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Newsline - November 4, 2003


JAILED OLIGARCH STEPS DOWN AS YUKOS HEAD...
Mikhail Khodorkovskii, the billionaire CEO of oil giant Yukos who has been imprisoned since 25 October on suspicion of fraud and tax evasion, announced on 3 November that he has resigned from his Yukos post and is leaving the company, Russian and international media reported. In a statement published on the Yukos website (http://www.yukos.ru), Khodorkovskii said he is quitting in order to save the company from "the direct attacks against me and my partners." He added that he hopes Yukos's new management will manage to realize his goal of integrating the merged YukosSibneft into the global economy. He said that he plans to concentrate on his philanthropic activities as chairman of the board of Open Russia, a Yukos-created NGO with the stated aims of developing civil society and promoting democratic values among young Russians. Although Khodorkovskii's announcement appeared less than an hour before the Russian Stock Exchange closed, the market reacted immediately and favorably to the news, with Yukos shares rising by 4 percent and the RTS index by 6 percent before the closing bell, Ekho Moskvy and other Russian media reported on 4 November. VY

...AS MEDIA PONDERS THE EFFECTS OF THE MOVE...
Russian media on 4 November was full of speculation that following Khodorkovskii's resignation, Yukos will invite foreign citizens to join its management team in order to make it more difficult for prosecutors to continue investigating the company. "Kommersant-Daily" wrote on 4 November that Khodorkovskii made his decision after receiving information that the Kremlin intends to install external management at Yukos. "Izvestiya" on 4 November noted that although Khodorkovskii stepped down as the company's CEO, he retains his Yukos shares and other levers of influence and remains the company's principal owner. The paper reasoned that the decision will not affect the status of the investigation because the Kremlin cannot risk the perception that the Yukos investigation is not -- as President Vladimir Putin said -- a matter of law but a case of political persecution. VY

...AND HEAD OF UPPER CHAMBER WEIGHS IN
Federation Council Chairman Sergei Mironov, who is in the United States, told strana.ru on 3 November that Khodorkovskii's move is "a tactical maneuver, the goal of which is not completely clear." "In Khodorkovskii's case, there are [accusations of] concrete violations of the Criminal Code that should be brought by prosecutors in an open trial," Mironov said. "Either the prosecution will prove them or it will bear the responsibility [for not doing so]." VY

PUTIN SAYS PROSECUTORS HANDLING YUKOS CASE PROPERLY
Speaking to Italian journalists on the day before his 4 November departure for a Russia-EU summit in Rome, President Putin said that the Prosecutor-General's Office is acting properly in its investigation of oil giant Yukos and is not abusing its power, ITAR-TASS and RIA-Novosti reported on 4 November. He said prosecutors are only responding to suspicions of crimes and that one of the defendants in the Yukos case has admitted that he owes tax arrears. "The law should be observed by everyone all the time, not only when you are caught," Putin said. Just as Foreign Minister Igor Ivanov did earlier this week (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 3 November 2003), Putin cited the recent investigations into major U.S. corporations, including energy trader Enron. He said that it would be improper of him to express a specific opinion on the Yukos case, because doing so could influence the courts. "Only a court can determine whether the people being investigated in the Yukos case are guilty or not," Putin said. VY

KREMLIN INSIDER LEAVES PUTIN'S TEAM
Kremlin-connected political consultant and public-opinion analyst Gleb Pavlovskii, who is president of the Fund for Effective Politics, told Ekho Moskvy on 31 October that he has left President Putin's team together with former presidential chief of staff Aleksandr Voloshin. "I left my position as adviser the moment [Voloshin] left," Pavlovskii said. He said that within the Kremlin there has been a shift toward the so-called siloviki, and this could be dangerous. In 1993, Pavlovskii said, the government was tilted toward intellectuals, with several writers and artists working within the government. This, however, came to an end with the October 1993 confrontation between President Boris Yeltsin and the Supreme Soviet. Now, he said, the administration is tilted toward the siloviki, and Putin himself is a silovik. VY

SHARON IN MOSCOW TO DISCUSS MIDDLE EAST PEACE PLAN...
President Putin on 3 November met in the Kremlin with Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon, who is in Moscow for three days of talks on bilateral relations and international issues, Russian and Western media reported. Sharon is expected to discuss Russia's call for the UN to adopt the so-called road-map Middle East peace plan as an official document in order to break the current stalemate in the region. Israel, backed by the United States, has said it considers such a move premature until the Palestinian leadership is changed. Sharon is expected to ask Russian officials to reconsider their support for Palestinian President Authority President Yasser Arafat, whom Israel considers an obstacle to a settlement. VY

...AND OTHER MIDDLE EAST ISSUES
Sharon is also expected to discuss Moscow's continued assistance to Iran's nuclear-power program and Russian-Syrian military cooperation, gazeta.ru reported on 3 November. Sharon will meet in Moscow on 4-5 November with Prime Minister Mikhail Kasyanov, Foreign Minister Ivanov, Defense Minister Sergei Ivanov, and other senior officials. At a joint press conference with Sharon on 3 November, Putin said Russia cares about Russian Jews who have emigrated to Israel, and he discussed plans to open Holocaust museums in Moscow and St. Petersburg. In response, Sharon called Putin "a real friend of Israel" and invited him to visit after, as Sharon said, Putin is "re-elected to a second term as president." VY

PRO-KREMLIN PARTY OPTS OUT OF ELECTION DEBATES...
The Unified Russia party announced on 3 November that it will not participate in the scheduled televised debates with other political parties, Russian media reported. The party's press service explained that the party considers it "inexpedient and dangerous to waste time on advertising and making populist statements on the air." Responding to the news, Central Election Commission Chairman Aleksandr Veshnyakov called the party's decision "not an entirely logical step," wondering "how is it possible to participate in the election process...while not giving the electorate the opportunity to listen to the positions of the party?" Unified Russia's competitors condemned the party's decision, charging that the party is afraid. Communist State Duma Deputy Ivan Melnikov told Ekho Moskvy that the debates are one of the few opportunities for his party to appear on federal television, while Liberal Democratic Party of Russia (LDPR) leader Vladimir Zhirinovskii commented that Unified Russia's leaders do not perform well on live television "when everyone can see them blushing." JAC

...AS DOES MOSCOW MAYOR...
As of 3 November, only four candidates remain in the 7 December Moscow mayoral election, and two of them have announced that they will not participate in televised campaign debates, utro.ru reported. Incumbent Mayor Yurii Luzhkov, the overwhelming favorite in the race, and Progress Association Managing Director Nikolai Lifanov have both declined to participate in the debates to be held on 19 and 26 November or in roundtables scheduled for 14 and 21 November. Two wealthy businessmen who are also running -- National Reserve Bank head Aleksandr Lebedev and German Sterligov -- have said they will participate. JAC

...AND COMMUNISTS COULD FOLLOW SUIT
According to "Kommersant-Daily" on 4 November, responding to news of Unified Russia's decision, Yurii Petrakov, deputy head of the Communist Party's informational-analytical department, said his party will not participate in the debates either. Formally, the party has not yet announced a decision to opt out of the debates, but Petrakov said such an announcement is forthcoming. JAC

CENTRAL ELECTION COMMISSION OVERRULES BASHKORTOSTAN COLLEAGUES...
The Central Election Commission (TsIK) on 3 November annulled a 27 October decision by Bashkortostan's election commission to revoke the registration of former Mezhprombank executive Sergei Veremeenko for the 7 December republican presidential election, ITAR-TASS reported (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 29 October 2003). Veremeenko is considered one of incumbent Bashkortostan's President Murtaza Rakhimov's chief rivals and has charged that the cancellation of his registration was politically motivated. There are currently 10 candidates vying for the post, according to ITAR-TASS, including former representative to the Federation Council Ralif Safin and Bashkortostan's current representative to the Federation Council, Igor Izmestev. JAC

