RUBLE REACHES TWO-YEAR HIGH AGAINST DOLLAR...
On 21 October the exchange rate between the U.S. dollar and the Russian ruble fell below the psychologically significant mark of 30 rubles to the dollar for the first time in two years, reaching 29.93, "Nezavisimaya gazeta" and "Novye izvestiya" reported on 22 October. The Central Bank, which over the last two weeks has spent about $2 billion trying to delay the dollar's fall, did not intervene on 21 October. Prominent economist and Renaissance Capital Chairman Aleksandr Shokhin told TV-Tsentr on 21 October that several factors are contributing to the strengthening ruble, including the delayed economic recovery in the United States, the recent raising of Russia's international investment rating, high world energy prices, and the general invigoration of Russian business resulting from domestic political stability. VY
...IN DEVELOPMENT THAT COULD SIGNAL SHIFT TOWARD EURO...
Although Russia's economy and foreign trade remain strongly linked to the U.S. dollar, the new situation could enable Russia to bargain from a position of strength with the European Union regarding transferring the calculation of energy exports from the dollar to the euro, Shokhin told TV-Tsentr on 21 October. If Russia decides on such a step, it could have a serious impact on international currency markets and help to prolong the euro's strength relative to the dollar. However, Shokhin said, Russia should seek some major concessions in exchange. Shokhin, who is a former finance minister and a former chairman of the Duma's Finance Committee, warned that if the dollar becomes too weak, it could have a negative impact on average Russians, who still prefer to hold their personal savings in dollars. He added that the stronger ruble deserves its own internationally recognized symbol like other major currencies. He said he prefers a symbol made from the Cyrillic letter "P" crossed by two horizontal lines. VY
...AS CENTRAL BANK ADJUSTS RESERVES
Russian Central Bank Deputy Chairman Oleg Vyugin said on 20 October that the structure of the country's gold and hard-currency reserves will be altered in view of the weak dollar, "Nezavisimaya gazeta" reported on 21 October. Vyugin said the bank's board has already made a decision to increase the share of other major currencies that it holds by reducing the dollar's share. Deputy Finance Minister Aleksei Ulyukaev said the euro portion of the country's hard-currency reserves should be boosted by 5 percent. Earlier this year, Ulyukaev said the reserves comprise 50 percent U.S. dollars, 30 percent euros, and 20 percent gold and other currencies. VY
PUTIN REPORTEDLY OFFERS HIGH-TECHNOLOGY WEAPONS TO THAILAND
President Vladimir Putin on 21 October began a state visit to Thailand with talks with Thai Prime Minister Thaksin Shinawatra that focused on bilateral trade and defense ties, Russian media reported. The two men signed accords on the settlement of the Soviet Union's $36.5 million debt to Thailand and on military-technical cooperation. Putin, who has been actively lobbying for the Russian arms industry during his Asia tour, offered to sell Thailand some unspecified state-of-the-art weaponry, nns.ru reported on 21 October. Thai Defense Minister General Thammarak Isarangura told journalists that Thailand has generally purchased weapons from the United States and China, but it is interested in some Russian missile systems, nns.ru. VY
PROSECUTORS PROMISE MORE YUKOS INDICTMENTS...
First Deputy Prosecutor-General Yurii Biryukov said on 20 October that prosecutors plan additional probes of top Yukos managers and that Yukos head Mikhail Khodorkovskii, who was questioned by investigators on 4 July (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 7 July 2003), might be summoned for another round of questions, RIA-Novosti and other Russian media reported. "In the process of investigation, new questions for Khodorkovskii have arisen that should be cleared up," Biryukov said. Deputy Prosecutor-General Vladimir Kolesnikov said on 21 October that prosecutors have serious claims against Yukos managers and "indictments will be brought against some of them," polit.ru reported. "We believe that all talk that our office is attempting to 'revise privatization,' 'ruin transparent companies,' or 'discourage investment' is unsubstantiated," Kolesnikov said, according to RTR. "I personally do not want to see Khodorkovskii in prison, but one should not swindle or commit fraud." Yukos spokesman Yurii Shchadrin said that there are currently no criminal cases opened in connection with management activity at Yukos. VY
...AS SEARCHES CONTINUE...
Interior Ministry investigators on 21 October searched the Moscow offices of Sankt-Peterburg Menatep Bank, Russian media reported. According to the ministry, officers were looking for documents related to alleged tax evasion by the bank in 2000-01. Yukos shareholder and Menatep Chairman Platon Lebedev, who was arrested on 3 July and faces fraud and tax-evasion charges, has been transferred from the Federal Security Service's (FSB) Lefortovo prison to the Interior Ministry's Matrosskaya Tishina, at his own request. According to a spokesman for Lebedev, he made the request because Lefortovo could not provide conditions suitable for studying the materials related to his case. First Deputy Prosecutor-General Biryukov said on 20 October that Lebedev is merely attempting to slow down the progress of the case, lenta.ru reported. VY
...AND A NEW MINISTRY JOINS THE FRAY
First Deputy Prosecutor-General Biryukov has asked Natural Resources Minister Vitalii Artyukhov to look into Yukos's compliance with the terms of its oil-extraction license and the volume of oil the company has extracted in the last 18 months, "Vedomosti" and other Russian media reported on 21 October. The request came in response to an inquiry from Duma Deputy and former Rosneft Director Gadzhi Makhachev. Artyukhov announced on 20 October that his ministry has created a special agency that is responsible for monitoring license compliance. He added that Yukos has asked the ministry to look into the compliance of Royal Dutch/Shell, which is the main investor in the Sakhalin-2 project, and ExxonMobil, the foreign shareholder in the Sakhalin-1 project. VY
NINE PARTIES AND FOUR BLOCS NOW REGISTERED...
