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Newsline - March 7, 2003


MOSCOW THINKS IRAQ WAR IS IMMINENT
The Emergency Situations Ministry announced on 6 March that it has brought an additional 150 Russian citizens to Moscow from Iraq and that another five flights are scheduled before 10 March that will evacuate virtually all the Russians remaining in that country, RIA-Novosti and other Russian news agencies reported. Russian oil majors Yukos, LUKoil, and Zarubezhneft have all reportedly summoned their employees home. Lenta.ru commented on 6 March that the Emergency Situations Ministry's move is a sign that Moscow has few hopes that a peaceful solution to the Iraq crisis will be found, and that war appears imminent. The website commented that the only issue for Russia now is what role it will play in postwar Iraq. A high-ranking U.S. diplomat who spoke on condition of anonymity told Interfax on 6 March that Russia's opposition to U.S. policy has not gone unnoticed and could have an impact on many aspects of bilateral relations, including U.S. support for Russia's rapid accession to the World Trade Organization (WTO). In his evening commentary on ORT, Mikhail Leontev -- who is known for his hostile attitude toward the United States -- said the most important issue is not Iraq itself, but the role of the United Nations. "The UN will be dead in any case. It will be suicide if it approves [a U.S.-led military action], and it will be its death if it does not approve [such an action] and its decision is ignored," Leontev said. VY

PUTIN CALLS FOR MORE OIL EXPORTS...
Speaking to regional leaders and businessmen in Tyumen on 6 March, President Vladimir Putin noted that western Siberia accounts for 90 percent of Russian natural-gas production and 65 percent of its oil production, Russian news agencies reported. "One can argue whether it is good or bad to be dependent on oil and gas exports, but this is an abstract dispute," Putin said. "The economic growth of the country has been achieved mainly because of the fuel and energy complex in Tyumen." He confirmed that Russia will increase oil and gas production and exports next year (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 4 March 2003). "We should conquer new positions in world markets and not lose them," Putin urged. He stressed that state monopoly pipeline network Transneft will remain in state ownership and confirmed that the government is making plans for its extension in the Far East, toward Murmansk, in the Baltic region, and in the south. VY

...AND SAYS THERE'S NO NEED TO FEAR WTO...
While in Tyumen, President Putin said that Russia should enter the WTO "thoughtfully and deliberately" so as to avoid harming the Russian economy, lenta.ru reported on 6 March. Putin said that there is no need to fear that some sectors of the economy -- especially the agricultural sector -- will be unprotected from competition within the WTO. "We already have a free market and import everything and as much as we can, so what do we have to fear?" Putin asked rhetorically. VY

...AS PRESIDENTIAL PORTRAITS SNAPPED UP IN ADVANCE OF VISIT
During his visit to Tyumen Oblast on 6 March, President Putin raised the issues of local-government reform and the restructuring of the public-housing and communal-services sector, Radio Rossii reported. Putin also attended a meeting to discuss the Urals Federal District, which was attended by governors of all six regions in that district, as well as by its presidential envoy, Petr Latyshev; Atomic Energy Minister Aleksandr Rumyantsev; and Industry and Science Minister Ilya Klebanov. National oligarchs -- including LUKoil's Vagit Alekperov, Surgutneftegaz's Vladimir Bogdanov, Sergei Nosov of EvrazHolding, and Andrei Kozitsyn of UGMK -- were also expected to attend, RosBalt reported on 4 March. According to newsru.com on 6 March, demand for paintings and photographs of Putin shot up sharply at the local bookstore Znanie in Tyumen prior to Putin's visit. As a result of the run, it is now difficult to find a portrait of Putin in any of the city's major bookstores. In Sverdlovsk Oblast, local political analysts were all buzzing over the fact that Governor Eduard Rossel cut short a trip to Italy in order to attend the meeting with Putin, concluding that Rossel had not been informed in advance of the president's visit, Novyi Region reported on 4 March. JAC

GOVERNMENT PLANS TO SHIFT ITS DEBT
Speaking to a 6 March cabinet meeting session devoted to servicing the country's foreign debt, Deputy Finance Minister Aleksei Ulyukaev said the government has approved in principle a plan to transform its "expensive" foreign debt into "cheaper" domestic debt, strana.ru reported. The plan is pay foreign creditors with funds borrowed from domestic sources. At the beginning of this year, Russia's total debt was $144.9 billion, with domestic indebtedness accounting for just $21.3 billion, Ulyukaev said. He added that the country's foreign-debt payments this year total $17.3 billion, rising to $18.9 billion in 2004. To reduce that burden, the government plans to borrow $20 billion domestically over the next three years by issuing short-term bonds at 6 percent interest. Ulyukaev said that the goal is to reduce Russia's foreign debt to $113 billion by 2006. VY

MILITARY PROSECUTOR CONFIRMS HAZING AT PETERSBURG NAVAL ACADEMY
Leningrad Military District Military Prosecutor Igor Lebed announced on 6 March that his agency has confirmed incidents of hazing at the elite Nakhimov Naval Academy in St. Petersburg, newsru.com reported. On 22 February, the parents of two Nakhimov cadets appealed to the St. Petersburg chapter of the Committee of Soldiers' Mothers for help, saying that their sons were being systematically beaten and humiliated and that a fascist group is active at the academy. Lebed said that his investigation has confirmed that senior officers at the academy were aware of the hazing and did nothing to stop it, and that they ignored parents' complaints. He said that the case has now been handed over to Russian Navy Commander Admiral Vladimir Kuroedov, who will determine whether disciplinary action is necessary. VY

FSB DISCOVERS WEAPONS CACHE NEAR MOSCOW
Federal Security Service (FSB) agents on 6 March discovered a large cache of weapons and explosives in the Moscow suburb of Lobnya, ORT and ITAR-TASS reported. Agents found machineguns, handguns, artillery shells, landmines, grenades, and a significant quantity of explosive chemicals. An FSB spokesman said the explosives were the equivalent of about 200 tons of TNT. Residents of nearby buildings were evacuated while the explosives were removed. The FSB spokesman said that the weapons belonged to an unspecified criminal organization that was allegedly preparing a series of terrorist acts. He added that several criminal cases have been opened in connection with the discovery. VY

LEFT DEPUTIES WANT PUTIN TO TAKE CHARGE OF ANDREEV INVESTIGATION
State Duma Security Committee Deputy Chairman Pavel Burdukov (Agro-Industrial Group) told a press conference in Moscow on 5 March that he will insist that a criminal investigation be launched into a forged letter allegedly sent to Interior Minister Boris Gryzlov, RBK reported on 6 March. According to Burdukov, the letter bears a forgery of his signature and asks Gryzlov to investigate corruption in the country's law enforcement agencies. Burdukov believes that the letter is an attempt by his political enemies to draw attention away from a real query that Burdukov and fellow Security Committee Deputy Chairman Georgii Maitakov (Russian Regions) sent to Gryzlov, Prosecutor-General Vladimir Ustinov, and Federal Security Service (FSB) Director Nikolai Patrushev. Burdukov and Maitakov asked these agencies to investigate an article that appeared in "Moskovskaya pravda" on 23 January that alleged that a businessman formerly with Avtobank, Ingosstrakh, and Nosta, Andrei Andreev, has an unofficial "partnership" with senior officials at the Interior Ministry. Burdukov said he intends to ask President Putin to take personal control over the investigation of the Andreev case. JAC

U.S. CONSULATE WEATHERS TOMATO ATTACK
About 15 people picketed the U.S. Consulate in Yekaterinburg on 6 March to protest possible U.S.-led military action against Iraqi President Saddam Hussein, Novyi Region reported. According to the agency, the protestors were orderly, but a female student threw several rotten tomatoes at the consulate. However, Sergei Kirin, secretary of the Yekaterinburg Communist Party Committee, said the young woman had no relationship to the people's patriotic forces and was a "provocateur." The previous day, the All-Russia Center for the Study of Public Opinion (VTsIOM) reported that 91 percent of respondents in a recent poll said they oppose military action against Iraq, Interfax reported. The poll of 1,600 people was conducted in late February and early March. JAC

IS SUPPLY OF FOREIGN WORKERS LOWERING WAGES IN THE FAR EAST?
Residents of Primorskii Krai are increasingly deciding that they would rather live on unemployment benefits than take low-paying jobs, such as milkmaids or boiler stokers, ORT reported on 6 March. An unidentified man told the station that stokers get 1,500 rubles ($48) a month for very hard work, while he gets 1,440 rubles for two months' unemployment. According to the station, a new law came into effect last month that will tighten the requirements for receiving such benefits. However, the "unemployed say that the new laws will make them work for pennies," ORT reported. The previous day, "Trud" reported that Primorskii Krai Governor Sergei Darkin has allowed more than 10,000 new foreign workers into the krai this year. According to the daily, krai officials explain that the migrants are needed for work in fields, construction sites, and factories, work that few local residents want to do. However, the daily commented that "the main reason is not that [our people] disdain hard work, but that our people are simply refusing to slave away for meager wages, which the Chinese will accept." JAC

