KREMLIN DENIES PERSONNEL SHAKE-UP LOOMING...
Presidential press spokesman Andrei Gromov denied on 29 October reports about the imminent resignation of presidential administration head Aleksandr Voloshin, polit.ru reported. "If there is a resignation, we will report it," Gromov said, according to RIA-Novosti. "Those who spread such reports have no access [to official information]." However, NTV reported the same day that, according to its unidentified but "very trustworthy sources," Voloshin has indeed resigned. The station said that his departure will not be announced until a successor has been identified (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 29 October 2003). According to NTV, two likely candidates are Russian Railways Vice President Vladimir Yakunin and Voloshin's deputy, Vyacheslav Surkov. Surkov, who is generally associated with the Family, the clan around former President Boris Yeltsin, oversees relations with the Duma and the Unified Russia party. Yakunin is a former KGB officer who worked with President Vladimir Putin in St. Petersburg. "Vedomosti" also mentioned Yakunin and Surkov as possible candidates to replace Voloshin. According to "Kommersant-Daily," even if Voloshin is leaving, he will have served longer than any other presidential administration head since the fall of the USSR. JAC/VY
...AS RADIO JOURNALIST GIVES DETAILS ON SURPRISE PHONE CALL
Ekho Moskvy Editor in Chief Aleksei Venediktov, whose station originally reported the rumor of Voloshin's resignation, told NTV on 29 October that Voloshin personally called him to refute the report (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 29 October 2003). According to Venediktov, Voloshin said: "Aleksei, what kind of drunken shindig are you creating on the air? I have not resigned and, therefore, there are no documents about my resignation." Voloshin is notoriously media shy, so perhaps this telephone call means that he has once again survived a storm inside the Kremlin, NTV commented. VY
REPUTED IDEOLOGUE OF ANTI-OLIGARCH CAMPAIGN SAYS YUKOS CASE MARKS END OF YELTSIN ERA...
National Strategy Council Director Stanislav Belkovskii told RosBalt on 28 October that he believes that by siding with law enforcement officials in the Yukos dispute, President Putin has brought the era of former President Boris Yeltsin to an end. The National Strategy Council in May published a report warning of a possible "oligarchic coup" in Russia (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 27 May 2003) that many analysts viewed as the opening volley in a new anti-oligarch campaign. In July, however, Belkovskii denied any connection between his report and the Yukos cases (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 30 July 2003). Belkovskii called upon Putin to follow this new policy to the end and to rid his administration of holdovers from the Yeltsin era. VY
...AND SAYS THAT WEST, RUSSIA WILL BACK PUTIN IN DISPUTE...
Commenting on Yukos head Mikhail Khodorkovskii's 25 October arrest in the same RosBalt interview on 28 October, Belkovskii said Khodorkovskii made a grave miscalculation if he believed that the West would support him against President Putin. The West, he said, values stability in Russia above all else, and therefore will support Putin. He added that Khodorkovskii cannot count on much support within Russia either, since oligarchic capital has not legitimized itself at home. "People do not understand where all this wealth comes from, how the oligarchs got it, and why it should have such a major impact on Russian politics," he said. VY
...AND COMMENTS ON YUKOS'S FUTURE
In the same RosBalt interview, Belkovskii said that the arrests of some senior Yukos managers will not have a major impact on the company's capitalization over the long term. He commented that it is not the actions of the authorities that could harm Yukos, but rather the public-relations campaign launched by Khodorkovskii's supporters. Belkovskii also speculated that President Putin would like to delay as long as possible the sale of a Yukos stake to a Western company, although he said Putin would eventually approve such a deal, including possibly the sale abroad of a majority stake in the company. Yukos has reportedly been in talks recently with U.S. oil majors ExxonMobil and ChevronTexaco. Belkovskii said the question of which of these companies could get the stake remains open, but the Kremlin believes ChevronTexaco has closer ties with the current Republican U.S. administration, while ExxonMobil is more closely associated with the Democratic Party, and a final decision will be based on this understanding. He concluded that there is no danger that Yukos will be nationalized or broken up. VY
GOVERNMENT INSIDER SAYS YUKOS AFFAIR WILL HARM ECONOMY...
Mikhail Delyagin, director of the Institute of Globalization and, until recently, economic adviser to Prime Minister Mikhail Kasyanov, told reporters in Moscow on 28 October that he believes Western investors will steer clear of the Russian economy as a result of the Yukos investigations, RosBalt reported. "The reaction of international and Russian business to the arrest of Mikhail Khodorkovskii indicates that they view the efforts against Yukos not as a step to bring order but as a shift away from 'managed democracy' -- which is acceptable for business circles -- toward uncontrolled lawlessness," Delyagin said. The new climate could lead to the cancellation of some major economic projects, including the proposed Angarsk-Datsin oil pipeline, which has been heavily lobbied by Yukos. He added, though, that the Russian business community will not attempt to exert pressure on the Putin administration, as the Kremlin has already shown what can happen to those who dare to try to do so. "The state can no longer curtail the appetite of the state security bureaucracy, which, according to the Prosecutor-General's Office's own statistics has opened 3,000 privatization-related cases this year," Delyagin said. "During his 2000 presidential campaign, Putin promised a 'dictatorship of law,' but now he seems to be demonstrating something that looks more like a dictatorship of mediocrity." VY
...AS POLITICIANS, BUSINESSPEOPLE CONTINUE TO DISCUSS THE SITUATION...
Speaking on Ekho Moskvy on 29 October, EU foreign- and security-policy chief Javier Solana said that Europe "has no position on the Yukos affair, as it is an entirely internal matter for Russia." "The only comment I can allow myself is that one should be careful about its impact on the economic and financial situation," Solana said. Former Prime Minister Yevgenii Primakov, who is president of the Russian Chamber of Commerce and Industry, said that he will not intervene in the Yukos case and that he would like to "watch this show to the end." He added that Yukos head Khodorkovskii could pay back more to the community than he has to date. Former Finance Minister Boris Fedorov said that he does not see Khodorkovskii's arrest as a threat to Russian democracy, polit.ru reported on 29 October. "In the past we have already seen the state assault other oligarchs and we have seen one businessperson assault another, and nothing happened to democracy," Fedorov said. VY
...AND FELLOW OLIGARCH HOLDS HIS TONGUE
Chukotka Autonomous Okrug Governor Roman Abramovich, who is one of the richest people in Russia and who is regarded as a member of the so-called Yeltsin-era Family, declined to comment on Khodorkovskii's arrest. "I prefer not to think about it," Abramovich told NTV on 29 October. VY
INVESTIGATORS CLAIM CONNECTION BETWEEN YABLOKO FIRM AND YUKOS
The Prosecutor-General's Office on 29 October said that computers seized on 23 October from the offices of the Strategic Communications Agency, a political consulting firm that works for the Yabloko political party, contained a large number of Yukos financial documents, ITAR-TASS reported (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 24 October 2003). Nataliya Vishnyakova, deputy head of the Prosecutor-General's Office's press service, said the documents detail a scheme for passing funds through the closed administrative territory of Lesnoi in Sverdlovsk Oblast. Investigators are also seeking to establish how $700,000 in cash in bank wrappers bearing the codes for a bank in the U.S. city of Atlanta got into Russia. Vishnyakova added that so far her office has not found any documents concerning Yabloko's media campaign. JAC
UPPER CHAMBER APPROVES FIXES TO CITIZENSHIP BILL...
