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Newsline - March 10, 2003


FOREIGN MINISTER SAYS UNILATERAL ACTION AGAINST IRAQ WOULD VIOLATE UN CHARTER...
Igor Ivanov told RTR and ORT on 8 March that any U.S. military action against the regime of Iraqi President Saddam Hussein without United Nations' authorization would be a violation of the UN Charter. If this happens, he added, then the UN Security Council should discuss the matter and take action if necessary. He said that the 17 March deadline included in the amended Security Council resolution on Iraq put forward by the United States, Great Britain, and Spain is "an unjustified ultimatum." "Russia stands firmly for the continuation of the work of international inspectors," Ivanov said. He added that he doubts very much that the Security Council will approve the new resolution. Deputy Foreign Minister Yurii Fedotov told NTV on 9 March that Russia and the United States might agree -- for very different reasons -- that another resolution is not needed. Russia wants to give the inspectors more time, Fedotov said, and the United States has lost faith in their mission altogether. VY

...AS MOSCOW CONFERS WITH OPPONENTS OF WAR
State Duma Speaker Gennadii Seleznev flew to Baghdad on 9 March to meet with Iraqi President Hussein and other Iraqi leaders, strana.ru and other Russian news agencies reported. Meanwhile, Foreign Ministry spokesman Aleksandr Yakovenko said that Foreign Minister Ivanov will be in Tehran on 11 March to discuss Iraq with Iranian Foreign Minister Kamal Kharrazi. Russia and Iran have persistently spoke out against a military solution to the Iraq crisis, he added. The Saudi Embassy in Moscow announced that Saudi Oil Minister Ali al-Naimi will visit Moscow on 12 March at the invitation of Energy Minister Igor Yusufov, newsru.com reported on 10 March. The two ministers will discuss coordinating the energy policies of the world's two largest oil exporters in the light of the Iraq situation, newsru.com reported. VY

FINANCE MINISTER SAYS WAR IN IRAQ WOULD NOT BE TOO DAMAGING FOR RUSSIA...
Deputy Prime Minister and Finance Minister Aleksei Kudrin told RTR on 9 March that the consequences of a military action against Iraq would not be too dramatic for the Russian economy. Although a war would certainly impact upon Russia and the global economy, its consequences would not be dire, Kudrin said. The U.S. dollar would remain the world's leading currency because of the strength of the U.S. economy, which constitutes about one-third of global economic activity, Kudrin said. He added, however, that high global oil prices are creating huge profits for a small number of Russian oil exporters, and this could stimulate inflation. To prevent this and to redistribute these profits, the government has decided to raise the export tax from $25.90 per ton to $40.30. VY

...AND THAT GOVERNMENT WILL FIND MONEY FOR CHECHNYA AND SALARY ARREARS
Deputy Prime Minister Kudrin also said that the government's large gold and foreign-currency reserves and the new export tariffs will enable the government both to weather the consequences of a possible war in Iraq and to find money for social programs. According to a directive from President Vladimir Putin, the Finance Ministry will pay financial compensation to civilians in Chechnya whose property has been damaged during the military operation there (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 28 February 2003). Kudrin said the government will spend about 20 billion rubles ($645 million) on this over the next two to three years. He also admitted that the problem of wage arrears to state-sector workers has become worse in recent months, with total indebtedness rising to 12 billion rubles. Kudrin said the government will work with regional administrations to solve this problem quickly. VY

JAPAN READY TO INVEST IN EXPORT FAR EAST PIPELINE...
Japanese Resources and Energy Minister Iwao Okamoto met in Moscow on 6 March with Energy Minister Yusufov, ITAR-TASS reported. After the meeting, Okamoto told journalists his government is ready to extend favorable loans to finance the projected oil pipeline from Angarsk to the port of Nakhodka. He added that Japan would like the pipeline to have a capacity of 1 million barrels a day, and that oil demand in Japan would ensure the project's profitability. "Izvestiya" on 7 March noted that Japan's eagerness to move forward with the project is in contrast to its normally slow decision-making process. This is not surprising, considering that Japan is anxious about its dependence on oil from the unstable Middle East, from which Japan currently imports 88 percent of its oil, the daily added. VY

...AS TRANSNEFT HEAD REJECTS PRIVATE PARTICIPATION IN MURMANSK PIPELINE PROJECT
Semen Vainshtok, head of the state oil-pipeline monopoly Transneft, said that the proposed pipeline from Western Siberia to Murmansk should be built without the participation of Russian oil companies, RosBalt reported on 4 March. Last year, oil majors Yukos, LUKoil, Tyumen Oil Company (TNK), Sibneft, and Surgutneftegaz proposed the project, although a similar project was proposed in the 1960s by U.S. oilmen and was rejected by the Soviet government. Vainshtok said the state should reject the recent proposal because it would enable the companies to establish oil-transport tariffs independently. He noted that all the country's pipelines remain in state hands and that handing this one over to private companies would be like ripping a hole in the state's border. In addition, he said, the companies have no experience building major pipelines, while Transneft, which has carried out $1 billion worth of such projects, does. Transneft was founded in 1992 on the basis of a division of the Soviet Oil Industry Ministry. It controls 48,000 kilometers of pipelines, through which 374 million tons of oil passed in 2002. VY

COMMUNISTS PROPOSE EQUATING CORRUPTION WITH TREASON
Speaking at a meeting of the Communist Party Central Committee on 6 March, party leader Gennadii Zyuganov proposed equating "corruption in the upper echelons of the state" with "high treason," strana.ru and rednews.ru reported. Zyuganov said that "illegal dealing in the interests of the oligarchs or foreign companies" should be crimes "without statutes of limitation." Zyuganov added that the Interior Ministry must be "uncompromisingly" purged of its corrupt elements from the top to the bottom. He also proposed restoring the practice of electing judges, which was abolished under President Putin. Appointing the country's 18,000 judges has not made them more independent from regional bureaucrats, Zyuganov said. VY

SOVIET PRIME MINISTER TO BE FETED
The State Duma on 7 March approved a resolution introduced by deputies Gennadii Raikov (People's Deputy), Oleg Morozov (Russian Regions), and Nikolai Ryzhkov (independent) authorizing the official commemoration of the 100th anniversary of the birth of the former chairman of the USSR Council of Ministers, Nikolai Kosygin, nns.ru reported. The resolution also establishes a government stipend in honor of Kosygin, who headed the Soviet government from 1964-80. The citation says that Kosygin made enormous contributions toward strengthening "the country's economy and its scientific and defense complex." It argues that officially commemorating the anniversary will "promote the consolidation of society and respect for historical traditions." VY

SOLZHENITSYN RELEASED FROM HOSPITAL
Nobel Prize laureate Alexander Solzhenitsyn returned home on 10 March following three months of hospital treatment for high blood pressure (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 9 January 2003), dpa and other news agencies reported. The 84-year-old author of "The Gulag Archipelago" was also reportedly treated for spinal problems stemming from the time he spent in a Soviet labor camp in the 1940s and 1950s. RC

HEALTH OF RUSSIAN CHILDREN DECLINING
Only 33 percent of Russian children under the age of 18 are healthy, Deputy Health Minister Olga Sharapova told ITAR-TASS on 10 March. The number of healthy children has declined by 7 percent over the last 10 years, she added. Sharapova said that many illnesses among children stem from serious violations of health norms at Russian schools. She added, however, that some of the registered increase in illnesses can be accounted for by improved diagnostic techniques. RC

RUSSIAN INTERNET USE CONTINUES TO GROW
The number of Russian Internet users reached 5.1 million at the beginning of this year, RIA-Novosti reported on 10 March, citing data released at the seventh annual Russian Internet Forum. The rate of growth of Internet use was reportedly higher in the regions than in Moscow. In addition, the government demonstrated heightened interest in the Internet in 2002 through its ambitious Electronic Russia program, which is designed to boost the Internet presence of state agencies and to developed Internet-based educational programs. Deputy Communications Minister Andrei Korotkov told the conference that the Internet "is becoming the basis of the country's new economy, which is oriented toward modern digital technologies." RC

BUSINESS NEWS CHANNEL TO BE LAUNCHED
RosBiznesKonsalting (RBK) will launch a 24-hour cable-television channel devoted to business news in May, "The Moscow Times" and other Russian media reported on 7 March. "The channel will be about Russian business and for Russian business," the daily quoted RBK General Director Yurii Rovenskii as saying. Rovenskii estimated that the project will cost $30 million to $40 million for the first year of operations, of which RBK has raised $15 million. RC

CHECHEN STATE-SECTOR WORKERS FACED WITH REFERENDUM ULTIMATUM
Doctors, teachers, and other employees in Chechnya whose wages are paid from the republic's budget have been threatened with dismissal if they fail to bring 10 people each to their local polling stations to participate in the 23 March referendum on a new draft constitution and election legislation, chechenpress.com reported on 8 March. In Grozny's Staropromyslovskii Raion, teachers have been forced to contribute 50 rubles ($1.58) each to the cost of setting up a polling station for the referendum, chechenpress.com reported. Federal Minister for Reconstruction in Chechnya Stanislav Ilyasov told Interfax on 22 January that the federal government has earmarked 60 million rubles to finance the referendum in Chechnya. LF

EU FACT-FINDING TRIP TO SOUTH CAUCASUS POSTPONED
A tour of the three South Caucasus states on 10-11 March by EU Foreign Affairs Commissioner Javier Solana and senior Greek and Italian Foreign Ministry officials has been postponed, AFP and ITAR-TASS reported on 8 and 9 March, respectively. A Greek Foreign Ministry official told AFP the postponement was occasioned by the "indisposition of an Azerbaijani official" (presumably President Heidar Aliev, who is recovering from surgery in the United States), while ITAR-TASS attributed it to the Iraq crisis. LF

