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Newsline - October 23, 2003


MOSCOW MARKS FIRST ANNIVERSARY OF THEATER HOSTAGE DRAMA...
Speaking at a ceremony to open a new Russian air base in the Kyrgyz town of Kant on 23 October, President Vladimir Putin noted that it is was one year ago that a group of Chechen fighters took more than 900 people hostage at a Moscow theater (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 24, 25, and 26 October 2002), Russian media reported. Putin used the occasion to call upon the international community to redouble its efforts to combat terrorism. During the October 2002 hostage crisis, 129 hostages died during a special-forces operation to liberate the theater, most of them dying from the effects of a sleeping gas used by the rescuers. Putin called the tragedy a "deep wound that has continued to bleed for a long time." In Moscow, the city administration and civic organizations organized commemorations, including the unveiling of a monument with the names of the hostages who died. VY

...AS POLL SHOWS RUSSIANS FEAR SIMILAR TERRORIST INCIDENTS...
The ROMIR polling agency has released a poll of 1,600 adults that found that 91 percent of respondents believe a similar terrorist incident could happen again, lenta.ru reported on 22 October. According to the same poll, 63 percent of respondents approved of the government's actions during the crisis, while 32 percent did not. However, 37 percent said that the sleeping gas is to blame for the deaths of the hostages, while 26 percent blame the hostage takers, 20 percent blame the "inadequate medical assistance," and 10 percent blamed other causes. VY

...AND CHECHEN FIELD COMMANDERS FORMALLY CHARGED IN THE CASE
Shamil Basaev, Khasan Zakaev, and Gerikhan Dudaev have been charged in absentia with organizing the October 2002 hostage taking at a theater in Moscow, and international warrants have been issued for their arrest, Interfax on 22 October quoted the Moscow City prosecutor's office as saying. Basaev claimed responsibility for the hostage taking shortly after it ended (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 1 November 2002). Colonel General Valerii Baranov, first deputy commander-in-chief of the Interior Ministry Troops in Chechnya, told Interfax on 25 September that Basaev is believed to be hiding in southern Chechnya. LF

PUTIN ORDERS TEMPORARY HALT TO CONTROVERSIAL DAM PROJECT...
Presidential spokesman Aleksei Gromov announced on 23 October that President Putin and Ukrainian President Leonid Kuchma have spoken by telephone and have agreed that the two countries' prime ministers will meet on 24 October to discuss the conflict over a controversial dam being built by Russia in the Kerch Strait (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 3, 14, and 21 October 2003 and "End Note," 16 October 2003), Russian media reported. Putin will ask the administration of Krasnodar Krai to halt construction of the dam until the dispute with Kyiv is resolved. Foreign Minister Igor Ivanov said on 22 October that the project is dictated "exclusively by economic and ecological considerations and has nothing to do with Ukrainian-Russian talks about border delimitation in the Azov Sea," RTR reported. VY

...AS PARLIAMENTARIAN SAYS DISPUTE WILL BE RESOLVED
Duma Deputy Dmitrii Rogozin, chairman of the Foreign Affairs Committee, said the conflict over the dam is "the result of Ukraine's ambitions to join NATO," RTR and NTV reported on 22 October. Ukraine claims that the Tuzla islet is its territory and that it is threatened by the dam. "In fact, there is no Tuzla islet at all," Rogozin said. "It is merely the above-water part of a seabed sand spit that reaches far out into the Kerch Strait." He added that if Russia and Ukraine are unable to agree on the status of the Azov Sea, it could acquire the status of international waters and other countries, including NATO countries, could gain the unrestricted use of it. "I am sure that President Putin has levers to deal with this problem," Rogozin said. "I am sure he can just call Leonid Kuchma and say a few words. President Kuchma understands Russian better than Ukrainian," Rogozin said. VY

MINISTER SAYS CRIMINAL GROUPS USE BANKS TO SPIRIT MONEY ABROAD...
Speaking to Interior Ministry officials on 22 October, Interior Minister Boris Gryzlov said that Russian banks have illegally transferred $9 billion out of the country this year through fraudulent credit and other operations, Russian media reported. Criminal groups continue to use banking and financial institutions to illegally transfer capital using plastic cards and sophisticated information technologies, Gryzlov said. Gryzlov said that one common illegal practice is to avoid paying value-added tax by claiming that transactions that actually occurred in Russia took place abroad. VY

...AND THAT CHECHEN OIL MONEY FINANCES MILITANTS
Interior Minister Gryzlov told ministry personnel on 22 October that organized-crime groups control much of the oil sector in the Southern Russia Federal District and channel part of the profits from illicit oil sales to the Chechen resistance, Russian media reported. Gryzlov said that local branches of his ministry must take more effective steps to crack down on oil theft. Gryzlov also said the Chechen branch of the Interior Ministry has created a special section tasked with guarding oil pipelines to prevent the thieves illegally siphoning oil. Analysts believe much of the oil extracted in Chechnya is sold illegally with the connivance of the Russian military, which receives a share of the profits. The Interior Ministry currently has overall responsibility for the military operation in Chechnya. LF

SLATE SET FOR MOSCOW MAYORAL RACE
The Moscow city election commission on 22 October stopped accepting registration documents for candidates in the city's 7 December mayoral race, Russian media reported. Originally, 15 people expressed a desire to run against incumbent Mayor Yurii Luzhkov, but that number has dwindled to five. The commission now has 10 days to review the documents submitted and the ultimate number of contenders could be still fewer. So far, the candidates include businessman German Sterlingov, National Reserve Bank head Aleksandr Lebedev, Progress association Director Nikolai Lifanov, and former Preseneskii Raion head Aleksandr Krasnov. Liberal Democratic Party of Russia (LDPR) Duma Deputy Aleksei Mitrofanov has dropped out of the race, as has Igor Smikov, head of the Delo legal firm. The office of vice mayor, which is currently occupied by Valerii Shantsev, will no longer be elective, following a March Supreme Court decision, newsru.com reported. JAC

COMMUNIST LEADER DENIED ACCESS TO AIRWAVES IN PERM...
The Perm Oblast Election Commission has decided not to allow regional television company T7 -- a subsidiary of the state-owned All-Russia State Television and Radio Company, or VGTRK -- to broadcast a program featuring Communist Party leader Gennadii Zyuganov, Regnum reported on 22 October. Zyuganov intended to visit Perm this week and wanted to speak on local television. However, the commission ruled that any such speech is not allowable under current election regulations until after 7 November. JAC

...AS LOCAL VIEWERS TREATED TO NEW POLICE CARTOONS
The local Interior Ministry in Perm Oblast has started a new project -- making animated films with law enforcement themes, newsru.com reported on 22 October, citing Novyi region. The first film is about the traffic police and has already been shown on Perm television. It received a medal at a film festival in Kazan. A new series of films is currently being prepared on the topic of preventative security measures. JAC

DOZENS OF STATE OFFICIALS LEAVE THEIR POSTS
At midnight on 22 October, the deadline expired for "Category A" state officials who are on party lists for the 7 December State Duma elections to take a leave of absence for the duration of the State Duma campaign, "Izvestiya" reported on 22 October. According to the newspaper, there are 62 such officials on the party list of the so-called party of power, Unified Russia. At the top of the list are Interior Minister Gryzlov and Emergency Situations Minister Sergei Shoigu. Moscow Mayor Yurii Luzhkov, Tatarstan President Mintimer Shaimiev, and Rostov Oblast Governor Vladimir Chub had already announced their vacations as of 22 October, and Gryzlov's vacation is also pending, according to RosBalt. JAC

