RUSSIA HINTS IT MIGHT SEND TROOPS TO IRAQ...
Russian officials have hinted that their country will support a U.S. draft resolution on Iraq as long as it provides for a greater UN role in that country's rebuilding, international media reported on 5 September. Defense Minister Sergei Ivanov told reporters on 4 September that Russia might be open to contributing troops to a multinational force in Iraq in the near future, AP reported on 5 September. Ivanov said Russia's decision will be contingent upon the final version of the U.S.-proposed draft resolution. "Everything depends on the unity of opinion in the UN Security Council on whether it will be really able to influence the development of the situation in Iraq," he said. Foreign Minister Igor Ivanov told reporters in Tashkent on 5 September that "Russia has always supported the soonest possible restoration of Iraq's sovereignty and the establishment of legitimate power bodies in that country for solving all problems of postwar reconstruction, including security problems," Interfax reported. "Moscow has always wanted the UN to play the key role in this process in Iraq," he added. President Vladimir Putin said on 30 August that Russia would contribute troops under U.S. command if the Security Council approved such a measure. KR
...IN MOVE THAT SEEMS TO BREAK RANKS WITH FRANCE, GERMANY
The statements on Russian troops in Iraq seem to contradict a joint statement issued just hours before by French President Jacques Chirac and German Chancellor Gerhard Schroeder, Russian media reported on 4 September. That statement rejected a Washington proposal that any UN-mandated peacekeeping forces be under U.S. command. Until now, the positions of Russia, Germany, and France on Iraq have been closely coordinated. Foreign Minister Ivanov on 3 September spoke by telephone with U.S. Secretary of State Colin Powell about ways of bolstering the role of the UN and the Security Council in postwar Iraq, international media reported. VY
FUND CONTROLLED BY EMBATTLED YUKOS PURCHASES INDEPENDENT WEEKLY...
The Open Russia Foundation, which is financed by oil giant Yukos, has bought the independent weekly "Moskovskii novosti" and named former NTV and TVS Editor in Chief Yevgenii Kiselev to be its editor, Russian media reported on 4 September. The departing editor of the weekly, Viktor Loshak, told his staff that he considers the appointment of Kiselev a mistake because the former television host knows little about the specifics of running a newspaper, strana.ru reported. According to the website, a public council will be established to oversee the work of the weekly, and it will include former "Moskovskie novosti" and "Obshchaya gazeta" Editor in Chief Yegor Yakovlev, political analyst Liliya Shevtsova, and former liberal adviser to Soviet President Mikhail Gorbachev and Soviet Politburo member Aleksandr Yakovlev. An unidentified source at the weekly told the website that Kiselev hopes to turn the publication into a "mouthpiece" for the Yabloko party. In an interview with RFE/RL, Yegor Yakovlev said the public council will "guarantee the decency and incorruptibility of the newspaper and develop its strategic line." JAC
...AS FORMER YUKOS EXECUTIVE LEAVES THE COUNTRY?
"Argumenty i fakty," No. 36, reported that former Yukos senior executive Leonid Nevzlin has left Russia because he reportedly received a "message" that his presence in the country is "undesirable. Nevzlin, rector of Russian State Humanitarian University, is also former director of the Open Russia Foundation, a major Yukos shareholder, and one of the richest people in Russia. JAC
ANOTHER HELICOPTER ACCIDENT KILLS NINE...
All nine passengers and crewmembers aboard a Ka-32 helicopter were killed in a 4 September crash about 55 kilometers away from the southern city of Sochi, Russian media reported, citing the Emergency Situations Ministry. Sochi city prosecutor Aleksandr Sergienko has reportedly arrived at the crash site to head the investigation. The accident is the latest in a series of tragedies that have struck Russian civilian and military aviation in recent years. On 26 August, Defense Minister Ivanov was an eyewitness to the mid-air collision of two Mi-24 military helicopters near the Far Eastern city of Ussuriisk (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 27 August 2003). The Sochi crash occurred on the eve of the arrival in Sochi of President Putin, who plans to vacation there for a few days, polit.ru and gazeta.ru reported on 4 September. VY
...AS MILITARY RELEASES FIGURES ON AVIATION LOSSES
Speaking to reporters in Moscow on 2 September, the head of Russia's military flight-safety service, Lieutenant General Sergei Solntsev said the country has lost more than 100 military airplanes and helicopters in noncombat-related incidents over the last three years, pravda.ru reported. Solntsev did not say how many people have been killed, and he stressed that his figures cover only state-controlled military and civilian aviation. He said that the figures also do not include losses in Chechnya, which are counted separately. In Chechnya, he said, there have been nine incidents this year, including five caused by fire from the ground. Eighty percent of noncombat-related incidents are caused by "the human factor," Solntsev said. VY
MOSCOW DENIES REPORTS OF STEPPED-UP INTELLIGENCE WORK
Russian Foreign Intelligence Service (SVR) spokesman Boris Labusov denied on 4 September a report published in "Jane's Intelligence Digest" that his agency has intensified its activities in Europe and, especially, Great Britain, newsru.com reported. "Jane's Intelligence Digest" cited former Federal Security Service (FSB) officer Aleksandr Litvinenko, who was granted political asylum in Britain in 2000, as saying that President Putin has ordered the SVR and the FSB to step up recruitment efforts among members of Russian emigre communities and to bolster espionage activities. Labusov noted that Litvinenko has close ties with former oligarch Boris Berezovskii, who is locked in a conflict with the Kremlin, and said the statements are merely "fulfilling the orders of his master." VY
COMMUNIST CONGRESS COULD SEE SOME FIREWORKS
"Versiya" reported on 2 September that the Communist Party is split into two camps as it approaches its party congress on 7 September. One camp is headed by Communist Party leader Gennadii Zyuganov, while the other is led by Central Committee Chairman Valentin Kuptsov and People's Patriotic Union of Russia Executive-Secretary Gennadii Semigin. According to the weekly, Kuptsov has been cultivating the party's regional-branch heads while criticizing Zyuganov for becoming too friendly with the oligarchs. Kuptsov is reportedly seeking to limit the number of overt Zuganov supporters on the party's party list with the goal of reducing Zyuganov's power and ultimately seeing him replaced as party leader, possibly by Sergei Potapov, secretary of the central committee, or Sergei Glazev, the head of new leftist patriotic bloc. The weekly concludes that the plan might not work since Zyuganov retains powerful leverage within the party and is aware of the effort to unseat him. JAC
SILOVIKI TAKE ANOTHER HIT FROM SPIN DOCTORS
Participating in a session of the Civil Debates club on 4 September, Foundation for Effective Politics head Gleb Pavlovskii followed up on his essay published earlier in the week on the increasing politicization of the activities of the law enforcement and intelligence-service professionals within the presidential administration, RFE/RL's Moscow bureau reported (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 4 September 2003). "The most dangerous [development] in our political life is the opposition from the Kremlin," Pavlovskii said. They speak in favor of the president and his policies, but they act against them "literally in his name." he continued. "These officials are acting outside of the zone of democratic consensus." Speaking at the same forum, Mark Urnov of the Center for Political Technologies, echoed Pavlovskii's remarks, noting that "these people would like to dominate the economy, reexamine the results of privatization, and [establish] government control over the media and executive control over the Duma and other representative organs." JAC
TOP INTERIOR MINISTRY OFFICIAL TO RUN FOR DUMA SEAT IN TVER...
