ISRAELI-PALESTINIAN CONFLICT MIGHT NEED PEACEKEEPERS, FOREIGN MINISTER SAYS
Russia on 10 September condemned the Hamas terrorist attacks in Tel Aviv and Jerusalem that day and suggested that the Israeli-Palestinian conflict might require international peacekeeping forces, Russian and international media reported on 10 September. Foreign Ministry spokesman Aleksandr Yakovenko said in a statement that such acts of terrorism are "categorically unacceptable" and threatened to dash the hopes that had been raised by the road-map peace plan drawn up by Russia, the United States, the European Union, and the United Nations -- the so-called quartet. Foreign Minister Igor Ivanov told journalists in Sarajevo on 10 September that the time has probably come for the international community, acting through the quartet or the UN Security Council, "to impose tough terms on the conflicting parties so they comply with all provisions of the road-map peace plan," RBK reported. Achieving that "could require an international presence in the conflict area," Ivanov said. JB
BRITAIN GRANTS BEREZOVSKII POLITICAL ASYLUM...
Boris Berezovskii, the erstwhile Kremlin insider who went into self-imposed exile three years ago after falling out with President Vladimir Putin, has been granted political asylum in Great Britain, Russian and international media reported on 10 September. In an interview with Ekho Moskvy, Berezovskii confirmed that the British government has officially granted him political asylum. "Vremya novostei" on 11 September quoted lawyers for Berezovskii as saying he received a letter from the Home Office on 9 September informing him that his asylum request had been granted. British Home Secretary David Blunkett turned down Berezovskii's asylum request in March after the British government gave the green light to start proceedings on a Russian request to have him extradited, "The Moscow Times" reported on 11 September. JB
...LEAVING THE STATUS OF RUSSIA'S EXTRADITION REQUEST UNCERTAIN...
Boris Berezovskii and Yulii Dubov, the former deputy general director of Berezovskii's LogoVAZ company, were briefly detained in London in March and released on $157,000 bond in response to a Russian warrant accusing them of defrauding the regional administration in Samara Oblast, home to the AvtoVAZ carmaker, in 1994 and 1995 (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 26 March 2003, and "RFE/RL Russian Political Weekly," 13 August 2003). It is not clear whether the British authorities' decision to grant Berezovskii political asylum means they will now reject Russia's request to extradite him. "The Moscow Times" on 11 September quoted an anonymous British government official as saying it is now up to the courts and Home Secretary Blunkett to decide whether the extradition proceedings against Berezovskii will continue. An attorney for Berezovskii, Semyon Ariya, was quoted by the daily as saying that while he does not know British law thoroughly, the "norms of logic" suggested that if a country grants a person political asylum, it must turn down requests for his extradition, Interfax reported on 10 September. JB
...AND OBSERVERS MULLING OVER WHY IT HAPPENED
There was much speculation in the Russian media on 10 September about what caused the British Home Office to reverse itself and grant political asylum to Berezovskii. Aleksandr Goldfarb, head of the New York-based Foundation for Civil Liberties, which is funded by Berezovskii, said the tycoon recently received a number of threats and had informed the police about them. "Apparently the British police took these threats seriously, which is not surprising: Berezovskii's activities abroad, be it support of [Chechen separatist leader Akhmed] Zakaev or publications about [President] Putin, so irritate the FSB [Federal Security Service] that anything can be expected from it," the Berezovskii-controlled grani.ru website quoted Goldfarb as saying. Other observers, including the gazeta.ru website, speculated that London is unhappy over the multiple criminal investigations that the Prosecutor-General's Office launched this summer against Mikhail Khodorkovskii's Yukos oil company and thus had grown more sympathetic to Berezovskii's asylum request. JB
FSB REMAINS VAGUE ABOUT STAROVOITOVA MURDER PROBE...
An unidentified spokesman for the St. Petersburg branch of the FSB has indicated that the investigation of a group of suspects accused of involvement in the November 1998 murder of State Duma Deputy Galina Starovoitova has been completed, Interfax reported on 10 September. The FSB spokesman said the suspects and their lawyers are in the process of familiarizing themselves with the case produced by prosecutors. He gave no indication of the number of suspects of their identities. Last November, the St. Petersburg FSB branch detained six suspects and filed charges against four of them (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 11 November 2002). JB
...WHILE A NEWSPAPER CLAIMS TO KNOW WHO DID IT AND WHY
An article in "Vremya novostei" on 9 September that claimed six suspects are currently in prison, but another six suspects remain at large. It alleged that the murder's chief organizer was one Yurii Kolchin, a.k.a. Yura Bryanskii, a veteran of a secret services unit who went on to work as a driver for a leader of St. Petersburg's powerful Tambov crime group. The unidentified alleged Tambov leader then won a State Duma seat. Citing sources in the Prosecutor-General's Office, "Vremya novostei" claimed the Tambov group ordered Starovoitova's murder because she was backing candidates in the December 1998 St. Petersburg Legislative Assembly election who were challenging Tambov-backed candidates, because she was closely connected to "commercial structures" that were competing with Tambov-controlled firms, and because the group wanted to steal the $100,000 cash they believed she planned to distribute among her allies in St. Petersburg. In May, Olga Starovoitova, the slain deputy's sister, claimed that an unnamed former Duma deputy from the Liberal Democratic Party of Russia (Liberal Democratic Party of Russia, LDPR) had ordered the murder (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 19 May 2003). JB
DRUG TSAR: NARCOTICS ARE A GROWTH INDUSTRY...
Viktor Cherkesov, chairman of the newly created State Committee on Drug Trafficking, said on 9 September that his agency estimates that 4 million Russians, or 3 percent of the population, are drug addicts, although only around 350,000 people in Russia are officially registered as addicts, Ekho Moskvy radio reported. This represents a nine-fold increase over the last decade. Cherkesov said his agency has filed approximately 1,000 narcotics-related criminal cases in just two months, and that its main task is to fight organized narcotics-trafficking groups, RosBalt reported on 9 September. He also said that more than 1,300 people with criminal connections have been prevented from getting jobs with his committee, thwarting an apparent attempt by organized crime to infiltrate it. JB
...AS UN CITES PROBLEM OF AFGHAN OPIUM
Vladimir Ibragimov, an official with the United Nations' department for combating narcotics and crime in Russia and Belarus, told "Izvestiya" on 9 September that 20-30 percent of the narcotics produced in Afghanistan winds up in Russia, with the rest going to Western Europe via Iran, Turkey, and the Balkans. Ibragimov said drugs coming from Afghanistan constitute the biggest single factor in Russia's drug problem. JB
FEDERATION COUNCIL CHAIRMAN ADVOCATES ELECTED UPPER CHAMBER
Sergei Mironov on 10 September advocated elections for the upper house of the parliament, Interfax reported. Speaking to students at the St. Petersburg State Mining Institute, his alma mater, Mironov said the Federation Council "should be formed by the general public." After next year's presidential election, Mironov plans to submit to parliament a draft law on the matter, with the goal of hold elections for the Federation Council in early 2005. The constitution does not specify how members of the upper chamber are to be selected. The first Federation Council members were elected to two-year terms in December 1993. But under a law adopted in 1995, the heads of the executive and legislative branches in each region automatically became members of the Federation Council as well. Under the current system, implemented early in President Putin's presidency, Federation Council members are selected by regional authorities and can be recalled at any time. LB
FOREIGN TRAVEL STRAINS FEDERATION COUNCIL BUDGET
Excessive foreign travel by Federation Council deputies and their entourages has sent the upper chamber into deficit spending, "Nezavisimaya gazeta" reported on 10 September. By the end of the second quarter of this year, the council had spent all its travel funds allocated for the third quarter as well, and numerous foreign trips caused the overspending. The situation threatened to scuttle planned foreign travel for official Federation Council delegations later in the year. Speaking to "Nezavisimaya gazeta," Federation Council Chairman Mironov confirmed the overspending but downplayed the problem, saying council members have agreed "to tighten our belts a little." Foreign delegations will have fewer members in the future, and advance trips by Federation Council staffers will be discontinued, as will per diems for members traveling abroad. LB
