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Newsline - November 7, 2003


LITTLE PROGRESS AT EU-RUSSIA SUMMIT...
At a one-day EU-Russia summit held in Rome on 6 November, President Vladimir Putin's main goal was to begin resolving economic problems for Russia arising from the EU's plans to welcome eight new members next May, Russian and international media reported. This EU-Russia summit is expected to be the last before those countries -- Cyprus and seven Central and European countries, including the three Baltic states -- begin introducing EU-standard trade regulations that will substantially reduce or eliminate the economic privileges Russia has enjoyed in the region since before the demise of the Soviet Union. Russia is particularly concerned because those changes are expected to end Russia's current status as the exclusive supplier of energy resources to this region. Moreover, EU-standard import duties will be levied on Russian goods, new restrictions will be introduced on the transit of Russian cargo, and new visa requirements will be introduced for Russian citizens. At a press conference following the summit, Putin reported only modest progress. "For us it is important that our partners understand these problems and take measures to moderate them before the actual expansion of the EU," Putin said. VY

...AS PUTIN READY TO BARGAIN ON SWITCH TO EURO...
At the same press conference in Rome on 6 November, President Putin hinted that Russia might be ready to begin denominating its energy exports in euros, but said doing so "requires bilateral efforts," strana.ru reported. "We are not against switching to trading oil and gas in euros, but [these transactions] pass through the commodities exchange where all calculations are made in [U.S.] dollars," Putin said. "If our European partners manage to change this, we will switch to the euro, but it will be difficult since not everybody in the world economy is interested in this happening." VY

...AND DUMA LEADER EXPLAINS RUSSIA'S BALANCING ACT
Duma Foreign Affairs Committee Chairman Dmitrii Rogozin (People's Deputy) said on 5 November that the expected EU expansion next May is very important for Russia in the context of its efforts to balance its relations with, on the one hand, Europe and, on the other, the United States, RTR reported. After the expansion, about 55 percent of Russia's foreign trade will be conducted with EU members, making the EU by far Russia's largest trading partner, Rogozin said. In comparison, the United States accounts for only about 5 percent of Russia's trade volume, Rogozin said. However, he confessed, with the exception of energy, the EU does not seem very interested in trading with Russia. In contrast, the United States is Russia's main partner in the areas of global security and stability, combating weapons proliferation, and regulating regional conflicts. As the only superpower, the United States is the world's leading military and political force, Rogozin said. VY

PUTIN SAYS YUKOS AFFAIR IS PART OF ANTICORRUPTION EFFORT...
At the same 6 November press conference in Rome, President Putin said that the investigation into oil giant Yukos stems from the government's desire "to bring order to the country and to fight corruption," RTR and other Russian media reported. Putin said the state will "steadily and earnestly combat corruption, despite the efforts of certain individuals to blackmail the administration," according to a transcript of the press conference posted on the government website http://www.kremlin.ru. Putin seemed visibly irritated when a French journalist asked about the fate of jailed former Yukos CEO Mikhail Khodorkovskii and about apparent indications of growing authoritarianism in Russia. "We know that people who made billions over the last five to six years are spending hundreds of millions on lawyers, politicians, public-relations campaigns, and [on journalists who ask] questions like that," Putin retorted. VY

...AND HINTS THAT MORE CASES COULD BE IMMINENT
President Putin at the same 6 November press conference repeated earlier assertions that there will be no renationalization in Russia, but he said that law enforcement organs will continue to review privatization cases for possible violations of the law. TV-Tsentr on 6 November noted that this was the third time that Putin was asked about the Yukos case during his current trip to Rome and that each time his response was more assertive and forceful. VY

PRESIDENTIAL RUN MOOTED FOR JAILED FORMER YUKOS HEAD...
Exiled media magnate Vladimir Gusinskii has suggested that jailed former Yukos head Khodorkovskii would be a suitable candidate to represent all of Russia's democratic forces, the "Financial Times" reported on 6 November. The same day, former Soviet President Mikhail Gorbachev said he would not be surprised if Khodorkovskii is nominated and that he would cope very well with the presidency, Ekho Moskvy reported. "Nezavisimaya gazeta," which is controlled by self-exiled tycoon Boris Berezovskii, noted on 4 November that the question of whether President Putin will face real competition in the 2004 presidential election has "arisen unexpectedly and very rapidly." The daily quotes former presidential adviser Gleb Pavlovskii as saying that only the left forces have a chance of nominating someone competitive: "Whether it will be Zyuganov -- that is what remains the question." The paper then concludes that if Khodorkovskii's arrest was a reaction to rumors that he was aspiring to the post of prime minister, then "what will they do to an open opponent of Putin?" "Will anyone be brave enough -- after the Khodorkovskii episode -- to throw down a challenge to the Kremlin?" the newspaper asked. JAC

