PUTIN ADDRESSES UN GENERAL ASSEMBLY...
President Vladimir Putin on 25 September addressed a session of the UN General Assembly in New York, calling for a stronger role for the UN Security Council in global affairs, Russian and Western media reported. Putin said the council should become "the base for the global antiterrorism coalition." He warned that when dealing with contemporary threats to international security, the global community must adopt solutions whose "legitimacy is beyond all doubt." He repeated Moscow's position on Iraq and called for the direct involvement of the United Nations in postwar stabilization and administration there. Putin said Russia is ready to participate more actively in peacekeeping or stabilization forces -- including in Iraq -- but only under the auspices of the UN. VY
...AS PARLIAMENTARIAN LAUDS PRESIDENT'S BALANCING ACT
Commenting on President Putin's UN speech on 25 September, Duma Deputy Andrei Kokoshin (Fatherland-Unified Russia), who chairs the Duma's Committee on Russians Abroad and CIS relations and who is a former Russian Security Council secretary and who served as first deputy defense minister in 1992-97, rejected a journalist's assertion that the speech was "colorless and empty," TV-Tsentr reported. Kokoshin said that in this speech, as he has for the last two to three years, Putin successfully balanced Russia's interests vis a vis the United States, the European Union, the Arab world, and China. VY
IN U.S., PUTIN HOLDS TALKS WITH WORLD LEADERS
On 25 September in New York, President Putin met with UN General-Secretary Kofi Annan and with Indian Prime Minister Atal Bihari Vajpayee, with both of whom he discussed the U.S.-drafted UN Security Council resolution on Iraq, RTR reported. Putin said a new resolution should be "a serious, working document that shows the Iraqi people that the international community is willing and able to solve its problems." The same day, Putin and New York Mayor Michael Bloomberg observed a joint training exercise of Russian and local firefighters. According to strana.ru on 24 September and "Argumenty i fakty," No. 39, Putin will also meet with former U.S. Secretary of State Henry Kissinger, U.S. Slavic studies specialists at Columbia University, and business leaders and oil executives at the New York Stock Exchange. He is also expected to visit a New York gas station that belongs to Russian oil giant LUKoil. On 26 September, he is expected to travel to Camp David for a summit with U.S. President George W. Bush. VY
POLITICIANS LOOK FOR COMPROMISES ON IRAQ, IRAN
Foreign Minister Igor Ivanov told journalists in New York on 25 September that the differences between Russia and the United States over Iraq "have been left in the past," RIA-Novosti reported. "We had differences before and during the war and are not attempting to conceal this," Ivanov said. "But now we are interested in seeing the United States and other UN Security Council members find a solution to the Iraq crisis." He said that it is in the United States' interest to find such a solution. He added that U.S. Secretary of State Colin Powell has told him the United States will present its draft resolution on Iraq to the UN Security Council next week, and said that Russia will likely support it. Meanwhile, Duma Deputy Kokoshin said in Moscow that U.S. concerns about Iran's nuclear program are genuine, TV-Tsentr reported on 25 September. He added, though, that Russia's position on its cooperation with Iran is strong and able to withstand U.S. pressure. Russia, he said, is as interested as any country in making sure that Tehran does not develop nuclear weapons, although he conceded that the danger Iran might do so is real. VY
FOREIGN MINISTER OPPOSES UN PEACE ENFORCEMENT FOR CIS CONFLICT
Speaking in New York on 25 September, Foreign Minister Ivanov made clear that he considers ''peace enforcement" on the basis of Article 7 of the UN Charter an inappropriate approach to trying to resolve conflicts in CIS states, Interfax reported. Ivanov specified that he was referring to the conflicts in Abkhazia, Nagorno-Karabakh, and the Transdniester. Leading members of the Georgian community who fled Abkhazia during the 1992-93 war have for years been advocating such a UN-sponsored peace-enforcement operation to bring the breakaway Republic of Abkhazia back under the control of the central Georgian government. LF
EES HEAD CALLS FOR RUSSIA TO BECOME A 'LIBERAL EMPIRE'...
Speaking at the St. Petersburg Engineering Economics Institute, Union of Rightist Forces leader and Unified Energy Systems (EES) head Anatolii Chubais said the main goal for Russia in the 21st century is to develop "liberal capitalism" and to build up a "liberal empire," ORT, gazeta.ru, and polit.ru reported on 25 September. The most direct way to form such an empire, he said, was through the creation of a joint economic space with Ukraine, Belarus, and Kazakhstan. He also said that Russia should strengthen its position in the CIS by providing increased economic aid. Commenting on EES, Chubais said it plans to participate in "anti-crisis management" of the energy grids of Georgia, Armenia, Ukraine, and Kazakhstan. VY
...AS PUTIN OPENS THE WAY FOR CIS CITIZENS TO SERVE IN RUSSIAN MILITARY...
President Putin on 24 September introduced to the State Duma a bill that would pave the way for citizens of CIS countries to serve in the Russian military, "Vremya novostei" and lenta.ru reported on 25 September. According to the bill, CIS citizens would be granted Russian citizenship after three years' service in the Russian military. The Russian General Staff believes that many CIS citizens would be enticed into the Russian military by the prospect of Russian citizenship and by the comparatively high wages Russian contract soldiers receive. "Vremya novostei" quoted one General Staff representative as saying that some CIS officers have expressed a willingness to serve as ordinary soldiers in the Russian Army. However, the paper commented, the bill conflicts with legislation in many CIS countries. Ukraine, for instance, treats its citizens who perform foreign military service as mercenaries, which is punishable by up to eight years' imprisonment. The Georgian Constitution bars citizens from serving in foreign armies, the paper wrote. VY
...AND FOREIGN MINISTRY URGES MAKING RUSSIAN OFFICIAL LANGUAGE IN CIS STATES
Speaking at Moscow's International University, First Deputy Foreign Minister Eleonora Mitrofanova said on 25 September that Russia is striving to see that Russian be granted official-language status in all CIS countries, RTR and RIA-Novosti reported. She deplored what she described as a process by which national languages are squeezing out Russian, and said Moscow is committed to strengthening the position of the Russian language as one of the main forms of its support for ethnic Russians abroad. She added that the Foreign Ministry has allocated 210 million rubles ($7 million) this year for this goal. VY
MOSCOW DELAYS DECISION ON CHINA PIPELINE FOR ONE YEAR
Russia will not make a decision about constructing a proposed strategic oil pipeline from Angarsk to the Chinese city of Datsin earlier than August 2004, RTR and RIA-Novosti reported on 25 September, citing an unidentified government source. At that time, the source said, the government will decide between the Datsin project and the so-called Japanese option under which the pipeline would run from Angarsk to the Russian port of Nakhodka. Prime Minister Mikhail Kasyanov discussed the project during his recent visit to Beijing (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 23 and 24 September 2003). Kasyanov told journalists in Beijing that the "Chinese factor" will play a major role in the formulation of Russian policy on developing Siberian energy resources, RTR reported. He added, though, that "not all issues" have been settled. Newsru.com editorialized that the Chinese leadership is disappointed by Russia's delays in making a decision on the Datsin pipeline and therefore gave Kasyanov a cold welcome in Beijing. VY
PROSECUTORS PRODUCE NEW ACCUSATION AGAINST FORMER NTV OWNER
The Athens Appeals Court has postponed hearing the extradition case against former Russian oligarch Vladimir Gusinskii until 29 September after Russian prosecutors presented a new indictment against him, Russian media reported on 26 September. "Kommersant-Daily" reported on 25 September that First Deputy Prosecutor-General Yurii Buryukov presented the new document, in which Gusinskii is accused of laundering $100 million. The money-laundering case was opened shortly after a Spanish court refused to extradite Gusinskii to Russia in 2001, and Russian prosecutors intend to make it the centerpiece of their case in Athens. Defense lawyers argue that the charge will not stand because prosecutors cannot prove that the money was illegally acquired. VY
PUTIN SUBMITS BILL REDUCING PENALTIES FOR ECONOMIC CRIMES...
