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Newsline - July 23, 2003


PUTIN SIGNS DECREE ON ALTERNATIVE SERVICE...
President Vladimir Putin has signed a decree on the organization of civilian service as an alternative to compulsory military service, Russian media reported on 22 July. The decree will take effect on 1 January 2004. The State Duma passed the law on alternative civilian service in June 2002, and it is also scheduled to come into effect on 1 January 2004 (see "RFE/RL Russian Political Weekly," 27 June and 10 July 2002). However, in order for the law to be implemented, a number of normative acts and decrees need to be developed, "Rossiiskaya gazeta" explained on 23 July. According to the government daily, the most important step is delineating areas of responsibility among the various federal agencies. Under the decree, the Labor and Defense ministries are authorized to organize civilian service. Another practical problem that still must be resolved is providing housing for the young men choosing alternative service. According to the newspaper, the funds for housing have not been allocated. Although there are number of regions that need labor, they lack dormitory space. JAC

...AS LABOR MINISTRY DOES WHAT IT CAN TO MAKE THE ALTERNATIVE UNAPPEALING
Labor Minister Aleksandr Pochinok, whose ministry is responsible for organizing alternative civilian service for conscripts, told ORT and "Izvestiya" on 22 July that most young men who opt for alternative service will be given heavy manual labor, including working for polar expeditions or doing sanitation work at hospitals. "Even if their convictions preclude these young men from serving in the army, they do not prevent them from doing heavy labor," Pochinok said. He predicted that the numbers of men opting for alternative service will not be high, ranging from 2,000 to 3,000 out of an annual draft of 150,000. State-run RTR television commented on 22 July that the Labor Ministry's list of positions qualifying for alternative service was based on two criteria: low prestige and low wages. In addition, the term of alternative service is twice as long as ordinary military duty, ORT reported on 22 July. The station speculated that conscientious objectors might not be pleased with their choices after they have been sent from Moscow to labor somewhere in Siberia for 3 1/2 years. VY

FOREIGN MINISTER CALLS FOR NEW UN RESOLUTION ON IRAQ
Speaking at a conference in Moscow on 22 July, Igor Ivanov said that the United Nations Security Council should adopt a new resolution on Iraq in order to forestall negative developments in that country, RIA-Novosti and RTR reported. Ivanov said that the situation in Iraq continues to deteriorate, and argued that the process could be halted by the joint efforts of the international community and the Iraqi people. He proposed that a new resolution be adopted that would extend the provisions of UN Resolution 1483, set the date for the formation of a new Iraqi government, and ensure greater UN involvement in resolving Iraq's problems. VY

ACCUSATIONS ABOUT YUKOS SPILL OVER INTO THE URALS
The leader of the public organization Chelyabinsk Against Corruption, Vladimir Filichkin, told reporters in Chelyabinsk on 22 July that in the mid-1990s the Chelyabinsk Oblast administration cooperated with Emitent, a financial structure controlled by Yukos, to "use" some 346.7 billion in nondenominated rubles for two years without paying interest on them, regions.ru reported, citing uralpolit.ru. Foreign Intelligence Service (SVR) Lieutenant General Oleg Chernov reportedly suggested the transaction to Chelyabinsk Oblast Governor Petr Sumin, and the operation was performed with the assistance of Yurii Serov, who was then head of the oblast administration's construction directorate and who later became deputy governor. Local law enforcement officials investigated the transaction, and in 1998 some Emitent employees were arrested. Materials about the deal were sent to the oblast prosecutor, who in turn sent them to the local interior ministry, which then returned them to the prosecutor. The organizers of the financial deal were not interrogated, and no evidence of a crime was found, according to Filichkin. JAC

YUKOS HEAD SPEAKS OUT AGAINST PROSECUTORS...
In an interview with "Moskovskie novosti," No. 28, Yukos CEO Mikhail Khodorkovskii criticized the Prosecutor-General's Office and the courts for their recent actions against his company. "I do not consider our prosecutors' office today to be a law enforcement organ," Khodorkovskii said. "I am not certain that it is engaged in protecting [people's] rights, and I do not have much faith in the independence of our courts." The oligarch alleged that the Federal Security Service (FSB) and the Prosecutor-General's Office have formed a special team to deal with him personally. VY

...SAYS THAT HE IS NOT AFRAID OF PRISON...
In the same "Moskovskie novosti" interview, Khodorkovskii added that prosecutors and the FSB are lying to President Vladimir Putin in the materials that they are providing him about the Yukos cases. "The reasons why the president might or might not interfere are the subject of a separate discussion," Khodorkovskii said. "However, I am absolutely certain that the president has not ordered that the situation should develop as it is." He said that he has decided to face the challenge and fight, even though he realizes that the struggle will be difficult and it is possible that he will be imprisoned. VY

...DEFENDS THE OLIGARCHS...
In the same "Moskovskie novosti" interview, Khodorkovskii said his company is the most transparent major corporation in Russia and that it has fully adopted internationally accepted accounting standards. He admitted that, bearing in mind the huge size of the company, it is always possible to find something amiss, but all the most dubious operations and deals were cleared up in 1999 when Yukos switched to the new accounting methods. Commenting on rising anti-oligarch sentiment in Russia, Khodorkovskii noted that Yukos is a major company with the ability to defend itself. "But consider for a minute the average person in the country. He is not as well defended as we are. Anyone who has a stall in a market or a privatized apartment or a dacha can simply be thrown in prison. In our case, colonel generals and lieutenant generals are acting. In their case, sergeants will come. There are a lot of them. Enough to go around." VY

...AND COMMENTS ON THE POLITICAL SITUATION
Khodorkovskii also said in his "Moskovskie novosti" interview that it is laughable to claim that he has any political power. "We have only one God -- the state, and we all place before it the sacrifices of our lives and of our children's lives, and we are grateful when it accepts them," Khodorkovskii said. "We ourselves believe that we have one tsar and that we are all fleas. And as long as we have this idea in our heads, there is no point in speaking about the power of the oligarchs or, even less, about democracy." However, he added, "As a citizen I not only have the right, but I am obligated to have my own political views and to defend them. If we do not do this, then our political life will be determined by the prosecutors." VY

AUDIT CHAMBER CALLS FOR REVISITING BASHKORTOSTAN PRIVATIZATIONS
Speaking to reporters in Moscow on 22 July, State Duma Audit Chamber auditor Vladislav Ignatov said the chamber has completed a probe into the privatization of state petrochemical companies in Bashkortostan and has found some flagrant violations of the law, Russian media reported. Ignatov said that Bashneft, Salavatneftorgsintez, and other companies were privatized by decrees from republican President Murtaza Rakhimov in the 1990s in violation of a law mandating that only the federal government can do so. These privatizations cost the federal budget at least $113 million, Ignatov charged, adding that "the results of such privatizations can and must be revised." He added that materials outlining all the violations have been forwarded to President Putin, Prime Minister Mikhail Kasyanov, and the Prosecutor-General's Office. VY

BASHKORTOSTAN TO PUSH FORWARD IN BATTLE FOR ITS CONSTITUTION...
Bashkortostan legislature speaker Konstantin Tolkachev told reporters in Ufa on 21 July that the republican parliament will likely appeal some verdicts by courts issued against the Bashkir Constitution in light of an 18 July Constitutional Court ruling that bars courts other than the Constitutional Court from ruling on the compatibility of local legislation with federal laws, RFE/RL's Tatar-Bashkir Service reported (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 21 and 22 July 2003). According to Tolkachev, the ruling will open up new discussions about a number of concepts, including sovereignty. JAC

...AS OUTSIDE IMAGE OF REPUBLIC'S POLITICAL STABILITY CALLED DECEPTIVE
In an interview with "Moskovskie novosti," No. 28, Tatar National Front Chairman Zagir Khakimov said Bashkortostan is "far from being as politically stable as the republican media frequently indicate." According to Khakimov, "police arbitrariness, particularly with regard to relations with the [political] opposition, has created more difficult conditions for the alternative press." He added that freedom of movement is under threat in the republic, noting that a group of representatives from Tatar public organizations in Naberezhnye Chelny in Tatarstan who wanted to attend a recent congress of Tatars of Bashkortostan were expelled from the republic. Khakimov also claimed that ethnic Bashkirs do not support Bashkir President Rakhimov and that Rakhimov's chances of winning the 7 December presidential election are "not great." According to Khakimov, ethnic Bashkirs understand that the privileges Rakhimov promises will be available only to the republic's ruling elite. He also suggested that at age 69, Rakhimov might not want to seek a third term, adding, however, that "it's not only up to him." "Rakhimov stands for the clan," Khakimov said. JAC