ARMENIAN OPPOSITION VOWS TO CONTINUE ELECTION PROTESTS...
Tens of thousands of supporters of People's Party of Armenia Chairman Stepan Demirchian held another rally and march in Yerevan on 7 March to protest perceived falsification of the 5 March presidential-runoff ballot, RFE/RL's Yerevan bureau and Armenian news agencies reported. According to official returns, Demirchian polled only 32.5 percent of the vote, compared with 67.5 percent for incumbent President Robert Kocharian. At the rally the 13 opposition parties that support Demirchian adopted a statement lauding international criticism of procedural violations during the vote and appealing to the international community for assistance in "restoring constitutional order" in Armenia. Demirchian said he will ask the Constitutional Court to declare the election invalid, ITAR-TASS reported on 8 March. On 9 March, former Prime Minister Aram Sargsian told some 6,000 Demirchian supporters in Yerevan that the opposition will erect a tent camp and hold permanent protests outside the Central Election Commission (CEC) headquarters until that agency annuls the outcome of the ballot, ITAR-TASS and AP reported. The CEC is scheduled to release the final results of the 5 March runoff on 11 March. LF

...AS DEFENSE MINISTER DISMISSES INTERNATIONAL CRITICISM...
Serzh Sarkisian, who managed President Kocharian's re-election campaign, told journalists in Yerevan on 7 March that he considers the election was better organized than previous presidential ballots, RFE/RL's Yerevan bureau reported. He dismissed the OSCE criticisms of irregularities as exaggerated and based on too small a sample of polling stations to be representative. In addition, he pointed out that monitors from the CIS Parliamentary Assembly characterized both rounds as "democratic and legitimate." At the same time, Sarkisian commented: "People who have grown up and lived in Europe cannot understand our mentality. They have their rules and views on democracy, and we have ours." On 8 March, U.S. diplomat Peter Eicher, who headed the OSCE Election Observation Mission, rejected Sarkisian's claim that the OSCE conclusions were based on too narrow a sample, adding that violations were more widespread during the vote count and tally than the actual voting. LF

...AND U.S. EXPRESSES 'DEEP DISAPPOINTMENT'
Echoing a 6 March statement by the OSCE Election Observation Mission, the U.S. State Department said in a 7 March statement that Washington is "deeply disappointed" by the irregularities reported during the presidential election, RFE/RL's Yerevan bureau reported. The statement said that the Armenian leadership "missed an important opportunity to advance democratization by holding a credible election" and called on the Armenian government to set about building a democratic state, to conduct "a full and transparent investigation" of all reported violations, and to bring to account those found responsible for those violations. LF

AZERBAIJANI PRESIDENT'S HEALTH GROUNDS FOR SPECULATION
Repeated statements by Azerbaijan's Ambassador to the United States Hafiz Pashaev that President Aliev is well and might return to Baku as early as last weekend after a hernia operation (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 4 March 2003) have not prevented media speculation about the 79-year-old president's state of health. Presidential administration officials have denied a report published in the independent daily "Azadliq" on 7 March that Aliev has undergone a further operation. LF

AZERBAIJANI OPPOSITION PARTY DEMONSTRATES ON BEHALF OF LEADER
Thousands of people attended a demonstration convened in Baku on 9 March by the Democratic Party of Azerbaijan (DPA), Turan reported on 10 March. Participants demanded that DPA Chairman and former parliament speaker Rasul Guliev be permitted to return to Baku from his voluntary exile in the United States and that the Azerbaijani authorities stop harassing his relatives. They also demanded President Aliev's resignation and the holding of free, fair, and democratic elections. LF

GEORGIAN, RUSSIAN PRESIDENTS SEEK TO RESOLVE ABKHAZ CONFLICT...
During talks in Sochi on 6 and 7 March, Russian President Vladimir Putin agreed to specific proposals by his Georgian counterpart Eduard Shevardnadze intended to facilitate a solution to the Abkhaz conflict, Caucasus Press and Russian news agencies reported. In a joint statement issued on 7 March, the two presidents agreed to expedite the return, first to Abkhazia's southernmost Gali Raion and then to other districts, of Georgian displaced persons who fled their homes during the 1992-93 war. After the repatriation is complete, railway communication will be restored between Sochi via Abkhazia to Tbilisi, and modernization will begin at the Inguri Hydroelectric Power Station. They also agreed that the mandate of the Russian peacekeeping force deployed under the CIS aegis in the Abkhaz conflict zone shall be extended indefinitely until either Georgia or Abkhazia demands the peacekeepers' withdrawal. It is not clear whether Putin agreed to Shevardnadze's proposal to set up a joint Georgian-Abkhaz administration and police force in Gali. LF

...WITH INPUT, APPROVAL OF ABKHAZ PREMIER
Abkhaz Prime Minister Gennadii Gagulia, who traveled unexpectedly to Sochi on 7 March to join the Putin-Shevardnadze talks, characterized them as "very positive," according to Interfax on 7 March. He said the meeting showed "that Russia remains...the only force that can bring peace and stability to the region." Gagulia also told Interfax that he raised with Shevardnadze the need to put a halt to the activities of Georgian guerrilla formations who, Gagulia said, are "destabilizing the situation" in the conflict zone. Gagulia also pointed out the need to develop Abkhazia's economy and provide employment for the thousands of returning Georgian displaced persons. LF

GEORGIAN PRESIDENT EXPRESSES INTEREST IN CIS SINGLE ECONOMIC SPACE...
During his talks in Sochi with President Putin, Shevardnadze expressed interest in the agreement signed last month by Russia, Belarus, Ukraine, and Kazakhstan on creating a single economic space within the CIS, Russian news agencies and Caucasus Press reported on 7 March. Shevardnadze said that initiative is of great interest to Georgia, and Tbilisi will study possible approaches to cooperation with the new alignment. Shevardnadze also stressed the need to finish, and to sign as soon as possible, the draft framework treaty on relations between Russia and Georgia, Caucasus Press reported (see "RFE/RL Caucasus Report," 21 June 2002). LF

...DISCUSSES MESKHETIANS WITH KRASNODAR GOVERNOR
While in Sochi, President Shevardnadze held talks on 7 March with Krasnodar Krai Governor Aleksandr Tkachev, Caucasus Press reported. Tkachev reportedly asked Shevardnadze to take "concrete and decisive steps" to expedite the emigration to Georgia as soon as possible of those Meskhetians currently living in Krasnodar who wish to settle in Georgia. Georgia pledged when it joined the Council of Europe to allow the Meskhetians, descendants of thousands who were deported on Stalin's orders to Central Asia in 1944, to return to their ancestral villages in southern Georgia but has not made good on that pledge, partly due to financial problems and partly because of objections from local residents. Meskhetians in Krasnodar are regarded with mistrust and have been the target of repeated pogroms in recent years. LF

GEORGIAN PARLIAMENT COMMITTEE CALLS FOR REPEAT VOTE ON MINIMUM WAGE
Meeting on 7 March, the Georgian parliament Committee on Procedural Issues voted unanimously to schedule a repeat vote on the law on the minimum wage, Caucasus Press reported. The committee's seven members pointed to violations during the 28 February vote in all three readings (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 3 March 2003). Georgian officials have since pointed out that there are no funds available to finance the five-fold increase in the minimum wage stipulated in the law. Giorgi Baramidze, who heads the United Democrats parliament faction that initiated the draft bill, accused the pro-leadership parliament factions of doing all in their power to prevent an increase in the minimum wage. LF

ABDUCTED ABKHAZ BUSINESSMAN RELEASED
Abkhaz police have secured the release of former State Customs Committee Chairman Aslan Kobakhia, who was abducted in Sukhum on 12 February, ITAR-TASS reported on 8 March (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 26 February 2003). Several suspects have been arrested. LF

KYRGYZSTAN SEEKS SOLUTION FOR EXCLAVE
Kyrgyzstan's Prime Minister Nikolai Tanaev told an expanded session of the parliamentary Committee on Law and State Order on 7 March that the problem of the Barak exclave should be settled by 15 March, Interfax reported. The southern exclave is surrounded by Uzbek territory, and last month Tanaev met with Barak residents to discuss their demands that they should either have free access to Kyrgyzstan via Uzbekistan or the village should be resettled inside Kyrgyzstan (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 24 February 2003). Uzbekistan closed the border at the beginning of the year. Tanaev was quoted as telling the committee that there are two options for Barak: either the Uzbek authorities must be persuaded to open a border crossing on preferential terms for Kyrgyz citizens or the village must be moved. He said that requesting free transit across Uzbek territory was not an option, because Uzbekistan might request a free-transit corridor to the Uzbek exclave of Sokh in Kyrgyzstan. Barak, a relic of Soviet-era border drawing, covers 200 hectares and has a population of 1,500. BB

KYRGYZSTAN SUPPORTS REFERENDUM IN IRAQ
Kyrgyz Foreign Minister Askar Aitmatov told Iranian Foreign Minister Kamal Kharrazi during a visit to Tehran that Kyrgyzstan supports an Iranian initiative to hold a referendum in Iraq under UN auspices to determine the future government of that country, akipress.org reported on 10 March. The two ministers also signed a document on developing bilateral cooperation. During a joint press conference in Bishkek with visiting Slovak President Rudolf Schuster on 4 March, President Askar Akaev stated that any military operation against Iraq must be sanctioned by the United Nations. BB

KYRGYZ DEFENSE MINISTER ENDS VISIT TO TURKEY
Colonel General Esen Topoev ended the official portion of a four-day visit to Turkey on 7 March, akipress.org and RFE/RL's Kyrgyz Service reported. A delegation of Kyrgyz defense officials headed by Topoev met with Turkish Defense Minister Vecdi Goenuel and Chief of the General Staff Hilmi Oezkoek to discuss military cooperation between the two countries. The Kyrgyz visitors paid particular attention to officers' training, visiting the Turkish Military Academy in Istanbul and the Infantry School. Another major focus of the visit was the signing of a protocol on cooperation in the field of military archives, military history, and military publications. The Kyrgyz also visited a Turkish Defense Ministry clothing factory. BB

