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Newsline - March 12, 2003


U.S. AMBASSADOR WARNS RUSSIA OF CONSEQUENCES OF IRAQ DISAGREEMENT...
U.S. Ambassador to Russia Alexander Vershbow told "Izvestiya" on 12 March that Moscow's continued opposition to the draft U.S.-U.K.-Spanish UN Security Council resolution on Iraq could lead to a souring of bilateral relations. "There is a big difference between a Russian veto and a decision to abstain from voting," Vershbow said. "These steps would be interpreted completely differently by the American people and by Congress." Vershbow mentioned investment, security cooperation, cooperation in constructing an antimissile defense, and cooperation against international terrorism as areas that could be affected by Russia's opposition to the proposed resolution. "It would be very sad if progress in these areas was delayed or undermined by serious differences over Iraq," Vershbow said. RC

...AS RUSSIA WARNS OF FALLOUT AS WELL...
Meanwhile, speaking to journalists in Tokyo on 12 March, Deputy Foreign Minister Georgii Mamedov said that Washington's insistence on the resolution might influence Duma deputies as they consider ratifying the Strategic Offensive Reductions Treaty, which was signed in Moscow in May 2002, ITAR-TASS reported. The treaty was overwhelmingly ratified by the U.S. Senate on 10 March. Duma International Affairs Committee Chairman Dmitrii Rogozin (People's Deputy) said "sentiments [in the Duma] will of course depend on the situation around Iraq," AP reported. RC

...AND DUMA DEPUTY CALLS FOR RUSSIA TO MEDIATE BETWEEN U.S. AND EUROPE
Deputy Vladimir Lukin (Yabloko), in an interview with "Moskovskie novosti," No. 9, said that he is surprised Foreign Minister Igor Ivanov has openly stated that Russia would veto the proposed UN Security Council resolution on Iraq. "We might get caught in an old trap," Lukin said. "When Europe is unhappy with the United States, they push Russia to the forefront while they stand behind, settling their differences with the United States in a quiet way." "Russia does not need a serious conflict with either Europe or the United States," Lukin added. He said that Russia's primary interest in Iraq is making sure that there are no weapons of mass destruction there, and other interests such as oil and geopolitical concerns are "in second place." He concluded that Russia has a "unique opportunity" to mediate between the United States and Europe on the Iraq issue "with the goal of creating a more acceptable [for Russia] system of making decisions within the Euro-Atlantic community." RC

FOREIGN MINISTER 'INSISTS' ON DIPLOMATIC APPROACH TO IRAQ...
Speaking to journalists following a 12 March meeting in Kabul with Afghan Foreign Minister Abdullah Abdullah, Igor Ivanov said that military action against the regime of Iraqi President Saddam Hussein would have negative consequences throughout the region and, specifically, in Afghanistan, ITAR-TASS and other Russian news agencies reported. "[A war in Iraq], of course, would be used by terrorist and extremist organizations that are interested in destabilizing the situation in different regions of the world," Ivanov said. "Therefore, we insist on a peaceful settlement of the Iraqi problem." Ivanov traveled to Kabul after two days of talks in Tehran, during which he assured the Iranian government of Moscow's firm opposition to a military operation in Iraq. Ivanov and Iranian Foreign Minister Kamal Kharrazi called on the United States to heed the international community and avoid acting unilaterally. RC

...AS OFFICIALS CONFIRM MOSCOW'S OPPOSITION TO U.S. POLICY
Deputy Foreign Minister Yurii Fedotov said in Moscow on 12 March that Russia considers "unacceptable" any UN Security Council resolution that contains ultimatums or paves the way for the automatic use of military force against Iraq, ITAR-TASS reported. Meanwhile, Deputy Foreign Minister Mamedov iterated in Tokyo Moscow's opposition to a policy of "regime change" in Iraq. "This would create a very dangerous precedent," Mamedov said. RC

KREMLIN ANNOUNCES MORE LEGAL REFORMS...
President Vladimir Putin on 11 March introduced new legislation in the Duma that would further amend the Criminal Code, ITAR-TASS reported. According to deputy presidential administration head Dmitrii Kozak, the bill is designed to reduce and in some cases abolish criminal penalties for minor offenses. The goal of the legislation is to make it possible to take "a differentiated approach and make the punishment fit the crime." JAC

...AS LEGISLATORS BOOST INTELLECTUAL-PROPERTY RIGHTS
State Duma deputies approved on 7 March in its third and final readings a bill increasing the punishments for violations of intellectual-property rights, polit.ru reported. Some 392 deputies voted in favor of the bills. The bill was passed in its first reading in October (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 17 October 2002). Under the legislation, illegal use of intellectual property could result in fines of 200-400 monthly minimum wages or jail terms of up to 2 years. JAC

CHERKESOV REWARDED FOR JOB WELL DONE...
State Duma Deputy Vladislav Reznik (Unity) told RosBalt on 11 March that he believes President Putin's appointment of Viktor Cherkesov to the head the new State Committee on Drug Trafficking was made because Cherkesov had achieved his most important goals as presidential envoy to the Northwest Federal District. According to Reznik, Cherkesov created a representative office for the president in the Northwest and effectively prevented St. Petersburg Governor Vladimir Yakovlev from seeking a third term. Some analysts have credited Cherkesov with assembling an anti-Yakovlev coalition in the city's Legislative Assembly (see "RFE/RL Russian Political Weekly," 13 February 2003). According to politkom.ru, analysts also credit Cherkesov with stemming the flow of drugs from Colombia to Western Europe through Russia. At the State Committee on Drug Trafficking, Cherkesov will have a staff of 40,000, including regional-level and Moscow-based officials, lenta.ru reported on 11 March. According to RFE/RL's Moscow bureau, the decision to create the new committee was made at a State Council session on 24 September 2002. JAC

...AS PUTIN MET WITH ST. PETERSBURG HEAD BEFORE ANNOUNCING CHANGES
Politika Foundation head Vyacheslav Nikonov commented to RosBalt that "if [Governor] Yakovlev is happy that [Cherkesov] is gone, then he doesn't understand the situation." According to Nikonov, either the new presidential envoy to the Northwest Federal District, former Deputy Prime Minister Valentina Matvienko, will run in the city's upcoming gubernatorial elections or someone else whom the Kremlin supports will compete. Yakovlev met with President Putin in Moscow on 6 March, RosBalt reported. Yakovlev's press service reported that the meeting was scheduled in advance and was devoted to a discussion of the city's successes and preparations for its 300th anniversary this summer. Strana.ru reported on 11 March that Matvienko will retain her position as chairwoman for the organizing committee for that event. Last month, Matvienko expressed dissatisfaction with the pace of preparations in the city (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 11 February 2003). JAC

MIGRATION SERVICE WORKS TO CONTROL INFLUX OF FOREIGNERS
Andrei Chernenko, head of the Interior Ministry's Federal Migration Service, briefed reporters in Moscow about an experimental special operation called "Rezhim" that his service is conducting in three regions -- Moscow, Moscow Oblast, and Krasnodar Krai, "Vremya-MN" reported on 12 March. Some 51,000 citizens of countries of the former Soviet Union and 4,000 people from outside the former Soviet Union have so far been found to be in violation of immigration laws, and 500 people have been expelled from the country under the program. The service started issuing new migration cards to foreigners entering Russia on 14 February, and Chernenko reported on 27 February that more than 300,000 cards had been issued, according to ITAR-TASS. According to Chernenko, only one in three foreign citizens arriving in Russia leaves when he or she should, which, he said, suggests foreigners "must be subject to control." "The Moscow Times" reported on 19 February that, under the new law on foreigners, foreign citizens will have to register each time they enter Russia, but a number of officials have told the daily that this requirement will not be enforced and will eventually be amended. JAC

ENVOY RATCHETS UP PRESSURE ON BARBIE
Presidential envoy to the Central Federal District Georgii Poltavchenko has created a district-wide commission on women and families headed by Duma Deputy Yelena Mizulina (Yabloko), "Nezavisimaya gazeta" reported on 12 March. According to the report, Poltavchenko considers Russia's demographic situation "distressing" and called on commission members to "talk about [increasing the birth rate] directly with the population." Deputy presidential envoy Vladimir Aleksandrov told the daily that Poltavchenko will meet on 14 March with representatives of the regional mass media to discuss "correct" coverage of his demographic policies and family values in general. In particular, Aleksandrov said, Poltavchenko intends to urge journalists to launch a campaign against Barbie dolls, which he believes "are a factor in declining birth rates." Aleksandrov said that his office is working on a project to create a Russian replacement for Barbie that will be dressed in clothing produced from Ivanovo textiles. The Education Ministry in November criticized Barbie for provoking "premature sexual manifestations" among children (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 6 November 2002). RC

KRASNOYARSK HEAD SAYS RUMORS OF HIS PARTY MEMBERSHIP PREMATURE...
Krasnoyarsk Krai Governor Aleksandr Khloponin said media reports that he has joined the pro-Kremlin Unified Russia party are premature in a 10 March interview with RTR (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 5 March 2003). "I have had no specific conversations on this subject as yet," Khloponin said. He also said that while he would like the party to move to the right, he "does not want the pace of reforms to be exactly what the right is demanding." "That pace is too rapid for such a large country," Khloponin said. JAC

...AS PARTY STRIVES TO ATTRACT REGIONAL LEADERS
A "council of governors" will soon be created within Unified Russia, pravda.ru and Interfax reported on 10 March. According to pravda.ru, governors of some unspecified key regions have already agreed to join the ranks of Tatarstan President Mintimer Shaimiev and Moscow Mayor Yurii Luzhkov at Unified Russia. Shaimiev and Luzhkov headed the Fatherland-All Russia bloc during the 1999 State Duma elections. JAC

