FOREIGN MINISTRY HOPES ROAD MAP WILL SURVIVE PALESTINIAN PRIME MINISTER'S RESIGNATION...
The Foreign Ministry reacted to the 6 September resignation of Palestinian Prime Minister Mahmud Abbas by expressing the hope that the new Palestinian government will adopt a responsible course and continue to follow the road map peace plan, which calls for establishing a Palestinian state by 2005, Interfax reported on 8 September. Ministry spokesman Aleksandr Yakovenko said the change in the Palestinian Authority's leadership is taking place against "a highly alarming regional background" of Palestinian terrorist attacks and harsh Israeli actions, and that among the most pressing tasks was taking decisive action against "extremists," an apparent reference to Hamas and Islamic Jihad. Yakovenko also criticized calls by several Israeli cabinet ministers for the expulsion Palestinian President Yasser Arafat. JB
...AS LEADING DUMA DEPUTY EXPRESSES SUPPORT FOR PALESTINIAN LEADER
Dmitrii Rogozin, chairman of the State Duma's Foreign Affairs Committee, said former Prime Minister Abbas's resignation was less a result of his weakness than of Arafat's "astute planning," Interfax reported on 8 September. Rogozin called Arafat an "irreplaceable figure" in efforts to settle the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. "Arafat has opted for an extremely wise, and, I would say, centrist position in the Palestinian movement, and has regained positions many thought he had lost," Rogozin said. Arafat has nominated Palestinian Parliament Speaker Ahmad Korei to replace Abbas.
FOREIGN MINISTRY SAYS UN RESOLUTION ON IRAQ NEEDS 'SUBSTANTIAL' REVISION...
Deputy Foreign Minister Yurii Fedotov said that a majority of the UN Security Council members feel the ideas contained in a U.S.-proposed resolution on Iraq need "clarification and revision," some of it "very substantial," Russian and international media reported on 8 September. Fedotov said that "in principle" a meeting of Security Council foreign ministers about the resolution "could be useful," but "a lot of work needs to be done" to bring the positions of the Security Council members closer together to ensure that such a meeting would produce results. Fedotov's comments followed those of Foreign Minister Igor Ivanov, who said on 5 September that while the U.S. draft needs some serious revisions, it reflects principles that Russia has long held (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 8 September 2003). Prime Minister Mikhail Kasyanov said on 8 September during a visit to Budapest that he hopes an agreement on a resolution strengthening the role of the UN in Iraq will be reached in the near future, Interfax reported. JB
...AS UN AMBASSADOR COMPARES U.S. IN IRAQ TO THE SOVIET UNION IN AFGHANISTAN
In an interview with "Izvestiya" on 8 September, Russian Ambassador to the UN Sergei Lavrov called for the development of a "concrete program" or "road map" for rebuilding Iraq. Such a program, he said, would spell out a timetable for "creating a provisional government, forming a constitutional assembly, preparing a constitution," and holding elections for "a permanent government recognized by the world." He also said the situation in Iraq is getting worse day by day, claiming that if the current rate of coalition troop losses in Iraq were to continue over the same length of time that Soviet forces were in Afghanistan (approximately a decade), the number of soldiers killed in action would roughly equal the 13,000 Soviet troops killed in Afghanistan. Lavrov downplayed the possibility that Russia might dispatch combat forces as part of a peacekeeping force in Iraq, but suggested that it might get involved in such activities as training Iraqi police. On 4 September, Defense Minister Sergei Ivanov said it is possible Russia could send peacekeeping forces to Iraq under a UN mandate (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 8 September 2003). JB
INTERIOR MINISTER SAYS MOSCOW 'TERRORIST NETWORK' UNCOVERED
Boris Gryzlov said on 8 September that investigators probing the 5 July suicide bombing at a rock concert in Moscow and a bomb blast outside a downtown Moscow cafe four days later have uncovered an "organized-crime group constituting a terrorist network," Interfax reported on 8 September. The rock-concert attack killed 15 people, while the blast in downtown Moscow killed a Federal Security Service bomb-disposal expert who was trying to defuse an explosive device dropped by suspected female bomber (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 7, 10, and 11 July 2003). Gryzlov, who was on a working visit to Perm, said that practically all those involved in the network have been identified, and some have been detained, while others were still being sought. JB
ARCHITECT OF RUSSIAN ECONOMIC REFORM TAPPED TO HELP IRAQI ECONOMY...
Yegor Gaidar, the former Yeltsin-era acting prime minister who was the architect of Russia's first post-Soviet economic-reform program, has been invited by the U.S.-led coalition authority in Iraq to help develop an economic-reform plan there, Russian and international media reported on 8 September. Gaidar, a co-founder of the Union of Rightist Forces (SPS) political party, told an SPS congress in Moscow that many of Iraq's current problems were "created by the collapse of a totalitarian regime that had a high level of state participation in the economy." Thus, the situation has "parallels with the histories and practices of post-socialist countries," "The Moscow Times" reported on 9 September. The U.S.-led coalition authority, he said, wants "to work out how to minimize the risks and privatize the economic system in the shortest period possible." Gaidar told the newspaper that he received the invitation on 5 September and had not yet discussed plans with U.S. administration officials. He said that "time will tell" if he will quit his work in Russia to advise the U.S.-led coalition authority in Iraq full-time. JB
...ELICITING CONTRASTING RESPONSES FROM FRIENDS AND FOES
Yegor Gaidar's economic reforms in Russia, which critics charge amounted to lots of "shock" and little "therapy," remain controversial, so it is no surprise that the news of his invitation to help develop Iraq's economic reforms sparked a mixed response. Yevgenii Yasin, the former Yeltsin-era economic minister and godfather of Russia's liberal economists, said the invitation is recognition of Gaidar's accomplishments, "Vedomosti" reported on 9 September. "In his time, advisers came to us because it was thought that we had no economists at that level, and now Gaidar is considered the best," Yasin said. But in an interview with opec.ru posted on 8 September, Mikhail Delyagin, who stepped down last month as Prime Minister Kasyanov's economic adviser, said: "Gaidar represented American interests in Russia, and very effectively. When it is said that Gaidar's liberal reform was ineffective, that's not true: it was super-effective. You just have to take into consideration that it was carried out not in the interests of this country, but in those of another country." As a result of Gaidar's reforms, the United States was left with one less competitor, Delyagin asserted. JB
SPS CONGRESS CONFIRMS TOP CANDIDATES...
The SPS confirmed its plans for the State Duma elections at its party congress in Moscow on 8 September, Russian media reported. As expected, delegates confirmed that the top three candidates on the SPS party list will be SPS leader Boris Nemtsov, Duma Deputy Speaker Irina Khakamada, and Unified Energy Systems (EES) head Anatolii Chubais. The inclusion marks a shift in strategy from 1999, when the newly formed SPS kept the controversial figures Chubais and former acting Prime Minister Gaidar out of prominent spots on the party list. SPS press secretary Yelena Dikun told Interfax that the congress agreed not to nominate candidates in single-mandate districts that have been "prioritized" by Grigorii Yavlinskii's Yabloko party. Yabloko's party congress on 7 September adopted an appeal urging the SPS to coordinate candidates with Yabloko in 50 of Russia's 225 single-mandate districts, "Kommersant-Daily" reported on 8 September. LB
...AS DOES LDPR CONGRESS
Vladimir Zhirinovskii will top the party list of his Liberal Democratic Party of Russia (LDPR) in this year's Duma elections, an LDPR congress in Moscow confirmed on 8 September, Russian media reported. Zhirinovskii also headed the LDPR list in the 1993 and 1995 Duma elections, but in 1999 he led the Zhirinovskii Bloc instead after the LDPR was struck from the ballot. The second and third candidates on the LDPR list will be the relatively obscure Colonel Pavel Chernov of the Federal Security Service reserves and Aleksei Ostrovskii, an aide to the LDPR's Duma faction, Russian media reported. RTR quoted Zhirinovsky as saying that LDPR Duma Deputy Aleksei Mitrofanov will run for mayor of Moscow in an election that will also be held on 7 December. LB
GLAZEV RECRUITS COMRADES FOR LEFT PATRIOTIC UNION
Duma Deputy Sergei Glazev continues to enlist members in his new left-patriotic bloc, to be called Comrade, REN-TV reported on 8 September. Former Central Bank Chairman Viktor Gerashchenko and former Yabloko member Vyacheslav Igrunov have agreed to join the bloc. Igrunov was long considered the leading representative of the "social-democratic" wing of Yabloko, and he left that party in 2001, forming the Union of People for Education and Science in 2002. However, Glazev has failed to persuade the Communist Party to join his bloc, which will hold a founding conference on 14 September. During the 1999 Duma campaign, Glazev was the No. 3 candidate on the KPRF list. LB
ONLY IN RUSSIA?
