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Newsline - October 7, 2003


YUKOS HEAD SAYS HE WILL NOT FLEE RUSSIA...
Speaking to reporters in Moscow on 6 October, Yukos CEO Mikhail Khodorkovskii described the latest searches by prosecutors of offices connected to his company (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 6 October 2003) as "a campaign of harassment," polit.ru and gazeta.ru reported. He said that he will not leave Russia, even if faced with the threat of arrest. "I am available to the investigation, and I am not going to fight against my state," Khodorkovskii said. He said that the only thing he can do, as a company manager, is to attract the attention of human rights organizations to the situation. VY

...AS PUTIN SAYS YUKOS SHOULD 'CONSULT' WITH GOVERNMENT BEFORE SELLING SHARES
In an interview with "The New York Times" on 5 October, President Vladimir Putin said Yukos has every right to sell some of its shares to foreign investors, although he added that "it would be the right thing to do to have preliminary consultations with the Russian government about this matter." Asked about rumors that U.S. oil giant ExxonMobil is looking to purchase a stake in Yukos, Putin said, "We favor foreign-capital involvement in Russia's economy." VY

PUTIN CRITICIZES U.S. VISA RESTRICTIONS AGAINST RUSSIANS
In the same 5 October interview, President Putin sharply criticized U.S. regulations restricting the entrance into the United States of foreign citizens, including Russians. He said the consular officials at the U.S. Embassy in Moscow ask Russians "stupid questions" such as whether they are prostitutes or whether they are involved in terrorist organizations. "This is complete nonsense," Putin said, "which has nothing to do with the realistic tasks of combating terrorism." Putin said that U.S. security agencies should ask for information about Russian citizens from the Russian secret services. "Nobody can work better on our territory than our special services," Putin said. VY

DEPUTIES CALL FOR NEW INVESTIGATION INTO 1993 EVENTS
A group of State Duma deputies headed by Sergei Glazev (Communist) and Dmitrii Rogozin (People's Deputy) have introduced a bill calling for a new investigation into the October 1993 confrontation between former President Boris Yeltsin and the Supreme Soviet, Russian media reported on 6 October. The bill calls for the government to identify those responsible for igniting the confrontation and to evaluate the legality of actions taken by state officials. It also calls for 4 October to be made a state holiday called Constitutional Defender Day. Glazev told journalists he realizes that the Duma and the Constitutional Court closed the book on this matter in 1994 when they amnestied all those involved, but he added that a new hearing is necessary to determine how to pay compensation to victims of the events. First Deputy Duma Speaker Lyubov Sliska (Unity-Unified Russia) said the bill has been placed on the Duma's agenda and it will be heard on 10 October, together with another bill sponsored by Yabloko that places responsibility for the tragedy on both sides in the conflict. VY

INTERIOR MINISTER ACCUSES BANKERS OF LAUNDERING $258 MILLION
Boris Gryzlov on 6 October told journalists that the Interior Ministry has completed an investigation into seven employees of Sodbiznesbank and Eurotrust who are accused of laundering $258 million, lenta.ru reported. The cases have been handed over to the courts. Sodbiznesbank was created in 1991 to promote small businesses and boast about 35,000 clients. Gryzlov added that he has spoken to Financial Monitoring Committee Chairman Viktor Zubkov about changing the punishments for criminal money laundering to make any such operation severely punishable regardless of the amount of money involved. VY

RUSSIA, FRANCE AGREE TO BOOST AEROSPACE COOPERATION
Prime Minister Mikhail Kasyanov announced after meeting with French Prime Minister Jean-Pierre Raffarin in Moscow on 6 October that the two countries have agreed to use the French space center in French Guiana to launch Russian Soyuz spacecraft, Russian and Western media reported. The 300 million-euro ($352 million) project will be bankrolled by the European Union, with France allocating half that sum. The French space center is close to the Earth's equator, meaning that launches from there are much more economical than launches from the Russian cosmodrome at Baikonur, Kazakhstan, Kasyanov said. VY

ARMENIAN, RUSSIAN PRESIDENTS ATTEND FOUNDING CONGRESS OF ARMENIAN DIASPORA ORGANIZATION...
Presidents Robert Kocharian and Putin attended the founding congress in Moscow on 6 October of the World Armenian Organization (WAO), a body founded by Union of Armenians of Russia Chairman Ara Abrahamian, RFE/RL's Armenian Service and Russian media reported. In an interview published in "Gazeta" on 6 October, Abrahamian listed the new organization's goals as strengthening Armenian statehood, achieving international recognition of the 1915 genocide, resolving the Karabakh conflict, and creating an international holding company to promote trade and investment by emigre Armenians in the economies of Armenia and Russia. He predicted that Armenian entrepreneurs would provide start-up capital amounting to more than $100 million. LF

...AS ARMENIAN PRESIDENT SAYS ONLY ARMENIA SHOULD UNITE DIASPORA...
President Kocharian in his address to the congress made clear that he considers that it is the inappropriate for any organization to seek to unite the Armenian diaspora. Doing so, he said, is the prerogative of the Republic of Armenia. Vostanik Marukhian, who is a senior representative of the Armenian Revolutionary Federation-Dashnaktsutiun, one of the three parties represented in the Armenian coalition government, told the congress his party will cooperate with the WAO but will not become a member. LF

...AND PUTIN STRESSES RUSSIA'S COMMITMENT TO TRANSCAUCASUS PEACEKEEPING
President Putin said at the founding congress of the WAO on 6 October that "the transformation of the Caucasus region into an area of stability and economic cooperation is our most important common goal," RFE/RL's Armenian Service reported. "Russia is willing to continue acting as a peacekeeper in the settlement of conflicts in the Transcaucasus region together with its partners in the CIS," Putin said. A contingent of some 3,000 Russian peacekeeping troops has been deployed since July 1994 under the CIS aegis in the Abkhaz conflict zone, and a smaller Russian contingent serves in the unrecognized Republic of South Ossetia. LF

PUTIN SIGNS LOCAL-GOVERNMENT BILL INTO LAW
President Putin signed on 6 October a law on reforming local self-government, ITAR-TASS reported. The law will come into effect on 1 January 2006. Putin explained that the government envisages "a very long transition period in order to prepare implementation of the law." "We need to submit amendments to many federal laws to parliament in good time to bring them into line with the revamped model of local self-government and federal relations," Putin said. JAC

GOVERNMENT TO BOOST SPENDING JUST BEFORE ELECTION
Rivals of the pro-Kremlin Unified Russia party have charged that the party's victory in persuading the government to increase state spending by 68.9 billion rubles ($2.26 billion) for the remainder of 2003 is linked to the 7 December State Duma race, "Vedomosti" reported on 6 October. Sergei Mitrokhin, deputy chairman of Yabloko's Duma faction, told the daily, "The centrists are using their ties with the government before the election to win votes." Part of the increased spending will go to higher salaries for state-sector workers in the regions. Some of the additional funds will be used to benefit state arms producers and the agricultural sector. Analyst Igor Nikolaev of Finance and Bookkeeping Consultants told the daily that the increase in budget spending is inconsistent with the government's policies of reducing spending in areas other than debt reduction and building up a stabilization fund. However, Nikolaev concluded that the government drafted the 2003 budget with a safety margin and will have no problem handling the 68.9 billion ruble increase. JAC

CONSUMER-GOODS EXECUTIVES WANT TO CUT OUT MIDDLEMAN IN LOBBYING
A new wave of executives from the consumer-goods industry is seeking seats in the State Duma, "Vedomosti" reported on 6 October. According to the daily, candidates, such as Sedmoi Kontinent owner Vladimir Gruzdev, Perekrestka General Director Aleksandr Kosyanenko, Tri Kita and Grand owner Sergei Zuev, Yevroseti General Director Timur Artemev do not conceal their plans to represent the interests of their sector in the Duma. Some candidates, such as Zuev and Artemev, are running as independents in single-mandate districts, while the names of others, such as Gruzdev and Kosyanenko, have been included on party lists. Independent State Duma Deputy Vladimir Ryzhkov connects the new prominence of executives from this sector with the boom it has been experiencing lately. "Forty-four percent of all direct investment in 2002 was directed into the sphere of goods and services," Ryzhkov told the daily. "Where there is big capital, political ambitions appear." JAC

