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Newsline - October 16, 2003

Presidential foreign-affairs adviser Sergei Prikhodko announced on 15 October that President Vladimir Putin has begun a tour of Asia that will take him to Malaysia, Thailand, and Kyrgyzstan, Russian media reported. In Malaysia, Putin will participate in a summit of the Organization of the Islamic Conference (OIC) in Kuala Lumpur on 16-17 October, and he will hold meetings with leaders from Pakistan, Iran, and Turkey. Putin will then travel to Bangkok and participate in the annual forum of Asian Pacific Economic Cooperation (APEC) countries on 19-20 October. While there, he is expected to hold talks with U.S. President George W. Bush, Chinese President Hu Jintao, and Japanese Prime Minister Junichiro Koizumi. On 21-22 October, Putin will conduct a state visit in Thailand, and on 23 October he will travel to Kyrgyzstan to participate in the opening ceremony of a new Russian Air Force base in Kant. Prikhodko noted that Putin will be out of Russia for nine days, making this the longest foreign trip of his presidency so far. VY

Speaking in the Kremlin on 15 October with Patriarch of Moscow and All Russia Aleksii II, President Putin said that Russia's participation in the OIC summit is very important for the country, RTR and ORT reported. The Malaysia summit is the first that Russia will attend, after having been invited to attend as an observer during Putin's visit to Malaysia in August (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 6 August 2003). Putin said there are 20 million Muslims in Russia and they have the right to be part of the global Islamic community. OIC participation is a way for Russian Muslims to communicate with other Muslims and for Russia to better appreciate what is going on in the Islamic world, Putin said. VY

RTR commented on 15 October that Russia is the only major European country invited to participate in the OIC summit, which will be attended by 57 Islamic countries. The Kuala Lumpur meeting is the first OIC summit since the 11 September 2001 terrorist attacks against the United States, and it is expected that some radical forces will call for an oil embargo and a boycott of the U.S. dollar. Russia's participation could moderate those voices, the television station commented. Putin will also use the opportunity to advance Russia's political and economic interests in the Islamic world, RTR added. VY

A conference titled "The Diaspora Is a Russian Intellectual Resource" organized by the Russian government opened in Moscow on 15 October, with 300 delegates representing Russian emigre communities in 58 countries, ORT reported. According to the Foreign Ministry, there are about 35 million Russian speakers living outside of Russia, including about 27 million living in the former Soviet republics and 8 million living elsewhere. There are about 3 million Russian speakers -- representing four waves of emigration in the 20th century -- living in the United States. ORT noted that Russian speakers play an active role in political and economic lives of the countries where they live, and cited the recent gubernatorial election in California as an example. Governor-elect Arnold Schwarzenegger was reportedly widely supported by local Russian speakers. Addressing the Moscow conference, Moscow Mayor Yurii Luzhkov called for a federal agency to coordinate contacts with Russian communities abroad. Duma Committee for CIS Affairs Chairman Andrei Kokoshin (Fatherland-Unified Russia) said that the government has increased spending for support of Russian speakers abroad by 25 percent in 2003, RTR reported on 15 October. VY

Speaking at a Moscow press conference on 15 October, Emergency Situations Minister Sergei Shoigu said reforms in his ministry have enabled it to eliminate unnecessary personnel, increase salaries, and attract qualified new specialists, "Izvestiya" and other Russian media reported on 16 October. During the reforms, ministry troops were cut by about 75 percent, including the dismantling of 16 regiments and six brigades. Shoigu said the ministry now employees 371,000 people, including 86 generals. He noted that proportionally his ministry has about one-third as many generals as the Defense Ministry has. The Emergency Situations Ministry has an annual budget of 17 billion rubles ($530 million), which is just one-twentieth of what the Defense Ministry receives, Shoigu said. VY

The Duma on 15 October adopted in all three readings a draft law that would authorize the release of data about reserves, extraction rates, supplies, and demand of diamonds and platinum-group metals on domestic markets, ITAR-TASS and reported. This information is currently considered a state secret. The bill would maintain the classified status of diamond and platinum-group-metal reserves held by the state treasury and the Central Bank. Duma Natural Resources Committee Chairman Aleksandr Belyakov (Unity-Unified Russia) said the bill, which conforms to World Trade Organization (WTO) rules, will boost the turnover of Russian diamonds and precious metals both domestically and abroad and will increase the market capitalization of Russian companies working in the sector. VY

The State Duma on 15 October approved the draft 2004 state budget in its second reading, Russian media reported. The vote was 236 in favor, with 157 against and one abstention. Liberal Democratic Party of Russia (LDPR) leader Vladimir Zhirinovskii told Ekho Moskvy that he welcomes the increase in military spending envisioned in the current draft. Deputies on the left were less happy, and according to NTV, spent four hours during the session trying to get their budget amendments approved. State Duma Speaker Gennadii Seleznev, who also heads the Party of Russia's Rebirth, complained that the budget does not include raises for public-sector workers and that "the trend toward poverty in Russia" will continue. Legislators also approved in their second reading two bills aimed at "de-bureaucratizing" the economy, ITAR-TASS reported. The first bill would simplify the procedure for registering businesses and setting up tax accounts for legal entities and individual entrepreneurs. The second bill would provide easier access to credit for small businesses. JAC

Police have arrested two men in connection with the 10 October killing of Tolyatti newspaper editor Aleksei Sidorov, Russian media reported (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 14 October 2003). According to Interior Ministry Directorate for the Volga Federal District head Vladimir Shcherbakov, investigators believe Sidorov got caught up in a fight with two strangers who had run out of vodka, reported on 15 October. However, reported that, according to witnesses, Sidorov was stabbed immediately after he emerged from his car and that there was no conversation about vodka. According to the police, Sidorov had been sitting outside his home drinking vodka. Sidorov's colleagues have rejected this story and insist that Sidorov's death was a contract hit. JAC

Emergency Situations Minister and Unified Russia Higher Council co-Chairman Shoigu told reporters on 15 October that he is on the side of the journalists and legislators who have challenged in the Constitutional Court the law regulating media coverage of elections (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 14 October 2003). Shoigu said he does not believe it is possible to follow every rule in the legislation. "How do you expect to ensure that a candidate for a State Duma seat does not take advantage of what you might call their administrative resources, which includes the use of office telephones," he said. "Does this mean that I would have to pop out of my office to use a payphone?" Shoigu also announced that he will take a vacation from his ministerial duties on 27 October to participate in the Duma campaign. Shoigu is No. 2 on the Unified Russia party list. JAC