...AS NEW CRIMINAL CHARGES OF BUNNY ABUSE LOOM
Yukos affiliate Sakhaneftegaz has been charged with the inhumane treatment of animals at company farms, newsru.com reported on 6 November. The Agriculture Ministry of the Sakha (Yakutia) Republic reportedly uncovered a number of irregularities in the farms' operations, including the fact that male rabbits are kept together with female rabbits in groups of three to four and "breeding is taking place unsystematically." Yukos spokesman Aleksandr Shadrin pledged that the "irregularities" will be rectified, but said he does not exclude the possibility that the criminal charge of "cruel treatment of animals planned and committed by an organized group" could be added to the list of accusations against Yukos. JAC

BEIJING WATCHING YUKOS CASE CLOSELY
Sergei Tsyplakov, head of the Russian trade mission in China, has said that the Chinese government is concerned about the Yukos affair and is following developments carefully, "Finansovye izvestiya" reported on 6 November. Yukos was the initiator of a proposal to build an oil pipeline with an annual throughput capacity of 30 million tons from Angarsk to the Chinese city of Datsin, Tsyplakov said. The Russian government has been postponing a decision on this project, which the Chinese government has noted with concern because it seeks to secure Russia as a long-term and stable source of energy. The Yukos events have exacerbated this situation further, and now an intergovernmental agreement might be required on this and other projects in order to ensure Chinese access to Russian energy, Tsyplakov said. VY

MILITARY INTELLIGENCE TOUTS ROLE IN COMBATING TERRORISM...
In an interview with ITAR-TASS on 5 November in conjunction with the 85th anniversary of Russian Military Intelligence (GRU), GRU head Army General Valentin Korabelnikov said the agency "was and is an important tool of Russian military policy that reliably protects Russia's military-political and economic interests." He said the effectiveness of Soviet and later Russian military intelligence was convincingly demonstrated during various crisis situations in the Middle East, Ethiopia, Angola, Afghanistan, Yugoslavia, and Chechnya. Now, the GRU's role has become more important because of the threats of international terrorism and the proliferation of weapons of mass destruction. The agency is cooperating with the United States and NATO to meet these threats, he said, especially Iraq and other high-threat areas such as Yemen, Somalia, Afghanistan, and Pakistan. VY

...AND LOOKS BACK ON ITS HISTORY
"Vremya novostei" on 5 November reported that Korabelinkov; his predecessor, Colonel General Fedor Lodynin; and other GRU veterans attended the unveiling at a Moscow cemetery of a monument to General Petr Ivashutin, who headed the agency from 1963 until 1988, turning the GRU into a focal point of the Cold War. Although Russian military intelligence has been a permanent service since 1810, the GRU still formally dates its founding from 5 November 1918, when the agency was established by Soviet War Commissar Leon Trotsky. VY

REPORTED PARTY OFFICIAL NOT KIDNAPPED BUT 'SPIRITED' AWAY
Unidentified Moscow law enforcement officials told RBK on 6 November that Aleksei Korotov, who is reportedly the vice president of the Fund to Support Unified Russia, and his driver manufactured a news report the previous day that he had been kidnapped outside a Moscow metro station (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 6 November 2003). In fact, according to these sources, Korotov was recovering from a drunken stupor at a local hospital. In addition, it is also uncertain where Korotov works, according to "Izvestiya." Tatyana Marchenko, deputy head of Unified Russia's press service, denied that Korotov works at the fund or is even a party member. However, Boris Meshcheryakov, a raion-level official with the fund, told the daily that Korotov has been working there for six months, but was not involved with party finances. A police officer told the daily that Korotov has also represented himself as the director of church fund, which later turned out to be a fraud. JAC

FORMER YUKOS EXECUTIVE LOSES IMMUNITY FROM CRIMINAL PROSECUTION -- AT LEAST FOR NOW
A court in Krasnoyarsk Krai nullified on 6 November the election by the legislature of Evenk Autonomous Okrug of former Yukos-Moscow head Vasilii Shakhnovskii as its representative to the Federation Council, Russian media reported. Legislators tapped Shakhnovskii on 27 October, just as his legal difficulties were mounting. The krai court found that the legislators violated proper election procedures. However, Federation Council Regulations Committee Chairman Nikolai Tulaev told RIA-Novosti that the court's decision does not exclude the possibility that legislators could re-elect Shakhnovskii following the proper procedures. JAC

SKINHEADS SUSPECTED OF KIDNAPPING, MURDERING CAUCASIANS, CENTRAL ASIANS
A group of drunken skinheads allegedly broke into the home of an ethnic Azeri family in a small city in Moscow Oblast and kidnapped their 2-1/2-year-old child, newsru.com reported on 6 November. The youths have been arrested and the baby was recovered unharmed, according to the website. An Interior Ministry spokesman told ITAR-TASS that this was not the first time that extremist youths have attacked people from the Caucasus. Meanwhile, in Volgograd, the trial of a group of eight alleged skinheads accused of killing three people from Uzbekistan and Tajikistan opened on 6 November, but was postponed until 11 June, polit.ru reported. The killings were committed last year. Eleven youths were involved in the incident, and three were charged with hooliganism. JAC

