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Newsline - February 24, 2003


PUTIN DECRIES GEOPOLITICAL 'IMBALANCE'
Speaking at a national conference of army officers in Moscow on 21 February, President Vladimir Putin said the current geopolitical situation in the world is complicated and that the global correlation of forces "is visibly imbalanced," ORT and RTR reported. He added that a new international-security configuration has yet to be created. "We cannot overlook the increasing aggressiveness of very influential forces in some countries of the world and the diminishing effectiveness of international security and conflict-resolution institutions," Putin said. "This is a cause for concern." He added that Russia needs a professional, efficient army that "is able to operate in the new geopolitical environment." The global and domestic situations demand a high level of professionalism from Russian officers, including a broad overall outlook and familiarity with international experience, Putin said. He noted that the national conference was the first event of its type in the post-Soviet period. Holding the event marks Putin's reinstatement of yet another Soviet-era tradition. VY

RUSSIA, UKRAINE, BELARUS, KAZAKHSTAN AGREE ON JOINT ECONOMIC ZONE...
President Putin and the presidents of Ukraine, Belarus, and Kazakhstan held an unexpected meeting in the Moscow suburb of Novo-Ogarevo on 23 February, after which they announced that they had reached agreement in principle on the creation of a "joint economic space" covering the four countries, Western and Russian news agencies reported. Speaking to journalists after the meeting, Ukrainian President Leonid Kuchma said the countries will prepare an agreement on the project by September and take measures to coordinate their economic policies and legislative environments. Putin said the four countries have agreed to create a supranational commission on trade and tariffs that will be based in Kyiv and will be initially headed by a representative of Kazakhstan. He said this commission will not be subordinate to the governments of the four countries. The ultimate goal of the economic alliance will be the creation of a regional-integration organization that will be open to other countries that might want to join, Putin said. Kazakh President Nursultan Nazarbaev said the new economic zone will not replace the CIS, but represents a new form of integration under which economic ties will have priority over political relations. VY

...AS JOINT STATEMENT GENERATES MIXED REACTION
The declaration of a joint economic space could mark a milestone for the countries that emerged after the collapse of the Soviet Union, NTV commented on 23 February. The network said that although the declaration could be interpreted as the kind of forced integration that the national elites of the former Soviet republics have long feared, it is in reality yet another effort to stimulate the economic revival of the CIS. Economic Development and Trade Minister German Gref said that the creation of the joint economic zone will accelerate the fundamental economic restructuring being carried out in the countries involved. He said the zone will require uniform customs, currency, and budgetary policies and that the four countries enter the World Trade Organization as an integrated economic bloc, ITAR-TASS reported on 23 February. Gref added that such economic coordination will also stimulate increased political integration. RTR, however, commented on 23 February that political considerations might be playing the leading role. The station argued that the move was stimulated by international instability and particularly the situation concerning Iraq, which is pushing the four countries to integrate. VY

RUSSIA CELEBRATES ARMY DAY...
Several leftist and nationalist organizations led by the Communist Party held demonstrations on 23 February to mark Defender of the Fatherland Day, Russian news agencies reported. President Putin decreed the day a state holiday last year, and this year marked the first time it was officially celebrated as a non-working day. About 3,000 marchers in Moscow carried portraits of Josef Stalin and placards with anti-American slogans protesting a possible military action against the regime of Iraqi President Saddam Hussein. President Putin -- together with Ukrainian President Kuchma, Kazakh President Nazarbaev, and Belarusian President Alyaksandr Lukashenka -- participated in several ceremonies feting the Russian Army, and the presidents declared the celebration "a joint holiday," RTR reported. Duma Deputy Sergei Yushenkov (independent) announced that he has introduced a bill in the Duma that would abolish the holiday, which in the Soviet era was known as Red Army Day and since 1993 has been called Russian Army Day, NTV reported on 22 February. On 23 February 1918, the Red Army suffered a defeat at the hands of German troops near Pskov, a fact that has long been kept from the public, Yushenkov said. Instead, he said, the holiday should celebrated on 7 September to mark the anniversary of the Russian Army's victory over Napoleon near Borodino in 1812. VY

...AS LIBERALS SAY HAZING CLAIMS THOUSANDS OF SOLDIERS EACH YEAR
At a joint press conference in Moscow on 22 February, the Union of Rightist Forces (SPS) and the Union of Committees of Soldiers' Mothers announced that an estimated 2,000 Russian soldiers are killed each year in hazing-related incidents, newsru.com reported. According to a press release, more than 40,000 soldiers appealed to the Union of Committees of Soldiers' Mothers last year for help because of alleged mistreatment by officers and other soldiers. About 6,000 soldiers deserted their units last year, most of them complaining of humiliation, persecution, and beatings. SPS leader Boris Nemtsov said that activists are looking into a case in which a soldier with the elite Kremlin presidential regiment was reportedly severely beaten. Military Prosecutor Aleksandr Savenkov said that the data on the number of soldiers killed released at the press conference has been inflated by at least a factor of 30, nns.ru reported on 23 February. Savenkov said the hazing situation in the military is not "catastrophic" and that the problem affects only about 10 percent of military units. VY

ANOTHER CATHOLIC PRIEST EXPELLED
The authorities have revoked the visa of Father Bronislaw Czaplicki, a Catholic priest working at a church in the town of Pushkin near St. Petersburg, and have ordered him to leave Russia within two weeks, Russian and Western news services reported on 24 February. Czaplicki has been working in Russia for 10 years and heads a project called New Catholic Martyrs of Russia. The authorities offered no explanation for the expulsion, but Igor Kovalevskii, secretary of the Conference of Catholic Bishops of Russia, noted that Czaplicki is the sixth Catholic priest to be expelled from the country since last April (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 11 and 22 April 2002 and 10 and 11 September 2002). In previous cases, the authorities justified their actions by citing "activities incompatible with clerical status." Analysts believe the authorities are acting at the behest of the Russian Orthodox Church. VY

FORMER PRIME MINISTER VISITS IRAQI PRESIDENT
Yevgenii Primakov, head of the Russian Chamber of Commerce and Industry, visited Baghdad briefly on 22 February for closed-door meetings with the Iraqi leadership, Russian and Western news agencies reported. Primakov, who is a specialist on Middle East affairs, is known for his close personal relations with Iraqi President Hussein and other Iraqi leaders, RIA-Novosti noted. It was not clear whether Primakov brought Hussein a message from President Putin. However, just prior to the beginning of Operation Desert Storm in 1991, Primakov visited Baghdad at the request of Soviet President Mikhail Gorbachev, nns.ru reported. VY

ELECTRICITY REFORMS CLEAR FINAL HURDLE IN LOWER CHAMBER...
State Duma deputies voted on 21 February to approve in its third and final reading a package of six bills reforming the country's electricity sector, RosBalt reported (see "RFE/RL Russian Political Weekly," 21 February 2003). According to the agency, the vote on one of the key bills -- on electrical energy -- was 256 in favor with 160 against and two abstentions. That was just 30 votes more than necessary for passage. If adopted in its current form, the bill's key provisions will take effect no earlier than 1 July 2005, according to ITAR-TASS. Under the bill, the unified national electric-power network will be managed by a public company, in which the federal government will have a charter stake of at least 52 percent during a transition period, a stake that will ultimately be increased to no less than 75 percent. JAC

...AS SMOOTH SAILING EXPECTED IN UPPER CHAMBER
According to "Kommersant-Daily" on 22 February, usually a bill's third reading occurs without any amendments or much discussion. However, the Communists continued their efforts to stall the electricity-sector reforms during the 21 February Duma session. Fatherland-All Russia faction leader Vyacheslav Volodin demanded that the government explain how it plans to prevent an avalanche of higher rates in the regions before the Duma pass the bills. Deputy Economic Development and Trade Minister Andrei Sharonov told reporters that he expects that the bills will be discussed more "quietly" in the Federation Council and predicted that the likelihood of the bills being approved there is "extremely high." JAC

LOCAL-GOVERNMENT REFORMS MUSTER ENOUGH SUPPORT IN LOWER CHAMBER...
Also on 21 February, deputies passed in its first reading presidential legislation on the organization of local self-government and the distribution of power among various levels of government, Russian news agencies reported. The vote on the first bill was 269 in favor, 139 against, and nine abstentions, ITAR-TASS reported. The legislation sets out a procedure for transferring government functions to local government and prohibits unfunded mandates from higher levels of government, according to RosBalt. The Communists and SPS opposed the legislation, and Yabloko announced that it will support the package in its current form only in its first reading, according to polit.ru. In his annual address to the parliament of Tatarstan on 20 February, republican President Mintimer Shaimiev said if the bills are adopted in their present form, they will hand over powers to the "[federal] center, which is already overloaded with them, and the rest will be transferred to the municipal level," RFE/RL's Kazan bureau reported. JAC

...AS QUESTION OF FUNDING FOR REFORMS REMAINS UNANSWERED
Deputy Vadim Bonchar (SPS), who opposes the local self-government legislation, likened the bills to the redistribution of power and property that was undertaken during the Time of Troubles in the early 17th century, "The Moscow Times" reported on 21 February. He noted that the costly transition phase has not been budgeted in the legislation and could lead to property disputes, unpaid bills, and a great deal of buck passing. According to the daily, the Standard & Poor's rating agency has criticized the reform as a whole and has said it will make municipalities less attractive to investors "due to the high likelihood of conflicts over property rights." In an interview with RFE/RL's Moscow bureau on 22 February, Deputy Vladimir Lysenko (Russian Regions) said he is categorically opposed to the bills. Lysenko noted that the bill stipulates that "if a region's debts exceed more than one-third of its annual budget, then the elected governor is automatically dismissed and an administrator is named by the federal center." He predicts that while there are only a few such regions currently, in the next 18 months there will be more, which makes this point "very dangerous." JAC

CONSTITUTIONAL COURT GETS NEW OLD FACE
Valerii Zorkin was elected chairman of the Constitutional Court on 21 February, Russian news agencies reported. Zorkin previously served as the court's first chairman from 1 November 1991 until 5 October 1993, RBK reported. Zorkin won in the second round of voting after receiving the same number of votes as the court's most recent chairman, Marat Baglai, in the first round. According to gazeta.ru, Zorkin was a strong advocate of a presidential republic during discussions of the country's constitution in 1990. However, he sided with the parliamentary opposition to then-President Boris Yeltsin in October 1993. On 6 October 1993, days after Yeltsin ordered tanks to fire on the parliament building, Zorkin resigned from the court and "almost everyone forgot about him," gazeta.ru commented. JAC