Five monuments to former Soviet leader Vladimir Lenin have been restored in Krasnoyarsk Krai over the past 18 months, and only in one instance was the restoration undertaken at the initiative of a local Communist Party branch, "Izvestiya" reported on 15 October. According to the daily, the restoration work has been done by "simple people." "The symbols of the communist epoch no longer have a great ideological resonance in the masses' consciousness," the daily wrote. "Now they are simply [reminders] of recent history that Russian citizens have learned to treat with respect independent of their [ideological] value." In Krasnoyarsk, both local democrats and Communists are happy about the new attitude. Vycheslav Novikov, former chairman of the krai's first Yeltsin-era Council of People's Deputies, commented: "What is happening now is not about a rebirth of communist ideology, but an objective evaluation of our history." According to the daily, similar monuments are being restored in Kaluga, Rostov, Astrakhan, and Kaliningrad oblasts. JAC

President Putin has signed a decree appointing former acting St. Petersburg Governor Aleksandr Beglov as first deputy presidential envoy to the Northwest Federal District, Russian media reported on 15 October. Beglov has been acting governor since former Governor Vladimir Yakovlev resigned last June to become deputy prime minister. He heads the local branch of the pro-presidential Unified Russia party. Also on 15 October, Valentina Matvienko, former presidential envoy to the Northwest Federal District, was inaugurated as governor of St. Petersburg. Matvienko's replacement as presidential envoy to the Northwest Federal District has not yet been named. JAC

"Izvestiya" Editor in Chief Mikhail Kozhokin told Ekho Moskvy on 15 October that he has resigned in order to launch a new project. However, the newspaper's board of directors has reportedly refused to accept his resignation, ITAR-TASS reported. reported the same day, citing unidentified sources, that Kozhokin will be replaced by "Gazeta" Editor in Chief Raf Shakirov, who is also a former editor of "Kommersant-Daily," because Prof-Media -- the media-holding arm of Vladimir Potanin's Interros group which owns a controlling stake in the newspaper -- wants to target a new readership: the Russian "middle class" and younger readers. JAC

The Republican Party of Armenia (HHK) and its junior coalition partners, Orinats Yerkir (Law-Based State) and the Armenian Revolutionary Federation-Dashnaktsutiun, met late on 15 October to finalize the distribution of additional deputy ministerial positions that the latter two parties had demanded, RFE/RL's Yerevan bureau reported (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 26 September and 8 and 10 October 2003). The HHK is in line to receive 12 such posts, and the other two parties five or six each, a division that will necessitate the creation of an additional seven deputy ministerial positions. LF

Mazahir Panakhov, chairman of Azerbaijan's Central Election Commission (CEC), told journalists on 16 October that with 91 percent of the ballots cast in the previous day's presidential election counted, Prime Minister Ilham Aliev was the clear winner with 79.5 percent of the vote, defeating seven rival candidates, ITAR-TASS reported. In second place was opposition Musavat Party Chairman Isa Gambar with 12.8 percent, followed by independent candidate Lala Shovket Gadjieva (3.31 percent), Azerbaijan National Independence Party (AMIP) Chairman Etibar Mamedov (2.72 percent), Civic Solidarity Party Chairman Sabir Rustamkhanli (0.77 percent), Adalet party Chairman Ilyas Ismailov (0.83 percent), Popular Front splinter group leader Gudrat Gasanguliev (0.46 percent) and Modern Musavat Party Chairman Hafiz Hadjiev (0.33 percent). Voter turnout was estimated at 71 percent of the country's 4.38 million registered voters. Interfax on 15 October quoted Panakhov as telling journalists that "on the whole...the election has been transparent and democratic." The press service of the ruling Yeni Azerbaycan Party, however, issued a statement on 15 October accusing opposition party members of exerting physical pressure on members of district election commissions, Interfax reported. LF

Local and international election observers registered widespread flagrant violations of election legislation during the 15 October ballot. Musavat Party Deputy Chairman Vurgun Eyyub told journalists that the most serious shortcoming was the apparently deliberate omission from voter lists of thousands of opposition sympathizers, Turan reported. He said some 3,150 people appealed to courts in five Baku districts to be reinstated in voter registers, but judges were unable to reinstate all of them. Turan also quoted an unofficial source that estimated the number of people excluded in the tens of thousands. In addition, some opposition observers reported being evicted from polling stations, while others reportedly saw wads of ballots marked in favor of Prime Minister Aliev being stuffed into ballot boxes. The CEC rejected on 15 October a demand by its five opposition representatives to discuss procedural violations, Turan reported. LF

Musavat Party Chairman Gambar told journalists at his headquarters late on 15 October that his observers who witnessed the vote count at an unspecified number of polling stations concluded that Gambar collected 60 percent of the vote, Turan reported. He said he will not yield to what he termed the authorities' attempt to steal the election. Exit polls of 2,414 voters at 200 polling stations throughout Azerbaijan conducted by the independent ADAM Center and Turan gave Gambar 46.2 percent of the vote, followed by Aliev (24.1 percent), Gadjieva (11.4 percent), Mamedov (11 percent), Ismailov (3.7 percent), Rustamkhanli (2.5 percent), Gasankuliev (0.6 percent), and Gadjiev (0.2 percent). LF

Some 100 black-uniformed men attacked a crowd of several hundred Gambar supporters who congregated late on 15 October outside Musavat Party headquarters, Turan reported. Several dozen people -- 18 of them journalists -- were injured and 15 Musavat Party members were arrested, after which police deliberately wrecked 10 foreign cars belonging to top Musavat Party officials. Among those assaulted by police were Ambassador Peter Eicher, who heads the OSCE Election Observation Mission, Turan reported. On 16 October, the Baku prosecutor's office opened criminal cases in connection with the clashes, which it blamed on Musavat supporters, ITAR-TASS reported. LF

AMIP issued on 16 October a statement affirming that the party does not acknowledge as valid the official results of the 15 October presidential election, Turan reported. The statement said that "at all stages of the election the basic principles of free and democratic competition were violated," and listed reported violations of the election law, including ballot-box stuffing and the harassment of opposition and independent observers. The Azerbaijan Popular Front Party progressive wing, AMIP's election-bloc partner, issued a similar statement rejecting the official results. LF

