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Newsline - February 26, 2003


MOSCOW STEPS UP DIPLOMACY ON IRAQ
President Vladimir Putin spoke by telephone on 26 February with Chinese leader Jiang Zemin to discuss the Iraq situation, ORT and other Russian news agencies reported. The two leaders reaffirmed their commitment to finding a peaceful resolution to the crisis on the basis of existing United Nations Security Council resolutions. On the same day, Foreign Minister Igor Ivanov flew to Beijing for additional consultations on Iraq, as well as to discuss North Korea and bilateral issues, RIA-Novosti reported. Also on 26 February, German Chancellor Gerhard Schroeder was expected to arrive in Moscow to meet with Putin about Iraq and their countries' position on the draft Security Council resolution introduced on 24 February by the United States, Great Britain, and Spain. Union of Rightist Forces leader Boris Nemtsov, writing in the 25 February issue of the "Financial Times," said that Russia might support the U.S. position on Iraq if a postwar Iraqi regime pledges to pay Iraq's Soviet-era debts. Nemtsov said that the position of Russia's political elite is determined purely by pragmatism. VY

PROSECUTOR-GENERAL WILL SEEK TO COMPENSATE VICTIMS BY SEIZING PROPERTY OF 'TERRORISTS'...
Vladimir Ustinov announced on 25 February that his office will seek to pay damages to the victims of the 23-26 October Moscow hostage taking by seizing the property of the Chechen fighters who carried it out, newsru.com reported. The Prosecutor-General's Office is attempting to identify and seize the assets of all the "terrorists" killed during the incident and those of anyone convicted of providing them with transportation, weapons, shelter, or other assistance, Ustinov said. Ustinov also said that the actions of the security forces in ending the hostage drama were "proper and justified," though the sleeping gas that they used caused the deaths of 129 hostages. "There were mishaps during the rescue operations," Ustinov said, "but this happened because of the large number of parked cars near the theater that could not be removed because of concerns that they were booby-trapped." VY

...AND DESCRIBES RUSSIA'S WAR ON TERRORISM
Prosecutor-General Ustinov said that 360 crimes were registered in Russia in 2002 under the terrorism-related articles of the Criminal Code, newsru.com reported. He added that terrorism-related investigations are currently being conducted in 16 regions. Ustinov also announced that he will personally head the prosecution team in the soon-to-begin trials connected with the 1999 apartment-building bombings in Moscow and Volgodonsk that left several hundred dead. Meeting in London with members of a public commission investigating the Volgodonsk bombing, self-exiled magnate Boris Berezovskii alleged that the Federal Security Service was involved in the October hostage taking, lenta.ru and AP reported on 26 February. Berezovskii said the hostage taking was "the logical continuation of the operation to blow up apartment buildings in September 1999." He alleged that the Moscow incident was "provoked by the special services, which managed to infiltrate a radical Chechen formation." The purpose of the act, according to Berezovskii, was to "torpedo the peace process in Chechnya, which would have marked the failure of Putin's policies." VY

PUTIN SAYS MILITARY SHOULD NOT BE A 'BURDEN' ON THE ECONOMY
Speaking to a Security Council meeting in Moscow on 25 February devoted to national-security policy, President Putin said defense spending must not be "a burden for the people or become an obstacle to economic growth and social recovery," strana.ru and other Russian news agencies reported. "Today, it is not the quantity but the quality of weaponry that gives the state the ability to defend itself," Putin said. The Security Council adopted a draft military-technical policy for 2003-15 that was prepared by council First Deputy Secretary Vladislav Shersyuk. Shersyuk said that the current critical situation in the military-industrial complex is determined by four factors: the decreased volume of research-and-development projects, the low volume of weapons procurements, the rapidly increasing obsolescence of industrial equipment, and the departure of specialist workers from the sector. He added that the new policy concept enumerates measures for surmounting these difficulties. VY

FRENCH ULTRANATIONALIST SPEAKS OUT IN RUSSIA
Speaking on prime-time state ORT television on 25 February, the right-wing leader of the French National Front, Jean-Marie Le Pen, called on Russia to join with France to veto the draft UN Security Council resolution on Iraq submitted on 24 February by the United States, Great Britain, and Spain. Le Pen, who was invited to Moscow by People's Will Party leader Sergei Baburin (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 25 February 2003), said he views U.S. policies negatively in general. He agreed, however, with the ORT moderator that those who oppose U.S. policy in Iraq are not against the United States but are supporting it by trying to keep the country from making a grave mistake. Le Pen noted that he had been given an unusually warm reception in Moscow since his arrival on 20 February, having been invited to give numerous interviews with mainstream media outlets and to attend many political events. VY

TALKS HELD ON CENTER-LEFT COALITION
Aleksandr Dugin, leader of the imperialist Eurasia party, told strana.ru on 25 February that his party is holding talks with Duma Speaker Gennadii Seleznev's Party of Russia's Rebirth on the possibility of creating a center-left coalition to participate in the December State Duma elections. Dugin said the coalition's ideology will be neither communism nor social democracy but rather Eurasianism, the union of Islam and Christianity, patriotism, and social justice. He added that fellow Eurasia party leader Telget Tajetdin, the supreme mufti of Russia and the European countries of the CIS, will meet with Seleznev to discuss further a possible joint platform. In the past, Dugin has called for an alliance "of all Eurasian forces to oppose the 'Atlantism' represented by Britain and the United States." In "Izvestiya" on 21 February, he said that the present joint opposition of France, Germany, and Russia to U.S. policy in Iraq is the first sign that such an alliance is emerging. Analysts believe that the proposed Dugin-Seleznev coalition is a Kremlin effort to attract support away from the Communist Party. VY

PUTIN TRANSFERS REBELLIOUS GENERAL TO OBSCURE KREMLIN POST
President Putin on 25 February appointed Colonel General Gennadii Troshev, formerly the commander of the North Caucasus Military District, as the presidential adviser with responsibility for Cossack affairs, ITAR-TASS and RIA-Novosti reported, citing the presidential press service. Putin signed a decree the same day abolishing the presidential administration's directorate for Cossack affairs and dismissing its head, General Petr Deinekin. The functions and staff of the department will be transferred to the offices of the presidential envoys to the federal districts and other agencies within the presidential administration. Troshev will coordinate the activities of registered Cossack communities through the envoys' offices. In 2001, Putin named another general as a presidential adviser: Then-Defense Minister Igor Sergeev was appointed to oversee an interdepartmental group on strategic stability (see "RFE/RL Russian Political Weekly," 16 April 2001) and has been little heard from since. JAC

'NOVYE IZVESTIYA' STAFFER EXPLAINS ORIGIN OF CONFLICT...
In an interview with RFE/RL's Moscow bureau on 25 February, "Novye izvestiya" commentator and Deputy Editor Otto Latsis commented on the recent conflict at that publication, which has not appeared on newsstands since 20 February (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 21 February 2003). Latsis explained that Editor in Chief Igor Golembiovskii was dismissed only from his post as the paper's general director but remains its editor in chief. However, Golembiovskii has refused to act as editor until he is restored as general director. Latsis also claimed that self-exiled magnate Berezovskii is the paper's main shareholder. He said that Oleg Mitvol, chairman of the paper's board of directors, only recently began asserting that he owns the largest stake in the paper. Previously, Mitvol "never expressed the smallest doubt about who is the real owner of the paper," Latsis said. JAC

...AND SUGGESTS NEWSPAPER MAY RETURN WITH NEW OWNER
According to Latsis, Alyans Group head Ziya Bazhaev has been engaged in negotiations to buy the newspaper. Ziya Bazhaev is the elder brother of Musa Bazhaev, who had been trying to buy the newspaper when he was killed in the plane crash that also killed the well-known television journalist Artem Borovik three years ago (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 10 March 2000). Latsis said that journalists at the newspaper, many of whom left "Izvestiya" with Golembiovskii and Latsis in 1997 during a dispute at that paper, will try to continue as a team with "Novye izvestiya" and to produce it under "a new flag." JAC

TEACHERS PLAN NATIONAL PROTEST
The teachers' strike in Irkutsk Oblast continues to grow, ITAR-TASS reported on 25 February. At the beginning of the month, fewer than 400 teachers went on strike to protest wage arrears (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 21 February 2003). The number of strikers reached more than 1,700 last week and had swollen to 2,000 as of 25 February. Eight schools and two kindergartens in the town of Taishet have been closed for almost three weeks. On 26 February, teachers from eight raions in Pskov Oblast were planning to demonstrate in the center of Pskov in front of the oblast administration building as part of the planned national protest action organized by the educational-workers union, RosBalt reported on 25 February. JAC

YEKATERINBURG PREPARES FOR IKEA DAY
Also on 27 February, IKEA day will be celebrated in Yekaterinburg, RosBalt reported on 25 February. According to the agency, the day is being organized by the Swedish furniture company and the government of Sverdlovsk Oblast. IKEA has two stores in Moscow and plans to open another in Moscow and one near St. Petersburg this year. RosBalt reported in June that IKEA plans to open a store that would employ about 3,000 people somewhere in the central Urals at some undetermined future date. JAC