REGIONAL LEGISLATOR VICTIM OF KNIFE ATTACK
Krasnoyarsk Krai Legislative Assembly Deputy Igor Zakharov was attacked and seriously injured in the elevator of his Krasnoyarsk apartment building on 12 March, lenta.ru, RIA-Novosti, and other Russian news agencies reported. Zakharov was stabbed repeatedly, but was able to make his way to his apartment and summon help after his assailant fled, RIA-Novosti reported, quoting fellow Deputy Aleksandr Shvedov. Shvedov added that the assailant did not attempt to rob Zakharov, who believes that the attack was a politically motivated contract hit. Police have not commented on the incident, and Zakharov remains hospitalized in serious condition. RC

COURT FIRE WILL NOT DELAY DANILOV, BYKOV CASES
A 7 March fire in the building of the Krasnoyarsk Krai Court that destroyed about 1,000 square meters of office space will not delay hearings of the case of academic Valentin Danilov on charges of espionage or that of controversial businessman Anatolii Bykov on charges of ordering the murder of local businessman Oleg Gubin, newsru.com reported on 12 March. Court officials categorically denied earlier media reports indicating that the fire had destroyed crucial materials relating to one or both cases. Investigators have ruled out arson and now believe the fire was caused by carelessness at a party that court employees threw on 7 March to celebrate International Women's Day. Danilov, a physicist, was arrested in February 2001 on suspicion of transferring classified information about a Russian satellite to Chinese intelligence agents (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 27 November 2002). RC

TWO SENTENCED FOR MURDER OF FAR EAST PORT DIRECTOR
Two men convicted of murdering former Nakhodka seaport Director Leonid Bochkov in November 2001 (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 28 November 2001) were sentenced to 22 years' imprisonment each on 12 March, lenta.ru reported. The two men, 24-year-old Sergei Zubov and 30-year-old Yurii Zhernikov, were also each sentenced to pay Bochkov's widow 250,000 rubles ($8,065) in damages. Bochkov was gunned down outside his office in an apparent contract killing, and the authorities are still investigating who might have ordered the murder. The port of Nakhodka is the principal center for export-import operations between Russia and the Asian-Pacific region with a capacity of 13 million tons of goods per year. RC

KRISTALL PLACES ANOTHER ELECTED OFFICIAL IN SMOLENSK
Deputies in the Smolensk city legislature elected Kristall Commercial Director Vladislav Khaletskii as the new mayor of the city on 7 March, "Kommersant-Daily" reported on 11 March. The previous mayor, Ivan Averchenkov, died of a heart attack in January. A previous attempt to elect Khaletskii on 21 February failed when not one vote was cast in his favor. After that vote, Smolensk Governor Viktor Maslov, who had personally asked the deputies to support Khaletskii, expressed his "extreme displeasure," the newspaper reported. Maslov attended the legislative session at which Khaletskii was elected. Kristall General Director Yurii Rebrik told the daily that he fully supports Khaletskii and believes that a complete overhaul of city administration will be necessary. Maslov, the former head of the local Federal Security Services directorate, was supported by Kristall during last year's gubernatorial election (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 15 May 2002). JAC

ANOTHER GOVERNOR TO SEEK THIRD TERM
Yaroslavl Governor Anatolii Lisitsyn has officially declared his intention to seek a third term in the December gubernatorial race, regions.ru reported on 11 March. According to the agency, Lisitsyn made his announcement after the local branch of Unified Russia announced its support for his candidacy. Lisitsyn said he has several reasons for seeking an additional term, among them was the fact that his right to do so was confirmed by the Constitutional Court. JAC

RUSSIAN, CHECHEN OFFICIALS DENY DISPLACED PERSONS UNDER PRESSURE TO VOTE IN REFERENDUM
Ella Pamfilova, who heads the Russian presidential human rights commission, and Chechen administration head Akhmed-hadji Kadyrov both denied on 11 March that Chechens in displaced-persons camps in Ingushetia are being denied humanitarian aid if they refuse to sign a pledge to vote in the 23 March referendum on a new Chechen constitution and election legislation, Interfax and ITAR-TASS reported (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 11 March 2003). Speaking in Moscow on 11 March, Russian presidential aide Sergei Yastrzhembskii likewise denied that voters in Chechnya are being subjected to pressure to participate in the referendum. In Grozny, Chechen Central Election Commission Deputy Chairman Buvaisar Arsakhanov told ITAR-TASS that each of the more than 30,000 displaced persons entitled to vote is free to decide whether to do so. Also on 11 March, Ingushetia's President Murat Zyazikov met in Magas with first deputy presidential envoy to the Southern Federal District Aleksandr Korobeinikov to discuss the arrangements being made to enable displaced Chechens in Ingushetia to participate in the plebiscite, ITAR-TASS reported. LF

CHECHEN ADMINISTRATION HEAD DENIES MAINTAINING PRIVATE PRISON
Kadyrov has also denied as "groundless rumors" reports that Chechen fighters and civilians are incarcerated in a private prison in his home village of Tsentoroi staffed by his relatives, ITAR-TASS reported on 11 March (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 17 September 2002). Kadyrov claimed that his youngest son is the commander of a special task force engaged in fighting and apprehending Chechen fighters, whom he then hands over to the law enforcement agencies. LF

CENTRAL ELECTION COMMISSION CONFIRMS ARMENIAN PRESIDENT'S RE-ELECTION...
Incumbent Robert Kocharian polled 67.44 percent of the 1,548,570 votes cast in the 5 March presidential runoff compared with 32.56 percent for People's Party of Armenia (HZhK) Chairman Stepan Demirchian, Central Election Commission (CEC) Chairman Artak Sahradian announced on 11 March, RFE/RL's Yerevan bureau reported. Two of the nine CEC members, both of them representatives of opposition parties, refused to endorse those figures. Demirchian's senior proxy, Vahagn Mkrtchian, rejected the final figures as falsified, telling journalists that Demirchian does not acknowledge them as reflecting the will of the Armenian people, according to AFP. Another member of Demirchian's campaign staff, Grigor Harutiunian, said the opposition is preparing a package of documents that it will submit to the Constitutional Court on 14 March in support of its bid to have the ballot declared invalid. Some 10,000 people attended a rally later on 11 March to demonstrate their support for Demirchian. LF

...AS FRENCH, IRANIAN, TAJIK COLLEAGUES OFFER CONGRATULATIONS
French President Jacques Chirac, Iranian President Mohammad Khatami, and Tajikistan's Imomali Rakhmonov have all written to congratulate Kocharian on his re-election to a second term. Chirac sent a message on 10 March on behalf of himself and the French people, RFE/RL's Yerevan bureau reported. Khatami expressed the hope that Kocharian's re-election will contribute to regional stability and closer bilateral ties, according to IRNA on 11 March as cited by Groong. Asia Plus-Blitz on 11 March quoted Rakhmonov as lauding Kocharian's "great services" to the Armenian people. LF

FORMER ARMENIAN PREMIER SLAMS INSINUATIONS OF MURDER LINK
Speaking on 11 March at an opposition demonstration in Yerevan in support of Demirchian, former Armenian Prime Minister Aram Sargsian denounced official attempts to incriminate him in the 28 December slaying of Armenian National Television and Radio head Tigran Naghdalian, according to Arminfo as cited by Groong. ITAR-TASS on 10 March quoted Armenian Television as saying a distant cousin of Sargsian's was involved in the killing. LF

SACKED OFFICIALS CRITICIZE AZERBAIJAN'S OMBUDSMAN
Several former members of the staff of Azerbaijan's ombudsman, Elmira Suleymanova, have addressed a written complaint about her treatment of them to President Heidar Aliev, parliament speaker Murtuz Alesqerov, and unspecified international organizations, Turan reported on 11 March. They claimed that Suleymanova dismissed, or pressured to resign, anyone who was free of prejudice and capable of taking independent decisions, and that therefore, far from protecting citizens' human rights, she herself violates them. They also said she forced employees to avoid the terms "violation," "illegal," and "unlawful" in their responses to citizens' complaints. LF

AZERBAIJANI PRESIDENT'S SON MEETS WITH CHIRAC
Ilham Aliev, who is a deputy chairman of the Parliamentary Assembly of the Council of Europe, met in Paris on 11 March with French President Chirac, Turan and zerkalo.az reported. The talks focused on bilateral relations, which both sides assessed positively, and the Karabakh conflict. Also on 11 March, Azerbaijani parliament deputy speaker Ziyafat Askerov declined to confirm reports that Ilham Aliev will be named prime minister within the next few days, Turan reported (see "RFE/RL Caucasus Report," 10 March 2003). LF

AZERBAIJANI PARLIAMENT RESUMES DISCUSSION OF ELECTION LAW
The Milli Mejlis resumed on 11 March its debate begun on 7 March of a new draft election law, Turan reported. The debate degenerated into a slanging match after Azerbaijan Popular Front Party (reformist wing) Chairman Ali Kerimli demanded that the opposition's objections to the bill, in particular to the articles on the composition of the central and local election commissions, be taken into account. Kerimli accused the authorities of planning to falsify the outcome of the upcoming presidential elections in a bid to "usurp power" and warned that any such attempt could lead to civil war, according to zerkalo.az on 12 March. Pro-government deputies criticized Kerimli for "name-calling" and adopting an "unconstructive" approach. LF

ABKHAZ OFFICIALS HAIL SOCHI TALKS...
Abkhaz President Vladislav Ardzinba told journalists in Sukhum on 11 March that the 6-7 March talks in Sochi between the Georgian and Russian presidents "are further proof of Russia's objective approach to, and active role in, resolving the Abkhaz conflict," Interfax and Caucasus Press reported. Abkhaz Prime Minister Gennadii Gagulia, who also attended the talks, told Caucasus Press that they were "difficult" but that the outcome surpassed all expectations. He predicted that rail transport from the Russian town of Sochi via Abkhazia to Tbilisi could be resumed within the next 12 months. Both Gagulia and Abkhaz Foreign Minister Sergei Shamba also expressed approval of the agreement that the mandate of the Russian peacekeeping force deployed under the CIS aegis in the Abkhaz conflict zone will no longer have to be extended every six months. LF