The Federation Council passed on 29 October a number of bills recently approved by the State Duma, Russian media reported. A bill amending the law on citizenship passed with 142 in favor, none against, and no abstentions, RIA-Novosti reported. The bill is designed to streamline the process by which former Soviet citizens may apply for Russian citizenship. JAC
...AND CUTS TAX BREAKS FOR CHURCHES
The Federation Council also approved a bill amending the Tax Code to reduce tax exemptions for enterprises of the Russian Orthodox Church and other religious organizations, "Izvestiya" reported. According to the daily, the legislation passed over the objections of religious activists and represents the first economic blow to the church in the post-perestroika years. The Russian Orthodox Church is not likely to be seriously threatened by the measure. Lev Timofeev, director of the Center for the Study of Illegal Economic Activity, told the newspaper that the church's annual financial flows -- in the legal and shadow sectors -- total tens of millions of dollars. JAC
PUTIN URGES TRANSPORT-SECTOR PRIVATIZATION
Addressing a State Council session devoted to a national transport strategy, President Putin on 29 October said that "an efficient and reliable transportation system will secure the territorial and economic integrity of the country," Russian media reported. However, he noted that 10 percent of the population has no access to the network of roads and highways and there are many regions in Siberia and the Far East where expensive air transport is the only reliable means of movement. He called for reducing the state's control over the transportation infrastructure in order to attract private investment and initiative to develop it. The State Council the same day approved nearly 20 ambitious transportation projects, including completing construction of the transnational Moscow-Vladivostok highway, the world's longest, next year. The council also approved the expansion of the 10,000-kilometer Trans-Siberian Railroad, as well as the modernization of several sea- and airports. Although Putin advocated rapid privatization in the transport sector, the national transport strategy does not envisage the privatization of the country's oil and natural-gas pipelines, which will remain under state control (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 10 October 2003). VY
BRUSSELS URGES MOSCOW TO EMBRACE STATUS OF NEW EU MEMBER STATES
The European Commission has warned that relations between Moscow and Brussels could deteriorate if Russia does not automatically apply its partnership and cooperation agreement with the EU to new member states, LETA reported on 29 October, citing an RFE/RL report. European Commission foreign press secretary Diego Ojega said the EU's position will be explained at an EU-Russia meeting in Moscow ahead of the EU-Russia summit in Rome on 6 November. Russia wants to discuss the issue, fearing its foreign trade could suffer in the wake of EU enlargement. It has also been complaining of alleged human rights violations against Russian speakers in Latvia and Estonia. Eight postcommunist countries are expected to join the EU in mid-2004: the Czech Republic, Estonia, Hungary, Latvia, Lithuania, Poland, Slovakia, and Slovenia. AB
PROSECUTORS WANT TO DEPRIVE NEW SENATOR OF IMMUNITY
Deputy Prosecutor-General for the Siberian Federal District Valentin Simuchenkov has sent an appeal to a Krasnoyarsk Krai court asking it to nullify the recent election of former Yukos-Moskva head Vasilii Shakhnovskii as a representative to the Federation Council, Interfax reported on 29 October. Evenk legislators elected Shakhnovskii on 27 October, after firing their previous representative, Nikolai Anisimov, two weeks earlier (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 29 October 2003). According to Simuchenkov, laws were violated during the election process. For example, Shakhnovskii was the only candidate and information about him was not available to members of the legislature. Evenk legislative assembly speaker Anatolii Amosov denied that procedures were violated and said that there were four candidates for the post, regions.ru reported. JAC
CENSUS UNCOVERS MARRIAGE GAP
State Statistics Committee Chairman Vladimir Sokolin met with President Putin on 28 October to discuss preliminary findings of the 2002 national census, Russian media reported. According to the census, Russia's population totals 145.2 million. The average age of the population is 37.7 years, some three years older than under the previous census in 1989. Sixty-one percent of the population is between the ages of 16 and 60. The number of children under 16 has declined by 18 percent since 1989. According to "Novye izvestiya" on 29 October, there are 10 million more women in Russia than men. Part of the reason is that more women are born than men, and men on average die at a younger age than women. The census also found that 1 million more women identify themselves as married than men, prompting Sokolin to wonder, "Who are these men, bigamists, confirmed bachelors?" JAC
NORILSK ELECTION OFFICIALS TRY DIFFERENT TACTIC
After certifying the 26 October mayoral election as valid, the Norilsk Election Commission is planning to challenge those results in court, gazeta.ru reported on 29 October (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 27 October 2003). Commission Chairman Viktor Sadchikov will transfer materials to the court regarding alleged violations of campaign-spending rules by the declared winner of the election, Norilsk Nickel trade union leader Valerii Melnikov. Melnikov won the first round of a mayoral election held in that city in April, but the election commission disqualified him before the second round, prompting all the other candidates in the race to withdraw. The regional economic and political elite is believed to oppose Melnikov. JAC
MOSCOW TO BUILD NEW AIR-RAID SHELTERS
The Moscow city government has approved a new municipal civil-defense program, including the renovation of existing air-raid shelters and the construction of new ones, gtz.ru reported on 29 October. "Despite the diminishing of the threat of full-scale aggression against Russia, a potential military threat remains," said Aleksandr Yeliseev, head of the municipal civil-defense and emergency situations department. Moscow currently has 7,000 air-raid shelters, which is not enough to protect the entire city population, Yeliseev noted. He said the city's new civil-defense program will cost 1.98 billion rubles ($600 million), half of which will come from the federal budget. VY
ARMENIAN MINISTER DEMANDS DEATH SENTENCE FOR ACCUSED PARLIAMENT GUNMEN
Transport and Communications Minister Andranik Manukian argued on 29 October that the five gunmen charged with killing eight senior officials in the Armenian parliament four years ago should be executed, RFE/RL's Yerevan bureau reported. Manukian was shot in the head and permanently disfigured during the attack. In an angry and emotional statement to the court, Manukian criticized presiding judge Samvel Uzunian for dragging out the trial until after the Armenian parliament voted unconditionally to abolish the death penalty. At the same time, Manukian criticized relatives of several of the victims who have sought to implicate President Robert Kocharian in the shootings. LF
GREEK DEPUTY MINISTERS DISCUSS COOPERATION IN ARMENIA
Greek Deputy Foreign Minister Ioannis Magriotis met in Yerevan on 29 October with Armenian Prime Minister Andranik Markarian to discuss Yerevan's ongoing dispute with the partially state-owned telecommunications giant OTE, which owns Armenia's ArmenTel communications monopoly, Noyan Tapan and RFE/RL's Yerevan bureau reported. The Armenian government is seeking to divest ArmenTel of its monopoly of wireless-telephone and Internet-communications services on the grounds that it has violated the terms of its 1998 privatization agreement. The two men agreed that the ArmenTel dispute should not harm the otherwise cordial relations between the two countries. Also on 29 October, Greek Deputy Defense Minister Lazaros Lotidis met with Armenian Chief of the General Staff Colonel General Mikael Harutiunian and with Defense Minister Serzh Sarkisian to discuss military and military-technical cooperation, including the training of Armenian military personnel at Greek military academies. LF
U.S. AMBASSADOR MEETS WITH AZERBAIJANI OPPOSITION LEADER
Reno Harnish visited Musavat Party Chairman Isa Qambar, who is under house arrest, for 1 1/2 hours on 29 October to discuss the aftermath of the 15 October presidential election, Turan reported. Qambar refuses to recognize the validity of the official results of the ballot, according to which he polled just 13.97 percent of the vote, compared with 76.84 percent for Prime Minister Ilham Aliyev. Turan quoted Harnish as saying that political pressure on opposition supporters should be stopped, and as declining to comment on the 27 October arrest of Rauf Arifoglu, editor of the opposition newspaper "Yeni Musavat" (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 29 October 2003). LF
FORMER AZERBAIJANI PRESIDENT'S PARTY DENIES COOPERATING WITH AUTHORITIES
In a statement released on 29 October and summarized by Turan, the Social-Democratic Party of Azerbaijan, one of the co-chairmen of which is exiled former President Ayaz Mutalibov, denied that the party has either established contact or embarked on cooperation with the ruling authorities. Mutalibov was quoted on 24 October by Interfax as criticizing both the opposition activists who participated in the violent clashes with police on 16 October and the authorities' harsh reaction to that unrest. Mutalibov expressed the hope that "a balance can be restored between the authorities and the opposition," and that President-elect Aliyev will espouse a more flexible policy and demonstrate "political vision." LF
ONE GEORGIAN PARLIAMENTARY CANDIDATE SHOT AT, A SECOND ABDUCTED AND BEATEN
Zviad Chokheli, a member of the opposition New Rightists who is running in the 2 November Georgian parliamentary elections in a single-mandate constituency, was shot at two times late on 29 October, surviving only thanks to a bulletproof vest, Georgian media reported. His car was destroyed by a bomb 30 minutes later, but Chokheli was not in the vehicle at the time. Also late on 29 October, Revival Union candidate Temur Goksadze was pulled from his car, beaten, and thrown into a river, Caucasus Press and the website of the independent television station Rustavi-2 reported. LF