CHUBAIS NOT PLANNING TO SERVE IN DUMA
Unified Energy Systems (EES) chief executive Anatolii Chubais told journalists on 10 September that he does not intend to become a State Duma deputy following the 7 December parliamentary elections, RIA-Novosti reported. The Union of Rightist Forces (SPS) recently named Chubais its No. 3 party-list candidate, fueling speculation that Chubais would leave his job at EES, which he has held for more than five years, if the SPS cleared the 5 percent threshold. The top three candidates for each political party and electoral bloc will appear on the ballot, and it is common for groups to place prominent individuals in the top troika, even if those candidates have no intention of serving in the Duma. LB
OLIGARCH SAYS KHODORKOVSKII SHOULD HAVE KNOWN HIS PLACE
Vladimir Yevtushenkov, director of the Sistema holding company and a prominent member of the Russian Union of Industrialists and Entrepreneurs (RSPP), has suggested that Yukos Chairman Mikhail Khodorkovskii is to blame for his company's problems with the Prosecutor-General's Office, "Vedomosti" reported on 10 September. Giving a lecture on "Business and Power" at the International University on 9 September, Yevtushenkov said that some members of the business community believe Khodorkovskii "made a series of mistakes" related to privatization. Yevtushenkov suggested that business "should not aspire to attain political power as well." He argued that business circles have distanced themselves from the conflict surrounding Yukos, noting that no one on the RSPP board has petitioned the Prosecutor-General's Office on behalf of Khodorkovskii's associate, Menatep Chairman Platon Lebedev, who is in custody facing embezzlement and tax evasion charges. Speaking to "Vedomosti," RSPP President Arkadii Volskii echoed Yevtushenkov's sentiments: "I have always been against businessmen having political ambitions. That's what oligarchy is, when money comes to power." LB
TVER GOVERNOR CHECKS INTO HOSPITAL
Tver Oblast Governor Vladimir Platov on 10 September failed to show up at the oblast prosecutor's office to be served with criminal charges, Russian media reported. A spokeswoman for the oblast administration announced that Platov is in the cardiology unit of Moscow's Central Clinical Hospital. The Prosecutor-General's Office plans to charge Platov with the misuse of government funds (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 5 September 2003), but lenta.ru reported on 10 September that prosecutors cannot formally serve Platov with the charges against him as long as he is hospitalized. Former St. Petersburg Mayor Anatolii Sobchak spent a long stretch in the hospital in 1997 when he was facing a criminal investigation. He eventually managed to go directly from the hospital to the airport for a flight out of the country. LB
MOSCOW MAYORAL VOTE TO COINCIDE WITH DUMA ELECTION
The Moscow City Duma on 10 September scheduled the city's mayoral election for 7 December, the same date as the State Duma elections, Russian media reported. Mayor Yurii Luzhkov is almost certain to win a third term, although he has not formally announced his intention to run for re-election. His only declared rival is State Duma Deputy Aleksei Mitrofanov (LDPR). Gazeta.ru on 3 September cited unnamed sources in the SPS and the Communist Party as saying they will not waste resources challenging Luzhkov. Yabloko Deputy Chairman Sergei Mitrokhin told gazeta.ru the same day that Yabloko will not nominate its own candidate in the race. In 1996, Luzhkov was elected with more than 90 percent of the vote, and in 1999 he was reelected with nearly 70 percent of the vote, gazeta.ru reported. LB
WORLD BANK PRAISES ARMENIAN GOVERNMENT MOVE AGAINST TELECOMMUNICATIONS MONOPOLY
The senior World Bank official in Armenia, Roger Robinson, stated on 10 September he "would be pleased" with the opening of the country's telecommunications sector and called for an end to exclusive corporate privileges, according to RFE/RL's Yerevan bureau and Arminfo. Robinson praised moves by the Armenian government toward reconsidering the monopoly enjoyed by the ArmenTel telecommunications operator since its 1998 sale to Greece's Hellenic Telecommunication Organization (OTE) (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 5 September 2003). He warned the authorities against transferring OTE's 15-year monopoly to another company, and stressed that the opening of the Armenian telecom sector to competition is "critical" for economic development. He noted that the telecommunications system in Armenia is in need of significant modernization, saying that "the telecom network's coverage is not good and the costs are high, at least for the cell-phone system, international traffic and Internet access." RG
ARMENIAN OPPOSITION AND PRO-GOVERNMENT COALITION FORGE NEW ACCORD IN PARLIAMENT
Deputies of the opposition Artarutiun bloc on 10 September forged a significant accord with the pro-government majority in the Armenian parliament, Yerkir and Armenpress reported. The agreement will create two interim parliamentary commissions: one empowered to investigate the use of international loans and humanitarian aid, and another to consider the return of savings lost as a result of the collapse of Soviet-era banks. The commissions are required to report their findings to parliament by March and April 2004, respectively. Both commissions will include representatives of both the pro-government coalition and the opposition bloc. The accord is the first sign of cooperation in parliament since the opposition waged a boycott of its to protest the contested May parliamentary elections (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 9 September 2003). RG
OSCE OFFICIAL PROMISES 'DECISIVE' NEW PEACE PROPOSALS FOR NAGORNO-KARABAKH CONFLICT
In a statement in Yerevan following a series of meetings with regional officials, Russian OSCE official Yurii Merzlyakov promised to present "decisive" new peace proposals once the October presidential election is held in Azerbaijan, RFE/RL's Yerevan bureau and Yerkir reported. Ambassador Merzlyakov, the recently appointed Russian co-chairman of the OSCE's Minsk Group overseeing the mediation of the Nagorno-Karabakh conflict, explained that the French, Russian, and U.S. Minsk Group co-chairmen will prepare a new peace plan at their scheduled meeting in Vienna on Monday. The Russian envoy to the OSCE completed his first tour of the region and met with leaders in Azerbaijan, Nagorno-Karabakh, and Armenia (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 5 September 2003). OSCE officials have confirmed that the new peace proposals are to be "presented to the parties when the Minsk Group co-chairmen return to the region in late October or early November." RG
PAKISTANI MILITARY DELEGATION VISITS AZERBAIJAN
A Pakistani military delegation led by Admiral Shahid Karimullah, the chief of the country's Naval Staff, met with Azerbaijani Defense Minister Colonel General Safar Abiev on 10 September during a visit to Baku, ANS reported. The Pakistani delegation discussed plans to expand bilateral cooperation and agreed to boost the number of Azerbaijani Army and Air Force officers studying at Pakistani military academies. Pakistan is second only to Turkey in providing military training and assistance to Azerbaijan (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 4 September 2002). RG
PROMINENT AZERBAIJANI OPPOSITION LEADER VISITS WASHINGTON
Azerbaijani presidential candidate and leader of the opposition Musavat Party Isa Gambar met with U.S. officials on 10 September during a visit to Washington, Arminfo reported. The opposition leader discussed the political situation in Azerbaijan in meetings with members of Congress and U.S. State Department officials. Gambar also met on 9 September with Ambassador Rudolf Perina, the U.S. co-chairman of the OSCE's Minsk Group, to discuss the ongoing mediation of the Nagorno-Karabakh conflict. RG
COUNCIL OF EUROPE AND OSCE CRITICIZE AZERBAIJAN FOR CRACKDOWN ON MEDIA
A joint statement released on 10 September by Walter Schwimmer, the secretary general of the Council of Europe, and Freimut Duve, the OSCE representative on freedom of the media, criticized Azerbaijan for its "harassment of the media and intimidation of journalists," according to the Council of Europe press office. The statement called on Azerbaijan to "take all necessary steps to guarantee respect for freedom of the media" and noted Baku's obligations as a member of the Council of Europe to adhere to the European Convention on Human Rights. It also noted that "media pluralism and the full and unhindered exercise of press freedoms will be essential in the run-up to the forthcoming presidential elections," and expressed concern over a "recent attack against several journalists outside the main Baku police station," demanding "a thorough investigation." RG
LEGAL EXPERT WARNS AGAINST PROPOSED DOWNSIZING OF GEORGIAN PARLIAMENT