STORY ON MUSLIM BLACKLIST GETS TWISTED
Commenting on reports of the creation of a blacklist of state officials and other persons who oppose the Islamic community in Russia (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 20 February 2003), Ravil Gainutdin, chairman of the Council of Muftis, said the compilation of a such a list "runs counter to all the standards of Islam and Muslim behavior," NTV reported on 21 February. Meanwhile, on 20 February, islam.ru reported that the director of the Muslim community in Vologda, Nail Mustafin, said the original story on islam.ru generated a lot of interest and that he has been contacted by six print publications and three television channels. However, the islam.ru story was distorted by these media outlets, he said, which reported incorrectly that the Vologda Muslim community had published a list of names of enemies of Islam on its own website and called for these persons to be "physically eliminated." These media outlets also claimed that the mayor of Vologda was the first name on the list. According to islam.ru, the Vologda Muslim community does not have a website, and its members are wondering who spread such false information. JAC

HUNGER STRIKE ENDS AT NORILSK NICKEL
All of the trade union leaders at Norilsk Nickel who were participating in a hunger strike to protest low wages had ended the action by 5:00 p.m. on 21 February, regions.ru reported (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 19 February 2003). According to the agency, Federation of Trade Unions Deputy Chairman Vladimir Dryamov said that the decision was made on the recommendation of doctors and that the union leaders do not intend to participate in a conference between management and the workers' collective scheduled for 12 March. The previous day, Krasnoyarsk Krai Governor Aleksandr Khloponin called the hunger strike a manifestation of "simple extremism," Interfax reported. According to the agency, Khloponin told reporters in Krasnoyarsk that when he headed the Arctic subsidiary of Norilsk Nickel in 1996, the situation was much worse, but workers did not go on hunger strikes. According to Interfax on 4 February, the unions are demanding higher wages, longer vacations as compensation for working in a hazardous environment, and more complete information about how the company's finances are managed. JAC

CHECHEN FIELD COMMANDER SEES NO SHORTAGE OF VOLUNTEERS
Isa Munaev, who coordinates military actions in Grozny against the Russian troop presence there, told chechenpress.com on 23 February that the resistance has grown stronger over the past few years. "Hundreds of young men whose parents perished at the hands of the Russian occupiers have joined our ranks.... They are burning with the desire to rid their country of the Russian aggressors as swiftly as possible," Munaev said. He added that he and his men will resort to all available military means to thwart attempts to impose a new constitution on Chechnya. LF

PRESIDENTIAL ENVOY SAYS CHECHEN FIELD COMMANDERS COULD PARTICIPATE IN PEACE TALKS
Interfax on 21 February quoted presidential envoy for human rights in Chechnya Abdul-Khakim Sultygov as saying that Chechen field commanders and even President Aslan Maskhadov could participate under certain conditions in talks aimed at reaching a political solution to the war in Chechnya. Sultygov explained that in each individual case, a court would first be required to rule whether the commander in question is eligible to participate in such talks. Last month Sultygov launched a new treaty on civic accord whose signatories abjure violence and seek to resolve the Chechen conflict by peaceful means (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 28 January 2003). LF

FORMER INGUSH PRESIDENT PROPOSES ALTERNATIVE APPROACH TO CHECHEN REFERENDUM
In an interview published on 23 February in "Novoe vremya," Ruslan Aushev, who currently chairs the CIS Heads of State Council's interstate committee for the affairs of veterans of international wars, criticized as counterproductive the planned 23 March referendum on a new Chechen constitution. He proposed that instead residents of Chechnya be asked to choose in a referendum among three alternatives: independence, broad autonomy for Chechnya, or the status of a subject of the Russian Federation. President Maskhadov and pro-Moscow Chechen leader Akhmed-hadji Kadyrov should retreat into the background, a ceasefire should be concluded, and during the five months that Aushev estimated would be needed to prepare the referendum, supporters of each of those three options would have access to the media to promote their views under the supervision of international monitors. Aushev commented that the most advantageous choice would be broad autonomy, as the status of federation subject entails far greater dependence on Moscow in economic issues. LF

THOUSANDS PROTEST ARMENIAN ELECTION FALSIFICATION
Up to 25,000 people rallied in Yerevan on 21 February to protest the perceived falsification of the 19 February presidential election and to affirm their support for People's Party of Armenia Chairman Stepan Demirchian, RFE/RL's Armenian Service and Armenian news agencies reported. Preliminary official returns gave Demirchian 28.3 percent of the vote, compared with 49.8 percent for incumbent President Robert Kocharian. The two men will participate in a runoff on 5 March. Demirchian told supporters on 21 February that he is certain of victory in the runoff, Reuters reported. Three other opposition candidates -- National Democratic Union Chairman Vazgen Manukian; United Armenia Party Chairman Ruben Avagian; and Aram Karapetian, head of the Perspektiva strategic research center -- pledged their support for Demirchian. Karapetian and Manukian called on Kocharian to resign immediately. Other opposition politicians reportedly took an even more radical stance. Former Prime Minister Aram Sargsian and fellow Hanrapetutiun party leader Albert Bazeyan called on the Central Election Commission (CEC) to declare Demirchian the victor by late 23 February and threatened to seize power if the CEC fails to comply with that deadline, according to the pro-government news agency Arminfo, as cited by Groong. Demirchian, for his part, stressed that "we will attain our goals by legal means, in a calm manner," RFE/RL's Yerevan bureau reported. LF

POLICE ARREST ARMENIAN OPPOSITION CANDIDATE'S SUPPORTERS
During the night of 21-22 February, Armenian police rounded up "dozens" of Demirchian's supporters who were sentenced behind closed doors in legal proceedings on 22 February to 15-day prison sentences on charges of hooliganism and participating in an unsanctioned demonstration, Reuters and RFE/RL's Armenian Service reported. Demirchian's aides estimated the number of persons arrested at more than 100, including drivers who had planned to transport people to Yerevan to attend a planned 23 February rally and many proxies who will now be unable to monitor the vote during the 5 March runoff. Yerevan Mayor Robert Nazarian warned in a televised statement on 22 February that permission has not been granted for Demirchian's supporters to stage a further demonstration in 23 February and called on them not to congregate in the capital that day, RFE/RL's Armenian Service reported. But Karapetian pointed out that the Election Code provides for candidates to hold election rallies, according to the A1+ website on 22 February, as cited by Groong. LF

ARMENIAN PRESIDENT, FOREIGN MINISTER, ARMY WARN AGAINST DESTABILIZATION...
Speaking on Armenian National Television on 22 February, President Kocharian warned that the Armenian authorities will react "in the severest and most serious manner" to any further attempts to "violate public order," AFP and RFE/RL's Armenian Service reported. Kocharian said he considers internal political stability one of his greatest accomplishments and will not allow it to be endangered. Foreign Minister Vartan Oskanian, speaking on state television the same day, similarly accused the opposition of casting a shadow on all the positive achievements of the past five years, according to Arminfo, as cited by Groong. Oskanian warned the opposition not to jeopardize political stability. He said that Demirchian enjoys the support of less than one-third of the electorate and that violations of election procedure were undertaken on behalf of the opposition as well as to benefit Kocharian. Also on 22 February, the Defense Ministry issued a statement calling on the opposition to desist from further actions that "affect the political balance and threaten the constitutional order and security" of the country, AFP reported. The statement warned that the army will not remain passive if the opposition takes further actions that "endanger national security." LF

...BUT PROTESTERS DEFY BAN ON DEMONSTRATIONS
Despite those official warnings, thousands of Demirchian supporters marched in Yerevan on 23 February to protest the alleged falsification of the 19 February vote and to demand the release of Demirchian supporters arrested following the 21 February demonstration, Reuters and RFE/RL's Armenian Service reported. Reuters estimated participation as less than the 25,000 who attended the 21 February rally. Dpa, however, said there were 40,000 demonstrators and Arminfo, as cited by Groong, reported 50,000-60,000. Demirchian condemned the arrests of his supporters as "illegal" and branded Kocharian's government illegitimate, but as on 21 February insisted on acting within the framework of the law. Sargsian and Bazeyan called on Kocharian to resign and on the police to apprehend those believed to be responsible for falsifying the 19 February vote, including two government ministers, according to Mediamax on 23 February, as cited by Groong. LF

RELEASE OF FIRST-ROUND ARMENIAN ELECTION RESULTS AGAIN DELAYED
The CEC announced late on 22 February that due to lawsuits brought by Demirchian's proxies against lower-level election commissions, it could not make public the final results of the 19 February voting, RFE/RL's Yerevan bureau reported. Demirchian's campaign staff is demanding a recount of the vote in over 100 polling stations. Under the Election Code, the CEC is required to make final results public within 72 hours of the closure of the polls. Demirchian's campaign manager, Grigol Harutiunian, told RFE/RL that Demirchian does not recognize the preliminary figures released by the CEC. Harutiunian said the CEC appears not only to be failing in its duty to prevent irregularities, but "to be sheltering those who commit [election-related] crimes." LF

FOUR AZERBAIJANI VILLAGE PROTESTERS RELEASED
The Sabunchi Raion court on 21 February released four residents of the village of Nardaran who were arrested during a police raid on 5 February, zerkalo.az reported on 22 February. The four men were charged with participating in the protests in Nardaran last June (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 4 June 2002 and 5 February 2003). LF

AZERBAIJAN'S RULING PARTY COMMEMORATES KHODJALY KILLINGS
Thousands of people attended a demonstration in Baku on 21 February convened by the ruling Yeni Azerbaycan Party (YAP) to commemorate the February 1992 killings by Armenian and Russian troops of over 600 residents of the Karabakh village of Khodjaly, according to Interfax on 21 February and zerkalo.az on 22 February. Speakers at the demonstration unanimously criticized former Azerbaijani President Ayaz Mutalibov, claiming that the Khodjaly killings were the result of his "shortsighted" Karabakh policy. They also blamed Mutalibov, who has stated his intention to return to Baku from his Moscow exile to contest this fall's presidential election, for making possible the advent to power in May 1992 of the Azerbaijan Popular Front. Asked why YAP did not join forces with the opposition to hold a single demonstration to commemorate the Khodjaly massacre, YAP Deputy Executive Secretary Siyavush Novruzov said those opposition leaders who planned a separate demonstration on 22 February were themselves implicated in the Khodjaly tragedy. He did not elaborate. Armenian officials claim they warned Azerbaijani leaders of the impending attack on Khodjaly to enable them to evacuate the civilian population. LF

