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Newsline - September 23, 2003


AGREEMENT SIGNED ON RUSSIAN AIR BASE IN KYRGYZSTAN...
Kyrgyz Defense Minister Colonel General Esen Topoev and Russian Defense Minister Sergei Ivanov on 22 September signed an agreement in Moscow authorizing the opening of a Russian air base in the Kyrgyz town of Kant, kabar.kg and akipress.org reported. The signing took place in the presence of both countries' presidents, and the agreement is the result of months of negotiations, particularly over funding issues. According to kabar.kg, the final agreement specifies that the Russian side will be responsible for funding the base, but it will not have to pay rent or other fees. About 15 Russian Su-25 and Su-27 fighter jets will be stationed at Kant, along with 300 Russian service personnel. Those aircraft have an operational range of about 2,000 kilometers and will be used to provide air support to the 201st Motorized Infantry Division, which is deployed in Tajikistan. Ivanov said the base's runways are to be lengthened to accommodate military-transport planes. BB

...AS PUTIN STRESSES IMPORTANCE OF CENTRAL ASIA
President Vladimir Putin commented at the air-base signing ceremony that the opening of the Kant base is the first step in augmenting the Russian presence in the Central Asian region in the interest of maintaining regional stability. "Central Asia is a very important region for us," ORT quoted Putin as saying. Asked to comment on the fact that now both Russia and the U.S.-led antiterrorism coalition in Afghanistan will have bases in Kyrgyzstan, Kyrgyz President Askar Akaev said both bases are aimed against the same threat -- international terrorism. VY

RAILWAYS MINISTER GOES PRIVATE
President Putin on 22 September released Railways Minister Gennadii Fadeev from his post and named him to head the newly created Russian Railroads joint-stock company that was created on the basis of the Railways Ministry under a 2001 privatization plan, Russian media reported. Russian Railroads, which is 100 percent state-owned, has an initial capitalization of 1.535 trillion ($50 billion) and controls 95 percent of the property formally assigned to the Railways Ministry, including 987 enterprises and organizations. VY

PROSECUTORS OFFICIALLY REQUEST EXTRADITION OF FORMER NTV OWNER
The Prosecutor-General's Office has transmitted an official extradition request to the Greek Justice Ministry for former Russian mass-media tycoon and oligarch Vladimir Gusinskii, Russian media reported on 22 September. Gusinskii was arrested in Athens on 21 August under a Russian warrant and has been released on bail pending an extradition hearing (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 25 August 2003). Russia accuses Gusinskii of fraud in connection with a loan of nearly $300 million. Gusinskii denies the accusations and maintains that they are politically motivated. Aleksandr Berezin, one of Gusinskii's lawyers, told journalists that the latest extradition request contains no charges against Gusinskii that were not in the request that was rejected by a Spanish court in 2001, lenta.ru reported on 22 September. He said that the lack of new evidence means that new request will be rejected under the legal principal against double jeopardy. VY

PRIME MINISTER IN CHINA TO TALK TRADE, PIPELINES...
Mikhail Kasyanov arrived in Beijing on 23 September for a session of the Shanghai Cooperation Organization, international media reported. Kasyanov will also hold bilateral talks with the Chinese leadership, including discussions of the trade imbalance between the two countries and trade conflicts that have emerged recently, strana.ru reported on 22 September. China has called upon Moscow to lift all barriers to the importation into Russia of Chinese labor. Moreover, Russia believes that China has been quietly obstructing Russia's admission to the World Trade Organization (WTO). Kasyanov is also expected to discuss a proposed oil pipeline from Angarsk to the Chinese city of Datsin, RBK reported on 22 September. Beijing suspects that the Russian government is leaning toward a rival project to build the pipeline to the Russian port of Nakhodka in order to transport the oil to Japan, the website commented (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 21 August 2003). VY

...AS YUKOS HEAD URGES GOVERNMENT TO HURRY WITH NEW PIPELINE PROJECTS
Speaking at the U.S.-Russia Energy Forum in St. Petersburg on 22 September, Yukos CEO Mikhail Khodorkovskii said that Russia urgently needs two new strategic pipelines: one from Angarsk to Datsin and another from Western Siberia to Murmansk, biztime.ru and polit.ru reported. Khodorkovskii also said the Angarsk-Datsin line should have a spur to Nakhodka to enable Russia to export to both China and Japan. The Murmansk line would be used to boost exports to the United States. Khodorkovskii said Russia is losing $7 billion a year because of the absence of these pipelines and that Moscow should hurry to build them while energy prices remain high. He said that if the global price of oil falls below $18 a barrel, then the new pipelines will not be profitable. VY

DATE SET FOR ST. PETERSBURG GOVERNOR'S RUNOFF...
The St. Petersburg Election Commission officially designated 5 October as the date for a second round of voting to determine the region's next governor, ITAR-TASS reported on 22 September. Presidential Envoy to the Northwest Federal District Valentina Matvienko, who received strong Kremlin backing in the run-up to the first round of voting, will face St. Petersburg Deputy Governor Anna Markova in the runoff. According to the first round's official tally, Matvienko received 48.73 of the vote, 1.27 percent short of an outright victory, while Markova garnered 15.84 percent. Some 10.97 percent voted "against all." JB

...WHILE SOME SEE ROUND ONE AS A LOSS FOR MATVIENKO AND THE KREMLIN
Some observers saw Valentina Matvienko's failure to win the St. Petersburg gubernatorial race in one round of voting as a blow to the candidate and the Kremlin. Sergei Markov of the Institute for Political Research said it was of "fundamental" importance to the federal authorities that Matvienko win in the first round, but added that he is "absolutely certain" she will win the runoff, Interfax reported on 22 September. Newsru.com saw the first-round results as a moral defeat for Matvienko and the Kremlin. The federal authorities, the website argued, did everything they could to give her the upper hand, even providing free travel on commuter trains to ensure that dacha-goers returned to the city to vote. Still, only 28.99 percent of eligible voters turned out. The low turnout represented a "boycott" of the vote by St. Petersburg residents, who wanted to express their disapproval of the Kremlin and President Putin for presenting Matvienko as "the only possible Petersburg governor," newsru.com wrote on 22 September. JB

COMMUNIST LEADER WANTS PUTIN FINED FOR ENDORSING UNIFIED RUSSIA...
On 22 September, Gennadii Zyuganov, leader of the Communist Party of the Russian Federation (KPRF), sent an inquiry to the Central Election Commission (TsIK) and the Prosecutor-General's Office demanding that they fine President Putin 22,500 rubles (around $737) for conducting "agitation" on behalf of the Unified Russia party, gazeta.ru reported. Zyuganov was referring to Putin's appearance at Unified Russia's party conference on 20 September, during which the president said he was right to have voted for the party in 1999 and called it "the leader" in Russian politics (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 22 September 2003). Gazeta.ru quoted Zyuganov as stating in his inquiry that the law sets the fine for Category A government officials who have campaigned for candidates or parties at 50 minimum wages, but reported that the law in fact stipulates a separate, lower minimum wage for assessing such fines. Thus were Putin found guilty, he would actually only be subject to a fine of 5,000 rubles (around $164), gazeta.ru reported. JB

...WHILE TSIK CHAIRMAN SAYS PUTIN VIOLATED NO LAWS
TsIK Chairman Aleksandr Veshnyakov said on 22 September that President Putin's endorsement of Unified Russia in the 7 December State Duma elections did not violate any election laws, Interfax reported. Speaking to reporters in Moscow, Veshnyakov said the law on political parties envisages the possibility of a president belonging to a political party and that the law on presidential elections mandates political parties putting forward presidential candidates. Putin's endorsement of Unified Russia had destroyed "certain stereotypes," Veshnyakov said. "Before, the president distanced himself from everyone and, as a result, everyone speculated that he was with them, but in fact no one understood what was happening," he added. Putin's endorsement of Unified Russia shows he has abandoned the "under-the-carpet" struggle and opted for an "open, distinct, and clear position," Veshnyakov said. Federation Council Speaker Sergei Mironov, who is both a lawyer and a close Putin ally, said on 22 September that he sees no "violations of election legislation" in the statements Putin made during the Unified Russia congress (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 22 September 2003). JB