...AS CANDIDATE, STAFF FIND LOCAL ROADS UNSAFE
Sergei Veremeenko's motorcade was involved in a road accident on 31 October some 40 kilometers from Ufa, "Kommersant-Daily" reported on 3 November. The accident happened when a car from Veremeenko's motorcade collided with a truck traveling in the opposite direction. No one was injured in the accident, but the head of Veremeenko's campaign, Marat Mirgazemov, told the newspaper that "one cannot exclude the political implications of the accident." Mirgazemov said that another member of Veremeenko's team, Reis Dewletkuzhin, who has been critical of alleged corruption within the Bashkir Interior Ministry, was also recently involved in a road accident. The daily cited the Bashkir Interior Ministry's press service as saying the accidents do not have any relation to politics. On 20 July 2002, Firat Valeev, the former editor of an opposition newspaper, died in an automobile accident when his car collided with a truck (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 22 July 2002). Valeev had received several threats, and his colleagues believe his death might not have been an accident. JAC

ALL NEWS CHANNEL NEARLY READY
The All-Russia State Television and Radio Company (VGTRK) plans to establish a 24-hour news channel by the end of the year, VGTRK Deputy Chairman Aleksei Malinin announced on 3 November, RIA-Novosti reported. Its content will be made up mostly of VGTRK material, as well as reports from Euronews. The channel will initially broadcast in Moscow, mostly via cable, according to Malinin. VGTRK does not plan to make the channel a full-fledged federal news channel, but will instead make it available to satellite-television operators for inclusion in their program packages. JAC

CONSTITUTIONAL COURT STRIKES DOWN LAW ON MEDIA COVERAGE OF ELECTION CAMPAIGNS
On 30 October, the Constitutional Court overturned a controversial section of the law on guaranteeing the rights of voters that severely restricted media coverage of election campaigns (for more details, see http:// www.rferl.org/specials/russianelection/Article.aspx?ID=A1F9FE72-D124-40BA-97AF-199684915CB4&M=10&Y=2003). The court's decision came in response to an appeal filed by journalists and more than 100 State Duma deputies (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 14 October 2003), Russian media reported. JAC

PUTIN PROMISES FINANCIAL SUPPORT FOR TEST CASE IN REGIONAL-MERGER PROCESS
President Putin has signed a decree authorizing measures to be taken to eliminate the imbalance in living standards between residents of Komi-Permyak Autonomous Okrug and those of neighboring Perm Oblast, Russian media reported on 3 November. According to Novyi region, the decree includes measures such as expanded gasification of the okrug and the development of its transportation infrastructure over the next three years. Putin said that the order supports plans by local and regional authorities in the two regions to merge the two federation subjects into a single entity (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 6 June 2003). Putin called on the government to allocate the funding necessary for the measures elaborated in the decree. Putin visited Kudymkar, the capital of Komi-Permyak Autonomous Okrug, on 31 October. JAC

COUNCIL OF EUROPE RAPPORTEUR BEWAILS INABILITY TO VISIT CHECHNYA
Swiss parliamentarian Andreas Gross, who was named five months ago as the Parliamentary Assembly of the Council of Europe's rapporteur for Chechnya (see "RFE/RL Caucasus Report," 25 July 2003), complained in an interview published in "Izvestiya" on 4 November that the Russian authorities have systematically rejected his monthly requests to visit Chechnya. Gross pointed out that he would like to complete drafting by the spring of 2004 a new peace proposal for Chechnya, but that he will be unable to do so if he is prevented from assessing the situation on the ground. Gross said that while the Council of Europe acknowledges Akhmad-hadji Kadyrov as Chechen president, Kadyrov's legitimacy is "quite weak." He added that he wants to ask Kadyrov "how he intends to meet the demands of the Chechens who want to be rid of all kinds of violence -- gunmen, federal forces, and the private army of his own son." Gross also wondered aloud whether the Kremlin's acceptance of Kadyrov as Chechen leader is a sign of weakness prompted by fear of Kadyrov's military strength. LF

FORMER ARMENIAN DISSIDENT CALLS FOR DECLASSIFICATION OF KGB ARCHIVES
Opposition Self-Determination Union Chairman and Soviet-era dissident Paruyr Hairikian told a discussion group in Yerevan on 1 November that Armenia's KGB archives should be made public, including the names of people who served as secret informers for that agency, Noyan Tapan reported on 3 November. Hairikian said doing is a matter of national security. LF

DYSENTERY OUTBREAK SPREADS IN ARMENIAN CAPITAL
More than 100 people, mostly children under the age of 14, have been hospitalized in a district of northern Yerevan with dysentery or similar intestinal infections that authorities attribute to contaminated drinking-water supplies, RFE/RL's Yerevan bureau reported on 3 November. As of 31 October, 10 adults and 31 children had been diagnosed with dysentery. Municipal authorities say that as a result of heavy rains, sewage seeped into drinking water supplies to the Arabkir District on 26 October. One official was quoted by "Iravunk" of 31 October as admitting that the local population was not warned in time about the incident because it occurred on a Sunday. Other opposition papers have argued that victims should sue the Yerevan Water Board for damages. LF

AZERBAIJANI OPPOSITION LEADER DEMANDS CLARIFICATION OF POLICE ACTION
Ali Kerimli, who is chairman of the progressive wing of the opposition Azerbaijan Popular Front Party (AHCP), has written to Prosecutor-General Zakir Garalov requesting answers to six questions relating to allegations of police brutality against opposition supporters who staged a protest demonstration in Baku on 16 October against the apparent falsification of the outcome of the previous day's presidential election, Turan reported on 3 November. Kerimli asked which agency authorized the use of violence against demonstrators; what measures are being taken to identify police and other officials who participated in the arrest of opposition supporters or who resorted to the use of torture against them after their detention; why people in pretrial detention are banned from religious observances and deprived of access to information; and what measures have been taken against people who approved the arrest of opposition election observers or members of local election commissions. LF

AZERBAIJANI OPPOSITION PARTY UNVEILS PRELIMINARY ELECTION ASSESSMENT
Leading members of the opposition Musavat Party presented a preliminary assessment of the 15 October presidential election at a press conference on 3 November, according to Turan on 3 November and zerkalo.az on 4 November. Musavat's presidential candidate and chairman, Isa Qambar, claims that he, rather than Ilham Aliyev, was the rightful winner of the ballot. The assessment listed the various procedures used to determine the outcome of the ballot, including the exclusion from electoral rolls of up to 10 percent of qualified voters on the grounds that they supported opposition candidates, and contradictory data released by the Central Election Commission about the number of polling stations in Azerbaijan and abroad. Speakers also cited the conclusions of OSCE observers, who registered procedural violations during the vote count at more than 50 percent of the polling stations monitored, and failure to make available voting protocols at 66 percent of polling stations monitored. LF

MORE THAN 100 AZERBAIJANI OPPOSITION SUPPORTERS FIRED
More than 100 members of opposition parties have been dismissed from their jobs since the 15 October presidential ballot, including 30 Musavat Party members, Turan reported on 3 November, quoting Saftar Nehmatoglu, who heads a working group of the Committee to Combat Repression and the Falsification of Elections. At least seven members of the conservative wing of the AHCP have been fired from teaching positions at village schools, Turan reported on 4 November. In addition, some 300 Musavat Party representatives on district election commissions are reportedly being subjected to harassment. A school director in the industrial town of Sumgait has reportedly called for the deportation from Azerbaijan of all Musavat Party members, Turan reported. LF