COMMUNISTS TO OPT OUT OF PRESIDENTIAL RACE?
"Argumenty i Fakty," No. 43, speculated that at the Communist Party's congress in February 2004, delegates might decide not to choose Communist Party leader Zyuganov as their presidential candidate because he has already lost presidential elections in 1996 and 2000. They might instead opt to nominate President Putin under the pretext of promoting national accord. In exchange for such a move, the presidential administration would reportedly be willing to agree to appoint a Communist as a prime minister. According to the weekly, the Communist Party, with its disciplined supporters, is guaranteed to attract 25-30 percent of the vote. Therefore, it "has to be neutralized." JAC

IS ELECTRICITY MONOPOLY PLAYING POLITICS?
As of 1 November, Unified Energy Systems (EES) plans to lower electricity rates for customers of four of the country's largest electrical systems -- Mosenergo, Lenenergo, Nizhnoenergo, and Permenergo, "Vremya novostei" reported on 22 October. Seventeen other EES subsidiaries plan to conclude agreements with local authorities stipulating that rate hikes will not exceed the inflation rate. The daily argues that the move is linked with the 7 December State Duma elections, and the political "dividends" from such a populist policy will benefit the Unified Russia party and the Union of Rightist Forces (SPS) "as the party of [Unified Energy Systems head Anatolii] Chubais." JAC

DUMA TO ESTABLISH TRUTH COMMISSION
The State Duma's Information Policy Committee will create a public commission charged with preventing the dissemination of unreliable information via the mass media, "Delovoi Peterburg" reported on 22 October. The announcement of the formation of the commission was made during a roundtable in the lower legislative chamber on the topic of "Black PR in the Russian media: Is it possible to prevent it?" Igor Yakovenko, secretary of the Russian Union of Journalists, said the main means in the struggle against "black public relations" should be self-censorship and a cooperative agreement or code within the journalistic community. Duma Deputy Andrei Vulf (SPS) said that three methods exist to combat the phenomenon: legislative regulation, judicial practice, and corporative ethics, strana.ru reported. JAC

RUSSIANS TO START NEW YEAR WITH MORE DAYS OFF
Labor Minister Aleksandr Pochinok announced on 22 October that the first four days of January 2004 will be non-working days. 1 January 2004 falls on a Thursday, and the seventh, which is Russian Orthodox Christmas, is a Wednesday. JAC

FORMER INGUSH PRESIDENT SAYS KREMLIN BEHIND PROPOSAL TO MERGE CHECHNYA, INGUSHETIA
In an interview published in "Nezavisimaya gazeta" on 23 October, Ruslan Aushev claimed that Moscow is behind the proposal aired on 10 October by Chechen leader Akhmad Kadyrov to merge Chechnya and Ingushetia into a single federation subject. Aushev pointed out that the Russian leadership has for some time argued the need to reduce the number of Russian regions, and that merging Chechnya and Ingushetia and giving the new formation a different name -- possibly "the Vainakh Republic" -- would "dissolve" an unstable region in a more stable one, and obviate the need to use the term "Chechnya." The need to persuade Chechen displaced persons still in Ingushetia to return to Chechnya would also disappear. Given that Ingushetia has an impressive new capital -- Aushev's achievement -- there would be no need to rebuild Grozny, Aushev concluded. Aushev's successor, President Murat Zyazikov, has rejected the idea of reuniting the two regions, which were created by the split in the summer of 1992 of the former Checheno-Ingush ASSR (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 15 October 2003). LF

IRANIAN AMBASSADOR TO ARMENIA LOBBIES FOR IRANIAN ROLE IN SOUTH CAUCASUS SECURITY PACT
Iranian Ambassador to Yerevan Mohammad Farhad Koleini met on 21 October with Heikki Talvitie, the EU's special representative for the South Caucasus, Noyan Tapan reported on 22 October. Koleini argued in favor of establishing a regional security organization uniting Iran, Russia, Turkey, and the three South Caucasus states. Iranian Foreign Minister Kamal Kharrazi had pushed for a South Caucasus security pact comprising those six countries during a tour of the South Caucasus earlier this year (see "RFE/RL Caucasus Report," 16 May 2003). But Armenian, Azerbaijani, and Georgian politicians are unanimous that the United States, and possibly also the EU, should also play a role in the proposed organization. LF

EES HEAD UNVEILS PLANS FOR SINGLE SOUTH CAUCASUS ENERGY NETWORK
During a visit to Yerevan on 22 October, Anatolii Chubais, who heads Russia's state-run Unified Energy Systems (EES), met with Armenian President Robert Kocharian, Prime Minister Andranik Markarian, and Defense Minister Serzh Sarkisian, RFE/RL's Yerevan bureau reported. Chubais told journalists that Armenia will soon be incorporated into a Russian-led unified energy-supply network comprising 10 former Soviet republics, including Georgia and Azerbaijan. He added that EES, which controls 80 percent of Armenia's power-generating capacity, will soon lease and repair the high-voltage transmission lines leading from Armenia to Azerbaijan and Turkey in order to export power to those two countries, arguing that "political problems" should not preclude such exports. He predicted that it will prove possible to secure Azerbaijan's agreement in the wake of the 15 October presidential election, ITAR-TASS reported. LF

OSCE CHAIRMAN CALLS FOR RELEASE OF AZERBAIJANI DETAINEES...
OSCE Chairman in Office Jaap de Hoop Scheffer met in Baku on 22 October with Azerbaijani President-elect Ilham Aliyev, Reuters and zerkalo.az reported on 22 and 23 October, respectively. De Hoop Scheffer urged Aliyev to expedite the release of people detained "on political grounds" in the wake of the 15 October presidential election. Aliyev replied that most of those people who did not play an active role in the 15-16 October unrest have already been freed. At a press conference in Baku the same day, Interior Minister Ramil Usubov said 400 people had been detained in addition to 62 who allegedly participated in the clashes with police in Baku on 16 October, Turan reported. But in a 22 October press release, Human Rights Watch quoted the Interior Ministry as saying on 17 October that 190 people were detained during the clashes in Baku alone. De Hoop Scheffer said those detained should be granted access to lawyers. Asked by journalists at a subsequent press conference why he did not meet during his brief visit with opposition party leaders, De Hoop Scheffer said that he did not have time to do so, zerkalo.az reported. LF

...AND FOR DIALOGUE WITH OPPOSITION
During their 22 October talks in Baku, De Hoop Scheffer also urged President-elect Aliyev to take "broad steps" to promote civic reconciliation and democratization, and to embark on a dialogue with the opposition, zerkalo.az reported. Aliyev responded that he has repeatedly invited the opposition to participate in such a dialogue, but that all such overtures have been rejected, and instead the opposition resorted to "unlawful actions" in an attempt to destroy political stability, ITAR-TASS reported. Also on 22 October, opposition Azerbaijan National Independence Party Chairman and defeated presidential candidate Etibar Mammedov told a press conference in Baku that while a dialogue between the authorities and the opposition is essential, the authorities must first release all those arrested and halt their campaign of repression against opposition parties, zerkalo.az reported. LF

GEORGIAN PRESIDENT PLEDGES ELECTIONS WILL BE DEMOCRATIC
OSCE Chairman in Office de Hoop Scheffer traveled on 21 October from Yerevan to Tbilisi where he met first with Georgian Foreign Minister Irakli Menagharishvili and then on 22 October with President Eduard Shevardnadze, Caucasus Press reported. De Hoop Scheffer told journalists on 22 October that he raised with Shevardnadze complaints he received from Georgian opposition politicians who fear the Georgian authorities are planning to falsify the outcome of the 2 November parliamentary elections. He said he impressed upon Shevardnadze the need for the ballot to be perceived as free and fair if Georgia is to succeed in its goal of integration into Euro-Atlantic structures. Shevardnadze, for his part, undertook to ensure that voter lists are amended to preclude abuses. Opposition politicians claim the lists contain the names of thousands of nonexistent people, in whose name votes are to be cast for the pro-presidential For a New Georgia bloc. LF