President Putin introduced legislation on 24 September that would make economic crimes punishable by fines rather than jail time, RIA Novosti reported. Deputy presidential administration head Dmitrii Kozak told the news agency that the legislation, consisting of amendments to the Criminal Code, is part of Putin's overall policy of "liberalizing the punitive policy of the state." "The practice of applying fines for economic crimes must be significantly widened, and the size of the fines increased," Kozak said, adding that the amendments would allow a significant reduction in the prison population without threatening public safety. JB
...TO THE APPLAUSE OF SOME LEADING DUMA DEPUTIES
Gazeta.ru on 25 September quoted Gennadii Gudkov, deputy chairman of the Duma's Security Committee and a member of the People's Deputy faction, as saying the president's initiative to make economic crimes punishable by fines rather than prison terms shows that Russia is moving in the same direction as "all civilized countries." Grigorii Tomchin, head of the Duma's Property Committee and a member of the Union of Rightist Forces faction, expressed strong support for the legislation and said it shows the president regards the actions of the Prosecutor-General's Office toward Yukos shareholder Platon Lebedev as "clumsy." Likewise, gazeta.ru noted the amendments were introduced at a time when Russia has become significantly less attractive to foreign investors because of the actions of the Prosecutor-General's Office. The website added: "It is hardly a coincidence that Vladimir Putin, right on the eve of his visit to the United States, ordered the Media, Foreign Affairs, and Economic Development and Trade ministries to 'assure the realization of a set of measures to improve Russia's image among foreign investors.'" JB
ADMINISTRATION PROPOSES CODE OF CONDUCT FOR BUREAUCRATS
The Kremlin also introduced a draft law on the state civil service that would regulate and limit the behavior and activities of federal bureaucrats, RIA-Novosti reported on 24 September. Dmitrii Medvedev, first deputy head of the presidential administration, said the legislation prohibits civil servants from being related by blood or marriage to their immediate supervisors, from holding offices in local self-government organs or labor unions, and from engaging in entrepreneurial activities. Civil servants who leave their jobs face a two-year ban on taking jobs in areas they oversaw as bureaucrats. The legislation also bans civil servants from using confidential or other information that became known to them through their work to their advantage. As additional anticorruption measures, the draft law requires civil servants to fill out income and property declarations annually and forbids them from accepting gifts, except under special, legally stipulated circumstances, Mevedev said. JB
LDPR DEPUTY HEAD CONSIDERS RUNNING FOR BASHKIR PRESIDENCY
State Duma Deputy Aleksei Mitrofanov, the deputy chairman of Vladimir Zhirinovskii's Liberal Democratic Party of Russia (LDPR) who is running for mayor of Moscow, said on 25 September that he might also run for president of Bashkortostan, Interfax reported. "The law does not forbid it, and I believe I absolutely can be a candidate in two regions at the same time," said Mitrofanov. The elections for Moscow's mayor and Bashkortostan's president are both set for 7 December. Mitrofanov, who is also No. 9 on the LDPR party list for the State Duma elections the same day, said he got the idea of running in the races simultaneously from Unified Russia's party list. That list includes many regional leaders who, in Mitrofanov's view, have no intention of taking up Duma seats if they win. While Mitrovanov said he has not made a final decision about entering the Bashkortostan race, candidate Sergei Veremeenko said Mitrofanov would be one of his main competitors, Interfax reported on 25 September. Mitrofanov ran for Moscow mayor in 1999, receiving just 0.61 percent of the vote. JB
MOSCOW MAYOR SAYS HE MIGHT CHANGE PERSONNEL IF HE WINS ANOTHER TERM
Yurii Luzhkov said on 25 September that if he wins a third term as Moscow's mayor, he might make personnel changes in the city's government, RIA Novosti reported. "Changes are entirely possible," he said. At the same time, Luzhkov said he plans to keep Vice Mayor Valerii Shantsev in the city government. "Shantsev is an effective city leader, and he unquestionably will be working in the Moscow government if he wants to," Luzhkov said. Although he is a leading member of the Unified Russia party and No. 3 on its party list for the State Duma elections, Luzhkov will run in the mayoral race as an independent candidate. JB
MEN IN UNIFORM OCCUPY OFFICES OF 'NOVOE VREMYA'...
Unidentified persons in camouflage uniforms bearing "Interior Ministry chevrons" raided and occupied the offices of the weekly news magazine "Novoe vremya" in central Moscow on 25 September, Russian media reported. An employee of the liberal weekly told newsru.com that the intruders said they were representatives of the new owners of the building in which the publication's office is located. The employee said the intruders showed "from a distance" a document they said confirmed their right to be on the premises, but answered "polite requests" that they present identification with "uncensored swearing." A photographer for the magazine tried to photograph the intruders, but one of them took his camera from him and removed the film. After a second attempt to photograph the intruders, some of them came after the photographer, but he managed to escape into another room and lock the door, newsru.com reported. Grani.ru quoted Tatyana Kamoza, a deputy editor for the weekly, as saying the photographer was beaten during the incident. JB
...IN AN INCIDENT POLICE SUSPECT IS AN 'ORDINARY' PROPERTY BATTLE
Another "Novoe vremya" deputy editor, Vadim Dubnov, told RFE/RL's Russian service on 25 September that the uniformed intruders had documents from the Moscow Property Committee confirming ownership of the building. Dubnov said none of the magazine's employees were thrown out of the offices and that they are continuing to work. But the intruders demanded that the publication's lease agreement be renegotiated. A Moscow police spokesman told Interfax on 25 September that the police know nothing about the incident, but that it was "most probably an ordinary shareholders' conflict connected with a change in the building's ownership." JB
RUSSIAN SUPREME COURT UPHOLDS DISQUALIFICATION OF CHECHEN PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE...
The Russian Supreme Court on 25 September upheld the Chechen Supreme Court's 11 September ruling invalidating the registration as a candidate in the 5 October presidential election of Moscow-based Chechen businessman Malik Saidullaev, Russian media reported (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 12 September 2003). The Chechen court ruled that more than half the signatures Saidullaev produced in support of his candidacy were invalid because the signatories had either not indicated their date of birth or had failed to include "Chechnya" as part of their home address. The Chechen Supreme Court also ruled that Saidullaev could not be registered as a candidate by virtue of having paid the alternative 4.5 million rubles ($147,444 ) deposit, as he did not submit a formal request to do so by the 1 September deadline. LF
...WHO VOWS TO CONTINUE POLITICAL ACTIVITIES
Speaking in Moscow on 25 September after the Russian Supreme Court ruling, Malik Saidullaev, one of three former presidential candidates once considered to pose a serious challenge to Chechen administration head Akhmed-hadji Kadyrov, said he will continue to participate in political and economic processes in Chechnya in the hope of inducing Chechen intellectuals who fled their homeland during the early 1990s to return, ITAR-TASS reported. Saidullaev expressed the hope that democratization will get under way in Chechnya, and hinted that he will contest the next presidential election in 2008. LF
CHECHENS START RECEIVING FINANCIAL COMPENSATION
The first payments were made on 25 September to Chechen families whose homes and property were destroyed during the ongoing fighting, Reuters and Russian media reported. Those whose homes were destroyed will receive 300,000 rubles ($10,000). Compensation for destroyed property is set at 50,000 rubles. Applications by some 400 families from a total of more than 39,000 who have requested compensation have already been approved, according to ITAR-TASS on 16 September. Moscow has allocated 14 billion rubles for compensation payments, of which the first installment of 350 million rubles was transferred to the Savings Bank of Chechnya earlier this month. Speaking in Moscow on 25 September, Russian Minister for Chechen Affairs Stanislav Ilyasov said every effort will be made to prevent "mismanagement," presumably meaning theft, embezzlement, or the payment of compensation to persons not entitled to it, Interfax reported. LF
CROSS-EXAMINATION OF ARMENIAN MURDER SUSPECT DELAYED