IMF URGES GEORGIAN GOVERNMENT TO INCREASE TAX REVENUES
During talks with senior Georgian officials over the past week, a visiting International Monetary Fund (IMF) delegation urged that tax revenues in the 2004 draft budget be increased by 37 million laris ($17.6 million), Georgian media reported on 29 October. On 30 September, Deputy Finance Minister Vasili Grigolashvili said that next year's tax revenues are estimated at 1.48 billion laris, which is 15 percent more than in 2003. On 30 October, Georgian Minister of State Avtandil Djorbenadze denied that the IMF delegation is dissatisfied with the outcome of their talks, Caucasus Press reported. The fund suspended cooperation with Georgia several months ago; a further IMF delegation will visit Tbilisi in December to discuss whether and on what terms the fund will resume loans to Georgia, without which the country risks defaulting on its $2 billion foreign debt. LF
ABKHAZ PARLIAMENT FAILS TO PASS NEW ELECTION LAW
The parliament of the unrecognized Republic of Abkhazia postponed on 29 October the second reading of a draft law on parliamentary elections because of disagreements on unspecified key aspects, Caucasus Press reported. During a 23 October discussion of the draft, Vyacheslav Tsugba, who is chairman of the parliamentary commission tasked with drafting the law, noted that since its passage in the first reading in early August, numerous amendments have been proposed, most of which have been incorporated into the draft. On 24 October, the Forum for National Reconciliation, on which all Abkhaz political parties and movements are represented, also discussed both the amended draft law on parliamentary elections and the need to amend the existing law on presidential elections, according to the Abkhaz parliament press service, as cited on abkhaziya.info. Irina Agrba of the opposition movement Aitaira pointed out that the outcome of the next presidential ballot to elect a successor to ailing President Vladislav Ardzinba will depend partly on the composition of the new Central Election Commission. The People's Party has proposed amending the draft law on parliamentary elections to provide for the inclusion on the CEC of representatives of various parties who will have the right to make recommendations to that body. LF
KAZAKH PARTY LEADER CONSIDERS PRESIDENT'S DAUGHTER'S PARTY A RIVAL
Pro-government Civic Party head Azat Peruashev told a news conference in Almaty on 29 October that he welcomes the appearance on the political scene of Darigha Nazarbaeva's Asar (Mutual Help) Party, but he considers it a rival to his own organization, Interfax-Kazakhstan reported the next day. He noted that every party wants to attract new members and fight for its share of the electorate. Peruashev did not rule out the possibility that the two parties might interact, but said that cooperation would depend on Asar's future actions. The Civic Party considers President Nursultan Nazarbaev to be its ideological leader, and Nazarbaeva has said that she sees her party as a centrist group. BB
NEW PARTY REGISTERED IN KAZAKHSTAN
The Kazakh Justice Ministry has registered a new political party named Rukhaniyat (Spirituality), headed by the chairman of Kazakhstan's Migration and Demography Agency, Altynshash Dzhaganova, the official daily "Kazakhstanskaya pravda" reported on 30 October. Dzhaganova said her party is committed to promoting civil and international harmony, political stability, and the resolution of social issues. She sees the group as acting as a bridge between the government and the public, and fighting for social equality and a flourishing economy. BB
KYRGYZ FOREIGN MINISTRY CALLS EUROPEAN PARLIAMENT RESOLUTION TENDENTIOUS
Kyrgyzstan's Foreign Ministry on 29 October issued a response to the European Parliament's 23 October resolution criticizing the human rights records of all the Central Asian states (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 29 October 2003), akipress.org and centrasia.ru reported. The ministry's statement described the resolution as tendentious, one-sided, and incorrect, and asserted that the Kyrgyz government has always taken the necessary steps to keep the country on the road to democracy. In particular, the ministry rejected the European Parliament's call for a moratorium on lawsuits filed by government officials against the independent media and for the release of opposition leader and former Vice President Feliks Kulov. The ministry asserted that the legislation on criminal libel is in the process of being reformed, and that Kulov's case was not motivated by political considerations. BB
RUSSIAN, KYRGYZ SECURITY SERVICES TO BE RESPONSIBLE FOR RUSSIAN BASE IN KYRGYZSTAN
Both the Kyrgyz National Security Service and the Russian Federal Security Service (FSB) will be responsible for security at the Russian air base in the Kyrgyz town of Kant that was opened on 23 October, FSB Director Nikolai Patrushev told a meeting of CIS security chiefs in the Kyrgyz resort of Cholpon-Ata on 29 October, kabar.kg and Interfax reported. Patrushev assessed the current situation in Central Asia as stable, but warned that terrorist groups operating in the CIS could pose a threat to the Kant base. The same day, Colonel General Boris Mylnikov, head of the CIS Antiterrorism Center, told journalists in Cholpon-Ata that despite counterterrorism operations in Afghanistan, the main threat to Central Asia remains on the region's southern borders. BB
UZBEK FARMERS STILL TOLD WHAT TO GROW
Despite Uzbek President Islam Karimov's declared intention to develop private farming in Uzbekistan, farmers still do not have the right to decide for themselves what to grow, members of a national association of peasants and farmers who asked that their names not be used complained to Deutsche Welle, which reported their statements on 29 October. Karimov has told the Justice Ministry to prevent government agencies from interfering with the activities of farmers, but has also asserted that since land is allotted to farmers by commissions headed by oblast governors, farmers may grow only those crops specified in their contracts with the oblast administrations. Planting other crops is considered not only a misuse of the land, but constitutes a "grave violation" of the farmer's contract that would have legal consequences. In addition, farms that do not pay promptly for electricity, fuel, and other services can be broken up. The association members who spoke to Deutsche Welle said that such strict conditions are unlikely to stimulate private farming in Uzbekistan. BB
BELARUSIAN PRESIDENT FETES SOVIET-ERA KOMSOMOL
At a solemn gathering in Minsk on 29 October, President Alyaksandr Lukashenka saluted veterans of the Lenin Communist Youth League (Komsomol) on the 85th anniversary of its creation, Belarusian Television and Belapan reported. "I am grateful, as is a majority of those present in this hall, to my destiny for an opportunity to have been schooled by this organization -- a dynamic and fighting vanguard of the Soviet youth," Lukashenka said. The Belarusian president asserted that "the best of Komsomol's experience" has been applied to the present-day youth movement in Belarus, in particular, to the Belarusian National Youth Union, which is treated by the government as Komsomol's successor. The same day, Lukashenka awarded the Belarusian Order of Honor to Boris Pastukhov, a member of the Russian State Duma, who was the last Soviet-era first secretary of Komsomol. JM
UKRAINIAN PRESIDENT FIRES PROSECUTOR-GENERAL
President Leonid Kuchma dismissed Svyatoslav Piskun from the post of prosecutor-general on 29 October, Interfax reported. Earlier the same day, a motion to sack Piskun was tendered by the Coordinating Committee for Combating Organized Crime, which comprises the heads of the Security Service, the Interior Ministry, the State Tax Administration, the Justice Ministry, and other government officials. The committee charged that Piskun "has excessively politicized [the Prosecutor-General's Office] and [used it] for creating his own political image." It also accused him of misusing budget funds. "Piskun has committed a number of shameful acts while taking advantage of his position for personal gain," Olha Kolinko, the committee's chairwoman, alleged to journalists. JM
EXPERT SAYS TUZLA ROW AIMED AT STOPPING UKRAINE'S EURO-ATLANTIC INTEGRATION
Anatoliy Halchynskyy, director of Ukraine's National Institute of Strategic Studies and President Kuchma's adviser, told Interfax on 29 October that the questioning by Russia of Ukraine's ownership of Tuzla Island in the Kerch Strait (see "RFE/RL Poland, Belarus, and Ukraine Report," 29 October 2003) is intended to hamper Ukraine's integration into Europe. "Under NATO's statutory documents, the political demands of the countries striving for membership in the alliance include, among other things, the settlement of external territorial controversies," Halchynskyy said, adding that the "artificial problem of sovereignty" over Tuzla "will most probably be fueled by the Russian side over a long period of time." Halchynskyy noted that the construction of the controversial dam in the Kerch Strait, which he called "the Tuzla provocation," was started by Russia a week after the Ukraine-EU summit in Yalta, which in his opinion "clearly and unequivocally confirmed the invariability" of Ukraine's Euro-Atlantic course. JM
BRUSSELS URGES MOSCOW TO EMBRACE STATUS OF NEW EU MEMBER STATES
The European Commission has warned Russia that relations between Moscow and Brussels could deteriorate if that country does not automatically apply its partnership and cooperation agreement with the EU to new member states, LETA reported on 29 October, citing an RFE/RL report. European Commission foreign press secretary Diego Ojega said the EU's position will be explained at an EU-Russia meeting to be held in Moscow ahead of the EU-Russia Summit in Rome on 6 November. Russia wants to discuss the issue, fearing its foreign trade could suffer in the wake of EU enlargement. It has also been complaining of human rights violations against Russian speakers in Latvia and Estonia. Eight postcommunist countries are expected to join the EU in mid-2004: Czech Republic, Estonia, Hungary, Latvia, Lithuania, Poland, Slovakia, and Slovenia. AB
ESTONIANS FLOCK TO NEW PENSION FUND