Deputy Interior Minister Colonel General Vladimir Vasilev announced on 4 September that he plans to run in the State Duma elections in a single-mandate district in Tver Oblast, RIA-Novosti reported. Vasilev explained that he chose Tver because one of his duties at the ministry is to oversee the Central Federal District, of which Tver Oblast is a part. He said the Interior Ministry has provided a great deal of help to its regional department in Tver, including solving some serious crimes, including contract murders. Vasilev's boss, Interior Minister Boris Gryzlov, is head of the Unified Russia party and is expected to head that party's party list in the election. JAC
...AS TVER GOVERNOR FACES ARREST WARRANT
A spokesman for the Prosecutor-General's Office announced on 4 September that Tver Oblast Governor Vladimir Platov will soon face criminal charges on suspicion that he misused more than 460 million rubles ($15 million) of government funds, Interfax reported. Investigators searched Platov's apartment and office on 4 September, according to the agency. A gubernatorial election is scheduled in Tver for December. JAC
AND THEN THERE WERE 44
Deputy Justice Minister Yevgenii Sidorenko presented to the Central Election Commission on 4 September a list of 44 political parties that are eligible to register for the December State Duma elections, strana.ru reported. In addition, 20 public associations are eligible to participate if they join election blocs. According to Sidorenko, just four parties that initially managed to register as political parties did not manage to complete the next step of creating regional branches in at least 45 regions. However, 56 organizations originally expressed interest in registering as parties. JAC
RUSSIA CONFRONTS ISSUE OF SAME-SEX MARRIAGE
Russian Orthodox priest Father Vladimir has been defrocked for performing a marriage ceremony for two men, Interfax reported on 4 September, citing the Nizhnii Novgorod diocese. The diocese stated that the church is against single-sex marriages and "the Holy Scriptures and church traditions condemn homosexual relations as a deadly sin." "Komsomolskaya pravda" carried photos of the ceremony, which took place on 1 September. According to newsru.com, the men paid Father Vladimir 15,000 rubles ($490) to perform the marriage rites. JAC
ARMENIAN GOVERNMENT INCREASES PENSIONS AND SOCIAL BENEFITS
The Armenian government announced on 4 September a modest increase in monthly pensions and other social benefits for retirees, parents of newborn children, and relatives of the deceased, RFE/RL's Yerevan bureau reported. The move, to be implemented next month, will increase the monthly pension for Armenia's 530,000 retirees to7,900 drams ($14) from 7,200 drams and will require the state Social Security Fund to collect an extra1.4 billion drams in extra revenues, mainly from higher payroll taxes. State Social Security Fund Chairman Frunze Musheghian explained that the government will also address the continued evasion of social-security taxes by private companies that underreport their workers' wages. The state's one-time payment for the birth of a child will also be increased to 35,000 drams, up from 5,900drams, a move that is reportedly aimed at boosting the declining birth rate. Survivors of deceased pensioners will also be granted a payment of 75,000 drams for funeral expenses, an increase of 67 percent. RG
ARMENIAN GOVERNMENT CHALLENGES FOREIGN-OWNED TELECOMMUNICATIONS MONOPOLY...
In a direct challenge to the foreign-owned ArmenTel telecommunications firm, the Armenian government on 4 September sought to revoke the firm's legal monopoly on all forms of telecommunication in Armenia, according to Azg and RFE/RL's Yerevan bureau. In a hearing before the State Securities Commission, Armenian Transport and Communications Minister Andranik Manukian argued that the government "must have the right to grant ArmenTel a new operating license," on the grounds that ArmenTel has engaged in "arbitrary and abusive conduct" in violation of the terms of its 1998 sale to the Hellenic Telecommunication Organization (OTE). The Armenian government contends that the OTE subsidiary has failed to meet its investment commitments and provide reliable telecom services, both of which were preconditions for its 15-year monopoly in the telecommunication sector. According to ArmenTel executive Georgios Vassilakis, the company will "challenge any unilateral action at the International Court of Economic Arbitration in London. RG
...AND LOOKS INTO REVELATIONS OF WIRETAPPING
The State Securities Commission also hearing fueled a controversy involving the revelation that ArmenTel routinely eavesdropped on and recorded all conversations made through its digital exchanges. ArmenTel's Vassilakis defended the wiretapping as a practice limited to monitoring customer satisfaction or engaged in at the request of Armenian security agencies, despite the fact that such wiretapping can only be legally authorized by a court order. RG
AZERBAIJANI PRIME MINISTER COMMENTS ON SUCCESSION
Commenting on the country's leadership succession in the face of the looming presidential election, Prime Minister Ilham Aliev, son of President Heidar Aliev, announced on 5 September: "If my father's health gets better, the Azerbaijani people will elect him as president. But if his health is bad, I'll run for president," "Baku Today" and "Trend" reported. Prime Minister Aliev added that he is "ready to govern" Azerbaijan. He also stated that his father's health is "getting better every day," although he admitted that the 80-year-old president is suffering from heart and kidney problems. RG
AZERBAIJANI PREMIER MEETS WITH GEORGIAN SECURITY CHIEF...
Prime Minister Aliev met with a visiting Georgian delegation led by National Security Council Secretary Tedo Djaparidze on 4 September, the Azerbaijani State News Agency reported. The officials discuss bilateral relations and regional energy security, as well as the situation in the largely ethnic-Azerbaijani region of Marneuli in southern Georgia, where several hundred residents have been demonstrating against a crackdown by Georgian customs officers on illegal trade with Azerbaijan (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 3 September 2003). The head of the Georgian International Oil Corporation, Giorgi Chanturia, and Georgian Ambassador to Azerbaijan Zurab Gumbaridze also participated in the talks. RG
...AND NEWLY APPOINTED RUSSIAN OSCE REPRESENTATIVE
Prime Minister Aliev also met on 4 September with visiting Russian Ambassador Yurii Merzlyakov, who is the recently appointed Russian co-chairman of the OSCE's Minsk Group overseeing the mediation of the Nagorno-Karabakh conflict, ANS and AFP reported. Aliev told Merzlyakov that Azerbaijan is increasingly frustrated with the international mediators and noted that "there is a certain disappointment in our society in connection with the fact that recently the Minsk Group has been trying to avoid getting involved in a practical resolution of the conflict." He also stressed, however, that "without the participation of the Minsk Group, it will be difficult to find a solution" to conflict. Merzlyakov is to meet with Armenian leaders next, in preparation for the scheduled meeting of the OSCE Minsk Group on 15 September in Vienna. RG
NEWLY FORMED GEORGIAN CENTRAL ELECTION COMMISSION HOLDS FIRST SESSION...