IDEA OF TRANSFERRING SOME FEDERAL FUNCTIONS TO ST. PETERSBURG RAISED AGAIN
Deputy Prime Minister Valentina Matvienko told RTR's St. Petersburg affiliate on 21 February that the possibility of transferring some federal government functions to St. Petersburg has been "under discussion." "If we are serious about reviving the city and increasing its business activity," Matvienko said, "we need to transfer certain functions and a number of federal ministries and departments here." President Putin said last year that the federal ministries should be dispersed throughout the country (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 14 March 2002). Around that time, Federation Council Chairman Sergei Mironov said that legislation transferring some state functions to St. Petersburg would soon be introduced in the State Duma (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 15 March 2002). However, the local newspaper "Delovoi Peterburg" reported later the same month that the market for elite or luxury housing in the city is extremely tight, which would create problems for most Moscow-based bureaucrats (see "RFE/RL Russian Federation Report," 3 April 2002). JAC

IS SILENCE GOLDEN?
In a long article about the Federation Council on 25 February, "Moskovskii komsomolets" reported that former Mezhprombank head and Federation Council representative (Tuva) Sergei Pugachev, who reportedly enjoys close relations with President Putin, is the least vocal member of the upper legislative chamber. According to the daily, during a sleepy discussion of the law on the rehabilitation of victims of political repression, the normally silent Pugachev apparently manifested a desire to express his views. This prompted Federation Council Chairman Mironov to say with surprise, "Do you really want to speak?" Pugachev replied by shaking his head. Mironov then asked, "Perhaps you pressed your button by mistake?" Pugachev nodded, and the session continued. JAC

CHECHEN PRESIDENT ADDRESSES POPULATION
In a televised address several days ago that was seen by residents of dozens of villages in the Urus Martan, Achkhoi Martan, and Shali raions, Aslan Maskhadov condemned the planned 23 March referendum on a new Chechen constitution and called on the population to be on their guard against "provocations" by Russian forces, chechenpress.com reported on 26 February. It was Maskhadov's second such televised address this month (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 4 February 2003). LF

BASAEV CLAIMS RESPONSIBILITY FOR GROZNY BOMBING
In an e-mail sent to, and posted on 25 February on, the website http://www.kavkaz.org.uk, radical Chechen field commander Shamil Basaev claimed to have planned the 27 December car-bomb attack on the Chechen government building in Grozny (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 27 and 30 December 2002). Basaev claimed the two vehicles used in that attack were driven by a 43-year-old Chechen man -- who was accompanied by his 15-year-old daughter -- and his 17-year-old son. Chechen security officials said immediately after the attack -- in which more than 70 people died -- that the two trucks were driven by three men, all of whom spoke fluent Russian and two of whom had fair hair. LF

VOTING IN INGUSHETIA DURING CHECHEN REFERENDUM RULED OUT
Chechen administration head Akhmed-hadji Kadyrov told journalists in Grozny on 25 February that no provision will be made to enable Chechen displaced persons to cast their ballots in the 23 March referendum in camps in Ingushetia, Russian news agencies reported. Chechen Election Commission Chairman Abdul-Kerim Arsakhanov said last month that polling stations would be established in five such camps in Ingushetia (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 17 January 2003). But Kadyrov explained that under Russian legislation people may vote only at the place where they are registered as permanently resident. Central Election Commission Chairman Aleksandr Veshnyakov, however, told Ekho Moskvy on 25 February that special polling stations will be established in Chechnya close to the border with Ingushetia and that bus service will be provided between the displaced-persons camps and those polling stations, Interfax reported. Veshnyakov gave the total number of registered voters in Chechnya as 537,000. LF

PUTIN CALLS FOR REDUCING NUMBER OF CHECHEN CHECKPOINTS
Opening a 25 February session of the Russian Security Council, President Putin said that military checkpoints in Chechnya are generally ineffective and should be removed where they are not needed, Interfax reported. Putin also demanded that the military strictly observe the law during all security operations. Russian troop commander in Chechnya Lieutenant General Vladimir Moltenskoi issued a decree in March 2002 setting down measures to exclude human rights abuses during search operations, but those orders have been routinely ignored (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 29 March and 3 April 2002). Commenting on Putin's statement, Chechen Security Council Secretary Rudnik Dudaev, who was seriously injured in the 27 December car bombing in Grozny, told Interfax that he considers it expedient to strengthen checkpoints on Chechnya's borders, in the foothills and mountain regions, and anywhere else where increased activity by Chechen fighters is anticipated. LF

FINAL ARMENIAN PRESIDENTIAL ELECTION RESULTS RELEASED
The Central Election Commission (CEC) on 25 February made public the final returns of the 19 February presidential ballot, RFE/RL's Armenian Service and ITAR-TASS reported. According to those figures, incumbent President Robert Kocharian received 49.5 percent of the vote, 0.3 percent less than the preliminary figure made public on 20 February. People's Party of Armenian Chairman Stepan Demirchian placed second with 28.2 percent of the vote, followed by National Unity Party (AMK) Chairman Artashes Geghamian with 17.6 percent, Center for Strategic Initiatives head Aram Karapetian (2.95 percent), and National Democratic Union Chairman Vazgen Manukian (0.91 percent). The remaining four candidates also polled less than 1 percent each. CEC Deputy Chairman Hamlet Abrahamian said the CEC has received 106 complaints of ballot-box stuffing and other irregularities and has asked state prosecutors to investigate an unspecified number of them. He said votes have been recounted in 15 of 70 polling stations where opposition proxies claimed the results were falsified. The CEC disregarded repeated calls by OSCE monitors to make public a detailed breakdown of the final tally at all 1,865 polling stations. LF

INTERNATIONAL OBSERVERS CONCERNED AT ARRESTS OF ARMENIAN DEMONSTRATORS
Peter Eicher, the U.S. diplomat who heads the OSCE's election-observation mission in Armenia, told RFE/RL's Yerevan bureau on 25 February that he is "very concerned" by the arrests of more than 100 people who participated in unsanctioned demonstrations in Yerevan on 21 and 23 February in support of presidential challenger Demirchian. Eicher said he has not yet seen any evidence to substantiate Armenian officials' claims that those persons were involved in hooliganism, noting that mission members also attended the rallies and found they were "essentially peaceful." Eicher also expressed concern that many detainees were tried behind closed doors and denied access to lawyers. He further noted that the Armenian authorities appear to have done very little to investigate reported violations of election procedures and to discipline those found responsible for them. LF

ARMENIAN OPPOSITION DISCUSSES SECOND-ROUND TACTICS
Meeting in Yerevan on 25 February, representatives of Armenia's most influential opposition parties reaffirmed plans to convene another demonstration on 26 February with the aim of pressuring President Kocharian either to resign or to comply with their demands to halt "illegal arrests" and to punish any government officials found to be involved in falsifying the results of the 19 February vote, RFE/RL's Yerevan bureau reported, quoting National Democratic Party leader Shavarsh Kocharian (no relation to the president). Representatives of Geghamian's AMK did not attend the meeting. Meanwhile, Andranik Hovakimian, who is deputy chairman of the former ruling Armenian Pan-National Movement (HHSh), told RFE/RL that the HHSh has instructed its branches across the country to try to ensure that the 5 March runoff between Kocharian and Demirchian is free and fair. "Armenia should have a legitimately elected president," Hovakimian said. The HHSh has not endorsed either candidate in the runoff, but other leading members including former presidential national security adviser David Shahnazarian have indicated that the HHSh would welcome a Demirchian victory, RFE/RL's Armenian Service reported. LF

ABKHAZ PARLIAMENT SOUNDS ALARM OVER RISING CRIME
Following an 18 February debate on the crime situation, the parliament of the unrecognized Republic of Abkhazia adopted a statement on 25 February calling on the republic's government to take urgent measures to curtail a perceived steep increase in number of murders, robberies, kidnappings, and acts of terrorism, Caucasus Press reported, citing Apsnipress. The statement noted that criminal gangs in Abkhazia are increasingly joining forces with their counterparts in Georgia and southern Russia. The statement was prompted primarily by the abduction on 13 February of former Abkhaz State Customs Committee Chairman Aslan Kobakhia. LF

AZERBAIJANI PRESIDENT ADDRESSES WASHINGTON CONFERENCE
President Heidar Aliev told a 25 February conference in Washington entitled "Energy Corridor East-West: Reality" that construction of the Baku-Tbilisi-Ceyhan oil-export pipeline will guarantee peace and stability in the South Caucasus, Turan reported the following day. But Aliev admitted that unresolved regional conflicts, including the one over Nagorno-Karabakh, are hindering development of the South Caucasus. He warned that the Azerbaijani people are increasingly demanding a new war to reestablish control over Karabakh. Other speakers at the conference included Azerbaijan International Operating Company President David Woodward, State Oil Company of the Azerbaijan Republic President Natik Aliev, and Turkish Deputy Minister of Energy and Natural Resources Yurdagul Yigitguden. Interfax quoted Aliev as telling journalists in Baku on 24 February prior to his departure for Washington that the objective of the conference is to dispel doubts about the financial viability of both the Baku-Tbilisi-Ceyhan oil pipeline and the planned gas-export pipeline from Baku via Tbilisi to Erzerum. LF

THREE AZERBAIJANIS SENTENCED FOR ESPIONAGE
Following a one-week trial, Azerbaijan's Court for Particularly Serious Crimes passed sentence on 25 February on three Azerbaijanis found guilty of spying on behalf of Russian military intelligence, Turan reported on 26 February. The court established that Seyar Ahundov, Sergei Namazov, and Mubariz Ahundov were recruited by Russian military intelligence in the 1980s and that between 1993 and their arrest in July 2002 they provided information on the political situation in Azerbaijan, military sites, and the state of the armed forces. Interfax, however, on 18 February quoted an unnamed Russian Defense Ministry official as denying that the three men had any links with Russian military intelligence. Ahundov and Namazov were each jailed for 11 years, and Mubariz Ahundov for 10. LF