Nearly 334,000 Estonians, or four out of five workers, have joined a new pension fund created under the pension-reform laws, LETA reported on 29 October, citing the daily "Postimees." Employees choosing to participate in the pension fund, which starts operating in January 2004, must sign up by 31 October. "Our preliminary calculations said that 250,000 [participants] would be a very good result," said parliamentarian Eiki Nestor, one of the planners of the new system. One reason for the positive results is the fund formula, which requires the Estonian government to contribute two kroons ($0.15) for every kroon paid by the employee into the pension fund. AB
IMF COMMENDS LATVIAN GOVERNMENT'S FISCAL DISCIPLINE
The International Monetary Fund's (IMF) mission to Latvia commended the government in Riga for proposing a 2004 budget deficit of just 2 percent of GDP, LETA reported on 29 October. The IMF specialists also told Latvian Finance Minister Valdis Dombrovskis that Latvia's tax collection has been highly successful and that they are confident the budget's revenue projections will be achieved. Dombrovskis said better collection of the social-security tax, value-added tax (VAT), and excise taxes will enable the government to reduce the corporate-tax rate next year as planned, from 19 percent to 15 percent. AB
LATVIA'S CRIMINAL LIBEL LAW RULED UNCONSTITUTIONAL
Latvia's Constitutional Court struck down as unconstitutional a provision under Latvian law that assigns criminal liability for the defamation of state officials, BNS and LETA reported on 29 October. The court ruled that the provision will be invalid from 1 February 2004 unless the parliament specifies a list by that time of officials whose honor should be granted special protection. The law was ruled to be overly broad in its present form. Sarmite Elerte, the editor in chief of Latvia's leading daily, "Diena," brought the lawsuit that led to the ruling. Elerte said the court's decision appears to be a compromise and added that she is disappointed that the court held that some officials still need to be protected from the press. "It was not correct to leave [the matter] for political decision," Elerte said in a reference to the list that the parliament should draw up. The ruling also stipulated that a special organization be created to supervise journalists' compliance with a code of ethics, similar to the ombudsman position in Sweden that both supervises and protects the work of journalists. Since 1999, when the current criminal libel law was adopted, two people have been convicted under its provision -- with one sentenced to a jail term and the other required to perform community service. AB
POLISH INTERIOR MINISTER SURVIVES NO-CONFIDENCE VOTE
The Sejm voted down a no-confidence motion on 29 October brought against Interior Minister Krzysztof Janik by the Law and Justice parliamentary caucus, Polish media reported. The motion failed by a vote of 204-216, with seven abstentions. It marked the third unsuccessful attempt by the opposition to vote Janik out of his post. Opposition critics have charged that Janik mishandled the recent leak scandal involving former police chief Antoni Kowalczyk and former Deputy Interior Minister Zbigniew Sobotka (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 29 October 2003). JM
POLISH, GERMAN PRESIDENTS CALL FOR 'REEVALUATION' OF 20TH-CENTURY EXPULSIONS
Polish President Aleksander Kwasniewski and his German counterpart Johannes Rau called in a joint declaration in Gdansk on 29 October for a "frank European dialogue" concerning mass expulsions in the last century, Polish media reported. "The Europeans should together reevaluate and document all instances of displacement, flight, and expulsion that took place in the 20th century so that their causes, historical context, and consequences become clear to the public," the declaration reads. The declaration does not include any reference to the postwar expulsion of ethnic Germans from Czechoslovakia, as alleged by the Czech daily "Lidove noviny" on 29 October (see Czech item below). "If the statement we have agreed with President Rau has already today been criticized in the Czech Republic, this shows that the Czech Republic has the best intelligence service in the world and I would like to congratulate them," Kwasniewski remarked ironically in Gdansk. JM
CZECH FINANCE MINISTER TO BECOME DEPUTY PREMIER
Presidential spokesman Petr Hajek announced on 29 October that President Vaclav Klaus would on 30 October appoint Finance Minister Bohuslav Sobotka as deputy prime minister in charge of the economy, CTK reported. Sobotka, 32, will coordinate the next stages of reforms in the public-finance sector. Hajek said Sobotka will be tasked with coordinating the preparation of bills on pension and tax reforms, fighting the "gray economy," and further reforming the health care system. The deputy prime minister slot opened earlier this year when former Justice Minister Pavel Rychetsky accepted his appointment as a Constitutional Court judge. MS
CZECH PRESIDENT WARNS AGAINST 'OPENING SENSITIVE ISSUES OF THE PAST'...
President Klaus warned on 29 October against any attempt to open "sensitive issues of the past," according to presidential spokesman Hajek, as cited by CTK. Klaus was apparently referring to a 28 October "Lidove noviny" report that said German President Johannes Rau and his Polish counterpart Aleksander Kwasniewski intended to discuss at their 29 October meeting in Warsaw writing a letter deploring the expulsion of the Sudeten Germans from Czechoslovakia after World War II. That letter would reportedly be presented to a meeting of Visegrad Four leaders next week. Hajek said Klaus has been "in intensive contact" with his counterparts in the Visegrad Four countries (Czech Republic, Hungary, Poland, and Slovakia) and is convinced that these issues are strictly a matter of bilateral relations that should not be discussed by an expanded EU. In their declaration on 29 October, Rau and Kwasniewski called for a "European perspective" and "dialogue" on the issue of expulsion and resettlement within the post-World War II context, but did not mention the Czech Republic (see Polish item above). German Chancellor Gerhard Schroeder, during a visit to Bratislava the same day, said he is unaware of any intention to issue such a letter and would welcome an official Czech apology. However, he added that the issue should not burden Czech-German relations. MS
...WHILE AUSTRIAN EUROPEAN PARLIAMENT DEPUTY CRITICIZES RECENT KLAUS STATEMENT...
Hannes Swoboda, head of the Austrian Social Democratic group in the European Parliament, on 29 October criticized a recent statement President Klaus made regarding the Sudeten Germans, CTK reported. Speaking at ceremonies on 28 October marking Czech Founding Day, Klaus said that "a crushing majority of our former German fellow-citizens turned away from democracy and embraced Hitler's Nazi program, which resulted in the occupation [of the Czech lands in 1939] and [the creation of the Bohemian and Moravian] protectorate." This, Klaus, added, was also instrumental in facilitating the communist seizure of power [in February 1948], followed by "half a century of non-freedom and devastation." Swoboda said that "it is historically proven that a majority of Sudeten Germans -- if they could vote -- would have voted against Hitler." He added that statements such as Klaus's do not contribute to an objective assessment of history and only reopen old wounds. MS
...AND CZECH SENATE SPEAKER MAKES RARE GESTURE
Senate speaker Petr Pithart on 29 October thanked Oldrich Stransky for his work on behalf of forced laborers and political prisoners and expressed his admiration of, and respect for Stransky, CTK reported. The 82-year-old Stransky was dismissed earlier this month as chairman of the Association of Liberated Political Prisoners, after having sent a letter to the Sudeten Germans Expellees association following the opening of the association's office in Prague earlier this year. Stransky, who is Jewish and a survivor of Auschwitz where most of his relatives perished, has vowed to work for Czech-German reconciliation. Stransky considers his dismissal illegal. MS
GERMANY TO HELP CZECHS FIGHT CHILD PROSTITUTION
Germany vowed on 29 October to help the Czech Republic clamp down on child prostitution following the recent publication of a UNICEF report that found that thousands of German sex tourists are crossing the border to abuse young children, Reuters reported. Czech Prime Minister Vladimir Spidla has described the report as "not realistic" and as "not corresponding to the [real] situation." MS
CZECH COURT BANS LIVE BROADCAST OF TRIAL
The Prague High Court decided on 30 October to ban live broadcasts of former Foreign Ministry official Karel Srba's appeal trial, CTK reported (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 28 October 2003). Srba's appeal of his eight-year sentence for conspiring to murder journalist Sabina Slonkova was to begin on 30 October. The court ruled that only the pronouncement of the sentence will be broadcast live, although Czech Television will be allowed to videotape the trial. Srba's lawyers opposed plans by Czech Television to broadcast live footage of the appeal trial. Prime Minister Spidla called the plans "unethical," while President Klaus said the broadcast of the trial would rekindle memories of the "horrible" trials of communist times, according to dpa. MS
GERMAN CHANCELLOR IN SLOVAKIA
Visiting German Chancellor Schroeder and his Slovak counterpart Mikulas Dzurinda said on 29 October that relations between their countries are thriving, but they "agreed to disagree" on the draft European constitution, TASR, CTK, and international news agencies reported. Dzurinda said Germany is the largest investor in Slovakia and that one-third of Slovak exports go to that country. Schroeder said Slovakia continues to be an important target for German investment. The chancellor said he would find it difficult to explain to 82 million Germans that their country's weight in the European Commission should be equal to that of states with much smaller populations. Dzurinda countered that his country continues to insist on a 25-member commission on which all EU members are represented. Both politicians, however, said they are confident a compromise solution will be reached by the Intergovernmental Commission. MS
PROSECUTION STOPS INVESTIGATION OF SLOVAK PREMIER, SIS DIRECTOR...
