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Newsline - February 25, 2003


RUSSIA, FRANCE, GERMANY CALL FOR MORE INSPECTIONS IN IRAQ
Russia opposes a draft United Nations Security Council resolution submitted by the United States, Great Britain, and Spain on 24 February that calls for immediate measures to be taken against the regime of Iraqi President Saddam Hussein, ITAR-TASS reported. Russia, France, and Germany have sent the council a memorandum that calls for the extension of UN weapons inspections for another four months in order "to disarm Iraq peacefully," RTR reported on 25 February. "Although we know that war is imminent, we are making every effort to show that we have done everything possible to prevent one," TVS commented on 24 February. VY

U.S., RUSSIA TALK ABOUT IRAQ IN WASHINGTON...
President Vladimir Putin's chief of staff, Aleksandr Voloshin, arrived in Washington on 24 February to discuss Iraq with U.S. administration officials, Russian and Western news agencies reported. It is his first official trip to the U.S. capital. Voloshin met the same day with U.S. President George W. Bush and U.S. national-security adviser Condoleezza Rice, and the discussion reportedly centered on ways to extend and intensify bilateral relations, RIA-Novosti reported. Voloshin is also expected to meet with U.S. Secretary of State Colin Powell and with members of the U.S. Congress. Although the trip is officially described as a "working visit," gazeta.ru commented that it is essentially the same as if Putin himself were visiting. According to the website, Putin sent Voloshin to Washington because he is considered a top-notch negotiator and a consummate politician. Voloshin is considered a primary architect of the recent agreement between Russia, Ukraine, Belarus, and Kazakhstan on the creation of a joint economic zone (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 24 February 2003), the website noted. In Washington, Voloshin is expected to explain that Moscow's position on Iraq is not as categorical as those of Paris and Berlin and to seek a common position with the White House that will take into account Russian interests in Iraq, gazeta.ru speculated. VY

...AND ABOUT IRAN IN MOSCOW
U.S. Undersecretary of State for Arms Control and International Security John Bolton arrived in Moscow on 24 February for talks with Deputy Foreign Minister Georgii Mamedov on a wide range of bilateral political and security issues, ITAR-TASS and other Russian news agencies reported. The talks will focus on Russian assistance to Iran's nuclear program and on the construction of the nuclear-power plant at Bushehr. The U.S. administration continues to argue that Tehran's interest in nuclear fuel-cycle technology proves that it intends to develop nuclear weapons, although both Russia and Iran have denied this. Washington is insisting that Russia refrain from further transfers of nuclear technology to Iran, particularly in the wake of a recent Iranian statement that Tehran will develop a uranium mine in Yazd Province (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 10 February 2003). VY

MILITARY ANALYST PREDICTS QUICK U.S. VICTORY IN IRAQ
Major General Vladimir Slipchenko, a respected military strategist, has said that the United States would be able to defeat Iraq within six weeks after initiating a military operation, "Rossiiskaya gazeta" reported on 22 February. Slipchenko -- who offered relatively accurate forecasts of U.S. military operations in Iraq in 1991, in Yugoslavia in 1999, and in Afghanistan in 2001 -- said that a new generation of U.S. weapons will be able to destroy all Iraq's missiles, tanks, and other weaponry and that the United States will be able to achieve victory without engaging Iraqi ground forces in battle. Slipchenko said that U.S.-led forces will enter Iraq virtually unopposed following the virtual destruction of all Iraqi forces. Destroying Iraq's political regime will be more difficult, but the United States will cope with this task as well, Slipchenko said. Asked what the postwar situation would be like for Russia, which is highly dependent on oil revenues, Slipchenko refused to speculate, noting that he is an expert on war, not peace. VY

DUMA CALLS ON GOVERNMENT TO BAN CIS AVIATION COMMITTEE
The Duma voted unanimously on 24 February to support a nonbinding resolution calling on the government to ban the activity of the CIS's International Aviation Committee in Russia, "Izvestiya" and other Russian publications reported on 25 February. The International Aviation Committee was created by the CIS to codify regulations and procedures in the civil-aviation sector. On 12 February, the committee withdrew its flight certification for the Russian-made Il-86 airliner after it determined that part of its stabilizer assembly was unreliable. However, on 18 February, the committee restored the Il-86's certification after Russian officials presented additional information, Finmarket reported. The Duma's resolution says that the committee does give sufficient consideration to Russia's national interests. VY

CHECHEN PRESIDENT'S ENVOY EXPELLED FROM PARTY
Abdul-Vakhed Niyazov, head of the Eurasia Party-Union of Patriots of Russia, has expelled Salambek Maigov from the party following Maigov's decision to serve as Chechen President Aslan Maskhadov's representative in Moscow (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 14 February 2003), ITAR-TASS reported on 24 February. Niyazov said that Maigov's decision threatened the party, which would not be allowed to participate in elections if the Justice Ministry ruled that it has "links with terrorist organizations." Niyazov also said that he disagrees with Maigov's opinion that no referendum should be held on a new constitution for Chechnya until a cease-fire has been reached. The Eurasia Party believes that the 23 March referendum will open up "a real chance to reach a peaceful settlement and achieve normalization," Niyazov said. VY

YELTSIN CRITICIZES PUTIN...
Former President Boris Yeltsin told reporters in Yekaterinburg on 21 February that while he believes his successor, President Putin, is working in the "right direction," the economy is not growing "as fast as we would like," "Novyi region" reported. Yeltsin also noted that he likes the fact that the reforms he started are being continued and that average incomes have risen. "Rossiiskie vesti" reported on 19 February that "the Family," the coterie associated with Yeltsin, is working on a scenario under which Putin will resign from office before his second term expires and hand over power to a successor just as Yeltsin did (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 3 January 2000). According to an All-Russia Center for the Study of Public Opinion (VTsIOM) poll, about 51 percent of respondents are uncertain whom they will support following a proposed second term for Putin. JAC

...AS SO-CALLED FAMILY ALSO HAS DOUBTS
According to "Rossiiskie vesti," the Family believes Putin has not managed to fulfill his promises concerning economic and social policies, since the number of people living below the poverty line is rising rather than falling (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 20 February 2003). The Family also reportedly believes that support for Putin's re-election is not strong enough. JAC

NATIONAL CAMPAIGN DATES SET
The campaign for the 14 March 2004 presidential election will officially begin on 10 December, Central Election Commission Chairman Aleksandr Veshnyakov announced on 21 February, RBK reported the same day. The official start of the campaign for the 14 December State Duma elections will be 1 September. Veshnyakov estimated that four or five candidates will run for president. JAC

OLIGARCHS SHARE CONTROL OF TVS
The group of shareholders in TVS led by Chukotka Autonomous Okrug Governor Roman Abramovich has lost its controlling interest in the station, Ekho Moskvy reported on 24 February. According to Ekho Moskvy, Vympelkom head Dmitrii Zimin and United Machine-Building Plant head Kakha Bendukidze have now paid for their shares and handed them over to be managed by TVS Chairman Oleg Kiselev, who represents the group of shareholders led by Unified Energy Systems (EES) head Anatolii Chubais. Zimin and Bendukidze had earlier declined to join the group of shareholders. According to the station, Chubais's group and Abramovich's now each have 45 percent stakes in the company, while the station's journalists own 10 percent. On 28 February, an EES board meeting is scheduled, at which members are expected to approve the sale of the company's 70 percent stake in REN-TV, Interfax reported earlier (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 18 February 2003). JAC

THE KOMSOMOL REMEMBERED
Novgorod Oblast Governor Mikhail Prusak is reportedly making "grandiose" plans to celebrate the 85th anniversary of the Komsomol in his oblast this October, "Izvestiya" reported on 22 February. According to the daily, some 30 leaders of local power structures, mass-media outlets, and civic organizations are members of the event's organizing committee. "Everyone in Russia in one way or another was connected to the Komsomol," Prusak told the newspaper. Noting that Prusak is the leader of the Democratic Party of Russia and is considered to be on the left side of the political spectrum, the daily suggested that Prusak thinks of the Komsomol "not ideologically but as a state of the spirit." In March, an exhibit documenting the history of the Komsomol will open at Novgorod State Museum. JAC