GEORGIAN PRESIDENT SAYS ELECTIONS WERE 'MOST TRANSPARENT'...
In his regular Monday radio interview, Eduard Shevardnadze said on 3 November that the previous day's parliamentary election was "the fairest and most transparent election ever held in Georgia," Caucasus Press reported. Shevardnadze said he is ready for constructive cooperation with all political forces, that he does not anticipate "confrontation" between himself and a parliament in which opposition parties hold a majority of mandates, Reuters reported. Meanwhile, with some 50 percent of the proportional vote counted, the pro-presidential For a New Georgia bloc has polled 23.7 percent of the vote, the opposition National Movement 22.8 percent, the Labor Party 14.3 percent, the Burdjanaze-Democrats bloc 8.3 percent, New Rightists 8.21 percent, the Revival Union 7.9 percent, and Industry Will Save Georgia 6.8 percent, according to Caucasus Press on 4 November. LF

...WHILE INTERNATIONAL MONITORS BEG TO DIFFER...
The joint election-observation mission of the OSCE's Office for Democratic Institutions and Human Rights, the OSCE Parliamentary Assembly, and the Council of Europe offered a more cautious preliminary assessment of the 2 November Georgian elections. In a 12-page statement, the mission described the ballot as falling short of a number of OSCE commitments and other international standards for democratic elections, noting in particular inaccuracies in voter lists. Reuters on 3 November quoted Thomas Cox, head of the Parliamentary Assembly of the Council of Europe delegation, as saying "we believe that the people of this country are entitled to a better-run election system." U.S. State Department spokesman Adam Ereli said Washington concurs with the OSCE preliminary assessment that "inaccuracies in voter lists lessened voter confidence." LF

...AS NGO LAYS BLAME ON THE AUTHORITIES
In an interim assessment made available to "RFE/RL Newsline," the British NGO Links registered numerous procedural problems both in the preparations for the ballot and during the voting. It blamed that "failure to create appropriate conditions" for a fair and democratic ballot squarely on the Georgian authorities. Its observers also noted instances of multiple voting, and queried the effectiveness of marking voters with invisible ink to preclude multiple voting and the use, for the first time, of exit polls. LF

ABDUCTED GEORGIAN RELEASED
Democratic Justice Party member Roland Changelia, who was abducted in western Georgia on 25 September, was released on 3 November, Caucasus Press reported (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 30 September and 1 and 3 October 2003). Changelia was reportedly snatched by Georgian criminals employed by alleged Abkhaz bandit Volmer Butba, one of whose men was arrested in the west Georgian town of Zugdidi on 28 October on suspicion of involvement in Changelia's kidnapping. LF

10,000 IMMIGRANTS GAIN KAZAKH CITIZENSHIP
Kazakh President Nursultan Nazarbaev signed a decree on 3 November granting Kazakh citizenship to more than 10,000 immigrants, Kazinform and Interfax-Kazakhstan reported the same day. Most were ethnic Kazakhs who moved to Kazakhstan from Uzbekistan, Turkmenistan, and Mongolia, many of whom had arrived in the country outside the annual quota for ethnic Kazakh "returnees." They were unable to obtain the state benefits received by those who entered under the quota, according to reports appearing in the Kazakh media earlier in 2003, and it was difficult for them to obtain citizenship (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 3 November 2003). BB

KYRGYZ PRESIDENT MEETS WITH OSCE MINORITIES OFFICIAL
Kyrgyz President Askar Akaev met with Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE) High Commissioner on National Minorities Rolf Ekeus on 3 November, kabar.kg reported the same day. Ekeus was in Bishkek to attend a conference on education as a means of integration in a multiethnic society that had been organized by his office jointly with the Kyrgyz Education Ministry and the Assembly of the Peoples of Kyrgyzstan. Akaev had spoken at the conference about the importance of interethnic harmony in strengthening Kyrgyzstan's statehood and the need to create a national consciousness that includes citizens of all ethnic groups. In his talk with Ekeus, Akaev reportedly focused on the role of multilingual education in this process, as well as on Kyrgyzstan's further cooperation with Ekeus's office. BB

KYRGYZ MILITARY OFFICIAL DENIES RUSSIAN ARMS SUPPLIES ARE PAYMENT FOR AIR BASE
Kyrgyz Deputy Defense Minister Oleg Chechel denied on 3 November that arms supplied by the Russian Defense Ministry to certain units of the Kyrgyz Army are payment for special conditions at the newly opened Russian air base in the town of Kant, kabar.kg reported the same day. Chechel said that the conditions provided at Kant were covered by a Kyrgyz-Russian agreement on military and technical cooperation that was signed in 1993, as well as by agreements among the member states of the CIS Collective Security Treaty Organization (CSTO). He added that the Russian military has provided arms and equipment to Kyrgyzstan free of charge because of the country's financial problems, noting that it is in the interests of all CSTO members to strengthen the Kyrgyz armed forces. BB

KYRGYZ WOMEN'S PARTY CHANGES NAME AND ORIENTATION
The Democratic Party of the Women of Kyrgyzstan, one of the older and more active political groups in the country, has changed its name and charter and reregistered with the Justice Ministry, KyrgyzInfo reported on 4 November, quoting party Chairwoman Tokon Shailieva. The party is now called the New Force and accepts for membership any citizen regardless of sex who has reached the age of 18. According to Shailieva, the party presently has 5,000 members. BB

U.S. ARMY TRAINS KYRGYZ IN MOUNTAIN FIGHTING
U.S. Army trainers have just completed a weeklong course for Kyrgyz servicemen on military operations in mountainous terrain and on providing medical assistance in the mountains, kabar.kg and akipress.org reported on 3 November. The course, which was part of the Military Cooperation Plan for 2003 between the United States and Kyrgyzstan, began on 27 October. Since having to fight armed intruders belonging to the Islamic Movement of Uzbekistan in the remote mountains of southern Kyrgyzstan in 1999 and 2000, the Kyrgyz armed forces have sought to improve their ability to operate in alpine conditions, assuming that further terrorist incursions would likely come from the same direction. BB

UZBEKISTAN WANTS TO WORK WITH UKRAINE ON RECONSTRUCTION IN AFGHANISTAN
Uzbekistan wants to work jointly with Ukraine on the reconstruction of Afghanistan, Uzbek Foreign Minister Sodyk Safaev told a news conference in Tashkent after a meeting with his visiting Ukrainian counterpart, Konstantyn Hryshchenko, Interfax-Ukraine reported the same day. Safaev said that Uzbekistan's experience with working in Afghanistan, combined with Ukraine's industrial and construction potential, could bring tangible results in the industrialization of Afghanistan. He suggested that Uzbekistan and Ukraine could work together on the restoration of irrigation facilities and building power plants, roads, and rail lines. The Uzbek foreign minister also said that Ukrainian firms should participate in the process of privatization in Uzbekistan. BB

VISEGRAD FOUR LEADERS MEET IN BUDAPEST
The presidents of the Visegrad Four -- the Czech Republic, Hungary, Poland, and Slovakia -- agreed in Budapest on 3 November that their multilateral cooperation should continue after EU accession, expected in mid-2004, Hungarian and international media reported. The four leaders also discussed an initiative for joint implementation of the Schengen agreement, the importance of the Central European Free Trade Agreement (CEFTA), and stressed that the Visegrad group should help neighboring countries in their integration efforts. Many observers expected the Budapest summit to address the recent German-Polish "Gdansk Declaration" concerning mass expulsions in the last century (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 30 October 2003), which might have caused a rift in the Visegrad group. Czech President Vaclav Klaus made it clear that he is not prepared to discuss the forced resettlement of ethnic groups after World War II, "Nepszabadsag" and CTK reported. MSZ

