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Newsline - October 8, 2003


PARLIAMENTARIANS URGE YUKOS TO CONSULT WITH GOVERNMENT BEFORE MAKING MAJOR MOVE...
If Yukos decides to sell some of its shares to U.S. oil giant ExxonMobil (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 6 October 2003), it should first consult with the government and the legislature, Duma Budget Committee Chairman Valerii Draganov (Unity-Unified Russia) told polit.ru on 7 October. There has been speculation in the media recently that Yukos is considering selling a 40 percent stake to ExxonMobil. Draganov's comments echo remarks by President Vladimir Putin in an interview with "The New York Times" on 5 October (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 7 October 2003). Draganov said that such consultations would be in Yukos's interests, since the company will still need Russian state protection on international markets. Union of Rightist Forces (SPS) leader Boris Nemtsov said he would welcome such a deal, which would help improve Russia's investment climate, as well as the capitalization and competitiveness of the Russian economy, the website reported. He noted that it is accepted practice around the world to consult with the government before concluding such a major deal. VY

...AS GOVERNMENT SAYS IT HAS NO OBJECTIONS
An unidentified source within the government told RIA-Novosti on 7 October that Prime Minister Mikhail Kasyanov's government has no objections to a possible deal between Yukos and ExxonMobil. "There are no legal obstacles whatsoever to such a deal," the source was quoted as saying. He added that Yukos informed the government about its talks with ExxonMobil, as did ExxonMobil Chairman Roy Raymond, who met with Kasyanov in Moscow on 4 October. VY

RUSSO-GERMAN SUMMIT GETS UNDER WAY
President Putin and German Chancellor Gerhard Schroeder arrived in Yekaterinburg on 8 October for their annual summit meeting, Western and Russian media reported. The two leaders are expected to discuss trade and economic cooperation, as well as foreign-policy coordination. Foreign Minister Igor Ivanov and German Foreign Minister Joschka Fischer, as well as other key ministers, are also participating in the talks. Putin and Schroeder are expected to visit the site where Tsar Nicholas II and his family were executed by the Bolsheviks in 1918. Putin arrived in Yekaterinburg from St. Petersburg, where he spent his birthday (7 October) with friends. VY

RUSSIA SUBMITS NEW DOCUMENTS IN EXTRADITION CASE OF FORMER OLIGARCH
The Prosecutor-General's Office has forwarded to a Greek court new documents supporting its call for the extradition of former Media-MOST owner Vladimir Gusinskii, who is accused of fraud and money laundering, RIA-Novosti reported on 7 October. On 29 September, the Athens Appeals Court gave the Russian government 15 days to provide the additional documentation and said that if Moscow failed to do so, it would rule in favor of Gusinskii (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 30 September 2003). The Prosecutor-General's Office has sent the court an explanation saying that under Russian law the fact that Media-MOST compensated Gazprom in 2001 for all losses caused by its activities does not release Gusinskii from potential criminal responsibility for causing those losses. VY

DUMA GIVES FIRST NOD TO BILL ON INVESTIGATIVE COMMISSIONS...
The Duma on 7 October approved in its first reading a bill on establishing independent investigative commissions that would give both legislative chambers the right to probe the use of military force within the country and other incidents that cause casualties, Russian media reported. The bill would also authorize the legislature to investigate alleged violations of human rights that occur during states of emergency or under martial law or during federal or local elections. It would further allow investigations into territorial disputes among subjects of the Russian Federation. Under the bill, an investigative commission could be created by a vote of not less than 20 percent of the membership of either legislative chamber. They could investigate any state official except the president of Russia. Deputy Boris Nadezhdin (SPS) predicted that if the bill makes it through the Duma, it will likely be rejected by the Federation Council, polit.ru reported. Some analysts believe the bill was prompted by recent calls for new investigations into the October 1993 confrontation between President Boris Yeltsin and the Russian Supreme Soviet (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 6 October 2003), a bill about which is expected to be discussed in the Duma on 10 October. VY

...PONDERS HARSHER PENALTIES FOR DRUNK DRIVING...
State Duma deputies on 7 October passed an amendment to the Administrative Code in its first reading that would make the punishment for driving drunk more severe, RIA-Novosti reported. In all, 310 deputies voted in favor of the measure. Under the bill, for a first offense, a drunk driver could be sentenced to a loss of driving privileges for a period from 6 months to two years. The current penalty is one year. JAC

...AND RAISING MINIMUM WAGE
Also on 7 October, State Duma deputies approved in its second reading a bill to increase the minimum wage to the subsistence level by 2007, ITAR-TASS reported. The minimum wage is currently 600 rubles ($20) a month, while the official subsistence level is 2,328 rubles. JAC

ANOTHER BEREZOVSKII NEWSPAPER RECEIVES WARNING
The Moscow municipal election commission has sent a letter of warning to "Nezavisimaya gazeta" about an article it published on 26 September, polit.ru reported on 7 October. The article charged that Moscow Mayor Yurii Luzhkov held a press conference in a city administration building despite being officially on vacation. After an investigation, the commission ruled that the newspaper had misreported Luzhkov's activities and that the press conference occurred before Luzhkov's vacation had started. Officials who are candidates in an election are required by law to go on vacation several weeks before the ballot is held. Earlier in the month, the commission criticized "Kommersant-Vlast" for a cover story headlined "Aren't you tired of Luzhkov?" which asked prominent businesspeople and politicians what they think of Luzhkov (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 2 October 2003). JAC

FORECASTER PREDICTS WIN FOR PROPRESIDENTIAL PARTY
The National Agency for Political Forecasting (NAPP) is predicting that the pro-Kremlin Unified Russia party will win the most seats in the 7 December State Duma elections, followed by the Communist Party, Interfax reported on 7 October. The agency's forecasts are based on polls conducted by leading research firms such as the All-Russia Center for the Study of Public Opinion (VTsIOM), VTsIOM-A, ROMIR, ARPI/ROMIR, and the Public Opinion foundation. NAPP head Mark Urnov predicted Unified Russia will poll 35.4 percent, compared with 26.5 percent for the Communists, 7.8 percent for the Liberal Democratic Party of Russia (LDPR), and 6.4 percent each for the Union of Rightist Forces (SPS) and Yabloko. JAC

CHURCH DEFROCKS PRIEST OVER HOMOSEXUAL WEDDING
The Holy Synod of the Russian Orthodox Church on 7 October defrocked a priest from a parish in Nizhnii Novgorod for performing a wedding ceremony for two men in September, NTV and polit.ru reported (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 5 September 2003). The synod described Vladimir Enert's act as "blasphemy" and "a trampling upon the canonic norms of Russian Orthodoxy," according to the reports. The synod also barred a second priest, Mikhail Kabanov, from conducting services for his participation "in the sacrilege." One of the men who were married in the ceremony announced in September that he intends to run for the State Duma (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 17 September 2003). VY

BOOK SEES SKINHEAD MOVEMENT BECOMING MORE POLITICAL
The trial of a group of skinheads in Novosibirsk facing charges of inciting interethnic hatred opened on 7 October, NTV reported. The nine young men are accused of beating numerous local residents who did not appear to be Slavs. Two people died as a result of the beatings. Also on 7 October, the Moscow Bureau of Human Rights released a new book about skinheads that claims to be the first serious research into the phenomenon in Russia, grani.ru reported. The research, which was conducted over three years, was financed by the European Commission. The book's authors argue that the spread of skinhead groups is a significant problem in Russia, and lately the informal youth gangs have been transformed into neo-Nazi political groups. JAC

