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Newsline - September 22, 2003


PUTIN STUMPS FOR INCREASED ENERGY EXPORTS TO UNITED STATES...
President Vladimir Putin told senior U.S. officials on 21 September that U.S.-Russian cooperation in the energy sector is important to bilateral economic and political interests as well as global stability and security, RTR and ORT reported. Putin was welcoming U.S. Commerce Secretary Don Evans and U.S. Energy Secretary Spencer Abraham, who together with Russia's Economic Development and Trade Minister German Gref and Energy Minister Igor Yusufov co-chair the Russia-U.S. Energy Forum. The U.S.-Russia Commercial Energy Summit was expected to open a session in St. Petersburg on 22 September. Putin said Russian exports currently account for 4 percent of U.S. energy imports, up from 1.36 percent in 2002, but added that the figure is small in light of those countries' huge potential. Putin urged an increase in Russian energy supplies to the United States, and said the topic will be discussed at his Camp David summit with U.S. President George W. Bush on 26-27 September. Putin also said Russian and U.S. experts are discussing diversification of bilateral cooperation in the sector to include coal, gas, and nuclear power. Secretary Evans predicted major U.S. investments into Russia's energy sector in the near future, particularly in developing oil and gas reserves off Sakhalin and exporting Russian liquefied gas to the United States. VY

...AND OUTLINES RELATIONS WITH WASHINGTON
Putin told U.S. journalists assembled for a 20 September press conference that Moscow and Washington are "allied" in the antiterrorism and nonproliferation efforts, along with encouraging strategic stability, ITAR-TASS and strana.ru reported. Russia and the United States are "partners" in other areas, he added. Putin said his good personal relationship with Bush contributes to enhanced bilateral cooperation. Putin said that while he and Bush might disagree over some steps, the U.S. president is a good partner and a decent person. He noted that he and Bush are each facing re-election efforts in 2004, adding that they should seize the current window of opportunity to work together. VY

YUKOS CASE HAS NO IMPACT ON PRIVATIZATION RESULTS, PUTIN SAYS
Putin told journalists at his 20 September press conference that the ongoing investigation of oil major Yukos does not represent a revision of the results of privatization, ITAR-TASS, ORT, and RTR reported. "But if there were improprieties [during privatization] and the Prosecutor-General's Office is responding to this, I cannot obstruct it," Putin said. He insisted the Yukos scandal is of a criminal, and not a political, nature. One of the investigations concerns the possible involvement of a Yukos manager in a slaying, Putin added. He also warned prosecutors and Yukos executives against politicizing current events. "Neither Yukos CEO Mikhail Khodorkovskii nor Platon Lebedev [the arrested head of Yukos's financial arm, Menatep] is a political figure, and, therefore talk of a political background to the case is groundless," Putin said. He stressed the rule of law in Russia, including for those with "billions in fortunes." VY

PRESIDENT REJECTS COMPARISON BETWEEN ECONOMIC AND SOVIET UNIONS
Speaking at a joint press conference alongside the presidents of Kazakhstan, Ukraine, and Belarus in Yalta on 19 September, Putin dismissed suggestions that the newly agreed single economic zone (see "RFE/RL Newsline Part II," 19 September 2003) represents a step toward restoring the Soviet Union, RTR and ORT reported on 21 September. He called talk of a revival of the Soviet Union nonsense. The Soviet Union was a complicated page in Russian history, he said, adding, "It was, heroic, creative, and tragic, but it is closed." VY

PRESIDENT SAYS TROOP DEPLOYMENT TO IRAQ NOT ON THE TABLE
During his 20 September press conference, Putin said Russia is not currently considering a troop deployment to Iraq, according to izvestiya.ru and polit.ru. Moscow supports sending troops only within the framework of the United Nations, he said, adding that Russian soldiers are already participating in 10 UN peacekeeping missions around the globe. VY

PUTIN REASSERTS PLANS FOR NUCLEAR TRANSFERS TO IRAN...
Putin told journalists on 20 September that Russia does not intend to scrap planned transfers of nuclear technology to Iran, as the United States and Israel have long urged, gazeta.ru reported on 21 September. Putin said those who accuse Russia of contributing to an Iranian nuclear-weapons capability should stop talking and present evidence to that effect. He noted that unconfirmed Russian intelligence suggests that many Western firms also cooperate with Iran in the nuclear field. Putin also voiced support for Tehran's adoption of the International Atomic Energy Agency's Additional Protocol on inspections. "If Tehran has no plans for the creation of atomic weapons, it has no reason not to sign [the] protocol confirming this obligation," he said. VY

...AND SAYS ARAFAT SHOULD NOT BE DENIED ROLE IN PALESTINE
Putin said on 20 September that Palestinian President Yasser Arafat lost "a moment and historical chance" in the path to peace in the Middle East, but added that that does not mean the international community should deny Arafat's role in Palestine and the Arab world, gazeta.ru reported. He said the situation in the wake of Palestinian Prime Minister Mahmoud Abbas's resignation is complicated. Putin said the Palestinian side must do its utmost to stop terrorist attacks, while Israel should avoid provoking negative reactions. VY

PUTIN URGES RECONCILIATION BETWEEN RUSSIAN ORTHODOX CHURCH AND VATICAN
Putin on 20 September encouraged improved relations between the Russian Orthodox Church and the Vatican, gazeta.ru and polit.ru reported. "It would be correct if [those] two sister churches rose above their controversies and found a common language," he said. Such a development would provide an additional step toward Russia's integration into the world community, he added. Putin said he cannot invite the Roman Catholic pontiff for a full-scale visit to Russia in light of the Russian Orthodox Church's opposition. VY

PUTIN ALLY LEADS IN ST. PETERSBURG ELECTION...
Preliminary results showed that Valentina Matvienko, the presidential envoy in the Northwest Federal District, won 48.61 percent of the vote in St. Petersburg's gubernatorial election on 21 September, Russian news agencies reported the next day. St. Petersburg Deputy Governor Anna Markova was running second with 15.89 percent of the vote. Turnout for the election was 28.99 percent, Interfax reported, citing Marina Sakharnova, secretary of the city's election commission. For the poll to be valid, a minimum of 20 percent turnout is required. If the preliminary results hold, Matvienko, who enjoys the strong backing of President Putin, and Markova will compete in a runoff on 5 October. Sergei Belayaev, the former director of Moscow's Sheremetevo Airport, won 8.1 percent of the vote; Mikhail Amosov, leader of the Yabloko faction in the St. Petersburg Legislative Assembly, took 7.06 percent. BW

...AND LENINGRAD REGION'S GOVERNOR RE-ELECTED...
In the neighboring Leningrad Oblast, incumbent Governor Valerii Serdyukov was elected to a second term as governor, winning 56.53 percent of votes according to preliminary results, Russian news agencies reported. The region's former governor, Vadim Gustov, came in second place with 25 percent of the vote. Some 7.73 percent voted against all candidates. BW

INCUMBENTS ALSO WIN IN TOMSK AND SVERDLOVSK REGIONS
Viktor Kress, the incumbent governor of the Tomsk Oblast, easily won re-election with 71.21 percent of the vote, Russian news agencies reported on 22 September. Kress's closest competitor was Communist Party (KPRF) candidate Aleksandr Pomorov, who won 12.95 percent. In a runoff election in the Sverdlovsk Oblast, incumbent Governor Eduard Rossel also won re-election with 55.67 percent of the vote, according to preliminary results. Rossel defeated regional lawmaker Anton Bakov, who garnered 29.81 percent support. BW

PUTIN OPENLY BACKS UNIFIED RUSSIA...
Putin, meanwhile, openly endorsed the Unified Russia party for elections to the State Duma in December, Russian and international news agencies reported on 21 September. Putin publicly said he backed Unified Russia during a surprise appearance at the party's conference on 20 September. "I must say that I think that I was right to vote for your party four years ago," Interfax quoted Putin as saying. "I must say that I do not regret this decision." Putin added that Unified Russia "is undoubtedly the leader" of the Russian political scene. Formed prior to the 1999 State Duma elections, Unified Russia is considered a pro-Kremlin party and has been dubbed "the party of power." At the conference, Unified Russia selected Interior Minister Boris Gryzlov to lead its party list in the State Duma elections. Gryzlov is followed by Emergency Situations Minister Sergei Shoigu, Moscow Mayor Yurii Luzhkov, and Tatarstan President Mintimer Shaimiev. BW

...AND FEDERATION COUNCIL SPEAKER SAYS PUTIN DIDN'T VIOLATE ELECTION LAWS
Federation Council Speaker Sergei Mironov said Putin broke no election laws with his statements at Unified Russia's congress, Interfax reported on 22 September. Putin has come under fire for his endorsement of Matvienko in St. Petersburg's gubernatorial elections and his support for Unified Russia. Russian law prohibits members of the executive branch from openly campaigning for candidates or parties in elections. "As a lawyer, I don't see any violations of election legislation." Mironov said. BW

MOSCOW DENIES PLOT TO KILL BEREZOVSKII
Russia's Foreign Intelligence Service (SVR) has denied reports in the British media that it planned to kill controversial businessman Boris Berezovskii, Interfax reported on 22 September. "We consider it impossible to even comment on these insane allegations," Boris Labusov, a spokesman for the SVR, said. "The Sunday Times" of 21 September reported that the SVR sent agents to London to kill the self-exiled tycoon. A bitter opponent of Putin's, Berezovskii is wanted in Russia on fraud charges. He has been granted political asylum by Great Britain. BW