The presiding judge on 25 September postponed for five days testimony by Hovannes Harutiunian (a.k.a. Aper), one of 13 people currently on trial for the 28 December murder of Armenian Radio and Television head Tigran Naghdalian, Noyan Tapan and RFE/RL's Yerevan bureau reported. Harutiunian said in his pretrial testimony that he was paid $75,000 to hire two hit men to kill Naghdalian, but on 24 September told the court he wants to add to that testimony and has already written down the additional information. LF
ARMENIAN PREMIER'S PARTY TO CEDE MORE GOVERNMENT POSTS TO COALITION PARTNERS
Andranik Markarian's Republican Party of Armenia acceded on 24 September to a demand by its two junior coalition partners, Orinats Yerkir (Law-Based State) and the Armenian Revolutionary Federation-Dashnaktsutiun (HHD), that deputy minister, government-department head, and deputy regional governor posts be shared out on a partisan basis, RFE/RL's Yerevan bureau reported on 25 September. Markarian said that internal bickering over the issue has "been blown out of proportion," and that therefore "some" of the relevant posts will be offered to the two parties. But at the same time Markarian added that only those officials whose performance has been deemed "unsatisfactory" will be replaced. LF
AZERBAIJAI PRIME MINISTER TRAVELS TO CLEVELAND
Ilham Aliev flew on 25 September from New York, where he addressed the UN General Assembly session on 24 September, to Cleveland, where his father, President Heidar Aliev, has been undergoing medical treatment since early August, Turan reported on 26 September. A presidential administration official said earlier this week that President Aliev, who is 80, will return to Azerbaijan before the 15 October presidential election, in which he is seeking a third term (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 23 September 2003). LF
AZERBAIJANI PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE WITHDRAWS FROM RACE
National Unity Party leader Yunus Aliev announced in a televised address on 25 September that he is withdrawing his candidacy in the 15 October presidential election, Turan and zerkalo.az reported on 26 September. Aliev called on his supporters to cast their ballots for Prime Minister Aliev (no relation to Yunus Aliev). Azerbaijan Popular Front Party (progressive wing) Chairman Ali Kerimli has announced that he will pull out of the race in favor of Azerbaijan National Independence Party Chairman Etibar Mamedov. Kerimli's withdrawal will reduce to 10 the number of candidates in the race. A planned campaign rally in Baku on 25 September by supporters of Mamedov and Kerimli did not take place because municipal authorities failed to respond to a formal application for permission to hold it, Turan reported on 25 September. LF
GEORGIAN PARLIAMENTARY ELECTION CAMPAIGN TURNS VIOLENT
A 26 September campaign visit by opposition Georgian National Movement (EM) leader Mikhail Saakashvili to the southeastern district of Bolnisi was disrupted by repeated clashes between Saakashvili's supporters and armed supporters of former regional Governor Levan Mamaladze, who plans to run for parliament from a Bolnisi constituency, Caucasus Press reported. Late on 24 September, Georgian police stopped the car of Kamal Muratkhanov, the EM's election candidate, arrested him and confiscated 385 passports belonging to his supporters. Mamaladze on 25 September claimed that some of those passports belonged to people who are deceased, and accused the EM of planning to rig the ballot. Police sent the passports back to Bolnisi on 25 September to be restored to their owners if possible, Caucasus Press reported. LF
U.S. ANNOUNCES CUT IN AID TO GEORGIA
Meeting with Georgian President Eduard Shevardnadze on 24 September, U.S. State Department official Thomas Adams said Washington will reduce aid to Georgia in 2004 from this year's level of $100 million, Georgian media and zerkalo.az reported on 25 and 26 September, respectively. Adams pointed out that of the 27 countries to which the U.S. State Department provides aid, Georgia has the lowest level of development. In addition, Georgia is plagued by endemic corruption, and economic reforms are not being implemented. Washington will not provide further aid to the energy or financial sectors. The precise volume of aid for 2004 will be announced early next year. LF
POWER SUPPLIES TO GEORGIA REDUCED
The management of the Inguri hydroelectric power station in Abkhazia, which provides much of Georgia's energy, reduced power supplies to Georgia by one-third on 25 September due to a fall in the water level of the station's reservoir, Caucasus Press reported. The plant's director, Levon Mebonia, and Georgian Energy Minister Mamuka Nikolaishvili denied initial media reports that the decision to cut supplies was made without consulting the Georgian authorities. LF
NGOS ACCUSE PROMINENT GEORGIAN POLITICIAN OF EMBEZZLEMENT
NGOs from the Tskhinvali District of the unrecognized Republic of South Ossetia have accused Socialist Party of Georgia Chairman Vakhtang Rcheulishvili of misappropriating funds allocated for confidence-building measures between Georgians and Ossetians, Caucasus Press reported on 25 September, quoting the daily "Tribuna." They also claim that Rcheulishvili, who is co-head of the pro-presidential For a New Georgia election bloc, has achieved nothing in his capacity as President Shevardnadze's envoy for resolving the conflict between the central Georgian government and the leadership of the breakaway republic (see "RFE/RL Caucasus Report," 27 January 2003). They allege that he abused his position by promoting his business interests, especially by exporting timber and mineral resources from South Ossetia. Meanwhile, the South Ossetian parliament endorsed on 25 September the nomination by Prime Minister Dimitrii Sanakoev of a former Russian army officer, Sergei Moldarev, as defense minister, Caucasus Press reported. LF
GEORGIAN GUERRILLAS DENY RESPONSIBILITY FOR ASSASSINATION ATTEMPT
Dato Shengelia, who commands the White Legion guerrilla formation, denied on 26 September that his men were responsible for an attempt the previous day on the life of Zurab Lakerbaya, employment minister in the Tbilisi-based Abkhaz government in exile, Caucasus Press reported. Lakerbaya was shot in the stomach three times at the door of his home in Tbilisi late on 25 September. The two perpetrators escaped, and the motive for the shooting remains unclear. LF
BULGARIAN PRESIDENT VISITS KAZAKHSTAN, PROMISES TO EXPAND COOPERATION
During a visit by Bulgarian President Georgi Parvanov to Astana on 25 September, three Kazakh-Bulgarian intergovernmental agreements were signed, khabar.kz and Interfax-Kazakhstan reported. One of these agreements covers the struggle against terrorism, drug trafficking, and organized crime. A second deals with cooperation in health care and medicine, and the third pledges closer cooperation between the justice ministries of the two countries. Extensive discussions between Parvanov and Kazakh President Nursultan Nazarbaev covered Afghanistan, Iraq, and the Balkans, in addition to the issues dealt with in the cooperation agreements. The presidents pledged to expand trade and business ties between the two countries. Nazarbaev asked that Bulgaria increase its involvement in the construction sector, especially in building transportation facilities, including a port on the Caspian Sea. BB
KAZAKH OPPOSITION FIGURE FACES TRIAL ON TAX CHARGES
Former head of the Republican People's Party of Kazakhstan Amirzhan Kosanov told a press conference in Almaty on 25 September that he is scheduled to go on trial on charges of tax evasion and forgery on 29 September, Interfax-Kazakhstan reported. According to Kosanov, the tax police allege that the party, which he headed until recently, had failed to pay 5 million tenges (about $34,000) in taxes on grants over five years. The forgery charge is connected with checks signed by Kosanov as party leader. The Republican People's Party, originally headed by now-exiled former Prime Minister Akezhan Kazhegeldin, was denied re-registration under new legislation on political parties. Kosanov told journalists that he has been forbidden to leave the country. BB
KAZAKH PRESIDENT SIGNS AMENDMENTS TO CORRUPTION CONTROL LAWS
President Nazarbaev has signed a number of amendments to laws on combating corruption, KazInform and Interfax-Kazakhstan reported on 25 September. According to deputy presidential administration head Igor Rogov, the amendments correct weaknesses in the laws that emerged as they were put into practice. The amendments include a more specific definition of corruption that covers gifts or property received indirectly, an extensive list of actions that are defined as corruption, and a prohibition on government employment for eight years after a person has served a sentence for corruption. Rogov told journalists at a news conference in Astana that a permanent prohibition on government service for such persons would violate their human rights as set out in Kazakhstan's Constitution. BB
KYRGYZ PARLIAMENT ADOPTS REVISED AMNESTY LAW...