JAPANESE DEPUTY FOREIGN MINISTER VISITS AZERBAIJAN
During a visit to Baku on 23-24 February, Tetsuro Yano met with Azerbaijan's Prime Minister Artur Rasizade, parliament speaker Murtuz Alesqerov, Deputy Foreign Minister Halaf Halafov, and Education Minister Misir Mardanov, Turan reported. Yano and Mardanov signed an agreement on 24 February under which Tokyo will make available 37 million yen ($315,289) to establish a Japanese-language center at Baku State University. Japan will also make available $600,000 to finance 12 projects in education, the medical sector, and infrastructure improvement. At a press conference on 24 February, Yano reaffirmed Tokyo's interest in Azerbaijan's oil-and-gas sector, Turan and Interfax reported on 25 February. LF

IRAQI REFUGEES IN AZERBAIJAN ASK UNHCR FOR HELP
A group of refugees from Iraq picketed the office in Baku of the UN High Commissioner for Refugees on 26 February to complain about problems in obtaining accommodation and food and to demand humanitarian aid, Turan reported. One of the picketers told the agency that some 110 refugees from Iraq, primarily Kurds, Arabs, and Turkmen, have fled to Azerbaijan to date. An Azerbaijani official last week estimated the number of refugees from Iraq at 300 (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 21 February 2003). LF

GEORGIAN PRESIDENT ORDERS PAYMENT OF OUTSTANDING UN DUES
Eduard Shevardnadze has instructed the Georgian Foreign and Finance ministries to expedite payment of at least an initial installment of the country's $7 million debt in unpaid UN membership fees, Caucasus Press reported on 25 February. The country owes some $25 million in membership dues to various international organizations (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 25 February 2003). LF

GEORGIA URGED TO INTENSIFY EFFORTS TO MEET NATO STANDARDS
Bruce Jackson, who is chairman of the nongovernmental U.S. Committee on NATO (U.S.-NATO Committee), told Georgian parliament speaker Nino Burdjanadze on 25 February that Georgia must make a greater efforts to comply with the provisions outlined in the country's program for NATO integration, Caucasus Press reported. LF

KAZAKH OPPOSITION SUPPORTS EU RESOLUTION
At a news conference on 24 February, Kazakh opposition groups called on the government to take notice of a 13 February European Parliament resolution that accused Kazakhstan of committing human rights violations, suppressing opposition, and failing to reform its judicial system. The Kazakh leadership has rejected the resolution. The opposition figures also demanded the release of journalist Sergei Duvanov, who was convicted in January on a statutory-rape charge that is widely believed to have been politically motivated, and called for the reexamination of the cases of Mukhtar Ablyazov and Galymzhan Zhakiyanov, Democratic Choice for Kazakhstan leaders who were convicted of corruption last year, Interfax-Kazakhstan reported on 25 February. A formal appeal to the government was signed by Pyotr Svoik, a leader of Democratic Choice for Kazakhstan; Rozlana Taukina, head of Journalists in Distress; and Kazis Toguzbayev, director of the Kazakhstan office of the International Foundation for the Defense of Political Prisoners. BB

KYRGYZ HUMAN RIGHTS OFFICIAL CRITIQUES THE OPPOSITION
Human Rights Commissioner Tursunbai Bakir uulu told journalists on 24 February that he sees little difference between the banned Islamic extremist organization Hizb ut-Tahrir and Kyrgyzstan's opposition Socialist and Communist parties, Interfax reported on 25 February. Hizb ut-Tahrir wants to change the country's constitutional system as do the latter parties, but the Communists and Socialist seek to do so by legal means. Bakir uulu also said he has no intention of dropping a libel suit against a Bishkek newspaper that claimed he was in league with extremist Muslim groups. Opposition figures assert that such suits by state officials are intended to discourage freedom of speech. BB

ARE DESTABILIZING FORCES BECOMING ACTIVE IN KYRGYZSTAN?
Kyrgyz Prime Minister Nikolai Tanaev, citing information from the National Security Service, told a government meeting on 24 February that "destabilizing forces" are becoming active in parts of the country, akipress.org reported on 25 February. Tanaev specifically mentioned Hizb ut-Tahrir and the Islamic Movement of Uzbekistan, both of which are banned. However, there have been indications in recent months that Hizb ut-Tahrir, at least, has continued to grow despite government efforts to stop it. BB

HIGH UNEMPLOYMENT FIGURES IN TAJIKISTAN
Askar Sharipov, the head of the Information Department of Tajikistan's Republican Center for Employment, told Asia Plus-Blitz on 25 February that the number of people officially registered as unemployed has increased from 8,000 at the moment of independence in 1991 to 52,000 in 2002. But the actual unemployment figures are far in excess of that number, Sharipov said. Many people are registered as having jobs but are neither working nor receiving wages, Sharipov said, adding that many unemployed have stopped looking for work and are living on money obtained by renting out their houses or cars. The official employment rate has declined by about one-quarter since independence, Sharipov said. Small business is providing a very small portion of the country's jobs. According to Sharipov only 26,000 people are employed in the small-business sector. Unemployment among youth is reported to be some 60 percent and is highest in rural areas. BB

SWITZERLAND TO HELP UZBEKISTAN WITH DRUG TREATMENT
During a two-day visit to Switzerland at the beginning of the week, Uzbek Foreign Minister Abdulaziz Komilov and his Swiss counterpart Micheline Calmy-Rey signed agreements under which Switzerland will provide assistance to Uzbekistan's drug-treatment program, including providing syringes for addicts, Uzreport.com reported on 25 February. The Swiss will also assist in the construction of much-needed new water systems for Bukhara and Samarkand. The two countries are also exploring ways to expand economic cooperation. BB

UZBEK TV PUBLICIZES JOURNALISTS' VISIT TO NATO HEADQUARTERS
Uzbek State Television has broadcast a 20-minute program on the visit of a group of Uzbek journalists to NATO headquarters in Brussels that focused on Uzbekistan's cooperation with NATO, uzreport.com reported on 26 February. The journalists also visited Supreme Headquarters Allied Powers Europe and met with NATO officials, including the head of the Cooperative Security and Political Crisis Management Section, who described NATO measures for cooperating with the Central Asian states in the fight against terrorism and drug trafficking. BB

EARLY VOTING BEGINS IN BELARUSIAN LOCAL ELECTIONS
Some 6,400 polling stations were opened on 25 February to allow Belarusians early voting in the local elections scheduled for 2 March, Belarusian Television reported. "The first day of voting has shown a rather high turnout of voters," the network commented. In Smarhon, police detained opposition activist Viktar Shtots, who has called for an election boycott. In Barysau, the city's election commission warned three democratic candidates for violating "the principle of equality of campaigning." The three published campaign ads in two private newspapers, "Borisovskiye Novosti" and "Kuryer iz Borisova." The commission also ordered those two newspapers to publish the platforms of more than 30 other candidates, most of them senior managers with state-run enterprises, and threatened to disqualify the three candidates if the newspapers disobeyed the order. JM

BELARUSIAN JOURNALIST HEADS 'SOVIET' IN PENITENTIARY
Inmates at a corrective-labor facility in Baranavichy have elected journalist Viktar Ivashkevich, editor in chief of the independent newspaper "Rabochy," as head of their "soviet," a self-governing body at their prison, Belapan reported on 25 February. Ivashkevich was sentenced in September to two years of "restricted freedom" in an "open-type corrective-labor institution" for defaming President Alyaksandr Lukashenka in articles published in "Rabochy" during the 2001 presidential election campaign (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 16 September 2002). "The self-government here, in comparison with the administration of the institution, has similarly meager powers to those of local soviets in comparison with the presidential administration," Ivashkevich commented. He promised, however, that in his new capacity he will brief his colleagues on the political situation. JM

POLISH SECURITY CHIEF IN KYIV...
Ukrainian President Leonid Kuchma and visiting Polish National Security Bureau head Marek Siwiec on 25 February discussed deepening their countries' strategic bilateral and multilateral partnerships, Interfax reported, quoting Kuchma spokeswoman Olena Hromnytska. She said the meeting "confirmed Kyiv's readiness to begin an active implementation of the Polish concept of an 'Eastern dimension' in EU joint foreign policy." JM

...WHERE HE DISCUSSES 1943 VOLHYNIA MASSACRE
Spokeswoman Hromnytska also said on 25 February that the two politicians agreed to prepare the joint commemoration of the 1943 Volhynia (Volyn) massacre (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 14 February 2003). Meanwhile, PAP quoted Siwiec as saying in Kyiv that "our aim is to reach a convergence of views" on the massacre. Siwiec said the Polish side wants the Ukrainian authorities, society, and elites to voice assessments on the Volhynia massacre that contain the term "genocide." Historians believe the Ukrainian Insurgent Army murdered some 75,000 Poles during an ethnic-cleansing campaign in 1943 in Nazi-occupied Volhynia. Some 35,000 Ukrainians are thought to have died as a result of retaliation by the Polish Home Army. JM

ESTONIA EXTENDS TERM OF LOCAL COUNCILS
Parliament on 25 February amended Article 156 of the Estonian Constitution to extend the terms of local councils from three to four years, BNS reported. The measure, touted as a way both to save money on elections and to allow politicians more time to fulfill their promises to voters, was approved by 91 of 101 lawmakers. The move marks the first amendment to the constitution since its adoption in the summer of 1992. The next local-council elections are scheduled for the fall of 2005. SG