AZERBAIJANI OPPOSITION CALLS ON PRESIDENT TO RESIGN
Thousands of Azerbaijanis similarly attended a 22 February rally convened by the opposition Organization for the Liberation of Karabakh to mark the Khodjaly anniversary, Turan reported. Participants adopted a resolution calling for an end to what they termed the ineffective mediation of the OSCE Minsk Group; for the implementation of four UN Security Council resolutions on Karabakh; and for the trial in an international court on charges of organizing genocide and ethnic cleansing of former Armenian President Levon Ter-Petrossian, President Kocharian, and Arkadii Ghukasian, president of the unrecognized Nagorno-Karabakh Republic. They also criticized what they termed the "defeatist" Karabakh policy of Azerbaijani President Heidar Aliev and demanded that he present an accounting of measures undertaken over the past decade to liberate Karabakh and that he resign. LF

GEORGIA PROPOSES ALTERNATIVE TIME FRAME FOR CLOSURE OF RUSSIAN MILITARY BASES
Georgia has come up with two alternative proposals for the timing of the closure of the Russian military bases at Batumi and Akhalkalaki, Caucasus Press and Interfax reported on 21 February, quoting Foreign Ministry official Revaz Beshidze. Beshidze said that if Moscow agrees to withdraw all military hardware from those two bases within one year, Georgia would be prepared to extend the three-year deadline it previously insisted on for the total closure of the two bases. Alternatively, if Russia closes the Batumi base within three years, Tbilisi will extend the deadline for closing the Akhalkalaki base. The Russian forces in Batumi are part of the support base of Adjar Supreme Council Chairman Aslan Abashidze, whom many observers believe will contest the 2005 presidential elections in which incumbent Eduard Shevardnadze is barred by the constitution from seeking a third term. Interfax on 23 February also quoted Beshidze as saying that Tbilisi insists on dismantling the concrete runway at the Gudauta military base in Abkhazia from which Russia has already withdrawn military hardware and most of its personnel. LF

UN TO UNVEIL NEW PROPOSALS FOR RESOLVING ABKHAZ CONFLICT
Representatives of the five countries that belong to the Friends of the UN Secretary-General grouping that is trying to resolve the Abkhaz conflict met in Geneva on 19-20 February under the chairmanship of Jean-Marie Guehenno, who is UN undersecretary-general for peacekeeping operations, Reuters reported. In a subsequent statement, the participants reaffirmed their commitment to a political solution of the conflict. The statement said that UN Secretary-General Kofi Annan's envoy for Abkhazia, Heidi Tagliavini, will present to the Georgian and Abkhaz governments proposals on "economic, humanitarian, political, and security issues aimed at reenergizing the peace process." LF

DEPUTY'S HOME ATTACKED FOLLOWING HIS COURT TESTIMONY
Kyrgyz opposition deputy Ismail Isakov told a parliamentary session on 21 February that his house was attacked by "hooligans" immediately after he testified in a case before the Constitutional Court, akipress.org reported on 24 February. Isakov claimed the attackers were acting on instructions from the government. On 20 February, the court finally began hearings on an opposition appeal against the ratification by parliament of a May 2002 treaty that transferred Kyrgyz territory to China (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 12 February 2003). According to the deputies who filed the appeal -- Isakov, Azimbek Beknazarov, and Ishenbai Kadyrbekov -- the treaty's ratification was unconstitutional. Beknazarov's complaints against the land transfer reportedly played a major role in his January 2001 arrest and in subsequent civil disturbances, as disaffected citizens took up the transfer issue to express their anger with the government. BB

KYRGYZ VILLAGE TO JOIN UZBEKISTAN?
Kyrgyz Prime Minister Nikolai Tanaev met on 21 February with inhabitants of the exclave of Barak in the Karasu District of southern Kyrgyzstan after they had demonstrated in the regional capital Osh, complaining that the government paid no attention to their problems, according to akipress.org and "Obshchestvennyi reiting" on 22 February. The villagers want either the establishment of a corridor that would give them access to the rest of the country or that the exclave be transferred to Uzbekistan. Tanaev promised to raise the villagers' grievance with the Uzbek authorities, RFE/RL's Kyrgyz Service reported. BB

PLANS TO REVISE TAJIK CRIMINAL CODE INCLUDE DEATH-PENALTY RESTRICTIONS
Tajik Senior Presidential Adviser on Legal Matters Rahmatillo Zoitov told Asia Plus-Blitz on 20 February that among the proposed revisions of the Criminal Code that are now being studied is the abolition of the death penalty for women. Two new articles intended to strengthen the fight against drug trafficking have also been proposed. When a commission of experts has finalized the proposed revisions, the text will be submitted to the legislature. In recent years, Tajikistan has come under international pressure to abolish the death penalty, partly in reaction to a celebrated case in which a young woman was sentenced to death after being convicted of killing a man who had raped her. The sentence was later commuted to life in prison. BB

INDIA INVITED TO JOIN PIPELINE PROJECT
At a regular coordinating meeting of top officials of Turkmenistan, Pakistan, and Afghanistan -- the three countries involved in the Afghan gas-pipeline project -- participants agreed to invite India to join the project, centrasia.ru reported on 22 February. A joint declaration issued at the meeting stated that the profitability of the pipeline, which is intended to carry natural gas from Turkmenistan via Afghanistan to Pakistan and beyond, will depend on extending it to India. Although the three sponsoring countries are firmly committed to the pipeline project, financing remains a weak point. The Asian Development Bank has committed $1.5 million for a feasibility study that is to be completed in September. BB

TURKMENISTAN INTRODUCES NEW VISA RULES FOR FOREIGNERS AND CITIZENS...
Turkmen President Saparmurat Niyazov on 22 February signed decrees establishing a new system for issuing visas and reinstituting the requirement that Turkmen citizens obtain exit visas to travel abroad, according to the official news agency Turkmenistan.ru. As of 1 March, visas will no longer be issued directly by Turkmen diplomatic missions abroad or the Foreign Ministry's consular section, but will have to be approved by a special commission headed by the foreign minister. The new exit-visa regime will be instituted on the same date. BB

...AND PLANS TO CREATE SERVICE TO MONITOR FOREIGNERS
Turkmenistan is also in the process of creating a new service to control the activities of foreigners inside the country, Interfax reported on 24 February. The service is supposed to protect domestic markets and ensure that foreigners observe Turkmen laws. BB

NATO CIVIL-EMERGENCY EXERCISES IN FERGHANA
The NATO Disaster Response Coordination Center intends to conduct civil-emergency exercises in the Uzbek part of the Ferghana Valley in April under the name "Fergana-2003." The head of the NATO Center told Uzbek Television that about 14 countries will take part in the exercises, which are to focus on developing cooperation in dealing with emergency situations specific to the region. According to uzreport.com on 23 February, the exercises are part of the Partnership for Peace program, to which all the Central Asian states now belong. BB

BELARUSIAN PRESIDENT SLAMS U.S. FOR 'CHALLENGE TO WORLD COMMUNITY'
President Alyaksandr Lukashenka on 22 February criticized apparent U.S. preparations for military action in Iraq, Belapan reported, quoting the presidential press service. "The well-known statements of the U.S. political leadership about the 'axis of evil,' to which any other state may be added as a missing link according to [their] own discretion, destabilize the international situation," Belarusian Television quoted Lukashenka as saying. "The preparation for large-scale combat operations against Iraq without the UN Security Council resolution is a direct challenge to the world community." The Belarusian president was addressing a solemn gathering of veterans in Minsk on the eve of Defender of the Fatherland Day. JM

OUR UKRAINE LEADER BLAMES 'TOP-ECHELON CRIMINALS' FOR PROPAGATING FAKE LETTER
Our Ukraine head Viktor Yushchenko on 21 February charged that "criminals in politics who are in the top echelons of power" are responsible for preparing and disseminating a false message to voters that attacks fellow opposition politician Yuliya Tymoshenko, UNIAN reported on 22 February. The letter bears what appears to be his signature and was distributed primarily by post in western Ukraine earlier this month. "Only they [those in power] are capable of using state institutions like Ukrposhta [the state postal service] in such a way," Yushchenko added. Some 2 million leaflets bore the logo of Our Ukraine and his portrait, as well as his signature, under a text touching upon his relations with Tymoshenko, the leader of the eponymous opposition bloc. The bogus letter suggests that Tymoshenko's place is in prison and calls her a "Trojan horse" among Ukraine's national-democratic forces. The letter charges that Tymoshenko's real aim is to prevent Yushchenko from becoming president. "This is ignoble and primitive," Yushchenko said, adding that the message was concocted to sow discord among the leaders of democratic forces. "Our relations have never been, are not, and will never be base. We are political partners," Yushchenko said in reference to Tymoshenko. JM

RUSSIA DISMISSES LATVIAN OIL PROTEST AS GROUNDLESS
Responding to a Latvian Foreign Ministry note (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 21 February 2002), the Russian Embassy in Latvia explained on 22 February that the contentious Latvian-Russian agreement of June 1993 only provides for setting up a joint venture for an oil pipeline, but does not regulate issues relating to its practical operations, BNS reported. The embassy said Latvian accusations that Russia is not fulfilling the obligations of the agreement by reducing oil supplies to Ventspils are groundless. Claiming that it has no technical capacity for exporting through Ventspils, the Russian state-owned oil exporter Transneft decided not to send oil there in the first quarter of the year and will determine plans for oil exports in the second quarter only in late March. Some analysts believe the halt in shipments is an effort to reduce the price of the soon-to-be-privatized Ventspils Nafta oil terminal. SG

EUROPEAN COMMISSION'S SECRETARY-GENERAL VISITS LITHUANIA
David O'Sullivan arrived in Vilnius on 20 February and held talks the next day with Foreign Minister Antanas Valionis and Foreign Ministry Secretary Rytis Martikonis, who is in charge of European integration, ELTA reported on 21 February. They reportedly discussed Lithuania's participation in the work of European institutions and proposals on EU institutional reform being discussed by the EU Convention on the future of Europe. In talks with Interior Minister Juozas Bernatonis, O'Sullivan discussed the opportunities for Lithuanians to find employment in EU institutions in Brussels, noting that there are no requirements for national experts to have a record of diplomatic or public service. They also talked about the development of the public-servant training system in Lithuania and the provisions of the national anticorruption program. SG