GOVERNMENT NIXES NOTION OF CANCELING MANDATORY AUTO INSURANCE
Finance Minister Aleksei Kudrin announced on 6 October that the government will not reconsider its call for mandatory automobile insurance, RIA-Novosti reported. Kudrin pledged that the government will prepare comments on all 14 draft bills on the issue submitted by Duma deputies. Legislation mandating auto insurance was passed earlier this year and has sparked a series of protests across the country (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 3 and 16 July 2003). Deputies from both the right and the left have proffered bills that would cancel the insurance requirement (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 15 August 2003). JAC

NEW ST. PETERSBURG HEAD TAKES IDEA OF 'NORTHERN CAPITAL' SERIOUSLY
St. Petersburg Governor-elect Valentina Matvienko told reporters in St. Petersburg on 5 October that she intends to lobby to transfer a number of unspecified federal-capital functions from Moscow to St. Petersburg, ITAR-TASS reported. She explained that she was not talking about insubstantial agencies, but about one of the central branches of power. She added that this idea could be implemented quickly. Last June, while serving as presidential envoy to the Northwest Federal District, Matvienko said a plan for transferring certain functions from Moscow to St. Petersburg would be ready by the end of the year (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 18 June 2003). JAC

COMPETITION BRISK IN SINGLE-MANDATE DISTRICTS
More than 2,700 candidates have already been registered as candidates to run in Russia's more than 200 single-mandate Duma districts, according to Central Election Commission (TsIK) Chairman Aleksandr Veshnyakov, regions.ru reported on 6 October. A district in Krasnoyarsk Krai already has 32 registered candidates, while all districts nationally have at least four candidates. Former Krasnoyarsk Krai Aluminum head and convicted felon Anatolii Bykov is running for a Duma seat after being compelled to resign from the krai legislature following his conviction for conspiracy to commit murder last September. JAC

AN OLIGARCH BY ANY OTHER NAME
A Ryazan Oblast court has begun hearing a lawsuit filed by businessman Sergei Kuznetsov against "Novaya gazeta" journalist Mikhail Komarov, gazeta.ru reported on 6 October. Kuznetsov objects to Komarov's use of the word "oligarch" in an article that explored Kuznetsov's various sources of income. Kuznetsov, the proprietor of several local enterprises, argues that the label "oligarch" blackened his reputation. JAC

U.S. CRITICIZES CHECHEN PRESIDENTIAL ELECTION
U.S. State Department spokesman Richard Boucher said in Washington on 6 October that the presidential election in Chechnya the previous day, and the attendant election campaign, "fell short of the potential for producing a positive democratic outcome" and "did not meet international standards for fair and free elections," Reuters reported. Boucher said that Washington is "disappointed by this missed opportunity," adding that "it is unclear whether the election will have sufficient credibility and legitimacy in the eyes of the people of Chechnya to advance the settlement process." LF

MILITARY COURT UPHOLDS BUDANOV VERDICT
The military collegium of the Russian Supreme Court rejected on 6 October an appeal from a lawyer for former Russian Army Colonel Yurii Budanov against the 10-year prison sentence handed down to Budanov in July for the murder in March 2000 of a young Chechen woman, Interfax reported (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 28 July 2003). Lawyer Pavel Astakhov said he will now appeal the sentence with the chairman of the Russian Supreme Court. LF

DUMA DISINCLINED TO RENEW CHECHEN AMNESTY
State Duma Speaker Gennadii Seleznev told Interfax on 6 October following a meeting of the Duma Council that the possibility of renewing the amnesty for participants in the Chechen conflict is not on the Duma's agenda, as there are no cogent written arguments in favor of doing so. Duma Legislation Committee Chairman Pavel Krasheninnikov similarly told ITAR-TASS the same day that there are no pressing reasons for renewing the amnesty, which expired on 1 September. In late August, then-Chechen administration head Akhmed-hadji Kadyrov wrote to Seleznev asking for the amnesty to be extended and predicting that more Chechen militants would avail themselves of the opportunity to surrender (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 2 September 2003). As of early September, more Russian military personnel had been absolved of criminal responsibility under the amnesty than Chechen fighters (see "RFE/RL Caucasus Report," 19 September 2003). LF

EIGHT ARRESTED ON SUSPICION OF MURDER OF MINISTER IN DAGHESTAN
Eight of 14 people suspected of the murder six weeks ago of Daghestan's Nationalities Minister Magomedsalikh Gusaev have been arrested in Daghestan, Russian Interior Ministry official Vladimir Gordienko said in an interview published in the 6 October issue of "Moskovskii komsomolets" and summarized by Interfax the same day. Gusaev was killed by a car bomb in Makhachkala on 27 August (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 28 August 2003). LF

ARMENIAN OPPOSITION CRITICIZES CONSTITUTIONAL COURT CHAIRMAN
Opposition party leaders took issue on 6 October with Constitutional Court Chairman Gagik Harutiunian's 3 October assertion that the "referendum of confidence" in President Robert Kocharian that the court proposed in April is no longer needed, RFE/RL's Yerevan bureau reported (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 6 October 2003). The court made that proposal in response to an opposition appeal to invalidate the outcome of the February-March presidential ballot on the grounds of widespread falsification. Shavarsh Kocharian (no relation to the president), who is chairman of the National Democratic Party and one of the leaders of the opposition Artarutiun bloc, stressed that Harutiunian has no right to disregard the court's decision. National Unity Party Chairman Artashes Geghamian said Harutiunian is "blind" to the wishes of the electorate, while the independent daily "Aravot" on 4 October accused Harutiunian of political opportunism. LF

CHAIRMAN ENVISAGES COMEBACK BY FORMER ARMENIAN RULING PARTY
Speaking at a press conference in Yerevan on 4 October, Armenian Pan-National Movement (HHSh) Chairman Ararat Zurabian conceded that the former ruling party, which is not represented in the current parliament, is too weak to influence political developments in Armenia at present, but added that he believes it could be in a position to do so within a year or so, RFE/RL's Yerevan bureau reported. Zurabian also said he does not exclude a return to active politics by former President Levon Ter-Petrossian, especially if President Kocharian comes under pressure from international mediators to make major concessions to resolve the Nagorno-Karabakh conflict. Zurabian revealed that unnamed leading HHSh members opposed Ter-Petrossian's nomination of Kocharian as Armenian prime minister in March 1997, adding that Ter-Petrossian now regrets having done so. Kocharian, together with then-Defense Minister Vazgen Sargsian, was instrumental in forcing Ter-Petrossian's resignation in February 1998. LF

RUMORS INTENSIFY OF IMPENDING ARRESTS IN AZERBAIJAN...
Turan reported on 6 October without disclosing its sources that approximately one week before the 15 October presidential ballot the Azerbaijani authorities plan to arrest on trumped-up charges "numerous" opposition party activists who plan to monitor the voting and register possible instances of falsification. Those activists will be held in custody until after the ballot, the agency predicted. LF

...AND OF MASS FALSIFICATION
Opposition Musavat Party Chairman and presidential candidate Isa Gambar told journalists in Baku on 6 October that the authorities plan to rig the 15 October presidential election, zerkalo.az reported on 7 October. "We do not suspect, we know that the authorities are preparing to falsify [the ballot]," Gambar said. "These are anti-constitutional intentions. These are criminal acts." Meanwhile state-sector employees -- including those in the transport, education, energy, medical and other sectors -- have reportedly been informed that on the eve of the election they will be given ballot papers marked in favor of Prime Minister Ilham Aliev. Those personnel were instructed that they should put those ballot papers in the ballot box and return to their employer the blank ballot paper given to them at their local polling station, Turan reported on 7 October. LF