MOSCOW CHAFES AT NEW U.S. VISA REQUIREMENTS
Foreign Ministry spokesman Aleksandr Yakovenko said in Moscow on 22 July that the government is concerned about new, stricter requirements for Russian citizens seeking visas to travel to the United States, nns.ru and polit.ru reported. The new requirements will come into effect on 1 August. Under the new rules, all visa applicants will have to undergo a personal interview at a U.S. consulate. In addition, rules concerning visa photographs will also be stricter. The U.S. Embassy explained the measures as part of a general boosting of security measures and warned Russian citizens who intend to travel to the United States to make their plans well in advance. Yakovenko said that Russia will ask the United States to rescind the measures, as they do not promote the development of business and other contacts between the two countries. VY

RUSSIAN POLITICAL PARTIES: MANY LABELS FOR THE SAME PRODUCT?
Participating in a conference in Moscow on 22 July, political analyst Iosif Diskin argued that the political programs of Russia's political parties are not important, and that the only party that is a genuine party in the Western sense is the Communist Party, RosBalt reported. Diskin was one of the lead authors of the now infamous report of the National Strategy Council on a potential oligarchic coup (see "RFE/RL Russian Political Weekly," 13 June 2003). Speaking at the same conference, Aleksandr Yurev of St. Petersburg State University noted that Russia's political parties label themselves left, right, or center, but none of these self-selected labels corresponds with the parties' programs or public statements. He concluded from the results of his research into parties that there are almost no differences among them, even though they may declare themselves to be in mutual competition. JAC

PROGRESS REPORT ON BANKRUPTCY LAW
In an interview with REN-TV on 21 July, Tatyana Trefilova, head of the Federal Service for Insolvency and Bankruptcy, said there have been about 105,000 bankruptcy cases in Russia since the law on bankruptcy came into effect in December 2002. About 75 percent of them involve so-called missing debtors. In these cases, neither the owner, the managers, nor the employees are present, leaving the firm's debts to the state, according to Trefilova. She estimated that there are millions of other missing debtors around the country, whose bankruptcy cases should also be handled. Trefilova praised the new law, saying that it has considerably reduced the number of disputes in bankruptcy cases. JAC

PERM JOURNALISTS BEAT THE RAP
A Perm Oblast court on 22 July acquitted two newspaper journalists, Konstantin Bakharev and Konstantin Sterlyadev, who were accused of divulging state secrets, polit.ru reported. The court found that the two reporters from the local daily "Zvezda" acted within the parameters of their professional responsibilities. Bakharev and Sterlyadev published a series of articles on the local drug trade that attracted the attention of local FSB officers (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 7 February 2003). According to polit.ru, the subject of the reporters' articles on the drug trade was a man named Gelii Bogdanov, who was convicted of narcotics trafficking in 1999. In 2001, he was reportedly recruited by the Interior Ministry to act as an informant, but he had reportedly already been recruited by the FSB. The series of articles by Bakharev and Sterlyadev started with one entitled "Super Agent With the Nickname Artem." JAC

KRASNODAR ARMENIANS URGED TO RESETTLE IN NAGORNO-KARABAKH
A constituent congress has taken place in Krasnodar of the NGO Call of the Motherland, which aims to help Armenians who wish to leave Russia and settle in the unrecognized Nagorno-Karabakh Republic, Noyan Tapan reported on 22 July. NKR Foreign Minister Ashot Ghulian attended the congress and informed participants of the benefits the unrecognized republic's leadership offers to settlers. Armenians who have settled in Krasnodar Krai have been repeatedly subjected to reprisals in recent years. Former Azerbaijani presidential foreign policy adviser Vafa Guluzade attributed the resettlement drive to Russian pressure on the Armenian authorities with the aim of exacerbating tensions between Armenia and Azerbaijan in the run-up to the 15 October Azerbaijani presidential ballot, zerkalo.az reported on 23 July. LF

PRESIDENTIAL ENVOY FOR CHECHNYA SAYS NGOS MIGHT BE ABETTING CHECHEN TERRORISM
In a statement issued to mark the first anniversary of his appointment as President Putin's commissioner for human rights in Chechnya, Abdul-Khakim Sultygov proposed auditing the finances of human rights NGOs active in Chechnya on the grounds that some of them, which he refrained from identifying, might have ties to terrorist networks, according to Interfax on 22 July and "Vremya novostei" on 23 July. LF

ARMENIAN OFFICIAL INJURED IN EXPLOSION
Mher Sedrakian, the prefect of Yerevan's southern Erebuni District, was injured on 22 July by an explosive device concealed under his Mercedes limousine, RFE/RL's Yerevan bureau reported. Sedrakian was immediately hospitalized. A district prosecutor told RFE/RL the explosion was probably a botched assassination attempt. Sedrakian is a senior member of Prime Minister Andranik Markarian's Republican Party of Armenia and campaigned actively for incumbent President Robert Kocharian's re-election in the February-March presidential ballot. LF

OSCE OFFICIALS URGE ARMENIA TO REFORM ELECTION SYSTEM
During talks in Yerevan on 21-22 July, Armenian Foreign Minister Vartan Oskanian and other senior officials assured visiting OSCE Parliamentary Assembly Vice President Giovanni Kessler and Office for Democratic Institutions and Human Rights Director Christian Strohal that the Armenian authorities will implement a sweeping reform of the election system, RFE/RL's Yerevan bureau reported. The two OSCE officials reiterated earlier criticism of procedural violations during the February-March presidential elections and the 25 May parliamentary ballot. Kessler said the OSCE wants amendments enacted to the Election Code and any people responsible for alleged fraud during the two ballots this year to be identified and punished. LF

REJECTED AZERBAIJANI PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATES DENIED SECOND ATTEMPT AT REGISTRATION
The initiative group that nominated former President Ayaz Mutalibov as a candidate for the 15 October presidential election has appealed to the Appeals Court the Central Election Commission's refusal to register Mutalibov for the ballot, zerkalo.az reported on 23 July. On 22 July, Interfax quoted CEC secretary Inglab Nasimov as saying that those would-be candidates whose registration applications were rejected will not be permitted to seek registration a second time (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 22 July 2003). LF

GEORGIAN PRESIDENT FAILS TO ENDORSE PROPOSED BUDGET CUTS...
At a government session on 22 July, Eduard Shevardnadze did not sign a bill drafted by the government stipulating spending cuts in the budget for 2003, Caucasus Press reported. The cuts were demanded by an IMF mission that recently visited Tbilisi (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 1 July 2003). Planned expenditures have been slashed by 95.6 million laris ($45 million), with the Defense Ministry and the State Security Ministry budgets being cut by 6.4 million laris and 1.5 million laris, respectively, and that of the Ministry of Labor, Health Care, and Social Protection by 7 million laris. In his regular Monday radio interview, Shevardnadze promised on 21 July to do everything in his power to ensure that pensions and state-sector wages are not affected by the cuts, Caucasus Press reported. LF

...AS SENIOR OFFICIALS TRADE MUTUAL ACCUSATIONS
Aslan Abashidze, chairman of the Supreme Council of the Adjar Autonomous Republic, on 22 July blamed the budget shortfall on Georgian Minister of State Avtandi Djorbenadze, Caucasus Press reported. He added that Djorbenadze, a former minister of health, lacks the necessary financial expertise. Djorbenadze, for his part, has accused Abashidze of sabotaging the budget by systematically withholding revenues that should be transferred to the central budget. LF

GEORGIAN PARLIAMENT AGAIN FAILS TO APPROVE COMPOSITION OF ELECTION COMMISSION
A special parliament session scheduled for 21 July failed to take place for lack of a quorum, and on 22 July deputies failed to vote on former U.S. Secretary of State James Baker's proposals for the distribution of seats on the new Central Election Commission, Caucasus Press reported. The pro-presidential factions have agreed to Baker's proposal that they be entitled to five seats, but opposition parties continue to quarrel over the allocation among them of the remaining nine seats. The Revival Union faction, which as the second largest has laid claim to four seats, has drafted an alternative proposal under which the ruling authorities would have five CEC seats and the opposition 12, Caucasus Press reported. LF

AMBASSADORS DISCUSS REPATRIATION OF GEORGIANS TO ABKHAZIA
Meeting in Geneva on 21-22 July, the members of the Friends of the UN Secretary-General for Georgia group of countries -- the United States, the United Kingdom, France, Germany, and Russia -- agreed to recommend that the UN Security Council recruit 20 international specialists to train local police personnel in Abkhazia to protect Georgian displaced persons who return to the homes they abandoned during the 1992-93 war, Caucasus Press reported. Georgian and Abkhaz government delegations participated in the talks for the first time. LF