...BUT REJECT FEDERATION, PROPOSED MULTINATIONAL ADMINISTRATION
Ardzinba, Gagulia, and Shamba were, however, unanimous in their rejection of Georgian President Eduard Shevardnadze's proposal to grant Abkhazia broad rights within a federal state. They also rejected the idea of a joint Russian-Abkhaz-Georgian police force and local administration for Abkhazia's southernmost Gali Raion. Shevardnadze told journalists in Tbilisi on 10 March that agreement was reached on that issue a year ago. But Gagulia denied this, adding that the topic was not raised at the Sochi talks, Caucasus Press reported. Ardzinba dismissed the proposed joint local administration as an attempt by Georgia to extend its jurisdiction over Abkhaz territory, noting that the constitution of the unrecognized Republic of Abkhazia does not provide for any joint bodies of power with Georgia, Interfax reported on 11 March. LF

GEORGIAN MINISTER REJECTS PROPOSAL TO RAISE PENSIONS IN TBILISI
Labor, Health, and Social Welfare Minister Amiran Gamkrelidze said on 11 March that it is impossible to finance from the United Pension Fund a 3-laris ($1.38) increase in pensions for residents of Tbilisi that has been demanded by Tbilisi City Council Chairman and opposition National Movement leader Mikhail Saakashvili, Caucasus Press reported. Gamkrelidze added that he would welcome a decision by the Tbilisi City Council to fund the proposed increase from its annual budget. National Movement leaders discussed the proposed hike at a meeting on 10 March with pensioners who promised to vote for the National Movement in the upcoming parliamentary elections. LF

BRITISH GAS SELLS ENTIRE STAKE IN KAZAKH CONSORTIUM
British Gas has sold its entire 16.67 percent stake in the Kazakhstan North Caspian Operating Company established in November 1997 to develop oil-and-gas deposits in Kazakhstan's sector of the Caspian Sea, Interfax reported (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 19 November 1997). On 7 March, British Gas announced the sale of a 8.33 percent stake to the China National Offshore Oil Corporation for $615 million, Interfax reported. Four days later, the sale was announced of the remaining stake to Sinopec, a subsidiary of the China Petrochemical Corporation, also for $615 million, Interfax reported on 11 March. A British Gas official said on 11 March that the company will retain its 32.5 percent stake in the consortium to develop Kazakhstan's giant Karachaganak gas field, of which British Gas is joint operator, and its 2 percent stake in the Caspian Pipeline Consortium. LF

KAZAKH JOURNALIST'S APPEAL REJECTED
The Almaty Oblast Court has rejected opposition journalist Sergei Duvanov's appeal of a lower court's rape sentence, Interfax-Kazakhstan reported on 11 March. The raion court had sentenced Duvanov to 3 1/2 years' imprisonment; the oblast court acceded to a prosecution's request and altered the sentence to the more serious charge of raping a person whom the perpetrator knew to be a minor. The prison term set by the lower court remains unchanged. Duvanov's lawyer, human rights activist Yevgenii Zhovtis, told Interfax his client was spared a harsher sentence because of the "positive references" received on Duvanov's behalf. The defense lawyers plan to take the case to the Kazakh Supreme Court. Human rights activists and independent journalists in Kazakhstan have been sharply critical of Duvanov's arrest and the guilty verdict handed down against him, saying the case is politically motivated because of his many years of struggle on behalf of independent journalism. The international community has expressed disquiet over the case and has called for Duvanov's release. BB

ACTIVISTS IN KYRGYZSTAN CALL FOR DUVANOV'S RELEASE
Human rights activists, political figures, and independent journalists picketed the Kazakh Embassy in Bishkek on 11 March, calling for the release from prison of Duvanov, as well as Kazakh opposition politicians Mukhtar Abliyazov's and Ghalymzhan Zhaqiyanov, RFE/RL's Kyrgyz Service reported. The picket was organized by the Association of Independent Electronic Mass Media of the Countries of Central Asia, according to akipress.org. A written statement was handed to an embassy official who promised to send it to Astana, but warned that the cases could be resolved only in the Kazakh courts. Abliyazov and Zhaqiyanov are leaders of the Democratic Choice for Kazakhstan movement who were jailed in 2002 for crimes allegedly committed during their service as government officials (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 18 July and 5 August 2002). The opposition in Kazakhstan considers the charges against them to be politically motivated and their release is a frequent opposition demand. BB

AZERBAIJANI OFFICIAL SAYS KAZAKHSTAN HAS DECIDED TO JOIN PIPELINE PROJECT
Natik Aliev, president of Azerbaijan's state oil company SOCAR, concluded after the latest round of talks with Kazakh oil officials that Kazakhstan has definitely decided to join the Baku-Ceyhan pipeline project, centrasia.ru reported on 12 March, citing khabar.kz. Kazakh participation in the project would involve transporting oil from Kazakhstan by tanker from the western Kazakh town of Aqtau to Baku, where it would be transferred to the pipeline presently under construction from Baku to the Turkish port of Ceyhan. Kairgeldi Kabyldin, executive director of the Kazakh state oil-and-gas firm KazMunayGaz, said Kazakhstan will not need to use the Baku-Ceyhan route until 2008-09, as the existing transport system should be able to accommodate the volume of oil the country expects to produce up to that time. BB

EURASIAN ECONOMIC UNION OFFICIAL DISCUSSES ENERGY IN KYRGYZSTAN
Eurasian Economic Union Secretary-General Grigorii Rapota met with Kyrgyz Prime Minister Nikolai Tanaev on 11 March to discuss possible Russian investment in energy projects in Kyrgyzstan. No concrete decisions were made at the meeting, according to akipress.org. Kyrgyzstan has sought foreign assistance in completing the construction of a series of hydroelectric installations on the Naryn River that were begun in the Soviet era, as well as to begin new projects to take advantage of the country's large hydroelectric potential. BB

TURKMEN PRESIDENT VISITS IRAN
Turkmen President Saparmurat Niyazov paid an official visit to Iran on 10-11 March in which a number of agreements between the two countries were signed, but a document on the legal status of the Caspian Sea was not, international media reported. Azerbaijan's Turan news agency reported that the failure to sign the expected agreement on the Caspian caused a sensation because Iran's and Turkmenistan's positions on the issue are very close and the status of the Caspian was discussed during the visit. Niyazov held talks with President Hojatoleslam Mohammad Khatami and other top Iranian officials, including Expediency Council Chairman Ali-Akbar Hashemi-Rafsanjani. Theology and religion were reportedly among the issues raised. High on Niyazov's agenda is the expansion of cooperation with Iran in the oil, gas, and power industries, and during the visit he called for Iranian enterprises to invest in Turkmenistan in these spheres. The two presidents personally signed memorandums of understanding on search-and-rescue operations in the Caspian, accelerating joint construction of a dam on the Tedjen River, and on fuel and energy complexes. Other agreements between the two countries dealt with judicial cooperation, extradition, and the expansion of cultural, scientific, and educational cooperation. BB

RUSSIAN AMBASSADOR PROTESTS ANTI-RUSSIAN BIAS IN UZBEK TEXTBOOKS
Russian Ambassador to Uzbekistan Dmitrii Ryurikov said on 11 March that history textbooks used by schools in Uzbekistan contain "unprecedented anti-Russian bias," centrasia.ru reported, citing Deutsche Welle. Ryurikov made his remarks in Tashkent at an international conference on objectivity in history. He singled out the textbooks' concentration on Russia's plundering of local inhabitants and the killing of women and children. The issue of anti-Russian bias has been raised with the Uzbek Education Ministry, Ryurikov said, but the textbooks remain in use. Some Uzbek historians at the conference also questioned the textbooks' interpretation of history. Well-known historian Goga Hidoyatov objected to the portrayal of the Basmachi who fought Soviet forces in the 1920s as freedom fighters, saying the Basmachi bands were more interested in free trade. Since Uzbekistan became independent there has been a massive revision of the country's history. Many Uzbek intellectuals have objected to the exclusively negative portrayals of the Russian and Soviet periods. BB

PROGRESS REPORTED ON CONSTITUTION FOR BELARUS-RUSSIA UNION
Russian State Duma Chairman Gennadii Seleznev and Belarusian Chamber of Representatives Chairman Vadzim Papou met with President Alyaksandr Lukashenka in Minsk on 11 March, where they told the Belarusian leader that an intergovernmental commission has agreed on the basic provisions of a Constitutional Act of the Belarus-Russia Union, Belarusian Television reported. The Constitutional Act reportedly confirms that Belarus and Russia will retain their sovereignty in the planned union state, which should have its own legislature and a separate government that would interact with the respective national governments. The scope of functions and powers of union bodies, as well as the operation of a single money-issuing institution, have not yet been determined. The Supreme State Council is to be the union's "supreme governing body," according to Seleznev. "The act contains many confederation principles, but also principles on which the European Union is based," Belapan quoted Seleznev as saying. Seleznev, who recently visited Baghdad, told journalists that he conveyed Saddam Hussein's greetings to Lukashenka. JM

BELARUSIAN PRESIDENT ORDERS CRACKDOWN ON 'PSEUDO-POLITICIANS'
President Lukashenka on 11 March held a meeting with leaders of the KGB, the Security Council, and the Prosecutor-General's Office, Belarusian Television reported. The president ordered them "to introduce proper order" regarding people with "opposition and, what is more dangerous, non-opposition orientation, who have confused their opposition activity with the violation of the country's laws." According to Lukashenka, "certain activities of certain pseudo-politicians -- who also include two or three legislators -- cannot but put us on the alert." Lukashenka suggested that such "pseudo-politicians" threaten state security. He did not mention any names. JM