Georgian legal expert Davit Usupashvili warned on 10 September against a proposed national referendum on reducing the 235-seat Georgian parliament, warning that it would only to lead to a "parliamentary and constitutional crisis," Civil Georgia reported. President Eduard Shevardnadze issued a decree on 3 September proposing a referendum on downsizing the parliament to 150 seats by 2007 (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 4 September 2003). The proposal is generally supported by the opposition and some government officials who contend that the large size of the parliament hinders the efficiency of its legislative and public-policy work. Usupashvili was a top contender for the position of chairman of the recently reconstituted Central Election Commission and enjoyed the backing of the OSCE. RG
GEORGIAN POWER LINE DAMAGED ONCE AGAIN
Georgian Energy Minister Mamuka Nikolaishvili announced on 10 September that the Kavkazioni high-voltage power line "was deliberately damaged" in western Georgia, according to Civil Georgia. The minister added that the incident was "the fourth case of deliberate damage of power lines in past 20 days." He categorized it as a case of deliberate "sabotage." The repeated damage to the transmission lines has exacerbated an already serious energy crisis and national shortages of electricity (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 4 September 2003). RG
PENDING APPOINTMENT OF DISTRICT ELECTORAL OFFICIALS SPURS PROTESTS
Georgian parliament deputy chairman Gigi Tsereteli complained on 10 September that the government is pressuring the Central Election Commission (CEC) to appoint representatives of the pro-government For New Georgia bloc to chair the 75 district electoral commissions, Civil Georgia and Rustavi-2 reported. The opposition United Democrats, New Rights, Labor Party, and National Movement opposition parties accused the pro-government election bloc -- and the Industrialist and Revival parties in particular -- of coercing the CEC to appoint their representatives to head the district election commissions, while depriving opposition representatives from being named to such posts. Parliament speaker Nino Burdjanadze, the leader of the opposition Burdjanadze-Democrats electoral bloc vowed to stage national protests in coordination with other opposition parties if the appointments proceed. Tsereteli is aligned with the speaker in her recently formed opposition bloc (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 16 July 2003). RG
OSCE OPENS MISSION TO MONITOR GEORGIAN ELECTIONS
The OSCE's Office for Democratic Institutions and Human Rights (ODIHR) on 9 September officially opened its Election Observation Mission to monitor the 2 November Georgian parliamentary elections, Civil Georgia reported. The head of the OSCE mission, Julian Peel Yates, explained that "the forthcoming elections are crucial for the future democratic development of Georgia." He stressed that the mission's "role is to observe and monitor...not to supervise or manage" the election, and stated that "we will not interfere in the election process." The ODIHR mission is one of the longest-running and largest observation missions ever deployed to an OSCE country, with 10 election experts based at its Tbilisi headquarters and 21 observers deployed in several regions. These observers will monitor the electoral process, including campaigning by political parties, and will oversee the work of the local and district election officials. An additional 400 observers will join parliamentarians from the OSCE Parliamentary Assembly, the Parliamentary Assembly of the Council of Europe, and the European Parliament shortly before election day to monitor the voting, the vote count, and the tabulation of results. RG
NGO RATES TAJIKISTAN BEST, TURKMENISTAN WORST FOR PRESS FREEDOM IN CENTRAL ASIA
The international journalists' NGO Reporters Without Borders (RSF) has published what it describes as the first worldwide index of press freedom, the Azerbaijani news agency Ekho reported on 11 September. The index rates freedom of the media in 139 countries. Among the post-Soviet Central Asian states, Tajikistan rated highest at No. 86. Kyrgyzstan is No. 98; Kazakhstan is 116; and Uzbekistan is No. 120. Turkmenistan rated No. 136, coming just three notches ahead of last place North Korea. Finland, Iceland, Norway, and the Netherlands all tied for first place, while the United States came in at No. 17. RSF explained that it drew up the list to make the point that press freedom is under threat nearly everywhere. BB
KAZAKH PRESIDENT CRITICIZES LAW ENFORCEMENT, ORDERS OVERHAUL
Nursultan Nazarbaev told a conference on law enforcement in Astana on 10 September that the country's law enforcement system needs to be overhauled and ordered that decisive steps be taken by the end of the year, khabar.kz, Kazinform, and other Kazakh media reported. Nazarbaev said the law enforcement system is ineffective and fails to protect the constitutional rights of citizens. He called for greater efforts to fight economic crimes and drug trafficking, and said that criminal liability should be introduced for bribing foreign officials. He also called for civilians to head Kazakhstan's law enforcement agencies, and for some functions, including issuing passports and registering vehicle, to be transferred from the Interior Ministry to the Justice Ministry. He also urged the adoption of a jury-trial system for criminal cases. BB
IMPRISONED KAZAKH JOURNALIST DENIES REPORTS OF BEATINGS
Imprisoned opposition journalist Sergei Duvanov has denied reports that he has been systematically beaten in prison to compel him to ask for a presidential pardon (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 10 September 2003), one of Duvanov's defense lawyers, rule of law activist Vitalii Voronov, told a news conference in Almaty on 10 September, Interfax reported. Voronov said he met with Duvanov two days previously, and his client denied having been beaten and said he was not being pressured to ask for pardon. He said was asked two months earlier if he intended to request a pardon, but he said "no" and the subject has not been raised again. BB
GOVERNMENT SEEKING EXTRADITION OF KAZAKH CITIZENS AT GUANTANAMO
The head of the Kazakh Foreign Ministry's Consular Department, Valikhan Konurbaev, told a news conference in Astana on 10 September that Kazakhstan has requested the extradition of four Kazakh citizens being held by the United States at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba, Interfax-Kazakhstan reported. Konurbaev said the extent of the guilt of the four has not yet been determined. They were captured in Afghanistan by the international antiterrorism coalition. According to Konurbaev, the four men were recruited in southern Kazakhstan by a member of an extremist Muslim organization and have denied taking part in armed combat. They insist they only performed various nonmilitary tasks for the Taliban. BB
MORE THAN HALF OF KYRGYZ POPULATION LIVES IN POVERTY
Kyrgyzstan's National Statistical Committee Chairman Zarylbek Kudabaev told a seminar on poverty in Bishkek on 9 September that more than half of the country's population is living in poverty, "Novye izvestiya" reported on 10 September. According to Kudabaev, 44 percent of Kyrgyzstan's population lives below the poverty line, and an additional 14 percent are considered "extremely poor," making the country the poorest in the CIS. He added that the methods used by his office are based on those of the World Bank, assessing the cost of basic foodstuffs and nonfood products. Despite UN and World Bank antipoverty programs in Kyrgyzstan, there has been no change since 1997 in the percentage of citizens living below the poverty line. The percentage of the "extremely poor" -- people living near starvation with no means of support -- was 15 percent in 1997. Officials in Djalal-Abad Oblast in southern Kyrgyzstan have reported that 44.4 percent of the families in the oblast are poor, of whom 30.6 percent are extremely poor, akipress.org reported on 10 September. BB
INTERNATIONAL JOURNALISTS' GROUP ASKS UZBEK GOVERNMENT ABOUT BLOCKING OF UZBEK OPPOSITION WEBSITE
The international journalists' NGO RSF has asked the Uzbek government for information on the blocking of the website of Ozod Ovoz (Free Voice) (http://www.ozodovoz.org), a group of opposition journalists, RSF reported on 9 September. The website was set up in Azerbaijan in April (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 9 April 2003), and has frequently posted criticism of Uzbek President Islam Karimov's policies. Reportedly, it has been inaccessible inside Uzbekistan since 2 September, and people seeking to reach the site receive a message saying that access is not authorized. RSF said the site is probably being blocked by the government-owned Internet provider UzPAK. BB
CITIZENS PICKET FOR HEARING BY PROSECUTOR IN SOUTHERN UZBEKISTAN
Two inhabitants of a village in Uzbekistan's Kashkadarya Oblast successfully picketed for a hearing at the oblast prosecutor's office in Karshi, the oblast administrative center, centrasia.ru reported on 11 September, quoting the Prima news agency. According to the report, the two citizens -- Nurali Kulabov and a woman who declined to give her name -- picketed the office on 9 September for half an hour, after which they were allowed into the building to meet with the deputy oblast prosecutor, who reportedly promised to look into their grievances against the prosecutor's office and against the hospital of the raion in which they live. According to the report, many Karshi residents have noted the success of the picketers, and a lively discussion took place on this new way of gaining a hearing in the prosecutor's office. BB