U.S. DELEGATION ASSESSES GEORGIAN ELECTION CAMPAIGN
A U.S. delegation headed by Senator John McCain (Republican, Arizona) met in Tbilisi on 5-6 October with Georgian President Eduard Shevardnadze, Central Election Commission Chairwoman Nana Devdariani, and representatives of several of the opposition parties and blocs contesting the 2 November parliamentary elections, Caucasus Press reported. McCain raised with Devdariani complaints by opposition politicians, including an allegation by the opposition New Rightists that 600,000 fictitious names have been included in voter lists. McCain reportedly said Washington wants the ballot to be free and fair, but declined to offer specific recommendations on how to ensure this. Nor would he comment on how the international community might react to overt efforts to falsify the outcome of the ballot. LF

GEORGIAN PRESIDENT REAFFIRMS COMMITMENT TO MESKHETIAN REPATRIATION
Responding to recent comments by Russian President Vladimir Putin during a visit to Krasnodar Krai (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 6 October 2003), President Shevardnadze explained at a press briefing on 6 October that due to the unresolved Abkhaz and South Ossetian conflicts, Georgia cannot at present accept those Meskhetians who want to resettle in Georgia from Russia, Caucasus Press and Interfax reported. But he added that Tbilisi will try to resolve the problem gradually, noting at the same time that many Meskhetians do not wish to settle in Georgia because of the country's social and economic problems. When Georgia became a full member of the Council of Europe in 1999, it undertook to allow all Meskhetians who wish to do so to settle in Georgia by 2010. LF

ABKHAZ FOREIGN MINISTRY CONDEMNS GEORGIAN 'TERRORIST' ACTS
In a 6 October statement posted on abkhaziya.info and summarized by Caucasus Press the following day, the Abkhaz Foreign Ministry appeals to the UN to condemn an incident the previous day in which unidentified armed men opened fire near the Abkhaz village of Saberio on a car in which two Abkhaz border guards and two civilians were traveling, killing three of them. Abkhaz police pursued the attackers, who retreated toward the internal border between Abkhazia and the rest of Georgia, and killed two of them. The statement terms that attack the result of the Georgian authorities' deliberate disregard of the most recent UN Security Council resolution on Abkhazia, which called yet again on Tbilisi to curtail the activities of "illegal armed groups" in the Abkhaz conflict zone. Also on 6 October, Dato Shengelia, who heads the Forest Brothers Georgian guerrilla group, denied that Georgian guerrillas were responsible for the Saberio attack, Caucasus Press reported. Meanwhile a spokesman for the Tbilisi-based Abkhaz government in exile said on 6 October that the two men killed by Abkhaz were "civilians who were massacred by Abkhaz gunmen" in the village of Gagida on 4 October, Caucasus Pres reported. LF

KAZAKHSTAN LAUNCHES PROJECT TO PROTECT INTELLECTUAL-PROPERTY RIGHTS
Kazakh Justice Ministry Committee on Intellectual Property Rights Chairman Nurgaisha Sakhipova announced on 6 October the launching of a national campaign on the protection of intellectual-property rights, Interfax-Kazakhstan and khabar.kz reported. Sakhipova said this was the first large-scale effort in Kazakhstan to explain the concept of intellectual-property rights. According to khabar.kz, one of the largest problems in this sphere in Kazakhstan is the pirating of audio and video materials. For the last two years, Kazakhstan has been on a U.S. watch list of countries where intellectual piracy is a problem, causing officials to fear Kazakhstan could lose its most-favored-nation trade status with the United States. BB

KAZAKHSTAN BUILDING MILITARY BASE ON CASPIAN WITH U.S. HELP
Kazakhstan is building its first military base on the Caspian Sea at the port of Atyrau with financial support from the U.S. Defense Department, the daily "Ekspress-K" reported on 7 October. The first base buildings are scheduled to be completed in November or December. An official from the Military Cooperation Department of the U.S. Embassy in Almaty told journalists that the United States is interested in the base because "the oil riches of the Caspian should be under reliable protection." "Ekspress-K" noted that there are numerous oil-extraction projects with U.S. participation in the Atyrau area. BB

FRENCH PRESIDENT PROMISES MORE INVESTMENT IN KYRGYZ ECONOMY
During a meeting with Kyrgyz President Askar Akaev in Paris on 6 October, French President Jacques Chirac promised to boost French investment in the Kyrgyz economy, kabar.kg reported on 7 October. In 1999-2002, direct French investment in Kyrgyzstan totaled just $410,000, according to the report. Chirac also promised closer cooperation with Kyrgyzstan on border protection and the fight against drug trafficking. He thanked Akaev for assisting the French service personnel who were stationed in Kyrgyzstan in 2002 as part of the international antiterrorism coalition force supporting operations in Afghanistan. The report of the official news agency did not mention whether Chirac raised human rights issues with Akaev, as requested recently by Human Rights Watch (HRW) (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 30 September 2003) and the Kyrgyz opposition party Ar-Namys and three Kyrgyz NGOs in an open letter to Chirac. BB

KYRGYZ OPPOSITION COALITION REGISTERED AFTER THREE REFUSALS
HRW has sent a letter to Kyrgyz President Askar Akaev lauding the Kyrgyz government's decision to allow the re-registration of the opposition Coalition for Democracy and Civil Society, the organization announced on 7 October. HRW noted that the coalition was re-registered on the eve of the annual OSCE Human Dimension Implementation Meeting and after an international outcry. The coalition, one of the harshest critics of the Kyrgyz government, had its re-registration application rejected three times by the Justice Ministry on the grounds that the group's charter violates a constitutional prohibition on foreign political parties and NGOs, possibly because the coalition received some foreign grants. BB

CRIMINAL CHARGES FILED AGAINST TAJIK ISLAMIC PARTY OFFICIAL
Tajikistan's Military Prosecutor's Office has decided to charge Deputy Chairman of the Islamic Renaissance Party of Tajikistan (IRPT) Shamsiddin Shamsiddinov with treason, organizing a criminal association, illegally crossing the national border, and polygamy, Deutsche Welle reported on 6 October. Shamsiddinov was arrested in northern Tajikistan in early June. At that time, some IPT officials claimed he had been abducted from his home (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 4 June 2003). Chief Military Prosecutor Sharif Kurbanov alleged that Shamsiddinov's group committed more than 70 crimes, including murder, since 1993, and asserted that Shamsiddinov's political affiliation has nothing to do with the investigation. IRPT Chairman Said Abdullo Nuri told journalists after Kurbanov's announcement that Shamsiddinov is a victim of mistaken identity. BB

TURKMEN PRESIDENT MISSES EARTHQUAKE COMMEMORATION
Saparmurat Niyazov was unable to take part in the annual commemoration of the 1948 Ashgabat earthquake on 6 October because of a cold and chronic leg-joint problems, according to the Turkmen State News Agency and turkmenistan.ru. The commemoration of the earthquake, which killed an estimated 100,000 people in the Ashgabat area including Niyazov's mother and two brothers, is one of the most important annual events in Turkmenistan, featuring the laying of flowers at the central Ashgabat monument to the victims and ceremonies in Niyazov's home village of Kipchak, near the capital. According to the state news agency, doctors say Niyazov's health problems should be cleared up in three to four days. BB

NEW POLITICAL PARTY BEING CREATED IN UZBEKISTAN
A Liberal Democratic Party is being organized in Uzbekistan, Interfax reported on 6 October, quoting the new party's organizational committee, which is preparing the documents and founding congress required to register as a political party in Uzbekistan. The party expects to represent primarily entrepreneurs and small and medium-sized businesses, and intends to promote changes in the country's legislation to encourage business development. BB