SIBERIAN REGION'S MURDER RATE MORE THAN DOUBLE NATIONAL AVERAGE
The homicide rate in Russia as a whole was 22.4 per 100,000 citizens in 2002, while the rate in Sverdlovsk Oblast was 26.1, Perm Oblast's was 28.8, and Irkutsk Oblast's was nearly 50, Interfax reported on 22 February, citing the Prosecutor-General's Office. Khabarovsk Krai is the worst in terms of crime density, with 2,800 offenses registered per 100,000 residents, according to the agency. Last year, some 163,400 crimes were registered in Moscow, compared with 90,500 in Sverdlovsk Oblast and 72,200 in St. Petersburg. Moscow has a population of about 9 million, compared with 4 million in Sverdlovsk Oblast and nearly 5 million in St. Petersburg. JAC

NATIONALIST PARTY OPPOSES WAR IN IRAQ AND CHECHNYA...
The People's Will Party, which is headed by former Duma Deputy Sergei Baburin, held a congress in Moscow on 22 February, NTV reported. Baburin, who was a deputy speaker in the previous Duma, is currently the rector of Moscow's Trade and Economics Institute. According to Interfax, Baburin called on all "national-patriotic" parties to unite to "protect [Russia's] national interests" and "to fight for the interests of Russians and our fatherland." According to Baburin, the party opposes military action in both Iraq and Chechnya. JAC

...AS FRANCE'S LE PEN PRAISES RUSSIA'S STANCE
Also on 22 February, according to "Moskovskii komsomolets," French National Front leader Jean-Marie Le Pen addressed students at Baburin's institute at Baburin's invitation. Le Pen called on Russia to oppose the "hegemony of one power" and expressed his certainty that Russia and France will play an important role in preventing war in Iraq, "Vedomosti" reported. JAC

CHECHEN ORGANIZATIONS CONDEMN PLANNED REFERENDUM
Leaders of 20 Chechen civic and human rights organizations issued a statement on 24 February condemning the referendum scheduled for 23 March on a new Chechen draft constitution and election laws, chechenpress.org reported on 25 February. They pointed to numerous alleged violations of Russian law during the preparations for the plebiscite, including the compilation of faked voter lists and the falsification of lists of residents of Chechen villagers who allegedly support the proposed referendum. They further argued that Chechnya already has a legitimately elected president and parliament. They argued that the only issue on which a referendum should be held is Chechnya's future status and then only as a result of an agreement reached during talks between the two sides to the conflict. Moreover, what they consider the minimal conditions for holding a referendum -- including a cease-fire, a halt to reprisals against civilians, the investigation of war crimes, freedom of movement and assembly for the population, media freedom, and the lifting of restrictions on political parties -- do not yet exist. LF

MORE DEMONSTRATORS ARRESTED IN ARMENIA
Dozens of people, including a woman and a 14-year-old boy, were arrested on 24 February for their alleged participation in the previous day's rally and march in Yerevan in support of presidential challenger Stepan Demirchian, RFE/RL's Armenian Service reported (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 24 February 2003). Most of those arrested were then sentenced to 15 days' imprisonment on charges of attending an illegal gathering or "hooliganism." The Armenian Justice Ministry said on 24 February that 99 people have been arrested in connection with the pro-Demirchian demonstrations on 21 and 23 February. Aides for Demirchian estimate the figure at 130. LF

ARMENIAN PRIME MINISTER WARNS OPPOSITION
In a statement released in Yerevan on 24 February, Andranik Markarian affirmed his support for incumbent President Robert Kocharian, according to Arminfo and the A1+ website, as cited by Groong. Markarian criticized the opposition for resorting to what he termed illegal tactics and populist methods by exerting pressure on the Central Election Commission and the Armenian leadership following the disputed 19 February presidential election. He added that any such attempts to destabilize the situation are "senseless" and doomed to failure. LF

DEFEATED ARMENIAN PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE WARNS OF ANTICIPATED REPRISALS
National Unity Party Chairman Artashes Geghamian, who according to official results placed third in the 19 February ballot with 17 percent after Kocharian (49.8 percent) and Demirchian (28.3 percent), declined on 24 February to endorse Demirchian's candidacy in the second round of voting scheduled for 5 March, RFE/RL's Yerevan bureau reported. As on 21 February, Geghamian argued that the voting was illegal and the election should be annulled. He further claimed that he was excluded from the runoff because he would have easily defeated Kocharian. Geghamian also alleged that "the Armenian authorities know perfectly well that they will be executed by firing squad" in the event of a Demirchian victory in the 5 March runoff, according to Mediamax and Arminfo, as cited by Groong. Geghamian claimed that only he is capable of protecting the present leadership from such a fate. But Demirchian's campaign manager, Grigor Harutiunian, rejected Geghamian's prediction of reprisals against the incumbent leadership, telling Mediamax on 24 February that "we are fighting to establish the rule of law in Armenia, and our candidate has never made any statements about physical reprisals against the authorities." LF

AZERBAIJANI PRESIDENT BEGINS VISIT TO U.S.
Heidar Aliev met in Washington, D.C., on 24 February with Ambassador Rudolf Perina, the U.S. cochairman of the OSCE Minsk Group, to discuss the prospects for resolving the Karabakh conflict, Turan reported the following day. Aliev told Perina that the current stalemate must not be allowed to continue and that it is time to find a solution to the conflict. Aliev also met on 24 February with U.S. Commerce Secretary Donald Evans and solicited U.S. support in overcoming unspecified obstacles that remain to the planned construction of oil- and gas-export pipelines from Azerbaijan via Georgia to Turkey. Evans reportedly assured Aliev of Washington's support for those projects and said the Baku-Tbilisi-Ceyhan oil-export pipeline will help to integrate the Caspian region into the world economy. LF

GEORGIAN SECURITY MINISTER ADMITS CONTACTS WITH CHECHEN FIELD COMMANDER
State Security Minister Valeri Khaburzania said in Tbilisi on 24 February that his ministry maintained contact with Chechen field commander Ruslan Gelaev when Gelaev and his men were based in the Pankisi Gorge, Caucasus Press reported on 25 February. Khaburzania added that all such contacts ceased after Gelaev and his followers left Pankisi in August 2002. He said Gelaev might try to reenter Georgia this spring once mountain passes are clear of snow. In his regular Monday radio address on 24 February, Georgian President Eduard Shevardnadze said that an upcoming operation in Pankisi by army, Interior Ministry, and special troops is aimed at preventing any armed groups from entering the gorge and using it as a base camp, Caucasus Press and Russian news agencies reported. LF

GEORGIAN SECURITY COUNCIL APPROVES REQUEST TO UN FOR PEACE-ENFORCEMENT OPERATION IN ABKHAZIA
Tamaz Nadareishvili, who is chairman of the Tbilisi-based Abkhaz parliament-in-exile comprising Georgian deputies to the Abkhaz parliament elected in 1991, told journalists in Tbilisi on 24 February that the parliament-in-exile has asked the UN Security Council to mount a peace-enforcement operation to bring Abkhazia back under the control of the central Georgian government, Caucasus Press reported. Nadareishvili added that the Georgian National Security Council has approved that initiative. Nadareishvili claimed the Abkhaz authorities are so alarmed by his campaign to persuade the United Nations to mount such an operation that they have sent hit men to Tbilisi to murder him, Caucasus Press reported. At the same press conference, Nadareishvili also said that a deputy security minister of the Abkhaz government-in-exile and two of his subordinates have been fired for leaking to parliament a document falsely alleging that Nadareishvili has at his command an illegal armed formation code-named Jupiter (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 12 February 2003). LF

GEORGIA AGAIN DELAYS EXTRADITION OF CHECHENS
The Georgian Supreme Court on 24 February extended from 27 February to 19 March the pretrial detention of three Chechens whose extradition Moscow is demanding, Russian news agencies reported. The three men were among a group of eight Chechens apprehended last August after illegally crossing the border into Georgia in possession of arms. Their five companions were extradited to Russia in October (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 7, 8, and 10 October 2002). The Georgian Prosecutor-General's Office approved Moscow's extradition request for the three men last November, but their lawyers challenged the legality of that ruling. A Tbilisi district court suspended consideration of the case indefinitely on 17 February, three days after a spokesperson for the Prosecutor-General's Office said the three men would definitely be handed over to Russia. LF