BELARUS EVACUATES CITIZENS FROM IRAQ, LEAVES TWO DIPLOMATS
All Belarusians except for two diplomats have been evacuated from Iraq, Belapan reported on 11 March, quoting Foreign Ministry spokesman Andrey Savinykh. Savinykh said some 180 Belarusian citizens who worked in Iraq under contracts with Russian and Belarusian employers have left the country. JM

SWISS EXPERTS IDENTIFY UKRAINIAN JOURNALIST GONGADZE'S BODY
According to the results of an examination conducted by Swiss forensic experts, a body found in the woods near Kyiv in November 2000 is that of Ukrainian journalist Heorhiy Gongadze, Ukrainian media reported on 11 March, quoting Deputy Prosecutor-General Viktor Shokin. "I believe it would be unjust to deny that the body belongs to Heorhiy Gongadze from this moment on," Reporters Without Borders Secretary-General Robert Menard told journalists in Kyiv the same day. A representative of Reporters Without Borders participated in the examination. Lesya Gongadze, the mother of the former Internet journalist, said she is ready to bury the remains of her son, Interfax reported. Meanwhile, Shokin said investigators in the Gongadze case are weighing various possible scenarios of the journalist's death, including his murder by law enforcement officers. JM

UKRAINE EVACUATES CITIZENS FROM IRAQ
Ukraine's charge d'affaires in Iraq, Valentyn Novikov, left Baghdad and arrived in Ukraine on 11 March, Interfax reported, quoting Foreign Ministry spokesman Markiyan Lubkivskyy. Lubkivskyy said Novikov confirmed that all the 230 Ukrainian citizens who were registered with the Ukrainian consulate have been evacuated from Iraq. Meanwhile, Nataliya Vitrenko, leader of the Progressive Socialist Party of Ukraine, is paying a visit to Iraq together with three colleagues, according to the party's press service. They are expected to return later this week. JM

FRANCE SAID TO BE INTERESTED IN GAS CONSORTIUM IN UKRAINE
French Ambassador to Ukraine Philippe de Suremain told Prime Minister Viktor Yanukovych on 11 March that France is ready to take part in a planned international gas-transport consortium that is now being considered by Ukraine, Russia, and Germany, Ukrainian media reported. The ambassador said France's interest in the project is explained by the fact that gas supplies to EU member countries, including France, depend to a large degree on Ukrainian pipelines. He added that France's largest gas company, Gaz de France, might take part in the consortium. JM

NEW ESTONIAN GOVERNMENT PLANS CHANGES IN TAX SYSTEM
The daily "Eesti Paevaleht" wrote on 11 March that the new government might fulfill the income-tax changes promised by both the Res Publica party and the Reform Party during their parliamentary election campaigns, BNS reported. Res Publica called for increasing the monthly tax-exempt income from 1,000 kroons ($70) to 2,000 kroons and the Reform Party for lowering the income-tax rate from 26 percent to 20 percent. These changes combined would result in lowering annual tax revenues by some 4 billion kroons. Reform Party Deputy Chairman Meelis Atonen said the resulting gap could be covered by lowering state expenditures, as well as increased revenue from value-added taxes and higher economic growth. Uhispank analyst Sven Kunsing said the changes would result in more money in taxpayers' pockets, and expressed the hope that it would not primarily be spent on imported goods, resulting in a higher current-account deficit. SG

NEW LATVIAN TAX-AUTHORITY HEAD APPOINTED
In an unanimous decision on 11 March, the cabinet appointed Karlis Ketners, an adviser to the finance minister and the head of the International Transactions Department of the Customs Administration, as director-general of the State Revenue Service, LETA reported. The 26-year-old Ketners, who holds a doctorate in economics, replaces Andres Sonciks, who was fired in February (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 5 February 2003) for failing to recover debts owed by the Dinaz Nafta oil company. As possible measures for improving tax collection, Ketners mentioned establishing a fixed fee for small companies to replace the corporate-income-tax system they are currently subject to; banning mediation activities by customs warehouses, thus eliminating possible fraud concerning value-added taxes; and eradicating under-the-table salaries. SG

NEW LITHUANIAN HEALTH MINISTER PROMISES CHANGES
Juozas Olekas, upon his return to the post of health minister that he held in 1990-92, pledged to seek higher salaries for medical workers and to stop people referring to the ministry as the "Medicine Ministry," "Lietuvos zinios" reported on 12 March. He said the ministry could use World Bank funds to improve primary medical facilities in rural areas. Olekas also advocated changing the system that barred doctors from giving specific recommendations for referrals to specialists. In an effort to end the prevalent system of "gifts," he called for raising the wages of doctors and other medical personnel. Olekas affirmed that the system of deciding which medicines will be compensated by the state must be made clearer and their prices cannot be higher than in the rest of Europe. SG

POLISH PARLIAMENT REJECTS MOTION TO MULL PREMIER'S RESIGNATION
The Sejm on 12 March voted 221-202, with five abstentions, not to add to its agenda a motion by the opposition Law and Justice (PiS) calling on Premier Leszek Miller to step down "in the interest of the country," PAP reported. Apart from lawmakers from the Democratic Left Alliance-Labor Union minority-ruling bloc, the motion was voted down by four deputies from the Peasant Democratic Party and seven nonaligned legislators. Miller told Polish Radio earlier the same day that he will not step down even if the Sejm endorses the PiS appeal for his resignation. "Such [an appeal] is devoid of any legal significance," Miller noted. The previous day, Miller said his cabinet is set to implement its "full legislative program," which provides for parliamentary endorsement of 212 draft laws and 77 other documents. JM

CZECH DEFENSE MINISTER ADMITS UNDERREPORTING AMMUNITION THEFTS
Defense Minister Jaroslav Tvrdik on 11 March admitted to purposefully underreporting thefts of ammunition from military bases last year, dpa reported. The agency cited Tvrdik as telling the dailies "Pravo" and "Mlada fronta Dnes" that officials intentionally misled the public over the September and October incidents due to security preparations for the November NATO summit in Prague. The ministry reported three cases of break-ins at military-ammunition storage facilities, but in fact there were 15 break-ins discovered during the two months before the summit, Tvrdik said. MS

SLOVAK INTELLIGENCE DIRECTOR RESIGNS
Slovak Intelligence Service (SIS) Director Vladimir Mitro on 11 March handed in his resignation and asked the government to forward it to President Rudolf Schuster for his approval, TASR and CTK reported. He said his decision was prompted by the desire to avoid further political turmoil. The resignation came one day before the cabinet was due to discuss a demand by the Christian Democratic Movement (KDH) to dismiss Mitro following his appointment of journalist Peter Toth to head the SIS's counterespionage effort. Toth has been charged with libeling Interior Minister Vladimir Palko, a KDH member, in connection with eavesdropping allegations concerning Alliance for a New Citizen Chairman Pavol Rusko, though he denies the charge. Prime Minister Mikulas Dzurinda refused to comment on the resignation, and a spokesman for President Schuster said the president will act as the cabinet decides. KDH Chairman and parliamentary speaker Pavol Hrusovsky said he hopes the first step by Mitro's successor will be to dismiss Toth. Observers said Mitro's resignation might have been influenced by the warning issued in Bratislava the day before by NATO Secretary-General Lord George Robertson, who said a lack of credibility in handling secret information might negatively impact the ratification of candidate countries' accession to the organization (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 11 March 2003). MS

GERMAN FOREIGN MINISTER, SLOVAK HOSTS DO NOT SEE EYE TO EYE ON IRAQ CRISIS
Visiting German Foreign Minister Joschka Fischer met in Bratislava on 11 March with his Slovak counterpart Eduard Kukan and with President Schuster, and talked by phone with Premier Dzurinda, who was out of town, TASR and CTK reported. Fischer emphasized that his country believes not all possibilities for avoiding a war against Iraq have been exhausted and a peaceful solution is still possible. Kukan told Fischer, "Slovakia has good relations with the U.S. and wants to maintain them." He added, according to CTK, "We shall always see America as a partner of Europe, not a rival." Presidential spokesman Jan Fule was cited by TASR as saying after the talks with Schuster, "Minister Fischer realizes that if Slovakia has supported one solution, it cannot later change its mind." Premier Dzurinda added his signature to the "group of eight" letter, and Slovakia joined the Vilnius 10 in supporting the U.S. position in the dispute over Iraqi disarmament. Fischer said different opinions are legitimate in a democracy, including within the EU. He said the different stands the two countries have on the Iraq conflict will by no means influence continued German support for Slovakia's accession to the EU and NATO. MS

SLOVAK TELEVISION TO DISMISS MORE THAN HALF OF STAFF
State broadcaster Slovak Television will dismiss 1,200 of its 2,000 employees by the end of this year as a result of chronic budgetary problems, Richard Rybnicek, the new Slovak Television director, announced on 11 March, according to CTK. Presenting what he described as an "emergency" program, Rybnicek also said Slovak-produced programs are to be drastically cut and Slovak Television will move some operations out of its current building. Dismissal notices will go out by end of June, he said. Rybnicek said the redundancy measures will cost 250 million crowns ($6.6 million) in severance pay but should save 224 million crowns over one year, which amounts to about one-third of the costs of running the station. By 2004, he said, Slovak Television will no longer depend on government funding and will function solely on the basis of license fees and revenues it generates itself. MS