Liberals and Republicans will campaign together for the Duma now that Liberal Russia co-chairman Viktor Pokhmelkin has joined forces with former Finance Minister Boris Fedorov's Republican Party, "Vremya novostei" reported on 8 September. Their electoral bloc, which also includes the Movement of Car Drivers of Russia, will be called New Course-Automotive Russia. Pokhmelkin and Fedorov will be the second and third candidates on the party list, respectively. According to "Vremya novostei," they are seeking a leader from some other organization to fill the top slot. Pokhmelkin optimistically predicted that his bloc could finish third because Russia has 30 million car owners and 50 million drivers. However, speaking to "Vremya novostei," Institute of Strategic Forecasting President Aleksandr Konovalov pointed out that the Beer Lovers' Party, which ran for the Duma in 1995, failed to convert Russians' widespread love of beer into votes. Even assuming the bloc of Pokhmelkin and Fedorov remains marginal, it could damage the SPS and Yabloko by drawing support from the "democratic" wing of Russia's political spectrum. LB
LUKOIL CHIEF UNCONCERNED ABOUT DUMA ELECTIONS
The partly state-owned company LUKoil has not endorsed any of the groups running for the Duma because it has all the political access it needs at the federal and regional levels, according to LUKoil chief executive Vagit Alekperov. In an interview with "Kommersant-Daily" on 8 September, Alekperov said he cannot recall "a single instance" when LUKoil personnel were unable to arrange an essential meeting with the prime minister or a government department head. "In general, there has never been and is not a wall between big business and the authorities in Russia," he said. "The heads of large industrial holdings always are able to advance their points of view, including at meetings with the president." Alekperov met with President Putin in Sochi on 6 September. In contrast to LUKoil, embattled oil giant Yukos reportedly has placed four of its executives on the list of the Communist Party (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 8 September 2003) and has recommended four candidates for the Yabloko party list as well, "Kommersant-Daily" reported on 8 September. LB
ELECTION COMMISSION CHAIRMAN COMMENTS ON CAMPAIGN SO FAR
Central Election Commission (TsIK) Chairman Aleksandr Veshnyakov announced on 8 September that six days after the official start to the Duma campaign, the TsIK has not received a single complaint about alleged violations of electoral legislation by any candidates, RIA-Novosti reported. Veshnyakov said that between three and five groups planning to run for the Duma might not receive free access to state-run media because they never reimbursed state media organs for the time provided during the 1999 Duma elections. The parliamentary-election law in place during the 1999 campaign required blocs gaining less than 2 percent of the party-list vote and candidates gaining less than 3 percent in single-mandate districts to reimburse media for those costs (see "RFE/RL Russian Election Report," 5 November 1999). LB
HIGH-PROFILE TALK SHOWS NO LONGER LIVE
Prominent political talk shows on state-controlled ORT and the Gazprom-controlled network NTV are no longer broadcasting live, although the shows retain production elements that suggest live broadcasts, regions.ru and lenta.ru reported on 8 September, citing the daily "Gazeta." "Basic Instinct," hosted by Svetlana Sorokina on ORT, and "Free Speech," hosted by Savik Shuster on NTV, compete directly against one another. However, viewers on 4 September could watch "Zavtra" editor in chief Aleksandr Prokhanov and journalist Aleksandr Privalov on both shows at the same time. Prokhanov told "Gazeta" that Sorokina and Shuster told him the shows had to be taped in advance to ensure compliance with legal restrictions on coverage of the parliamentary campaign (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 2 September 2003). However, Sorokina has said publicly that her show is now being taped in advance solely to allow it to air at the same local time in all of Russia's time zones. Following the "Kursk" submarine disaster of August 2000, the RTR program "Press Club" began to be taped, despite maintaining the appearance of a live broadcast, prompting some journalists to accuse network executives of censoring the program. LB
ARMENIAN TAX OFFICIAL DISMISSED AFTER ALLEGEDLY ASSAULTING POLICE OFFICER
Armenian state tax collection agency deputy chief Manvel Yeganian was fired on 8 September after reportedly assaulting a senior police officer over the alleged mistreatment of a relative while in police custody, according to RFE/RL's Yerevan bureau. The assault on the police chief of the southern Vayots Dzor region, Mikael Sardarian, allegedly occurred late last month and was linked to the arrest of Yeganian's nephew in the resort town of Jermuk. The nephew was allegedly beaten by Sardarian, a case that led to the dismissal of the police chief by the country's most senior police official, Hayk Harutiunian. Police brutality and abuse of power are fairly common, with law enforcement officers known to use force regularly to extract testimony or confessions. The most widely known case occurred in July 2002, when a parliamentarian belonging to Prime Minister Markarian's Republican Party was reportedly subjected to illegally detention and beaten by several officers acting on the orders of former Yerevan police chief Ashot Gizirian. That incident was never seriously investigated, and Gizirian went on to be appointed as the head of the Armenian interior ministry's special unit combating organized crime, terrorism, and drug trafficking. RG
ARMENIAN PARLIAMENT CONSIDERS DEATH-PENALTY BAN...
The Armenian parliament reconvened on 8 September and began debate on Protocol 6 of the European Convention on Human Rights abolishing capital punishment, Yerkir and RFE/RL's Yerevan bureau reported. Ratification seems assured, as it is strongly supported by Justice Minister Davit Harutiunian and parliament Legal Affairs Committee Chairman Rafik Petrosian. Late last month, parliament speaker Artur Baghdasarian assured the Council of Europe that Armenia will ratify the protocol and deputy speaker Tigran Torosian said that parliament will abolish a legal loophole that provides for capital punishment in exceptional circumstances (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 25 August 2003). That loophole was specifically drafted to allow the execution of the five defendants currently on trial for the 1999 attack on the Armenian parliament and killing of senior government officials, if they are convicted. RG
...AS OPPOSITION ENDS PARLIAMENTARY BOYCOTT
Members of the opposition Artarutiun (Justice) bloc ended their boycott of parliamentary proceedings and attended the opening session of the Armenian parliament on 8 September, RFE/RL's Yerevan bureau and Yerkir reported. Artarutyun, which is led by Stepan Demirchian, and Artashes Geghamian's National Unity Party refused to attend the opening sessions of the new legislature in June to protest the contested May 2003 parliamentary election. Artarutyun deputy Victor Dallakian on 8 September presented the opposition bloc's legislative agenda, which includes measures to protect low-income families against utility-rates increases and providing their schoolchildren with free textbooks. With only 25 of the 131 parliamentary seats held by the opposition, the pro-government majority declined to include either initiative on parliament's legislative agenda. RG
ARMENIAN FAST-FOOD OUTLETS CITED AS ENDANGERING PUBLIC HEALTH
A study released on 8 September by the Yerevan-based non-profit Association of Armenian Consumers revealed a serious threat to public health from fast-food outlets operating in the Armenian capital, according to Armenpress. The study, based on a survey of several hundred fast-food enterprises, found that about 200 of them failed to conform to even minimal health requirements and warned of a serious danger of food poisoning among unsuspecting consumers. The report's findings included blatant health violations such as "no running water," "ingredients not washed with hot water," and virtually "none of the staff being certified by a medical examination." The consumer group is seeking to raise public awareness of the problem and is attempting to force municipal authorities to convene a public hearing on the enforcement of public-health regulations. RG
AZERBAIJANI PREMIER BEGINS VISIT TO TURKEY
Azerbaijani Prime Minister Ilham Aliev met with Turkish President Ahmet Nejdet Sezer and other senior officials in Ankara on 8 September during a brief working visit, ANS and "Baku Today" reported. Meeting with Turkish Prime Minister Rejep Tayip Erdogan and Foreign Minister Abdullah Gul, Aliev presented his plans for expanding bilateral relations and concluded negotiations over a modification of visa fees between the two countries. The Turkish officials also briefed Aliev and Azerbaijani State Oil Company (SOCAR) President Natik Aliev (no relation to the prime minister) on the current status of financing for the nearly $3 billion Baku-Tbilisi-Ceyhan pipeline project. Some media reports revealed that Prime Minister Aliev also discussed President Heidar Aliev's possible return to Ankara's Gulhane military hospital in Ankara following treatment in the United States. The 80-year old president, who is Prime Minister Aliev's father, is currently undergoing treatment for heart and kidney ailments at a clinic in Cleveland, Ohio. RG
AZERBAIJAN OFFERS TO RESUME TALKS WITH TURKMENISTAN OVER DIVIDING THE CASPIAN SEA
Azerbaijani Deputy Foreign Minister Khalaf Khalafov offered on 8 September to resume bilateral negotiations with Turkmenistan on the division of the Caspian Sea, according to ITAR-TASS. Khalafov explained that "it is vitally important for both sides to agree on the middle line demarcating the Caspian Sea," and called for talks to resolve the status of two disputed offshore Caspian oil fields. Khalafov made the proposal at the opening meeting of the 11th session of the working group for the preparation of the Convention on the Legal Status of the Caspian Sea in the Turkmen capital Ashgabat. Talks between the two countries over the Caspian broke down in May 2001, although three of the five littoral states -- Russia, Kazakhstan, and Azerbaijan -- reached a trilateral agreement on demarcation issues in May 2003. The working group is expected to forge a new framework convention for the protection of biological resources of the Caspian Sea during its meeting. RG