Georgia's newly reconstituted Central Electoral Commission of Georgia (CEC) met for the first time on 4 September and moved to abolish a 25 August decision that imposed sharp restrictions on election coverage, Rustavi-2 and Civil Georgia reported. Central Election Commission Chairwoman Nana Devdariani added that the abolishment of the prohibition, which banned state and private pre-election media coverage for the 50 days preceding the election except for paid advertising, was supported by a recent ruling by a Tbilisi Regional Court that deemed the ban restrictive. The CEC also adopted a resolution formalizing 75 electoral districts throughout the country, although electoral districts in Abkhazia and Ossetia remain undetermined. The composition of the 15-member CEC was significantly altered with input from the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE) and the Council of Europe in preparation for the 2 November parliamentary election (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 27 August and 2 September 2003). RG
...AS OSCE ELECTION EXPERTS ARRIVE
A delegation of election experts from the OSCE arrived in Tbilisi on 4 September to begin preparations to monitor the 2 November parliamentary contest, Civil Georgia reported. OSCE Mission to Georgia head Roy Reeve said the OSCE will coordinate the deployment of nearly 700 election observers to polling stations throughout the country. RG
GEORGIAN OPPOSITION BLAMED FOR RECENT ENERGY BLACKOUTS
Irina Sarishvili-Chanturia, the spokesperson for the pro-government For a New Georgia bloc, accused leaders of the United Democrats and National Movement opposition parties on 4 September of being responsible for the current energy crisis in the country, according to Civil Georgia. Much of the country suffered a blackout the previous day after an electrical transmission line in western Georgia was damaged in what Energy Minister Mamuka Nikolaishvili described as "sabotage" (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 4 September 2003). Sarishvili-Chanturia alleged that the opposition is "using the energy crisis to discredit the government" on the eve of parliamentary elections and contended that the "recent sabotage in the energy sector has been ruled from the headquarters of the United Democrats party." Her allegations were made during a live broadcast on the Rustavi-2 television channel. RG
KYRGYZ LOWER HOUSE DEBATES REMOVAL OF LENIN STATUE
The Legislative Assembly (lower house) of the Kyrgyz parliament began a debate on 4 September about the removal of Bishkek's most imposing statue of Soviet founder Vladimir Lenin from the city's main square, "Obshchestvennyi reiting" reported on 5 September. Prime Minister Nikolai Tanaev has been sharply criticized by Kyrgyzstan's two Communist parties for ordering the removal of the statue to another part of town (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 20 August 2003). During the debate, Communist deputies accused the government of violating a law protecting the statue. Tanaev defended himself by explaining at length the government's rationale for removing the statue as part of the reconstruction of the square, but several parliamentarians called for the government's resignation. BB
AUTHORITIES IN OSH STOP SALE OF BOOK ON AKSY KILLINGS
National Security Service officers in southern Kyrgyzstan's Uzgen and Kuldja Raions have stopped the sale of journalist Nuradil Bakashev's book on the killing of five antigovernment demonstrators in the Aksy Raion of Djalal-Abad Oblast in March 2002, RFE/RL's Kyrgyz Service reported on 4 September. The information about the security officers' action was attributed to the Osh representative of the opposition Young Kyrgyzstan Party, Kegin Makeev. BB
SCO PROSECUTORS PROMISE TO COOPERATE IN FIGHTING TERRORISM
The general prosecutors of the six member states of the Shanghai Cooperation Organization (SCO) ended a meeting in Bishkek on 4 September at which they approved a strategy for cooperation fighting international terrorism, religious extremism, drug and arms trafficking, and international organized crime, kabar.kg and Interfax reported. Kyrgyz Prosecutor-General Myktkbek Abdyldaev said after the meeting that the SCO prosecutors intend to give real content to the SCO's plan for law enforcement cooperation. The SCO prosecutors' meeting was followed on 4 September by a meeting of the coordinating council of CIS prosecutors-general, at which participants declared that citizens of CIS countries who visit or live in other CIS states are under the protection of the prosecutors-general of those countries, RIA-Novosti reported. The 10 members of the council focused particularly on narcotics trafficking, trafficking in human beings, and economic crimes. BB
EUROPEAN PARLIAMENT LOOKS AT HUMAN RIGHTS IN TURKMENISTAN
The European Parliament has raised the issue of human rights in Turkmenistan and is considering adopting a resolution on the issue, Deutsche Welle reported on 3 September. According to Peter Zalmaev, coordinator for CIS programs of the International League for Human Rights, this is "a revolutionary event." He described the action of the European Parliament as the first step toward instituting sanctions against Turkmenistan. The European Parliament is also considering holding a roundtable on Turkmenistan with the participation of human rights organizations and members of the Turkmen opposition. An official delegation from Turkmenistan would also be invited. Turkmen opposition figure and former Ambassador to Turkey Nurmuhammed Hanamov, who has been meeting with European parliamentarians, said he had found his interlocutors well informed about the situation in Turkmenistan and added that a resolution by the European Parliament should contain specific demands. BB
FATHER OF TURKMEN HUMAN RIGHTS ACTIVIST ARRESTED
The father of exiled Turkmen human rights activist Tajigul Begmedova was arrested in Ashgabat on 31 August and sent into internal exile in the northern Turkmen town of Dashoguz, Prima-News and Human Rights Watch (HRW) reported on 4 September. Last month, Begmedova announced the creation in Sofia, Bulgaria, of the Turkmen Helsinki Foundation (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 21 August 2003). HRW took note of the fact that the forcible expulsion of 77-year-old Sazak Begmedov from his Ashgabat home took place just 12 days after his daughter announced the creation of the Turkmen Helsinki group. The Bulgarian authorities have refused a demand from Turkmenistan that they return Tajigul Begmedova and her husband, Anadurdy Hajiev, to Ashgabat, asserting that the Turkmen accusations against them are politically motivated. BB
MEMORIAL SAYS RUSSIAN SECURITY SERVICE DETAINED TURKMEN DIPLOMATS
The Moscow human rights organization Memorial has issued a report asserting that the Russian Federal Security Service (FSB) detained several Turkmen diplomats in Moscow on 17 August for allegedly engaging in activities not compatible with their diplomatic status, centrasia.ru reported on 4 September. An FSB spokesman was quoted as saying the detained officials included the first secretary of the Turkmen Embassy in Moscow, a representative of the Turkmen Foreign Ministry, and an official of the Turkmen National Security Ministry who was allegedly sent to Moscow to undertake actions against the Turkmen opposition. The detainees have been released, but eight employees of the Turkmen Embassy in Moscow were expelled from the country. Memorial interpreted the FSB's action as an indication that the Russian special services are no longer willing to close their eyes to the operations of the Turkmen security service on Russian soil. BB
BELARUSIAN PRESIDENT SAYS INTRODUCTION OF RUSSIAN RUBLE SHOULD CAP INTEGRATION
Belarusian Television on 4 September revealed the contents of the letter President Alyaksandr Lukashenka sent earlier this week to his Russian counterpart, Vladimir Putin, in response to the latter's proposal to sign an accord on the introduction of the Russian ruble in Belarus in 2005 (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 28 and 29 August 2003). Lukashenka reportedly wrote that the introduction of the Russian ruble will produce the expected results only if it is the last stage in the process of creating a common economic space. According to the Belarusian president, the common economic area means unimpeded movement of people, commodities, services, and capital across the Belarusian-Russian border; the same prices for gas, oil, and electricity for consumers in both countries; compensation for losses incurred by Belarus because of Russia's collection of value-added tax on its exports to Belarus as of 2000; and coverage by Russia of expenses connected with the introduction of the Russian ruble in Belarus. Lukashenka also reminded Putin that there has been no progress in the preparation of a constitutional act of the Russia-Belarus Union. JM