The Prosecutor-General's Office announced on 29 October that it has halted its investigation into whether Prime Minister Dzurinda and Slovak Information Service (SIS) Director Ladislav Pittner violated laws on the handling of classified information, TASR and CTK reported. The investigation was launched after the National Security Office (NBU) filed a complaint following the dismissal last month of NBU head Jan Mojzis. A spokesman for the prosecution said the investigation concluded that the document Dzurinda received regarding Mojzis was not a vetting file, but an internal SIS document concerning Mojzis's reliability. Dzurinda claimed that Mojzis concocted the entire story regarding the alleged mishandling of his vetting file, calling his action "a disgusting expression of arrogance." MS
...BUT SIS CHIEF LANDS IN NEW SCANDAL
The daily "Sme" wrote on 29 October that an SIS report presented to President Rudolf Schuster on the alleged existence of a "group" conspiring against Prime Minister Dzurinda and the SIS includes the name of businessman Milos Ziak, who is referred to in anti-Semitic terminology, TASR and CTK reported. According to Sme, the report says: "Milos Ziak is a Jew, and his wife Mariana is a Russian Jew, born as Mesezhnikova." An SIS spokesman contacted by TASR refused to comment, saying that any information collected by the SIS "is classified and cannot be made public." However, CTK cited the SIS as saying that the service "never collects information on citizens according to their religion, origin, nationality, or ethnicity." CTK also cited the SIS as saying it will ask the Prosecutor-General's Office to launch proceedings against "Sme" for leaking classified information. Jaroslav Franek, head of the Central Jewish Community of Slovakia, said the SIS report "reeks of anti-Semitism" and that he is "shocked" that the head of the SIS would collect information on who is or is not of Jewish origin. MS
SLOVAK COALITION IN TURMOIL AGAIN
Parliament on 29 October failed to elect Alliance for a New Citizen (ANO) Deputy Chairman Lubomir Lintner as deputy speaker of the legislature, triggering a possible new coalition crisis, TASR and CTK reported. Lintner was to replace in that position ANO Chairman Pavol Rusko, who became economy minister. Lintner needed 76 votes to be elected, but received only 60 out of 79 votes cast. All members of the ruling four-party center-right coalition had pledged to support his candidacy. Jirko Malcharek, who is also an ANO deputy chairman, said his party will boycott the debates in parliament until Lintner is elected. An emergency meeting of the Coalition Council decided to resubmit Lintner's candidacy on 30 October, but he again failed to be elected, garnering only 63 votes. MS
SLOVAKIA OFFICIALLY DENIES ROMANY STERILIZATION CAMPAIGN
Deputy Prime Minister Pal Csaky submitted to the cabinet on 29 October a report concluding that no evidence has been found to support allegations that hundreds of Romany women in Slovakia have been sterilized without their consent since 1989, TASR, CTK and international news agencies reported (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 22 October 2003). Csaky said that "the government considers this case closed." Barbara Bukovska, co-author of a report submitted to the New York-based Center for Reproductive Rights alleging large-scale sterilization, told Reuters that the government's decision "is clearly covering the perpetrators" and that it "shows disrespect toward the victims," and this is evidence of "grave violations of human rights in Slovakia." MS
HUNGARIAN GOVERNMENT PREPARES REMOVAL OF FINANCIAL WATCHDOG HEAD
The cabinet on 29 October rejected an annual report submitted by the PSZAF financial watchdog, thereby starting a process that could enable the government to oust PSZAF Director Karoly Szasz, Hungarian media reported. Although the head of PSZAF is elected by parliament and cannot be recalled by the government, "Magyar Hirlap" said the cabinet plans to circumvent the legislature by abolishing PSZAF as an institution and reestablishing it next year under a different name. Government spokesman Zoltan Gal told journalists that Szasz "failed to provide satisfactory explanations" for the 135 billion forints ($616.7 million) amassed by state-owned Hungarian Development Bank, alleged embezzlement at K&H Equities, and scandals involving investment cooperatives. The opposition FIDESZ called the plan to reorganize PSZAF "vengeance disguised as politics." MS
HUNGARIAN PROBE OFF TO FARCICAL START
The parliamentary commission probing the embezzlement scandal at K&H Equities got off to a shaky start on 29 October, as its four opposition and four coalition members disagreed on all issues, Hungarian media reported. The ruling coalition deputies walked out when commission Chairman Ervin Demeter (FIDESZ) announced that the body would immediately hear testimony from nine opposition politicians whose names arose in connection with the case. The coalition deputies said the opposition politicians could only be questioned if the commission had agreed so at a previous meeting. After their walkout, the commission questioned the politicians, including former Prime Minister and current FIDESZ Chairman Viktor Orban and former Finance Minister Zsigmond Jarai, who is now governor of the Hungarian National Bank. All testified that FIDESZ is not involved in the K&H Equities scandal. MS
HUNGARIAN TV SHOW AXED OVER REPUTED BRITISH HOLOCAUST DENIER'S REMARKS
The television program "Ejjeli Menedek" (Night Shelter), featured on Hungarian state-television network MTV's second channel, has been taken off the air after airing British would-be historian David Irving's claims that anti-Jewish pogroms were a feature of the first two days of the 1956 Hungarian Uprising, Hungarian media reported. MTV executives explained that the statement offended the memory of 1956 and the dignity of the Hungarian nation. Irving, who gained international notoriety for works downplaying or denying the slaughter of 6 million Jews in World War II, made the remarks last week at a rally of the far-right Hungarian Justice and Life Party (MIEP) in central Budapest. The staff of "Ejjeli Menedek," which is generally regarded as having a strong right-wing orientation, appealed to the Broadcast Media Authority ORTT. FIDESZ issued a statement saying the governing coalition is ruthlessly attempting to stifle all opinions that differ from its own, and called on its parliamentary group to use its influence to protect the freedom of the press, according to "Magyar Hirlap." MS
ETHNIC HUNGARIANS LEAVING NEIGHBORING COUNTRIES
Approximately 500,000 ethnic Hungarians from neighboring countries have emigrated to Hungary or Western Europe in the past 13 years, "Nepszabadsag" reported on 30 October. The daily called its figure a conservative estimate, and reported that the trend appears to be unstoppable despite efforts by Hungarian governments since 1989 to encourage ethnic Hungarians to remain in their homelands. The paper reported that the trend did not abate after the approval of the Status Law in 2001. The total figure was 15,250 in 1990, rising to 40,754 in 1993, according to Hungarian Interior Ministry. The greatest number of Hungarian immigrants reportedly left Romania. Last year, when the Status Law took effect, 37,996 Romanian citizens emigrated to Hungary -- most of them ethnic Hungarians. Between 1993 and 2002, 54,100 emigres from Romania, 12,149 from Serbia, 962 from Slovakia, and 6,950 from Ukraine received Hungarian citizenship. MS
HIGH REPRESENTATIVE WARNS BOSNIAN PARTIES AGAINST MEDDLING WITH POLICE
High Representative Paddy Ashdown said in Sarajevo on 29 October that some individual political parties in the Croat-Muslim federation, especially the Muslim Party of Democratic Action (SDA), are seeking to control the police, RFE/RL's South Slavic and Albanian Languages Service reported. He stressed that such actions are counterproductive for Bosnia's plans for Euro-Atlantic integration and will not be tolerated (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 27 October 2003, and "RFE/RL Balkan Report," 5 September 2003). PM
U.S. PLEDGES MONEY FOR BOSNIAN WAR CRIMES COURT
U.S. Ambassador-at-Large for War Crime Issues Pierre-Richard Prosper said in Sarajevo on 29 October that Washington is willing to help establish a special war crimes chamber as part of Bosnia's State Court, dpa reported. "This is an important project which needs to begin as soon as possible if we want to be able to put this war crimes issue behind us," he said, adding that Washington will provide over $30 million for the project. The U.S. "view of the question of indictments in Serbia has been that if Serbia and Montenegro are able to arrest and transfer [to The Hague former Bosnian Serb General Ratko] Mladic, it will change the environment completely.... We can begin to look at creating the opportunity for Serbia and Montenegro to prosecute cases at home" once Mladic has been arrested and extradited, Prosper said. On 30 October in The Hague, a donors' conference for the Bosnian war crimes chamber opened. The U.S. pledge is expected to cover a large part of the costs for setting up the chamber and enabling it to function for five years, Banja Luka's "Nezavisne novine" reported. PM
SUCCESS IN CLOSING 'BALKAN ROUTE' FOR ILLEGAL IMMIGRANTS
The interior ministers of Albania, Austria, Bosnia, Bulgaria, Croatia, Hungary, Italy, Macedonia, Romania, Serbia and Montenegro, and Slovenia noted in Brdo pri Kranju, Slovenia, on 29 October that the number of illegal immigrants to the EU via the Balkans has decreased drastically over the past four years, Deutsche Welle's Bosnian Service reported. The ministers agreed to increase their efforts to combat trafficking in weapons, drugs, and human beings in the region. PM