AZERBAIJANI DEBATE ENDS ABRUPTLY AFTER BRAWL
A debate between representatives of the opposition Azerbaijani Popular Front party and a pro-government party ended abruptly on 6 September after a brawl broke out between the participants, Reuters reported. The debate, televised live before a national audience, was ended after Fuad Mustafayev, debating on behalf of the Popular Front's presidential candidate, insulted pro-government Modern Musavat Party contender Hafiz Hadjiyev and a brawl erupted after the two hurled water at one another. Television officials immediately cut the live coverage of the debate. RG
FORMER GEORGIAN OFFICIAL COMMITS TO PRO-GOVERNMENT BLOC
President Eduard Shevardnadze praised former State Minister Vazha Lortkipanidze during his weekly radio address on 8 September after Lortkipanidze's announcement that he will join the pro-government For New Georgia electoral bloc, Civil Georgia and "The Georgian Times" reported. Lortkipanidze's announcement followed a recent meeting between Shevardnadze and controversial Tbilisi-based millionaire Badri Patarkatsishvili, who promised to finance the bloc's election campaign. Patarkatsishvili, a close friend of Lortkipanidze, is a former aide to Russian tycoon Boris Berezovskii who returned to Georgia from Russia in 2001. Since his move to Georgia, he has acquired an influential media empire, including a radio and television company, a daily newspaper, and a news agency. Prior to his appointment as state minister in 1998, Lortkipanidze served as ambassador to Russia and reportedly has strong ties to much of the Russian political elite. RG
MULTINATIONAL MILITARY EXERCISES UNDER WAY IN GEORGIA
A two-week multinational military exercise opened in Georgia on 8 September, "The Georgian Times" and Civil Georgia reported. Georgian Defense Minister Davit Tevzadze, U.S. Ambassador to Georgia Richard Miles, and NATO officials opened the Rescuer/Mediceur 2003 NATO Partnership for Peace program exercise at the Vaziani military base outside of Tbilisi. The exercise involves medical training and military search-and-rescue tactical operations for more than 700 troops from Albania, Bulgaria, Estonia, Germany, Moldova, Turkey, Ukraine, and the United States. Military planners will form a multinational task force of participating troops to respond to a simulated disaster and seek to improve military interoperability through combined humanitarian and disaster-relief operations. RG
KAZAKH NGOS WANT LAW ON PUBLIC ORGANIZATIONS REVISED
During a conference of Almaty-based nongovernmental organizations on 5 September that designated representatives to attend a national Civic Forum in October, participants voiced sharp criticism of the government's indifference to civil society, khabar.kz reported. Municipal officials replied that they would like to help NGOs, but existing legislation does not permit this. Some of the NGO representatives complained that public organizations are not included in the drafting of new laws and that when NGOs offer suggestions, they are not taken seriously. Many NGOs have said they intend to call on the government during the Civic Forum to strengthen the legal status of public organizations, and they expect the forum to define the role of such organizations in society. BB
KAZAKHSTAN WANTS TO SEND MORE PEACEKEEPERS TO IRAQ
Kazakh Foreign Minister Qasymzhomart Toqaev told a meeting of Kazakhstan's foreign-policy consultative council on 6 September that the country's leadership would like to send more peacekeepers to Iraq, Interfax-Kazakhstan reported on 8 September. He was quoted as saying that the participation of a Kazakh peacekeeping contingent in the stabilization process will involve the country in the settlement of a global problem, a very important consideration in the context of current international policy. At present, Kazakhstan has a 27-person peacekeeping group in Iraq, working on digging water wells and removing land mines (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 20 August 2003). Toqaev also told the council that the United Nations needs reform, calling in particular for the enlargement of the Security Council and the revision of the system of five permanent members with veto powers. According to Toqaev, recent events in Iraq have made it clear that smaller states cannot make their voices heard in the UN. BB
KYRGYZ, CHINESE FOREIGN MINISTERS SIGN COOPERATION TREATY...
Kyrgyz Foreign Minister Askar Aitmatov and his Chinese counterpart Li Zhaoxing signed a treaty of cooperation and friendship on 6 September during Li's official visit to Bishkek, kabar.kg and Interfax reported on 8 September. Aitmatov told journalists after the signing that Kyrgyzstan and China have identical positions on a wide range of political and economic issues, and he praised China's contribution to regional security through the Shanghai Cooperation Organization (SCO). Kyrgyzstan is particularly interested in attracting Chinese participation in developing Kyrgyz hydroelectric capacity and transportation and communications networks. The two sides also pledged cooperation in the fight against international terrorism, noting particularly the East Turkestan movement, which China considers a terrorist group. BB
...AND TRANSFER OF SCO ANTITERRORISM CENTER TO UZBEKISTAN EXPLAINED
Foreign Minister Aitmatov explained to journalists after his meeting with Chinese Foreign Minister Li in Bishkek on 6 September the reasons for Kyrgyzstan's apparently passive acceptance of Uzbekistan's demand that the SCO regional antiterrorism center be located in Tashkent rather than in Bishkek, as originally planned, kabar.kg reported on 8 September. According to Aitmatov, the Kyrgyz request that the center be set up in Bishkek was made in 2000, in the wake of incursions into Kyrgyzstan by Islamic militants in 1999 and 2000. But since the U.S.-led antiterrorism coalition has been so successful in eliminating terrorist bases in Afghanistan that Kyrgyzstan is no longer directly threatened with extremist incursions. Now Uzbekistan is more "sensitive" to extremism than Kyrgyzstan is, Aitmatov said. BB
FOUR KYRGYZ PRO-GOVERNMENT PARTIES MERGE
Four pro-government political parties in Kyrgyzstan -- Jany Zaman (New Times), Manas El, Jany Kyymyl (New Movement), and the Party of Cooperators -- have merged under the name Alga, Kyrgyzstan (Forward, Kyrgyzstan), kabar.kg and akipress.org reported on 8 September. The chairman of the new party's political council is Bolot Begaliev, who formerly headed Jany Zaman. He told a news conference that the name of the party was determined at a recent congress at which the merger of the four parties was agreed upon. Begaliev estimated that the new party has about 40,000 members throughout the country. He added that Alga, Kyrgyzstan intends to focus on building a strong and democratic country, with an emphasis on decentralization and the development of local government. Other parties sharing the same goals have been invited to join the new organization. BB
NONGOVERNMENTAL ALLIANCE AGAINST CORRUPTION FORMED IN KYRGYZSTAN
Kyrgyz civil society activist Tolekan Ismailova, head of the NGO Civil Society Against Corruption, told journalists on 7 September that a nongovernmental Alliance of Democratic Forces for the Struggle Against Corruption has been formed in Kyrgyzstan, RFE/RL's Kyrgyz Service and Deutsche Welle reported on 7 and 8 September, respectively. Ismailova said the alliance comprises several political parties, NGOs, well-known politicians, and independent journalists. Because the alliance is a voluntary association, it does not have to register with the Justice Ministry. The Kyrgyz opposition has little faith in government-sponsored efforts to curb the corruption that has caused the World Bank and IMF to designate Kyrgyzstan as the most corrupt of the seven poorest CIS states. According to the World Bank, 70 percent of foreign loans to Kyrgyzstan are lost because of corruption, and President Askar Akaev has said that the high level of corruption is killing the country's democratic transformation and represents one of the worst threats to its security. BB
11TH SESSION ON LEGAL STATUS OF CASPIAN BEGINS IN ASHGABAT
The 11th session of the special working group on the legal status of the Caspian Sea began in Ashgabat on 8 September, turkmenistan.ru and Russian media reported. According to turkmenistan.ru, there was general agreement among the representatives of the five Caspian littoral states -- Azerbaijan, Iran, Turkmenistan, Kazakhstan, and Russia -- on technical issues, but there are still differences between the positions of the five. Turkmenistan.ru reported on 9 September that session participants intend to complete the second reading of a draft Convention on the Legal Status of the Caspian Sea on 9 September. BB
BELARUSIAN OPPOSITION CREATES CONSULTATIVE BODY
Five opposition parties -- the United Civic Party (AHP), the Belarusian Party of Communists, the Belarusian Popular Front, the Belarusian Party of Labor, and the Belarusian Social Democratic Assembly -- and several nongovernmental organizations set up a consultative council at a meeting in Vilnius on 6-7 September, Belapan reported on 8 September, quoting the AHP press service. The declared purpose of the council is to coordinate efforts of political parties, NGOs, and independent trade unions in advance of the 2004 parliamentary election and to prevent President Alyaksandr Lukashenka from running for a third term. JM
IMF OFFICIAL WARNS BELARUS AGAINST POSSIBLE GAS-PRICE HIKE BY GAZPROM