FEDERAL OFFICIALS PREPARE FOR SAINT'S JUBILEE
Local and federal officials have earmarked 360 million rubles ($11.5 million) of budgetary funds for the restoration of the Russian Orthodox cathedral and other religious places in the Nizhnii Novgorod Oblast city of Sarov in time for the 250th anniversary of the birth of St. Serafim Sarovskii next year, newsru.com reported on 6 March. Preparations for the holiday were discussed at a meeting in Sarov of the organizing committee for the holiday. Presidential envoy to the Volga Federal District Sergei Kirienko, government minister overseeing nationalities policy Vladimir Zorin, and Metropolitan Filaret of Minsk participated in the meeting. JAC

WEEKS-LONG TEACHERS STRIKE FINALLY ENDS IN SIBERIA
Irkutsk Oblast officials have reached an agreement with striking educational workers and will begin transferring some funds to pay both wage arrears and current wages, RTR reported on 6 March. According to the station, the wage backlog totals more than 200 million rubles ($6.3 million), but local authorities have only agreed to transfer 40 million rubles. According to the station, about 700 teachers are still on strike. The strike reached its peak of about 2,000 at the end of last month (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 26 February 2003). JAC

CHECHEN OFFICIAL HAILS PROPOSED WAR-CRIMES TRIBUNAL
In a statement released on 5 March and carried by chechenpress.com, Chechen President Aslan Maskhadov's Foreign Minister Ilyas Akhmadov hailed the recent proposal by the Parliamentary Assembly of the Council of Europe's Committee for Legal Affairs and Human Rights to establish an international tribunal to investigate alleged war crimes committed in Chechnya (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 5 and 6 March 2003). Akhmadov said Maskhadov's leadership shares the committee's view that there can be "no peace without justice" and appealed to PACE members to express their support for the proposal at the upcoming PACE spring session. Meanwhile in Moscow, Justice Minister Yurii Chaika said on 6 March he sees no legal grounds for establishing such a committee and said the motives for proposing it were "purely political," Interfax reported. LF

ARMENIAN OPPOSITION DEMANDS ELECTION RESULTS BE ANNULLED...
Supporters of People's Party of Armenia Chairman Stepan Demirchian and leaders of the 13 opposition parties who backed his bid for the presidency gathered in Yerevan on 6 March to protest perceived massive falsification of the outcome of the previous day's second-round ballot, RFE/RL's Yerevan bureau reported. ITAR-TASS estimated attendance at the rally at between 4,000-5,000, while the "Financial Times" on 7 March estimated "tens of thousands." Demirchian demanded that the runoff be declared invalid and new elections held. He said the official results, which gave incumbent President Robert Kocharian 67.5 percent of the vote, "have nothing to do with the real choice made by the people" and that he cannot accept them. Opposition Hanrapetutiun Party leader and former Prime Minister Aram Sargsian affirmed that "with our unity and organization, we will achieve the resignation of the current authorities in two or three days," RFE/RL's Yerevan bureau reported. Demirchian insisted that "we shall act within the framework of the constitution," according to ITAR-TASS. LF

...AS OFFICIALS SAY NO 'SERIOUS VIOLATIONS' TOOK PLACE
Armenian Central Election Commission Chairman Artak Sahradian said on 6 March that the runoff proceeded "calmly and openly" and that no "serious violations" took place, according to Arminfo, as cited by Groong. Galust Sahakian, who heads the parliamentary faction of Prime Minister Andranik Markarian's Republican Party of Armenia, similarly told RFE/RL's Yerevan bureau on 6 March that he does not believe any "serious violations occurred." He conceded that some minor incidents might have taken place but said they could not have affected the outcome of the ballot. In an interview published on 6 March in "Hayots ashkhar" and cited by Groong, Defense Minister Serzh Sarkisian, who headed Kocharian's campaign staff, admitted that "certainly there were shortcomings." Asked to comment on rumors that Armenian troops had been brought from Karabakh to the Armenian province of Goris early on 5 March, Sarkisian explained that those troops were transported to Armenia to enable them to vote, "as soldiers have equal rights." Sarkisian later cancelled a press conference scheduled for late on 6 March, RFE/RL's Yerevan bureau reported. Russian President Vladimir Putin sent a telegram to Kocharian on 6 March congratulating him on his re-election, Interfax reported. LF

SIX ARRESTED IN CONNECTION WITH ARMENIAN TV HEAD'S KILLING
Six people were taken into custody on 5 March in connection with the 28 December shooting in Yerevan of National Television and Radio Director Tigran Naghdalian, RFE/RL's Yerevan bureau reported on 6 March (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 30 December 2002). The identities of the six suspects have not been made public. Some opposition politicians expressed concern that the authorities might try to incriminate former Prime Minister Sargsian's Hanrapetutiun party in the killing. Hanrapetutiun Chairman Albert Bazeyan, who over the past two weeks has repeatedly called for the ouster of the current Armenian leadership, denied that any of Hanrapetutiun's members are connected with the slaying. He questioned why the announcement of the arrests was timed to coincide with the presidential runoff. LF

NEW MEETING FAILS TO RESOLVE DEADLOCK OVER AZERBAIJAN'S DRAFT ELECTION LAW
Presidential administration official Shahin Aliev, the author of Azerbaijan's new draft election legislation, met for two hours on 6 March with legal expert Fuad Agaev of the opposition Azerbaijan National Independence Party, zerkalo.az reported on 7 March. The two men failed to reach a compromise agreement on the optimum composition of both the new Central Election Commission and local election commissions but agreed to continue their discussions on 10 March. The draft law provides for an 18-person CEC comprising six deputies each from the majority Yeni Azerbaycan Party (YAP), opposition parties, and independent deputies (most of whom are aligned with YAP). They will be augmented during election campaigns by three judges, a provision that the opposition rejects as violating the constitution. The opposition's alternative draft proposes that each of the eight political parties that polled more than 1 percent of the vote under the proportional system during the 2000 parliamentary elections should nominate two members to the CEC. That model would result in YAP representatives being outnumbered by the opposition. The Milli Mejlis began debating the government-sponsored draft in its first reading on 7 March, Turan reported. LF

AZERBAIJAN MEETS SOME IMF DEMANDS
The Azerbaijani leadership has met some of the conditions imposed by the International Monetary Fund (IMF) for the release of the next $17 million tranche, which has been frozen since last summer, of a Poverty Reduction and Growth Facility Loan, zerkalo.az reported on 6 March quoting John Wakeman-Linn, the head of an IMF delegation that has spent the past two weeks in Baku. Wakeman-Linn noted that the Azerbaijani government has raised domestic wholesale prices for oil products and natural gas to world levels, agreed to amend a section of the law on the state budget so that items to be financed from the State Oil Fund are clearly designated (see "RFE/RL Caucasus Report," 7 February 2003), and given the green light for the privatization of two state-owned banks. LF

GEORGIAN, RUSSIAN PRESIDENTS BEGIN TALKS IN SOCHI
Georgian President Eduard Shevardnadze traveled to Sochi on 6 March and held a first round of talks there that evening with Russian President Putin, Caucasus Press and Russian news agencies reported. Georgian officials said the talks would focus on the Abkhaz conflict, the situation in Georgia's Pankisi Gorge, the future of the two Russian military bases in Georgia, and the framework agreement between the two countries that is currently under discussion. A second meeting between the two presidents is scheduled on 7 March. Also on 7 March, an Abkhaz delegation headed by Prime Minister Gennadii Gagulia arrived in Sochi, and Gagulia met "briefly" with Putin, Caucasus Press reported. Georgian Deputy Foreign Minister Kakha Sikharulidze denied on 4 March that either Gagulia or Abkhaz President Vladislav Ardzinba would attend the Putin-Shevardnadze talks (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 5 March 2003). LF

GEORGIAN PRESIDENT APPROVES NEW MEASURES TO COUNTER RELIGIOUS INTOLERANCE
President Shevardnadze has approved a new three-year program to counter religious intolerance and racism, Caucasus Press reported on 6 March. LF

FORMER GEORGIAN RULING PARTY, SOCIALISTS AGREE TO FORM ELECTION BLOC
Socialist Party leader Vakhtang Rcheulishvili told journalists in Tbilisi on 7 March that his party will align to contest the parliamentary elections this fall with the former ruling Union of Citizens of Georgia (SMK), Caucasus Press reported. The new alliance will be named For a New Georgia, Rcheulishvili said. The two parties concluded a cooperation agreement last year to preserve political stability (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 26 November 2002). Rcheulishvili said the bloc will worked to improve Georgia's strained relations with Russia. He harshly criticized former parliament speaker Zurab Zhvania and other so-called young reformers who made their careers within, but have now quit, the SMK. LF

FOUR PARTIES DENIED RE-REGISTRATION IN KAZAKHSTAN
The Kazakh Justice Ministry has refused to re-register four political parties under the controversial law on political parties that was adopted in 2002, the Almaty newspaper "Vremya" on 6 March. The four small parties that were denied re-registration are Yel Dana, Alash, the Party of Fellow Countrymen, and the Patriots' Party of Kazakhstan. The law on parties raised the minimum number of members a political party must have to register from 3,000 to 50,000 (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 24 and 26 June 2002). Opposition political leaders in Kazakhstan have charged that the intent of the law is to prevent their participation in the country's political life. Yerlan Saparov, chairman of the ministry's Registration Committee, told "Vremya" that the refusal was based on the parties' statutes and membership lists. He reportedly added that the parties could contest the decision in court. BB