BELARUS LAUNCHES LARGE-SCALE MILITARY EXERCISE
A large-scale weeklong military exercise, codenamed Clear Skies 2003, started in Belarus on 6 October, Belapan reported. The exercise will involve some 8,600 troops primarily from Belarus's Air Defense Forces, 100 armored vehicles, 46 missile launchers, 53 antiaircraft systems, 102 planes and helicopters, and 2,000 other military vehicles. Russian troops, including 19 aircraft, will take part in the maneuvers. JM

KYIV SAYS NO DECISION YET ON PUMPING OIL THROUGH ODESA-BRODY PIPELINE
Fuel and Energy Minister Serhiy Yermilov on 6 September denied media reports claiming that the Ukrtransnafta supervisory board decided on 3 October to fill the Odesa-Brody pipeline with Russian oil and pump it in the direction opposite to the pipeline's original design, UNIAN reported. According to Yermilov, the issue of filling the Odesa-Brody with oil is of strategic importance to the country; thus, a relevant decision will be made by the government itself. Yermilov said the president postponed until 15 January a decision on whether to use the Odesa-Brody in accordance with its original design, for pumping Caspian oil to Europe, or to fill it with Russian oil and pump it to Odesa (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 9 September 2003 and "RFE/RL Poland, Belarus, and Ukraine Report," 29 July 2003). JM

BALTIC PRESIDENTS CALL FOR GREATER REGIONAL INTEGRATION INTO EU ECONOMIC SPACE
More than 400 top-level officials, businessmen, politicians, journalists, and scholars from states in the Baltic Sea region are participating in Riga in the fifth Baltic Development Forum, which takes place from 5-7 October, LETA reported. Presidents Arnold Ruutel (Estonia), Vaira Vike-Freiberga (Latvia), and Rolandas Paksas (Lithuania) attended the forum and issued a joint statement on 6 October. It called for the implementation of modern infrastructure projects under the Trans-European Network in the Baltic Sea region and the joining of electricity grids in the region with the common European electricity market. It also stressed the need "to pay a special attention to maritime safety and environmental protection to minimize the potential risks of contamination by oil, chemicals, and dangerous substances in the Baltic Sea area." SG

ESTONIAN PREMIER APPEALS TO EBRD FOR FURTHER ASSISTANCE
In Tallinn on 6 October, Juhan Parts told a visiting 10-member delegation of the European Bank for Reconstruction and Development (EBRD) that there are still many projects in Estonia in which the EBRD could participate, BNS reported. Noting that 91 percent of the 240 million euros ($281.4 million) the EBRD invested in the country through 2002 were for the private sector, he called for greater participation in projects jointly financed by the public and private sectors in areas requiring huge investments, such as technological innovation and infrastructure. The delegation mentioned that Estonia will be eligible for considerable aid from the EU once it becomes a member in May 2004 and that the EBRD could lend its experience in preparing and carrying out large-scale EU projects cofinanced by Estonia. SG

LATVIAN FOREIGN MINISTER VISITS KUWAIT, IRAQ
Sandra Kalniete began a visit to Iraq on 6 October accompanied by Ambassador at Large Peteris Karlis Elferts, Foreign Ministry Deputy State Secretary Ivars Pundurs, and Latvian National Guard commander Juris Kiukucans, LETA reported. The Latvian contingent stopped on 5 October in Kuwait, where Kalniete met with Kuwaiti Undersecretary for Foreign Affairs Khaled al-Jarallah to discuss Latvian-Kuwaiti relations, the situation in the region, and the postwar reconstruction of Iraq. The aims of the visit to Iraq are to meet with the 142 Latvian troops serving there, to become acquainted with their living and field conditions, and to clarify the areas in which Latvia could provide technical assistance to Iraq. The delegation is scheduled to meet with representatives of the Coalition Provisional Authority in Iraq, the Council for International Coordination in Iraq, and UN and Iraqi officials. SG

AMBER SEA 2003 MILITARY EXERCISE BEGINS IN LITHUANIA
More than 500 servicemen from Estonia, Latvia, and Lithuania participated on 6 October in the launching of the weeklong military exercise Amber Sea 2003, ELTA reported. The exercise will take place in Lithuania's territorial waters in the Baltic Sea, the Kairiai training grounds, and a military airport. It will include mine-sweeping, search-and-rescue, and Baltic Sea and coastal-defense operations, with a particular focus on coordinating operating procedures to NATO standards and interoperability with NATO forces in the event of war. The three Baltic states have held Amber Sea exercises each year since 1995, but it is not clear if they will continue after the states officially join NATO in May 2004. SG

POLISH PREMIER SAYS REFERENDUM ON EU CONSTITUTION NOT EXCLUDED
Prime Minister Leszek Miller said on Polish Radio on 6 October that he does not rule out a referendum on the adoption of an EU constitution if Warsaw's demands to change the proposed constitutional treaty are ignored (see "RFE/RL Poland, Belarus, and Ukraine Report," 23 September 2003). "If it turns out that what we were talking about in the EU referendum campaign -- urging the Poles to vote in the accession referendum [on 7-8 June] -- that what we were saying then would be different from the final decisions of the intergovernmental conference [in Rome], then perhaps it would be a good idea to ask the Poles for their opinion because we would have to deal with a totally new reality," Miller said. JM

POLISH DEPUTY INTERIOR MINISTER RESIGNS OVER LEAK ALLEGATIONS
Prime Minister Miller on 6 October accepted the resignation of Deputy Interior Minister Zbigniew Sobotka, Polish media reported. Sobotka tendered his resignation and gave up his parliamentary immunity on 3 October. Sobotka is suspected by investigators of warning local government officials in Starachowice of a pending police raid on local organized-crime structures (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 7 and 11 July 2003). Prosecutors in Kielce, central Poland, want to bring three charges against Sobotka: obstructing the police investigation, revealing state secrets, and putting police officers' health and lives at risk. Sobotka denies involvement in the Starachowice leak. JM

SELF-EXILED CZECH BUSINESSMAN APPEALS TO STRASBOURG COURT
Viktor Kozeny appealed on 6 October to the Strasbourg-based European Court of Human Rights, asking that the court halt his prosecution in the Czech Republic, CTK reported. Kozeny is fighting recent efforts by Czech officials to secure his extradition to that country for trial on charges that he cheated investors of some $400 million and stripped the assets of an industrial holding. Kozeny, former head of Harvard investment funds in the Czech Republic, told CTK that "a formal application was delivered to Strasbourg, along with references to the violation of concrete clauses and protocols of the convention on human rights protection." Kozeny said the charges against him are "unsubstantiated" and that he has suffered from "political persecution." Kozeny, a Czech who now has Irish citizenship, currently resides in the Bahamas. According to CTK, some lawyers have said that the European court will not take up Kozeny's case unless he has exhausted all legal possibilities in the Czech Republic. Kozeny is also asking the Strasbourg court for compensation for damages he claims he has incurred. On 2 October, Manhattan District Attorney Robert Morgenthau charged Kozeny with stealing $182 million from 15 investment funds run by Omega Advisors Inc., a New York-based hedge-fund adviser, Reuters reported. LA

SLOVAKIA MAKES PROGRESS IN ATTRACTING EUROFUNDS
European Regional Policy Commissioner Michel Barnier said on 6 October that Slovakia has made progress in attracting Eurofunds in the past few months, after it received criticism earlier in the year, TASR reported. In July, Slovakia received a lukewarm assessment from the European Commission of its preparedness to utilize millions of euros that will be forthcoming from EU structural funds (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 16 July 2003). Slovakia was the only country to be warned that "enormous effort should be taken" to prepare for receiving European aid in time for accession to the European Union in May 2004. After meeting with Slovak integration official Pal Csaky, Barnier said the country is now on the right track and that "Slovakia is well prepared [for entry into the EU]." But Barnier added that the work has not been completed yet and problems still remain with public procurement and concerning cooperation among ministries, TASR reported. Csaky admitted that problems still remain and said that Slovakia is taking appropriate measures, including training officials and utilizing the skills of EU experts. LA