CABINET CALLS FOR STABILIZATION FUND IN CASE OIL PRICE DROPS
The Russian government is proposing legislation to create a stabilization fund to guard against drops in the price of crude oil, Russian news agencies reported on 21 September. Oil and gas sales comprise 35 percent of Russia's federal budget, and the best way to protect against price fluctuations on the energy market would be to create a stabilization fund, Finance Minister Aleksei Kudrin said. "The stabilization fund will forever secure us against such situations as the 1998 ruble devaluation and default caused by falling oil prices," Kudrin said, adding that be the end of 2004 the stabilization fund will have 83.4 billion rubles ($2.7 billion). BW

TENSIONS INCREASE WITHIN ARMENIAN RULING COALITION
Parliament deputy speaker Tigran Torosian, who is a leading member of Prime Minister Andranik Markarian's Republican Party of Armenia (HHK), chastised the junior coalition partner Armenian Revolutionary Federation-Dashnaktsutiun on 19 September for criticism expressed the previous day of the government's draft anticorruption strategy, RFE/RL's Yerevan bureau reported (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 19 September 2003). He said coalition parties should not engage in mutual criticism the way opposition forces do. But Education Minister Sergo Yeritsian, who represents the Orinats Yerkir party (the third coalition partner) downplayed the disagreements within the three-party coalition, noting that it was formed "only recently," and that "there are still many issues that need to be clarified." LF

WORLD BANK OFFICIAL LAUDS ARMENIAN POVERTY-REDUCTION PROGRAM
Donna Dowsett-Coirolo, who is the World Bank's director for the South Caucasus, on 19 September praised Armenia's economic growth as "very impressive," RFE/RL's Yerevan bureau reported. She also described as "very good" the 12-year poverty-reduction program approved by the government last month (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 11 August 2003). Dowsett-Coirolo predicted that the bank will continue and may even increase its funding for Armenia in a new four-year Country Assistance Strategy to be unveiled next year. But at the same time she encouraged the Armenian leadership to do more to ensure that the benefits of economic growth are extended to rural areas. LF

AZERBAIJANI POLICE, OPPOSITION CLASH IN BAKU...
Police clashed with several thousand supporters of Musavat Party Chairman and opposition presidential election candidate Isa Gambar at two locations in Baku on 21 September, Turan reported. Hundreds of people were injured, some seriously. Gambar blamed the violence on both the current Azerbaijani leadership and unspecified "powers interested in destabilization" of the situation in the country. Seven people detained in one of the clashes were pressured by police to confess that they were paid to attend the rally in support of Gambar. LF

...AS OPPOSITION PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATES HOLD RALLIES IN SOUTH
Some 7,000 people attended a campaign rally in Masally on 21 September in support of opposition presidential candidate and Azerbaijan National Independence Party Chairman Etibar Mamedov, Turan reported. Attendance at a subsequent rally in Lenkoran was estimated at 15,000 people. In both cases, the local authorities tried in vain to block access to the rally site, and in Lenkoran police arrested 20 would-be participants and journalists. A rally planned for 22 September in Lerik district was cancelled after local authorities dug a deep trench across the town's only square and filled it with water. LF

AZERBAIJANI PROSECUTOR DENIES PRESIDENT'S BODYGUARD ARRESTED
The Prosecutor-General's Office issued a statement on 19 September denying media reports that Beylar Eyyubov, the head of President Heidar Aliev's bodyguards, and Vagif Talybov, parliamentary speaker of the Nakhichevan Autonomous Republic, have been arrested in Turkey on suspicion of having maintained contacts with the banned Kurdistan Workers Party (PKK), Turan and zerkalo.az reported on 19 and 20 September, respectively. Eyyubov is said to be a Kurd. He has headed the presidential bodyguard service since 1993, according to "Nezavisimaya gazeta" on 19 September. LF

GEORGIA CANCELS SIGNING OF ACCORD WITH VATICAN
In a 19 September telephone call, Georgian President Eduard Shevardnadze instructed Minister of State Avtandil Djorbenadze not to proceed with the signing, scheduled for that day, of an intergovernmental accord between Georgia and the Vatican, Reuters, Interfax, and Caucasus Press reported. Hundreds of Georgian students took to the streets of Tbilisi on 18 and 19 September to protest the planned pact, which Georgian Patriarch Ilia II also dismissed as ill-advised (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 19 September 2003). Vatican Secretary for Relations with Foreign States Archbishop Jean-Louis Tauran, who arrived in Tbilisi on 18 September to sign the agreement, left the Georgian capital prematurely on 20 September. In a statement issued the same day, he said the Georgian government's move caused "great suffering" to Pope John Paul II, who visited Georgia in 1999. Tauran said the failure to sign the agreement will undermine the rights of Georgia's small Roman Catholic minority. LF

CIS PRESIDENTS SIGN STATEMENT ON ABKHAZ CONFLICT
The CIS leaders who attended the CIS summit in Yalta on 18-19 September signed a statement on 19 September reaffirming their commitment to earlier statements upholding Georgia's sovereignty over the breakaway Republic of Abkhazia, Caucasus Press and Interfax reported. On 22 September, Georgian President Shevardnadze said during his regular Monday radio interview that Russian Foreign Minister Igor Ivanov refused on 18 September to include the Abkhaz issue in the agenda for the CIS foreign ministers' meeting that day. Shevardnadze persuaded the presidents of Russia and Ukraine, Vladimir Putin and Leonid Kuchma, respectively, to include Abkhaz among the issues to be discussed by CIS presidents on 19 September. Shevardnadze added that Putin confirmed his support for Georgia's territorial integrity and for the repatriation to Abkhazia of Georgian displaced persons who fled the region during the 1992-93 war. Putin and Shevardnadze signed an agreement on the sidelines of a CIS summit in Sochi in March on repatriation and the restoration of rail communication between Russia and Georgia via Abkhazia (see "RFE/RL Caucasus Report," 13 March 2003). LF

GEORGIA MULLS COOPERATION WITH CIS SINGLE ECONOMIC SPACE
Shevardnadze also said during his 22 September radio interview that Tbilisi does not rule out cooperation with the four member states of the CIS Single Economic Space established during the Yalta CIS summit (see Kazakh item below), provided such cooperation does not infringe on Georgia's international commitments and sovereign rights, Caucasus Press reported. Shevardnadze described as "very significant" President Putin's emphatic denial at the summit that closer cooperation among CIS member states heralds a possible restoration of the Soviet Union. LF

GEORGIAN PRESIDENT ACCEPTS JUSTICE MINISTER'S RESIGNATION
President Shevardnadze accepted on 18 September the resignation, offered three days earlier, of Justice Minister Roland Giligashvili, Caucasus Press reported on 19 September (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 16 September 2003). Giligashvili protested that the Georgian leadership failed to act on his earlier warnings that prison security is ineffective. On 10 September, 128 prisoners escaped from a jail in Rustavi, most of whom have since been recaptured. LF

FOUR CENTRAL ASIAN POLITICAL PRISONERS NOMINATED FOR SAKHAROV PRIZE...
The European Parliament has nominated four Central Asian political prisoners for the prestigious Sakharov Prize in 2003, akipress.org reported on 19 September, citing the International League for Human Rights. The four were chosen for their activities in open support of democratic change in the region. They are former Turkmen Foreign Minister Batyr Berdiyev, former Uzbek journalist and member of the unregistered Erk political party Mukhamed Bekzhanov, former Kyrgyz Vice President and opposition leader Feliks Kulov, and former governor of Pavlodar Oblast and co-founder of the opposition coalition Democratic Choice of Kazakhstan Galymzhan Zhaqiyanov. All are considered to have been denied a fair trial, access to appropriate legal counsel, and the right to see their families. BB

...LEADING ONE NOMINEE TO THANK EUROPARLIAMENT
Feliks Kulov, the current head of the opposition Ar-Namys Party who is serving a 10-year jail term for crimes allegedly committed while he was in government service, has already thanked the European Parliament, describing his nomination as a victory for the entire Kyrgyz opposition, RFE/RL's Kyrgyz Service reported on 20 September. Berdiyev, who served for a number of years as Turkmenistan's ambassador to the OSCE, was sentenced to 25 years in prison for his alleged role in the purported November 2002 coup attempt against Turkmen President Saparmurat Niyazov. The Turkmen opposition-in-exile has reported persistent rumors that Berdiyev's health declined catastrophically in prison and that he might have died there. U.S. Ambassador to the OSCE Stephen Minikes reportedly requested to visit Berdiyev while in Ashgabat on 17-18 September (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 19 September 2003), but was refused. Bekzhanov is the brother of Erk Party leader Muhamad Solih, and it widely believed that he was arrested because the authorities could not capture Solih, who lives in exile abroad. The Kazakh opposition believes that criminal charges against Zhaqiyanov, allegedly stemming from his government service, are politically motivated (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 16 September 2003). BB

LOW VOTER TURNOUT FOR LOCAL ELECTIONS IN KAZAKHSTAN
Elections to local maslikhats (councils) were held throughout Kazakhstan on 20 September, with only 56.4 percent of the eligible electorate having voted by poll-closing time, khabar.kz reported on 21 September, citing the Central Election Commission. Council members were elected in 2,062 electoral districts; a second round will be held in 433 districts and 59 will have to hold new elections. Khabar reported that there were more than 400 election observers from political parties and NGOs active in Astana alone, in addition to international observers. No major violations of election law were reported in the capital, but there were numerous cases of attempted "family" voting -- where one person presents the documents of an entire family in order to vote for all family members. According to reports, older voters were the most likely to come to the polls. KazInform noted on 21 September that, nationwide, there was an average of seven contenders for each council seat. BB