UKRAINIAN PRESIDENT APPOINTS NEW SECRET SERVICE CHIEF
President Leonid Kuchma on 4 September appointed Ihor Smishko to head the Security Service of Ukraine, Interfax reported. Smishko, 48, served as first deputy secretary of the National Security and Defense Council (RNBO) prior to his appointment. He replaced Volodymyr Radchenko, who was appointed as secretary of the RNBO earlier this week (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 3 September 2003). JM
UKRAINE TO GET $40 MILLION FROM WORLD BANK TO UPGRADE TAX COLLECTION
First Deputy Prime Minister Mykola Azarov and World Bank Director for Belarus, Moldova, and Ukraine Luca Barbone signed an accord in Kyiv on 4 September under which Ukraine will obtain a credit of $40 million for a 10-year program to modernize its Tax Service, Interfax reported. Azarov said the program will help make the work of the Tax Service more transparent, and tax regulations simpler and clearer. JM
ESTONIAN, LATVIAN PRESIDENTS CAMPAIGN JOINTLY FOR EU MEMBERSHIP
Estonian President Arnold Ruutel and Latvian President Vaira Vike Freiberga met in Rezekne in eastern Latvia on 4 September and discussed preparations for their countries' upcoming EU membership referendums, the development of a joint energy system, the publication of an Estonian-Latvian dictionary, and the establishment of an Estonian school in Riga, BNS reported. They then spoke in favor of EU membership at a meeting with students and local residents at Rezekne College before flying to Viljandi in southern Estonia for another pro-EU meeting. It is planned that the presidents will make more such visits in both countries to bolster the unity of the Baltic states. Rezekne and Viljandi were chosen since they are towns of similar size that are also the cultural and educational centers of their respective regions. SG
THOUSANDS PROTEST PLANNED LATVIAN EDUCATION REFORM
Approximately 4,000 people gathered in Riga's Esplanade Park on 4 September to protest a planned move to make Latvian the primary language of instruction in minority schools beginning in the fall of 2004 (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 10 April 2003), BNS reported. Riga City Council Executive Director Maris Tralmaks refused three requests to hold such a rally, so it was officially held as a meeting of parliament deputies with voters, for which no permit is required. Parliamentarian Jakovs Pliners, the chairman of the recently established BITE party, told the assembled crowd that the planned reforms should be abandoned, and schools should be given the right to decide in what language to conduct their classes. Other speakers at the rally were parliament deputy Nikolajs Kabanovs, Riga City Council members Tatyana Jemeljanova, Sergejs Zaletajevs, and the head of the Equal Rights party, Tatyana Zhdanoka. SG
COMMISSION SELECTS LATVIA'S NEW CORRUPTION PREVENTION BUREAU CHIEF
The commission for selecting the next Corruption Prevention Bureau chief, headed by Prime Minister Einars Repse, decided unanimously in a secret ballot on 3 September that Security Police officer Juta Strike is the best choice, BNS reported. The commission earlier reduced the number of candidates from 58 to 11 (see "RFE/RL Baltic States Report," 28 August 2003). Strike, 33, has a degree in law and has worked as an investigator with the Interior Ministry's Investigations Department and as a lawyer for the municipal-transport company in Copenhagen before becoming a department head in the Security Police. The government and parliament are expected to approve her nomination. SG
LITHUANIAN PRESIDENT URGES ESTONIA TO FOCUS MORE ON INFRASTRUCTURE PROJECTS
Rolandas Paksas told visiting Estonian Prime Minister Juhan Parts on 4 September that more attention should be devoted to the three strategic infrastructure projects of the Baltic states, ELTA reported. They are the Via Baltica highway, the Rail Baltic railway, and the connection of the electrical systems of Lithuania and Poland, as well as those of Estonia and Finland. Parts agreed and also noted Estonia's efforts for greater cooperation in the energy sector as indicated by Eesti Energia's bid for one of the two Lithuanian electricity-distribution companies (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 4 September 2003) and interest in the possible construction of another nuclear-power plant at Ignalina. Parts, who arrived one day early for the Baltic Council of Ministers session, also told his Lithuanian counterpart, Algirdas Brazauskas, that he hopes Estonia would follow Lithuania's example in its upcoming referendum and vote in favor of EU membership. SG
PRESIDENT SAYS POLAND SHOULD ADVOCATE EXPANDING EU
Aleksander Kwasniewski said at the opening of a three-day Central and Eastern European economic forum in Krynica on 4 September that Poland should act as an advocate for countries now trying to join the European Union, Polish media reported. The presidents of Croatia, Macedonia, and Romania attended forum, which was organized by Poland for the 13th time. A report entitled "The New Europe," prepared by a group of independent Polish experts and presented at the forum by Dariusz Rosati, former Polish foreign minister, warns that Europe has been undergoing a polarization. According to Rosati, the widening gap between the EU's new members and the countries that have been left behind the main current of European integration could affect Europe's stability and cohesion. JM
CZECH PREMIER SAYS RELATIONS WITH GERMANY 'BETTER THAN EVER BEFORE'
Prime Minister Vladimir Spidla, in an interview with dpa on 4 September, said relations between his country and Germany are now better than ever, CTK reported. Speaking ahead of German Chancellor Gerhard Schroeder's visit to Prague on 5 September, Spidla said the disputes between the Czech Republic and Germany over the deportation of the Sudeten Germans after World War II are a thing of the past. He also said relations have improved due to the compensation payments made by Germany to Czech wartime forced laborers. Spidla reiterated his view that the German Expellees Association's proposal to establish a Center Against Expulsion memorial in Berlin is wrong, since it would take the expulsion out of the historical context that triggered it (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 3 September 2003). MS
CZECH ARMY REFORMS UNDER MEDIA SCRUTINY
Defense Minister Miroslav Kostelka told journalists on 4 September after discussions with President Vaclav Klaus that the president supports Kostelka's new draft proposal to reform and professionalize the Czech military, CTK reported. He said that Klaus nevertheless resents the fact that no costs of the envisaged reforms can yet be specified. Kostelka, who took over the portfolio after former Defense Minister Jaroslav Tvrdik resigned in June, is preparing a new reform blueprint, under which the army will receive just 2 percent of federal budget allocations, instead of 2.2 percent. That decision prompted Tvrdik's resignation. Kostelka confirmed on 4 September that Air Force commander Jan Vachek has asked to be relieved of duties at the end of this year. Vachek told journalists that he is "not leaving the military because of a lucrative job offer," alluding to Tvrdik's appointment earlier this week as chief executive officer of Czech airline CSA. According to media reports, Vachek decided to leave the military because he feels the cuts envisaged by Kostelka would negatively impact the capability of the Czech Air Force. MS
CZECH REPUBLIC, SLOVAKIA CRITICIZED FOR INSUFFICIENT WILL TO FIGHT RACISM
The Czech Republic and Slovakia were criticized at an international conference on combating racism, xenophobia, and discrimination that was organized by the OSCE in Vienna on 4-5 September, CTK reported. The agency cited reports by the Budapest-based European Roma Rights Center (ERRC) and the International Helsinki Federation of Human Rights as saying that the Penal Code is not applied strictly enough in the Czech Republic in the case of racially motivated crimes whose victims are Roma. The reports also said Slovak authorities do not punish severely enough perpetrators of murders of Roma. They also stressed that Slovakia lacks the political will to approve anti-discrimination legislation. The Slovak parliament, they said, has rejected an anti-discrimination law without approving any other legislation in its stead. MS
SLOVAK PREMIER AGREES TO APPOINT ANO LEADER AS ECONOMY MINISTER...