NATO REGARDS ESTONIA'S REFORM SCHEDULE AS REALISTIC
The Political Committee chaired by NATO Deputy Assistant Secretary-General Daniel Speckhard on 20 February called a report on plans for reforming Estonia's defense forces presented by Ambassador Juri Luik in Brussels realistic, BNS reported the next day. Luik said the meeting was positive and "the questions posed to us were those to an ally, not a candidate." He affirmed that Estonia will continue to allocate 2 percent of gross domestic product for defense and expects to fulfill its pledge to put the ESTBAT infantry battalion, one mine-hunting ship, and one staff ship at the disposal of the alliance by the end of 2005, while also taking part in international peacekeeping operations with military-police and mine-clearance units. Several member countries recommended that Estonia pay more attention to increased military readiness and capability for receiving military assistance than to territorial-defense units. SG

RUSSIAN PREMIER DISCUSSES ECONOMIC COOPERATION WITH POLAND...
Russian Prime Minister Mikhail Kasyanov visited Poland on 20-21 February, where he held meetings with his Polish counterpart Leszek Miller and Polish businessmen to discuss bilateral economic cooperation, Polish and Russian media reported. Kasyanov said the imbalance in Russia's favor in $5 billion worth of bilateral trade has significantly fallen over the past year, with Poland boosting exports to Russia by almost 30 percent. Kasyanov also complained that the Polish market is "one of the most difficult" for Russian commodities and urged Poland to lift restrictions on some imports from Russia. Russia intends to change the structure of its exports to Poland by increasing deliveries of machinery and equipment, according to Kasyanov. Russian natural gas currently makes up 90 percent of Russian exports to Poland. JM

...AND PROMISES DECISION ON COMPENSATION FOR POLISH VICTIMS OF STALINISM
Kasyanov said in Warsaw on 21 February that the Russian government will soon make a decision on paying compensations to Poles persecuted by Josef Stalin's regime on the same terms as to its own citizens who are eligible for compensation. "Our government is going to make additional efforts to facilitate the possibility of Poles getting compensation without needing to travel from Poland to Russia. Our governments should sign a special agreement on this, so that once Russia gets the documents, resources for compensation can be transferred to Poland in accordance with the Russian law," Polish Radio quoted Kasyanov as saying. JM

RYWIN REFUSES TO TESTIFY TO PARLIAMENTARY COMMISSION IN 'RYWINGATE'
Film producer Lew Rywin on 22 February refused to testify to the parliamentary commission investigating whether he solicited a bribe from Agora, the publisher of "Gazeta Wyborcza," purportedly on behalf of Premier Leszek Miller, Polish media reported. Rywin said he will not answer lawmakers' questions because of an ongoing criminal investigation in the bribery case. "I state that I did not act in any group, I did not make any proposal of a bribe," Rywin told the commission. He added that he has been a victim of a scheme by Agora President Wanda Rapaczynska, "who urged that I join in her game that was being conducted around the law on radio and television broadcasting." Rywin noted that the recording "deceitfully" made by "Gazeta Wyborcza" Editor in Chief Adam Michnik in which he allegedly makes a bribe offer was "a tool of subtle manipulation and did not reflect the entire conversation or its real intention." JM

POLISH UNEMPLOYMENT REACHES NEW HIGH
January's jobless rate rose to 18.7 percent, from 18.1 percent in December, PAP reported on 21 February, quoting the Central Statistical Office (GUS). GUS deputy head Janusz Witkowski called it a record level since the start of Poland's economic transformation that translates into 3.32 million unemployed people. JM

CZECH FOREIGN MINISTER REBUKES U.S. DEFENSE CHIEF...
Foreign Minister Cyril Svoboda reiterated on Czech Television on 22 February that his country will not participate in any military strike against Iraq without a prior decision by the UN Security Council approving such an operation, CTK reported. "If a [military] coalition of the United States and other countries is forged without a decision by the Security Council, we shall not be part of this operation, and this should be clear," Svoboda said. Commenting on a 20 February statement by U.S. Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld that the Czech anti-nuclear, -biological, and -chemical (NBC) unit deployed in Kuwait might move to Turkey to participate in that country's defense, Svoboda said, "Mr. Rumsfeld can mention Czech soldiers, but Czech soldiers are under Czech command, and they operate under decisions of the Czech government and the Czech parliament." Svoboda repeated that the Czech government prefers a peaceful solution to the Iraqi crisis. MS

...AND JOINS POLISH COUNTERPART IN CHIDING CHIRAC
Svoboda said on 21 February after talks with visiting Polish Foreign Minister Wlodzimierz Cimoszewicz that both men "were very disappointed and we very much disagree with" French President Jacques Chirac's statements on 17 February (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 19 February 2003), CTK and international news agencies reported. Svoboda added that, after EU enlargement, "The votes of the Visegrad Four will carry as much weight as those of France and Germany. We want to be full members in the EU, and that is what will also happen." The two ministers said cooperation among Visegrad Four countries (which also include Hungary and Slovakia) should continue to ensure that their voices are heard and to guarantee equality in the EU. During a lecture on EU enlargement before the Association of International Affairs in Prague the same day, Cimoszewicz strongly denied reports that Poland is being considered as a new host for U.S. military bases in Europe, dpa reported. In related news, in an interview with the German business newspaper "Handelsblatt" on 24 February, Svoboda called Chirac's remarks "unacceptable, inappropriate, and unbalanced," but added that the Czech government does not wish to start a war of words, dpa reported. MS

CZECH DEFENSE MINISTER ASKS U.S. FOR DEFENSE OF AIRSPACE
Defense Minister Jaroslav Tvrdik was quoted on 24 February by the daily "Lidove noviny" as saying the Czech Republic would not be able to defend itself against a possible terrorist attack from the air and has therefore asked the United States for help in doing so, CTK reported. Prague has also asked NATO to abolish the recently approved NATO project known as "Renegade" -- according to which each member is to protect its own airspace from "civilian threats" such as terrorist attacks -- to distinguish from military threats. "Lidove noviny" cited Tvrdik as saying the Czech request is currently under discussion by NATO but adding: "Most NATO states have opposed our request, according to preliminary information," and insist on "national responsibility in the protection of their own airspace against non-military threats in peaceful times." Tvrdik also said the situation might well help the Czech military to convince politicians of the necessity of purchasing new fighter jets. In the wake of August's devastating floods, Prague abandoned a plan to purchase 24 British-Swedish-made Gripen fighters due to the high cost of the deal. MS

ANARCHISTS DEMONSTRATE IN PRAGUE AGAINST POSSIBLE WAR ON IRAQ
About 250 anarchists marched in Prague on 22 February to protest a possible war against Iraq, CTK and AP reported. The demonstrators waved black and red flags and displayed antiwar banners reading "No more capitalist wars," "George W. Bush-Adolf Hitler's clone," and " No blood for oil." The demonstration ended in front of the U.S. Embassy. MS

CZECH PREMIER SAYS THIRD ATTEMPT TO ELECT PRESIDENT SHOULD BE PARLIAMENT'S LAST...
Prime Minister Vladimir Spidla told a television audience on 23 February that he sees no place for a fourth attempt to elect a president via indirect presidential elections, CTK reported. Spidla said if the third vote on 28 February fails to produce a successor to former President Vaclav Havel, the constitution should be amended to allow for direct elections. In related news, on 21 February, the junior coalition Christian Democratic Union-People's Party's (KDU-CSL) parliamentary group endorsed the candidacy of philosophy professor Jan Sokol for the post. His candidacy has already been approved by the other two ruling partners, the Social Democratic Party (CSSD) and the Freedom Union-Democratic Union (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 20 and 21 February 2003). The parties hold a combined 101 seats in the 200-member lower house and, along with the related Open Democracy Club, could muster 42 votes in the 81-seat Senate. Some analysts predict a division among CSSD lawmakers in the presidential vote, however. MS

...AND DEPLORES PUBLICITY IN PROBE OF ALLEGED BUGGING
Premier Spidla on 23 February told journalists that the "chances of a proper investigation...practically disappeared" the moment four Czech politicians went public with allegations that their telephones were being bugged, CTK reported. Three of the four politicians are parliamentary deputies representing the opposition Civic Democratic Party (ODS) --Vlastimil Tlusty, Jan Klas, and Zdenka Hornikova. The fourth, Jan Kasal, is a member of the junior ruling KDU-CSL parliamentary group. All claim to have received text messages on their mobile phones that led them to their voicemail, on which they heard fragments of their own conversations. Police and civil- and military-intelligence services all denied any involvement. ODS Deputy Chairman Jan Zahradil told journalists on 23 February that the matter is serious, since it involves the chairman of the ODS parliamentary group (Tlusty) and the chairman of the parliamentary commission that monitors the civil-intelligence service (Klas). MS

SLOVAK PREMIER DEFENDS 'LETTER OF EIGHT' AND VILNIUS 10 SIGNATURES
Prime Minister Mikulas Dzurinda on 21 February told journalists in Kosice that his own participation in the "group of eight" letter and the cabinet's decision to join the so-called Vilnius 10 letter supporting the U.S. position on Iraqi disarmament (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 30 January and 19 February 2003) were based on a principled defense of basic democratic values, TASR and CTK reported. "If our basic values are clear, and if it is clear to us who our ally is, we should not be cowards and we should not be evasive," CTK cited Dzurinda as saying. Dzurinda noted that the two documents have contributed to forging a unified European position and created pressure on Iraqi President Saddam Hussein's regime. In a reference to the dissenting view of the coalition Christian Democratic Movement (KDH) on how the Iraqi crisis should be resolved, Dzurinda said some KDH members and leaders want to "fill the [political] space once occupied by [Slovak National Party Chairwoman] Anna Malikova and [Real Slovak National Party Chairman] Jan Slota." MS

SLOVAK DEFENSE MINISTER SAYS JOINT CZECH-SLOVAK NBC UNIT LARGEST IN THE WORLD
Defense Minister Ivan Simko said on 21 February that the joint Czech-Slovak anti-nuclear, -bacteriological, and -chemical (NBC) unit operating in Kuwait will be the largest of its kind in the world, CTK reported. The 75 Slovak soldiers that are to join the unit will leave for the Persian Gulf this week. More than 200 Czech troops are already stationed there. Simko stressed that the unit will operate only if weapons of mass destruction are used by Iraq or if the UN Security Council endorses military operations against Iraq. Also on 21 February, Interior Minister Vladimir Palko said Slovakia continues to take preventive measures against possible terrorist attacks on its territory, although he added that such an attack is "very unlikely," CTK reported. Palko was speaking after a meeting of the country's Central Emergency Committee. MS