Both houses of the Kyrgyz parliament on 25 September adopted a revised amnesty law that had been previously vetoed by President Askar Akaev, who demanded changes to the law, "Obshchestvennyi reiting" reported on the newspaper's website (http://www.pr.kg). The amnesty, intended to celebrate the 10th anniversary of Kyrgyzstan's Constitution and the 2,200th anniversary of Kyrgyz statehood, was approved by the lower house in April 2003. Akaev demanded that the law be revised to include the requirement that people convicted of economics crime would be eligible for amnesty only if they reimburse the state for at least one-third of the damage they were convicted of causing. The Kyrgyz opposition asserts that the change is intended to ensure that former Vice President Feliks Kulov, who is serving a 10-year sentence for purported economic and other crimes, could not qualify for amnesty. According to "Obshchestvennyi reiting," the Supreme Court and the National Security Service advised the president to veto the law in its original form. BB
...AS OPPOSITION SAYS PENAL SYSTEM OVERCROWDED AND UNDERFUNDED
Commenting on 25 September on the adoption of the revised amnesty law, lower house Committee on Judicial Issues Chairman and prominent opposition parliamentarian Azimbek Beknazarov said the amnesty would affect about 5,000 convicts, most of whom would have their sentences reduced by one-third, RIA-Novosti reported. About 500 convicts -- including women over 58 years old; men over 65; and veterans of World War II, the Soviet war in Afghanistan, and the cleanup of the 1986 Chernobyl nuclear accident -- are to be freed from prison. Beknazarov added that the Kyrgyz prison system presently holds about 19,000 convicts, a number which considerably exceeds its capacity. In the first eight months of 2003, the national prison administration received only 26 percent of the funds needed to care for prisoners. This means the system can spend only the equivalent of $0.10 per day to feed each prisoner. BB
TAJIK GOVERNMENT WANTS RUSSIAN BORDER GUARDS TO STAY, SAYS DEPUTY PREMIER
Tajik Deputy Prime Minister Saidamir Zukhurov said on 25 September that the Tajik government does not share the opinion of State Border Committee First Deputy Chairman Major General Nuralisho Nazarov that Tajik border troops are ready to take over responsibility for guarding the country's frontiers (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 22 September 2003), Interfax reported. According to Zukhurov, who is responsible for Tajikistan's law enforcement agencies, the official position of the Tajik government is that the Russian border guards should stay. A Tajik-Russian commission that oversees implementation of bilateral agreements on the status of Russian border troops in Tajikistan is due to decide on the future protection of Tajikistan's borders soon. BB
NATO CHIEF DESCRIBES UZBEKISTAN AS MODEL FOR NATO PARTNERS
NATO Secretary-General Lord George Robertson, ending a two-day visit to Tashkent on 25 September, told journalists that Uzbekistan could serve as a model for other NATO partner states, uzreport.com and ITAR-TASS reported. Describing the country as a region of "key strategic importance," Robertson said NATO is actively cooperating to reform the Uzbek armed forces and is providing military equipment. The alliance is now expanding its cooperation with Uzbekistan in the area of civil defense. Robertson added that during his meeting with President Islam Karimov the two discussed a wide range of opportunities for cooperation between Uzbekistan and NATO under the Partnership for Peace (PfP) program, focusing on the struggle against international terrorism and religious extremism, as well on Afghanistan and Iraq. Uzbekistan had been a member of the PfP program since July 1994. BB
BELARUSIAN NGOS PROTEST CLOSURES BEFORE JUSTICE MINISTRY
Some 50 members of nongovernmental organizations (NGOs) gathered in front of the Justice Ministry in Minsk on 25 September for a 30-minute silent demonstration to protest authorities' ongoing crackdown on NGOs, RFE/RL's Belarusian Service and Belapan reported. Authorities have closed six NGOs in recent months and are seeking the liquidation of four others. Viktar Karneyenka, leader of the banned Homel-based Civic Initiatives group, told Belapan that his organization "has exhausted all national legal remedies to defend its rights" and will file a complaint with the UN Commission on Human Rights. JM
GAZPROM REPORTEDLY SEEKING TO NEARLY TRIPLE GAS PRICE TO BELARUS
Gazprom head Aleksei Miller told the director of Belarusian gas-pipeline operator Beltranshaz in Moscow on 25 September that Belarus should pay $80 per 1,000 cubic meters of Russian gas in 2004, Belapan reported, quoting the Gazprom press service. Under this year's deal, Gazprom is supplying Belarus with 10.2 billion cubic meters of gas at a preferential price of $30 for 1,000 cubic meters. The Belarusian and Russian presidents agreed earlier this month to adopt market prices in contracting purchases of Russian gas (see "RFE/RL Poland, Belarus, and Ukraine Report," 16 and 23 September 2003). In response to this suggested price hike, Minsk is expected to raise duties on the transit of Russian gas across Belarus. JM
UKRAINIANS IN LVIV DISTRUST TAX INSPECTORS
Some 5,000 people gathered at the Lviv Oblast Council on 25 September to demand the dismissal of Lviv Oblast Tax Administration head Serhiy Medvedchuk, RFE/RL's Ukrainian Service reported. In June, Lviv Oblast councilors supported a no-confidence vote in Serhiy Medvedchuk, charging that he has used his position in the State Tax Administration to exert pressure on companies and organizations opposed to the Social Democratic Party-united, including Viktor Yushchenko's Our Ukraine. State Tax Administration head Yuriy Kravchenko did not sack Medvedchuk. The Social Democratic Party-united is led by Serhiy Medvedchuk's brother, presidential administration head Viktor Medvedchuk. Yushchenko, who attended the Lviv Oblast Council session on 25 September, called on Serhiy Medvedchuk to step down. The same day, Lviv councilors supported a vote of no confidence in Lviv City Tax Administration chief Myroslav Khomyak. JM
IMF APPROVES EARLY REPAYMENT OF UKRAINE'S LOANS
Ukrainian Economy Minister Valeriy Khoroshkovskyy told journalists in Kiev on 25 September that the International Monetary Fund (IMF) has agreed to the repayment of Ukraine's $1.8 billion debt within two years, some six years before the last payment is scheduled to be made, Interfax reported. Khoroshkovskyy said the agreement came after talks with IMF representatives earlier this week in Dubai. Ukrainian National Bank head Serhiy Tyhypko declared in August that Ukraine can repay its full debt to the IMF by the end of 2003. JM
HEAD OF RUSSIAN ORTHODOX CHURCH ARRIVES IN ESTONIA
Patriarch of Moscow and All Russia Aleksii II was welcomed at Tallinn's airport on 25 September by Regional Affairs Minister Jaan Ounapuu, Metropolitan Cornelius, and Russian Ambassador to Estonia Konstantin Provalov, BNS reported. The main purpose of the visit by the patriarch, who was born in Estonia as Aleksei Ridiger, is to visit his parents' gravesite in Tallinn's Nevskii Cemetery. He was scheduled to meet with Prime Minister Juhan Parts on 26 September and to receive the Terra Mariana Cross, Estonia's highest state award, from President Arnold Ruutel on 29 September. The opposition Pro Patria Union and the Moderates have protested the planned award, arguing that Aleksii served as an agent of the KGB and even received a commendation from the agency in 1998. The Foreign Ministry explained that awarding of the Terra Mariana Cross is an issue of protocol, as it was earlier bestowed on Patriarch of Constantinople Bartholomew (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 30 October 2000). SG
LATVIAN PRESIDENT EMPHASIZES GROWTH OF BALTIC SEA REGION AT WORLD LEADERSHIP FORUM
As part of her visit to New York, Vaira Vike-Freiberga on 24 September delivered a lecture entitled "Latvia: Europe's Economic Success Story" at the fourth World Leadership Forum, LETA reported the next day. She said the Baltic Sea region, with more than 90 million residents and 10 major cities, has an excellent chance of becoming a new center of dynamic growth in the new Europe, especially as the Baltic states and Poland will join the EU next year. On 23 September, Vike-Freiberga addressed the UN General Assembly with a similar message and had informal talks with U.S. President George W. Bush and French President Jacques Chirac. She also met with Serbia and Montenegro President Svetozar Marovic, Moroccan King Mohammed VI, and Sri Lankan Prime Minister Ranil Wickremesinghe. SG
LITHUANIAN COURT SENTENCES RUSSIAN NATIONAL BOLSHEVIKS