Prime Minister Mikulas Dzurinda has accepted a proposal to appoint Alliance for a New Citizen (ANO) Chairman Pavol Rusko as the next economy minister and will ask President Rudolf Schuster to do so, TASR and CTK reported on 4 September, citing an official press release of the premier's office (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 4 September 2003). Rusko is to replace outgoing Economy Minister Robert Nemcsics, who announced on 27 August his intention to leave the cabinet after losing ANO's backing. TASR cited Dzurinda as saying the exact day when Rusko will replace Nemcsics is an internal ANO matter. MS
...AS SLOVAK CONSTITUTIONAL COURT ADJOURNS WITHOUT RULING ON ABORTION AMENDMENT
The Constitutional Court postponed debates on the Christian Democratic Movement's (KDH) complaint against an amendment to the abortion law that was approved by parliament on 3 July, TASR reported. The court did not indicate when it intends to issue a verdict. Thirty-one deputies representing the KDH launched the complaint, and the defendant is the Slovak parliament, represented by Constitutional Committee member and Movement for a Democratic Slovakia (HZDS) deputy Miroslav Abelovsky. The ANO-proposed amendment, which would extend from 12 to 24 weeks the limitation for performing abortions on genetically defective fetuses, was passed with the support of the HZDS and other opposition parties, triggering an ongoing coalition crisis. Justice Minister Daniel Lipsic, a member of the KDH, is representing that party in court. Lipsic proposed that the court wait for a decision from the European Court for Human Rights in a similar case involving French abortion legislation, but Constitutional Court President Jan Mazak would not commit himself. Mazak told journalists that "the court will consider the issue and announce its decision" by end this month. MS
SLOVAK DIPLOMATS FAIL TO PASS SECURITY CLEARANCE
Foreign Minister Eduard Kukan said on 4 September that a number of ambassadors have failed to pass the National Security Office (NBU) clearance tests and will have to be replaced as a result, TASR reported. The clearance is issued for access to classified information. Kukan said such diplomats can no longer serve, "especially in EU and NATO countries." MS
SLOVAK RAILWAY COMPANY TO LAY OFF WORKERS
Some 4,800 out of the 22,000-member staff of the state-owned railway ZSR will be made redundant in the next two years due to restructuring and canceling of nonessential operations, TASR reported on 4 September, citing a ZSR press release. New ZSR Director General Roman Veselka, who took over the position on 1 August, said the company intends to save as much as 1 billion crowns ($24 million) by cutting nonessential operations, and a further 900 million on labor costs. ZSR last week reported a loss of 1.21 billion crowns in the first seven months of 2003, according to TASR. MS
NATO CHIEF URGES HUNGARY TO UPGRADE DEFENSE
Visiting NATO Secretary-General Lord Robertson and Hungarian Prime Minister Peter Medgyessy on 4 September agreed in Budapest that Hungary will have to upgrade its defense capabilities in order to play an active role in NATO, "Nepszabadsag" reported. Robertson and Medgyessy emphasized the need to amend Hungary's constitution to enable the government to respond to international challenges more flexibly. Robertson told reporters, "I am sending a message to Hungarian politicians asking them to provide a less restrictive scope of action for Hungary militarily as quickly as possible, and thus to help the country catch up with its allies." Medgyessy said an agreement on the matter will be sought with the opposition during the fall session of parliament. MSZ
HUNGARIAN OPPOSITION IMPLICATES RULING SOCIALISTS IN K&H SCANDAL
Opposition FIDESZ deputy Ervin Demeter on 4 September implicated Prime Minister Medgyessy in the embezzlement scandal at K&H Equities and said new evidence shows that "the noose is tightening around the Socialists' neck," Hungarian television reported. Speaking at a press conference, Demeter alleged that the company Britton that was involved in the scandal suddenly became a serious player in business right after the Socialist Party's convention of June 2001, at which Medgyessy was chosen as the party's candidate for prime minister. Government spokesman Zoltan Gal said, however, that "neither the government nor any of its members have anything to do with the suspect dealings at the K&H group," "Nepszabadsag" reported. For his part, Britton CEO Csaba Kerek, said his company conducted business with both sides of the political divide and denied Medgyessy's or any other government politician's involvement with the Britton group, the daily reported. MSZ
KOSOVA'S PRIME MINISTER SAYS THERE IS 'NO TURNING BACK...'
Prime Minister Bajram Rexhepi told Reuters in Prishtina on 5 September that Serbia has no future in the province. He stressed that "after the  war, the Serbs have no moral credibility in Kosova. It is not possible to go back. And in the end if we cannot realize our ambitions [to attain independence], we are ready to pay any price for Kosova." Rexhepi added that the international community should provide Kosova with a "road map" for its political future to help ensure stability and security. Blerim Shala, the publisher of the daily "Zeri," told the news agency "the Serbs know they've lost Kosova. But they want to sell it for the highest price. The price is the issue." Shala was perhaps alluding to recent remarks by Serbian Deputy Prime Minister Nebojsa Covic to the effect that if Kosova becomes independent, then the Republika Srpska should also receive the right to self-determination (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 4 September 2003, and "RFE/RL Balkan Report," 1, 15, and 22 August and 5 September 2003). PM
...AS SERBIA AND MONTENEGRO'S PARLIAMENT PASSES A RESOLUTION...
On 4 September, Serbia and Montenegro's parliament approved a resolution submitted by the governing Democratic Opposition of Serbia (DOS) coalition and Montenegro's Democratic Party of Socialists (DPS), reaffirming Belgrade's claim to the province, RFE/RL's South Slavic and Albanian Languages Service reported. DOS deputies Dragan Veselinov and Radoje Prica called on the government to offer partition as an option in future talks on Kosova (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 4 September 2003, and "RFE/RL Balkan Report," 1, 15, and 22 August and 5 September 2003). Serbian Prime Minister Zoran Zivkovic stressed that an independent Kosova is the "dangerous dream of Albanian extremists" that Serbia will never accept. On a recent visit to Washington, he said that "there are three things Serbs cannot stand: an independent Kosovo, NATO, and the United States" (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 6 August 2003). PM
...AND THE INTERNATIONAL CONTACT GROUP DISCUSSES KOSOVA
The 4 September Moscow meeting of the international Contact Group on Kosova apparently did not lead to any new proposals or breakthroughs, simply calling for the early launching of a Belgrade-Prishtina "dialogue" and stating that it is "too early" to address the question of status, RFE/RL's South Slavic and Albanian Languages Service reported (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 4 September 2003). PM
EU TO TAKE OVER BOSNIAN MISSION WITH OR WITHOUT U.S. APPROVAL?