Thomas Richardson, who headed an IMF mission to Belarus on 1-8 September, told journalists in Minsk on 8 September that a sharp increase in the price of Russian natural gas by Gazprom could have negative effects on Belarus's economy, Belapan reported. Richardson was commenting on Gazprom's recently announced intention to stop selling Belarus natural gas at the subsidized price of $29 for 1,000 cubic meters (see "RFE/RL Poland, Belarus, and Ukraine Report," 9 September 2003). Richardson stressed that the impact on Belarus's balance of payments would be very serious if Gazprom raised the price to $80 per 1,000 cubic meters, which is the amount that Poland pays. JM
OUR UKRAINE ACCUSES COMMUNISTS OF SPLITTING OPPOSITION
Yuriy Kostenko, head of the Ukrainian Popular Rukh which is a constituent of Viktor Yushchenko's Our Ukraine bloc, has accused the Communist Party of splitting the opposition by supporting a new political-reform draft proposed by the presidential administration, UNIAN reported on 8 September, quoting the Ukrainian Popular Rukh press service. "By cooperating with the presidential administration in the constitutional-reform issue, the Communist Party is destroying the democratic opposition in Ukraine," Kostenko said. Last week the parliament registered a political-reform draft law that 254 lawmakers from the pro-presidential majority and the Communist Party reportedly support (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 8 September 2003). In April, Our Ukraine, the Communist Party, the Socialist Party, and the Yuliya Tymoshenko Bloc signed a memorandum pledging to pool efforts to implement their own version of political reform in Ukraine (see "RFE/RL Poland, Belarus, and Ukraine Report," 15 April 2003). JM
UKRAINE OFFERS ODESA-BRODY PIPELINE TO FOREIGN PARTNERS
Ukrtransnafta has invited authorities and companies in Russia, Kazakhstan, Azerbaijan, and Uzbekistan to provide 380,000-420,000 tons of technological oil next month for the Odessa-Brody pipeline, Interfax reported on 8 September, quoting the Ukrtransnafta press service. The purpose of the decision is "to bring the Odesa-Brody pipeline into use immediately after the [Ukrainian] government has chosen the direction for the transport of oil along the pipeline" so as to avert the threat of damage to the pipeline this autumn and winter. Earlier this year, Russia urged Ukraine to use the Odesa-Brody pipeline in the "reverse mode," that is, for pumping Russian oil from Brody to Odesa. Kyiv has not yet made a decision on this issue (see "RFE/RL Poland, Belarus, and Ukraine Report," 29 July 2003). JM
UKRAINE, U.S. SIGN MEMORANDUM ON USAID PROGRAM IN 2003
Ukrainian Economy Minister Valeriy Khoroshkovskyy and Christopher Crowley, director of the U.S. Agency for International Development's (USAID) Regional Mission for Ukraine, Moldova and Belarus, signed an intergovernmental memorandum in Kyiv on 8 September, Interfax reported. The memorandum calls for $150 million to be spent in Ukraine under a USAID program in 2003. Crowley said the money will finance projects implemented jointly with Ukrainian organizations to step up the country's economic development, reforms in the banking sector, and preparations for the accession to the World Trade Organization. JM
ESTONIA, UKRAINE SIGN DEFENSE-COOPERATION AGREEMENT
Estonian Defense Minister Margus Hanson and his Ukrainian counterpart, Yevhen Marchuk, signed an eight-article agreement on defense cooperation between their ministries in Tallinn on 8 September, BNS reported. The cooperation will focus primarily on legal counseling and the exchange of experience in defense-force reform, NATO membership, and international peacekeeping missions. Marchuk said that Ukraine wants to join NATO and is planning to reduce its armed forces and bring their structure into line with NATO standards. Marchuk also met with parliament National Defense Committee Chairman Sven Mikser and President Arnold Ruutel, and visited the Estonian-Ukrainian Society. He is scheduled to travel to Tartu on 9 September to visit the Baltic Defense College. SG
LATVIA POSTS 1.1 PERCENT DEFLATION IN AUGUST
The Central Statistics Committee announced on 8 September that in August the consumer price index (CPI) in Latvia declined by 1.1 percent compared to July, LETA reported. The price of goods fell by 1.5 percent while the price of services rose by 0.2 percent. Compared with August 2002, the growth in the CPI was 3.5 percent -- 3.9 percent for goods and 2 percent for services. This is considerably higher than the corresponding 1.1 percent decline in Lithuania, or the 1.3 percent increase in Estonia during the same period. SG
SWISS PARLIAMENT DELEGATION VISITING LITHUANIA
A delegation, headed by Swiss National Council President Yves Christen, arrived in Lithuania on 7 September for a four-day visit and met with the leading political figures the next day, ELTA reported. Christen told parliament Chairman Arturas Paulauskas that the establishment of a Swiss embassy in Vilnius would be the nearest goal in developing bilateral relationship between their countries. Prime Minister Algirdas Brazauskas called on the Swiss to support Lithuania's bid for membership in the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD) and to increase economic investments in Lithuania. President Rolandas Paksas was informed that Switzerland planned to open its labor market to Lithuania and the other countries joining the EU only around the year 2007. The delegation also met with Foreign Minister Antanas Valionis. Christen is scheduled to make a speech at the parliament on 9 September before traveling to Kaunas. SG
POLISH TROOPS REPORTEDLY DOWN THEIR OWN AIRCRAFT
"Zycie Warszawy" reported on 9 September that Polish soldiers downed an Su-22 jet fighter with an antiaircraft missile during exercises at a training range in Ustka, northern Poland, on 19 August. The Su-22, which was to shoot off a dummy rocket as a target for troops practicing missile launches, became the target itself. The pilot reportedly ejected from the aircraft and was later found alive drifting in the Baltic Sea. JM
POLISH BISHOPS APPEAL TO ITALIAN PREMIER OVER EUROPEAN CHRISTIAN HERITAGE
Polish bishops have sent a letter to Italian Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi, in which they demand the inclusion of a passage about the Christian heritage of Europe into the text of the European Constitution, Polish Radio reported on 8 September. A draft of the European Constitution, presented in June, is expected to be approved by 13 December, when Brussels hosts an EU summit (see "RFE/RL Poland, Belarus, and Ukraine Report," 9 September 2003). JM
CZECH PREMIER IN EGYPT
Visiting Czech Premier Vladimir Spidla, on a three-day official visit to Egypt, met on 8 September with President Hosni Mubarak and with his Egyptian counterpart, Atef Mohammad Ebeid, CTK reported. Spidla told accompanying Czech journalists that he had discussed with Mubarak the latest developments in the Middle East and possibilities for expanding Czech-Egyptian cooperation. He said there is a "considerable identity of views" between himself and Mubarak on the situation created by the resignation of Palestinian Premier Mahmoud Abbas. Ebeid told journalists after meeting with Spidla that they are both convinced the Middle East crisis can be solved by peaceful means and a lasting peace can be attained. Spidla said his country was ready to become more involved in asserting the EU's role in the search for a peaceful solution. Spidla, who is accompanied by a large delegation, also opened a forum of Czech and Egyptian businesspeople. MS
CZECH ENVIRONMENT MINISTER TO RUN FOR PARTY CHAIRMAN'S POST
Environment Minister Libor Ambrozek officially announced on 8 September that he will challenge Foreign Minister Cyril Svoboda for the post of chairman of the Christian Democratic Union-People's Party (KDU-CSL) next November, CTK reported. Ambrozek said he is running after being urged to do so by several regional KDU-CSL branches. He is the third KDU-CSL leader to announce the intention to run for the post. Miroslav Kalousek, a longtime political rival of Svoboda's, announced his candidacy in August, and was followed soon after by former Culture Minister Jaromir Talir. Delegates to the November KDU-CSL national conference will also select the party's candidates for the June 2004 European Parliament elections. MS
CZECH ECONOMY EXPANDS, INFLATION EASES, UNEMPLOYMENT ON RISE
Data released by the Czech National Statistics Office show a mixed picture of the nation's economy, dpa reported on 8 September. The gross domestic product rose in the second quarter of 2003 by a seasonally adjusted 0.6 percent from the previous quarter and was up 2.3 percent on a year-on-year basis. In the first half of 2003, GDP rose 2.3 percent compared to the first half of 2002. Inflation eased 0.2 percent from July and was down 0.1 percent from August 2002. On the yearly comparison basis, prices of goods went down 1.2 percent, while services were 2.1 percent more expensive. Registered unemployment rose slightly to 10 percent in August from 9.9 percent in July and was up from 9.4 percent reported in August 2002, according to the Ministry of Labor and Social Affairs. MS
SLOVAK INTELLIGENCE AGENCY CONFIRMS EXISTENCE OF 'SUBVERSIVE GROUP'
Slovak Information Service (SIS) head Ladislav Pittner on 8 September backed Prime Minister Mikulas Dzurinda's claim that a "group" is engaged in attempts to undermine the ruling Slovak Democratic and Christian Union (SDKU), Dzurinda and the SIS, TASR reported. Pittner met with members of the parliamentary committee supervising the activities of the SIS. Committee Chairman Viliam Sobona, a member of the opposition Movement for a Democratic Slovakia, said Pittner had confirmed that members of the "group" had engaged in illegal telephone tapping and had leaked information about the SIS. The leaked information was later published in the British defense journal "Jane's Intelligence Digest." Sobona told journalists that the members of the group were not those identified as such by Security and Defense Committee Chairman Robert Kalinak and that the "group" could be larger than just five people. Sobona said Pittner had mentioned no names and refused to answer whether Dzurinda received the information about the group from the SIS. Sobona also said that those who leaked information to the British journal mixed facts with lies and were "obviously interested in damaging Slovakia." (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 4, 8, 15, and 20 August 2003). MS