DEPUTIES ASK CONSTITUTIONAL COURT TO TAKE UP FREE-SPEECH VIOLATIONS
A group of State Duma deputies led by the Union of Rightist Forces (SPS) will forward an appeal to the Constitutional Court this week claiming there have been massive violations of freedom of speech since the start of the parliamentary-election campaign, Russian media reported on 22 September. SPS leader Boris Nemtsov told Interfax on 22 September that 96 deputies representing all Duma factions except the pro-Kremlin Unity-United Russia faction have signed the appeal. Nemtsov said that since the campaign's start, de facto "censorship" of the media has been introduced and "the manipulation of public opinion" has begun. SPS Deputy Boris Nadezhdin said he would be happy if the Constitutional Court took up the appeal, which targets the recent amendments to the Election Code restricting what media can cover during a campaign, before next year's presidential election, gazeta.ru reported on 22 September. The website added, however, that there was practically no chance this would happen. Likewise, TsIK Chairman Veshnyakov told Ekho Moskvy the appeal is a "political maneuver" and predicted the Constitutional Court will ignore it. JB

POLL SHOWS VOTERS TURNED OFF BY ELECTION CAMPAIGN
A poll by the Agency of Regional and Political Research (ARPI), a division of the ROMIR Monitoring agency, has found that 40 percent of those surveyed are "little interested" in the parliamentary-election campaign, while 21 percent are "completely uninterested." Only 38 percent said they are closely following the campaign, ITAR-TASS reported on 22 September. The news agency cited unnamed "sociologists" as suggesting that the weak interest in the campaign is a result of a widespread view that it is replete with "dirty" election technologies. Indeed, 75 percent of those polled by ARPI said they are sure that "dirty" tactics and "black public relations" are being used, while only 20 percent thought the campaign would be clean. JB

LIBERAL LEADER SAYS INVESTIGATIVE JOURNALIST MIGHT HAVE BEEN MURDERED
Yabloko leader Grigorii Yavlinskii said it cannot be ruled out that State Duma Deputy (Yabloko) and investigative journalist Yurii Shchekochikhin, who died in early July, was murdered, Interfax reported on 22 September. "The analysis of material received as the result of the autopsy continues in several specialized laboratories, and we have very alarming information," Yavlinskii told Ekho Moskvy. "It is still early to draw conclusions about the reason for Shchekochikhin's death, but there are grounds to assume that it was a violent death." Yavlinskii noted that Shchekochikhin, both as a journalist and a Yabloko member, was involved in "very serious" corruption investigations and was "a commentator of such a scale and so fearless that, undoubtedly, he hurt the interests of many." The Yabloko leader said the party will work together carefully with "Novaya gazeta," where Shchekochikhin was a deputy editor, to determine the cause of his death. Shchekochikhin died after suffering what media reports described as an "acute allergic reaction" (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 3 and 7 July 2003). JB

CHECHEN PARLIAMENT SAYS FORMER DEPUTIES' NOT EMPOWERED TO IMPEACH PRESIDENT
In a statement dated 22 September and posted on chechenpress.com, the press service of the Chechen parliament elected in 1997 condemned as treachery former Deputy Isa Temirov's claim that the legislature voted in July by 43 votes to 42 to remove Aslan Maskhadov as Chechen president (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 15 September 2003). The statement said Temirov was stripped of his mandate last year for failing to fulfill his duties. LF

RUSSIAN TROOPS TARGET CHECHEN DISPLACED PERSONS IN INGUSHETIA
Russian forces are increasingly subjecting Chechen displaced persons in Ingushetia to arbitrary arrest or detention, ill-treatment, and looting, according to a Human Rights Watch report released on 23 September. The report details seven security operations against settlements for displaced persons conducted in June 2003. According to chechenpress.com on 18 and 20 September, the number of arbitrary detentions of Chechens in Ingushetia has increased since the 15 September truck bombing in Magas (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 16 September 2003). On 17 September, Russian Minister for Chechen Affairs Stanislav Ilyasov told journalists in Moscow that all camps in Ingushetia for displaced persons from Chechnya will be closed before the onset of winter, ITAR-TASS reported. He said that the authorities are arranging transportation back to Chechnya for those displaced persons who wish to return. LF

ARMENIA SEEKS CLOSER TIES TO VATICAN
Archbishop Jean-Louis Tauran, who is the Vatican's secretary for relations with foreign states, met in Yerevan on 21 September with Armenian Catholicos Garegin II and President Robert Kocharian and on 22 September with Foreign Minister Vartan Oskanian, Noyan Tapan and RFE/RL's Yerevan bureau reported. Kocharian spoke warmly of relations between the Roman Catholic and Armenian Apostolic churches, and praised the role of the Vatican in defending human rights and moral norms worldwide, according to the presidential press service. The possibility of opening a diplomatic representation of the Vatican in Yerevan was also discussed. LF

ARMENIAN PARLIAMENT SPEAKER REJECTS CALLS TO DECRIMINALIZE LIBEL
Artur Baghdasarian told a parliament session on 22 September that the Armenian authorities see no reason to yield to international pressure to decriminalize libel, RFE/RL's Yerevan bureau reported. He pointed out that libel is regarded as a criminal offense in "many European countries." At the same time, Baghdasarian conceded that it is unfair that libel of a government official carries a harsher penalty than libel of a private person. In an open letter to Baghdasarian in June, the OSCE and several Western ambassadors in Yerevan appealed for the removal from the new Criminal Code of the article that envisages prison terms of up to three years for people found guilty of libel (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 23 and 26 June 2003). LF

ARMENIA-DIASPORA BUSINESS CONFERENCE OPENS
Some 900 Armenian businesspeople, 150 of them from the Armenian diaspora, congregated in Yerevan on 22 September for a three-day forum to discuss ways of promoting diaspora investment in the economies of Armenia and the unrecognized Nagorno-Karabakh Republic (NKR), RFE/RL's Yerevan bureau reported. Addressing participants, President Kocharian complained that some diaspora businesspeople regard investing in Armenia as "a heroic sacrifice," and demand special privileges from the government. NKR Prime Minister Anushavan Danielian estimated investment in the unrecognized enclave at $35 million. He said the economy grew by 40 percent in the first eight months of 2003, which, he continued, creates good prospects for establishing a free economic zone in the town of Shushi, Noyan Tapan reported. LF

NKR AUTHORITIES RELEASE AZERBAIJANI HERDSMAN
The Karabakh authorities released on 22 September a 22-year-old Azerbaijani who inadvertently ventured onto the territory of the disputed enclave on 13 September while grazing his cattle, according to Mediamax as cited by Groong. LF

AZERBAIJANI OPPOSITION LEADER WARNS AUTHORITIES AGAINST 'PLAYING WITH FIRE...'
Opposition Musavat Party Chairman Isa Gambar said at a 22 September press conference in Baku that the use of violence by the authorities against the population is tantamount to "playing with fire," and "could lead to unpredictable, serious consequences," Turan reported. Gambar was referring to alleged police brutality on 20 September against hundreds of people who tried to congregate at two locations in Baku to attend his campaign rallies (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 22 September 2003). Gambar laid the blame for the violence on Prime Minister Ilham Aliev, presidential administration head Ramiz Mekhtiev, Interior Minister Ramil Usubov, and Baku police chief Magerram Aliev. Also on 22 September, Azerbaijan National Independence Party Chairman Etibar Mamedov said in Baku he views as an attempt on his life efforts by police in the southern raions of Masally and Lenkoran to prevent voters attending his election rallies, Turan reported. According to zerkalo.az on 23 September, the measures taken by police in those two towns resulted in at least one fatality. A resident of Masally died of injuries suffered while falling into a trench dug by police to hinder access to the main square. LF

...AS U.S. AMBASSADOR EXPRESSES CONCERN
Reno Harnish told Turan on 22 September that "we are very concerned" at the reports of brutality against people who tried to attend Isa Gambar's election campaign rallies in Baku on 21 September. He said embassy staff is still investigating those incidents, but that if the reports of brutality prove true, the incidents would have a negative impact on the ongoing presidential campaign. Harnish recalled that the U.S. government has repeatedly said that equal conditions should be created for all political parties and candidates. LF

AZERBAIJANI PRESIDENT TO RETURN HOME, TOUR COUNTRY
President Heidar Aliev is the ruling Yeni Azerbaycan Party's sole candidate for the 15 October presidential election, Interfax on 22 September quoted presidential administration head Mekhtiev as telling journalists in Baku. Mekhtiev said doctors are optimistic that the octogenarian president, who is undergoing medical treatment at the Cleveland Clinic in the U.S. state of Ohio, will be fit to return to Baku by the end of this month. He said that after his return, Aliev will undertake an election-campaign tour of Azerbaijan. LF