KAZAKHSTAN REPORTS TO EU ON DEMOCRATIZATION PROGRESS...
The Commission for Cooperation Between the European Union and Kazakhstan met in Brussels on 22 July to discuss Kazakhstan's progress in democratization, the rule of law, and the implementation of international human rights standards, RIA-Novosti reported. Human Rights Watch (HRW) had appealed to the EU on 21 July to insist that Kazakhstan and Kyrgyzstan, which reported the same day, be pressured to accelerate their progress in these areas. The commission issued a communique stating that Kazakhstan, which aspires to the OSCE chairmanship in 2009, needs to put greater effort into the process of democratization, particularly in ensuring free and fair elections, freedom of the media and public organizations, and the independence of the judiciary. The EU also urged Kazakhstan to ratify the International Covenants on Civil and Political Rights and Economic and Social Rights and to institute a moratorium on application of the death penalty. The commission called upon the country to improve its investment climate. BB

...AS FOREIGN MINISTRY SAYS KAZAKHSTAN MEETS U.S. REQUIREMENTS ON HUMAN RIGHTS
Kazakhstan's Foreign Ministry issued a press release on 22 July asserting that the country meets U.S. congressional requirements in the areas of democracy and human rights, so the U.S. administration need not curtail financial aid, gazeta.kz and Interfax-Kazakhstan reported. Kazakhstan found itself on a list of recipient countries suspected of committing gross violations of human rights. Such countries were given until 15 July to improve their implementation of international human rights standards in order to continue receiving U.S. assistance. The ministry said that the U.S. State Department has certified Kazakhstan's performance in a letter to the congressional appropriations committees. BB

EU SATISFIED WITH KYRGYZ PROGRESS ON DEMOCRATIZATION...
The European Union Commission for Cooperation Between Kyrgyzstan and the EU met on 22 July to hear a Kyrgyz report on the progress of democratization, Deutsche Welle reported. The 1999 EU-Kyrgyz cooperation agreement placed particular emphasis on democratization, human rights, and freedom of expression. A special group set up by the EU reported to the commission on improvements in the situation of nongovernmental and public organizations in Kyrgyzstan. At the end of the meeting, an EU representative told journalists that the commission is satisfied with Kyrgyzstan's human rights record, RFE/RL's Kyrgyz Service reported. The session also discussed press reports that the opening of a planned Russian air base in northern Kyrgyzstan is being held up by U.S. opposition. The EU is also interested in developing trade relations with Kyrgyzstan, particularly in the area of natural-resources processing. In a concluding statement, both sides reaffirmed their commitment to fighting international terrorism and drug trafficking. BB

...AFTER HRW CALLS ON EU TO DEMAND BETTER PERFORMANCE ON HUMAN RIGHTS
In a letter sent to the European Union on 21 July, HRW appealed to the EU to place particular emphasis on improving human rights in Kyrgyzstan, RFE/RL's Kyrgyz Service and akipress.org reported on 22 July. The HRW letter asked that the Kyrgyz authorities be urged to permit an international investigation into the killing of demonstrators by police in Aksy Raion in March 2002; to free opposition politician Feliks Kulov, who is jailed after being convicted of abuse of office charges that the opposition says were politically motivated; and to decriminalize libel, thereby preventing officials from using the courts to stymie investigations of corruption charges. The letter also asked the EU to require the Kyrgyz government to make specific commitments on improving the country's unsatisfactory human rights performance. BB

MALARIA OUTBREAKS REPORTED IN TAJIKISTAN
Cases of malaria have been reported in about one-third of Tajikistan's districts this summer, ITAR-TASS reported on 22 July, citing an unidentified Tajik health official. More than 1,500 people are reported to have contracted the disease and, according to the health official, the authorities are taking measures throughout the country to destroy breeding places for mosquitoes. According to the report, the World Health Organization and the French medical NGO ACTED have sent representatives to help combat the disease. Both organizations have already provided large quantities of insecticides and other chemical compounds to kill mosquitoes. BB

UZBEKISTAN CONDUCTS MILITARY EXERCISES ON TAJIK AND AFGHAN BORDERS
Uzbekistan is conducting major military exercises near its borders with Tajikistan and Afghanistan, Deutsche Welle reported on 22 July, quoting the head of the Uzbek Defense Ministry's press service, Lieutenant Colonel Kamil Djabarov. The exercises reportedly involve several thousand soldiers, including regular army units, Interior Ministry troops, and border guards. The mountainous location was selected because it was the site of attempts by Muslim militants to penetrate into Uzbek territory in 2001, according to Djabarov. He said that the exercises are intended to provide practice in coordinating the command of the various security agencies. The special services of the Defense and Interior ministries have been assigned to carry out raids in the mountains in conditions of extreme heat and without external support. The exercises are also intended to generate updates of the maps of the mountains, since the old maps predate the collapse of the USSR. BB

BELARUSIAN GOVERNMENT WANTS WAGE ARREARS IN FARMING PAID
The government presidium instructed the Agriculture Ministry and regional executive authorities on 22 July to repay all wage arrears in the agricultural sector by 31 July, Belapan reported. According to official data, overdue wages in the sector amount to some 22 billion Belarusian rubles ($10.6 million). In January-May, farmers' average monthly pay was 116,600 rubles ($56), slightly more than half the national average. JM

SUSPENDED BELARUSIAN NEWSPAPER VOWS NOT TO SURRENDER
Svyatlana Kalinkina, editor in chief of the suspended independent "Belorusskaya delovaya gazeta," said on 22 July that articles by her journalists will continue to appear in other publications, Belapan and RFE/RL's Belarusian Service reported. Kalinkina added that Russia's "Novaya gazeta" is expected this week to publish a special issue carrying materials by "Belorusskaya delovaya gazeta" staff. The state-run printing house Slonimskaya Drukarnya invalidated its contract for printing the private "Mestnaya gazeta Shag" in Baranavichy after the latter published "Belorusskaya delovaya gazeta" materials last week. Belarusian authorities have thus suspended or blocked the publication of eight independent periodicals in the country in the past two months: "Belorusskaya delovaya gazeta," "BDG. Dlya sluzebnogo polzovaniya," "Predprinimatelskaya gazeta," "Ekho," "Salidarnasts," ""Mestnaya gazeta Shag," and "Navinki" (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 28 May, 6 June, 9 June, 24 June, and 15 July 2003). JM

UKRAINIAN PRESIDENT ISSUES FATF-APPROVED DECREE...
President Leonid Kuchma has signed a decree intended to counteract money laundering and the funding of terrorism from the proceeds of criminal activity, Interfax reported on 23 July. The decree obliges Ukraine's cabinet and National Bank to ensure the introduction of 40 recommendations of the Financial Action Task Force on Money Laundering (FATF) that were approved by FATF last month. The cabinet is to create an integrated information system for the prevention of money laundering and the funding of terrorism by unifying the existing information resources and databases of ministries, government agencies, and state committees by 1 January. JM

...AND TEMPORARILY ABOLISHES DUTY ON GRAIN IMPORTS
President Kuchma has also signed into law a recently approved bill eliminating the duty on grain imports until the end of this year, Interfax reported on 22 July. Ukraine's grain shortfall is reportedly expected to reach 2.8 million tons in 2003-04. JM

UKRAINIAN PRESIDENTIAL AIDE DIES
Yuriy Dahayev, chief of the presidential administration's property-management department, died at the age of 53 on 22 July, Ukrainian news agencies reported. Dahayev, a former deputy interior minister, had served in the presidential administration since March 2000. JM

BALTIC, POLISH FOREIGN MINISTERS ASK EU TO SUPPORT BALTIC-TRANSIT PROJECTS
Foreign Ministers Antanas Valionis (Lithuania), Sandra Kalniete (Latvia), Kristiina Ojuland (Estonia), and Wlodzimierz Cimoszewicz (Poland) have sent a joint letter to their Italian counterpart Franco Frattini, whose country currently holds the rotating EU Presidency, affirming that the construction of a modern highway and rail system in the Baltic region would significantly improve Europe's infrastructure, ELTA reported on 22 July. The letter specifically cites the importance of the Via Baltica highway and Rail Baltica projects in improving transit efficiency from the Baltic states to Western and southern Europe via Poland, and calls on the EU to support them. It also stresses the need to integrate the Baltic states into a unified European energy system by merging the energy systems of Lithuania and Poland. SG

LATVIAN GOVERNMENT SUPPORTS 15 PERCENT CORPORATE-TAX RATE
The cabinet decided on 22 July to return to its earlier position and support cutting the corporate tax next year from 19 to 15 percent, LETA reported. The Finance Ministry's proposal to cut the tax by only 1 percentage point to 18 percent was not approved, primarily due to the categorical stance of Latvia's First Party (LPP). The more moderate tax reduction was supported by the Bank of Latvia and the International Monetary Fund, which has called on the country to reduce its budget deficit. Deputy Prime Minister Ainars Slesers (LPP) has said his party would not vote for the 2004 budget if the tax was not cut to 15 percent. SG