KAZAKH PRESIDENT HOPES FOR SPEEDY RATIFICATION OF SINGLE ECONOMIC SPACE
Kazakh President Nursultan Nazarbaev said at the CIS summit in Yalta on 19 September after the signing of a four-country agreement on creating a single economic space that he hopes the document will be ratified by the end of 2003, Interfax reported on 19 September. Nazarbaev, the originator of the concept of a common economic space comprising four CIS states (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 19 September 2003), described the signing as a "very serious step toward genuine [economic] integration." He added that the four member states -- Russia, Belarus, Kazakhstan, and Ukraine -- expect to unify their laws on the common economic space in 2004 so the association can begin functioning as soon as possible. He also said he hopes the common economic space will serve as a good example for CIS states with less-developed economies. BB

KYRGYZ OPPOSITION COALITION ASSESSES DRAFT ELECTION CODE
The regional branches of the Kyrgyz opposition coalition "For Democracy and Civil Society" have assessed the country's proposed new Election Code and found a number of flaws, coalition leader Edil Baisalov said on 20 September, RFE/RL's Kyrgyz Service reported. In particular, the coalition is recommending that -- in the interest of reducing the possibility of administrative interference in the election process -- the number of government employees on election commissions be no more than a third of the commission membership. The rest of the membership of the commissions should consist of representatives of political parties and public organizations. The new Election Code is still in draft form. BB

TAJIK BORDER OFFICIAL SAYS TAJIKISTAN READY TO TAKE OVER GUARDING OF AFGHAN BORDER
Major General Nuralisho Nazarov, First Deputy Chairman of the Tajik Border Protection Committee, told journalists on 19 September that Tajik border troops are ready to take responsibility for guarding the Tajik-Afghan border, Asia-Plus Blitz reported the same day. The Afghan section of Tajikistan's frontier has been guarded by Russian border troops under an agreement signed between the two countries in 1993. Nazarov said the Border Protection Committee has submitted to Russia its proposal for a gradual transfer of responsibility to Tajik troops. He added that although there have been no frictions among Russian and Tajik border troops, cooperation between the two sides has left much to be desired. In addition, Nazarov noted, 90 percent of the Russian border troops serving in Tajikistan are actually Tajik citizens. BB

TAJIK ISLAMIC PARTY DEMANDS RELEASE OF DETAINED MEMBERS
The 13 September congress of the Tajik Renaissance Party adopted an appeal to President Imomali Rakhmonov, the Tajik prosecutor-general, and the citizens of Tajikistan for the release of two prominent party members arrested earlier this year on what the party considers unfounded charges, the Tajik-language newspaper "Najot" reported on 18 September. Deputy party Chairman Shamsiddin Shamsiddinov was arrested at his home in northern Tajikistan's Sughd Oblast at the end of May on a warrant issued by the Military Prosecutor's Office and charged with a number of crimes, including murder (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 4, 5, and 9 June 2003). Senior party member Qosim Rakhimov was arrested on 13 July on a rape charge (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 24 July 2003). Both Rakhimov and Shamsiddinov are still in detention, and the party appeal asserts that the charges against them remain unproved and that the real objective of the arrests is to discredit the party and frighten its members. BB

UP TO 350,000 TAJIK CITIZENS WORKING ABROAD, LABOR MINISTER SAYS
Tajik Labor Minister Mukhamadsho Ilolov has announced the results of a recent countrywide poll conducted by his ministry that shows that as many as 350,000 Tajik citizens are working abroad, centran.ru reported on 19 September. As of 2002, the Tajik population was estimated at 6.23 million. About 90 percent of the labor migrants are working in Russia, Ilolov added, with small numbers having found jobs in Kazakhstan and Kyrgyzstan. Most leave to search for work independently, without carrying out the necessary formalities, which according to Ilolov is the source of their problems with the authorities of the countries in which they seek jobs and also with employers. The minister appealed to potential labor migrants to use the services of organizations licensed to export labor and familiarize themselves with Russian legislation on foreign citizens. BB

UZBEK GOVERNMENT TAKING STEPS AGAINST HUMAN TRAFFICKING
Deputy Foreign Minister Vladimir Norov told a seminar on human trafficking held in Tashkent on 20 September that the Uzbek government has drawn up an action plan for combating trafficking in human beings, uzreport.com reported on 22 September. The seminar was organized by the NGO Istiqboli Avlod and the Uzbek Foreign Ministry, and funded by the U.S. Agency for International Development (USAID), which is also providing a $700,000 grant to Uzbekistan for informational activities on human trafficking. Norov asserted that the Uzbek government puts human trafficking in the same category of crime as terrorism, drug trafficking, and proliferation of weapons of mass destruction. The U.S. Charge d'Affaires in Uzbekistan, David Appleton, was quoted as saying that the United States believes Uzbekistan has taken serious steps to counter human trafficking, thanks to the joint efforts of the government and civil society. BB

BELARUSIAN CONSTITUTIONAL COURT REFUSES TO REVIEW ELECTORAL CODE
The Constitutional Court has rejected a petition by a group of opposition politicians and leaders of nongovernmental organizations (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 19 August 2003) requesting that it examine the electoral code's articles that pertain to the early-voting procedure and the formation of election commissions, Belapan reported on 19 September. The Belarusian opposition deems these articles undemocratic and intended to help authorities manipulate election results. Constitutional Court Deputy Chairman Anatol Maryskin replied that, under Article 116 of the Belarusian Constitution, the Constitutional Court is obliged to consider issues submitted only by the president, the National Assembly, the Supreme Court, the Supreme Economic Court, and the Cabinet of Ministers. "Technically, the Constitutional Court replied correctly," former Constitutional Court Judge Valery Fadzeyeu said. But Fadzeyeu added that in 2002 the Constitutional Court ruled on two cases submitted by entities mentioned in Article 116 and on 16 cases that other petitioners initiated. JM

BELARUSIAN PRESIDENT WARY OF CIS ECONOMIC SPACE
Belarusian President Alyaksandr Lukashenka appeared cautious in commenting on the accord on the CIS Single Economic Space that he signed with the presidents of Russia, Ukraine, and Kazakhstan in Yalta on 19 September (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 19 September 2003), Belapan reported. "If Russia, Ukraine, and Kazakhstan make real steps forward, we will keep abreast," Lukashenka said. "If there are some reservations, a different pace or different levels of integration, Belarus will stay away, because it costs a lot and there is a prospect of repeating the CIS fate." The accord commits the four countries to pursue a coordinated foreign-trade polic, but leaves it up to member countries to decide the degree of their involvement. At the first stage, the countries intend to form a free trade zone that rules out the use of antidumping, tariff, and nontariff market-protection measures. Ukrainian President Leonid Kuchma reportedly signed the accord with a reservation saying Ukraine will commit itself only to those provisions that do not contradict its constitution. JM

UKRAINIAN PRESIDENT UPBEAT OVER CIS FREE-TRADE ZONE...
President Kuchma said at the close of a CIS summit in Yalta on 19 September that the implementation of economic-cooperation documents signed by CIS leaders during the summit will allow CIS members to create a full-scale free-trade zone and to switch to a "subsequent, higher stage of mutual relations," Interfax reported. "We have reached consensus on practically all issues," Kuchma noted. Commenting on the accord on the creation of a Single Economic Space by Russia, Ukraine, Belarus, and Kazakhstan, Kuchma said, "Under the present conditions, when the European markets are closed for us...it's better to have a real bird in the hand that two in the bush." JM

...WHILE OUR UKRAINE WANTS TO IMPEACH HIM OVER 'BETRAYAL OF NATIONAL INTERESTS'
Parties constituting the Our Ukraine bloc have begun collecting signatures under an open letter to President Kuchma in connection with his signing of an accord on the creation of a single economic zone with Russia, Belarus, and Kazakhstan, Interfax reported on 19 September, quoting Our Ukraine deputy head Yuriy Kostenko. "Your participation in the creation of a so-called single economic area under the conditions contradicting the current constitution, legislation, and international commitments of Ukraine...is provoking the indignation of Ukrainian citizens," the letter reads. "Since you have signed this accord despite arguments to the contrary, we demand that the Verkhovna Rada launch the procedure of your impeachment for the betrayal of national interests of Ukraine." Our Ukraine also slammed Kuchma for launching a constitutional reform that, the letter claims, is intended to enable him to remain in power (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 19 September 2003). JM

CIS PRESIDENTS AGREE TO MONITOR SALES OF ANTIAIRCRAFT MISSILES
CIS states, with the exception of neutral Turkmenistan, agreed during the 18-19 September CIS summit in Yalta to monitor all sales of portable Igla and Strela antiaircraft missile systems, Interfax reported on 19 September. Russian Defense Minister Igor Sergeev hailed that agreement, noting that terrorists of all political persuasions already use such weapons. He noted that "it took some effort" to persuade Georgia, Ukraine, and Azerbaijan to accede to the agreement, according to Interfax on 19 September. During a meeting of CIS Collective Security Treaty Organization defense ministers in early June, the representatives of those three countries and of Uzbekistan declined to support a Russian proposal to ban sales of such weapons (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 11, 17, and 19 June 2003). LF

ESTONIAN FINANCE MINISTER RESIGNS
Tonis Palts submitted his resignation to Prime Minister Juhan Parts on 19 September saying he wished to spare his family and political partners from "groundless and mostly anonymous" criticism related to his earlier activity as a businessman, BNS reported. At the end of August, the Tax Board launched a misdemeanor action against Pambos Holdings, a firm owned by Palts, to investigate whether it had violated the Tax Administration and Accounting Acts in 2001. Palts said he had told Parts about his wish to resign in June, but agreed to remain in the post until the 2004 budget was prepared. On 18 September, the government approved the budget he offered. Palts will resume his parliament deputy seat he suspended on becoming a minister. Parts said he will nominate Res Publica parliament faction head Taavi Veskimagi as finance minister. Veskimagi, 28, is a member of the parliament Finance Committee. He worked in the Finance Ministry from 1996-2001. SG

