes Iran will take "concrete steps" to implement cooperation agreements in the energy and transport spheres, Asia Plus-Blitz on 17 February quoted presidential press secretary Zafar Saidov as saying. Rakhmonov and Aminzadeh also discussed cooperation within the framework of the Economic Cooperation Organization and the situation in Afghanistan. ITAR-TASS on 14 February quoted Aminzadeh as telling journalists in Dushanbe after his meeting with Rakhmonov that both Iran and Tajikistan believe the Iraq crisis should be resolved without resorting to military force. Aminzadeh also said the international community should make every effort to destroy remaining terrorist groupings in Afghanistan and to boost postconflict assistance to that country. LF

UZBEKISTAN MARKS FOURTH ANNIVERSARY OF TASHKENT BOMBINGS
In a broadcast to mark the fourth anniversary of the 16 February 1999 car-bomb attacks in Tashkent, Uzbek television noted that while the perpetrators of the attack, which killed 16 people, have been imprisoned, the masterminds are still at liberty, uzreport.com reported on 18 February. The report noted that reports of the deaths in Afghanistan of banned Islamic Movement of Uzbekistan leaders Djuma Namangani and Tahir Yuldashev have not been confirmed (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 25 January, 28 May, and 27 August 2002). LF

UZBEK HUMAN RIGHTS ACTIVIST ARRESTED
Nigmat Nazaraliev of the Committee for the Protection of Human Rights was arrested on 15 February in Tashkent after a three-day protest hunger strike outside the building that houses the Justice Ministry, AP reported. Nazaraliev claimed he has been illegally fired from his job at the Tashkent aircraft plant and stripped of his Uzbek citizenship. LF

BELARUSIAN OPPOSITION ACTIVISTS JAILED FOR VALENTINE'S DAY MARCH
A district court in Minsk on 17 February jailed Youth Front leader Pavel Sevyarynets for 10 days and four of his colleagues for five to 10 days for their participation in a Valentine's Day march in the Belarusian capital on 14 February, Belapan reported. "If young people are jailed for the mere fact that they chanted 'I love Belarus!' this means that the ruling regime is afraid of the youths for whom love of the country is not [an empty word]," Sevyarynets commented on his sentence. Similar actions organized by the Youth Front to mark Valentine's Day took place in 20 other Belarusian cities. JM

OSCE OFFICE HEAD VOWS TO COOPERATE WITH BELARUSIAN GOVERNMENT
Eberhard Heyken, head of the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE) Office in Minsk, told journalists on 17 February that he will seek to establish an atmosphere of trust between the OSCE and Belarus, Belapan reported. "I have the impression [that] the expectations toward the OSCE Office are very high and perhaps a bit exaggerated. I think one has to be realistic: Diplomacy in international relations is the art of the possible," Heyken said. He added that one of his office's basic obligations is to assist and cooperate with the Belarusian government. The OSCE Office is to comprise five international staff members, who are expected to arrive soon, and a local staff of up to eight persons. Heyken suggested that the 14 EU countries will lift the travel bans they imposed in November on eight top-level Belarusian officials (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 20 November 2002) only after the OSCE Office in Minsk is allowed to perform all its functions effectively. JM

BELARUSIAN LEFTISTS PROTEST POSSIBLE U.S. WAR ON IRAQ
Some 1,500 people participated in a 15 February rally organized by the Trade Union Federation, the Belarusian Party of Communists, the Communist Party of Belarus, and other left-wing and communist groups on the outskirts of Minsk to protest possible U.S. military intervention in Iraq, Belapan reported. "All of Bush's policies and foreign-policy ideology is fascism. Britain's support is also fascism," legislator Syarhey Kastsyan told the crowd. He concluded his reportedly emotional speech with the cry "Long Live Saddam! Long Live Lukashenka!" JM

UKRAINIAN PRESIDENT WANTS BROAD COOPERATION WITH U.S.
President Leonid Kuchma on 17 February met with U.S. Ambassador Carlos Pascual, UNIAN reported, quoting the presidential press service. The meeting marked the first time that the U.S. ambassador has met with Kuchma since the Kolchuga allegations surfaced (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 15 April and 10 May 2002). "We are interested in broad cooperation with the United States," Kuchma said. "The program of our cooperation is undergoing changes -- it has become more realistic," he added. "Ukraine is extremely worried about the situation around Iraq. We understand that there are serious reasons to suspect the Iraqi regime of hiding mass-destruction weapons," Kuchma noted. "Ukraine is ready to take part in a UN mission on the territory of countries neighboring Iraq by assigning to the UN authority an antichemical, antibacteriological, and antinuclear battalion," the Ukrainian leader pledged. Some Ukrainian media have suggested that Kuchma recently adopted a more pro-Washington stance with regard to Iraq (see "RFE/RL Poland, Belarus, and Ukraine Report," 18 February 2003). JM

UKRAINIAN LEFTISTS PROTEST POSSIBLE U.S. WAR ON IRAQ
Some 1,500 Kyiv residents on 15 February took part in a "March for Peace" organized by the Progressive Social Party of Ukraine, the Communist Party of Ukraine, the Green Party, the Russian Bloc, and other groups to protest a possible U.S. military action in Iraq, Interfax reported. Some 300 people held a similar protest in Simferopol the same day. JM

ESTONIAN PAPERS REJECT AD OFFERING MONEY FOR INFORMATION ON NAZI WAR CRIMINALS
The Estonian dailies "Postimees" and "Eesti Paevaleht" and the rural weekly "Maaleht" have refused to publish advertisements by the Simon Wiesenthal Center and the U.S.-based Targum Shlishi Foundation offering rewards up to $10,000 for information leading to the conviction of Nazi war criminals in Estonia, BNS reported on 17 February. The newspapers said the ad would violate the law and good journalistic practice. In late January, the Media House advertising agency and leaders of some Jewish organizations protested an earlier version of the ads, charging that it instigates ethnic hatred and "accuses Estonians as a nation of murdering Jews" (see "RFE/RL Baltic States Report," 10 February 2003). The newer version sent by the Wiesenthal Center's Jerusalem office director, Efraim Zuroff, no longer says Estonians as a nation collaborated with Nazis but that some Nazi henchmen did. It also no longer includes the telephone number of the security police SG