ESTONIAN PARLIAMENT APPOINTS NEW STATE AUDITOR
By a vote of 69 to 16 with one abstention, legislators on 25 February overwhelmingly approved the appointment of Mihkel Oviir, an adviser to the country's legal chancellor, as chief of the State Audit Office, BNS reported. Oviir replaces Juhan Parts, who resigned in August (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 12 August 2002) and was later elected chairman of the center-right Res Publica party. The 61-year-old Oviir joined the staff of the Justice Ministry in 1972 and served as its chancellor from 1992-2002. The state auditor is appointed for a five-year term. SG

LATVIA APPROVES REVAMPED COMMISSION FOR BILATERAL TALKS WITH RUSSIA
The cabinet on 25 February approved the new makeup of a 24-member commission to facilitate the conclusion of bilateral agreements between Latvia and neighboring Russia, LETA and BNS reported. The group will be headed by Deputy Prime Minister Ainars Slesers. The previous commission of 22 members, formed in December 1997, was hampered by frequent changes in the Russian membership. Sleser said that launching political and economic dialogue with Russia will be his main task. He expressed the hope that Latvia's expected EU and NATO membership will promote Russia's understanding that the situation between the countries has changed. SG

LITHUANIA INAUGURATES NEW PRESIDENT
Forty-six-year-old Rolandas Paksas was inaugurated as Lithuania's new president in a 26 February ceremony in parliament that was presided over by Constitutional Court Chairman Egidijus Kuris, ELTA reported. Paksas has served two terms as Lithuania's prime minister -- the first for five months in 1999 when he was also board chairman of the Homeland Union (Conservatives of Lithuania), and the second for seven months in 2000-01 when he was also chairman of the Liberal Union. Prior to both terms, he served as mayor of the capital, Vilnius. Paksas later left the Liberal Union and established the right-of-center Liberal Democratic Party, which backed him for the presidency. He defeated incumbent Valdas Adamkus in runoff elections in January (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 6 January 2003). Paksas earned a degree in construction engineering but gained fame as an acrobatic pilot. SG

LITHUANIAN LAWMAKERS AMEND REFERENDUM LAW
The Lithuanian parliament on 25 February voted overwhelmingly to amend the referendum law by easing the requirements for successful passage of such initiatives, ELTA reported. It retained the condition that more than half of all eligible voters must participate in the referendum but lowered the number of favorable votes needed for passage from the previous one-third of all eligible voters (currently 902,000) to a simple majority of votes cast. The required number was thus reduced by some 230,000. The amendments also allow voting to take place over two days, lengthen the term for absentee voting, and widen the list of those eligible to vote from home. SG

LITHUANIAN PARLIAMENT CHANGES ITS DELEGATION TO EU CONVENTION
Lithuanian lawmakers on 25 February replaced two of the four members of the parliament's delegation to the EU Convention on the future of Europe, BNS reported. The left-of-center New Union (Social Liberal) replaced Gediminas Dalinkevicius, who left the party to join the Social Democrats, with Gintautas Sivickas. The right-of-center Liberal Democrats chose Eugenijus Maldeikis in place of Alvydas Medalinskas, who left parliament to become foreign-policy adviser to incoming President Paksas. Vytenis Andriukaitis and Algirdas Gricius remain as deputies from the Social Democrats and the Liberal Union. SG

POLAND REPORTEDLY AVOIDING AUSTERITY MEASURES BEFORE EU REFERENDUM...
Leszek Miller's left-wing cabinet is bottling up painful reforms until after June's EU referendum for fear of providing ammunition to accession opponents, Reuters reported on 25 February, quoting a ruling Democratic Left Alliance (SLD) politician who was speaking on condition of anonymity. "There is growing feeling in the SLD that something longer-term and strategic needs to be done pretty quickly to avert a likely defeat in the 2005 general election," the politician added. The same day, the cabinet discussed public-finance reform, but kept quiet on the details of spending cuts while saying it has plans to reduce some taxes and increase the competitiveness of Polish firms. JM

...AS POLL SHOWS DWINDLING SUPPORT FOR GOVERNMENT
A poll conducted by the OBOP polling agency between 8-10 February suggested that 70 percent of Poles -- up 10 percentage points on a similar poll in January -- think the government is performing badly, PAP reported on 25 February. The poll also found that 56 percent of respondents disapprove of the performance of Prime Minister Leszek Miller, up by 1 point in comparison with January. President Aleksander Kwasniewski's approval rate is 70 percent, down 9 points from January. JM

CZECH COALITION OFFICIALLY ENDORSES SOKOL'S CANDIDACY FOR PRESIDENT
The three-party ruling coalition on 25 February officially and jointly endorsed Jan Sokol for the presidential vote slated for parliament on 28 February, CTK reported, citing the chairman of the lower house Elections Commission, Pavel Hodja. Sokol is expected to run against Vaclav Klaus, the candidate of the opposition Civic Democratic Party (ODS). Despite the endorsement, Czech political observers say Sokol's election is not certain, as a handful of lawmakers from the senior coalition Social Democratic Party (CSSD) reportedly are refusing to back him. Sokol reportedly has 138 pledged votes, which is three votes short of the third-round requirement if all 281 lawmakers are present and voting. Sokol met on 25 February for the second time with the CSSD parliamentary group in the Chamber of Deputies, and CTK cited CSSD Deputy Chairman Zdenek Skromach as saying after the meeting that he is "not very enthusiastic" about Sokol's candidacy. Skromach is close to former Premier Milos Zeman, whose bid for the presidency was torpedoed by current CSSD Chairman and Premier Vladimir Spidla. MS

CZECH INTERIOR MINISTER AGREES TO INVESTIGATION OF ALLEGED BUGGING
Interior Minister Stanislav Gross said on 25 February that an investigation will be launched into allegations by parliamentarians that their telephones have been wiretapped, dpa reported (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 24 February 2003). Gross said the probe should last about two months. At the same time, he told CTK that the investigation might come to an end in "a relatively short time," calling the affair a "greatly inflated bubble." The daily "Pravo" reported on 26 February that the civilian counterintelligence service, the Security Information Service (BIS), knows who in the Czech Republic has equipment to enable such taps, adding that the police are not among them. The daily hints that the military intelligence service, on the other hand, has such a capability. MS

CZECH EU CRITICS DENIED FUNDS FOR EU INFORMATION CAMPAIGN
The Czech Foreign Ministry has refused to grant funds allocated for an EU information campaign to organizations that are critical of the EU accession, CTK reported on 26 February, citing the daily "Hospodarske noviny." The ministry on 25 February released a list of 29 nongovernmental organizations that will benefit from funding within the campaign, which will precede the mid-June referendum on accession. All the grants appear to have been allocated to supporters of EU membership.The ministry had said the money would be distributed according to the quality of the applications. Altogether, the ministry allocated over 5.5 million crowns ($161,205) to the projects. MS

MORE CZECH ASYLUM SEEKERS TURNED BACK FROM U.K.
A chartered plane carrying 88 Czechs who were denied asylum requests in the United Kingdom landed at Prague's Ruzyne Airport on 25 February, CTK reported, citing a British Embassy spokeswoman. Most of the asylum seekers are members of the Romany minority. MS

BUSH PHONES SLOVAK PREMIER, THANKS HIM FOR SUPPORT
U.S. President George W. Bush on 25 February phoned Premier Mikulas Dzurinda and expressed his deep appreciation for the support rendered by Slovakia so far in the Iraqi crisis, TASR reported. The agency cited Bush as saying the United States "will never forget the Slovak attitude." White House spokesman Ari Fleischer told journalists the two leaders had "a very friendly conversation" and they "agreed on the importance of disarming Iraq of weapons of mass destruction," an RFE/RL correspondent reported. In an interview on the private TA3 television after the conversation, Dzurinda said that, regardless of the decision the UN Security Council takes on possible military intervention in Iraq, "the U.S. and Slovakia are allies and will remain allies," CTK reported. MS

SLOVAK GOVERNMENT APPROVES AGREEMENT WITH KUWAIT ON NBC UNIT'S DEPLOYMENT
The Slovak government on 25 February approved an agreement with Kuwait on the deployment to that country of a Slovak anti-nuclear, -biological, and -chemical (NBC) unit, TASR reported. The Kuwaiti cabinet has already approved the agreement. Defense Minister Ivan Simko said the agreement is standard procedure for any deployment of Slovak troops abroad and that similar agreements were signed with countries where Slovak soldiers have been stationed as peacekeepers. Under the agreement, the Slovak troops are obliged to respect Kuwaiti legislation, customs, and traditions. The agreement also grants unspecified privileges and immunity from prosecution in some cases. TASR said the unit will comprise 69 soldiers, less than the planned 75, because some of its members decided to stay home "due to the escalating tension or other reasons." AP reported that the unit is to leave for the Persian Gulf in groups and should be at full strength within days. Russian planes will transport the troops at a cost of 137.6 million crowns ($3.26 million), and Slovakia is negotiating with the United States on the possibility of Washington covering some of the costs. MS