The Vilnius District Court on 25 September imposed 40-day prison sentences on 14 members of Russia's National Bolshevik Party who earlier this month protested Lithuania's rules for transit to Kaliningrad, "Kauno diena" reported the next day (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 15 September 2003). They were found guilty of disturbing public order during the protest at the Kena border post. Two minors who participated received 20-day sentences. The court said the protestors' actions were planned well in advance, as evidenced by their possession of the party's flag (red background emblazoned with a hammer and sickle), printed flyers, and chains and handcuffs with which some of them chained themselves to a train. SG
POLISH PRESIDENT APPOINTS NEW NAVY COMMANDER
President Aleksander Kwasniewski, in his capacity as commander in chief of the Polish Armed Forces, appointed Admiral Roman Krzyzelewski to become the new commander of that country's navy on 25 September, PAP reported. The same day, Kwasniewski also reappointed General Czeslaw Piatas as chief of the General Staff of the Polish Armed Forces and General Edward Pietrzyk as commander of Poland's Land Forces for three years. JM
CZECH GOVERNMENT SURVIVES NO-CONFIDENCE VOTE
The ruling center-left coalition on 26 September survived a no-confidence vote that was submitted by the opposition Civic Democratic Party (ODS), CTK and international news agencies reported. Just 98 deputies backed the motion, the passage of which required 101 votes in the 200-seat lower house, while 100 lawmakers opposed it. The ODS and the Communist Party of Bohemia and Moravia (KSCM) control a combined 99 seats. At one point in the two-day debate, ODS deputies prevented Prime Minister Vladimir Spidla from addressing the house by clapping and making loud noises. CTK reported. The lower house was expected to vote later on 26 September on the third and final readings of 11 government-backed fiscal-reform bills (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 25 September 2003). MS
FORMER CZECH PREMIER LASHES OUT AT FISCAL REFORMS
Former Prime Minister Milos Zeman, addressing an economic forum in Prague on 25 September, harshly criticized the government's program and his own Social Democratic Party (CSSD), saying the party has "betrayed" its electoral program, CTK reported. Zeman said public-finance reforms planned by the government are "no reform at all" and predicted they will slow economic growth, increase social tension, and strengthen the influence of the Communists. He compared the plan with the austerity package of former premier and current President Vaclav Klaus's government in 1977, adding that Klaus was not so arrogant as to call his package "reforms." CTK reported that Zeman's supporters in the audience called on him to return to politics, but he said he will not do so and ended his speech with the Latin dictum "I have spoken and saved my soul." Zeman continues to divide the CSSD despite having gone into political "retirement" after the 2002 elections, and has consistently criticized his successor, Premier and CSSD Chairman Spidla. MS
U.S. PRESIDENT SEEKS LOAN TO HELP BOOST CZECH AIR DEFENSES
President George W. Bush asked the U.S. Congress on 25 September to provide a $550 million loan to help the Czech Republic upgrade its air defenses, Reuters reported. The 12-year loan is aimed at enabling the Czech Republic to purchase 14 used F-16 fighter aircraft from the U.S. government, the agency reported. Last year, Prague abandoned the $1.7 billion planned purchase of British/Swedish-made Gripens, citing a lack of funds. Under the proposed U.S. loan, the Czech Republic may use the funds for U.S. training, weapons, and logistical support as long as it buys U.S.-designed F-16 or F-18 aircraft -- although those purchases need not be from the United States, according to Reuters. Belgium, the Netherlands, Turkey, and Canada have also offered used aircraft to the Czechs. MS
NATO DENIES BRAKING SLOVAK MEMBERSHIP, CURBING CONTACTS
NATO spokesman Robert Pszczel on 25 September denied a report that Secretary-General Lord George Robertson has recommended halting the ratification process of Slovakia's accession and reducing personal and professional contacts with Slovak authorities, TASR and CTK reported. British defense journal "Jane's Intelligence Digest" initially made the assertion and its editor in chief, Alex Standish, told CTK he stands by the story despite the official NATO denial. "Jane's" said Robertson's directives were issued in the wake of the recent attempts by Premier Mikulas Dzurinda to dismiss the director of the National Security Office (NBU) and the sacking of former Defense Minister Ivan Simko (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 22, 23, and 25 September 2003). Spokesman Pszczel conceded that NATO is closely watching Slovak developments because of their connection to defense and security services. A spokesman for Dzurinda called the journal's allegations "lies" and said "Jane's" is considered by the premier to be "untrustworthy," according to TASR. MS
SLOVAK PRESIDENT RELIEVES SIS CHIEF OF OATH OF SECRECY IN TAPPING AFFAIR
President Rudolf Schuster relieved Slovak Information Service (SIS) Director Ladislav Pittner of his oath of secrecy on 25 September to enable him to testify in an investigation into phone taps on the "Sme" daily and on Alliance for a New Citizen Chairman Pavol Rusko earlier this year, TASR reported. The probe is being carried out by military prosecutors (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 18, 22, 24, and 31 January and 11, 15, 16, and 17 July 2003). MS
HUNGARIAN RADIO CHAIRWOMAN VOWS TO SUE OVER REPORTS OF SPYING...
The chairwoman of Hungarian Radio, Katalin Kondor, vowed on 25 September to sue the "Nepszava" daily over its recent reports describing her as a long-time undercover agent for communist-era security forces, local media reported. Kondor insisted the daily's recent articles about her are full of lies. In its 25 September issue, "Nepszava" reported that Kondor worked as an undercover agent over the course of a decade beginning in the mid-1970s. Kondor need not have feared seeing the details of her collaboration emerge, the daily reported, as the act on screening for former state-security agents only applied to those who were involved in the one-time III/III domestic security department. Kondor charged that the "party paper" ("nepszava" means "people's voice" in Hungarian, and before the fall of the communist regime the daily was the newspaper of the left-wing proletariat) launched a well-prepared campaign against her. "Nepszava" Editor in Chief Peter Nemeth told "Nepszabadsag" that his paper stands by the story and will sue Kondor for calling "Nepszava" a "party paper involved in the K&H [financial] scandal." Speaking on Hungarian radio, opposition FIDESZ media specialist Annamaria Szalai accused the ruling Socialists of resorting to trumped-up charges to smear Kondor and Hungarian Radio because the radio refuses to become a left-wing mouthpiece. MSZ
...AND PSZAF DIRECTOR LAUNCHES SUIT AGAINST SOCIALIST DEPUTY
Karoly Szasz, the head of Hungary's Financial Supervisory Authority (PSZAF), has initiated a defamation suit against Socialist deputy Zsolt Torok in a Budapest district court, "Nepszabadsag" reported on 26 September. Torok recently told a local television network in the town of Eger that "one should proceed with Karoly Szasz and others alike in such a way that their property is confiscated, and from that point on talk about how long he will sit in prison." MSZ
BOSNIAN COMMISSION BACKS MILITARY-REFORM PACKAGE
Members of the Bosnian Commission for Defense Reform agreed in the night of 25-26 September on a package of measures to establish a joint military, which Bosnia must have in order to join NATO's Partnership for Peace program, RFE/RL's South Slavic and Albanian Languages Service reported (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 24 September 2003 and "RFE/RL Balkan Report," 5 September 2003). Under the new defense legislation, the Croat-Muslim federation and the Republika Srpska would each keep its own Army, but there would be identical uniforms with the Bosnian coat of arms on them. The supreme command of both armies would lie with the Bosnian Presidency. The parliament must approve the commission's recommendation for it to become law. High Representative Paddy Ashdown hailed the recommendation as an important step toward joining the Partnership for Peace. Critics charge that the changes would be cosmetic and that real authority would still lie with separate Croatian, Muslim, and Serbian commands, which include many individuals who were active in the 1992-95 conflict. PM
SERBIAN POLICE ARREST INDICTED WAR CRIMINAL...
Members of a Serbian special police unit arrested former Yugoslav Army Captain Vladimir Kovacevic "Rambo" near the village of Malo Crnice in the Pozarevac region on 25 September, RFE/RL's South Slavic and Albanian Languages Service reported. Kovacevic did not resist arrest. The Hague-based war crimes tribunal indicted Kovacevic and three other men in connection with the 1991 shelling of Dubrovnik. Vice Admiral Miodrag Jokic and General Pavle Strugar turned themselves in voluntarily, while charges against Admiral Milan Zec have been dropped. Serbian Justice Minister Vladan Batic returned to Belgrade from talks in The Hague on 25 September. PM
...AND SNARE GANGSTERS...