The Central Election Commission (TsIK) on 21 October registered three more parties -- the Liberal Democratic Party of Russia, the Agrarian Party, and the Development of Entrepreneurship Party -- and two more blocs -- the Motherland-Patriotic Union bloc and the Party of Russia's Rebirth-Party of Life bloc, Interfax reported. Previously, the TsIK had registered six parties and two blocs -- Yabloko, the Union of Rightist Forces (SPS), the Communist Party of the Russian Federation, the People's Party, Rus, and Unified Russia and the blocs New Course-Automotive Russia and Great Russia-Eurasian Union, "The Moscow Times" reported on 22 October. The latest registrations bring the number of parties and blocs registered for the 7 December State Duma elections to 13 -- nine parties and four blocs. JB
...AS FIVE OTHERS AWAIT A DECISION
An additional five parties and blocs have turned in the documents necessary for registering their candidate lists, but the TsIK has not yet ruled on them, RBK reported on 22 October. TsIK Chairman Aleksandr Veshnyakov said that it will take about eight days to examine the documents and determine whether the five will be allowed participate in the elections. The TsIK will not accept registration documents after 6 p.m. Moscow time on 22 October. That time will also mark the deadline for persons wanting to run in single-mandate districts to register as candidates with local election commissions. Starting on 22 October, voters who will not be in their home districts on 7 December can get special certificates from their territorial election commissions allowing them to vote at any polling station in Russia or overseas, newsru.com reported on 22 October. JB
TSIK RELEASES INCOME AND PROPERTY DECLARATIONS OF TOP CANDIDATES
The TsIK on 21 October released the income and property declarations of candidates from various parties and blocs running in December's State Duma elections, Russian media reported. Interior Minister Boris Gryzlov, who heads Unified Russia's federal list, said he earned 326,558 rubles ($10,910 at current exchange rates) in 2002 and owns a land plot in St. Petersburg, a Mazda, and some shares in St. Petersburg's Elektronpribor production association. Unified Russia's No. 2 candidate, Emergency Situations Minister Sergei Shoigu, earned 340,200 rubles last year, owns a land plot in Moscow Oblast, a house and garage in suburban Moscow, a Mercedes, and has 277,077 rubles in Alfa Bank. Moscow Mayor Yurii Luzhkov, No. 3 on Unified Russia's federal list, declared that he earned 9,148,150 rubles in 2002; owns a plot of land, a house, and a garage in Kaluga Oblast; and a GAZ-69E automobile with a trailer. Luzhkov also has 4.3 million rubles in two bank accounts and owns shares in the Manezhnaya Ploshchad joint-stock company, Russian media reported on 21 October. JB
FORMER KREMLIN PROPERTY MANAGER OWNS NO PROPERTY
Moscow Mayor Luzhkov did not even come close to having the highest declared income among Unified Russia's 266 candidates, Russian media reported on 21 October. That distinction goes to Republic of Adygeya's President Khazret Sovmen, who reported that he earned 9,354,471,288 rubles ($313 million) in 2002 and has 9.5 billion rubles in International Moscow Bank, ITAR-TASS reported on 21 October. Before becoming Adygeya's president in January 2002, Sovmen owned Polyus, Russia's largest and most profitable gold mine. Also among the declarations made public by the TsIK on 21 October was one submitted by Russia-Belarus Union Secretary Pavel Borodin, who tops the Great Russia-Eurasian Union bloc's federal list. Borodin declared that he earned 210,600 rubles last year, has 91,920 rubles in Sberbank, and owns no real estate or other property. Borodin once managed the Kremlin's multibillion-dollar property empire and was at the center of the Mabatex scandal, involving allegations that a Swiss firm paid him, members of his family, and associates multi-million-dollar kickbacks in return for lucrative contracts to refurbish Russian government buildings. JB
YABLOKO TURNS 10...
Yabloko celebrated its 10th anniversary on 21 October, Russian media reported. Party leader Grigorii Yavlinskii told a press conference that on 21 October 1993 the party registered as the Yavlinskii-Boldyrev-Lukin bloc -- the other two party founders being Yurii Boldyrev and Vladimir Lukin -- which was then shortened to Yabloko. Yavlinskii recalled several important Yabloko members who died during the party's first decade -- Larisa Yudina, a journalist from Kalmykia who was murdered in June 1998, and Yurii Shchekochikhin, a State Duma deputy and renowned investigative journalist who died under mysterious circumstances in July. Both fought corruption in deeds, not words, Interfax quoted Yavlinskii as saying. Asked by a journalist what distinguishes Yabloko from the SPS, Yavlinskii said Yabloko stands for "freedom, human rights, respect, dignity, and control over the special services, and the work of the government," while the SPS stands for "property." Both parties are for a market economy and entrepreneurship, but "the problem of human rights seems to be more important to us," Yavlinskii added. JB
...AND CHUBAIS WISHES IT HAPPY BIRTHDAY
Yabloko's 10th anniversary produced conciliatory words from one of Yavlinskii's longtime political foes -- Anatolii Chubais, the Unified Energy Systems (EES) head and an SPS leader, Russian media reported on 21 October. Chubais congratulated Yabloko on its anniversary, saying 10 years "in the stormy world of Russian politics is a serious feat," RIA-Novosti reported on 21 October. Chubais praised recent comments by Yavlinskii that the results of privatization must not be overturned. Chubais also said the "well-known disagreements we have had are increasingly a thing of the past," that there is "more and more that unites us," and that "it would be absolutely correct and sensible" for the two parties to merge. Yavlinskii recently criticized Chubais for calling for the creation of a "liberal empire" and saying that a combination of a market economy and aggressive expansion should be Russia's ideology for the next 20-30 years. Yavlinskii said Chubais's proposals would "lead Russia to clash with its neighbors" and deflect its citizenry from the goal of "dismantling Russian bandit capitalism" (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 26 September and 14 October 2003). JB
ARMENIA INTRODUCES POST OF OMBUDSMAN
Parliament deputies passed a draft bill on the creation of the post of ombudsman in its third and final reading on 21 October by a vote of 90-1, Noyan Tapan reported. The law envisages that candidates for the post, who must be at least 35 years old with a university education, are proposed by the president and must be approved by a minimum three-fifths of all parliament deputies. Compliance with that requirement is complicated, however, by the fact that the Armenian Constitution does not envisage the post of ombudsman. A corresponding constitutional amendment will be one of several to be submitted to a referendum early in 2004, according to Interfax. Meanwhile, the president will appoint an ombudsman after consultations with all parliamentary factions and parties. LF
EU SOUTH CAUCASUS ENVOY VISITS ARMENIA
Heikki Talvitie, who in July was named EU special representative for the South Caucasus, met in Yerevan on 21 October with President Robert Kocharian and Armenian Foreign Minister Vartan Oskanian, Noyan Tapan and ITAR-TASS reported. Topics discussed included Armenian-EU relations, Armenian-Turkish relations, and the prospects for a solution of the Karabakh conflict in the wake of the Azerbaijani presidential elections. Talvitie hailed the Armenian parliament's decision to abolish the death penalty, and again stressed the EU's demand that the Medzamor nuclear-power station be shut down as soon as possible. Talvitie alluded to "new aspects" of that issue which, he said, it is premature to discuss, according to ITAR-TASS. Armenian officials have consistently argued that Medzamor, which provides up to 40 percent of the country's energy, should not be closed until an alternative source of energy is available. On 20 October, Talvitie discussed the Karabakh conflict with Arkadii Ghukasian, president of the unrecognized Nagorno-Karabakh Republic (NKR), and NKR Foreign Minister Ashot Gulanian, Noyan Tapan reported on 21 October. LF
OSCE CHAIRMAN IN OFFICE HOPES FOR PROGRESS IN RESOLVING KARABAKH CONFLICT
Netherlands Foreign Minister and OSCE Chairman-in-Office Jaap de Hoop Scheffer met in Yerevan on 21 October with President Kocharian and Foreign Minister Oskanian to discuss the prospects for a resumption of talks between the presidents of Armenia and Azerbaijan on resolving the Karabakh conflict, Noyan Tapan RFE/RL's Yerevan bureau reported. De Hoop Scheffer characterized the talks as "very substantive," telling journalists that he believes a window of opportunity has opened in the wake of last week's Azerbaijani presidential election. He said he hopes the two presidents will "be bold and try to get the process off the ground again." In an interview with Mediamax published by the online paper zerkalo.az on 21 October, de Hoop Scheffer explained that by "progress" he does not mean a breakthrough in resolving the conflict. He also stressed that the OSCE "cannot achieve the impossible" and "cannot force countries to implement one or another policy." LF
U.S. CALLS FOR PROBE OF ALLEGED AZERBAIJANI ELECTION VIOLATIONS...