GEORGIAN PARLIAMENT TELEPHONES DISCONNECTED FOR NONPAYMENT OF BILLS...
Telephones at the Georgian parliament, the State Chancellery, and some government ministries were disconnected on 24 February due to the nonpayment of bills, Caucasus Press reported. The parliament owes 995,000 laris ($457,682) in outstanding telephone bills for the past four years. Its total debts for municipal services amount to 2.6 million laris. Agreement was reached that phones will be reconnected after an unspecified installment of the debt is paid. LF

...AS GEORGIA FACED WITH LOSS OF VOTING RIGHT AT UN
Revaz Adamia, who is Georgia's ambassador to the United Nations, told the independent television station Rustavi-2 that Georgia might be temporarily deprived of its voting right at the UN unless it begins soon to pay off $7 million in unpaid membership dues for the past decade, ITAR-TASS reported on 24 February. On 20 February, Caucasus Press reported that the Georgian Foreign Ministry is considering the expediency of terminating the country's membership in some international organizations in the light of a total of over $25 million in outstanding membership fees. LF

GEORGIAN TEACHERS THREATEN STRIKE
Meeting on 24 February in Tbilisi with Education Minister Aleko Kartozia, teachers from across Georgia warned they will launch a mass strike if some effort is not made to begin paying them a total of 18 million laris in salary arrears dating back over three years, Caucasus Press reported. No agreement was reached on a schedule for such payments. LF

OPPOSITION LEADER SAYS EU DISAPPOINTED WITH KAZAKHSTAN
In a telephone interview with RFE/RL on 20 February, former Kazakh Prime Minister and prominent opposition figure Akezhan Kazhegeldin, presently in exile abroad, explained that the 13 and 17 February European Parliament and European Union resolutions criticizing Kazakhstan (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 14 February 2003) were motivated by concern over instability in Central Asia and, in particular, by disappointment at the way Kazakhstan has developed since it became independent. Initially, Kazhegeldin said, there were high expectations in the West that Kazakhstan would relatively quickly create a market economy and democratic practices, but this has not happened. As an example, he claimed that despite Kazakhstan's international human rights commitments, torture by law enforcement officials is still widespread. Kazhegeldin appealed to the EU's TACIS program to expand its work in the field of democratization in Kazakhstan. BB

APPEAL DATE SET FOR IMPRISONED KAZAKH JOURNALIST
A court in Kazakhstan will hear the appeal of imprisoned opposition journalist Sergei Duvanov, who was sentenced to 3 1/2 years in prison on 28 January after being convicted of statutory rape, on 11 March, according to a pseudonymous article posted on Eurasianet's website (http://www.eurasianet.org). Independent journalists and opposition figures believe the charge against Duvanov was politically motivated in an attempt by the government to silence reporting on a high-level bribery case. The Duvanov case has damaged Kazakhstan's relations with the European Union and the United States. President Nursultan Nazarbaev's daughter, Dariga, a prominent media figure in Kazakhstan, has issued a statement asking whether the case was politically motivated and defending Duvanov's right to freedom of speech (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 3 February 2003). BB

TAJIKISTAN SENTENCES TWO ISLAMIC EXTREMISTS TO DEATH
The Supreme Court of Tajikistan has handed down death sentences against two followers of renegade Islamic opposition field commanders Rahmon Sanginov and Mansur Muakkalov, Deutsche Welle reported, as cited by centrasia.ru on 25 February. The two defendants convicted of committing 15 murders, as well as of robbery and kidnapping. The Sanginov-Muakkalov group refused to accept the 1997 peace accord that ended Tajikistan's civil war and turned to crime, according to the Tajik authorities. The group, which was destroyed near Dushanbe in July 2001, is alleged to have committed 400 crimes, including 270 murders. While most of the group was killed in a special operation, some 100 fighters are reported to have been captured, and 82 of them are awaiting trial (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 25 and 26 June and 9 and 31 July 2001). BB

TURKMEN PRESIDENT DECREES FOREIGN FIRMS IN TURKMENISTAN MUST EMPLOY 70 PERCENT LOCAL CITIZENS
Saparmurat Niyazov told a cabinet meeting on 21 February that foreign firms working in Turkmenistan must strictly adhere to the practice that 70 percent of their employees be local citizens, turkmenistan.ru reported the same day. Niyazov stated that this practice will help Turkmen citizens develop new skills and will create jobs. In recent years, some major foreign firms operating in Turkmenistan have employed noticeably few locals in jobs where they might learn skills, the website commented. BB

TURKMENISTAN NAMES NEW INTERIOR MINISTER
Ashir Ataev, a 50-year-old native of Ahal Welayat who served in the Soviet-era Administration for the Struggle Against the Embezzlement of Socialist Property, was named interior minister at the 21 February cabinet meeting, turkmenistan.ru reported the same day. Ataev is the third person to hold the post in less than one year. From 1990-99, Ataev headed the country's traffic police, and he later served with the police in Ashgabat. In January, he was appointed head of the Interior Ministry's Main Department for Crime Prevention and Detection and named deputy interior minister. Ataev's immediate predecessor, Annaberdy Kakabaev, was appointed to head the ministry in May 2002, replacing veteran Interior Minister Poran Berdiev, who took over the National Security Committee (KNB) during the purge of that agency's leadership (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 15 March and 14 May 2002). BB

TURKMEN FOREIGN MINISTER NAMED DEPUTY PRIME MINISTER
At the same cabinet meeting, Rashid Meredov was named a deputy prime minister, turkmenistan.ru reported on 21 February. Meredov has served as foreign minister since July 2001. The last foreign minister to hold the rank of deputy prime minister was Boris Shikhmuradov, who was dismissed in 2000 and placed in charge of Caspian Sea negotiations. He later became a leader of the Turkmen opposition in exile and who is now serving a life sentence in Turkmenistan for his alleged involvement in a plot to assassinate President Niyazov (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 3 January 2003). Meredov's immediate predecessor, Batyr Berdiev, is also presently in prison on charges of involvement in the assassination plot. In 2001, overall responsibility for Turkmenistan's foreign relations was given to the then head of the KNB. BB

LAWMAKER SAYS STATE MEDIA IGNORED OSCE RECOGNITION OF BELARUSIAN LEGISLATURE
Chamber of Representatives Deputy Chairman Uladzimir Kanaplyou told journalists in Minsk on 24 February that the state-controlled media effectively overlooked the recognition of the Belarusian legislature by the OSCE Parliamentary Assembly on 20 February (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 21 February 2003) and provided only scant coverage of the event, Belapan reported. RFE/RL's Belarusian Service suggested that the presidential administration prohibited state media from reporting on the move to avoid creating the public impression that this legislative body is of any importance in the country. "I'm glad that I wasn't watching [Belarusian Television on 21 February]," Kanaplyou commented. "They have said exactly six words [about the National Assembly] since 1997, and I'm really thankful to them for supporting our legislature's international activity so strongly," he added in what the agency deemed a sarcastic tone. JM

KYIV SAYS CONCEPT OF 'JOINT ECONOMIC SPACE' WILL BE READY BY JULY
Presidential administration deputy chief Anatoliy Orel told journalists on 24 February that a "high-level group" will work out a concept of joint economic space for Ukraine, Russia, Belarus, and Kazakhstan by July, UNIAN reported. Orel was referring to a recent statement by the presidents of Ukraine, Russia, Belarus, and Kazakhstan on their intention to create such a trade bloc (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 24 February 2003). According to Orel, the four states are going to sign an accord on the creation of such a joint economic area that could involve "liberalization of trade, protection of investments, and coordination of competition policies" and be based on the principles of the World Trade Organization. Meanwhile, Borys Tarasyuk, head of Ukraine's parliamentary Committee for European Integration, said the same day that the statement of the four presidents is "yet another initiative without a future." JM

ESTONIAN PRESIDENT SAYS PROGRESS HAS COME AT HIGH SOCIAL PRICE
In a speech commemorating the 85th anniversary of Estonian independence on 24 February, Arnold Ruutel said the great progress that Estonia has made in recent years has come at a regrettably high social price, BNS reported the next day. He noted that a low birthrate, incomplete education, a dangerously high crime rate, and stratification of society are serious warning signs. Ruutel affirmed that if Estonia wants to secure its independent statehood and restore societal confidence, it must "set common goals, comprehensible to everyone, and agree upon an action plan to achieve them." Although the aging of and decline in the population are cited as major problems, little attention is paid to the lives that are lost through violence, injury, or growing alcoholism, he said. SG