OSCE TO RENEW PUSH FOR CLOSURE OF RUSSIAN MILITARY BASES IN GEORGIA
The OSCE Foreign Ministers' summit in Maastricht on 1-2 December will address the issue of expediting the closure of the two remaining Russian military bases in Georgia, de Hoop Scheffer told journalists in Tbilisi on 22 October, ITAR-TASS and Caucasus Press reported. Russia undertook during the OSCE summit in Istanbul in 1999 to close two of its Georgian bases by 30 June 2001 and to embark on talks in 2000 on a deadline for the closure of the remaining two (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 22 November 1999). But Russia has consistently argued that it cannot afford at present to redeploy the military personnel at the two remaining bases to Russia, and that the process will take 11-14 years to complete (see "RFE/RL Caucasus Report," 3 January 2003). LF

KYRGYZ AND RUSSIAN PRESIDENTS OPEN AIR BASE NEAR BISHKEK
Kyrgyz President Askar Akaev and Russian President Vladimir Putin officially opened the controversial Russian air base in the town of Kant near Bishkek on 23 October, kabar.kg, Interfax and ITAR-TASS reported. Kyrgyz officials, including President Akaev at the opening ceremony, have said that the base, intended as part of the CIS Collective Security Organization's rapid-reaction force, will contribute to national and regional security. But some parliamentarians and other political figures have questioned the wisdom of having a Russian base so close to the U.S.-led international antiterrorism coalition's air base at Bishkek's Manas airport. The base at Kant is intended to host up to 500 Russian service personnel and 10-15 warplanes, including military transports. In related news, Russian First Deputy Foreign Minister Valerii Loshchinin told akipress.org on 22 October that Russia is ready to send land-mine-removal specialists to help Kyrgyzstan remove land mines on the Uzbek-Kyrgyz border that were laid by the Uzbek military in 1999 to prevent incursions by Muslim militants into Uzbek territory. BB

KYRGYZ-RUSSIAN INVESTMENT FORUM OPENS IN BISHKEK
Prior to the ceremony at the Kant air base, Presidents Putin and Akaev met to discuss a wide range of bilateral issues and sign a document on Kyrgyz support for Russia's accession to the World Trade Organization (WTO), of which Kyrgyzstan is a member, kabar.kg reported on 23 October. Kyrgyz Prime Minister Nikolai Tanaev told a Kyrgyz-Russian investment forum that opened in Bishkek on 22 October that the sale of Kyrgyz electricity to Russia, which began in August, represents a major breakthrough in economic relations between the two countries, ITAR-TASS, kabar.kg and other Kyrgyz media reported. First Deputy Prime Minister Dzhoomart Otorbaev told the forum that Kyrgyzstan would like to attract Russian investment specifically in the development of the mining industry, ore-processing, hydropower engineering, information technology, services, and tourism. BB

TURKISH PRIME MINISTER PROMISES EXPANSION OF TURKISH-KYRGYZ TRADE
Turkish Prime Minister Recep Erdogan, who arrived in Kyrgyzstan on an official visit on 22 October, told President Akaev that the primary objective of his visit is to promote economic cooperation between the two countries, kabar.kg and akipress.org reported. For this reason, Erdogan said, he brought a delegation of 200 Turkish businesspeople with him, and he is confident that in 2004 the volume of trade between Turkey and Kyrgyzstan would rise to $200 million. In 2002, the figure was $40 million. Erdogan added that the Turkish government will encourage Turkish investment in Kyrgyzstan. After the Turkish prime minister's meeting with Akaev, the two leaders took part in the opening of faculties of economics and management at the Kyrgyz-Turkish University in Bishkek. BB

KYRGYZ-RUSSIAN INVESTMENT FORUM OPENS IN BISHKEK
Kyrgyz Prime Minister Nikolai Tanaev told a Kyrgyz-Russian investment forum that opened in Bishkek on 22 October that the sale of Kyrgyz electricity to Russia, which began in August, represented a major breakthrough in economic relations between the two countries, ITAR-TASS, kabar.kg, and other Kyrgyz media reported. First Deputy Prime Minister Dzhoomart Otorbaev told the forum that Kyrgyzstan would like to attract Russian investment specifically in the development of the mining industry, ore processing, hydropower engineering, information technology, services, and tourism. According to ITAR-TASS, Russia already has major investments in Kyrgyzstan, as do the United States and Turkey. BB

UNREGISTERED UZBEK POLITICAL PARTY HOLDS CONGRESS
The unregistered Uzbek Erk Democratic Party succeeded in holding its planned congress on 22 October, centrasia.ru reported on 23 October. The party had intended to hold a congress in September but was prevented by the authorities, who harassed and briefly detained several party members and confiscated party property (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 1 October 2003). Party members and sympathetic human rights activists reacted with picketing and a large demonstration in the center of Tashkent, which was broken up by police, but the participants reportedly were not detained. The party credits the authorities' willingness finally to allow the congress to take place to the political influence of the United States in Uzbekistan, in particular to the presence in Tashkent of an office of the New York-based human rights group Freedom House, where Erk held its congress. The report noted that another Freedom House office has been opened in the Ferghana Valley town of Namangan, where in 1998 the authorities launched a wave of wholesale arrests of pious Muslims. BB

UZBEK POLITICAL ACTIVIST FREED IN MOSCOW
Uzbek political activist Bakhrom Khamroev has been released from investigative detention in Moscow, centrasia.ru reported on 23 October, citing Deutsche Welle, but the authorities are still investigating his alleged crimes. Khamroev, an active member of the unregistered Uzbek political movement Birlik who has lived in Moscow for many years and holds Russian citizenship, was arrested by Russian police on 20 July on charges of drug trafficking and having contact with Islamic extremist groups (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 21 July 2003). He and his supporters in the Russian and Uzbek human rights communities say the charges are fabricated, possibly in reaction to his public assertion that the Russian security services have largely failed to identify real terrorist threats. BB

U.S. AMBASSADOR PRESENTS CREDENTIALS IN MINSK
U.S. Ambassador to Belarus George Krol, who arrived in Belarus on 3 September (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 4 September 2003), presented his credentials to President Alyaksandr Lukashenka on 22 October, Belarusian Television reported. "[Belarus] is a country of talented and hardworking people, which is known for its religious and ethnic tolerance [and its] love for beauty and orderliness.... My government is steadily following its consistent policy of respect for and support to the sovereignty and independence of the Republic of Belarus," Krol said in Belarusian. Lukashenka responded in Russian: "Our country will always be an [independent] state. No matter what unions we will enter,... the sovereignty and independence of out state will be [preserved]." The same day, Lukashenka also accepted credentials from Petro Shapoval, a new Ukrainian ambassador to Belarus. JM

UKRAINIAN PRESIDENT VIEWS CONSTRUCTION OF CONTENTIOUS RUSSIAN DAM...
President Leonid Kuchma, who interrupted his Latin American tour due to the ongoing Ukrainian-Russian border dispute (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 22 October 2003), visited Tuzla island in the Kerch Strait on 22 October to watch the construction of a Russian dam that is reportedly some 100 meters from the Ukrainian border, Ukrainian and international news agencies reported. Kuchma also met with Ukrainian border guards on the island. Following a telephone conversation with Kuchma, Russian President Vladimir Putin reportedly requested that authorities of Russia's Krasnodar Krai halt construction of the controversial dike, Interfax reported on 23 October, quoting Kuchma's press service (see Russia items, "RFE/RL Newsline Part I"). Ukrainian Premier Viktor Yanukovych is scheduled to discuss the situation in the Kerch Strait with his Russian counterpart Mikhail Kasyanov in Moscow on 24 October. Meanwhile, 17 Ukrainian jet fighters deployed in Crimea held an exercise on 22 October involving missile firings into the water in an area not far from Tuzla, ITAR-TASS reported. JM