LITHUANIAN PRESIDENT FIRES THREE JUDGES
President Rolandas Paksas signed a decree on 22 July dismissing the chairmen of three county courts -- Arvydas Gudas in Lazdijai, Darius Japertas in Panevezys, and Palmira Linkeviciene in Birzai -- accused of interfering in smuggling cases, "Lietuvos rytas" reported the next day (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 21 July 2003). The decision was made upon the recommendation of the Council of Courts and signed during Paksas' meeting with Supreme Court Chairman Vytautas Greicius, Appeals Court Chairman Vytautas Milius, and Chief Administrative Court Chairman Virgilijus Valancius. Also on 22 July, Vilius Karalius, who is suspected of heading an international cigarette-smuggling ring and is reportedly a close friend of Gudas's daughter, was detained on suspicion he gave bribes to the dismissed judges. SG

PARLIAMENTARY GROUP OF POLISH RADICAL FARMERS SHRINKS
Four lawmakers of the radical farmers union Self-Defense have been expelled from the organization, PAP reported on 23 July. Self-Defense leader Andrzej Lepper said Zenon Tyma, Zbigniew Witaszek, Stanislaw Dulias and Zdzislaw Jankowski were banished for "acting to the detriment of the [Self-Defense] parliamentary caucus, spreading false information, and not following the caucus's statute." Thus, the Self-Defense parliamentary caucus has shrunk to 32 deputies from the 53 it had at the inauguration of the current parliament in October 2001. Meanwhile, Justice Minister Grzegorz Kurczuk has asked the Sejm to lift the immunity of four Self-Defense lawmakers -- Andrzej Lepper, Krzysztof Filipek, Alfred Budner, and Maria Zbyrowska -- and one former Self-Defense legislator, Mieczyslaw Bonda, in connection with criminal investigations conducted against them by prosecutors in Szczecin and Warsaw. JM

POLAND, RUSSIA REPORTEDLY AGREE ON SPECIAL VISA REGIME FOR KALININGRAD EXCLAVE
Residents of Russia's Kaliningrad Oblast will travel to Poland on free visas after Poland introduces a visa regime for Russian citizens on 1 October, Interfax reported on 22 July, quoting Viktor Romanovskii, an official from the Kaliningrad Oblast administration. "This agreement was reached during consultations on consular problems between the Russian and Polish Foreign Ministries," Romanovskii said. The agreement reportedly provides for a simplified procedure for issuing visas to Russian citizens who permanently live in Kaliningrad Oblast. Visas, including multi-entry ones, will be issued free of charge for up to 12 months without the submission of an invitation. Polish Radio reported the same day that Poles entering the Kaliningrad exclave also will not have to pay for their visas. JM

POLISH OPPOSITION PARTY WANTS TO OVERSEE PREPARATION FOR ABSORBING EU FUNDS
Lawmakers from the Law and Justice (PiS) on 22 July called for the creation of a legislative committee to monitor and control the preparation of public administration structures and other government entities for using EU funds, PAP reported. PiS parliamentary caucus head Ludwik Dorn said the government is not prepared to manage EU funds, adding that each day brings closer a black scenario in which Poland may become a generous net payer when it joins the EU. Poland may receive some 12.5 billion euros ($14 billion) from the EU budget in 2004-2006 if it prepares adequate legal grounds, procedures, and management structures. JM

CZECH GOVERNING COALITION LOSES MAJORITY
Social Democratic Party (CSSD) deputy Josef Hojdar, who also chairs the Economic Committee in the lower house, announced his resignation from the party on 22 July, CTK reported. Hojdar's desertion ends the one-seat majority of Premier Vladimir Spidla's three-party, center-left coalition. Both Spidla and CSSD parliamentary group head Petr Ibl tried to downplay the significance of the step, saying Hojdar has promised to support proposed public-finance reforms that are making their way through parliament. However, asked by journalists later the same day whether he intends to vote for the coalition-backed reforms and spending cuts, Hojdar replied, "I certainly will do so if they correspond with what the Social Democrats declared in their official documents and with the promises they made to the public [before the elections]." Hojdar told the daily "Deniky Bohemia" two weeks ago that he might not support all the points in the government-proposed financial reforms. MS

CZECH CHRISTIAN DEMOCRATIC LEADER TO FACE CHAIRMANSHIP CHALLENGE
Junior coalition Christian Democratic Union-People's Party (KDU-CSL) deputy Miroslav Kalousek announced on 22 July that he intends to challenge Foreign Minister and current KDU-CSL Chairman Cyril Svoboda for the party chairmanship in the fall, CTK reported. Kalousek pledged to present an alternative party program at the KDU-CSL's upcoming national conference. Kalousek is a longtime critic of Svoboda, who passed over Kalousek in assembling a shadow cabinet in 2001 and suggested Kalousek is untrustworthy. Svoboda later apologized for his remarks, but the rift remains. Several Czech commentators have identified Kalousek as leader of a KDU-CSL faction that thwarted a coalition-backed candidate's presidential bid and favors cooperation with the right-leaning Civic Democratic Party rather than the CSSD. MS/AH

UN PRESIDENT, FORMER CZECH FOREIGN MINISTER UNDER SCRUTINY AGAIN
A new book alleging that current UN General Assembly President and former Czech Foreign Minister Jan Kavan was an agent of the communist-era secret police (StB) was unveiled in Prague on 22 July, CTK reported. "Jan Kavan in the Maze of Services" was written by Premysl Vachalovsky, a former student-opposition leader who made similar allegations about Kavan in a previous book, and Pavel Zacek, a former deputy chairman of the Office for the Documentation and Investigation of Communist Crimes who is now a researcher at the Czech Institute of Contemporary History. A court ruled in the mid-1990s that Kavan, who immigrated from Czechoslovakia to the United Kingdom in the 1970s, did not knowingly collaborate with the StB. Kavan said he has not read the book and stressed that he never collaborated with any secret service, according to CTK. In related news, Kavan conceded on 22 July that the Foreign Ministry might have overpaid some 50 million crowns ($1.7 million) for the reconstruction of the Czech Embassy in Paris during his tenure. Police are investigating the case in connection with allegedly illicit deals involving former Foreign Ministry aide Karel Srba, who was recently sentenced to a prison term for having commissioned a failed attempt on a journalist's life (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 30 June 2003). Kavan appointed Srba to his ministerial post. MS

SLOVAKIA RALLIES BEHIND EU IN DISPUTE WITH U.S. OVER ICC
Foreign Minister Eduard Kukan told TASR on 22 July that Slovakia backs Brussels in a lingering dispute with the United States over the International Criminal Court (ICC). Kukan said Slovakia is interested in finding a solution to the dispute outside of U.S.-proposed bilateral agreements to avoid the extradition of U.S. citizens. Slovakia has refused to sign such an accord and, as a result, Washington suspended military aid to Bratislava in early July. MS

SLOVAK STEELMAKER REJECTS REPORT OF UNFAIR COMPETITION
Christopher Navetta, president of U.S. Steel Kosice (USKK), on 22 July rejected allegations published the same day in the "Financial Times" that his company is not complying with EU rules on economic competition, TASR reported. Luxembourg-based Arcelor steelmaker's director general, Guy Dolle, told the "Financial Times" that the Slovak government is improperly granting USKK a $500 million annual subsidy in the form of tax allowances. Dolle also charged that Slovakia is not respecting its pledge to the EU not to increase steel production. Slovakia must abide by some aspects of EU trade law under its Association Agreement as well as under commitments agreed upon ahead of accession. Navetta countered that the matter is one of "interpretation" of the Accession Treaty, adding that USKK was told by Slovak negotiators that restrictions on steel production and sales go into effect only in May 2004, when Slovakia is expected to join the EU. Navetta also said Slovakia could not possibly have reduced its steel production in 2002 under accession-related agreements, since the agreement with the EU was only reached in December. Dolle, who is also president of the European steel-producers' association Eurofer, said he has already launched a complaint with European Commissioner Erkki Liikanen. MS

INTERNATIONAL GROUPS URGE SLOVAKIA TO RESUME PROBE OF ROMANY STERILIZATIONS
The Budapest-based European Romany Rights Center (ERRC) called on the Slovak government on 22 July to set up an independent investigating commission to resume the inquiry into the alleged forced sterilization of Romany women in hospitals, CTK reported. Several international organizations -- including the Vienna- based international Helsinki Federation, Amnesty International, and Human Rights Watch -- joined in the appeal. The ERRC said the Slovak government's conclusions following an investigation were "problematic." That probe concluded that there are no grounds to suspect any criminal activity by Slovak doctors, but Slovak authorities reportedly threatened the authors of the report and Romany accusers with criminal changes of slander. The ERRC insisted that the new commission must include respected medical and legal experts from Slovakia and abroad, and said its mandate should be extended to investigate all alleged cases of sterilization before and after the fall of the communist regime. The ERRC also demanded that the commission have the right to recommend that financial or other forms of compensation be paid to victims of such practices (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 30 January, 4 and 24 March and 14 April 2003). MS