In an operation lasting several days, Serbian antiterrorism units and Belgrade police arrested an unspecified number of members of "one of the largest organized criminal groups" to emerge in the Serbian capital over the past decade, RFE/RL's South Slavic and Albanian Languages Service reported on 25 September. The Interior Ministry was expected to provide more details at an upcoming press conference. PM
...BUT HAVE NO KNOWLEDGE OF A MAJOR WAR CRIMINAL
At a meeting on the sidelines of the UN General Assembly session in New York, Serbia and Montenegro's President Svetozar Marovic told U.S. Secretary of State Colin Powell on 25 September that Belgrade authorities have no knowledge of the whereabouts of former Bosnian Serb General Ratko Mladic, who the Hague-based war crimes tribunal says is living in Serbia, RFE/RL's South Slavic and Albanian Languages Service reported (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 1 August 2003 and "RFE/RL Balkan Report," 25 July and 8 August 2003). Marovic told reporters that he and Powell agreed that Belgrade's forces will take part in international peacekeeping missions starting probably in the first half of 2004. PM
SERBIAN WEAPONS-FACTORY STRIKE ENDS
Several thousand workers at the Zastava-Namenski plant in Kragujevac ended a brief strike on 25 September after Serbian Prime Minister Zoran Zivkovic agreed to continue to subsidize wages and not lay anyone off until at least the end of 2003, RFE/RL's South Slavic and Albanian Languages Service reported. Zivkovic also agreed to negotiate with union representatives on the future of the plant. Zastava is the largest of several rust-bucket Serbian weapons factories remaining from the communist era. PM
SERBIA GETS ITS FIRST PRIVATE MEDIA-PRINTING PLANT
Serbia's first privately owned printing plant for newspapers and magazines began operation on 25 September in Belgrade, RFE/RL's South Slavic and Albanian Languages Service reported. The plant cost $4.6 million, most of which came from donations from abroad. Throughout former Yugoslavia, most periodicals are still printed in plants that once belonged to communist-era monopolies. PM
CROATIAN BUGGING CONTROVERSY CONTINUES
Officials of the opposition Croatian Democratic Community (HDZ) held a press conference in Zagreb on 25 September at which they showed reporters what the HDZ claims is bugging equipment found in its parliamentary offices, RFE/RL's South Slavic and Albanian Languages Service reported (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 23 September 2003). The party blames the state-run intelligence services for what it says is politically motivated eavesdropping. Meanwhile, officials of the intelligence services told the parliament's committee on security issues that no legislator is currently under official surveillance. PM
FLIGHTS TO BEGIN BETWEEN THE U.S. AND ALBANIA?
U.S. Transportation Secretary Norman Mineta and Albania's acting Foreign Minister Luan Hajdaraga signed an agreement under the Open Skies program in Washington on 25 September providing for direct flights between the two countries as soon as Albania meets U.S. airport-security requirements, Reuters reported from Tirana. PM
ROMANIAN PRESIDENT MEETS WITH GERMAN CHANCELLOR
On the second day of his two-day trip to Germany, President Ion Iliescu met in Berlin on 25 September with Chancellor Gerhard Schroeder, who promised him "all possible support" in Romania's efforts to join the EU, RFE/RL's Romania-Moldova Service reported. Schroeder added that he believes Romania's plan to end negotiations with the EU by the end of this year is "too ambitious." When Iliescu corrected him, saying that Bucharest plans to end the negotiations in mid-2004, Schroeder said he believes this is "feasible." Schroeder also called on the German business community to invest in Romania. MS
ROMANIA TO SANCTION CITIZENS EXPELLED FROM EU COUNTRIES
The cabinet on 25 September approved an emergency ordinance stipulating that Romanian citizens expelled from EU countries for violating travel regulations in the Schengen zone will have their passports revoked for five years, Romanian Radio reported. In a separate press release the Interior Ministry noted that Romanian citizens are only allowed to stay in Schengen-zone countries for a maximum of 90 days upon entry, for which they are not required to have a visa. The ordinance was approved due to the growing number of Romanians who have been expelled for overstaying the 90-day period. MS
GREEK NATIONAL BANK BUYS MAJORITY STAKE IN ROMANIAN BANK
The state-owned Greek National Bank announced on 25 September that it has purchased a majority stake in Banca Romaneasca, AFP reported. The Greek bank will hold an 81.6 percent stake in Banca Romaneasca, which has 25 branches throughout Romania and assets totaling $160 million. MS
MOLDOVAN PRESIDENT TAKES TWO STEPS BACK, NONE FORWARD
President Vladimir Voronin on 25 September denied media reports that Moldova might leave the CIS, RFE/RL's Chisinau bureau reported. Voronin reiterated that his criticism of a decision by four countries participating in the recent CIS Yalta summit to set up a Single Economic Space does not mean Moldova "intends to be the grave digger" of the CIS. He said he merely intended to emphasize that the decision by Russia, Kazakhstan, Ukraine, and Belarus will affect the CIS in view of the fact that they are among its largest members (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 22 September 2003). Voronin also stressed that his appeal to the EU to participate in the resolution of the Transdniester conflict is linked to the recent invitation to the EU to open an office in Chisinau. He said the EU should participate in finding solutions to Moldova's problems, and those are not limited to the Transdniester problem. As for EU participation in a peacekeeping force under the aegis of the OSCE, the possibility should be examined only after a political solution has been agreed on, he said. Peacekeepers should have a "peace to keep" and EU participation cannot simply mean that "some troops (i.e., Russian) are displaced by other troops," he added. MS
MOLDOVAN PARLIAMENTARY SPEAKER CALLS ON OPPOSITION TO RENOUNCE PLANNED PROTEST
Parliamentary speaker Evgenia Ostapciuc on 25 September called on the opposition Popular Party Christian Democratic (PPCD) to refrain from holding a planned street protest in Chisinau on 28 September, RFE/RL's Chisinau bureau reported. Ostapciuc said the opposition must exhibit "responsibility" and a "constructive attitude" and put national interests ahead of party interests. Infotag quoted her as saying that street rallies "destabilize the situation, split society, and distract from the task of working for the nation's common good." The PPCD intends to protest against the policies of the ruling Party of Moldovan Communists, in general, and its support of Moldova's federalization in particular. MS
COUNCIL OF EUROPE OFFICIAL CRITICIZES SITUATION OF ROMA IN MOLDOVA
Toni Ellul, a member of the Council of Europe's advisory board on the implementation of the Framework Convention for the Protection of National Minorities, said on 25 September that the situation of the Romany minority in the country needs to be improved immediately, Infotag reported. Ellul was addressing a Chisinau forum on the implementation of that document, which Moldova was the first country to join in 1996. He said recent monitoring shows that Romany Moldovans are in a difficult situation insofar as education, health care, and employment are concerned. Ellul said the situation of the Romany minority in Moldova, "or any other country, serves as an indicator for the European nations of the democracy level in any state." Some 20,000 Roma live in Moldova. According to Infotag, nearly all Romany women are illiterate, while 52 percent of Romany men hold a university degree. MS
TRANSDNIESTRIANS TO SING ANTHEM IN THREE LANGUAGES
The Transdniester Supreme Soviet approved on 25 September the first reading of a resolution stipulating that the national anthem is to be sung in all three official languages -- Russian, "Moldovan," and Ukrainian, Infotag reported. The resolution says the three languages have equal status and the singing of the anthem in Russian alone -- as was hitherto customary -- would infringe on the rights of speakers of the other two languages. Translation into "Moldovan" and Ukrainian are to be commissioned for this purpose, according to the resolution. MS
BULGARIAN LEGISLATORS WARN PRIME MINISTER TO RESPECT PARLIAMENT
Speaking at a conference on the role of the "Tsar Factor -- 800 days later," Borislav Tsekov of the governing National Movement Simeon II (NDSV) said on 25 September that the executive should respect the legislative force in the country, mediapool.bg reported. "It is high time that the council of ministers understands that, apart from society, there is one god called the parliamentary majority, and that every other vision is constitutional heresy, and...we all know what happens to heretics," Tsekov said, alluding to a number of decisions made by the government without consulting parliament. Tatyana Doncheva of the opposition Socialist Party (BSP) accused the current parliamentary majority of behaving in a "servile" manner to the prime minister in comparison to previous majorities. UB
SUPREME JUDGES ACCUSE BULGARIAN PARLIAMENT OF MEDDLING IN JUDICIAL AFFAIRS
The head of the Supreme Court of Appeals (VKS), Ivan Grigorov, and the outgoing head of the Supreme Administrative Court (VAS), Vladislav Savov, on 24 September dismissed a declaration signed by the parliamentary groups of the governing coalition of the National Movement Simeon II (NDSV) and the Movement for Rights and Freedoms (DPS) and the opposition Socialist Party (BSP), calling it an attempt to infringe on the independence of the judiciary. In the 23 September declaration, legislators called on the Supreme Judicial Council (VSS) to postpone the election of a new VAS head until after the end of the council's mandate. Most of the members of the current VSS were nominated by the previous parliament, in which the now-opposition United Democratic Forces (ODS) held the majority. The governing majority sees the election of a new head of the VAS as an attempt by the ODS to buttress its influence on the judiciary (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 3 and 8 July and 11 September 2003). UB
POPE PUSHES CHRISTIAN VALUES FOR EXPANDED EU FAMILY
As his 25th anniversary in the Vatican approaches, Pope John Paul II is launching a high-profile campaign to promote "Christian values" in Europe.