SPORT TV TO CONTINUE THROUGH THE YEAR
The issue of how long Sport TV will continue to broadcast on channel six will be taken up after 31 December, Igor Shabdurasulov, chairman of the board of directors for the Moscow Independent Broadcasting Company (MNVK), RBK reported on 7 October. Shabdurasulov also revealed that Sport TV is not paying to use broadcast equipment owned by the All-Russia State Television and Radio Broadcasting Company (VGTRK). In June, the Media Ministry shut down independent TVS, which then broadcast on channel six, and replaced it with state-owned Sport TV (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 23, 24, and 27 June 2003). JAC

NEW RAILWAYS MINISTER SELECTED
President Putin has appointed Vadim Morozov as the new railways minister, Russian media reported on 7 October. Morozov has been acting railways minister since 23 September, when former Railways Minister Gennadii Fadeev was appointed president of the state Russian Railways Company. Before that, Morozov was first deputy railways minister. Morozov graduated from the Leningrad Institute for Railway Transport Engineers in 1977. JAC

THREE LEGISLATORS LEAVE OFFICE EARLY
The State Duma voted on 7 October to approve the early departures of three legislators: Nikolai Ryzhkov (independent), Aslanbek Aslakhanov (Fatherland-Unified Russia), and Yevgenii Ishchenko (independent), Russian media reported. Ryzhkov will become a representative for Belgorod Oblast in the Federation Council. Aslakhanov has been appointed an assistant to President Putin on Caucasus affairs, and Ishchenko was elected mayor of Volgograd in September. Deputies also approved the resignation of "Parlamentskaya gazeta" Editor in Chief Leonid Kravchenko, RosBalt reported. Kravchenko's resignation must also be approved by the Federation Council. JAC

RUSSIAN, CHECHEN OFFICIALS REJECT CRITICISM OF PRESIDENTIAL BALLOT
Chechen Central Election Committee Chairman Abdul-Kerim Arsakhanov certified on 7 October that Akhmed-hadji Kadyrov won the 5 October presidential election, Russian media reported. Arsakhanov said Kadyrov polled 80.8 percent of the vote. Arsakhanov also told Interfax he "cannot understand" the objections expressed on 6 October by U.S. State Department spokesman Richard Boucher that the ballot was not free or democratic (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 7 October 2003). A Russian Foreign Ministry press released dated 7 October and summarized by ITAR-TASS similarly rejected Boucher's statement as "unceremonious and incorrect," and as "not conforming to the spirit of Russian-American relations." Kadyrov's inauguration will take place on 19 October, Chechen Security Council Secretary Rudnik Dudaev told Interfax on 7 October. LF

CHECHEN PRESIDENT-ELECT PLANS TO REWRITE HISTORY
President-elect Kadyrov said in an interview published on 7 October in "Kommersant-Daily" and summarized by Interfax the same day that he plans to establish a commission that will investigate "crimes committed against the Chechen people," including the events that preceded the overthrow in the fall of 1991 of the leadership of the then-Chechen-Ingush ASSR and the advent to power of President Dzhokhar Dudaev. But Kadyrov stressed that his aim is not to send anyone to prison, but rather to ensure that "our descendants...know what happened." In 1995, Yusup Soslambekov, the chairman of the Confederation of Peoples of the Caucasus, published a detailed account of the events of 1991-93, when he served in several official positions in Chechnya. Also on 7 October, Russian journalist Anna Politkovskaya told Interfax her invitation to the Frankfurt Book Fair to promote her recent book on Chechnya has been withdrawn due to pressure on the organizers from Moscow. LF

BANNED CHECHEN PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE TO ENTER FULL-TIME POLITICS
Moscow-based Chechen businessman Malik Saidullaev, who was stripped of his registration for the 5 October Chechen presidential ballot on the grounds that many of the signatures he collected in support of his candidacy were invalid (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 12 and 26 September 2003), said in an interview published in "Nezavisimaya gazeta" on 8 October that he will join a Russian political party that he declined to name and quit business to concentrate on politics full time. But he stressed in a 7 October interview with ITAR-TASS that he will not sell his business interests or leave Russia, as chechenpress.com on 6 October quoted him as saying he planned to do. Saidullaev's personal wealth is estimated at $500 million. Asked by "Nezavisimaya gazeta" why he sent a telegram of congratulations to Kadyrov offering his support, Saidullaev said that the most important thing is to establish order and peace in Chechnya. LF

ARMENIA RATED AMONG LEAST CORRUPT CIS STATES; AZERBAIJAN, GEORGIA AMONG MOST CORRUPT
The annual corruption rating compiled by Transparency International listed Armenia in 78th place in 2003 with a score of 3.0, just above the level designating a "high level" of corruption, RFE/RL's Yerevan bureau reported on 7 October. Belarus, in 53th place among a total of 133 countries surveyed, was ranked the least-corrupt CIS state. Azerbaijan ranked in 124th place overall, among the world's most-corrupt states where corruption is deemed "pervasive." Georgia ranked equal with Azerbaijan, having in previous years been considered less corrupt than Azerbaijan. In an analysis of the political situation in Azerbaijan published last year, political scientist Alec Rasizade explained how corruption has become institutionalized to such a degree that "the state is the mafia." LF

ARMENIAN COALITION PARTIES HOLD NEW TALKS
Prime Minister Andranik Markarian met late on 7 October with the leaders of his Republican Party of Armenia's two coalition partners, Orinats Yerkir and the Armenian Revolutionary Federation-Dashnaktsutiun (HHD), to discuss allocating additional deputy ministerial posts to those two parties, RFE/RL's Yerevan bureau reported. Markarian initially rejected the two parties' request for greater government representation, but then backed down, apparently under pressure from President Robert Kocharian (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 26 September 2003). Artur Rustamian, a leading HHD member, complained to RFE/RL before the talks that his party does not have sufficient leverage to act as a "full-fledged member" of the coalition and to bear "collective responsibility" for its policies. LF

ARMENIA RULES OUT ACCESSION TO CIS SINGLE ECONOMIC SPACE
Armenia's current commitments as a member of the World Trade Organization (WTO) preclude its accession in the near future to the CIS Single Economic Space (EEP), RFE/RL's Yerevan bureau quoted Industry Minister Karen Chshmaritian as telling journalists in Yerevan on 7 October. Russia, Belarus, Kazakhstan, and Ukraine signed an agreement at last month's CIS summit in Yalta on the creation of the EEP. Chshmaritian said Armenia would discuss the possibility of joining that body only after its members join the WTO. LF

AZERBAIJANI OPPOSITION POLITICIAN CALLS FOR POSTPONEMENT OF PRESIDENTIAL BALLOT...
The Baku Press Club organized a telephone discussion on 7 October between U.S. Helsinki Commission co-Chairman and U.S. Congressman Christopher Smith (Republican, New Jersey), OSCE Election Observation Mission head Peter Eicher, Council of Europe rapporteur Andreas Gross, and Azerbaijani political figures and journalists to review the presidential-election campaign, Turan reported. Participants recounted numerous instances of human rights violations, including the arrests and beatings of opposition activists and journalists and violations of the Election Code. A proposal by Democratic Party of Azerbaijan Secretary-General Sardar Djalaoglu to postpone the 15 October election in order to avoid civil confrontation was seconded by several other opposition politicians. LF