HUNGARIAN COALITION PARTNERS AT ODDS OVER TAX CUTS
The leadership of the junior coalition Free Democrats said on 22 July that the party will continue to insist on income-tax cuts from next year, as approved last year by parliament, Hungarian media reported. The senior coalition Socialist Party recently said the plan is not feasible in the near future, as it would leave a budget shortfall of 130 billion-150 billion forints ($554 million-640 million). Free Democrat Chairman Gabor Kuncze told reporters that his party is fully unified and will not budge from the approved cuts. He said the Free Democrats will help the government find ways to finance the cuts. Socialist Party Chairman and Foreign Minister Laszlo Kovacs said his party is not opposed to tax reductions in principle, but reiterated that they are not feasible next year. Opposition FIDESZ spokesman Janos Halasz said FIDESZ is ready for talks on the issue with the Free Democrats on the level of parliamentary committees. MS

GERMAN, EU OFFICIALS GIVE NOD TO HUNGARY'S AMENDED STATUS LAW
German Foreign Minister Joschka Fischer and European Commissioner for Enlargement Guenter Verheugen said at a diplomatic forum in Budapest on 22 July that the amended version of the Hungarian Status Law is in line with EU norms, Hungarian media and international news agencies reported. According to AFP, Verheugen congratulated the Hungarian government on the amendment. Hungarian Foreign Minister Kovacs reiterated Hungary's wish to participate in the EU's accession negotiations with Bulgaria and Romania (see Romanian item below). Fischer also insisted on the need for the EU to speak "in a single voice" in defense and security policies. He said the Iraqi crisis has shown that such unity does not yet exist. MS

HUNGARIAN INTELLECTUALS CALL FOR DISMISSAL OF STATE RADIO'S MANAGEMENT
A number of prominent Hungarian intellectuals called in an open letter on 22 July for the dismissal of Hungarian Radio President Katalin Kondor and members of the radio's staff due to what they consider anti-Semitic and racist programs, "Magyar Hirlap" and "Nepszava" reported. Signatories include actor Ivan Darvas, philosopher Agnes Heller, writer Gyorgy Konrad, and film directors Miklos Jancso and Karoly Makk. The letter asserts that Hungarian Radio has repeatedly violated the Hungarian Constitution. Radio spokeswoman Katalin Morvai countered that "the management observes the laws to the maximum extent and rejects any demagogic incitement, regardless of whether it comes from the left or the right." The dismissal of the radio management may only be carried out by its board of trustees, which is not scheduled to meet during the summer months. MS

IS CROATIA PREPARING TO SEND TROOPS TO IRAQ?
"Vecernji list" reported on 23 July that representatives of the Croatian Defense Ministry are holding talks in Washington on several aspects of bilateral cooperation, including defining terms according to which Croatia might send 50 troops to Iraq to serve under U.S. command in the Baghdad area. The Zagreb daily added that the U.S. attitude toward Croatia's reported offer is believed to be favorable. The Croatian government is aware of widespread public opposition to involvement in Iraq but feels that the Croatian military stands to gain many benefits in training and other fields by participating in a peacekeeping mission, "Vecernji list" noted. The government expects that it can put together the necessary two-thirds majority in the parliament to approve such a mission because the opposition Croatian Democratic Community (HDZ) is a firm supporter of U.S. policies in Iraq (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 2 and 15 July 2003 and "RFE/RL Balkan Report," 27 June 2003). PM

SERBIA AND MONTENEGRO REMAINS COY ON COOPERATION WITH NATO...
Serbia and Montenegro's President Svetozar Marovic said in Brussels on 22 July that his government is "willing to open up debate" on Belgrade's lawsuit against eight NATO-member states before the International Court of Justice in The Hague if the lawsuit "is going to be the last obstacle and the last condition for us to meet in order to join" the Partnership for Peace program, Reuters reported (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 20 June 2003, "RFE/RL Balkan Report," 9 May 2003 and End Note below). The government of former Yugoslav President Slobodan Milosevic filed the suit following NATO's military campaign to stop Serbian repression in Kosova in 1998-99. Marovic did not elaborate on his offer of a "debate." He said, moreover, that Belgrade wants to "join efforts and actions" with NATO on the capture of indicted war criminal General Ratko Mladic "so that Serbia and Montenegro is no longer a hostage to this issue." It is not clear what his offer might mean in practice. PM

...WHILE NATO REMAINS FIRM
Speaking in Brussels on 22 July, NATO Secretary-General Lord George Robertson said, "We want Serbia and Montenegro to apprehend General Mladic and take him to The Hague," Reuters reported. "It has a lot to do with [Partnership for Peace], of course," Robertson added. Referring to the possible arrest of Mladic, Robertson said, "If we can do that together, then we will do it together." He noted that the only Balkan states outside NATO or its Partnership for Peace program are Bosnia and Serbia and Montenegro, adding that there is a "genuine willingness that we should complete the Balkan jigsaw and have those two countries in." Unnamed NATO officials told the news agency that there is no question of Belgrade joining the program as long as it maintains its lawsuit against the Atlantic alliance. PM

EU WARNS SERBIA AND MONTENEGRO
EU foreign- and security-policy chief Javier Solana told Serbia and Montenegro's President Marovic and Foreign Minister Goran Svilanovic in Brussels on 22 July that Serbian reformers should stop feuding among themselves and concentrate on tasks necessary to meet conditions for EU membership, Reuters reported (see item below). An unnamed EU official reportedly told the news agency that "our message on the infighting was quite strong." Solana also called on the Serbian and Montenegrin republican governments to quickly adopt the long-delayed "action plan on harmonizing relations." Elsewhere in Brussels, Montenegrin Foreign Economic Relations Minister Branko Lukovac told the Montenegrin Mina news agency that EU External Relations Commissioner Chris Patten warned that there will be no EU Stabilization and Association Agreement for Serbia and Montenegro before 2008 unless they more fully harmonize their customs duties than is envisaged in the draft action plan. Lukovac said Patten's remarks indicate that the EU is trying to renegotiate terms already agreed to by all parties concerned (see "RFE/RL Balkan Report," 27 June 2003). PM

SERBIA APPOINTS A WAR CRIMES PROSECUTOR...
On 22 July, the Serbian parliament appointed Vladimir Vukcevic, who is a deputy public prosecutor, to be war crimes prosecutor with the authority to indict suspects regardless of their nationality, Reuters reported. The new war crimes court should start work in September as part of the Belgrade District Court, RFE/RL's South Slavic and Albanian Languages Service reported (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 18 April 2003). Reuters quoted unnamed "rights activists" as welcoming moves to try more war criminals but doubting that any top-ranking members of the security forces will be indicted. PM

...AND A BANK CHIEF
On 22 July, the Serbian parliament approved the nomination of Kori Udovicki to replace the recently ousted Mladjan Dinkic as governor of the Serbian National Bank, RFE/RL's South Slavic and Albanian Languages Service reported (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 22 July 2003). Dinkic's sacking marked a new stage in the feud between the governing Democratic Opposition of Serbia (DOS) coalition and his G-17 Plus political party, which competes with DOS for the same pro-reform electorate. "Vesti" stressed that most Serbs regard Dinkic as the guarantor of a stable dinar and will be wary of any changes that could adversely affect the Serbian currency. Many Serbs have fresh memories of the Milosevic-era hyperinflation that wiped out savings. PM

MONTENEGRIN OPPOSITION SIGNS UNITY PACT
Montenegro's three opposition parties put aside their differences on national independence and some other issues and formally agreed in Podgorica on 22 July to cooperate to oust the "antidemocratic, criminal, and corrupt regime" of Prime Minister Milo Djukanovic, "Vijesti" reported. The parties did not agree, however, on whether to make their parliamentary boycott a long-term affair or on their next move against the government. The Socialist People's Party (SNP), Liberal Alliance (LSCG), People's Party (NS), and Serbian People's Party (SNS) have worked together in the recent past but have fallen out at times over local political issues as well as over programmatic differences. Opposition to Djukanovic is the main bond between them (see "RFE/RL Balkan Report," 18 July 2003). PM