DISSIDENTS LEAVE FORMER SLOVAK LEADER MECIAR'S PARTY
Vojtech Tkac, the leader of 11 dissenting members invited to leave former Premier Vladimir Meciar's Movement for a Democratic Slovakia (HZDS), on 21 February announced that the group is leaving the HZDS, CTK and TASR reported. The announcement was made hours before the 11 were due to receive an official letter from Meciar announcing that they have been expelled from the party (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 18 February 2003). "Our membership has ceased to exist in this situation," CTK cited Tkac as saying on TV Markiza. TASR cited him as saying the decision of the HZDS Republican Council is "legally incomprehensible" and "must have been written by someone who did not graduate from the law faculty." The group sought to establish an independent parliamentary group while continuing their HZDS membership. Tkac said that the issue of setting up a new political party has not yet been discussed among the group's members. MS

FORMER SLOVAK ATHLETE SHEDS LIGHT ON PRESIDENTIAL SON'S 1995 ABDUCTION
Julius Ivan, a former champion hurdler, on 21 February told the weekly "Plus 7 dni" that the group of Slovak Intelligence Service (SIS) agents who allegedly kidnapped former President Michal Kovac's son in 1995 were his subordinates, CTK reported. Ivan said that after ending his athletic career he had switched to "the race against the internal enemy" and worked for the communist-era Czechoslovak secret police and then for the SIS under Meciar. Ivan is a witness for the prosecution in the trial of two former subordinates charged with participating in the kidnapping. Ivan denies he played any role in planning the abduction, and says he only learned about it after it took place. He claims in the interview that the two subordinates used his official car in the operation, during which they allegedly forced Kovac Jr. to drink alcohol until he was incapacitated. Ivan claims he was dismissed from the SIS under the pretext of "reorganization" after he remarked to his superior that the car stank because "it was used to sedate and torture young Kovac." MS

HUNGARIAN FOREIGN MINISTER SAYS THREAT OF FORCE AGAINST IRAQ IS ESSENTIAL
Foreign Minister Laszlo Kovacs on 21 February did not rule out the use of force as a last resort against Iraq, saying, "If the international community rules out force, then Saddam Hussein will be encouraged to do as he pleases." Speaking on Hungarian radio, Kovacs also called for changes to the Hungarian Constitution in order to bring it into line with the requirements of NATO membership. Meanwhile, according to "Magyar Nemzet," U.S. military aircraft last week passed through Hungarian airspace and refueled at Budapest's international airport as part of preparations for a possible war on Iraq and not in a mission to Afghanistan. Romania officially admitted on 20 February that C-130 transport planes and six military helicopters arrived at the Mihail Kogalniceanu military airport from Hungary as part of a deployment of forces against Iraq, the daily reported on 22 February. Defense Minister Ferenc Juhasz, however, claimed the aircraft did not use the Hungarian airspace for purposes directed against Iraq but took supplies to soldiers in Afghanistan, according to "Magyar Nemzet." MSZ

HUNGARIAN PARTIES AGAIN FAIL TO REACH AGREEMENT ON TURKEY-BOUND NATO TRANSITS
Cross-party consultations on 21 February brought no agreement on whether NATO military shipments bound for Turkey should be allowed to transit Hungarian territory, as the opposition FIDESZ party continued to put up resistance, Hungarian dailies reported the next day. Governing parties and the opposition Democratic Forum say it is sufficient to refer to a NATO decision on aid for Turkey in agreeing to the request, but FIDESZ insists that the forms of military assistance be spelled out in the authorization (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 20 February 2003). MSZ

HUNGARY INITIATES POSTPONEMENT OF EU CONSTITUTION
On the initiative of Hungary, six European Union candidate states on 21 February proposed delaying the adoption of an EU constitution until after it expands next year, thus allowing new members to participate in drafting it, AFP reported. Hungary, Poland, Slovakia, Lithuania, Latvia, and the Czech Republic signed a "contribution" to the EU Convention on the future of Europe, which is tasked with drafting a constitution by June. Peter Balazs, Hungary's representative on the 105-member convention, said, "It is essential to have an appropriate reflection period" once the convention finishes its work. The draft constitution proposed by the convention will then be considered by an intergovernmental conference. Italy, which will hold the rotating EU Presidency in the second half of 2003, is keen for the constitution to be adopted in time for a summit in Rome in December. MSZ

HUNGARIAN PRIME MINISTER'S CHIEF AIDE, MINISTER RESIGNS
Prime Minister Peter Medgyessy on 21 February accepted the resignation of Elemer Kiss, the minister in charge of the Prime Minister's Office, who decided to resign after revelations that the law firm of which he is a partner has received several state commissions in recent months (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 21 February 2003). Kiss thus became the first minister to leave the Socialist-led cabinet, which took power in May. Medgyessy has ordered the Justice Ministry to draw up a code of ethics and said he expects all cabinet ministers to declare by 24 February what positions they have held in companies and what shares they have owned in the past five years, "Nepszabadsag" reported on 22 February. Zoltan Pokorni of the opposition FIDESZ said it will now become clear whether the rule of law or "the network of old friends and business associates" prevails in Hungary, MTI news agency reported on 21 February. This is only the tip of the iceberg, Pokorni charged, adding that all contracts concluded by the Prime Minister's Office should be examined. Socialist Party Chairman Laszlo Kovacs said Kiss chose the only correct course, as did the prime minister, the agency reported. MSZ

THOUSANDS RALLY IN BUDAPEST IN SUPPORT OF HOUSE OF TERROR MUSEUM
A crowd estimated in the tens of thousands on 22 February gathered outside the House of Terror Museum in Budapest to honor the victims of communist dictatorship and protest government efforts to cut the museum's funding, Hungarian media reported. Former Prime Minister Viktor Orban, who opened the museum one year ago, declared that "any effort to close, rename, or reorganize the museum could meet with elemental resistance," "Magyar Nemzet" reported. Orban then asked those who he said are "besieging" the museum "to bow their heads in tribute to the memory of the victims." He said founding the museum was an act of reverence and those who would disrupt it are oblivious to reverence. At the end of the rally, the crowd placed candles on the ground in response to Orban's exhortation to "fight darkness with light rather than with weapons." The function was jointly organized by FIDESZ and its youth wing, Fidelitas. MSZ

IS THE SERBIAN PRIME MINISTER PREPARING TO PARTITION KOSOVA?
Serbian Prime Minister Zoran Djindjic told the London daily "The Times" of 22 February that the international community is deliberately transferring sovereignty in Kosova to the Albanian-dominated parliament there (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 7 and 18 February 2003 and "RFE/RL Balkan Report," 31 January 2003). He stressed that this is unacceptable to Serbs and demanded the return of some Serbian security forces to the province. Djindjic argued that unnamed Serbian "nationalistic forces" will use the Kosova issue to win the 2004 Serbian general elections unless his government takes a firm stand on Serbian rights in the province. He said that Kosova's Serbs should have a status like that of Croats in Bosnia, Germans in South Tyrol, or Albanians in Macedonia. Djindjic claimed that the Serbs made up 18 percent of the province's population in 1999, although most Western experts put the figure at 10 percent or less. Djindjic stressed that unless the international community reaches a "compromise" acceptable to the Serbs, he will accept partition as an alternative. PM

UNMIK CHIEF SAYS SERBIAN LEADER IS LOOKING FOR VOTES
Michael Steiner, who heads the UN civilian administration in Kosova (UNMIK), told the "Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung" of 24 February that Djindjic's interview amounts to an "unvarnished threat to partition" the province and is a "clear challenge to the international community." Steiner accused Djindjic of cynically trying to destroy all that the international community has achieved with and for the Serbs of Kosova in order to fulfill his own political agenda. Speaking in Leipzig on 22 February to the annual meeting of Germany's Suedosteuropa-Gesellschaft, which is that country's leading Balkan-studies association, Steiner said that Djindjic's recent tough talk on Kosova is aimed at winning nationalist votes. Steiner added that issues relating to Kosova's political status are of interest primarily to politicians. He stressed that ordinary people of all nationalities in Kosova are focused on matters such as jobs and crime, and that members of ethnic minorities are also concerned about freedom of movement. Steiner concluded that his talks with ordinary people in Kosova have convinced him that he is justified in his policy of ensuring basic social and economic standards before discussing the province's status. PM

KOSOVAR LEADER CALLS FOR PATIENCE
Former guerrilla commander Hashim Thaci, who heads the Democratic Party of Kosova (PDK), said indicted party leader Fatmir Limaj will be able to prove his innocence of war crimes charges before The Hague-based tribunal and will return home, RFE/RL's South Slavic and Albanian Languages Service reported from Prishtina on 22 February (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 21 February 2003). He called on party supporters to be patient and shun violence. PM

EC CHIEF WARNS MACEDONIA OVER SUPPORT FOR U.S...
. Speaking in Skopje on 20 February, European Commission President Romano Prodi said that Macedonia should remember that the EU seeks to establish a common policy before Skopje takes a stand on the Iraq crisis, dpa reported (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 18 and 19 February 2003 and "RFE/RL Balkan Report," 21 February 2003). Referring to Skopje's signature on the so-called Vilnius 10 declaration in support of the United States, Prodi said: "If you ask me whether this letter will delay [the prospects of individual states to participate in EU] enlargement, I will say no. But, if you ask me whether I am happy, I will also say no. Every country has the right to write whatever it wants." For his part, President Boris Trajkovski said: "Macedonia fully understands that Saddam Hussein's regime is a threat. We are aware that the regime in Baghdad should be swept from power [by a] large coalition and without delay, but we will not take sides over this issue." Macedonia signed a stabilization and association agreement with the EU in 2001, but it is not a candidate for membership at any time in the foreseeable future. PM

...WHILE CROATIA PROMISES TO 'CONSULT' WITH BRUSSELS
Speaking in Athens on 21 February, Croatian Prime Minister Ivica Racan said his country "will not make a decision [on unspecified U.S. requests for assistance] without consulting our partners in the European Union," Hina reported (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 7 and 21 February 2003). The United States reportedly wants use of Croatian airspace, refueling rights, and use of Croatian bases for emergency landings in the event of a war in Iraq. PM

CROATIA INDICTS 10 FOR WAR CRIMES
The county prosecutor's office in Vukovar issued an indictment for war crimes on 21 February against 10 Serbs in conjunction with the destruction of that Danubian town in 1991 and the massacre of hospital patients and civilians there, Croatian media reported. The most prominent of the indicted individuals are former Yugoslav Defense Minister Veljko Kadijevic and his former chief of the General Staff, General Blagoje Adzic. Both are now retired and living in Serbia. PM

SERBIAN RADICAL LEADER ARRIVES IN THE NETHERLANDS
Serbian Radical Party leader and indicted war criminal Vojislav Seselj arrived at Amsterdam's Schiphol Airport on 24 February on a scheduled flight from Belgrade (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 21 February 2003). He plans to turn himself in voluntarily to The Hague-based war crimes tribunal, where he intends to prove that he is innocent and that the tribunal is an anti-Serbian political tool of Western powers. PM