UKRAINIAN COMMUNISTS WANT COUNTRY'S PEACEKEEPERS OUT OF IRAQ
Communist lawmakers Petro Symonenko and Ihor Alekseyev have submitted a draft bill to the Verkhovna Rada providing for the pullout from Iraq of Ukrainian peacekeepers, Interfax reported on 4 November. The legislature adopted a bill on 5 June allowing the government to send a contingent of up to 1,800 troops to the Polish-administered stabilization zone in Iraq (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 5 June 2003). A similar draft bill on a pullout has already been submitted by the Yuliya Tymoshenko Bloc. One Ukrainian serviceman has died and more than 10 have been injured in Iraq. JM

OUR UKRAINE FAILS TO FORCE GOVERNMENT REPORT ON FOILED CONVENTION IN DONETSK
The Verkhovna Rada on 4 November rejected a proposal by the Our Ukraine bloc to hear reports by the interior minister, the head of the Ukrainian Security Service, and the education minister on the events that prevented that political grouping from holding a congress in Donetsk on 31 October (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 31 October and 3 November 2003), Interfax reported. The proposal was supported by 197 lawmakers, while the minimum required for its approval was 226 votes. JM

ESTONIAN, BRITISH PRIME MINISTERS JOINTLY ADDRESS COMPETITIVENESS OF EXPANDING EU
Juhan Parts and Tony Blair called for reform in the EU's labor market in an article the two prime ministers wrote jointly for the "Financial Times" of 3 November. Noting that the EU has set the "ambitious goal of becoming the most competitive and dynamic knowledge-based economic space in the world," they called for devoting special attention to reforming the union's labor market. The two prime ministers expressed their opposition to the harmonization of tax and social-welfare laws as well as making tax issues subject to a qualified majority decision in the EU, asserting that such measures would harm competition as well as cut jobs and stifle economic growth. They called for letting each EU member state determine its own tax and social-welfare policies, as this would leave room for innovative and bold solutions. According to BNS on 3 November, this would also allow Estonia to keep its income-tax exemption for reinvested profit and Britain to keep its taxation differences in the field of finance. Estonian government adviser Henrik Hololei said the aim of the joint article was to give Europe a signal that, in acting for common interests, there is no difference between old or new, large or small member states or left- or right-wing governments. SG

LATVIA'S FARMERS TO RECEIVE DIRECT EU PAYMENTS FOR CULTIVATED LAND
The government decided on 3 November that direct EU payments to Latvian farmers will be based on the area of land they cultivate, BNS reported. Under this plan, direct payments will be made to farmers for each hectare of land they cultivate and not the yield of their harvests, as was stipulated in the "standard payment" option provided by the EU. The Agriculture Ministry noted that the "uniform area" payment scheme is advantageous because farmers will be able to receive payments as of 2004 instead of in 2005, as was the case in the "standard" scheme. The criteria for farmers to receive payments in the chosen plan are simpler and are expected to benefit small-farm owners, as payments will be made for plots as small as one hectare. Latvian farmers are expected to receive direct payments next year amounting to 17 million lats ($30.4 million), as well as additional funds from the EU Rural Development Plan. SG

LITHUANIAN PARLIAMENT FORMS AD HOC COMMISSION TO INVESTIGATE POTENTIAL THREAT TO NATIONAL SECURITY
Parliament on 3 November formed a nine-member commission to further investigate allegations that international criminal groups have attempted to influence members of the presidential office, BNS reported (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 3 November 2003). The publication of a classified State Security Department document naming such politicians prompted parliament to open the extraordinary session of parliament, which was broadcast live by Lithuanian state radio and television. Parliament Chairman Arturas Paulauskas proposed forming a commission to investigate the potential threat to national security. State Security Department Director General Mecys Laurinkus testified that he has no information indicating that President Rolandas Paksas is under the influence of criminals, but that there are clear efforts to influence his staff. The commission, formed in proportion to the number of party deputies, has three members from the Social Democrats, two each from the Social Liberals and Liberal Centrists, and one each from the Conservatives and Liberal Democrats. SG

LITHUANIAN PRESIDENT'S MAIN FINANCIAL SUPPORTER INVESTIGATED
The Prosecutor-General's Office launched a criminal investigation on 3 November into allegations that Yurii Borisov, the owner of the helicopter firm Aviabaltika who contributed 1.2 million litas ($400,000) to Rolandas Paksas's successful presidential campaign, made threats against the president in March, "Kauno diena" reported on 4 November. Borisov was questioned for more than four hours regarding threats he allegedly made against Paksas during secretly recorded telephone conversations in March. In them Borisov allegedly told unidentified people that the president would be a "political corpse" and complained that Paksas had refused to abide by a signed agreement to make him a presidential adviser. The office has imposed a ban on Borisov leaving the country and confiscated both his Russian and Lithuanian passports, which he received after Paksas granted him Lithuanian citizenship earlier this year. In televised statement broadcast on 3 November, Paksas said he "never signed any agreements that could harm or injure the interests and laws of the state." SG

POLAND WANTS TO REDUCE VISA COSTS FOR RUSSIANS, BELARUSIANS
Poland is ready to cut the price of its visas for Belarusian and Russian citizens but expects both of those neighboring countries to take similar actions for Polish nationals, PAP reported on 3 November, quoting Foreign Minister Wlodzimierz Cimoszewicz. Cimoszewicz told journalists that Polish consulates have issued some 150,000 visas for Russians, Belarusians, and Ukrainians since introducing the visa requirement on 1 October. Cimoszewicz said there is a chance that residents in border areas will not need visas to cross the Polish-Russian or the Polish-Belarusian border. He added that such an option is currently being discussed in the European Commission. A decision on whether to lift the visa requirement in the borderlands might come within weeks, Cimoszewicz said. JM

SWEDEN CONFIRMS OFFER OF 'NEW PLANES AT PRICE FOR OLD' TO CZECH REPUBLIC
Swedish Ambassador to the Czech Republic Harald Faeth confirmed on 3 November that his country is offering to the Czech Republic 14 supersonic JAS-39 Gripen jet fighters within the price limit set by Prague for the purchase of used planes, CTK reported (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 3 November 2003). Faeth told journalists that in addition, his country is offering an offset program in value of 150 percent of the deal and the Swedish government would be willing to finance the deal through an advantageous low-interest loan. Defense Minister Miroslav Kostelka earlier said that the Swedish offer was "interesting" but declined to comment on its chances of winning the tender, saying that a commission of experts is to select the winner by the end of November. Kostelka also rejected allegations by the opposition Civic Democratic Party (ODS) that the tender was nontransparent and its win by U.S. bidders a foregone conclusion. MS

NORWAY, ICELAND TO SIGN EEA EXPANSION AGREEMENT WITH CZECH REPUBLIC, SLOVAKIA
The Norwegian Foreign Ministry announced on 3 November that Norway and Iceland have decided to sign the agreement for the expansion of the European Economic Area (EEA) to include the Czech Republic, Slovakia, and the other EU candidate states, CTK reported. Following the 2 November negotiations in Prague by the foreign ministers of Norway and Iceland, Jan Petersen and Halldor Asgrimsson, with their Czech and Slovak counterparts Cyril Svoboda and Eduard Kukan (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 3 November 2003), the Norwegian ministry called the talks open and constructive and announced the earlier decision of the two countries not to sign the agreement will be reversed. The Norwegian ministry also said an attempt will be made to convince Liechtenstein to sign the agreement as well. MS

CZECH PRIME MINISTER IN CHILE
Visiting Czech Prime Minister Vladimir Spidla and his Chilean counterpart Ricardo Lagos said after talks in Santiago de Chile on 3 November that the level of commercial ties between their countries is far below its potential, CTK reported. They said the excellent political relations between the two states must be matched by enhanced economic relations. Addressing a forum of businessmen the same day, Spidla called on them to invest in his country. MS