LATVIA'S NATIONAL HARMONY PARTY QUITS LEFTIST ALLIANCE
The 211 delegates of the 9th Congress of the National Harmony Party (TSP) decided in Riga on 15 February by a vote of 157 to 18 with 10 abstentions to withdraw from the alliance For Human Rights in a United Latvia (PCTVL), LETA reported. The party will form a new TSP parliamentary faction, which will include all 13 TSP deputies, most of the seven Equal Rights deputies, and one of the five Socialist Party deputies. The congress re-elected Janis Jurkans as party chairman, with current TSP board Chairman Janis Urbanovics as his deputy. It tasked the party council with drawing up a new TSP charter and platform by June, to be approved by a congress in August. The congress also passed three resolutions, the first of which criticized the government for not canceling a decision that will make Latvian the language of instruction in all secondary schools from 2004. The second called for giving noncitizen residents the right to vote in local elections and for ratifying the Convention for the Protection of National Minorities. The third expressed support for Latvia's membership in the EU. SG

LATVIAN PRESIDENT MEETS BUSH
Latvian President Vaira Vike-Freiberga met with U.S. President George W. Bush on 17 February despite the cancellation of a Presidents Day event at which he had invited her to speak, LETA reported. The conference was canceled due to the snowstorms that have been battering Washington, D.C. Bush thanked Latvia for supporting his stance on the need to disarm Iraq and confirmed that Latvia can rely on U.S. support and cooperation in the future. He said he is sure the U.S. Congress will ratify the NATO accession agreements of the 10 new members in the spring. Vike-Freiberga arrived in Washington on 15 February and met with U.S.-NATO Committee member Randy Scheunemann the next day. She was scheduled to hold talks on 18 February with former U.S. Deputy Secretary of State Strobe Talbott, who is now the president of the Brookings Institute. SG

HEAD OF U.S.-NATO LOBBY GROUP VISITS LITHUANIA
After a meeting with President-elect Rolandas Paksas on 14 February, Bruce Jackson, the head of the nongovernmental U.S.-NATO Committee (U.S. Committee on NATO), said he has no doubts about the continuity of Lithuania's foreign policy, ELTA reported. Paksas expressed support for the so-called Vilnius 10 statement backing U.S. Secretary of State Colin Powell's allegations regarding Iraq (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 6 February 2003). On 17 February, President Valdas Adamkus told Jackson he will remain active in foreign policy after ending his term and maintain close contacts with Jackson's committee. Jackson's talks with parliamentary Chairman Arturas Paulauskas primarily dealt with the future role of the Vilnius 10, and he reportedly discussed possible resolution of the Iraq crisis with Defense Minister Linas Linkevicius. SG

POLISH PRESIDENT SIGNS CONTROVERSIAL HEALTH-CARE BILL
Aleksander Kwasniewski on 17 February signed into law a bill reversing health reforms put into place by the previous Solidarity-led government and reintroducing centralized funding in the health-care sector, Polish media reported. The new law introduces the National Health Fund to replace 16 regional funds set up in 1999. "The concentration of finances will cause a more rational allocation of public resources coming from the contributions of those who are insured," Kwasniewski said in a statement. Opponents of the bill, who include many health professionals, have argued that reversing the costly health reforms of the Solidarity government will only incur greater costs and delay the restructuring of inefficient hospitals. They say changing the administration of the health-care system does not address the principal issue, which they describe as a shortage of funds and mismanagement. JM

POLAND, INDIA SIGN MILITARY-COOPERATION ACCORD
Premier Leszek Miller signed a five-year military-cooperation agreement with his Indian counterpart Atal Behari Vajpayee in New Delhi on 17 February, Polish media reported. Polish Television reported that the accord paves the way for Polish companies to conclude contracts to supply tanks, technical-support vehicles, weapons-guidance systems, and parachutes to India. Before arriving in India, Miller visited Singapore. JM

CZECH AUTHORITIES BOOST SECURITY MEASURES
Czech authorities on 14 February announced they are taking preventive antiterrorist measures aimed at strengthening security at the Czech border, Prague's international airport, nuclear-power plants, and other strategic sites, CTK and international news agencies reported. Interior Minister Stanislav Gross said some 300 buildings and facilities in Prague, including the city's subway system, will be inspected for the purpose of enhancing security and that up to 2,500 soldiers will reinforce the police. Visas for citizens from countries posing a terrorist risk will be "specially handled," he said. Gross added that the measures are not due to any specific threat but are being taken in the context of general threats to security. MS

JOINT CZECH-SLOVAK CHEMICAL UNIT TO BECOME OPERATIONAL IN MARCH
Czech Defense Minister Jaroslav Tvrdik and his Slovak counterpart Ivan Simko signed an agreement on the creation of a joint antinuclear-, antibacteriological-, and antichemical-warfare (NBC) unit. The joint unit will be operational in Kuwait as of 1 March; a Czech NBC unit is already stationed there. MS

CZECH COMMUNISTS MOBILIZE 1,000 TO PROTEST POSSIBLE WAR IN IRAQ
Roughly 1,000 people gathered in Prague's Wenceslas Square on 15 February to demonstrate against a possible war against Iraq, CTK reported. The demonstration was organized by the Communist Party of Bohemia and Moravia and addressed by that party's chairman, Miroslav Grebenicek. Smaller demonstrations organized by other groups opposed to a conflict were held in another Prague square, as well as in the eastern city of Ostrava. MS

CZECH RULING PARTY DESIGNATES PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE...
The leadership of the senior ruling Social Democratic Party (CSSD) on 15 February unanimously decided to back Charles University philosophy Professor Jan Sokol as the party's candidate in the third attempt to elect a successor to former President Vaclav Havel, CTK and Reuters reported. The 66-year-old Sokol, a communist-era dissident, served as education minister in the seven-month caretaker government headed by Josef Tosovsky in 1998. If he runs, Sokol is likely to face a single competitor -- Civic Democratic Party (ODS) Honorary Chairman and former Premier Vaclav Klaus. The presidential vote is scheduled for 28 February. MS

...AS COALITION PARTNERS FALL IN LINE
Senior officials among CSSD's coalition partners on 15 February welcomed Sokol's candidacy, according to CTK and Reuters. Christian Democratic Union-People's Party Chairman Cyril Svoboda said all his party's parliamentary representatives will back Sokol, whom he called "undoubtedly the best candidate." Freedom Union-Democratic Union Chairman Petr Mares said he "cannot see any major problem" with rallying the support of his party behind Sokol. Many analysts believe CSSD's own parliamentarians might present the greatest obstacle to electing Sokol, as the "Zeman wing" of the party chafes at supporting a candidate proposed by CSSD Chairman and Premier Vladimir Spidla. MS