LATVIAN FARMERS' PLANNED PROTEST AVERTED
Farmers' plans to deny trucks passage at the Salociai-Grenctale and Kalviai-Meitene border checkpoints with Lithuania on 25 February were called off after last-minute talks with the government on 24 February, LETA reported. The protest was organized to protest the situation in the dairy, meat, and sugar-production sectors. Prime Minister Einars Repse -- together with Agriculture Minister Martins Roze, Economy Minister Juris Lujans, and Finance Minister Valdis Dombrovskis -- held talks with representatives from the Agricultural Organizations Cooperation Council. The government agreed to allot about 4.3 million lats ($6.8 million) from this year's subsidies fund to the sectors in question. The threatened roadblocks had sparked serious concern within the Latvian international trucking association, Latvijas Auto, and the Lithuanian National Road Carriers Association, Linava. SG

LITHUANIAN PRESIDENT GIVES FINAL ANNUAL REPORT
Two days before the end of his term in office, Valdas Adamkus delivered the annual presidential report to parliament on 24 February, ELTA reported. The 33-minute speech, which was broadcast live over Lithuanian Radio, was the shortest of the five annual reports he has given and devoted more attention to domestic than to foreign policy issues. He criticized lawmakers for taking so long to formulate a position on the terms for holding a referendum on EU membership. Adamkus urged the government and parliament to recognize a greater priority that should be given to national and state development. He expressed disappointment that the government is not devoting enough attention to education and has planned to allocate just 18 percent of would-be EU structural funds for education, as compared to the EU average of 22 percent. The president also called for speeding reforms in public administration and rendering it more effective, transparent, and reliable. SG

POLISH RADICAL LEADER SAYS FARMERS TO INTENSIFY PROTESTS
Self-Defense leader Andrzej Lepper said on 24 February that farmers will continue and intensify their countrywide protests if the government does not change its course, PAP reported. According to Lepper, the ongoing farm protests were provoked by the government's misguided financial policy. "Small and medium-sized enterprises are going bankrupt, big plants are going bankrupt, the unemployment rate is rising, people in some plants have not been paid for months, and they cannot wait any longer," Lepper said. Meanwhile, Polish farmers have entered the fourth week of nationwide blockades and protest actions to demand higher prices for farm products and improvements in Poland's economic situation. JM

METHANE BLAST INJURES 17 POLISH MINERS
A methane-gas explosion in the Bielszowice coalmine in Ruda Slaska, southern Poland, on 24 February injured 17 miners, Polish media reported. JM

CZECH REPUBLIC IS FAVORED ASYLUM TARGET IN EAST-CENTRAL EUROPE
A report released by the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development on 24 February says the Czech Republic is the most sought-after country in the region by asylum seekers, CTK reported. It ranks 11th among the 30 monitored countries, with 18,000 asylum applicants registered in 2002. Only 1 percent of applicants were granted asylum last year. MS

GOVERNMENT APPROVES DRAFT BILL ON DUAL CITIZENSHIP FOR SLOVAKIA-BASED 'CZECHS'
The Czech government on 24 February approved a draft bill aimed at allowing more former Czechoslovak citizens and their children to acquire dual citizenship, CTK and TASR reported. The draft will benefit people who were denied Czech citizenship after they opted for Slovak citizenship between 1 March 1994 and 1 September 1999, following the 1993 Velvet Divorce that split Czechoslovakia. A 1999 amendment to the Czech Law on Citizenship -- passed after the Constitutional Court recognized such individuals' right to dual citizenship in 1997 -- endorsed the concept of dual citizenship. The Social Democrat-led cabinet's current draft allows for the restoration of Czech citizenship to those former Czechoslovaks and the granting of citizenship to children living in Slovakia if one of their parents is Czech. The draft would also allow dual citizenship to Czechs who were forced to emigrate by the country's communist rulers. Parliament has yet to approve the bill. Applicants must apply by 2004 to qualify, according to the draft. MS

SLOVAK DEPUTY PREMIER DENIES MISUSE OF EU FUNDS
Deputy Premier Pal Csaky told journalists after a meeting with President Rudolf Schuster on 24 February that he rejects any suggestion that EU funds slated for projects to alleviate problems facing the Romany minority have been misused, TASR reported. The news agency did not indicate who made the allegations. Csaky informed Schuster at the meeting about the use of and controls on EU funds, as well as possibilities for future use of EU funds after Slovakia joins the union. Csaky said Bratislava intends to submit a document to European Council representatives on the use of EU funds for its planned information campaign ahead of a 16-17 May referendum on joining the union. MS

SLOVAK PROSECUTOR ASKS LAWMAKERS TO LIFT FORMER MINISTER'S IMMUNITY
The Prosecutor-General's Office on 24 February asked parliament to strip former Health Minister Viliam Sobona of his immunity from prosecution, TASR reported. If the request is approved, Sobona, a member of the opposition Movement for a Democratic Slovakia, could face fraud charges and charges related to the loss of 8.8 million crowns ($210,000) to the state lottery company Tipos by setting up and operating a casino in the Sliac spa, of which he was director. MS

HUNGARIAN PARLIAMENT APPROVES U.S. MILITARY TRANSIT
After a week of wrangling, parliament on 24 February voted overwhelmingly to allow a NATO shipment intended to boost Turkey's defenses to cross Hungarian territory (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 20 and 24 February 2003), Hungarian media reported. The vote, 335 in favor with only three opposed, came after a compromise was reached between the opposition FIDESZ party and the senior coalition Socialist Party. FIDESZ deputy Zsolt Nemeth and Socialist Gyorgy Keleti put forward a motion for amendment that says military shipments for the purpose of enhancing Turkey's defense may pass through Hungary solely on the basis of the 16 February decision by NATO's Defense Planning Committee. FIDESZ reasoned that this rules out an earlier variant that would have allowed other military hardware to be shipped through Hungary. Nemeth thanked the government for its flexibility, while Keleti said FIDESZ was ultimately ready to accept the NATO request, "Nepszabadsag" reported. MSZ

HUNGARIAN PREMIER RESHUFFLES CABINET IN WAKE OF RESIGNATION
Labor Minister Peter Kiss will succeed Elemer Kiss (no relation) as head of the Prime Minister's Office, Prime Minister Peter Medgyessy announced on 24 February, three days after Elemer Kiss resigned (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 24 February 2003). Finance Ministry political State Secretary Sandor Burany will take over the Labor portfolio. In addition, chief EU negotiator Endre Juhasz will become minister without portfolio in charge of EU matters from May. It will be Juhasz's duty to coordinate controversial issues related to accession, assist with preparations, and prepare all necessary government decisions, "Magyar Hirlap" reported. The junior coalition Alliance of Free Democrats expressed dismay that they were not consulted about the changes, "Vilaggazdasag" reported. Peter Kiss is expected to receive parliamentary committee approval later this week and be sworn into office in parliament on 3 March. MSZ

NEW CHIEF OF STAFF TAKES OVER IN HUNGARY
Major General Zoltan Szenes has been chosen as the Hungarian armed forces' new chief of Staff, Defense Minister Ferenc Juhasz told reporters on 24 February. Outgoing Chief of Staff Lajos Fodor will step down on 1 March and will serve as ambassador to Australia beginning this summer, "Magyar Nemzet" reported. The official explanation for Fodor's departure was the need to enable a successor to carry out the transformation of the armed forces in line with NATO requirements. In a recent interview, Szenes charged that officers returning from NATO positions are often not given assignments that allow them to make good use of their experience. He also criticized the fact that few soldiers have a good command of the English language. MSZ

CSURKA RE-ELECTED CHAIRMAN OF HUNGARIAN FAR-RIGHT PARTY
Istvan Csurka was re-elected chairman of the far-right Hungarian Justice and Life Party (MIEP) with a vast majority at the party's conference on 23 February, Budapest dailies reported the next day. The delegates had earlier voted to expel four party members opposed to Csurka's leadership. Those dissidents held their own conference simultaneously, alleging that Csurka had no authority to convene the conference because his mandate expired in December. They are taking the matter to the prosecutor-general and the Budapest Metropolitan Court, "Magyar Hirlap" reported. MSZ