GERMAN LEADER HAILS SERBIA AS PART OF 'OLD EUROPE'
Speaking in Belgrade on 29 October, German Chancellor Gerhard Schroeder said he believes "the political forces [in Serbia and Montenegro], emotionally and through their inner political convictions, are very close [to the EU]. You have recognized here that you are a part of the good 'Old Europe,' and that you will continue to be," RFE/RL reported. "What is important now is that all this emotional and rational turning toward Europe is accomplished through individual steps and agreements. [Germany] will give you support and help you on that road, but it will not be quick and we must not lose any time," he added. Schroeder said he supports Belgrade's plans to join the EU, noting, however, that "it won't happen soon." Serbia and Montenegro's President Svetozar Marovic stressed that "there is a total readiness from the German government and Chancellor Schroeder to help private investors by providing full guarantees to their capital here if we, from our side, accomplish what we have to do." Germany is traditionally former Yugoslavia's most important economic partner. Many German companies seek to regain their former markets, but only if essential reforms are first implemented (see "RFE/RL Balkan Report," 6 December 2002, and 20 June and 8 August 2003). PM
KOSOVA'S CHIEF ADMINISTRATOR SEES 'UPHILL BATTLE' AHEAD
Harri Holkeri, who heads the UN civilian administration in Kosova (UNMIK), told reporters in New York on 29 October that the province "is not a rosy bed at all," dpa reported. "You see progress here and there, but Kosovo is not any kind of heaven on earth overnight," he added. Holkeri dismissed Serbian attempts to reassert a claim to the province as "irrelevant," noting that the UN Security Council will have the last say regarding Kosova's final status (see "RFE/RL Balkan Report," 1 and 22 August and 17 October 2003). Holkeri also noted that Kosova's more than 90 percent ethnic Albanian majority is united in its demand for independence. He stressed, however, that the province must meet certain "benchmarks" regarding a wide spectrum of reforms before status can be discussed. Holkeri described the overall situation in Kosova as an "uphill battle...but...not a mission impossible," RFE/RL reported. PM
MACEDONIA GEARS UP FOR DISARMAMENT
Macedonian legislators and NGOs have begun preparations for a six-week campaign to encourage people to hand in illegal weapons, MIA news agency reported on 28 October. The program includes a 31 October peace march, which will be attended by lawmakers who have postponed a parliamentary session for the purpose, and a Festival for Peace the next day, which is organized by a Dutch-sponsored NGO. In related news, an EU spokeswoman warned that Brussels might refuse financial aid to those municipalities that do not participate in the weapons handover, "Dnevnik" reported (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 22 and 23 October 2003, and "RFE/RL Balkan Report," 29 August 2003). UB
ROMANIA CLOSES ONE MORE CHAPTER IN NEGOTIATIONS WITH EU
European Integration Minister Vasile Puscas, who is also chief negotiator with the EU, announced on 29 October that his country has closed the EU acquis communautaire's chapter on financial controls, Romanian Radio reported. Romania thus far closed 20 out of the 31 chapters. MS
STUDENTS, WORKERS PROTEST IN ROMANIA
Thousands of students on 29 October continued demonstrations throughout Romania to demand that the government allocate more money for grants and that dormitory fees be reduced, AP reported. The demonstrations, which began on 28 October, took place in several university centers. The Education Ministry announced later on 29 October that it signed an agreement with the main students' union that will allot $35 million starting in 2004 to improve students' living conditions. The government also said it plans to raise student grants later this year. Meanwhile, some 4,000 workers at the Roman Brasov truck plant on 29 October continued their protest against planned layoffs and to demand that severance benefits be made in one payment, rather than in installments. In Hunedoara, some 1,000 workers demonstrated for a third day against planned layoffs and blocked a major road linking the town with Bucharest. The Hunedoara Siderurgica steel plant was purchased on 28 October by the India-born steel magnate Lakshmi Mittal's company, LNM. Under the sale agreement, 2,200 of the plant's 4,400 workers are to be dismissed. MS
MOLDOVAN ECOLOGISTS WORRIED ABOUT RADIATION LEVELS IN TRANSDNIESTER TOWN
The Environment, Construction, and Territorial Development Ministry has asked the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) to test the level of radioactivity at the Ribnita metallurgic plant in Transdniester, BASA-press and Infotag reported on 28 and 29 October. Minister Gheorghe Duca told journalists on 27 October that the IAEA was contacted after the Organization of the Moldovan Ecological Movement (OTCMEM) two weeks ago discovered high radioactivity levels around the plant. The ministry has also asked the OSCE to facilitate IAEA experts' access to Transdniester, where Moldovan environmentalists are denied entry. OTCMEM Chairman Vladimir Garaba told BASA-press that according to investigations carried out by his organization, residues of metal brought to Ribnita from Chernobyl are buried within the metallurgic plant and that ecologists have data indicating that Ribnita has the highest rate of cancer in Moldova. Infotag cited ministry Counselor Ion Virtan as saying the Ribnita plant has imported radioactive wire scraps from the Chernobyl nuclear disaster area, refined it, and exported the product to Russia. Virtan said the Russian buyer detected higher-than-normal radiation levels and returned the product to Ribnita. MS
IMF MISSION STARTS MOLDOVAN VISIT
An IMF mission on 29 October began a working visit to Moldova, Infotag reported. The visit is aimed at checking the current economic situation, following the IMF's July decision to stop disbursing to Moldova the remaining tranches of a $147 million stand-by loan inked in December 2002, due to Chisinau's failure to abide by the loan's conditions (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 22 July 2003). IMF representative to Moldova Edgardo Ruggiero told journalists on 28 October that there will be no resumption of IMF loans to Moldova before 2004 and that the mission will study current developmental strategies envisaged by the Moldovan government, its 2004 budget, macroeconomic forecasts, and the country's trade balance. MS
MOLDOVAN POLICE SAY DEATH OF NEWS AGENCY HEAD WAS ACCIDENT
Interior Ministry officials said on 29 October that the death earlier this month of Moldpress director Mikhail Belous was the result of an accident in which Belous accidentally shot himself, AFP reported. Investigators determined that Belous was showing his revolver to friends and colleagues and pointed the gun at his own head in the mistaken belief that the weapon was not loaded. When he jokingly pulled the trigger, he was killed by a bullet that remained in the gun, according to the investigators. The Moldovan Interior Ministry said it decided to release the results of the investigation to put an end to rumors that Belous was murdered and that police are covering up the crime. MS
CONSERVATIVE COALITION FORMED FOR SOFIA MAYORAL ELECTIONS
The opposition conservative Union of Democratic Forces (SDS), the coalition of Gergyovden, the Bulgarian Agrarian National Union (BZNS-NS), and the Democratic Party, as well as the Internal Macedonian Revolutionary Organization (VMRO) will support incumbent Sofia Mayor Stefan Sofiyanski in the second round of the mayoral race on 2 November, Bulgarian media reported. Sofiyanski on 29 October accepted the conditions set by the SDS: no cooperation with the governing National Movement Simeon II (NDSV) or the opposition Socialist Party (BSP) on the Sofia City Council; that the conservatives cooperate to bring down the NDSV government by pressing for early parliamentary elections; and that control mechanisms be introduced to safeguard a more transparent city administration. The SDS's conditions reflect the fact that Sofiyanski defected from this party as he preferred cooperating with the NDSV government to remaining with the opposition. They also take into account allegations of wide-spread corruption in the city administration headed by Sofiyanski (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 29 October 2003, and "End Note" below). UB
BULGARIAN GOVERNMENT PREPARES TAX CUTS
In an effort to encourage foreign and domestic investments, the government on 29 October decided to cut the corporate-tax rate from 23.5 percent to 19.5 percent, bnn reported. "The effect of our...decision is that some [$54] million will be released for the real economy," Prime Minister Simeon Saxecoburggotski said. "These are funds that will create new jobs, modernize manufacturing, and make enterprises more competitive." Observers note that the tax cuts have yet to be approved by the International Monetary Fund, which still has a say in the government's fiscal policy. UB
BULGARIA'S LOCAL ELECTIONS -- A PRELIMINARY ASSESSMENT
On 26 October, voters throughout Bulgaria cast their ballots to elect municipal councils and mayors. As in other countries, the nationwide local elections were widely regarded as an important test of the public's acceptance of the government, which is right in the middle of its four-year term. But the elections were also a major test for the opposition parties.