STILL NO SERBIAN INVITATION FOR THE POPE
Cardinal Jean Louis Tauran, who is the Holy See's chief diplomat, said in the Vatican on 21 February that the representatives of the Serbian Orthodox Church did not invite Pope John Paul II to visit Serbia and Montenegro during their recent visit to the Vatican, RFE/RL's South Slavic and Albanian Languages Service reported (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 5 February 2003). PM

NEW PLAN FOR BOSNIA -- WITH A CLOUD OVER IT?
Britain and France are expected to present a plan to EU foreign ministers in Brussels on 24 February to show how the EU can take over peacekeeping in Bosnia from NATO after it does so in Macedonia in the coming months, Reuters reported on 21 February (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 28 January 2003 and "RFE/RL Balkan Report," 7 February 2003). It is unclear what kind of reception the plan will meet in the United States, where some members of the administration have had second thoughts about previous U.S. support for the EU's peacekeeping plans in the Balkans, the "International Herald Tribune" reported on 22 February. It is also not clear how Bosnia's Muslims will regard an initiative by the United Kingdom and France, whom many Muslims regarded during the 1992-95 conflict as pro-Serbian. Observers note that the United States commands the most prestige as a guarantor of security among Bosnia's Muslims, as it does among the region's ethnic Albanians. PM

MACEDONIA AND ALBANIA PLEDGE TO FIGHT CRIME
Macedonian Interior Minister Hari Kostov met with his Albanian counterpart Luan Rama in the western Macedonian towns of Ohrid and Struga on Lake Ohrid on 22 February, "Utrinski vesnik" reported. The talks focused on joint efforts in the fight against organized crime. Kostov and Rama agreed to form a Macedonian-Albanian forum, which is to discuss security issues on a regular basis and which Croatia, Montenegro, and Serbia may join at a later date. Meanwhile, the Macedonian and Albanian defense ministers, Vlado Buckovski and Pandeli Majko, met in Liqenas on the Albanian side of Lake Ohrid to discuss future cooperation between the two countries' armies, "Utrinski vesnik" reported. Journalists asked the two about increasingly frequent media reports about the activities of the shadowy Albanian National Army (AKSH). Both ministers denied the existence of the group but warned that criminal elements could cause incidents in the future (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 12 and 18 February 2003). Rama also denied Macedonian media reports that former Albanian generals are training the AKSH, dpa reported. Some Western experts say the AKSH is a tiny group of die-hard Albanian extremists, while other experts suggest that it is the brainchild of disinformation specialists in Belgrade and Skopje. UB/PM

ROMANIAN PREMIER SAYS BUCHAREST NOT ASKING FOR U.S. SECURITY GUARANTEES
Prime Minister Adrian Nastase said on 22 February in Targoviste, southern Romania, that his country is not currently facing an immediate threat to its security and is therefore not asking for security guarantees from the United States stemming from a possible war in Iraq, RFE/RL's Bucharest bureau reported. When asked by a journalist whether Romania will follow the example of Bulgarian President Georgi Parvanov, who on 17 January told NATO Secretary-General Lord George Robertson that Bulgaria wants security guarantees in exchange for assistance it provides in the event of war in Iraq (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 18 January 2003), Nastase said Romania has a strategic partnership with the United States, has been invited to join NATO, and has a "functioning relationship" with the members of the alliance. If an immediate threat arises, he said, there will be sufficient time to ask for whatever aid might be necessary. Bruce Jackson, the chairman of the nongovernmental U.S. Committee on NATO (U.S.-NATO Committee), said on 21 February after talks with Nastase and President Ion Iliescu that he expects U.S. Congress to ratify by early July at the latest the NATO invitations extended to the "young European democracies," hinting that this is due to their unambiguous pro-U.S. stance in the Iraq conflict, Romanian Radio reported. MS

ROMANIA SAYS INFORMATION ON U.S. USE OF MILITARY AIRFIELD IS CLASSIFIED
The Defense Ministry on 21 February said in a press release that information on the use of the Mihail Kogalniceanu military airfield is classified, and it appealed to media outlets to exhibit understanding in view of the restrictions imposed by "the necessity of ensuring operational security under the current circumstances, " Mediafax reported. The same agency reported on 23 February that U.S. military aircraft transporting equipment and personnel continue to land at the airfield (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 21 February 2003). MS

ROMANIA, FRANCE TRY TO PICK UP THE PIECES FOLLOWING CHIRAC'S OUTBURST
Romanian Foreign Minister Mircea Geoana spoke by telephone with his French counterpart Dominique de Villepin on 21 February in a bid to patch up damaged bilateral relations resulting from French President Jacques Chirac's veiled warning last week to Romania and Bulgaria over their EU-membership bids, AFP and Mediafax reported (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 19 February 2003). A Romanian Foreign Ministry press release said the two chief diplomats emphasized the "traditional ties of friendship" between their countries and agreed to meet in person either in Paris or in Bucharest in the near future. MS

ROMANIAN PREMIER REBUKES PRESIDENT ON TAXATION...
Premier Nastase said on 22 February that imposing high taxes on those with very large incomes is no solution for resolving the country's poverty issues, RFE/RL's Bucharest bureau reported. Nastase was responding to comments made by President Iliescu the previous day in which he said individuals earning more than $10,000 a month should be taxed 80 percent of their income. Nastase said imposing such high taxes would either trigger an exodus of foreign investors or encourage tax evasion. He said a more realistic solution is reducing the tax rate for those with low incomes from 18 to 12-13 percent. MS

...AND REITERATES NECESSITY OF 'REGIONALIZATION'
Nastase said on 22 February in Targoviste that Romania needs to introduce administrative restructuring in order not to risk losing EU funds slated for facilitating the country's EU-integration efforts, RFE/RL's Bucharest bureau reported. The premier said the EU believes the country's current county-based administrative division is inefficient and generates losses due to competition for funds among the relatively small territorial administrative divisions. The EU, he said, encourages larger "developing regions" that would be able to enter into partnership with similarly structured European regions. MS

FORMER ROMANIAN PRESIDENT OFFICIALLY LAUNCHES NEW PARTY
Former President Emil Constantinescu announced in Tecuci, southern Moldavia, on 23 February that the Popular Action he heads will transform itself into a center-right political party. In an interview with RFE/RL's Romania-Moldova Service, Constantinescu said he wants Popular Action to nonetheless preserve "some of the positive traits" of a civic movement, and above all a constant dialogue between the leadership and rank-and-file members. Constantinescu claimed Popular Action is not a competitor of the National Peasant Party Christian Democratic (PNTCD), but added that he cannot stop PNTCD members or local branches who wish to join the new party from doing so. MS

MOLDOVAN PARLIAMENT APPROVES PRESIDENTIAL BILL ON FIGHTING EXTREMISM
Parliament on 21 February approved the bill proposed by President Vladimir Voronin on fighting extremism, RFE/RL's Chisinau bureau reported (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 18 November 2002). The law stipulates that political parties, public and religious associations, and media outlets can be suspended or -- in the event of a repeat offense -- outlawed if a court rules that they promote violent overthrow of the constitutional regime, the violation of the country's territorial integrity, undermining state power, or setting up illegal armed organizations. According to the law, individuals found guilty of participation in extremist activities cannot be employed in the civil service, in the judicial system, or as teachers for five years after being sentenced. Opposition parties and human rights organizations oppose the law, warning that it could be used to silence criticism of the government. MS

MOLDOVAN OPPOSITION PARTIES TO FORM ANTICOMMUNIST ELECTORAL BLOC
Some 10,000 people demonstrated in Chisinau on 23 February against the ruling Party of Moldovan Communists (PCM) and President Voronin, carrying Moldovan Romanian, U.S., NATO, and EU flags, RFE/RL's Chisinau bureau reported. Popular Party Christian Democratic (PPCD) Chairman Iurie Rosca announced at the demonstration that his PPCD and seven extraparliamentary formations -- among them the National Liberal Party -- have decided to form an electoral bloc that would run jointly against the PCM in the local elections scheduled for May and in the 2005 parliamentary elections. Rosca called on all other center-right parties to join the bloc. Representatives of the eight formations signed a proclamation demanding that Voronin withdraw his proposal to jointly elaborate a new constitution with the Transdniester, saying the plan amounts to a liquidation of Moldova's independence and territorial integrity and its transformation into a Russian protectorate. The proclamation appeals to the United States and the European Union to exert their influence to bring about the withdrawal of the Russian contingent from the Transdniester and to bring about the liberation of the three members of the "Ilascu group" who remain in detention in Tiraspol. MS

PPCD LASHES OUT AGAINST ATTEMPT TO ELIMINATE 'HISTORY OF ROMANIANS'
The PPCD on 21 February harshly criticized the renewed attempt of the government to eliminate courses on the "History of Romanians" from the national school curriculum, calling it a reflection of the policies of an "ethnic-cultural genocide to which the ethnic Romanian majority" is being subjected in Moldova, Flux reported. In a long document that accuses all Moldovan governments and heads of state of having promoted policies of Russification and of replacing the Romanian national identity and language with "Moldovanism" and "Moldovan," the pro-Romanian unionist PPCD said the elimination of the "History of Romanians" is part of a scenario that promotes "the destruction of the Moldovan Republic's territorial unity through its so-called federalization." The PPCD accused President Voronin and the ruling PCM of violating several constitutional provisions, including the stipulation forbidding the imposition of any ideology as the state's own, and the provision granting citizens the right to preserve, develop, and express their ethnic, cultural, linguistic, or religious identity. MS

MOLDOVAN PRESIDENT VISITS CHINA, VIETNAM
President Voronin on 23 February arrived in Beijing for an official three-day visit to China, Infotag reported. He was expected to meet with President Jiang Zemin, Chinese Communist Party Secretary-General Hu Jintao, Premier Zhu Rongji, and other officials. Voronin will continue his Asian tour on 27 February by traveling to Vietnam for a two-day visit. Voronin's predecessors, Mircea Snegur and Petru Lucinschi, visited China in 1993 and 2000, respectively, while President Jiang paid a one-day visit to Moldova in August 2001. MS