...AS DISCUSSIONS RESUME ON FIELDING SINGLE AZERBAIJANI OPPOSITION CANDIDATE
At the initiative of Azerbaijan Popular Front Party (progressive wing) Chairman Ali Kerimli, Musavat Party Chairman Isa Gambar and Azerbaijan National Independence Party Chairman Etibar Mamedov met at a Baku restaurant on 6 October to discuss the possibility of one of them quitting the presidential race in favor of the other, zerkalo.az reported on 8 October. Those talks will resume on 8 October, but the two leaders reached agreement on organizing a joint rally in Baku on 12 October instead of separate rallies on 11 and 12 October. Talks in London in late August between Kerimli, Mamedov, Gambar, and Democratic Party of Azerbaijan Chairman Rasul Guliev failed to yield agreement on a single opposition candidate (see "RFE/RL Caucasus Report," 29 August 2003). LF

AZERBAIJANI JOURNALISTS ORGANIZATION DETAILS MEDIA BIAS IN ELECTION COVERAGE
Arif Aliyev, who heads the journalists' union Yeni Nesil, summarized in an interview with Turan on 7 October the findings of monitoring conducted since 25 September of media coverage of the election campaign. Aliyev said that Prime Minister and presidential candidate Ilham Aliev received 1,000 percent more coverage on the five channels monitored than either of the two main opposition candidates, Isa Gambar and Etibar Mamedov. The first channel of Azerbaijan State Television aired no coverage of any opposition candidates except for the weekly 10-minute election broadcast to which all candidates are entitled under the Election Code. Aliyev observed that coverage is less balanced than during previous elections, as the number of independent media outlets has decreased and individual newspapers and television stations now identify more closely with specific candidates. LF

PRESIDENT TO RETURN TO AZERBAIJAN 'THIS MONTH'
The date of incumbent President Heidar Aliev's return to Azerbaijan will be decided by the doctors who are treating him at the Cleveland Clinic in the United States, and it is therefore not certain that he will arrive in Baku before the 15 October presidential ballot, presidential administration head Ramiz Mekhtiev told journalists in Baku on 7 October, Reuters and Russian media reported. Mekhtiev added, however, that he has "no doubt that the Azerbaijani people will see their president again in October." On 22 September, Mekhtiev predicted that Aliev would return to Baku by the end of September (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 23 September 2003). LF

GEORGIA VOWS TO PREVENT PRE-ELECTION 'DESTABILIZATION'
The Georgian authorities will act resolutely to prevent any destabilization in the run-up to the 2 November parliamentary elections, Minister of State Avtandil Djorbenadze told journalists in Tbilisi on 7 October, Caucasus Press and Interfax reported. A government meeting scheduled for 8 October to discuss pre-election security measures has been postponed to enable security and law enforcement agencies to draft the appropriate action plans. LF

GEORGIA DENIES DEAD GUNMEN WERE GEORGIAN CITIZENS
The two men shot dead by Abkhaz police on 5 October after ambushing a car carrying Abkhaz border officials were not Georgian citizens, a Georgian State Security official in Zugdidi told Caucasus Press on 7 October (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 7 October 2003). Earlier that day, Abkhaz State Security Service Chairman Givi Agrba said in Sukhum that the dead men were Georgians who had participated in the abortive incursion into Abkhazia two years earlier led by Chechen field commander Ruslan Gelaev. Also on 7 October, Abkhaz Foreign Minister Sergei Shamba proposed holding the next round of UN-mediated talks with Georgia in Sukhum rather than Tbilisi, Interfax reported. An Abkhaz delegation headed by Shamba failed to show up in Tbilisi two weeks ago for talks after Tbilisi-based Abkhaz government in exile head Tamaz Nadareishvili demanded Shamba's arrest (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 23 September 2003). LF

CENTRAL ASIAN STATES STILL RANKED AMONG MOST CORRUPT
Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan, Tajikistan, and Uzbekistan were all listed as having "high levels" of corruption in the 2003 annual ranking released by Transparency International on 7 October. Kazakhstan and Uzbekistan ranked in 100th place with scores of 2.4. In 2002, Uzbekistan scored 2.9, compared with 2.3 for Kazakhstan. Kyrgyzstan, which was not listed in 2002, scored 2.1, while Tajikistan, also not listed in 2002, ranked in 2003 with Azerbaijan and Georgia among the world's 10 most corrupt countries. Turkmenistan was not listed either this year or last due to the lack of a minimum of three sources of credible information on conditions there. LF

BORDER DISPUTE BETWEEN KAZAKHSTAN, RUSSIA REMAINS UNRESOLVED
Kazakhstan and Russia are supposed to finalize the delimitation of their common border in the first quarter of 2004, but neither side is willing to back down in a dispute over where the line should be drawn in the northern part of West Kazakhstan Oblast bordering on Russia's Orenburg Oblast, the "Karavan" website (http://www.caravan.kz) reported on 7 October. The dispute specifically concerns a railway station that is divided by the border -- if citizens of one country or the other get off at wrong end of the train they could become border violators -- and a nearby forest that both sides claim. Use of the Ilek River, which forms part of the border but frequently changes its course, is also part of the dispute because it supplies Kazakhstan's giant Karachaganak oil field. According to the report, it is unlikely the two countries will meet the deadline for settling the dispute. BB

KYRGYZ-UZBEK BORDER COMMISSIONS MEET AGAIN WITHOUT RESULTS
Another meeting of the Kyrgyz and Uzbek state commissions on border delimitation has ended without result, and the Kyrgyz side is becoming impatient that less than half the common border has been delimited despite numerous meetings over the last year, kabar.kg reported on 7 October. The head of the Kyrgyz commission, Salamat Alamanov, noted that the weekly meetings are too frequent for the Kyrgyz to come up with new proposals each time, but the Uzbek side insists on them. Part of the reason that the two sides cannot resolve their differences is that the Uzbeks insist on using a 1927 map, while the Kyrgyz use one from 1954 that differs considerably. BB

FATHER OF TURKMEN OPPOSITIONIST APPEALS TO PROSECUTOR-GENERAL
Sazak Begmedov, who was first deputy state prosecutor of the Turkmen SSR in 1976-82, is demanding that Turkmen Prosecutor-General Kurbanbibi Atadjanova allow him to return to Ashgabat from internal exile, and that she punish the police who beat him and sent him to the northern city of Dashoguz with no personal belongings, centrasia.ru reported on 7 October. Begmedov, father of exiled Turkmen oppositionist Tajigul Begmedova, was taken by police from his Ashgabat home on 31 August and forced into internal exile in Dashoguz a few days after Begmedova announced the creation of a Turkmen Helsinki Group based in Bulgaria (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 21 August and 5 September 2003). In a letter to Atadjanova, Begmedov pointed out that because he is registered as a resident of Ashgabat, he cannot receive his pension in Dashoguz. BB

RUSSIAN BORDER GUARDS SEIZE A TON OF DRUGS ON TAJIK-AFGHAN BORDER
Russian border guards seized more than a ton of contraband narcotics near the Tajik-Afghan border on 7 October, Asia Plus-Blitz and ITAR-TASS reported on 8 October. The cache contained 929 kilograms of raw opium, 111 kilograms of heroin, and 18 kilograms of marijuana. The find considerably raises the total amount of illegal drugs that Russian border troops have confiscated along the Tajik-Afghan border this year. In the first seven months of 2003, they seized a reported 2,700 kilograms, which was almost 1 ton more than they seized in the same period the previous year. BB