One of the physicians treating outgoing President Heidar Aliev at the Cleveland Clinic in the United States told a Turkish television channel on 15 October that Aliev's health is improving and he is undergoing "complete rehabilitation," Interfax reported. But at the same time the doctor said it is impossible to predict when the president will be discharged from the clinic and allowed to return to Azerbaijan. "Whether it will take three days, a week, a month, I cannot say," the doctor said. Presidential administration head Ramiz Mekhtiev said on 7 October he has no doubt that Aliev will return to Baku before the end of October (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 8 October 2003). Meanwhile the Azerbaijani Embassy in Washington announced on 15 October that a ballot box was transported to Aliev's hospital bed to enable him to cast his ballot in the presidential election, Interfax reported. LF

The National Movement announced on 15 October that it will boycott the 2 November parliamentary election and launch a nationwide campaign to demand the government's resignation unless the Georgian authorities take measures within two days to preclude the "total falsification" of the ballot, Caucasus Press and the website of the independent television station Rustavi-2 reported. LF

At a meeting in Tbilisi on 15 October, a group of 10-15 NGOs unveiled a 10-point program intended to expedite the transition to a liberal democracy, Caucasus Press and reported. The program encompasses reforming the system of government; dismissing former Communist Party, Komsomol, and KGB officials; adopting a law on the confiscation of illegally acquired property; improving the business climate; restoring Georgia's territorial integrity; achieving the closure by 2007 of the remaining Russian military bases in the country; payment by 2006 of back pensions and wages; adopting a new law on press freedom; introducing jury trials; introducing elections for the posts of mayor of Tbilisi and Poti; and making the education system financially and administratively independent. LF

Addressing a government session on 15 October, Eduard Shevardnadze criticized parliament deputies and, in particular, parliament speaker Nino Burdjanadze for devoting themselves to their re-election campaigns instead of to considering important draft legislation, Caucasus Press and reported. Shevardnadze proposed convening an emergency session of parliament to pass those bills. LF

The co-chairmen of the Kazakh reformist Ak Zhol (Bright Path) Party told a news conference in Almaty on 15 October that the recent nationwide local-council elections showed that Kazakhstan needs to adopt new election laws and join the CIS Convention on Standards for Free and Fair Elections, Interfax-Kazakhstan reported. The elections were held on 20 September and 12 October. Ak Zhol co-Chairmen Alikhan Baimenov and Bulat Abilov noted that there have been numerous reports of election-law violations during the two rounds of campaigning, many of them involving interference by executive-branch organs in the election process. Abilov added that his party intends to file complaints with the courts in cases where alleged election violations might have affected Ak Zol members. About 140 Ak Zhol members were elected to local councils nationwide. BB

Ak Zhol Party leaders Baimenov and Abilov also told the 15 October news conference that the Kazakh state oil-and-gas firm KazMunaiGaz should stick to the extraction of hydrocarbons and not venture into the media sector, Interfax-Kazakhstan reported. KazMunaiGaz has announced plans to set up a media holding company that would include a news agency, newspapers, and a company that will rebroadcast the programs of Russia's NTV television channel with Kazakh news added. Reportedly, organizers of the holding company have asked government officials to grant them broadcast frequencies without making them go through the legally required tender process. Abilov objected specifically to the use of state funds to set up the media venture. He also criticized the proposal to rebroadcast Russian programs rather than create an independent station that would create its own programming. BB

Three members of the Muslim extremist movement Hizb ut-Tahrir are being prosecuted in Shymkent, the administrative center of South Kazakhstan Oblast, for allegedly running a clandestine printing house that produced Hiz ut-Tahrir literature, KazInform reported on 16 October. The printing house, which was reportedly set up in a Shymkent apartment by three men from Kyzylorda Oblast, was discovered and shut down by security officials in August (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 29 August 2003). The men are being prosecuted for producing and distributing material inciting interethnic and interconfessional hatred. Major Kanat Imanaliev, deputy head of the antiterrorism department of the Shymkent National Security Committee branch, complained that Hizb ut-Tahrir is not officially banned in Kazakhstan, making it more difficult for the authorities to deal with it. He added that among the alleged Hizb ut-Tahrir members who have been questioned in connection with the printing-house case were a number of government employees. Previously, he said, movement members were usually unemployed. Imanaliev declined to specify how many Hizb ut-Tahrir members there are in South Kazakhstan Oblast. BB

Nursultan Nazarbaev told the Civic Forum in Astana on 15 October that a draft law on nongovernmental organizations has been discarded, Interfax-Kazakhstan reported. The Civic Forum, which ended on 15 October, was a meeting of NGO representatives and government officials that was intended to find ways for the government and civil society to work together (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 15 October 2003). Nazarbaev told the forum that he knew the draft law was controversial, and he admitted that some of its provisions were not clear, a point that has been made publicly by a number of NGO activists. Nazarbaev indicated that NGO leaders said the same thing to him during the forum. He said that he has instructed the government to draft a new NGO bill and a draft law on state procurement orders. BB

President Nazarbaev also told the 15 October session of the Civic Forum that state procurement orders will become the basic mechanism for government support of nongovernmental organizations, Interfax-Kazakhstan reported. These state orders will be used to finance projects that are important for society and that can be implemented by NGOs. Nazarbaev said that 42 million tenges (about $285,000) has been earmarked in the 2003 state budget for such projects. A similar plan to use state orders to fund independent media has been sharply criticized by independent journalists as indirect censorship, because the state orders will certainly go to uncritical media. BB

In his annual Message to the People of Kyrgyzstan, which was delivered to both houses of parliament on 15 October, Askar Akaev stated that the country's top priority in 2004 is poverty reduction, and other Kyrgyz media reported. Akaev spoke of Kyrgyzstan's achievements in state building, and said that three steps must be taken for stable development: ensuring honest administration, implementing an effective economic policy that will bring Kyrgyzstan into global markets and provide the basis for social welfare, and overcoming poverty. International lending agencies have designated Kyrgyzstan as among the seven poorest CIS states. Akaev said he intends to start the 2004 assault on poverty by raising salaries for teachers and physicians and by increasing financial support for educational reform. BB