GEORGIAN-ABKHAZ TALKS POSTPONED
Talks in Tbilisi under the UN aegis between government delegations from Georgia and Abkhazia were postponed indefinitely on 23 September after the Abkhaz delegation failed to show up, according to Caucasus Press and the website of the independent television station Rustavi-2. Rustavi-2 quoted Abkhaz Foreign Minister Sergei Shamba, who was to have headed the Abkhaz delegation, as saying the delegation's absence to "technical problems," including the failure of the Abkhaz side to complete drafting a document intended for discussion at the talks in which Tbilisi would pledge to refrain from any aggression against Abkhazia during the planned celebrations on 27 September to mark the 10th anniversary of the final withdrawal of Georgian troops from Abkhazia at the end of the 1992-93 war. According to the Georgian paper "Tribuna" on 22 September, during talks in Sukhum last week with Heidi Tagliavini, UN Secretary-General Kofi Annan's special envoy for the Abkhaz conflict, Shamba raised the possibility of requiring Georgia to sign such a non-aggression pledge. LF

EXPLOSION AT GEORGIAN OPPOSITION PARTY HEADQUARTERS
A hand grenade exploded outside the Tbilisi office of the opposition Revival Union early in the morning of 23 September, causing damage to the building but no injuries, Caucasus Press reported. Tsotne Bakuria, who heads the party's Tbilisi branch, linked the incident to the ongoing campaign for the 2 November parliamentary elections. LF

GEORGIAN OPPOSITION SAYS GOVERNMENT IMPEDES ELECTION CAMPAIGNING...
Speaking at a Tbilisi press conference on 22 September, parliament speaker Nino Burdjanadze accused local authorities in southern Georgia of intimidating local residents in a bid to deter them from attending her election campaign rallies, Caucasus Press and Rustavi-2 reported. She further accused government-controlled newspapers of libeling her, asking rhetorically why she has not been arrested following media allegations that she embezzled millions of laris. LF

...AND SEEKS TO RETAIN POWER
Also on 22 September, opposition Labor Party leader Shalva Natelashvili alleged that the Georgian authorities are planning to stage terrorist acts, including the assassination of a prominent person, to create a pretext for imposing a state of emergency on the eve of the parliamentary election, Caucasus Press reported. The same agency also quoted Natelashvili as saying that the Georgian authorities will stop at nothing to ensure they win a majority in the new parliament, and that after doing so the pro-presidential bloc will propose either amending the constitution to allow President Eduard Shevardnadze to run for a third presidential term in 2005, or holding a referendum on permitting him to do so. Shevardnadze has said repeatedly he does not wish to run for a third term and that the constitution should not be amended to that end. LF

KYRGYZ OPPOSITION LEADER CRITICIZES KANT AIR BASE...
Imprisoned leader of the Kyrgyz opposition party Ar-Namys Feliks Kulov criticized the establishment of the Russian air base at Kant, calling it a political move by the Moscow leadership that has nothing to do with Kyrgyzstan's security, akipress.org reported on 22 September, quoting an interview by Kulov the same day. In Kulov's view, the base is intended to prove to the Russian government's domestic critics that Russia has influence in Central Asia. Were the Russians really concerned about Kyrgyz security, they would have established the base in the southern part of the country, he added. BB

...AND REFUSES TO ASK FOR PARDON
In his interview with his own political party that was posted by akipress.org on 22 September, Ar-Namys Party leader Kulov noted that Kyrgyz President Askar Akaev has not authorized an amnesty in connection with the 2,200th anniversary of Kyrgyz statehood that was celebrated this year, asserted that Akaev is afraid of him, and repeated his refusal to ask for a presidential pardon on the grounds that such a request would mean that he admitted his guilt. Kulov is serving a 10-year sentence on charges of abuse of power during his government service as vice president, head of the National Security Committee, and mayor of Bishkek. Kulov also said in the interview that whoever ordered the removal of the statue of Soviet founder Vladimir Lenin from Bishkek's main square should be prosecuted for abuse of power, the same charge that had been made against him. The removal was ordered by Prime Minister Nikolai Tanaev. BB

KYRGYZ JOURNALISTS CRITICIZE INTERIOR MINISTRY PRESS SERVICE
Kyrgyz journalists have claimed that the Interior Ministry's press service is partially responsible for the poor opinion Kyrgyz citizens have of the country's law enforcement organs, the official daily "Vechernyi Bishkek" reported on 19 September. Journalists were invited on 18 September to a meeting with press officials of the Chui Oblast Interior Ministry board, at which the journalists accused the ministry's press service of not wanting to provide impartial information about law enforcement work. According to the article, this was the first time the ministry held an open dialogue with the media. Ministry officials and other law enforcement representatives have been inaccessible to reporters, and it has been almost impossible to obtain information about criminal investigations. The journalists told the officials that they should make public information about crimes the police have solved or prevented, and about their efforts to combat corruption. BB

TAJIK PRESIDENT CALLS FOR CIS COALITION AGAINST DRUGS
Imomali Rakhmonov used a meeting of CIS interior ministers in Dushanbe on 22 September to call for the creation of a CIS coalition against drug trafficking, Interfax reported, quoting presidential press spokesman Zafar Saidov. Rakhmonov complained that now each country is fighting the drug trade in isolation, although it is a crime that does not recognize national boundaries. One of the objectives of the meeting was to discuss coordinating the efforts of CIS states against drug trafficking. During the meeting, Russian Deputy Interior Minister Vladimir Vasiliev apologized to the Tajik hosts for recent allegations in the Russian media that staff members of the Tajik Embassy in Moscow were detained in possession of a large quantity of heroin, ITAR-TASS reported on 23 September. The Tajik Foreign Ministry distributed a denial of those allegations to the participants of the interior ministers' meeting. BB

TURKMEN MAYOR FIRED, TOLD TO WALK HOME
At a cabinet meeting held in the Caspian port city of Turkmenbashi on 22 September, Turkmen President Saparmurat Niyazov fired the city's mayor, Ashirberdy Cherkezov, and told him not to use his official car, but to walk home, nCa (www.newscentralasia.com) reported on 23 September. During the session, Prosecutor-General Kurbanbibi Atadjanova accused Cherkezov of a number of crimes, including embezzlement, theft, and nepotism. Cherkezov was replaced by Aganiyaz Akiev, and Niyazov instructed that the new mayor be assisted by the chairmen of the state-owned Turkmenbashi oil refinery and the Turkmen Sea Transport Company. The president also stated that Turkmenistan's oil and gas sectors will never be privatized because privatization would mean higher prices for oil products. The price of gasoline has been steady for at least five years at 400 manats per liter (the official exchange rate of the unconvertible manat is 5,200 to $1; the unofficial rate is usually around 20,000 to the U.S. dollar). BB

UZBEK EMBASSY ACCUSES KAZAKH MEDIA OF BIAS IN REPORTING BORDER INCIDENTS
The Uzbek Embassy in Almaty has issued a statement accusing the Kazakh media of biased reporting about recent incidents along the two countries' border, Interfax-Kazakhstan reported on 22 September. The embassy asserted that the Kazakh media have been carrying reports that reflect negatively the state of Kazakh-Uzbek relations, and that "certain people" in Kazakhstan are trying to use the border incidents for "populist or other narrow political ends," thereby creating tensions and provoking anti-Uzbek sentiments. The embassy warned that irresponsible statements by Kazakh officials could combine with media bias to worsen relations and, possibly, to inflame tensions in border areas. The statement, which was presumably a response to reporting on a shooting incident on the border in early September (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 10 September 2003), was read to journalists by Uzbek Ambassador to Kazakhstan Turdykul Botayorov. BB

BELARUSIAN OPPOSITION LEADER URGES PROSECUTOR-GENERAL TO SUE PRESIDENT
Anatol Lyabedzka, chairman of the United Civic Party (AHP), has sent a letter to Prosecutor-General Viktar Sheyman urging him to launch criminal proceedings against President Alyaksandr Lukashenka for what the AHP leader describes as serious damage inflicted by Lukashenka on Belarus, Belapan reported on 22 September. Lyabedzka recalled in his letter that Lukashenka said after his recent meeting with Russian President Vladimir Putin in Sochi that Belarus saves $100 million-110 million by purchasing Russian gas at preferential prices. At the same time, Lukashenka publicly claimed that Russia saves $360 million thanks to low fees for the transit of energy resources through Belarus. "Thus, the country's treasury loses some $250 million annually," Lyabedzka wrote to Sheyman, requesting that he sue Lukashenka for inflicting such losses on the state. Lyabedzka reminded Sheyman that former Premier Mikhail Chyhir spent eight months in jail after he was convicted of abuse of power and negligence that resulted in a $1 million loss at a bank Chyhir once headed. "We are talking about incomparably larger amounts here," Lyabedzka stressed. JM