FORMER UZBEK FOREIGN MINISTER APPOINTED AMBASSADOR TO WASHINGTON...
Former Uzbek Foreign Minister Abdulaziz Komilov was appointed Uzbekistan's ambassador to the United States on 6 October, UzA reported. Komilov had been serving as presidential adviser on foreign affairs since March 2003, when he was replaced at the Foreign Ministry by former Uzbek Ambassador to the United States Sodiq Sofaev (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 17 March 2003). While serving as foreign minister, Komilov was one of the most articulate defenders of President Islam Karimov's policies. He is reported to have served in the KGB in the Middle East and to have a good command of Arabic. His English is excellent. There has been some speculation in Uzbekistan that Karimov wants a more experienced foreign-affairs specialist to manage the Uzbek relationship with Washington. BB

...AND UZBEK DEPUTY PRIME MINISTER GETS HIS FORMER JOB BACK
President Karimov has returned Alisher Azizkhodzhaev to his post as a deputy prime minister, Interfax reported on 7 October. Azizkhodzhaev's removal from the post in 1998 unleashed speculation in Tashkent because he was believed to be something of a mentor to Karimov on economic issues. After his removal from the deputy premiership, Azizkhodzhaev was appointed to head the presidential Academy for State and Social Development, one of the best universities in Uzbekistan. BB

TRANSPARENCY INTERNATIONAL FINDS BELARUS TO BE LEAST CORRUPT IN CIS
According to Transparency International's "Corruption Perceptions Index 2003" released on 7 October, Belarus is 53rd on a list of 133 studied countries. Belarus, which received 4.2 of a possible 10 points, is the highest-ranked country among the post-Soviet republics constituting the Commonwealth of Independent States. Ukraine is 106th with the same number of points as last year, 2.3. Poland, with a score of 3.6, is ranked with Mexico at 64. JM

MINSK PROPOSES RESUMING TALKS ON SALE OF GAS PIPELINE OPERATOR TO GAZPROM
Belarusian Deputy Energy Minister Alyaksandr Sivak said on 7 October that the Belarusian government has proposed resuming talks next week with Gazprom on the creation of a joint-stock company based on Beltranshaz, the operator of Belarusian oil pipelines, Belapan reported. "It is a proposal to hold the second round of talks with old initial conditions," Sivak said. "I think they will be changed in the process...in order to find a compromise." Minsk obliged itself to sell a share of Beltranshaz to Gazprom in exchange for a quota of cheap Russian gas under a 2002 agreement. Talks on the sale collapsed earlier this year after Minsk set the price of Beltranshaz at $5 billion. Moscow said Beltranshaz is worth just $1 billion. Moreover, Belarus did not agree to selling Gazprom a controlling stake in Beltranshaz. Last month, Moscow retaliated by announcing that, as of 2004, it will stop selling gas to Belarus at preferential prices (see "RFE/RL Poland, Belarus, and Ukraine Report," 10 and 16 September 2003). JM

EU PLEDGES TO SUPPORT UKRAINE'S EUROPEAN ASPIRATIONS
European Commission President Romano Prodi, Italian Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi, and EU foreign policy chief Javier Solana reassured Ukrainian President Leonid Kuchma in Yalta on 7 October that the expanded EU will support Ukraine's reforms oriented toward European integration, Ukrainian and international media reported. "We want your country to be fully integrated into the European Union one day," Berlusconi, who is chairing the rotating EU Presidency, said at a news conference. "Without a doubt Ukraine is a European country, and we hope Ukraine will move quickly through the necessary stages," he added, noting that these stages mean obtaining World Trade Organization membership, achieving market-economy status, joining the EU free-trade zone, and gaining EU associate membership. "I admit quite openly that Ukraine is not ready for full-fledged EU membership by practically all criteria, but we are pursuing the ambitious task of achieving this goal," Kuchma said. JM

PREMIER CLAIMS UKRAINE HAS 'MARKET ECONOMY'
Ukrainian Prime Minister Viktor Yanukovych told a conference called "Ukraine's Quest for Mature Nation Statehood: Ukraine's Transition to a Developed Market Economy" in Washington on 7 October that Ukraine is a country with a functioning market economy, Interfax reported. "It is possible to state unambiguously that Ukraine has consciously chosen a development path toward a market economy and has crossed the Rubicon beyond which there is no return to the past," Yanukovych said. The Ukrainian Prime Minister met with U.S. Vice President Dick Chaney, who was reportedly interested in whether Ukraine wants to use the Odesa-Brody pipeline to pump oil from Odesa to Brody or in the "reverse mode" (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 7 October 2003). Yanukovych said Ukraine has not made a decision yet on Odesa-Brody, stressing that the pipeline will transport oil from the company that will offer the "best economic conditions" to Kyiv, UNIAN reported. He added that apart from the TNK-BP oil company, which wants to use Odesa-Brody to pump Russian crude in the "reverse mode," no other company has made any specific proposal for using the pipeline. JM

ESTONIA TOP AMONG BALTIC STATES IN CORRUPTION INDEX
Transparency International's "Corruption Perceptions Index 2003," released on 7 October, ranked Estonia 33rd, with 5.5 points on the 10-point scale; Lithuania 41st with 4.7; and Latvia 57th with 3.8. Last year, the three countries were rated 29th, 36th, and 52nd, respectively. The index is based on a 10-point system with Finland being listed as the least-corrupt state, with a rating of 9.7, and Bangladesh the most corrupt with a rating of 1.3. Only 38 countries of the 133 listed on the index had a rating above 5, the dividing line between countries with low corruption and those plagued by the problem. SG

EC VICE PRESIDENT DISCUSSES EU CONSTITUTION IN ESTONIA
Neil Kinnock, the European Commission's vice president for administrative reform, made a one-day visit to Estonia on 7 October during which he met with many officials including Prime Minister Juhan Parts, BNS reported. The focus of the visit was to learn more about the government's position on the draft European constitutional agreement that is being formed at the Intergovernmental Conference on the European Constitution, which opened in Rome on 4 October. Kinnock agreed with the position that Parts expressed in Rome that each EU member state should have at least one commissioner on the European Commission. They also discussed Estonian officials' applying for jobs at the European Commission, and Estonia's preparations for appointing a commission member. SG

CE HUMAN RIGHTS COMMISSIONER VISITS LATVIA
Council of Europe Commissioner for Human Rights Alvaro Gil-Robles began an official four-day visit to Latvia on 5 October, LETA and BNS reported. The next day he discussed the safeguarding of human rights in Latvia with President Vaira Vike-Freiberga, Education and Research Minister Karlis Sadurskis, Welfare Minister Dagnija Stake, Society Integration Minister Nils Muiznieks, Constitutional Court Chairman Aivars Endzins, and other officials. He also visited the Riga Central Prison with Justice Minister Aivars Aksenoks where he talked with prisoners about their conditions. In a cell housing almost 20 inmates, Gil-Robles asked all prison officials and media representatives to leave so that prisoners could speak off the record. On 7 October, Gil-Robles traveled to Daugavpils for talks with Mayor Rita Strode and representatives from local religious and ethnic communities. He was scheduled to visit two schools in Riga and to hold a press conference before departing on 8 October. SG

LITHUANIA FORESEES LARGER DEFICIT IN 2004
The Finance Ministry has drawn up a budget for 2004 that foresees a considerably higher deficit, ELTA reported on 7 October. The ministry predicts revenues of 11.72 billion litas ($3.9 billion), an increase of 22.7 percent, and expenditures of 13.64 billion litas, an increase of 25.5 percent. Prime Minister Algirdas Brazauskas said the deficit, which has been about 1.5 percent of GDP for three years, will be increased to approximately 3 percent of GDP in 2004 and will be covered by increased borrowing. Direct subsidies to farmers will increase from 85 million litas this year to 580 million litas next year, and another 200 million litas will be used to raise the salaries of teachers, doctors, social workers, and some other public-sector workers. SG

