Accessibility links

Newsline - September 25, 2003


PUTIN MEETS WITH FRENCH, GERMAN PRESIDENTS
On the eve of an address to the United Nations General Assembly and a summit with U.S. President George W. Bush, Russian President Vladimir Putin met briefly on 24 September with French President Jacques Chirac and German Chancellor Gerhard Schroeder, Russian and international media reported. The meeting of the three most vocal opponents to the U.S.-led war in Iraq lasted about one hour, RIA-Novosti reported. The three leaders discussed UN reform, developments in Iraq, Iran's nuclear program, and prospects for the so-called road map Middle East peace plan, RIA-Novosti reported. Putin also held meetings with Algerian President Abdelaziz and Brazilian President Luiz Lula da Silva. BW

GERMAN AMBASSADOR, U.S. COMMERCE SECRETARY UPBEAT ABOUT MOSCOW'S WTO BID
German Ambassador to Russia Hans-Friedrich von Ploetz said on 24 September that he is optimistic about Russia's chances of joining the World Trade Organization (WTO), Russian media reported. Speaking at an Internet news conference organized by RBK, Ploetz said Russia's negotiations with the WTO are making significant strides. The ambassador also praised what he called positive tendencies in the Russian economy, including a budget surplus. U.S. Commerce Secretary Donald Evans said at a press conference in Moscow on 24 September that Russia could join the WTO as early as 2004, Dow Jones reported. "I know accession in 2003 is unlikely...but I wouldn't rule out 2004 yet," Evans said. Evans added that all the WTO's 146 members must approve Russia's accession to the organization, and identified the protection of intellectual-property rights and access to Russian markets as two issues where more work is needed. BW

FINANCE MINISTRY WANTS TO INTRODUCE TERRORISM INSURANCE
The Finance Ministry is seeking to require terrorism insurance for large public events, gazeta.ru reported on 24 September The Finance Ministry has asked leading insurance companies to submit proposals for such a plan. Denis Bryzgalov, spokesman for the All-Russia Union of Insurers, said the favored option is to require organizers of mass events such as concerts and theater performances to buy the insurance. Another option being considered is selling insurance to spectators at such events along with their tickets. BW

INTERIOR MINISTER DRAWS FIRE FROM RIGHTS ACTIVISTS
Interior Minister Boris Gryzlov's recent proposal to increase the time terrorism suspects may be detained without charges (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 24 September 2003) has drawn fire from human rights activists, gazeta.ru reported on 24 September. Gryzlov wants that period to be increased from the current 48 hours to 30 days. The changes, said prominent defense attorney Genrikh Padva, would harm ordinary citizens more than terrorists. ''They detain a person as a terrorist, keep him for a month, and then establish that he is no terrorist, but an ordinary passerby,'' Padva said. "But during this month he might lose his family, his job, his health, and even his life. The Interior Ministry and the Prosecutor General's Office never bear any responsibility for that." Veteran human rights activist Sergei Kovalev told gazeta.ru the Duma would likely approve such changes. ''This is quite possible in our parliament," Kovalev said. "It is ready to pass most proposals coming from the top without ever protesting them.'' BW

YUKOS TO RECEIVE $1 BILLION SYNDICATED LOAN...
A syndicate of banks will loan oil giant Yukos $1 billion in long-term credits, Interfax reported on 25 September, citing sources in the banking industry. Yukos officials would not confirm the Interfax report. A day earlier, RBK, citing Yukos' press office, reported that the oil company had signed an agreement to secure long-term credit with a group of banks including: Citibank, Commerzbank, Credit Lyonnais, Deutsche Bank, HSBC, ING, and SG Corporate and Investment Banking (SG CIB). The loan will be allocated in two tranches, for three and five years, respectively, and secured with revenues from oil exports. BW

...AS INVESTMENT IN ENERGY SECTOR TO TOP $13 BILLION IN 2003
Investments in Russia's fuel-and-energy sector will total about $13.12 billion in 2003, Deputy Energy Minister Ivan Matlashov said on 25 September at an investment forum in Khanty-Mansiisk, RBK reported. Matlashov added that he does not foresee a drop in fuel and energy investments in 2004. In the first half of this year, the sector accounted for 29 percent of Russia's GDP, 35.4 percent of revenues to the consolidated budget, and 57 percent of foreign-currency revenues. BW

PATRIARCH CALLS FOR TALKS WITH RUSSIAN ORTHODOX CHURCH ABROAD
The Moscow Patriarchate believes that a union with the Russian Orthodox Church Abroad is still possible, Interfax reported on 25 September. "I believe that God will bring us to unity, especially because the historic causes of the split are over: the revolution, the Civil War, and the Cold War," Archpriest Vsevolod Chaplin, a spokesman for the Moscow Patriarchate, said. Putin and Patriarch Aleksii II have issued a joint invitation to Metropolitan Lavr, head of the Russian Orthodox Church Abroad, to visit Russia. The Russian Orthodox Church Abroad split from the Russian Orthodox Church during the Communist era because of the latter's cooperation with the Kremlin. "The Russian Orthodox Church has repeatedly invited the Russian Orthodox Church Abroad to enter into a dialogue without preconditions," Archpriest Vsevolod said, adding that the patriarch made this offer in 1991 shortly after his enthronement. "We still hope that this call for dialogue will be heard," Archpriest Vsevolod said. BW

AUDIT CHAMBER HEAD ASSAILS LACK OF PROGRESS IN MONEY-LAUNDERING PROBES
Sergei Stepashin has complained about the lack of progress in combating money laundering, RBK reported on 25 September. Of the 13,000 cases of suspicious financial transactions that the Committee on Financial Monitoring has forwarded to law enforcement bodies, only 13 criminal cases have been filed, Stepashin said. And not one of those 13 cases resulted in a conviction, he added. "It is very hard for law enforcement agencies efficiently to handle shady financial transactions single-handedly," Stepashin said, adding that auditing agencies need to become more involved in the process. BW

PUTIN SUBMITS AMENDMENTS TO DRACONIAN CITIZENSHIP LAW...
President Putin on 24 September submitted to the State Duma amendments to the law on citizenship, which human rights activists have attacked as draconian since it went into effect last year, Interfax reported. The amendments are aimed at simplifying the procedures for citizens of other former Soviet republics seeking to become Russian citizens. One amendment stipulates that people from former Soviet republics who were registered as residing in Russia as of 1 July 2002 or who have received permission to reside in Russia temporarily are eligible for Russian citizenship without having to prove how they will support themselves, demonstrate Russian-language fluency, or present a resident permit, if they apply for citizenship before 1 January 2006. Other amendments simplify naturalization procedures for any person who has been married to a Russian citizen for three years or more and for citizens of former Soviet republics outside Russia who have graduated from Russian institutions of higher learning. The latter measure is aimed at increasing the flow of "qualified specialists" into Russia, Interfax reported. JB

...EARNING PRAISE FROM SOME LIBERALS
Sergei Mitrokhin, deputy head of the Yabloko faction in the State Duma, told Interfax on 24 September that President Putin's initiative to amend the law on citizenship is a "sensible step" that "restores justice," and that the president's amendments closely resemble a number of those that Yabloko has introduced, abnews.ru and other Russian media reported. Mitrokhin expressed hope that the amendments will remove obstacles to the inflow of "labor resources." He also said he hopes Putin will introduce analogous "democratic" amendments to the laws on the mass media and on importing nuclear waste into Russia. "Vedomosti" stated in a 25 September editorial that the presidential amendments are "exclusively humanitarian" and will do little to improve Russia's labor market because those likely to be affected by the changes are mostly not "qualified personnel." In introducing the amendments, "Vedomosti" wrote, the Kremlin is "trying to correct its own mistake," given that the law on citizenship was originally drafted under the direction of deputy presidential administration head Viktor Ivanov. JB

FSB REPORTEDLY TESTING AN SMS MONITORING SYSTEM
The Federal Security Service (FSB) is reportedly testing a system that will automatically monitor all SMS text messages from all mobile phones in Moscow, Russian media reported on 24 September. A special computer network will scan the messages for words and phrases that might be used by criminals and terrorists. If such key words and phrases are detected, the message will be picked out and put aside for further study, NTV reported. Two leading Russian mobile-phone operators -- MTS and Beelain -- denied the reports, utro.ru reported on 24 September. The first report alleging that such monitoring is taking place appeared on 23 September in "Stolichnaya vechernyaya gazeta." JB