KYRGYZ PRESIDENT APPEALS FOR NATIONAL ACCORD
Speaking on 6 March to the Kurultai (Congress) organized by the Assembly of the Peoples of Kyrgyzstan (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 6 March 2003), Askar Akaev appealed for national accord, saying that putting an end to political conflicts is a top priority for the country, khabar.kz and Interfax reported. Akaev noted that 2003 has been declared the year of Kyrgyz statehood and said that it should be a time for strengthening unity, national harmony, and political stability. He said that the constitutional changes approved in February strengthen the democratic foundations of the state by providing constitutional implementation mechanisms, in particular the institution of an ombudsman. Akaev also took the opportunity to attack the "irreconcilable opposition" for allegedly seeking to corrupt the public mind. A number of opposition leaders, including several parliamentarians who are members of a group seeking Akaev's resignation, refused to attend the Kurultai. BB

KYRGYZ OFFICIAL SAYS ISLAMIC EXTREMISTS STILL HOPE FOR ISLAMIC STATE
A deputy interior minister has told "Slovo Kyrgyzstana" that Islamist extremists in Central Asia still hope to reestablish the Kokand Khanate in the Ferghana Valley as an Islamic state, centrasia.ru reported on 6 March. The official said Kyrgyzstan is a victim of instability in neighboring countries, and he claimed that the southern part of the country is more susceptible to religious extremism because of the large number of Uzbeks living there. That minority is traditionally more religious than the Kyrgyz. Recently there has been disagreement between the Kyrgyz government and the opposition and even among state agencies over whether Islamic groups -- in particular the Hizb ut-Tahrir movement -- are by definition terrorist organizations. Kyrgyzstan's ombudsman has gone on record as questioning whether the ideas of Hizb ut-Tahrir, which include the eventual creation of an Islamic state in Central Asia, are as dangerous as the government claims. BB

UN HUMAN RIGHTS OFFICIAL VISITS KYRGYZSTAN
UN Deputy High Commissioner for Human Rights Bertrand Ramcharan met with President Akaev on 6 March, akipress.org reported. Akaev pointed to the new constitution's mechanisms for guaranteeing human rights and to the creation of a Public Council for Democratic Security as evidence of Kyrgyzstan's recent achievements in the area of human rights. Ramcharan invited a Kyrgyz delegation to participate in the work of the UN Commission on Human Rights in order to acquaint the world community with Kyrgyzstan's achievements. BB

UZBEK PRESIDENT BACKS U.S. ON IRAQ
At a 6 March joint news conference with visiting Slovak President Rudolf Schuster, Islam Karimov told journalists that Uzbekistan firmly supports the U.S. position in Iraq and considers any action against Iraq as a continuation of the antiterrorism campaign that began in Afghanistan, Interfax reported. Karimov said he is concerned that some European countries are not supporting a tough line on Iraq, and he fears Iraqi weapons of mass destruction could fall into the hands of terrorists. In his view, the U.S. position is justified, and radical measures need to be taken. BB

BELARUSIAN PRESIDENT URGED TO STOP SUPPORTING SADDAM HUSSEIN
Alyaksandr Yarashuk, the leader of the Belarusian Congress of Democratic Trade Unions, has called on President Alyaksandr Lukashenka to immediately cease backing Iraqi President Saddam Hussein, Belapan reported on 7 March, quoting an open letter by Yarashuk. Yarashuk said the U.S. policy on Iraq remains "within the framework of the UN Security Council Resolution 1441," which, Yarashuk added, does not rule out using force against Iraq. "The Belarusian state-propaganda machinery has unleashed a campaign against not only the U.S. but also the entire global community, whose representatives in the United Nations demanded that Iraq fulfill specific tasks in destroying [its] weapons of mass destruction. As a result, by involving ourselves in a conflict 3,000 kilometers away from our home, we have opposed ourselves to the whole humankind," Yarashuk wrote. Yarashuk called on Lukashenka to coordinate his Iraq policy with the UN and the Russian Federation and to put an end to the "anti-American and pro-Saddam propaganda campaign." JM

BELARUSIAN LOCAL ELECTIONS FILL 97 PERCENT OF COUNCIL SEATS
The Central Election Commission (TsVK) announced on 6 March that Belarusian voters elected deputies to 97 percent of all the local-council seats contested in last week's balloting (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 3, 4, 5, and 6 March 2003), Belapan reported, quoting TsVK Secretary Mikalay Lazavik. Lazavik said the elections were invalid in 21 constituencies, repeat elections will be held in 525 constituencies, and a second round needs to be held in 203 constituencies between 11-16 March. He also said 235 elected deputies were fielded by 10 political parties. In particular, the Communist Party of Belarus won 102 seats, the Belarusian Communist Party 72, the Agrarian Party 39, the Belarusian Popular Front seven, the Liberal Democratic Party five, and the United Civic Party four. JM

UKRAINIAN PRESIDENT SUBMITS POLITICAL-REFORM PROPOSALS TO PARLIAMENT...
President Leonid Kuchma on 6 March submitted to the Verkhovna Rada a draft of constitutional amendments intended to transform Ukraine's political system in line with his proposals announced on television the previous day (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 6 March 2003), Ukrainian media reported. The draft proposes a bicameral parliament consisting of a 300-seat State Assembly elected under a party-list system and an 81-member House of Regions. According to the draft, the president, parliamentarians, and local deputies would be elected for five-year terms in elections held during the same year (parliamentary in March, local in September, and presidential in December). Kuchma also wants to grant parliament the right to appoint the prime minister and the president the right to dissolve the parliament. The passing of constitutional amendments requires a 300-vote majority in the 450-seat Verkhovna Rada. JM

...AS OPPOSITION REACTS WITH STRIDENT CRITICISM
Socialist Party leader Oleksandr Moroz said in parliament on 6 March that Kuchma's reform proposals are "unconvincing and inconsistent," adding that most are based on the "false" referendum of 2000, UNIAN reported. According to Moroz, the "quintessence" of the reform proposal is to dissolve the current parliament and/or prolong Kuchma's term for two more years. Yuliya Tymoshenko concurred with Moroz, saying the draft appears aimed at boosting Kuchma's authority and giving him a chance to extend his tenure for two more years. Communist Party leader Petro Symonenko said the draft is intended exclusively to strengthen presidential authority. Our Ukraine leader Viktor Yushchenko said it is inexpedient to reform Ukraine's political system while public trust in the authorities remains at such a low level. "The reform proposal disguises the authorities' unwillingness to form a transparent political system," Yushchenko said. JM

UKRAINIAN PARLIAMENT APPROVES NATIONAL ANTHEM
The Verkhovna Rada on 16 March voted 334 to 46 to approve a bill on Ukraine's national anthem proposed by President Kuchma, Interfax reported. The bill stipulates that the national anthem consists of the music composed by Ukrainian priest Mykhaylo Verbytskyy in 1863 and the lyrics, including first stanza and refrain, of the patriotic poem "Shche ne vmerla Ukrayina" (Ukraine has not perished yet) written by Pavlo Chubynskyy in 1862. Kuchma proposed that the first line of the poem be changed to "Shche ne vmerla Ukrayiny i slava, i volya" (Ukraine's freedom and glory has not yet perished). The bill was opposed by Communist Party lawmakers, while the Socialist Party caucus did not participate in the vote. JM

NEW ESTONIAN RULING COALITION COULD ALSO INCLUDE PRO PATRIA UNION
After talks with the Reform Party on 6 March on forming a coalition, Res Publica Chairman Juhan Parts told reporters that both parties agreed that it might be best if the potential coalition would include not only the People's Union but also the Pro Patria Union, BNS reported. He said a wider base of 67 deputies could help the government remain in office for four years. Parts and Reform Party Chairman Siim Kallas said the coalition talks dealt with the program of the new government, and not with who would be prime minister or the distribution of ministries. Parts said that although the atmosphere at the first meeting was optimistic and open to cooperation, it could take at least a month until the new government could take office. The next round of coalition talks is scheduled for 10 March. SG

EARLY LATVIAN PRESIDENTIAL ELECTIONS CANCELED
A joint meeting of the parliamentary presidium and representatives of parliament factions decided on 6 March to cancel their earlier decision to advance the presidential elections to 12 March (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 4 March 2003), LETA reported. The Latvian Attorneys' Association and the opposition National Harmony Party had declared that advancing the elections by three months would not be compatible with the constitution, which stipulates that newly elected presidents are to be sworn into office at the first parliamentary session following their election. As the first parliamentary session following a 12 March election would be on 13 March, the current term of President Vaira Vike-Freiberga that is to end on 8 July would have been shortened. Prime Minister Einars Repse said the ruling coalition's decision to re-elect her as president remains unchanged and he expects her election in June. SG