SLOVAKIA'S ANO CHOOSES PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE
Alliance of a New Citizen (ANO) Chairman Pavol Rusko said on 6 October that the party has chosen Bratislava regional Governor Lubo Roman as its candidate for the Slovak presidency, TASR reported. ANO is part of the ruling coalition. Roman's nomination is the seventh so far for the election, which is to be held in May 2004. Candidatures already proposed are Foreign Minister Eduard Kukan (Slovak Democratic and Christian Union), Frantisek Miklosko (Christian Democratic Movement), and Mikulas Horvath, who has been nominated by Romany parties and NGOs from Kosice, eastern Slovakia, TASR reported. The other three proposed candidates are all running on independent tickets. Other possibilities who have yet to declare their candidacies are former Prime Minister Vladimir Meciar, incumbent President Rudolf Schuster, and former Slovak Ambassador to the United States Martin Butora. Recent polls have indicated that Kukan has the strongest support among the public, according to TASR. LA

HUNGARY BOOSTS DEFENSE BUDGET TO MEET PLEDGE TO NATO
The 351 billion forints ($1.6 billion) allocated to the Defense Ministry in Hungary's 2004 draft budget represents a 11.6 percent increase that will cover ongoing military reforms, ministry deputy spokesman Istvan Bocskai told "Magyar Hirlap" on 6 October. Bocskai said that at last year's NATO summit in Prague, Hungary undertook to increase its defense spending by .05 percent annually. In line with that pledge, 1.71 percent of the country's GDP will be spent on defense next year, up from 1.66 percent this year and 1.61 percent in 2002. The funds will also cover 12 billion forints needed to pay next year's installment of Hungary's lease of Gripen fighter jets. MSZ

HUNGARY'S NEW U.S. AMBASSADOR TAKES OFFICE
George Walker on 6 October told Hungarian President Ferenc Madl that the United States intends to foster relations with Hungary "by rising above parties and politics," Hungarian media reported. The new ambassador, a relative of President George W. Bush, said as he presented his credentials that he has heard "very positive opinions" about Hungarian Prime Minister Peter Medgyessy, "Nepszabadsag" reported. Walker also said he hopes to meet with opposition leader Viktor Orban, as Orban was a "talented leader" in the past. He noted that his top priority as ambassador is to boost U.S. investment in Hungary, according to the daily. MSZ

HUNGARIAN PARLIAMENT APPROVES MEDICAL UNIT FOR AFGHANISTAN
With 335 votes in favor, parliament on 6 October approved the deployment to Afghanistan of a medical contingent consisting of up to 50 soldiers, MTI news agency reported. The vote came two weeks after parliament failed to approve a fast-track debate on allowing two Hungarian soldiers to be transferred to Afghanistan from Portugal together with the NATO unit in which they serve (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 23 September 2003). Defense Minister Ferenc Juhasz explained that the initial NATO request affected only two Hungarian soldiers, but that the alliance has since modified its plans and intends to deploy more soldiers in the region. The resolution required the support of at least 258 deputies, a two-thirds majority, to pass. MSZ

WAR CRIMES PROSECUTOR APPEALS TO CROATIAN GENERAL
Carla Del Ponte, who is chief prosecutor at the Hague-based war crimes tribunal, said in Zagreb on 6 October that Croatia has met its obligations to that body, RFE/RL's South Slavic and Albanian Languages Service reported. She stressed, however, that a "big problem" exists as long as indicted war criminal and former General Ante Gotovina remains at large. Del Ponte again appealed to him to give himself up for the sake of his country and its standing before the tribunal and the UN. She has said repeatedly that he is in Croatia, an assertion that the Croatian government denies (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 12 June and 30 September 2003). He is wanted for alleged war crimes in connection with the Croatian military's 1995 offensive against Serb rebels. Del Ponte is scheduled to present a report to the UN Security Council on 9 October, but she declined to say whether her recommendations on Croatia will be favorable. Many Croats fear that an unfavorable rating could effectively block Croatia's hopes of joining the EU by 2007. Gotovina is the third-most-wanted war criminal after former Bosnian Serb leader Radovan Karadzic and General Ratko Mladic. PM

U.S. CALLS ON BOSNIA TO ARREST WAR CRIMINALS
U.S. Ambassador at Large for War Crime Issues Pierre-Richard Prosper said in Sarajevo on 6 October that the Bosnian authorities must step up efforts to bring indicted war criminals to justice, Deutsche Welle's Bosnian Service reported. He noted that failure to catch numerous indicted war criminals is hindering Bosnia's chances for Euro-Atlantic integration. PM

HIGH REPRESENTATIVE SAYS BOSNIANS STILL 'MISTRUST' EU
High Representative Paddy Ashdown told Munich's "Sueddeutsche Zeitung" of 7 October that the EU will need to include a U.S. military presence in Bosnia if the EU takes over the peacekeeping mandate there from NATO (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 6 October 2003). He argued that many Bosnians still do not trust the EU, which they feel let them down during the 1991-95 conflict, adding that it was the United States that ended the war. Ashdown said the EU should learn from Washington in making its aid money contingent on the recipient meeting certain conditions. He noted that all political groups in Bosnia want EU membership and urged Brussels to keep the "door open" to the countries of Eastern Europe. Ashdown said he has advised Bosnians to point out what they can bring to the EU and not just think about what benefits membership will mean for them. PM

SERBIA AND MONTENEGRO SIGN REFUGEE PACT WITH BOSNIA
In Belgrade on 6 October, Serbia and Montenegro's Minister for Human Rights and Minority Rights Rasim Ljajic and Bosnian Minister for Human Rights and Refugees Mirsad Kebo signed an agreement on refugee return, RFE/RL's South Slavic and Albanian Languages Service reported. The pact obliges both sides to "provide security and protection for returnees in keeping with the highest international human rights standards." PM

U.S. SAYS KOSOVA-SERBIA TALKS SHOULD BE TAKEN SERIOUSLY
U.S. State Department spokesman Richard Boucher said in Vienna on 6 October that "the United States welcomes the [recent] announcement that direct dialogue between authorities in Belgrade and Prishtina will open in Vienna on 14 October. The initiation of this dialogue is an important step forward on the path mapped out by the United Nations Security Council in Resolution 1244." Boucher noted: "This dialogue will include discussion of practical topics of mutual interest, including energy and transportation issues, as well as missing persons and return of displaced persons. The United States considers this dialogue extremely important, and hopes that both the government of Serbia and Montenegro and leaders of the Kosovo Provisional Institutions of Self-Government will approach them with serious intent and send appropriate high-level political representation." He also noted that "the U.S. delegation will be led by Deputy Assistant Secretary of State for European and Eurasian Affairs Lawrence Rossin, and will also include Ambassador to Serbia and Montenegro William Montgomery and the chief of the U.S. Office in Prishtina, Marcie Ries" (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 1 and 3 October 2003, and "RFE/RL Balkan Report," 13 and 20 June, 1 August, and 26 September 2003). PM

VETERAN KOSOVAR LEADER SEES LITTLE CHANGE IN SERBIA IN THREE YEARS
Azem Vllasi, who was a senior communist-era Kosovar political leader, told Deutsche Welle's Albanian Service on 6 October that there is little difference between the present Serbian leadership and that of former Yugoslav President Slobodan Milosevic where attitudes toward Kosova are concerned. Vllasi believes that the main achievement in the three years since Milosevic's ouster is that the present Serbian leadership has renounced war as an instrument of policy. Vllasi said the Kosovars are willing to discuss almost all issues with Belgrade, adding, however, that independence is non-negotiable. PM