Students and teachers of the Yakub Kolas National Humanities Lyceum in Minsk, which was closed by authorities in June (see "RFE/RL Poland, Belarus, and Ukraine Report," 19 August 2003 and "RFE/RL Newsline," 2 September 2003), are continuing their classes "in secret" by meeting at private locations in the Belarusian capital, RFE/RL's Belarusian Service reported on 15 September. "We are studying like we did before, when we were in the lyceum [building]," a student told RFE/RL. "Of course, there are problems with finding a location [for classes]. But we have our former teachers and curriculums." The National Humanities Lyceum was a Western-style educational institution, and the only preparatory school in Belarus that provided instruction in all subjects in the Belarusian language. Its students and teachers have been meeting outside or on various premises since September following an official ban from holding classes in public venues, RFE/RL reported. JM

The Verkhovna Rada session on 16 October started with a blockade of the parliamentary rostrum by deputies from the opposition Socialist Party, Yuliya Tymoshenko Bloc, and Our Ukraine, UNIAN reported. A similar protest was staged by the opposition in the Verkhovna Rada earlier this month (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 2 October 2003). The opposition demanded that the legislature begin voting on bills proposing parliamentary elections under a fully proportional system. The Communist Party caucus did not take part in blocking the rostrum but apparently supports the demand. "The political reform will start only when a law on elections is adopted," Interfax quoted Communist Party head Petro Symonenko as saying. Instead, parliamentary speaker Volodymyr Lytvyn proposed a vote on a bill establishing the monthly subsistence minimum for 2004, but that vote proved abortive. Only 188 deputies from the pro-presidential majority voted for the bill (226 votes were necessary for passage). JM

President Leonid Kuchma has recalled Oleksandr Nykonenko from his post as Ukraine's ambassador to Poland, Interfax reported on 15 October. Nykonenko reportedly attacked and beat a Polish police officer in August after he was detained in Warsaw on suspicion of driving while intoxicated (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 27 August 2003). JM

Margus Hanson flew to Berlin for a meeting on 15 October with his German counterpart Peter Struck, LETA reported. They discussed bilateral and regional defense cooperation, the current state of NATO integration, European security policy, participation in peacekeeping operations, and reforms of the Estonian defense forces. The major projects in Estonian-German defense cooperation concern equipment and training. A good example of naval cooperation is the demining operation Open Spirit 2003, staged under German command in September, according to an unidentified Estonian Defense Ministry official. Hanson and his accompanying delegation also visited the operative staff of the Bundeswehr and met with German parliament Defense Committee Chairman Reinhold Robbe. SG

About 200 people gathered in front of the parliament building in Riga on 15 October, the 12th anniversary of the passage of the country's citizenship law, to protest what they called the division of Latvia's population into citizens and noncitizens, LETA reported. The law recognized only persons who held Latvian citizenship before the Soviet invasion in 1940 and their descendants as citizens. Some protesters wore cardboard mock-ups of the Latvian alien passport or white headbands with the word "noncitizen" written in English. A number of left-wing opposition lawmakers spoke to the crowd from a platform adorned with posters saying "12 Years of Treachery" and "Down with Apartheid in Latvia." Some demonstrators wore T-shirts that read "Hands Off Our Schools," a slogan that was used during protests earlier this year against education reforms that will affect minority schools. Equal Rights parliament deputies Vladimirs Buzajevs and Juris Sokolovskis urged Russian speakers to naturalize, which would allow them greater human rights protection. SG

European Commission Director-General for Economic and Financial Affairs Klaus Regling and Director for International Affairs Alexander Italianer visited Riga on 15 October, LETA reported. They held talks with Economy and Finance Ministers Juris Lujans and Valdis Dombrovskis and Bank of Latvia President Ilmars Rimsevics. The visit is part of a tour that is intended to familiarize commission officials with EU-candidate countries' economic and financial situations. Regling lauded Latvia's GDP growth, noting that there are only a few countries in the world where it is 7 percent a year. Lujans presented a draft report his ministry prepared on Latvia's economy that is still subject to government approval before it is sent to the EU. The report analyzes the structural reform of markets for goods and capital, highlights problems, and describes reforms that are under way or will be launched to eliminate the problems. SG

Lithuanian border guards at the Belarusian border on 15 October halted a shipment of military goods destined for Kaliningrad Oblast because the Russian military officers accompanying the goods did not have the necessary travel documents, "Lietuvos rytas" reported the next day. The Lithuanian Defense Ministry issued permission for the cargo to transit Lithuania, but three of the officers, armed with semiautomatic rifles and pistols, only possessed military identification cards and the fourth a Russian passport without the required transit visa, according to the newspaper. The Russian officer in charge of the shipment said he was unaware of the visa requirement and was only following orders. The wagons with the military equipment were detached from the train and returned to Belarus. SG

Finance Minister Andrzej Raczko told the Sejm on 15 October that the draft 2004 budget prepared by his government seeks to achieve three main goals: provide "quick and balanced" economic growth, prepare conditions for the absorption of EU funds, and allow for more financial decisions by local governments, PAP reported. The government projected budget revenues of 153 billion zlotys ($38.7 billion) and spending of 198 billion zlotys. The draft assumes GDP growth of 5 percent, up from the 3.5 percent forecast for 2003. Annual inflation is expected to rise from the 0.7 percent envisaged in this year's budget to 2 percent in 2004. Unemployment is estimated at 17.8 percent. The ruling Democratic Left Alliance-Labor Union coalition has fully backed the draft budget, while the opposition Civic Platform, Self-Defense, and League of Polish Families called for its rejection during the first reading. JM

Finance Minister Bohuslav Sobotka welcomed a lower-house vote on 15 October in which lawmakers approved a 115 billion-crown ($4.2 billion) state-budget deficit in 2004, "Mlada fronta Dnes" reported the next day. Deputies passed the draft budget 93-89 in its first reading on the strength of votes from the center-left, three-party coalition. Two further readings are required to cement individual elements within the budget. Sobotka noted "tough opposition from the right and the left" to reforms contained in the draft, which includes revenues of 754 billion crowns and 869 billion crowns in expenditures. The proposed deficit would be the state's highest since the split of Czechoslovakia in 1993 and represents roughly 45,000 crowns per capita, "Mlada fronta Dnes" reported. AH