NEW LITHUANIAN GOVERNMENT APPROVED
President Rolandas Paksas signed a decree on 6 March approving the cabinet of 13 ministers presented by Prime Minister Algirdas Brazauskas, ELTA reported. The cabinet is the same as the one in power prior to the presidential elections with the exception of Social Democrat Juozas Olekas, who is to replace Social Liberal Konstantinas Romualdas Dobrovolskis as health minister. Olekas is the only minister who was not installed immediately, as he still must take the official oath of office at the parliamentary session scheduled for 10 March. Social Liberal Chairman Arturas Paulauskas on 6 March expressed his dissatisfaction with the reduction of the number of ministers allocated to his party from six to five without consulting him, but a meeting that evening of representatives of the Social Democratic Party and the New Union (Social Liberals) decided that their coalition will remain firm. SG

POLISH PREMIER SAYS STATE WILL NOT CAPITULATE TO GANGSTERS
Premier Leszek Miller vowed on 6 March that "Poland will not yield to gangster terror," Polish Radio reported. Miller was commenting on a shootout earlier the same day in which one police officer was killed and 15 others injured while trying to apprehend two wanted criminals (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 6 March 2003). Interior Minister Krzysztof Janik told journalists the operation was well prepared, adding that police casualties resulted from the unexpected use of grenades and explosives by the two men. Meanwhile, opposition lawmaker and former Interior Minister Antoni Macierewicz announced that he will submit a motion to dismiss Janik. Polish media reported that one of the suspects, both of whom were found dead in the burned-out building after the operation, was a Belarusian citizen and former member of the Belarusian KGB's special task force. JM

POLAND DOES NOT EXCLUDE TROOPS' PARTICIPATION IN IRAQ
Defense Minister Jerzy Szmajdzinski said on 6 March that Polish soldiers "might take part in a possible conflict with Iraq," PAP reported. Szmajdzinski stressed that Poland supports U.S. actions aimed at disarming Iraq, as that country has failed to fulfill the UN Security Council resolution on the matter. "We do not exclude our military presence [in Iraq]. All this will depend on the decisions of the government [and] the president, and on the evaluation of the situation," Szmajdzinski said. JM

KLAUS INAUGURATED AS CZECH PRESIDENT
Former Prime Minister Vaclav Klaus was sworn in as Czech president on 7 March at a ceremony at Prague Castle attended by his predecessor, Vaclav Havel, and some 600-700 invited officials, including members of the cabinet, lawmakers, and foreign diplomats. The ceremony was broadcast live on Czech Television. Klaus took the presidential oath on the original copy of the Czech Constitution, thereby beginning his five-year term. The former chairman of the rightist Civic Democratic Party (ODS) was elected president on 28 March in a secret ballot by his lower-house peers and by members of the upper house. Addressing the audience, Klaus said that while he has "no intention of standing on the sidelines of political life" as president, he has no "ambitions to be the mover of the political scene" and intends to "influence political processes only indirectly." He also said he regards the process of the Czech Republic's EU integration as a priority, "but the president must be, above all, loyal to his own country." He promised to "carry on all the good things that my predecessor [Vaclav Havel] did" (also see End Note below). MS

U.S. PRESIDENT CONGRATULATES NEW CZECH HEAD OF STATE
Klaus spoke by telephone on 6 March with U.S. President George W. Bush, who congratulated him on his election, CTK reported. Journalist Tomas Klvana, appointed the same day to be Klaus's presidential spokesman, said Bush wished Klaus "all the best in the fulfillment of his difficult task." MS

CZECH FOREIGN MINISTER MEETS U.S. COUNTERPART
Czech Foreign Minister Cyril Svoboda and U.S. Secretary of State Colin Powell met on 6 March in New York, where they discussed Czech participation in Iraq's reconstruction in the event of an outbreak of hostilities, CTK reported, citing Foreign Ministry spokesman Vit Kolar. Kolar also cited Svoboda as saying the Czech Republic has drawn up plans for rushing humanitarian aid to Iraq after any fighting is over. The two chief diplomats also discussed the Czech intention to purchase fighter jets. Svoboda reportedly assured Powell that the international tender that will be launched for the purchase will be fully transparent. The United States repeatedly voiced doubts about the transparency of a tender that the BAE Systems-SAAB consortium won in 2001 -- after all other potential bidders declined to participate. That tender was canceled after the devastating floods of August 2002. Powell also reiterated that the United States is ready to help the Czech Republic market its L-159 subsonic fighters, which are produced by Aero Vodochody, a company that is partly owned by Boeing and Czech Airlines. MS

CZECH PREMIER FENDS OFF NEW VERBAL ASSAULT FROM PREDECESSOR...
Prime Minister Vladimir Spidla on 6 March confirmed that he had offered the supervisory-board chairmanship at Czech utility CEZ to former Industry and Trade Minister Miroslav Gregr, CTK reported. Spidla denied suggestions that the offer was driven by a desire to win the support of Gregr, who remains influential within the ruling Social Democratic Party (CSSD). Former Premier Milos Zeman, whose verbal assault on Spidla and his party leadership has heated up ahead of this month's party conference, disclosed the offer in an interview with the daily "Lidove noviny" of 6 March. MS

...AS INTRAPARTY ADVERSARY SPARKS PATHOS
Zeman's repeated attacks on Spidla in the wake of the failure of the former premier's electoral bid prompted several prominent CSSD leaders to react. Milan Urban, who resigned as leader of the CSSD parliamentary group in the lower house after the tripartite coalition failed to rally around a joint candidate, called the attacks "a sad illustration of the end of a great man." Urban said he believes that Zeman's statement will have the paradoxical effect of uniting the party behind Spidla, who has called for a vote of confidence that is slated for 11 March. Defense Minister Jaroslav Tvrdik said he felt "sorry for Zeman" and added that if the ex-premier and former party chairman continues with his attacks, he will "unite the party in a remarkable manner." MS

CZECH HUMAN RIGHTS COMMISSIONER ATTACKED BY RACISTS
The government's commissioner on human rights, Jan Jarab, was attacked in the Prague subway on 5 March after trying to protect a black man from an assault by two assailants, CTK and Czech Radio reported the next day. Jarab said the youths attacked the black passenger after he brushed past them on an escalator. Jarab intervened and received several blows to his head. Dozens of people reportedly witnessed the incident, but no one came to Jarab's assistance. Police are investigating. MS

SLOVAK PREMIER'S PARTY WARNED OVER CORRUPTION ALLEGATIONS
Parliament on 6 March approved a resolution calling on the government to take resolute measures to tackle corruption and report back within three months, TASR and CTK reported. The resolution was submitted by the coalition's Alliance for a New Citizen (ANO) and supported by 95 deputies. Six deputies voted against the measure and 33 abstained. Supporters of the resolution included the parliamentary group of the Hungarian Coalition Party, which, like ANO, is a member of the four-party coalition. The coalition Christian Democratic Movement (KDH) was divided in the vote. Only deputies representing Premier Dzurinda's Slovak Democratic and Christian Union (SDKU) failed to support the resolution, with five SDKU deputies voting against it and the rest abstaining. The resolution was approved against the backdrop of new allegations that entrepreneur Jan Badzgon's phone was illegally tapped. Badzgon is reportedly close to the SDKU. Media reports said the taped conversations suggested the involvement of SDKU officials in tenders for road-construction contracts won by Badzgon-related companies. MS

SLOVAK PARLIAMENT APPROVES REFORM OF HEALTH-CARE SYSTEM
Parliament on 6 March approved a bill aimed at reforming the country's health-care system, under whose provisions Slovaks will have to cover part of the cost of hospitalization and doctors' visits themselves, TASR and CTK reported. The bill was supported by 78 of 139 deputies present, while 56 voted against it and five abstained. Children under the age of six and pregnant women are to be exempted from contributing to the costs, which will amount to an average of 50 crowns ($1.31) per month for every patient, according to Health Ministry estimates. MS

HUNGARY SUSPENDS IMPLEMENTATION OF STATUS LAW FOR SLOVAK CITIZENS
Hungary has suspended the implementation of its controversial Status Law in the case of Slovak citizens of ethnic Hungarian origin, TASR reported on 6 March. The agency said the decision was taken after last week's meeting between the two countries' foreign ministers (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 28 February 2003). Hungarian Foreign Minister State Secretary Tamas Toth told TASR that Budapest agreed to the suspension until the Hungarian parliament approves amendments to the law, which was passed by the previous government. MS

HUNGARIAN FOREIGN MINISTER PESSIMISTIC ON IRAQ CRISIS
Foreign Minister Laszlo Kovacs on 6 March told a forum of businessmen in Budapest that the probability of a war in Iraq is growing and the chance of finding a peaceful solution is becoming increasingly unlikely, Hungarian media reported. Kovacs said the best solution would see Iraqi President Saddam Hussein agree to go into exile, while war represents a bad solution and the worst-case scenario would be for the world to stand idly by and watch Hussein further build up his military arsenal. In an interview with "Nepszabadsag" of 7 March, Kovacs ruled out any Hungarian participation in a war against Iraq. Defense Ministry spokesman Peter Matyuc told the daily "Magyar Hirlap" the same day that if military operations are launched against Iraq, Hungary will make no contribution to either a U.S.-led or a NATO military strike. He said that by permitting the training of Iraqi opposition members at the Taszar air base and by allowing transits of military equipment to Turkey, Hungary has exhausted its possibilities of contributing to the effort. MS