COMMISSION APPROVES DRAFT CHANGES TO TAJIK CONSTITUTION
A coordination commission on constitutional amendments held its first meeting on 6 March under the chairmanship of parliamentary Deputy Chairman Abdumajid Dostiev, Asia Plus-Blitz reported the following day. The session approved most of the government's proposals for changes to the country's constitution. The commission was originally set up to study constitutional changes suggested by parliamentary deputies. According to the report, opposition and pro-government parties alike oppose a referendum scheduled for June on changing the length of a presidential term in office. In their view, this amendment has been proposed solely to benefit incumbent President Imomali Rahmonov. In a 26 February statement, Islamic Renaissance Party leader Said Abdullo Nuri objected to any tampering with the constitution because it emerged from the peace accord of 1997 that ended the Tajik civil war. (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 27 February 2003) BB

U.S. RESUMES TALKS ON TAJIK BASES
The U.S. Defense Department has resumed talks with the Tajik government on a proposal to lease three airbases in Tajikistan, the "Tajikistan Times" website (http://www.tajikistantimes.ru/) reported on 10 March. According to the report, the U.S. side considers the Tajik bases better situated for flying into Afghanistan than the more distant Manas Airbase in northern Kyrgyzstan. Negotiations on leasing bases in Tajikistan began in 2001 after the beginning of the antiterrorism operation in Afghanistan, but no agreement was reached, and the talks were broken off in 2002. A French military contingent is stationed in Tajikistan as part of the international coalition operating in Afghanistan. BB

TAJIKISTAN LIVES ON INCOME FROM LABOR MIGRANTS, SAYS GOVERNMENT ECONOMIST
Hojimahmad Umarov, a department head in the Economic Research Institute of the Tajik Economics and Trade Ministry, says that Tajikistan receives $40 million to $70 million per month from labor migrants who have left the country in search of work, ITAR-TASS reported on 9 March. Most of the labor migrants from Tajikistan go to Russia. Umarov was quoted as saying that such earnings are the reason there has been no mass hunger in the country and that without labor migration, it would be "impossible to ensure the material conditions necessary for the survival of the Tajik population." Migration of labor abroad also helps to alleviate social tensions, Umarov said. BB

TWO UZBEK JOURNALISTS ASSAULTED DURING PROTEST DEMONSTRATION
One RFE/RL journalist and a second from the Voice of America (VOA) were assaulted and beaten on 7 March while covering a protest by some 40 women at a Tashkent market, Western news agencies reported. The two journalists said police looked on and failed to intervene when they were attacked by a group of some 20 people. They also said some of the women, who were protesting the arrest of male relatives suspected of sympathizing with Islamic militants, were subsequently arrested and taken away in buses. LF

AMNESTY INTERNATIONAL CALLS FOR PRUDENT POLICING OF PROTEST IN BELARUS
International human rights watchdog Amnesty International has urged Belarusian authorities to ensure that the policing of the planned opposition march "For Better Life" in Minsk on 12 March respects citizens' right to peaceful protest, Belapan reported on 7 March. "There should be no repeat of the ugly scenes of recent years, which saw peaceful demonstrators being hit, kicked, and herded into police vehicles for voicing their concerns on the capital's public squares and streets," Amnesty International said in a statement. The organization added that it will consider anyone detained during the march a prisoner of conscience. JM

RUSSIAN OFFICIAL URGES BELARUSIAN BORDER GUARDS TO BE MORE POLITE
Mikhail Tsikel, first deputy governor of Russia's Kaliningrad Oblast, has called on Belarusian border guards to be more polite with travelers while checking documents on trains between the Russian exclave and the rest of Russia, Belapan reported on 7 March, quoting Russia's Kaskad news agency. "Transit through Belarus involves humiliating illegal searches, as compared to the Lithuanian border and customs services' polite treatment of Russian passengers," Tsikel was quoted as saying at a recent meeting of a Belarus-Kaliningrad cooperation commission. JM

UKRAINIANS RALLY AGAINST KUCHMA...
Tens of thousands of people took part in an anti-presidential rally at the monument to Ukrainian poet Taras Shevchenko in Kyiv on 9 March, Ukrainian and international news agencies reported. The gathering adopted a resolution calling for early presidential elections and reform of the country's political system. The resolution also called on authorities to release all political prisoners; abolish censorship, and provide the opposition with regular airtime on public television; bring the level of wages, pensions, and scholarships "in line with the norms of the constitution," and ban increases in prices for public utilities. Police estimated that the rally in Kyiv gathered 10,000-15,000 demonstrators, while opposition sources put the figure at 50,000-150,000. JM

...AS OPPOSITION LEADERS CALL FOR CONSOLIDATION AMONG PRESIDENTIAL FOES
Our Ukraine leader Viktor Yushchenko told the crowd that the opposition must field a single presidential candidate in 2004, UNIAN reported. "Otherwise, it will be a failure. A failure for everybody," he added. Yuliya Tymoshenko agreed with Yushchenko, stressing that proposing a single candidate is the opposition's only chance to win the presidential election. She warned that President Leonid Kuchma is seeking to remain in power for five more years through nebulous amendments to the constitution. Communist Party leader Petro Symonenko called on the Ukrainian people to unite in their struggle against the authorities, but kept silent on the issue of presidential candidates. According to police, similar albeit less numerous protests were staged the same day in 103 Ukrainian cities, including an 8,000-strong rally in Lviv. JM

KUWAIT INVITES UKRAINIAN NBC BATTALION
The Kuwaiti government has invited Ukraine's anti-nuclear, -biological, and -chemical (NBC) battalion to deploy in its country, Interfax reported on 9 March, quoting President Kuchma. Kuchma said Ukraine will not participate in any possible military operation in Iraq, adding that the battalion may be brought into action only for cleanup after any use of weapons of mass destruction. Ukraine's 531-strong NBC battalion is highly regarded in light of years of experience following the 1986 explosion at the Chornobyl nuclear power station. Its deployment abroad would require approval by the Verkhovna Rada. JM

RES PUBLICA BOARD BACKS FOUR-PARTY COALITION IN ESTONIA
The board of the right-of-center Res Publica decided on 7 March to hold coalition talks with the Reform Party, the People's Union, and the Pro Patria Union, BNS reported. In negotiations with Res Publica earlier that day, People's Union representatives said they could see no reason why the Pro Patria Union should be invited to join the coalition, which would have a firm majority of 60 deputies in the 101-member parliament even without the seven Pro Patria Union deputies. People's Union Chairman Villu Reiljan said the Pro Patria Union's influence has slipped after losing more than half of its mandates in the recent elections, but that Res Publica has the right to choose with whom it wants to conduct coalition negotiations. Pro Patria Union Chairman Tunne Kelam did not comment on his meeting with Reiljan that day, although he admitted that relations between the two parties remain unclear. SG

LATVIAN DEFENSE MINISTER SAYS U.S. HAS NO PLANS TO SET UP BASES
After talks with a number of high-ranking officials in Washington on 7 March, Defense Minister Girts Valdis Kristovskis said the United States does not yet have any plans to set up military bases in Latvia, BNS reported the next day. He said only Poland has been mentioned as a possible site for new U.S. bases, as military training centers have already been established there. In regard to Latvia, Kristovskis said: "There has been no specific discussion and no specific offer has even been formulated. For now this is only speculation made by journalists." In talks with U.S. officials, he discussed the crisis in Iraq, NATO expansion, and the work of Latvian security services. Kristovskis is scheduled to return to Latvia on 14 March. SG

NEW CHAIRMAN OF LITHUANIAN LIBERAL DEMOCRATS ELECTED
A congress of the Liberal Democratic Party in Vilnius on 9 March elected Valentinas Mazuronis as the party's new chairman by a vote of 466 to three, with 44 abstentions, "Kauno diena" reported the next day. Two other party deputy chairmen, parliamentary deputy Henrikas Zukauskas and Klaipeda University Professor Vytautas Valevicius, were nominated, but withdrew their candidacies. The 49-year Mazuronis is an architect from Siauliai who was appointed acting party chairman in January (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 15 January 2003) to replace Rolandas Paksas, who was required to end his party affiliation after being elected Lithuania's president. The congress elected Zukauskas as first deputy chairman, six other deputy chairmen, and in a secret ballot 14 other members to an executive committee. It also approved a resolution supporting Lithuania's future membership of the European Union. SG

POLISH, LITHUANIAN PRESIDENTS URGE TRANS-ATLANTIC UNITY OVER IRAQ
Polish President Aleksander Kwasniewski said after a meeting with his Lithuanian counterpart Rolandas Paksas in Warsaw on 7 March that neither country rules out the possibility of a military solution to the Iraq situation, should peaceful methods prove unsuccessful, Polish Radio reported. "At present, all countries, including Poland and a NATO candidate, Lithuania, have a very important task of strengthening and recalling the need for trans-Atlantic unity, for the closest possible cooperation between the United States and Europe," Kwasniewski said. PAP reported that the presidents also discussed the functioning of schools for the Lithuanian minority in Poland and the restoration of land in Lithuania confiscated from Poles by the Soviets after World War II. Paksas reportedly assured Kwasniewski that Lithuania will settle the problem of property restitution to Poles by 2004. JM

SOLIDARITY IN GDANSK PROTESTS ECONOMIC CONDITIONS
Some 3,000 Solidarity members -- mainly teachers, nurses, and railway and shipyard workers -- protested low pay and government economic policies in front of the provincial governor's office in Gdansk on 7 March, Polish media reported. Protestors blamed the government of Prime Minister Leszek Miller for chronically underfunding the public sector and failing to boost a sluggish economy. JM