Parliamentary speaker Pavol Hrusovsky informed Slovak President Rudolf Schuster on 15 October that he will schedule a presidential election for 3 April 2004, with a second round on 17 April if necessary, TASR and Reuters reported. The vote is likely to be viewed as a popular verdict on the current four-party government led by Mikulas Dzurinda, which marks one year in office on 16 October but lost its majority in September when three deputies defected from a junior ruling party. Schuster, whose role has taken on new significance amid the increasingly divided political landscape, is weighing a decision on whether to run for a second five-year term. The strongest opposition parties have yet to announce their backing, whether for Schuster, any of several politicians who have announced their candidacies, or for their own candidate. AH

Hungarian Foreign Minister Laszlo Kovacs sent a letter to his Slovak counterpart Eduard Kukan on 15 October urging him to clarify the Slovak government's position on education subsidies for ethnic Hungarians in Slovakia within the framework of Hungary's Status Law, "Nepszabadsag" reported on 16 October. Hungary is awaiting Slovakia's response, the daily said, noting that the two foreign ministers met in July to discuss the implementation of the Status Law on Slovak territory. Expert-level bilateral consultations have also been held on the subject. The Hungarian Foreign Ministry believes that providing education subsidies to ethnic Hungarians abroad is in line with European norms and therefore should continue after the two countries join the European Union, "Nepszabadsag" reported. MSZ

The governing Democratic Opposition of Serbia (DOS) coalition sought on 16 October to put off discussion in the 250-member legislature of several no-confidence measures that could lead to the fall of the government, international and regional media reported (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 15 October 2003). The DOS recently secured a two-day postponement of the debate and now wants a further delay until after the 16 November Serbian presidential vote. Attention is centered on the Social Democrats, who are a minor member of DOS but in favor of the debate. Former Yugoslav President Vojislav Kostunica said the DOS has already lost its legislative majority and that parliamentary elections should be held as soon as possible. The Democratic Party of Prime Minister Zoran Zivkovic seeks to prevent the defection from DOS of some individual legislators belonging to smaller parties, who are reportedly seeking either cash payments for their loyalties or a lowering of the electoral threshold in the next elections from 5 percent to 2 percent. Recent polls bode ill for the smaller members of DOS, which tend to be parties based on allegiances to specific leaders rather than to distinct programs. PM

Miroljub Labus, who heads the opposition G-17 Plus political party, told Vienna's "Die Presse" that Serbia will never control Kosova again, RFE/RL's South Slavic and Albanian Languages Service reported (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 15 October 2003). He stressed that those who govern in Kosova must win their offices through elections, and that their ranks must include members of the Serbian minority. Labus said Serbia's main interest in Kosova is for the refugees to be able to return home and live there in safety. PM

High Representative Paddy Ashdown said in Sarajevo on 15 October that he is tired of delaying tactics by the Bosnian Serb authorities in revealing the truth about the August 1995 Srebrenica massacre in which some 8,000 mainly Muslim males were killed, constituting Europe's largest single atrocity since World War II, dpa reported. "This process is taking far too long. It is simply unacceptable that getting the truth from the Bosnian Serb government is like extracting rotten teeth," Ashdown stressed. He gave the Banja Luka authorities a six-month deadline by which they must give a serious accounting of the massacre, including the whereabouts of the 5,000 Muslims still missing, to Bosnia's Human Rights Chamber. Earlier this year, that body called on the Republika Srpska to account for the missing persons and pay about $2.3 million in compensation to victims' families (see "RFE/RL Balkan Report," 6 September 2002). On 16 October, the Republika Srpska government said it will provide the information Ashdown has requested, RFE/RL's South Slavic and Albanian Languages Service reported. PM

In two separate meetings with members of the government body coordinating the upcoming weapons-collection campaign, leading members of the opposition Party for Democratic Prosperity (PPD) and the Democratic Party of the Albanians (PDSH) said on 15 October that they support the six-week operation that begins on 1 November, "Utrinski vesnik" reported. PPD Chairman Abdulmenaf Bexheti said his party fully supports the campaign, adding that he hopes that it also leads to the "disarmament of minds." PDSH Secretary-General Ruzhdi Matoshi said his party will call on its members to hand in their arms. However, he also said that mayors from his party will not participate in local disarmament commissions because the PDSH believes the campaign should be held only at a later date (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 5 September 2003 and "RFE/RL Balkan Report," 29 August 2003). UB

The Romanian government's Controllers Office and the European Commission's Anti-Fraud Office (OLAF) are jointly investigating the alleged misappropriation of 5 million euros ($5.8 million) in EU Phare funds in Romania, Romanian media reported. Media outlets have reported that Romanian businessman Octavian Ionescu, who currently resides in Switzerland, is claiming that governmental adviser Virgil Teodorescu and 10 local officials in Prahova County solicited him for more than $2 million in bribes in exchange for a government guarantee worth 60 million euros. Ionescu needed the guarantee in order to obtain EU credits under the EU's Phare aid program, which would enable him to participate in a resort project in Busteni. Ionescu said that after delivering an initial $95,000 he could not come up with the rest of the bribe money, so the officials suggested taking it from the funds he was to receive from the EU. Ionescu alleges that upon his refusal to comply with the demand, 5 million euros in Phare funds were directed to another project he claims is "unknown to the EU." ZsM

Prosecutor Alexandru Chiciu on 14 October said the Romanian National Anticorruption Prosecutor's Office has been investigating the possible involvement of governmental officials in the alleged bribery case for several months, Mediafax reported on 14 October. Teodorescu's boss, Minister Serban Mihailescu, who is tasked with coordinating the government's general secretariat, has denied receiving any money from Ionescu. Prahova County Council Chairman Mircea Cosma has filed a formal complaint accusing Ionescu of slander. According to Romanian Radio, President Ion Iliescu on 15 October said the case has to be thoroughly investigated, adding that not only those who receive bribes are at fault, but also those who offer them. Prime Minister Adrian Nastase said he has ordered a "very, very serious" investigation into the case. ZsM