HUNGARIAN PROSECUTOR-GENERAL TO PROBE FIDESZ-BACKED FOUNDATION
The Budapest Prosecutor-General's Office, acting on what it said was an anonymous tip, on 6 March decided to launch an investigation into whether the FIDESZ-linked Alliance for the Nation Foundation was legally established, the pro-government daily "Nepszabadsag" reported the next day. The foundation was set up by architect Imre Makovecz with initial capital of 1 million forints ($4,465), and former Premier Viktor Orban is one of its founders. Alliance for the Nation is a nonprofit organization with the stated goals of supporting the activities of nongovernmental organizations and cultural societies. "Nepszabadsag" wrote that Csaba Hende, chairman of the group's board of trustees, has been summoned to appear on 7 March at the prosecutor's office, a fact that was confirmed by a spokesman for the Prosecutor-General's Budapest office. In December, the foundation purchased a building in Budapest's 8th district to serve as headquarters for right-wing "civic groups." Hende said he will fully cooperate with the investigation, as the organization has nothing to hide. MS

CEFTA MEETING IN SLOVENIA ENDS WITH SPLIT
Five members of the Central European Free Trade Agreement (CEFTA) announced at the end of a CEFTA meeting in Ljubljana on 6 March that they will leave that trading bloc, dpa reported. Slovenia, Hungary, Poland, the Czech Republic, and Slovakia cited their EU membership, expected in 2004, in explaining the move. Bulgaria, Croatia, and Romania will remain in the group, which is generally regarded as a stepping stone to EU membership. UB

PARLIAMENT OF SERBIA AND MONTENEGRO CLEARS PRESIDENTIAL HURDLE...
The joint parliament of Serbia and Montenegro on 6 March passed a law on the election and dismissal of the new state's president, Beta reported. Forty-six lawmakers from Serbia and 19 from Montenegro voted in favor of the law, while 32 and 12, respectively, voted against, with 17 abstentions. Svetozar Marovic, the deputy chairman of the Montenegrin Democratic Party of Socialists (DPS), was expected to win election to the Serbia and Montenegro presidency in a vote scheduled for 7 March. Marovic would effectively also act as the new government's prime minister, since the president heads the council of ministers under the joint state's Constitutional Charter. UB

...WHILE PRESUMED COALITION CARVES OUT MINISTRIES
Serbia and Montenegro's respective coalition parties on 6 March agreed that Serbia will control three ministries in the joint state's government, while politicians from Montenegro will head two ministries, Beta reported the same day. The Montenegrin Democratic Party of Socialists (DPS), the Montenegrin Social Democratic Party (SDP), and the Democratic Opposition of Serbia (DOS) are expected to rule the new state in coalition. According to Serbian Interior Minister Zoran Zivkovic, who is tabbed to take over the joint Defense Ministry, DOS party mate and acting Foreign Minister Goran Svilanovic will keep his position. Rasim Ljajic of the Sandzak Democratic Party will become Minister for Human and Minority Rights. SDP Deputy Chairman Miodrag Ilickovic said on 6 March that Amir Nurkovic will be nominated to head the Internal Trade Ministry, Tanjug reported. No candidate has been announced for the Ministry of International Economic Relations. UB

FOREIGN MINISTER OF SERBIA AND MONTENEGRO HOLDS TALKS IN CROATIA
Acting Foreign Minister of Serbia and Montenegro Goran Svilanovic met in Zagreb on 6 March with senior Croatian leaders, Hina reported. After a meeting with his Croatian counterpart Tonino Picula, Svilanovic said he expects a number of bilateral issues to be resolved by the end of the year, including outstanding property questions, a pending agreement on social insurance, and the distribution of property of the former Yugoslavia among its successor states. Croatian President Stipe Mesic told Svilanovic in their meeting the same day that the problem of refugee returns should be tackled jointly by Croatia, Bosnia, and Serbia and Montenegro. Svilanovic also informed Picula and Mesic about the planned summit of Southeast European states slated for Belgrade on 8 April. UB

WAR CRIMES PROSECUTOR ASKS EU TO STEP UP PRESSURE ON SERBIA AND MONTENEGRO
During her meeting with EU foreign- and security-policy head Javier Solana on 6 March, Carla Del Ponte, the international war crime tribunal's chief prosecutor, reiterated her claims that indicted former Bosnian Serb leader Radovan Karadzic and former General Ratko Mladic are hiding in Serbia and Montenegro, RFE/RL's South Slavic and Albanian Languages Service reported. Del Ponte urged the EU to step up its pressure on that joint state to arrest and extradite the indictees. Montenegrin Justice Minister Zeljko Sturanovic called Del Ponte's claim that Karadzic sought and found temporary refuge in a Montenegrin monastery "insufficiently verified." In related news, Serbian Justice Minister Vladan Batic said the same day that in the future, Serbia and Montenegro's Ministry for Human and Minority Rights will be in charge of cooperation with the war crimes tribunal, RFE/RL reported. UB

ETHNIC ALBANIAN INDICTEE PLEADS 'NOT GUILTY' IN HAGUE COURT
Fatmir Limaj, a lawmaker in the Kosovar parliament, pleaded "not guilty" during his first appearance before The Hague-based international war crimes tribunal on 5 March, Deutsche Welle's "Monitor" reported (see "RFE/RL Balkan Report," 28 February 2003 and "RFE/RL Newsline," 5 March 2003). Limaj is a senior official of Hashim Thaci's Democratic Party of Kosova (PDK) and the most prominent of a number of recently arrested Kosovars. UB

BOSNIAN HIGH REPRESENTATIVE ENACTS ANTICORRUPTION LEGISLATION
The international community's high representative to Bosnia, Paddy Ashdown, announced in a press release on 6 March that he has enacted a number of laws aimed at curbing corruption in the public-utilities sector. A recent audit of electricity distributors commissioned by Ashdown unveiled large-scale fraud at Elektroprivrade Republike Srpkse (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 26 and 27 February 2003). The probe also established that the Croatian Democratic Community (HDZ) profited from irregularities in the Mostar-based Elektroprivreda Herceg-Bosna. Speaking at a press conference on 6 March, Ashdown said: "The ordinary citizens and small businesses of Herzegovina who paid their electricity bills were in fact providing free electricity and kickbacks to the HDZ's privileged elite." UB

U.S. ASKS MACEDONIA FOR MILITARY SUPPORT
The U.S. Embassy's military attache on 6 March handed a request for military support in a possible operation against Iraq to the Macedonian Defense Ministry, "Utrinski vesnik" reported. The daily did not provide any details about the request. Skopje has supported efforts to disarm Iraqi President Saddam Hussein's regime but refused to participate in a possible military operation. According to the daily, the Macedonian government agreed to contribute a medical corps to reconstruction efforts after any eventual conflict (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 15 January and 7 February 2003). Prime Minister Branko Crvenkovski and President Boris Trajkovski were expected to discuss the issue on 7 March. UB

MACEDONIAN DEADLINE EXPIRES FOR DISPLACED PERSONS TO RETURN HOME
Macedonia's minister in charge of internally displaced persons, Vlado Popovski, said on 6 March that he expects most of those targeted by the government's 7 March deadline to return home will do so, local media reported. The midday deadline is for internally displaced persons from the Tetovo region to leave their temporary accommodations and return to their homes, "Utrinski vesnik" reported the same day. Those whose destroyed homes have not yet been reconstructed, students of Skopje University, and parents whose children are attending schools in the area of their temporary accommodation are exempt from the order. Some reportedly have refused to return, citing an unstable security situation, and have announced protests against the government's decision, "Dnevnik" reported. UB

ALBANIA AND MONTENEGRO REOPEN RAILWAY LINE
Albania and Montenegro on 6 March reopened the railway line between the Albanian town of Shkoder and the Montenegrin capital, Podgorica, putting an end to a 10-year interruption of service, Tanjug reported. The ceremony was attended by Albanian Prime Minister Fatos Nano and Montenegrin Deputy Prime Minister Dragan Djurovic. "The reopening of this railway marks a separation from the past of isolation of the two countries, the past of the old Balkans of conflicts," ATA quoted Nano as saying. Djurovic said the achievement was a good example of cooperation for other Balkan countries. He added that other bilateral infrastructure projects will follow. UB

ROMANIAN INTELLIGENCE SERVICE CHIEF SAYS U.S. MILITARY PRESENCE COULD INVITE TERRORISM...
Romanian Intelligence Service (SIS) Director Radu Timofte on 7 March told a joint meeting of the two chambers of parliament that the presence of U.S. troops on Romanian soil has "heightened the risks of terrorism" directed against Romania, because "this is the situation in the entire world," RFE/RL's Bucharest bureau reported. Timofte presented to lawmakers the SIS reports for the period 1999-2000 and for 2001. He said that "whether we want to acknowledge it or not, once on Romanian soil U.S. soldiers bring with them terrorism as well, because they are being chased after [by terrorists] wherever they go." At the same time, however, Timofte said that "according to our information, there is no danger that Iraq would launch an attack [against U.S. bases] on Romanian territory." MS