CORRECTION:
Due to an editing error in the 14 February 2003 "RFE/RL Newsline," we inadvertently described the CSSD's presidential hopeful, Jan Sokol, as an education minister in the Milos Zeman government. In fact, Sokol was education minister within the January-July 1998 caretaker government of Josef Tosovsky. AH

CZECH, GERMAN BORDER TIGHTENED FOLLOWING WAVE OF ILLEGAL CROSSINGS
Interior Minister Gross and his German counterpart Otto Schilly on 17 February inaugurated a pioneer program that provides for joint patrols of border guards from the two countries, dpa reported. The operation comes in response to a surge in attempted border crossings by illegal immigrants, particularly from China, in January. The two ministers met at the Rumbruk-Seifhennersdorf border checkpoint, some 100 kilometers north of Prague. MS

SLOVAKIA SUSPENDS ACTIVITIES OF EMBASSY IN IRAQ
The Foreign Ministry on 14 February announced it has temporarily suspended the activities of the Slovak Embassy in Baghdad due to general security risks and increasing tension in the Middle East, CTK reported. Also on 14 February, the ministry warned Slovak citizens against visiting Israel, saying that while the threat of terrorist attacks in that country continues, the Iraq crisis has added an additional threat. The ministry advised Slovaks in that country to consider leaving. Separately, the Slovak Interior Ministry on 14 February said it has ordered measures to combat possible terrorist attacks, and border police have been ordered to increase controls. MS

SLOVAK OFFICIAL DETAILS PROGRESS, HURDLES IN MEETING NATO TARGETS
Gabriel Kopecky, head of the Defense Ministry's planning section, told TASR on 17 February in Brussels that Slovak military-reform plans are earning positive evaluations from NATO, despite problems stemming from a shortage of adequate personnel. Kopecky was speaking after the first meeting of Slovak representatives with the NATO Defense Planning Committee. The meeting dealt mainly with Slovak military compatibility with NATO member forces and with Slovakia's ability to participate in NATO military operations. Kopecky said the alliance appreciates the Slovak plans for military reforms known as Model 2010, but added that Slovakia faces the problem of "finding the right people for the right positions" in the planned structure. Other problems, he said, are caused by redundant equipment that is costly to maintain and cannot be sold under current legislation. MS

SLOVAKS PROTEST AGAINST WAR IN IRAQ
Several hundred people marched for peace in Bratislava on 15 February, chanting antigovernment and anti-U.S. slogans, CTK reported. The demonstration against a possible war on Iraq brought together Communists, ultranationalists, anarchists, environmentalists, and some religious groups. Slovak Trade Unions leader Ivan Saktor was among the demonstrators. MS

SLOVAK PRESIDENT CALLS EU REFERENDUM FOR MID-MAY
President Rudolf Schuster on 17 February officially called a plebiscite on Slovakia's EU accession for 16-17 May, TASR and CTK reported. Voters will be asked to vote "yes" or "no" to one question: "Do you agree with Slovakia becoming a member of the European Union?" Turnout must surpass 50 percent for the referendum to be valid. All parliamentary parties announced they support joining the EU, and opinion polls estimate support for accession at around 70 percent. MS

DISSIDENTS KICKED OUT OF MAIN SLOVAK OPPOSITION PARTY
The Movement for a Democratic Slovakia (HZDS) Republican Council -- the party's most senior body -- on 15 February approved a resolution saying the 11 HZDS lawmakers who recently set up a separate faction in parliament thereby expelled themselves from the HZDS, TASR reported (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 11 and 14 February 2003). The group's leader, former HZDS Deputy Chairman Vojtech Tkac, countered by saying the Republican Council decision is illegal and the group intends to appeal to the HZDS Arbitration Commission. That commission's chairman, Peter Tomecek, is a member of the group and was expelled from the HZDS along the other dissenters. MS

HUNGARY'S FIDESZ IMPEDES VOTE ON U.S. REQUEST FOR USE OF ROADS, RAILWAYS, AIRSPACE
The opposition FIDESZ party on 17 February blocked a parliamentary vote on whether to make the country's roads, railways, and airspace available to NATO to allow military hardware bound for Turkey to be transported via Hungary, Hungarian media reported. FIDESZ argued that it wants to see more clearly whether the shipments to Turkey are linked to a possible war in Iraq. As four-fifths of deputies must approve the necessary waiver of the house rules in order to debate and vote on the matter immediately, the FIDESZ decision halted any further progress on the matter. Approval of the request itself requires two-thirds support in parliament. FIDESZ deputy Istvan Simicsko said it is conceivable that parliament could hold an extraordinary session this week once his party reaches a decision. MSZ

LARGE ANTIWAR PROTEST HELD IN BUDAPEST
Some 30,000 demonstrators marched in downtown Budapest on 16 February to express their opposition to a possible war on Iraq, Hungarian media reported. The march, organized by Civilians for Peace, split in two after a small but noisy group chanted antigovernment, anti-United States, and anti-Israel slogans, and demanded the resignation of Prime Minister Peter Medgyessy. At Heroes' Square the crowd was further disrupted by a group of radical right-wingers. Police later apprehended three people who were carrying banners displaying the red star and the hammer and sickle, which are banned as symbols of tyranny. Government spokesman Zoltan Gal said the government respects the faith and determination of the demonstrators, adding that the civilized nature with which they expressed their conviction deserves respect. MSZ

JEWS CONFRONT FASCIST DEMONSTRATORS IN BUDAPEST
Some 200 neo-Nazis who gathered in front of the parliament building on 15 February to commemorate German and Hungarian troops who defended Buda Castle against Soviet forces in February 1945 were countered by more than 1,000 participants of a counterdemonstration organized by the Federation of Jewish Religious Communities in Hungary, Budapest dailies reported. Police separated the two groups, who heckled one another, but there were no serious incidents. Members of the neo-Nazi Blood and Honor Society, dressed in black and brandishing an Arrow Cross banner, erected a wooden cross and laid wreaths in tribute to the fascist soldiers, while the antifascist demonstrators paid tribute to the victims of fascism and protested the emergence of fascist ideas and neo-Nazi groups. MSZ

HUNGARIAN CABINET TO END COMPULSORY MILITARY SERVICE IN 2005
Hungary's last compulsory military draft will take place in the first half of 2005, Defense Minister Ferenc Juhasz announced after the cabinet's 14 February meeting, Hungarian media reported. He told reporters that a professional army will be cheaper in the long term, though the short-term transition costs are expected to exceed 60 billion forints ($260 million). A professional army is expected to number 25,000-35,000 as compared to the current 45,000. MSZ