In a statement released in Washington on 21 October, the U.S. State Department expressed "deep disappointment" over "serious irregularities" registered during the 15 October Azerbaijani presidential election, according to Reuters on 21 October and washingtonpost.com on 22 October. The statement reaffirmed that "the United States will work with President-elect Ilham Aliyev and his government," but added that "we believe Azerbaijan's leadership missed an important opportunity to advance democratization by holding a credible election." It called for "an immediate, independent, thorough, and transparent investigation of all election violations." On 22 October, "Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung" quoted unnamed "trustworthy sources" in Baku as estimating that Aliyev polled only 58 percent of the vote rather than 76.84 percent, which was the final figure released on 20 October by the Central Election Commission. LF
...AS AZERBAIJANI FOREIGN MINISTRY REJECTS CRITICISM
The 15 October presidential election was "free, fair, democratic, and complied with international standards," according to a 21 October Azerbaijani Foreign Ministry statement summarized by Interfax the same day. The statement said that the election should be seen through the prism of "important positive aspects...recognized by international observers." It said dwelling on "minor flaws" is "an indecent move that cannot have a positive effect on international cooperation in the long term." LF
ANOTHER AZERBAIJANI OPPOSITION PARTY REJECTS ELECTION RESULTS
The Democratic Party of Azerbaijan (ADP) issued a statement in Baku on 21 October saying it does not recognize the validity of the officially proclaimed results of the 15 October presidential election and will campaign for their annulment, Turan reported. In a separate statement, the ADP condemned reprisals against opposition-party activists in the wake of the ballot and claimed that ADP supporters are being subjected to torture to force them to resign from the party. Also on 21 October, the ADP press service said that ADP Secretary-General Sardar Djalaloglu, who was arrested at his home on 18 October, is being subjected to torture and denied access to a lawyer, Turan reported. LF
DETAINED AZERBAIJANI JOURNALIST RELEASED
"Avropa" Editor Azer Garachenli, who was detained by police on the night of 15 October, was released from custody on 21 October, zerkalo.az reported the following day (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 21 October 2003). Also on 21 October, Azerbaijani Interior Ramil Usubov assured Press Council Chairman Aflatun Amashov that all detained journalists will be freed on 22 October. Detained opposition activists who were not directly involved in the clashes in Baku on 15-16 October will also be released beginning on 22 October, zerkalo.az reported without disclosing its sources. LF
GEORGIAN POLITICIAN AGAIN WARNS OF DESTABILIZATION
Irina Sarishvili-Chanturia, chairwoman of the National Democratic Party of Georgia and spokeswoman of the pro-presidential For a New Georgia election bloc, warned at a press conference in Tbilisi on 21 October that the Georgian opposition plans to resort to Baku-style mass unrest in the event of its defeat in the 2 November parliamentary elections, Caucasus Press and the website of the independent Georgian television station Rustavi-2 reported. She called on the Interior and State Security ministries to take measures to prevent "mass chaos." On 13 October, Sarishvili-Chanturia predicted that the opposition would launch mass actions beginning on 15 October (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 14 October 2003). LF
GEORGIA, U.S. TO CONTINUE MILITARY COOPERATION
Georgian Defense Minister Lieutenant General Davit Tevzadze told journalists in Tbilisi on 21 October that during his visit to the United States last week agreement was reached that Washington will intensify defense cooperation with Tbilisi after the completion in May 2004 of the three-year U.S.-funded "Train and Equip" program for the Georgian armed forces, Georgian media reported. He said U.S. experts will participate in the restructuring of the general staff and advise on air-defense issues. LF
GEORGIA DEPORTS THREE CHECHENS
Three Chechens detained by Georgian police in the Pankisi Gorge on 11 October have been deported to the Russian Federation, local police chief Zurab Tushuri told journalists on 21 October. Tushuri said the three men did not have documents proving they have refugee status in Georgia. Interfax on 21 October quoted a Georgian State Security Ministry spokesman as saying that a mosque in Duisi, the largest village in Pankisi, was searched the previous day and documents in Arabic that bore no relation to religious issues were confiscated. LF
KAZAKH OPPOSITION LEADER SAYS AZERBAIJAN SETS EXAMPLE FOR PRESIDENT'S DAUGHTER
Kazakh parliamentarian Serikbolsyn Abdildin, head of the Communist Party of Kazakhstan, told a press conference in Almaty on 21 October that the presidential election in Azerbaijan has set an example for President Nursultan Nazarbaev's daughter, Darigha, to run for president, Interfax-Kazakhstan reported the same day. Since Darigha Nazarbaeva, a prominent figure in Kazakhstan's journalistic community who heads the Khabar television agency and the Congress of Kazakh Journalists, announced recently that she is setting up a political movement (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 17 September 2003), it has been widely assumed in Kazakhstan that she intends to try to succeed her father. At the press conference, Abdildin said that this was fully understandable. BB
KAZAKH LOWER HOUSE BEGINS DISCUSSION OF DRAFT MEDIA LAW
Kazakh Information Minister Sautbek Abdrakhmanov formally presented his ministry's draft of a law on the media to the Social and Cultural Development Committee of the Mazhilis on 21 October, gazeta.kz and khabar.kz reported. Abdrakhmanov said that the draft provides protection for the media and for the process of democratization and elaborates on the constitutional prohibition of censorship, providing guarantees against interference in the professional activity of the media. Journalists' organizations have criticized the draft, saying that its lack of clarity can be used against independent media (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 21 October 2003). Some parliamentarians asked why a new law is needed and said that the existing law could be amended if really necessary. Others noted that the authors of the draft had not taken account of journalists' recommendations. The draft's restriction of adult television programs to the period from midnight to 4 a.m. was generally approved. BB
U.S. OIL GIANT SELLS STAKE IN KAZAKH FIELD TO CHINESE COMPANY
U.S. oil giant ChevronTexaco has sold its 65 percent stake in Kazakhstan's North Buzachi oil field to the Chinese National Petroleum Corporation (CNPC), Interfax-Kazakhstan reported on 21 October. The field is located in the Mangistau Oblast in western Kazakhstan. A press release issued by ChevronTexaco noted that the firm has "a strong and balanced portfolio of assets" in Kazakhstan, including a 50 percent stake in the Tengiz oil field, a 20 percent stake in the Karachaganak gas field, and a 15 percent share in the Caspian Pipeline Consortium. The Kazakh leadership has been seeking to encourage greater Chinese participation in the development of Kazakhstan's petroleum resources. The CNPC is now sole owner of the North Buzachi field, having already purchased a Saudi Arabian firm's 35 percent stake. The field's reserves are estimated at 1.5 billion barrels, and it is currently reported to be producing 8,400 barrels a day. BB
KAZAKHSTAN TO GIVE PREFERENCE TO INVESTORS WHO INCLUDE KAZAKH FIRMS IN THEIR PROJECTS
Kazakh President Nazarbaev told an annual meeting with the diplomatic corps in Astana on 21 October that in the future Kazakhstan will give preference in awarding contracts to foreign investors to those investors who propose greater involvement of Kazakh firms in their projects, Interfax-Kazakhstan reported. Nazarbaev added that when offering new oil fields for development, Kazakhstan will also give special attention to the development of an extensive system of export pipelines, and is presently examining the economic feasibility of all proposals for exporting the country's oil and gas. He also expressed the hope that foreign investors will concentrate less on Kazakhstan's natural resources and more on the high-technology and agricultural sectors. BB