FISCHER CALLS GERMAN-HUNGARIAN RELATIONS 'POSITIVE AND FRIENDLY'
Visiting German Foreign Minister Joschka Fischer told reporters in Budapest on 11 March after meeting with his Hungarian counterpart Laszlo Kovacs that there has been no disruption in Hungarian-German relations due to the controversial "group of eight" letter, and he described bilateral relations as "very positive and friendly," Hungarian television reported. In a reference to the letter expressing support for the U.S. position on Iraq signed by Hungarian Prime Minister Peter Medgyessy and seven other European leaders, Fischer said "all must learn from what happened," both the signatories and those who were opposed to the communique. In reference to Medgyessy's recent visit to France, Fischer said Paris and Berlin remain important strategic partners in Hungary's diplomatic relations. Concerning the Iraqi crisis, Fischer and Kovacs agreed that all concerned must resort to every means available to find a peaceful solution. MSZ

PORTUGESE PREMIER IN HUNGARY
Visiting Portuguese Prime Minister Jose Manuel Durao Barroso on 11 March gave reporters an overall positive assessment of his country's EU membership after his meeting with Prime Minister Medgyessy in Budapest, "Magyar Hirlap" reported the next day. Barroso said that when Portugal joined the EU, its gross domestic product was 50 percent of the EU average and now it has reached 75 percent. "It is up to you what you make of your EU membership," Barroso told Hungarian media, though he conceded that small countries like Portugal and Hungary cannot always win and must sometimes make concessions, the daily reported. MSZ

HUNGARIAN OPPOSITION DEPUTIES WALK OUT OVER AIRSPACE, TRANSIT ISSUES
Opposition FIDESZ and Democratic Forum deputies on 11 March walked out of a parliamentary Defense Committee meeting to protest a proposal that the committee, rather than a special investigating commission, probe the use of Hungarian airspace by foreign military aircraft, "Nepszabadsag" reported. FIDESZ Deputy Chairman Istvan Simicsko said his party insists that a special commission be formed to investigate the use of the country's airspace and maintains that the Defense Committee merely intends to quickly gloss over the case by engaging in an "alibi probe." He said an investigation should clarify whether there have been other cases similar to that on 20 February, when six U.S. helicopters and a C-130 fuel tanker plane bound for the Middle East landed at Ferihegy Airport without proper authorization (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 3 March 2003). MSZ

OPPOSITION ACCUSES HUNGARIAN GOVERNMENT OF BANKRUPT ECONOMIC POLICIES
Opposition deputies harshly criticized the Socialist-led government during a political debate held in parliament on 11 March at the initiative of FIDESZ and titled "Drifting Administration, Uncertain Future," Hungarian media reported. FIDESZ and Democratic Forum speakers charged that the nation lacks a concrete economic policy. The Democratic Forum's keynote speaker, Karoly Herenyi, charged that the country's "budget coffers" were empty after the new administration's first 100 days, while former Finance Minister Mihaly Varga of FIDESZ read from opinion polls indicating that people view the current economic situation as essentially worsening. For their part, coalition deputies said that, since the collapse of the communist regime, Hungary has never had a government whose popularity remained as high as that of the Medgyessy government, "Nepszabadsag" reported. Finance Minister Csaba Laszlo and Economy Minister Istvan Csillag said the Medgyessy cabinet in 2002 inherited virtually empty coffers and a difficult legacy from the previous FIDESZ-led government. MSZ

HUNGARY'S ECONOMIC GROWTH EXPECTED TO SLOW
According to a report released by the Finance Ministry on 11 March, Hungary's economic growth this year is expected be around 4 percent, which is lower than earlier predictions, "Magyar Hirlap" reported. The ministry previously predicted growth of 4-4.5 percent. Postabank analyst Orsolya Nyeste said it is good news that the ministry "is coming back down to earth," but she said the 4 percent growth prediction is still too optimistic. She said 3.5-3.6 percent is a more realistic figure. In other news, "Magyar Hirlap" reported that for the 12-month period ending in February, prices have risen by 4.5 percent in Hungary. According to data published on 11 March by the Central Statistics Office, inflation was 0.8 percent in the month of February, down from the 1.2 percent monthly figure in January. Analysts expect 2003 annual inflation of around 5 percent. MSZ

SERBIAN PRIME MINISTER ASSASSINATED...
Serbian Prime Minister Zoran Djindjic died in a Belgrade hospital on 12 March after two high-caliber bullets struck him as he left the main government building downtown in the capital, dpa and international media reported. Government ministers immediately gathered in an emergency session, AP reported. Dpa cited hospital and police sources confirming that Djindjic had succumbed to the wounds shortly after the shooting, which occurred at approximately 1:00 p.m. local time. Reuters later cited a source from Djindjic's ruling Democratic Party as saying, "He's dead." Dpa reported that two men were arrested in the wake of the shooting, and CNN reported that two snipers had fired on the prime minister. Djindjic, 50, was struck twice in the torso by bullets reportedly fired from a distance, local and international media reported. Two other people were wounded along with Djindjic, but early reports could not identify them or the extent of their injuries. AH

...AMID GROWING FEARS HIS LIFE WAS IN DANGER
CNN reported on 12 March in the wake of reports of Djindjic's death that his life had been "under threat" recently. Early news agency reports noted that Serbian police last month sought to re-arrest a man whose truck had swerved toward Djindjic's car on 21 February. A local court subsequently released the man from custody, Reuters reported. Djindjic himself suggested that incident might have been an assassination attempt, adding that he might be targeted in connection with his ongoing effort to stamp out organized crime, the news agency said. Djindjic was jailed as a dissident in the 1970s but continued his efforts as a popular protest leader in the 1990s. A reformer who played a key role in the October 2000 ouster of former Yugoslav President Slobodan Milosevic, Djindjic was harshly criticized by Serbian nationalists for his role in handing Milosevic over to the UN war crimes tribunal in The Hague. He led a fragile coalition in Serbia that has been trying to form a government for its joint union with Montenegro. Djindjic was born in Bosanski Samac, in Bosnia, the son of a Yugoslav People's Army officer. He was married with two children. AH

MONTENEGRIN RULING PARTY TO CONCEDE FOREIGN-ECONOMIC MINISTRY IN SERBIA AND MONTENEGRO...
Predrag Sekulic, a spokesman for the governing Democratic Party of Socialists (DPS), announced on 11 March that his party will nominate former Montenegrin Foreign Minister Branko Lukovac as minister for foreign economic relations in the joint government of Serbia and Montenegro, RFE/RL's South Slavic and Albanian Languages Service reported. The DPS nominated Igor Luksic and Vukasin Maras as deputy foreign and defense ministers, respectively. The party thus appears to have accepted the idea of Serbian representatives at the head of Serbia and Montenegro's joint Foreign and Defense ministries. DPS Chairman and Montenegrin Prime Minister Milo Djukanovic had signaled on 9 March that Montenegro would not insist on one of the two ministries, as it felt that it had enough influence on foreign policy through President Svetozar Marovic, according to Beta. The joint parliament is expected to elect a government at its 13 March session. UB

...OVER THE OBJECTIONS OF MONTENEGRIN OPPOSITION
Opposition Socialist People's Party (SNP) Deputy Chairman Zoran Zizic on 11 March criticized the apparent decision to cede both the joint Foreign and Defense ministries to Serbia as unconstitutional, Tanjug reported. "There is no reason why the Defense Ministry in the future joint government should not be given to Montenegro," Zizic told a press conference, citing the Constitutional Charter, according to which the Foreign and Defense ministries should not be headed by politicians from the same republic. UB

KOSOVARS QUESTION PROPOSED DIALOGUE BETWEEN SERBIA AND KOSOVA...
Kosova's third-largest political party, the Alliance for the Future of Kosova (AAK) headed by Ramush Haradinaj, has clearly stated that it opposes a dialogue between Serbian and Kosovar institutions on technical questions, Deutsche Welle's "Monitor" reported on 11 March. Such a dialogue has been proposed by Michael Steiner, who heads the UN civilian administration in Kosova (UNMIK). The AAK declared that extensive preparations are necessary before such talks can begin. The party also demanded that the United States mediate the Serbian-Kosovar consultations. AAK Deputy Chairman Bajram Kosumi blasted Steiner, saying: "If Steiner believes that the Kosovar institutions should begin the talks, then he should not tell them how to do it. In other words, the institutions and political leaders of Kosova are not his chess figures, which he can put where he wants." He warned that his party will bring down the Kosovar government if it begins talks with the Serbian side (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 4, 5, and 6 March 2003). UB

...AND SERBS HAVE THEIR OWN OBJECTIONS
Harshly criticizing Steiner's decision to transfer responsibilities to the Kosovar government, an adviser to Serbian Prime Minister Djindjic signaled on 11 March that the planned talks between Belgrade and Prishtina might be postponed, Deutsche Welle's "Monitor" reported. "The whole thing is really hypocritical -- on the one hand, we are invited to hold talks on key issues, and on the other hand they announce a plan for the transfer of responsibilities, which is a catastrophe for Serbia and the Serbian community in Kosova," Branko Radujko said, adding, "The transfer of responsibilities to the Kosovar institutions definitively leads to Kosovar independence, and this is unacceptable for Serbs " (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 10 March 2003). UB

DEFENSE MINISTER RULES OUT FOREIGN TROOPS ON CROATIAN TERRITORY
Defense Minister Zeljka Antunovic on 11 March dismissed media reports suggesting the government has granted not only overflight rights to U.S. aircraft in the event of a military operation against Iraq, but that it has also allowed U.S. troops to stay on Croatian territory, Hina reported. Antunovic called such reports "fabricated and incorrect." She added, "The [26 February government] decision excludes any possibility of the arrival of foreign troops at Croatian territory, about which only the parliament can make a decision, if Croatia is ever asked to make this possible." UB

CROATIAN LAWMAKERS TRADE ACCUSATIONS OVER JUDICIAL REFORM
During the parliamentary debate on a government report on the state of judicial reform, opposition lawmakers said on 11 March that the government is unable to implement its pledge to reform the judiciary, Hina reported. Ivic Pasalic of the opposition Croatian Bloc accused the governing parties of cronyism in their judiciary appointments. Ivan Ninic of the governing Social Democratic Party (SDP) countered that the previous government of Franjo Tudjman's Croatian Democratic Community (HDZ) left behind a disastrous situation, having sacked 400 judges during its term in office. The opposition also accused the government of not having fulfilled promises regarding professional training for judges or their overtime work, or its pledge to boost judiciary independence from politics. UB