LATVIA BACKS EU MEMBERSHIP IN REFERENDUM
Latvia overwhelmingly approved membership of the EU on 20 September, with 72.53 percent of eligible voters participating, LETA reported the next day. Preliminary results indicated that of the 1 million participating voters, 67 percent backed accession. More than 32 percent of voters opposed membership while 7,097 ballots were deemed invalid. Among the nine EU candidate countries that have held membership referendums, only Malta had a higher turnout. The strongest "yes" vote (83 percent) came in the Valmiera District, while the greatest "no" vote (67.3 percent) came in the southeastern city of Daugavpils, which has a large Russian-speaking majority. The Central Election Commission is expected to announce the official tally in two weeks. SG

EC VICE PRESIDENT WARNS LITHUANIA ABOUT BRAIN DRAIN
European Commission (EC) Vice President for Administrative Reform Neil Kinnock began a busy one-day official visit to Vilnius on 19 September with a meeting with parliament Deputy Chairman Vytenis Andriukaitis, BNS reported. After talks with Interior Minister Virgilijus Bulovas, he told President Rolandas Paksas that Lithuania may lose about 250 of its best specialists who would be recruited to serve as permanent employees in EU institutions in Brussels, Strasbourg, and Luxembourg. At a subsequent press conference Kinnock declared that he did not agree with the draft EU Constitutional Agreement, which would reduce the number of commissioners from 20 to 15, but favored raising their number so that the 15 current and 10 candidate EU member countries would have at least one. After a tour of Vilnius' Old Town, Kinnock had lunch with Prime Minister Algirdas Brazauskas during which he expressed support for developing the Via Baltica highway and Rail Baltica railway. Kinnock also met with Finance Minister Dalia Grybauskaite and European Committee Director General Petras Austrevicius. SG

POLISH PREMIER SEES 'NO POSSIBILITY OF CONCESSIONS' ON NICE TREATY
Premier Leszek Miller said on 21 September that maintaining Poland's position in the European Union Council as foreseen in the Nice Treaty of 2000 remains Poland's key postulate, PAP reported. Miller was commenting on the government's stand for a planned intergovernmental conference in Rome on 4 October to draft the final text of the EU Constitutional Treaty. "We do not see the smallest reason why we should resign from the system of counting votes that was worked out in Nice, the more so that we have not yet had an occasion to verify it in life," Miller said. "We see no possibility of concessions in this area." The Nice Treaty gives Poland 27 votes in the council, only two less than France, Germany, Great Britain, or Italy. Miller said Warsaw favors making reference to Christian values in the preamble of the constitutional treaty and maintaining the principle of "one country, one commissioner" on the European Commission. The Sejm on 19 September voted down two resolutions, one by the Law and Justice party and the other by the National Catholic Movement, calling for a national referendum on the EU Constitutional Treaty. JM

POLISH PARTY COUNTERS GERMAN PROPOSAL OF CENTER AGAINST EXPULSIONS
The centrist, liberal Civic Platform proposed on 19 September the creation of a Center of Memory for the Nations of Europe, Polish media reported. The initiative comes in response to the controversial proposal of Germany's League of Expellees, led by Erika Steinbach, to establish a Berlin-based Center Against Expulsions (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 19 September 2003). The Civic Platform wants the Center of Memory of the Nations of Europe to be under the aegis of the Council of Europe and proposes to locate the center's headquarters in Warsaw. "The European memory, including memory of European dramas, may not be the memory of a single nation," Civic Platform leader Donald Tusk said. "That is why the best promoters and organizers of such centers, monuments, and institutions should be European institutions and not the national institutions of a single state." JM

MAVERICK CZECH POLITICIAN RESIGNS PARLIAMENTARY SEAT
Freedom Union-Democratic Union (US-DEU) legislator and former chairwoman Hana Marvanova announced on 19 September that she will resign her seat in the lower house on 23 September, CTK reported. Marvanova, who gave birth to her third son on 16 September, said she cannot combine her motherly duties with parliamentary work, particularly in light of the governing coalition's tenuous majority. Marvanova became the first woman to head a Czech political party when she was elected chairwoman of the Freedom Union in June 2001, and orchestrated the subsequent merger with the Freedom Union. She resigned the party chairmanship in July 2002 after the US-DEU leadership voted to join the coalition headed by the Social Democratic Party (CSSD). Marvanova provoked the coalition's first major crisis several months later when she used her vote to kill government-backed tax hikes -- boosting her right-wing credentials but highlighting the fragility of the three-party government. Marvanova recently pledged to support the government-proposed reforms coming up for debate in parliament. She will be succeeded by Tomas Vrbik, who is believed to hold views similar to Marvanova's (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 25 June 2001, 13 September 2002, and 21 January and 5 March 2003). MS

CZECH PRESIDENT CALLS EUROPEAN CONSTITUTION 'A RADICAL DOCUMENT'
President Vaclav Klaus said on 21 September during a private visit to the United States that the draft European Constitution is "a radical document with big consequences for national sovereignty," CTK reported the next day, citing the Tennessee daily "The Chattanoogan." "The EU will no longer derive its power from its member countries but from its own constitution" if the draft is approved as it stands, he said. Nonetheless, Klaus said, the Czech Republic, situated in Central Europe, cannot afford to remain outside the integration process and will have to work for change "inside the EU." MS

SLOVAK PRESIDENT CHASTISES COALITION LEADERS
President Rudolf Schuster said on 19 September that the leaders of the four-party central-right coalition must stop putting party interests ahead of those of the country and its citizens, TASR reported. Schuster said on the eve of a "working visit" to Germany that "politicians should rather address mounting problems, and particularly the appalling social conditions faced by young people and by pensioners." Alliance for a New Citizen Deputy Chairman Lubomir Lintner countered on TV Markiza on 21 September that while Schuster is calling on coalition parties to negotiate differences, he is complicating relations within the ruling coalition by delaying the appointment of ANO Chairman Pavol Rusko as economy minister. Presidential spokesman Jan Fule rejected that allegation. Lintner added that ANO supports Premier Mikulas Dzurinda's intention to dismiss National Security Office (NBU) chief Jan Mojzis because "if the premier loses confidence in an official subordinated to the government, that official must be recalled" (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 11 September 2003). MS

DEFENSE WEEKLY COMPARES SLOVAK PREMIER WITH MECIAR
The British journal "Jane's Intelligence Digest" suggested on 18 September that Premier Dzurinda's attempts to oust Defense Minister Ivan Simko and NBU head Mojzis are "reminiscent of the [Vladimir] Meciar era." The article was quoted the next day by local TASR news agency and the daily "Hospodarske noviny." The British journal also expressed concern that the two scandals might affect Slovakia's planned NATO accession. On 21 September, TASR cited Simko as saying that replacing the defense minister would slow efforts to reform the Slovak Army. He said his eventual replacement will require time to appraise the situation and forge personal contacts in the ministry. Also on 21 September, parliamentary deputy Pavol Kubovic said on Slovak television that his colleague Juraj Liska is Dzurinda's Slovak Democratic and Christian Union (SDKU) candidate to replace Simko. Kubovic's name had already been mentioned as the likely candidate for the post (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 17 September 2003). MS

SLOVAK PREMIER DENIES BREAKING LAW IN MOJZIS CASE
Premier Dzurinda denied on 20 September that he broke the law by receiving information from the Slovak Information Service (SIS) on Mojzis (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 18 September 2003). "I am receiving information that prime ministers are supposed to receive in line with the law," Dzurinda told state radio. "I did not break any laws." Dzurinda also accused Mojzis of wrongdoing, alleging that the NBU head has a conflict of interest. He did not specify, but said a civil servant is supposed to have neither political nor economic interests of his own and may not misuse his position to advance those interests. MS

SLOVAK CHRISTIAN DEMOCRATS TO BOYCOTT TV MARKIZA
Christian Democratic Movement (KDH) spokeswoman Laura Dyttertova told CTK on 20 September that the KDH will boycott TV Markiza because of perceived biased coverage of the party and attacks on the KDH leadership. KDH politicians will neither give interviews to TV Markiza nor participate in any of the station's broadcasts, she said. The KDH also intends to launch a complaint with the electronic-media watchdog, the Slovak Broadcasting Council. Interior Minister Vladimir Palko (KDH) said on TV Markiza earlier this month that its reporters are "corrupt" and that the station -- which is partly owned by ANO Chairman Rusko -- is leading a smear campaign against him (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 9 September 2003). TV Markiza Editor-in-Chief Lubomir Karasek called the KDH decision "incorrect and impolite," according to TASR. Such methods, Karasek said, are not effective in a democracy. "Last time [such a tactic] was used against TV Markiza [was] by Vladimir Meciar in 1996-98. As we survived the boycott of [Meciar's] Movement for a Democratic Slovakia, I guess we shall survive the KDH boycott as well," he said. MS

HUNGARIAN INVESTIGATION INTO BROKERAGE SCANDAL HANGS IN THE BALANCE
The establishment of a parliamentary committee to probe the brokerage scandal at K&H Equities is doubtful, as the opposition FIDESZ party and the governing Socialist Party are unable to agree on the terms of setting up such a committee, "Nepszabadsag" reported on 20 September. FIDESZ would prefer to investigate the recent events only, and complains that the committee is chaired by a Socialist deputy. The Socialist Party, however, wants the investigation to cover the last five years, to include the activities of the FIDESZ-led cabinet as well. MSZ