CHECHEN PRESIDENT DISCUSSES CAUSES OF WAR WITH RUSSIA...
Aslan Maskhadov, who was elected Chechen president in January 1997 in a ballot recognized by Russia and the international community, met with foreign journalists at an unspecified location in early November, chechenpress.com reported on 6 November. Maskhadov said that former Russian President Boris Yeltsin's reluctance to sign an inter-state treaty with the Chechen Republic Ichkeria in 1997 generated "legal uncertainty" over Chechnya's status. He said the Russian authorities were behind the August 1999 Chechen incursion into Daghestan and the bombings of residential buildings in three Russian cities that the Kremlin subsequently adduced as part of its rationale for launching a renewed military incursion into Chechnya. He said that Russia's attempts to pacify Chechnya by means of a referendum on a new constitution and the installation of a new "puppet" leader will only fuel resistance, even though the Chechen people are worn down after four years of war. LF

...AND PROSPECTS FOR ENDING IT
Maskhadov expressed regret that the international community is currently focused on conflicts in the Balkans, Afghanistan, Iraq, and the South Caucasus and is siding with Russia over Chechnya because it needs Russia's input in resolving those conflicts. He said Russian leaders have "painted themselves into a corner" in Chechnya and that only a "third force" in the form of a third country or an influential international organization can stop the war. Maskhadov recalled that his foreign minister, Ilyas Akhmadov, has proposed the concept of "conditional independence" for Chechnya (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 20 March and 22 July 2003). LF

ARMENIAN ANTICORRUPTION PROGRAM APPROVED
The Armenian government finally approved on 6 November an anticorruption program drafted with the encouragement and financial support of the World Bank, RFE/RL's Yerevan bureau reported. Government chief of staff Manuk Topuzian told journalists that the government acknowledges the pernicious impact of corruption and that the program aims to reduce, if not to extirpate, this "social evil." The program reportedly underwent sweeping revisions over the past two months following criticism from the junior Armenian Revolutionary Federation-Dashnaktsutiun coalition partner (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 19 September 2003). LF

KEY MINISTERS REAPPOINTED TO AZERBAIJANI CABINET
President Ilham Aliyev has reappointed the outgoing Defense, Interior, and National Security ministers (Colonel General Safar Abiev, Ramil Usubov, and Namik Abbasov, respectively) to his new cabinet, together with influential Customs Committee Chairman Kemaleddin Haydarov, Turan reported on 6 November. Also renamed to his previous position was Finance Minister Avaz Alekperov. LF

COUNCIL OF EUROPE REPORTEDLY 'DISAPPOINTED' BY AZERBAIJANI PRESIDENTIAL BALLOT...
During a 5 November discussion, the Council of Europe Monitoring Committee expressed disappointment with the conduct of the 15 October Azerbaijani presidential election and the repression that ensued, Turan reported on 6 November, quoting an unnamed participant in the discussion. In addition, some of the Parliamentary Assembly of the Council of Europe (PACE) deputies who participated in the joint Election Observation Mission are demanding that a preliminary report by the PACE delegates that they consider too lenient on the Azerbaijani authorities be scrapped and a new one prepared. LF

...AS HUMAN RIGHTS WATCHDOG CALLS FOR INVESTIGATION
Human Rights Watch has written to U.S. President George W. Bush, Council of Europe Secretary-General Walter Schwimmer, PACE President Peter Schieder, and Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE) Chairman in Office Jaap de Hoop Scheffer requesting that they urge the Azerbaijani government to establish an independent commission to investigate abuses, fraud, and violence during and after the 15 October presidential election, Turan reported on 6 November. "The international community cannot leave unchallenged such a flagrant disregard" for internationally recognized standards of transparency and democracy, the appeal concluded. "The reputation of the international community, and its investment into democracy in Azerbaijan, are on the line." Also on 6 November, Azerbaijani Interior Minister Usubov told Azerbaijani human rights groups that of a total of 625 people arrested in connection with the post-election violence, all except 89 have now been released, Turan reported. LF