KYRGYZ OMBUDSMAN HOLDS CONFERENCE ON HUMAN TRAFFICKING
Kyrgyz Ombudsman Tursunbai Bakir-uulu's office organized a conference on human trafficking in Kyrgyzstan for officials from the Foreign and Interior ministries and parliamentarians on 21 October, kabar.kg reported. The objective of the conference was to find ways to solve the problems of Kyrgyz citizens seeking work abroad who find themselves in situations of virtual slavery, and to involve government agencies, NGOs, and international organizations in spreading information about the dangers of human trafficking. The conference participants agreed on the need to form a coordinating agency to deal with the problem. The ombudsman's office is presently investigating six complaints involving human trafficking. BB
UZBEK, AFGHAN BORDER GUARDS ATTEND ANTISMUGGLING COURSE
Uzbek and Afghan border guards, law- enforcement officers, and customs officials working at the Termez-Hayraton border crossing are participating in an OSCE-sponsored course on preventing the smuggling of small arms, uzreport.com reported on 21 October. The two-week course began on 20 October in the Uzbek border town of Termez. The course is an extension of a program to control illegal trafficking in small arms that was funded by the Swiss government and administered by the OSCE as part of a series of antiterrorism projects devised in the wake of the 11 September 2001 terrorist attacks. This is reportedly the first time that Afghanistan, which became an OSCE cooperation partner in April, has taken part in an OSCE activity. BB
BELARUSIAN MINISTER PLEDGES NOT TO RAISE UTILITY BILLS
Housing Minister Alyaksandr Milkota told journalists on 21 October that the government is not planning to increase utility payments before the end of 2003, irrespective of the outcome of ongoing talks between Belarus and Russia's Gazprom on next year's gas prices, Belapan reported. Milkota said that during the current heating season, the owners of three-room apartments will have to pay an average of some 100,000 Belarusian rubles ($47) in monthly utility bills, of two-room apartments 74,000 rubles, and of one-room apartments 49,000 rubles. According to Milkota, the government subsidizes payment for utilities -- at an average sum of 19,000 rubles per household -- for families whose monthly utility bills exceed one-fourth of their incomes. The average family in Belarus earns less than $170 per month. JM
KYIV SET TO PREVENT RUSSIAN DAM'S CONNECTION TO TUZLA ISLAND
Ukrainian Foreign Ministry spokesman Markiyan Lubkivskyy said on 21 October that Ukraine will not "under any circumstances" allow Russian workers to connect a contentious dam project with Ukraine's Tuzla Island in the Kerch Strait, Interfax reported. Builders of the Russian dam, which has stirred a bitter Russian-Ukrainian dispute (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 21 October 2003), are reportedly some 200 meters from the Ukrainian border, which is marked near Tuzla islet with buoys. The Verkhovna Rada is holding a hearing on 22 October devoted to Ukrainian-Russian relations. During that hearing, parliamentarians will reportedly be informed regarding a decree signed by President Leonid Kuchma on 20 October authorizing measures to prevent the Russians from violating Ukraine's territorial sovereignty in the Kerch Strait. Kuchma, who is currently in Brazil, has reportedly decided to interrupt his scheduled 11-day tour of Latin America and return home in connection with the dam controversy, according to Interfax on 22 October, which was quoting the presidential press office. JM
RUSSIA AGAIN CANCELS BILATERAL TALKS IN LATVIA
The Russian government again canceled the planned 27 October scheduled meeting of the Latvian-Russian Intergovernmental Commission amid recent tensions in bilateral relations, BNS and LETA reported on 21 October. Russia has repeatedly accused Latvia in recent months of violating the minority rights of Russian-speakers living in Latvia. Russian Ambassador to Latvia Igor Studennikov visited the Foreign Ministry and told Deputy State Secretary Andris Teikmanis that "taking into account recent developments, the Russian side regards the previously planned meeting...as untimely." In response, the Latvian Foreign Ministry issued a statement that questioned Moscow's motives. "The Latvian party regrets the obvious reluctance of Russian officials to work on matters of bilateral relations, citing excuses that make sense only to themselves," the statement read. "Latvia has always been willing to build constructive cooperation and hopes that...the Russian party will cease to be guided by short-term political conjecture and return to a business-like attitude." Since its formation in 1997, the commission has never met on the highest level; its expert groups have held talks only a few times. AB
RUSSIA OFFERS HELP TO RESTRUCTURE LITHUANIAN NUCLEAR-POWER PLANT
Russian Prime Minister Mikhail Kasyanov offered visiting Lithuanian Prime Minister Algirdas Brazauskas help in keeping open the Ignalina nuclear-power plant, which is scheduled for a two-phased closure in 2005 and 2009 under an EU agreement, ELTA reported on 21 October. "Russians are ready to offer technical assistance to Lithuania, participate in the reconstruction of the nuclear plant, and help to solve problems related to the plant's operations in the future," Kasyanov said, speaking to reporters after his meeting with Brazauskas. He also said the Lithuanian cabinet is already considering the offer of assistance. "Russian companies have actually found their place and a niche in the Lithuanian market [the gas-, oil-, and electricity-supply sectors]," Kasyanov added. "The Russian-Lithuanian interaction is very intensive, but the Lithuanian authorities have to ensure a normal work regime for Russian companies." AB
LITHUANIA, RUSSIA CONTINUE TALKS ON OIL-DRILLING THREAT
During their meeting in Moscow, Lithuanian Prime Minister Brazauskas and Russian Prime Minister Kasyanov agreed to prepare a bilateral agreement on cooperating to clean up accidents, an environmental-monitoring program, and compensation for possible damages from activities at the D-6 oil-drilling site in the Baltic Sea, BNS reported on 21 October. Kasyanov told the press after the meeting that the agreement will be signed only after "exploitation works at the deposit are opened." On the previous day in Moscow, Brazauskas met with LUKoil President Vagit Alekperov and agreed to prepare an agreement on compensation for damages in the event of oil spills at the company's D-6 deposit near Lithuania's Baltic Sea coast. AB
POLISH EDITOR CHANGES TESTIMONY IN RYWINGATE SCANDAL
Adam Michnik, editor in chief of the leading Polish daily "Gazeta Wyborcza," testified on 21 October before the parliamentary commission investigating the bribery scandal dubbed Rywingate by Polish media (see "RFE/RL Poland, Belarus, and Ukraine Report," 14 January and 18 February 2003), Polish Television reported. The scandal involves film producer Lew Rywin, who allegedly sought a bribe of $17.5 million in 2002 -- by some accounts on behalf of Prime Minister Leszek Miller -- for lobbying a media law that could prove favorable for Agora, the publisher of "Gazeta Wyborcza." Michnik admitted that, contrary to his testimony in February, he spoke with Miller on 15 July 2002, the day Rywin allegedly solicited a bribe from Agora. Michnik said, however, that he did not tell Miller about Rywin's proposal that day but rather three days later. Michnik also opined that Rywin's blackmail attempt worked, since a draft media law that could be favorable to Agora was blocked in the Sejm after Agora declined to pay the requested bribe. Tomasz Nalecz, head of the parliamentary investigative commission, said Michnik's testimony has crucial significance, adding that the commission should question many witnesses again. JM
POLAND FACES RAILWAY, HEALTH-CARE STRIKES