KOSOVAR SERBS PREPARE TO SET UP OWN GOVERNMENT...
Rada Trajkovic, a deputy to the Kosovar parliament for the Serbian minority's Povratak (Return) coalition, said in Gracanica on 24 February that representatives of Serbian districts and settlements in northern Kosova will set up their own assembly on 25 February, RFE/RL's South Slavic and Albanian Languages Service reported (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 3 January and 7 and 24 February 2003). She added that those present will also set up unspecified "executive" and other governmental bodies. Trajkovic did not rule out the possibility of Kosovar Serbs electing their own president, adding that Kosovar President Ibrahim Rugova is not the president of Serbian communities in the province but only of "some of the Albanians." It is not clear what sort of administration the Serbian leaders intend to set up and on what legal basis. In related news, Serbian Deputy Prime Minister Nebojsa Covic said in Moscow on 21 February that he hopes Russia will reconsider plans to reduce its forces in Kosova, Deutsche Welle's "Monitor" reported. PM

...AS UN AGAIN REJECTS SERBIAN LEADERS' DEMANDS
Michael Steiner, who heads the UN's civilian administration in Kosova (UNMIK), said in Prishtina on 24 February that he rejects recent demands by Serbian Prime Minister Zoran Djindjic and Covic calling for the return of Serbian forces to Kosova, talks on the status of the province, and its possible partition, Reuters reported (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 7, 18, and 24 February 2003 and "RFE/RL Balkan Report," 31 January 2003). Steiner added that "ideas of partition and division only incite tension. [Partition] goes against the international consensus, which [favors] a multiethnic solution to the problems of Kosovo." Steiner argued that "sending Serbian security forces to Kosovo under the existing circumstances would not contribute to stabilizing the situation and would create problems of its own." In Belgrade, Lieselore Cyrus, who is a deputy political director in the German Foreign Ministry, warned that "partition of Kosovo...is no option and would create a precedent in southeast Europe with far-reaching and dangerous consequences." Observers note that outgoing Yugoslav President Vojislav Kostunica and many other top Serbian leaders have generally spoken out against any further border changes in the Balkans. PM

MACEDONIAN MINISTERS DENY THAT SHADOWY ALBANIAN GUERRILLA FORCE EXISTS
Following a meeting with Albanian Defense Minister Pandeli Majko in Pogradec on 22 February, Macedonian Defense Minister Vlado Buckovski denied Macedonian and Serbian media reports that a purported ethnic Albanian guerrilla force -- the Albanian National Army (AKSH) -- exists and is active in the border region, Deutsche Welle's "Monitor" reported. Macedonian Interior Minister Hari Kostov made similar remarks recently, following a meeting with his Albanian counterpart Luan Rama in Ohrid and Struga (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 7 and 24 February 2003). In Tirana on 23 February, Majko told Deutsche Welle's Albanian Service that unspecified individuals in Macedonia and Serbia have used the red herring of the AKSH to harm the image of the region's Albanians. PM

MACEDONIA TO APPLY FOR EU MEMBERSHIP?
Speaking after a meeting with the so-called EU Troika -- the foreign ministers of Denmark, Greece, and Italy -- Macedonian Foreign Minister Ilinka Mitreva said in Brussels on 24 February that her country will probably submit an official application for EU membership by the end of 2003, MIA news agency reported. "We had a very good discussion about the prospects for Macedonia to join the EU," Mitreva said. "I reminded the EU [ministers] that a year and a half ago...we talked about solutions for the war in Macedonia, and today...I spoke with [them] about the European future of the country." The three ministers told her that the EU expects the Macedonian government to step up its fight against organized crime, its cooperation with the International Monetary Fund, and efforts to implement the Ohrid peace agreement (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 24 February 2003). UB

U.K. AND FRANCE UNVEIL PLAN FOR BOSNIA
At the EU foreign ministers meeting in Brussels on 24 February, the United Kingdom and France provided a joint position paper for the "seamless transition" from NATO's SFOR to an EU peacekeeping force in Bosnia in early 2004, Reuters reported (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 24 February 2003). The paper stressed that "the EU force should not be weaker than the NATO force it replaces.... The handover should be accomplished smoothly and on the basis of a strategic military analysis shared between the two organizations." EU foreign and security policy chief Javier Solana stressed that the emergence of the new force "must not be interpreted as a U.S. exit" from the region, even though SFOR already consists of 85 percent EU troops in its makeup. An unnamed diplomat told the news agency, "The paper makes absolutely clear that you have to proceed in very close consultation with NATO. We needed that for our Macedonia planning. And France agrees." In London, the "Financial Times" reported on 25 February that the EU foreign ministers endorsed the plan. The daily noted, however, that the plan's implementation might be slowed down by leading countries' troop commitments elsewhere, namely France in the Cote d'Ivoire, Germany in Afghanistan, and the United Kingdom in a possible conflict in Iraq. PM

BUSH THANKS ROMANIAN PRESIDENT FOR SUPPORT
U.S. President George W. Bush spoke to Ion Iliescu by telephone on 24 February, thanking him for the support rendered by Romania in the Iraq crisis and the struggle against international terrorism, Romanian Radio reported. Bush said the assistance extended by Romania is particularly important at a time when the international community is facing both the danger of international terrorism and the proliferation of weapons of mass destruction. Iliescu ensured Bush that Romania will respect all obligations it has assumed, and he emphasized the importance of the two countries' strategic partnership. Bush informed Iliescu of the United States' decision to submit a new draft resolution on Iraq to the UN Security Council. President Bush also told Iliescu that U.S. Department of Commerce Secretary Donald Evans will soon visit Bucharest to examine with Romanian officials ways to expand bilateral commercial relations. MS

PRESIDENT SAYS ROMANIA WILL PARTICIPATE IN RECONSTRUCTION IN IRAQ
President Iliescu on 24 February said Romania will participate in rebuilding Iraq after a possible war with that country is over, Romanian Radio reported. Iliescu said his country's allies accept this participation and are aware of the fact that Romanian experts have considerable experience participating in the development of Iraq's infrastructure, as well as in its oil sector. He said the allies are also aware of Iraq's longstanding debt to Romania and intend to help Bucharest recoup those funds. The debt is estimated at $1.7 billion, according to Romanian sources. MS

FOREIGN MINISTER SAYS ROMANIAN BASES WILL NOT BE USED FOR ATTACK ON IRAQ...
Foreign Minister Mircea Geoana said on 24 February that Romanian military bases will not be used for the purpose of "offensive operations against Iraq," Mediafax reported. Geoana said the Mihail Kogalniceanu airfield near Constanta is being used by the U.S. military as an air bridge for transporting troops and military equipment, but that its use of the base is "temporary," as U.S. troops will eventually be deployed in Turkey and in the Persian Gulf. Defense Minister Ioan Mircea Pascu made a similar statement the same day. Geoana said the issue of Bulgaria asking for security guarantees from NATO is "a matter of internal Bulgarian politics." He stressed that Romania has received "informal, but very clear, total, real, and perpetual guarantees" from the United States and NATO. He added that to request additional guarantees in the absence of an immediate security threat would be to question the existing guarantees. MS

...AS BUILDUP CONTINUES NEAR CONSTANTA
The private Antena 1 television channel said on 24 February that the Black Sea port of Constanta might soon be used by U.S. military ships and that four large U.S. naval vessels are expected to arrive at the port "in the coming days." The station also reported that 10 U.S. Hercules C-130 transport planes and six helicopters have recently landed at the Mihail Kogalniceanu base. MS

CHINA BACKS MOLDOVAN PRESIDENT ON TRANSDNIESTER CONFLICT
In a joint communique signed by Chinese President Jiang Zemin and his visiting counterpart Vladimir Voronin in Beijing on 24 February, China expressed its full support for the Moldovan leadership's efforts to resolve the Transdniester problem, Infotag reported. The document states that China considers Moldova's struggle against separatism to be an important contribution to safeguarding peace and stability in Europe. The document also states that Moldova pursues a "one-China policy" that considers the People's Republic of China the only legitimate Chinese government and Taiwan as an integral part of Chinese territory. In line with these policies, Moldova pledged not to establish any ties whatsoever with Taiwan and not to support it joining any international organization. The sides signed documents on cooperation in health care, agriculture, food industries, and technology, according to Flux. ITAR-TASS reported that Jiang and Voronin called for a political solution to the Iraq crisis within the framework of the United Nations and through the continuation of international inspections in Iraq. MS