BULGARIAN PRESIDENT DEMANDS GUARANTEES FROM U.S., NATO...
President Georgi Parvanov said on 21 February that the United States and NATO should explain how they intend to protect Bulgaria in the event of a war in Iraq, bnn reported. "The United States, as our partner, should clearly state its position about the guarantees for our national security in case of a military conflict," Parvanov said. Addressing NATO, he added, "Our partners in Brussels ought to understand that once we act in solidarity, once we provide everything needed for a military operation..., we ought to see solidarity on their behalf, too." However, Foreign Minister Solomon Pasi told the media after meeting with Parvanov on 22 February that demanding security guarantees in the absence of a concrete threat would mean making an unbalanced assessment of the security situation. UB

...AND CRITICIZES GOVERNMENT OVER ECONOMY
President Parvanov told journalists on 21 February that he disagrees with Economy Minister Nikolay Vasilev, who reportedly said on 20 February that it is not up to the president to determine whether laws violate the constitution or not, according to the president's official homepage (http://www.president.bg). Parvanov claimed the government failed to take into account criticism and proposals offered by his legal advisers between the first and second readings of the law. Parvanov vetoed the amended Privatization Act on constitutional grounds on 20 February. In response to Vasilev's statement that the presidential veto will hardly attract foreign investors, Parvanov said the proposed amendments to the Privatization Act would have served certain investors, but others would have been driven away by the government's interference with market mechanisms (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 21 February 2003). UB

BULGARIAN ROMA TO SUE ETHNIC TURKISH POLITICIAN
Vasil Chaprazov, one of the speakers of the "Roma parliament," announced on 23 February that about 30 Romany organizations will sue Emel Etem, the deputy chairman of the ethnic Turkish Movement for Rights and Freedoms (DPS), for slander, "Sega" reported. Etem told a regional DPS conference in Pernik on 18 January that one cannot talk about the integration of the Romany minority as they are "lazy bones" (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 22 January 2003). Chaprazov said the Roma have waited for an apology from Etem and the DPS leadership, but so far nobody has answered their request. The money drawn from winning the slander case would be given to educational projects for Romany children in remote areas, according to Chaprazov. He also accused the DPS of conducting a divide-and-conquer policy regarding the Romany minority, thus impeding its efforts to form a strong political party representing Romany interests. UB

BRITISH PETROLEUM GIVES RUSSIA ANOTHER GO
Big money always grabs the headlines, and on 11 February British Petroleum (BP) dug Russian business out of the emerging-market doldrums for some front-page attention with the announcement of a $6.75 billion deal. BP's press release explains that the Anglo-American oil giant is teaming up in a "strategic partnership" with Russia's Alfa-Group and Access-Renova (AAR). AAR will contribute the Tyumen Oil Company (TNK) and Sidanco, as well as a number of lesser assets. BP will provide $3 billion in funding when the deal is closed this summer, following up with three annual installments of $1.25 billion in BP shares. BP and AAR will each hold 50 percent stakes in the resultant company, tentatively dubbed Newco until the public-relations wizards meld the brands. Newco will produce 1.2 million barrels of oil a day and boasts reserves of at least 5.2 billion barrels.

The deal marks a bold new commitment to the Russian oil sector from a company that has firsthand knowledge of the risks involved. BP paid $571 million for a 10 percent stake in Sidanco in 1997, only to become mired in a rancorous dispute with TNK. BP eventually wrote off $200 million of its investment, all the while crying bloody murder over what it deemed dastardly corporate malfeasance in the lawless east.

The tone could not have been more different at a jubilant 11 February press conference attended by BP Group Vice President Robert Dudley, Alfa-Group Chairman Mikhail Fridman, and Access-Renova head Viktor Vekselberg. Fridman touted the deal as "the biggest in Russian history," "The Moscow Times" reported on 12 February. In an apparent reference to the partners' messy prehistory, he went on to explain to journalists, "Russia has stopped being associated with instability and nontransparency."

Be that as it may, the deal features extensive built-in safeguards. Newco's shareholder agreement will be subject to English law, "The Guardian" reported on 12 February. Each side will appoint five members to the 10-member board of directors, and unanimity will be required for all decisions. The CEO will hail from AAR, while Newco's president will represent BP. BP will supply the bulk of the management team, gazeta.ru reported on 11 February. AAR is contractually bound to its stake until at least 2007. Any disputes that arise are subject to Swedish arbitration, Robert Dudley told "Vedomosti" in a 13 February interview.

Reactions reflected the discreet charm of nine-figure sums. The deal is "a major vote of confidence in President Vladimir V. Putin's economic reforms," "The New York Times" crowed on 12 February without going into any greater detail on said reforms. An 11 February editorial in the normally grumpy "Vedomosti" admitted that "the BP deal is capable of stimulating an influx of foreign investments into Russia, and this will be an accomplishment of Vladimir Putin's economic policy."

Some griped, of course. "Kommersant-Daily" reported on 12 February that one oil-company representative responded to a query about the deal with a sarcastic question: "Can we talk about selling out the homeland?" "The Moscow Times" added a critical perspective the same day, quoting Alfa Bank chief strategist Chris Weafer: "No single country that is considered to be dependent on any single source of income has ever seen a substantial flow of investment into their economy outside 'that' source of economic reliance. Never."

While it is difficult to say on the basis of a single deal, no matter how vast, whether Putin's economic policy has wrought an investment sea change or whether rivers of money will flow to less immediately lucrative sectors of the Russian economy, something is undoubtedly afoot. And Vekselberg knew exactly what it was when he told "Vedomosti" in a 12 February interview that the new alliance will pave the way for TNK to expand internationally, "primarily because with the addition of a new shareholder the price of borrowing will go down significantly for our company."

Vekselberg said much the same thing about a deal he pulled off a little over a month ago in his capacity as president of SUAL, the world's sixth-largest producer of aluminum. Media reported on 21 January that SUAL is joining forces with English investment company Fleming Family & Partners (FF&P) to create a new holding company. Vekselberg explained at a 15 January press conference that the deal will ease SUAL's access to "cheap big money."

As Russia's financial-industrial groups look to expand beyond their current circumstances, the "cheap big money" will be increasingly important. The easiest access to it will come through alliances with major Western players. Observers eager to see in such deals the long-awaited proof that Russia is "making it" might do well to note that, for example, FF&P's other major interests are in Cuba and Mozambique, while BP announced that Newco will be the sixth of a group of new "profit centers" that include Trinidad, Angola, and Azerbaijan.

The Newco deal with its $6.75 billion is, of course, good news for Russian business. It is also a sign. Not so much that a new era of milk and honey is dawning over the Urals, but that the upper echelon of multinational capital is reaching out to form alliances and partnerships with Russia's restless financial-industrial groups. The heavy hitters in BP's sixth profit center are getting their second wind.

AFGHAN MINISTER KILLED IN PLANE CRASH NEAR KARACHI
Mines and Industry Minister Joma Mohammad Mohammadi was among eight passengers who died on 24 February when the light aircraft they were traveling in crashed into the Arabian Sea shortly after taking off from the Pakistani port city of Karachi, Afghan Islamic Press reported. Pakistani Foreign Ministry official Mohammad Farhad Ahmed, three Afghan officials, a senior businessman from the Metallurgical Company of China, and two crewmembers were also killed in the crash, the BBC reported on 24 February. Mohammadi had traveled to Pakistan to discuss the proposed Trans-Afghan gas pipeline that for transiting Turkmen gas to Pakistan via Afghanistan (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 21 February 2003). AT

TRANS-AFGHAN PIPELINE COUNTRIES INVITE INDIA TO JOIN THE PROJECT
Afghanistan, Pakistan, and Turkmenistan agreed in a meeting held in Islamabad on 22 February to invite India to join the proposed $3.45 billion Trans-Afghan gas-pipeline project, in order to make the project "economically viable," "The News International" reported on 23 February. The announcement was made after talks held by Mines and Industry Minister Mohammadi and his Pakistani and Turkmen counterparts, according to the report. If "the Indian government agrees to the proposal," the report commented, India could be invited to formally attend the project's next steering-committee meeting scheduled for April on the sidelines of an Asian Development Bank forum in Manila, Philippines. Doubt has been cast on the success of the project due to India's hesitation to purchase gas transported via Pakistan, as Pakistan alone does not represent a sufficient market for Turkmen gas (for analysis of the Trans-Afghan gas-pipeline project, see "RFE/RL Afghanistan Report," 27 February 2003). AT

OPPOSING WARLORDS CLASH IN AFGHANISTAN'S FARYAB PROVINCE
Six people were killed and an unknown number were injured on 22-23 February when commanders loyal to former Afghan President Burhanuddin Rabbani's Jamiat-e Islami party clashed in Faryab Province's Pashtunkot District with commanders loyal to Deputy Defense Minister General Abdul Rashid Dostum's Junbish-e Melli party, international news media reported. Iranian radio reported that the fighting began after an Interior Ministry delegation arrived to replace Faryab Province Governor Mohammad Saleh Zari. Hindukosh news agency cited General Abdul Sabur, an official from the Mazar-e Sharif military corps, which is allied with Jamiat-e Islami, as saying forces loyal to General Dostum initiated the battle when they attacked troops led by Abdul Rasul, a commander loyal to Jamiat-e Islami. Sabur said the fighting ended on 23 February. Zari is believed to be loyal to Dostum. In late January, five people were reported killed and an undisclosed number injured in fighting that took place between rival commanders in Faryab Province (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 29 January 2003). AT

GERMANY, NETHERLANDS MIGHT WITHDRAW FROM AFGHAN ISAF
Both Germany and the Netherlands said on 21 February they might pull their troops out of the International Security Assistance Force (ISAF) in Afghanistan if tensions in Iraq spark anti-Western sentiment, RFE/RL reported the same day. German Defense Minister Peter Struck said his country might withdraw its forces if a war in Iraq escalates tensions in Kabul, the report added. Dutch Foreign Ministry spokesman Bart Jochems said his country also has plans to withdraw its troops if anti-Western sentiment threatens troops in Kabul, where the ISAF operates. Germany and the Netherlands took over command of the ISAF from Turkey on 10 February (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 10 February 2003). On 9 February, Struck said German troops serving with the ISAF would remain in Afghanistan even in the event of a war in Iraq (see "RFE/RL Afghanistan Report," 13 February 2003). AT