Polish Railway employees will launch a general strike starting on 13 November, PAP reported on 21 October, quoting Solidarity activist Stanislaw Kogut. The protesters are demanding government compliance with agreements they claim have already been concluded with railway workers and more funds for their company in next year's budget. Some 700 health-care-sector employees from the southern Silesia region are meanwhile expected to demonstrate in Warsaw on 23 October to protest deteriorating working conditions and financial cuts in the sector. JM
SPRINGER LAUNCHES MASS TABLOID IN POLAND
German publisher Axel Springer launched a tabloid-format daily called "Fakt" in Poland on 22 October, reportedly with an initial print run of 700,000, thus relegating Poland's leading daily "Gazeta Wyborcza" to second place, Reuters reported on 21 October. "Gazeta Wyborcza" sells 420,000 papers a day, the agency reported. "This is not a newspaper which goes to war, which peeks into the bedrooms or under the sheets of politicians. We won't uncover sensations, blood, or sperm," the agency quoted "Fakt" Editor in Chief Grzegorz Jankowski as saying on 20 October. The new publication is reportedly targeting younger readers unimpressed by the serious "Gazeta Wyborcza" but also dissatisfied with the "Super Express" tabloid, which is backed by Swedish Bonnier AB and sells 270,000 copies. JM
MAD-COW DISEASE REAPPEARS IN CZECH REPUBLIC
Czech veterinary authorities on 21 October confirmed a case of BSE (mad-cow disease) in an 8-year-old animal from an "eco-farm" in the southwestern part of the country, while a suspected case of BSE was reported the same day in the north of the country, the dailies "Mlada fronta Dnes" and "Pravo" reported. Some 37,000-animals will be slaughtered at the ranch where the disease was confirmed. The owner said "he doesn't understand and no one can explain" how the animal might have caught the disease, since his farm has never used feed that is produced from so-called intraspecies recycling, according to "Mlada fronta Dnes." The confirmed case represents the sixth infection in the country since the disease first appeared. AH
CZECH COALITION PLEDGES BAILOUT TO HEALTH SECTOR
An extraordinary meeting of representatives of the country's three ruling parties agreed on 21 October to a 2 billion-2.5 billion-crown ($73 million-$92 million) bailout to erase pre-2003 debts at former district hospitals, local media reported. The sum far exceeds previous plans and will be accompanied by de facto supervision of Health Minister Marie Souckova's portfolio by Finance Minister Bohuslav Sobotka, who was reportedly "secretly" tapped to take on the newly created role of deputy prime minister in charge of public-finance reform, according to "Mlada fronta Dnes." Prime Minister Vladimir Spidla said after the meeting that the government will decide within two weeks on a method for shortening insurers' payment periods to health-care facilities. He said a "coalition working group" was also created that will present a blueprint for the "long-term stabilization of the health-care sector," according to "Pravo." Doctors' groups have lobbied for the dismissal of Souckova, who said after the meeting that she is "satisfied" with the outcome. AH
SLOVAK GOVERNMENT BODY CONCLUDES HOSPITALS ARE NOT CONDUCTING FORCED STERILIZATIONS
A spokesman for Slovakia's Deputy Prime Minister for Integration and Minorities Pal Csaky said on 21 October that a probe into allegations of forced sterilizations of Romany women has found such accusations to be groundless, CTK reported. Martin Urmanic said the conclusions will be presented to the government on 28 October. The study uncovered minor "procedural mistakes" in some cases, but otherwise discovered that "in not a single case has the statement of the authors of [the New York-based nonprofit Center for Reproductive Rights 27 January 2003 report] 'Body and Soul' been proven true," Urmanic said. The report adds that Slovak courts came to the same conclusion in 2001-02, he said. The Center for Reproductive Rights and the Center for Civic and Human Rights in Kosice accused Slovak hospitals of duping or otherwise forcing more than 100 Romany women into such operations (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 30 January and 3 February 2003). Urmanic accused the Center for Reproductive Rights of refusing to cooperate in the government investigation and thereby casting doubt on its own assertions. A number of groups in Slovakia and abroad have urged an independent investigation into the allegations. AH
SERBIAN PRIME MINISTER DISCUSSES DUAL CITIZENSHIP ON HUNGARIAN VISIT
Visiting Serbian Prime Minister Zoran Zivkovic told reporters after meeting his Hungarian counterpart Peter Medgyessy in Budapest on 21 October that he rules out ethnically based dual citizenship, Hungarian media reported. Zivkovic said it is legally possible to introduce dual citizenship in his country, but such an option should apply to all citizens of Serbia and Montenegro, "Nepszabadsag" reported. Granting dual citizenship to Vojvodina Hungarians would "run counter to the fundamental values of European civilization," the daily quoted him as saying. The two prime ministers signed an agreement on border controls according to which Hungarians may travel to Serbia and Montenegro without a visa, while Serbs and Montenegrins may obtain five-year visas to Hungary free of charge. MSZ
SERBIAN PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATES CRITICIZE HAGUE'S EXTRADITION REQUEST...
Two candidates for the Serbian presidency have suggested the government should reject the Hague-based international war crimes tribunal's request for the extradition of four indicted former generals, Tanjug reported on 21 October. Speaking in Kragujevac on 21 October, Dragoljub Micunovic, the candidate of the governing Democratic Opposition of Serbia (DOS), said indicted former army Generals Nebojsa Pavkovic and Vladimir Lazarevic as well as police Generals Sreten Lukic and Vlastimir Djordjevic should face trial in Serbia. Micunovic's opponent from the opposition nationalist Socialist People's Party (SNS), Dragan Tomic, the same day accused the tribunal of double standards. Tomic said that instead of indicting unspecified "Albanian terrorists who have carried out genocide of the Serbian people [in Kosova]," the tribunal has indicted the four generals (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 21 October 2003). Serbian presidential elections in October and December 2002 were inconclusive or invalid, and a boycott by the Democratic Party of Serbia (DSS) of former Yugoslav President Vojislav Kostunica could again derail the vote. UB
...AS DOES SERBIAN GOVERNMENT
Serbia's Interior Minister Dusan Mihajlovic said on 21 October that he will not be the minister who hands over indicted police commanders Lukic and Djordjevic to the Hague tribunal, Tanjug reported. "I personally oppose the idea that people should stand trial [in The Hague] only because of their responsibility as commanders or because they have been in Kosovo," Mihajlovic said. Deputy Prime Minister Zarko Korac said on 21 October that the tribunal ignored the difficult political situation in Belgrade when it issued the indictments, RFE/RL's South Slavic and Albanian Languages Service reported. Zoran Zivkovic's government and parliamentary speaker Natasa Micic are facing no-confidence votes, while campaigning for presidential elections slated for 16 November is in full swing (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 15, 16, 17, and 20 October 2003). UB
SPEAKER DEFENDS CROATIAN PARLIAMENT'S DECISION TO ASSIST HAGUE INDICTEES
Zlatko Tomcic, the speaker of the recently dissolved parliament, defended the legislature's decision obliging the government to grant legal assistance to defendants indicted for war crimes by the Hague-based war crimes tribunal, Hina reported. "I would not engage in legal doubts [in the decision], but look at it from a moral and ethical perspective," Tomcic said, adding that he believes it is unacceptable that the tribunal's prosecutors should have greater access to documents than indictees. "If the Croatian government hands over documents to the prosecutors in The Hague, then it is ethical and moral to give the same documents to the indictee, independent of the specific situation that [indicted former General] Ante Gotovina is not available for the tribunal," Tomcic said (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 21 October 2003). UB