At first glance, the results of these elections can be easily summed up. The opposition Socialist Party (BSP) became the most prominent party on municipal councils by winning about one-third of the available seats. The conservative opposition Union of Democratic Forces (SDS) fared second best, winning about 20 percent of the seats. As expected, the governing National Movement Simeon II (NDSV) received only 10 percent of the seats, roughly the same as its coalition partner, the Movement for Rights and Freedoms (DPS). The small Union of Liberal Democrats (SSD) took up to 6 percent of the seats, while a total of 3-4 percent went to the coalition of Gergyovden, the Bulgarian Agrarian National Union (BZNS-NS), and the Democratic Party. What these results do not show, however, is that in many small municipalities, independent candidates were elected as counselors.
This trend in the council elections is also mirrored by the results of the mayoral races. In only about one-third of the municipalities were mayors elected in the first round. In the second round, scheduled for 2 November, Socialist candidates run against their SDS competitors in most cases.
The Socialists' strong showing comes as no surprise. The BSP, which succeeded the former communists, still has the most efficient party organization in Bulgaria. It was the only party that organized its election campaign from the party headquarters in Sofia, and candidates as well as members of the party leadership actively toured the country. Unlike the other parties, namely the governing NDSV and the opposition SDS, the BSP kept out of the political scandals that preoccupied Bulgaria during recent months. Instead, it managed to present itself as a constructive opposition party.
Most observers attribute the poor results of the ruling NDSV to voters' growing disappointment with Prime Minister Simeon Saxecoburggotski's government. But given that the NDSV is a relatively young political party -- it was registered as a party only in April 2002 -- the result seems to confirm that this party has found its place on the country's political map.
The conservative SDS, for its part, lost some ground mainly due to a political scandal. In the hottest phase of the election campaign, a Russian businessman, Mikhail Chernyi, accused former SDS Chairman and former Prime Minister Ivan Kostov of having blackmailed him in connection with the sale of a mobil-phone operator. Neither Kostov nor SDS Chairwoman and Sofia mayoral candidate Nadezhda Mihailova have so far come up with a convincing explanation for a donation Chernyi said he made to the Demokratsiya Foundation headed by Kostov.
As the voter turnout was very low -- conflicting data put it at between 40 and 50 percent -- the results for the smaller parties such as the SSD headed by incumbent Sofia Mayor Stefan Sofiyanski or the coalition of Gergyovden, the Bulgarian Agrarian National Union (BZNS-NS), and the Democratic Party are quite remarkable. Ivan Krastev, who heads the Sofia-based Center for Liberal Strategies, said the election results show that even the smaller parties now have a hard core of voters. For Krastev, it is clear that the leading conservative party, the SDS, has lost much of its influence. Ognyan Minchev, another political scientist, believes that the conservative political spectrum is now dominated by at least two factions -- the SDS on the one hand and its former allies (which include Sofiyanski's SSD as well as the coalition of Gergyovden, BZNS-NS, and the Democratic Party) on the other.
In that respect, the second round of the mayoral race will be crucial for the future of Bulgaria's conservatives. Sofiyanski, who left the SDS in 2001 because he believed that this party should cooperate with the governing NDSV, will need the votes of the other conservative candidates to be re-elected. On 29 October, he and Mihailova agreed to cooperate. However, analysts like Minchev doubt that this move will translate into long-term cooperation among the conservative parties. The main reason for Mihailova to support Sofiyanski and other, non-SDS conservative candidates, is to prevent "communist" candidates of the BSP from gaining power. Minchev feels that a cooperation based only on anticommunism might be enough to foster short-term cooperation, but will not work in the long run.
Thus, Saxecoburggotski does not seem to have been far from the truth when he stated after the elections -- with apparent satisfaction -- that the time when political life was dominated by just two parties (the BSP and the SDS) is finally over.