HUNGARIAN CABINET STILL RETHINKING TAXES
The cabinet on 21 September held an unofficial meeting to discuss the new 2004 tax code, and decided the value-added tax (VAT) on heating, public transport, and natural gas should be 15 percent, and not 25 percent as had earlier been determined (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 18 and 19 September 2003), Hungarian radio reported. In addition, coal and wood consumption by the poor will be government supported, either by lower VAT rates or by direct subsidies. Meanwhile, Prime Minister Peter Medgyessy on 19 September reacted sharply to a recent "Nepszabadsag" article reporting that the government's announced motorway program might not be completed, since not enough funds have been earmarked in the 2004 budget for the construction works. "Either the journalist was telling lies or, if it is true, then a new Economy Minister will be hired from next Monday," Medgyessy told Hungarian radio. MSZ

HUNGARIAN FOREIGN MINISTER CALLS ARAFAT 'KEY FACTOR'
Laszlo Kovacs told "Nepszabadsag" on 21 September that Yasser Arafat, whose prestige and influence on the Palestinian side is "unquestionable," should be encouraged to help the new Palestinian Prime Minister, Ahmed Korei. Speaking after attending a ceremony in Jerusalem marking the 80th birthday of former Israeli Prime Minister Simon Peres, Kovacs also said the international community must provide much greater support to Korei. He said the Israeli government must abandon its plan to banish or liquidate Arafat, as such a move would render the peace process untenable. MSZ

HUNGARIAN POLL SHOWS ANTI-SEMITISM ON WANE, ANTI-ROMA SENTIMENT DROPPING SOMEWHAT
According to findings of a recent Gallup Institute poll, open anti-Semitism among Hungarians has reportedly dropped by half in the past 10 years, while anti-Roma sentiment has only slipped by a few percent, "Magyar Hirlap" reported on 20 September. The data from previous surveys reveal that while in 1993-1994 a total of 14-15 percent of the adult population affirmed that they "do not like Jews," in the 2002-2003 surveys only 6-7 percent gave the same response. Anti-Roma feelings peaked at 40-42 percent in the 1993-1994 period, and dropped to 36-38 percent in 2001-2003 surveys. MSZ

FORMER U.S. PRESIDENT DEDICATES BOSNIAN MEMORIAL CENTER...
Former President Bill Clinton inaugurated a memorial center near Srebrenica on 20 September, honoring the up to 8,000 mainly male Bosnian Muslims killed by Serbian forces following the fall of the town in July 1995, international and regional media reported. About 20,000 people welcomed Clinton, whom families of the victims invited to come in recognition of his role in ending the 1992-95 Bosnian conflict, which took about 200,000 lives. At the ceremony, the remains of 107 people were buried alongside those of 882 victims already there. The memorial center is located near the place in Potocari where Serbian forces separated Muslim males from women and children as Dutch UN peacekeepers looked on. The center is shaped like a flower, with the petals serving as gravesites. In Sarajevo, Clinton visited former Bosnian President Alija Izetbegovic, who is in critical condition in the Kosevo hospital (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 19 September 2003). PM

...STRESSES THE NEED TO BRING WAR CRIMINALS TO JUSTICE...
Clinton told those assembled near Srebrenica on 20 September that "bad people who lusted for power killed these people simply because of who they were. They sought power through genocide, but Srebrenica was the beginning of the end of genocide in Europe," RFE/RL reported. "Those most responsible for the atrocities, the leaders, have not been apprehended. The search for them must continue until they are. We owe it to the men and boys buried in this hallowed ground, we owe it to the wives and children who survived them, and we owe it to all the Bosnian children yet unborn, to see that justice is done," Clinton added. PM

...AND URGES RECONCILIATION
Speaking near Srebrenica on 20 September, Clinton said, "many people said we would not succeed because violence was a part of the fabric of life in this part of the world and had been for hundreds of years. They were wrong as a matter of history and wrong as a matter of morality. For much of your history, [Muslims], Croats, and Serbs have lived together in peace. The response to Srebrenica, ending the conflict, gives you a chance but not a guarantee to live that way once again.... I hope the memorial and cemetery will help to foster the return of more refugees to Srebrenica. I hope they will always serve as a reminder of what happens when we allow political leaders to define one person's dignity in terms of another's humiliation. I hope the very mention of Srebrenica will remind every child in the world that pride in our own religious and ethnic heritage does not require or permit us to dehumanize or kill those who are different," RFE/RL reported. PM

BOSNIAN MUSLIMS REMEMBER THEIR DEAD
Advija Ibrahimovic, an 18-year-old representative of the mothers and wives of the victims, said near Srebrenica on 20 September that she "was 10 years old [at the time of the massacre] and remember that I was incredibly scared. I also remember when [the Serbian forces] took my father away -- and his last look at my interrupted childhood," dpa reported. She added that the victims "were killed only because they had different names and they prayed to God differently." Sulejman Tihic, who is the Muslim member of the Bosnian Presidency, thanked Clinton and the United States for their role in ending the conflict but criticized the UN for failing to protect the Muslims in the UN-designated "safe area" of Srebrenica. Bosnian Serb Prime Minister Dragan Mikerevic, who led a delegation of Bosnian Serb officials, "expressed respect" for the victims, adding that it is everyone's duty to promote reconciliation, "the normalization of life, and an end to the crisis," RFE/RL's South Slavic and Albanian Languages Service reported (see "RFE/RL Balkan Report," 6 September 2002). PM

FORMER U.S. PRESIDENT APPEALS TO KOSOVARS
Speaking in Prishtina on 19 September, Clinton told Kosovars: "I want to see you move towards self-government, economic prosperity, a civilized and lawful society, [and] religious and ethnic freedom," RFE/RL reported. He appealed to Kosovars to be a model for conflict resolution, adding: "you are in the driver's seat now. You can use it to try to get even, or you can use it to work on your problems, to try to reconcile at least the children of Kosovo to one another.... You could try to create for the world a model of positive interdependence...[which] will give great courage to the people in Middle East and Africa, all over the world, who are struggling with the same sort of problem," dpa reported. Clinton received an honorary doctorate from Prishtina University and visited U.S. troops at Camp Bondsteel. Clinton and his administration were instrumental in NATO's decision to intervene in Kosova in 1999, ending the crackdown by Serbian forces and bombing targets in Serbia proper and Montenegro. A major street in Prishtina is named after him, and pro-U.S. feeling remains very strong among ethnic Albanians. PM

MIXED SIGNALS ON KOSOVA TALKS
Harri Holkeri, who heads the UN civilian administration in Kosova (UNMIK), said in Prishtina on 20 September that the start of "technical" talks between Kosovar and Belgrade authorities is a "question of days and not weeks," RFE/RL's South Slavic and Albanian Languages Service reported. But Kosovar President Ibrahim Rugova and Prime Minister Bajram Rexhepi said after talks with Holkeri that their main concern is that UNMIK transfer more powers to Kosova's elected authorities, the Croatian news agency Hina reported. Several Kosovar leaders have argued that there is no point in their holding talks with Belgrade as long as UNMIK has the final say in many areas of concern to the Serbs. Those Kosovars add that UNMIK should either transfer more powers to the Prishtina authorities or join the Kosovar delegation at the talks, rather than act as a mediator (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 15 September 2003, and "RFE/RL Balkan Report," 27 June, and 1 and 15 August 2003). PM

SERBIA PREPARES TO INDICT MILOSEVIC IN MURDER CASES
Serbian state-run television reported on 19 September that the authorities will file indictments on 23 September against former Serbian and Yugoslav President Slobodan Milosevic for his alleged role in instigating the murder of former Serbian President Ivan Stambolic in August 2000 and the attempted murder of opposition leader Vuk Draskovic in an October 1999 car crash that killed four of Draskovic's companions, Reuters reported (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 25 August 2003). In related news, former Yugoslav Prime Minister Ante Markovic has arrived in The Hague and will testify against Milosevic shortly, RFE/RL's South Slavic and Albanian Languages Service reported on 20 September 2003. This will be the first time that Markovic, who was prime minister from 1989-91, will have spoken in public about Milosevic's rise to power and role in the destruction of former Yugoslavia. Markovic and his economic reforms were widely seen as the last hope to save the former state, and most observers blame Milosevic for their failure. Markovic is now a businessman in Graz, Austria. PM

SERBIAN AND MONTENEGRIN MEDIA: THREE OFFICERS ARRESTED AS RUSSIAN SPIES
Quoting unnamed Defense Ministry sources, the private Beta news agency reported from Belgrade on 22 September that two colonels and one lieutenant-colonel attached to Serbia and Montenegro's General Staff have been arrested on suspicion of spying for Russia, RFE/RL's South Slavic and Albanian Languages Service reported. The Podgorica daily "Vijesti" reported that an unnamed Montenegrin businessman, who is a frequent visitor to Moscow, acted as go-between for the officers and their paymasters. PM

MACEDONIAN PEN CLUB SLAMS SCHENGEN
The Macedonian PEN Center on 20 September opened a conference in Ohrid under a motto likening the EU's Schengen zone to the Berlin Wall, A1 TV and MIA news agency reported. In a resolution, the participants from many European countries criticized the Schengen agreement, which regulates the freedom of movement for EU citizens, as discriminatory toward people from non-member countries. Dimitar Basevski of the Macedonian PEN Center said "[many people], especially those from the so-called western Balkans, are put in an unfair position regarding freedom of movement, which [inhibits] the exchange of ideas and participation in cultural and literary life in today's Europe." He added that people from the western Balkans consider the establishment of the Schengen zone a form of "rejection and humiliation." Visa-free travel remains a dream for most people in the western Balkans, including those wanting to travel between the Balkan countries themselves. This is particularly grating for citizens of former Yugoslavia, whose passport once entitled them to virtually visa-free travel in both NATO countries and those of the Warsaw Pact. PEN clubs enjoy immense prestige in the Balkan countries, particularly in former Yugoslavia, where writers traditionally played an important role in public life. UB/PM