SLOVAKIA INSISTS ON SEAT ON EUROPEAN COMMISSION
Foreign Minister Eduard Kukan told journalists on 8 September that Slovakia continues to view representation on the European Commission of each EU member as its "minimum demand" for changes in the European Constitution project, CTK reported. Speaking one day after an informal consultation of current and future EU members' foreign ministers in Lago di Garda, Italy, Kukan said that 17 out of the 25 countries that will make up the EU after 2004 back the demand. He said Slovakia is determined to work jointly with other countries, and particularly with its partners in the Visegrad group -- the Czech Republic, Hungary, and Poland -- to have this amendment approved at the Rome Intergovernmental Conference next month. MS
PRIVATE SLOVAK TV CHANNEL PROTESTS INTERIOR MINISTER'S STATEMENT
Representatives of the private Markiza TV and company shareholders protested on 8 September a statement made on that channel by Interior Minister Vladimir Palko the previous day, TASR reported. They said Palko's attack on them during a talk show was "inappropriate, incorrect, and ungrounded" and that he had "seriously insulted all decent and honest Markiza TV employees, as well as its Slovak and American shareholders." TV Markiza is co-owned by Alliance for a New Citizen Chairman Pavol Rusko. Palko said during the debate that Markiza TV and its reporters are "corrupt." He said the channel had led a negative campaign against him, which started will the allegation that police had tapped Rusko's phone. "For months, you have created the impression that police have been doing something fabricated and ungrounded," he said, adding that Markiza TV uses a gangster style and supports people "who wish to cast doubt on the work of police." MS
CONTROVERSIAL SLOVAK BISHOP WILL NOT BE BEATIFIED FOR NOW
Bratislava-Trnava Archbishop Jan Sokol told CTK on 8 September that Bishop Jan Vojtassak will not be beatified during Pope John Paul II's visit to Slovakia this week and a decision on his beatification will have to await clarification of the role he played under the Nazi puppet regime (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 12 August 2003). Sokol said that "some criticism emerged" according to which Vojtassak "did not much stand up for our Jewish brothers." But he added that according to other testimonies, the deportation of Jews to death camps from Slovakia stopped after Vojtassak's intervention and that the bishop had intervened as soon as he learned that the Jews were being dispatched to gas chambers. While Vojtassak's critics emphasize his alleged collaboration with the Nazi puppet regime and his alleged participation in the "Arianization" of Jewish assets, his supporters regard him as a victim of the communist regime, under which he was long imprisoned. MS
Bishop Vasil Hopko, who will be beatified during Pope John Paul II's visit to Slovakia later this week, was bishop of the Greek-Catholic Church (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 8 September 2003.)
RUSSIAN PREMIER IN HUNGARY
Visiting Russian Prime Minister Mikhail Kasyanov and his Hungarian counterpart Peter Medgyessy said after talks on 8 September that they have reached an agreement to reshape trade between their countries so as to meet the requirements of the EU, of which Hungary is likely to become a member in May 2004, AP reported. Medgyessy said Hungarian-Russian relations are "dynamic," but complained that efforts to repatriate a library of important Hungarian historical works taken by Soviet troops during World War II are "going quite slowly." Kasyanov expressed the hope that Russian companies will get the chance to participate in the construction of a new subway line in Budapest, as well as in the modernization of Hungary's nuclear-energy facilities. Kasyanov also said he hopes Russian companies would win a tender for the privatization of the Dunaferr steel mill. Medgyessy said Hungary wants Russia to take back spent nuclear-fuel rods from the Soviet-made Paks nuclear-power plant, as Hungary cannot store or process them. The sides signed cooperation agreements in the fields of information technology, education, justice, and housing construction. MS
HUNGARY THREATENS TO RETALIATE OVER CONTROVERSIAL MONUMENT IN TRANSYLVANIA
Foreign ministry spokesman Tamas Toth said on 8 September that Hungary could consider retaliatory measures against the Romanian decision not to allow the re-erection in Arad of the Liberty monument in memory of Hungarian generals executed in 1849 by the Habsburgs, Mediafax reported, citing MTI. Premier Medgyessy, who is to visit Bucharest on 15-16 September, plans to raise the problem with his Romanian counterpart, Adrian Nastase. In an interview on Romanian Radio on 8 September, Hungarian Democratic Federation of Romania (UDMR) Chairman Bela Marko said he was confident that a solution would be found in line with the cooperation agreement between the UDMR and the ruling Social Democratic Party (PSD). Marko also said he hopes the agreement with the PSD on setting up two Hungarian-language faculties at the Cluj Babes-Bolyai University will also be abided by. The university's senate refuses to recognize the validity of the agreement, pointing to legislation stipulating that higher learning institutions are autonomous. MS
TENSIONS IN MACEDONIAN COALITION OVER POLICE OPERATION
Representatives of the governing Social Democratic Union (SDSM) and its coalition partner, the ethnic Albanian Democratic Union for Integration (BDI), met in Skopje on 8 September to discuss the results of the recent police operation, during which two persons were killed, Macedonian media reported. BDI lawmaker Hysni Shaqiri complained that the ethnic Albanian deputy interior and defense ministers were not informed about the police operation in advance. Prime Minister Branko Crvenkovski indirectly denied this charge, saying that BDI representatives attended all meetings during which the security situation was discussed. Meanwhile, a working group including SDSM and BDI representatives was formed to evaluate the police operation (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 28 and 29 August, and 2, 3, and 8 September 2003, and "RFE/RL Balkan Report," 5 September 2003). UB
IS MONTENEGRO'S PRIME MINISTER WARY OF THE HAGUE?
Milan Rocen, who is an advisor to Prime Minister Milo Djukanovic, said in Podgorica on 8 September that Djukanovic has unspecified "high moral reasons" for not wanting to testify before the Hague-based war crimes tribunal in the trial of former Serbian and Yugoslav President Slobodan Milosevic, RFE/RL's South Slavic and Albanian Languages Service reported (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 8 September 2003). Rocen added that Djukanovic has been in direct contact with the tribunal and does not regard his refusal to testify as a reversal of Podgorica's long-standing policy of cooperating with it. PM
SERBIAN POLL SHOWS FORMER LEADER IN FRONT
A 21-24 August poll by the Belgrade-based Strategic Marketing agency of 1,517 Serbian citizens names former Yugoslav President Vojislav Kostunica as the country's most popular politician, RFE/RL's South Slavic and Albanian Languages Service reported on 8 September. His Democratic Party of Serbia (DSS) is the favorite of 20 percent of the respondents, followed by the Democratic Party (DS), and the G-17 Plus party with 15 percent each. The Serbian Radical Party (SRS) took 7.5 percent, while 5 percent went to the Socialist Party of Serbia (SPS). No other parties received the necessary minimum to win seats in the parliament. DSS backers tend to be older and less well educated, whereas younger and better-educated respondents tended to favor the DS or G-17 Plus. Serbian polls tend to be less than reliable because of the large number of undecided voters or those who decline to state their opinions. PM
IMBROGLIO CONTINUES OVER POSSIBLE KOSOVA TALKS
Following the recent statement by Serbia and Montenegro's Foreign Minister Goran Svilanovic that Belgrade-Prishtina talks should begin in the fall, Serbian Deputy Prime Minister Nebojsa Covic said in Belgrade on 8 September that Svilanovic could only be referring to "personal" talks that he himself would hold, "Vesti" reported (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 8 September, and "RFE/RL Balkan Report," 1, 8, 15, and 22 August 2003). Covic stressed that much preparation will be necessary before official talks can begin. In Prishtina, Kosova's Prime Minister Bajram Rexhepi also denied that talks are imminent. Nexhat Daci, who is speaker of Kosova's parliament, said the Kosovar authorities are ready for talks with the Serbian authorities at any time or place, but insist that representatives of the United States must also take part, RFE/RL's South Slavic and Albanian Languages Service reported. PM
CROATIAN PARLIAMENT TO MOVE ON EXCLUSIVE ECONOMIC ZONE IN ADRIATIC
Zdravko Tomac, who heads the parliament's Foreign Affairs Committee, and Foreign Minister Tonino Picula said in Zagreb on 8 September that the parliament will begin debate on declaring an Exclusive Economic Zone (EEZ) in the Adriatic at the start of October despite Slovenian objections, RFE/RL's South Slavic and Albanian Languages Service reported (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 3 September 2003, and "RFE/RL Balkan Report," 15 and 22 August, and 5 September 2003). Picula added that Croatia is willing to accept international arbitration if Zagreb and Ljubljana cannot resolve their dispute themselves. A recent poll by the Croatian Prizma agency shows that 76 percent of respondents back the government's handling of tensions with Slovenia. A similar survey of Slovenes by the CATI agency suggests that their government has the support of 69 percent of respondents in its dealings with Zagreb. PM
ROMANIAN PREMIER IN FRANCE...