BELARUSIAN CABINET MULLS 2004 ECONOMIC TARGETS, BUDGET
The government on 10 September discussed a draft socioeconomic-development program for 2004, Belapan reported. The draft forecasts a growth in GDP at 6 to 7 percent, and inflation at 14 to 18 percent. The government reportedly plans to increase the average monthly wage in the budget-funded sector to the equivalent of $140. The previous day, the cabinet discussed a 2004 draft budget that projects consolidated budget revenues at 11.6 trillion Belarusian rubles ($5.5 billion), up 7.7 percent from 2003. The cabinet reportedly set a budget deficit at 0.5 percent of GDP, or 200 billion Belarusian rubles ($95 million). JM
POSSIBLE ACCORD ON CIS SINGLE ECONOMIC ZONE SPARKS CONTROVERSIES IN UKRAINE
The parliamentary Committee for European Integration has recommended to President Leonid Kuchma not to sign an agreement on a common economic zone with Russia, Belarus, and Kazakhstan (see "RFE/RL Poland, Belarus, and Ukraine Report," 2 September 2003), the signing of which is reportedly expected to take place at a CIS summit in Yalta on 18-19 September, Interfax reported on 10 September. The committee believes the agreement contradicts the country's course for the integration into Europe and the Ukrainian Constitution. Deputy Premier Vitaliy Hayduk told journalists on 10 September that he opposes the creation of a supranational controlling body as stipulated by the draft agreement on the common economic zone of the four CIS countries. JM
UKRAINIAN CABINET SUBMITS 2004 BUDGET DRAFT TO PARLIAMENT
The Verkhovna Rada has registered a 2004 budget draft, Interfax reported on 10 September. The document projects budget revenues at 58.2 billion hryvnyas ($10.9 billion) and a deficit of 2.37 billion hryvnyas. The government expects that GPD in 2004 will grow by 4.8 percent, while the annual inflation rate will be 6 percent. JM
UKRAINIAN DEPUTY SPEAKER THROWN OUT OF PARTY
The Political Bureau of the Social Democratic Party-united (SDPU-o) on 10 September expelled deputy parliamentary speaker Oleksandr Zinchenko from the SDPU-o, Ukrainian news agencies reported. SDPU-o lawmaker Nestor Shufrych said Zinchenko was ousted for failing to put his signature to a draft constitutional-reform plan that was recently prepared by the presidential administration and lawmakers from the Communist Party and the Socialist Party (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 8 September 2003). JM
ACTIVE PRELIMINARY VOTING IN ESTONIA'S EU REFERENDUM
The State Election Committee announced on 11 September that 173,590 people or 20 percent of all eligible voters cast ballots in the EU membership referendum in the preliminary voting on 8-10 September, LETA reported. This is the highest preliminary-voting level in Estonia's history, significantly higher than the 14.5 percent in the March parliament elections or the 10.5 percent in the local elections in 2002. The voters were most active in Tallinn, where 26 percent cast ballots, and least active in the northeastern district of Ida-Virumaa, just 13 percent. Many leading political figures, including Prime Minister Juhan Parts, parliamentary speaker Ene Ergma, and Finance Minister Tonis Palts, voted on 8 September and urged others to follow their example. The main vote will be on 14 September. SG
EUROPEAN PARLIAMENT PRESIDENT APPROVES LATVIA'S PREPARATIONS FOR EU
Patrick Cox began a two-day visit to Latvia on 9 September with a meeting with President Vaira Vike-Freiberga during which he stressed that EU membership will not pose any threat to Latvia's sovereignty, BNS reported. He said that small countries have equal opportunities with large countries within the EU. Cox also had talks with parliamentary speaker Ingrida Udre, Foreign Minister Sandra Kalniete, and officials of the Jelgava District. On 10 September, Cox told Prime Minister Einars Repse that he is pleased by Latvia's preparations for EU membership and expects a favorable result in the EU-membership referendum on 20 September. They discussed developments in combating corruption, raising administrative capacity, reinforcing the judicial system, and improving security of the eastern border. Cox then traveled to the Rezekne District where he met with officials of local governments, representatives of nongovernmental organizations, and residents before proceeding to Estonia. SG
FRENCH SENATE PRESIDENT ASSURES LITHUANIA OF SUPPORT
In a speech at the Lithuanian parliament on 10 September, Christian Poncelet declared that Lithuania's membership will strengthen the EU and be "the necessary chain between Scandinavia and Central Europe," BNS reported. He affirmed that France will always support Lithuania and ratify Lithuania's EU and NATO accession agreements before the end of the year. Talks with President Rolandas Paksas focused on bilateral relations, implementation of strategic infrastructure projects, and the future development of Lithuania's nuclear energy sector. On 11 September Poncelet is scheduled to meet with former President Valdas Adamkus, Cardinal Audrys Juozas Backis, and tour the Vilnius old town before returning to France. SG
OPPOSITION FAILS TO OUST POLISH SEJM SPEAKER
The Sejm on 10 September rejected two separate motions by the opposition parties Law and Justice and the League of Polish Families to dismiss speaker Marek Borowski from his post, PAP reported. The opposition charged that Borowski falsified the Sejm's resolution of 26 August on the election of Jan Czekaj as a member of the Monetary Policy Council (RPP) to make it possible for Czekaj to remain in the RPP for six years instead of the four months for which he was elected (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 4 September 2003). One motion was supported by 110 deputies while the other by 109 deputies; 214 votes were necessary to oust Borowski. JM
POLISH PROSECUTORS RENEW PROBE INTO ALLEGED DEFAMATION OF POPE
Prosecutors will restart a probe into the alleged public defamation of Roman Catholic Pope John Paul II in Kalisz in 1997, PAP reported on 10 September. During the presidential-election campaign in September 2000, the election staff of Solidarity leader Marian Krzaklewski presented a video on public television showing National Security Bureau chief Marek Siwiec on his trip with President Aleksander Kwasniewski to Kalisz in 1997 (see "RFE/RL Poland, Belarus, and Ukraine Report," 26 September 2000). The video showed Siwiec, emerging from a helicopter, mocking the pope by making a sign of the cross and kissing the ground, to which Kwasniewski responded with amusement and encouragement. The probe was closed in January 2003 with no charges made. JM
CZECH PREMIER, ARAB LEAGUE HEAD AGREE ON NEED TO HAVE IRAQI GOVERNMENT IN PLACE...
Visiting Premier Vladimir Spidla met in Cairo on 10 September with Arab League Secretary-General Amr Musa, CTK reported. They agreed on the need to have the Iraqi Governing Council replaced as soon as possible with a freely elected government. The two politicians also discussed the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, and Spidla said his country is interested in seeing a lasting solution based on a secure Israel and an independent Palestinian state. The talks with Moussa marked the end of Spidla's three-day visit to Egypt. MS
...WHILE CZECH PRESIDENT, U.S. AMBASSADOR SEE EYE TO EYE ON IRAQI GOVERNMENT
President Vaclav Klaus and U.S. Ambassador to the Czech Republic Craig Stapleton agreed on 10 September that the formation of an effective government in Iraq is very important for the search for a solution to that country's problems, CTK reported. Stapleton told journalists after the meeting that he and Klaus mainly discussed the economic and political situation in their respective countries, the situation in Iraq, and matters concerning bilateral relations. The daily "Lidove noviny" said on 10 September that Klaus is to visit the United States in November to participate in a conference organized by the conservative Cato Institute. MS
CZECH SENATE AGAIN REJECTS PRESIDENTIAL NOMINEE FOR CONSTITUTIONAL COURT
On 10 September the Senate rejected for the second time the candidacy of lawyer Ales Pejchal for a seat on the Constitutional Court, CTK reported. The upper house first rejected the nomination made by President Klaus in July, but Klaus nominated Pejchal again. Pejchal said in reaction that the Senate "is not capable of appreciating expertise [and] moral integrity, and it probably requires from a Constitutional Court judge values other than those it can find in me." He also said he will not consent to Klaus nominating him again. MS
POPE STARTS SLOVAK VISIT
Roman Catholic Pope John Paul II began a four-day visit to Slovakia on 11 September, international media reported. According to AFP, more than 1,000 people flocked to the airport fence to welcome him, waving Slovak and Vatican flags as the ailing pontiff was greeted by Slovakia's top state officials and Roman Catholic Church leaders. This is the third visit by John Paul II to Slovakia, and his 102nd foreign visit since he began his quarter-century pontificate. MS
SLOVAK PRESIDENT ACCEPTS ECONOMY MINISTER'S RESIGNATION...