TENSE ATMOSPHERE IN ROMANIAN TOWN AFTER ROMANY PROTEST
Thousands of Roma from Bucharest descended on Craiova on 18 September, after local Roma were denied entry to nightclubs by a gang of ethnic Romanians, Romanian Radio reported. Police managed to block access to the town center and negotiated with the Bucharest Roma, who in the end agreed to disperse. In a statement distributed by the Federation of Roma Organization in Romania (FORROM), its chairman, Vasile Ionescu, said the tense atmosphere in Craiova was the result of authorities neglecting to take measures against racist manifestations and against bodies such as the Organization for the Struggle Against Gypsies. Ionescu said that despite appeals from the FORROM, the Craiova local authorities never bothered to reply to FORROM warnings. Ionescu said Romania is "facing the danger of falling back into the Middle Ages." He also said FORROM is protesting against the media coverage of the Craiova "racial disturbances." MS

ROMANIAN PREMIER WANTS EUROPEAN COMMISSION TO HANDLE ROMANIA, BULGARIA EVENLY
Prime Minister Adrian Nastase said on 19 September that he is sending a letter to the European Commission asking it to use the same criteria as those used last year, when the commission granted Bulgaria the status of a "functioning market economy," RFE/RL's Bucharest bureau reported. Nastase said that if the same criteria were used in this year's country report, the commission "should have no hesitation in granting Romania the status of a functioning market." He emphasized that achieving that status does not necessarily mean the economy is 100 percent based on a functioning market. He said he was told in Brussels that none of the EU candidate countries meet 100-percent the requirements for that status. MS

ROMANIAN PRESIDENT WANTS 'PROGRESSIVE TAXATION'...
President Ion Iliescu said on 20 September that he "definitely supports progressive taxation rather than a flat tax," RFE/RL's Bucharest bureau reported. Iliescu said progressive taxation is "socially more correct" and that the more one earns, the higher the taxes one should pay. Last week, the government approved a proposal of the Finance Ministry to introduce a flat tax of 23 percent as of next year (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 12 September 2003). The president added that he might agree to having a flat tax introduced, however, because of the current difficulties in tax collection. Premier Nastase said on 19 September that he personally is in favor of a flat tax, but the cabinet will delay its final decision pending consultations with the unions and with employers. Nastase said he does not want to "impose the flat tax" despite the opinion of the majority. MS

...WARNS AGAINST 'HASTY' PRIVATIZATION OF STATE OIL COMPANY
President Iliescu said on 19 September during a visit to Arges County that the privatization of the Petrom state oil company must be carefully weighed, and he warned against any hasty decision that would produce losses, Mediafax reported. Iliescu said "some people regard the privatization of Petrom as getting rid of a state burden" and called this "a primitive manner" of looking at the issue. Also on 19 September, Romanian Radio said 15 international companies and consortiums are bidding for the 33.4 percent stake offered by the Romanian government in a tender. According to dpa, the last bid was made by Poland's PKN Orlen in a consortium with Hungary's MOL Rt. The deadline for submitting bids expired on 19 September and the government will prepare a short-list from these preliminary offers and ask the bidders to make final offers by 31 January 2004. Russia's Gazprom and British Petroleum are also among the bidders, according to Romanian Radio. MS

ROMANIAN GOVERNMENT SELLS STAKE IN COMMERCIAL BANK
The European Bank for Reconstruction and Development (EBRD) and the World Bank's International Finance Corp. (IFC) have acquired a 25-percent stake in the state-owned Romanian Commercial Bank, AFP reported on 20 September. The Privatization Authority said the agreement reached with the EBRD and the IFC will be submitted to the government's approval at the end of this month and to the approval of the EBRD and IFC boards in October. AFP cited Romanian media sources reporting that the EBRD and the IFC agreed to pay between $220 million and $225 million for a 25 percent stake plus two shares. The Commercial Bank controls about one-third of the country's banking sector. MS

ROMANIA'S NUCLEAR PLANT BACK TO FULL OPERATION
Romania's only nuclear-power plant at Cernavoda has returned to full operation on 20 September, Romanian radio reported. The plant's reactor was switched off on 23 August due to the dangerous drop in the Danube River's water level (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 25 August 2003). MS

AUSTRIA THREATENS TO END VISA EXEMPTIONS FOR ROMANIA, BULGARIA
Austrian Interior Minister Ernst Strasser said the visa exemptions extended by the EU allow "Bulgarian and Romanian street gangs" to come to Vienna solely for the purpose of crime, dpa reported. In an interview with the daily "Kurier," Strasser said police were reinforced but that "Bulgaria and Romania must clearly understand that there will be no admission ticket to Europe if they do not get their crime gangs under control." He said he would raise the issues of visas for Romanians in particular if the situation does not improve. "It is true that the Romanians work hard, but they are quite far distant from European standards," he said. MS

MOLDOVAN PRESIDENT CRITICIZES SINGLE ECONOMIC SPACE DECISION
President Vladimir Voronin said on 19 September that he was "disappointed" by the decision adopted by Russia, Kazakhstan, Ukraine, and Belarus at the Yalta summit of the Commonwealth of Independent States (CIS) to set up a Single Economic Space between the four countries, Flux and AFP reported. Voronin said the decision will without doubt lead to "a depreciation of the CIS stock" and, as a result, Moldova is likely to "step up our efforts to join the EU." In a statement released by the presidential office, Voronin said the four countries' decision shows "the possible modernization of the CIS has been abandoned for good." He added: "I have repeatedly said Moldova would not become the grave digger of the CIS, but after what happened in Yalta, the lack of perspective of the CIS has become evident." Opposition Popular Party Christian Democratic (PPCD) Chairman Iurie Rosca said in reaction that Voronin is not sincere and that the president was forced to finally comprehend that the "political game" within the CIS works against Moldova's interests, Romanian Radio reported on 20 September. Braghis Alliance Chairman, former Premier Dumitru Braghis, said the EU is waiting for "deeds, not words" from Moldova and that he doubts whether Moldova could advance toward EU membership as long as it is ruled by Communists. MS

MOLDOVAN OFFICIAL WELCOMES RUSSIAN APPOINTMENT...
Deputy Foreign Minister Ion Stavila told RFE/RL's Romania-Moldova service on 19 September that the appointment of Russian presidential deputy chief of staff Dimitrii Kozak to represent Russia in the Transdniester negotiations could have a positive impact on the process. Russian President Vladimir Putin instructed Kozak to take charge of the negotiations during the recent Yalta summit. Kozak was not named as special presidential representative, as was the case two years earlier with former Russian Premier Evgenii Primakov. Stavila said that against the background of a possible participation in the negotiations by the EU, the involvement on the Russian side of "new people" could turn out to be beneficial for Moldova. Stavila praised Kozak as a "reputed jurist" and a "representative of reform forces" within Moscow's state structures. MS

...WHILE APPOINTEE SPEAKS OF HIS FUTURE ROLE
In a first statement made after his new appointment, Kozak said Russia's main task in Transdniester is defending the interests of its own nationals there, Flux reported. "They suffer as a result of the conflict, and our task is to protect them," he said. MS

OSCE MISSION CHIEF TO MOLDOVA DENIES ATTRIBUTED STATEMENT
William Hill, OSCE mission chief to Moldova, denied on 18 September a statement attributed to him, according to which an EU international peacekeeping force could replace the Russian troops in Transdniester by early 2004, RFE/RL's Moldova-Romania service reported (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 18 September 2004). Hill said it would be "both premature and unwise to mention dates, as long as no consensus has been achieved and a decision has not been taken." Hill also denied that the Russian delegation to an OSCE conference recently held in Vienna has announced that Moscow cannot abide by the 31 December 2003 deadline for withdrawing its troops from Transdniester. He said that "technically" it is still possible for Russia to meet its obligations, but added that he is worried, as the time left is very short and the separatist administration in Tiraspol continues to block the evacuation of Russian ammunition. MS

OUTGOING U.S. AMBASSADOR CALLS ON MOLDOVANS TO 'FORGET UNREAL IDEALISM'
Outgoing U.S. Ambassador to Moldova Pamela Hyde Smith, in a 20 September press conference, her last in that position, called on Moldovans to "open their eyes, forget unrealistic idealism and contribute to the search for a federal solution" to the Transdniester war, Flux reported. Smith said the federal solution plan is the only solution advanced in the last decade that has a chance to be implemented. She said the plan takes into consideration that the two regions have different traditions and could help "bring about democracy and transparency" to Transdniester. Should its implementation succeed, Moldova could achieve within seven years the development level of Slovenia and the Baltic states, she said. MS

TRANSDNIESTER READY TO STOP 'TELEPHONE WARFARE'
In a letter addressed to OSCE mission head Hill on 19 September, Vladimir Beleaev, who is in charge of the telecommunications portfolio in the separatist region's administration, said Tiraspol is ready to stop jamming Moldovan mobile-phone signals if Chisinau reciprocates by ceasing the jamming of Transdniester signals, RFE/RL's Chisinau bureau reported (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 15 September 2003). The Moldovan Telecommunication Ministry did not react to the statement. Transdniester began jamming the Moldovan signal on 9 September, after Chisinau did so, saying that a Tiraspol-based mobile phone company is using the same frequency as that allotted for a Moldovan digital television channel. MS

TIRASPOL MARKS 'INDEPENDENCE' WITH MILITARY PARADE
The separatist authorities in Tiraspol held a military parade to mark the 13th anniversary of "independence," the private Romanian Antena 1 channel reported on 19 September. MS

BULGARIAN PRIME MINISTER HALTS BULGARTABAC PRIVATIZATION...
Prime Minister Simeon Saxecoburggotski has halted the privatization of the tobacco monopoly Bulgartabac as long as the outcome of the privatization of the state-owned Bulgarian Telecommunications Company (BTK) remains unclear, mediapool.bg reported on 19 September. According to a source in the governing National Movement Simeon II (NDSV), the government may now consider selling parts of Bulgartabac without involving the state Privatization Agency. The Supreme Administrative Court is currently reviewing the BTK deal, which was marred by political interventions (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 4 September 2003). UB

...AS IMF, FOREIGN INVESTORS DEMAND MORE TRANSPARENCY
Jerald Schiff, a division chief who represents the Bulgarian team at International Monetary Fund (IMF) headquarters, said on the private bTV on 21 September that foreign investors might be scared away if they take a look at the privatizations of BTK and Bulgartabac, mediapool.bg reported. Schiff said it must be clear that the privatization process is an economic process, not a political one. The Bulgarian International Business Association (BIBA), an organization of foreign investors, said in a statement on 19 September that the delay in the BTK privatization and the search for various reasons not to strike a deal with the winner of the tender, as well as attempts to make the privatization a political decision, to a large degree have discouraged foreign investors, mediapool.bg reported. According to BIBA, transparency must be the leading principle during the privatization process. UB

WHY THE DELAY IN AFGHANISTAN'S CONSTITUTIONAL LOYA JIRGA?