HIGH-SCHOOL STUDENTS CLASH IN MACEDONIA
One ethnic Macedonian and three ethnic Albanian teenagers were injured in Skopje during protests on 6 October regarding the government's plans to assign some groups of ethnic Albanian students to schools formerly attended primarily by ethnic Macedonians, dpa reported (see "RFE/RL Balkan Report," 26 September 2003). PM

MACEDONIAN JOURNALISTS WANT LIBEL DECRIMINALIZED
The Association of Journalists of Macedonia (ZNM) has protested draft changes to the Penal Code raising fines for libel, "Dnevnik" and "Utrinski vesnik" reported on 7 October. Instead, the ZNM wants the government to follow the Council of Europe's recommendation and remove libel and slander from the Penal Code altogether. In some postcommunist countries -- including Croatia, Serbia, Albania, and Macedonia -- critical journalists are often sued for libel and slander and sentenced to high fines, which the Council of Europe has identified as a major obstacle to the freedom of the media. UB

ETHNIC HUNGARIAN ROMANIANS COMMEMORATE MARTYRS OF 1848 REVOLUTION
Representatives of Romania's ethnic Hungarian community gathered in Arad on 5 and 6 October to commemorate 13 Hungarian generals executed by the Hapsburg army in 1848, Romanian media reported. Hungarian Democratic Federation of Romania (UDMR) Chairman Bela Marko on 6 October said the Romanian-Hungarian reconciliation process suffered a serious blow resulting from the Romanian authorities' decision to block the reerection of the Liberty Monument (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 22 August and 2, 9, and 10 September 2003). Marko said he fails to understand why the ruling Social Democratic Party violated an earlier bilateral agreement on reerecting the monument. Representatives of Bishop Laszlo Tokes's anti-UDMR initiative commemorated the event on 5 October. ZsM

ROMANIAN TRADE UNIONS DROP LARGE-SCALE PROTEST PLANS
After their 6 October meeting Marian Sarbu, a minister in charge of overseeing social relations, representatives of Romania's three largest trade unions announced that they have dropped plans for a large-scale protest on 15 October, Mediafax reported. The talks primarily centered on an eventual agreement between the government and the trade unions. While government representatives spoke after the meeting of "success" in resolving a few contentious issues, trade-union leaders said they will go ahead with plans to stage a five-minute warning strike on 8 October. One of the main bones of contention is the minimum monthly salary, which the government plans to increase to 2.8 million lei (some $85), while unions are demanding it be set at 100 euros ($115). ZsM

HALLIBURTON-LED CONSORTIUM PROTESTS ELIMINATION FROM ROMANIAN OIL-COMPANY TENDER
Representatives of the U.S.-based company Halliburton have sent a letter to Economy and Trade Minister Ioan-Dan Popescu protesting the recent decision to eliminate the consortium it led from the bidding for Romania's state-owned Petrom oil company, Romanian media reported on 6 October. The Economy Ministry on 3 October released its shortlist of 11 companies deemed suitable for the next phase of the tender process, and Halliburton officials said they were "shocked and surprised" to find that the consortium it led was not on the list. The company is arguing that the consortium, which also included Britain's Regal Petroleum and the Romanian company Tender, met all requirements. Bidders are required to have annual revenues of at least $1.3 billion and strong expertise in the oil sector. Fifteen companies or groups initially expressed their formal interest in participating in the tender. No explanations were given as to why the four companies or consortiums were disqualified. Tender owner Ovidiu Tender hinted that the consortium might turn to the courts to contest the decision. ZsM

REGIONAL TRADE-FACILITATION PROJECT LAUNCHED IN CHISINAU
U.S. Embassy, World Bank, and Moldovan government officials on 6 October launched a project that is intended to facilitate trade and transport in Southeast Europe, Flux reported. The project aims at setting up a unified customs system throughout the region and is part EU-led Southeastern Europe Stability Pact. The project is worth some $10 million and is jointly financed by the World Bank, the U.S. government, and the Moldovan government. Meanwhile, the U.S. Embassy in Chisinau on 6 October launched a project to develop rural tourism in Moldova. ZsM

BULGARIAN PREMIER SAYS CONTROVERSIAL SECURITY ADVISER'S NOMINATION IS 'PRIVATE'
Prime Minister Simeon Saxecoburggotski on 6 October said the nomination of advisers is "something private," "Sega" reported. Saxecoburggotski's remarks came in response to the British Embassy's recent demarche protesting the nomination of former National Security Service head Brigo Asparuhov as his adviser on security and secret service issues (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 30 September and 6 October 2003). The prime minister confirmed that Italy and the Netherlands also supported the demarche, but added: "Look, there were no notes, but verbal statements, which is normal.... But we are [still waiting] for evidence [against Asparuhov]." The United States, Britain, and NATO fear that Asparuhov, who was a member of the communist-era secret service, could gain access to classified information. UB

ROMANY HEALTH CENTER OPENED IN SOFIA
Minister without portfolio Filiz Hyusmenova inaugurated a health and social-education center in Sofia's Romany neighborhood Fakulteta on 6 October, "Sega" reported. The center, founded with financial support from the Netherlands and the United States, will provide Roma with medical treatment and advise about venereal diseases, family planning, and children's education. It is the first of 10 such centers to be established throughout the country. UB

IRAN'S REFORMISTS PLAN THEIR ELECTION STRATEGY
Iran's reformist parties, collectively known as the 2nd of Khordad Front after the date of President Mohammad Khatami's May 1997 election, are trying to decide on an effective approach to the February 2004 parliamentary election. The obstacles confronting them are considerable, including legislative impasses and intrafactional divisions.

Deputy parliament speaker Mohammad Reza Khatami, who is also the secretary-general of the Islamic Iran Participation Party (IIPP), said on 24 September that the party's decision on participating in the upcoming parliamentary election will be announced at its congress on 17 October, IRNA reported. The IIPP is Iran's leading reformist political organization, and Khatami hinted that it would 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.

The deputy speaker sounded a pessimistic note when he said the reasons for low turnout in the February 2003 municipal-council elections have not changed, the Iranian Students News Agency (ISNA) reported on 25 September, and he predicted that participation would decrease in February 2004. "The only difference is that the kind of behavior that the people showed during the council elections in larger cities is probably spreading to the average or even the smaller towns," he said.

President Khatami met with reformist parliamentarians and his allies in the government in August, and at that time he sought to reassure them about the continuity of the reform movement (see "RFE/RL Iran Report," 11 August 2003). The doubts that surfaced in the weeks and months before that meeting have resurfaced, and President Khatami met with the 2nd of Khordad groups again on 2 October.

Second of Khordad groups went into the meeting with a sense of despair about the upcoming election, the 4 October "Sharq" newspaper reported. Some of the more radical reformist groups, such as the Mujahedin of the Islamic Revolution Organization, even advocated a boycott of the election. Yet President Khatami and speaker of parliament Mehdi Karrubi emphasized the importance of public participation, according to "Sharq." The performance of both the legislative and executive branches was criticized, and the need for their coordination and unity was stressed. Parliamentarian Jamileh Kadivar was at the meeting, and she said that the 2nd of Khordad groups expressed concern about restrictions on public choice in the election. There will be future meetings, according to "Sharq."

An anonymous member of parliament said before the meeting that the "twin bills" would be discussed, too, "Entekhab" reported on 1 October, although the later report did not confirm this specific matter. The twin bills were introduced by the executive branch more than a year ago. If implemented, one of the bills would have a direct impact on the election because it aims to reduce or eliminate the Guardians Council's role in vetting candidates for elected office. Although the legislature has approved the twin bills, they have been rejected several times by the Guardians Council, which must approve all legislation on religious and constitutional grounds.

President Khatami's confident tone in discussions of the twin bills has faded lately. He acknowledged in a 30 September speech to provincial governors, "We must assume that the new election law will not be ratified or will be rejected," state television reported on 1 October. "What we have now is the current election law," he said.