SLOVAKIA FORMALLY ACCEPTS INVITATION TO JOIN NATO
The center-right cabinet on 25 February empowered Foreign Minister Eduard Kukan to write to NATO Secretary-General Lord George Robertson to inform him that Slovakia accepts the invitation extended in November to join the Atlantic alliance, TASR reported. Foreign Ministry State Secretary Ivan Korcok said the letter of acceptance is both a formal procedure and a condition for signing the accession protocols. These are due to be signed in Brussels on 26 March and subsequently must be ratified by the parliaments of current NATO members and the Slovak Parliament. MS

SLOVAK PARLIAMENT APPROVES SEPARATE GROUP OF FORMER HZDS DISSENTERS
Parliament in a 107-30 vote on 25 February approved the new parliamentary group formed by 11 former members of the Movement for a Democratic Slovakia (HZDS), CTK reported. The opposing votes came from the ranks of HZDS and Communist Party of Slovakia deputies. Vojtech Tkac, who is the group's leader, said its members want to play the role of a "constructive opposition" and support Slovakia's Euro-Atlantic orientation. Tkac also said he does not rule out other HZDS deputies joining the new group, whose members were recently expelled from the party. The HZDS has thus ceased to be the strongest parliamentary faction in the Slovak Parliament. MS

SLOVAKIA WANTS 'GOD' IN EU CONSTITUTION
Slovakia wants the future EU Constitution to include a reference to God, TASR reported on 25 February. Ten other countries and the parliamentary group of the European People's Party, which represents the Christian Democratic formations in the European Parliament, support the demand. Such a reference is opposed by Valery Giscard d'Estaing, chairman of the EU Convention on the future of Europe that is debating the future constitution, on the grounds that the document should respect the separation of church and state. The next session of the convention scheduled this week is to debate 16 proposed amendments, including the reference to God proposed by Slovakia. Romania has also expressed support for the amendment (see also "RFE/RL Newsline," 14 February 2003). MS

U.S. MILITARY PLANES USE SLOVAK AIRSPACE...
U.S. military aircraft have transited Slovak airspace "in the last few days" on their way to the Persian Gulf, CTK reported on 25 February, citing spokespeople from the Foreign and Defense ministries. CTK quoted Foreign Ministry spokesman Boris Gandel as saying that six military transport planes have flown through Slovak airspace, while TASR cited him as saying that more flights are expected in the coming days. MS

...BUT GULF-BOUND PLANES DID NOT FLY OVER HUNGARIAN TERRITORY
U.S. planes bound for the Persian Gulf region that flew over Slovakia did not fly through Hungarian airspace, Hungarian Defense Ministry spokesman Istvan Bocskai told "Magyar Hirlap" on 25 February. The Slovak Foreign Ministry announced that U.S. military aircraft used that country's airspace en route to the Gulf region. Bocskai pointed out that only planes bound for Turkey have been granted permission to overfly Hungary, the daily reported. MSZ

HUNGARIAN PREMIER DEFUSES COALITION TENSIONS
Prime Minister Peter Medgyessy on 24 February told the junior coalition Free Democrats parliamentary group that his failure to consult the party before announcing a cabinet reshuffle constituted a "mistake," "Nepszabadsag" reported on 26 February. The moves followed the resignation of Elemer Kiss as head of the Prime Minister's Office (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 24 and 25 February 2003). Medgyessy assured the Free Democrats that in future they will be consulted on matters that affect the coalition pact, but he added that there will be no institutionalized form of consultation such as that which existed in former Socialist Prime Minister Gyula Horn's administration in 1994-98. Free Democrat politicians told "Nepszabadsag" that the misunderstanding did not represent a coalition crisis and a visit by Medgyessy defused any tensions. MSZ

HUNGARIAN OPPOSITION PARTY STATUTES TO BE AMENDED AHEAD OF EX-CHAIRMAN'S RETURN
Former Prime Minister Viktor Orban wants to amend the FIDESZ party's statutes so that he, rather than local branches, nominates candidates for parliament, "Magyar Hirlap" reported on 26 February. Orban is seeking to concentrate personnel issues in one place and has struggled to get party leaders at the county level to accept the move, according to the daily. The FIDESZ leadership will meet on 26 February to discuss Orban's proposal to transform the right-wing FIDESZ into a broad-based "people's party." Orban is expected to declare at the meeting that he will return to lead the party, "Magyar Hirlap" reported. MSZ

HUNGARIAN CURRENT-ACCOUNT DEFICIT SOARS AMID CALCULATION CONFUSION
Hungary's 2002 current-account deficit was nearly three times the 2001 figure, according to final, revised data released on 26 February by the Hungarian National Bank (MNB), "Magyar Hirlap" reported. However, a change in accounting methods has created some confusion over the figures. Under the old calculation method, based on bank transfers, the current-account deficit rose from 1.3 billion euros ($1.4 billion) in 2001 to 3.5 billion euros in 2002, or 5.2 percent of gross domestic product (GDP). According to the new method, based on customs data, the deficit rose from 2 billion euros in 2001 to 2.7 billion euros last year, or 4.1 percent of GDP. The National Bank changed its method of calculation on 1 January, in part to harmonize it with that of the Central Statistics Office. Analysts were somewhat surprised by the large discrepancy in the final figures between the two methods of calculation, the daily reported. MSZ

KOSOVAR SERBS TAKE BIG STEP TOWARD SETTING UP THEIR OWN ENTITY...
Some 300 delegates representing Serbian communities in eastern, northern, and central Kosova agreed in Mitrovica on 25 February to set up a Parliament of Serbian Districts and District Units of Kosovo and Metohija, "Danas" reported (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 25 February 2003). The delegates approved a declaration endorsing the "sovereignty and territorial integrity of Serbia and of the state union of Serbia and Montenegro." They vowed to defend that integrity "with all available means." The resolution said the new Union of Serbian Districts and District Units of Kosovo and Metohija, or Serbian Union, will function as "an integral part of Serbia," Reuters reported. The declaration called for the return of Serbian security forces to the province and urged a fight against organized crime and "terrorism," which are terms that some Serbian politicians and media use to justify oppressing Albanians. The delegates demanded the abolition of the civilian Kosova Protection Corps (TMK), which most Serbs regard as nothing more than a successor to the Kosova Liberation Army (UCK) under a different name. PM

...AND ELECT A LEADERSHIP...
The Serbian delegates meeting in Mitrovica on 25 February elected Marko Jaksic of the Democratic Party of Serbia (DSS) to head the Serbian Union, "Danas" reported. He was unable to attend the session because he is in Kraljevo recovering from injuries sustained in a traffic accident. Prominent Kosovar Serb personalities present at the gathering in Mitrovica included Serbian Orthodox Archbishop Artemije and politicians Rada Trajkovic and Milan Ivanovic, who, like Jaksic, is known as a hard-liner, dpa reported. Trajkovic said that "all Serbs are afraid of Albanians dominating their lives," Reuters reported. The Serbian meeting comes in response to a recent call by leading Kosovar Albanian political parties for independence. This in turn was triggered by the inclusion in the preamble of the Constitutional Charter of Serbia and Montenegro of a reference to Kosova being part of Serbia, which the province's ethnic Albanian majority refuses to accept following the 1998-99 conflict (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 11 and 18 February 2003). PM

...BUT ARE REBUKED BY THE UN AND ALBANIANS
Michael Steiner, who heads the UN civilian administration (UNMIK) in Kosova, dismissed the formation of the Serbian Union, Reuters reported from Mitrovica on 25 February. He told a press conference that "institutions that are based in monoethnicity will neither be our partners, nor will they have any legal relevance." Steiner's spokesman, Simon Haselock, argued that "these ideas of partition and division only incite tension." Ramadan Avdiu, who is a political adviser to Kosovar Prime Minister Bajram Rexhepi, said that "this union is an attempt at dividing Kosova and is unacceptable." Observers note that one factor instrumental in triggering the Croatian conflict in 1991 and the Bosnian war the following year was the refusal of local Serbs to live in a state in which they would be in a minority. Similar feelings on the part of the Serbs of Kosova led them to support former President Slobodan Milosevic, beginning with his rise to power in 1987. PM

PARLIAMENT ELECTED FOR SERBIA AND MONTENEGRO
The Serbian parliament elected 91 deputies to the new legislature of Serbia and Montenegro on 25 February, RFE/RL's South Slavic and Albanian Languages Service reported (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 19 February 2003). The Montenegrin parliament approved a list of 35 legislators to the same body. Miodrag Ilickovic, who is vice president of Montenegro's pro-independence Social Democratic Party (SDP), told RFE/RL that he hopes that the Montenegrin deputies in the new parliament will play a similar role to that of the Slovenian legislators in the former Yugoslav parliament in its last years, namely paving the way to independence. PM

MASSIVE FRAUD REVEALED AT BOSNIAN SERB ELECTRIC COMPANY
An audit commissioned by the Office of the High Representative, who is Paddy Ashdown, has revealed that "mismanagement, conflicts of interest, theft, and neglect" have resulted in losses of nearly $90 million annually to the sole Bosnian Serb electric company, which is funded from the Republika Srpska's budget, dpa reported from Sarajevo on 25 February. In one instance, a London-based company bought electricity from Elektroprivreda Republike Srpske at below-market prices and resold it elsewhere at a 40 percent markup, in contrast to the more typical profit margin in the energy business of 1-5 percent. In Banja Luka, 30 deputies to the Bosnian Serb parliament demanded a special legislative debate on the power industry, RFE/RL's South Slavic and Albanian Languages Service reported. PM