JEWISH CEMETERIES VANDALIZED IN CZECH REPUBLIC, SLOVAKIA
Unidentified perpetrators damaged gravestones in the Jewish cemetery of Turnov, east Bohemia, CTK reported on 3 November, citing a police spokeswoman. The vandalism took place on 31 October. The damaged gravestones are from the 18th and 19th centuries. The cemetery is no longer in use and is preserved as part of the town's historical heritage. In the western Slovak town of Puchov, 28 tombstones were damaged over the past few days, according to a local police spokeswoman cited by CTK. MS

FORMER SLOVAK DEFENSE MINISTER CRITICIZES PRIME MINISTER
Former Slovak Defense Minister Ivan Simko said on 1 November that the atmosphere in the main ruling Slovak Democratic and Christian Union (SDKU) is not good and a change in party leadership would be beneficial, CTK reported. Simko added that he suspects the financial management of the party is also unsound. He said there are "two SDKUs," one which pursues the interests of the current party leadership, and the other which tries to implement the party's initial program, for the public's benefit. Prime Minister Mikulas Dzurinda countered by saying he has grounds to believe Simko's criticism stems from his intention to run for president in the elections slated for April 2004. "It is likely that he believes his presidential campaign could be best served by his being expelled from the SDKU and that is what he is trying to provoke," Dzurinda said on Slovak Television. MS

SOME HUNGARIANS IN SLOVAKIA TO HAVE RIGHTS CURTAILED?
Ethnic Hungarians in Slovakia may lose the right to display bilingual road signs and use their native language in contacts with authorities due to the drop in their proportion of the population in some areas, CTK reported on 31 October. Legislation approved in 1994 grants that right in settlements where an ethnic minority makes up 20 percent or more of the local population. According to the returns of the 2001 census, the number of ethnic Hungarians fell below 20 percent in 14 towns and villages in southern Slovakia. Five hundred settlements in that country have bilingual Slovak-Hungarian road signs. The Hungarian Coalition Party (SMK), which is a member of the ruling coalition, wants the law changed to allow bilingual road signs and use of native language in settlements where minorities make up 10 percent of the population. The 2001 census returns show that the number of settlements where Ruthenians make up 20 percent or more has increased from 68 to 91, while those with a substantial Ukrainian minority dropped from 18 to six. Settlements with large Romany minorities also dropped from 57 to 53. MS

SLOVAKIA HAS HIGHEST FREQUENCY OF CORRUPTION IN VISEGRAD GROUP
According to a report released by the Slovak Interior Ministry, Slovakia has the highest rate of corruption among the four Visegrad group members (which also includes the Czech Republic, Hungary, and Poland), TASR reported on 2 November. The report, which has been submitted to the cabinet, says corruption is often encountered in public tenders, the distribution of government subsidies, health care, education, taxation, the judiciary system, customs, and contacts with local authorities. But the report also says the situation has slightly improved since the launching of a national program aimed at combating corruption earlier this year. MS

HUNGARIAN LAWMAKERS APPROVE -- AND REJECT -- ELECTORAL AMENDMENTS ON EUROPARLIAMENT BALLOT
Opposition deputies on 3 November voted down some aspects of a government-backed bill regulating future Hungarian elections to the European Parliament, Hungarian television reported. With 195 votes in favor, 155 votes against, and 16 abstentions, the legislature voted down those parts of the law that required a two-thirds majority, but accepted the passages that required a simple majority. The opposition FIDESZ party rejected a proposal to allow Hungarian citizens abroad to vote electronically, arguing that vote-counting committees should be present at all Hungarian embassies. The governing coalition has argued that sending party delegates to all 72 embassies would be too costly. The bill sets 13 June 2004 as the date of the European elections, and it declares Hungary a single constituency. According to the bill, political parties must collect at least 20,000 signatures in order to participate in the elections. Both opposition and government parties agreed to hold further talks on the issue. MSZ

HUNGARIAN GOVERNMENT SUBMITS DRAFT BILL ON NEW FINANCIAL WATCHDOG
The cabinet on 3 November submitted a proposal to parliament on the establishment of a new financial supervisory authority to succeed the PSZAF, "Nepszabadsag" reported. In a move to oust PSZAF Director Karoly Szasz and extend its authority over the financial sector, the government announced last week that the office will be dismantled and reestablished under a different structure and name (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 30 October 2003). Under the draft bill, the new watchdog would be headed by a director and two deputies, all of whom would appointed by the prime minister for six-year terms. The new leadership would work under a supervisory council whose chairman would be appointed by the parliament, while its five members would be appointed by the president on recommendations from the prime minister. The duties of the office reportedly would be extended to inspecting the internal audits of financial institutions, as well as subsidiaries of audited institutions. MSZ

HUNGARIAN COURT DECLARES ALL PARLIAMENTARY INVESTIGATIVE COMMISSIONS UNCONSTITUTIONAL
The Hungarian Constitutional Court on 3 November ruled that parliamentary investigative committees are not adequately regulated by law and are therefore unconstitutional, the MTI news agency reported. According to the ruling, parliament needs to rectify the situation by 31 March 2004. The court's decision sprang from its findings on the establishment of a committee set up in 2002 to investigate past and current government officials' dealings with the communist-era secret services. The judges found that the parliamentary resolution establishing the committee was unconstitutional, and voided it retroactively. MSZ

FORMER BRITISH FOREIGN MINISTER TESTIFIES IN THE HAGUE
Former British Foreign Minister Lord David Owen, who was the EU's mediator in peace talks during the 1992-95 Balkan war, on 3 November began testifying in the trial of Slobodan Milosevic, the BBC's website (http://www.bbcnews.com) reported. On the first day of his testimony, Owen said he believes that Milosevic had "strong power" over rebel Serbs in Bosnia and Croatia at the time of the 1993 peace talks. According to Owen, Milosevic "was in charge of a government that could stop [the Bosnian Serbs] from shelling Sarajevo, [and] stop ethnic cleansing." "If he would have done that, it would have brought peace to Bosnia two years earlier." But Owen also said that Milosevic's influence over the Serb forces in Bosnia was declining at the time of the 1995 Srebrenica massacre. UB

WASHINGTON NORMALIZES ECONOMIC RELATIONS WITH SERBIA AND MONTENEGRO
The U.S. State Department announced on 3 November that Secretary of State Colin Powell "has determined and certified that Serbia and Montenegro has met the criteria...for restoration of Normal Trade Relations (NTR) status," according to an official State Department press statement. NTR status was revoked in 1992 in response to the involvement of Milosevic's regime in the civil war in Bosnia. Serbian Trade and Tourism Minister Slobodan Milosavljevic expressed his hope that Serbian companies might benefit from the normalization, Tanjug reported. UB

SERBIAN PREMIER SACKS MINISTER
Prime Minister Zoran Zivkovic on 3 November called on the parliament to dismiss Transport and Telecommunications Minister Marija Raseta Vukosavljevic, RFE/RL's South Slavic and Albanian Languages Service reported. Zivkovic cited a conflict of interests, accusing Raseta Vukosavljevic of heading a private company involved in business activities that fall under the authority of her ministry. In August, the G 17 Plus political party accused Raseta Vukosavljevic of corruption (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 27 August 2003). The Social Democratic Party has reportedly threatened to withhold support for Zivkovic's government in a looming no confidence vote should he fail to replace Raseta Vukosavljevic (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 17, 20, and 31 October 2003). UB

FORMER MACEDONIAN DEFENSE MINISTER SENTENCED TO PRISON TERM
A Skopje court on 3 November sentenced former Defense Minister Ljuben Paunovski to 5 1/2 years in prison for finance-related crimes, "Utrinski vesnik" reported. Paunovski was convicted of abuse of power and embezzlement of some $1.6 million in connection with a procurement his ministry made during the interethnic conflict in April 2001. Two other defendants in the case -- one of which was Paunovski's brother-in-law -- have already been sentenced to prison terms by the same court (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 23 April 2001 and "RFE/RL Balkan Report," 5 May 2001). UB