MACEDONIAN MINISTER PLAYS DOWN EXPECTATIONS IN DISARMAMENT OPERATION
Defense Minister Vlado Buckovski said on 20 October that he does not expect the upcoming voluntary disarmament of civilians in Macedonia to produce spectacular results, "Utrinski vesnik" reported. For Buckovski, the success of the weapons handover that begins on 1 November cannot be quantified. He said it is more important that an atmosphere is being created "that kills the will of individuals to use their arms." The nongovernmental Arms Association has criticized the weapons-collection operation, RFE/RL's Macedonian broadcasters reported on 21 October, claiming it would be better to give citizens an opportunity to legalize their illegally possessed arms (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 14, 23, and 31 July and 5 September 2003 and "RFE/RL Balkan Report," 29 August 2003). UB
ROMANIA TO RECEIVE EU FUNDS TO COMBAT FRAUD
Comptroller's Office head Victor Ponta on 21 October said Romania is to receive 400,000 euros ($345,000) from the European Union to develop a system to combat fraud, Mediafax reported. The funds are intended to train personnel tasked with investigating fraud or the misappropriation of EU funds. Meanwhile, in Bucharest on 20-22 October the Comptroller's Office and the EU's European Anti-Fraud Office (OLAF) hosted an international seminar on antifraud measures. Romanian President Ion Iliescu stressed at the event that he and the Romanian authorities are determined to enforce existing laws and punish any act of corruption or fraud, Romanian Radio reported. EU Budget Commissioner Michaele Schreyer expressed the EU's appreciation for Romania's efforts to combat fraud and announced that she has proposed provisionally closing negotiations with Romania on financial controls because the government has taken all necessary measures regarding an internal audit. ZsM
ROMANIA FALLS IN PRESS-FREEDOM LIST
Romania fell to 59th out of 166 countries in Reporters without Borders' second annual press-freedom ranking, which was released on 20 October. Romania was 45th in the 2002 ranking. Moldova, which was not included in the 2002 ranking, was 94th in this year's list. Finland fared best in the ranking and North Korea placed last. ZsM
The 14 October "RFE/RL Newsline" item titled "'UN House' Opened in Bucharest," which cited United Nations Development Program administrator Mark Malloch Brown as saying he hopes Romania will next year receive a nonpermanent seat on the UN Security Council, was incorrect. RFE/RL quoted Malloch Brown as saying: "Romania had a very successful earlier stint on the Security Council, which is still well remembered. I think, by all accounts, my diplomatic colleagues in New York rank Romania's chances [of receiving a nonpermanent seat] as pretty good this time around, but like any election we won't know the results until the votes are counted."
TELERADIO MOLDOVA EMPLOYEES PROTEST REORGANIZATION BILL
Teleradio Moldova trade union leader Ion Ciobanu and Federation of Radio and Television Employees (FORT) leader Dumitru Turcanu on 21 October protested against an amended bill that would enable the shutdown and reorganization of the state-run broadcast enterprise, Flux reported. Under the amended bill, which parliament recently adopted in its first reading, Teleradio Moldova would be closed down, restructured into a new public company, and then reopened. Union leaders argue this amendment will be only used to fire all employees not loyal to the ruling Party of Moldovan Communists. Union leaders also criticized Teleradio Chairman Artur Efremov's authoritarian and nontransparent decision-making style (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 15 July 2003). ZsM
BULGARIA REMAINS MAJOR THOROUGHFARE FOR HARD DRUGS
National Service for Combating Organized Crime (NSBOP) deputy head Colonel Venelin Velikov has said that Bulgaria remains a major transit country for drug trafficking and that some 80 percent of the heroin destined for Europe and North America passes through its territory, the "Sofia Morning News" reported on 22 October. Synthetic drugs have largely supplanted heroin on the Bulgarian market because they are cheaper, Velikov said. A recent survey carried out by the Sofia-based National Center for Addictions among the capital's youth shows that drug abuse has reached an unprecedented scale in Bulgaria, according to Emil Grashnov, a senior assistant at the center. While marijuana remains the most popular drug among students, the demand for ecstasy is rising, Grashnov said. One in six respondents said he or she has tried opium, and more than 60 percent claim they can purchase illegal drugs without problems. UB
BULGARIAN FOUNDATION VOWS TO RETURN ANY CHERNYI FUNDS
The Demokratsiya Foundation, which is close to the conservative opposition Union of Democratic Forces (SDS), said it will return a $200,000 donation if investigations confirm that the money came from Russian businessman Mikhail Chernyi via a Cyprus-based company called Roment Trading, bnn reported. Chernyi has accused former Prime Minister Ivan Kostov, who headed the Demokratsiya Foundation, of blackmailing him in connection with the sale of his company MobilTel in 2001. Kostov has said the foundation requested that the Financial Intelligence Service investigate the ownership of Roment Trading after it received the money. However, Finance Minister Milen Velchev said Kostov's government stopped the investigation, mediapool.bg reported (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 15 and 17 October 2003). UB
KABUL WELCOMES ISAF EXPANSION, DESPITE UNANSWERED QUESTIONS
On 14 October Afghan Transitional Administration officials welcomed the long-awaited resolution from the United Nations Security Council that will allow troops from the NATO-led International Security Assistance Force (ISAF) to be deployed outside of Kabul Province.
U.S. Ambassador John Negroponte, who is the UN Security Council's president for this month, read the results of the 13 October vote at UN headquarters in New York: "The draft resolution received 15 votes in favor. The draft resolution has been adopted unanimously as Resolution 1510 of the year 2003."
Negroponte explained that the United States has proceeded cautiously up to now about expanding ISAF because of a lack of countries willing to contribute troops for such a mission. "There was an absence of countries that were willing to undertake such missions outside of Kabul," he said. "Now NATO has taken this force over and there is willingness, at least to a limited extent, to undertake missions outside of Kabul. And in that context we were willing to support such a resolution."
The 5,500 troops now in ISAF have been under NATO command since August. At the moment, Germany and Canada have the most soldiers in ISAF -- which is a separate force from the 11,000 foreign combat troops within the U.S.-led antiterrorism coalition in Afghanistan.
Germany's UN Ambassador Gunter Pleuger said the expansion of ISAF outside of Kabul Province is crucial to the disarmament of the private militias of Afghanistan's regional warlords -- and thus, a necessary step toward conducting democratic elections next year in accordance with the Bonn agreement.
"We are very happy that the resolution, at the initiative of the German delegation, on the expansion of the ISAF mandate in Afghanistan has been passed by a unanimous vote. This will enable us to better take care of the security [situation] in Afghanistan, especially in preparation [for] the implementation of the Bonn process, in particular with regard to the elections that are supposed to take place next year," Pleuger said.
In Kabul, Afghan Foreign Ministry spokesman Omar Samad said the UN Security Council vote was "very much welcomed" by the central government and the Afghan people. Samad said the Afghan Transitional Administration considers ISAF expansion to be vital as it embarks on a new phase of political reforms and accelerated reconstruction activities.