INTERNATIONAL COMMUNITY WANTS POSTPONEMENT OF WEAPONS COLLECTION IN MACEDONIA
Representatives of the U.S., NATO, and the EU have urged the Macedonian government to postpone the disarmament of the civilian population by about six months so that the process can be better prepared, "Dnevnik" reported on 23 July. The international community wants time to hold a massive publicity campaign, set up mechanisms to ensure that those who turn in weapons remain anonymous, and raise the money to carry the process out. The arms collection should therefore take place in spring 2004 (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 25 and 27 September and 21 December 2001 and 29 May and 14 July 2003). UB

ROMANIA DISMISSES HUNGARY'S DEMAND TO PARTICIPATE IN EU NEGOTIATIONS
Romania's chief negotiator with the EU, Vasile Puscas, on 22 July rejected Hungary's demand to participate in Romania's and Bulgaria's negotiations for EU-accession, RFE/RL's Bucharest bureau and dpa reported (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 22 July 2003). Puscas said that at the EU summit in Copenhagen last year, it was agreed that Bulgaria and Romania are to conduct their negotiations with the EU under the same conditions as those used by the 10 countries that are expected to join the EU in 2004. This, Puscas went on to say, implies that the negotiations should be conducted only with the current 15 EU members. Hungary is one of the EU candidate countries. Puscas said that if the EU allows Hungary to assert its interests in Romania's negotiations with the EU, Romania should also be allowed to express its interests during Hungary's negotiations with the union. Such specific interests, he added, could be clarified in bilateral talks. MS

ROMANIAN LIBERAL CHAIRMAN SAYS NO COALITION WITH THE PSD AFTER NEXT ELECTIONS
National Liberal Party (PNL) Chairman Theodor Stolojan said in an interview with the daily "Evenimentul zilei" on 23 July that the PNL will under no circumstances agree to participate in a coalition with the Social Democratic Party (PSD) following the parliamentary elections expected in late 2004 or early 2005. Stolojan also said that if his party designates him as it candidate in the presidential elections of late 2004, he will accept the nomination. He also said the possibility of a PNL-Democratic Party alliance in the parliamentary elections is still under examination and that negotiations between the two formations must clarify how the alliance would work after the ballot. MS

ROMANIAN MINERS' LEADER REQUESTS PRESIDENTIAL PARDON
Miners' leader Miron Cozma, who is serving a 18-year prison sentence, has asked President Ion Iliescu to grant him a presidential pardon, RFE/RL's Bucharest bureau reported on 22 July (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 21 July 2003). His lawyer said Cozma grounded his request on his "exemplary behavior" in prison and his family's difficult economic situation. The lawyer said Cozma neither admits his guilt nor claims his innocence. He said Cozma would still opt for a retrial if the Prosecutor-General's Office would agree to launch the procedure of "extraordinary appeal." Prosecutor-General Tanase Joita said such an appeal involves a lengthy examination, and that Cozma's request for a retrial is still being analyzed by his office. PSD Secretary-General Dan Matei Agathon said his party has no position on the issue, as the granting of pardons is a presidential prerogative. The extraparliamentary Popular Alliance spoke out against pardoning Cozma. MS

ROMANIAN MINERS PROTEST NONFULFILLMENT OF SEVERANCE-PAY AGREEMENT
Some 40 Romanian miners from the Zlatna mines near Alba-Iulia are continuing to protest the state-owned company SC Zlatmin's failure to fulfill a severance-pay agreement that was signed last year, Mediafax reported on 22 July. The miners on 19 July holed themselves up in the Hanes pit, and they are now threatening to descend further underground into unsecured corridors of the abandoned pit unless they immediately receive the severance pay. Such protests are considered extremely dangerous because already low levels of oxygen are rapidly depleted. The miners were promised 95 million lei (approximately $2,900) each, but according to a director of the mine in Hanes the company can only pay them about 15 million lei because of budget constraints, AP reported. SC Zlatmin company says it cannot pay the severance pay until the government approves an amendment to the state company's budget, which is expected in late August. MS

ROMANIAN SCHOOLS TO MARK HOLOCAUST DAY?
David Peleg, deputy director-general of the Israeli Foreign Ministry, told journalists in Bucharest at the end of a two-day visit to Romania that the authorities informed the delegation of its intention to annually mark the Holocaust in Romanian schools, Mediafax reported. A date for the day of remembrance has yet to be established. Peleg said the Romanian authorities acknowledge that they made a mistake when they claimed that no part of the Holocaust was carried out on Romanian territory (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 13 June 2003). For the first time in Romania, an individual was sentenced on 16 July on charges of Holocaust denial under the provisions of last year's governmental ordinance No. 31 (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 19 March 2002). Grigore Oprita was sentenced in Brasov to 2 1/2 years' imprisonment for disseminating nationalist-chauvinist propaganda and a similar sentence for manufacturing, selling, and possessing fascist, racist, and xenophobic symbols. Oprita is the author of books and articles praising the Iron Guard. MS

UKRAINE UNAWARE OF TRANSDNIESTRIAN 'FREE-TRADE REGIME'
Ukrainian Foreign Ministry spokesman Oleksandr Horkov told journalists in Kyiv on 22 July that his office has not received any notification from Tiraspol concerning a "free-trade regime" with Ukraine that was decreed last week by separatist leader Igor Smirnov, Infotag and BASA-press reported (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 21 July 2003). Horkov added that attempts are apparently being made to drag his country into a dispute that is a "purely internal Moldovan affair" over mutually inflicted economic sanctions. "As a mediator country," he said, "we have always advocated a compromise that would lead to settling the disputes in Moldova to the benefit of Moldovans residing on both banks of Dniester River," he said. Ukrainian companies, he added, will continue trading with Transdniester in accordance with current Ukrainian legislation. MS

ITALIAN AIDS EXPERT READY TO TESTIFY IN LIBYAN TRIAL OF BULGARIAN MEDICS
Foreign Minister Solomon Pasi told journalists on 22 July that Vittorio Colizzi, a renowned Italian AIDS expert, has agreed to testify in the case against six Bulgarian medics who are charged with deliberately infecting Libyan children with HIV, RFE/RL's Bulgarian Service reported. Colizzi and his French colleague Luc Montagnier are the authors of an expert opinion in the case that was commissioned by the Bulgarian government. Pasi expressed hope that the Libyan court will admit Colizzi and Montagnier's study as evidence (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 3 June and 16 July 2003). UB

BULGARIAN CONSERVATIVE OPPOSITION LEADER CALLS FOR 'CLEAN' STATE
Conservative opposition Union of Democratic Forces (SDS) Chairwoman Nadezhda Mihailova told party members on 22 July that she expects "the introduction and implementation of rules aimed at a clean state, in which the decision makers are not entangled with shady businessmen and financiers," mediapool.bg reported. Mihailova thus underscored the finality of her decision to withdraw the party's support for Deputy SDS Chairman Plamen Oresharski as its candidate for Sofia mayor, which came after Oresharski met with a controversial businessman. Mihailova's decision sparked debate within the SDS over its leadership and program (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 13 June and 14 and 16 July 2003). UB

BULGARIA'S OPPOSITION SOCIALISTS GIVE BAD MARKS TO GOVERNMENT
Assessing the first two years of the government's four-year term, opposition Socialist Party (BSP) Deputy Chairman Rumen Ovcharov said on 22 July that Prime Minister Simeon Saxecoburggotski's administration has failed to improve average citizens' standard of living, mediapool.bg reported. Ovcharov also said the government's policies have led to a slowdown of economic growth, a growing foreign-trade deficit, and the de-industrialization of the country. Recalling the failed privatization of Bulgartabac, he urged the government to halt the sale of the state-owned Bulgarian Telecommunications Company (BTK), as it would harm not only the country's economic interests but national security as well. Ovcharov said that while the Socialists by and large support the government's foreign policy, they object to its "hyperactivity" in certain situations, which sometimes bordered on servility. UB

MINSK POSTPONES INTRODUCTION OF RUSSIAN RUBLE IN NONCASH TRANSACTIONS


On 1 July, Belarus and Russia prepared for another step in the economic integration of the two countries. According to a previous agreement, on that day Belarus was to introduce the Russian ruble into parallel circulation for noncash transactions. A draft presidential decree to that effect had been approved by all the economic policy-making bodies of Belarus, including the Finance Ministry and the National Bank. The National Bank had created and tested a payment system specially designed for transactions in noncash Russian rubles in Belarus.

However, at the last minute, Belarusian President Alyaksandr Lukashenka failed to sign the decree. The official reason was that the presidential administration had decided to check whether the step would be in line with Belarusian legislation and whether it could not damage the country's economic security. The decree was sent to the Justice Ministry and the Security Council for their expert opinions. Officials maintain their optimism and claim that the postponement will cause no problems to the Belarus-Russia currency integration.