ROMANIA LIQUIDATES ALLEGED IRAQI TERRORIST NETWORK
Prosecutor-General Ilie Botos announced on 3 November that Romanian authorities have liquidated a network allegedly engaged in mobilizing funds used to finance terrorist activities, the private Antena 1 television channel reported. Botos said most of the network's members are Iraqi citizens and, before being detained, 14 of them had succeeded in illegally smuggling $40 million out of Romania via phantom companies. Botos said there is no evidence to suggest the members of the network were direct participants in terrorist activities. Ion Stan, chairman of the parliamentary commission supervising the activities of the Romanian Intelligence Service, said the commission has no information to indicate that any groups are actively involved on Romanian territory in financing international terrorism, Romanian Radio reported. MS

ROMANIAN PREMIER DENIES RESHUFFLE INTENTION 'FOR NOW'
Against the background of rumors about an unavoidable second reshuffle of his cabinet within one month (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 3 November 2003), Prime Minister Adrian Nastase on 3 November told the leadership of the ruling Social Democratic Party that no reshuffle is needed "for now," Mediafax reported. Asked whether the need could arise after the European Commission releases its country-performance evaluation later this week, Nastase replied that he cannot comment on a report that has not been published. He also said he believes the commission's report will give a positive assessment of Romania, while also signaling areas in which "work needs to be still done." MS

ROMANIAN SENATE RATIFIES BASIC TREATY WITH RUSSIA
The Senate on 3 November ratified the basic treaty with Russia signed in Moscow on 4 July by Presidents Ion Iliescu and Vladimir Putin, Romanian Radio reported. Eighty-four senators voted in favor and 27 -- all representing the Greater Romania Party -- voted against ratifying the treaty. MS

MOLDOVAN PARLIAMENTARY LEADER SNUBS ROMANIA
Victor Stepaniuc, leader of the Party of Moldovan Communists parliamentary group, said on 2 November that Romania has repeatedly interfered in Moldova's internal affairs, Flux reported the next day. Speaking on Chisinau's private Pro-TV, Stepaniuc said that while Bucharest has recognized the separate identity of Moldova as a state, it refuses to recognize a separate Moldovan national identity. "The authorities in Bucharest use the term 'Romanian majority'" when referring to Moldova's ethnic structure, Stepaniuc said. "This is false, because there is no Romanian ethnic majority here." He also said that relations between Moldova and Romania "have never been good." He accused Bucharest of having stirred up the conflict regarding the Bessarabian Metropolitan Church and acknowledged that, in reaction, he has recently asked the Council of Europe to intervene regarding the registration in Romania of the Orthodox Church of the Old Rite (Pravoslavs). MS

FORMER MOLDOVAN DEPUTY PREMIER WOUNDED IN APPARENT ASSASSINATION ATTEMPT
Nicolae Andronic was wounded on 3 November in an apparent assassination attempt in a Chisinau neighborhood, RFE/RL's Chisinau bureau reported. Andronic suffered a leg injury when his vehicle exploded as he getting out of it. The blast was reportedly triggered by a remote-control device operated from a large truck parked nearby. He underwent surgery at a hospital and his injuries are not considered life-threatening. Andronic is currently a businessman and police said the assassination attempt might be have been carried out by business rivals. MS

OSCE MISSION CONFIRMS RENEWAL OF RUSSIAN EVACUATION FROM TRANSDNIESTER
Claus Neukirch, OSCE mission spokesman in Moldova, told RFE/RL's Chisinau bureau on 3 November that a second train transporting Russian military ammunition has been loaded in Tiraspol and was expected to depart on 4 November. The train will evacuate 330 tons of ammunition. The evacuation of Russian ammunition was renewed at the end of October after being blocked by separatist authorities last summer. MS

CORRECTION
The 3 November "RFE/RL Newsline" item titled "OSCE Mission Chief Confirms Compromise Withdrawal For Transdniester Conflict" should have said that the OSCE mission chief to Moldova, Ambassador William Hill, on 30 October said that the withdrawal of Russian troops from Transdniester could be completed within the first half of 2004.

BULGARIA CLOSES TECHNICAL TALKS ON EU ACCESSION
With agreement on the important Justice and Home Affairs chapter of the EU's acquis communautaire, Bulgaria has concluded the technical talks on its prospective EU membership, mediapool.bg reported on 31 October. The EU has agreed to ignore some of the shortcomings in the Justice and Home Affairs sector; in return, Justice Minister Anton Stankov has agreed to provide regular reports on Bulgarian judicial reform. Speaking upon her return from Brussels, European Affairs Minister Meglena Kuneva said on 31 October that now that the technical talks have been finalized, it is important to concentrate on the financial framework, which should be completed by the end of January. The EU's representative in Sofia, Dimitris Kourkoulas, said Bulgaria's main task is to curb organized crime and corruption, mediapool.bg reported on 31 October. UB

IRAQI MAYOR VISITS BULGARIA
After a meeting with Bulgarian Foreign Minister Solomon Pasi in Sofia on 3 November, Akram al-Yaseri, the mayor of the Iraqi city of Karbala, said Bulgarian troops currently stationed in his city will leave Iraq as close friends and brothers, BTA reported. Al-Yaseri expressed his gratitude for the Bulgarian troops' efforts to reconstruct the city's schools and health infrastructure. Asked about a time frame for the coalition forces to leave Iraq, al-Yaseri said that, like all people, the Iraqis want freedom and independence as soon as possible. But he added that the United States and its coalition partners will have the final say. UB

WILL KUCHMA SEEK A THIRD TERM?


Since the March 2002 parliamentary elections, the Ukrainian leadership has adopted two successive pre-election strategies. The first strategy ended in December 2002 and involved a wholesale takeover of all state institutions by pro-presidential forces that had lost the elections. The second strategy began in March 2003 and aims to achieve a victory (through an as-yet undetermined hand-picked successor) in the 2004 presidential ballot.

The pro-presidential forces expected to ride the success of their first strategy, but the second phase is not working out as planned. Plan A of the second strategy involved the drafting of four successive political-reform amendments to the constitution, all of which were radically different and rejected by parliament. Parliamentary speaker Volodymyr Lytvyn and Leonid Kravchuk, head of the Social Democratic Party-united (SDPU-o) parliamentary faction, have both admitted that political reform will not take place before the 2004 elections.

Plan B of the second strategy is a fallback position that entails Kuchma running for a third presidential term. That option has already been indirectly proposed through draft political reforms whereby presidential elections would have been postponed until after the parliamentary elections due in March 2006, thereby extending Kuchma's term in office by 18 months. Alternatively, presidents would be henceforth elected by parliament, which might give Kuchma an opportunity to reenter politics as prime minister, parliamentary speaker -- or even again as president.

In March 2003, when political reform was beginning and pro-presidential forces were presumably still confidant of its success, Lytvyn said Kuchma would not run for a third term. And during a meeting with NATO Secretary-General Lord George Robertson last month, Kuchma again confirmed his intention of stepping down from office next year.

In addition, Kuchma went on record in September and October to deny speculation in Ukraine and abroad that the 2004 presidential elections will be postponed, affirming that the ballot will take place next year as scheduled. This has, however, not assuaged widespread fears. If elections are indeed to be held in 2004 -- as Kuchma insists - why then did he back political reform drafts that would have precluded this? Pro-presidential forces in parliament do not act independently of the presidential administration.