UKRAINIAN ENVOY RESIGNS OVER CIS SINGLE ECONOMIC SPACE
President Leonid Kuchma has accepted the resignation of Ukrainian Ambassador to Romania Anton Buteyko, Interfax reported on 23 September, quoting presidential spokeswoman Olena Hromnytska. Buteyko stepped down to express his "resolute disagreement" with Ukraine's participation in forming a single economic space that also includes Russia, Belarus, and Kazakhstan (see "RFE/RL Poland, Belarus, and Ukraine Report," 23 September 2003). Buteyko submitted his resignation via e-mail on 19 September, immediately after Kuchma signed the relevant accord at a CIS summit in Yalta. Buteyko previously served as deputy foreign minister and Ukrainian ambassador to the United States. JM

ESTONIAN EMPLOYERS, TRADE UNIONS AGREE ON NEW LABOR-CONTRACT LAW
The Estonian Employers Central Union and the Estonian Trade Unions' Central Union reached an agreement in Tallinn on 22 September on a new draft labor-contract law, LETA reported. It gives employees the right to be treated with dignity, which includes reasonable concern over the health and personal well-being of employees and enables employees to sue employers for violating that requirement. The draft law also imposes major fines on employers for the illegal firing of workers, retains severance pay at the current level, and makes it harder for employers to lay people off by requiring them to try find new jobs for them within their business and to provide training, if needed. Regarding employees, the agreement introduces collective responsibility and fines for mishandling company property and revealing corporate secrets. SG

CRISIS EMERGES IN LATVIAN RULING COALITION
Three of the ruling coalition's four parties -- Latvia's First Party (LPP), Union of Greens and Farmers, and For the Fatherland and Freedom/LNNK on 22 September signed a joint statement expressing their lack of confidence in Prime Minister Einars Repse, BNS reported. Leaders of the three parties said they want to preserve the coalition, but the premier must be changed. The statement claimed that "blackmail, threats, and slander have become daily tools of Repse" who, they claimed, is unwilling to accept other opinions. An extended meeting of the New Era board also attended by the party's ministers firmly expressed their support for Repse, who stated he will not resign. Repse said he believes dissolving parliament and holding early elections is a rational idea. This scenario seems unlikely, as the Latvian Constitution stipulates that only the president has the right to propose dissolving parliament and it must be approved in a referendum. President Vaira Vike-Freiberga has said the fall of the government is not reason enough to dissolve parliament. SG

INTERNATIONAL CONFERENCE IN LITHUANIA DISCUSSES CAUCASUS STABILITY
The two-day international conference entitled "South Caucasus: Making the Best Use of External Assistance for Stability Building and for Cooperation With NATO" opened in Vilnius on 22 September, BNS reported. It is attended by delegations from Armenia, Azerbaijan, and Georgia; representatives from NATO member states Denmark, Germany, Poland, Norway, Turkey, the United Kingdom, and the United States, and partner countries Estonia, Latvia, and Lithuania. Noting the similar size and analogous Soviet past of the Baltic and Caucasus regions, International Security Advisory Board Chairman Sir Harry Johnson called on the Balts to share with the South Caucasus their experience of cooperation in gaining EU and NATO membership. However, he noted that there are many differences in the two regions' culture and traditions, especially in their relations with Russia. A heated exchange of opinions occurred between Armenian and Azerbaijani officials when the issue of Nagorno-Karabakh was raised, "Lietuvos rytas" reported on 23 September. SG

POLAND, GERMANY DIFFER ON EU VOTING RIGHTS
Polish Premier Leszek Miller met with German Chancellor Gerhard Schroeder on 22 September to discuss the contentious issue of voting rights within an expanded EU, Reuters and PAP reported. Poland wants to retain the system proposed by the 2000 Nice Treaty, which grants Warsaw 27 votes in the Council of the European Union (see "RFE/RL Poland, Belarus, and Ukraine Report," 23 September 2003). Germany favors the system proposed by the draft European Constitution that makes voting in the council dependent on the population of member states. "We are not as close to each other as necessary," Schroeder said after his meeting with Miller. "I will say very clearly that Germany has hardly any room for maneuver." Schroeder suggested that it would be awkward for Germany, a net contributor to the EU budget, to be forced into a decision on the European Constitution by net recipients of EU funds. "It would cause huge legitimacy problems for countries such as Germany, which are large net payers," Schroeder said. JM

CZECH OPPOSITION PARTY TO SUBMIT NO-CONFIDENCE MOTION
The Civic Democratic Party (ODS) leadership decided on 22 September to introduce a no-confidence motion this week in Vladimir Spidla's center-left cabinet, CTK reported. ODS Deputy Chairman Petr Necas said the current government "is harming the Czech Republic." The motion will accuse the government of presenting a record shortfall within its budget bill while at the same time claiming that its reform goal is to lower the deficit, and thus "harming not only the economy, but also domestic and foreign-policy objectives." Parliament was expected to open its autumn session on 23 September. Premier Spidla predicted that ODS, which controls 58 seats in the 200-member lower house, will be unable to mobilize sufficient support in parliament. MS

CZECH SKINHEADS ATTACK ROMANY WEDDING PARTY
A 35-year-old Romany bridegroom was hospitalized with a concussion after an attack on his wedding party by a group of skinheads in the western Czech town of Nove Hamry on 20 September, CTK reported on 22 September, citing the idnes.cz website. Several other members of the wedding party suffered minor injuries at the hands of the group of 10 attackers. Police arrested three suspects and are investigating the incident as a racially motivated crime. MS

SLOVAK COALITION FAILS TO AGREE ON REPLACING SECURITY CHIEF
The Coalition Council remained deadlocked on 22 September over Prime Minister Mikulas Dzurinda's call for the dismissal of National Security Office (NBU) head Jan Mojzis, TASR and CTK reported. Two junior coalition parties -- the Christian Democratic Movement and Hungarian Coalition Party (SMK) -- continue to oppose the dismissal despite Dzurinda's offer to choose a successor by coalition consensus, according to Alliance for a New Citizen (ANO) Chairman Pavol Rusko. ANO is the only other coalition party that supports the effort by Dzurinda's Slovak Democratic and Christian Union (SDKU) to oust Mojzis. CTK cited SMK Chairman Bela Bugar as warning that if the premier continues his present behavior, the coalition's days might be numbered. Also on 22 September, the SDKU confirmed that its candidate to replace Ivan Simko as defense minister is parliamentary deputy Juraj Liska, TASR reported. MS

HUNGARIAN PARLIAMENT REJECTS PROSECUTOR'S TESTIMONY
Lawmakers on 22 September voted 187-122 to reject Prosecutor-General Peter Polt's explanation of why a number of criminal investigations by the Budapest Prosecutor-General's Office into alleged financial abuses under the previous FIDESZ administration were halted, "Nepszabadsag" reported. A deputy from the coalition Free Democrats, Ivan Peto, had asked Polt about the termination of an investigation into the finances of Hungarian State Television (MTV). Peto said the Prosecutor-General's Office referred to a nonexistent clause of the country's media law in justifying the move while it ignored an apparent breach of the law on public procurement. Polt conceded that his office erroneously cited the media law in its decision but said the relevant clause of the act on public procurement prescribes no sanctions. The current Socialist-led government has requested the investigation of 53 cases in which it alleges the FIDESZ-led government misspent state-budget funds. MSZ

HUNGARIAN POLITICKING DELAYS VOTE ON NATO DEPLOYMENT
The Hungarian parliament failed on 22 September to approve by the necessary two-thirds majority a fast-track debate over sending two Hungarian soldiers to Afghanistan, AFP and Hungarian media reported. The two Hungarian officers were to be transferred to Afghanistan from Portugal together with the NATO unit in which they serve. Hungary has been repeatedly criticized by NATO for being slow to commit troops abroad amid intense squabbling between the two main adversaries, the ruling Socialists and the right-wing FIDESZ. Defense Minister Ferenc Juhasz said after deputies declined to fast-track the vote that Hungary's reputation has again been tarnished. He said FIDESZ has been engaging in petty politicking despite the effect on Hungary's national interests. MS