DIALOGUE BETWEEN MOLDOVAN GOVERNMENT, OPPOSITION TO GET NEW FORMAT
Jorgen Grunnet, Council of Europe Secretary-General Walter Schwimmer's permanent representative in Chisinau, and the leaders of the three Moldovan parliamentary parties on 24 February reached an agreement on the new format of the Permanent Roundtable set up last year to facilitate dialogue between the government and the opposition, Flux reported. Under the agreement, Victor Stepaniuc, leader of the ruling Party of Moldovan Communists' parliamentary group, will nominate three additional participants from other parties; the Braghis Alliance will nominate one participant from a different party; and Popular Party Christian Democratic Chairman Iurie Rosca alone will continue to represent his formation. Each of the three leaders will be empowered to invite three nongovernmental organizations to participate in the Permanent Roundtable. MS

BULGARIA DOES NOT EXCLUDE SUPPORT FOR NEW UN SECURITY COUNCIL RESOLUTION ON IRAQ
Bulgaria's Ambassador to the UN Stefan Tafrov told Darik Radio on 24 February that the government has not yet decided whether to support the new draft UN Security Council resolution on Iraq that is cosponsored by the United States, Spain, and the United Kingdom, mediapool.bg reported. Noting that Bulgaria's position is that Iraq is in material breach of Resolution 1441, Tafrov said, "If a new resolution contributes to the increase of pressure on [Iraqi President] Saddam Hussein and to the unity of the Security Council, then Bulgaria will probably support it." Prime Minister Simeon Saxecoburggotski was expected to meet with U.S. President George Bush in Washington on 25 February, mediapool.bg reported. Saxecoburggotski was to be accompanied by Foreign Minister Solomon Pasi and Defense Minister Nikolay Svinarov. UB

BULGARIAN PRESIDENT APPOINTS NEW HEADS OF CONSTITUTIONAL COURT, SECRET SERVICE
President Georgi Parvanov on 24 February appointed 56-year-old Lazar Gruev as the new head of the Constitutional Court, mediapool.bg reported. Gruev, the deputy dean of the law faculty at Sofia University, replaces Hristo Danov, who died on 17 February at the age of 81. Parvanov on 24 February also appointed Colonel Kircho Kirchov as acting director of the National Intelligence Service (NRS), BTA reported. His deputy will be Colonel Lyudmil Angelov. UB

BULGARIAN, ROMANIAN ENVIRONMENT MINISTERS MEET IN SOFIA
Environment Minister Dolores Arsenova met with her Romanian counterpart Petru Lificiu in Sofia on 24 February, BTA reported. Arsenova and Lificiu discussed the harmonization of national laws with those of the European Union, as well as the implementation of new bilateral projects. "Environmental protection is not just a national problem, and Bulgaria and Romania set a regional example in this respect," Lificiu said (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 16 October 2003). UB

BULGARIA'S ETHNIC TURKS RAISE ISSUE OF FORCED ASSIMILATION
The Movement for Rights and Freedoms (DPS), which is the political party representing large segments of Bulgaria's Turkish minority, the country's largest, held its fifth national congress in Sofia on 16 February. While Ahmed Dogan's re-election as party chairman was hardly a surprise, the congress adopted two other key decisions that left many observers puzzled.

The first and less controversial move was that Dogan announced he will nominate an ethnic Bulgarian as his deputy. Among the 105 members of the party's highest body, the Central Council, 15 are ethnic Bulgarians and two are members of the Romany minority. Under the Bulgarian Constitution, political parties based on ethnic principles are banned. Although the DPS is de facto an ethnic Turkish party, it has never presented itself as such in order to avoid legal problems.

The congress's second decision was far more surprising. The congress approved a proposal to sue the Bulgarian state before an unspecified "tribunal in The Hague" for its forceful assimilation of Muslim minorities from 1962-89.

During that period, the communist authorities forced members of one Muslim minority after another to accept Christian Bulgarian names. Starting with Muslim Roma and Tatars in the late 1950s, the assimilation policies were then extended to the Bulgarian-speaking Muslim Pomaks in two waves in the 1960s and 70s, before the ethnic Turks had to change their names or face repression in the mid-1980s. Apart from being forbidden to bear Muslim names, the minorities were forbidden to speak their vernacular, to wear traditional clothes, or to practice their religious customs.

These policies, euphemistically dubbed the "Revival Process," aimed at creating a unified socialist Bulgarian nation. It was as if the Bulgarian Communist Party (BKP) wanted to enforce Josef Stalin's theory that nations and national minorities would blossom in the course of socialist modernization before withering and eventually disappearing once communist society became reality.

However, the idea of renaming minority members in order to make them "real" Bulgarians was not new. During the Balkan Wars of 1912-13, thousands of Muslim Pomaks were baptized with the support of the state and the Bulgarian Orthodox Church. That was when another theoretical cornerstone of the later communist policies was laid. Under that interpretation the Pomaks were originally ethnic Christian Bulgarians who were forced by the Ottomans to adopt Islam. Similarly, the Ottomans had forced Bulgarian Turks, who were originally ethnic Christian Bulgarians, to convert to Islam and to adopt the Turkish language. By baptizing or simply renaming the converts' descendants, they were given the chance to "revive" their Bulgarian origin -- hence the term "Revival Process."

Many people who actively opposed this kind of forceful "revival" were arrested, oppressed, and sentenced to internal banishment or forced labor. An unknown number died during various demonstrations against these policies. As the pressure mounted on the Turkish minority in the 1980s, large numbers of them sought to emigrate to neighboring Turkey, but this haven was closed to them between 1978 and August 1989. Then, in a surprising move the BKP decided to not only open the borders to those Turks wishing to emigrate, but also to expel those who would have preferred to stay. What followed was the emigration of some 300,000 Turks, until Turkey had to close the border because its refugee facilities were overcrowded. This move isolated Bulgaria's regime even within the communist bloc, and also contributed to the overthrow of BKP leader Todor Zhivkov in November 1989.

Those who planned and carried out the "Revival Process" have never been held legally responsible. One of the DPS's key demands immediately after its foundation was to seek justice for the assimilation policies in Bulgarian courts. However, as a journalist reporting from The Hague recently pointed out in a commentary published by mediapool.bg, the party readily dropped this demand as soon as it acquired political power by virtue of supporting -- together with the postcommunist Socialist Party -- the expert government under Lyuben Berov in 1992.

However, the recent decision to sue the Bulgarian state for the communist policies before "a court in The Hague" turned out to be a major gaff. One day after its adoption, Deputy DPS Chairman Lutfi Mestan admitted on "Blitz," the joint radio and television program of RFE/RL's Bulgarian Service and bTV, that none of the three international courts based in The Hague is competent to rule on crimes committed by the BKP. In an effort to explain exactly what the DPS wants to do, Mestan said the congress asked the party leadership to renew its efforts to seek justice for the victims of the "Revival Process." He pointed to a pending case that the Military Prosecutor's Office is investigating and cited the state's "moral obligation for justice," but failed to specify where exactly justice will be sought.

Some observers, like Veselin Angelov, a member of the recently dissolved commission on the communist-era secret-service archives, believe the DPS leadership is under pressure from emigre organizations in Turkey. But it might also be that the DPS, which is also the junior coalition partner in the government led by the National Movement Simeon II, will use the issue to increase the pressure for a longstanding reform of the judiciary. Whatever the case might be, the way the issue was addressed left some doubts about the seriousness of the DPS's intention.