POLISH DEFENSE MINISTRY SPOKESMAN LOSES JOB OVER FRENCH MISSILES SPAT
Defense Minister Jerzy Szmajdzinski on 7 October accepted the resignation of Defense Ministry spokesman Eugeniusz Mleczak, Polish media reported. Mleczak's statement on 3 October claiming that Polish soldiers in Iraq had found four French Roland-type antiaircraft missiles produced in 2003 provoked diplomatic discord between Warsaw and Paris last week (see "RFE/RL Poland, Belarus, and Ukraine Report," 7 October 2003). France has said it ended the production of Roland-type missiles in 1993, and Szmajdzinski subsequently offered official apologies, saying the Polish soldiers incorrectly identified the production date. Polish Television suggested on 7 October that the "scandal" around the Roland missiles might further result in recalling some service personnel from the Polish military contingent in Iraq. JM

CZECH DEPUTY WHO MISSED VOTE EXPELLED FROM PARTY
Petr Kott, who was accused of missing a vote in parliament on a key reform package because he was drunk (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 30 September and 3 October 2003), was expelled from the Civic Democratic Party by his local party branch in Doksy, north Bohemia, on 7 October, CTK reported. Kott said he will most likely keep his seat as an unaffiliated deputy, and said he missed the vote intentionally, as he believed the reform was needed and did not want to stop it being passed. DW

SELF-EXILED TYCOON TAKES APPEAL TO CZECH CONSTITUTIONAL COURT
A day after appealing to the European Court of Human Rights in Strasbourg (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 7 October 2003), Viktor Kozeny has appealed his prosecution in the Czech Republic to the Czech Constitutional Court, CTK reported on 7 October. Former Harvard Investment Funds head Kozeny, along with former Harvard Industrial Holding head Boris Vostry, have been charged with fraud and sought as fugitives. Vostry has lived in Belize for years and Kozeny, who now has Irish citizenship, lives in the Bahamas. The two are accused of having illegally transferred 11.5 billion crowns (some $400 million at that time) in assets from Harvard Investment Funds and the company Sklo Union Teplice in 1995-97, driving Harvard Industrial Holding into bankruptcy. According to CTK, some lawyers have said that the Strasbourg court will not take up Kozeny's case unless he has exhausted all legal possibilities in the Czech Republic. DW

CZECH, SLOVAK, HUNGARIAN CORRUPTION RATINGS SEE 'NO SIGNIFICANT CHANGE'
In its "Corruption Perceptions Index 2003" released on 7 October, Transparency International placed Hungary 40th with a score of 4.8 out of a possible 10, while the Czech Republic was tied for 54th with a score of 3.9, and Slovakia was tied for 59th with a score of 3.7. In the 2002 index, Transparency International ranked Hungary 33rd with a score of 4.9, and the Czech Republic and Slovakia tied for 52nd with a score of 3.7. "There is no significant change since last year or the one before," Adriana Krnacova, the director of the Czech branch of Transparency International, told CTK on 7 October. She added that Transparency International sees public competitions as one of the most sensitive areas in the Czech Republic, and that legal protection is insufficient, which "creates an environment of unusual corruption and damages the state's economy." Daniela Zemanovicova of Transparency International's Slovak branch said, "The government has taken only very few initiatives towards transparency," CTK reported on 7 October. She added that the biggest problems are in "large-scale political corruption and clientelism." DW

HUNGARIAN RADIO CHAIRWOMAN LISTED AS 'UNPAID AGENT'
Hungarian Radio Chairwoman Katalin Kondor appears as an unpaid "community agent" in documents of the National Security Office that were transferred on 7 October to the Historical Archive of the State Security Services, the MTI news agency reported. Levente Sipos, the current chairman of the three-member commission supervising the transfer of the documents, told the agency the commission will not comment on the documents until Kondor has a chance to see them. On 25 September, the "Nepszava" daily made public a document allegedly proving that Kondor was in contact with the counterespionage section of the communist-era state security services in 1974-83 (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 26 September 2003). Kondor said the documents published by "Nepszava" are forgeries. MSZ

HUNGARIAN, CZECH PRESIDENTS DISCUSS VISEGRAD FOUR, EU MATTERS
Visiting Czech President Vaclav Klaus on 7 October told his Hungarian counterpart Ferenc Madl in Budapest that "Visegrad cooperation only makes sense if we can fill it with specific projects," Hungarian radio reported. Klaus said the two countries agree that the draft European constitution should not restrict the national identities of the new member states and the assertion of their interests. After the meeting, Madl told reporters that the presidents of the four Visegrad countries -- the Czech Republic, Hungary, Poland, and Slovakia -- will meet in Budapest on 3 November to discuss how their countries will cooperate after they join the European Union. MSZ

UN HALTS KOSOVA PRIVATIZATION AFTER SERBIAN COMPLAINTS
The UN civilian administration in Kosova (UNMIK) has stopped the privatization of state-owned enterprises after complaints from Serbia, dpa reported from Prishtina on 7 October. UNMIK said in a statement that "due to ongoing UN legal clarifications needed for privatization, the third wave of tenders launched on September 10, 2003, with an envisaged bid date on November 11, 2003, has been cancelled. The privatization process will be resumed as soon as the outstanding legal issues have been clarified by the Legal Office of the UN." Kosova's Prime Minister Bajram Rexhepi wrote a letter to UNMIK objecting to the move. "We do not accept in any way a stop to the privatization process, even for a day," he argued. Many observers have said that the status of Kosova must be clarified sooner rather than later in order to speed up the post-communist transformation of the political, legal, and economic systems (see "RFE/RL Balkan Report," 13 and 20 June, and 1 August 2003). PM

KOSOVARS BALK AT TALKS WITH BELGRADE
Harri Holkeri, who heads UNMIK, formally issued invitations to several leaders in Belgrade, Prishtina, and elsewhere on 7 October to take part in talks on practical issues in Vienna on 14 October, RFE/RL's South Slavic and Albanian Languages Service reported (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 1, 3, and 7 October 2003, and "RFE/RL Balkan Report," 1 August and 26 September 2003). Serbia and Montenegro's President Svetozar Marovic, Serbian Prime Minister Zoran Zivkovic, and Serbian Deputy Prime Minister Nebojsa Covic are among the invitees. Kosova's Prime Minister Rexhepi said he cannot accept his invitation until he receives a mandate from the parliament to do so. The parliament's governing body decided, however, that it will not discuss any mandate for the negotiations at its 9 October session as planned. Several Western diplomats based in Prishtina called upon the Kosovar leadership to take part in the talks, which the diplomats called a first step toward resolving the final status of the province. Many Kosovars believe the negotiations are really the first point in a hidden agenda by the EU to force them into a political relationship with Belgrade, which is unacceptable to the ethnic Albanians in any form. PM

FORMER MACEDONIAN PRESIDENT WARNS OF 'GREATER ALBANIA'
In an interview with the Polish daily "Rzeczpospolita" of 7 October, former President Kiro Gligorov warned of alleged aspirations for a "greater Albania," which, he believes, poses a threat to stability in the Balkans. According to Gligorov, unidentified "Albanian extremists" want to include territories in western Macedonia, northern Greece, and southern Serbia into this state. He argues that this is why Belgrade cannot accept the independence of Kosova, as this would "set the Balkans on fire." Gligorov, who led Macedonia into independence in 1991, is still regarded a political authority in that country. Many politicians in both Serbia and Macedonia often claim that "greater Albania" is a threat. No major mainstream ethnic Albanian party anywhere in the Balkans advocates greater Albania as a realistic political goal. UB/PM