...AS PARLIAMENT WANTS TO INTERNATIONALIZE DISPUTE WITH RUSSIA
The Verkhovna Rada voted 369 to five on 22 October to pass a resolution calling for "the removal of the threat to Ukraine's territorial integrity" posed by the construction of the Russian dam in the Kerch Strait, Interfax reported. The resolution recommends that Ukraine's delegation to the current session of the UN General Assembly raise the dam dispute at that forum. Moreover, the resolution requests that the parliamentary speaker appeal to the OSCE Parliamentary Assembly to send international observers to the Kerch Strait area. "Tuzla symbolizes a fundamental crisis in our relations [with Russia]. We have never discussed so actively the possibility of an armed conflict even when we were dividing the Black Sea Fleet," Reuters quoted Our Ukraine leader Viktor Yushchenko, a likely presidential candidate next year, as saying. Our Ukraine lawmaker Yuriy Yekhanurov said during debate in parliament that Ukraine needs to restore its nuclear arsenal. "Naturally, we cannot afford an arms race, but our country is not too poor to create anew a small nuclear arsenal that would be able to serve as a factor of deterrence for some 'excessively friendly' neighbors," Interfax quoted him as saying. JM

BALTIC PORTS REACT TO EU BAN ON SINGLE-HULL TANKERS
Ports in Estonia and Latvia have expressed mixed reactions to the European Union's ban on single-hull tankers carrying heavy fuel oil, which went into effect on 21 October, LETA reported the next day. Postimees.ee predicted the ban could reduce oil transit via Estonia by one-fifth and raise fuel prices, because 156 of the 608 tankers that have used the Port of Tallinn this year are single-hull tankers. At the same time, 85 percent of tankers loaded in Estonian ports are bound for EU ports. Imants Sarmulis, the port administrator at Ventspils, said the Ventspils and Liepaja ports will not observe the ban until the requirement is binding on them in May, when Latvia is expected to join the EU. Felikss Klagiss, head of Riga's Maritime Control Department, told LETA that the Riga Port has already banned tankers carrying certain types of cargo from entering the port. Klagiss said the competitiveness of Latvia's ports can be maintained, if the Baltic countries and Russia adopt the EU ban at the same time. AB

ESTONIAN LEGISLATIVE COMMITTEE STANDS FIRM ON RESIDENCY PERMITS FOR RETIRED RUSSIAN MILITARY
Parliament's Constitutional Committee voted to disregard a recent Estonian Supreme Court ruling that retired servicemen of the Soviet and Russian military may be issued permanent residency permits, BNS reported on 21 October. The current practice of the Citizenship and Migration Board has been to issue temporary permits for a period of up to five years. As a result of the court decision, the Estonian Interior Ministry in September asked the parliament to amend the Aliens Act to create a list of retired foreign servicemen who could then be issued the new permanent-residency permits. There are nearly 4,300 retired former Soviet and Russian soldiers living in Estonia on the temporary permits, with an additional 2,200 dependents. AB

LATVIAN PRIVATIZERS EXPECT TO WORK THROUGH 2004
More than 1,000 state-owned enterprises and real estate in Latvia remain available for privatization, according to the acting director-general of the Latvian Privatization Agency (LPA), LETA reported 22 October. The assets include 21 insolvent factories, 1,068 state-owned plots of land, two state enterprises, capital shares in 74 partially privatized state enterprises, and 28 commercial-development sites. LPA expects its work to continue through the end of 2004. A task force within the Economy Ministry is considering various models for turning over the LPA's responsibilities to other institutions. AB

LITHUANIAN PARLIAMENT MARKS 15TH ANNIVERSARY OF 'SAJUDIS' CONGRESS
The Lithuanian parliament on 22 October hosted a conference marking the 15th anniversary of the constituent congress of the country's democratic reform movement of the late 1980s, known as "Sajudis," BNS reported. Many founding members attended and received accolades for the grassroots movement that brought about the restoration of Lithuania's independence on 11 March 1990. The first constituent congress was held in Vilnius on 22-23 October 1988, with 1,021 elected delegates from all across Lithuania, including representatives of the country's ethnic minorities. The delegates declared their support for the reform policies of then-Soviet leader Mikhail Gorbachev and demanded the "guarantee of state and national sovereignty for Lithuania," economic autonomy, free general elections, a rescission of the ban on demonstrations, and rehabilitation of political prisoners. The congress also condemned Stalinism as a "crime against mankind and the Lithuanian nation" and declared its solidarity with Lithuanians living abroad. The founding date of Sajudis, however, is considered to be 3 June 1988 -- the day its Initiative Group was formed from among the country's intellectuals. AB

LITHUANIAN PREMIER DEFENDS VOLTE-FACE ON D-6 OIL FIELD
Lithuania's former president, Valdas Adamkus, and current parliament head Arturas Paulauskas joined forces in criticizing Prime Minister Algirdas Brazauskas on his return from Moscow, ELTA and BNS reported on 22 October. Adamkus said he was shocked to learn that Brazauskas and his delegation suggested legalizing the "allegedly safe utilization of the D-6 oil field and agreed to cooperate with Russia [in] exploiting the deposit." "Presently, Lithuania's position looks ambiguous," Adamkus said. "On one hand, we have protested against the plans of LUKoil, and on the other hand, we capitulated to Moscow." Paulauskas suggested that further work on the D-6 platform be suspended "until independent findings by Western experts are received." Opposition Liberal-Center Union faction in the parliament called Brazauskas's performance in Moscow "disgraceful," citing not only the D-6 oil drilling issue but also his alleged failure to defend Lithuania's economic interests in the 2K Transportation Project and the privatization of gas utility Lietuvos Dujos. Brazauskas appeared to confirm a reversal of policy on the D-6 site, saying, "It would be ridiculous if we required [Russia] to lift [eliminate] the oil platform, which cost $150 million" (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 22 October 2003). AB

POLISH EDITOR SAYS HE WAS 'MANIPULATED' IN RYWINGATE
"Gazeta Wyborcza" Editor in Chief Adam Michnik on 22 October told the parliamentary commission investigating the so-called Rywingate bribery scandal that he "allowed [myself] to be manipulated" in the scandal, Polish Television reported. Michnik was commenting on the information from the commission that on 16 July 2002, a day after Lew Rywin allegedly solicited a bribe from Agora (the publisher of "Gazeta Wyborcza"), the government was scheduled to discuss a media-law amendment that was favorable to Agora. According to the commission, Michnik's call to Premier Leszek Miller on 15 July 2002 asking the latter to postpone the discussion of the amendment (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 22 October 2003) prompted the removal of the amendment from the government's agenda. Michnik did not say whom he is suspecting of the manipulation, but he noted that his call to Miller was prompted by a request from then-Deputy Culture Minister Aleksandra Jakubowska that Agora or Michnik suggest postponing the discussion on the amendment to Miller. Some Polish media have speculated that Jakubowska might have belonged to the "group in power" to which film producer Rywin referred when allegedly soliciting a bribe from Agora. JM