EU TO TAKE OVER NATO'S MACEDONIA MISSION BY END OF MARCH
EU foreign- and security-policy head Javier Solana announced on 11 March that the EU will take over the Allied Harmony military mission in Macedonia from NATO forces by the end of March, RFE/RL's South Slavic and Albanian Languages Service reported. Solana said an agreement has been reached between NATO and the EU on the joint use of military and intelligence sources for future EU military missions in the Balkans and other crisis regions. The agreement will be signed on 14 or 15 March during a meeting of EU defense ministers in Athens. UB

ROMANIA EXPELS MORE IRAQIS
Eight Iraqi citizens from among those detained the previous day (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 11 March 2003) are to be expelled from Romania, Radio Bucharest reported of 12 March. Interior Minister Ioan Rus said any Iraqi or other foreign citizen "is welcome in Romania for business, tourism, or cultural activities," but added that "internal-security rules are the sole prerogative of Romania and this is non-negotiable." Rus said each case in which an Iraqi citizen has been declared "persona non grata" is "based on extremely serious documentation." Also on 11 March, border police at Bucharest's Otopeni international airport prevented an Iraqi citizen declared "undesirable" a few days earlier on security grounds from returning to Romania, Mediafax reported. Romania expelled five Iraqi diplomats on 8 March (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 11 March 2003). MS

ROMANIAN PREMIER IN LONDON
Romanian Prime Minister Adrian Nastase and his British counterpart Tony Blair told journalists after their talks in London on 11 March that everything must be done to maintain trans-Atlantic unity, Romanian Radio reported. Blair said Great Britain appreciates the support Romania has provided in attempting to prevent the dismantling of Western unity, a scenario he said "can only serve the bad guys," as well as the country's support for reaching a compromise in the UN Security Council with regard to a new resolution on Iraq. He also said Britain pledges to strongly support Romania's EU integration bid in 2007. Nastase asked Blair to abolish the visa obligation imposed on Romanian citizens traveling to the United Kingdom, emphasizing that "it is not right that 22 million [Romanian citizens] pay for some 2,000 who do not respect British regulations and entered the country illegally." Nastase also met with Home Department Secretary David Blunkett and with London Metropolitan Police Commissioner Sir John Stevens to discuss ways to fight illegal immigration and drug trafficking. MS

THOUSANDS DEMONSTRATE IN BUCHAREST AGAINST INTENTION TO DISMISS CNSAS COLLEGE
Some 3,000 people demonstrated in Bucharest on 11 March against the intention to dismiss the College of the National Council for the Study of Securitate Archives (CNSAS), RFE/RL's Bucharest bureau reported. The organizers' intention to form a "human chain" around the parliament was, however, foiled by demonstrators from among the supporters of the ruling Social Democratic Party (PSD). After announcing that they would participate in the demonstration, the PSD supporters left the premises before the end of the protest, saying they had been told to participate for one hour only. Also on 11 March, Democratic Party Deputy Chairman Viorel Pana said the Democrats are considering going on a "parliamentary strike" if the current CNSAS college is dismissed. According to Mediafax, former Senator Constantin Ticu Dumitrescu said he would consider taking over the chairmanship of a new CNSAS college only if the law were amended to reintroduce stipulations that were deleted from his original draft law on setting up the CNSAS (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 11 March 2003). MS

ROMANIA'S LIBERALS THREATEN 'TEMPORARY PARLIAMENTARY STRIKE' OVER CORRUPTION PACKAGE
National Liberal Party (PNL) Chairman Theodor Stolojan on 11 March said President Ion Iliescu should convoke a meeting between the ruling PSD and opposition parties to discuss objections the opposition has to the government's intended package of anticorruption laws, RFE/RL's Bucharest bureau reported. The PNL is opposed to the cabinet's intention to have the package approved in parliament by the so-called "assumption of governmental responsibility" procedure and wants the laws debated in regular procedure. The PNL is threatening to go on a "temporary parliamentary strike" if the cabinet refuses to do so. On the other hand, the Democrats said they are not opposed to having the package approved under the proposed procedure, according to which the legislation is regarded as having been approved by parliament if a no-confidence motion is not submitted within 72 hours. MS

ROMANIA NEEDS $20 BILLION FOR ECOLOGICAL RECONSTRUCTION
Environmental cleanup in Romania would cost approximately $20 billion-$21 billion, according to data presented on 11 March at a conference of prospective domestic and international donors, Mediafax reported. Bucharest has thus far been able to mobilize just $1 billion for this purpose from the European Union and international financing organizations. Meanwhile, European Integration Minister Hildegard Puwak on 11 March signed an agreement with the EU for the financing of environmental-protection projects in several Romanian counties. The total value of the projects concluded with the EU is 2.62 million euros ($2.89 million). MS

GAGAUZ-YERI REITERATES DEMAND TO BE SEPARATE COMPONENT OF FUTURE MOLDOVAN FEDERATION
Gagauz-Yeri Governor Georgi Tabunshik on 11 March reiterated at a meeting with the two Council of Europe rapporteurs on Moldova the demand that the autonomous region be a separate "subject" of the envisaged Moldovan federation. RFE/RL's Chisinau bureau reported. Council of Europe rapporteur Josette Durrieu said the envisaged federalization has been proposed as a solution to solving the Transdniester conflict, thus hinting that Gagauz-Yeri should not be involved in that process. Andrei Neguta, chairman of the parliament's Foreign Affairs Committee, said in turn that the autonomous region's authorities should not be involved in the negotiations under way with Tiraspol, but added that their demands will be taken into consideration when the new constitution is elaborated. MS

BULGARIAN PRESIDENT REITERATES WARNING NOT TO RUSH ON IRAQ
President Georgi Parvanov told journalists on 11 March that the Bulgarian government should not rush into a decision on which side to support in the UN Security Council, according to the president's official website. Parvanov said Bulgaria should not take a final position on any possible resolution as long as consultations are under way. "In this sense, I think the consultations should continue. First of all, the consultations with our major partners from NATO and the EU," he said. "As far as I can see, this is also the position" announced by Prime Minister Simeon Saxecoburggotski, Parvanov said. He added that a solution should be sought that does not divide the UN Security Council. Asked whether he would support a resolution including a deadline for Iraqi disarmament, Parvanov answered that he favors a resolution with a deadline that would allow the UN weapons inspectors to carry out their work (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 11 March 2003). UB

BULGARIAN PRIME MINISTER CONVENES HEARING ON CONTROVERSIAL DRAFT MEDIA LAW
On 11 March, Prime Minister Saxecoburggotski gathered media experts, lawmakers, and journalists to hear their opinions on a draft media law submitted by the governing National Movement Simeon II, novinite.bg reported. "Let's hope that next year by this time we will have a working, democratic, and solid media law," Saxecoburggotski said. Each participant was given two minutes to voice his or her opinion, but there was no real discussion, according to the news agency. Journalists and President Georgi Parvanov had earlier protested the draft law, arguing that it was drafted in a "conspiratorial atmosphere." Parvanov had signaled that he might veto the draft law if parliament adopted it without amendments (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 6, 7, and 13 February 2003). UB

BULGARIAN PARLIAMENT ADOPTS DECLARATION ON HOLOCAUST DAY
On the occasion of Holocaust Day, the parliament on 11 March unanimously adopted a declaration condemning all forms of xenophobia, anti-Semitism, and religious and ethnic prejudice, BTA reported. "Paying homage to the millions of innocent victims of racism, racial discrimination, xenophobia, and anti-Semitism, let us recall that the Holocaust is history, a lesson and a warning of the past to the future," the declaration read. It expressed gratitude to all Bulgarian citizens who prevented the deportation of Bulgarian Jews to Nazi death camps during World War II (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 10 March 2003). UB

HIGHLIGHTS OF THE IRAQI OPPOSITION CONFERENCE
Members of the Iraqi opposition's Coordination and Follow-up Committee held talks in the Iraqi city of Salah Al-Din from 26 February to 1 March. The committee was elected in December 2002 at a London meeting of opposition members. Long rife with division, the opposition has endeavored in recent months -- under the auspices of the United States -- to form a unified vision of a post-Saddam Hussein Iraq.

Mas'ud Barzani, head of the Kurdistan Democratic Party (KDP), opened the conference by telling members that they should not let their personal opinions supersede those of the majority, Kurdistan Satellite Television reported on 26 February. Barzani added that Iraqis look forward to "Iraq changing into an oasis of peace, calm, and prosperity." Addressing Turkish plans to enter Kurdish areas in the event of a U.S.-led strike on Iraq to head off a possible Kurdish political secession, Barzani said, "We urge the international community, particularly the U.S.A., to prevent any regional interference in the affairs of Iraq. We would like to stress that the Iraqi people as a whole reject regional intervention under any pretext whatsoever."

Meanwhile, Ayatollah Muhammad Baqir al-Hakim, leader of the Supreme Council for the Islamic Revolution in Iraq (SCIRI), told the gathering of opposition leaders that the members must set a comprehensive agenda, saying, "Our wounded Iraq is in dire need of healing," Kurdistan Satellite Television reported on 26 February. Al-Hakim rejected foreign intervention in a post-Hussein Iraq, saying the Iraqi people need to determine their future "without a colonial mandate." "The most dangerous threat is the threat of foreign domination," he said. "We [Iraqis] may be facing another mistake that may be committed by the U.S.A. and European countries." Al-Hakim added that the opposition meeting symbolizes a "testimony" to the rejection of the "reestablishment of direct colonialism under new slogans," which he said would be regarded "as a new war against religion."