Afghanistan's Constitutional Commission announced amid confusion on 7 September that the Constitutional Loya Jirga (CLJ) that was scheduled to review and approve a new Afghan constitution in October will be delayed until December. The commission secretariat's official explanation for the postponement was that the body needs more time to evaluate the questionnaires it collected from the public. Lost in the shuffle, however, was the draft version that the Constitutional Commission had promised to release to the public by 1 September (see http://www.constitution-afg.com).

As the commission secretariat correctly pointed out, the October deadline for convening the CLJ was two months earlier than the date stipulated in the 2001 Bonn agreement that established the rules and regulations of the transitional period of Afghanistan. As such, the December deadline still conforms to the Bonn Agreement.

If intended to get the Afghan public more involved in the country's constitutional process and to ensure that the CLJ is as representative as possible, the delay might be a positive step. In fact, concerns regarding the lack of adequate public participation in the constitution-drafting process, as well as Kabul's inability to ensure that delegates of the CLJ are not forced to toe a line drawn by the country's respective warlords and regional leaders, indicated as early as January that the process ought to be delayed. Rather than presenting a highly idealized but unworkable and potentially divisive draft constitution, the CDC [Constitution Drafting Commission] and its supporters may wish to bring some changes to the timeline provided to them by the Bonn Agreement, and work transparently on a new and workable vision for Afghanistan.

Unfortunately, however, the principle factors behind the current delay do not seem to include the issue of public participation or concerns about the lack of security. The driving force in the delay appears to stem from disagreements among various factions within the Constitutional Commission and some -- especially conservative religious -- elements outside the commission. Reports have indicated that various ulama (religious scholars) have demanded, for example, that the term "democracy" be omitted from the new constitution. Others have recommended draconian limitations of the rights of women. There might be other points of contention surrounding the preferred form of government, including the issue of federalism, the role of Shi'a schools of jurisprudence, and other areas. No one knows for certain, because the entire constitutional process has been shrouded in secrecy and kept from the very public in whose name the document is being drafted.

If the aim of the delay is truly to provide time to review the questionnaires, then why is the draft of the constitution -- due to be made public on 1 September -- still being kept secret?

In welcoming the postponement of the CLJ, the Kabul newspaper "Mosharekat-e Melli" commented on 2 September that while the constitution originated in the minds of politicians and legal experts, until "it is endorsed by the free votes of the nation, it cannot be called a constitution or a national pledge." The paper added that the postponement of the CLJ has provided an "opportunity for making public the amended draft of the constitution to enable the people to criticize and dissect the law that they will be asked to approve." Finally, "Mosharekat-e Melli" warned that if the Constitutional Commission "does not manage to put the draft of the constitution at the people's disposal, it might strike a heavy blow to its credibility."

Perhaps -- propitiously for Afghanistan -- the Constitutional Commission will produce a rabbit out of its hat that will be accepted by the majority of Afghans. But if the rabbit that emerges is not favored by the majority of Afghans, then a golden and perhaps final opportunity to shape the country into a forward-looking and inclusive society that respects their traditions and religious beliefs might be missed.

Security concerns continue to play a role as well. As Afghan Transitional Authority President Hamid Karzai stated in an interview with the "Financial Times" of 23 April, a "constitution will be meaningless without a central army, a central police force, without the measures that are necessary to give the Afghan people the freedom to exercise their right to vote." Another two months is insufficient time to provide Afghanistan with a central army and a central police force. However, it might provide an adequate opportunity to allow Afghans to exercise their right to vote for their own constitution.

But they must first be made aware of what they are voting on.

AFGHAN LEADER RESHUFFLES DEFENSE MINISTRY...
Afghan Transitional Administration Chairman Hamid Karzai on 20 September decreed the appointments of 21 people to the Defense Ministry in order to make it possible to implement "administrative reforms in civil and military areas and to carry out the important matter of reconstructing the National Army and the new structural reforms," Afghanistan Television reported. Major changes included the appointment of General Abdul Rahim Wardak, an ethnic Pashtun, to the post of first deputy defense minister and General Besmallah, an ethnic Tajik and a close ally of Defense Minister Marshall Mohammad Qasim Fahim, as army chief of staff. Three other deputies representing the Hazara, Uzbek, and Pashtun ethnicities have also been appointed. AT

...BUT FAILS TO SATISFY EXPECTATIONS
The changes in the Defense Ministry are widely believed to be designed to curtail the power of Defense Minister Fahim and his Tajik-based Shura-ye Nizar faction within the United Front (Northern Alliance). However, Vikram Parekh of the International Crisis Group said on 21 September that these changes are "not going to be seen as ground-breaking.... Fahim kept his position practically undamaged," AP reported. Hashmat Ghani Ahmadzai, the head of an influential Pashtun tribal group and brother of Afghan Finance Minister Ashraf Ghani Ahmadzai, said that "we are not happy with these reforms." The changes, he said, are of a "symbolic nature and they are not effective." An unnamed Western diplomat in Kabul agreed, saying the reshuffle "is not good enough, although it is a move in right direction." Fahim is arguably the most powerful person in Afghanistan and controls his own private army, which is not necessarily loyal to Karzai's government. AT

AFGHAN LEADER REDUCES THE POWER OF HIS DEPUTIES
In the wake of the scandal that erupted after homes were demolished in Kabul's Shayr Pur District to pave the way for new homes for government officials (see "RFE/RL Afghanistan Report," 18 September 2003), Chairman Karzai has ordered that his deputies not issue land permits and that all land-distribution issues be handled only by deputy Abdul Karim Khalili, the Jalalabad-based newspaper "Nan" reported on 20 September. In addition, Karzai has clarified that none of his deputies have the power to appoint or dismiss officials in his absence. Khalili was appointed by Karzai to head a commission tasked with investigating the Shayr Pur land-appropriation case. AT

DISTRICT POLICE CHIEF IN KANDAHAR PROVINCE KILLED
Sardar Mohammad, the police chief of Kandahar Province's Zari District, was killed on the night of 19 September, the Pakistan-based Afghan Islamic Press (AIP) reported on 20 September. The identity of the assailants, who were seen fleeing the crime scene in an automobile, has not been established. However, Kandahar provincial authorities blamed the neo-Taliban for the crime, saying that Sardar Mohammad had no enemies in the area. Thus, the killing must have been politically motivated, AIP added. AT

UP TO 10 CIVILIANS REPORTEDLY KILLED BY U.S. FORCES IN AFGHANISTAN...
At least 10 people were reportedly killed on the night of 19 September in the village of Naw Bahar, Zabul Province, when U.S. aircraft bombed the area, Xinhua news agency reported on 20 September, citing an eyewitness. According to the report, the incident occurred when U.S. forces detected two neo-Taliban fighters on a motorcycle near Naw Bahar. AT

...WHICH THE U.S. DENIES
U.S. military officials in Afghanistan said in a 21 September statement that they are "highly confident only combatant anticoalition persons were killed or wounded" during the operations in Zabul Province, the BBC reported. AT

BLAST IN LAGHMAN PROVINCE LEAVES MORE THAN 10 FAMILY MEMBERS DEAD
An explosion on 19 September in a home in the village of Golkari, Laghman Province, resulted in the death of 11 members of one family, AIP reported on 20 September. The blast was reportedly caused by explosive material kept in the house for excavations, Radio Afghanistan reported on 20 September. AT

TAJIK BORDER OFFICIAL SAYS TAJIKISTAN READY TO TAKE OVER GUARDING OF AFGHAN BORDER
Major General Nuralisho Nazarov, First Deputy Chairman of the Tajik Border Protection Committee, told journalists on 19 September that Tajik border troops are ready to take responsibility for guarding the Tajik-Afghan border, Asia-Plus Blitz reported the same day. The Afghan section of Tajikistan's frontier has been guarded by Russian border troops under an agreement signed between the two countries in 1993. Nazarov said the Border Protection Committee has submitted to Russia its proposal for a gradual transfer of responsibility to Tajik troops. He added that although there have been no frictions among Russian and Tajik border troops, cooperation between the two sides has left much to be desired. In addition, Nazarov noted, 90 percent of the Russian border troops serving in Tajikistan are actually Tajik citizens. BB