NATO SEIZES THREE KOSOVARS ON WAR CRIMES CHARGES
NATO-led KFOR troops have detained former guerrillas Harajdin Bala, Isak Musliu "Qerkizi," and Agim Murtezi "Murrizi," Reuters reported from Prishtina on 17 February. This marks the first time that ethnic Albanians have been arrested for war crimes on the basis of an indictment from The Hague-based tribunal, to which they will soon be transferred. The three men allegedly committed atrocities against civilian prisoners at the Llapushnik camp near Gllogovc in 1998. NATO Secretary-General Lord George Robertson said in a statement that "during this period, they committed, or otherwise aided and abetted the execution of, the crimes of imprisonment and cruel treatment of both Serb and Albanian civilians." Robertson added that the arrests "should...send a message that we will act against any person indicted for war crimes, regardless of...ethnicity." PM

HAGUE-BASED TRIBUNAL INDICTS SERBIAN RADICAL LEADER
The Hague-based war crimes tribunal announced on 14 February that it has indicted Serbian Radical Party leader Vojislav Seselj on six counts of war crimes and eight counts of crimes against humanity, Reuters reported (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 3, 4, and 12 February 2003). The tribunal said in a statement that Seselj "bears criminal individual responsibility for crimes which were part of a widespread or systematic attack directed against the Croat, Muslim, and other non-Serb civilians" between August 1991 and September 1993 in Croatia, Bosnia, and Vojvodina. In Belgrade, Seselj said he is "not surprised" by the indictment because he "saw it coming." He repeated his intention to go to The Hague voluntarily on 24 February to defend himself against the charges. He predicted that he will win and make a mockery of the tribunal. Seselj previously argued that his paramilitary activities were legitimate in support of the cause of a greater Serbia, the "Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung" reported on 17 February. PM

U.S. WARNS OF ATTEMPTS TO 'DESTABILIZE' KOSOVA...
State Department spokesman Richard Boucher said in Washington on 12 February that "the United States is concerned by recent developments in Serbia and Montenegro and in Kosovo regarding the timing and nature of decisions on Kosovo's future status," a State Department statement noted. Boucher stressed that the United States supports UN Security Council Resolution 1244 and UN civilian administration (UNMIK) head Michael Steiner's program for achieving democratic standards before tackling the question of status. Boucher added that "statements or actions by the authorities in Belgrade or on behalf of Kosovo parties or institutions which attempt to force the pace of the future status process...are unhelpful and potentially destabilizing" (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 7 February 2003 and "RFE/RL Balkan Report," 31 January 2003). In Prishtina on 13 February, the legislators belonging to three leading Kosovar Albanian political parties issued a joint declaration in support of independence, RFE/RL's South Slavic and Albanian Languages Service reported. For his part, Steiner warned against any unilateral moves aimed at changing Kosova's status. In Belgrade, the Foreign Ministry condemned the three-party declaration. PM

...AND CAUSE TENSIONS IN SOUTHERN SERBIA
U.S. Ambassador to Serbia and Montenegro William Montgomery said in Nis on 14 February that both Belgrade and local Albanians are to blame for the recent increase in tensions in the Presevo region, RFE/RL's South Slavic and Albanian Languages Service reported (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 12 and 14 February 2003). In Belgrade, Serbian Prime Minister Zoran Djindjic warned of ethnic Albanian "terrorism," adding there will be no compromise with "extremists," the "Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung" reported on 15 February. Serbian authorities have also sent an unspecified number of additional police units into the region following continued peaceful protests by local Albanians. PM

SERBIAN LEADER WARNS OF 'TERRORISTS'...
Serbian Deputy Prime Minister Nebojsa Covic visited the Presevo region on 13 February, the "Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung" reported on 15 February. He defended the increase in police strength and differentiated between peaceful protesters and "terrorists," who must be punished. On 15 February, he warned of "terrorists" and kidnappers in the area, RFE/RL's South Slavic and Albanian Languages Service reported. Belgrade's latest statements follow Serbian media reports about the alleged presence of guerrilla forces in the region. Western diplomatic and media sources have expressed doubts about the existence of any organized guerrilla force. Observers note that some Belgrade politicians are actively courting nationalist voters in the run-up to possible elections in 2003. PM

...AND SLAMS UNMIK...
Speaking in Belgrade on 16 March, Covic said Steiner has no real successes to show after one year in office as head of UNMIK, Deutsche Welle's "Monitor" reported the next day. Covic added that Steiner has simply used "clever marketing" to present UNMIK's record as positive. The minister called for talks between "Belgrade and Prishtina," stressing that the return of Serbian refugees is of utmost importance. He warned that if Serbs are kidnapped, "those responsible will have to pay dearly." He did not elaborate, but added: "We will never destroy a village or attack civilians, but we will not allow them to attack us." PM

...AND KOSOVAR POLITICIANS
Covic said in Belgrade on 16 February that the leading Kosovar politicians who are ex-guerrillas have simply "exchanged uniforms for suits," Deutsche Welle's "Monitor" reported the next day. He argued that Hashim Thaci controls the oil business, Ramush Haradinaj runs cigarette smuggling, and Agim Ceku manages the hotel and nightclub sector. "Is this what the EU means when they call for setting up a multiethnic economy in Kosovo?" Covic asked. Covic charged that the three men plan to organize major disturbances in Kosova to show that the civilian leadership under President Ibrahim Rugova is incapable of governing. Covic did not elaborate, except to say that "gangs and criminals" want early general elections in May. PM

WILL SERBIAN CONSTITUTION 'RESOLVE' KOSOVA STATUS QUESTION?
Slobodan Samardzic, an adviser to outgoing Yugoslav President Vojislav Kostunica, said in Belgrade on 17 February that the new Serbian Constitution will regulate the status of Kosova in a manner similar to that of Vojvodina, "no more and no less," Deutsche Welle's "Monitor" reported (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 5 November and 9 and 12 December 2002). PM

U.S. DELAYS DECISION ON AID TO SERBIA AND MONTENEGRO...
The U.S. government has postponed from 31 March to 15 June its decision on whether to certify Serbia and Montenegro as eligible for U.S. financial assistance, the Belgrade daily "Danas" reported on 17 February. At stake is a package worth about $140 million. Whether Belgrade will be certified or not depends primarily on whether it convinces Washington that it is cooperating with the war crimes tribunal in The Hague. Cooperation involves arresting indicted individuals and allowing investigators access to Serbian archives (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 25 and 26 April 2002). PM