But Vikram Parekh, a Kabul-based expert on Afghanistan for the International Crisis Group, told REF/RL on 14 October that ordinary Afghan civilians and international aid workers in the country are cautious in their welcome of the resolution.
Parekh noted that Afghans have been disappointed many times in the last two years by broken promises from the international community. He said there are also still many unanswered questions about what the new UN resolution will mean for ordinary Afghans.
"People are waiting to see what the UN Security Council resolution is going to translate to in practice," Parekh said. "Is it going to be a substantial deployment [of troops] or is it just going to be an extension of the current PRT -- the Provincial Reconstruction Team -- approach? Are troops going to be deployed in areas where there is a real lack of security? Or are they just going to be concentrated in places where there will be minimal risk to the troops that are being sent here? And are they going to be mandated to intervene in fighting between militias [and to] carry out the disarmament process?"
Recently, Pleuger said the expansion of ISAF envisages the deployment of international troops to what he called eight urban "islands" across the country -- including Herat in the west, Kandahar in the south, and Konduz and Mazar-e Sharif in the north.
Parekh said Pleuger's remarks have led observers to assume the PRT bases established or being planned by U.S.-led coalition forces in recent months will become a mechanism for expanding ISAF beyond Kabul. "The areas that are going to be particularly critical to establish a large [ISAF] presence right now are going to be places like Mazar-e Sharif or Herat or other parts of southern Afghanistan -- both to show that the [Afghan] central government has a presence in these areas and also to prevent factional fighting from being a barrier to reconstruction and development," Parekh said.
Parekh concluded that substantial numbers of troops are needed in tense areas like Mazar-e Sharif and Herat if ISAF is to be effective. "In Mazar-e Sharif, the British PRT there currently constitutes 72 troops. That's not going to be sufficient to do anything more than mediate disputes," he said. "What they are really going to need is a substantial force. I cannot give an authoritative assessment. But I can say what members of the various factions in Mazar have concluded -- which is that an international force of 1,000 might be enough to create a neutral space in which security-sector reforms and disarmament can actually be carried out."
Germany's Ambassador Pleuger said officials in Berlin are now ready to seek parliamentary approval for their initial plan to send up to 450 German soldiers to the northern city of Konduz. So far, no other country has formally announced specific troop commitments for the expanded ISAF.
Manoel de Almeida e Silva, the spokesman for the UN Assistance Mission for Afghanistan (UNAMA), said on 14 October that while UNAMA welcomes the Security Council's decision to expand ISAF, it has also warned that without a sufficient expansion of the force, Afghans might be disappointed. De Almeida e Silva said, "It is very important that member states [of the UN] provide ISAF with the necessary means to expand beyond Kabul" in order to meet the aspirations of the Afghans.
France has already noted that it will not be contributing troops to an expanded ISAF. Countries with a tradition of contributing soldiers to international security operations have hinted that they might be willing to dispatch troops to Afghanistan, ostensibly for financial reasons. Fijian Army Commander Frank Bainimarama has already noted his country might contribute troops to Afghanistan. But it remains unclear whether there will be enough international deployments to create the conditions necessary to carry out proper voter registration programs in the provinces and to conduct free and fair democratic elections.
It is unclear whether the UN Security Council vote is an earnest attempt to give the Afghan Transitional Administration the chance to exert influence outside of Kabul without relying on the goodwill of or the need to provide incentives to regional commanders and warlords.
Also unclear is how countries outside of NATO would interact with the NATO-led ISAF, as well as the nature of the operational relationship between ISAF and the U.S.-led coalition troops currently working in Afghanistan.
Ron Synovitz is an RFE/RL correspondent based in Prague.
TOP NATO COMMANDER IN AFGHANISTAN CALLS FOR DEMILITARIZATION OF KABUL
Lieutenant General Goetz Gliemeroth, German commander of the NATO-led International Security Assistance Force (ISAF), on 21 October called for the demilitarization of Kabul, Radio Afghanistan reported. "ISAF definitely asks for a demilitarized city of Kabul," Reuters quoted him as saying. "That means ISAF strongly supports the removal of heavy weapons from the city of Kabul out to cantonment sites on its outer limits." Gliemeroth argued that ISAF's presence in Kabul eliminates any need for heavy weaponry in the capital. In an apparent reference to Afghan Defense Minister Mohammad Qasim Fahim, Gliemeroth said ISAF is "promoting very strongly that these heavy weapons are moved out of Kabul by the current owners." Fahim controls his own heavily armed militia in the city. Under the 2001 Bonn agreement, signatories pledged to "withdraw all military units from Kabul." AT
COMMANDER SAYS PROVINCIAL INSTABILITY COULD SPREAD TO KABUL
Lieutenant General Gliemeroth warned on 21 October that the lack of security in Afghanistan's provinces could eventually destabilize Kabul as well, dpa reported on 21 October. "Fighting in the south and southeast has intensified and the infiltration of Al-Qaeda, Taliban, and other terrorist groups along the country's borders with Pakistan is becoming an increasing problem," he said. Gliemeroth added that if ISAF does not "bring security to other provinces," opposition forces "will bring instability to Kabul." NATO is due to expand ISAF beyond Kabul for the first time with the deployment of a German contingent in the northern Konduz Province (see "RFE/RL Afghanistan Report," 16 October 2003), where the UN-backed Disarmament, Demobilization, and Reintegration pilot project is under way. AT
DOUBTS REMAIN OVER RELEASE OF FORMER TALIBAN FOREIGN MINISTER...