SWEDEN REPORTEDLY SHELTERING POSSIBLE AFGHAN WAR CRIMINALS
At least 70 people suspected of war crimes and "serious human rights violations" have been given refuge in Sweden, Radio Sweden reported on 24 February, citing "Goeteborgs-Posten." Some of these individuals are Afghans who "worked for the Afghan security organization Khad, which was responsible for serious human rights violations under a number of regimes in Kabul, including the Soviet occupation [1979-89]," according to the report. Afghanistan acceded to the International Criminal Court (ICC) in January, opening the way for the extradition and trial of war criminals (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 14 January 2003). Under ICC provisions, the treaty will go into effect in Afghanistan on 1 May, giving the court the authority to investigate and prosecute serious war crimes, genocide, and crimes against humanity committed on Afghan soil. John Sifton, a researcher with Human Rights Watch, said on 10 February that for "over two decades, perpetrators of war crimes and crimes against humanity in Afghanistan have enjoyed total impunity. On May 1, that impunity will formally end." Some members of the Afghan secret police are believed to have found refuge in Sweden, the Netherlands, and other European countries. AT

AFGHAN GOVERNMENT COMMENTS ON MINISTER'S DEATH
The Transitional Administration issued a statement on 24 February calling an "irreparable loss" the death of Mines and Industries Minister Joma Mohammad Mohammadi, Afghanistan Television reported the same day. Mohammadi and seven other passengers were killed when the light aircraft they were traveling in crashed on 24 February near the Pakistani port city of Karachi (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 24 February 2003). An emergency session of the Afghan cabinet formed a funeral commission, as well as a commission under the auspices of the Afghan Foreign Ministry to investigate the causes of the air crash in cooperation with the Pakistani government, the report added. Also killed in the crash were Ahmad Rateb Olumi, an adviser to Mohammadi; Mohammad Amin Sadeq, head of the Mines and Industries Ministry's planning department; and Farhad Ahad, a representative of the Foreign Ministry, Afghanistan Television reported. Mohammadi, who worked for the World Bank prior to returning to Afghanistan to join the Transitional Administration, was the only member of the current Afghan cabinet who served in precommunist (1978) Afghan governments. He served as minister of water and power in the government of President Mohammad Daud in 1977-78 and was imprisoned by the communists after they took power in a coup in 1978. Mohammadi was from Paktiya Province and was educated in the United States. AT

U.S. TROOPS ATTACKED IN TWO LOCATIONS
A U.S. military spokesman said unknown groups carried out two separate attacks on U.S. troops in Oruzgan and Nangarhar provinces on 23 February, Hindukosh news agency reported the next day. No U.S. troops were injured, according to the report, but an Afghan soldier working with the U.S.-led antiterrorism coalition was killed and another injured in Oruzgan Province. AT

AFGHAN DEFENSE MINISTER SUPPORTS PRESS FREEDOM
Defense Minister Marshall Mohammad Qasim Fahim on 24 February told a gathering of journalists at the Afghan presidential palace that the Afghan administration believes in freedom of the press as a "pressing need of society," as long as that freedom does not harm the country's national unity and does not "provoke national discord," Afghanistan Television reported. Addressing the recent row among Afghan publications regarding an editorial in "Payam-e Mujahed" that criticized Afghans who have returned from the West, he said Afghans who went to the West as refugees are encouraged to come back. Fahim, who is a member of Jamiat-e Islami, said the controversial editorial does not represent his personal view nor that of Jamiat-e Islami, the report added. "Payam-e Mujahed" supports the more conservative wing of the Jamiat-e Islami, which is led by former Afghan President Burhanuddin Rabbani. AT

COMMISSION MEMBER SAYS NEW AFGHAN CONSTITUTION WILL BE ISLAMIC, DEMOCRATIC...
Nematullah Shahrani, one of Afghan President Hamid Karzai's deputies and the head of the nine-member Constitutional Drafting Commission (CDC) said on 23 February that "the basis of the [new] constitution is Islam, and in Islam we have social justice, service for the people, human rights, [and] education for all," stressing there will be no "discrimination against anyone," and everyone, including women getting equal rights in the new constitution, Reuters reported. Shahrani said the new constitution will be for all Afghans and will not favor "one family, one party, one group," a characteristic of previous Afghan constitutions that the commission believes led to their failure, Reuters reported. The first draft of the new constitution is to be ready in March and the final draft will be presented to a Constitutional Loya Jirga in October for approval (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 14 and 16 January 2003). AT

...AND ASSURES THE AFGHAN PEOPLE THEY WILL HAVE A VOICE IN ITS DEVELOPMENT
Shahrani also said on 23 February that the CDC is drafting "the constitution for the Afghan people [and] they will play a full role in its framing," Reuters reported. Some Afghans are concerned that under conditions in which central government does not control major sections of the country, a democratic debate on the new constitution will not be possible. Western diplomats in Kabul have expressed concern that the new Afghan constitution will be hijacked by radical Islamists who do not advocate granting more human rights, especially in regard to women and religious minorities (see "RFE/RL Afghanistan Report," 13 and 20 February 2003). Since 1924 Afghanistan has adopted six constitutions and drafted two proposed documents that were not formally promulgated. AT

AFGHAN WOMEN DEMAND EQUAL RIGHTS
Participants of a conference on Afghan women's issues that took place in Kabul this week have issued a communique demanding the "termination of all forms discrimination" and "threats and violence against women," the Kabul paper "Sirat" reported on 22 February. They also called for the new Afghan constitution to include rights for women, and urged the "implementation and establishment" of projects throughout Afghanistan to help eradicate illiteracy among Afghan women. AT

IRAN DENIES REPORTS OF JEWS' AMNESTY
Iranian judiciary spokesman Gholam Hussein Elham on 24 January said that five Jews who were imprisoned in July 2000 on espionage charges have not been amnestied, dpa reported. "The New York Times" on 21 February cited Haroun Yashyai, "a leading Jewish figure in Tehran," as saying that Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei pardoned the men. A visiting UN human rights delegation met with the imprisoned Jews in Shiraz on 21 February, dpa reported on 24 February. The five were given a furlough in early February (see "RFE/RL Iran Report," 10 February 2003). BS

IRGC PREVENTS MONTAZERI FROM RECEIVING MEDICAL TREATMENT
Ahmad Montazeri, the son of Ayatollah Hussein-Ali Montazeri-Najafabadi, said on 24 February that Islamic Revolution Guards Corps (IRGC) personnel would not let his father travel from Qom to Tehran for a medical exam after he refused to let a government minder enter his car, AFP and Reuters reported. The IRGC set up a roadblock and refused to lift it regardless of instructions to the contrary from the provincial governor and the Supreme National Security Council. Ahmad Montazeri explained that his father "is generally in good health, but he has to be taken to Tehran for medical checkups." Montazeri's five-year house arrest ended on 30 January, on 4 February he was taken to the hospital for heart problems, and dpa reported on 11 February that Montazeri had traveled to Tehran for heart surgery (see "RFE/RL Iran Report," 3, 10, and 17 February 2003). BS

ANOTHER GOVERNMENT CRITIC ARRESTED IN IRAN
The wife of former Iranian parliamentarian Qasem Sholeh-Saadi said on 25 February that her husband had telephoned her from Evin Prison to say that he is being held in relation to an open letter he had written to Supreme Leader Khamenei, ISNA reported. Sholeh-Saadi was arrested on 24 February at Tehran's Mehrabad Airport upon his return from Paris, his son Javad Sholeh-Saadi told Radio Farda. "What I know is that last night my father, who had left Paris for Tehran, arrived around dawn," Javad Sholeh-Saadi said. "Again, what I know is that he was arrested at the airport. Apparently, the airport intelligence group [Ministry of Intelligence and Security unit] arrested him." In a 1 February interview with Radio Farda, Qasem Sholeh-Saadi said the intervention of unelected officials and institutions has eliminated democratic processes, and he added that the conservatives have left no breathing room for institutions representing public sovereignty. In a letter that was published on his website (http://www.sholehsadi.com) in early December, Qasem Sholeh-Saadi criticized Supreme Leader Khamenei's religious credentials, said Iran's refusal to normalize relations with United States is harmful, and denounced the double standard in supporting Palestinian Muslims and ignoring Chechen Muslims. BS

BLACK BOX RECOVERED FROM IRANIAN CRASH SITE
The flight-data recorder of an Ilyushin 76 transport aircraft that crashed in the mountains near Kerman on 19 February has been recovered (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 20, 21, and 24 February 2003), dpa reported on 24 February. The black box has been sent to Tehran for evaluation. According to Iranian officials, 289 people died in the crash. Recovery activities are continuing. BS