CZECH INTERIOR MINISTER ANNOUNCES POLICE REORGANIZATION
Stanislav Gross unveiled plans for a reorganization of police forces, particularly in the Czech capital Prague, that will include the relocation of police stations to "localities where the greatest number of crimes occur" and reductions in command positions in favor of putting more police officers on the street, the daily "Mlada fronta Dnes" reported on 23 October. Gross said Prague police are facing a "comprehensive reorganization." A ministry report on criminality in 2002 showed marked increases in the numbers of burglaries, car thefts, and robberies, the daily reported. AH

CZECH, SLOVAK JOURNALISTS DECRY SLOVAK DEFAMATION VERDICT
Editors from a clutch of major Czech- and Slovak-language media have publicly condemned a recent 1 million Slovak crown ($28,537) verdict against the Slovak weekly "Domino forum" for defamation of former Slovak Information Service Director Ivan Lexa, TASR reported on 22 October. A Bratislava court on 17 October deemed libelous a "Domino forum" characterization of Lexa, who is being prosecuted for alleged abuses while in office, as "the best-known scamp" in a piece on wrongdoing in the country's recent past. Journalists from the Slovak daily "Sme" (which shares a publisher with "Domino forum") and "Pravda" joined editors from the Czech weeklies "Respekt" and "Tyden" and the Czech state television network in calling the verdict "scandalous and inflammatory," TASR reported. The group noted a European Court for Human Rights ruling that grants a wide berth to criticism of politicians. They said the hefty fine will have a chilling effect on the Slovak free media. Lexa won a similar lawsuit against the publisher of the daily "Hospodarske noviny" in August (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 26 August 2003). AH

SLOVAKIA REQUESTS 10-YEAR TRANSITION PERIOD ON EU ENVIRONMENTAL TAXES
The Slovak Finance Ministry said on 22 October that Bratislava has asked the European Union to delay by 10 years the planned imposition of new taxes on electricity, solid fuels, and gas, TASR reported the same day. Economy Minister Robert Nemcsics has warned in the past about the reforms' harsh effect on consumers and businesses in Slovakia, where consumption figures are 35 higher per capita than among EU states. The Czech Republic -- expected to join the EU along with Slovakia and eight other invitees in mid-2004 -- has requested a postponement to 2007, the agency reported. The EU plans to channel revenues from the tax to an energy-conservation fund. AH

SLOVAK FOREIGN MINISTER STRESSES PARTNERSHIP WITH U.S., EUROPE
At an American Chamber of Commerce gathering on 23 October, Eduard Kukan, foreign minister and a likely candidate in upcoming Slovak elections, stressed that cooperation with the United States remains a key part of Slovak foreign policy, TASR reported. Kukan said Bratislava "stresses the need for a partnership relation with the United States and Europe" in meetings with EU representatives. AH

HUNGARIAN CULTURE MINISTER URGES UNITY ON EVE OF 1956 INVASION ANNIVERSARY...
Istvan Hiller on 22 October called on Hungarians to look back on the 1956 anti-Soviet uprising as a symbol of unity and to take joint responsibility for the past and future, Hungary's Kossuth Radio reported. Hiller, who is a deputy chairman of the Socialist Party, made his comments during a gala at Budapest's National Theater on the eve of the country's 23 October national holiday, which commemorates the 1956 Uprising and the 14th anniversary of the proclamation of the Republic of Hungary. The event was also attended by President Ferenc Madl and Prime Minister Peter Medgyessy. Hiller apologized to those who suffered or lost their lives as a result of the 1956 events, but stressed that tribute is due to all who fell, regardless of which side they were on. MES

...WHILE OPPOSITION CALLS FOR DIGNIFIED COMMEMORATIONS
The opposition FIDESZ-Hungarian Civic Alliance has called on participants in the 23 October commemorations to exhibit respect for others' political convictions and right to free speech, Hungarian Television reported on 22 October. Meanwhile, opposition Hungarian Democratic Forum Chairwoman Ibolya David said heckling and whistling will not prevent people from honoring those who died in the uprising, the television station reported. However, events scheduled for the 23 October holiday do not include the cabinet's customary wreath-laying ceremony at the gravesite of Imre Nagy, Hungary's prime minister during the 1956 Uprising, according to Hungarian media. MES

BOSNIA BIDS FAREWELL TO FORMER LEADER
Some 150,000 people paid their last tribute to Alija Izetbegovic in Sarajevo on 22 October, RFE/RL's South Slavic and Albanian Languages Service reported. Izetbegovic, who led Bosnia during the 1992-95 civil war, was that country's leading Muslim politician during the last decade. Between 1990 and 2000, he was a member of the joint Bosnian Presidency, which he also chaired between 1990 and 1998, and in 2000. He died in a Sarajevo hospital on 19 October at the age of 78. Quoting the Roman statesman Cicero, Paddy Ashdown, the international community's high representative in Bosnia, said in his tribute to Izetbegovic: "'It is the character of a brave and resolute man not to be ruffled by adversity and not to desert his post.' Alija Izetbegovic met that definition in full," according to a press release from Ashdown's office (http://www.ohr.int). Ashdown added that Izetbegovic's choice of tolerance, restraint, and inclusiveness showed his courage. A day of mourning was observed only in the Muslim-Croat federation, but not in the Republika Srpska (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 20 October 2003). UB

SLOVENIAN AUTHORITIES ARREST KOSOVAR LEADER
Authorities arrested Agim Ceku -- a former Croatian general, former Kosovar Albanian guerrilla commander, and now the head of the Kosova Protection Corps (TMK) -- at Ljubljana's international airport on 22 October, RFE/RL's South Slavic and Albanian Languages Service reported. The Slovenian authorities carried out an international arrest warrant issued by the Serbian branch of Interpol. Serbia has accused Ceku of crimes against the Serbian minority in Kosova. Kosovar President Ibrahim Rugova condemned the arrest as "unacceptable" to the Kosovar people and institutions. The BBC's Serbian Service recalled that in February, Slovenian authorities arrested Fatmir Limaj, a senior official of Hashim Thaci's Democratic Party of Kosova (PDK), who was subsequently handed over to the Hague-based international war crimes tribunal. The tribunal denied any involvement in Ceku's detention (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 19 February 2003). UB

SERBIAN PRIME MINISTER ANNOUNCES OPERATION AGAINST MLADIC
Prime Minister Zoran Zivkovic said on 22 October that a police operation is under way to find indicted former Bosnian Serb military leader Ratko Mladic, Tanjug reported. Zivkovic added that police are following up on an anonymous tip on the whereabouts of Mladic. In related news, a spokeswoman of the Hague-based international war crimes tribunal denied that there is any "gentlemen's agreement" between the tribunal and the Serbian government about the extradition of the four former army and police generals recently indicted by The Hague (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 21 and 22 October 2003). UB

MACEDONIAN PARTIES SIGN CALL FOR DISARMAMENT
Following the initiative of former parliamentary speaker Stojan Andov of the Liberal Party, representatives of 13 parliamentary political parties in a ceremony on 22 October signed a call for the disarmament of the civilian population, "Dnevnik" reported. Andov said the public call should be understood as a clear signal to the population that the parties support the internationally sponsored weapons-collection operation, which starts on 1 November. Two ethnic Albanian opposition parties -- the Party for Democratic Prosperity (PPD) and the Democratic Party of the Albanians (PDSH) -- dismissed the ceremony as "superfluous" but signaled that they will support the weapons handover (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 16 and 22 October 2003). UB