SOURCE DENIES OLIGARCH HAS AGREED TO SELL HIS RUSAL STAKE
An unidentified source close to Chukotka Autonomous Okrug Governor Roman Abramovich has denied a report published in "Vedomosti" that Abramovich recently agreed to sell his 50 percent stake in Russian Aluminum (Rusal) to the man who owns the other half of the company, fellow oligarch Oleg Deripaska (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 24 September 2003). The source said the question of such a sale is "in the discussion stage," but no decision has been made, izvestia.ru reported on 24 September. Meanwhile, the "Vancouver Sun" reported on 20 September that Abramovich, who bought Britain's Chelsea soccer club for $233 million in July, is considering purchasing the National Hockey League's Vancouver Canucks. JB

ANALYST SAYS RUSSIAN BUSINESS LIVES IN FEAR
Despite the denial that Roman Abramovich has agreed to sell his Rusal stake, many observers continue to take the report seriously, with some saying it indicates that Abramovich is preparing to leave for the West to avoid problems with the authorities. During a discussion of the report about Abramovich and Rusal on Ekho Moskvy radio on 24 September, former Economic Minister Yevgenii Yasin said that the Russian business environment is characterized by "fear," "insecurity," and a "lack of trust in the state," all exacerbated by the ongoing investigations of oil giant Yukos. Small and medium-sized businesses have always operated under such threats, Yasin added, noting that "bribes, administrative barriers, and so-called forced participation" cost Russian businesses about $40 billion a year. JB

MOTHERLAND PLAGUED BY BICKERING
The Central Election Commission (TsIK) on 24 September officially registered the Motherland bloc headed by Duma Deputy Sergei Glazev for participation in December's State Duma elections, gazeta.ru reported on 24 September. According to the website, however, the bloc was unable to provide TsIK Chairman Aleksandr Veshnyakov with a finalized list of its candidates because of "constant quarrelling" among its members. Indeed, the bloc has from the start been split by disagreements among its leading members, gazeta.ru reported. For example, Eurasia Party head Aleksandr Dugin, who last month was heaping praise on the newly formed bloc and on Glazev and fellow Motherland leader Duma Deputy Dmitrii Rogozin (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 29 August 2003), recently left it because he was apparently unable to get along with Rogozin and another leading member, Sergei Baburin. Motherland has managed to agree on the top three names for its election list. They are Glazev, Rogozin, and 1991 coup plotter Valentin Varennikov (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 15 September 2003). JB

CHECHEN FOREIGN MINISTER CALLS ON U.S. TO SUPPORT INTERNATIONAL ADMINISTRATION FOR CHECHNYA
Ilyas Akhmadov, who is Chechen President Aslan Maskhadov's foreign minister, appealed to the United States on 24 September to help install a temporary international administration in Chechnya, chechenpress.com reported (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 20 March 2003). In a statement, Akhmadov stressed that over the past decade, 25 percent of the Chechen population has died in successive wars with Russia. He further rejected as untrue Russian allegations that Chechen resistance fighters have links with Osama bin Laden, the Taliban, or deposed Iraqi President Saddam Hussein. LF

RUSSIA, OSCE DISCUSS RECONSTRUCTION IN CHECHNYA
Foreign Minister Igor Ivanov met in New York on 24 September on the sidelines of the UN General Assembly session with OSCE Chairman-in-Office and future NATO Secretary-General Jaap de Hoop Scheffer to discuss the potential for OSCE involvement in post-war reconstruction in Chechnya, ITAR-TASS quoted Foreign Ministry spokesman Aleksandr Yakovenko as saying. The two men also discussed the role of the OSCE in a changing security environment both in Europe and globally, focusing on the need for a new OSCE strategy to counter threats to international security and stability. LF

FORMER CHECHEN PRESIDENTIAL REPRESENTATIVE TO RUN FOR STATE DUMA...
Salambek Maigov, who resigned last month from his post as Chechen President Maskhadov's representative in the Russian Federation (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 15 August 2003), told journalists in Moscow on 24 September that he will contest the 7 December State Duma elections from Chechnya's single-mandate district, ITAR-TASS and chechenpress.com reported. He said that if elected, he will continue to struggle for "peace and the rights and liberties of the Chechen people," and that "legitimate dialogue is the most effective [way] of achieving these goals," according to ITAR-TASS. Chechnya's current Duma deputy, Aslanbek Aslakhanov, recently accepted a post as an aide to President Putin (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 12 and 17 September 2003). LF

...TO THE DELIGHT OF HUMAN RIGHTS ENVOY
Abdul-Khakim Sultygov, who is President Putin's special representative for human rights in Chechnya, described Maigov's announcement as "a political sensation" that demonstrates that "a normal political dialogue is taking place in Chechnya in which all parties to the conflict are engaged," ITAR-TASS reported on 24 September. Sultygov added that the March referendum on a new Chechen constitution has resulted in the emergence of a moderate opposition wing in Chechnya that is prepared to defend its views using legitimate political methods. LF

OBJECTIVE MONITORING OF CHECHEN ELECTIONS INCREASINGLY UNLIKELY
Russian human rights activists will not send observers to monitor the 5 October Chechen presidential election, Moscow Helsinki Group head Lyudmila Alekseeva told journalists in Moscow on 24 September, Russian media reported. Alekseeva dismissed the ballot, from which all three serious opposition challengers to Chechen administration head Akhmed-hadji Kadyrov have withdrawn or been disqualified, as "a farce." She added that her group has decided not to invite foreign observers to monitor the ballot both for security reasons and because doing so could serve to legitimize the elections. Also on 24 September, TsIK Chairman Veshnyakov told journalists in Moscow that the OSCE will not send an election-observation mission to Chechnya "for organizational reasons," chechenpress.com reported. Veshnyakov added that the Council of Europe, the Organization of the Islamic Conference, and the League of Arab States have not yet responded to the TsIK's invitation to send election observers. LF

ARMENIAN PREMIER LAUDS PREDECESSOR'S ECONOMIC REFORMS
Andranik Markarian on 24 September praised the economic reforms launched by Hrant Bagratian during the latter's tenure as prime minister, RFE/RL's Yerevan bureau reported. Bagratian served as premier from 3 February 1993 until 4 November 1996. Markarian expressed satisfaction with the reforms Bagratian launched which, he said, together with the work undertaken by Armenia's former leadership, laid the foundations for the present economic upswing. Members of the present Armenian leadership under President Robert Kocharian have been exceedingly sparing in their praise of previous governments under President Levon Ter-Petrossian. LF

ARMENIAN PARLIAMENT APPROVES DISPUTED MEDIA BILL IN FIRST READING
As anticipated, deputies voted on 24 September by 69-9 with one abstention in favor of the controversial media bill that journalists claim will impose restrictions on reporting, Noyan Tapan reported (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 24 September 2003). LF

WILL ARMENIA RECOGNIZE KARABAKH...
Arkadii Ghukasian, who is president of the unrecognized Nagorno-Karabakh Republic (NKR), told the Armenian parliament on 24 September that the government of the Republic of Armenia might recognize his republic as an independent state "in the near future," RFE/RL's Yerevan bureau reported. The Armenian government has hitherto said it will recognize the independence of the NKR only after another state has done so. Ghukasian also said international mediators regard the NKR as "a de jure party to the conflict," and that when talks on resolving the conflict resume within the framework of the OSCE Minsk Group, representatives of the NKR will participate. Ghukasian added that he does not "believe that Azerbaijan today is ready to begin a war and win it." LF

...AND WHO WILL PARTICIPATE IN RESUMED PEACE TALKS?
Speaking in Baku on 24 September, however, Novruz Mamedov, who heads the Azerbaijani presidential administration department for foreign affairs, told journalists he believes that progress toward a settlement of the Karabakh conflict can emerge only from direct talks between the presidents of Armenia and Azerbaijan, zerkalo.az reported on 25 September. The online paper also quoted NKR President Ghukasian as saying in Yerevan that his administration is ready for direct talks with the Azerbaijani leadership either with or without Armenian participation. Azerbaijani Foreign Minister Vilayat Guliev said on 15 September that Azerbaijan would agree to discuss a settlement of the conflict with the NKR leadership only if Armenia formally acknowledges that the dispute is an internal Azerbaijani affair and bows out of future talks (see "RFE/RL Caucasus Report," 19 September 2003). LF