FORMER MUJAHEDIN LEADER CALLS FOR HOLY WAR AGAINST 'CRUSADERS' IN AFGHANISTAN
Mawlawi Mohammad Yunos Khales, leader of Hizb-e Islami (Khales faction), on 29 October issued a declaration of jihad against "crusaders" in Afghanistan, Pakistan-based Afghan Islamic Press reported. In his declaration, Khales urged Muslims to "wage jihad against America and its allies because their countries have been invaded by the crusaders and their homes are savagely bombed and hit by rockets. Muslims are held in steel cages and their children are martyred." Khales, who led one of the seven Mujahedin parties based in Pakistan during the Soviet occupation of Afghanistan, has compared the U.S. presence in Afghanistan with the Soviet invasion of the country in 1979. Early in the struggle against the Soviet Army, Khales and Gulbuddin Hekmatyar led one party, but later they split forming two Hizb-e Islami factions. Since the fall of the communist government in Kabul in 1992, Khales has mostly been outside of the political maneuverings and the civil war. His base of support was Nangarhar Province. AT
DATE SET FOR CONSTITUTIONAL LOYA JIRGA
According to Faruk Wardak, head of the Secretariat of the Constitutional Commission, the Constitutional Loya Jirga (CLJ) will be begin on 10 December, the Kabul daily "Anis" reported on 26 October. According to Wardak, the venue for the CLJ will be the gymnasium of Kabul Polytechnic Institute. Originally the CLJ was scheduled to be held in October and the draft of the constitution made public by 1 September (see "RFE/RL Afghanistan Report," 18 September 2003). With the CLJ a little more than a month away, the public has yet to see the draft of the constitution. AT
JUSTICE MINISTER FOR 'POLITICAL COMPETITION'
In a speech on 25 October, Justice Minister Abdul Rahim Karimi appealed to Afghan political parties to engage in "political competition," and to shun violence and the use of weapons and to exercise "forgiveness" and "tolerance," RFE/RL reported. Citing German scholar Max Weber, he called elections "a son of democracy" and promised that the Transitional Administration of Chairman Hamid Karzai will "pave the way" for them. Speaking in front of representatives of emerging political forces and of the international community at the inauguration of a new Kabul office of the National Democratic Institute, Karimi also announced that an election law has been drafted and will be published "within the next days." JH
AFGHAN SUPREME COURT DENOUNCES AFGHAN MISS EARTH CONTESTANT
Members of the High Council of the Afghan Supreme Court at a meeting held on 29 October denounced the participation of an Afghan woman in the Miss Earth contest to be held in Manila in November, Afghanistan Television reported. Vida Samadzai, an Afghan woman who resides in the United States, is to compete for the Miss Earth title (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 24 October 2003). The report said that Deputy Chief Justice Sayyed Amar Monib indicated that the High Council unanimously agreed that the Miss Earth contest in which women "show their naked bodies is a completely indecent, irreligious act that is against the traditions of the Afghan people and violates the dignity and honor of mankind." According to the report, Monib added that anyone who participates in beauty contests such as the Miss Earth title, regardless of his or her religion or nationality, is condemned by Islamic rules. Samadzai is the first Afghan woman to compete in a beauty contest since 1974. AT
IRANIAN JOURNALIST EXPLAINS SILENCE ON CANADIAN PHOTOJOURNALIST'S KILLING
Issa Saharkhiz, the managing editor of "Aftab" monthly and the representative of newspaper managers on Iran's Press Supervisory Board, explained on 29 October that most newspapers have not published the full text of a parliamentary report on the killing of Canadian photojournalist Zahra Kazemi because they fear retaliation, ILNA reported. In a clear reference to the judiciary's practice of closing down publications and prosecuting journalists, Saharkhiz said, "Previous events show that when certain gentlemen feel threatened by newspapers, they put pressure on them through instruments that they have available in order to prevent any revelation." Saharkhiz cited an article of the press law prescribing that state officials are not permitted to pressure a publication regarding articles it publishes, and another article of the press law stating that the print media has the right to publish news about domestic and foreign affairs for the promotion of public awareness and interest. Officials who violate these articles of law may be suspended from their government posts for a period of six months to two years under the law. BS
IRANIAN PARLIAMENTARY REPORT ON SLAIN PHOTOJOURNALIST PROMPTS ANGRY REACTIONS
The open reading of a parliamentary committee's report on the incarceration and death last summer of Zahra Kazemi (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 29 October 2003) has prompted heated reactions from conservative legislators and from the Tehran Public Prosecutor's Office, "Iran Daily" reported on 30 October. Nur and Mahmudabad representative Ahmad Nateq-Nuri said on 28 October that the case of Kazemi's death should be pursued but that the Article 90 Committee -- which investigates complaints against the government -- should not be involved and the legislature's time should not be wasted with a reading of its report. Another conservative parliamentarian, Musa Qorbani from Qaenat, questioned the legal justification for reading out the report. Meanwhile, an official from the Tehran Public Prosecutor's Office, Mohammad Shadabi, invited Article 90 Committee Chairman Muhsin Ansari-Rad to a televised debate. Shadabi said he is ready to respond to the committee's report on the Kazemi case, and he added that his office will send a detailed response to speaker of parliament Hojatoleslam Mehdi Karrubi. BS
TEHRAN OUTLINES EXPECTATIONS OF WASHINGTON
Iranian government spokesman Abdullah Ramezanzadeh said on 29 October that the United States is becoming more realistic in its approach to Iran but the big question is what practical steps Washington will take to earn Iran's confidence, IRNA reported. When asked if being dropped from the "axis of evil" list -- President George W. Bush's reference to Iran, Iraq, and North Korea in his January 2002 State of the Union address -- would qualify as a practical step, Ramezanzadeh said Iran does not think the list is credible. When a reporter suggested that Iran's extradition of suspected Al-Qaeda members might be a positive gesture, Ramezanzadeh hinted, according to IRNA, that Mujahedin Khalq Organization members should be extradited from Iraq. In response to a question about Deputy Secretary of State Richard Armitage's recent comments about being "prepared to engage in limited discussions" (see "RFE/RL Newsline, 29 October 2003), Ramezanzadeh said, "You cannot pose threats on one hand, block Iranian national assets, fabricate charges against Iran, and then call for talks." BS
IRANIAN POLICE SEIZE 5 TONS OF DRUGS IN ONE WEEK
Iranian police have seized more than 5,000 kilograms of illegal drugs in the past week, IRNA reported on 29 October. Most opiates enter Iran from Afghanistan and Pakistan, and about 2,500 kilograms of drugs and 10 assault rifles were seized in eastern Iran. Police in the Fars, Gilan, Gulistan, Hormozgan, Isfahan, Kerman, Khorasan, Khuzestan, Sistan va Baluchistan, West Azerbaijan, and Yazd provinces seized about 2,600 kilograms of drugs and arrested about 53 drug dealers during this period. Ali Hashemi, secretary-general of Iran's Drug Control Headquarters, announced on 9 October that police seize almost 90 percent of the drugs entering the country, IRNA reported. Speaking at a ceremony in which 40 tons of seized drugs were destroyed in a bonfire, Hashemi said 113 tons of drugs have been seized in the previous nine months and this is 10 percent more than in same period last year. BS
RED CROSS REDUCES STAFF IN IRAQ...
The International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC) said on 29 October that it will reduce its foreign staff in Iraq following the 27 October bombing of the ICRC's Baghdad headquarters (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 27 October 2003), Reuters reported on 30 October. ICRC spokeswoman Nada Doumani told the news agency that Iraqi-based ICRC officials will meet with their Geneva-based colleagues to discuss the staff reduction over the weekend. The ICRC has some 30 international staff members in Iraq, and around 600 local staffers. The organization is also examining ways to boost security at its offices in Iraq. KR
...WHILE UN ANNOUNCES TEMPORARY PULLOUT
The United Nations announced on 30 October that it will temporarily pull its international staff out of Iraq because of security concerns, international media reported on 30 October. The UN has been operating in Iraq in a limited capacity since the UN's Baghdad headquarters was bombed on 19 August. The humanitarian group Doctors Without Borders also announced it has pulled out workers. KR
WORLD BANK CHIEF SAYS IRAQI DEBT SHOULD BE CUT
World Bank President James Wolfensohn said on 29 October that two-thirds of Iraq's foreign debt should be forgiven in order to allow the country to rebuild itself, Reuters reported the same day. Wolfensohn told an audience at the National Press Club in Washington that $40 billion of Iraq's $120 billion in foreign debt is owed to the Paris Club, a group of 19 leading creditor states. Some $80 billion more is owed to individual states, including Russia, France, Germany, and Gulf states (see "RFE/RL Iraq Report," 24 October 2003). The World Bank head said that a two-thirds write-off would "give the country a real chance of getting back to equilibrium, so I think that a target of something north of two-thirds will be what [the Paris Club] will be looking at." The Group of Seven (G-7) industrialized states meeting in Dubai in September agreed to reach a deal by the end of 2004 on Iraqi debt. Wolfensohn added that Iraq should receive aid in the form of grants, not loans, in order to avoid overburdening it. KR
PENTAGON DENIES IRAQ SURVEY GROUP TO BE REASSIGNED
Pentagon officials denied reports on 29 October that some intelligence officers working for the 1,500-strong Iraq Survey Group (ISG) might be reassigned to investigate who is behind the wave of recent terrorist attacks in Iraq, defenselink.mil reported the same day. "Nobody is considering changing the mission of the ISG. It's not under discussion," Larry Di Rita, special assistant to U.S. Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld, told reporters. Press reports had cited unnamed U.S. officials as saying that Washington has considered the move for several weeks in order to boost antiterrorism efforts in Iraq. KR
ANSAR AL-ISLAM DETAINEES FROM IRAQ REVEAL BA'ATHIST LINK
Two members of the militant group Ansar Al-Islam in coalition custody have said that their group is working with a senior Hussein-era official to coordinate attacks against coalition forces, an unnamed U.S. senior defense official has said, AP reported on 29 October. Izzat Ibrahim al-Duri, sixth on the U.S. list of the 55 most-wanted Iraqis from the deposed Hussein regime, was identified by the captured militants as being behind the coordinated attacks. Al-Duri, a longtime confidant of Saddam Hussein, served in the deposed regime as vice chairman of Iraq's Revolutionary Command Council, which controlled the Ba'ath Party. Ansar Al-Islam is affiliated with the Al-Qaeda terrorist network. KR