MACEDONIA'S OLDEST AND BIGGEST PUBLISHING HOUSE TO BE LIQUIDATED
On 22 October, creditors decided to liquidate the bankrupt state-owned Nova Makedonija publishing house, which puts out the dailies "Nova Makedonija," "Vecer," "Birlik," and "Flaka," "Utrinski vesnik" reported. According to Angelina Gogusevska, who is the company's bankruptcy trustee, fewer than half of Nova Makedonija's debts can be covered by the liquidation (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 18 and 19 December 2002 and 27 August 2003 and "RFE/RL Balkan Report," 13 December 2002). UB

ROMANIAN, ITALIAN PRESIDENTS DISCUSS ECONOMIC RELATIONS
Visiting Italian President Carlo Azeglio Ciampi told a Romanian-Italian economic forum in Bucharest on 22 October that Romania can count on Italian investors, Romanian Radio reported. He said Italy wants to increase its presence in Romania, but that investors require simple and transparent administrative procedures and a stable judiciary. Ciampi said Italy seeks to become more than Romania's most important trade partner and intends to become the country's largest foreign investor. Italy has invested $554 million in Romania, and more than 13,000 Romanian-Italian owned companies operate in Romania. Romanian President Ion Iliescu told the forum that Italy is a model for economic development, as it has overcome problems similar to those faced by Romania. During his meeting with Iliescu on 21 October, Ciampi said Italy supports Romania's efforts to join the EU and encourages it to continue reforms. He added that last weekend's successful referendum on Romania's new constitution will help in negotiations with the EU. Ciampi was scheduled to end his three-day visit to Bucharest on 23 October. ZsM

ROMANIAN OPPOSITION PARTIES, NGOS CHALLENGE CONSTITUTIONAL REFERENDUM
The opposition Greater Romania Party (PRM) on 22 October asked the Constitutional Court not to validate the results of the 18-19 October constitutional referendum, arguing that legal procedures were violated, Romanian media reported. The PRM argues that the results are skewed as a result of multiple voting and the overuse of mobile balloting, and because authorities in several localities offered voters incentives to participate in the referendum. In the run-up to the referendum, the PRM ran a campaign calling for voters not to participate. Also on 22 October, the Central Electoral Bureau sent the results of the referendum to the Constitutional Court for validation. Representatives of the Opposition Democratic Party, the National Liberal Party, and the PRM refused to sign the document on the basis that the referendum was flawed. Prosecutors are already investigating complaints made by two NGOs contesting the use of incentives and mobile balloting. ZsM

ROMANIAN PRESIDENT ESTABLISHES HOLOCAUST COMMISSION
Romanian President Iliescu on 22 October announced the establishment of an international commission to study the effects of Holocaust in Romania, Mediafax reported. The commission is chaired by Romanian-born author and Nobel Peace Prize Laureate Elie Wiesel and includes historians and researchers from Israel, the United States, Germany, France, and Romania. Meeting with commission members, Iliescu said the initiative supports Romanian efforts to promote tolerance, combat xenophobia and anti-Semitism, and to take responsibility for the country's past. In a controversial interview in July with the Israeli daily "Ha'aretz," Iliescu said that "the Romanian people can by no means be accused" of participation in the perpetration of the Holocaust. He later denied making those and other statements regarding the Holocaust (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 28 and 29 July and 25, 26, and 27 August 2003). ZsM

BESSARABIAN CHURCH CASE TO BE EXAMINED BY CONSTITUTIONAL COURT
The Moldovan Appeals Court on 22 October upheld its 20 October decision to stop proceedings in the case of the Bessarabian Metropolitan Church v. the Moldovan government, Flux reported. Judge Mihai Ciugureanu said the case will be taken over by the Constitutional Court. The church on 8 February contested a 26 September 2001 government decision stipulating that the Moldovan Metropolitan Church, now under the jurisdiction of the Russian Orthodox Church's Moscow patriarchate, is "the rightful successor" to the Metropolitan Church of Bessarabia and Hotin, which existed from 1918-40 (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 27 September 2001). Although fiercely opposed to it, the government registered the Metropolitan Church in July 2002 upon the recommendations of the Council of Europe and a December 2001 ruling by the Strasbourg-based European Court of Human Rights (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 31 July 2002 and 4 April 2003). ZsM

SCANDAL REDUCES CHANCES FOR BULGARIAN CONSERVATIVES IN LOCAL ELECTIONS
The recent scandal over a $200,000 donation to the Demokratsiya Foundation is harming the conservative opposition party Union of Democratic Forces' (SDS) chances in the 26 October local elections, "Sega" reported on 23 October, citing an opinion poll carried out by the ASSA-M research agency. According to the agency's latest poll, SDS Chairwoman and Sofia mayoral candidate Nadezhda Mihailova will not make it to the run-off, as predicted earlier. Instead, opposition Socialist Party (BSP) candidate Stoyan Aleksandrov is expected to reach the second round, where he will face incumbent Sofia Mayor Stefan Sofiyanski of the small Union of Liberal Democrats, according to the poll. Earlier polls predicted a run-off between Sofiyanski and Mihailova. The Danube port of Ruse is the only city in which the latest poll predicts a first-round SDS victory, while in eight other cities the SDS is in the running to win the second round. The big winner of the local elections will be the BSP, which is likely to win in 17 cities (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 15, 16, 17, and 22 October 2003). UB

TOP COP SAYS TRAFFICKING CHANNELS BROKEN UP IN BULGARIA
Interior Minister Chief Secretary General Boyko Borisov said on 22 October that networks in the country that traffic illegal goods and drugs have been destroyed. Speaking on the joint radio and TV program "Blitz" of RFE/RL's Bulgarian Service and bTV, he said such trafficking networks cannot exist without protection from the higher levels of the administration. On 21 October, an official from the National Service for Combating Organized Crime said Bulgaria remains a major thoroughfare for hard drugs (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 22 October 2003). UB

REALPOLITIK TAKES PRECEDENCE OVER DEMOCRATIZATION IN THE SOUTH CAUCASUS


Armenia, Azerbaijan, and Georgia were issued with a stark warning by Council of Europe Secretary-General Walter Schwimmer in Strasbourg on 29 January. "I cannot imagine what the consequences would be with regard to the position of these countries in the Council of Europe if their elections are not conducted in a free and fair way," Schwimmer said ahead of this year's presidential and parliamentary polls in the three South Caucasus states. However, the United States and Europe have done little to give teeth to their periodic appeals to the governments of the three countries to ensure that elections are free, fair, and transparent.

On the contrary, nine months after Schwimmer's warning, the presidents of Armenia and Azerbaijan are reaping the benefits of the West's reluctance to push more energetically for swifter democratization in the South Caucasus, a reluctance that is in stark contrast to the pressure exerted by the West on Belarus and former Yugoslavia.

In the intervening period, Armenia and Azerbaijan have held presidential ballots -- Armenia in February-March and Azerbaijan last week -- that have elevated the region's post-Soviet vote-rigging culture to new heights. But neither president is facing any repercussions that could threaten his grip on power either in the Council of Europe or in any other Western structure into which both countries have been trying to integrate. Their counterpart in neighboring Georgia is surely taking note of that as he prepares to hold crucial legislative elections there next month.

The West has effectively legitimized the official results of the elections in Armenia and Azerbaijan, both of which were marred by reports of widespread, serious fraud. Monitoring missions from the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE) criticized both ballots in very similarly worded statements, as falling short of international standards. Yet Washington nonetheless affirmed its readiness "to work with" Armenian President Robert Kocharian and Azerbaijani President-elect Ilham Aliyev.

The United States seems to be getting tougher on Georgia, having recently forced President Eduard Shevardnadze to accept a strong opposition presence in election commissions. But it is highly doubtful that Shevardnadze, a long-time darling of the West, will face U.S. ostracism if the 2 November Georgian elections too go awry.