U.S. presidential envoy Zalmay Khalilzad told conference participants "As partners, free Iraqis and the coalition [military forces] will plan together for a new and democratic Iraq," Kurdistan Satellite Television reported on 26 February. Khalilzad stressed that the United States is committed to the establishment of a democratic Iraq. "Iraqis should be free to choose their own government," he said, "What we do next here in this conference is to continue our joint work to making this vision of Iraq's future a reality." Khalilzad also stressed the necessity for widespread Iraqi participation in the post-Hussein rebuilding process.

As the three-day conference came to a close, the final statement of the Coordination and Follow-Up Committee reiterated the opposition's desire that power should be transferred "to the Iraqi people and their true representatives as soon as possible" following the ouster of Hussein's regime. The final statement can be viewed on the KDP's website (http://www.kdp.pp.se/final.pdf). The statement urges world leaders to avoid a total destruction of the Iraqi infrastructure in the event of war and spare as many lives as possible, calling on the United States and the international community "to distinguish between Saddam Hussein's regime and the Iraqi people, and between weapons of mass destruction and the infrastructure of Iraq." It also declared that once the Hussein regime is overthrown, "The Iraqi people would have the first and last word in deciding and managing the affairs of their country." The committee's statement added that it hoped that Turkish forces would not enter northern Iraq during a war.

The statement also noted the desire of the opposition to contribute to the restoration of stability after any war. "The opposition will enlist the assistance of the Iraqi army and people, including religious and tribal personalities, to enhance law and order, social peace, and tolerance among all sections of society," the statement read. The opposition also called for the rehabilitation of militia organizations, including "those forces operating under the command of the leadership council of the Iraqi opposition." The militias would then be reintegrated into a national army, according to the statement.

Opposition members also elected a leadership committee. The KDP and the Patriotic Union of Kurdistan (PUK) later provided details on the leadership in a 28 February statement, the KDP daily "Brayati" reported on 3 March. "In preparation for any possible major events that require unifying the ranks of our people and their capabilities," the KDP and PUK leaderships have decided "to form a joint higher leadership to lead the struggle in the political, military, and administrative fields, as well as national and international relations," the statement reportedly read. KDP head Barzani and PUK leader Jalal Talabani will co-chair the "leadership." Other members of the leadership committee include Ahmed Chalabi, head of the Iraqi National Congress; Abd al-Aziz al-Hakim of the Supreme Council for the Islamic Revolution in Iraq (SCIRI); Iyad Allawi of the Iraqi National Accord; and Adnan Pachachi, a former Iraqi official. In addition, the conference participants endorsed the decision of the December conference to elect 14 specialized committees: operations, media, economic restructuring, UN resolutions, reconstruction and development, foreign relations, national outreach, social affairs, displaced persons, financial affairs, human rights, legal and constitutional affairs, humanitarian relief, and education. The opposition fell short, however, of declaring that the leadership committee would seek to declare a provisional government. "We believe that, following liberation, we can discuss that," "The Washington Post" on 1 March quoted Talabani as saying at the conference.

Nevertheless, there are signs that the leadership committee is starting off on the wrong foot. Pachachi said in a commentary published by ft.com on 2 March that he had rejected an invitation one week earlier from Talabani to join the leadership committee. Pachachi cited three reasons for rejecting Talabani's offer: first, he doubts the legitimacy of the group and its ability to be representative; second, the committee, he believes, would act only in an advisory capacity following Hussein's ouster and not in an executive capacity; and third, he has reservations about the structure and membership of the committee. "Hence my surprise to learn on [28 February] that I had been elected to the six-man leadership committee. This is a portent of how selection may go through without due process of information and consultation," Pachachi wrote.

AMNESTY INTERNATIONAL GIVES ADVICE TO AFGHAN POLICE
Amnesty International on 12 March released a report in which it says Afghanistan urgently needs a functioning and efficient criminal justice system that protects and promotes human rights, and that a police service that serves the community must be an integral part of such a system. The report, entitled "Afghanistan: Police Reconstruction Essential For The Protection of Human Rights," adds that after more than two decades of armed conflict -- during which human rights were routinely abused and the police force, prison system, and courts in Afghanistan were almost completely destroyed -- the Afghan people are virtually left with no protection. The report adds that not only are police unable to guarantee the protection of human rights in Afghanistan, some members of the police are themselves involved in committing human rights violations. The report acknowledges that the situation in Afghanistan is currently far from reaching standards set by international law. However, its says, these standards are the benchmarks to which all institutions concerned with protecting human rights must aspire, and that all steps must be taken to implement these standards in the future. AT

RUSSIAN FOREIGN MINISTER SAYS IRAQ WAR WOULD HARM AFGHANISTAN
Speaking to journalists following a 12 March meeting in Kabul with Foreign Minister Abdullah Abdullah, Russian Foreign Minister Igor Ivanov said military action against the regime of Iraqi President Saddam Hussein would have negative consequences throughout the region and, specifically, in Afghanistan, ITAR-TASS and other Russian news agencies reported. "[A war in Iraq], of course, would be used by terrorist and extremist organizations that are interested in destabilizing the situation in different regions of the world," Ivanov said. "Therefore, we insist on a peaceful settlement of the Iraqi problem." Ivanov was also expected to meet with President Karzai to discuss Russian assistance to Afghanistan's efforts to reform its military as well as the participation of Russian companies in reconstruction projects, ITAR-TASS reported. Ivanov was also scheduled to meet with Defense Minister Marshall Mohammad Qasim Fahim and Afghan Finance Minister Ashraf Ghani Ahmadzai before heading for Tajikistan. RC/AT

U.S. PRESIDENT APOLOGIZES TO KARZAI
U.S. President George W. Bush has apologized to Afghan President Hamid Karzai for the treatment the Afghan leader received during his 26 February appearance before the U.S. Senate Foreign Relations Committee (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 28 February 2003), "The Washington Post" reported on 11 March. Heads of state usually meet with the senators privately, but Senator Richard Lugar (Republican, Indiana) invited Karzai to a meeting room with reporters present, and the Afghan president was asked questions that he "did not expect and had not prepared for," the report added. Andrew Fisher, a spokesman for Lugar, said the Afghan delegation "clearly knew the format and that [the meeting] would be public," adding that Lugar had sent a letter to Karzai two weeks in advance about the format of the meeting and that the Afghan Embassy in Washington had inspected the meeting room and approved the format. AT

AFGHAN PRESIDENT REPORTEDLY WANTS TO REPLACE AMBASSADOR TO WASHINGTON...
President Karzai was angry, particularly with Afghan Ambassador to the United States Ishaq Shahryar, when he left the U.S. Senate meeting, "The Washington Post" reported on 11 March, citing unidentified Afghan officials. According to the Washington daily, unconfirmed reports indicated that Shahryar, who is absent from the current meeting in Kabul of all Afghan ambassadors, will be removed from his position. Shahryar, a highly successful businessman and one of the inventors of solar-chip technology, gave up his U.S. citizenship to assume the ambassadorial post in Washington. AT

...BUT AMBASSADOR SAYS SUCH REPORTS ARE RIDICULOUS
In an exclusive interview with Radio Free Afghanistan on 11 March, Shahryar said the news of his removal is a laughable rumor and that President Karzai has not informed him of any such possibility. Regarding his absence from the meeting in Kabul of Afghan ambassadors, Shahryar said the U.S. assistance package for Afghanistan is in its final stages of approval by the U.S. Congress and that he believes it is more important to work on that than to travel to Kabul. Shahryar confirmed that he and his deputy Harun Amin are experiencing some problems, adding that Amin "has never cooperated" with him and that Foreign Minister Abdullah is aware of the situation. Shahryar said it is ridiculous to believe that he would be removed from his position because of disagreements with his deputy, whom he claimed arranged Karzai's meeting with the Senate, Radio Free Afghanistan reported. Amin is affiliated with the Jamiat-e Islami party to which Abdullah also belongs, while Shahryar is not known to have any Afghan political affiliations. AT

AFGHAN SUPREME COURTS BANS THE SALE OF RELIGIOUS POSTERS
The Supreme Court has issued a ban on the sale of posters of Prophet Mohammad or other religious figures and has warned that anyone caught selling such posters will be prosecuted under Islamic law, Radio Free Afghanistan reported from Kabul on 11 March. Posters bearing images of Prophet Mohammad and the fourth caliph of Islam, Ali, have appeared in Kabul markets, according to the report, and the Supreme Court views the practice as a sign of disrespect. Chief Justice Mawlawi Fazl Hadi Shinwari has accused Iranian Jews of exporting such posters to Afghanistan, Reuters reported on 11 March. In Sunni Islam, depiction of prophets is prohibited, but Shia Muslims venerate representational paintings of Ali and his sons. AT

FATAL CAR BOMBING IN KANDAHAR
A car bomb killed three members of a tribal council and injured five people in the Jali District of Kandahar Province on 10 March, Radio Afghanistan reported the next day. No one has claimed responsibility for the attack, but officials in Kandahar are blaming members of Al-Qaeda, the Taliban, and Gulbuddin Hekmatyar's Hizb-e Islami, the report added. No arrests have been made in connection with the incident. According to AP on 11 March, the attack was carried out using a remote-controlled mine, and not a car bomb. Terrorist activities presumed to have been carried out by Al-Qaeda, the Taliban or Hizb-e Islami have been on the rise in Kandahar in recent months (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 23 December 2002, and 28 and 31 January 2003). AT