BOSNIAN SERB LEADER AND U.S. CALL ON WAR CRIMINALS TO SURRENDER...
Republika Srpska President Dragan Cavic and U.S. Ambassador at Large for War Crime Issues Pierre-Richard Prosper signed a joint statement in Banja Luka on 7 October calling on indicted war criminals to give themselves up, dpa reported (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 6 October 2003). The statement appealed to Bosnian Serbs to help identify the whereabouts of former Bosnian Serb leaders Radovan Karadzic and General Ratko Mladic, adding that indicted war criminals face arrest by NATO or Bosnian Serb police if they do not give themselves up. Prosper told reporters that he has evidence that Karadzic is indeed in the Republika Srpska, Deutsche Welle's Bosnian Service reported. Later in Zagreb, Prosper called on the Croatian authorities to find former General Ante Gotovina and extradite him to the Hague-based war crimes tribunal. Croatian President Stipe Mesic appealed to Gotovina to turn himself in, RFE/RL's South Slavic and Albanian Languages Service reported. PM

...AS DOES THE HAGUE TRIBUNAL CHIEF
Teodor Meron, who chairs the Hague-based war crimes tribunal, said in Washington on 7 October that the tribunal will not be dissolved before Karadzic, Mladic, and Gotovina are brought to trial, RFE/RL's South Slavic and Albanian Languages Service reported. Meron noted that both Zagreb and Belgrade have improved their cooperation with the tribunal, but also that the Republika Srpska hardly cooperates at all. He and High Representative Paddy Ashdown are scheduled to appear before the UN Security Council on 8 October. There has been pressure for some time from the United States in particular for the tribunal to wrap up its work in order to save money. Many observers have argued that the belief that the tribunal's days are numbered has encouraged indicted war criminals to stay in hiding. PM

ROMANIAN PARLIAMENT MARKS 10TH ANNIVERSARY OF JOINING THE COUNCIL OF EUROPE
Parliament's two chambers on 7 October held a joint session celebrating 10 years since Romania's accession to the Council of Europe, Mediafax reported. President Ion Iliescu said the council is "the laboratory institution" of democracy and human rights and has been for the last 10 years "a school of democracy" for many Romanian politicians and experts. Participating at the session, council Secretary-General Walter Schwimmer said in order to join the EU, Romania still has to "modernize the penal code, improve conditions in child protection institutions, [and] eliminate discrimination against Roma." He also mentioned combating corruption as a major task, but added that Romania should rely primarily on existing laws to fight corruption. Also speaking at the event, European Parliament Deputy Chairwoman Catherine Lalumiere said the EU is worried that new members from Central and Eastern Europe could become the United States' "Trojan horse" in the EU and thus weaken the organization. ZsM

EXTREMIST PARTY TO BOYCOTT REFERENDUM ON CONSTITUTION
Corneliu Vadim Tudor, chairman of the extremist Greater Romania Party (PRM), announced on 7 October that the party's Permanent Bureau unanimously decided to ask party members not to participate in the 19 October referendum on approving the country's new constitution, Mediafax reported. Tudor argued this was the only way the PRM could stop the approval of a "legislative hybrid," and said Romania should have waited for the approval of the European Constitution. He further said the new basic law was requested by "certain foreign pressure groups" that mainly wanted to make Hungarian an official language in Romania and "to sell [Romanian] lands to foreigners." The recently adopted Constitution allows the use of Hungarian in public administration and the justice system, and grants foreigners the right to own property in Romania (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 1 July, 29 August and 2 September 2003). ZsM

ROMANIA, MOLDOVA STILL PERCEIVED AS CORRUPT STATES
Transparency International's "Corruption Perceptions Index 2003," released on 7 October, ranks both Romania and Moldova as highly corrupt states. On their list of 133 examined states, Romania ranks 83rd and Moldova 102nd. Romania, ranked 77th in the 2002 report, is seen as the most corrupt of the EU member or candidate countries. Romanian Prime Minister Adrian Nastase said in Brussels on 7 October that the cabinet is to approve supplementary measures aimed at combating corruption, Romanian media reported. Moldova ranked 93rd in the 2002 report. While both Romania and Moldova fell in the rankings from 2002, when 102 countries were examined, Transparency International did not single out either country as being among those whose rankings dropped significantly. ZsM

WORLD BANK WARNS MOLDOVA IS TO FACE HARSH TIMES
Speaking at a press conference in Chisinau on 7 October, Edward Brown, chief of the World Bank mission to Moldova, said the country will soon face difficulties in "surviving without foreign financing," adding "2004 will be a difficult period" for the government and the population, Flux reported. Brown said without foreign funds, Moldova's development rate will slow and the rate of inflation and of the current budgetary deficit will rise. He said Moldova will most probably not receive any foreign funds until Chisinau reopens talks with the International Monetary Fund and finalizes a development strategy to be presented to the World Bank next year. Brown also said it is important to the World Bank that the Moldovan cabinet implement reform measures "based on the principles of liberalizing and developing the private sector." ZsM

BRITISH MINISTER TO TALK TO BULGARIAN GOVERNMENT REGARDING CONTROVERSIAL ADVISER
Denis MacShane, Britain's Europe Minister, was to arrive in Sofia on 8 October for a two-day official visit, BTA reported. MacShane told the BBC's Bulgarian Service on 7 October that he will talk with the Bulgarian government about the controversial nomination of retired General Brigo Asparuhov as the prime minister's secret service adviser. MacShane said he will raise the issue during his talks in Sofia, as Britain wants to be sure that Bulgaria is ready for EU and NATO membership. He did not elaborate (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 30 September, and 6 and 7 October 2003). UB

GRAFT GROWS IN BULGARIA
According to the Bulgarian branch of the anticorruption watchdog Transparency International -- which presented its "Corruption Perceptions Index 2003" on 7 October -- the country now ranks 54th among the 133 countries surveyed, mediapool.bg reported. Bulgaria's CPI rating fell from 4.0 in 2002 to 3.9 on a 10-point scale, indicating a growing investment risk. The complicated privatization processes of the Bulgarian Telecommunications Company (BTK) and the state tobacco monopoly Bulgartabac, as well as the shortcomings in the prosecution of corruption cases contributed to the downgrading, Transparency International said. UB

TURKMEN AMNESTY TO LEAVE THE POLITICALS BEHIND


Turkmen Prosecutor-General Kurbanbibi Atadjanova proposed at a cabinet meeting on 23 September in the Caspian seaport of Turkmenbashi that this year's annual amnesty of prisoners cover 6,135 people, including 181 foreigners whose crimes are considered minor. President Saparmurat Niyazov promptly contradicted Atadjanova, according to reports from Interfax and RIA-Novosti. Niyazov said the number of prisoners amnestied should be significantly increased, and its terms should cover recidivists who have already been amnestied once, but who now "sincerely repent" of their latest crimes.

Government officials convicted of crimes committed while they were in state service are automatically ineligible for the amnesty, as are people convicted of involvement in the purported assassination attempt against Niyazov on 25 November 2002 who had permanent ineligibility for amnesty included in their sentences. The final number of prisoners eligible under this year's amnesty has yet to be published, but since in Turkmenistan the president's suggestions have the force of law, it seems safe to assume that it will cover considerably more prisoners than the number mentioned by Atadjanova.