...AS HAGUE PROSECUTOR CITES NONCOOPERATION
In Belgrade on 17 February, chief prosecutor for The Hague-based tribunal Carla Del Ponte said Serbia and Montenegro are not cooperating with that body, RFE/RL's South Slavic and Albanian Languages Service reported. Djindjic told her that some of the archives to which she wants access were destroyed in NATO's 1999 bombing of Serbian targets. PM

CONTROVERSY CONTINUES OVER BOSNIAN VALUE-ADDED TAX
Speaking in Sarajevo on 15 February, Christian Schwartz-Schilling, who is the international community's mediator between Bosnia's two entities, repeated recent demands by the international community that Bosnia establish a unified value-added-tax and customs service, Deutsche Welle's Bosnian Service reported (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 10 and 13 February 2003). The previous day, Bosnian Serb leader Mirko Sarovic, who holds the rotating chair of the joint Presidency, called unconstitutional any move to establish a joint taxation system that would undermine the fiscal independence of the Republika Srpska, RFE/RL's South Slavic and Albanian Languages Service reported from Banja Luka. (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 25 April 2002). PM

BOSNIANS PROTEST POSSIBLE WAR IN IRAQ
Led by some young local artists and filmmakers, several hundred people demonstrated in central Sarajevo against the prospect of war in Iraq, "Oslobodjenje" reported. Pacifism runs strong among Bosnia's Muslims in the wake of the 1992-95 conflict, and some of the participants in the protest were war invalids. In addition, reports and commentaries can be regularly found in the Sarajevo media expressing the view that the United States wants to wage an "imperialist" war in pursuit of oil. Several reports in the 15 February issue of "Preporod," which is the weekly of the Islamic Community, suggested that U.S. policy is mistrustful of Islam in general. PM

SLOVENIA AND CROATIA BACKPEDALING FROM SUPPORT OF U.S.
The governments of Slovenia and Croatia are seeking to distance themselves from the pro-U.S. declaration of the so-called Vilnius 10 group of countries, which their respective foreign ministers signed recently, the "Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung" reported on 18 February (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 7, 12, and 13 February 2003). Both governments fear that strong support of the United States could lead to unspecified "problems with the EU" as well as with large antiwar segments of public opinion, the daily added. Of all leading Slovenian politicians, only conservative security expert Janez Jansa has said the crisis over Iraq requires military action, as was the case in Kosova in 1999 (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 11 February 2003). In Croatia, several leading governing and opposition politicians sought recently to make political capital by allying themselves with the antiwar movement. Drazen Budisa, who heads the Croatian Social-Liberal Party (HSLS), called the recent antiwar protests a "positive development" that shows the isolation of the United States. PM

STRIKE PARALYZES MACEDONIAN RAILWAYS
Railway workers continued their strike for a fourth day on 17 February, thus blocking all domestic and international railway lines with the exception of transport for the steel company Makstil, "Dnevnik" reported. The workers demand that state-owned Macedonian Railways pay back wages and that the trade unions be included in negotiations on the future of the company, which is slated for privatization. Government spokesman Saso Colakovski said the government considers the demands of the strike committees to be unfounded. The railway's share in passenger transport is rather low, but it handles a large part of the country's international freight traffic (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 3 December 2002 and "RFE/RL Balkan Report," 6 December 2002). UB

BOMB BLAST DAMAGES COURTHOUSE IN PROVINCIAL MACEDONIAN TOWN
A powerful explosion damaged the courthouse and several adjacent buildings in the western Macedonian town of Struga on 14 February, dpa reported. Colakovski said on 17 February that five people are suspects in the incident, one of whom is in custody. Investigators have established that the explosive used was identical to the one used in a bomb blast in Kumanovo on 25 December, in which a passerby died (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 27 December 2002). In a statement published on its website (http://www.aksh.org), the shadowy Albanian National Army (AKSH) claimed responsibility for the attack. Macedonian media initially speculated that the blast was linked to the arrest of a local mafia boss involved in human trafficking. UB

U.S. MILITARY EXPERTS INSPECT ROMANIAN AIRFIELD
Twenty-five U.S. military experts arrived in Romania on 17 February to inspect the Mihail Kogalniceanu military airfield for possible use by U.S. forces in the event of military action against Iraq, Mediafax reported. The airfield is located in the vicinity of the Black Sea port of Constanta and the experts were expected to conclude their work within three days. Presidential spokeswoman Corina Cretu said on 16 February that the airport's capability evaluation stems from last week's parliamentary decision regarding possible participation in an Iraq war (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 13 February 2002), and she added that the public will be informed if the United States decides to use the facility. MS

ROMANIAN ANTIWAR DEMONSTRATIONS DRAW SMALL TURNOUT
Some 30 protesters gathered on 15 February in Bucharest's University Square to demonstrate against a possible war in Iraq, Mediafax reported. A larger crowd of about 100 war protestors attended a rally in Cluj the same day. MS

ROMANIAN PARTIES RALLY IN SUPPORT OF 2007 EU ACCESSION
In a joint declaration signed in Snagov, near Bucharest, Romania's political parties on 14 February pledged to bridge their differences and cooperate in the joint pursuit of meeting the 1 January 2007 target for joining the European Union, RFE/RL's Bucharest bureau reported. Trade unions, civic and national minorities' associations, employees, and employers' representatives also signed the declaration. Prime Minister Adrian Nastase warned at the meeting that if Romania does not complete its negotiation process with the EU by mid-2004 it might encounter additional difficulties in its quest to join the union, as it would then face an organization representing the interests of a considerable greater number of states than is now the case. MS

ROMANIAN SENATE REJECTS ANTIGOVERNMENT MOTION
The Senate on 17 February rejected a motion submitted by the Greater Romania Party (PRM) to debate the government's tax policies, Romanian Radio reported. The PRM accused the government of having increased taxes to unprecedented levels, thus triggering a decline in consumption while encouraging corruption through tax exemptions granted to its political cronies. The motion was rejected by a vote of 76 against to 33 in favor, with 22 abstentions. MS

TRANSDNIESTER LEADER READY TO NEGOTIATE ON NEW MOLDOVAN CONSTITUTION
Separatist leader Igor Smirnov said on 14 February in reaction to Moldovan President Vladimir Voronin's proposal that the two sides work jointly on developing a federal constitution for Moldova that Transdniester is "open to a dialogue among equals," RFE/RL's Chisinau bureau and international news agencies reported. Smirnov also criticized Voronin, accusing him of having broken off the negotiations in 2001 "on invented pretexts," and adding that Voronin had to be forced back to the negotiating table by the efforts of the three mediators -- the OSCE, Russia, and Ukraine -- which he said realized that federalization is "the only realistic solution" for a conflict settlement. Smirnov said Voronin's proposal signals that "the Moldovan government is giving up its former ambitions." Reacting to Smirnov's statement, Voronin said on 14 February that Tiraspol's sincerity will be proven if and when it signs the document that would start the process proposed by Voronin. OSCE mission chief to Moldova William Hill, who brought Smirnov's response from Chisinau, said that despite the criticism and the "disputable statements" it included, Tiraspol's reaction was "positive on the whole," Infotag reported. MS