IRAN-RUSSIA NUCLEAR COOPERATION TO CONTINUE
The Bushehr nuclear-power plant is to come on stream during the "latter part" of the next Iranian year, which begins on 21 March, its manager Nasser Shariflu told the Persian daily "Iran" on 11 March. Shariflu said Iran and Russia have begun talks on building a second such plant in Bushehr. He said most of the construction work of the first plant is complete and that Iranian experts and more than 1,000 Russian technicians are now installing "peripheral" equipment. He said that 750 Iranian technicians who were trained in Russia will take over the operations of the plant, which Shariflu says will produce 1,000 megawatts of power during its first phase. Visiting Russian Foreign Minister Igor Ivanov in a news conference on 11 March said Moscow will continue its nuclear-energy cooperation with Iran within the guidelines of the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA). SF

CARTOONIST'S LAWYER CANNOT DEFEND HIM
Attorney Shirzad Heydari-Shahbaz, who is representing journalist Alireza Eshraqi, said on 10 March that the Special Court for the Clergy will not allow him to defend his client because Heydari-Shahbaz is not a cleric, IRNA reported. Eshraqi is not a cleric either, for that matter, but he was arrested on 12 January after "Hayat-i No" published a cartoon deemed insulting to the founder of the Iranian revolution, Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini. Eshraqi was released on bail of 250 million rials on 9 March after spending the entire time in solitary confinement in Evin Prison's Block 209. BS

IRAN-IRAQ POW AND MIA COMMITTEE RESUMES MEETINGS
The joint Iraqi-Iranian committee for prisoners of war and missing in action was to meet on 11 March at the Khosravi border crossing, the INA news agency reported on 10 March. Describing the talks afterward, Iran's POW and MIA Commission head Brigadier General Abdullah Najafi said that the Iraqi delegation demonstrated greater flexibility than in the past, Iranian state radio reported on 12 March. A 2 March statement from the Iranian side had announced a halt in the search for Iranian MIAs in Iraq because of the possibility of a war, IRNA reported on 3 March. "Following an agreement between the Iranian and Iraqi committees for those missing in action, the search operations for pure bodies of [Iranian] martyrs at five locations on Iraqi soil have stopped until further notice," according to the statement. The statement added that the search for MIAs on Iranian territory will continue. BS

IRAN DENIES AGREEING TO HELP U.S.
Iranian Foreign Ministry spokesman Hamid Reza Assefi said on 11 March that "there has been no agreement regarding the use of Iranian airspace by America in the event of an attack on Iraq," Fars News Agency reported. According to Fars, London's "Al-Zaman" newspaper has reported that Iran has pledged to cooperate with the United States in a war against Iraq by not attacking American aircraft that might enter Iranian airspace and by not permitting Iraqi President Saddam Hussein to enter Iranian territory. BS

IRANIAN OFFICIAL DETAILS DIVISION OF IRAQ
Expediency Council Secretary Mohsen Rezai said that "America has determined the officials of various parts of Iraq," the "Siyasat-i Ruz" daily reported on 11 March. According to Rezai, Abd-al-Majid Khoi, the son of the late Grand Ayatollah Khoi, arrived recently in Kuwait and will be in charge of the southern part of Iraq. Rezai was presumably referring to a U.S. plan to divide a postwar Iraq into three zones. Pentagon officials said on 7 March that Iraq would be divided into northern, southern, and central sectors for administrative purposes, and that Shia would dominate the southern sector, UPI reported. Civilians answering to retired U.S. Army Lieutenant General Jay Garner, who heads the Pentagon Office of Reconstruction and Humanitarian Assistance, would reportedly run these sectors. U.S. officials said the Pentagon hopes to have Iraqis or expatriate Iraqis running things as quickly as possible, UPI reported. Khoi does not appear to be very popular in Iran. When he discussed cooperation with the United States during a speech in Qom, he was booed off the stage and had to be escorted out of the building (see "RFE/RL Iran Report," 13 January 2003). BS

REFORMISTS BLAME TECHNOCRATS FOR ELECTION DRUBBING
Leaders of the main pro-Khatami political organization in Iran, the Islamic Iran Participation Party (IIPP), are still confused about the drubbing they received in the 28 February municipal-council elections and are trying to blame other political organizations, according to a report in the 11 March "Siyasat-i Ruz." IIPP leader Said Hajjarian said at a party meeting that if the Executives of Construction Party (ECP) had formed a coalition with the IIPP, together they could have won at least nine seats on the Tehran council. Another official said at an earlier IIPP meeting that controversies over Islamic Solidarity (Hambastegi) Party leader Ebrahim Asqarzadeh were to blame. The 2nd of Khordad front's coordinating council had decided not to back Asqarzadeh's candidacy, leading the party to threaten to leave the front (see "RFE/RL Iran Report," 3 February 2003). The IIPP, the ECP, and the Solidarity Party all presented separate candidate lists. BS

U.S. REJECTS 45-DAY DELAY AS UN DEBATE ON IRAQ RAGES
As diplomatic jockeying intensified in the lead-up to a likely vote on a decisive resolution by week's end, White House spokesman Ari Fleischer rejected a proposed 45-day delay on a war decision at the UN as a "nonstarter," AP reported on 11 March. The proposal to delay a decision by 45 days came from six swing countries on the 15-member Security Council -- Angola, Cameroon, Chile, Guinea, Mexico, and Pakistan. They could make or break a draft resolution sponsored by the United States, Britain, and Spain that would pave the way for a U.S.-led war against Iraq. "There's room for a little more diplomacy here, but not much room and not much time," Fleischer said. With an open meeting on the crisis to occupy 11 March, the key vote could come as soon as the following day. France and Russia have indicated they will use their veto to stop what they see as a pro-war resolution. DK

RUMSFELD HINTS U.S. CAN GO IT ALONE IN IRAQ
U.S. Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld touched off a flurry of clarifications with remarks at an 11 March briefing (http://www.defenselink.mil/news) suggesting that the United States might embark on military action without Britain. Responding to a question about shrinking support for war in Britain, Rumsfeld told reporters that, if necessary, "there are work-arounds and they would not be involved [in fighting]." Asked directly whether the United States would go to war "without our closest ally," Rumsfeld replied that the president will be addressing the issue in the days ahead. According to BBC political editor Andrew Marr, the comments caused "shock and surprise in Downing Street." Liberal Democrat spokesman Menzies Campbell told the BBC that the remarks seemed to "devalue Britain's military contribution and hence its political influence." Secretary Rumsfeld quickly issued a statement to quell the flap: "I have no doubt of the full support of the United Kingdom for the international community's efforts to disarm Iraq. In my press briefing today, I was simply pointing out that obtaining a second United Nations Security Council resolution is important to the United Kingdom and that we are working to achieve it." DK

ERDOGAN POISED TO ASSUME TURKISH PREMIERSHIP...
Recep Tayyip Erdogan, leader of Turkey's Justice and Development Party, stood poised to become prime minister on 12 March, Reuters reported on 11 March. Abdullah Gul stepped aside the same day to clear the way for Erdogan, seen as the real source of power since his party's victory in November elections, to assume the top post. Charges of inciting religious hatred had kept Erdogan from the premiership, but lawmakers amended the constitution to remove the ban. The next question is whether the new prime minister will seek another vote on a U.S. request to deploy 62,000 troops along Turkey's border with Iraq. Parliament narrowly rejected the plan on 1 March. DK

...BUT EARLY CONTACT WITH WHITE HOUSE ON IRAQ 'NOT GREAT'
Erdogan has hinted that he might throw his weight behind the proposal, AP reported on 10 March. But he also indicated the next vote will likely come later than U.S. officials would like, according to "The New York Times" of 11 March. A phone conversation on 10 March between U.S. President George W. Bush and Erdogan "was not a great phone call," the paper quoted a Bush administration official as saying. With a majority of Turks opposing a U.S.-led war against Iraq, and the United States dangling a multibillion-dollar aid package in return for cooperation, the troop deployment issue has created a conundrum for Turkey. Despite the uncertainty, U.S. General Richard Myers confidently told journalists at an 11 March Defense Department briefing, "just be assured there will be a Northern option." DK

UN SUSPENDS RECONNAISSANCE FLIGHTS OVER IRAQ
The UN halted U-2 surveillance flights over Iraq on 11 March in response to Iraqi complaints, Reuters reported the same day. Ewen Buchanan, a spokesman for the UN Monitoring, Verification, and Inspection Commission (UNMOVIC), said UNMOVIC suspended the flights after Baghdad "expressed surprise and concern that two flights were operating simultaneously." Iraqi General Husam Muhammad Amin explained that the problem occurred when one of the planes entered from Saudi Arabia despite an earlier agreement that surveillance aircraft would fly in only from Kuwait. U.S. Defense Secretary Rumsfeld told reporters at an 11 March briefing (http://www.defenselink.mil/news) that he lacked full information on the incident but suggested that the Iraqi cancellation request was not a positive sign. "I wouldn't put it on the cooperation side of the ledger for Iraq," Rumsfeld said. DK

EGYPTIAN SCHOLARS CALL FOR JIHAD IF IRAQ IS ATTACKED
Religious scholars from the Islamic Research Academy at Egypt's Al-Azhar University declared on 10 March that a U.S. attack on Iraq would require Arabs and Muslims to wage a jihad in Iraq's defense, "Al-Hayat" reported the next day. The statement stressed that "jihad against the crusader forces will be the individual obligation of each Muslim" and noted that "the Arab and Muslim community will face a new crusade that targets its land, honor, creed, and homeland." Wafa Abu Aggur, general secretary of the academy, said that Al-Azhar Grand Imam Muhammad Sayyid Tantawi "familiarized himself with the statement and approved it," Al-Jazeera reported on 11 March. Al-Azhar spokesman Abbas Ahmad downplayed the significance of the statement, "The Washington Post" reported on 11 March. "The meaning of jihad means a lot of things, not just fighting," he said. Once considered the highest authority in Sunni Islam, Al-Azhar's prestige has declined through its association with Egyptian officialdom since Gamal Abdel Nasser nationalized it in 1961. DK

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