AZERBAIJANI PRIME MINISTER HOLDS MEETINGS IN NEW YORK
Ilham Aliev met in New York on 23 September on the sidelines of the UN General Assembly session with Croatia's President Stipe Mesic to discuss economic cooperation, including possible Croatian investment in Azerbaijan's chemical industry, Interfax reported on 24 September. Aliev also discussed with Iranian Foreign Minister Kamal Kharrazi the prospects for expanding economic cooperation and the upcoming round of bilateral talks on the Caspian Sea. Addressing the UN General Assembly session on 24 September, Aliev expressed support for the proposed organizational reforms of the UN and for expanding the Security Council, Turan reported on 25 September. He went on to denounce what he termed "state-sponsored terrorism" directed against Azerbaijan on the part of Armenia, and deplored the UN's failure to pressure Armenia to comply with four UN Security Council resolutions passed in 1993 demanding that Armenian forces withdraw from occupied Azerbaijani territories, an RFE/RL correspondent reported. LF

VATICAN REPRESENTATIVE VISITS AZERBAIJAN
Archbishop Jean-Louis Tauran, who is the Vatican's secretary for relations with foreign states, met in Baku on 23 September with Azerbaijani Deputy Foreign Minister Khalaf Khalafov and the following day with Azerbaijan's senior Muslim cleric, Sheikh-ul- Islam Allakhshukur Pashazade, Interfax and Turan reported. Pashazade urged Tauran to take steps to prevent the destruction or use for secular purposes of Azerbaijani religious monuments in the unrecognized Nagorno-Karabakh Republic (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 4 September 2003). During a 24 September meeting with Tauran, Rafik Aliev, who is chairman of the State Committee for Religion, criticized the Vatican nuncio in Baku for allegedly engaging in religious propaganda in violation of Azerbaijani law, Interfax reported. LF

HUMAN RIGHTS WATCH CRITICIZES AZERBAIJANI ELECTION CAMPAIGN
In a statement released in New York on 24 September, Human Rights Watch (HRW) condemned numerous reported instances of government harassment of opposition candidates and independent journalists in the run-up to the 15 October Azerbaijani presidential election. "So far the Azerbaijani government has thoroughly manipulated the electoral process," said Rachel Denber, deputy director of Human Rights Watch's Europe and Central Asia division. "Taken together with the government's attempts to intimidate opposition party workers and activists, it would appear that the government is trying to achieve a dynastic secession without a free and fair vote." HRW has written to U.S. President George W. Bush urging him to ask Prime Minister Aliev to ensure that the ballot is free and fair. LF

GEORGIA AGAIN DENIES PRESENCE OF CHECHEN MILITANTS
Shalva Londaridze, who heads the press office of the Georgian State Frontier Protection Department, rejected on 24 September as untrue claims by the deputy director of Russia's Federal Border Service, Lieutenant General Aleksandr Manilov, that a large group of Chechen fighters is currently on Georgian territory close to the border with Chechnya, Caucasus Press and Interfax reported. Manilov also claimed that Russian and Georgian border troops are preparing to launch a joint operation against the Chechens. Londaridze said, as have other senior Georgian security officials in recent months, that all Chechen fighters left Georgian territory during a much-publicized police operation one year ago. LF

GEORGIAN PRESIDENT SLAMS INCOMPETENCE OF SOME GOVERNMENT OFFICIALS, PARLIAMENT DEPUTIES
Eduard Shevardnadze told a government session on 24 September that he is concerned by the incompetence of some unnamed government officials and parliament deputies, Caucasus Press and the website of the independent television station Rustavi-2 reported. He said the low level of competence of some parliament deputies has resulted in the passage of legislation that violates the constitution. Shevardnadze proposed establishing special schools to enable government officials and legislators to improve their professional qualifications. LF

LACK OF FUNDS AFFECTS PREPARATIONS FOR GEORGIAN PARLIAMENTARY BALLOT
Due to lack of funds, Georgia's Central Election Commission is unable to begin displaying lists of voters at polling stations, which the election law stipulates must be done by 29 September, Caucasus Press reported on 24 September, quoting Zurab Chiaberashvili, chairman of the NGO Fair Elections. He said the CEC has not yet received from the treasury the funds allocated for the ballot. On 8 September, Caucasus Press reported that CEC Chairwoman Nana Devdariani had asked the government for 6.4 million laris ($3 million), more than double the 2.5 million laris earmarked to finance the elections. On 25 September, the daily "Akhali taoba" reported that the CEC's telephones have been disconnected due to nonpayment of bills. LF

INDEPENDENT KAZAKH ELECTION OBSERVERS REPORT MANY VIOLATIONS IN LOCAL ELECTIONS
Independent observers saw many violations of election laws during the 20 September Kazakh local elections (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 22 September 2003), Danila Bekturganov, the executive director of the Republican Network of Independent Observers, told a news conference in Almaty on 24 September, Interfax-Kazakhstan reported. Bekturganov said that despite the training conducted by the Central Election Commission for members of local election committees, members of his group found that commission members in more than half the electoral districts had little knowledge of the legislation, and their activities at the polling stations were not transparent. The observers also reported many violations of their right to observe, as well as instances of the authorities interfering in the election process. The most frequent violations reported, however, were carelessness in keeping records of eligible voters and handling ballots, allowing people to vote for family members, violations of voting secrecy, and campaigning on election day. BB

KAZAKH PARLIAMENTARIAN ASKS THAT DISPUTED VIDEO OF OPPOSITION LEADER BE AUTHENTICATED
Member of the Kazakh Mazhilis (lower house) Marat Tinekeev has asked that the Prosecutor-General's Office evaluate the authenticity of a videotape showing imprisoned former Pavlodar Oblast Governor and opposition leader Ghalymzhan Zhaqiyanov apparently offering to give up politics in exchange for a presidential pardon, Interfax-Kazakhstan reported on 24 September. Tinekeev read out his request at a session of the Mazhilis. The film, made by National Security Committee (NSC) officers during a visit to Zhaqiyanov, was shown to journalists on 15 September. Members of the opposition, particularly of the Democratic Choice of Kazakhstan (DVK) coalition that Zhaqiyanov co-founded, have asserted that the film was heavily edited to distort Zhaqiyanov's intentions (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 16 and 17 September 2003). Tinekeev told the Mazhilis that if the film proves to have been faked, it is responsibility of the Prosecutor-General's Office, which is responsible for overseeing the security services, to intervene. BB

KYRGYZ CLERGYMAN BELIEVED ABDUCTED BY UZBEK SECURITY OFFICERS
Sadykjan Rakhmanov, a mullah in the town of Uzgen in southern Kyrgyzstan, was reportedly abducted from a bus station on 7 September, and local police are saying the evidence they have gathered indicates the kidnappers were security officers from the nearby Namangan Oblast of Uzbekistan, kyrgyzinfo.kg and akipress.com reported on 24 September. According to the Uzgen police, the car in which Rakhmanov was abducted was purchased six months ago by a Namangan security officer. Rakhmanov taught Islam to children at a madrassa in Namangan for a year in the early 1990s, and the Kyrgyz authorities assume his abduction has some connection to his work in Uzbekistan. However, they insist he has no record of association with extremist religious groups. Kyrgyz law enforcement officials have gone to Namangan in an attempt to solve the kidnapping, which they are treating as a criminal case. BB

POLICE SAY KYRGYZ JOURNALIST'S DEATH WAS ACCIDENTAL
Kyrgyz law enforcement officials are treating the death of journalist Ernis Nazalov (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 24 September 2003) as an accident, the pro-government daily "Vechernyi Bishkek" reported on 24 September. Nazalov was an employee of the independent newspaper "Kyrgyz ruhu," and his body was fished out of a canal in Kara-Suu Raion in southern Kyrgyzstan on 15 September. Investigators say Nazalov was last seen at a wedding celebration, and they are assuming that he fell into the canal in the dark and was in no condition to save himself. Law enforcement sources told "Vechernyi Bishkek" they have found no evidence to support assertions by the Kyrgyz opposition that Nazalov was murdered because of his investigations into high-level government corruption. BB

NATO WANTS TO HELP TAJIKISTAN MODERNIZE ITS ARMY, SAYS ROBERTSON
NATO Secretary-General Lord George Robertson told journalists in Dushanbe on 24 September that the alliance wants to help Tajikistan modernize its armed forces, Asia Plus-Blitz, ITAR-TASS, and RIA-Novosti reported. The assistance is to be provided under the Partnership for Peace program, which Tajikistan joined after the end of the 1992-97 civil war. Robertson was quoted as saying that all countries in the region need modern, well-equipped military forces to respond to security problems in Central Asia and around the world. Robertson discussed the issue with President Imomali Rakhmonov and Foreign Minister Talbak Nazarov. According to Asia Plus-Blitz, quoting the Tajik Foreign Ministry's press office, the meeting with Nazarov focused particularly on combating international terrorism and drug trafficking, as well as on cooperation on coping with natural disasters. As part of its assistance to Tajikistan, NATO and the OSCE are setting up a training center for Tajik border guards. BB