Pyotr Prakapovich, chairman of the National Bank of Belarus, declared at a news conference on 27 June that noncash Russian rubles will be good for Belarusian producers and will not cause any negative consequences for the Belarusian economy. The only drawback of the move, he said, is that the National Bank might have to use an extra $50 million to maintain the stability of the national currency. But the optimism was expressed at the wrong time. Critics began to wonder whether the postponement confirmed talk of a crisis in Belarus-Russia relations, as new announcements revealing tensions over the currency union were made. Thus, the authorities declared that the parallel circulation of the Russian ruble is to be postponed at least until 1 October. And Prakapovich declared subsequently that the currency union will be finalized no sooner than in one year, adding that it is still pending on an agreement between the two presidents.

The decision to postpone the introduction of the Russian ruble in noncash transactions was considered by many observers to be a continuation of a political row between Minsk and Moscow that started in June. Then, the sides once again declared their commitment to the introduction of the single currency. But that commitment was put in doubt one week later by Lukashenka, who made it conditional on Russia honoring all previous integration agreements, including the pledge to adopt a constitutional act and hold a referendum on its approval.

The idea to introduce the Russian ruble in noncash settlements in Belarus was suggested and pursued solely by the Belarusian side. The move is not mentioned in the union treaty signed in 1999 and has no direct impact on the full-scale introduction of the Russian ruble in Belarus as a sole legal tender for both cash and noncash transactions. The parallel circulation of the Russian ruble in Belarus would simply mean that Belarusian companies could use Russian rubles they earned from exports or purchased on the currency exchange to settle accounts without converting the currency. Under these circumstances, the decision to postpone the introduction of the noncash Russian ruble cannot be used as a tool to pressure the Kremlin into offering more acceptable conditions for the union.

Indeed, this decision was met with conspicuous indifference in Moscow. Thus, one has to wonder what was the rationale for the Belarusian National Bank's initiative to pursue the introduction of the parallel currency. The only reasonable explanation is that this was planned ahead as a decorative measure designed to keep up the public image of successful integration if the real monetary unification failed.

However, the noncash Russian ruble in Belarus might still cause some problems for the Belarusian authorities. Some observers believe that the introduction of the noncash Russian ruble was postponed due to the Belarusian authorities' concern about their ability to control financial flows inside the country. The step would make it possible for Belarusian companies not only to freely convert their earnings into Russian rubles, but also to open Russian-ruble bank accounts in Russia, thus offering Belarusian businesses new opportunities to evade taxes and hide their earnings from the confiscatory measures the Belarusian authorities pursue from time to time.

If this is the real reason for yet another contretemps in Belarusian-Russian relations, then the Belarusian government's action only confirms the suggestion of some of its opponents who maintain that no progress in integration is possible before the economic systems and policies of the two countries converge. But Lukashenka himself denies the possibility of such convergence.

Vital Silitski is an associate professor at the Department of Economics at the European Humanities University, Minsk.

AFGHAN NATIONAL ARMY MAKES COMBAT DEBUT
Colonel Rodney Davis, spokesman for coalition forces in Afghanistan, said on 23 July that approximately 1,000 soldiers from the newly established Afghan National Army (ANA) participated in combat operations for the first time this week in Paktiya Province's Zormat District, Reuters reported. Davis said the ANA soldiers' mission in the operation is to "kill, capture, and deny sanctuary to anti-coalition fighters and to disrupt anti-coalition activity in the Zormat Valley region," in support of the Afghan Transitional Administration. He said the ANA's combat debut marks an important step toward the force's eventual role as a key contributor to Afghanistan's security. Thus far about 5,000 of the eventual 70,000 soldiers planned for the ANA have been trained by the United States and France. However, the process of creating the new army has been hampered by power struggles within the Transitional Administration and by the refusal of warlords to submit to the central authorities. AT

AFGHAN NEWSPAPER SAYS PEOPLE HAVE RIGHT TO SEE DRAFT CONSTITUTION
The Kabul paper "Farda" commented on 20 July that the "publication of the draft of the constitution is the right of the Afghans and nobody can ignore this." The paper asks how it is possible for people to present their opinions when they don't know what has been included in the draft constitution. The Constitutional Review Commission has yet to make the draft constitution public, and people's opinions on the shape of the future constitution are being gathered through the distribution of a questionnaire. "What will happen if the people remain uninformed of the details of the law?" "Farda" asks. What if "it is hastily approved by the Loya Jirga," which is scheduled for October, and eventually the people refuse to obey it? (see "RFE/RL Afghanistan Report," 16 January and 3, 10, and 24 April 2003). AT

AFGHAN MINISTER VISITS PAKISTAN TO SMOOTH RELATIONS
Interior Minister Ali Ahmad Jalali met Pakistani officials on 23 July during his two-day visit to Islamabad that comes in the wake of recent tensions between the two countries, Reuters reported (see "RFE/RL Afghanistan Report," 11 and 17 July 2003). Jalali met with Pakistan's Prime Minister Zafarullah Khan Jamali and was scheduled to hold talks with Pakistan's Interior Minister Faisal Saleh Hayat. Pakistan Foreign Ministry spokesman Masood Khan said the two sides will discuss the contentious issue of the Afghan-Pakistan border. "The two sides will try to strengthen their coordination on matters relating to the internal security of both countries and coordination between all agencies for combating terrorism," he added. AT

ISSUES OF PRO-MUJAHEDIN PUBLICATION CONFISCATED FOR CRITICIZING AFGHAN LEADER...
Copies of the latest issue of "Payam-e Mojahed" have been confiscated from the weekly's distributors, allegedly at the order of Defense Minister Marshall Mohammad Qasim Fahim, one of the publication's patrons, "Erada" reported on 20 July. According to the report, the issue, the date of which has not been reported, attacked Transitional Administration Chairman Hamid Karzai as "powerless" and claimed the real power in Afghanistan rests with "the United States, Britain, and the United Nations." The article reportedly criticized Karzai's extension of an apology to Pakistan following the 8 July storming of the Pakistani Embassy in Kabul (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 9 July 2003). "Payam-e Mojahed" belongs to the Jamiat-e Islami party of which Fahim is a member. The weekly supports the role of former Afghan mujahedin in the current administration and is critical of people who have come from outside to assume leadership roles in the country. AT

...AS EDITOR IN CHIEF QUESTIONS AFGHAN LEADER'S PAKISTAN POLICY
"Payam-e Mojahed" Editor in Chief Abdul Hafiz Mansur affirmed on 20 July that copies of his weekly, which included an article entitled "From Exaggeration to Reality," written by well-known Afghan political commentator Haqshenas, were "collected" by the Afghan authorities, Iranian state radio's Mashhad-based Dari service reported. Mansur defended the argument posed in Haqshenas's article, saying that while "an attack on the embassy of a foreign country is not in line with ethics and diplomatic principles," Karzai's government must "urge the Pakistani government to compensate for the damage caused by the war." He was apparently referring to Pakistan's support for the Taliban during the country's civil war. He also said the Transitional Administration must "put pressure on the Pakistani authorities to close the offices of the [Afghan] opposition in Pakistan." AT

CANADIAN PHOTOJOURNALIST BURIED IN IRAN
Canadian photojournalist Zahra Kazemi, who died from a blow to the head she sustained while in the custody of the Iranian authorities, was buried in her hometown of Shiraz on 23 July, IRNA reported (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 22 July 2003). IRNA on 22 July quoted a fax from Kazemi's mother, Ezat Kazemi, in which she said: "In order to prevent any misuse of the tragic incident, I want my beloved daughter's body buried in Shiraz." Stephan Hachemi, the photojournalist's son, told reporters in Montreal on 22 July that his grandmother told him the authorities "forced" her to authorize the burial in Iran, Reuters reported. According to dpa on 22 July, the family said Tehran wants to avoid a Canadian autopsy of the body. BS

JUDICIARY SPOKESMAN DEFENDS TEHRAN PROSECUTOR
Judiciary spokesman Gholam-Hussein Elham on 22 July rejected questions about Tehran chief prosecutor Said Mortazavi's involvement in the inquiry into the death of Zahra Kazemi, ISNA reported the next day. Kazemi might have suffered the cerebral hemorrhage that led to her death while in the prosecutor's custody (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 21 July 2003). Elham said the Prosecutor's Office is acting legally when it detains someone suspected of violating the law and then questions that person. An investigation is required if the suspect dies, Elham said. In addition, he said the Prosecutor's Office has completed its work and any further work is within the jurisdiction of the military court, IRNA reported. BS