The Roman Catholic Church has lost much of its influence over public policy on the increasingly secular continent, where divorce is common, abortion widely legal, and homosexuality increasingly accepted.
The pontiff used a four-day visit to Slovakia from 11-14 September to try to reverse these trends, urging Europeans to support "family values" and reaffirm their spiritual heritage. "In our days, many baptized Christians have not yet made the faith their own in an adult and conscious way," the pope said on 12 September during his homily at an open-air Mass in the Slovak town of Banska Bystrica.
Like the pontiff's native Poland, Slovakia has a large Roman Catholic majority and a politically influential church hierarchy. The Vatican has placed its hope in these and other former communist countries to form a potential vanguard for a revival of family values when they join the European Union next year.
"You can't deny, that in these times of ours, Europe is going through a crisis in values, and it is important that it recovers its true identity," the pope said in August. "The process of European Union enlargement to other countries cannot deal only with geographical and economic aspects, but must translate into a renewed harmony of values to be expressed in law and life."
The Vatican is pursuing its strategy in several ways: lobbying against abortion and gay marriages; for religious education in public schools; and pushing hard for the inclusion of a reference to Europe's "Christian heritage" in the European Union's draft constitution. Although popular in heavily Catholic countries such as Poland and Slovakia -- where the pope is revered for his fierce anticommunism -- the Vatican's new assertiveness has met considerable opposition elsewhere.
Civil libertarians have decried the campaign as a violation of the separation of church and state. Politicians and scholars have warned that with 10 million Muslims, Europe is becoming increasingly diverse religiously, and that pushing "Christian values" on the continent could prove deeply divisive, if not explosive. It could also alienate Muslims in Turkey, which hopes to join the EU in the future.
"The words of the pope are important in Poland and other states with Catholic majorities, but not in the larger European Union," said Katarzyna Stoklosa, a specialist in EU issues at the German Council of Foreign Relations, a Berlin-based think tank.
In August, heavily secular France rebuffed the Vatican's campaign to get a reference to Europe's Christian heritage in the EU's draft constitution. Instead, the document refers to the continent's "cultural, religious, and humanist inheritance."
Poland, the largest of the new members set to join the EU next May, has said it will press the issue of amending the draft. Among current EU members, heavily Catholic Italy and Ireland have also supported a reference to Europe's Christian heritage.
Meanwhile, the Vatican has won some important local victories, notably in Slovakia, where the church has teamed up with Slovakia's Christian Democratic Party (KDH), a member of the country's ruling coalition, to push through several controversial policies. The KDH has pushed through measures to secure government funding for church-run schools, and blocked antidiscrimination measures against homosexuals. They are also pushing for a treaty with the Vatican that would require religion classes for public-school students. The church has even lobbied hard to prevent Yoga from being taught in physical education classes in Slovakia's public schools on the grounds that it will introduce foreign religious doctrine into the country.
The KDH has also asked Slovakia's Constitutional Court to overturn legislation allowing women to have abortions during the first three months of pregnancy, and blocked attempts to enshrine into law a government regulation allowing abortions in the second trimester in cases of serious birth defects.
At a papal Mass in the eastern Slovak town of Roznava on 13 September, local bishops dramatically demonstrated the church's opposition to abortion by presenting formerly conjoined 3-year-old twins to the pontiff, who touched their cheeks.
Earlier, Slovak television showed Lucia and Andrea Tothova jumping around in their pajamas. The twins were born attached at the waist and were successful separated in 2000. They both enjoy dancing and were given bicycles last Christmas, their parents said. Church officials said the twins' case demonstrated that abortion is wrong, even in cases involving birth defects. The Vatican hopes that local victories like those in Slovakia can be translated into larger influence continent-wide when the EU expands.
Although more than three-fourths of Europeans consider themselves Christian, not all are devout and many do not want religion to play a role in public policy. Five of the 10 new EU members -- Poland, Slovakia, Lithuania, Hungary, and Slovenia -- are majority Roman Catholic. The majority of Latvians and Estonians are Lutherans. The other three are the Czech Republic, Malta, and Cyprus.
Among the new members, the place where the pope's efforts to place religion back in the center of life will be most frowned upon is the Czech Republic, where the population is largely anticlerical and deeply suspicious of religion in general. "In Czech society there are many prejudices against the church and Christianity," said the Rev. Tomas Halik, a maverick Roman Catholic priest and president of the Czech Christian Academy.
Halik added that as it becomes increasingly diverse, what Europe really needs is an open and honest dialogue among faiths, rather than a debate over how much influence the Roman Catholic Church, or any other faith, should have over public policy. "The state no longer has a monopoly over political life and the church no longer has a monopoly over religious life," Halik said.
Brian Whitmore covers Central and Eastern Europe and the Balkans for "The Boston Globe."
NEO-TALIBAN CLAIMS RESPONSIBILITY FOR KILLING AID WORKER
Mullah Abdul Samad, a neo-Taliban intelligence official, said on 26 September that the militants are responsible for the recent killing of an Afghan aid worker in Awz-e Khushk, Helmand Province, Reuters reported (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 25 September 2003). Abdul Samad accused the Voluntary Association for the Rehabilitation of Afghanistan (VARA), the employer of the aid worker, of "undermining the Islamic faith of the Afghan people," claiming that VARA and other nongovernmental organizations are actively "preaching Christianity and distributing books on Christianity among the people." Abdul Samad added that anyone working in Afghanistan "for the interests of America and the crusaders deserves to be killed." VARA works on the restoration of Afghanistan's agriculture sector. AT
HERAT PAPER DECRIES CHILD ABUSE IN AFGHANISTAN...