CROATIA TO VOTE ON 23 NOVEMBER
Croatian Prime Minister Ivica Racan told reporters in Zagreb on 22 September that he will soon ask President Stipe Mesic to call general elections for 23 November, international and regional media reported. Racan added that by 9 October the government will give the EU answers to all of its 4,500 questions regarding Croatia's preparations for membership, and that by 23 November the government will submit a proposal to the parliament on declaring an Exclusive Economic Zone (EEZ) in the Adriatic (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 15, 16, and 17 September 2003 and "RFE/RL Balkan Report," 15 and 22 August and 5 September 2003). Polls suggest that the strongest parties are Racan's Social Democrats (SDP) and the conservative opposition Croatian Democratic Community (HDZ) led by Ivo Sanader, but that neither party is likely to emerge from the elections strong enough to govern on its own. The shape of any future coalition government will probably depend on the electoral strength of smaller parties and the deals they make with the SDP or HDZ. There is little ideological difference between several parties of the center and center-right, which are divided primarily by the personal ambitions of their respective leaders. Elections are due by April 2004. PM

CROATIAN PRIME MINISTER SLAMS CONSERVATIVE CRITIC
Speaking to reporters in Zagreb on 22 September, Racan dismissed recent charges by Sanader that the SDP and the secret services spy on the HDZ and on journalists, RFE/RL's South Slavic and Albanian Languages Service reported. Racan called the accusations baseless. When the HDZ was in power prior to the 2000 elections, then-President Franjo Tudjman sometimes used the secret services against his political enemies. The current governing coalition has long promised to reorganize and depoliticize the secret services (see "RFE/RL South Slavic Report," 7 and 14 November 2002). PM

CROATIAN FAR-RIGHT PARTY DISTANCES ITSELF FROM FASCISTS
Anto Djapic, who heads the far-right Croatian Party of [Historical] Rights (HSP), said in Zagreb on 20 September that his party is not a successor to the pro-Axis Ustasha movement but takes its political inspiration from 19th-century politician Ante Starcevic and the 1991-95 war of independence, Hina reported. Djapic stressed that the HSP believes in a greater Croatia that includes Bosnia-Herzegovina and demands full equality for Croats in that country. PM

CROATIAN JUDGE JAILED FOR CORRUPTION
On 22 September, the Zagreb County Court sentenced former investigative Judge Juraj Boljkovac of Karlovac to 3 1/2 years in prison for a taking bribe to release a suspect from custody, dpa reported. "Criminal behavior of judges is harmful, and that's why the punishment must be adequate," Judge Drazen Tripalo said in handing down the sentence. "Accepting bribes is the negation of the rule of law." PM

SERBIA AND MONTENEGRO'S DEFENSE MINISTRY CLARIFIES SPY CASE
Serbia and Montenegro's Defense Ministry announced on 22 September that one unnamed lieutenant-colonel has been arrested on spying charges, including the alleged sale of military secrets, RFE/RL's South Slavic and Albanian Languages Service reported. The ministry did not say for which country the man is suspected of spying, but earlier press reports indicated that it is Russia. Meanwhile, state-run television reported that two colonels are under arrest for embezzlement and that their detention is not related to that of the one man arrested for espionage (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 22 September 2003). PM

SERBIAN WORKERS TAKE PROTEST TO NOVI SAD
Up to 300 workers from the Elan food-processing company in Srbobran, 100 kilometers north of Belgrade, moved their protest from the main highway near Srbobran to an area outside Vojvodina government offices in Novi Sad on 22 September, RFE/RL's South Slavic and Albanian Languages Service reported. The workers want back wages dating back two years and the right to own a share of Elan when it is privatized (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 16 September 2003). PM

NATO CHIEF SAYS MACEDONIA HAS LEARNED ITS LESSON
NATO Secretary-General Lord George Robertson told "Dnevnik" of 23 September that the latest police operation against alleged criminals in northern Macedonia shows that the government has learned its lesson from the 2001 interethnic conflict. Robertson stressed that the most important thing is the proportional use of force, adding that if one seeks to arrest criminals, one has to avoid ham-fisted tactics that could give rise to suspicions that the government has a hidden agenda (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 8, 9, 11 and 12 September 2003 and "RFE/RL Balkan Report," 5 and 12 September 2003). He called for joint efforts by Balkan politicians to deal with organized multiethnic crime structures, which seek to mask their activities by resorting to allegedly ethnically motivated violence. Robertson said that criminals throughout the Balkans work together regardless of their ethnic backgrounds, while politicians in all Balkan states still believe that ethnic differences matter. UB

ALBANIAN PRESIDENT CALLS FOR 'NONCONFRONTATIONAL' ELECTIONS
Albanian President Alfred Moisiu told opposition Democratic Party leader Sali Berisha in Tirana on 20 September that campaigning for the 12 October local elections should be in keeping with the law and not be confrontational, "Southeast European Times" reported (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 11 September 2003). Moisiu reminded Berisha that the current electoral law is the result of a compromise between all parties, adding that differences regarding the composition of the Central Electoral Commission and other issues should be resolved in a similar fashion. Albanian political life is highly polarized. Elections are often marred by prolonged disputes over the results following an acrimonious campaign. PM

ROMANIA CONFIRMS WEAPONS-GRADE URANIUM EVACUATED TO RUSSIA
Lucian Biro, chairman of the National Commission for the Control of Nuclear Activities (CNCAN), confirmed on 22 September that 15 kilograms of weapons-grade uranium has been evacuated to Russia from Romania's Pitesti Institute of Nuclear Energy, Mediafax reported. Biro said the uranium was transported in special containers from Pitesti to Bucharest airport and flown from there to Russia. He said the operation was financed by the United States. "The Washington Post" reported on 21 September that the evacuation is part of a long-planned secret operation aimed at preempting possible terrorist strikes by eliminating sites whose security is doubtful. The daily reported that more than a year ago, 50 kilograms of weapons-grade uranium was evacuated from an aging Soviet-built research reactor in Yugoslavia. The uranium from the Pitesti facility has been flown to Novosibirsk, where it is to be converted into a form of uranium that cannot be used to make weapons, according to "The Washington Post." MS

ROMANIAN PREMIER TO LEAVE GOVERNMENT AHEAD OF PRESIDENTIAL ELECTIONS?
Ruling Social Democratic Party (PSD) Secretary-General Dan Matei Agathon said on 22 September that if the PSD decides to nominate Premier Adrian Nastase as its candidate for the 2004 presidential elections, the premier might relinquish his current position during the election campaign, Mediafax reported. Agathon said this is one of several possibilities if such a scenario develops, and that a final decision will be made by an extraordinary PSD congress slated for this November. Agathon also said PSD Executive Chairman Octav Cozmanca will head the party's campaign staff. The presidential election is to take place in late 2004, and the parliamentary election will be held either in late 2004 or early 2005. MS

FORMER ROMANIAN PREMIER LAUNCHES POLITICAL INITIATIVE
Former Romanian Premier Petre Roman announced on 22 September that he is launching an "initiative group" whose aim is "restore the Romanians' trust in politics," RFE/RL's Bucharest bureau reported. The group is called the Romanian Society for Democracy (SRD), and several prominent intellectuals have sided with the initiative. Its 22-point "Manifesto on Citizens' Rights" calls for cooperation with trade unions and unrestricted contacts with citizens to help establish trust in politicians and abolish the perceptions of politics as a cradle of corruption. Roman said the SRD will not transform itself into a political party and intends to function as "the watchdog of citizens' rights." He denied the SRD is to serve as his particular means of leaving the Democratic Party, whose chairmanship he lost to Traian Basescu in May 2001, but refused to comment on his future with the party. Asked whether he would recommend that citizens vote for the Democratic Party and Basescu, Roman called the question "senseless." MS

ROMANIAN NATIONALISTS APPEAL TO CONSTITUTIONAL COURT OVER AMENDMENTS
The Greater Romania Party parliamentary group in the Chamber of Deputies asked the Constitutional Court on 22 September to rule that amendments to the basic law approved by parliament last week are unconstitutional, Mediafax reported. PRM parliamentary group leader Lucian Bolcas said the amendments (which are to be submitted for approval in a referendum on 19 October) "diminish the unitary national character of the state and its official language." He also said the PRM is appealing against the procedure by which the amendments were approved, since its representatives (who boycotted the debates) were not included in the commission that mediated the different versions approved by the Senate and the lower house and because absentee balloting took place. MS