CROATIA PARTIALLY OPENS AIRSPACE TO U.S.
Meeting in an emergency session, the Croatian government agreed to open its airspace to the United States in the event of a conflict in Iraq, but only to civilian aircraft, Reuters reported from Zagreb. An unnamed government official told the news agency that this was the only concrete request that Croatia has received so far. The official added that any additional demands, which the government expects to receive if war begins, will require legislative approval (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 24 February 2003) Political analyst Zoran Kusovac said the Americans have made their request "simply...to have more options available.... They also want numbers, to show how many countries have supported them." PM

MACEDONIAN ALBANIAN OPPOSITION LEADER SLAMS GOVERNMENT
Opposition Democratic Party of the Albanians (PDSH) Chairman Arben Xhaferi told a press conference in Tetovo on 25 February that the government must not interfere in the internal affairs of political parties, "Utrinski vesnik" reported. Xhaferi was reacting to a statement that Defense Minister Vlado Buckovski made to RFE/RL's Macedonian broadcasters on 22 February suggesting that the PDSH supports the shadowy Albanian National Army (AKSH). Xhaferi said: "It sounds paradoxical when the ministers for defense and internal affairs say the PDSH are behind the AKSH, if they are [also] the ones [who also have expressed doubts that] the AKSH exists. How can we be behind something that does not exist?" Recent Macedonian and Serbian media reports suggest that the AKSH is planning a "spring offensive," but politicians from Albania and Macedonia as well as representatives of the international community deny its existence (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 7, 24, and 25 February 2003). Reuters reported from Skopje on 25 February that some Western diplomats there feel that the AKSH is nothing more than a small group of local criminals who have set up their own website. UB

ROMANIAN PREMIER CALLS FOR 'CAUTION' IN STATEMENTS ON IRAQ CRISIS
Prime Minister Adrian Nastase on 25 February said Romanian officials must be "extremely cautious" when making statements pertaining to the Iraq crisis, RFE/RL's Bucharest bureau reported. Nastase made the comment after a journalist asked whether U.S. forces will use Romanian territory to launch an attack on Iraq if Turkey refuses to approve the use of bases on its territory for this purpose. He said there is "no sense in speculating what might happen," and that decisions will be made when the situation calls for them and in line with constitutional provisions. MS

ROMANIAN LAWMAKERS' IMMUNITY TO BE CURTAILED
The ad hoc parliamentary commission discussing proposals for constitutional amendments decided on 25 February that the parliamentary immunity of deputies and senators will be substantially curtailed, Romanian Radio reported. Immunity will protect parliamentarians from detention and home searches, but will no longer apply in the event of investigations and lawsuits against them. MS

ROMANIAN NGOS DEMAND NULLIFICATION OF GOVERNMENTAL ORDINANCE
Over 40 Romanian nongovernmental organizations on 25 February demanded that the government nullify a government ordinance issued last month, saying it seriously infringes on the freedom of association, RFE/RL's Bucharest bureau reported. Renate Weber, chairman of the Open Society Foundation, said the ordinance makes the setting up of nongovernmental organizations or foundations conditional on receiving ministerial approval. She also said that Ordinance 37/2003 stipulates that only those nongovernmental organizations recognized by the government as serving the public interest can receive allocations from the budget, a condition she said could be used as an instrument against organizations with political views that differ from the government's. Weber also warned that the ordinance could be used by political parties to channel funds into their own pockets by setting up nongovernmental organizations. The Justice Ministry responded that ministerial approval for setting up nongovernmental organizations is only "consultative" and the final decision rests in the hands of the judiciary. MS

MOLDOVA WALKS TIGHTROPE ON IRAQI CRISIS
The Moldovan Foreign Ministry said in a statement released on 25 February that it is "profoundly concerned by the development of the [international] situation" due to the Iraq crisis, Flux reported. The ministry said Moldova "and other states" are seeking ways to peacefully resolve the crisis through the United Nations and to avoid "a military conflict with unpredictable consequences on regional and world peace and security." Moldova, the statement added, "regrets that Baghdad continues to avoid the full and unconditional implementation of UN Security Council resolutions." By so doing, Iraq "is assuming full responsibility for the failure of [efforts] to seek a peaceful solution" to the crisis. MS

BRAGHIS ALLIANCE MAKES ITS POINT ON MOLDOVAN TELEVISION
The Moldovan authorities on 25 February allowed Braghis Alliance Chairman Dumitru Braghis and the party's National Board Chairman Ion Gutu to address the public on Moldovan Television, thus meeting one of the alliance's conditions for renouncing the boycott it declared on parliamentary debates, Infotag reported. Braghis said the communist parliamentary majority acted unconstitutionally when it refused to take into consideration the 213,000 signatures gathered by his party in favor of holding a referendum on changing the electoral system from a proportional to a mixed one. He said that in line with the basic law's provisions, parliament can only approve the plebiscite or change its wording. He also said the legislature is not empowered to verify the authenticity of the signatures gathered, as that prerogative belongs solely to the Central Election Commission, which validated the drive. The Braghis Alliance's two other conditions for returning to regular parliamentary debates are that the authorities stop persecuting those who participated in the drive and rehire those who were fired from their jobs for doing so. MS

U.S. AMBASSADOR REFUTES RUMORS ON EARLY DEPARTURE
U.S. Ambassador to Moldova Pamela Hyde Smith on 25 February dismissed rumors that her term as ambassador will end early, Infotag reported. Addressing a forum at the Institute of Political Science and International relations in Chisinau, Hyde Smith said her mission ends only in September. She said U.S. ambassadors can choose to serve two to three years in a foreign country and that for personal reasons she opted for the shorter term. On 24 February, U.S. Assistant Secretary of State Steven Pfeiffer sent an open letter to the Moldovan media to refute rumors about the ambassador's alleged revocation. Pfeiffer said nominating ambassadors is a lengthy process and that is why the White House announced the name of Pamela Hyde Smith's successor, Heather Hodges, several months prior to the end of Hyde Smith's term (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 19 February 2003). MS

BULGARIAN PRESIDENT WARNS AGAINST UNDUE HASTE IN SUPPORTING NEW UN SECURITY COUNCIL RESOLUTION ON IRAQ
Speaking at a joint news conference with visiting Finnish President Tarja Halonen, President Georgi Parvanov said in Sofia on 25 February that Bulgaria should not rush a decision on whether to support any new UN Security Council resolution, according to the president's official website (http://www.president.bg). "I believe that we should carefully analyze all possibilities included in [the U.S., British, and Spanish backed] draft resolution and, of course, in the French proposal [a memorandum backed by Russia and Germany]." Parvanov called for a joint decision by all relevant Bulgarian institutions and political parties. He also underscored the need for more active dialogue on the issue, "and this time especially with our partners in the European Union." He added that rumors that Bulgaria has already made a decision on the draft UN resolution "are exaggerated" (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 24 February 2003). UB

BULGARIAN PRIME MINISTER MEETS WITH U.S. PRESIDENT IN WASHINGTON
Prime Minister Simeon Saxecoburggotski met with U.S. President George W. Bush in Washington on 25 February to discuss the United Nations' efforts to disarm Iraq, mediapool.bg reported. After the meeting, Saxecoburggotski told the media that Bulgaria has not yet decided whether to support the draft resolution regarding Iraq that the United States, United Kingdom, and Spain have proposed to the UN Security Council. "So far, no other country has made a decision, so why should we?" Saxecoburggotski asked. He added that the issue of possible guarantees for Bulgaria also came up in the talks, but he did not specify whether Bush agreed to grant them. White House spokesman Ari Fleischer said at a later press conference that at the meeting Bush "made clear that Bulgaria can count on the United States' friendship." UB

FIRST U.S. TRANSPORT AIRCRAFT ARRIVE IN BULGARIA
U.S. transport aircraft began arriving at the Sarafovo air base in eastern Bulgaria on 24 February, BTA reported. The aircraft are carrying U.S. personnel and equipment to prepare the air base for use by refueling aircraft in the event of a military operation against Iraq (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 7 and 24 February 2003). UB

THE ISLAMIC PARTY OF RUSSIA
Boasting 2,160,000 members and aspiring to five times that number, the recently organized Islamic Party of Russia (IPR) stands poised to play a significant role in Russian electoral politics. It will undergo its first important test on its home field on 16 March when Daghestan elects its third National Assembly.

On 17 May 2001, the IPR circumvented legal restrictions to become the first Islamic political organization registered by the Russian Justice Ministry in accord with new laws governing party operations. Originally the group had applied for registration under the title of the Party of the Muslims of Russia. However, ministry officials were concerned that the name would lend the organization a monoconfessional appearance contrary to the law on political parties, which prohibits monoconfessional and mononational parties. However, after the name was changed to the Islamic Party of Russia, it passed administrative review on the ground that "Islam is an ideology, a culture, and a lifestyle of many people in the world."

The IPR is led by Magomedgadji Radzhabov, an ethnic Avar from Daghestan who chairs the Mesed Bank. Radzhabov also leads Russia's True Patriot Party, which claims 35,000 members, and a Daghestani social movement known as Nur. Several other residents of Daghestan play leading roles in the IPR, which held its constituent convention in Moscow on 25 March 2001. That convention seated representatives from 49 subjects of the federation, the majority of whom were members of the diaspora from Daghestan that has spread throughout Russia.