Turkmenistan's annual amnesty honoring the Muslim holy night (in Turkmen, Gydyr gijesi) that ends the month of Ramadan is declared in accordance with a law confirmed by the Halk Maslahaty, the country's nominal supreme organ of power, at its then-annual session on 29 December 1999. That was the same session that gave Niyazov the right to remain president as long as he wants the job. This year, the holy night falls on 21-22 November. The president had declared amnesties irregularly prior to the 1999 law. These had the double function of demonstrating Niyazov's compassion, according to various Turkmen officials, and of reducing the population of Turkmenistan's overcrowded prison system. According to the Prosecutor-General's Office, about 120,000 prisoners have been amnestied in the 12 years of Turkmenistan's independence.

Prisoners wanting to be included in the annual amnesty are required to apply for a hearing by a special amnesty board. The most important part of the procedure, in Niyazov's eyes, is for each applicant to state that he repents his crime, to promise that he will not commit any more crimes, and to swear loyalty to the president. This means, of course, that the applicant for amnesty is forced to state that he is guilty as charged, even if he considers himself innocent. Reportedly some prisoners have found the repentance requirement intolerable and have been excluded from the amnesty as a result. On some occasions non-Muslim prisoners, particularly ethnic Turkmen converts to Christianity, have refused to swear loyalty to Niyazov on the Koran and have been refused amnesty in consequence, an issue that has been repeatedly raised by international human rights organizations.

Despite the positive way the annual amnesties are treated in the Turkmen state media, few city dwellers are enthusiastic about what they see as the unleashing of thousands of petty criminals to prey on the population. Many ordinary citizens insist that the crime rate rises immediately after each amnesty, and according to a favorite anecdote told in Ashgabat in recent years, amnestied prisoners allegedly are released in stages to make it easier for the police to round them up again. Law enforcement agencies assert that the released prisoners are either received back by their families who can be trusted to see that the erring relative honors his promise not to return to a life of crime, or the former convict is found a place to live and a job by the police or a prosecutor's office. These assertions are generally treated with skepticism by the population, at least in cities and towns.

Government officials and state journalists who have frequent contact with foreigners, particularly with foreign diplomats or international organizations, often attempt to persuade those contacts to praise publicly the amnesties as evidence of some improvement in Turkmenistan's compliance with its human rights commitments. High-ranking foreign officials such as ambassadors and the office heads of international organizations are the usual targets of this type of solicitation. Too frequently, such officials seem unaware of the unpopularity of the amnesties among the ordinary citizens and yield to official pressure to make statements that have the effect of compromising the international community in the eyes of locals. Some such figures desperately want to believe that the amnesties signal some sort of improvement in Turkmenistan's largely bleak human rights situation. Others have said they consider a few words of praise for the amnesties a small price to pay for cooperation from the Turkmen government.

Whatever the real effect of the annual amnesties, one thing is certain: They do not extend to political prisoners or to people imprisoned ostensibly for some crime, but who were in fact targeted because of their religious beliefs. In the last three to four years, heavy fines, beatings by police or security officers, and threats of imprisonment seem to have largely replaced the practice of convicting religious "offenders" on criminal charges unrelated to their religious activities. It is unclear whether Jehovah's Witnesses are still being jailed for refusing their constitutionally mandated obligation to defend the fatherland. But the inept attempt by some Turkmen oppositionists to overthrow or kill Niyazov in late 2002 has yielded a group of political prisoners -- Niyazov calls them "terrorists -- that analysts estimate numbers more than 100, including former Foreign Ministers Boris Shikhmuradov and Batyr Berdiyev -- unless, as rumored, the latter has died in prison. These people have no hope of ever being included in Niyazov's annual amnesties.

AFGHAN ADMINISTRATION REPORTEDLY OPENS NEGOTIATIONS WITH TALIBAN
Chief Justice Mawlawi Fazl Hadi Shinwari said on 6 October that talks are under way between the Afghan Transitional Administration and "some Taliban groups," Pakistan-based Afghan Islamic Press (AIP) reported on 7 October. Shinwari said Transitional Administration Chairman Hamid Karzai's policy is "to hold talks with those Taliban whose hands are not covered with the blood of the nation," adding that this policy is "for the benefit of the country." Chief Justice Shinwari also mentioned that former Taliban Tribal Affairs Minister Mawlawi Jalaluddin Shinwari, who he claimed was a "key Taliban government leader," has already allied himself with the Transitional Administration in Kabul. Karzai has sought to gain the support of some elements of the former Taliban regime in an effort to limit the destructive activities of the neo-Taliban and to bolster his own political standing among Pashtuns (see "RFE/RL Afghanistan Report," 3 July and 18 September 2003 and "RFE/RL Newsline," 2, 3, and 15 September and 2 October 2003). AT

FORMER TALIBAN FOREIGN MINISTER REPORTEDLY RELEASED FROM U.S. CUSTODY...
According to an unidentified Transitional Administration official, the United States has released former Taliban Foreign Minister Mullah Wakil Ahmad Muttawakil from the detention center at Bagram air base, Reuters reported on 8 October. A close friend of Muttawakil confirmed the official's claim, saying Muttawakil was released last weekend and "is living with his family in Kandahar." One of Muttawakil's aides based in Pakistan has also confirmed the report, the BBC reported on 7 October. It is not certain under what circumstances the United States released Muttawakil, according to the BBC. However, an anonymous Afghan Foreign Ministry official has told Reuters that Muttawakil recently played "a very important role" in preparing the way for talks between U.S. forces and some members of the former Taliban regime. A neo-Taliban intelligence official, Mulla Abdul Samad, said Muttawakil's release, if true, is an attempt to split the Taliban ranks, Reuters reported. Muttawakil was considered a moderate member of the Taliban regime and reportedly opposed the presence in Afghanistan of Osama bin Laden and his Al-Qaeda terrorist network. AT

...PROMPTING DENIAL FROM AFGHAN FOREIGN MINISTRY
Foreign Ministry spokesman Mohammad Omar Samad denied reports that Muttawakil has been released from U.S. custody, Voice of the Islamic Republic of Iran reported on 8 October. The Afghan Foreign Ministry spokesman added that there is no evidence to suggest that U.S. officials have held talks with former Taliban authorities. He ruled out negotiations with members of the former Taliban regime, citing its inhumane policies. Afghan Chief Justice Shinwari said he has no information about Muttawakil's release, AIP reported on 7 October. However, he added that "no matter who is pleased and who is not, ...talks with the Taliban...have begun." According to AIP, many sources have confirmed Muttawkil's release, but the agency could not obtain official confirmation. AT

AFGHANISTAN TO COMPETE IN 2004 ATHENS SUMMER GAMES
International Olympic Committee President Jacques Rogge announced on 6 October that Afghanistan will send a delegation to the 2004 Athens Olympic Games, Reuters reported. Under Taliban rule, Afghanistan was banned from participating in the Olympic Games. AT

IRANIAN FOREIGN MINISTER DEFENDS NUCLEAR-ENRICHMENT CAPABILITY
Foreign Minister Kamal Kharrazi said during a meeting of Friday-prayer leaders on the evening of 6 October that Iran has no intention of forsaking the nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty, IRNA and state radio reported on 7 October. Iran will only withdraw, he said, if it is deprived of its right to use nuclear technology, particularly its right to enrich nuclear fuel. "We cannot ignore our capability to generate nuclear-reactor fuel," he said. "This capability has been attained thanks to the efforts of Iran's scientists and children. No one has the right to deprive us of that right." Kharrazi said Iran does not fear inspections because it has nothing to hide. Kharrazi added that Iran was one of the initiators of the concept of a nuclear-free Middle East, and said Iran would like to eliminate all the nuclear weapons in the region, especially those he claimed are possessed by Israel. "Israel is the biggest threat against peace and stability in the region," he said. "So long as that regime remains armed with the nuclear weapons, we cannot hope for the prevalence of lasting peace in the Middle East." BS