President Rudolf Schuster accepted on 10 September the resignation of Robert Nemcsics as economy minister, TASR reported (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 10 September 2003). Due to the visit to Slovakia by Pope John Paul II, Schuster will delay appointing Nemcsics's successor, Alliance for a New Citizen (ANO) Chairman Pavol Rusko, until next week. After Schuster made his announcement. Nemcsics said that he has received parliamentary speaker Pavol Hrusovsky's consent to be an independent deputy, adding that he cannot no longer be a member of a parliamentary group that expressed no confidence in him. Nemcsics did not say whether he also intends to resign from ANO. MS
...BUT CABINET DOES NOT APPROVE NBU HEAD'S SACKING...
The Slovak cabinet rejected on 10 September Premier Mikulas Dzurinda's request to dismiss National Security Office (NBU) head Jan Mojzis, TASR reported. Eight members of the four-party, center-right coalition voted against the proposal and only seven supported it. Defense Minister Ivan Simko, a member of Dzurinda's Slovak Democratic and Christian Union (SDKU) abstained. The Christian Democratic Movement and the Hungarian Coalition Party ministers voted against dismissing Mojzis, while ANO ministers and Dzurinda's own SDKU cabinet members supported the premier's request. Dzurinda said in reaction that he intends to resubmit the proposal. He also said he does not regard the outcome of the vote as an expression of no confidence in himself (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 10 September 2003). MS
...WHICH PROMPTS DZURINDA TO INITIATE DEFENSE MINISTER'S REMOVAL
Premier Dzurinda said after the vote in the cabinet that he wants President Schuster to recall Defense Minister Simko, TASR and CTK reported. Dzurinda said Simko has infringed on a decision of the SDKU presidium by abstaining from the vote on Mojzis' dismissal. Dzurinda later brought the proposal to the SDKU presidium, which voted in favor of firing Simko. Simko himself refrained from voting. President Schuster said in reaction that the decision is an internal affair of the SDKU, but added that he considers it "unfortunate," so short before Slovakia's NATO accession. Reacting to Dzurinda's proposal to dismiss him, Simko said that his abstention in the vote on Mojzis' removal reflected the clash between the party's decision and his own inner conviction. The SDKU, he added, had been "established a few years ago as a party of free people." Robert Kalinak, chairman of the parliament's Defense and Security Committee, and a member of the opposition Smer, said that in both trying to remove Mojzis and Simko, Dzurinda is pursuing his own private interests at the expense of those of the state. MS
TWO SLOVAKS IN THREE WOULD LIKE TO WORK ABROAD AFTER JOINING EU
Two-thirds of Slovaks surveyed are considering the idea of looking for a job abroad after Slovakia joins the EU, TASR reported on 10 September, citing a public opinion poll conducted by the Statistical Office's UVVM agency. One-fifth would like to leave the country permanently, 46 percent said they would leave Slovakia temporarily, and one-third have no intention of moving abroad. The poll was conducted in August among a representative sample of 1,251 respondents. MS
HUNGARIAN FINANCE MINISTRY LOWERS GROWTH FORECAST
In an analysis published on 10 September, the Finance Ministry has revised its 2003 economic-growth forecast to 3 to 3.5 percent, "Nepszabadsag" reported the next day. At the end of 2002, the ministry had predicted annual GDP growth of 4 percent. The primary reason for the slowdown of the economy is the unfavorable global economic climate, according to the ministry's analysis. On top of this, investments were down in the first quarter of 2003, and consumption increased by a rate exceeding that of inflation. According to forecasts, the foreign-trade and current-account deficits could reach 150 percent of last year's figures. The ministry raised its budget-deficit estimate for a second time, forecasting a figure of 4.8 percent of GDP, the daily reported. MSZ
HUNGARIAN PARLIAMENTARY COMMITTEE DEBATES K&H EQUITIES SCANDAL
Parliament's Law Enforcement Committee on 10 September heard Interior Minister Monika Lamperth, National Police Commander Laszlo Salgo, and Prosecutor-General Peter Polt behind closed doors in connection with the embezzlement scandal at K&H Equities, Budapest dailies reported the next day. Committee Chairman Zoltan Gal, member of the ruling Socialist Party, said after the hearing that committee members are sure investigative authorities will pursue the matter to the end, the MTI news agency reported. Opposition FIDESZ deputy Lajos Dorkota complained, however, that police are not doing impartial work and said his party is initiating an investigative committee to clear up any further issues, the agency reported. MSZ
HUNGARY'S OPPOSITION FIDESZ PARTY LOSES COURT CASE
The Metropolitan Court on 10 September has ordered opposition FIDESZ parliamentary group leader Janos Ader to pay 850,000 forints ($3,700) in damages to Education Minister Balint Magyar, "Magyar Hirlap" reported. According to the ruling, Ader slandered Magyar when he described the minister's purchase of an apartment earlier this year as a property scam. In another ruling, the same court has ordered the "Magyar Nemzet" daily to issue a correction of its repeated claims that Sports Minister Ferenc Gyurcsany has been implicated in the K&H brokerage scandal, "Magyar Hirlap" reported. MSZ
PRESIDENTIAL APOLOGIES EXCHANGED IN SERBIAN CAPITAL
In Belgrade on 10 September, Serbia and Montenegro's President Svetozar Marovic told his visiting Croatian counterpart Stipe Mesic that he apologizes for "all evil committed in the name of Serbia and Montenegro to anyone in Croatia," RFE/RL reported. Mesic replied: "I accept this symbolic apology. In my name, I also apologize to all those who have suffered pain or damage at any time from citizens of Croatia who misused the law or abused their position. I said, at any time." The last phrase was an apparent reference to World War II as well as to the 1991-95 conflict. Marovic said at the two presidents' joint news conference that "in the name of the past, which cannot be forgotten, [the two countries] must work together so anyone who is individually guilty will face the law." Mesic observed that "open issues still exist" between the two countries -- a likely reference to the refugees problem (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 10 September 2003). He added that there will be "no faster improvement of the relations between Croatia and Serbia and Montenegro without solving these painful and difficult issues." After talks with Mesic, Serbian Prime Minister Zoran Zivkovic said: "We agreed that [resolving difficulties] is possible, that there are no taboos, and that it all can be resolved to the benefit of all our citizens." PM
MACEDONIAN-ALBANIAN GOVERNING PARTY DEMANDS REFORM OF SECURITY FORCES...
In response to a large-scale police operation in the former crisis regions, the ethnic Albanian Democratic Union for Integration (BDI) -- the junior coalition partner in the Social Democratic-led government -- has called for far-reaching reforms in the country's police and army, the BBC's Macedonian service reported on 10 September. After a meeting of the party leadership, BDI Deputy Chairman Agron Buxhaku stressed that the BDI does not oppose the fight against crime as such, but is against what it called the excessive use of force by the security forces. Buxhaku said reforming those forces is not only a question of fair representation for the Albanians within the army or the police, because progress has already been made on that issue. "It is a question of qualitative changes and of changes in mentality, which is a remnant of the past," Buxhaku said (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 8 and 9 September 2003 and "RFE/RL Balkan Report," 5 September 2003). UB
...AS ETHNIC ALBANIAN PARTIES SHUN RESPONSIBILITY FOR UNREST
The BDI said in a statement on 9 September that responsibility for the recent trouble lies with unnamed political "structures" rooted in the past, Deutsche Welle's "Monitor" reported. The document added that the recent incidents took place at a time when talks are about to begin between Prishtina and Belgrade, important minority rights legislation is under consideration in Macedonia, and cooperation between Albania, Macedonia, and Croatia is on the rise. The BDI suggested that these developments "provoked those opposed to settling the Albanian question in the Balkans." In Tetovo, the leaders of the opposition ethnic Albanian Party of Democratic Prosperity (PPD) charged that the government is resorting to the "methods of [former Serbian and Yugoslav President] Slobodan Milosevic"; namely, provoking a crisis in order to crack down on the Albanians. PM
RUSSIAN FOREIGN MINISTER BEGINS BALKAN TRIP
Russian Foreign Minister Igor Ivanov arrived in Sarajevo on 10 September on the first leg of a three-day Balkan trip, dpa reported. He told journalists that "Russia is determined to continue its active role in Southeastern Europe." Ivanov then went on to Belgrade, after which he will travel to Slovenia before flying to the UN Security Council session slated for 15 September in Geneva (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 5 June and 24 July 2003, and "RFE/RL Balkan Report," 31 July 2001). In the Serbian capital, he discussed the situation in Kosova with Serbian Deputy Prime Minister Nebojsa Covic, who is Belgrade's point man for Kosova and southern Serbia. Ivanov told reporters that he favors a direct dialogue between Belgrade and Prishtina because "those talks could have significance for a discussion of security issues, a return of refugees, and some other problems" of particular interest to Serbs, ITAR-TASS reported. The Russian minister stressed that the final decision on the status of Kosova rests with the UN (see "RFE/RL Balkan Report," 1 August 2003). PM
HIGH REPRESENTATIVE WARNS BOSNIA NOT TO MISS OPPORTUNITIES
High Representative Paddy Ashdown told both houses of the Bosnian parliament on 10 September that legislators must act quickly lest Bosnia-Herzegovina miss several important opportunities, Deutsche Welle's Bosnian Service reported. He stressed that legislation on indirect taxation must be passed soon, or else Bosnia stands to lose "hundreds of millions" of dollars in EU aid. The defense structures must be reformed quickly if Bosnia is to be admitted to NATO's Partnership for Peace program this year, Ashdown added. He also argued that the security forces and intelligence services must be reformed if Bosnia wants additional foreign investments and visa-free travel to EU-member states. Ashdown ruled out any new international conference on Bosnia, saying that a new constitution will come into being only when the people and their elected representatives decide on one (see "RFE/RL Balkan Report," 5 September 2003). PM
HIGH MARKS FOR SLOVENIAN PRESS FREEDOM
The NGO Reporters Without Borders has placed Slovenia 14th in its first worldwide index of press freedom, its website announced (http://www.rsf.org/article.php3?id_article=4116). Slovenia thus ranks behind Germany, France, and the Scandinavian countries but ahead of the United States, United Kingdom, and other former Yugoslav republics. PM
OSCE SET TO MONITOR ALBANIAN ELECTIONS
The OSCE's Office for Democratic Institutions and Human Rights (ODIHR) said in a press release in Tirana on 10 September that it has set up an Election Observation Mission to monitor the 12 October local elections. A team of 12 election experts will be based in Tirana and 18 "long-term observers" will be posted to the various regions. In addition, 250 short-term monitors will arrive in Albania just before election day. The mission will issue a preliminary report the day after the ballot and a more extensive study one month later. PM
PARLIAMENTARY COMMISSION CRITICIZES ROMANIAN INTELLIGENCE SERVICE...