POLL FINDS TAJIK LABOR MIGRANTS' EARNINGS ALMOST EQUAL NATIONAL BUDGET
A poll conducted by the International Organization for Migration (IOM) and the Tajik research center Sharq has revealed that the cash remissions of Tajik citizens working abroad almost equal the country's annual budget, ITAR-TASS reported on 24 September. Poll findings indicate that $200 million-$230 million was sent home by Tajik workers in 2002. Tajikistan's national budget that year was $250 million. The poll also found that more than 600,000 Tajik citizens worked outside the country in 2000-03, 84 percent of them in Russia. More than two-thirds of poll respondents said their lives improved after they or family members took jobs outside Tajikistan. The IOM poll findings are another indication of Tajikistan's desperate need for job-creating investment. BB

INSTEAD OF JAIL, CORRUPT TURKMEN MAYOR TO BE FORCED TO FARM
Instead of being sent to jail, Ashirberdy Cherkezov, the mayor of the Turkmen port city of Turkmenbashi who was fired on 22 September for corruption (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 23 September 2003), will probably have to become a farmer, ITAR-TASS reported on 23 September. President Saparmurat Niyazov fired Cherkezov after a lengthy denunciation of the latter's alleged crimes by Prosecutor-General Kurbanbibi Atadjanova at a cabinet meeting in Turkmenbashi. Cherkezov allegedly gave his family and friends more than 200 plots of land and apartments during his tenure as mayor of Turkmenbashi and, in 1997-2000, as mayor of Ashgabat. Niyazov suggested that Cherkezov be given a hectare of land near the town of Bereket in the Balkan Oblast and be forced to farm it. This punishment has already been given to a number of former National Security Committee officials. It is unclear why they have been made to farm near Bereket, which is known primarily for its carpet-weaving factory. BB

BELARUS SEEKS MORE RUSSIAN GAS IN 2004
A Belarusian governmental delegation arrived in Moscow on 24 September for talks on Russian gas supplies to Belarus in 2004, Belapan reported. Belarusian Deputy Energy Minister Pyotr Zhabko told the agency that the Belarusian government would like next year's Russian gas supplies to be increased to 20.5 million cubic meters in light of the country's growing gas consumption. Under this year's deal, Russia will supply Belarus with 18.5 billion cubic meters of gas, including 10.2 billion cubic meters to be delivered by Gazprom at Russian domestic prices. The Belarusian and Russian presidents agreed earlier this month to adopt market prices in contracting purchases of Russian gas (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 18 September 2003). According to Zhabko, Belarus owed Gazprom $126 million as of 1 September for gas supplies. JM

UKRAINIAN PRESIDENT WANTS UN TO COMMEMORATE 1932-33 FAMINE
President Leonid Kuchma addressed the 58th session of the UN General Assembly in New York on 24 September, urging the United Nations to pay tribute to victims of the man-made famine in Ukraine in 1932-33, which claimed up to 10 million lives, Interfax reported. "Seventy years ago, the totalitarian [Soviet] regime organized an artificial famine in Ukraine," Kuchma said. "Unfortunately, in 1933 the world did not react to our tragedy. The international community believed the cynical propaganda of the Soviet state, which was selling grain abroad at a time when 17 people were dying every minute in Ukraine." Kuchma said Ukraine is not seeking "to settle past scores," adding, "We only want to make known our tragedy to the largest possible number of people, so that this knowledge might help us avoid similar catastrophes in the future." In May, Ukraine's Verkhovna Rada approved a declaration designating the 1932-33 famine in Ukraine an "act of genocide" against the Ukrainian people. JM

UN ASKS KYIV TO CONSIDER PEACEKEEPERS FOR LIBERIA
UN Under Secretary-General and special representative for Liberia Jacques Paul Klein has asked President Kuchma to consider sending an infantry battalion and a helicopter squadron to Liberia for a peacekeeping mission under the auspices of the UN, Interfax reported on 25 September, quoting presidential spokeswoman Olena Hromnytska. Kuchma reportedly pledged to consider the request "in keeping with the legislation in force [and] with due regard for the proceedings required to adopt this decision." JM

ESTONIAN PRESIDENT CALLS FOR UN RESTRUCTURING
Arnold Ruutel told the UN General Assembly in New York on 24 September that "the UN needs improvement and restructuring" to enable it to "participate more efficiently in problem solving and crisis resolution in the world," BNS reported. He firmly backed the need for stabilization forces in Iraq, to which Estonia is contributing troops. Ruutel spoke in favor of greater environmental protection and the enforcement of the Kyoto Protocol as soon as possible, noting that one of Estonia's main priorities during its presidency of the Council of the Baltic Sea States will be to reduce pollution from oil tankers to a minimum and to ban single-hull tankers from the Baltic Sea. On 23 September, Ruutel met briefly with U.S. President George W. Bush at three receptions during which Bush lauded Estonia's help in fighting terrorism. SG

LATVIAN PARLIAMENT AMENDS LAW ON PORTS
Parliament on 25 September approved amendments to the law on ports by a vote of 54-44, LETA reported. The amendments, which were prepared by parliament's Economic, Agricultural, Environmental, and Regional Policy Committee, stipulate that the boards of the Riga and Ventspils free ports each consist of seven members, four of whom are to be appointed by the government on the recommendations of the Economy, Environment, Finance, and Transport ministries and three by the ports' respective city councils. All decisions will require the approval of at least four board members. The amendments, which will go into effect on 31 October, are expected to restore operations in Riga that were halted in August when the government removed its five representatives from the port's 10-member board (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 7 August 2003). SG

LITHUANIAN GOVERNMENT APPROVES SALE OF GAS-UTILITY STAKE TO GAZPROM
A closed-door cabinet session on 24 September approved setting the minimum price for the sale of a 34 percent stake of the utility Lietuvos Dujos (Lithuanian Gas) at 91 million litas ($30 million), BNS reported. This is the exact price that Russia's Gazprom has offered for the shares. Last year, the German companies Ruhrgas and E.ON Energie paid 116 million litas for a similar 34 percent stake in the company. Lithuania will continue negotiations with Gazprom on an additional payment of 9 million litas contingent on the Lithuanian government's agreement to refrain from capping gas prices for large industrial users and to liberalize its gas market as of 2004. Deputy Economy Minister Nerijus Eidukevicius said the sale agreement will likely take a month to work out and will contain guarantees for a long-term (until 2015) supply of gas at stable prices, set according to a specific price formula. SG

POLISH MINERS THREATEN BLOCKADE AFTER ABORTIVE TALKS
Miners threatened on 24 September to paralyze Poland's southern industrial region of Silesia on 26 September, PAP reported. The warning followed the collapse of talks earlier the same day between trade unionists and representatives of the Katowice-based Kompania Weglowa coal company, which has announced the closure of four mines in the region. Union activist Waclaw Czerkawski vowed that the region will be "totally blocked" between 11 a.m. and 2 p.m. on 26 September, with all means of transport rendered useless. Earlier this month, a Warsaw demonstration of miners protesting the same four closures devolved into rioting (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 12 September 2003). JM

POLISH COURT OVERTURNS RULING ON COMPENSATION TO EXPELLEES FROM EAST
A Krakow appellate court on 24 September rescinded the April verdict of a district court that granted a family of postwar expellees 2 million zlotys ($510,000) in compensation from the state for property left in Soviet territory by the post-World War II shift of Polish borders, Polish media reported. The appeal was filed by representatives of the State Treasury. The claims of the "K. family" concerned a 30-hectare manor and an estate with a mill, for which the family had demanded the equivalent in property or monetary compensation. The court said the plaintiffs lost their chance for compensation by not taking part since the early 1990s in tenders for the purchase of State Treasury property. In such tenders, the court concluded, the claimants could have acquired plots of land or other property on favorable terms. Simultaneously, the court ruled that regulations currently in force do not envisage monetary compensation. Some 80,000 people in Poland are seeking compensation for property left behind the eastern border, PAP reported. JM