MOLDOVAN COMMUNIST OFFICIAL BACKS GRANTING OFFICIAL STATUS TO RUSSIAN LANGUAGE
Victor Stepaniuc, leader of the Party of Moldovan Communist (PCM) parliamentary majority group, on 14 February said in an interview with RFE/RL that granting official status to the Russian language does not amount to an infringement of the recommendations made last year by the Parliamentary Assembly of the Council of Europe (PACE). Stepaniuc said the assembly recommended a moratorium on this issue, and a moratorium "does not last forever." Granting "official status" to the Russian language is included among Voronin's proposals for a new constitution, in which "Moldovan" would be the "official state language." The difference between the two concepts has not been clarified in the proposals, which were officially made public on 14 February. Meanwhile, another issue on which PACE recommended a moratorium reemerged on 17 February as contentious. According to the Moldovan Historians' Association, the government now intends to replace the teaching of the "History of Romanians" with "General History." The association is threatening to renew street protests if the decision is approved and enforced, RFE/RL's Chisinau bureau reported. MS

CHISINAU COURT HEEDS PPCD APPEAL ON NATO-REFERENDUM DRIVE
The Chisinau Court of Appeals on 17 February ruled that the Central Election Commission (CEC) is obliged to register the initiative group that intends to gather signatures in favor of a referendum on joining NATO and the EU, RFE/RL's Chisinau bureau reported. The drive was initiated by the opposition Popular Party Christian Democratic. The CEC refused to register the group on 11 January and its representatives said they would appeal the decision before the Supreme Court within 15 days. MS

RUSSIAN EXTREMISTS AMONG ANTIWAR DEMONSTRATORS IN CHISINAU
Some 300 people demonstrated in Chisinau on 16 February against the United States and a possible war in Iraq, Infotag and Flux reported. Among the demonstrators were members of Russia's National Bolshevik Party who were wearing party insignia. MS

NATO SECRETARY-GENERAL ADDRESSES BULGARIAN PARLIAMENT
NATO Secretary-General Lord George Robertson on 17 February lauded Bulgaria's constructive role in peacekeeping missions in the region and in the international fight against terrorism. In his address to the Bulgarian parliament in Sofia, Robertson said, "In combating terrorism, Bulgaria has made a valued contribution to the battle against Al-Qaeda and the Taliban," according to NATO'S official website (http://www.nato.int). "And now, as a member of the UN Security Council, this country is playing an important role in international efforts to ensure Iraq's disarmament." However, Robertson also stressed that "invitees face a double challenge" and advised them that they "must continue, and enhance, their own political and military reforms, which have helped them to achieve so much success until now." He added, "On the political front, these include judicial reform to improve the impartiality of the judicial system; combating organized crime and corruption, which can undermine democracy and spread to neighboring countries; ensuring firm export controls; and working for the integration of minorities, to ensure social peace." UB

BULGARIAN ETHNIC TURKISH PARTY RE-ELECTS LEADER
The ethnic Turkish Movement for Rights and Freedoms (DPS), the junior coalition partner of the governing National Movement Simeon II (NDSV), re-elected Ahmed Dogan as its chairman on 16 February in Sofia, mediapool.bg reported. Dogan surprised the party and the public when he announced that he will nominate an ethnic Bulgarian as his deputy. According to the news agency, Dogan will chose between Sofia Oblast Administrator Rosen Vladimirov and Kamen Konstantinov. Among the 105 members of the party's highest body, the Central Council, 15 are ethnic Bulgarians and two are members of the Romany minority. Under the Bulgarian Constitution, political parties based on ethnic principles are banned. However, the DPS is de facto an ethnic Turkish party but has never presented itself as such, thus avoiding legal problems. UB

There is no End Note today.


TALIBAN LEADER CALLS FOR JIHAD AGAINST THE UNITED STATES
A 17 February message allegedly signed by Taliban leader Mulla Mohammad Omar said that 1,600 "prominent scholars" from Afghanistan have "unanimously" stated that it is the duty of every Muslim to wage jihad against U.S. forces in Afghanistan and warned that if anyone "helps the aggressive infidels and joins their ranks under any name or task, that person deserves execution," the Pakistan-based Afghan Islamic Press (AIP) reported. The message requests that all Afghans who "cannot wage jihad" separate themselves from U.S. forces in Afghanistan and from Afghan President Hamid Karzai's administration, or face punishment, AIP reported. A group referring to itself as Tanzim al-Fatah Afghanistan (Afghanistan Victory Organization) on 10 February issued a similar statement against the United States and warned that those Afghans who support U.S. forces in Afghanistan will face execution (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 12 February 2003). AT

ELECTION COMMISSION FORMED IN AFGHANISTAN...
At a meeting of the Afghan cabinet on 17 February in which draft municipal-election laws were discussed, a new commission was formed to further evaluate the proposed laws and present its findings to the cabinet, Radio Afghanistan reported. The commission will include Justice Minister Abdul Rahim Karimi; Returnees Affairs Minister Enayatullah Nazari; the deputy higher-education minister; and three members of the Constitutional Drafting Commission, Abdul Salam Azimi, Musa Ashari, and Musa Marufi, the report added. According to the December 2001 Bonn Agreement, Afghanistan should hold general elections by June 2004. However, some observers have expressed doubt that elections can be held in a fair and democratic manner throughout Afghanistan by the target date, given the fact that large swaths of the country are controlled by warlords whose first loyalty is not to Kabul. Elections Canada, the nonpartisan agency responsible for the conduct of federal elections and referendums in Canada, has reportedly agreed to help Afghanistan with its election process (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 16 January 2003). AT

...AS IS A NAWRUZ COMMISSION
The Afghan cabinet in its 17 February meeting agreed to form a commission headed by Information and Culture Minister Sayyed Makhdum Rahin to oversee the 21 March celebrations of Nawruz (Norouz), the Afghan New Year, Radio Afghanistan reported. Nawruz celebrations traditionally formed an important part of the Afghan culture, but the Taliban banned the celebration, calling it "un-Islamic." AT