A spokesman for Afghan Transitional Administration Chairman Hamid Karzai on 21 October gave differing statements regarding the whereabouts of former Taliban Foreign Minister Mawlawi Wakil Ahmad Muttawakil. Spokesman Jawed Ludin told Radio Afghanistan on 21 October in reference to reports that Muttawakil has been released from U.S. custody that, as far as he knows, "Muttawakil is still in prison." However, in an interview with the BBC's Persian service on 21 October, Ludin said he has "no accurate information" regarding Muttawakil's possible release. According to the BBC, Ludin "seemed unsure himself" as to Muttawakil's whereabouts. Omar Daudzay, the head of Karzai's office, on 20 October confirmed media reports that Muttawakil had been released from custody and was the center of talks between the Transitional Administration and some members of the former Taliban regime (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 21 October 2003). AT
...WHO HAS REPORTEDLY OFFERED TO COOPERATE WITH AFGHAN ADMINISTRATION
An unidentified aide to Chairman Karzai has stated that former Taliban Foreign Minister Muttawakil has offered to cooperate with the Transitional Administration, "The New York Times" reported on 22 October. Karzai's administration has not responded to the offer, according to the aide, who stated that Muttawakil remains in custody inside Afghanistan. According to Muttawakil's aides, he has been invited to join the Transitional Administration as an adviser or to seek asylum outside of Afghanistan, the BBC reported on 21 October. Muttawakil's aides believe he would likely prefer to seek asylum in an Arab country. Reports of Muttawakil's release first surfaced on 6 October and the issue has been shrouded in secrecy, highlighting the sensitivity of Karzai's policy of dealing with moderate elements within the ousted Taliban regime (see "RFE/RL Afghanistan Report," 9 and 16 October 2003). AT
IRAN SAYS ACCEPTANCE OF NUCLEAR CHECKS 'VOLUNTARY'
Supreme National Security Council Secretary Hassan Rohani on 21 October described Iran's agreement to sign a protocol subjecting its nuclear program to tough checks as "voluntary" and stressed that the country will not meet a 31 October deadline set by the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA), IRNA reported. Rohani said Iran will sign the Additional Protocol to the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty (NPT), which allows snap nuclear inspections, before 20 November. He termed Iran's promise not to enrich uranium "voluntary" and temporary. Uranium enrichment, he said, will resume "at any time and for any reason" because it is the country's right. Iran's IAEA representative, Ali Akbar Salehi, confirmed on 21 October that Iran is "temporarily and voluntarily" suspending uranium enrichment and will sign the protocol, but he did not give a date, IRNA reported on 21 October. Salehi described the talks as a "victory" for Iran that will open the path to greater cooperation with the EU, ISNA quoted him as saying on 21 October. The United States welcomed the move as a "positive step" if Iran fully implements the NPT protocol, Reuters reported on 21 October. VS
IRAN, RUSSIA TO CONTINUE NUCLEAR COOPERATION
Russian Foreign Minister Igor Ivanov said Russia will continue peaceful nuclear cooperation with Iran, IRNA reported on 21 October. Ivanov told reporters in Bangkok, where he is attending the Asia Pacific Economic Cooperation (APEC) forum, that cooperation will continue under IAEA control. He added that Russia will help assure the implementation of the IAEA resolution urging Iran to disclose its nuclear program by 31 October and prove it does not seek nuclear arms. Iranian representative to the IAEA Salehi said on 21 October that Iran and Russia are to sign an agreement "soon" to allow Russia to deliver nuclear fuel to Iran and repatriate spent fuel, IRNA reported. Salehi also expressed Tehran's confidence that Russia will "accelerate" construction of the Bushehr nuclear-power plant on Iran's southern coast, IRNA added. The United States, which is suspicious of Iran's nuclear intentions, has intermittently pressured Russia to stop its nuclear cooperation with Iran. VS
REFORMERS URGE IRANIANS TO VOTE DESPITE DISMAY
Reformist deputy-speaker of parliament Behzad Nabavi urged Iranians on 20 October to vote in the February parliamentary election in spite of disappointment with the pace of democratic reforms, "Yas-i No" reported on 21 October. Nabavi said people are dismayed at the failure of reformists to honor promises of greater civil liberty and open government. But boycotting the polls, he said, "will have no benefit for them, the country or the system, if the people can appreciate this." Public persistence, he said, is needed to overcome opposition to reforms: "You cannot block the people's wishes forever." Interior Minister Abdolvahed Musavi-Lari said on 20 October that voting will prevent "further damage," according to "Yas-i No." Government, he said, must use "all available legal means" to ensure clean elections. Reformers fear the Guardians Council will seek to prevent reformist hopefuls running in the polls. But the interior minister insisted that prospective candidates may be legally barred only if there is proof they do not meet requisite conditions to sit in parliament, "Hayat-i No" cited him as saying on 21 October. VS
IRAN, PAKISTAN DISCUSS TRADE, SECURITY
President Hojatoleslam Mohammad Khatami told Pakistan's visiting Prime Minister Mir Zafarullah Khan Jamali on 21 October that security in neighboring Afghanistan is in the interests of all three countries and the three states will forge closer relations as they cooperate to assure Afghan security, IRNA reported. He added that a gas pipeline to take Iranian oil to India via Pakistan would favor "peace and progress," IRNA added. The Pakistani oil minister, Chaudhry Norez Shakoor Khan, is accompanying the prime minister, and Iran is interested in discussing the pipeline, the Mehr News Agency reported on 21 October. Iran and Pakistan are also to sign a free-trade agreement, which Pakistan hopes will include lifting a 1996 ban for reasons of hygiene on its important cash crops of wheat and rice, and restrictions on certain fruits, mehrnews.com added on 21 October. Pakistan has sent wheat and rice samples to Iranian laboratories to test for disease, the agency reported. VS
WORLD BANK SUPPORTS FUND FACILITY FOR IRAQ
The World Bank's executive board of directors announced on 21 October that the it will support a proposed International Reconstruction Fund Facility for Iraq, according to a press release posted on the World Bank website (http://www.worldbank.org). The facility will be formally presented in Madrid during the 23-24 October donors conference on Iraq. It will serve as a trust fund for reconstruction and development funds that will be distributed according to priority areas outlined by a World Bank/United Nations joint-needs assessment (see "RFE/RL Iraq Report," 9 October 2003). The facility will actually comprise two independent trust funds, one managed by the World Bank and the other by the UN. The World Bank has managed trust funds in other postconflict areas, including the West Bank and Gaza, East Timor, and Afghanistan. The press release added that the World Bank will pledge $3 billion to $5 billion in lending to Iraq over a five-year period. KR
RUSSIA SAYS IT WILL NOT BE AMONG DONORS TO IRAQ
Russian Deputy Foreign Minister Yurii Fedotov said on 21 October that his country will not contribute donor funds to Iraq, Interfax reported. "We do not think that assistance to Iraq should be just about donor payments," he said. "And we [believe] that conditions are not right just now for Russia to make donor payments to the restoration of Iraq." However, Fedotov added that Russian companies are enthusiastic about investing in Iraq and may introduce projects there "at their own expense" that could amount to several billion dollars. Fedotov said that at the 23-24 October donors conference in Madrid, in which he will represent Russia, he will push for Iraq to fulfill contracts concluded between the former Iraqi government and Russian companies under the UN's oil-for-food program. KR
U.S. FORCES WITHDRAW FROM KUWAITI AIR BASE
U.S. Air Force personnel on 21 October were officially withdrawn from the Ahmad al-Jaber Air Base in Kuwait after being stationed there for more than a decade, KUNA reported. Kuwaiti and U.S. officials said there is no longer a need for a full-time U.S. presence at the air base, now that the threat posed by former Iraqi President Saddam Hussein has been eliminated. "Our joint mission of defending Kuwait against [Hussein's] threats has been accomplished," U.S. Ambassador to Kuwait Richard Jones said at a ceremony marking the withdrawal. The U.S. had maintained a military presence at the Kuwaiti base since the 1991 Gulf War. KR
REPORT ON UN BOMBING IN BAGHDAD FAULTS 'SLOPPY' SECURITY SYSTEM
The independent panel investigating the 19 August bombing of the United Nations' Baghdad headquarters released a report on 22 October blaming the UN security apparatus in New York and in the field for lapses that occurred before the 19 August attack, Reuters reported on 22 October. "The main conclusion of the panel is that the current security-management system is dysfunctional," the report stated. "The observance and implementation of security regulations and procedures were sloppy and noncompliance with security rules commonplace." The investigation confirmed claims by U.S. officials that the UN in Baghdad refused protection because it wanted to distance itself from the U.S.-led occupation. According to Reuters, UN officials asked the United States to withdraw heavy equipment from the UN compound, dismantle an observation post on the roof of their headquarters at the Canal Hotel, and to remove obstacles and concertina wire from the access road that was later used by the truck bomber. The investigation, headed by former Finnish President Martti Ahtisaari, concluded that many lives might have been saved if stronger security measures had been in place. KR