POLISH PREMIER WANTS 'RYWINGATE' FULLY EXPLAINED
Premier Leszek Miller told journalists on 8 March that the "Rywingate" bribery scandal (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 27 February 2003) is being exploited by some politicians to exclude the Democratic Left Alliance (SLD) from political life or to seriously undermine the SLD's reputation, PAP reported. "And all this is happening under the flags of struggle for the moral and ethical renewal of the Polish political stage," Miller said. "The SLD and myself are in [the] positions of those who have been wronged, and that is why we must do everything possible to bring the matter to its conclusion," Miller added. "Gazeta Wyborcza" alleged in December that film producer Lech Rywin solicited a bribe from Agora, the daily's publisher, purportedly on behalf of Miller's SLD to lobby a favorable media law. Last week, a special parliamentary commission interrogated Jerzy Urban, editor in chief of the "Nie" weekly, in connection with the allegations. JM

CZECH FOREIGN MINISTER ENDS U.S. VISIT
Foreign Minister Cyril Svoboda ended an official visit to the United States on 9 March, CTK reported. In an interview on 7 March, Svoboda said dragging out inspections in Iraq will not solve the crisis and called for a new UN Security Council resolution. Svoboda said Prague would like any possible military action against Iraq to carry a UN mandate. He called Iraqi President Saddam Hussein's regime a threat to its own people, the country's neighbors, and the world at large, adding that the Czech Republic is therefore involved in efforts to remove that threat. In separate interviews with both CTK and Czech Radio the same day, Svoboda said he does not believe the Czech Republic will be "involved" in any possible eastward transfer of U.S. bases from Western Europe (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 24 and 27 February 2003), since the Czech Republic is so close to Germany. But added that Prague would display "maximum flexibility" to any proposed solution. Svoboda on 8 March discussed Czech participation in possible postwar reconstruction of Iraq and the extension of humanitarian aid to that country with U.S. Deputy Defense Secretary Paul Wolfowitz, CTK reported. MS

CZECH SOCIAL DEMOCRATS MOBILIZE SUPPORT AHEAD OF CONFIDENCE VOTE...
The leadership of the senior ruling Social Democratic Party (CSSD) on 8 March voted overwhelmingly to urge its deputies in the lower house to support the government in a confidence vote scheduled for 11 March, CTK reported. The resolution was backed by 23 senior CSSD leaders, with one abstention and no votes cast against. Prime Minister Vladimir Spidla told journalists that he did not notice who abstained. Spidla refused to discuss the possibility of a cabinet reshuffle, saying he does not "comment on speculation." The daily "Lidove noviny" on 7 March predicted that a reshuffle is imminent, the only question being whether it will take place before or after the CSSD national conference scheduled for 28-30 March. Citing "government sources," the daily wrote that Spidla is determined to remove Labor and Social Affairs Minister Zdenek Skromach, Industry and Trade Minister Jiri Rusnok, Health Minister Marie Souckova, and possibly Culture Minister Pavel Dostal. With the exception of Souckova, all of those ministers are perceived as supporters of former Premier Milos Zeman, who recently called for a new CSSD leadership. MS

...BUT FLOAT OPTION IN THE EVENT OF FAILURE
Interior Minister and CSSD Deputy Chairman Stanislav Gross said in a televised debate on 9 March that if the cabinet survives the 11 March confidence vote, Premier Spidla should continue as CSSD chairman, CTK reported. Should the government fall, Gross said, the cabinet should be replaced by a broad coalition representing all parliamentary parties except the Communist Party of Bohemia and Moravia. Opposition Civic Democratic Party (ODS) Deputy Chairman Petr Necas countered that the ODS is ready to discuss such a proposal, but he added that the ODS does not intend to assume government responsibility and has no mandate to join the cabinet. Necas said the ODS is "not interested in destabilizing the government at a time when we are facing crucial decisions on EU accession." Critics of the "opposition agreement" that propped up the left-wing CSSD government in 1998-2002 are wary of the prospect of renewed ODS-CSSD cooperation. MS

NEW CZECH PRESIDENT URGES NATION TO LOOK TO FUTURE WITH 'CONFIDENCE, OPTIMISM'
In his first address to the nation as president, Vaclav Klaus said on 9 March that he will do his utmost "to fulfill the expectations not only of those who wanted me at Prague Castle, but also to increase the number of my supporters among those who did not vote for me," CTK reported. Klaus said his assumption of the presidency does not signify a revolutionary change: "Over the years during which we lived in freedom, the country has created good conditions for the future. I am starting my presidential term with the sentiment that I can follow up on positive things [already achieved, and] I include here the work of my predecessor, Vaclav Havel," Klaus said. Seemingly signaling that he wants to avoid debate over the merits of reforms he introduced as prime minister, Klaus urged society not to waste time in endless disputes over interpretations of the past, and especially not the past decade. "People's views differ, and always will," he said. Klaus promised to strive to increase the number of those who are satisfied and reduce the number of dissatisfied Czechs. "Let us look into the future with confidence, optimism, and also with a smile." he concluded. Greeting several hundred people gathered at Prague Castle to celebrate his inauguration on 7 March, Klaus said he is aware that not everyone rejoices in his election. MS

CZECH BUS TRAGEDY LEAVES 19 DEAD
Nineteen people were killed and 34 injured on 8 March when a tour bus crashed near the southern town of Ceske Budejovice, CTK and international news agencies reported. The bus was carrying Czech tourists home from a skiing trip in the Austrian Alps. MS

SLOVAK PREMIER SAYS UN SECURITY COUNCIL FACES 'TEST OF RESPONSIBILITY'...
Prime Minister Mikulas Dzurinda told journalists on 8 March that the UN Security Council faces a "test of responsibility" this week as it debates a new resolution on Iraq, CTK reported. He said this test will demonstrate whether the council's resolutions must be fulfilled fully and unconditionally, or Iraq can continue "deceiving" the international community. Dzurinda also said dozens of Slovak citizens are expected to return from Kuwait in the coming days, TASR reported. He was speaking after a meeting with Foreign Minister Eduard Kukan and Interior Minister Ivan Simko at which they discussed, among other things, the evacuation of Slovak citizens from Middle Eastern countries in view of possible military operations against Iraq. Dzurinda said Slovakia is coordinating possible evacuation steps with the Czech Republic, adding that the same day he discussed such coordination with Czech Premier Spidla. The Foreign Ministry on 7 March decided to evacuate from Israel and Syria the families of Slovak diplomatic staff. Dzurinda also expressed concern in view of waning support for Slovakia's expected NATO membership as shown in opinion polls. He said he will discuss with Kukan and Simko measures aimed at boosting support for NATO membership to 60 percent. The latest polls show that, against the backdrop of the Iraq crisis, support dropped to 46 percent in January, while opposition to membership rose to 48 percent. MS

NATO SECRETARY-GENERAL 'DISAPPOINTED' BY LACK OF SLOVAK ENTHUSIASM FOR MEMBERSHIP
NATO Secretary-General Lord George Robertson said in Brussels on 9 March that he is "disappointed" by the low level of popular support in Slovakia for NATO membership, TASR reported. Robertson, due to begin a visit to Slovakia on 10 March, added that what counts is "long-term support" and not fluctuating opinion-poll results. "I believe that people in Slovakia are sufficiently reasonable, clever, intelligent, and far-sighted to realize that NATO membership is a great advantage for them, and even more so for future generations," he said. Robertson also said it would be "disgraceful" if the allegations made in January by the British defense journal "Jane's Intelligence Digest" turned out to be accurate. The journal wrote that the Slovak Intelligence Service (SIS) continues to be involved in arms trafficking, collaborates with Russian intelligence, conducts illegal phone tapping, and is involved in smear campaigns against politicians (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 16 January 2003). Robertson said Slovakia must persuade the Atlantic alliance that its security bodies can be entrusted with classified information and that it is a country with a reliable, strong, and independent system of security screening. MS

UKRAINIAN PRESIDENT IN SLOVAKIA
Visiting Ukrainian President Leonid Kuchma discussed the Iraq situation and bilateral relations in Tatranska Javorina on 9 March with his Slovak host Rudolf Schuster, TASR reported. Schuster told journalists after the meeting that Slovakia has no reason not to trust U.S. arguments on Iraq, though Bratislava would prefer a peaceful solution. Kuchma said Ukraine rejects any use of military force, adding that the United States "wants war." He said the situation would have been different had Iraq cooperated with UN experts from start. The two presidents also discussed the deployment of NBC units to the Persian Gulf. While Slovakia has already dispatched such a unit to Kuwait, the Ukrainian parliament will debate the possibility this week (see Ukrainian item above). Schuster said Slovakia is interested in maintaining special relations with Ukraine after joining the EU and introducing Schengen border controls at their joint frontier. He said Bratislava will ask Brussels to approve a deal similar to that recently agreed between Ukraine and Poland ("RFE/RL Newsline," 14 February 2003). Under such an agreement, Ukrainian citizens would be able to get Slovak visas free of charge, and Slovaks would be allowed visa-free entry to Ukraine. MS

SLOVAK PREMIER ACCUSES SMER LEADER OF 'DEMAGOGY'
Speaking on a Slovak Radio program on a recent parliamentary session to debate corruption (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 7 March 2003), Premier Dzurinda accused opposition Smer (Direction) Chairman Robert Fico of "demagogy," TASR reported. Dzurinda said that, in the past five years, Fico has done little else than criticize the previous and current cabinets, accusing them of high-level corruption and attacking the privatization of "strategic companies." "It is always the same story over and over again, about canceling the privatization of the electricity utility, and about how it would be best if he privatized it," Dzurinda said. He added that corruption is a serious problem that concerns the cabinet and the country as a whole, but that Slovakia is "neither better nor worse than neighboring countries" in that respect. MS