French Defense Minister Michele Alliot-Marie and her German counterpart, Peter Struck, agreed in Strasbourg on 4 September that the EU should speed up preparations to take over peacekeeping in Bosnia from NATO in 2004 despite the U.S. position that NATO should continue its mission there, RFE/RL's South Slavic and Albanian Languages Service reported (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 5 August 2003, and "RFE/RL Balkan Report," 27 June and 5 September 2003). Struck stressed that the EU will indeed take over the mandate in the coming year. The United States has taken a renewed interest in the Balkans since 11 September 2001 because of the region's importance for counterterrorism work. Led by Paris and Berlin, the EU is anxious to develop its own military capacity without the United States. PM
BOSNIAN SERB PLEADS GUILTY TO WAR CRIMES
On 4 September, Dragan Nikolic, who headed the Susica detention camp in eastern Bosnia in 1992, pleaded guilty before the Hague-based war crimes tribunal to four counts of crimes against humanity, Reuters reported. He faced charges of persecution, murder, torture, and allowing guards and soldiers to rape and sexually assault women. He personally killed at least nine Muslim prisoners, including those he beat to death with metal pipes and ax handles. Nikolic originally pleaded not guilty in 2000 but subsequently reached a plea bargain with prosecutors, who have asked for a 16-year sentence in his case. In 1994, he was the first person indicted by the tribunal. PM
MACEDONIA PROMOTES DISARMAMENT CAMPAIGN
On 4 September, the government coordination body in charge of the 1 November-15 December weapons collection project launched a media campaign, "Utrinski vesnik" and MIA news agency reported. The campaign includes TV and radio spots as well as newspaper advertisements. It will address its message to individuals rather than to ethnic communities. At the meeting to launch the campaign, former rebel commander Gezim Ostreni, who now heads the coordination body, explained when and how to hand in the arms at one of the 13 collection points across the country. The rules for the weapons handover were also published in a brochure, which states that between 110,000 and 170,000 of the country's 2 million citizens illegally possess arms, while the number of registered arms is about 140,000. Macedonia experienced internal unrest in 2001 and, like much of the Balkans, is home to an age-old gun culture (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 14 and 31 July 2003). UB
ROMANIAN INTELLIGENCE SERVICE QUERIES EGYPT ON ALLEGED TERRORIST NETWORK
The Romanian Intelligence Service (SRI) on 4 September asked its Egyptian counterpart service to provide details about an alleged terrorist network that reportedly had "bases" in several African and European countries, including Romania, Mediafax reported. Egyptian Interior Minister Habib al-Adli told the weekly "Al-Mossawar" on 4 September that the Egyptian authorities recently liquidated the terrorist network, which was made up of Al-Qaeda sympathizers among students. The SRI said it has, on several occasions, drawn attention to the presence on Romanian territory of groups with terrorist links or terrorist histories. It said the activities of such groups are "strictly" monitored by the SRI and that these groups engage in propaganda, proselytizing, and logistical backing for their organizations. It said it "assumes" that this is what al-Adli had in mind when using the term "bases." MS
ROMANIAN SENATE APPROVES PLEBISCITE ON AMENDED CONSTITUTION
The Senate approved on 4 September a resolution stipulating that a plebiscite on the amended constitution is to be held within 30 days after parliament approves the amendments, Romanian Radio and Mediafax reported. The referendum is to be held on the last Sunday of the 30-day period. The vote was 78 in favor of the resolution and 32 against. A mediation commission has yet to attempt bridging the differences in the formulation of the amendments approved by the lower and the upper houses in June and on 1 September, respectively. If the commission fails to do so, the different versions are to be submitted to the joint vote of the two chambers in an extraordinary session called for this purpose. Approval requires a three-fourths majority. MS
DANISH PREMIER IN ROMANIA
Visiting Danish Prime Minister Anders Fogh Rasmussen said after talks on 4 September with his Romanian counterpart, Adrian Nastase, that Romania is capable of finalizing negotiations for EU accession by 2004 and becoming an EU member in 2007, Mediafax reported. Rasmussen said his country has backed Romania in its double-quest to join NATO and the EU. "There are still many things to be done, but I am impressed by the progress made thus far," the Danish premier said. MS
EU AUDIT TEAM ARRIVES IN ROMANIA
The EU audit team tasked with investigating allegations that EU Integration Minister Hildegard Puwak mishandled EU funds arrived in Romania on 4 September, RFE/RL's Bucharest bureau reported. European Commission representation spokeswoman Angela Filote said the audit team will engage in fact finding, and the information gathered will be evaluated in Brussels at a later stage. No information is to be released before conclusions are reached, she said (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 3 September 2003). MS
ANOTHER 'HUMANIST' PARLIAMENTARIAN DEFECTS IN ROMANIA
Humanist Party (PUR) parliamentary deputy Mihaela Muraru-Mindrea announced on 4 September that she has resigned from the PUR and has joined the ruling Social Democratic Party (PSD), Mediafax reported. Muraru-Mindrea is the fourth PUR lawmaker to do so following a decision of the PUR leadership to end the alliance with the PSD and join the opposition (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 2 September 2003). MS
FOREIGN MINISTER SAYS BULGARIA LACKS RESOURCES FOR ADMINISTRATION IN IRAQ
Foreign Minister Solomon Pasi on 4 September told the private bTV that Bulgaria is not prepared to help with the civilian administration of the regions of Iraq where Bulgarian peacekeepers are stationed. According to Pasi, Bulgaria lacks personnel trained to administer a foreign country. "One needs a certain grade of mentality as an occupation force in order to administer a foreign country and foreign people," Pasi said. "Up to now, our history has not yet cultivated such a mentality." He added that NATO, the UN, and the EU should increase their involvement in Iraq (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 26, 27, and 28 August 2003). UB
BULGARIAN OPPOSITION LEADER ANNOUNCES CANDIDACY FOR SOFIA MAYOR
In what is widely regarded as a surprise move, former Foreign Minister Nadezhda Mihailova, who chairs the conservative opposition Union of Democratic Forces (SDS), announced on 4 September that she will run for mayor of Sofia in the 26 October election, Bulgarian media reported. In July, the SDS withdrew its mayoral candidate amid corruption charges, announcing a new "clean hands" policy. Observers expect that a second round in the mayoral election will be necessary as none of the candidates will be able to garner the necessary majority, "Dnevnik" reported (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 13, 14, 16, and 23 July 2003, and "End Note," "RFE/RL Newsline," 29 July 2003). UB
BULGARIA MAKES COMBATING CRIME ISSUE OF LOCAL ELECTION CAMPAIGN
Upon returning from their summer vacations in early September, Bulgarian politicians presented a bevy of proposals and draft laws designed to curb crime and corruption.
The issue was placed on the government's and the parliament's respective agendas immediately after the summer break by President Georgi Parvanov, who on 29 August demanded swift amendments to the Penal Code and the drafting of laws on the use of so-called Special Intelligence Devices (such as wiretapping equipment) and on the confiscation of illegally acquired property. But the issue is also an excellent campaign topic for the upcoming local elections slated for 26 October.
A spectacular killing in Sofia and the subsequent investigation provided the background for this discussion. On 19 August, masked gunmen sprayed the car of Filip "Fatik" Pavlov Naydenov with machine-gun fire at a busy traffic intersection. Naydenov was allegedly one of the country's leading traders of illegal arms and drugs. Bulgarian media outlets linked Naydenov to controversial businessman Iliya Pavlov, who was shot dead in Sofia on 8 March. The slaying of Naydenov was but the latest in a series of high-profile killings in Bulgaria.