HEKMATYAR'S WORLD SHRINKS
An anonymous "senior Pakistani official" said the Iranian government has ordered the family of Hizb-e Islami leader Gulbuddin Hekmatyar to leave the country, the "Financial Times" reported on 22 February. Hekmatyar lived in Iran from 1996 until early 2002, when the Iranian government sent him back to Afghanistan and closed down Hizb-e Islami offices. Since then he has been linked with violent Al-Qaeda and Taliban efforts to undermine Afghan President Hamid Karzai's government. The United States on 19 February designated Hekmatyar a "specially designated global terrorist" because of his activities and requested that the UN 1267 Sanctions Committee include Hekmatyar on its consolidated list of entities and individuals associated with Osama bin Laden, Al-Qaeda, and the Taliban, which would obligate all member states to impose sanctions, including the freezing of assets. Hekmatyar in a 22 February message to Iranian state radio's Pashtu service denied having links with the Taliban or Al-Qaeda, and he denied having money in foreign banks. "We feel ourselves justified in waging jihad against invaders inside the limits of our country," he said. "We, among the Afghan people, urge the foreign forces to leave our country." BS

POLICE GAS, ARREST DEMONSTRATORS
The Tehran Governorate-General's Director-General for Political-Security Affairs Ali Talai said on 22 February that police arrested about 12 people who had congregated outside the Laleh Hotel, where a visiting UN human rights delegation was staying, ISNA reported. Talai said that 200-300 people had gathered in front of the hotel, and "some of them had come at the invitation of foreign Persian-language TV stations." The police arrested those who refused to disperse, he said. The crowd of 70-80 people was demanding freedom for political prisoners, and the police used tear gas against the protestors before arresting some of them, AFP reported on 22 February. BS

IRANIAN JOURNALIST GOES FROM JAIL TO HOSPITAL
Journalist Mohsen Sazgara, who was arrested last week (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 19 and 20 February 2003), was released from jail on the night of 22 February and taken by his family to a hospital, Sazgara's wife told IRNA on 23 February. Sazgara's wife visited him at Evin Prison on the morning of 22 February, ISNA reported. She told ISNA her husband was physically unwell and he was on a food strike. Sazgara told his wife that he has not been given a reason for his detention but believes that the Ministry of Intelligence and Security ordered his arrest in connection with his recent article entitled "First Step, Last Word." The article, published on the alliran.net website, questioned the role of the supreme leader. Sazgara's conditions for ending his food and medicine strike include an unconditional release. BS

IRAN'S MONTAZERI TO RESUME TEACHING
Ayatollah Hussein Ali Montazeri is to resume teaching in Qom, "Iran News" reported on 23 February, citing "Seda-yi Idalat." The ayatollah's son, Ahmad, was quoted as saying, "A former center [where] my father used to teach has been prepared for him." Montazeri was freed from five years of house arrest on 30 January (see "RFE/RL Iran Report," 3 February 2003). BS

PLANE CRASH RECOVERY EFFORTS CONTINUE IN IRAN
The remains of 210 people have been recovered from the site of a downed Islamic Revolution Guards Corp (IRGC) Il-76 transport aircraft, IRNA reported on 23 February. After initial reports that 302 people were aboard the aircraft, IRGC air-force commander Brigadier General Ahmad Kazemi said 275 people were aboard, according to state radio on 21 February. IRGC commander Brigadier General Yahya Rahim-Safavi said on 23 February that an investigation into the crash has started, IRNA reported. Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei expressed his sympathies to the bereaved families on 23 February, IRNA reported. BS

DRUG ABUSE BLAMED FOR SPREAD OF HIV/AIDS IN IRAN
Welfare Organization head Mohammad Reza Rahchamani said on 22 February at a Mashhad seminar on tuberculosis that 20,000 Iranians are HIV-positive, IRNA reported the next day. He added that 15 percent of "street women" (presumably prostitutes) are drug addicts, and he said drug abuse is behind the rising HIV/AIDS rate. Drug Control Headquarters head Ali Hashemi said at the same event that so far the counternarcotics campaign has focused on interdiction, but this approach must be reformed and greater attention should be paid to reducing the demand for illegal drugs. BS

IRAN'S SUPREME LEADER DESCRIBES AMERICAN OFFICIALS AS 'HITLERS'
Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei kicked off his tour of southeastern Sistan va Baluchistan Province on 23 February by saying in Zahedan, "Aren't the people of the world right in thinking that the arrogant American power is a liar and that American officials are fascists and the Hitlers of the present era?" Iranian state radio reported. Khamenei said foreigners "trumped up" an excuse to pressure Afghanistan and are "trumping up another excuse" to pressure Iraq. BS

REVOLUTION GUARDS COMMANDER SAYS IRAN COMES AFTER IRAQ
IRGC ground forces commander Brigadier General Mohammad Ali Jafari said on 21 February that the United States wants to disarm Iraq, change the regime, and control its oil, ISNA reported. Jafari then claimed that U.S. President George W. Bush has said, "'After Iraq, it will be Iran's turn.'" Jafari claimed that the United States wants to eliminate the principle of Vilayat-i Faqih (Guardianship of the Supreme Jurisconsult) and block the expansion of the Islamic revolution. BS

IRAN HALTS PILGRIMAGES TO IRAQ
Government spokesman Abdullah Ramezanzadeh on 19 February cited unspecified "security concerns" for Iran's decision to stop further visits by Iranian pilgrims to Shiite shrines in Iraq, according to IRNA. In addition to keeping Iranian pilgrims out of harm's way during a possible U.S.-led attack on Iraq, Iran might be concerned that heavy pilgrimage traffic would complicate efforts to accommodate the large numbers of Iraqi refugees that are expected. Initially, the Iranian press reported that it was Iraq that had closed the border to Iranian pilgrims, according to IRNA on 19 February. It would be in Baghdad's interest to keep groups of Iranian pilgrims away from the holy cities of Karbala and Najaf this year. Iranians potentially could galvanize anti-Saddam Hussein emotions during the Shiite mourning days in the Islamic month of Muharram, which takes place in March this year, particularly during the intensely emotional mourning processions on Ashura, the 10th of Muharram (13 March of this year). Baghdad prohibited such processions in Iraqi Shiite cities last year. SF

UNMOVIC CHIEF ORDERS IRAQ TO DESTROY MISSILES
Hans Blix, executive chairman of the UN Monitoring, Verification, and Inspection Commission (UNMOVIC) sent a letter on 21 February to Iraqi presidential adviser Lieutenant General Amr al-Sa'di demanding that Iraq destroy its stockpiled Al-Sumud 2 missiles, AFP reported on 22 February. The Al-Sumud missiles were deemed proscribed weapons by missile experts from UN Security Council member states in early February (see "RFE/RL Iraq Report," 14 February 2003). Blix states that Iraq must present to UNMOVIC "for verifiable destruction" all Al-Sumud 2 missiles and "associated items," including warheads, missile engines, guidance and control systems, gas generators, software and documentation "concerning conception, research and development," and production, and reconstituted casting chambers, AFP reported. The letter further notes that Iraq must destroy the missiles and related items under UNMOVIC supervision and that UNMOVIC will choose the method of destruction. Blix demands that the destruction process begin by 1 March. KR

IRAQI OFFICIAL RESPONDS TO UNMOVIC LETTER
Iraqi Major General Husam Muhammad Amin, head of the Iraqi National Monitoring Directorate, told a Baghdad press conference on 23 February that Iraq is seriously studying UNMOVIC chief Blix's request that Iraq destroy its Al-Sumud 2 stockpile, Iraq Satellite Television reported. He added that Iraq sent a letter to UNMOVIC on 19 February requesting a meeting to discuss the missile's capabilities, but has not received a response. Asked whether destruction of the missiles would affect Iraq's capabilities in the event of war, Amin stated, "Certainly, destruction of these missiles will affect our combat capability, but will not end it. We hope that this issue will be settled through cooperation between the two sides and through scientific and technical understanding between the two sides," Iraq Satellite Television reported. Amin added that Iraq will not challenge the assessment made by missile experts from UN member states, but he contended that the missile was tested without a guidance and control system, adding, "When there is no guidance and control system, the missile will go a little farther than the planned range." KR

GERMAN DEFENSE MINISTRY SAYS IRAQI MISSILE DEPLOYMENT VIOLATES UN RESOLUTION
Germany's "Frankfurter Allgemeine Sonntagszeitung" reported on 23 February that the German Defense Ministry has confirmed that Iraq violated UN resolutions in early February by deploying Ababil-100-type missiles near Kuwait. The Ababil-100 missile is better-known as the Al-Sumud missile, and is deemed a proscribed weapon by UNMOVIC (see "RFE/RL Iraq Report," 20 February 2003). The deployment is also a violation of UN Security Council Resolution 949, which prohibits the deployment of weapons near the Kuwaiti border, according to the paper. The Ababil-100 is a mobile missile system capable of carrying chemical and biological warheads that could reach U.S. British and German forces stationed along the Kuwait border, "Frankfurter Allgemeine Sonntagszeitung" reported. U.S. forces attacked the missile positions on 11 February. KR

KUWAIT ANNOUNCES ARREST OF IRAQI 'SPY'
The Kuwaiti Interior Ministry announced on 22 February that it arrested an Iraqi on suspicion of spying on Kuwait, Kuwait News Agency (KUNA) reported the same day. The Iraqi, Zuhair Faqira Muhammad Nader, was born in Iraq and has lived in Kuwait since 1980 "with valid residency papers," the Interior Ministry reportedly stated, adding that Nader is an officer at the Iraqi Defense Ministry and has met with Iraqi intelligence officers in Bahrain. Nader reportedly confessed to supplying Iraqi officers with military and security information on Kuwait, according to KUNA. Kuwaiti authorities found military fatigues and an Iraqi Defense Ministry ID card listing him as an officer, as well as "various currencies" in Nader's home, KUNA reported. In other news, Kuwaiti Deputy Prime Minister Shaykh Muhammad al-Khalid al-Sabah ordered Kuwait on a heightened state of alert effective 24 February, KUNA reported on 23 February. KR

GCC OFFICIAL SAYS WAR IN IRAQ WOULD HAVE SERIOUS CONSEQUENCES
The secretary-general of the Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC), Abd al-Rahman al-Atiyah, told London-based "Al-Hayat" on 22 February that any military action against Iraq will have serious consequences "and cause catastrophes the effects of which will be felt not only in the Gulf but also in the world as a whole," the daily reported on 23 February. Al-Atiyah stressed that any threat to Kuwait's security would be considered a threat to all Gulf states. Al-Atiyah said the Iraqi regime must "seize the current opportunity" by fulfilling UN Security Council resolutions regarding disarmament, "Al-Hayat" reported. KR

IRAQI FOREIGN MINISTRY TAKES E-MAIL QUESTIONS
The Iraqi Foreign Ministry began running a ticker on its website (http://www.uruklink.net/mofa) on 22 February stating, "The Foreign Ministry site announces that it is ready to receive your questions on the relationship between Iraq and the UN inspectors." Queries can be sent via e-mail to foreign@uruklink.net. KR

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