...BUT ROMANIAN PRESIDENT NOT WORRIED ABOUT POSSIBLE IRAQI RETALIATION
President Ion Iliescu said on 6 March that "the distance between Romania and Iraq is too great to expect an Iraqi attack against targets in our country," Romanian Radio reported. Defense Minister Ioan Mircea Pascu the same day said he does not fear the possibility of Iraqi retaliation and that Baghdad's threats to act against U.S. military targets wherever they might be found is nothing more than "a media campaign." Pascu was apparently responding to a statement made by Iraqi Charge d'Affairs in Bulgaria Yahya Mahdi on 5 March (see below). Iraqi Ambassador to Romania Saad Hamid Majid told the private television channel Antena 1 on 6 March that Iraq has destroyed all of its long-range missiles in compliance with UN resolutions but added: "At the same time, we consider any contribution to, or participation in, a war against our country as not only an attack against our people, but also one against the whole Arab world. Such an act of aggression would have a negative impact on Romanian-Iraqi bilateral relations...and I wish that my Romanian friends would be on the side of peace and not choose the road of launching war." MS

U.S. MILITARY TRANSPORT VESSEL ARRIVES IN CONSTANTA
A U.S. military ship carrying military equipment arrived on 6 March at the Black Sea port of Constanta, Mediafax reported. Meanwhile, U.S. European Forces commander General Burwell Bell, met on 6 March with General Eugen Badalan, head of the Romanian Ground Forces General Staff. Bell thanked Badalan for the offer to "temporarily host" U.S. troops on Romanian soil and said Romania has accepted the responsibility of fighting against terrorism, "which is what any free country in the world should do," according to Mediafax. General Bell also met with Chief of Staff General Mihail Popescu to discuss the possibility of setting up mobile Romanian forces that could participate in military interventions. MS

ROMANIAN INTELLIGENCE SERVICE CHIEF SAYS 'FOREIGN INTERESTS' THREATEN COUNTRY'S ECONOMY
In his 1999-2000 and 2001 reports presented to the Romanian parliament (see above), SIS Director Timofte said that "foreign interest groups" pose a danger to the country's economy, including threats "under the guise of strategic investments," Mediafax reported. Timofte said these groups "have thrown great sums of money into the ring" and that individuals who acted on the groups' behalf received warnings from inside the judicial system and were able to leave the country before being detained. As an example he mentioned the collapsed National Investment Fund, which, he said, was manipulated from abroad. Timofte also warned that corruption is "a direct threat aimed at constitutional democracy" and is endangering national security. MS

MOLDOVAN SUPREME COURT HEEDS APPEAL AGAINST REFERENDUM ON JOINING EU, NATO
The Supreme Court on 6 March heeded the appeal of the Central Election Commission (CEC) against registering the referendum drive initiated by the opposition Popular Party Christian Democratic on joining NATO and the European Union, RFE/RL's Chisinau bureau reported. The Supreme Court thus overturned a ruling by the Chisinau Court of Appeals that would have obliged CEC to register the drive (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 28 February 2003). MS

MOLDOVA SEEKS RUSSIAN HELP IN COMPLETING GIURGIULESTI TERMINAL
President Vladimir Voronin on 6 March told visiting Russian Deputy Transport Minister Chinghiz Ismailov that Moldova is interested in cooperating with Russia to complete the construction of an oil terminal and a cargo/passenger port at Giurgiulesti, on the Danube River, Infotag reported. Voronin said the project is of strategic importance for Moldova and welcomed Russia's suggestion that the two governments sign an agreement on the joint construction and subsequent joint use of the terminal. The terminal was initially planned to serve only as an oil terminal. Some 60 percent of the project has been completed at a cost of $38 million, but construction was eventually halted for lack of funds. The European Bank for Reconstruction and Development has extended $18 million in credits for the project and is now demanding that the sum be returned and that Moldova find another investor, Infotag reported. MS

MOLDOVAN PROSECUTOR-GENERAL ACKNOWLEDGES CHRONIC PROBLEM OF FEMALE TRAFFICKING
Prosecutor-General Eugen Rus on 6 March said the government last year intensified its fight against and prosecution of sex-slave traders, but forced prostitution remains a chronic problem, dpa reported. Rus said 100 sex-slave traders were convicted or put on trial in 2002, almost double the prosecution rate in 2001. Moldovans convicted of kidnapping women for sale to brothels abroad are subject to prison sentences of 10-15 years as a result of new legislation, while in the mid-1990s the crime carried a punishment of a mere one to three years' imprisonment. Rus said the problem remains chronic due to widespread corruption in business and government circles and extensive destitution in what is Europe's poorest country. He said among those prosecuted last year were newspaper owners, doctors, travel-agency employees, church officials, and police officers. MS

IRAQI DIPLOMAT SAYS BULGARIAN JOURNALISTS MISQUOTED HIM
Iraqi Charges d'Affairs in Bulgaria Yahya Mahdi on 6 March denied reports that he threatened Bulgaria with retaliation in the event of Bulgarian assistance to a war against Iraq, BTA reported (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 5 March 2003). Mahdi, who was summoned by the Foreign Ministry the same day, said Bulgarian journalists misquoted him. "I said that Iraq does not possess weapons of mass destruction that could reach [Bulgaria]. However, even if it had them, we would not [attack] a friendly country like Bulgaria," Mahdi said. He said he repeatedly asked the journalists to quote his words exactly. "It is a different question if certain media want to cause damage to the relations between the two countries and nations," Mahdi added. UB

BULGARIA TO WITHDRAW DIPLOMATS FROM IRAQ
The government decided on 6 March to recall all Bulgarian diplomats from Iraq, mediapool.bg reported. The diplomats most likely will be stationed in the Syrian capital, Damascus. Foreign Minister Solomon Pasi said the decision was made to ensure the diplomats' personal security and that he is sure that many other countries will also withdraw their representatives in Iraq. UB

BULGARIAN PRESIDENT APPROACHES CONSTITUTIONAL COURT OVER LEGISLATORS' VOTING HABITS
President Georgi Parvanov on 6 March asked the Constitutional Court whether parliamentary decisions can be considered valid in the event that lawmakers vote for absent colleagues using their electronic voting cards, mediapool.bg reported. Parvanov said this problem has existed for 12 years and must be resolved, adding that his initiative has nothing to do with the 27 February parliamentary decision to override his veto against the controversial amendments to the Privatization Act (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 28 February and 5 March 2003). UB

CZECH PRESIDENT: CONQUER AND DIVIDE
Czech legislators on 28 February narrowly elected economist and former Prime Minister Vaclav Klaus president in their final attempt at electing a head of state. In the wake of two earlier failures to choose a president, the Czech public was chafing at their lawmakers' inability to compromise and many politicians were calling for constitutional and legal amendments to allow for direct presidential elections.

The three ruling coalition parties, unable to rein in their own lawmakers, effectively conceded the presidency and opted for a known political quantity in Klaus, whose decade in the corridors of power has cemented a faithful core of popular support and high visibility while alienating him from critics that span the political spectrum and include his predecessor, former dissident and playwright Vaclav Havel.

It is perhaps little wonder, then, that as soon as his victory was announced, Klaus addressed the parliament with a pledge to do all he can "to reach a new level of concord, a new level of good humor." But the election of Klaus as president has doomed Prime Minister Vladimir Spidla's government, thrown the political left into utter chaos, and ensured that the country's politics will be increasingly fractious.

It is in fact difficult to identify a more divisive politician on the Czech political scene than Klaus, whom many observers mistook for politically dead after his party's unsuccessful (and one-dimensional) campaign ahead of the June elections and Klaus's subsequent departure from the Civic Democratic Party (ODS) chairmanship. His 11-year presence at the head of the ODS had long prevented cooperation among right-wing parties and split his own party on two notable occasions -- the "Sarajevo coup" that brought down his center-right government in late 1997 and the high-profile, pre-election defection in May of Prague Mayor Jan Kasl, who blamed the party for persistent corruption at the local level. Klaus's positions on foreign policy have also proven divisive among the Czech Republic's closest allies -- most notably his staunch "Euro-realism"; his accusation of a "Berlin-Vienna-Budapest axis" vis-a-vis the postwar expulsion and expropriation of ethnic Germans, Austrians, and Hungarians; and his rush to condemn NATO's 1999 bombings in response to the Kosova crisis just weeks after his country had joined the Atlantic alliance.

Similarly stubborn divides also lie at the heart of the political machinations that delivered the presidency to Klaus, despite his own estimation that his 142 parliamentary votes came "from all parliamentary parties on our political spectrum." "Mlada fronta Dnes" commentator Jan Machacek on 1 March called Klaus's political benefactors "a new ODS-KSCM-Kalousek-Zemanite power pact," a reference to Klaus's own right-wing party; the unreformed Communists; Miroslav Kalousek, the Christian Democratic Union-People's Party's influential parliamentarian and former deputy defense minister who is chafing at Foreign Minister and party Chairman Cyril Svoboda's leadership; and the disgruntled but opportunistic wing of the Czech Social Democratic Party (CSSD) that continues to work behind the scenes to undermine Spidla's tenuous tripartite government. It is indeed a disparate bunch with seemingly little to unite it. What all four of those blocs share, however, is a belief that they can ill afford to allow Spidla's government a full four years in office.