PAKISTAN DONATES ARMS TO AFGHANISTAN
Afghanistan's Minister Counselor in Islamabad Rahmatullah Musa Ghazi at a ceremony held at a Pakistani Air Force base in Chaklala on 16 February took receipt of a large cache of arms donated by Pakistan and intended for the new Afghan National Army (ANA), "Dawn" reported the next day. The donation includes 5,000 submachine-guns, 180 mortars, 75 rocket-propelled grenades, and thousands of rounds of ammunition for all three types of weapons, the Karachi daily added. An official Pakistani source said his country will train ANA personnel, "Dawn," added. Reporting the Pakistani arms donation on 17 February, Radio Afghanistan commented that this is the first time that Pakistan has expressed its interest in the reconstitution of the ANA. Some Afghans believe that Pakistan's policies supporting various mujahedin groups and subsequently the Taliban, led to the destruction of what survived of the Afghan Army after the Soviet occupation. AT

GERMANS REPORTEDLY LEFT ALONE ON THE FRONT LINE IN AFGHANISTAN...
The United States "has practically ceased" its efforts to capture Osama bin Laden in Afghanistan and has withdrawn to Iraq "all Special Forces units," "Der Spiegel" claimed on 17 February, adding that the approximately 100 German special-forces troops who will be deployed in Afghanistan will be "rather alone." "Der Spiegel" added that along with the U.S. Special Forces, British and Australian special-forces troops have also left the antiterrorism coalition and have left behind "infantry that is less effective in combat." AT

...AND ARE WORRIED ABOUT TERROR ATTACKS
Germany's Bundesnachrichtendienst (BND) intelligence service has reported that new Chinese-made missiles are being smuggled into the country, "Welt am Sonntag" reported on 16 February. The Chinese missiles are reportedly more accurate than the outdated Russian-made missiles currently available in Afghanistan. As an example of the use of the new missiles, the report pointed to the 10 February missile attack on the International Security Assistance Force camp (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 11 February 2003) while German Defense Minister Peter Struck was inside. German authorities in Kabul are taking the dangers posed by the new missiles "very seriously," according to the newspaper. AT

NEW TV STATION LAUNCHED IN HERAT
A new television station began broadcasting in the Ghurian District of Herat Province on 15 February, Herat News Center reported. A resident of the area identified only as Hafizollah has established the station, which has a small transmitter capable of covering a radius of about 2 kilometers, the report added. AT

KABUL PAPER WARNS NEIGHBORS NOT TO INTERFERE IN AFGHANISTAN
The Kabul daily "Arman-e Melli" in a 16 February commentary on the anniversary of the Soviet withdrawal from Afghanistan (15 February 1989) warned Afghanistan's neighbors not to disrupt the "new existing order" and to not entertain ideas of supporting "chaos" in Afghanistan. The commentary added that if neighbors of Afghanistan enflame the situation in the country for their temporary political gains, the fire "will reach their own doorsteps" and, like the Soviet Union, they "will face certain defeat." Some of Afghanistan's neighbors, in particular Pakistan and Iran, are continuing to interfere in the internal affairs of the country, especially by supporting various warlords and regional leaders at the expense of President Karzai's administration. AT

IRANIAN PROFESSOR'S VERDICT NOT REVERSED
Judiciary spokesman Gholamhussein Elham said on 17 February that the Supreme Court has not quashed the death sentence imposed by a Hamedan court on political activist and university Professor Hashem Aghajari, IRNA reported on 18 February. Rather, defects were found in the investigation and the same Hamedan court must rehear the case. "It is possible that the new ruling confirms the initial verdict or a different verdict is issued," Elham said. Ayatollah Seyyed Mohammad Sajjadi, an associate justice in Bench 27 of the Supreme Court, had said on the evening of 14 February that the Supreme Court had annulled the death sentence, IRNA reported on 15 February. Sajjadi said it was determined that the verdict contradicted the law. The case must now undergo further hearings and a new verdict must be issued. The conservative "Resalat" daily on 16 February said the death sentence against Aghajari was not overturned, it was merely found to have deficiencies that necessitate a resentencing, the English-language "Iran News" reported the next day. Ayatollah Sajjadi, however, rejected the argument in "Resalat" that the case was not reversed, "Hambastegi" reported on 17 February. BS

IRANIAN WOMEN WANT STONINGS TO STOP
Ms. Molaverdi, who heads the Interior Ministry's Center for the Participation of Women, said on 14 February that the most important human rights issues for Iranian women are the stoning to death of adulteresses and unequal compensation granted to victims of crimes or their survivors, ISNA reported. Molaverdi said the Center for the Participation of Women has yet to see a supposed judiciary directive that judges should not use the stoning sentence. "We do hope, however, that as reported in the media, such a directive has been published," she said. Molaverdi also said that since religious minorities are to receive equal blood-money awards as Muslims, "We hope that the same may be applied in the case of blood money given to women, which is not equal to men's." BS

UN HUMAN RIGHTS OFFICIALS VISIT IRAN
A five-member team of UN officials began a 12-day tour of Iranian penal facilities on 15 February, news agencies reported. The team will visit Tehran's Evin Prison and detention centers in Isfahan, Shiraz, and Yazd, ISNA reported on 15 February, and it will meet with officials from the legislature, the Foreign and Interior ministries, and the Justice Department. Other meetings will be held with representatives of the Supreme Court, the Revolutionary Court, the Prisons Organization, and the Prosecutor-General's Office. Mohammad-Javad Larijani, the judiciary's foreign-policy adviser, told Louis Joinet, head of the UN delegation, that Iran implements its laws in a transparent fashion and Iranian officials are not afraid to discuss their cases with international experts, IRNA reported on 15 February. Larijani added that judiciary chief Ayatollah Mahmud Hashemi-Shahrudi opposes incarceration and laws on imprisonment are thus under review. Lawyers Association head Bahman Keshavarz, on the other hand, said on 16 February that inspecting prisons will not resolve problems with the existing laws. He also described overcrowding, inadequate resources, and a scarcity of prisons. BS

RUSSIAN NUCLEAR SALESMEN VISIT IRAN
A delegation of Russian Atomic Energy Ministry officials led by Deputy Minister Andrei Malyshev arrived in Tehran on 17 February for a one-day visit, ITAR-TASS reported. Among the topics of discussion will be the possible construction of another set of nuclear reactors at Bushehr. Russian Atomic Energy Ministry spokesman Nikolai Shingarev told IRNA on 13 February that the visiting delegation would deliver some parts and equipment for the Bushehr facility. BS