The subsequent investigation into the case ended -- at least for the time being -- as do so many other investigations related to organized crime. After police arrested six suspects in the case on 27 August, a Sofia judge on 31 August released five of them. This prompted an angry reaction from Interior Ministry Chief Secretary Boyko Borisov, who said: "Unreason has taken over this state."
Borisov's main concern was that the judge did not take into account how to protect the main witness in the case. Prosecutor-General Nikola Filchev, however, said the next day, on 1 September, that there was not enough evidence to continue to detain the suspects in the slaying of Naydenov. On this occasion, Filchev proposed limiting civil rights in order to fight crime. "If we analyze the growing number of killings, thefts, rapes, financial fraud and money-laundering cases, what must we do?" Filchev asked. "In any case, [we must not] bolster the rights of the defendants, but the opposite." He added that the 1950 European Convention for the Protection of Human Rights and Fundamental Freedoms was drafted when organized crime was not an issue. "Today, however, there is organized crime, and it has established total control over society," Filchev warned. "A criminal dictatorship is as dangerous as a political one."
Interior Minister Georgi Petkanov, who himself had prepared a series of draft amendments to the Penal Code designed to improve the fight against crime, said on 2 September that he was "not a follower of the idea that one has to limit human rights in order to achieve some other aim." Petkanov's amendments instead aim at more severe penalties for a number of crimes such as the granting access to and leaking of classified information, or crimes typical of organized crime structures such as money laundering or drug or human trafficking.
Following Parvanov's demand, Petkanov also proposed new regulations in the Penal Code for the use of the Special Intelligence Devices in connection with computer-related crimes or trade in dual-use materials. Filchev's proposal was also rebuffed by Prime Minister Simeon Saxecoburggotski, who argued that Bulgaria must strictly adhere to Western European standards. Saxecoburggotski added that he cannot support Filchev's comparison of the situation in Bulgaria to the situation in the United States after the 11 September 2001 terrorist attacks. But at the same time, Saxecoburggotski lent support to Parvanov's proposals.
Most legal experts also criticized Filchev's proposal. Former Prosecutor-General Ivan Tatarchev warned that limiting civil rights would tend to bring back some of the practices of the country's communist era rather than help in the fight against crime. Law Professor Vladimir Dzherov said on Bulgarian National Radio that the rights of the citizens must have first priority. But Dzherov also blamed Filchev and the Interior Ministry for shortcomings in combating criminals. "The Interior Ministry and the other services know very well who the criminal elements in this state are and there is no reason to wiretap Bulgarian citizens," Dzherov said. He also asked: "Why doesn't the prosecutor-general enforce the bills of indictment?"
Regardless of whether Filchev's proposals are taken seriously, they were almost certainly inspired by the results of the investigation into the 12 March assassination of Serbian Prime Minister Zoran Djindjic. Immediately after Djindjic's death, a state of emergency was declared and hundreds of people were arrested. The wave of arrests dealt a major blow to one of the country's most notorious organized-crime structures, the Zemun Clan, which allegedly was behind Djindjic's assassination. Although the "successes" of the Serbian measures -- despite the protests by human rights groups and journalists -- must be tempting for Bulgaria's law-enforcement agencies, they cannot be copied.
Unlike Serbia, Bulgaria has a relatively stable government and stable institutions. It is more important to engage Bulgarian society in a serious and open discussion about the question of how to curb crime and corruption. However, one might be skeptical as to whether an election campaign is the proper time to initiate such a debate.
REPORT SAYS AFGHANISTAN COULD BE CLEAR OF MINES IN 10 YEARS
Afghanistan, the most mine-affected country in the world, could be free from the threat of land mines in 10 years if clearance operations continue at current levels and donor support is sustained, the UN News Service reported on 4 September. This is based on a report published by the Mine Action Program for Afghanistan, which is overseen by the United Nations Mine Action Service. Since the program started in 1989, it has cleared land mines and unexploded ordnance from 754 square kilometers of land. An estimated 850 square kilometers remain affected. According to the UN, an estimated 17,000 deaths or injuries could be averted over 10 years through an accelerated program. A total of $300 million will be needed for the first five years to remove mines and unexploded ordnance from "high-impact areas," the report notes. Another $200 million will be needed in the remaining five years to fully clear the affected areas. TG
DEFENSE REFORMS COULD REDUCE FACTIONAL FIGHTING
Analysts in Central Asia hope that the newly reformed Afghan Defense Ministry will pave the way to genuine disarmament and bring an end to factional fighting that has plagued the north of the country, IRIN reported on 4 September. Plans to reform the Defense Ministry in Afghanistan were finally approved by the country's cabinet this week. "The reforms are intended to create a more equitable ethnic balance within the ministry and encourage national disarmament," Vikram Parekh, a senior analyst with the International Crisis Group, told IRIN, adding that 22 new appointments had been approved by the cabinet, with Defense Minister Marshal Fahim retaining his position. Divisional commanders in several regions, including the Pashtun southeast and the Uzbek regions of the northeast, had said that they would not comply with national disarmament if all of the leadership positions in the Defense Ministry were held by Panjshiri Tajiks, he said. TG
UN CRITICIZES 'EXCESSIVE FORCE' IN AFGHAN EVICTIONS
The United Nations on 4 September criticized the "excessive use of force" by police in evicting 30 families and bulldozing their homes in the Afghan capital, AFP reported on 4 September. Some 30 families, many who had lived in their homes for 30 years, were evicted on 3 September in Shir Pur village near the upmarket Wazir Akbar Khan district of central Kabul, UN spokesman Manoel de Almeida e Silva told reporters. "According to the residents and witnesses, the chief of police of Kabul himself led the operation," de Almeida e Silva said. "Considering the significant deployment of police personnel and equipment it is our view that the police acted with excessive use of force. Such action also created a humanitarian emergency as the houses of these 30 families were bulldozed and many of their belongings destroyed," he said. UN and Afghan Independent Human Rights Commission staff visited the village on 3 September. Both organizations had appealed to the authorities to suspend the clearance operation until a short-term alternative could be offered to the affected families. TG
TEHRAN, AMMAN WELCOME ESTABLISHMENT OF IRAQI GOVERNING COUNCIL
At the end of his visit to Tehran, Jordanian King Abdullah II signed a bilateral statement on 3 September welcoming the establishment of the Iraqi Governing Council, IRNA reported. Other points in the statement include stressing the need to promote security and stability in the region and supporting the idea of a nuclear-free Middle East. There was also customary support for the Palestinians, with the statement calling for the establishment of an independent Palestinian state with Jerusalem as its capital. The two states supported the need for the adoption of common positions by Muslim countries on major international issues. The two countries expressed satisfaction at the results of their joint economic commission meeting and called for the expansion of economic ties. King Abdullah's two-day visit to Tehran was the first by a Jordanian monarch since the Islamic revolution in 1979. During his visit, King Abdullah held meetings with President Hojatoleslam Mohammad Khatami and Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei. King Abdullah was seen off at the airport by Industries and Mines Minister Ishaq Jahangiri. MA