The possibility of Kuchma running for a third term is not legally out of the question, as is commonly believed. Nor would it necessarily be a sign of authoritarian trends in Ukraine. Romanian President Ion Iliescu, head of that country's communist-turned-Social Democratic Party (PSD), was first elected in May 1990 and then again in October 1992. Romania adopted a new constitution during his 1992-96 second term. In November 2000, he was re-elected to a third term.

The "third term" problem was obviated in Russia by the transfer of power from President Boris Yeltsin to Prime Minister Vladimir Putin, who was then duly elected president. Yeltsin was to remain uninvolved in politics in return for immunity, while the oligarchs kept their wealth in return for staying out of politics. But in Ukraine a similar arranged succession is proving impossible because no candidate is acceptable to all oligarchs, and because the popularity of Kuchma and the oligarchs has been badly affected by Kuchmagate. Worse still, some pro-presidential forces are hedging their bets by supporting both Kuchma and the most popular presidential candidate, Viktor Yushchenko.

The pro-Kuchma forces are nonetheless aware that their slender majority in parliament could crumble in the run-up to the presidential ballot. They have therefore adduced their inability to agree on any other presidential candidate as an argument in favor of choosing Kuchma as the united candidate. The return to central stage of Ihor Bakay, former head of Naftohaz Ukrayiny, is seen as central to the success of Plan B, as he provided most of the funds required to finance Kuchma's successful 1999 election bid.

A campaign was therefore launched in May in the Donbas and Dnipropetrovsk to collect signatures calling on Kuchma to run for a third term. Russian nationalist organizations in the Crimea similarly began collecting signatures in October. In September-October, the pro-presidential Power of the People faction headed by Bohdan Hubsky collected sufficient signatures to formally request the Constitutional Court to rule on Article 103 of the constitution over whether Kuchma's current term is his second or first. A decision is likely by next month.

Hubsky is a former member of the SDPU-o, the party with most to lose should Kuchma not be re-elected president. SDPU-o head Viktor Medvedchuk is also head of the presidential administration. Washington's Carnegie Endowment expert Anders Aslund believes Medvedchuk plays the same backstage manipulative role in Ukrainian politics as Boris Berezovskii did until his self-imposed exile from Russia in late 2000. In his speech opening parliament in September, Lytvyn complained that some oligarchs still keep their capital in offshore accounts. This was understood to be a reference to Medvedchuk, who is perhaps looking to keep these funds abroad in case his fate after the 2004 elections resembles that of Berezovskii after Putin's victory. In the event of a Yushchenko victory, Medvedchuk would certainly be targeted.

The head of the Union of Jurists, SDPU-o member Valeriy Yevdokimov, supports Kuchma running for a third term, providing the Constitutional Court rules that his current term is only Kuchma's first. But not all pro-presidential forces believe Kuchma will stand for a third term. Kravchuk and National Bank Chairman Serhiy Tyhipko, who heads the Dnipropetrovsk clan's Labor Ukraine party, both think this is unlikely.

Not surprisingly, opposition forces consider the idea ludicrous. Socialist Party leader Oleksandr Moroz said, "I do not want to comment on this, because I possess insufficient delicate words for it." Moroz added that the constitution rules out anyone running for a third presidential term and that "those who don't understand this should go to the doctors and not to lawyers." Yushchenko described the possibility of a third term for the incumbent as morally incompatible with Ukraine's declared "European choice."Dr. Taras Kuzio is a resident fellow at the Centre for Russian and East European studies, University of Toronto.

AFGHANISTAN POSTS DRAFT CONSTITUTION ON INTERNET
The Afghan Constitutional Commission posted its draft constitution on its website (http://www.constitution-afg.com) on 3 November. The website contains the official draft in Pashtu and Dari languages, as well as an unofficial English translation of the document. The commission had presented the document to Afghan Transitional Administration Chairman Hamid Karzai earlier the same day (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 3 November 2003). (For an analysis of the new draft constitution of Afghanistan, see the upcoming "RFE/RL Afghanistan Report," 6 November 2003.) AT

FIGHTING BETWEEN TWO COMMANDERS LOYAL TO KABUL CLAIMS LIVES
Five people were killed in armed clashes on 31 October in the Greshk District of Helmand Province, Hindukosh news agency reported on 1 November. The fighting erupted after a commander, Mohammad Edris, and his deputy were killed in an apparent conflict between commanders loyal to the Afghan Transitional Administration. The district head of Greshk, Abdul Qodus, confirming the fighting, said a delegation from Helmand and neighboring Kandahar Province has been appointed to investigate the incidents. Abdul Qodus said the fighting stopped after U.S. warplanes appeared overhead. A report by the Pakistan-based Afghan Islamic Press quoted by dpa on 1 November asserted that the clash in Greshk claimed 25 lives. Helmand is one of the most important opium-poppy growing areas in Afghanistan, and some analysts have attributed some of the fighting in that province to disputes over narcotics. AT

EIGHT PEOPLE KILLED IN AERIAL BOMBING IN NORTHEASTERN AFGHAN PROVINCE
An air raid thought to have been carried out by U.S. military planes on 31 October led to the deaths of eight people in a former provincial governor's family home in the Vegal District of Nuristan Province, Reuters and Cairo-based MENA news agency reported on 2 November. The bomb reportedly destroyed the house of former Konar Province Governor Gholam Rabbani. Nuristan's police chief said that while the "total number of casualties has not been ascertained,... eight people in Rabbani's house have been killed," Reuters reported. U.S. officials have not commented on the incident. AT

EASTERN AFGHAN GOVERNOR DENIES REPORTS OF DECLARATION OF JIHAD...
Nangarhar Province Governor Haji Din Mohammad on 2 November denied reports that former mujahedin leader Mawlawi Mohammad Yunos Khales has declared a "jihad" against foreign forces in Afghanistan, Radio Afghanistan reported. Recent reports from Pakistan on 29 October have suggested that Khales declared a jihad against "crusaders" in Afghanistan (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 30 October 2003). Early in the decade-long battle against the Soviet army, Khales and Gulbuddin Hekmatyar led a political party, but they split to form two Hizb-e Islami factions. Since the fall of the communist government in Kabul in 1992, Khales has mostly remained outside of politics and active participation in the civil war. His base of support was Nangarhar Province. AT

...AND CLAIMS THAT FORMER MUJAHEDIN LEADER HAS BEEN KIDNAPPED
Governor Din Mohammad said at a news conference on 2 November that Mawlawi Khales was kidnapped from his house sometime after 29 October, Radio Afghanistan reported on 3 November. Din Mohammad said it is unclear who the kidnappers are or where they took Khales. The Nangarhar governor added that neither he nor members of Khales's family has any information about his purported declaration of jihad. He added that Khales has been suffering from illness and was not in a condition to make statements "about such sensitive issues." Din Mohammad also stressed that Khales "repeatedly" has stated his support for Hamid Karzai and the Kabul-based Afghan Transitional Administration. AT

IRAN COMMEMORATES ANNIVERSARY OF HOSTAGE CRISIS
Rallies were held in Iranian cities on 4 November (13 Aban) to commemorate the anniversary of the day in 1979 when the U.S. Embassy in Tehran was seized by a group calling itself the Muslim Students Following the Imam's Line, dpa reported. As a result of that seizure, 53 U.S. citizens were held hostage for 444 days. "Thousands of people, mainly schoolchildren, were brought to the former American embassy in downtown Tehran, where they chanted the standard slogans 'Death to America' and 'Death to Israel'" to mark the anniversary, according to dpa. Speaker of parliament Hojatoleslam Mehdi Karrubi said during the open session of parliament on 4 November that the embassy seizure represented the nation's will, IRNA reported. He expressed the hope that the seizure of the embassy will not be forgotten. The Qom Seminary's Board of Instructors issued a statement that the events of 4 November had a profound impact on Iranian and world history, IRNA reported on 4 November. According to the statement, the embassy seizure "revealed the oppression and misbehavior of Washington against world people [and] proved to the world the justice-seeking and anti-arrogant attitude of the Iranian people." BS