Vice President for Legal and Parliamentary Affairs Hojatoleslam Mohammad Abtahi, who regularly deals with legislative issues, also sounds far from confident about their fate. "With regard to the [twin bills], on several occasions I have said that there is no hope for their ratification," "Iran Daily" quoted him as saying on 28 September. "I believe the trend is not positive."

As the twin bills remain subject to the ebb and flow of factional politics, the makeup of election supervisory boards also threatens the reformists' election efforts. Interior Minister Abdolvahed Musavi-Lari said after the 1 October cabinet meeting that he is concerned about the factional orientation of the election supervisory boards, the Islamic Labor News Agency (ILNA) reported.

"We think that we are going to face difficulty when it comes to approving the qualifications [of candidates for the parliamentary election]," he said. In some places, he said, the boards are biased and favor a particular faction. Musavi-Lari suggested that there is little his ministry can do about the situation, saying: "Supervision is not in our control. They have already made their choices and done their work."

The central Election Supervisory Board appointed Ayatollah Ahmad Jannati as its chairman on 20 September, state radio reported. Jannati is secretary of the Guardians Council, which is tasked with supervising elections.

Factional divergences are another issue that will affect the election. Journalist Emadedin Baqi predicted that there would be more factional splits, and these would increase the distance between pro-government, radical, conservative, and independent reformists, "Aftab-i Yazd" reported on 21 September. "Even some reformers that are presently within the government may part company with the Islamic system."

Mohammad Atrianfar, a member of the Executives of Construction Party's central council, said on 17 August that the party has suspended its activities in order to avoid contributing to the country's political turmoil, IRNA reported. "We do not want to take a step that might worsen the unstable political conditions," he said. Atrianfar added that this is a temporary measure. "Still, this never means that we are withdrawing from Iran's political arena," he said. "It is only a political tactic."

Iranshahr parliamentary representative Nurmohammad Ruzbeh said that a new conservative faction, called the Islamic Revolution Forces Coordinating Council, has been created in all the provinces, "Aftab-i Yazd" reported on 28 September.

Although the election is not scheduled to take place for another five months, campaigning reportedly has already begun in Ardabil, Gilan, Kerman, and Tehran. In some cases, according to the 21 September "Etemad," this is the result of sitting parliamentarians declaring that they will not seek re-election -- such as Hussein Marashi from Kerman, or Mohammad Baqer Nobakht-Haqiqi from Rasht, for example.

ISAF'S MANDATE COULD BE EXTENDED BEYOND KABUL
An unidentified NATO spokesman told the BBC on 6 October that the International Security Assistance Force's (ISAF) mission might be extended to other Afghan cities if the UN Security Council approves such a move. Meanwhile, a Security Council delegation is expected to visit Afghanistan from 31 October to 8 November to study the possibility of expanding the NATO-led ISAF beyond Kabul, dpa reported on 6 October. Germany has proposed that the 5,000-member ISAF's area of operations be expanded to eight additional Afghan cities, with 250 to 400 troops in each new location. The United Nations, most NGOs working in Afghanistan, and some Afghan officials -- including Afghan Transitional Administration Chairman Hamid Karzai -- have warned that reconstruction projects and scheduled elections will not be possible unless peace and security is established outside Kabul (see "RFE/RL Afghanistan Report," 19 and 26 June, 7 August, and 18 September 2003). AT

AFGHAN LEADER ANGRY OVER FORMATION OF MUJAHEDIN POLITICAL COALITION...
Transitional Administration Chairman Karzai responded angrily on 6 October to reports that former mujahedin parties are forming a coalition to challenge him in the upcoming Afghan presidential campaign (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 6 October 2003), "The Washington Post" reported on 6 October, quoting BBC radio. "Anyone can be a candidate against me, but no party can have military force, no military men can form a party, and no one can write on a tank or an artillery piece that it belongs to this or that party," Karzai said. He added the former mujahedin parties have "destroyed the results" of their struggle against the Soviet occupation of Afghanistan, an apparent reference to the bloody power struggle that ensued after the defeat of the Soviet-backed regime in 1992. Karzai warned that if the leaders of the Northern Alliance attempt to disrupt order, he will act against them. The new political front consists mainly of members of the loose-knit alliance of anti-Taliban forces commonly known as the Northern Alliance. AT

...AS JAMIAT-E ISLAMI SPOKESMAN SAYS KARZAI SEEKS TO WEAKEN THE NORTHERN ALLIANCE
Hafiz Mansur, publisher of the Jamiat-e Islami's mouthpiece "Payam-e Mojahed," has said that Chairman Karzai's actions are an attempt to "weaken the Northern Alliance," "The Washington Post" reported on 6 October. Mansur cited as examples the sacking of more than 20 officers from the Defense Ministry and the reduction of his deputies' power (see "RFE/RL Afghanistan Report," 25 September 2003). Mansur said Karzai's moves have prompted the leaders of the Northern Alliance to respond and that while "it is certain there will be no military action" against Karzai, "lack of cooperation by government leaders and military officials could inflict fatal damage on him." Mohammad Sediq Chakari, a spokesman for Jamiat-e Islami, has echoed Mansur's grievances against Karzai, Hindukosh news agency reported on 5 October. AT

NORTHERN ALLIANCE LEADER DENIES RABBANI HAS BEEN CHOSEN AS PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE...
Afghan Defense Minister and Northern Alliance leader Marshall Mohammad Qasim Fahim has rejected reports that former Afghan President Burhanuddin Rabbani has been selected as a presidential candidate for the 2004 election, Radio Afghanistan reported on 6 October. Mohammad Sadeq Chakari earlier indicated that former mujahedin leaders on 4 October selected Rabbani as their presidential candidate (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 6 October 2003). Both Fahim and Rabbani belong to the Jamiat-e Islami party, although Fahim is also a member of the smaller Shura-ye Nizar party, which was founded by slain Afghan commander Ahmad Shah Masud. AT

...AND SAYS THERE ARE NO PLANS TO POSTPONE ELECTIONS
Marshall Fahim has said the general election scheduled for June 2004 will go according to plan, Voice of the Islamic Republic of Iran reported on 7 October. Chairman Karzai said on 30 September that while his administration still seeks to hold elections by June, as the UN mandate that provides legitimacy to the current administration expires on that date, he has not ruled out delaying the process. Karzai said Afghanistan lacks a list of eligible voters and other essential requisites to holding nationwide elections (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 6 October 2003 and "RFE/RL Afghanistan Report," 19 June 2003). AT

PUTIN SAYS SOVIET OCCUPATION OF AFGHANISTAN WAS FOR THE BEST
Russian President Vladimir Putin said in an interview with "The New York Times" of 5 October that "the Soviet Union tried to improve the situation in Afghanistan." According to Putin, the situation in Afghanistan "was not very bad, but [the Soviet Union] decided to improve it, and improved it with the help of war for 10 years." Putin's comments came in response to a question whether he sees a parallel between the Soviet occupation of Afghanistan and the current situation in Iraq. During the decade-long Soviet military occupation of Afghanistan, more than a million Afghans were killed and the country was turned into a dysfunctional state (see "RFE/RL Afghanistan Report," 2 January, 1 May, and 25 September 2003). AT

TRIAL OF CANADIAN JOURNALIST'S ALLEGED KILLER BEGINS
The public-relations director for the Tehran Province Justice Department, identified only by the last name Bashirirad, has said that the trial relating to the death of Canadian photojournalist Zahra Kazemi is scheduled to begin on 7 October, ISNA reported on 4 October. It is possible that the judge will not allow videotaping of the court sessions, Bashirirad said, but there will not be any restrictions on audio recordings. IRNA reported on 7 October that Canadian Ambassador to Iran Philip MacKinnon was present in the courtroom. After being detained in late June while she was taking photos outside Evin prison, Kazemi died in a hospital on 11 July of a cerebral hemorrhage (see "RFE/RL Iran Report," 14 and 21 July and 4 and 11 August 2003). In late September, the Tehran Prosecutor's Office charged a Ministry of Intelligence and Security official with murdering Kazemi (see "RFE/RL Iran Report," 29 September 2003). BS