The parliamentary commission supervising the Romanian Intelligence Service (SRI) said in a press release on 10 September that the SRI should urgently present parliament a report on institutional and structural reforms in that service, RFE/RL's Bucharest bureau reported. The commission issued the statement after a three-hour meeting with SRI Director Radu Timofte and other senior SRI executives. Commission head Ion Stan said the SRI had failed to finalize the reforms of its structures and that "serious gaps" persist in the implementation of those reforms, leading to "increasing vulnerability" and to "shaky institutional management." The latter aspect, the commission said, is a result of too frequent changes at central and local SRI management level. It also said the SRI lags behind in implementing measures for the protection of classified information within its own structures. The commission demanded that the Supreme Council for National Defense (CSAT) meet to analyze reforms in the SRI. MS
...WHICH REJECTS CRITICISM AS UNFOUNDED
In response to the parliamentary commission's criticism, the SRI said it is asking the leadership of the parliament's two chambers to question Stan on the commission's statement, and asking CSAT to convoke Stan and demand explanations for the commission's criticism, RFE/RL's Bucharest bureau reported. The SRI said the commission's press release "does not reflect the discussions between its members and SRI Director Timofte." It also said it is demanding the commission's statement be checked against the record of the discussions. Timofte informed President Ion Iliescu, who on the same day returned from a visit to Kazakhstan, about the rift with the commission. Iliescu said he will not react to the scandal before he has heard both sides. The Greater Romania Party deputy chairwoman of the commission, Daniela Buruiana, said she is "concerned" that the "hasty elimination" from the SRI of former Securitate staff is "extremely dangerous" and risks leaving the SRI without personnel, Mediafax reported. MS
ROMANIAN OPPOSITION PARTIES TO RUN ON JOINT LISTS FOR BUCHAREST LOCAL ELECTIONS
The National Liberal Party (PNL) and the Democratic Party reached an agreement on 10 September to run on a joint list in the Bucharest local elections in summer 2004, Mediafax reported. The PNL agreed to back incumbent Bucharest Mayor and Democratic Party Chairman Traian Basescu for a second mayoral mandate. MS
MOLDOVAN PRESIDENT INVITES EU TO JOIN MEDIATORS IN CONFLICT WITH TRANSDNIESTER
Addressing an international conference on "Frozen Conflicts in Europe" on 11 September, President Vladimir Voronin invited the EU to join the team of mediators in the conflict with Transdniester, RFE/RL's Chisinau bureau reported. That team includes the OSCE, Russia, and Ukraine. Voronin also invited the EU to open a permanent representation in Chisinau. European Council Secretary-General Walter Schwimmer told the forum that the EU backs the OSCE and the international community's efforts to find a solution to the conflict, but added that the sides involved in it must agree on the means of bringing about that solution. On 10 September, Deputy Foreign Minister Ion Stavila told RFE/RL's Romania-Moldova service that the proposal made by OSCE Chairman in Office Jaap de Hoop Scheffer to have EU troops participate in peacekeeping operations in Transdniester is "grounds for optimism." Earlier, Voronin had distanced himself from the Dutch foreign minister's proposal (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 31 July 2003). MS
WORLD BANK DECLINES MOLDOVAN REQUEST TO EXTEND CREDIT TERM
The World Bank has turned down the Moldovan government's request to prolong the agreement on the Third Structural Adjustment (SAC-III), which expires on 30 September, BASA-press reported (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 25 August 2003). Luca Barbone, World Bank director for Ukraine, Moldova and Belarus, informed the Moldovan cabinet that the bank sees no possibility to extend the term, and that the remaining two tranches will not be disbursed. Moldova has received only $10.6 million out of the $30 million credit. The credit was frozen in December 2002, when the World Bank established that Moldova did not abide by some of its conditions. MS
MASKED RECOLLECTIVIZATION IN MOLDOVA?
The Agriculture Ministry has worked out a draft law making possible the amalgamation of agricultural plots in localities where two-thirds of owners support the move, RFE/RL's Chisinau bureau reported on 10 September. According to the draft, plot owners who oppose the decision are to receive land outside the "consolidated" area. The Moldovan Farmers' Union and the U.S. Program for Private Farming Assistance said the draft law is a masked attempt by the communist authorities to bring about re-collectivization. MS
BULGARIAN JUSTICE MINISTER CHALLENGES SUPREME JUDICIAL COUNCIL
Justice Minister Anton Stankov announced on 10 September that he will challenge the election of a new head of the Supreme Administrative Court by the Supreme Judicial Council (VSS), mediapool.bg reported. According to Stankov, the VSS breached the law when it opened the election procedure the same day. The election is necessary because the mandate of the current head of the Supreme Administrative Court, Vladislav Slavov, expires on 1 December. Slavov was elected Constitutional Judge earlier this year. In July, the governing coalition changed the rules for the election of supreme judges in order to gain more influence over the judiciary and the VSS, which are still dominated by officials nominated by the previous government of the now-opposition United Democratic Forces (ODS) (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 3 and 8 July 2003). UB
BULGARIAN UNIVERSITIES FACE CORRUPTION CHARGES
A survey carried out by the Vitosha Research agency and the anticorruption watchdog Coalition 2000 ranks university teachers as the most corrupted profession in Bulgaria, closely followed by police officers, customs officers, and doctors, "Sega" reported on 11 September. The survey consisted of two polls -- one carried out among the population as a whole, the other among businesspeople. UB
TWO YEARS INTO TERROR WAR, BALKANS APPEAR BETTER OFF, BUT CENTRAL ASIA UNCHANGED
Two years after the 11 September terrorist attacks, southeast European countries such as Bulgaria and Romania, as well as the Central Asian republics, have established themselves as reliable allies of the United States in the war on terrorism.
Militarily, they have contributed troops and equipment to the antiterrorism campaign in Afghanistan, or have offered the use of bases on their territory for U.S. forces. Romania has some 500 combat troops in Afghanistan, while Bulgaria has around 100. In Central Asia, Uzbekistan and Kyrgyzstan host hundreds of coalition troops at two air bases. The other three Central Asian republics, Kazakhstan, Turkmenistan, and Tajikistan, have granted U.S. military planes the right to use their airspace.