MORE THAN 400,000 ASK FOR HUNGARIAN ID CARDS IN ROMANIA
Over 400,000 members of the Hungarian minority in Romania have applied for receiving Hungarian ID cards under the provisions of the amended Hungarian Status Law, Mediafax reported on 22 September, citing a press release by the Hungarian Democratic Federation of Romania. Taking into consideration the results of the 2002 census, this means that 27.89 percent of Romania's ethnic Hungarians have applied for the ID cards. Hungarian Premier Peter Medgyessy and his Romanian counterpart Nastase are to sign an agreement in Bucharest on 23 September on the implementation of the Hungarian legislation's provisions on Romanian territory. MS

FRENCH INTERIOR MINISTER VOWS TO CONTINUE DEPORTATION OF ROMANIAN ILLEGALS
French Interior Minister Nicolas Sarkozy told journalists on 22 September that Romanian citizens illegally living in France will continue to face deportation, AFP reported. The same day, French police stormed a Romany camp in a northern Paris suburb and arrested nearly all of its inhabitants. Sarkozy was responding to a report by the human rights group Medicins du Monde and the International Federation of Human Rights that said a French-Romanian agreement on Roma returned to Romania has proved to be a failure. Under the August 2002 agreement, those Roma were to receive financial assistance to help them reestablish themselves in Romania. Members of the Roma community expelled from France said they have received no aid and that the Romanian authorities' only role has been to confiscate their passports. The Romanian Anti-Discrimination Council called the findings of the report "premature" and said the authorities are searching for means to put in place educational and social aid provided for in the French-Romanian accord. When questioned further about the situation, Sarkozy said, "I would like to remind you that I am not the Romanian interior minister." MS

OSCE MOLDOVA MISSION HEAD SAYS RUSSIA SHOULD MEET WITHDRAWAL DEADLINE -- OR ELSE
William Hill, head of the OSCE Mission to Moldova, said on 22 September that Russia must abide by the 31 December deadline for withdrawing its troops from Transdniester, dpa reported. Hill said that if Moscow fails to do so, the OSCE members will have to consider what action to take in response. "It is extremely difficult to predict what that response would be, but the consequences [for Russia] would not be pleasant," Hill said. In 2002, Russia failed to abide by its obligation assumed at the November 1999 Istanbul summit to withdraw its troops and ammunition from the separatist region, and an OSCE summit in Porto in December 2002 extended the deadline to 31 December 2003. The withdrawal was stopped in July this year after the Transdniester authorities blocked it. They charged that Russia has not written off $100 million from Transdniester's debt to Russia for the delivery of natural gas, as the sides had earlier agreed. Russia's Gazprom company says the Transdniester received the write-off, and has already spent it on more natural-gas deliveries. MS

MOLDOVAN PRESIDENT ORDERS TIGHT CONTROL OF GRAIN TRANSPORTS
President Vladimir Voronin ordered the government on 22 September to introduce tight control over the humanitarian aid transports of grain sent to Moldova to help it overcome this summer's drought, ITAR-TASS reported. Voronin ordered all grain supplied from abroad to be handed over to the Moldresurse state company, which is to distribute the grain. He also warned local officials that they will be held personally responsible for any misuse. In related news, Russian President Vladimir Putin instructed his cabinet on 22 September to examine ways to help Moldova overcome its grain shortage, according to ITAR-TASS. MS

TRANSDNIESTER CLAIMS IT HAS STOPPED 'TELEPHONE WARFARE'
Vladimir Beleaev, who is in charge of the telecommunications portfolio on the Transdniester administration, said on 22 September that the separatist authorities have stopped jamming Moldovan mobile-telephone calls to the region, RFE/RL's Chisinau bureau reported. Stanislav Gordea, deputy director of the Moldovan telecommunications agency, said Tiraspol nonetheless continues to block regular telephone calls. The mutual "jamming war" started on 9 September (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 15 and 22 September 2003). MS

BULGARIAN PRESIDENT OPPOSES CHANGES TO STATUS OF SECRET SERVICES
In reaction to the nomination of retired General Brigo Asparuhov as the prime minister's adviser for the country's special services (including the National Intelligence Service and the National Security Service), President Georgi Parvanov said on 22 September that he does not believe it is necessary to change the status and coordination of the Interior Ministry's special services, mediapool.bg reported. Initially, Asparuhov was to coordinate the country's special services, which are currently subject to the Interior Ministry, the Defense Ministry, and the president's office. However, after critical media reports and protests by the conservative opposition Union of Democratic Forces (SDS), a government spokesman announced that Asparuhov will be employed as adviser to Prime Minister Simeon Saxecoburggotski rather than as a coordinator (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 16 and 19 September 2003). UB

CONTROVERSIAL JOURNALIST TO RUN FOR SOFIA MAYOR
Volen Siderov, a journalist who is notorious for his nationalist and anti-Semitic publications, will run for Sofia mayor in the 26 October elections, vsekiden.com reported. Siderov will run on the ticket of the small National Association BZNS headed by Yane Yanev. Siderov said that as mayor, he would purge the city of beggars, Roma, and drug addicts. In his controversial 2002 book "The Boomerang of Evil," Siderov described a purported global conspiracy of Freemasons, Jews, and communists against Orthodox Christians. UB

TEHRAN MULLS 'VENOMOUS LANGUAGE' OF IAEA RESOLUTION


Tehran's official stance on the 12 September International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) Board of Governors resolution on Iran is that it will continue to meet its international obligations. This publicly stated policy seems to rule out the possibility of Iranian withdrawal from the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty (NPT). The resolution itself, however, is being roundly criticized by a variety of Iranian observers.

Vice President for Atomic Energy Gholamreza Aqazadeh-Khoi said during the 47th regular session of the General Conference of the IAEA on 15 September in Vienna that Iran will continue its cooperation within the framework of the NPT, IRNA reported. Turning to the resolution, Aqazadeh-Khoi said, "We have serious problems with this resolution. From its inconsistency with the NPT to its deadline for cooperation and its venomous language," which he said are "all problematic." He described this as a "preliminary view" and said an official response would be forthcoming "in a few days."

Aqazadeh criticized the way in which the resolution was secured. "This is unilateralism at its worst, that is to say, extreme unilateralism posed under a multilateralist cloak," he said. "We believe there is more to this resolution that meets the eye.... There is an agenda behind it that is conceived in escalating tension and chaos to divert attention from serious issues that deal with partial politics in the United States." He also wondered who has provided Israel with nuclear weapons and reiterated Iran's commitment to a region free of nuclear weapons.

Vice President for Legal and Parliamentary Affairs Hojatoleslam Mohammad-Ali Abtahi on 17 September reiterated that Iranian cooperation with the IAEA will continue, IRNA reported on 17 September. He, too, regretted the IAEA resolution on Iran.

Iran's representative at the IAEA, Ali Akbar Salehi, said on 18 September, according to state television, that Iran would announce its official stance "in the next few days." He added: "The Islamic Republic of Iran will continue to cooperate with the IAEA concerning the [NPT] Additional Protocol. But, in so far as the resolution is concerned, it will not accept what it considers as contrary to its views."

Scholar Farideh Farhi noted in a 2001 Nixon Center study that the secrecy surrounding Iranian nuclear activities has kept the debate ill-informed and inexpert. Shahram Chubin and Robert Litwak add, in the Autumn 2003 "The Washington Quarterly," that what Iran needs is a real debate on the issue. Secrecy and the absence of open and detailed discussion permits hardliners to portray the situation as an American effort to keep Iran backward and dependent. Moreover, Chubin and Litwak write, the regime cultivates and plays on the sense of victimization so popular with Shi'a Muslims.

The trends noted in both articles are evident in Iranian officials' comments about the IAEA resolution. They usually do not address the specifics of the resolution or of nuclear activities. Rather, they put the issue in nationalistic and religious terms.

Expediency Council Chairman Ayatollah Ali-Akbar Hashemi-Rafsanjani said in a 16 September speech to seminarians in Mashhad that what he alleges is a U.S. campaign against Iranian nuclear activities is nothing less than a war on Islam, IRNA reported. The United States does not want the Islamic world to be equipped with modern and sophisticated scientific and technological knowledge, he said, and the United States would not oppose Iranian nuclear activities if Iran were not an Islamic state. Rafsanjani said that Iran should acquire nuclear technology to keep current with the rest of the world, praising the work of Iranian scientists. He also called on Iranian political parties to maintain unity.