IRANIAN PARLIAMENT SLOW ON UNEMPLOYMENT BENEFITS
The Iranian legislature on 22 July refused to upgrade to "urgent" a bill on the provision of unemployment benefits, IRNA reported. The legislation is based on Article 29 of the Iranian Constitution, which stipulates that the government must provide unemployment benefits and financial support for every citizen, and the Third Five-Year Development Plan. An urgent bill is discussed only once by the relevant committee before being voted on, but bills that deal with the budget cannot be presented as urgent. Gholi Sheikhi, an adviser to Labor and Social Affairs Minister Safdar Husseini, on 21 July said 3.2 million Iranians are jobless and the unemployment rate in the country is 15 percent, IRNA reported. Sheikhi said his ministry is not responsible for creating jobs and called for proper planning to reduce the number of unemployed people. Sheikhi warned that failure to tackle what IRNA terms "the staggering unemployment rate" would cause serious problems in the near future due to the population growth rate. BS

TEHRAN REJECTS EU WARNING
Iranian Foreign Ministry spokesman Hamid Reza Assefi said on 22 July that Tehran's talks with the European Union should be based on trust, and preconditions or threatening language are "unacceptable," IRNA reported. Assefi added that Tehran adheres to its Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty commitments and its nuclear activities are transparent. Assefi was reacting to reports on 21 July that EU foreign ministers have expressed concern about Iran's nuclear activities and had said closer economic ties are dependent on Iranian progress in human rights, counterterrorism, nonproliferation, and the Middle East peace process (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 22 July 2003). BS

AZERI IRREDENTISTS CLAIM MASSIVE REPRESSION IN IRAN
The irredentist National Liberation Movement of Southern Azerbaijan claims that its activists are the subject of "massive arrests and repression," Baku's "Bizim Asr" reported on 22 July. Hundreds of the Azeri activists reportedly were arrested in Ardabil, Hamedan, Khoi, Tabriz, Tehran, Urumiyeh, and Zanjan. Timur Eminbayli, who heads the Baku office of the Congress of Azerbaijanis of the World, said the Tabriz Revolutionary Court sentenced student leader Faramarz Mohammadi to death a month ago and she was executed "a couple of days ago," Baku's "Khalq Gazeti" reported on 22 July. After her execution, Eminbayli said, Mohammadi's remains were taken to Ardabil. "She delivered radical speeches against Iran's Persian and mullah regime. She was arrested by the [Ministry of Intelligence and Security] immediately after the establishment of the student movement. She was ethnic Azeri and 19 years old." BS

IRANIAN REPATRIATION OF IRAQI REFUGEES TO BEGIN WITHIN 10 DAYS
UN High Commissioner for Refugees Ruud Lubbers said on 22 July that following his discussions in Iran it was decided that the repatriation of Iraqis there will begin within 10 days, IRNA reported. Insecurity is the main reason for delays, he said. While visiting Dezful's Ashrafi Tehrani Refugee Township on 21 July, he said, "Your return to Iraq will take a relatively long time, due to the existence of a number of problems, but I will do my best to meet your righteous demand, that is nothing but safe return to your country, as soon as possible." Lubbers said he was impressed with Iranian efforts to help the refugees over the last 11 years. An anonymous Iranian Interior Ministry official announced on 21 July that Iran is fully prepared to repatriate 200,000 Iraqis, state radio reported, but the officials ruling Iraq oppose this. BS

HUSSEIN'S SONS REPORTED KILLED IN NORTHERN IRAQ...
Deposed Iraqi President Saddam Hussein's two sons were killed after a "fierce" six-hour firefight broke out between U.S. forces and the men at a residence in Mosul on 22 July, U.S. Central Command (CENTCOM) reported in a press release dated the same day. Qusay and Uday Hussein were second and third, respectively, behind their father on CENTCOM's list of the 55 most-wanted Iraqis from the deposed Hussein regime. U.S. Lieutenant General Ricardo Sanchez briefed reporters in Baghdad on the incident on 22 July, saying U.S. forces went to the house of Nawaf al-Zaydan Muhammad, a local tribal leader and cousin of Saddam Hussein, after an Iraqi walked into a local U.S. command center the previous evening with a tip that the two men were holed up in the house, AP reported on 22 July. The United States offered $15 million for information leading to the capture or killing of each man. CNN reported later on 23 July that the reported informant is in protective custody. Sanchez said four coalition soldiers were wounded in the incident, which also resulted in the deaths of two other Iraqis in the house -- one reportedly a teenage boy who might have been Saddam Hussein's grandson. Their identities have not been released. KR

...AS DETAILS EMERGE...
At a 23 July press briefing broadcast on CNN, Sanchez told reporters that the United States might consider releasing evidence of the deaths of Uday and Qusay but added that no decision has been made. He said that "multiple means" have been used to identify the corpses. Four former senior regime members in coalition custody positively identified the bodies, including Presidential Secretary Abid Hamid Mahmud al-Tikriti; dental records confirmed a 90 percent match for Uday and a 100 percent match for Qusay. Autopsies on the two men will follow, Sanchez added. In addition, X-rays confirmed injuries consistent with those reported on a previous assassination attempt on one of the Hussein sons, Sanchez said. While both sons survived previous assassination attempts, Uday was badly injured in 1996, sustaining approximately 10 gunshot wounds. On 22 July, Sanchez had told reporters that a DNA test will also be performed. KR

...AND NEWS SPREADS IN IRAQ OF DEATHS
Meanwhile, Iraqi public reaction to news of the deaths appeared mixed in 22 and 23 July media reports. Numerous international news agencies reported that Iraqis celebrated across the country by firing off celebratory shots on 22 July. However, some Iraqis expressed doubt in light of previous reports that Saddam Hussein had been killed or captured that later proved false. In Mosul, a small crowd of Iraqis gathered outside the home of Nawaf al-Zaydan Muhammad to mourn the deaths. Asked on 23 July whether the U.S. will release pictures of the bodies, Sanchez said the United States has not ruled anything out. KR

IRAQ GOVERNING COUNCIL ADDRESSES UN...
A three-member delegation from the Iraqi Governing Council made its debut at the UN Security Council on 22 July, international media reported. Former Iraqi Foreign Minister Adnan Pachachi, Iraqi National Congress (INC) head Ahmad Chalabi, and Aqilah al-Hashimi, who served in the Iraqi Foreign Ministry under the deposed Hussein regime, were welcomed at the UN but failed to gain official recognition for the Governing Council as the ruling body in Iraq. UN Secretary-General Kofi Annan called the council's formation "an important step toward the full restoration of Iraqi sovereignty," AP reported on 23 July. Speaking to the Security Council, Pachachi vowed that Iraq will never return to totalitarianism, Reuters reported on 22 July. "Our primary goal is to shorten the duration of the interim administration, to pave the way for a constitution and a popularly elected government in Iraq," Pachachi said. "The state intelligence services and mandatory arrests and random executions [carried out by the deposed Hussein regime] are done for once and for all." KR

...AS U.S. AMBASSADOR ASKS FOR HELP WITH IRAQI SECURITY
U.S. Ambassador to the UN John Negroponte addressed the UN Security Council on 22 July, asking council members to contribute to the rebuilding of Iraq by providing security, according to the text of his address available on the U.S. State Department's Bureau of International Information Programs website (http://usinfo.state.gov). Negroponte told council members that UN Security Council Resolution 1483 "appeals to member states and concerned organizations to contribute to conditions of stability and security in Iraq, and we strongly encourage member states to contribute stability forces under this resolution." Meanwhile, defense officials in Washington said on 22 July that the U.S. Army will rotate new soldiers into Iraq to replace two 3rd Infantry Division brigades whose soldiers have been in the region since last fall, AP reported on 23 July. The U.S. 82nd Airborne Division, U.S. Army reserve forces, and a new Stryker Brigade, described as a highly mobile force built around an agile wheeled vehicle instead of a battle tank, will replace the troops. The United States will maintain troop strength in Iraq at about 145,000 soldiers, Defense Department officials told AP. KR

IRAQI POLICE CLOSE DOWN NEWSPAPER
A special investigative unit of the Iraqi police closed down the offices of "Al-Mustaqillah" newspaper on 21 July, arresting the newspaper's office manager, according to a press release posted on the Coalition Provisional Authority (CPA) website (http://www.cpa-iraq.org). "'Al-Mustaqillah' newspaper published on 13 July a clearly inciteful [sic] article entitled 'Death to all spies and those who cooperate with the U.S.; killing them is religious duty,'" the press release stated. "'Al-Mustaqillah' newspaper has chosen to threaten the basic human rights of Iraqi citizens, especially the right to life and the right to live without fear or threat," it stated, adding, "The CPA and the Iraqi Police Service therefore judged that 'Al-Mustaqillah' poses a significant security threat to Iraqi citizens, placing it in violation of international humanitarian law, as well as in breach of CPA Order Number 14 'Towards a Free Iraqi Press.'" That order can be viewed on the CPA website. KR

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