HUNGARIAN PARTY IN SLOVAKIA CONCERNED ABOUT COALITION TENSIONS
Hungarian Coalition Party (SMK) Chairman Bela Bugar told journalists on 8 March that his party is concerned over growing tension within the ruling coalition, TASR reported. He said the way some controversial issues are being handled by the coalition -- or rather left unsolved -- is affecting its stability. Bugar said that while the Christian Democratic Movement (KDH) is demanding the dismissal of SIS Director Vladimir Mitro, Premier Dzurinda's Slovak Democratic and Christian Union is refusing to discuss the matter and the Alliance for a New Citizen (ANO) wants the matter postponed until a probe is completed into alleged eavesdropping of ANO Chairman Vladimir Rusko's telephone by the Interior Ministry. The ANO-proposed solution, Bugar said, is not feasible, as the investigation might last for months (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 5 and 6 March 2003 ). The Czech daily "Hospodarske noviny" on 7 March cited Bugar as saying the SMK supports the KDH demand to dismiss Mitro, while on 8 March TASR cited ANO Chairman Pavol Rusko as saying his party will not back the demand until the coalition reaches agreement on Mitro's successor. MS

HUNGARIAN PRESIDENT IN FRANCE
Visiting Hungarian Prime Minister Peter Medgyessy said on 7 March after meeting French President Jacques Chirac that he received assurances that France continues to support the EU's eastward enlargement, Hungarian media reported. With regard to the Iraq situation, Medgyessy said that while both Hungary and France would like to see Iraq disarm, the differences of opinion between Budapest and France lie in whether force should be applied to compel Iraq to do so "after a certain point." Medgyessy said that if President Hussein continues to ignore UN Security Council resolutions, military action cannot be ruled out as a last resort. He also said France and Hungary differ in their vision of what relations between the EU and the United States should look like: Paris thinks in terms of a duality of the alliance and a global balance of power, while Hungary feels that a constructive policy should be pursued toward Washington while also taking European interests into consideration. Medgyessy also said France believes Hungary can play a role as a mediator in smoothing differences within the trans-Atlantic Alliance. Medgyessy participated in a European forum hosted by French Premier Jean-Pierre Raffarin in Avignon on 8 March. MS

HUNGARIAN FOREIGN MINISTER REGRETS NOT CONSULTING GERMANY, FRANCE
Foreign Minister Laszlo Kovacs said in a 7 March interview with "Nepszabadsag" that it was a mistake to sign the so-called "group of eight" letter in late January in support of U.S. policy toward Iraq without first informing the EU, dpa reported (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 30 January 2003). "The lapse was due to our not being sufficiently used to the foreign-policy mechanisms of the EU," he said, adding, "Now we have learned a lesson." He said Budapest was at the time unaware that EU members were not informed of the British-Spanish initiative that produced the letter. MS

SERBIA AND MONTENEGRO GETS A PRESIDENT
The joint parliament of Serbia and Montenegro on 7 March elected Svetozar Marovic, deputy chairman of the Montenegrin Democratic Party of Socialists (DPS), to be the first president of the new union, RFE/RL's South Slavic and Albanian Languages Service reported. Under the Constitutional Charter of the new state, Marovic, who ran unopposed, will also act as prime minister (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 7 March 2003). UB

POLITICIAN CALLS ON FORMER YUGOSLAV PRESIDENT TO LEAD SERBIAN OPPOSITION
Vuk Draskovic, the chairman of the Serbian Renewal Movement (SPO) and one-time opposition leader, said in a speech on 9 March that former Yugoslav President Vojislav Kostunica and his Democratic Party of Serbia (DSS) should lead public protests aimed at bringing down the government of Prime Minister Zoran Djindjic, Beta reported. Draskovic called for a new "9 March" -- a reference to the SPO-led demonstration against Slobodan Milosevic's state-run media 12 years ago that led to violent clashes with police and high-profile resignations in the broadcast media. UB

KOSOVAR GOVERNMENT MARKS FIRST YEAR IN OFFICE
The government of the province of Kosova marked its first year in office with a ceremony attended by international representatives in Prishtina on 8 March, RFE/RL's South Slavic and Albanian Languages Service reported. In other news, the UN civilian administration in Kosova (UNMIK) announced on 7 March that a council has been established to coordinate the gradual transfer of "substantial responsibilities from [UNMIK] to the Institutions of Provisional Self-Government." The council is chaired by UNMIK head Michael Steiner and Kosovar Prime Minister Bajram Rexhepi. Steiner welcomed the creation of the council but warned the government: "Kosovo's institutions will have greater powers [but will also] face greater sanctions if they abuse those powers." UB

INTERNATIONAL COMMUNITY MOVES AGAINST KARADZIC SUPPORTERS
Paddy Ashdown, the international community's high representative in Bosnia, stated in a press release on 7 March that he has ordered the freezing of the assets of two supporters of former Bosnian Serb leader and war crimes indictee Radovan Karadzic. "Today, the [international community] declared Momcilo Mandic and Milovan Bjelica financial outlaws for aiding and abetting Karadzic and obstructing the course of international justice," Ashdown told a press conference the same day. Ashdown also sacked Bjelica, who has been accused of involvement in illegal arms trading, from his position as chairman of the Srpsko Sarajevo Municipal Assembly. Ashdown stressed that his actions are not aimed at resolving the question of guilt, which is a matter for the courts, but at " disrupting Karadzic's support network in very obvious and practical ways. If you want to kill this poisonous tree, you need to go after its roots." Also on 7 March, Ashdown amended Bosnian banking legislation to oblige banks to block the assets of individuals and companies that obstruct the Dayton peace agreement. UB

SFOR INSPECTS REPUBLIKA SRPSKA'S MILITARY FACILITIES
In search of information on the whereabouts of former Bosnian Serb leader Karadzic and other indicted war criminals, SFOR troops on 7 March began inspections on the premises of the Republika Srpska Army, an SFOR press release stated. SFOR soldiers searched military headquarters in Banja Luka, the military portion of a building that also houses the Bosnian Serb parliament in Pale, and military facilities in Bihac. UB

BOSNIAN MUSLIM WAR CRIMES INDICTEE DIES OF HEART ATTACK
Wartime General Mehmed Alagic, one of the most senior Muslim officials indicted for war crimes by the The Hague tribunal, died of a heart attack on 7 March, Reuters reported the following day, citing Bosnian media. Alagic was arrested in 2001 but was provisionally released in December and died in the northern town of Sanski Most. He was hailed as a war hero by Muslims and Bosnian Muslim leaders. "General Alagic did not die of a heart [attack], he died of injustice," wartime Bosnian Muslim leader Alija Izetbegovic told the "Dnevni Avaz" newspaper, according to Reuters. The retired general was charged with executing Bosnian Serb and Croat civilians and war prisoners, using hostages as human shields, and destroying towns and villages during the 1992-95 war, dpa reported. AH

BOSNIA'S HUMAN RIGHTS CHAMBER RULES ON SREBRENICA MASSACRE
Bosnia's highest human rights court, the Chamber of Human Rights, ruled on 7 March that the Republika Srpska has to pay about $1.13 million toward the construction of a memorial for Muslims killed by Serbs in the 1995 Srebrenica massacre, the daily "Dnevni avaz" reported. The ruling also obliges the Republika Srpska government to provide information on the whereabouts of victims' remains. Surviving family members criticized the ruling, saying Bosnian Serb authorities are already obliged to provide such information. Hajra Catic of the victims group Women of Srebrenica told "Dnevni avaz" that the money should be paid to the family members of victims who appealed to the chamber, and not to the foundation constructing the memorial (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 20 December 2002). UB

NATO HEAD URGES SLOVENES TO EMBRACE ALLIANCE...
Secretary-General Robertson said during a visit to Slovenia on 10 March that the country has a "once-in-a-lifetime opportunity" to back accession to NATO, AP reported. While he stressed there is no punishment for shunning the invitation, "People have to be very clear that they will not have a quick opportunity to vote again" if they reject membership in a binding 23 March referendum, according to the news agency. Public support in Slovenia has fallen to just 37 percent, only slightly higher than the figure opposed to NATO membership. Robertson stressed that NATO is "not going to be involved in any military action that might follow a decision of the [UN] Security Council" on Iraq. Slovenes are also voting on EU membership in the same referendum, with pollsters predicting overwhelming support for accession to that bloc. AH

...AS SLOVENIAN PARLIAMENT PAVES THE WAY TO EU
The Slovenian parliament on 7 March adopted constitutional changes related to the country's expected EU accession in 2004, RFE/RL's South Slavic and Albanian Languages Service reported. The amendments transfer some rights of sovereignty to Brussels in line with EU-wide decision making. UB

ALBANIAN, CROATIAN, MACEDONIAN FOREIGN MINISTERS MEET
The foreign ministers of Albania, Croatia, and Macedonia met in the Croatian port city of Dubrovnik on 7 March, Hina reported. Albania's Ilir Meta, Croatia's Tonino Picula, and Macedonia's Ilinka Mitreva finalized the so-called U.S.-Adriatic Charter to promote cooperation between those countries and the United States. The charter is to be signed in Washington later this month. Meta told a joint news conference that the objective of the trilateral effort is to "get ready to be invited to NATO in the next enlargement round." In a joint statement, the ministers also addressed the Iraqi standoff. "In compliance with the obligations assumed by our presidents at the Tirana Summit on 12 February, we take this opportunity to call on Iraq to fully and unconditionally implement UN Security Council Resolution 1441 or face the consequences," the statement reads (see "RFE/RL Balkan Report," 22 November 2002 and "RFE/RL Newsline," 12 February 2003). UB

EUCOM SAYS ROMANIAN, BULGARIAN BASES COULD BE USED AS STAGING AREAS FOR IRAQ WAR
The U.S. European Command (EUCOM) confirmed that several countries -- notably Romania and Bulgaria -- are allowing the use of their military bases as staging areas for a possible war against Iraq, the European and Pacific online edition of the U.S. military daily "Stars and Stripes" (http://www.estripes.com) reported on 7 March. EUCOM spokeswoman Air Force Captain Sarah Kerwin said the bases in Romania and Bulgaria are the two major sites within EUCOM's area of responsibility that could be used as operating bases in a war against Iraq. The daily said the reliance on forward operating bases outside Turkey has an added importance, as the Turkish parliament is balking at allowing the United States to use its country as a springboard for an attack on Iraq. It said that one of the war scenarios now under consideration is that troops could be flown into Bulgaria and Romania and then parachuted into northern Iraq. MS