Islamic Republic of Iran Broadcasting Director Ali Larijani defended his country's nuclear pursuits in a 17 September speech at the two-day International Conference for Arab and Islamic Media in Support of the Palestinian People that was being held at the Crown Plaza Hotel in Beirut, the official Radio Lebanon reported. He said that Iran obtained nuclear technology for peaceful purposes, but an unspecified "they" do not want regional states, "particularly the Islamic countries," to make more progress in their nuclear pursuits. Nevertheless, he said, "We publicly announce today that we will not abandon our right to obtain nuclear technology, and that, pursuant to the Prophet's saying, we believe that defending the Palestinian people is an Islamic and human duty." Larijani added, "We will not be scared of the childish threats by the American president to launch a crusade."

Hizballah Secretary-General Hassan Nasrallah also gave a speech at the Beirut media conference, Al-Manar television reported on 17 September. Nasrallah defended Iran's nuclear pursuits in terms similar to those of Larijani, contrasting "their" treatment of Israel with "their" treatment of Iran. "Iran seeks to obtain nuclear power for peaceful purposes, but preparations are made to besiege it internationally. This may reach the point of declaring war on it. This happens while Israel, which possesses lethal nuclear weapons, is protected and is given easy loans and annual aid on all levels."

"No noble Iranian can accept the tone and content of such a resolution," the pro-Khatami Islamic Iran Participation Party said in a 16 September statement. The statement went on to say that Iran and the rest of the world have the right to peacefully use nuclear science and technology. It expressed ardent opposition to weapons of mass destruction proliferation, said that nuclear weapons have no place in Iranian military doctrine, and added that Iran sees "political deterrence" as the most effective means of dealing with foreign threats. The statement said that Iran advocates a nuclear free Middle East and it encouraged all countries to sign the NPT. Turning to domestic politics, the statement said that the best way to deter foreign threats is to meet public demands and strengthen national unity.

The Qom Seminary in a 17 September statement referred to the IAEA resolution as "irresponsible" and politically motivated, IRNA reported.

Grand Ayatollah Nuri-Hamedani said in the 15 September issue of "Resalat," "We regard such pressures as a conspiracy by America in order to impose humiliation on the Iranian nation once again." The cleric accused the United States and Israel of trying to deprive Iran of the peaceful use of nuclear energy.

Hojatoleslam Ahmad Khatami, a member of the Assembly of Experts' Presiding Board, said in the 14 September "Resalat," "our enemies are always seeking to find an excuse and pretext against us, and I believe that accepting this Additional Protocol is a kind of humiliation and degradation for our country." According to Khatami, the Additional Protocol is a "letter of surrender."

Assembly of Experts member and former Intelligence and Security Minister Ali-Akbar Fallahian-Khuzestani said in the 13 September "Resalat" that Iran has already signed the NPT and has cooperated with IAEA inspectors. He said that Iran has withstood U.S. pressure so far and it will continue to do so.

HUMAN RIGHTS GROUP URGES THE U.S. TO STOP SUPPORT FOR AFGHAN WARLORDS, EXPAND ISAF
Human Rights Watch (HRW) in an open letter dated 23 September (http://hrw.org/press/2003/09/afghanistan091903-ltr.htm) urged U.S. President George W. Bush to end support for warlords and work to expand the International Security Assistance Force's (ISAF) mandate, which currently limits the force's operations to greater Kabul. HRW Asia Division Executive Director Brad Adams said "it is crucial that the United States immediately end its unsuccessful policy of supporting the national government and regional warlords at the same time, as this policy has been both destabilizing and contributed to human rights abuses." Adams added that only with an "expanded ISAF" can security be improved in Afghanistan. Such security, he said, is a "necessary [condition] for a credible constitution-drafting process and national elections scheduled for next year." AT

U.S. PRESIDENT TO NOMINATE NEW AMBASSADOR TO AFGHANISTAN
President Bush will nominate Zalmay Khalilzad as the new U.S. ambassador to Afghanistan, the White House (http://www.whitehouse.gov) announced on 22 September. Khalilzad is currently serving as special presidential envoy to Afghanistan, a role that he will retain after he is confirmed as ambassador to Kabul. Khalilzad, who was born in Afghanistan, has served as special assistant to the U.S. president and senior director of the U.S. National Security Council's Islamic Outreach and Southwest Asia Initiatives. Prior to that, he was special assistant to the U.S. president and senior director of Southwest Asia, Near East, and North African Affairs. He also has been a special presidential envoy to Afghanistan and the Free Iraqis. Rumors of Khalilzad's appointment as ambassador to Afghanistan have been circulating for some time (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 15 August 2003). AT

IMF SAYS AFGHANISTAN COULD BECOME A 'NARCO-STATE'
The International Monetary Fund (IMF) said in its country report on Afghanistan released on 21 September that "a dangerous potential exists for Afghanistan to progressively slide into a 'narco-state where all legitimate institutions become penetrated by the power and wealth of [drug] traffickers" (see http://www.imf.org/external/pubs/cat/longres.cfm?sk=16881.0). While the IMF praised Afghanistan's reconstructions efforts and the introduction of a new currency, the organization's head of mission in Afghanistan, Adam Bennet, said opium production is a "dark cloud" over the progress made, the BBC reported on 23 September. Finance Minister Ashraf Ghani Ahmadzai agreed with the IMF's assessment of Afghanistan's situation, in which it said the production of opium will dominate the country's economy. Without an "infusion of urgency" in donor countries' commitments to help Afghanistan, Ahmadzai said, it could become a "narco-mafia state" (see "RFE/RL Afghanistan Report," 20 February, 29 May, and 5 June 2003). AT

AFGHAN DEFENSE MINISTER REPORTEDLY RESCINDING PAST DECREES
Defense Minister Marshall Mohammad Qasim Fahim, who is also first deputy to Afghan Transitional Administration Chairman Hamid Karzai, has abolished all of his past decrees, Hindukosh news agency reported on 22 September. According to a source close to Fahim, the decrees concern land distribution and other related issues. The report, if confirmed, could be linked to the recent land-appropriation scandal in Kabul's Shayr Pur District, in which houses were demolished to build luxury compounds for government officials, including Fahim. Recent reports have also said Karzai has ordered that none of his deputies, other than Abdul Karim Khalili, can distribute land (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 22 September 2003 and "RFE/RL Afghanistan Report," 18 September 2003). AT

ANTI-ISRAEL MISSILES STAR IN IRANIAN PARADE
Six Shihab-3 missiles, bearing the slogans "Israel must be wiped off the map" and "We will crush America under our feet," were the stars of the 22 September military parade in Tehran, England's "The Guardian" newspaper and Dubai's Al-Arabiyah television reported on 23 September. Other missiles displayed at the parade, according to state television on 22 September, were the Nazeat-6, Nazeat-10, Zezal, Maverick, Hawk, Tondar-69, Fateh-110, Scud B, SAM-6, surface-to-surface naval missiles, Fajr air-to-surface missiles, and long-range shore-to-sea missiles. BS

IRANIAN OFFICIALS ADDRESS NUCLEAR ISSUE
President Hojatoleslam Mohammad Khatami said in a speech at the 22 September military parade in Tehran that "our region is the center of aggression, terror, and storage of weapons of mass destruction, and the center is the Zionist regime," Iranian state television reported. He claimed that "the biggest atomic arsenal is in Israel and the worst kind of state terror occurs in Palestine." Khatami stressed that Iran has a defensive military strategy and has "no intention of gaining access to weapons of mass destruction." If Iran does not want to produce nuclear weapons, IRNA quoted Deputy Foreign Minister Mohsen Aminzadeh as saying on 22 September, "Why do we hesitate to sign the [Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty's Additional] Protocol to show our friends that our nuclear program is transparent and open to United Nations inspection?" Aminzadeh said Iran should have signed the Additional Protocol ahead of the September meeting of the International Atomic Energy Agency's (IAEA) Board of Governors and, in fact, Iran should have signed "several years ago." The international community will not allow Iran to make nuclear progress if it fails to sign, he warned. BS

IRANIAN OFFICIALS CONTRADICT EACH OTHER ON NUCLEAR CAPABILITIES
Iran's representative to the IAEA, Ali-Akbar Salehi, said on 22 September that Iran does not have the technical capability to produce enriched uranium needed for nuclear weapons, dpa reported, citing Iranian state television. Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei said in a 17 September speech that Iran had produced enriched uranium (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 18 September 2003). However, Salehi said that "for all experts, it is quite clear that the enriched uranium was not made in Iran but imported, as the country is technically not capable of conducting this process." Salehi also said his country does not have the facilities or equipment for enriching uranium and rejected all accusations that Iran is seeking a nuclear-weapons capability. BS