CZECH FISCAL REFORMS CLEAR SECOND HURDLE
The lower house has approved the second readings of all 11 bills that make up the government's public-finance-reform package following parliamentary voting on 23-24 September, local media reported. The reforms are aimed at reducing the state budget deficit by 200 billion crowns ($6.8 billion) over the next three years, CTK and dpa reported. The government now has "nearly all the important things that it needs for the 'first stage' of reform," the daily "Mlada fronta Dnes" reported on 25 September. The passage of proposed amendments to legislation on sick pay and on excise taxes are the only remaining sticking points, the daily added, with votes expected on both in the coming days. Prime Minister Vladimir Spidla expressed confidence that the package will be approved and will usher in a period of improved financial stability. MS

CZECHS CALL ON GERMANY TO RELAX STANCE ON FREE MOVEMENT OF LABOR
Czech Foreign Minister Cyril Svoboda has urged Germany to liberalize its stance on the free movement of labor after the planned EU enlargement in May 2004, CTK reported on 24 September. In an interview with the German daily "Handelsblatt" the same day, Svoboda said the seven-year grace period during which current EU members will be allowed to maintain tight restrictions on labor from new member states is excessive and unjustified. He cited a study suggesting that no more than 19,000 Czechs intend to seek jobs in Germany after accession. MS

UN OFFICIAL SAYS EASTERN EUROPE FACES 'TURNING POINT' ON HUMAN RIGHTS RESPECT
The UN's acting high commissioner for human rights, Bertrand Ramcharan, told a UN-sponsored conference in the Czech capital, Prague, on 24 September that the postcommunist countries of multiethnic Eastern Europe have reached a "turning point" in the fight against racism and xenophobia, CTK and dpa reported. Ramcharan said those countries must create a "national protection system," including governmental agencies to help victims of discrimination and forge policies that "build fair and equitable societies." "The stereotyping of the Roma and prejudices against them show the extent to which racism against Roma is deeply imbedded in the social fabric of societies," he said. "In the turbulent waters of ever-increasing xenophobia, there can be only one choice: to walk the path of tolerance and interethnic understanding." MS

SLOVAK PRESIDENT EFFECTS CABINET SHUFFLE
President Rudolf Schuster appointed media mogul and Alliance for a New Citizen (ANO) Chairman Pavol Rusko to be the country's new economy minister and dismissed Ivan Simko as defense minister on 24 September, TASR and CTK reported. Rusko replaces Robert Nemcsics, who resigned after the ANO leadership withdrew support over his criticism of Rusko's leadership style. Simko's dismissal was engineered by Prime Minister Mikulas Dzurinda after the defense minister opposed Dzurinda's motion in the cabinet to dismiss National Security Office (NBU) head Jan Mojzis. Schuster blamed "partisan politics" for the shuffle and said he hopes the coalition parties will resume mutual cooperation, according to CTK. Also on 24 September, Dzurinda submitted to Schuster the nomination of parliamentary deputy Juraj Liska as Simko's successor at the Defense Ministry. According to TASR, Branislav Opaterny, who echoed Nemcsics's criticism of Rusko, will be recalled from his state secretary's post at the Transportation Ministry on 1 October and replaced by Mikulas Kacaljak, who is chairman of ANO's regional council in the northwestern city of Zilina. MS

SLOVAK PREMIER DENIES HAVING SEEN CLASSIFIED FILE...
Prime Minister Dzurinda told journalists on 24 September that he has not seen a classified file on NBU chief Mojzis despite a senior official's claim to the contrary and his own confirmation that the country's intelligence service sent the file to him, TASR and CTK reported. Slovak Information Service (SIS) Director Ladislav Pittner reportedly told the parliament's Security and Defense Committee that he offered Mojzis's file to Dzurinda and that the file is in the premier's safe (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 24 September 2003). "There is no such file in my safe, and there never has been. I have never seen the file on the security vetting of Jan Mojzis," Dzurinda said. Dzurinda added that he did not ask the SIS for such information, and said the SIS sent it to him at its own initiative. He added that the only information he received from Pittner on Mojzis's vetting process was in a letter from Pittner from which "I learned nothing new." Asked whether Mojzis poses a security risk, Dzurinda said he cannot answer the question because it refers to classified information. MS

...AS POLICE OPEN INVESTIGATION
Slovak police have opened an investigation into the handling of Mojzis's classified security-clearance file following a complaint by the NBU, CTK reported on 24 September. Premier Dzurinda told journalists on 24 September that investigators "visited" the premier's office on 19 September. The NBU has accused SIS Director Pittner of negligent handling of the Mojzis file, according to TASR. TASR quoted "the NBU" as saying that Pittner had made six copies of the file and circulated them in breach of NBU regulations. The SIS countered that it notified the NBU of having discovered a security risk regarding Mojzis, the agency reported. SIS staff turned to the premier after the NBU failed to react to that notification, but did not provide Dzurinda with Mojzis's file, "the SIS" said. Meanwhile, both President Schuster and parliamentary speaker Pavol Hrusovsky denied having received any information on Mojzis's file from the SIS. Pittner claimed he "verbally notified" the president and Hrusovsky. MS

HUNGARIAN OPPOSITION DENOUNCES AGREEMENT ON STATUS LAW
The chairman of the parliamentary Foreign Affairs Committee, opposition FIDESZ deputy Zsolt Nemeth, told a television audience on 24 September that "we must gradually get accustomed to the fact that Romania ritually humiliates [Hungarian] Prime Minister Peter Medgyessy every month." Nemeth said a bilateral agreement on implementation of the Hungarian Status Law signed in Bucharest on 23 September by Medgyessy and Romanian Prime Minister Adrian Nastase (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 24 September 2003) is disadvantageous to ethnic Hungarians abroad and represents a step backward from a 2001 understanding between former FIDESZ Premier Viktor Orban and Nastase. Nemeth said it is intolerable that Medgyessy agreed to change the format of "Hungarian certificates" to remove the Holy Crown, the historical symbol of the Hungarian Kingdom, from the front of the document. Foreign Minister Laszlo Kovacs responded to Nemeth's remarks by saying that the agreement reduced the level of tension in bilateral relations and sought to ensure that the certificates meet recommendations issued by relevant EU institutions, "Nepszabadsag" reported on 25 September. MSZ

DUAL CITIZENSHIP BACK ON HUNGARY'S POLITICAL AGENDA
Hungarian Foreign Minister Laszlo Kovacs and Jozsef Kasza, chairman of the Federation of Vojvodina Hungarians, agreed in Budapest on 24 September that the Hungarian government and the five ethnic Hungarian parties in Vojvodina will open talks on the possibility of offering dual citizenship to ethnic Hungarians in Serbia and Montenegro, Hungarian media reported. Those five Vojvodina parties recently initiated a request for Hungary to grant dual citizenship, arguing that Hungary's EU accession and entry to the Schengen zone will translate into visa fees for ethnic Hungarians traveling to Hungary. Kasza also met with opposition FIDESZ Chairman Viktor Orban and Hungarian Democratic Forum (MDF) Chairwoman Ibolya David to urge their support for dual citizenship for Hungarians abroad. MDF deputy Tibor Viniczai also announced on 24 September that a conference for leaders of ethnic Hungarians abroad on dual citizenship will be held in Budapest on 26 September, "Nepszabadsag" reported. MSZ

SHOOTING INCIDENT IN SOUTHERN SERBIA
An unknown gunman or gunmen fired about 50 bullets at a jeep carrying Serbian Army Major Rahman Bandic near Dobrosin in the Presevo Valley region of southern Serbia on 24 September, injuring him but not seriously, Reuters reported (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 28 August 2003 and "RFE/RL Balkan Report," 22 August 2003). In Belgrade, Serbia and Montenegro's Defense Minister Boris Tadic called the incident a "terrorist attack." He said that not only the shadowy Albanian National Army (AKSH) but also Kosova's Civilian Defense Corps (TMK) have had a role in recent violence in the region, RFE/RL's South Slavic and Albanian Languages Service reported. An OSCE spokesman described the shooting as a "cowardly act of violence." Dobrosin is near the border with Kosova and was the scene of guerrilla activity in 2000-01. During the summer of 2003, the Serbian authorities frequently accused unnamed "Albanian extremists" of seeking to destabilize southern Serbia through violence. Local Albanians charged that the Serbian authorities were themselves exacerbating tensions as an excuse for a crackdown on the region's large ethnic Albanian population. PM