IRANIAN DISSIDENT CLERIC'S SONS ARRESTED
Plainclothes security agents arrested two sons of dissident cleric Ayatollah Hussein Ali Montazeri-Najafabadi and members of his household on 3 November, ILNA and AP reported. Hojatoleslams Ahmad and Said Montazeri were trying to reopen a house next to the ayatollah's so he could use it for teaching classes. The house belongs to Ahmad Montazeri's wife but was seized by the Special Court for the Clergy about four years ago. Mujtaba Lotfi, described by AP as an aide of the ayatollah, said that the Qom mosque at which Montazeri used to preach has remained closed since he was placed under house arrest (December 1997-January 2003). "They [hard-liners] believe the mosque where [Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali] Khamenei was criticized should never open again," he said. "It is apparently a symbolic decision to tell everyone that Khamenei should not be criticized." BS

QUESTIONS REMAIN OVER AL-QAEDA MEMBERS EXTRADITED BY IRAN
An anonymous Pakistani Interior Ministry spokesman denied on 3 November that Iran has handed over any Al-Qaeda members to his country, the "Daily Times" of Lahore reported on 4 November. Anonymous "Saudi official sources" said that Tehran and Riyadh are negotiating the repatriation of Saudi Al-Qaeda members, UPI reported on 3 November, citing the "Ukaz" daily newspaper. "Saudi Arabia received [Al-Qaeda] suspects in several batches from Iran last year, including men, women and children," the sources said, adding that nobody has been extradited since then. Iranian Foreign Ministry spokesman Hamid Reza Assefi said on 26 October that his country provided the United Nations with the names of Al-Qaeda and Taliban suspects it has extradited (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 27 October 2003). "Al-Hayah" on 2 November published the names of these individuals, including 14 women and 46 boys. The published list includes 29 Saudi Arabians, 12 Jordanians, and 13 Yemenis, seven of whom were reported to have been extradited to their country and the rest to Morocco. The list also includes six Moroccans, six Tunisians who were extradited to Italy, and one Syrian; as well as 35 Pakistanis, seven Somalis, and 34 unidentified individuals who were said to have been deported to Pakistan. Three Afghans and one Austrian were also reportedly sent to their respective countries of origin. BS

IMPRISONED IRANIANS SENT HOME FROM IRAQ
Coalition forces in Iraq released Said Abu Taleb and Soheil Karimi, two filmmakers employed by Islamic Republic of Iran Broadcasting, on 3 November, news agencies reported. They were arrested on 1 July in Al-Kut. Speaking in Abadan, Karimi said, "We were initially transferred to Baghdad prison, from where we were transferred to Diwaniyah prison, and finally to Um Qasr prison near Al-Basrah that was controlled by the British forces, and this meant 127 days in custody," IRNA reported. "The strange thing is that the Americans found nothing at all against us throughout the past four months, and kept repeating, 'We made a mistake,'" Karimi added. Abu Taleb said that at the time of their detention, the two were filming a checkpoint after having received permission to do so, but then another military unit arrived and they were arrested. Abu Taleb claimed on state television that the U.S. military tortured them, AP reported. An anonymous U.S. military spokesman rejected that claim, saying, "The coalition does not mistreat anyone in its custody -- full stop," ft.com reported on 3 November. BS

TWO IRAQI JUDGES ASSASSINATED
Two Iraqi judges have been murdered in two days, international media reported on 4 November. Judge Ismail Yusif, deputy head of the Ninawah Province Appeals Court, was shot dead outside his home in Mosul on 4 November, AP reported. Family members said they have no idea why Yusif was targeted in the attack. "He had no enemies. He wasn't responsible for a criminal court or anything," local police officer Sa'd Hamid said. Muhan Jabir al-Shuayli, a senior judge in the city of Al-Najaf, was kidnapped and killed on 3 November, his deputy, Arif Aziz, said. Aziz said he was kidnapped together with al-Shuayli, but was released after the judge was murdered, Reuters reported on 4 November. The perpetrators reportedly told Aziz they were acting on the orders of deposed Iraqi President Saddam Hussein. Al-Shuayli was investigating a number of Al-Najaf officials who served under the former regime. KR

TWO IRAQI CLERICS BACK U.S. FORCES
London's "Al-Hayat" reported on 3 November that two Iraqi clerics have recently issued statements in support of U.S. forces in Iraq. Shi'ite cleric Muhammad Taqi al-Mudarissi of the Islamic Action Organization issued a statement through his office that said: "We have to work with the Americans to realize the mechanism that they have put in place for their departure from Iraq." Al-Mudarissi called on Iraqis to work toward establishing a new constitution, government institutions, and free elections "in order to establish security and stability" in Iraq. Meanwhile, the normally anti-U.S. Shi'ite cleric Muqtada al-Sadr has said that the United States and Iraqis should try to reach unity "between the two peoples and religions." Addressing the United States, al-Sadr said, "If you agree to that, then allow me to attend your meetings, seminars, and [training] camps, because...I sympathize with you." "The Iraqis only want good for the Americans. Iraq's only enemy is destructive Saddam and his followers," he added. In recent months, al-Sadr has called on Iraqis to peacefully resist the U.S. presence in Iraq, has formed his own fighting force -- which he calls the Imam Al-Mahdi Army -- and has set up his own Iraqi government. He has received little indigenous support for his efforts. KR

IRAQI COURT SENTENCES FORMER U.S.-APPOINTED GOVERNOR TO 14 YEARS
An Iraqi court has sentenced a former U.S.-appointed regional governor to 14 years in prison for crimes including the abduction of the children of a political rival, Reuters reported on 4 November. Coalition forces removed Abu Haydar Abd al-Mun'im from office in Al-Najaf on 30 June and charged him with kidnapping and holding hostages, pressuring government employees to commit financial crimes, attacking a bank official, and stealing funds (see "RFE/RL Iraq Report," 4 July 2003). The court reportedly heard testimony that Mun'im illegally detained three children of a political rival, shredded an official document barring him from withdrawing money from government accounts, and kept money belonging to a man who had been released from detention, Reuters cited U.S. officials as saying. Mun'im, a former Iraqi army colonel, was found guilty of illegal arrest, misuse of office, and destruction of a government document. KR

BOMB EXPLODES OUTSIDE HOTEL IN KARBALA
A bomb exploded outside a hotel in the Shi'ite holy city of Karbala on 3 November, Reuters reported. The bomb was reportedly planted in a nearby car and destroyed the hotel's facade, killing three Iraqis. A spokesman for the Polish-led contingent responsible for security in Karbala said there were no coalition casualties. Karbala is located some 90 kilometers south of Baghdad. Fighting broke out at least twice in Karbala in October when individuals loyal to cleric Muqtada al-Sadr attacked supporters of moderate Shi'ite Grand Ayatollah Ali al-Sistani (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 16 October 2003), and when U.S. forces exchanged fire with the followers of cleric Mahmud al-Hassani, an al-Sadr supporter. That incident left three U.S. military police officers and two Iraqi police officers dead (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 17 October 2003). KR

U.S. CONGRESS APPROVES $87.5 BILLION FOR IRAQ, AFGHANISTAN
The U.S. Congress on 3 November approved an $87.5 billion appropriations bill for reconstruction in Iraq and Afghanistan over the next year, international media reported. The emergency funds were approved by a voice vote, rather than roll-call vote. It provides about $20 billion for Iraq in the form of a grant, despite earlier calls by members of congress that the funds be given to Iraq in the form of a loan. KR

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