On the basis of both historical or cultural considerations, one might argue that Daghestan is the most Islamic -- or even the most religious -- subject of the Russian Federation and, probably, the one in which religion plays the most significant political role. Islam, which appeared in Daghestan as early as the eighth century, emerged as a political factor in the course of Caucasian wars of the 19th century. At that time, Daghestan developed an Islamic ideological system known as Muridism, which proved capable of organizing efficient, long-term resistance to Russian expansion. In the course of this struggle, Muridism was also able to establish political institutions that united the highlanders of the Northeastern Caucasus. Later, in pre-revolutionary Russia, the chairman of the Islamic Alliance of Russia was the sheik Saypula Bashlarov.

With the collapse of communist ideology and institutions over the last decade, Islamic structures were revived as modes of religious activity and were also rapidly included in the system of social intercourse that provided society in Daghestan with norms and procedures for social reorganization. Islam reemerged as serious political force in Daghestan, and Muslim leaders from Daghestan frequently played broader political roles. In 1990, an Avar from Daghestan with Wahhabi fundamentalist proclivities named Akhmad-Kadi Aktaev founded the Islamic Party of Revival in the USSR. In the mid 1990s, a Lak from Daghestan, Nadir Khachilaev, became the leader of the Islamic Alliance of Russia, as well as a deputy in the State Duma and a representative of Muslims at the highest levels of Russian power.

In an interview published in the republican newspaper "Nur-ul Islam" in June 2001, Radzhabov said: "Islam is not only a religion, but also an ideology and a lifestyle of millions of Russian citizens. In the larger picture, it is also a basis for culture and policy." In an interview with "MK-Daghestan" that was also published in June 2001, Radzhabov commented on the political function of Islam in modern society, remarks that merit quoting at length:

"Many say today that religion must not venture into politics.... Such people have not even the remotest idea about Islam, since Islam gives us answers to all life's questions.... Previously, representatives of Islam found it difficult to provide exegeses that teach Islamic values and to talk about Islam openly as the divine law on Earth that makes a person happy. There weren't enough people preaching about it in the mosques. As a result, we are now witnesses to moral decline, widespread drug addiction, and high levels of criminality in our society. Today it is necessary to forge a connection between Islamic justice and politics, and on behalf of Islam, our party has its voice in the Duma and in the other organs of power at all levels.... Today Islam has the opportunity to realize it's own ideas in practice and to make decisions for the sake of Almighty God and for the goodness of the people," Radzhabov said.

"Islam, as a religion contains in itself the answers to all of mankind's political and social questions," Radzhabov said in the same interview. "Therefore, by naming the Islamic Party, I, first of all, would like to elevate the image of Islam and incorporate the prescriptions of Islam into the life of our society."

With reference to Russia's growing Islamic population, Radzhabov pointed out that "we shall protect the interests of each fifth citizen of the Russian Federation." Prior to the release of 2002 census data, informed observers have offered estimates of Russia's Muslim population that range from 13 million to 30 million or more. The official Russian government estimate is 19 million. Not surprisingly, Radzhabov favors a higher estimate. Here, as with his claims about IPR membership, his figures may require scrutiny.

According to Radzhabov, the IPR aims at a "grassroots base among low-level primary organizations in the regions," suggesting that local mosques will play a crucial role in the party's tactics. The leaders of the IPR's regional branches sit on the party's central organ, the General Council. The General Council elects the Presidium of the IPR. As the current leader of the Party, Radzhabov is simultaneously the chairman of the General Council and chairman of the Presidium.

Nonetheless, funding appears to depend largely upon Radzhabov's personal contributions, along with proceeds from party dues. Radzhabov says that he is "counting on voluntary donations from wealthy people."According to Radzhabov, the IPR will field a large number of candidates in the March republican National Assembly elections, and he hopes his party will capture more than 75 percent of the seats. Candidates will run on a shared platform that upholds Islamic values, opposes political corruption, and rejects the common practice of vote buying that often has included exchanges of in-kind services.

While the 75 percent target seems optimistic, the IPR is likely to benefit from a protest vote against political corruption and particularly against recent controversies involving Daghestan's head of state, Magomedali Magomedov. It appears that the leaders of the IPR are moderate Muslim traditionalists who are likely to take a pragmatic approach in working with other political groups.

Robert Bruce Ware is an associate professor at Southern Illinois University Edwardsville who conducts fieldwork in the Caucasus.

FIGHTING IN AFGHANISTAN'S FARYAB PROVINCE CONTINUES
Seven "local inhabitants" have been killed and an undisclosed number injured in renewed fighting in Faryab Province, Iranian state radio's Mashhad-based Dari service reported on 25 February. The latest fighting reportedly took place in the province's Qand-e Sang area. Six people were reportedly 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 (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 24 February 2003). AT

ISAF USING AFGHAN CLERICS TO GAIN LEGITIMACY, ENHANCE SECURITY
The International Security Assistance Force (ISAF), after reaching an agreement with the Ministry of Hajj and Religious Endowments, has asked clerics in Kabul mosques to help educate citizens about the ISAF's mandate and to help the international force in their peacekeeping mission, Iranian state radio's Mashhad-based Dari service reported on 25 February. A delegation of 50 Islamic clerics and tutors led by Mowlawi Qari Samad have visited the ISAF's headquarters to lay the groundwork for their joint efforts. The report noted that this initiative comes at a time when there is "growing cynicism about the presence of foreign forces" in Afghanistan. Iranian state radio's Zadedan-based Pashtu service reported that two Muslim scholars, Mulla Wali Marjan and Mulla Shernawazi, were detained in Khost Province by U.S. forces on 24 February and taken to an "unknown destination." Iranian state radio appears to be contrasting the ISAF's behavior with that of U.S. forces. AT

KANDAHAR REISSUES BAN ON FOREIGN CURRENCY
The authorities of Kandahar Province announced on 25 February that any person using foreign currency will be "severely penalized," Radio Afghanistan reported from Kabul the same day. According to the report, the announcement will become a "legal decree" beginning on 21 March, the Afghan New Year. The announcement warns that if anyone is caught using foreign currency, their money will be "seized and the person will be imprisoned," Radio Afghanistan added. The radio station said the new measure in Kandahar is targeted against the use of Pakistani rupees. Kandahar Governor Gul Agha Sherzai on 7 January declared it illegal to use foreign currency and said violators will be questioned by security forces (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 9 January 2003). The Radio Afghanistan report did not mention the previous ban. It is not clear if the punishments for using foreign currency will take effect immediately or after 21 March. Pakistani rupees were legal tender in most of Afghanistan during the Taliban's rule, especially in Kandahar. AT

TRIBE BLOCKS HIGHWAY IN EASTERN AFGHANISTAN
The Zadran tribe has blocked the highway between Gardayz and Khost since last weekend, Pakistan's Afghan Islamic Press (AIP) reported on 25 February. The Zadran are reportedly demanding the release of a number of their vehicles they claim have been seized by the government authorities in Khost, AIP reported. The government authorities and Pacha Khan Zadran, a major Zadran tribal leader, have been in a long-running dispute which culminated in his dismissal as the governor of Paktiya Province (see "RFE/RL Newsline,"18 November and 19 December 2002). AT

HIGHWAY ROBBERY IN AFGHANISTAN
"Erada" commented on 24 February that robberies and the lack of security on Afghan highways are "products of warlordism" and claimed that "illegal road tolls" have been set up along the Kabul-Jalalabad highway. The newspaper cited a recent incident in which a group of Afghan pilgrims were robbed of their belongings while traveling on the Kabul-Jalalabad highway on their way home from the Hajj. During the civil war, warlords controlled sections of Afghanistan's roads and collected tolls from and often robbed travelers. One of the Taliban's few successes was eliminating most of these tolls and opening the highways, but the group then ushered in its own regime of terror. AT

AFGHAN PAPER COMMENTS ON JUDICIAL SYSTEM
"Rah-e Hambastagi" on 19 February said that during the past two decades of war in Afghanistan the country's judicial system was virtually destroyed and is in need of "immediate rehabilitation." Without a strong and stable judicial system it will be impossible for the government to safeguard the rights of its citizens or to govern the country, the newspaper added. The paper suggested that the country's new judicial system be formed in accordance with both the values of Islam and accepted international norms, and be free of interference from the executive branch. Afghans expect their judicial system, particularly the Supreme Court, to safeguard their rights and to protect them from the influence of "irresponsible [people] and unbelievers." Last November, President Hamid Karzai ordered the formation of a Judicial Commission in order to improve and introduce reforms to the justice system (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 4 November 2002). Italy plays the lead role in coordinating international assistance to Afghanistan's judicial sector. AT

TEHRAN-ISLAMABAD TIES IN TROUBLE
Pakistani Prime Minister Mir Zafarullah Khan Jamali's visit to Iran, which was scheduled for mid-February, was cancelled due to U.S. pressure, anonymous "credible sources" said in the 24 February edition of Islamabad's Urdu-language "Ausaf" daily. The daily also speculated that the cancellation could be associated with President Mohammad Khatami's tilt toward the Indian position on the disputed Kashmir region. In what could be another indication of deteriorating Tehran-Islamabad ties, Iran has deferred plans to provide Pakistan's Baluchistan region with electricity, Rawalpindi's Urdu-language "Nawa-i-Waqt" daily reported on 24 February. The provision of electricity was to begin in mid-February and the Iranian side has not given a reason for the delay other than to say the power will not be available for several months. BS

TEHRAN VOTE COUNT TO BE CLOSELY WATCHED
Tehran Governor Hashemi predicted on 25 February that results from the 28 February municipal-council poll in Tehran should be ready within 48 hours of the polls' closure, state radio reported. Hashemi said 50 computer centers, 1,500 computers, and 2,500 computer operators will count the ballots, and there also will be hand counting. The process will be closely watched, according to Hashemi. "At every stage of the elections and the counting of the votes, representatives from supervisory, executive, and inspection boards, as well as representatives of parties and volunteers, will oversee the rectitude of the council elections," he said. BS