SERBIAN MINISTER QUITS
Slobodan Ruzic resigned as Serbia's acting energy and mining minister on 24 September, saying that state power company EPS is blocking his reform plans, dpa reported. He noted that there is little cooperation or trust between the ministry and EPS, adding that he cannot guarantee that EPS will perform sufficiently well during the coming winter. Ruzic has held his post since July, when his predecessor, Kori Udovicki, became governor of the National Bank. In August, the ministry tried unsuccessfully to fire the director of EPS for incompetence. PM

MONTENEGRO ADOPTS FIRST LAW ON MONEY LAUNDERING
The Montenegrin parliament passed a bill on 24 September requiring all banks, post offices, state agencies, betting shops, insurance companies, stock brokerages, and some other institutions to identify the origin of money in any transaction exceeding $17,225 and file a report to a watchdog body due to be set up within one month, dpa reported. Those violating the law can face fines up to $17,225 or prison sentences ranging from three to 12 years. Montenegro has long been known as a haven for smugglers and money launderers, who take advantage of its offshore banking and the absence -- until now -- of regulatory legislation. Critics charge that the new legislation is not sufficiently comprehensive and contains many loopholes. The parliament also passed seven additional bills, including one raising the retirement age for women from 55 to 60 and for men from 60 to 65, RFE/RL's South Slavic and Albanian Languages Service reported. PM

MACEDONIAN PRESIDENT CALLS FOR GREATER UN ROLE IN IRAQ
Macedonian President Boris Trajkovski told the UN General Assembly in New York on 24 September that he favors a greater role for the UN in Iraq, RFE/RL reported. "We fully support the goals of the international community in Iraq -- the achievement of a free, sovereign Iraq, run by the people of Iraq, for the people of Iraq," Trajkovski said. "However, this sovereignty must be based on democracy, freedom, and peaceful coexistence with neighbors. To achieve these goals as quickly as possible, the United Nations must play a more comprehensive and active role in the transition back to Iraqi sovereignty." Trajkovski also called for greater UN involvement in promoting peace between Israel and the Palestinians. Macedonia has troops in the Middle East in conjunction with coalition efforts in Iraq (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 29 July and 24 September 2003 and "RFE/RL Balkan Report," 28 March 2003). PM

EU PLANS POLICE MISSION FOR MACEDONIA...
Alexis Brouhns, who is the EU's special representative in Skopje, said on 24 September that the EU will replace its current military mission in Macedonia, which ends on 15 December, with a smaller police mission, dpa reported. "Imagine that unit as a police mission which will advise policemen on the local and regional level how to fight organized crime," Brouhns said. "Their main focus will be to establish the rule of law and order throughout Macedonia." An EU spokeswoman told a press conference that EU foreign ministers will discuss the details of the new mission at their meeting in Brussels on 29 September, "Utrinski vesnik" reported (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 4, 5, and 10 September 2003 and "RFE/RL Balkan Report," 20 June and 5 September 2003). UB

...AND WARNS CROATIA
On 24 September, the European Commission called on Croatia not to declare an Exclusive Economic Zone (EEZ) in the Adriatic until at least after the 25-26 November Mediterranean fishing conference, which will meet in Venice, RFE/RL's South Slavic and Albanian Languages Service reported (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 16, 17, and 23 September 2003 and "RFE/RL Balkan Report," 15 and 22 August and 5 September 2003). PM

ROMANIAN PRESIDENT IN GERMANY
President Ion Iliescu, on a two-day visit to Germany, met on 24 September with his counterpart Johannes Rau, dpa and AFP reported. Rau reiterated Germany's support for Romania's efforts to join the EU, but emphasized that the final decision rests with the European Commission. Iliescu also met with former Chancellor Helmuth Kohl and with Bundestag speaker Wolfgang Thierse. Addressing the German Social Democratic Party's Friedrich Ebert Foundation, Iliescu said the EU should not aim to be a counterweight to the United States. He also said the "strong states" in the EU should not seek to dominate smaller members. Iliescu was to hold talks on 25 September with Chancellor Gerhard Schroeder. MS

ROMANIAN FOREIGN MINISTER SAYS UN DECISION-MAKING PROCESS MUST IMPROVE...
Foreign Minister Mircea Geoana, addressing the UN General Assembly on 24 September, said the organization's decision-making process is sometimes flawed, an RFE/RL correspondent reported. Geoana said differences over minute details at times prevent the UN from taking action in times of crisis. Occasionally, he said, the Security Council worries more about the wording of a resolution than about its substance. He said the UN cannot afford to do nothing on urgent issues simply because its members are unable to agree on every minute detail. Geoana said that Romania's goal in seeking a nonpermanent seat in the Security Council next year is to help build consensus in that body. MS

...AND CALLS FOR GLOBAL COOPERATION IN PASSING CENTURY'S FIRST TEST
Earlier on 24 September, Geoana told Reuters that cooperation by Europe, the United States, and the UN on Iraq is a "must." Geoana said managing and stabilizing the "greater Middle East" is the biggest challenge the international community faces this century, and Iraq is the first test. The "greater Middle East," Geoana explained, includes Iraq, the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, Afghanistan and northern Africa. He also said his country is considering expanding its 800-strong military contingent in Iraq, but that a decision would only be made following a UN Security Council decision on a possible U.S.-initiated resolution designed to encourage more countries to share the burden of the reconstruction of Iraq. MS

RULING ROMANIAN PARTY HAS 'SECOND THOUGHTS' ABOUT SIDETRACKING NASTASE
Contradicting his own words (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 23 September 2003), ruling Social Democratic Party (PSD) Secretary-General Dan Matei Agathon said on 23 September that the PSD has never considered the possibility that Prime Minister Adrian Nastase might relinquish his current position during the 2004 presidential-election campaign in the event he is nominated as the PSD's candidate, Mediafax reported. Agathon said the PSD and its chairman, Nastase, have a mandate from the electorate and intend to carry out their task to the end of the cabinet's term. MS

ROMANIAN PROSECUTION LAUNCHES INVESTIGATION INTO HEALTH MINISTER'S CASE
Prosecutors have decided to launch an investigation into the case of Health Minister Mircea Beuran, who has been accused of plagiarizing several scientific tracts, Mediafax reported (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 16 September 2003). The move follows a complaint by the Democratic Party. If charged and convicted, Beuran could face three months to five years in jail. A scientific commission set up by the Bucharest Faculty of Medicine and Pharmacy ruled on 22 September that a tract published by Beuran and several associates in 1997 under their own names was a translation of a medical volume originally printed in Philadelphia in 1989 and written by three U.S. doctors whose names were not mentioned in the Romanian translation. Earlier, Beuran was accused of having similarly handled a French medicine treatise. Premier Nastase said Beuran "finds himself in a delicate situation" and that "measures against him are likely at the academic level." Nastase added that Beuran is a very good minister. MS

ROMANIAN UNIONS ANNOUNCE PROTESTS
Representatives of three large trade-union federations told journalists on 24 September that they plan large protest demonstrations and labor action against the government's decision to increase prices for utilities and to introduce a flat 23 percent tax, RFE/RL's Bucharest bureau reported. The National Syndicate Bloc, Cartel Alfa, and the Confederation of Democratic Syndicates said they will cooperate in the protests and announced that protest rallies will be held on 2 October in all of Romania's 41 counties. MS

GAZPROM SIGNALS FIRST SIGN OF MOLDOVAN WINTER
In a seasonal repeat of an old story, as the cold approaches Gazprom is rekindling the battle over gas deliveries to Moldova. On 24 September, Infotag cited Gazprom deputy head Aleksandr Ryazanov as saying this week at the Oil and Gas in the CIS conference in Moscow that the joint Russian-Moldovan company Moldovagas is working inefficiently and that as much as 40 percent of the fuel delivered by Gazprom via this company is lost during transport. Ryazanov also said Moldova's debt for gas deliveries (including arrears and penalties) from 1999 to 1 July 2003 stands at $121.1 million, while Transdniester's debt is $483.7 million. He said Gazprom is open to swapping the debt for ownership of several Moldovan companies, including electricity distributors, wine- and brandy- producing companies, a Chisinau cigarette factory and a glass factory, and three companies that used to be part of the Soviet military-industrial complex. However, Chisinau intends to privatize those companies in order to cover the country's budget deficit. Alternatively, Gazprom is also willing to accept an additional 35 percent stake in Moldovagas in exchange for writing off the debt. MS