Politically, Romania and Bulgaria, along with other Central and Eastern European countries, have also placed themselves firmly on the side of the United States in the trans-Atlantic dispute over Iraq. But, has the full support for the United States in the war on terrorism -- and, in some cases, the war in Iraq -- had a positive impact on these countries?
Prior to 11 September, Romania and Bulgaria were lagging well behind other Eastern European neighbors in terms of preparedness for both EU and NATO membership due to dragging political and economic reforms. But that changed after the terrorist attacks on the United States. Military and political reforms were jumpstarted due to the new interest these countries presented to the United States in the war on terrorism, and they last year gained an invitation to join NATO together with five other Central and East European former communist countries. "For some countries -- Romania and Bulgaria -- it was a net positive," said analyst Geffrey Gedmin, who leads the Berlin branch of the Aspen Institute, a U.S. think tank. "And those [countries] who quibbled or were hesitant were either distracted by the issues related to 11 September, or those who supported it anyway were emboldened by the fact that these countries can have at times things that the U.S. wants, needs, or can use."
Romania and Bulgaria were not the only Balkan countries that stood to gain from the renewed U.S. interest in the region. "From then on, the Balkans were no longer perceived [by the U.S.] as some sort of costly and [irrelevant] peacekeeping mission, but more in geopolitical terms as a route to the Middle East and to events that were going on there," said Balkan expert Laza Kekic of the London-based Economist Intelligence Unit. "So I think, definitely, [11 September] reshaped the U.S. thinking in that region and delayed or reversed plans that may have existed at that time for the U.S. to pull out of, or greatly reduce, its presence in places like Bosnia or Kosovo. I think that in many ways, that's the most concrete thing that happened."
The renewed U.S. interest in the region has had a stabilizing effect both on the economies and democracies of Southeastern Europe. Despite lingering problems with corruption and economic reforms, Romania and Bulgaria are now well on track to gain EU membership, probably in 2007. And Croatia is hot on their heels. Kekic said the whole region, from the Baltic countries to the Balkans, is now perceived as more secure for foreign investment. "Central [and Eastern] Europe certainly is less exposed to the sort of security risks that affect many other areas of the world which are to a certain extent linked with the risk of terrorism, but also other associated risks, [especially] if we look at the Middle East, and also large parts of Asia, which are basically competitor regions to Eastern Europe."
But commitment to the war on terrorism doesn't come cheap. For many East Europeans, participation in the antiterrorism alliance or the operation in Iraq, as well as their current or upcoming NATO membership, means stretching their defense budgets or sending troops to remote areas of the world. "Think about Poland," Gedmin said. "It is now quite certainly playing a more significant role in Iraq, of all places. That means the application of monies, communications, troops, etc. Any time you are exercising your intelligence services beyond what you might call normal capacity, any time you're exercising your military beyond what you might call normal peacetime activity, it's going to challenge your budget, stretch your infrastructure."
Experts and rights watchdogs have argued that the war on terrorism has put human rights and civil liberties under pressure in many countries, including the United States and Western Europe. Gedmin said the human rights issue is particularly sensitive in former communist Central and Eastern European countries, owing to the region's recent history of totalitarianism. "It's going to create a natural tension and we have to make sure that we deal with the problem without the pendulum swinging too far," Gedmin said. "I know that's an especially interesting and sensitive topic because of [the region's] recent history, as everyone emphasized. It's a very important topic in the U.S. [too], and if we get it right and how we get it right remains to be seen. But it's being debated and it should be debated," Gedmin said.
Further east, the Central Asian states' support for the U.S.-led war on terror has brought something completely new for the region -- international attention. "[11 September] brought about a whole new era as far as Central Asian presence in the international community was concerned," analyst Alex Vatanka of the Jane's Sentinel group said. "It was suddenly noticed, you read about Uzbekistan in 'The New York Times,' something that you very rarely did before. People were discussing who the Central Asian people are, and so on. So it had a massive public relations impact as far as the five relatively unknown states were concerned," he said.
But the states of Central Asia have authoritarian political regimes, and reports of violations of human rights have been widespread. Vatanka said the U.S. administration has had to deal with such regimes, despite their poor democratic and human rights record. But two years on the human rights situation is the same, he said, and the U.S. presence in the region has spurred no democratic changes. "Domestically, I would say, it has had very little impact at all," he said. "In reality, the outside world noticing the shortcomings of, say, Uzbekistan's human rights record hasn't produced anything tangible on the ground, and it comes down to this point: the Americans, who are the ones who really have narrowed the gap with the Central Asian states, have needed them to such extent that they have been willing to look away and say 'We will have to try and work with them and produce results and reform within the framework of the existing regime.' They haven't gone for anything radical."
The Central Asian republics, with the notable exception of oil-rich Kazakhstan, are among the poorest countries in the world. Therefore, even the relatively modest economic benefits from their political and military cooperation with the United States were extremely important. Kyrgyzstan has seen some financial gains from the presence of the U.S. troops stationed at its Manas airport, near the Kyrgyz capital Bishkek. Uzbekistan, meanwhile, has received an International Monetary Fund financial package of some $100 million for its cooperation.
But Vatanka said increased economic and democratic change in Central Asia will depend both on how long -- and how significant -- a presence the U.S. intends to maintain there.
Eugen Tomiuc is an RFE/RL correspondent.
AL-JAZEERA AIRS BIN LADEN TAPES
On the eve of the second anniversary of the 11 September 2001 terrorist attacks in Washington and New York, Al-Jazeera television aired a videotape of Al-Qaeda leader Osama bin Laden and chief deputy Ayman Al-Zawahri accompanied by an audiotape purportedly featuring bin Laden' s voice praising the 11 September hijackers. A second tape said to be of Al-Zawahri promised further attacks on U.S. citizens, with the speaker saying the world had seen "only the first skirmishes" and that "the true epic has not begun." The speaker also called on Iraqi insurgents to "bury" U.S. soldiers. The video footage showed the two men in Afghan dress walking on rocky hillsides that resemble the border area between Afghanistan and Pakistan, according to AP. Both men were pictured carrying automatic weapons. Al-Jazeera reportedly said the tape was made in late April or early May by the Al-Sahhab Co., which the satellite station said specializes in producing videos for Al-Qaeda. The video footage is the first of bin Laden to surface since he was shown dining with associates in November 2001. That video aired a month later. IL
U.S. AID PACKAGE INCLUDES $1.2 BILLION FOR BOOSTING AFGHAN ARMY, GOVERNMENT
Afghanistan's share of the $87 billion U.S. President George W. Bush is requesting for military and reconstruction operations in Afghanistan and Iraq (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 8 September) is nearly $12 billion, AFP reported on 9 September -- $11 billion to maintain U.S. troop presence and $800 million to fund reconstruction projects. Another $400 million reallocated from the current U.S. budget will bring the reconstruction aid component to $1.2 billion. According to sources cited by AFP, $400 million of that will shore up the Afghan National Army and police force; $300 million will fund the construction of roads, schools, and health clinics; $300 million will flow to government operations and elections; and $120 million will support jobs and training for former militia fighters. IL
NEO-TALIBAN BLAMED FOR MURDERS OF AFGHAN AID WORKERS
Four Afghan aid workers died and another was injured on 8 September when suspected neo-Taliban attackers stopped their car on a road in Ghazni Province, tied them up, then fired on them with assault rifles, AP reported. The survivor, who feigned death after suffering four gunshot wounds, said the group of 10 assailants told the victims before shooting them and making off with their vehicle that they had been "warned about working for NGOs," according to IRIN. Two of the five victims were employed by the Danish Committee for Aid to Afghan Refugees (DACAAR). The other three were contractors with the aid group, one of the largest international agencies in Afghanistan. DACAAR, which reports having received many threats in the last few months, said on 10 September it will suspend all operations until further notice. According to IRIN, an organization called ANSO has set up headquarters in Kabul for the purpose of advising aid groups on security issues. IL