Prime Minister Adrian Nastase, on a two-day working visit to France, met on 8 September with his counterpart, Jean Pierre Raffarin, Romanian Radio and Mediafax reported. They discussed bilateral economic relations and international issues. Among the latter, Romanian Radio mentioned the forthcoming October Intergovernmental Conference on the European Constitution project, the situation in Iraq, and the stalled peace process in the Middle East. Raffarin said at the end of the meeting that he and Nastase discussed all possible options likely to contribute to success in Romania's quest to join the EU. The two premiers announced the establishment of a joint forum tasked with raising French interest in Romania and improving Romania's international image. Former Romanian tennis star Ilie Nastase and French Senator Henri Revol will head the forum. MS
...DECLARES READINESS TO AUGMENT CONTRIBUTION TO IRAQ'S STABILIZATION
Premier Nastase said after his talks in Paris with French Premier Raffarin that Romania is ready to augment its contribution to the process of Iraq's stabilization, Mediafax reported. Nastase said Bucharest could do so not only by its military participation in that effort, but primarily due to the economic experience that Romanian experts accumulated in the past in Iraq. President Ion Iliescu asked parliament on 8 September to approve the dispatch to Iraq of an additional 30 officers and noncommissioned officers, six civilian specialists, and 20 military medical staff. MS
ROMANIAN PARLIAMENTARY MEDIATION ON CONSTITUTIONAL AMENDMENTS SUCCESSFUL
A mediation commission of Romania's two chambers of parliament reached agreement on differences in formulations of the constitutional amendments earlier approved by each chamber separately, Romanian radio reported on 8 September. Among other things, the commission decided that the minimum age for election to the lower house should be 23 and to the upper house, 33. The commission also opted for the Senate's stricter formulation on using minority native languages in courts (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 2 September 2003). The agreed-upon formulations are to be submitted to lawmakers by next week for approval. MS
ROMANIAN NATIONALIST DEPUTIES PROPOSE DISMANTLING COVASNA COUNTY
A group of nine deputies from the Greater Romanian Party and one Social Democratic Party lawmaker submitted on 8 September a draft law that would dismantle Covasna County, Mediafax reported. The draft also envisages reorganizing Harghita, Alba, Brasov, Mures, and Sibiu counties, to ensure they all have an ethnic Romanian majority. In Covasna and Harghita, Hungarians are currently in the majority. The deputies say their aim is to bring about "concrete measures for a more emphatic Romanian presence" in these Transylvanian counties. They propose that Covasna County be merged with Brasov County, that its name be changed into Giurgeu-Ciuc County, and that the town of Toplita Romana serve as the county's capital. According to the same project, several towns in Mures County are to be transferred to the jurisdiction of Alba County. Deputy Stefan Tcaciuc, who represents in parliament the Ukrainian minority, also backs the project. MS
ROMANIA FREES ALLEGED EGYPTIAN TERRORIST
Alleged Egyptian Islamic Jihad member Rezek Karim Zekri Saad was released from detention on 8 September, Mediafax reported. Police said Saad has been charged with attempting to cross the border illegally, but not with committing any act of terrorism on Romanian territory, and cannot be kept in jail according to current legislation. Saad is to be investigated while at liberty (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 8 September 2003). MS
MOLDOVAN SOLDIERS LEAVE FOR IRAQ
A contingent of 42 Moldovan soldiers left for Iraq on 8 September, RFE/RL's Chisinau bureau reported. The soldiers were transported on a U.S. military plane. They are to participate in guarding civilian objects and will be in Iraq for six months. The costs of the operation are to be covered by the U.S. authorities, but the Moldovan government will pay the soldiers' wages. Senior officers will receive $20 per day, junior officers $15, and other soldiers $10. This is double the wages received by Moldovan military personnel serving at home. MS
FAZ SAYS U.S. OPPOSES EU PARTICIPATION IN TRANSDNIESTER PEACEKEEPING...
OSCE Chairman in Office Jaap de Hoop Scheffer's proposal to have EU forces participate in peacekeeping operations in Transdniester after an agreement is reached between the sides is "meeting the opposition of the U.S. administration," the German daily "Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung" reported on 7 September. According to the daily, Washington wants that mission to be fulfilled by NATO troops. The FAZ also said Germany, Britain, Italy, and other EU members are "skeptical" toward Scheffer's proposal. MS
...AS MOLDOVAN PARTY SAYS 87,000 SIGNED PETITION BACKING EU PARTICIPATION
Social Liberal Party Chairman Oleg Serebrean announced on 8 September that the party has gathered 87,000 signatures on a petition calling for EU participation in the envisaged OSCE peacekeeping mission. Serebrean said the petition will be forwarded to Scheffer. MS
ARMENIAN PRESIDENT ASKS BULGARIA TO HELP RESOLVE KARABAKH CONFLICT
During a joint press conference with President Georgi Parvanov on 8 September, visiting Armenian President Robert Kocharian said he hopes Bulgaria will help resolve the Karabakh conflict when it takes over the OSCE presidency in 2004, Parvanov's official website (http://www.president.bg) reported. Parvanov said Armenian-Bulgarian talks about the problem are being held already at the ministerial level, but also stressed that the main forum to resolve the Karabakh conflict is the OSCE Minsk Group. Parvanov added that the two countries should also cooperate in the energy sector, as they share the same problems with the EU, which requires the closure of the older, Soviet-era nuclear-power plants in Armenia and Bulgaria. "I am convinced that...if we act jointly, we stand a better chance of defending our interest in extending the service life of these nuclear reactors," Parvanov said. UB
LIBYAN PROSECUTOR DEMANDS DEATH PENALTY FOR BULGARIAN MEDICS
During the trial against six Bulgarian medics facing charges in Libya of deliberately infecting some 400 Libyan children with HIV in a Benghazi hospital, a prosecutor on 8 September demanded the death penalty for the defendants, Bulgarian media reported. In a separate move, a lawyer for the victims' families demanded that the medics pay more than $4 billion in damages, citing similar sums recently paid by Libya for the victims of two airplane bombings. Foreign Minister Solomon Pasi commented that there is no reason to panic, as these moves were expected, "Standart" reported. Pasi added that he is worried about the fact that the trial against the Bulgarians has already lasted five years (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 4 September 2003). UB
U.S. MILITARY PREPARES FOR EUROPEAN MANEUVER
Before the U.S. military began annual military exercises in northwestern Poland in June, Lieutenant Colonel Thomas Collins sat down with local mayors to assure them that the maneuvers would not inconvenience the local population.
But according to Collins, the mayors had one thing on their minds -- and it wasn't how much noise the Blackhawk helicopters would be making. ''They kept asking when we were going to move here permanently,'' he said. Collins told the mayors that such a decision would be made at a much higher level.
And it appears that the decision will be coming soon. U.S. military officials now say Poland, Bulgaria, and Romania have emerged as the prime candidates in Europe for new U.S. military bases as the Pentagon prepares to undertake its most massive repositioning of U.S. forces in Europe since World War II. In North Africa, Algeria and Morocco are also being considered as serious contenders for new U.S. bases.
Closing some U.S. bases in Germany and building new ones in former communist countries to the east and south is just one part of an overall restructuring of the U.S. military to better meet the demands of the war on terrorism.
With the bulk of U.S. forces in Europe still based in Germany, far away from perceived national security threats in Africa, the Caucuses, Central Asia, and the Middle East, military officials say it makes strategic sense to station troops closer to where they are most likely to be deployed. The idea has been under consideration since the end of the Cold War, but has gained greater urgency since the 11 September 2001 terrorist attacks.
The idea was officially made public in March when General James Jones, commander of United States European Command, briefed reporters on his vision for restructuring the U.S. military in Europe.
The first Marine to command the U.S. armed forces in Europe, Jones is implementing part of Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld's plan to transform the military from its Cold War incarnation as a large force prepared to fight a land war against the Soviet Union into a smaller, lighter, flexible, and more nimble units that can quickly deploy and better fight the unconventional battles the war on terrorism demands.