TEHRAN SAYS URANIUM ENRICHMENT COULD TAKE 10 YEARS
Iran's representative to the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA), Ali Akbar Salehi, said during a 7 October roundtable at Tehran's Sharif Industrial University that Iran needs to control the complete nuclear-fuel cycle so it can supply its reactors, ISNA reported. "Nevertheless," he said, "we will need 10 years to generate good-quality reactor fuel in this country." He added that although Iran has access to uranium-enrichment technology, it needs further work. Salehi went on to say that the negotiations with visiting IAEA officials went well. "We have peace of mind and they are satisfied as well," he said. However, the Non-Proliferation Treaty's Additional Protocol is a separate issue, and "our officials are studying the matter and the government will announce its decision in due course," Salehi said. BS

TEHRAN OPPOSES THIRD-COUNTRY SITE FOR ARGENTINIAN BOMBING TRIAL
Foreign Ministry spokesman Hamid Reza Assefi said on 5 October that any proposed mediation between Iran and Argentina in the case of former Ambassador to Argentina Hadi Suleimanpur is "unacceptable," IRNA reported. "The Argentine judiciary is serving the interests of the Zionist regime," Assefi added. However, mediation is not what has been proposed. According to the Argentinian daily "Clarin" of 29 September, Argentinian Foreign Minister Rafael Bielsa has proposed that the trial relating to the 1994 bombing of Jewish community center in Buenos Aires should be held in a third country. The precedent for this is the trial of Libyan intelligence officers in the Netherlands for the 1988 downing of Pan Am flight 103 over Lockerbie, Scotland. A Scottish court held the trial under Scottish law. In this case, Bielsa said in the 3 October issue of "Forward" magazine, Argentinian judges would handle the case in a country approved by Tehran and Buenos Aires. Bielsa expressed doubt that London will extradite Suleimanpur, because the evidence against him is weak and because Tehran might be providing the British with intelligence on other issues. Argentinian Jewish groups oppose the proposal and suspect the Foreign Ministry of trying to avoid a confrontation with Iran, according to "Forward." BS

LEBANESE HIZBALLAH SPEAKS OUT FOR IRAN
Hizballah has officially adopted a policy of silence toward recent criticism of Iran by a former party leader, but unofficially it is backing Iran, Lebanon's "Al-Mustaqbal" newspaper reported on 2 October. Former Hizballah Secretary-General Subih Tufaili said in an early September speech in Brital that Iran has betrayed the revolution's founding principles, and he denounced the current Hizballah leader, Hassan Nasrallah, as an Iranian agent, "The Daily Star" reported on 9 September. He also accused Iran of cooperating with the United States. Anonymous Hizballah officials dismissed Tufaili's comments and said that the coincidence of Iranian interests in Iraq and Afghanistan with those of the United States is not indicative of submission. The reality of the relationship is indicated by U.S. pressure on Iran regarding the nuclear issue and Iranian opposition to U.S. activities in Iraq, they said. Moreover, the Hizballah officials asked, "If the Americans themselves are accusing Syria and Iran of supporting the Iraqi opposition or facilitating its operations, how can it then be correct to accuse them of dealing with the Americans?" BS

TURKISH PARLIAMENT APPROVES TROOPS TO IRAQ
The Turkish National Assembly has approved a government motion to send Turkish troops to Iraq, international press reported. The decision came after a 180-minute debate, and was approved by a vote of 358-183. The seemingly quick decision came after months of discussions between Turkish and U.S. officials. The United States made its request for Turkish troops in July, but the Turkish vote was delayed over several issues, including Turkey's insistence that the United States take action to eliminate the presence of alleged Turkish-Kurdish terrorists from northern Iraq. KR

IRAQI GOVERNING COUNCIL REPORTEDLY OPPOSES TURKISH DEPLOYMENT...
The Iraqi Governing Council unanimously rejected the Turkish decision to deploy troops to Iraq in a meeting in Baghdad on 7 October, KurdSat television reported. Governing Council member Muwaffaq al-Rubay'i said the council opposes Turkish troops in Iraq because members fear the troops will undermine stability in Iraq. Al-Rubay'i later told Al-Jazeera television that the governing council's decision will be officially announced on 8 October. "The overriding opinion among the [governing council] members is that there are fears and apprehension with regard to bringing any foreign troops to Iraq," he said. "This is because we...seek to end the occupation and not to increase the number of foreign troops, particularly from regional countries which will not be neutral in Iraq." Al-Rubay'i said the council wants the United States to guarantee that the Turkish troops will operate under coalition or UN control, and that they will depart Iraq ahead of U.S. forces. KR

...ALTHOUGH COUNCIL PRESIDENT SAYS NO DECISION MADE YET
Iraqi Governing Council President for the month of October Iyad Allawi told Al-Jazeera on 8 October that the council will meet with Coalition Provisional Authority head L. Paul Bremer today to discuss the possible deployment of Turkish troops to Iraq. Allawi said the council's opposition to the deployment should not be seen as its final decision on the matter. Sources told Al-Jazeera that a compromise will be reached and issued through a governing council statement, expected on 8 October, saying that the council "does not prefer" troops from neighboring countries to participate in Iraqi peacekeeping efforts. KR

U.S. OFFICIALS WELCOME TURKISH DECISION
U.S. officials in Washington welcomed the Turkish parliamentary decision to send troops to Iraq, Reuters reported on 7 October. U.S. Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld said he "appreciated" the Turkish offer. Regarding Iraqi attitudes toward the deployment, he said, "You have Iraqis all across the spectrum -- some who will be very happy, some who will be worried, some who will be neutral. Some won't have an opinion." U.S. State Department Spokesman Richard Boucher played down the governing council's opposition telling reporters, "We believe these things can be worked out [and] should be worked out...we will be working on all the details to make sure that the Iraqis agree with us on that." He reportedly declined to answer when asked whether the governing council will have a veto over the Turkish deployment. KR

IRAQI PROTEST AT BAGHDAD MOSQUE ENDS PEACEFULLY
Some 2,000 Iraqis converged on the Al-Bayya Mosque in Baghdad on 7 October to protest the arrest of the mosque's Imam, Shaykh Mu'ayyad al-Khazraji, by U.S. forces earlier that day, Al-Arabiyah television reported on 7 October. Al-Khazraji and at least one other mosque employee are accused of storing weapons at the mosque and inciting Iraqis to oppose the U.S. occupation. A witness told Al-Arabiyah that al-Khazraji was placed in U.S. custody at a meeting arranged by a third party for U.S. officials. Protesters demonstrated for several hours in the vicinity of the mosque, blocking a major highway in Baghdad, and dispersed only after U.S. forces withdrew. The U.S. military has not commented on the imam's detention. U.S. forces had also detained and interrogated al-Khazraji on 1 October, arabicnews.com reported the following day. KR

UN IRAQ-KUWAIT OBSERVER MISSION CLOSES
The UN Iraq-Kuwait Observer Mission (UNIKOM) was phased out on 6 October after 12 years in operation, the UN News Center reported on the same day (http://www.un.org/news). UNIKOM was established following the 1991 Gulf War to "deter violations and report on hostile action along the border" between the two countries. The mission suspended most of its activities on the eve of Operation Iraqi Freedom (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 17 and 18 March 2003) and the UN Security Council voted unanimously in July to phase out the mission by October. KR

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