Leaders of the Opposition Alliance for Justice and the Truth and Humanist Party (PUR) on 15 October signed a cooperation agreement aimed at supervising the referendum on the constitution slated for 18 and 19 October, Antena 1 television reported. Alliance co-chairmen Theodor Stolojan and Traian Basescu and PUR Chairman Dan Voiculescu said their representatives will supervise the voting procedures and will pay particular attention to the night between the two voting days, which is seen as the most likely time for possible fraud to occur. This is the first such cooperation agreement between the recently established alliance (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 24 and 29 September 2003) and the PUR, which separated from the ruling Social Democratic Party in August (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 28 August and 2 September 2003). ZsM

Some 8,000 trade-union representatives marched through downtown Bucharest on 15 October to demand the Romanian government's resignation, local media reported. Unions have requested an increase in the minimum monthly wage to 100 euros ($116) in 2004 and more effective measures to combat illegal labor and corruption. Leaders of the BNS, CSDR, and ALFA trade confederations had already held talks with Marian Sarbu, a minister charged with overseeing social affairs (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 9 October 2003). The unionists have threatened to continue their protests if their demands are not met. ZsM

Moldovan Prime Minister Vasile Tarlev said on 15 October that relations with Romania are "better than before," adding that there is no "cold war" between the two countries, Basa-Press reported. Tarlev said that "all divergences will be solved," as a bilateral group is currently trying to tackle the most contentious issues -- including a bilateral treaty sought by Chisinau and disputed references from Bucharest to "the two Romanian states." Tarlev said Moldova expects "support and cooperation in all fields" from Romania. ZsM

Prime Minister Simeon Saxecoburggotski and retired General Brigo Asparuhov on 15 October agreed that Asparuhov will not become Saxecoburggotski's personal adviser on security issues, the government's official website reported ( During the talks, Asparuhov said he does not want to be the "object of further unmotivated attacks, which often border on open lies," the press release said. He added that he does not want his name to be connected to possible delays in the country's future Euro-Atlantic integration. Representatives of the United States, Britain, and NATO have expressed concern over Asparuhov's nomination. Former National Intelligence Service head Asparuhov was charged for his alleged role in the fall of the country's first noncommunist government in 1992 and his past as spy for the communist-era secret service (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 30 September and 6, 7, 8, and 10 October 2003, and End Note, "RFE/RL Newsline," 9 October 2003). UB

According to a recent opinion poll carried out by the ASSA-M agency, the opposition Socialist Party (BSP) will win upcoming mayoral elections slated for 26 October in as many as 18 of the country's bigger cities, the "Sofia Morning News" reported. The governing National Movement Simeon II is likely to suffer a major setback, as many voters are disappointed with the government's work. According to a poll carried out by the state-owned National Center for Public Opinion Research (NTsIOM), incumbent Sofia Mayor Stefan Sofiyanski (Union of Liberal Democrats) stands a good chance of being re-elected, reported. The poll predicts a second-round runoff between Sofiyanski and his former ally, opposition Union of Democratic Forces Chairwoman Nadezhda Mihailova. Sofia and the country's second-largest city Plovdiv are traditionally conservative strongholds. UB

Earlier this month, the Ukrainian Foreign Ministry issued a statement warning the Russian government that the construction of a dam, already under way, between Russia's Taman Peninsula and the islet of Tuzla in the Kerch Strait may violate Ukraine's state-border and territorial integrity. According to some reports in the Ukrainian media, after the construction of the dam, the Russian side plans to construct a frontier post on the islet, which Ukraine considers to be its own territory. In response, the Ukrainian side has reportedly reinforced the islet with a border-guard unit and installed antitank defenses. According to some Russian newspapers, the dam, which is 30 meters wide, is now only 1 kilometer away from the islet.

Kerch Strait is a shallow channel connecting the Azov Sea with the Black Sea and separating Ukraine's Crimean Peninsula in the west from Russia's Taman Peninsula in the east. Until 1925, Tuzla was the Tuzla Spit, but a heavy storm that year disconnected it from Russia's Krasnodar Krai, which is inhabited in part by the so-called Kuban Cossacks, relatives to the Ukrainian Cossacks of the past. In 1941, Tuzla became an administrative part of Crimea; in 1954, Crimea was ceded to Soviet Ukraine. Thus, following the breakup of the Soviet Union, Ukraine considered Tuzla to be its own territory. A dozen families of fishermen -- Ukrainian citizens -- live on the islet, which also hosts several holiday hotels belonging to the port of Kerch on the Crimean Peninsula. The Tuzla islet is some 7 kilometers long and 500 meters wide.

Ukrainian and Russian media seem to be rather confused as to why the construction of the dam was started and who authorized it. Several versions exist. According to one, the decision was made by an unspecified self-government body of the Kuban Cossacks in the Taman Raion of Krasnodar Krai, who reportedly want to stop water from the Taman Bay mixing with the much saltier water from the Black Sea. The Kuban Cossacks are supposedly concerned with the salinization of their environment, which makes it impossible for them to breed certain species of fish that are used to fresher waters. By this version, the builders of the dam -- who reportedly include a lot of nonsalaried Kuban Cossack activists -- are going to stop their building effort several meters away from Ukraine's border.

But the much-respected "Zerkalo nedeli" weekly in Kyiv suggests a slightly different version: the dam project is secretly supported by local businessmen from Crimea and Krasnodar Krai, who allegedly want to urge both Moscow and Kyiv to build a more solid connection between Crimea and Russia -- a bridge between Tuzla and Kerch. The dam project is reportedly supported by the leader of the Crimean communists, Ukrainian parliamentary deputy Leonid Hrach, who is known for his various ideas to make trade and other contacts between Crimea and Russia more intense. These ideas include not only building a bridge over the Kerch Strait, but also, surprisingly, laying a water pipeline along this bridge. "Zerkalo nedeli" suggests that Hrach may be interested in piping cheap alcohol from Ossetia into Crimea.

However, the Tuzla controversy may also have more serious consequences, of a political, economic, and military nature. First, Ukraine and Russia for many years have been at loggerheads regarding the delimitation of the border in the Azov Sea, in general, and Kerch Strait in particular. More than 100 oil and natural-gas deposits have been discovered in the Azov Sea. Their exploitation by Russia or Ukraine, with no delimitated border between them, carries the potential risk of a full-scale international row over their sea frontier.

Second, Kerch Strait is fairly shallow; big ships can only navigate the strait through an artificially made fairway that is administered and controlled by Crimea's port of Kerch. It is estimated that the Kerch administration takes in up to $180 million annually from the passage of Russian and other ships entering the Azov Sea.