"The transformation of the American armed forces is not just about acquiring smart weapons," Jones said in an interview at United States European Command headquarters in Stuttgart, Germany, in June. "We need to reform our institutions," he added. "We need to reform our operational concepts...and also make sure that out agility, in relation to the multiplicity of threats we face, is enhanced."
And although Jones would not name specific countries or bases where U.S. forces will move, military officials cited Poland as being attractive for its good training facilities and friendly political environment. Bulgaria and Romania are also desirable because of their southern European location close to potential deployments. Some bases in Germany, including the massive Ramstein Air Base near Frankfurt, will remain open, Jones said. A final decision on the new bases is expected in September or October.
But the changes under way are about much more than where U.S. forces will be stationed. In fact, they are nothing short of a revolution in how the U.S. military is deployed. Currently, U.S. troops stationed in Europe come for three-year tours and bring their families, creating the need for massive bases resembling small cities, complete with kindergartens, shopping centers, and movie theaters.
That arrangement served U.S. interests well in the Cold War when the United States needed to maintain a large standing ground force to counter the Soviet threat, Jones said, but it ''doesn't quite fit as well in the 21st century.''
The new plan envisions smaller bare-bones bases that can serve as launching pads where U.S. forces can quickly deploy to trouble spots. Jones and others singled out Eagle Base in Bosnia-Herzegovina; Camp Bondsteel in Kosova; and the U.S. Marine Base in Okinawa, Japan, as examples of the new model bases.
"We won't be building any more little Americas," U.S. Air Force General Charles Wald, deputy commander of United States European Command, said in an interview.
Moreover, rather than three-year overseas tours, under the new plan troops would be stationed in Europe for shorter six-month periods, albeit without their families. Moreover, the current system, in which individual soldiers rotate in and out of overseas assignments, would be replaced with a new arrangement in which entire units rotate together.
In addition to placing troops closer to the potential action, military officials say the ability to train effectively is another reason to reposition U.S. troops. Due to noise and environmental regulations, U.S. troops in Germany are no longer able to train the way they would like to, particularly at night. For that reason, the military in recent years has been conducting a lot of its training in former communist countries such as Poland.
For the past several years, the United States has held annual exercises at the Drawsko Pomorskie Training Area in northwestern Poland, widely considered one of the prime candidates for a new base. Officials say the base's good infrastructure, permissive training environment, and cooperativeness of Polish authorities all make it an attractive option.
And the U.S. military appears to be going to great lengths to build a long-term relationship with the community there. Soldiers have performed community-service projects such as repairing a roof on a local elementary school and building a new entrance for a hospital. And following their exercises with Polish troops in June, Collins and other soldiers visited a local high school to talk to students.
But with relations between Washington and Berlin still sour over Chancellor Gerhard Schroeder's refusal to support the war in Iraq, many Germans view the proposed changes as retribution. Countries like Poland, which sent troops to Iraq, on the other hand, are widely seen to be reaping the rewards for supporting Washington.
Jones and other military officials, however, dismiss such talk out of hand, saying the moves are dictated by military logic. "One of the things I have tried to factor out is politics," he said.Brian Whitmore covers Central and Eastern Europe and the Balkans for "The Boston Globe."
AFGHAN LEADER DECREES POSTPONEMENT OF CONSTITUTIONAL LOYA JIRGA
Afghan Transitional Administration Chairman Hamid Karzai announced in a 7 September decree that the Constitutional Loya Jirga will be held in December, not in October as planned, international media reported. The 500-member grand assembly, which will draw delegates from every Afghan province, was originally to be held in December per the timetable laid out in the 2001 Bonn agreement, but was rescheduled for October at the suggestion of the UN, AFP reported. Karzai spokesman Jawed Ludin said the new date is thus in line with the original timetable and will enable elections to take place in June 2004. Ludin added that Karzai's decision followed the advice of the Constitutional Commission. Ludin said the commissioners wanted more time to gather 460,000 questionnaires to the public, 81,000 of which have been received, Reuters reported. Ludin also said the delay will give the commission more time to assemble delegates who will be tasked with debating and approving a final constitution. These delegates will also determine the outcome of such contentious issues as the role of Islam in the new government and whether the government will be based on a federal or a central model, Reuters reported. IL
AFGHAN TROOPS KILLED IN AMBUSH AS U.S. CONFIRMS CASUALTY REPORTS
Six Afghan soldiers died on 7 September and four were wounded when suspected neo-Taliban fighters ambushed their convoy in the mountains of Shahwali Kot about 40 kilometers north of Kandahar, AFP reported. A group of 30 soldiers called to the scene netted 10 suspects in the fighting that followed, and a search for other assailants is under way. Meanwhile, the U.S. military on 8 September confirmed that 124 "anticoalition personnel" have been killed in the nine-day-old Operation Mountain Viper in the Daichopan Mountains of Afghanistan's southeastern Zabul Province. A second major offensive aimed at quashing neo-Taliban activity, Operation Warrior Sweep, continues in Paktiya and other southern provinces, where it was launched in July. AFP reported that the two offensives constitute the largest operations since Operation Anaconda sought to oust neo-Taliban and Al-Qaeda fighters from their mountain strongholds in Paktiya Province in March 2002. IL
TOP U.S. COMMANDER EYES PAKISTAN AS SOURCE OF TROUBLE, OFFERS CASUALTY ESTIMATE
Lieutenant General John Vines, commander of U.S. forces in Afghanistan, said as many as 200 enemy fighters have been killed in southeastern Afghanistan since 25 August, "The Washington Post" reported on 8 September. According to AP, Vines said on 7 September that the approximately 1,000 neo-Taliban fighters now thought to be in Afghanistan have been hiding inside the country or have crossed over from Pakistan, where intelligence reports suggest they are being trained and funded by Al-Qaeda. Vines said U.S. military officials attribute the recent resurgence in neo-Taliban attacks to a "use it or lose it" ultimatum from an impatient Al-Qaeda network eager to see tangible evidence of success. "The Washington Post" quoted Vines as saying that Al-Qaeda is pressuring neo-Taliban fighters because "it wants to go to Iraq" to fight U.S. troops. However, Vines reportedly said while traveling with U.S. Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld on 7 September that the neo-Taliban are not a serious threat and Rumsfeld agreed with him, according to AP. IL
AFGHAN LEADER VOICES CONCERN OVER BORDER AS PAKISTAN REJECTS CLAIMS OF INSECURITY
Chairman Karzai said during a joint news conference with U.S. Defense Secretary Rumsfeld on 7 September that his administration is "definitely concerned about the increased activity of Al-Qaeda and Taliban on the Pakistan border," "The Washington Post" reported. On 8 September, Pakistan's Foreign Minister Masoud Khan rejected charges that neo-Taliban fighters are infiltrating Afghanistan from Pakistan, saying the border-security situation "is normal and it is satisfactory as compared to two years ago or one year ago," AFP reported. Khan shifted responsibility back to Afghanistan and the international community, saying Kabul needs to cooperate more with Islamabad to secure the border. He also said drug trafficking must be stopped and the International Security Assistance Force must be expanded "so that you can tackle this problem all over Afghanistan, from where this trouble is emanating." Khan reminded reporters that a tripartite commission of Afghan, Pakistani, and U.S. military officials will hold its fourth meeting on 10 September in Rawalpindi to discuss border security. IL
IRAN ANNOUNCES ANTITERRORISM LEGISLATION
Iranian government spokesman Abdullah Ramezanzadeh announced on 8 September that legislation on eliminating financing of terrorist groups will be submitted to the parliament this week, AP reported. He said officials from the Central Bank of Iran, the Ministry of Foreign Affairs, and the Ministry of Economic Affairs and Finance spent a year drafting the bill, and if the legislature and Guardians Council approve it Iran will become a member of the 1999 International Convention for the Suppression of the Financing of Terrorism (see http://www.un.org/law/cod/finterr.htm and http://untreaty.un.org/English/Terrorism/Conv12.pdf). "The bill seeks to block any financing of groups Iran recognizes as terrorists," Ramezanzadeh said. He added that the Al-Qaeda network is on that list of terrorists but Hamas is not. There is little international agreement on which groups are terrorist organizations, and furthermore, the United Nations Office on Drugs and Crimes notes that "the lack of agreement on a definition of terrorism has been a major obstacle to meaningful international countermeasures" (http://www.unodc.org/unodc/terrorism_definitions.html). BS
TEHRAN HAS NOT BEEN ASKED TO EXTRADITE BIN LADEN'S SON