IRANIAN INTELLIGENCE MINISTER SAYS OPPOSITION UNDER SURVEILLANCE, STUDENTS UNDER CONTROL
Intelligence and Security Minister Hojatoleslam Ali Yunesi told a 6 October gathering of Iran's Friday prayer leaders that the opposition is being watched and anything it does to threaten Iran's national security will fail, IRNA reported on 7 October. He said the ministry "has full grip over the issues related to Iran's national security and is fully aware of all moves and intrigues made by the antirevolutionary forces, which have been relatively intensified recently." Yunesi claimed that Iran is the target of a "heavy psychological war" and that the opposition is part of this. "The United States currently needs to heighten the level of that cold war against Iran in order to justify its broad presence in this part of the world," he added. After discussing the security organizations' activities in the run-up to the anticipated unrest of July, he turned to the school year that has just begun. "We have started this academic year in a position of total control over the situation, and we will neutralize any kind of counterrevolutionary movement throughout the world," ISNA quoted Yunesi as saying. BS

TEHRAN CONDEMNS ISRAELI AIR STRIKES IN SYRIA
Foreign Minister Kamal Kharrazi said on 5 October that the "Israeli attack against Syria is an attempt to divert public opinion from the sufferings of Palestinian people arising from the occupation of their country and the subsequent legitimate defense of the Palestinian nation against the occupying force," IRNA reported. "By resorting to such aggressions, the Zionist regime posed a threat to the security of the Middle East region." Israeli military aircraft on 5 October attacked the Ayn al-Sahib base in Syria after a female suicide bomber killed 19 Israelis and wounded 60 other people at Haifa's Maxim restaurant one day earlier. Voice of Israel cited Israeli Defense Forces sources as saying that Tehran financed the base, which was allegedly used for training by Hamas and the Palestinian Islamic Jihad (PIJ). Dore Gold, a senior adviser to Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon, described the operation as a message that nobody can strike Israel with impunity. "There is an axis of terror that begins in Iran and it reaches the Gaza Strip, and its main crossroads is in Syria," "The Washington Post" quoted Gold as saying on 6 October. BS

SOURCES IN IRAN REJECT ISRAELI ACCUSATIONS
Abu Usamah, the Hamas representative in Tehran, denied on 5 October that his organization or the PIJ have any bases in Syria, ISNA reported. "We do not have any headquarters, bases, or camps outside the occupied territories," he said. He acknowledged that they once had political bureaus in Syria but said these have been closed. Hamid Reza Taraqi, an official from the conservative Islamic Coalition Association, on 5 October described the Israeli accusation as a "totally baseless claim [that is] the best proof of Syria's innocence and the aggressive nature of the Zionist regime," ISNA reported. Expediency Council Chairman Ayatollah Ali-Akbar Hashemi-Rafsanjani was quoted on 6 October by Iranian state radio as saying: "The Zionist regime had the audacity to violate international laws and commit an act of aggression against a large and civilized country such as Syria.... This is regrettable." BS

TOUGH POLITICAL COMPETITION IN MAZANDARAN
Ahmad Vaseqinejad, secretary of the reformist Solidarity (Hambastegi) Party in Mazandaran Province, said on 30 September that the reformists could win 50-60 percent of the 290 seats in the February parliamentary election, ISNA reported. He said that parties and political groups will not be as relevant in this election as they were in the 2000 parliamentary election. The public has become frustrated with the reformist parties, he said, warning that "what happened in the local-council elections [February 2003, when there was low voter turnout] could also happen in the parliamentary elections." Mohammad-Ali Minafar, secretary-general of the conservative Islamic Coalition Association in Mazandaran Province, said in the 29 September "Farhang-i Ashti" daily that the conservatives could win up to 150 seats (51 percent) in the upcoming parliamentary election. Minafar said the public is unhappy with the reformists because they did not fulfill their election promises. He predicted that some reformists will not win approval as candidates. BS

IRAQI FOREIGN MINISTRY ATTACKED IN BAGHDAD
The Foreign Ministry compound in Baghdad came under attack on 7 October, international media reported. "There was an explosion in the garden of the Foreign Ministry," U.S. Lieutenant Colonel Randy Lane told reporters. "It is unclear if it was a rocket-propelled grenade or a mortar. There were no casualties, just some shattered windows. The foreign minister was not in the building at the time." There were no U.S. soldiers in the area at the time of the incident, Lane said. An exchange of small-arms fire could be heard after the explosion, but Lane was unsure whether the incidents were related. "I saw a ball of fire. Foreign Ministry employees rushed from the building out to the street to evacuate the complex after the attack. I did not see any casualties or injured people leaving," lawyer Aymen Khalid, who witnessed the incident, told Reuters. KR

OUSTED IRAQI POLICE CHIEF REINSTATED AFTER REPLACEMENT FAILS TO PROVIDE ORDER
The Coalition Provisional Authority (CPA) in Iraq dismissed the Bayji police chief on 6 October after three days of rioting in the city, AFP reported, citing U.S. military officials. The rioting on 6 October involved a police exchange of gunfire with former army personnel from the regime of former Iraqi President Saddam Hussein who were demanding their military stipends, AFP reported. Demonstrators fired rocket-propelled grenades during the skirmish, setting fire to a fuel tanker and also hitting the Bayji mayor's office. AP reported on 7 October that Fedayeen Saddam forces led the resistance. The fighting was so intense on 4 October that Bayji police officers reportedly fled the city. U.S. 4th Infantry Division Major Josslyn Aberle said that Bayji Police Chief Ismail al-Jabouri was dismissed on 6 October because the coalition and the governor of the Salah Al-Din province "were not satisfied with his performance," AFP reported. The CPA then reinstated Hamid al-Qaisi, who was dismissed from his position in May, AP reported. Bayji is located some 225 kilometers north of Baghdad and is home to Iraq's largest oil refinery. The Anatolia news agency reported that some 4,000 people were involved in the 6 October rioting. KR

OIL-SMUGGLING TRIAL UNDER WAY IN IRAQ
Two Ukrainians arrested in August are facing life imprisonment if they are convicted of smuggling oil out of Iraq in a trial that got under way this week, Reuters reported on 6 October. On 30 September, an Iraqi judge ordered the confiscation in Al-Basrah of some 2,300 tons of Iraqi oil and two tankers suspected of smuggling the oil out of Iraq. The judge turned the tankers and the oil over to the Finance Ministry to sell or use for government purposes, Baghdad's "Al-Ittihad" reported on 4 October. According to Reuters, Mykola Mazurenko, captain of the "Navstar" tanker, and his assistant Ivan Soshchenko were questioned about why they purchased diesel fuel from fishing boats when they were only authorized to deliver fuel to Iraq. Mazurenko said he did so on the orders of the ship's Dubai-based Iraqi owner. The CPA has confiscated 11 ships smuggling some 11,000 tons of fuel since the war ended in May, Reuters reported. "We are hoping that this will send a message of how serious both the Iraqi authorities and coalition [are] about stamping out the smuggling of oil," CPA legal adviser Mike Kelly said. KR

TURKISH CABINET SENDS TROOPS MOTION TO PARLIAMENT
The Turkish cabinet sent a motion to the Turkish National Assembly on 6 October calling for the dispatch of some 10,000 Turkish troops to contribute to stabilization efforts in Iraq, the Anatolia news agency reported. The four-page motion seeks parliamentary approval to send troops to Iraq at some point during the next year and stipulates that Turkish troops will operate under a Turkish national command structure. "Turkish armed forces will also perform the tasks of restoring public order and regulating and improving humanitarian aid and the economic [infra]structure," the motion states. The parliament is expected to begin discussion of the motion on 7 October. KR

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