IRANIAN PRESIDENT BLAMES ISRAEL FOR TERRORISM IN IRAQ
President Khatami on 3 September effectively blamed Israel for the escalating instability in Iraq, IRNA reported on 4 September. Speaking to Dubai based Al-Arabiya television, Khatami said that the recent terror attacks are designed to promote instability in Iraq. Khatami said that instability in Iraq serves the interests of the "Zionist" regime. Referring to the "martyrdom" of Supreme Council for the Islamic Revolution in Iraq (SCIRI) leader Ayatollah Muhammad Baqir al-Hakim, Khatami commented that he does not think these major terror attacks are the work of an ordinary group and concluded that they are acts of state terrorism. In a personal tribute to the slain al-Hakim, Khatami said that he was an individual who could have brought democracy, solidarity, and progress to Iraq. Khatami asserted that al-Hakim's assassination was designed to undermine the establishment of security in Iraq. Khatami used the occasion to condemn Operation Iraqi Freedom and the continuing presence of coalition troops in Iraq. He said that what is going on in Iraq is the outcome of the invasion and the continuing presence in the country of "occupying forces." Khatami called for the troops' withdrawal and the handover of power to the Iraqi people. MA
EUROPEAN OIL COMPANIES CONTINUE ACTIVITIES IN IRAN
British Petroleum (BP) and the Anglo-Dutch conglomerate Royal Dutch Shell will continue their activities in Iran despite the closure of the British Embassy as a result of the 3 September shooting incident there, IRNA reported on 3 September (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 4 September 2003). The incident follows rising tensions in British-Iranian relations following the arrest of former Iranian Ambassador to Argentina Hadi Suleimanpur on suspicion of involvement in the 1994 bombing of a Jewish center in Buenos Aires. This news is a relief for the Iranian oil industry, which is currently doing business with the two energy giants. BP, which restarted its activities in Iran in 1997, hopes to win the tender for the development of phase 11 of the South Pars gas-fields project. Moreover, Shell is a major contributor to the Sorush and Noruz oil-fields project and is keen to be involved in the development of phases 13 and 14 of the South Pars venture. MA
IRAN UNDECIDED ON DOWNGRADING RELATIONS WITH BRITAIN
Vice President for Legal and Parliamentary Affairs Hojatoleslam Mohammad Ali Abtahi said that no decision has been made on whether to downgrade diplomatic relations with the U.K., ISNA reported on 4 September. Abtahi made this comment after the return to Tehran of the Iranian ambassador to the U.K., Morteza Sarmadi, following the British detention of the former ambassador to Argentina, Suleimanpur. Abtahi commented that negotiations are continuing with the U.K. to resolve outstanding issues. Abtahi said that recent negotiations between an Iranian legal delegation and Argentinean authorities regarding the 1994 bombing and Suleimanpur's detention had not been successful. Commenting on tensions in relations with several countries, particularly the U.K. and Argentina, Abtahi asserted that improving relations with the outside world could best safeguard the rights of Iran. Referring to other foreign policy matters, Abtahi said that Iranian-Jordanian relations have entered a new phase following the visit of King Abdullah. MA
GUNMEN OPEN FIRE ON BAGHDAD MOSQUE
Three unidentified gunmen opened fire on a Sunni mosque in Baghdad on 5 September, Al-Jazeera Television reported. The incident occurred when the gunmen fired automatic weapons on some 30-40 worshippers exiting the Al-Qib'a mosque following dawn prayers, CNN reported. Three Iraqis reportedly were injured in the incident, one critically. The mosque is located in the Shi'ite dominated neighborhood of Al-Sha'b. KR
AL-QAEDA DENIES ROLE IN AL-HAKIM ASSASSINATION
Osama bin Laden's Al-Qaeda organization issued a statement to "Al-Hayat" through its correspondent in Islamabad denying the group had any role in the assassination of Iraqi Shi'ite cleric Muhammad Baqir al-Hakim (see "RFE/RL Iraq Report," 29 August 2003) and instead claimed that the British government was behind the killing, as part of a "divide and rule" policy, the daily reported on 4 September. The statement warned the Iraqi people of "malicious schemes to embroil them in internal conflicts," and called on all Muslims in Iraq "not to be carried away by these schemes that aim to deflect the course of resisting the crusader-Jewish occupation of Iraq." KR
IRAQI AND TURKISH FOREIGN MINISTERS DISAGREE ON TROOPS
Iraqi Foreign Minister Hoshyar Zebari told CNN Turk on 4 September that Iraqis are opposed to the possibility of Turkish troops being stationed in northern Iraq. "I was given a guarantee by the Americans that the Turkish troops will not be stationed in the north. If they come, they will be assigned to the center," Zebari said. "We do not want them, but the final decision rests with the United States." He noted that some Iraqis believe that Turkey has a larger agenda to gain control over northern Iraq. "None of Iraq's neighbors should assume any peacekeeping task in Iraq," Zebari said. Turkish Foreign Minister Abdullah Gul responded to Zebari's statements on 4 September, telling the Anatolia news agency the "foreign minister or others should not talk without thinking and [causing] problems, saying 'Iraqis don't want Turks'...If they need stability there, they should invite the countries which will contribute to that." He later added that: "Zebari is not only the foreign minister of Kurds, but of Iraq. He should talk as the foreign minister of Iraq. Ministers are not the representatives of their own regions, ethnic structures, they are representatives of all of Iraq." KR
RUSSIA HINTS IT MIGHT SEND TROOPS TO IRAQ
Russian officials have hinted that their country will support a U.S. draft resolution on Iraq as long as it provides for a greater UN role in that country's rebuilding. Defense Minister Sergei Ivanov told reporters on 4 September that Russia might be open to contributing troops to a multinational force in Iraq in the near future, AP reported on 5 September. Ivanov said Russia's decision will be contingent upon the final version of the U.S.-proposed draft resolution. "Everything depends on the unity of opinion in the UN Security Council on whether it will be really able to influence the development of the situation in Iraq," he said. Foreign Minister Igor Ivanov told reporters in Tashkent on 5 September that "Russia has always supported the soonest possible restoration of Iraq's sovereignty and the establishment of legitimate power bodies in that country for solving all problems of postwar reconstruction, including security problems," Interfax reported. "Moscow has always wanted the UN to play the key role in this process in Iraq," he added. President Vladimir Putin said on 30 August that Russia would contribute troops under a U.S. command if the Security Council approved such a measure. KR
FRENCH FOREIGN MINISTER COMMENTS ON UN DRAFT RESOLUTION
French Foreign Minister Dominique de Villepin told "Le Figaro" in an interview published on 5 September that France does not accept the proposed UN resolution as presented by the United States, but said his country would work within the Security Council to reach an agreement on the draft (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 4 September 2003). "The U.S. draft reflects a stronger resolve to act within the UN framework. This is a move in the right direction. Nevertheless this text does not fundamentally alter the existing framework: It remains essentially based on a security rationale that takes inadequate account of the political need to restore sovereignty to Iraq swiftly by transferring executive power to its institutions. France regards this as the precondition for setting Iraq moving again," he said. Asked what France will seek to change in the draft, Villepin said, "France's belief is that it is necessary to proceed immediately to the devolution of political power to the Iraqis. This really is the starting point." Villepin said France is not ready to contribute troops to Iraq. "If there is to be a multinational force, it must therefore be at the service of the new Iraqi authorities," he said. KR