Government spokesman Ramezanzadeh said on 8 September that he knows nothing about an alleged Saudi Arabian request for the extradition from Iran of Al-Qaeda leader Osama bin Laden's son, Saad bin Laden, IRNA reported. "We have a security agreement with Saudi Arabia and such a request would be considered in the context of the bilateral pact," he said. Ramezanzadeh added that Saad Bin Laden is not among the Al-Qaeda members reportedly under arrest in Iran, but he would not identify the individuals it is allegedly holding. Ramezanzadeh hinted that Tehran would like to trade these individuals for Mujahedin Khalq Organization members who are in other countries. "We consider ourselves responsible for the international campaign against terrorism and expect other states to hand over the terrorists working against our national interest," he said. "Then, we will consider extradition of terrorists." BS
IAEA BOARD TO CONTINUE DEBATE ON IRAN
The 35-country Board of Governors of the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) is expected to continue its discussions on Iran on 9 September, Reuters reported. The news agency cited anonymous diplomats as saying that most board members are ready to support a resolution that would demand Iranian cooperation with the IAEA, insist that Iran promptly answers the IAEA's questions on its uranium-enrichment program, and call on Iran to sign the Additional Protocol of the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty (NPT). Speaking to reporters before the 8 September closed-door meeting of the board, IAEA Director-General Mohammad ElBaradei commented that "it is absolutely essential for Iran to cooperate actively and...demonstrate full transparency with the IAEA as early as possible," Reuters reported. BS
TEHRAN CONCERNED ABOUT IAEA BOARD'S DRAFT RESOLUTION
Iranian representative to the IAEA Ali Salehi on 8 September registered Tehran's displeasure with the draft resolution that the IAEA Board of Governors is considering, Reuters reported. Speaking to Reuters on the meeting's sidelines, Salehi said of the resolution: "It's looking at things with pessimism. In other words, looking at the half-empty glass, and not the half-full." Salehi said the resolution is selectively based on the IAEA report about Iran. "In other words, just picking the negative parts and not giving any attention to the positive parts of the report," he said. "Even the praise in the resolution has come with qualifications. This is my objection." BS
LEGAL IRANIAN PILGRIMAGES TO IRAQI SHI'A SITES TO BEGIN SOON
Iran's deputy interior minister for security and law enforcement affairs, Asghar Ahmadi, announced on 9 September that Iranians soon will be able to make the pilgrimage to Shi'a shrines in the Iraqi cities of Al-Najaf and Karbala, Iranian state radio reported. "Based on a program for structuring pilgrimages to the holy sites that was approved by Iraq's policy-making council, the two sides will cooperate for normalizing travel by pilgrims," Ahmadi explained. "In the forthcoming days, travel by Iranian pilgrims will begin from the Khosravi, Shalamcheh, and Mehran border areas. And Iraqi pilgrims, for their part, can go to the Iranian Embassy in Baghdad and obtain visas for pilgrimage visits to Mashhad and Qom free of charge," Ahmadi said. IRNA cited government spokesman Ramezanzadeh as saying on 8 September that the Hajj and Pilgrimage Organization, Foreign Ministry, police, and other institutions are working together to expedite such visits. Unregulated pilgrimage traffic to date has resulted in hundreds of deaths as Iranian travelers frequently wander into old minefields or get lost in the desert (see "RFE/RL Iran Report," 8 September 2003). BS
HUSSEIN LOYALISTS REPORTEDLY ATTEMPT TO KILL SHI'A CLERIC IN IRAQ
Unidentified gunmen on 7 September attacked the Al-Najaf home of a senior Shi'a cleric, Grand Ayatollah Bashir al-Najafi, "Iran Daily" reported on 9 September. Two of the ayatollah's aides were wounded, as was an attacker who was subsequently arrested. Al-Najafi was not hurt. Sadreddine al-Kubbanji, who heads the Supreme Council for the Islamic Revolution in Iraq's office in Al-Najaf, said a man captured at al-Najafi's home confessed to being a member of deposed President Saddam Hussein's Fedayeen and to previously killing two U.S. soldiers in Baghdad's Kazimiyah district, AFP reported on 8 September. Al-Najafi is one of the Shi'a sources of emulation in Iraq -- the others are Ayatollahs Ali al-Sistani, Muhammad al-Fayyad, and Muhammad Said al-Hakim. BS
UN SECRETARY-GENERAL SEEKS SECURITY COUNCIL COMPROMISE ON IRAQ
As talks intensify on a U.S.-drafted resolution on Iraq, UN Secretary-General Kofi Annan on 8 September called a foreign ministers meeting of the five permanent members of the UN Security Council to work out a compromise, Reuters reported. The session is to take place on 13 September in Geneva and will be attended by U.S. Secretary of State Colin Powell, British Foreign Secretary Jack Straw, and Foreign Ministers Igor Ivanov of Russia, Dominique de Villepin of France, and Tang Jiaxuan of China. The United States wants the 15-member Security Council to authorize a multinational force so countries will contribute more troops and money to postwar Iraq. However, France, Germany, Russia, and others want a timetable for restoring Iraqi sovereignty and a larger UN role in achieving this. "The day that Iraqis govern themselves must come quickly," Annan told a news conference. "Knowing the positions of the various parties, if they sat and discussed frankly and openly, I think we will be able to find a solution." MA
GREAT BRITAIN TO SEND MORE TROOPS TO IRAQ
Britain is to send immediately an additional 1,000 troops to Iraq and might send further reinforcements once a review of forces in the Persian Gulf is complete, British Defense Secretary Geoffrey Hoon announced on 8 September, Kuwait's Kuna news agency reported. The BBC reported the number of additional troops as 1,200. Hoon told the House of Commons there is an "immediate requirement" for two battalions, plus additional specialist personnel and equipment to be sent to the United Kingdom's area of operations in the south of Iraq, Kuna reported. A full review of force strength is under way and "the full scale of the requirement...has yet to be developed," Hoon said. "We plan to maintain the deployment of these units until around November," he added. "Additional units would deploy to replace them in the theater if the requirement remained." Hoon, facing questions from members of Parliament during a defense debate, said: "Real progress has been made in Iraq over the last few months.... Political progress has been made, with the increasing effectiveness of the Iraqi Governing Council and the recent appointment of Iraqi departmental ministers." MA
GULF COOPERATION COUNCIL SECRETARY-GENERAL CALLS FOR PROSECUTION OF FORMER IRAQI OFFICIALS
Abdulrahman Al-Attiyah has strongly condemned the mass killing of Kuwaiti POWs by the former Iraqi regime during and after the 1990-91 Gulf War and called for the prosecution of former officials for crimes against humanity, Kuna reported on 8 September. Secretary-General Al-Atiiyah said upon his arrival in Kuwait to take part in the 8th meeting of Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC) environment ministers that "the mass killing of the POWs from Kuwait and other countries' nationals is a blatant violation of human rights, the teachings of Islam, and international morality." Al-Attiyah also said the recent attacks on the UN's Baghdad headquarters and in the city of Al-Najaf were intended to destabilize Iraq and hamper international efforts to rebuild the country and restore security. He called for a bigger UN role in Iraq to stabilize the security situation. Moreover, Al-Attiyah welcomed UN Resolution 1500, which considers the establishment of the Iraqi Governing Council a positive step, and said he hopes this is the first step in establishing a constitutional government that will ensure security and stability for the Iraqi people. MA
IRAQI GOVERNING COUNCIL TAKES REPRESENTATIVE SEAT AT ARAB LEAGUE MEETING
Jordanian Foreign Minister Marwan Muasher said on 8 September that Iraqi Foreign Minister Hoshyar Zebari's participation in the 9 September Arab League ministerial meeting (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 8 September 2003) will be in his capacity as a representative of the Iraqi Governing Council and not as a foreign minister of a sovereign state, Kuna reported. "We know that elections could not be held [in Iraq], so we should talk about a transitory period and that this government [the Iraqi Governing Council] describes itself as provisional and does not represent full Iraqi sovereignty," Muasher said in a press release. He said Jordan's position was based on positive dealings with Iraqi Governing Council members, but he fell short of officially recognizing the transitional government. Muasher described contacts with the transitional government as necessary, as the Iraqi Governing Council is the only interlocutor. Furthermore, he said the main priority is to send a message to the Iraqi people that Arab countries stand by them and that this government is provisional and does not represent Iraqi sovereignty. MA
KUWAIT WARNS AGAINST ISOLATING BAGHDAD
Kuwaiti Foreign Minister Shaykh Sabah al-Ahmad al-Sabah warned on 7 September of the necessity to thwart a plan aimed at "isolating Iraq" from the Arab world, the "Arab Times" reported on 9 September, citing Kuna news agency. "Certain parties are working against Arab interests and attempting to isolate our brothers in Iraq from the Arab nation," al-Sabah said, adding that it is "necessary to foil this plan." "The new Iraqi government is in need of support because it is working to restore the sovereignty of Iraq," he said before leaving Kuwait for Saudi Arabia to attend the meeting of foreign ministers of GCC states (see above). Kuwait has welcomed Iraq's new 25-member cabinet, formed by the transitional Iraqi Governing Council, and has expressed its desire to establish new relations with Iraq and start afresh following the severing of all ties after Iraq's invasion of Kuwait in 1990. MA