The Council of Europe, which admitted Armenia and Azerbaijan in January 2001, was equally critical of the elections, but failed to move from verbal condemnation to concrete sanctions. The organization's Parliamentary Assembly (PACE) moved to censure Armenia following the May parliamentary polls, but retracted that threat in September after Yerevan fully abolished the death penalty during times of peace. Similarly, the PACE has for months threatened to sanction Azerbaijan for holding political prisoners, but twice postponed punitive action this year.

In some respects, the three Caucasian states are now less democratic than they were before joining the Council of Europe. Kocharian, for example, shut down Armenia's leading independent television station in April 2002, while Azerbaijan has just formalized the first dynastic transfer of power in the former Soviet Union. In Georgia, the presidential election in 2000 was deemed less democratic by international observers than polls held in the 1990s.

Armenia, Azerbaijan, and Georgia have felt practically no pressure for democratization from the European Union, which continues to allocate tens of millions of dollars for regional aid programs. None of the three countries will be seriously considered for EU membership in the foreseeable future. This might be explained by the fact that the EU is concentrating its efforts on promoting political reform in those Eastern and Central European states that will join it in the coming years. Besides, some European powers, notably France, are pursuing their own, separate agenda in the South Caucasus. French President Jacques Chirac was the first -- and perhaps the only -- European leader to congratulate Kocharian and Aliyev on their disputed victories.

All three South Caucasus states cooperate with the United States in its global fight against terrorism, and all backed, to varying degrees, its military occupation of Iraq. Of more immediate importance, the United States is keenly interested in a quick settlement of the Armenian-Azerbaijani conflict over Nagorno-Karabakh, partly in order to undercut Russian influence in the region and to ensure the successful implementation of multibillion-dollar Western oil projects in Azerbaijan.

The apparent U.S. thinking is that internationally isolated regimes in Baku and Yerevan would be unable or unwilling to agree to a compromise solution to the Karabakh conflict at a time when the OSCE Minsk Group is preparing to make a fresh bid for peace. The problem is, however, that neither government enjoys the domestic legitimacy necessary for making painful concessions on Karabakh. Aliyev and Kocharian might not feel secure enough to embrace a peace accord that could be easily exploited by their political opponents and rejected by powerful government factions that helped them cling to power. They both must remember the fate of Armenia's former President Levon Ter-Petrossian who in February 1998, 16 months after his fraudulent re-election, was forced to resign by his key ministers -- including Kocharian -- after advocating acceptance of a Western-backed accord on Karabakh.

If either country does not like a particular Karabakh peace plan, it can always count on Russia's secret support for rejecting it. It is no wonder that Russian President Vladimir Putin was quick to endorse the election outcomes in both Armenia and Azerbaijan.

But by avoiding deeper involvement in the democratization of the South Caucasus, the West risks perpetuating the very status quo that it has been unsuccessfully trying to change. To hope that the countries of the region will gradually transform into liberal democracies with a bit of Western encouragement is utopian and naive. Failure unequivocally to condemn a burgeoning tradition of rigging elections will only serve to fuel long-term political instability, and make such fraud increasingly difficult to eradicate.

Emil Danielyan is an RFE/RL correspondent based in Yerevan.

AFGHAN ADMINISTRATION AGAIN DENIES RELEASING, HOLDING TALKS WITH FORMER TALIBAN MINISTER
The Afghan Transitional Administration in a statement obtained by RFE/RL on 22 October refuted recent reports that former Taliban Foreign Minister Mawlawi Wakil Ahmad Muttawakil has been released from U.S. custody or that the administration has opened discussions with him (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 21 and 22 October 2003). The statement said: the Transitional Administration "has not entered into any form of discussion or negotiation with members of the former Taliban movement. It has been confirmed that a number of individual contacts have been received from some members of the former Taliban movement -- including Mawlawi Wakil Ahmad Muttawakil -- expressing interest and readiness to side with the government and offering assistance. The government, however, has not responded, either positively or negatively to these." The statement added that the Transitional Administration "has not initiated any contacts with, or authorized the release" of Muttawakil, who "continues to be held in detention by the coalition forces." Reports that Muttawakil "has been released or is being held under house arrest are false," the statement concluded. AT

TALIBAN SPOKESMAN DENIES TALKS WITH AFGHAN ADMINISTRATION
A statement faxed to newspapers in Pakistan in the name of Hamid Agha, who identified himself as a spokesman for the Taliban, denied that the group has held talks with the Transitional Administration, Reuters reported on 23 October. "No responsible Taliban has come to an understanding with [Afghan Chairman Hamid] Karzai," the statement said. "Rather, Karzai and his allies want to hide their military and political failures from the public by baseless reports about dramatic talks with the Taliban." Karzai said in a 30 April speech that a "clear line" has to be drawn between "the ordinary Taliban who are real and honest sons of this country" and those "who still use the Taliban cover to disturb peace and security in the country." His statement is seen as the beginning of his efforts to win the support of many disenchanted segments of the population who could be swayed to join the neo-Taliban (see "RFE/RL Afghanistan Report," 3 July 2003). The case of Muttawakil, who is widely considered a moderate, illustrates the difficulties posed by opening dialogue with "ordinary Taliban." AT

LARGE-SCALE MILITARY OPERATION AGAINST NEO-TALIBAN UNDER WAY
A combined force of Afghan and coalition personnel supported by tanks and aircraft are carrying out operations against neo-Taliban forces in Zabul Province, Reuters reported on 23 October. Local military commander Haji Sayyed Mohammad said the operation, which is being carried out in the province's Arghandab, Naw Bahar, and Shinki districts, involves "around 100 troops of allied forces and over 1,000 Afghan soldiers." In the past several months, Zabul Province has been the scene of several neo-Taliban attacks and some of the province's districts have been controlled for short periods of time by the opposition. AT

PAKISTAN REPORTEDLY BUILDING FENCES TO STOP INFILTRATIONS INTO AFGHANISTAN
In order to prevent the remnants of Al-Qaeda and Taliban forces from crossing into Afghanistan from Pakistan, Islamabad is erecting fences at different points on the states' border, the Pakistan daily "The Nation" reported on 23 October. Major General Shaukat Sultan said on 22 October that new checkpoints and light towers are being erected around the town of Chaman in Pakistan's Baluchistan Province. General Sultan said the border reinforcements are being installed only at strategic points along the border, rejecting Kabul's claims that Pakistan is building a 40-kilometer wall along the border. According to the report, Afghanistan Television has reported that Pakistan began construction of the fence without informing Afghanistan. In response, General Sultan said that "Pakistan does not need the permission from any other country to take security measures on the border specifically aimed at countering the scourge of terror." AT

IRANIAN SUPREME LEADER SAID TO APPROVE OF NPT ADDITIONAL PROTOCOL
Government spokesman Abdullah Ramezanzadeh said on 22 October that all the negotiations relating to the Additional Protocol of the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty (NPT) were, in IRNA's words, "in line with the views and approval of" Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei. The legislature must approve of signing the protocol, followed by Guardians Council approval. Asked if such approval would be forthcoming, Ramezanzadeh said, "Given the fact that what has been accomplished so far has been approved by the highest authority in the land, it is not likely to face any difficulty." Khamenei, meanwhile, seems rather skeptical about Western motives. He told a 22 October gathering of university students that certain Western states' allegations about the Iranian pursuit of nuclear weapons are in fact meant to prevent the Iranian acquisition of nuclear technology, IRNA reported. The objective is to make Iran dependent on Western technological advances, Khamenei said. Iran does not need nuclear weapons, he added, because its strength lies in its "capable human resources...armed with knowledge, faith, and perseverance." BS