Within the calcified ranks of Klaus's ODS party, there were several factors at play. Foremost among them, of course, was the desire for an ideological soul mate as president -- in stark contrast to the past decade of finger wagging from the politically aloof and moralizing Havel. Many within ODS also recognized that the party needs to strike sooner than 2006 if it is to cash in on its association with founding father Klaus: Had Klaus lost the presidential race, he would have faded into political oblivion; having won the presidency, on the other hand, Klaus might assume a more active role in day-to-day politics than his predecessor, but he must cultivate a perception that he is "above party politics." After all, he announced on 10 October that he would not run for the ODS chairmanship, citing the "unthinkability" of a presiding party chairman running for the presidency.

The Communists, for their part, have ensured their own political rehabilitation. Havel for more than a decade steadfastly refused to include Communist representatives among the party leaders he invited for political dialogue. Klaus harbors no such scruples, and in fact owes his victory in large part to Communist lawmakers throughout all three presidential votes. After professing his party's support for Klaus in the first two rounds of the crucial vote on 28 February, kingmaker and Communist Party Chairman Miroslav Grebenicek said his party would "wait for what the candidates say to us in the [parliamentary] club" before the third round, according to "Respekt" of 3 March. The result was a three-minute meeting between Klaus and Communist parliamentarians, the contents of which all of those involved have declined to share. Left to speculate, local media have pointed at Klaus's suggestion on TV Nova on 2 March that he would like to "broaden the spectrum" of a "monochromatic" Czech Constitutional Court. It remains to be seen what posts or other forms of political participation President Klaus might offer, but he has said he will maintain the same "formal" ties with the Communists that he keeps with other parties, according to CTK on 3 March. The Communists, who surprised most observers with their 18 percent showing in the June elections on an anti-NATO and largely anti-EU platform, are thus out of the presidential doghouse for the first time since 1989's Velvet Revolution.

Meanwhile, the Communists' support for Klaus will pay off handsomely if the CSSD is unable to patch up the deep Spidla-Zeman rift that threatens to topple the current government and split the CSSD, which competes for votes with the Communists. Klaus has always found common language with his old nemesis, Milos Zeman, whose own presidential ambitions were thwarted by Spidla and whose verbal assault on the prime minister and party chairman has escalated ahead of the party's national conference scheduled for later this month. Behind-the-scenes attempts by Zeman acolytes to orchestrate a new ODS-CSSD "opposition agreement" have continued unabated since Spidla cobbled together his one-seat majority government in July. Zeman's self-imposed "retirement" from politics has been unconvincing, and voices within the party as recently as last week have challenged the former party leader to "come out of the wilderness" and return to an active role in the party.

Spidla has called Zeman's bluff and requested a vote of confidence, scheduled for 11 March, that his government might well survive in the lower house. Spidla is also likely to hang on to the CSSD party chairmanship at the 29-30 March conference. But he is likely to emerge from those scrapes weaker, not stronger, as the Zeman wing has demonstrated it is able to flex its muscles whenever it chooses.

The opposition ODS and Communists -- heartened by their presidential maneuvering and with a friendly face residing at Prague Castle -- will be watching opinion polls carefully for signs that their popularity is growing. When that happens, the knives will come out and Spidla will go.

JAMIAT-E ISLAMI COMMANDERS CLASH IN AFGHANISTAN
Three people were reported killed in clashes in northern Afghanistan on 5 March between forces loyal to two regional commanders of the Jamiat-e Islami party, Radio Afghanistan reported the next day. One of the commanders, Rahin, was reportedly among those killed in the fighting in the Gosfani District of Sar-e Pol Province. The fighting stemmed from "an internal conflict" between commander Rahin's troops and those of commander Ayyub within the 6th Division of military forces loyal to Jamiat-e Islami, according to the report. The United Nations Assistance Mission in Afghanistan has dispatched a delegation to the region to assess the situation. International aid to Sar-e Pol Province and neighboring Faryab Province has been halted for the past two months because of "continuous confrontation in the region." Faryab Province has been the scene of sporadic clashes between commanders loyal to Jamiat-e Islami and the Junbish-e Melli parties (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 29 January and 24 February 2003). AT

COMMANDERS IN BAMYAN PROVINCE HAND OVER THEIR ARMS
The 2nd Battalion of Afghanistan's armed forces has collected 380 pieces of weaponry from the residents of Kohmard District of central Afghanistan's Bamyan Province, Hindukosh news agency reported on 5 March. Most of the local commanders in the region, "who had oppressed the people" have escaped, the report added. Bamyan Governor Abdul Rahim Aliyarzada told Hindukosh that the government "has not had any influence in Kohmard District for a year." As a result, no reconstruction projects have begun there. However, following the successful arms-collection program the district will be placed "at the top of the list" for future reconstruction programs, Aliyarzada said. AT

HERAT PROVINCE BANS SATELLITE DISHES, MOVIES
The Endowment and Islamic Affairs Department of Herat Province has ordered a ban on satellite dishes and the viewing of movies, Radio Afghanistan reported on 5 March. Herat has also issued a warning to shopkeepers and other businesses to "remove posters of Indian film stars" on their premises, the report added. Radio Afghanistan noted that the former Taliban regime "also restricted movies, televisions, dish antennas, and posters." Herat Province on 1 March issued a ban on playing music in public and the sale and screening of movies (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 3 March 2003). AT

LAWYER SAYS DEMONSTRATORS DID NOT THROW GRENADE DURING RIOTING IN KABUL...
Fazl Ahmad Faqiryar, a lawyer representing the demonstrators accused of injuring 12 police officers and throwing a grenade at police station No. 14 in Kabul's Dasht-e Barchi District on 1 March (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 3 March 2003), has said the injuries policemen sustained when protestors stormed the station was caused by stones and not a grenade, Radio Afghanistan reported on 6 March. Faqiryar said that members of a commission formed to investigate the incident and a team of criminal investigators have visited the area and interviewed eyewitnesses, but have not found any signs of a grenade attack. Radio Afghanistan added that the Interior Ministry has announced a list of new officers to be stationed at police station No. 14. The clash resulted from rumors that officers from the police station had raped two local women, according to residents of Dasht-e Barchi. AT

...AS INTERIOR MINISTER MEETS WITH LOCAL RESIDENTS
Ali Ahmad Jalali on 5 March told a gathering of Dasht-e Barchi residents at police station No. 14 that the "police are the servants of the people," Afghanistan Television reported. Jalali said the "role of the people is essential" to the maintenance of peace and security, and asked residents to cooperate with the national police, the report added. Jalali "gave due instructions" for solving the problems faced by Dasht-e Barchi residents, the report added, but did not elaborate on his instructions or what those problems might be. AT

AFGHAN REPATRIATIONS FROM IRAN ACCELERATING
Iranian Interior Minster Hojatoleslam Abdolvahed Musavi-Lari on 6 March expressed the hope that some 400,000 Afghans refugees in Iran will be repatriated "soon" with UN assistance, IRNA reported. He told visiting UN High Commissioner for Refugees Ruud Lubbers on 5 March that there are more than 2.3 million Afghans in Iran and, in view of the jobs the refugees take, Iranian labor and social-affairs agencies wish to see Afghan repatriation expedited. Possible refugee flows from Iraq appeared to be on his mind when Musavi added: "Given that Iran does not have the potential to accept more refugees, we do not intend to give refuge to any more possible applicants in the border areas." SF

RUSSIA, IRAN SIGN NUCLEAR-FUEL CONTRACT
The Russian company TVEL has signed a contract with Iran on the delivery of nuclear fuel to Iran's still-unfinished Bushehr nuclear-power plant, Interfax reported on 6 March. Russian Atomic Energy Minister Aleksandr Rumyantsev said during a visit at an unspecified date to Tehran that Atomstroieksport will load the first shipment of some 40 tons of fuel later this year, after which TVEL will supply the fuel and Tekhsnabeksport will remove spent nuclear fuel from Iran. The first unit of the Bushehr nuclear-power plant is planned to open in 2004. Meanwhile, President Mohammad Khatami during a 6 March ceremony commemorating martyrs from Kan va Soloqan said unnamed nuclear powers had used "any excuse to stop us" from acquiring nuclear technology, but today "the offspring of this land have acquired this technology," Iranian state radio reported. SF

ETHNIC ARAB SENTIMENTS IN AHVAZ CAUSE CONCERN
The Islamic Iran Participation Party exploited ethnic and minority issues in southwestern Iran's Khuzestan Province during the municipal-council election campaign, according to the "Jomhuri-yi Islami" daily newspaper of 6 March. The hard-line daily warned that using such issues could undermine unity in the province, which is predominantly inhabited by Arabs but which also is home to Bakhtiari, Dezfuli, Lur, Behbehani, and Shushtari tribes. In Ahvaz, the province's biggest city, the "Lajneh Al-Vafaq" (Unity Committee) party won all the council seats, the Iran-i Imruz website reported on 2 March (http://www.iran-emrooz.de/khabar/khabar811211.html). An anonymous party official said that although all the winners are Arabs, they will work for all the city's residents. Moreover, the official said, they might even choose a non-Arab mayor. BS