IRANIAN GOVERNMENT TRIES TO CONTROL NUCLEAR DEBATE
Iran's Supreme National Security Council has submitted to the Islamic Culture and Guidance Ministry its assessment arguing that the mass media should, in the words of ISNA on 20 September, "refrain from discussing arguments and analyses or raising any issues that may cause misperceptions about the [Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty's Additional] Protocol." The Supreme National Security Council argued that media organizations should coordinate their reporting with government officials who deal with the issue, ISNA reported. BS

IRAN'S SUPREME LEADER WARNS OF ENEMY PROPAGANDA
Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei warned in a 20 September speech to members of the Islamic Revolution Guards Corps and Basij [reserve force] of Mazandaran and Gulistan provinces that an unidentified enemy has launched a massive propaganda campaign against Iran, state radio reported. "They have launched a deceptive propaganda campaign, saying that the Iranian nation is making efforts to acquire nuclear weapons," Khamenei said. "They are trying to portray the Islamic Republic of Iran as being a threat to regional and global peace." Khamenei went on to accuse the United States and Israel of threatening "regional and global peace." Khamenei accused the "tyrannical world powers" -- which he did not identify -- of being furious with Iran because of its Islamic faith. BS

FRIDAY PRAYER LEADER CRITICIZES U.S., ADVOCATES WITHDRAWAL FROM NPT
Substitute Tehran Friday prayer leader Ayatollah Ahmad Jannati told his congregation on 19 September that not only should Iran not sign the Additional Protocol of the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty (NPT), but it should withdraw from the NPT altogether, state radio reported. Jannati noted that North Korea withdrew from the NPT and other countries have not even signed it. Under the more intrusive regime of the Addition Protocol, Jannati warned, inspectors could examine the parliament building or the supreme leader's office. "In a nutshell, the Muslim people of Iran, the government and nation of Iran, will not accept this humiliation. And all of them will, God willing, stand firm against the criminal and conspiring America." After the crowd finished chants that included "Death to America," Jannati said: "We must one day finally settle scores with America. The horn of this ghoul must one day be cut off in this world. This cannot go on." His words elicited further chants of "Death to America." BS

RUSSIAN PRESIDENT REASSERTS PLANS FOR NUCLEAR TRANSFERS TO IRAN
Vladimir Putin told journalists on 20 September that Russia does not intend to scrap planned transfers of nuclear technology to Iran, as the United States and Israel have long urged, gazeta.ru reported on 21 September. Putin said those who accuse Russia of contributing to an Iranian nuclear-weapons capability should stop talking and present evidence to that effect. He noted that unconfirmed Russian intelligence suggests that many Western firms also cooperate with Iran in the nuclear field. Putin also voiced support for Tehran's adoption of the International Atomic Energy Agency's Additional Protocol on inspections. "If Tehran has no plans for the creation of atomic weapons, it has no reason not to sign [the] protocol confirming this obligation," he said. VY

'SACRED DEFENSE WEEK' BEGINS IN IRAN
Iran kicked off "Sacred Defense Week" -- the annual commemoration of the 1980-88 Iran-Iraq War -- on 22 September with a parade near the shrine of Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini in Tehran and with parades in other cities, state media reported. The Shihab-3 missile is to be exhibited in the Tehran parade. Units from the Islamic Revolution Guards Corps (IRGC), the regular army, the Ministry of Defense and Armed Forces Logistics, and the police participated in the parade. Other days of the week will be dedicated to conscripts; the defense industries; martyrs, the disabled, and their families; the leadership; the siege of Abadan; and the IRGC and Basij. A conference organized by the army will begin on 24 September, and reporters will go to the southwestern border region to hear veterans' remembrances. There will be exhibits, concerts, and sports events, and army medical centers will provide free services to military families. BS

IRANIAN PRESIDENT CALLS FOR ISLAMIC UNITY IN LEBANON
President Mohammad Khatami in a 20 September speech to members of the Assembly of Lebanese Ulama [clerics] warned that the umma, or Islamic community, is facing grave threats, IRNA reported on 21 September. Among the factors threatening Muslims are occupation of their lands, puppet governments ruling Islamic states, and tribal and factional disputes. Discussing Iraq, Khatami espoused the cooperation and unity of all that country's tribes and groups to establish democracy, freedom, and independence. Referring to Lebanon, Khatami called for increased unity and solidarity between Shi'a and Sunni Muslims. Such a call from the Iranian president is intriguing, since Sunnis in Shi'a-majority Iran continue to complain of discrimination against them (see "RFE/RL Iran Report," 11 August 2003). BS

INFLATION IN IRAN APPROACHES 20 PERCENT
Iran's official IRNA reported on 21 September that inflation in the country is continuing to climb and reached 16.7 percent in the first five months of the Iranian calendar year. The prices of primary goods, fuel, manufactured goods, and foodstuffs all went up. According to IRNA, the main causes of inflation are mismanagement in banks, "'staggering' lending and borrowing, 'mostly by state organizations,'" the government's role in the economy, and excessive subsidies. BS

CAR BOMB DETONATED OUTSIDE UN HEADQUARTERS IN BAGHDAD
A car bomb exploded outside the UN headquarters in Baghdad on 22 September, killing the bomber and an Iraqi security guard and wounding eight other people, international media reported. "This is a suicide bomb," Captain Sean Kirley of the U.S. military told Reuters. The car bomber reportedly attempted to approach the UN headquarters but was stopped by Iraqi security guard before he reached the UN car-park checkpoint, Kirley said. "The driver and the guard engaged in conversation and the bomb was detonated from inside the vehicle," he told reporters, adding, "He changed his target. He wanted to get into the UN headquarters and he changed his target. The parking lot he tried to enter was mainly used by Iraqi security forces to park their cars and rest." The bombing came one day before an Iraqi delegation was scheduled to attend a UN General Assembly meeting in New York. Unknown assailants bombed the UN compound one month ago, killing scores of UN employees and international workers, including UN Special Representative to Iraq Sergio Vieira de Mello. KR

IRAQI GOVERNING COUNCIL MEMBER SHOT IN ASSASSINATION ATTEMPT
Iraqi Governing Council member Aqilah al-Hashimi was shot and seriously wounded by gunmen near her Baghdad home on 20 September, international media reported. According to Al-Jazeera, al-Hashimi sustained wounds in the shoulder, leg, and abdomen. She was reportedly in critical but stable condition at a U.S. military hospital in the Iraqi capital by 21 September. Three of her escorts, including a brother, were also injured in the attack. One of the attackers was shot and killed by her security detail. Al-Hashimi, a Shi'ite Muslim, is one of three women to sit on the Governing Council. She had been due to travel with an Iraqi delegation scheduled to attend a UN General Assembly meeting in New York, where U.S. President George W. Bush was expected to call for a greater UN role in the rebuilding of Iraq, Reuters reported on 20 September. Al-Hashimi is also a career foreign-service diplomat, having served in the Iraqi Foreign Ministry under the deposed regime of Saddam Hussein. Many Governing Council members have reportedly received threats for working with the U.S.-led transitional authority in Iraq, but this is the first reported assassination attempt on a Governing Council member. KR

IRAQIS INVITE FOREIGN INVESTORS AT G-7 MEETING IN DUBAI
The U.S.-led administration in Iraq announced at the G-7 meeting in Dubai that the country is now open to foreign investment, international media reported on 21 September. Speaking to reporters after the meeting, Iraqi interim Finance Minister Kamil Mubdir al-Kaylani said the reforms -- ending some 30 years of state economic control -- will "significantly advance efforts to build a free and open market economy in Iraq," Reuters reported on 21 September. Only the Iraqi oil and natural-resources sectors will remain closed to foreign investment. The free-market reforms reportedly open the country to 100 percent foreign ownership in all other sectors and reduce tax rates for individuals and corporations from 45 percent to 15 percent. According to Reuters, foreign investors will not be allowed to own real estate in Iraq but may lease property for up to 40 years. Other reforms include the free transfer of foreign-exchange earnings and hassle-free entry for foreign banks. Six foreign banks will be offered "fast-track" entry into Iraq and full ownership of local banks within five years, the news agency noted. Two of the banks will reportedly be expected to begin offering substantial lending very quickly. KR

TURKEY COOLING TO IDEA OF SENDING TROOPS TO IRAQ
Turkish officials have reportedly cooled to the idea of sending troops to Iraq, according to recent Turkish press reports. While Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan has remained adamant that Turkey should contribute troops to Iraq, he nonetheless had remained noncommittal for the past month as Turkey made its demands known to U.S. officials. One demand -- that the U.S. military dismantle the Kurdish Freedom and Democracy Congress (KADEK) resistance group, the successor to the Kurdistan Workers Party (PKK) -- has reportedly not been met with as much enthusiasm by U.S. officials as Turkey would like. Istanbul's "Turkiye'de Aksam" reported on 20 September that Turkish officials are now pressing hard for a UN mandate in Iraq before they will commit troops, citing Erdogan as telling reporters on 15 September: "We truly want a peace force led by the United Nations to be established. We have not made any promises to the United States." Meanwhile, "Milliyet" reported on 20 September that there is a growing rift over the issue within the ruling Justice and Development Party (AKP). The daily cited an unnamed official as saying a vote for troops might not pass the National Assembly. The United States has asked Turkey to contribute 1 million troops to peacekeeping efforts in Iraq. KR

RUSSIAN PRESIDENT SAYS TROOP DEPLOYMENT TO IRAQ NOT ON THE TABLE
During his 20 September press conference, Putin said Russia is not currently considering a troop deployment to Iraq, according to izvestiya.ru and polit.ru. Moscow supports sending troops only within the framework of the United Nations, he said, adding that Russian soldiers are already participating in 10 UN peacekeeping missions around the globe. VY

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