PAKISTANI PREMIER DISCUSSES ENERGY ISSUES IN TEHRAN
Pakistani Prime Minister Zafarullah Khan Jamali met with Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, First Vice President Mohammad Reza Aref-Yazdi, and Roads and Transport Minister Ahmad Khoram on 22 October, IRNA reported. Khamenei called for greater unity among Islamic states in light of the threats facing Muslim nations, particularly the Afghan, Iraqi, and Palestinian ones. He warned that enemies led by the United States fear such an Islamic convergence and are sowing discord. Aref-Yazdi announced Iran's readiness to fulfill Pakistan's gas and electricity requirements, and he added that Iran is ready to cooperate with Pakistan in establishing peace and security in Afghanistan. Meanwhile, Pakistan is providing nuclear-weapons technology to Saudi Arabia, the leadership of which fears that Iran's quest for a nuclear-weapons capability cannot be deterred, "The Washington Times" reported on 22 October. Citing a consistently reliable anonymous Pakistani source, the daily reported that in exchange for its nuclear know-how, Pakistan would receive free or cheap Saudi oil. BS

INFLATION CONTINUES TO RISE IN IRAN
The inflation rate in Iran stood at 14.6 percent in the sixth month of the Iranian year, which began on 21 March, IRNA reported on 19 October. The wholesale-price index rose by 16.8 percent. This upward trend has been continuing for two years, with manufactured goods and foodstuffs becoming more expensive. Among the government's deflationary policies, according to IRNA, are raising taxes, issuing bonds, and revising banking policies. IRNA reported in September that the inflation rate was 16.7 percent (see "RFE/RL Iran Report," 29 September 2003). BS

IRAN CONFRONTS INCOME DISPARITIES
The Management and Planning Organization's (MPO) deputy director for social affairs, Mohammad Hussein Vaez-Mahdavi, said during a 22 October seminar in Tehran that the richest 10 percent of the Iranian population earns 17 times more than the bottom 10 percent, IRNA reported. "In Iran 15 percent of the people are below the relative poverty line and 1.2 percent earn less than a dollar a day," Vaez-Mahdavi added. The MPO official added that the fourth five-year development plan, which will take effect in March 2005, has specific policies to alleviate poverty. BS

IRANIAN AMBASSADOR TO ARMENIA LOBBIES FOR IRANIAN ROLE IN SOUTH CAUCASUS SECURITY PACT
Iranian Ambassador to Yerevan Mohammad Farhad Koleini met on 21 October with Heikki Talvitie, the EU's special representative for the South Caucasus, Noyan Tapan reported on 22 October. Koleini argued in favor of establishing a regional security organization uniting Iran, Russia, Turkey, and the three South Caucasus states. Iranian Foreign Minister Kamal Kharrazi had pushed for a South Caucasus security pact comprising those six countries during a tour of the South Caucasus earlier this year (see "RFE/RL Caucasus Report," 16 May 2003). But Armenian, Azerbaijani, and Georgian politicians are unanimous that the United States, and possibly also the EU, should also play a role in the proposed organization. LF

IRAQ DONORS CONFERENCE GETS UNDER WAY IN MADRID
A two-day international donors conference on Iraq opened on 23 October in Madrid, international media reported. Speaking to reporters in Madrid on 22 October, UN Secretary-General Kofi Annan appeared cautiously optimistic that the international community will support reconstruction efforts in Iraq. A UN/World Bank assessment has stated that Iraq needs nearly $36 billion (in addition to a U.S. assessment of $20 billion) for reconstruction efforts in 2004-07 (see "RFE/RL Iraq Report," 9 October 2003). "I think the next two days will be a start," RFE/RL quoted Annan as saying. "I would expect that we will get substantial contributions from governments. I don't expect governments to announce everything they are going to do for Iraq in the future [on 23 October], but [23-24 October] will be an important beginning." When asked about the funds needed for Iraq, U.S. Secretary of State Colin Powell told reporters in Madrid on 23 October that "that doesn't mean we have to raise $55 billion. It just sets a goal that we have to work toward and it may take time to meet that goal," Reuters reported. "There will always be a shortfall," he said. KR

IRAN PARTICIPATING IN IRAQI DONORS CONFERENCE
Iranian Foreign Minister Kamal Kharrazi said on 22 October that he will be flying to Spain to attend the two-day international conference of donors for Iraq's reconstruction, Reuters reported on 22 October. "We have already started our constructive activities in Iraq," he said. "Our companies are already active there and we will help with Iraq's reconstruction." There are questions about how constructive the Iranian presence really is. Sir Jeremy Greenstock, the U.K. special representative to Iraq, criticized the role of the Iranian-backed Badr Corps in Iraq and said Tehran has been warned that its actions in Iraq are "unacceptable," "The Guardian" reported on 23 October. "There are elements in the Badr Corps who are malign and interested in using violence against the coalition," Greenstock said. "There are others who are actually there to support the Shia community in a more defensive capacity whom we might be able to enroll to ensure community law and order. We are making it very clear to Iran that that is unacceptable, that will be further marks against them [for] stirring it up in Iraq and we will deal with the violence on the ground accordingly." BS

U.S. REPORTEDLY PREPARING ARREST WARRANT FOR AL-SADR
The U.S.-led administration in Iraq is reportedly preparing an arrest warrant for anti-U.S. cleric Muqtada al-Sadr, London's "The Guardian" reported on 22 October. Al-Sadr will reportedly be arrested on charges related to the 10 April killing of pro-U.S. Iraqi Shi'ite cleric Abd al-Majid al-Khoi, who was slain days after returning to Iraq from the United Kingdom (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 11 April 2003). Tahir Jalil Habbush, a former Iraqi Mukhabarat officer now working with coalition officials, has reportedly signed the arrest warrant. According to "The Guardian," U.S. and Iraqi forces interrogated 23 Iraqis reportedly involved in the killing. All 23 reportedly said al-Khoi was assassinated on al-Sadr's orders. It was speculated at the time of al-Khoi's killing that al-Sadr, a young and low-ranking cleric, sought to settle a long-standing grievance with the elder cleric. Reports also indicated that al-Sadr might have considered al-Khoi an obstacle to his quest for power. Al-Sadr spokesman Abbas al-Rubay has denied the cleric's involvement in the killing, saying his political rivals concocted the accusation. KR

LONDON DAILY REPORTS PACHACHI AIMS TO EXPAND IRAQI GOVERNING COUNCIL
Council member Adnan Pachachi will seek to expand the Iraqi Governing Council from 25 members to 100, the London-based "Al-Hayat" reported on 22 October. In a 21 October interview, Pachachi told the daily that expansion would facilitate the organization of the interim government's affairs and create an atmosphere conducive to the drafting of an Iraqi constitution. "I will personally propose enlarging the Governing Council so as to have an enlarged representative base," Pachachi said. "This council will have legislative powers and elect a 15-member government." Pachachi also expressed his support for the return of former government employees to their jobs. The U.S.-led Coalition Provisional Authority dismissed those workers from their jobs in early May. Pachachi added that he also supports the idea of reinstating some former Iraqi Army officers. KR

MORE IRAQI REFUGEES RETURN
A group of some 650 Iraqi refugees returned to Iraq from Saudi Arabia on 21 October, Voice of the Mujahedin reported on 22 October. The refugees reportedly arrived in Al-Basrah after transiting Kuwait. The report cited Buraq al-Tamimi, spokesman for the UN high commissioner for refugees, as saying that new groups of refugees will return to Iraq every Tuesday. Some 2,600 refugees remain in Saudi Arabia. The refugees have been in Saudi Arabia since the 1991 Gulf War. KR

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