TEHRAN SURVEYS PREDICT LOW VOTER TURNOUT
A 25 February telephone survey by the Iranian Students Polling Agency found that out of 566 Tehran residents only 40.2 percent will vote in the council election, "Entekhab" reported on 26 February. More than 85 percent of respondents said they had not decided for whom they would vote. An 18 February telephone poll by the Iranian Students Polling Agency found that 43.4 percent of 454 Tehran respondents stated they would participate in the upcoming elections, the hitherto unknown Iranian Youth Network News Agency reported on 22 February. In the same poll, 28.9 percent of respondents said they are undecided. BS

PROVINCIAL SURVEY PREDICTS HIGH VOTER PARTICIPATION IN IRANIAN ELECTIONS
Seyyed Javad Husseini, the director general for Social and Electoral Affairs in the Khorasan governor's office, said on 5 February that a recent survey found that 74.4 percent of voters planned to participate in the election, "Iran Daily" reported on 6 February. Rural residents will be more active than urban ones, the survey found, and women will be more active than men. Every Iranian born before 28 February 1988 will be eligible to vote. As of July 2002, Iran's population was estimated to be 66,622,704, and 68.4 percent of the population was estimated to be 15 or older (see http://www.odci.gov/cia/publications/factbook/geos/ir.html). This means there are approximately 45.6 million eligible voters in the entire country. BS

BANNED MOVEMENT URGES PARTICIPATION IN ELECTIONS
The Freedom Movement (Nehzat-i Azadi) in a 25 February fax to IRNA urged all Iranians to vote in the upcoming municipal-council elections. Referring to conservative efforts to discourage participation in the election, the Freedom Movement said, "Those not supporting the municipal elections are, in fact, against council-oriented system of government and against democracy and the reform process." This is the first time in many years that members of the banned Freedom Movement are able to compete in election, because the Guardians Council is not vetting candidates. Senior members of the Freedom Movement, such as Gholam Abbas Tavassoli, Khosro Mansurian, and Abolfazl Bazargan, are standing as independent candidates, according to a 24 February AP report. BS

RADIO FARDA ACCUSED OF CAMPAIGNING FOR REFORMIST PARTY
The conservative "Resalat" daily on 26 February claimed that Radio Farda -- "which produces and broadcasts programs with the direct financial and ideological guidance of America's espionage organization and with the aim of leading the Iranian public astray" -- has in the past week given undue attention to candidates affiliated with the pro-Khatami Islamic Iran Participation Party. The newspaper claimed that Radio Farda has publicized the views of IIPP candidate Mustafa Tajzadeh at least four times. BS

IRANIAN OPINION POLLSTERS GET HOME LEAVE
Ayandeh Research Institute board member Abbas Abdi was given a one-hour leave from prison on 22 February, "Iran News" reported on 25 February, citing "Seda-yi Idalat." Abdi's daughter told the daily that her father was in good health. Abdi was sentenced to eight years in prison after Ayandeh conducted a poll that found that the majority of Tehran citizens favor the resumption of Iran-U.S. relations. Ayandeh Managing Director Hussein Qazian's lawyer, Ramazan Haji-Mashhadi, said his client received a few hours leave to visit his family, "Etemad" reported on 22 February. Qazian is considering filing an appeal. The granting of leave to these individuals might be connected with the current visit to Iran by a UN team that is examining the country's prisons, and it is not known if other prisoners get the same privilege. BS

IRANIAN DAILY QUESTIONS ARREST-AND-RELEASE PATTERN
A commentary by Amir Mohebbian in the 24 February "Resalat" daily questioned the reason for arresting and after a few days releasing journalist Mohsen Sazgara (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 19, 20, and 25 February). The daily noted that until this most recent incident Sazgara had never been prosecuted for his open letters that criticize state officials, and the daily remarked that the incident took place when a UN human rights team is visiting Iran. The commentary asked if "hidden hands" are trying to improve the stature of relatively unknown political figures in order to harm the system. The commentary urged the Ministry of Intelligence and Security to resolve and clarify the issue of such arrests. BS

UNMOVIC CHIEF PRAISES IRAQ FOR SUBSTANTIVE COOPERATION
Hans Blix, executive chairman of the UN Monitoring, Verification, and Inspection Commission (UNMOVIC), told reporters on 25 February that Iraq has supplied important new information on its weapons programs, AP reported the same day. According to Blix, Iraq has recently provided inspectors with half a dozen letters on weapons, including two R-400 aerial bombs. The R-400 aerial bomb can be filled with biological or chemical agents. Blix praised the Iraqi move, saying, "This is cooperation on substance." At the same time, he noted that documents are only one step in the process of destroying proscribed weaponry. He also repeated that the demand that Iraq destroy its Al-Sumud 2 missiles is not open to debate. UNMOVIC has given Iraq until 1 March to begin destroying the missiles. Blix is scheduled to submit his next written report to the UN Security Council the same day. DK

IRAQ TO ATTEND ARAB LEAGUE SUMMIT
Amr Musa, secretary-general of the Arab League, announced that Iraq has officially confirmed that it will attend the Arab summit in Sharm al-Shaykh on 1 March, "Al-Sharq al-Awsat" reported on 26 February. Egyptian Foreign Minister Ahmad Mahir confirmed that 17 Arab countries have agreed to attend the summit and noted that more might join them. Mahir said Iraqi Foreign Minister Naji Sabri is scheduled to arrive in Sharm al-Shaykh within the next two days. Iraq had originally asked that the summit be delayed until 14 March. Preparations for the Arab summit have been tense, with participants differing sharply on the summit's agenda and timing. DK

LOW-PROFILE DIPLOMACY BY HIGH-RANKING RUSSIANS
Aleksandr Voloshin, Russian President Vladimir Putin's chief of staff, met with U.S. President George W. Bush and national security adviser Condoleezza Rice on 24 February, Russian daily "Izvestiya" reported on 25 February. White House spokesman Ari Fleischer would say only that Iraq was on the agenda during the meeting, "The Moscow Times" reported on 26 February. Voloshin, a longtime Kremlin insider viewed as a master of behind-the-scenes deals, is in Washington for a series of high-level meetings that include Vice President Dick Cheney, Secretary of State Colin Powell, CIA Director George Tenet, Commerce Secretary Donald Evans, and even former Secretary of State Henry Kissinger, "Izvestiya" reported. The visit, which received little coverage in the U.S. press, comes as part of a two-pronged Russian diplomatic effort. Yevgenii Primakov, a State Duma deputy and head of the Chamber of Commerce and Industry, met with Iraqi President Saddam Hussein on 24 February, lenta.ru reported the same day. An Arabist by training and former minister of foreign affairs, Primakov has long-standing ties with many Arab leaders, including Hussein. There was no official indication of any connection between the two meetings. DK

PARLIAMENT TO TEST BLAIR ON IRAQ WAR STANCE
British Prime Minister Tony Blair's steadfast support for a U.S.-led war against Iraq will face a tough test when Parliament debates and votes on a motion on the government's Iraq policy on 26 February, the BBC reported the same day. Two "no war yet" amendments with a total of 162 parliamentarians behind them are in the air as the debate nears, BBC political Editor Andrew Marr wrote on 26 February. (There are currently 659 members of the House of Commons.) More worrisome for Blair are the "rebels" among Labour's 410 MPs, whose numbers have swelled to 80, double what they were one month ago. DK

IRAQI PRESIDENT PREFERS DEATH TO EXILE, DENIES AL-QAEDA LINKS
President Saddam Hussein vowed that he will die before going into exile and denied any links to Al-Qaeda in excerpts from a CBS News interview made public by cbsnews.com on 25 February. "We will die in this country and we will maintain our honor.... [W]hoever...offers Saddam asylum in his own country is in fact a person without morals," Hussein told interviewer Dan Rather. Hussein responded to a question about links to the Al-Qaeda terrorist network and its leader, Osama bin Laden, with a blanket denial, claiming, "Iraq has never had any relationship with Al-Qaeda and I think that Mr. bin Laden himself has recently...given such an answer that we have no relation with him." Hussein also stated in the interview that he has no plans to destroy Iraq's oil-industry infrastructure in the event of a U.S. invasion. The full interview will be aired on 25 February. DK

KUWAITI INTERIOR MINISTER ACCUSES IRAQ OF TERRORISM, ESPIONAGE
Kuwaiti Interior Minister Sheikh Muhammad Khalid al-Hamad al-Sabah on 25 February accused President Hussein of supporting terrorism within Kuwait and using diplomatic facilities to conduct espionage, Al-Jazeera reported. The minister's remarks came at a press conference at the Al-Abraq military garrison on the Kuwaiti-Iraqi border. "The Iraqi regime is currently inciting more acts of terror within Kuwait," al-Sabah said, adding that Iraqi embassies in Gulf capitals are hotbeds of information-gathering activity. The minister's comments on Iraqi support for terrorism in Kuwait came one day after Kuwaiti security forces arrested three Kuwaitis for planning to attack U.S. forces stationed in that Gulf nation. A U.S. Marine was killed in October by two pro-Islamist Kuwaitis when U.S. troops came under fire during training exercises on Faylaka Island, approximately 30 miles from Kuwait City. DK

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