SUPREME LEADER WARNS OF U.S. AMBITIONS
Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei in a 17 February speech in Tehran to visitors from Tabriz warned about the dangers of American propaganda, Iranian state radio reported. Khamenei said the United States intends to undermine the Iranian people's "vigilance, religious zeal, unity, devotion, and steadfastness" with "the propaganda of its public media." "The propaganda of the enemy's mouthpieces [radio and television] against the Iranian nation has filled all the air around us," Khamenei added. Iranians' enthusiastic participation in recent celebrations of the revolution's anniversary, he said, contradicted the expectations of "the gang leaders of global arrogance and the palace dwellers of the Black House [known elsewhere as the White House]." The United States is jealous of Iran's independence, according to Khamenei, but "the Iranian nation is saying: 'We will not permit you bandits and you savages in civilized clothing to come to our country and make your dreams come true.'" BS

IRANIAN LEGISLATURE WANTS TO INTERPELLATE FOREIGN MINISTER
Iranian parliamentarians on 16 February submitted a motion to interpellate and possibly initiate a no-confidence motion in Foreign Minister Kamal Kharrazi as a reaction to Iraqi Foreign Minister Naji Sabri's 9-10 February visit to Iran, ISNA reported. They had threatened to do the same thing when it appeared that Sabri would visit Iran the previous month (see "RFE/RL Iran Report," 13 January and 3 February 2003). Ardabil representative Nureddin Pirmoazen, who signed the motion, said Iraqi President Saddam Hussein is trying to save himself from international isolation, whereas the Foreign Ministry should be hosting UN Monitoring, Verification, and Inspection Commission (UNMOVIC) Executive Chairman Hans Blix to show him the evidence of Iraq's chemical weapons attacks, ISNA reported on 17 February. Pirmoazen noted that Sabri visited Tehran when parliament was in recess. The interpellation motion also notes Hussein's failure to apologize for invading Iran, his annulment of the 1975 Algiers Accords, failure to fully implement UN Resolution 598 that ended the 1980-88 Iran-Iraq War, failure to pay reparations, and failure to account for all the prisoners of war and missing in action. BS

EU ISSUES JOINT DECLARATION ON IRAQ...
The European Union issued a joint declaration on Iraq following an emergency summit in Brussels on 17 February. The declaration (http://ue.eu.int/newsroom/EC17022003.asp?BID=118&LANG=1) calls on Iraq to fulfill its obligations under UN Security Council Resolution 1441 and disarm peacefully. The statement adds that "war is not inevitable." The declaration also states that inspections in Iraq "must be given the time and the resources that the UN Security Council believes they need" but adds that "inspections cannot continue indefinitely in the absence of full Iraqi cooperation." The declaration goes on to say that the Iraqi regime "alone will be responsible for the consequences" should it fail to disarm. The declaration defers to the authority of the UN Security Council in resolving the crisis in Iraq, and pledges full support to the council in its task. KR

...AS SOME EU LEADERS COMMENT ON RIFT
EU leaders remained firm on their positions vis-a-vis Iraq as they emerged from the 17 February meeting in Brussels, but they stressed that a compromise was reached for the time being. British Prime Minister Tony Blair told reporters in Brussels that Iraq must comply with UN Security Council Resolution 1441 or it will be deemed in "material breach," adding, "I hope very much those points of agreement [between EU member states on Iraq]...send a strong message and signal to Iraq: This really is the final opportunity to disarm peacefully," BBC reported on 17 February. German Chancellor Gerhard Schroeder called the joint declaration a compromise, telling reporters, "Formulations such as 'time is running out' were not acceptable" to Germany, AFP reported the same day. Meanwhile, French President Jacques Chirac told reporters that a UN Security Council resolution concerning the use of force in Iraq is inappropriate at this time, adding, "We consider that war is always, always the worst solution. That is our position, which leads us to conclude that it is not necessary today to have a second resolution, which France could only oppose," itv.com reported on 17 February. KR

SAUDI ARABIA WARNS U.S. AGAINST UNILATERAL STRIKE ON IRAQ...
Saudi Foreign Minister Prince Saud al-Faysal bin Abd al-Aziz al-Saud has warned the United States that unilateral action against Iraq will be seen as an "act of aggression," the BBC website (http://bbc.co.uk) reported on 17 February. Prince Saud al-Faysal's comments were made in an interview for the BBC program "Simpson's World," to be aired on 19 February. Prince Saud al-Faysal said Iraq's neighbors will suffer the consequences of a military strike: "If change of regime comes with the destruction of Iraq, then you are solving one problem and creating five more problems." He added that unilateral action by the United States "would encourage people to think...that what they're doing is a war of aggression rather than a war for the implementation of the United Nations resolutions." KR

...AND SAYS FUNDAMENTALISM INCREASING IN THE WEST
Prince Saud al-Faysal contended in the same BBC interview that fundamentalism is on the rise in the United States and the West. "Our worry is the new emerging fundamentalism in the United States and in the West. Fundamentalism in our region is on the wane. There, it's in the ascendancy. That's the threat," Prince Saud al-Faysal said. Meanwhile, Saudi Deputy Minister of Defense Prince Abd al-Rahman bin Abd al-Aziz told a rally at the Military Parade Range of the King Khalid Military City on 17 February, "I want to assure you that nobody will set foot on the territory of the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia to fight any Arab state," according to the official Saudi Press Agency's website (http://www.spa.gov.sa). KR

TURKEY POSTPONES VOTE ON U.S. TROOPS
Turkish Foreign Minister Yasar Yakis said Turkey has postponed a parliamentary vote on whether to allow U.S. troops on Turkish soil to prepare for a possible U.S.-led war with Iraq, Reuters reported on 18 February. Yakis said the reason for the delay is that the United States has not yet approved an aid package for Turkey worth between $4 billion and $15 billion, according to Reuters. Yakis added that the role of the Turkish Army in a possible war with Iraq remains unclear. Turkey has lobbied to place its troops in northern Iraq in the event of war, to ensure that Kurdish forces do not attempt to establish an independent state there. Turkey had presented the United States with a 100-page memorandum of understanding detailing its economic- and military-aid request on 17 February, NTV reported on 18 February. KR

U-2 OVERFLIGHTS OF IRAQ BEGIN
The Iraqi Foreign Ministry said in its 17 February daily statement on UN inspections that a U-2 entered Iraqi airspace that day to perform aerial reconnaissance, according to the ministry's website (http://www.uruklink.net/mofa). The plane surveyed "several areas," according to the ministry, and was in Iraqi airspace for over four hours. KR

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