TEHRAN REACTS TO SAUDI COMPLAINTS ABOUT AL-QAEDA
Iranian presidential adviser Mohammad Shariati advocated "patience and accuracy" when asked about Saudi Ambassador to the United States Prince Bandar bin Sultan bin Abd al-Aziz's complaints about poor Iranian cooperation in the extradition of Al-Qaeda members, Al-Jazeera reported on 21 September. Prince Bandar has said his government suspects there could be up to 400 Al-Qaeda members in Iran, but that hard-liners in the government do not want to extradite them (see "RFE/RL Iran Report," 22 September 2003). Shariati sought to deflect attention from the Al-Qaeda issue by saying that attention should go to Palestine and Iraq, and that "regional countries should cooperate with regard to the danger of [Palestine and Iraq], the United States, and terrorism in order to combat these dangers." Shariati emphasized that Tehran-Riyadh relations are strong and have improved since President Khatami's election in 1997. BS

IRANIAN INTELLIGENCE MINISTRY OFFICIAL CHARGED WITH KILLING CANADIAN JOURNALIST
The Tehran Prosecutor's Office announced on 22 September that a Ministry of Intelligence and Security (MOIS) agent has been charged with the "semi-premeditated murder" of Canadian photojournalist Zahra Kazemi, AP reported. Kazemi was beaten to death after authorities detained her on 23 June (see "RFE/RL Iran Report," 14 and 21 July and 4 and 11 August 2003). The MOIS official was not identified, but according to AP he is one of the two officials who was charged previously (see "RFE/RL Iran Report," 1 September 2003). Moreover, according to the statement from the Prosecutor's Office, no government institution is responsible for Kazemi's death. BS

CORRUPT PRACTICES IN IRAN HIT NORWEGIAN OIL COMPANY
The board of directors of Statoil fired chief executive officer Olav Fjell on 23 September, Norway's daily "Aftenposten" reported. The dismissal took place after auditors gave the board a detailed report on allegations that the firm paid bribes to an Iranian consulting company -- Horton Investments -- with direct links to the son of former Iranian President and current Expediency Council Chairman Ayatollah Ali-Akbar Hashemi-Rafsanjani (see "RFE/RL Iran Report," 22 September 2003). Statoil Chairman Leif Terje Loeddesoel resigned on 21 September. The board had voiced its support for both officials the previous week. Fjell will reportedly receive a 7 million krone ($983,270) severance package. The Norwegian National Authority for Investigation and Prosecution of Economic and Environmental Crime raided Statoil's headquarters near Stavanger on 11 September and charged the company with illegally influencing foreign government officials. The investigation is continuing. BS

U.S. TRANSFERS AUTHORITY OVER AL-NAJAF TO SPANISH
U.S. Marines officially transferred control over the central Iraqi city of Al-Najaf to the Spanish Plus Ultra Brigade on 23 September, Reuters and dpa reported. Spanish commander General Alfredo Cardona said that while his multinational force's primary duty is to provide security, troops will also assist with rebuilding infrastructure, according to dpa. Reuters reported that the 1,000-strong force of Spanish, Honduran, and Salvadoran troops in Al-Najaf will operate under a Polish-led division that assumed responsibility for a south-central Iraqi sector at the beginning of September. The U.S. Marines were originally due to hand over power in late August, but that move was delayed following the assassination of Ayatollah Muhammad Baqir al-Hakim on 29 August outside the Imam Ali Mosque in that city (see "RFE/RL Iraq Report," 5 September 2003). Some 900 Marines had been stationed in Al-Najaf. KR

UN SECRETARY-GENERAL 'DISMAYED' OVER SECOND UN BOMBING IN IRAQ
UN Secretary-General Kofi Annan has expressed "dismay" over the second bombing at UN headquarters in Baghdad in roughly a month, UN spokesman Fred Eckhard told reporters on 22 September, according to Reuters. The most recent car bombing (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 22 September 2003) killed the perpetrator and one Iraqi, and wounded 19 others. Speaking later to reporters, Annan said the world body might reassess its role in Iraq following the bombing. "We need a secure environment to be able to operate," he said. "We will go forward, but of course if [the environment in Iraq] continues to deteriorate, then our operations will be handicapped considerably." Meanwhile, the UN Staff Union issued a terse statement calling for the withdrawal of all UN personnel from Iraq until proper security measures are in place, asking, "How much more can our staff take in Iraq?" KR

PRESIDENT OF IRAQI GOVERNING COUNCIL SAID TO BE CHALLENGING U.S. PLAN IN IRAQ
Iraqi Governing Council President for September Ahmad Chalabi is reportedly seeking new alternatives to the U.S.-led administration in Iraq, much to the consternation of U.S. officials, nytimes.com reported on 23 September. Chalabi has reportedly sent his representatives to France and Germany to discuss those countries' proposals for a new UN mandate over Iraq that would transfer Iraq's administration to Iraqi leaders. Chalabi, who is in New York to attend the UN General Assembly meeting on 23 September, has reportedly angered U.S. officials, who have repeatedly warned him and other Governing Council members to avoid a confrontation with U.S. administrator for Iraq L. Paul Bremer. One Chalabi aide told the daily that such a confrontation might be imminent, saying, "We don't want to come out in the open and pick a fight with Bremer,... but the sovereignty issue is coming to a head, and it is pretty clear that a breach is coming pretty soon between the Governing Council and Bremer." Another aide told nytimes.com, "We are going to find a place where we can pick a fight." KR

IRAQI TRIBAL DELEGATION MEETS WITH SYRIAN PRESIDENT
A delegation of the National Council of Iraqi Tribes headed by Council Chairman Shaykh Husayn Ali al-Sha'lan met with Syrian President Bashar al-Asad on 22 September, SANA news agency reported the same day. During the meeting, al-Asad expressed a desire to continue social and economic relations between the two neighboring states, and pledged his nation's help in securing Iraq's independence and territorial integrity. Meanwhile, Syrian Foreign Ministry spokeswoman Bouthaina Sha'ban told London's "The Times" that "Syria would be willing [to send troops] and all Arab countries would be willing, including all Iraq's neighbors," if the UN were put in charge of Iraq and the United States set a clear timetable for withdrawal, the daily reported on 22 September. "If these two points are addressed, all the Arabs will be willing to help to restore security and to help in the reconstruction of Iraq," she said. "This is the only way to send [peacekeeping] troops to Iraq." KR

UN: 13 MILLION IRAQIS STILL IN NEED OF FOOD ASSISTANCE
Approximately 13 million Iraqis are still in need of food assistance, according to a joint report by the UN Food and Agricultural Organization (FAO) and the World Food Program (WFP), the FAO website (http://www.fao.org) announced on 23 September. The report notes that a good cereal harvest this year and the lifting of economic sanctions have improved the situation in Iraq, but three years of severe drought and widespread unemployment -- now estimated at 60 percent -- have left many Iraqis poor and in need of assistance. "While starvation has been averted, chronic malnutrition persists among several million vulnerable people, including some 100,000 refugees and around 200,000 internally displaced people," the website reported. The hardest hit appear to be women and children living in central and southern Iraq, while the report notes that acute malnutrition has been nearly eliminated in Iraq's northern governorates. The report also notes that millions of Iraqis have no access to food except through the oil-for-food program, which is scheduled to end in November. The WFP estimates that some 3.5 million Iraqis will need supplementary food in 2004. KR

NEW CPA APPOINTMENTS ANNOUNCED
The Coalition Provisional Authority (CPA) in Iraq has announced two new economic and industrial appointments. George Wolfe has been appointed director of economic development, according to an 18 September press release posted on the CPA website (http://www.cpa-iraq.org). Wolfe, who has served as deputy director, was to take over from Peter McPherson on 24 September. Wolfe previously served as deputy general counsel for the U.S. Treasury Department and as a private-sector adviser to the U.S. Trade Representative under President George W. Bush. He is a lawyer by training and is expected to serve in his new position until 1 November, when Marek Belka, a former deputy prime minister of Poland, will succeed him. Meanwhile, the CPA appointed Robert McKee as the senior oil adviser to the Iraqi Oil Ministry, Reuters reported on 22 September. McKee formerly served as executive vice president of ConocoPhillips. He replaces Philip Carroll, who will return to "private life," Reuters quoted a U.S. administration statement as saying. KR

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