NATO ASKED TO EXPAND ISAF, STOP AFGHAN DRUG TRADE
NATO ambassadors at their weekly meeting in Brussels on 10 September heard requests from Germany and the United States to broaden the mandate of the International Security Assistance Force in Afghanistan to include protecting Provincial Reconstruction Teams, AP reported. NATO officials reportedly said they expect the request, which would need a nod from the UN, to be approved, although they could not say when. The ambassadors also heard a plea from the head of the UN Office on Drugs and Crime, Antonio Maria Costa, to use NATO' s muscle as the commander of ISAF to stamp out Afghanistan's multibillion-dollar opium trade. "Unless we get some results and bring this monster under control, ...the country is going to explode and we get a failed state," AP quoted Costa as saying. Costa, who spent two weeks in Afghanistan last month, reiterated the connection between drug trafficking and terrorism funding and urged NATO to consider counternarcotics missions "an integral part" of creating a secure Afghanistan. IL
TRIPARTITE COMMISSION MEETING ON AFGHANISTAN-PAKISTAN BORDER SECURITY POSTPONED
The commission of Afghan, Pakistani, and U.S. officials charged with addressing the tense border situation postponed its fifth meeting, scheduled for 10 September near Islamabad, because of "logistical problems," according to a U.S. spokesman cited by AFP. An unidentified Pakistani security official told the news agency that U.S. intelligence warned of a possible attack in Pakistan around the second anniversary of the 11 September 2001 terrorist attacks. Meanwhile, "The New York Times" reported 10 September that Pakistan' s commitment to rooting out the Taliban is considered insufficient by Afghan authorities and even some Pakistani government and intelligence officials. The daily commented that U.S. criticism of Pakistan' s effort has been muted, noting that President Bush reportedly telephoned Pakistan's President Pervez Musharraf on 8 September to thank him for his antiterrorism efforts. The daily also quoted a Western official as saying that Pakistan, which faces a conservative domestic constituent in the border region, "may not know what to do" about the problem. The Indian daily "The Hindu" reported on 8 September that Pakistan is mounting its first-ever large-scale military operations in the tribal areas of the North-West Frontier Province but faces strident criticism at home for allowing U.S. forces free rein in searching those tribal areas for Al-Qaeda and Taliban elements. IL
AFGHAN CONSTITUTION TO AVOID 'OFFICIAL RELIGION'
Mohammad Fayaz, director of the Tehran office of the Afghan Constitutional Review Commission (CRC), said in an interview that appeared in the 4 September issue of Iran's "Etemad" newspaper that the constitutions of both Islamic and non-Islamic countries are being studied in order to incorporate "internationally accepted criteria and values" in the future Afghan constitution. He said Afghanistan has witnessed different types of discrimination in the past, "but in framing the new constitution, we have tried to treat different races equally." He added that although the majority of Afghans adhere to the Hanbali school of Islam, Jafari and Shi'a Muslims' rights are respected in the draft constitution. Fayaz said because the constitution aims to prevent faith-based tensions, the most popular view is that the constitution must not regard one specific faith as the "official religion." BS
IRANIAN ASSEMBLY OF EXPERTS DISAVOWS WEAPONS OF MASS DESTRUCTION
The Assembly of Experts, an 86-member body of clerics, on 9 September concluded its 10th official session and issued a statement in which it said Iran has never pursued and never will pursue the development of weapons of mass destruction (WMD), ISNA reported. This is because use of WMD contravenes Islam, it said. "The peaceful use of nuclear energy is the legitimate and legal right of all countries, including the Islamic Republic," the statement added. "The hue and cry created by America and other arrogant powers in this connection is in keeping with their continuous and successive conspiracies against the Islamic system in Iran." The statement continued, "We call on the Islamic system's officials to confront this conspiracy courageously and not give in to the wishes of America and the global arrogance." The previous evening, members of the assembly and its chairman, Ayatollah Ali Meshkini, met with Expediency Council Chairman Ayatollah Ali-Akbar Hashemi-Rafsanjani to hear a briefing by Supreme National Security Council Secretary Hassan Rohani about U.S. objections to Iranian nuclear pursuits, IRNA reported on 9 September. He said Washington is trying to pressure Iran for hegemonic reasons. BS
JAILED FORMER IRANIAN DIPLOMAT MIGHT GET BAIL
Attorney Alan Jones, who represents jailed former Iranian Ambassador to Argentina Hadi Suleimanpur, said on 9 September that the British court has given the Argentinian government until 12 September to provide evidence against Suleimanpur, "Iran Daily" reported on 11 September. Suleimanpur was arrested in the United Kingdom on 21 August on the basis of an international arrest warrant issued in connection with his alleged role in the July 1994 bombing of the AMIA Jewish Community Center in Buenos Aires. If the evidence is not forthcoming, Jones said, Suleimanpur will be freed on bail. "There is evidence that Argentine judicial officials were paid a sum of $4,000 in bribes to issue a verdict against Suleimanpur," he added. BS
IRAN GENEROUS WITH ELECTRICITY FOR NEIGHBORS
A senior official in Pakistan's Water and Power Development Authority announced on 8 September that Baluchistan Province is receiving electricity from Iran, Lahore's "Daily Times" reported on 9 September. The anonymous official said electricity from Iran benefits 26,500 consumers in the towns of Gwadar, Hoshab, Mundh, Pasni, Punjgoor, Tumb, and Turbat. Iran's provision of 32 megawatts of power costs $0.03 per unit, and it is less expensive to import Iranian electricity than it is to transport diesel fuel from Karachi to the Punjgoor and Pasni power stations, the official said. Moreover, Iranian Deputy Foreign Minister Mohammad Sadr noted in the 9 September issue of "Iran News" that Iraq might purchase Iranian electricity. Masud Hojat, deputy chief of the state power-generation and transmission-management company (Tavanir) had said in the 10 August issue of "Iran Daily" that the Energy Ministry is technically ready to export electricity to Iraq, but such a decision depends on foreign-policy factors. He described electricity imports and exports as a priority issue at the ministry and mentioned readiness to supply Afghanistan, Armenia, Pakistan, and Turkey. BS
IRAQ, KUWAIT AIM TO RESOLVE OLD DIFFERENCES
Iraqi Governing Council Foreign Minister Hoshyar Zebari said in Cairo on 10 September that Kuwait and Iraq are working to forget the memories of Iraq's 1990 invasion of Kuwait, the "Arab Times" reported on 11 September. Zebari said the two countries are working hard to restore good relations and should let bygones be bygones. Zebari told a press conference that "our aim is to open a new page of bilateral ties" and resolve all differences that resulted from Iraq's 1990 invasion of Kuwait. Zebari also said the Arab states demonstrated their support for Iraq through the Arab League's decision to allow the Governing Council to attend its meeting in Cairo this week. MA
IRAQI TRADE MINISTER SAYS IRAQ, KUWAIT MUST BOOST TIES
Iraqi Governing Council Trade and Industry Minister Ali Abd al-Amir Allawi said on 10 September that Iraq and Kuwait should work to restore "brotherly" relations, the "Arab Times" reported on 11 September. Allawi, the first representative of the Governing Council to visit Kuwait, emphasized the urgency of restoring full economic relations. "The council has a number of huge projects to be discussed with the Kuwaiti government and intends to give priority to Kuwaiti investors in the execution of these projects," he said. Allawi also spoke optimistically about the security situation in Iraq, saying it is now "the highest priority of the ruling council due to its repercussions on the economy, but I am optimistic, especially because the Iraqi Interior Ministry has started gaining control of the situation." MA
FRENCH FOREIGN MINISTER MEETS WITH IRAQI GOVERNING COUNCIL REPRESENTATIVE
French Foreign Minister Dominique de Villepin held talks in Paris on 10 September with Iraqi Governing Council member Aqila al-Hashimi, KUNA reported. France has kept its distance from the Governing Council since it was established in July, declining to overtly recognize the governing body. De Villepin maintains that France believes only a full return to Iraqi sovereignty is likely to produce a representative Iraqi government. French Foreign Ministry spokesman Herve Ladsous said ahead of the talks that "the meeting comes from our willingness to contribute to reinforcing Iraqi institutions and to be, as always, ready to listen to the Iraqis." KUNA reported that de Villepin met in July with Patriotic Union of Kurdistan head and Governing Council member Jalal Talabani. MA
BRITISH PRIME MINISTER SAYS U.K. WILL NOT DESERT IRAQ
Tony Blair told the House of Commons on 10 September that Britain will not be daunted by the task to rebuild Iraq, KUNA reported. While acknowledging the ongoing security threat in Iraq, Blair asserted that Britain will not "turn our back on the task," but rather "see it through." Blair conceded that the situation in Iraq remains difficult but maintained that progress is being made there, citing as an example the reopening of all Iraqi hospitals. Blair used the occasion to pay tribute to the U.K. servicemen who have died during the Iraq conflict. MA