BULGARIAN PARLIAMENT UNANIMOUSLY ADOPTS CONSTITUTIONAL CHANGES...
Parliament on 24 September passed a series of constitutional amendments regarding the mandates and immunity of magistrates and judges, Bulgarian media reported. In the presence of Supreme Court judges, religious leaders, and representatives of the international community, all 230 lawmakers who attended the session voted for the amendments. The amendments are part of a wider legal reform aiming at improving the efficiency of the judiciary and expanding the fight against organized crime. Justice Minister Anton Stankov and President Georgi Parvanov said after the vote that further amendments to the constitution might be necessary in the course of the country's EU-accession process, mediapool.bg reported. Both Stankov and Parvanov warned against rushing additional changes, adding that it would be prudent to wait until the EU adopts its new constitution. UB

...AS LAWMAKERS SEE IT AS FIRST STEP
Members of the governing coalition of the National Movement Simeon II (NDSV) and the ethnic Turkish Movement for Rights and Freedoms (DPS) called the vote a "decisive first step," mediapool.bg reported. Stanimir Ilchev, who heads the NDSV's parliamentary group, called on the lawmakers to find the "power and courage" to realize all remaining legal reforms. Lutvi Mestan of the DPS said the vote was the first step toward an open and effective judiciary. The leader of the opposition Socialist Party (BSP), Sergey Stanishev, described the amendments as a chance to overcome the self-isolation and "heavy politicization" of the judiciary. Conservative opposition Union of Democratic Forces (SDS) Chairwoman Nadezhda Mihailova warned the government against jeopardizing the implementation of the amendments by not securing the necessary finances, and noted that the judiciary must now be restructured. UB

SUPREME COURT CONFIRMS BIDDER IN BULGARIAN TELECOM PRIVATIZATION
The highest instance of the Supreme Administrative Court on 24 September upheld a ruling by a lower instance of the same court nixing the decision of the Privatization Agency's supervisory council to begin negotiations with the consortium Koc Holding/Turk Telecom, mediapool.bg reported. The Privatization Agency's supervisory board had refused to accept the offer of Viva Ventures, which had initially won the tender, claiming the bidder failed to submit all necessary documents. In the meantime, allegedly under pressure from the junior coalition partner in the government, the ethnic Turkish DPS, the agency signed a letter of intent on the sale with the Turkish consortium Koc Holding/Turk Telecom, which initially finished second in the tender (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 30 July, 11, 14, and 18 August, and 4 September 2003). UB

CAN RUSSIA'S DEMOGRAPHIC DECLINE BE REVERSED?
Russia's State Statistics Committee recently announced that last year the country's birthrate experienced its greatest increase since the collapse of the Soviet Union. Having plummeted from 13.4 births per 1,000 inhabitants in 1990 to 8.3 in 1999, the rate has risen steadily over the last three years and in 2002 rose to 9.8. However, this long-awaited upswing was offset by news that the death rate last year was higher than it has been since World War II. Overall, the population of the Russian Federation decreased by 856,700 in 2002. According to the State Statistics Committee, in the first half of 2003 Russia's population shrank by 454,200 people. The recent 2002 census reports the population of the Russian Federation at 145,537,000, down from nearly 150 million a decade ago. In short, the Russian demographic crisis has been and will continue to be one of most significant obstacles to sustained economic growth.

By the mid-1990s, the Russian demographic crisis had become a major public-policy concern. In his first state of the nation address in July 2000, President Vladimir Putin listed population decline at the top of a list of major problems facing Russia. In 2002, statisticians warned that the Russian population could fall to 78 million by 2050. Economists generally agree that an economy can only grow if there is a healthy workforce to sustain it.

The population decline is blamed principally on low life expectancy and a low birthrate. As a result of poor health standards, smoking, alcoholism, and increased stress, life expectancy in Russia is currently estimated at only 58.6 years for men and 72 years for women. In addition, the suicide rate has increased by 80 percent since the collapse of the USSR.

The very low birthrate is another key factor in Russia's declining population. Officials regularly cite the decline of the family as a cause of the decline in births. The share of births to unmarried mothers almost doubled between 1989 and 1997, from 13.5 percent to 25.3 percent. This leap has coincided with a drastic increase in the divorce rate, from 42.4 percent in 1990 to 64.9 percent in 1996. The Moscow Center for Gender Studies reports that one in five families with children under 18 years of age lives without a father. (It bears mentioning, however, that in a 2002 report, the U.S. Census Bureau similarly reported that only slightly less than one in five children live without a father.) Such statistics, combined with general uncertainty about economic stability, contribute to the general disinclination to have children.

The overall decline in living standards since the dissolution of the Soviet Union has contributed to falling birthrates. Economic conditions in Russia drastically worsened in the early 1990s and again in August 1998, when the ruble was devalued to approximately one-fourth its previous value. Although economic conditions are somewhat improved now, Dr. Marina Malysheva of the Moscow Center for Gender Studies recently found that one-fourth of women do not want to have children at all because they are not sure they can provide them with an acceptable standard of living.

One possible reason for this disinclination to reproduce is continued uncertainty about economic and political stability. The strain of political regime change combined with the shock of market reforms in the early 1990s led to a widespread feeling of instability. Several observers have noted that harsh economic conditions have disproportionately affected women. The Moscow Center for Gender Studies reports that women are the first to lose their jobs in a difficult market and often receive lower wages than men even when working in the same jobs. Because many children are reared in single-parent homes, such discrimination in the job sector may negatively affect the birthrate.

Women's health and fertility problems are also direct causes of the declining birthrate. Since the collapse of the Soviet Union, births in Russia have fallen by 20 percent. In 1997, there were only 8.6 live births per 1,000 population, as compared with 13.4 in 1990. The total fertility rate (births per woman), as reported by the BBC News website, has decreased from 2.01 in 1989 to 1.17 births per woman in 1999. In 2002, the rate was 1.25, which is far below 2.5, the minimum rate for a population to replace itself. In addition, 75 percent of women experience serious medical problems during pregnancy, the same website reports.

The high rate of abortions is a principal reason for the high rate of infertility. A study in 1994 reported in "The Washington Post" that the average Russian woman has three abortions in her lifetime. About 13 percent of Russian married couples are infertile. The comparable figure in the United States is 7.1 percent, according to a 1995 report by the National Center for Health Statistics. A recent "The Washington Post" article quotes Russian Health Ministry doctors as saying diagnoses of infertility are on the rise. In the Soviet Union, abortion was the most common method of birth control. Sexual education in Russian schools today does not cover the basic methods of how best to avoid contracting sexually transmitted diseases (STDs) through condom usage. In addition, the Russian Orthodox Church actively campaigns against the use of condoms. For reasons of education, affordability, and accessibility, condoms, IUDs or birth-control pills remain accessible to only a small percentage of Russian women.

Another reason for this sustained fertility crisis is the rapid spread of STDs, particularly HIV/AIDS. The growth of Russia's HIV/AIDS infection rate was recently reported by the World Bank to be second in the world only to Ukraine. The spread of this and other life- and fertility-threatening STDs is traceable in part to the low usage of condoms in the overall population and also to the frequency of prostitution. A recent Center for Strategic and International Studies report estimates that roughly 15 percent of the 15,000 prostitutes in Moscow are HIV positive.

Demographers do not look optimistically on Russia's current demographic situation. As Mikhail Tulskii recently wrote in "Konservator," the "rising death rate is logical (with rising medical costs and other factors), but birthrate growth is unlikely to last." He further pointed out that for the first time in Russia's history, more than 80 divorces were recorded for every 100 marriages. In order to sustain its recent economic growth, the Russian Federation would do well to directly address these family and women's health issues that so strongly affect the population crisis.

Caroline Savage is a doctoral candidate in political science at the University of Wisconsin-Madison.