ROMANIAN PREMIER SAYS 'SOME IRAQI EMBASSY PERSONNEL' COULD BE 'PROBLEMATIC'
Prime Minister Adrian Nastase, on a visit to Stockholm on 7 March, said in response to a journalist's question that the Romanian Intelligence Service (SRI) is "checking" on some members of the Iraqi Embassy in Bucharest "over whose heads some question marks are looming," the private Antena 1 television channel reported, Nastase said the SIS "has discovered problems in a number of cases." SIS sources cited by the channel said that "every time state security is endangered the premier is informed." In his report to parliament last week, SRI Director Radu Timofte said that out of approximately 3,000 Iraqi citizens who resided in Romania, about 1,000 have returned to their country in the last month and that "just a few" of those who stayed behind "are under the attention of the SRI." MS

ROMANIAN PREMIER MEETS WITH SWEDISH COUNTERPART
During his visit to Stockholm on 7 March, Nastase discussed with his Swedish counterpart Goran Persson bilateral relations and the current global situation, according to a Romanian governmental communique. Nastase said his country "counts on Swedish support" in its quest to accede to the EU, and Persson responded that "the year 2007 can be considered a realistic date for Romania's admission into the European family." Persson also said he does not believe the Iraq crisis will in any way influence the process of EU enlargement. The two premiers also discussed aspects related to the Romany minority and said that while the problem is a general European one, the possibility of working out a joint project that would enable Romania to learn from Sweden's experience in integrating the minority is under consideration. MS

UDMR 'REFORMISTS' HAVE IT BOTH WAYS
The Reformist Bloc in the Hungarian Democratic Federation of Romania (UDMR) on 8 March decided at its congress held in Targu-Mures that the bloc will be dissolved and replaced by the new Reformist Movement, Romanian media reported on 10 March. The bloc is largely supportive of deposed UDMR former Honorary Chairman Bishop Laszlo Toekes. Members of the Reformist Movement will not leave the UDMR but will also act outside its framework, according to the decision. They will not run separately from the UDMR in local and parliamentary elections, but might run against it as individual candidates in local elections, according to the daily "Adevarul." The Reformist Movement elected Zsolt Szilagy chairman. UDMR Chairman Bela Marko said the decision demonstrates that the "reformists" have failed to solve the crisis they are undergoing and continue to be split between those who want to remain in the UDMR and those who want to set up a separate organization. MS

LARGE-SCALE PROTEST PLANNED IN BUCHAREST AGAINST INTENTION TO DISPERSE CNSAS COLLEGE
A "live chain" is to encircle the parliament building on 11 March in a protest demonstration against the intention to revoke the National Council for the Study of the Securitate Archives College (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 5 and 6 March 2003). The protest demonstration was initiated by the staff of the satirical weekly "Academia Catavencu" and by the nongovernmental Agency for Press Monitoring. The National Syndicate Bloc, as well as the opposition National Liberal Party and Democratic Party, said their members will participate in the demonstration. Former President Emil Constantinescu wrote a letter to President Ion Iliescu requesting that he intervene to prevent violations of legislation that stipulates that CNSAS College members be elected to six-year mandates. MS

EUROPEAN COUNTRIES BACK EU, U.S. DECISION TO BAN TRANSDNIESTER LEADERS' TRAVEL
European countries that are not EU members on 8 March backed the travel ban imposed jointly by the European Union and the United States on the Transdniester separatists' leadership, AP reported (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 28 February and 6 March 2003). The 10 countries likely to join the union in 2004, along with Romania, Bulgaria, and Turkey, and the four members of the European Free Trade Association (Iceland, Liechtenstein, Norway, and Switzerland) said in an announcement released in Athens that they support the decision made by the European Union and the United States on 27 February. The announcement said the EU "takes note of this commitment and welcomes it." MS

MOLDOVAN PRESIDENT WELCOMES TRANSDNIESTER SUPREME SOVIET DECISION ON REMOVAL OF RUSSIAN ARSENAL
President Vladimir Voronin on 7 March welcomed the decision of the Transdniester Supreme Soviet to empower separatist leader Igor Smirnov to take measures facilitating the withdrawal or destruction of the Russian arsenal stationed in the region, Infotag reported (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 6 March 2003). Presidential spokesman Valeriu Renita expressed the hope that the Transdniester parliament's decision will result in concrete measures and not prove to be "just a propaganda act." Meanwhile, Andrei Neguta, chairman of the Moldovan parliament's Foreign Affairs Committee, said the decision is a result of the joint EU-U.S. travel ban on the Transdniester's leadership (see above), RFE/RL's Chisinau bureau reported. Popular Party Christian Democratic Chairman Iurie Rosca said the Tiraspol Supreme Soviet decision proves once again that Russia can no longer ignore Western pressures to abide by the obligations it has assumed to withdraw its arsenal and troops from Transdniester by the end of this year, in line with the December 2003 Porto OSCE summit decision. MS

MOLDOVAN PARLIAMENT RESTRICTS ACCESS TO ECOLOGICAL INFORMATION...
Parliament on 7 March approved an amendment to the law on access to ecological information that would restrict individuals' and the media's access to such information, RFE/RL's Chisinau bureau reported. Party of Moldovan Communists (PCM) deputy Anatol Stingaci, the author of the amendment, was quoted by Infotag as saying that the restrictions are aimed at preventing panic among the population as a result of dissemination of information on the part of "ignorant or insufficiently informed people." Moldovan ecologists said the amendment would restrict access to information on the planned transit of spent nuclear-fuel transports from Bulgaria to Russia via Moldova (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 6 March 2003). MS

...INTRODUCES PENALTIES FOR PRODUCTION, STORAGE, AND TRANSPORTATION OF WMD
Parliament on 7 March also approved the second reading of an amendment to the Penal Code, considerably stiffening punishment for the production, storage, transportation, and use of weapons of mass destruction -- nuclear, chemical, biological or bacteriological -- by individuals or corporations, Infotag and Flux reported. First-time offenders face prison terms of seven to 15 years and a repeat offense or one that results in "grave consequences" would bring a jail term of between 25 years and life imprisonment. MS

MOLDOVAN PRISON RIOT LEAVES ONE DEAD, 10 INJURED
A Justice Ministry statement on 8 March said a riot in a high-security prison near Chisinau left one prisoner dead and 10 injured, RFE/RL's Chisinau bureau reported. The unrest broke out at the Cricova prison after guards searched some of the prisoners' cells and seized drugs, knives, mobile phones, and cigarettes. According to the statement, prisoners hurled metal objects and rocks at prison guards and demanded that their belongings be returned. The ministry said guards and police opened fire on the approximately 600 mutineers to quell the riot, killing a 66-year-old prisoner. Prisoners' relatives told RFE/RL's Romania-Moldova Service that several hundred inmates were injured in the riot, but the claim could not be independently confirmed. MS

BULGARIAN BILLIONAIRE SLAIN AFTER TESTIFYING
Iliya Pavlov, Bulgaria's wealthiest and most powerful businessman, was shot dead with a single shot in Sofia in the evening of 7 March, one day after testifying in a trial of the October 1996 killing of former Prime Minister Andrey Lukanov, Bulgarian media reported. Investigators assume that Pavlov's killing is linked to business interests, mediapool.bg reported. Pavlov, a key figure in the Bulgarian-Russian energy trade, headed the MG Corporation, formerly Multigrup, which has stakes in the tourism, banking, food-production, and energy spheres. In 1996, Pavlov became the director of the joint Russian-Bulgarian company Topenergy, which coordinated the gas-and-oil trade and which later became a fully owned subsidiary of Russia's Gazprom. Pavlov and Multigrup are said to have laid the foundations for their wealth in the early years of Bulgaria's transition to democracy, when they allegedly engaged in illicit business. UB

BULGARIAN PRIME MINISTER WARNS HIS PARTY
Prime Minister and National Movement Simeon II (NDSV) Chairman Simeon Saxecoburggotski told a meeting of his party's parliamentary group on 7 March that he will put an end to uncoordinated activities by its lawmakers, mediapool.bg reported. Alluding to the recent establishment of a dissenting group within the NDSV's parliamentary group led by lawmaker Emil Koshlukov, Saxecoburggotski said it is necessary to cling to the decisions made by the party majority even if individuals disagree with it. "It is necessary to be disciplined in public statements, because the lawmakers unfortunately sometimes make themselves [sound] ridiculous, as with their ill-considered statements they give the impression that they did not understand that they are part of the government, and not of the opposition," Saxecoburggotski said. Media also speculated that a government reshuffle is imminent following the prime minister's criticism. UB

BULGARIA MARKS 60TH ANNIVERSARY OF RESCUE OF ITS JEWS
Bulgaria marked the 60th anniversary of the rescue of some 50,000 Bulgarian Jews during World War II on 9 March with ceremonies in Plovdiv, Kyustendil, and other cities, Bulgarian media reported. The events honored then-deputy parliamentary speaker Dimitar Peshev, who was a citizen of Kyustendil; Plovdiv's Orthodox Christian Patriarch Kiril; and Sofia's Orthodox Exarch Stefan, who initiated successful protests against the deportation of Bulgarian Jews to Nazi death camps in Poland. "What the Bulgarian people did shines like a lighthouse in the dark," "Sega" quoted former Israeli President Itzhak Navon as saying in Plovdiv. Most Bulgarian Jews emigrated to Israel in the late 1940s. Today, Bulgaria's Jewish community stands at fewer than 1,400 members, according to the March 2001 census. UB

IS FEDERALIZATION THE RIGHT OPTION FOR MOLDOVA?


Since the election of a Communist majority to the Moldovan parliament in February 2001 and the subsequent election two months later by the same parliament of Moldovan Communist Party (CPM) Chairman Vladimir Voronin as president, the Moldovan authorities have made a number of conciliatory steps toward Russia. One reason for this reorientation toward Russia is ideological; the CPM, like all Communist Parties throughout the CIS, gravitates toward Russia in its foreign-policy orientation. In 2001, Voronin and Russian President Vladimir Putin met eight times and in November 2001 signed the long-delayed Treaty on Friendship and Cooperation.