PARTIES DIVIDED OVER IRANIAN MUNICIPAL-COUNCIL ELECTIONS
The reformist Mujahedin of the Islamic Revolution organization on 24 February urged Iranians to vote in the 28 February municipal-council elections, IRNA reported on 25 February. The reformist 2nd of Khordad coalition, however, is not united on which candidates it will support. The Islamic Iran Participation Party (IIPP), the Executives of Construction Party, and the Islamic Solidarity Party all have presented separate candidate lists, "Iran Daily" reported on 24 February. The Office for Strengthening Unity's public-relations officer, Jamal Zaherpur, said his organization will not support any candidates and is gradually "moving away from the political domain to social issues and civil movements," "Iran Daily" reported. None of the conservative parties have released candidate lists, either, and IIPP's Mohammad Reza Khatami says this amounts to a boycott of the election, according to "Iran Daily." BS

SUPREME LEADER ISSUES WARNING ON SECTARIAN STRIFE...
Supreme Leader Khamenei in a 23 February speech in Zahedan, Sistan va Baluchistan Province, warned that Iran's enemies have come up with "complicated plots" to stir up religious and ethnic tensions, IRNA reported the next day. Khamenei urged his audience to be careful. "The nation, from all walks of life, especially the clergy, must remain fully vigilant and neutralize all the seditious plots," he said. "The enemy is very active behind the scene and by using many tricks, including by insulting the beliefs of Shia and Sunni Muslims, seeks to pit religious castes against one another," he added. Khamenei called for unity among all Iranians. BS

...AND CAUTIONS AGAINST SMUGGLING
Many residents of Sistan va Baluchistan Province are forced to make a living through smuggling because it is Iran's least-developed province and has one of the country's highest unemployment rates. Khamenei said in his 23 February speech that "there remains a considerable level of poverty in Sistan va Baluchistan," and he added that the province has potential for agriculture, mining, fishing, and commercial transit. People should avoid narcotics trafficking, he said, because "drug trafficking means trading death, disease, and disability, and the destruction of the young people." "People from all walks of life in this province must be sensitive toward the problem of drug trafficking," Khamenei said. He also cautioned against other forms of smuggling. BS

PRESIDENTIAL ENVOY DISCUSSES PEACE IN SYRIA AND LEBANON
Iranian parliamentarian Hojatoleslam Ali Akbar Mohtashami-Pur, a founder of Lebanese Hizballah, secretary of Iran's "Support for the Palestinian Intifada" conference series, and now "President Mohammad Khatami's special envoy," arrived in Damascus late on 23 February to discuss regional issues, IRNA reported the next day. Mohtashami and Iranian Ambassador to Syria Hussein Sheikholeslam met with President Bashar al-Assad on 24 February to discuss the Iraq crisis and Palestinian issues, IRNA and Syria's SANA news agency reported. Assad mentioned the "important and effective" role that Iran and Syria play in settling regional crises. This is presumably a reference to the two governments' assistance to Hizballah, Palestinian Islamic Jihad, and the Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine-General Command, as described in the U.S. State Department's annual "Patterns of Global Terrorism" reports. Mohtashami arrived in Beirut on 24 February, according to IRNA. BS

U.S., U.K., AND SPAIN PRESENT DRAFT RESOLUTION TO UN SECURITY COUNCIL
The United States, United Kingdom, and Spain on 24 February presented a draft resolution on Iraqi disarmament to the UN Security Council, the U.S. State Department website announced the same day (http://usinfo.state.gov/). The resolution states, "Iraq has submitted a declaration pursuant to its resolution 1441 (2002) containing false statements and omissions and has failed to comply with, and cooperate fully in the implementation of, that resolution." Under UN Security Council Resolution 1441, Iraq was obligated to fully comply with the terms of the resolution and to give a full and comprehensive declaration of its weapons of mass destruction, or risk being found in further material breach of the resolution. The draft resolution also states that pursuant to Chapter VII of the UN Charter, "Iraq has failed to take the final opportunity afforded to it in resolution 1441 (2002)." Chapter VII refers to UN Security Council responsibilities with respect to threats to peace, breaches of peace, and acts of aggression (http://www.un.org/Overview/Charter/chapter7.html). KR

U.S. AMBASSADOR TO UN DISCUSSES DRAFT RESOLUTION...
U.S. Ambassador to the UN John Negroponte told the UN Security Council during informal consultations on 24 February: "We [the United States] now believe that it is abundantly clear that Iraq has refused to disarm and has no intention of doing so. We believe, therefore, that because of the failures that I have outlined here, Iraq has failed to comply with the tests of truthfulness, cooperation and disarmament set by Resolution 1441." His statement can be viewed at the State Department website. Negroponte said Iraq has failed to comply with UN Security Council Resolution 1441 by not releasing a full, accurate, or complete declaration of its weapons of mass destruction (WMD) on 7 December. It has also failed to allow Iraqis to be interviewed "in the mode of UNMOVIC or the IAEA's [International Atomic Energy Agency's] choice," Negroponte said, and has failed to provide complete lists of personnel associated with Iraq's WMD programs. KR

...AS FRANCE, GERMANY, AND RUSSIA PRESENT JOINT MEMORANDUM...
France, Germany, and Russia on 24 February presented a memorandum to the UN Security Council calling for increased weapons inspections, AFP reported the same day. "The combination of a clear program of action, reinforced inspections, a clear timeline and the military build-up provide a realistic means to reunite the Security Council and to exert maximum pressure on Iraq," the memorandum states, according to AFP. It goes on to say, "While suspicions remain, no evidence has been given that Iraq still possesses weapons of mass destruction or capabilities in this field." It further notes that "inspections have just reached their full pace; they are functioning without hindrance; they have already produced results." The memorandum adds that Iraqi cooperation is "not yet fully satisfactory" and calls on Iraq to provide greater assistance to UN inspectors. Under the memorandum, the inspectors' work program would be accelerated, staff diversified and increased, mobile units and a new aerial-surveillance system established, and inspection reports given every three weeks. KR

...AND EXPLAIN THEIR OBJECTIVES
French Foreign Minister Dominique de Villepin addressed the objectives of the new memorandum in Brussels on 24 February, Radio France Internationale reported. Villepin said the memorandum calls for a schedule to be set "program by program" in order to make the work of the inspectors "more concrete." Meanwhile, German Chancellor Gerhard Schroeder spoke with reporters in Berlin during a meeting with French President Jacques Chirac on 24 February, ARD Television reported. "Both of us take the view that we want to achieve Iraq's disarmament peacefully. This is and will continue to be the substance of our joint policy," Schroeder said. "We take the view that at the moment we have enough possibilities within the framework of Resolution 1441 to support and further define the progress made by the inspectors. It is our joint position with our partners that a new [UN Security Council] resolution is not necessary." KR

IRAQI PRESIDENT GIVES RARE INTERVIEW TO U.S. BROADCASTER
President Saddam Hussein said in a CBS News interview whose contents were released by cbsnews.com on 24 February that "Iraq does not have missiles that go beyond the proscribed range." Hussein was referring to the recent UN ruling that Iraq's Al-Sumud 2 missile exceeds the 150-kilometer limit set by the UN (see RFE/RL "Iraq Report," 20 February 2003). The rare interview will be aired on CBS Television on 25 and 26 February, the broadcaster reported. Hussein also told interviewer Dan Rather that he wants a televised debate with U.S. President George W. Bush over the issue of war, saying, "I am ready...to conduct a direct dialogue with your president." The Iraqi president added, "As leaders,... why don't we use this opportunity?" White House spokesman Ari Fleischer called the invitation "not a serious statement," telling CBS news, "This is not about a debate.... This is about disarmament and complying with the world's instructions to disarm." KR

TURKISH PARLIAMENT MEETS TO DISCUSS U.S. DEAL
The Turkish government announced on 24 February that it will allow parliament to vote on a decision to allow U.S. troops to deploy to Turkey to prepare for a possible attack on Iraq, Reuters reported the same day. A final deal on the financial terms of an agreement with the United States is also expected to be reached shortly, the news agency said. Another outstanding issue is what role, if any, Turkish troops would play in a U.S.-led war against Iraq. Ankara has repeatedly noted its intention of intervening in northern Iraq to protect the rights of Turkomans living there and to prevent any attempts by Kurds to establish an independent state in the area. KR

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