TEHRAN WANTS TO CONFRONT ORGANIZED CRIME
Judiciary chief Ayatollah Mahmud Hashemi-Shahrudi said at a 6 March meeting with national judiciary officials and heads of justice departments that the Iranian justice system must be updated so it can deal with organized crime, IRNA reported. To this end, Shahrudi said, modern methods must replace the traditional judicial procedures and "well-educated judges with high-level training should be recruited." Two days earlier, Economy and Finance Ministry adviser Hussein Abdoh-Tabrizi said that as part of a government-proposed bill to counter money laundering, depositors at Iranian banks will be required to complete forms specifying the source of large financial deposits, IRNA reported. Such an invoicing system, Abdoh said, will help in the campaign against drug smuggling and tax evasion. BS

IRGC WAR GAMES NEAR IRAQ BORDER
Brigadier Zahedi, the acting deputy commander of the Islamic Revolution Guard Corps (IRGC) ground forces, has announced that 20,000 "courageous troops" have begun a "great military exercise" in four regions of Iran's southwestern province of Khuzestan, Tehran television reported on 6 March. Possibly referring to potential clashes with U.S.-led forces, he said the aim of the exercises is to learn from the experiences of the Iran-Iraq War in the area of "asymmetrical combat" in order to increase defense capability "against any type of modern weapon." SF

KURDISH PARLIAMENTARIANS CONCERNED ABOUT PROVINCIAL DEVELOPMENTS
Iranian Kurdish parliamentarians on 4 March questioned Roads and Transport Minister Ahmad Khoram regarding the recent suspension of flights to the Sanandaj airport, "Tehran Times" reported on 5 March. Sanadaj parliamentary representative Bahaedin Adab said Khoram's answers were unsatisfactory; regarding cancellation of flights, for example, Khoram claimed that was a reaction to the recent crash of an Ilyushin-76 military transport near Kerman. On 5 March, the Kurdish deputies expressed their concern about Turkish plans to deploy military personnel in northern Iraq in the event of a war with Iraq, dpa reported, citing IRNA. Sanandaj representative Jalal Jalalizadeh warned that a Turkish invasion could be catastrophic and urged the Iranian Foreign Ministry to act. BS

TEHRAN CONFERENCE STRIVES FOR SHIA UNITY
The objective of a conference of Iraqi Shia opposition groups in Tehran, which began on 6 March, is to unite them and secure their interests in a future Iraq, "Etemad" reported on 6 March. Supreme Council for the Islamic Revolution in Iraq (SCIRI) member Muhammad al-Hadi downplayed differences between the two main Shia groups, the SCIRI and the Al-Da'wah al-Islamiyah (Islamic Call) party. He added that all the opposition groups agree on the need to "preserve Iraq's independence and territorial integrity" and "they do not accept the presence of outsiders." Nevertheless, according to "Etemad," a prominent Shia opposition figure named Seyyed Muhammad Bahr al-Ulum and some smaller Shia organizations have decided not to participate in the Tehran conference. BS

IRAQI LEADER SAYS IRAQ HAS 'CONFUSED' THE U.S.
Iraqi President Saddam Hussein chaired the Council of Ministers' seventh session, Iraq Television reported on 6 March. Hussein told the ministers that Iraq's "high scientific ability" and "comprehensive development despite the circumstances of blockade and daily aggressions" by coalition forces "is something that confuses the enemies." "If the United States carries out a military aggression against Iraq, the U.S. administration will be committing a big folly.... We will fight its forces just as we fought them in 1991, whether they come alone or with international cover," Hussein said. KR

UNIKOM REPORTS THAT U.S. MARINES BREACHED DEMILITARIZED ZONE IN KUWAIT
The UN Iraq-Kuwait Observer Mission (UNIKOM) has told the UN that U.S. Marines have repeatedly breached the UN-monitored demilitarized zone (DMZ) between Kuwait and Iraq in recent days, "The Washington Post" reported on 7 March. UN Spokesman Fred Eckhard reportedly stated that unescorted armed individuals in civilian dress were seen driving four-wheel-drive vehicles inside the DMZ, the daily reported, adding that some of the individuals identified themselves as U.S. Marines. Military personnel are not allowed to enter the demilitarized zone. Meanwhile, UNIKOM spokesperson Daljeet Bagga said unidentified individuals have cut seven large gaps on the Kuwaiti side of the fence that runs along the 200-kilometer border between Iraq and Kuwait, Reuters reported on 7 March. Kuwaiti officials have reportedly said the individuals were conducting maintenance work, but Kuwaiti newspapers reported that the fence would be partially dismantled this week in preparation for a U.S.-led ground assault on Iraq, Reuters reported. The U.S. mission to the UN has not commented on the UNIKOM report. KR

CHINESE, FRENCH LEADERS DISCUSS IRAQ
Chinese President Jiang Zemin and French President Jacques Chirac discussed Iraq via telephone on 6 March, Xinhua news service reported the same day. "France believes [that] at present, the United Nations Security Council should not adopt a resolution authorizing the use of force [in Iraq]," Chirac told Jiang. Regarding China's stance on the issue, Jiang said, "After reviewing the current situation, we noticed that UN Security Council Resolution 1441 has been implemented relatively effectively." Jiang proposed that states continue to call for a resolution through political means, adding, "China's stand is basically identical to the content of the joint statement recently issued by France, German, and Russia. China supports the joint statement," Xinhua reported. KR

TURKISH MILITARY RESPONDS TO REPORTS OF U.S. TROOPS
The Turkish Office of the Chief of the General Staff (OCGS) issued a written statement on 6 March addressing the current activities of U.S. soldiers in the country, CNN TURK reported the same day. The statement noted that U.S. troops are working on the modernization and development of bases, per the terms of the memorandum of understanding (MOU) agreed to between the two states. The statement reportedly said that the civilian population has interpreted U.S. troop movements in Turkey as unlicensed activities, but added, "All activities are being conducted in line with the MOU based on the authority of the National Assembly and are being closely followed." CNN TURK noted in a separate report on 6 March that military equipment, including transport tanks and armored vehicles, were being unloaded by U.S. troops at unnamed Turkish ports. KR

TURKOMANS WANT ARMS
Mustafa Kemal Yaycili, the London representative for the Iraqi Turkoman Front, told NTV news on 6 March that the Turkomans in northern Iraq need arms. "We [Turkomans] cannot accept the arming of only the Kurdish groups. The Kurds' first target will be Kirkuk," Yaycili told NTV. He added that the Kurdistan Democratic Party (KDP) and the Kurdistan Worker's Party (PKK) are collaborating in northern Iraq. Citing recent anti-Turkish demonstrations in the area, Yaycili said that while he does not believe that the KDP would fight Turkish forces, "What they are doing now is reacting to thwart the Turkish army's incursion. It is something like a bluff." Yaycili added that if arms are distributed to KDP and Patriotic Union of Kurdistan (PUK) forces, then they would target the Turkoman-dominated city of Kirkuk. "They [KDP and PUK] are saying this themselves," Yaycili said, adding, "This is completely against our interests.... If arms are to be distributed among the opposition groups in Iraq, then the Turkomans must be given arms, too." KR

IRAQI DIPLOMAT SAYS BULGARIAN JOURNALISTS MISQUOTED HIM
Iraqi Charges d'Affairs in Bulgaria Yahya Mahdi on 6 March denied reports that he threatened Bulgaria with retaliation in the event of Bulgarian assistance to a war against Iraq, BTA reported (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 5 March 2003). Mahdi, who was summoned by the Foreign Ministry the same day, said Bulgarian journalists misquoted him. "I said that Iraq does not possess weapons of mass destruction that could reach [Bulgaria]. However, even if it had them, we would not [attack] a friendly country like Bulgaria," Mahdi said. He said he repeatedly asked the journalists to quote his words exactly. "It is a different question if certain media want to cause damage to the relations between the two countries and nations," Mahdi added. UB

BULGARIA WITHDRAWS DIPLOMATS FROM IRAQ
The government decided on 6 March to recall all Bulgarian diplomats from Iraq, mediapool.bg reported. The diplomats most likely will be stationed in the Syrian capital, Damascus. Foreign Minister Solomon Pasi said the decision was made to ensure the diplomats' personal security and that he is sure that many other countries will also withdraw their representatives in Iraq. UB

ROMANIAN PRESIDENT NOT WORRIED ABOUT POSSIBLE IRAQI RETALIATION
President Ion Iliescu said on 6 March that "the distance between Romania and Iraq is too great to expect an Iraqi attack against targets in our country," Romanian Radio reported. Defense Minister Ioan Mircea Pascu the same day said he does not fear the possibility of Iraqi retaliation and that Baghdad's threats to act against U.S. military targets wherever they might be found is nothing more than "a media campaign." Pascu was apparently responding to a statement made by Iraqi Charge d'Affairs in Bulgaria Mahdi on 5 March. Iraqi Ambassador to Romania Saad Hamid Majid told the private television channel Antena 1 on 6 March that Iraq has destroyed all of its long-range missiles in compliance with UN resolutions but added: "At the same time, we consider any contribution to, or participation in, a war against our country as not only an attack against our people, but also one against the whole Arab world. Such an act of aggression would have a negative impact on Romanian-Iraqi bilateral relations...and I wish that my Romanian friends would be on the side of peace and not choose the road of launching war." MS

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