The CPM initially supported the idea of joining the Russia-Belarus Union, but then backed off due to domestic opposition and Moldova's geographical separation from Belarus and Russia. The same geographical problem has hindered Moldova's accession to the Eurasian Economic Union where it, like Ukraine, currently has only "observer" status.

Although the CPM has naturally adopted a pro-Russian orientation, this has failed to expedite a solution to the long-standing problem of Moldova's breakaway Transdniester region. The Transdniester has been a de facto independent state since 1992 when its paramilitary forces, together with the Russian 14th Army, won a short and violent separatist campaign. Although Russia is believed to have subsidized the separatist enclave over a long time period, Putin has claimed that he has been unable to persuade Transdniester separatist leaders to renounce its unrecognized independence and acknowledge Moldovan sovereignty. Russian military academies have long trained cadets from the Transdniester forces. Most members of the Transdniester leadership hold Russian citizenship, but that problem will be overcome if, as Voronin proposed last month, Moldova's citizenship law is amended to allow dual citizenship.

In an interview in "Rossiiskaya gazeta" in December 2001, Voronin said Moldova had three main problems -- the Transdniester, corruption, and poverty. Voronin has constantly argued that the first two are closely interlinked, because, he claims, the Transdniester is an economic "black hole" and its leadership presides over a wide range of criminal activities, including the export of military equipment through Odesa with the connivance of corrupt Ukrainian officials. Viktor Alksnis, a former member of the Russian State Duma commission on the Transdniester, calculated that the enclave's leadership turns a blind eye to international crime estimated at $3-4 billion annually. Voronin has asked European states to refuse to give visas to Transdniester leaders who travel with Russian passports using visas issued in Moscow.

On 9 July 2002, Moldovan newspapers published the draft of a document drawn up by Russia, Ukraine, and the OSCE to create a federal Moldovan state in which autonomous territories (including the Transdniester) would be allowed their own legislatures and constitutions. In reality, this and subsequent drafts go further than a federation and create a virtual confederation of two states.

Such a confederation of two equal states is the solution the Transdniester authorities have been proposing to the conflict since late 1992. Failing this, they threatened to declare independence from Moldova. Russia also began lobbying the idea of supporting confederal "common states" for Moldova-Transdniester and Georgia-Abkhazia after 1996, when Yevgenii Primakov became Russia's foreign minister. In April 1997, Primakov backed a memorandum signed by Moldova and Transdniester that said that they would "build their relations within the framework of a common state."

The February 2003 draft plan for Moldova prepared by Voronin goes further in making concessions to the Transdniester. It calls for a new constitution to be jointly drawn up by Moldova, Transdniester, Russia, Ukraine, and the OSCE transforming Moldova into a federation. Voronin urged the Transdniester to be a "co-author of a new constitution." This would be then subject to a referendum throughout Moldova. Russian would be upgraded to an "official language" (i.e., de facto second state language). Common parliamentary and presidential elections would then be held no later than February 2005 to a common all-Moldovan parliament that would then elect a new president to coincide with the end of Voronin's term in office.

Since last summer, Transdniester leader Igor Smirnov has sent delegations to several rounds of preliminary talks on the successive draft proposals, while at the same time insisting that the region's "independence" be recognized as a precondition for embarking on formal negotiations for a confederation of two equal states.

Russia and the Transdniester leaders have a shared interest in preserving the status quo. Agreement on a federal or confederal state would ensure that the Transdniester leadership remains in place, despite Voronin's personal animosity towards Smirnov. And it would permit Russia to maintain its military presence in the Transdniester. The February draft does not envisage the removal of the 2,500 Russian "peacekeepers" in the Transdniester, even though Moldova is officially a neutral state. The December 1999 OSCE agreement under which Russian forces should have left Moldova by December 2002 was never fulfilled, and the OSCE subsequently extended it for another year. If Moldova is converted into a federation and the "peacekeepers" are transformed into a permanent base, Russia could again miss the new 2003 OSCE deadline. Russia is therefore pushing the idea of its 2,500 troops remaining permanently as "guarantors" of the Transdniester settlement under an OSCE mandate.

Not surprisingly, the draft proposals have encountered opposition from Moldova's center-right parties that do not believe federalization would help to reintegrate the country. Those parties continue to insist Moldova should be a unitary state with limited regional self-government. Public opinion is on their side. A late 2002 poll by the CIVIC center for analysis and sociological studies that was commissioned by the Institute for Public Policies and conducted in right-bank Moldova, found that 76 percent of Moldovans do not support federalization. Only 8 percent back a federation and 2 percent a confederation. As in Ukraine, where federalization was also unpopular when touted by "centrists" in the 1990s, federations are perceived by the public in Moldova as unstable states prone to disintegration, a view that has been substantiated by the disintegration in the 1990s of Czechoslovakia and Yugoslavia.Dr. Taras Kuzio is a resident fellow at the Centre for Russian and East European Studies, University of Toronto.

ISAF CONVOY ATTACKED IN AFGHANISTAN
An Afghan interpreter was killed and a Dutch solider injured on 9 March when an explosive device was detonated as an International Security Assistance Force (ISAF) convoy traveled along a road in the Bagrami District south of Kabul, the BBC reported. The news agency described the incident as the "first direct attack" against ISAF forces. ISAF spokesman Lieutenant Colonel Thomas Loebbering said the ISAF will increase its patrols as a result of the attack, which he said has no links to a possible war on Iraq. The ISAF's German commander, Lieutenant General Norbert van Heyst, has previously warned that extremists "might launch attacks on ISAF if the United States attacked Iraq." German Defense Minister Peter Struck said in February that he sees neither a political nor a military connection between ISAF and the Iraq issue (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 11 February 2003). AT

UN VEHICLE ROBBED IN WARDAK PROVINCE
A vehicle belonging to the World Food Program that was carrying foodstuffs was stopped at a checkpoint in Haftasiab area of Wardak Province on 7 March, Radio Afghanistan reported on 9 March. The station cited the United Nations Assistance Mission in Afghanistan as saying three armed men reportedly blindfolded occupants of the vehicle and looted the supplies on board as well as communications equipment and cash. AT

ARRESTS MADE IN CONNECTION WITH ATTACK ON AID-AGENCY PERSONNEL
Security forces have arrested six men in connection with the July 2002 attack on a vehicle belonging to the Agency for Technical Cooperation and Development (ACTED), Afghanistan Television reported on 9 March. In the attack on the Tashqorghan-Hairatan road in northern Afghanistan, robbers took a large sum of money and equipment from the ACTED vehicle and raped a woman traveling in the car, according to the report. The arrested suspects have been transferred to Kabul. AT

BIN LADEN REPORTED TO HAVE BEEN IN NIMRUZ PROVINCE
Former Taliban diplomat Nasir Ahmad Ruhi has told Reuters that Osama bin Laden and a few of his companions were in the southwestern Nimruz Province when U.S.-led antiterrorism coalition forces began operating in the Baghran area of neighboring Helmand Province in February (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 13 February 2003), the BBC reported on 9 March. This report came as the United States dismissed reports that two of Bin Laden's sons were arrested in Afghanistan on 7 March, the BBC added. The source of Ruhi's information has not been reported. AT

AFGHAN WOMEN GET RADIO
A new all-female radio station called "Voice of Afghan Women" was inaugurated in Kabul on 8 March, International Women's Day, Iranian radio state radio's Zahedan-based Pashtu service reported. The station will broadcast one hour of programming in Pashtu and Dari. The radio station is funded by the UN Educational and Scientific Organization and is headed by Jamila Mujahed, an Afghan journalist who is also editor in chief of "Malalai," a French-funded magazine for women in Afghanistan, AP reported on 9 March. Mujahed said the new radio station "will focus on women -- the problems they face, and how they can find solutions for them," AP reported. AT

TURKMEN PRESIDENT IN IRAN FOR TALKS
Iranian Foreign Ministry spokesman Hamid Reza Assefi said on 9 March that the main topics of discussion during the 10-11 March visit to Tehran by Turkmenistan's President Saparmurat Niyazov will be cooperation in the energy sector and the signing of a protocol on the construction of the Friendship Dam on the Tedjen River, ITAR-TASS and IRNA reported. Niyazov is scheduled to meet with President Mohammad Khatami, Foreign Minister Kamal Kharrazi, and Parliament Speaker Mehdi Karrubi. An anonymous "source close to the Turkmen government" was quoted as saying on 6 March that one of the main purposes of Niyazov's visit is to discuss the Caspian Sea legal regime, Interfax reported. Currently, only 14 percent of the coastline is Iranian, and Iran would like each bordering state -- Iran, Russia, Azerbaijan, Kazakhstan, and Turkmenistan -- to have a 20 percent share of the Caspian seabed and waters. Russia has already entered into bilateral agreements with its immediate neighbors. Another of Niyazov's objectives, according to the Interfax report, is to discuss increasing Turkmenistan's natural-gas exports to Iran. Assefi said on 9 March that the two sides would sign documents for cultural and educational exchanges, IRNA reported. BS

IRAN ANGRY ABOUT ARGENTINIAN TERRORISM ARREST WARRANTS
The Iranian Foreign Ministry on 10 March summoned Argentinean Charge d'Affaires Ernesto Carlos Alvarez to hear an Iranian protest regarding four international arrest warrants issued by an Argentinian judge, Tehran radio reported. Deputy Foreign Minister Morteza Sarmadi told Alvarez that Tehran had previously offered to clarify the issue and the Argentinian failure to respond is "clear evidence that the court is politically motivated." Federal Judge Juan Jose Galeano on 5 March signed arrest warrants for former Minister of Intelligence and Security Ali-Akbar Fallahian-Khuzestani and three Iranian diplomats in connection with the July 1994 bombing of a Jewish community center in the Argentinian capital, Buenos Aires' Telam news agency reported on 7 March. Iranian Foreign Ministry spokesman Assefi said on 9 March that "there is no proof to indicate Iran's involvement in the event and we have always declared that the Zionist circles spread such rumors and news," IRNA reported. In February, Argentinean prosecutors issued arrest warrants for some 22 people in connection with the case (see "RFE/RL Iran Report," 3 March 2003). BS