AFGHAN AID WORKER KILLED IN HELMAND PROVINCE
An Afghan aid worker was killed and his driver injured on 24 September when their vehicle was attacked while traveling in a convoy in Awz-e Khushk, Helmand Province, AP reported on 25 September. It is not known who carried out the attack. The aid worker was an employee of the Voluntary Association for the Rehabilitation of Afghanistan (VARA). Mohammad Ismail, who is in charge of security for the VARA convoy, said only that the assault was the "work of terrorists who do not want peace and stability in Afghanistan" (see "RFE/RL Afghanistan Report," 12 June 2003). VARA works primarily on restoring Afghanistan's agricultural sector. AT

EUROPEAN COMMISSION TO PROVIDE SALARIES FOR AFGHAN POLICE
The European Commission has decided to provide $17.8 million to cover the salaries of Afghanistan's police force until March 2004, when the country is scheduled to hold general elections, Reuters reported on 25 September. Karl Harbo, the commission's representative in Kabul, said Afghans "deserve an accountable police force, one that respects and defends their rights. This will not happen in one day, but the process must go as fast as possible." The Afghan police force has been frequently criticized for widespread corruption, incompetence, and abuse of power. AT

ROBBERY OF KANDAHAR WEEKLY PART OF RISING TREND OF CRIME
Armed robbers on 23 September stole equipment and cash from the office of the Kandahar-based weekly magazine "Khaled," Hindukosh news agency reported on 24 September. Meanwhile, the news agency reported the same day that armed men recently forced a woman to get on a motorcycle in central Kandahar and then took her to the outskirts of the city and raped her. The crime rate in Kandahar city has risen since the appointment in August of Governor Mohammad Yusuf Pashtun (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 14 August 2003), according to Hindukosh. AT

AFGHAN NATIONAL BEHEADED IN SAUDI ARABIA
Nadir Khan Berdil was beheaded in Jeddah on 24 September on charges of smuggling heroin into Saudi Arabia, Saudi Press Agency reported. The Saudi Interior Ministry said in a statement that Berdil was "convicted by the Shari'a court," adding that the beheading demonstrated the determination of the Saudi government to prevent narcotics from entering the country. Afghanistan accounts for about 70 percent of the world's opium-poppy cultivation (see "RFE/RL Afghanistan Report," 20 February, 29 May, and 5 June 2003). AT

TEHRAN TO TRY AL-QAEDA DETAINEES SOON
Iranian Foreign Minister Kamal Kharrazi announced on the sidelines of the UN General Assembly meeting in New York on 24 September that Iran will put the Al-Qaeda personnel in its custody on trial soon, the "Financial Times" reported on 25 September. Explaining Tehran's refusal to extradite these individuals, Kharrazi added that they must be tried in Iran because they are accused of committing crimes there. Washington's belief that Al-Qaeda members in Iran are behind the May bombings in Saudi Arabia led to the suspension of Tehran-Washington discussions. Kharrazi, however, said the talks could not have been suspended because of these bombings, because Iran is not connected with them, "The Washington Post" reported on 25 September. He said Iran concluded through its interrogation of the Al-Qaeda suspects that it is "baseless" to say they were involved in the bombings. BS

IRANIAN ARMY DECLARES READINESS
Iranian Army Ground forces commander Brigadier General Nasser Mohammadifar said on 24 September that his forces are in the best condition they have ever been in, state television reported. He said the army can conduct "rapid-reaction operations" using helicopters and "heavy transport units" (trucks, presumably). Mohammadifar said his forces are doing their best to mass-produce armored personnel carriers and tanks, and also to achieve self-sufficiency in producing armored vehicles. BS

IRAN'S LEADING REFORMIST PARTY HINTS AT ELECTION ROLE
Deputy parliament speaker Mohammad Reza Khatami, the secretary-general of the Islamic Iran Participation Party (IIPP), said the IIPP's decision to participate in the upcoming parliamentary election will be announced at its congress on 17 October, IRNA reported. The IIPP is the leading reformist political organization, and Khatami hinted that it will field candidates for parliamentary office. "We are already prepared to announce our dynamic presence at those elections on condition that the required political atmosphere would be arranged, and free and fair elections would be possible," he said. BS

IRANIAN OFFICIAL DEFENDS YOUTHFUL FASHIONS
Rahim Ebadi, who heads the National Youth Organization, said in a 24 September meeting with a senior cleric that the government is not to blame for the appearance of young people, "Iran Daily" reported on 25 September. "It is unfair that some have accused the government of promulgating [sic] slovenly behavior among the youth," Ebadi said. "The fact that the youth are trendy and follow fashion stems from changes in the world we live in." Ebadi seemed to concede that there is room for improvement, saying, "Of course, we must try to encourage the youth to emulate more appropriate paradigms." Grand Ayatollah Abdul-Karim Musavi-Ardabili had told Ebadi that some officials are to blame for the youths' disappointment with religion, and that the actions of some officials have weakened their faith in Islam and the Islamic revolution. Musavi-Ardabili said the youth should be allowed to express their views freely. "Some officials and personalities of the country have accused the youth of being disbelievers," he said. "But, in fact, these people are guilty because they have not been able to nurture the youth effectively due to their shabby performances." BS

IRAQI GOVERNING COUNCIL MEMBER DIES FIVE DAYS AFTER ATTACK
Iraqi Governing Council member Aqilah al-Hashimi died five days after gunmen ambushed her outside her Baghdad home (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 22 September 2003), international media reported on 25 September. "On behalf of the Coalition Provisional Authority [CPA] and all its members, I offer condolences to her family, her colleagues on the governing council, and the people of Iraq," Reuters quoted CPA head L. Paul Bremer as saying in a written statement. Al-Hashimi was one of three women on the Governing Council and the only member to have served in a senior position under the deposed Iraqi regime of Saddam Hussein, working within Iraq's Foreign Ministry. Three of her escorts, including a brother, were injured in the 20 September attack. One of the attackers was shot and killed by her security detail. KR

EXPLOSIONS ROCK HOTEL, MOVIE THEATER IN IRAQ
One person was killed and two others wounded in an explosion outside a Baghdad hotel on 25 September, Al-Arabiyah television reported. The hotel housed employees of the U.S.-based NBC television network. A Somali security guard was killed in the blast. Iraqi police said the bomb had been placed in a hut that housed the hotel generator, BBC reported. The incident appears to mark the first time that Western media have been attacked in Iraq since the downfall of the Hussein regime. A movie theater in the northern city of Mosul was targeted one day earlier, when a hand grenade went off inside the theater, killing two and wounding about 20 others, Al-Jazeera reported on 24 September. Eyewitnesses said the theater was showing a pornographic film at the time of the explosion. KR

TELECOM MINISTER SAYS IRAQ'S PHONE SERVICES WILL BE BACK WITHIN TWO MONTHS
Iraq's interim telecommunications minister, Haydar Jawad al-Abadi, announced on 22 September that telephone services will be restored across the country within 60 days, Baghdad's "Al-Bayan" reported on 23 September. The daily of the Islamic Da'wah Party added that al-Abadi has been pressing his staff to speed up the restoration project. The ministry is also working to link Iraq's telecommunications networks to one national network, the report noted. KR

OPEC PRODUCTION SLASH WON'T AFFECT IRAQ
The Organization of the Petroleum Exporting Countries' (OPEC) 24 September decision to slash oil production by 900,000 barrels a day will not affect Iraqi production for the time being since Iraq will not be subject to production quotas until its oil industry is working at full capacity, OPEC President Abdullah al-Attiyah said on 24 September, nytimes.com reported. Some oil analysts speculated that the OPEC decision was politically motivated. "This was a message to Washington: 'You can send a delegation to OPEC, but we control the oil price,'" Mehdi Varzi, a private energy consultant in London told the daily. Meanwhile, interim Iraqi Oil Minister Ibrahim Bahr al-Ulum dispelled any rumors that Iraq might leave the cartel, telling reporters at the twice-yearly meeting in Vienna: "Iraq is a founder member of OPEC.... It will stay and remain a member of OPEC. Iraq should play an active role in achieving the objectives of this organization, with full cooperation with its members." Bahr al-Ulum added that Iraq seeks to produce 3.5 million to 4 million barrels a day by the end of 2005, and as much as 6 million barrels a day by the end of the decade. Iraq is currently producing around 1.8 million barrels per day. KR

IRAQI POLICE REPORTEDLY ARREST 'DEATH SQUAD' WITH LINKS TO AL-QAEDA
Reportedly acting on tips from two local residents, Iraqi police have arrested an armed group in Baghdad linked to Al-Qaeda, KurdSat reported on 24 September. The group is known as the "death squad" because of its numerous killings of civilians. It is also known to loot shops, attack power plants and pipelines, and assault Iraqi police officers. The group reportedly comprises some 50 non-Iraqi Arabs and is led by two colonels from the former Iraqi Republican Guards. The Arab nationals reportedly entered Iraq two days after the liberation of Baghdad. KurdSat reported that the group established contact with foreign terrorist organizations, including Al-Qaeda, through the Internet. Members of the group also reportedly revealed to Iraqi police that Al-Qaeda moved "three-quarters" of its combat resources and cadres to Iraq to launch attacks on civilians. The KurdSat report has not been independently verified. KR

XS
SM
MD
LG