Moreover, the Tuzla islet has a strategic military importance -- as long as Kyiv controls it, it also controls the traffic between the Black Sea and the Azov Sea, including that of naval vessels.

Some Ukrainian politicians and journalists have speculated that the Kremlin has decided to reconnect Tuzla with the Russian mainland and take the islet under its administration, thus gaining more control over the navigation in Kerch Strait. "The Russian action on Tuzla is primarily a test of Ukraine's capability to defend its territorial integrity and an illustration of [Moscow's intent] to swallow Ukraine as a whole -- through the Single Economic Space -- or in parts, [by taking] Tuzla and Sevastopol," Borys Bespalyy, a deputy from the opposition Our Ukraine bloc, told UNIAN.

Some are more cautious in their assessment of the dam controversy, but no less far-sighted. Their view of the controversy derives from a statement by the Krasnodar Krai governor earlier this month, who said on a Russian television channel that the construction of the dam is being carried out following an accord reached between Ukrainian President Leonid Kuchma and his Russian counterpart Vladimir Putin during their meeting in September. According to this theory, when the dam is only a few meters from the islet, Kuchma will personally arrive at Tuzla and "order" that the construction be stopped, thus quashing the potential border conflict between the two countries and securing the country's territorial integrity. This version implies a conspiracy between Kuchma and Putin -- allegedly oriented toward boosting Kuchma's rating in Ukraine and making a third presidential term possible for him.

Kuchma said on 6 October that the construction of the dam involves a "misunderstanding" rather than "politics." Asked whether this situation may provoke a border conflict with Russia, Kuchma said he refuses to believe such a development could occur. Last week in Moscow, Ukrainian Foreign Minister Kostyantyn Hryshchenko spoke with Russian Foreign Minister Igor Ivanov and Russian Prime Minister Mikhail Kasyanov about the dam controversy. No details of the talks have been released.

The Verkhovna Rada adopted a statement on 14 October appealing to the Russian parliament to intervene in the construction of the dam in order to stop any "unilateral actions" that may contradict "the spirit of strategic partnership of the two countries." In the event the dam project is continued, the Ukrainian legislature pledged "to initiate all measures envisaged by the norms of international law to protect a state's territorial sovereignty."

CARE International welcomed this week's UN Security Council vote to expand the International Security Assistance Force (ISAF) beyond Kabul (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 14 and 15 October 2003) in a statement released on 16 October. However, the statement asserted that the Provincial Reconstruction Team (PRT) system has not proven to be an adequate response to more threatening environments, such as those in which antigovernment terrorism, drug-based criminality, and warlordism are prevalent. Citing the expected takeover of a PRT in Konduz Province by Germany, the statement warned that, rather than fulfilling traditional peacekeeping functions, PRTs continue to implement reconstruction projects in areas where professional assistance organizations are free to work. CARE urges NATO members to move urgently from political acknowledgement of the need for ISAF expansion to the urgent deployment of a security-assistance force of sufficient scale to make a meaningful contribution to improved security throughout Afghanistan. AT

Citizens in the Balkh Province are disappointed with the work of the PRT in their province, Hindukosh news agency reported on 15 October. The PRT in the Balkh capital of Mazar-e Sharif that is run by the United Kingdom has a budget of $5 million, which cannot meet the expectations of the people there, according to the report. Troops belonging to the PRT in Mazar-e Sharif did not intervene during fierce fighting in that city that claimed more than 50 lives on 8-10 October (see below). AT

As a result of the UN vote to extend the ISAF mandate beyond Kabul, Belgium is willing to contribute troops to the PRT that Germany will be leading in Konduz Province, "De Standaard" reported on 15 October. According to the report, Belgium would contribute 50-60 soldiers to help the estimated 450 German troops who will be assigned to Konduz. AT

Markus Lyra, head of the Finnish Foreign Ministry's political department, said on 15 October that his country might send an additional 50 troops to serve outside Kabul, the "Helsingin Sanomat" website ( reported. Lyra did not say where the Finnish troops would likely be based. Finland currently has a contingent serving with ISAF in Kabul. "The problem in Afghanistan is that the situation has to be controlled with fairly modest input. For instance, the Kosovo model is impossible. If we sent a unit equal to the one we sent to Kosovo, it would be enormous," Lyra said. NATO has calculated that Afghanistan requires 2,000-10,000 additional troops. AT

The commander of the 7th Army Corps in Balkh Province, General Ata Mohammad, praised his troops on 14 October for "bravery against [General Abdul Rashid] Dostum's militia," Balkh TV reported. In a reference to fighting near Mazar-e Sharif between troops loyal to his party, Jamiat-e Islami, and soldiers loyal to Dostum's Junbish-e Melli on 8-10 October (see "REF/RL Newsline," 10 and 11 October 2003), Ata Mohammad said "unsuccessful enemies of our religion, glory, and nation perpetrated a big plot and conspiracies to rob and plunder everything our people have." He added that his side is "not ready to give our guns to anyone unless our people are given a guarantee that nothing will happen." Ata Mohammad added that it is the right and responsibility of the 7th Army Crops to "defend the dignity and prestige of our countrymen." He said Dostum's forces "have brought about a big disaster." Ata Mohammad concluded his speech by saying, "We will not accept any regime or government that is against Islam and the mujahedin." AT

International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) Director-General Mohammad el-Baradei arrived in Tehran on 16 October and upon arrival announced, "I am here to see what Iran has so far done with regards to the IAEA deadline [of 31 October] and what the country intends to do further until then," dpa reported. El-Baradei said during the flight to Iran that Tehran has not been sufficiently cooperative, "We have been making progress but not with the speed we would like to see," AFP reported. "Iran has been offering us additional information, additional access, but not the 100 percent transparency and not the proactive cooperation I would like to see if we were to be able to get full information we need by the end of the month," el-Baradei said. The agency also has requested access to military sites that it would like to inspect before 31 October, Reuters reported from Vienna on 15 October, citing anonymous diplomats. Tehran has agreed to provide access to this shortlist of sites, the news agency added. One Western diplomat was quoted by Reuters as saying it is almost certain that some sort of "non-compliance verdict" will be issued at the next IAEA Board of Governors meeting, but this does not necessarily mean the imposition of sanctions. BS

Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ruhollah Khamenei said in a speech at the 15 October review of military units in Zanjan Province that international bullies are raising a fuss about the Iranian nuclear program and accusing Iran of having military objectives, state television reported. He denounced such moves as hypocritical because the "warmongers" launched two world wars in a 20-year period, and they are now launching wars "for the benefit of leech-like capitalists" and to encourage the arms trade. Khamenei said Iran will withstand its enemies' bullying and avarice. In a 14 October speech to the province's students and scholars, Khamenei said the effort to block Iranian access to nuclear technology reflects a U.S. desire to return to Iran, state television reported. Khamenei said, in state television's words, that "wise resistance against the greedy states" is the only way to protect Iran's honor, dignity, and freedom. BS

President Hojatoleslam Mohammad Khatami arrived in Kuala Lumpur on 15 October to participate in the Organization of the Islamic Conference (OIC) summit that began the next day, IRNA reported. Khatami is expected to meet with Malaysian Prime Minister Mahathir Mohamad. "We [Muslims] are actually very strong. 1.3 billion people cannot be simply wiped out," Mahathir told the OIC gathering, according to RFE/RL. "The Europeans killed 6 million Jews out of 12 million. But today the Jews rule this world by proxy. They get others to fight and die for them." BS

"I hope that political and press-related prisoners would be freed as soon as possible," Nobel Peace Prize winner Shirin Ebadi said on 15 October at her first press conference after returning to Tehran from Paris, ISNA reported. Ebadi said she will continue to focus on revising Iran's laws and added, "We have always demanded that the government of the Islamic Republic of Iran should respect its international commitments about human rights and should observe human rights." Asked about President Khatami's seeming indifference about her winning the award and his dismissal of the Nobel Peace Prize as politically motivated, Ebadi responded, "His remarks reflected his belief.... What he said was his belief and I respect it." BS

Iranian First Vice President Mohammad Reza Aref-Yazdi told visiting Sudanese Interior Minister Abdel Rahim Mohamed Hussein on 15 October that the expansion of relations would not only benefit the two countries but it would help the Islamic community as a whole, IRNA reported. The Sudanese guest responded that the two countries have similar views on Iraq, Palestine, and the peaceful use of nuclear energy. Hussein, who also is the chairman of the board of directors of Sudan's Defense Industries, met on 14 October with Defense and Armed Forces Logistics Minister Ali Shamkhani, IRNA reported. Shamkhani informed his guest that "Unipolarism that toes the line of a Zionist minority has targeted its attacks towards [the] world of Islam." Hussein called for greater defense and security cooperation between the two countries. BS

Iraqi Shi'ite cleric Kazim al-Ha'iri has reportedly issued a fatwa from his home in Iran banning infighting among Iraqi Shi'ite Muslims, Tehran's Sahar Television reported on 15 October. The fatwa was issued in the wake of armed clashes between Muqtada al-Sadr's Imam al-Mahdi army and Grand Ayatollah Ali al-Sistani's security forces in the holy cities of Karbala and Al-Najaf in recent days. Al-Ha'iri has close ties to al-Sadr. The infighting has created so much tension in Karbala that Bulgarian Military Governor Lieutenant Colonel Petko Marinov reportedly imposed a curfew on the city from 9 p.m. to 6 a.m. on 15 October, Bulgarian state radio reported. Meanwhile, in Al-Nasiriyah, located southeast of Karbala and Al-Najaf, hundreds of al-Sadr supporters staged mass demonstrations in support of the cleric's newly formed shadow government in Iraq (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 13 October 2003), Al-Jazeera reported on 15 October. KR

Iraqi Governing Council members have reportedly also called on Grand Ayatollah Ali al-Sistani and cleric Muqtada al-Sadr to advise their followers to practice self-restraint and avoid escalating the situation in Karbala following this week's fighting between security forces loyal to the two men, Al-Jazeera reported on 16 October. Violence in the city escalated when al-Sadr's men attempted to gain control over the Imam Abbas and Imam Husayn shrines. A Governing Council delegation that included Iraqi interim Interior Minister Nuri al-Badran met with both leaders on 15 October, Al-Arabiyah television reported. During the meeting, al-Sadr, who refuses to recognize the Governing Council, asked council members to work to drop the veto right of U.S. civil administrator L. Paul Bremer as a basic condition for his cooperation with the Governing Council in Iraq, Al-Jazeera reported. Al-Arabiyah noted that al-Sadr said he will support the governing council on the "popular and religious" levels if they are able to eliminate Bremer's veto right. Al-Sadr also reportedly called on the council to expand its membership. KR

U.S. Ambassador to the UN John Negroponte said on 15 October that last-minute changes to the U.S. draft resolution on Iraq are likely to lead to a stronger positive vote than expected in the Security Council this week, Reuters reported on 16 October. Following objections by China, France, Russia, and Germany, the text of the draft resolution was amended to provide for a UN-authorized multinational force to operate under U.S. leadership. The change should win support in Iraq from Pakistan and other countries that have said they will not contribute forces to Iraq without a UN mandate. The draft text also calls on the Iraqi Governing Council to set a timetable by 15 December for the drafting of a constitution and elections. Once a new government is seated, the multinational force is to withdraw, according to the draft. KR

New Iraqi banknotes issued by the U.S.-led administration made their debut throughout Iraq on 15 October, international media reported. The banknotes are restyled versions of older Iraqi notes, minus the image of deposed Iraqi President Saddam Hussein. The banknotes are modeled on the so-called Swiss dinar, the Iraqi banknote used in Iraq until 1990, when Hussein began printing new dinars bearing his likeness. Swiss dinars remained the currency of U.S.-protected northern Iraq after the 1991 Gulf War. The new currency is offered in six new denominations and includes anticounterfeiting safeguards not previously available on Iraqi currency. The new dinar notes will be available in denominations of 50, 250, 1,000, 5,000, 10,000, and 25,000 dinars, the CPA website reported ( Both the pre-1990 Iraqi Swiss dinar, and the Saddam notes can be exchanged for the new dinar until 15 January 2004. The CPA has designated 250 exchange locations for citizens to exchange their money at a rate of one new dinar for one Saddam dinar, and 150 new dinars for one Swiss dinar. The new currency can be viewed on the CPA website. KR