IRAN PLANNING GASOLINE PRICE HIKE
The Iranian government recently proposed a 30 percent increase in gasoline prices, from 500 rials ($0.06 at the market exchange rate) a liter to 650 ($0.08) rials a liter, IRNA reported on 9 March. Neishabur parliamentarian Hussein Ansari-Rad said on 9 March that the increase in gasoline prices that will take effect after 21 March will affect prices of other goods and service. Parliamentarian Mohammad Rashidian said that such a steep price hike is unreasonable and the prices for basic commodities and fuel only should increase 10 percent. Parliamentarian Reza Abdullahi said the only way to deal with excessive gasoline consumption is to get dilapidated gas-guzzlers off the road and to encourage use of public transportation. Iran currently imports gasoline, while smugglers in Iran buy subsidized gasoline and sell it in neighboring countries for a healthy profit. BS

PARLIAMENTARIAN CALLS FOR IRANIAN CABINET RESHUFFLE
Kermanshah parliamentary representative Ismail Tatari on 8 March said the Iranian people want a reshuffle of the cabinet, and the legislature will be forced to interpellate cabinet ministers if the reshuffle is not forthcoming, ISNA reported. Tatari said the factional affiliation of the ministers has affected their performances, whereas they should be politically neutral and should have national motivations. The government should focus on solving people's problems, especially economic ones, rather than being the reason for unemployment and high prices. "At the current sensitive juncture, national unity is the most important and necessary issue," Tatari added. "The attention of all factions and groups should be focused on protecting [the country's] territorial integrity and avoiding factionalism." BS

IRANIAN WARSHIPS ARRIVE IN INDIA
Two Iranian warships, the fleet replenishment tanker "Bandar Abbas" and the amphibious-operations logistics support ship "Lavan" have arrived in Mumbai, Mumbai's "The Times of India" reported on 8 March. On 10 March the two ships will participate in joint exercises with ships of the Indian Western Naval fleet. BS

JOURNALISTS APPEAR IN IRANIAN COURT
Iran's Revolutionary Court sentenced journalist and political activist Nargis Mohammadi to one year in prison on charges of harming national security, propaganda against the regime, and insulting authorities, AFP reported. Mohammadi's husband, Taqi Rahmani, has been in jail for about two years, and Mohammadi's lawyer, Mohammad Sharif, said his client was sentenced for interviews with local press and international radio stations in which she protested her husband's imprisonment. Journalist Emadedin Baqi also appeared in front of the Revolutionary Court on 8 March, "Iran Daily" reported the next day. Baqi said the charges against him relate to acting against national security and insulting Supreme Leader and Father of the Revolution Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini and are based on some of his writings. Baqi said he was instructed to provide the court with his controversial writings. Baqi was imprisoned from May 2000 until 6 February 2003 ("RFE/RL Iran Report," 17 February). BS

TURKISH AKP HEAD POISED TO LEAD GOVERNMENT, HINTS VOTE ON U.S. TROOPS MUST WAIT...
Turkish Justice and Development Party (AKP) Chairman Recep Tayyip Erdogan won a seat in a Turkish parliamentary by-election on 9 March and is expected to assume the position of Turkish prime minister as early as 12 March, AP reported on 9 March. Erdogan reportedly told a delegation of U.S. congressmen over the weekend that it would be difficult for parliament to meet a U.S. request to hold a second vote by 10 March on whether to allow U.S. forces to begin "staging" operations in Turkey for a possible war on Iraq. "It might be difficult to get the motion passed through the National Assembly" before legal procedures are played out, he said, according to a report on the website of Turkish daily "Milliyet" (http://www.milliyet.com.tr). The current prime minister, Abdullah Gul, could step down as soon as 13 March to make way for Erdogan, who was shut out of the November elections due to an "Islamist sedition" conviction stemming from an action in 1997. A legislative amendment cleared the way for him to run in the 9 March by-election. KR

...UNTIL AFTER UN VOTE, ANKARA HANDOVER, AND U.S. STEPS
In a reference to a new Turkish vote, Erdogan stressed on CNN-Turk television that "we have the UN Security Council before us, we have the process of forming the government," AP reported on 10 March. "We need to assess all these very carefully, and then we will take a decision," he said, according to AP, adding that his country is still seeking assurances from the United States on Turkey's possible role in a postwar Iraq. "I cannot give a date [for a vote]. There are also steps that the United States has to take,'' Erdogan said. AH

CHINESE OFFICIALS COMMENT ON INSPECTIONS, UN RESOLUTION ON IRAQ
Chinese Foreign Minister Tang Jiaxuan told U.S. Secretary of State Colin Powell on 7 March that China is opposed to a new Security Council resolution on Iraq, especially if that resolution advocates the use of force in Iraq, Xinhua news service reported on 8 March. "Resolution 1441 adopted at the Security Council represents a result of unity and cooperation among all the members. We should not give up halfway the process of weapons inspection in Iraq, which has been carried out on the basis of this resolution. At present, the door of peace should not be closed," Tang said, according to Xinhua. Meanwhile, Chinese President Jiang Zemin spoke with British Prime Minister Tony Blair by telephone on 9 March to urge a continuation of weapons inspections, saying, "If only the weapons inspections are continued and strengthened, it is possible to achieve the goal of solving the Iraq issues politically within the UN framework," AFP reported the same day. China expressed its support for a recent proposal to the Security Council by France, Russia, and Germany that called for increased inspections, not war, in Iraq (see RFE/RL "Newsline," 7 March 2003). KR

RUSSIAN FOREIGN MINISTER SAYS UNILATERAL ACTION AGAINST IRAQ WOULD VIOLATE UN CHARTER...
Igor Ivanov told RTR and ORT on 8 March that any U.S. military action against the regime of Iraqi President Saddam Hussein without UN authorization would be a violation of the UN Charter. If this happens, he added, then the UN Security Council should discuss the matter and take action if necessary. He said the 17 March deadline included in the amended Security Council resolution on Iraq put forward by the United States, Great Britain, and Spain is "an unjustified ultimatum." "Russia stands firmly for the continuation of the work of international inspectors," Ivanov said. He added that he doubts very much that the Security Council will approve the new resolution. Russian Deputy Foreign Minister Yurii Fedotov told NTV on 9 March that Russia and the United States might agree -- for very different reasons -- that another resolution is not needed. Russia wants to give the inspectors more time, Fedotov said, and the United States has lost faith in their mission altogether. VY

...AS MOSCOW CONFERS WITH OPPONENTS OF WAR
Russian State Duma Speaker Gennadii Seleznev flew to Baghdad on 9 March to meet with President Hussein and other Iraqi leaders, strana.ru and other Russian news agencies reported. Meanwhile, Russian Foreign Ministry spokesman Aleksandr Yakovenko said that Foreign Minister Ivanov will be in Tehran on 11 March to discuss Iraq with Foreign Minister Kamal Kharrazi. Russia and Iran have persistently spoke out against a military solution to the Iraq crisis, he added. The Saudi Embassy in Moscow announced that Saudi Oil Minister Ali al-Naimi will visit Moscow on 12 March at the invitation of Energy Minister Igor Yusufov, newsru.com reported on 10 March. The two ministers will discuss coordinating the energy policies of the world's two largest oil exporters in the light of the Iraq situation, newsru.com reported. VY

IRAQI TURKOMANS REQUEST UN PROTECTION FROM KURDISH GROUP
The Iraqi Turkoman Front requested UN protection from Kurds in northern Iraq in an 8 March letter to UN Secretary-General Kofi Annan, Al-Jazeera television reported on 9 March. The letter states that 3 million Turkomans living in northern Iraq are under threat from Kurdish forces in the region, specifically Kurdistan Democratic Party (KDP) forces, which the Turkomans claim are oppressing them. The Turkomans also fear that Kurds will attempt to seize Turkoman land in the event of a U.S.-led strike against Iraq. "We demand that the Turkomans in Iraq be urgently placed under protection against a possible genocide and ethnic cleansing," Istanbul's NTV reported the letter as stating on 9 March. KR

SAUDI FOREIGN MINISTER SAYS NO IRAQI RESPONSE TO U.A.E. INITIATIVE...
Saudi Foreign Minister Prince Saud al-Faysal bin Abd al-Aziz told the London-based "Al-Sharq al-Awsat" of 9 March that Arab states have not received any official response to an initiative sponsored by the United Arab Emirates (U.A.E.) that calls for Iraqi President Hussein to step down. "The [proposal] was conveyed to the Iraqi leadership and people. It is up to them to accept it," al-Faysal added. Asked whether Saudi Arabia would grant asylum to Hussein, al-Faysal responded "no" and said he knows of no place that might host Hussein, adding that it is up to the Hussein regime to "look for a place to go." KR

...AND SAYS SAUDI ARABIA DOES NOT FEAR DEMOCRACY
Prince Saud Al-Faysal also told "Al-Sharq al-Awsat" of 9 March that the region is fearful of what might happen in Iraq in the event of war along with the destruction of infrastructure and an internal-security breakdown. "If factions in Iraq are divided into warring factions instead of...one national faction, it will be impossible to unite them," he said. "War leads to the division of Iraq, and this will lead to a conflict in the region." Prince Saud Al-Faysal added that he sees no link between regime change in Iraq and regional governmental change. "In response to the [perception] that we do not want this change in Iraq because we will then be attacked by its democratic concepts in the region, I can very frankly say that we prefer to be attacked with the missiles of Jefferson's democracy rather than be attacked with Scud or other missiles.... We do not fear this thing [democracy]," he said. KR

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