The Herat-based newspaper "Etefaq-e Islam" observed on 23 September that there is an increase in abuses of children's rights in Afghanistan. The most serious threat Afghan children face is kidnapping by armed gangs, according to the daily. In addition, the commentary criticized teachers' practice of beating children in schools and mosques and parents who force their children to work instead of attending school. AT
...AS AFGHAN AUTHORITIES RESCUE ABDUCTED BOYS
Authorities in Takhar Province have rescued more than 50 boys who were abducted from neighboring Badakhshan Province, the BBC reported on 25 September. The boys, some of whom were as young as four, were apparently abducted with the intention of trafficking them to Iran and Pakistan for induction into religious schools or for sale as sex slaves. UNICEF spokesman Edward Carwardine said his organization suspects "there may be other children who have been abducted." He added that UNICEF has "unconfirmed reports" from southern Afghanistan that many children have disappeared. As the Afghan Transitional Administration has struggled to exert its authority beyond greater Kabul, children in Afghanistan's regions are often at the mercy of local leaders or warlords. The international coalition in Afghanistan is focusing on immediate security concerns posed by the neo-Taliban and other attackers, while Afghanistan's future generation continues to face uncertainty and danger. AT
AFGHAN PUBLISHER/MINISTRY OFFICIAL REPORTEDLY TARGET OF DEATH THREATS
Shah Zaman Warez-Stanakzai, head of publications for the Information and Culture Ministry and publisher of the political journal "Palwasha," told the Kabul daily "Erada" on 22 September that he has been the target of death threats for the past month. Warez-Stanakzai said he has received telephone calls from unidentified individuals who threaten to kill him because of articles he has published in "Palwasha." Warez-Stanakzai said the callers have objected to articles criticizing former mujahedin leaders for destroying Kabul during their power struggle (1992-96) and for plundering the country's national wealth. The callers have said such articles are tantamount to "an insult to Islam," he added. AT
AFGHAN JOURNALIST TO RECEIVE INTERNATIONAL PRESS FREEDOM AWARD
Abdul Samay Hamed, founder of the Association for the Defense of Afghan Writers' Rights and the magazine "Telaya," will receive one of four International Press Freedom Awards granted this year by the Canadian Journalists for Free Expression, Reuters reported on 26 September. The nongovernmental organization annually hands out the awards to journalists who have suffered "serious reprisals" in carrying out their jobs. The awards ceremony will take place on 25 November in New York. Hamed was attacked in April by men armed with knives for a commentary he wrote about Afghanistan's warlords. While freedom of press, albeit with certain restrictions, is guaranteed by the Afghan Transitional Administration, journalists continue to face threats from powerful elements, including warlords, some government officials, and conservative religious forces (see "RFE/RL Afghanistan Report," 13 February 2003). AT
IRANIAN ASSASSINS REPORTEDLY PART OF ISRAEL-HIZBALLAH PRISONER SWAP
An Iranian and two Lebanese who are imprisoned in Germany for their parts in the September 1992 murders in Berlin of Iranian dissidents are to be part of an Israel-Hizballah swap, according to 26 September reports in "Haaretz" and "The Jerusalem Post." Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon had said on 25 September that Iranian prisoners in Europe might be part of the swap, but he did not provide details. In the exchange, Israel would free Lebanese prisoners -- including Hizballah official Sheikh Abdul Karim Obeid, who was seized in 1989, and Amal official Mustafa Dirani, seized in 1995 -- about 200 Palestinians, and some other Arabs. Hizballah would return Elhanan Tenenbaum, an Israeli businessman it kidnapped in October 2000, and the remains of three Israeli soldiers. According to sources in Jerusalem, Israel would also get information about Ron Arad, an Israeli military aviator who has been missing since his plane went down in Lebanon in 1986 and who allegedly was sent to Iran. Berlin's involvement in this affair can be linked with the participation of a German mediator, Ernst Orlau, who has been shuttling between Tel Aviv and Beirut to work out the details of a prisoner swap. BS
MORE ENRICHED URANIUM REPORTEDLY DISCOVERED IN IRAN
Anonymous diplomats said on 25 September that UN nuclear inspectors have discovered traces of highly enriched uranium (HEU) in environmental samples taken at the Kalaye Electric Company near Tehran, AFP reported. The inspectors do not know if the HEU was produced in Iran or it was on equipment that Iran imported from another country. HEU was previously found in samples taken at Natanz. There is speculation that equipment Iran purchased from Pakistan might have been contaminated, but Pakistan has denied providing Iran with nuclear technology (see "RFE/RL Iran Report," 1 September 2003). Moreover, International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) spokeswoman Melissa Fleming told RFE/RL in August that the Kalaye Electric Company seemed to have been sanitized since IAEA inspectors sought access to it in June. Fleming said on 23 September that a team of five to six IAEA inspectors is to visit Iran on 28 September, but on 26 September she said the inspectors' visit will be delayed at Tehran's request, AFP reported. BS
IRANIAN STUDENT LEADER POSTS BAIL
The lawyer for Said Razavi-Faqih, a leader in the Allameh faction of the Office for Strengthening Unity, went on 25 September to the Prosecutor's Office at Evin prison to post bail for his client, ISNA reported. Attorney Nemat Ahmadi expressed the hope that Razavi-Faqih would be released before the close of business that day. BS
UN WILL REDUCE STAFF IN IRAQ IN WAKE OF BOMBINGS
Secretary-General Kofi Annan ordered a temporary redeployment of United Nations international staff from Iraq on 25 September following two deadly bombings at UN headquarters in Baghdad in little over a month (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 20 August and 22 September 2003), the UN News Center reported. "This is not an evacuation, just a further downsizing, and the security situation in the country remains under constant review," UN spokesman Fred Eckhard told a press conference. According to the Eckhard, there are 42 international staffers in Baghdad and 44 in northern Iraq; the UN has not said how many international staffers will remain in the country. "Meanwhile, our essential humanitarian activities in Iraq continue, thanks to the efforts of our more than 4,000 national staff in the country," Eckhard added. He reportedly also told reporters that some 19 staff members will be temporarily moved to Amman, Reuters reported on 25 September. The UN Staff Union called on Annan to pull UN staff from Iraq on 22 September (see "RFE/RL Iraq Report," 25 September 2003). KR
U.S. REPORTEDLY GIVES GOVERNING COUNCIL SIX MONTHS TO DRAFT CONSTITUTION
U.S. Secretary of State Colin Powell has reportedly told the Iraqi Governing Council that it has six months to draft a new Iraqi Constitution, nytimes.com reported on 26 September. "We would like to put a deadline on them," Powell told the daily, adding, "They've got six months. It'll be a difficult deadline to meet, but we've got to get them going." The United States has been under mounting pressure by UN member states demanding that Washington set a specific timetable for its transfer of power to a new Iraqi government. Powell suggested in the interview that the Governing Council should set a timetable in the near future. "Now, if they take forever to give us the answer to that question, then we've got a problem," Powell said. "But I think they'll give us an answer fairly quickly." Powell added that he does not think that a fixed time frame will be formally incorporated into the draft UN Security Council resolution on Iraq that the United States is likely to present to the world body as early as next week. KR
GOVERNING COUNCIL MEMBERS REJECT REPORTS OF TENSION BETWEEN IRAQ, U.S.
Iraqi Governing Council members are denying widespread press reports citing tension between members of the council -- specifically President for September Ahmad Chalabi -- and Washington over issues of transfer of power (see "RFE/RL Iraq Report," 25 September 2003), according to a report by the U.S. State Department's "Washington File" posted on the State Department website (http://usinfo.state.gov) on 25 September. "We have no disagreement with the United States government. We are not at odds with the United States," the report quoted Chalabi as telling reporters at the United Nations on 24 September. Referring to U.S. President George W. Bush's recent speech to the UN General Assembly (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 24 September 2003), Chalabi added, "There is nothing in his speech that we disagree with. We share the common objective of having a free, democratic Iraq in the international community." Meanwhile, interim Iraqi Foreign Minister Hoshyar Zebari reportedly said, "There is no difference whatsoever between the views of the governing council and the United States or the coalition on how we should proceed and move forward." KR
IRAQI MARKET ROCKED BY EXPLOSION
A mortar explosion ripped through a market in the town of Ba'qubah on 25 September, killing eight Iraqis, Al-Jazeera and Reuters reported on 25 and 26 September. A U.S. Army spokesman told Reuters that the identity of the perpetrator or perpetrators is unknown. Ba'qubah is located within the so-called Sunni Triangle that has been the site of numerous attacks by anticoalition elements since U.S. President Bush declared major hostilities over in Iraq on 1 May. Meanwhile, MENA reported on 25 September that an explosion occurred along the Kirkuk-Ceyhan oil pipeline some 30 kilometers south of Kirkuk in northern Iraq. That pipeline has been targeted numerous times, apparently by militants seeking to prevent the oil industry from functioning. KR
SOME ARAB PRESS REPORTING THAT U.S. AND FORMER IRAQI DICTATOR SEEKING DEAL
Unsubstantiated reports have circulated in the Arab press in recent days claiming that deposed Iraqi President Saddam Hussein has been negotiating a deal with U.S. officials whereby he would provide them with information regarding Iraq's weapons-of-mass-destruction (WMD) programs in exchange for safe haven for himself, his family, and some 20 of his colleagues. Baghdad's "Al-Manar" reported on 22 September that such an effort was revealed by Nabil al-Janabi, the secretary-general of the Royal Democratic Alliance, who purportedly said a third party is negotiating the deal but added that the United States will not allow Hussein to leave Iraq. The Riyadh-based daily "Al-Riyadh" reported on 25 September that the purported agreement would also give Saddam's associates in coalition custody five-year jail sentences for war crimes to be served in a "hotel-like prison." Hussein will "turn himself in during the coming days on the condition that his well-being is guaranteed, that he will be allowed to leave Iraq, and that safe haven will be granted to him and his family," al-Janabi reportedly said. Rumors of such a deal could contribute to instability inside Iraq and might hamper coalition efforts to convince Iraqi citizens that the Hussein regime will not return. KR