REGIONAL PARTY TAKES DISPUTED LEAD IN GEORGIAN PARLIAMENTARY ELECTION
Georgia's Central Election Commission (CEC) announced late on 6 November that with some 90 percent of the ballots counted, the Democratic Revival Union (DAK) headed by Adjar Supreme Council Chairman Aslan Abashidze had taken the lead with 23.5 percent of the vote, followed by the pro-presidential For a New Georgia (AS) bloc with 21 percent and the opposition National Movement (EM) with 19.2 percent, Caucasus Press reported. Reuters on 6 November quoted a CEC spokeswoman as saying that the final results would not be made public on 6 November as planned, noting that the election law stipulates that final results are to be made public within 20 days of the ballot. The increase in support for the DAK was based on the returns from Adjaria, where 98 percent of the approximately 269,000 votes were cast for that party. Observers in Tbilisi earlier questioned the accuracy of updated voter lists that gave the present number of voters in Adjaria as 289,000 compared with only 170,000 in 1998. Earlier on 6 November, Tsotne Bakuria, who heads the DAK branch in Tbilisi, had demanded a recount of all ballots cast, claiming that votes cast in Tbilisi for his party were attributed during the count to the EM, Caucasus Press reported. LF

ADJAR LEADER SLAMS 'FASCIST' OPPOSITION'S 'BID FOR POWER'
Speaking on Adjar television on 6 November, Adjar Supreme Council Chairman Abashidze announced the dispatch of hundreds of his supporters to Tbilisi where they will "maintain constitutional order" in the face of attempts by the opposition to overthrow the legitimate government by means of "anticonstitutional declarations and actions," ITAR-TASS and Caucasus Press reported. On 5 November, Abashidze branded EM leader Mikhail Saakashvili a "fascist" after Saakashvili called for the annulment of the vote in Adjaria, which he claimed was falsified. On 5 November, the Georgian newspaper "Tribuna" reported that unnamed leading members of the DAK are plotting at the behest of Georgian intelligence chief Lieutenant General Avtandil Ioseliani to oust Abashidze, according to Caucasus Press. LF

GEORGIAN OPPOSITION POSTPONES PLANNED MASS RALLY
Saakashvili told journalists in Tbilisi on 6 November that the planned demonstration in Tbilisi to determine how the opposition would react to the announcement of the final election returns has been postponed from 7 to 8 November, Reuters reported. Participants at that rally will demand the resignation of the Georgian leadership if its members refuse to acknowledge the EM as the winner of the ballot. Saakashvili described the announcement that Abashidze's DAK had polled the largest number of votes as a coup d'etat on the part of the Georgian government, and accused Abashidze and Georgian President Eduard Shevardnadze of having forged a secret agreement to divide the vote. Saakashvili claimed AS polled no more than 18.5 percent of the vote and pledged to force the government to step down, RFE/RL's Georgian Service reported. He also said Shevardnadze should take responsibility for the "mass fraud" and resign. At the same time, Saakshvili stressed that his supporters will stage peaceful rallies and eschew any kind of violence, RFE/RL's Georgian Service reported. On 6 November, "Kommersant-Daily" quoted Saakashvili as saying his supporters would storm the state chancellery and overthrow Shevardnadze by force. LF

ABKHAZ PARLIAMENT PASSES ELECTION LAW IN SECOND READING
Deputies have adopted the law on parliamentary elections in its second reading, Caucasus Press reported on 6 November (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 30 October 2003). At the urging of Central Election Commission Chairman Sergei Smyr, it was decided that voters are to cast their ballots in the constituency where they are registered as resident even if their actual domicile is in a different constituency. Political parties may propose a parliamentary candidate in each of the 35 constituencies. LF

KAZAKH PARLIAMENTARIANS SAY GOVERNMENT FAVORS RUSSIAN MEDIA
A group of Kazakh parliamentarians has complained to Prime Minister Daniyal Akhmetov that the Kazakh government is favoring Russian over domestic media, gazeta.kz reported on 6 November. The complaint was motivated by the government's support for plans of a media concern owned by the state oil firm KazMunaiGaz to rebroadcast Russian television programs. The lower-house members who raised the issue said the funds that are to be spent on the retransmissions should go to Kazakh media for new programs and the training of journalists. The parliamentarians also approved of a point in a controversial draft law on media that calls for the broadcast media to play a role in developing Kazakh, the official state language. BB

INDIA TO HELP KYRGYZ MILITARY LEARN ENGLISH
Indian Defense Minister George Fernandez met with his Kyrgyz counterpart Colonel General Esen Topoev in Bishkek on 6 November to discuss Indian assistance to the Kyrgyz military, particularly in teaching the English language, akipress.org, RFE/RL's Kyrgyz Service, and other Kyrgyz media reported. English teaching is to be provided at a special language laboratory in the town of Tokmok near Bishkek and in several locations in India. The ministers also agreed that Indian specialists in mountain fighting would provide theoretical and practical training in Kyrgyzstan. Fernandez also met with President Askar Akaev, who called for closer Indian-Kyrgyz military cooperation. The proposed areas of cooperation are covered by a 1997 bilateral agreement. BB

KYRGYZ PREMIER SAYS INCREASED COOPERATION WITH RUSSIA ALREADY BRINGING RESULTS
Kyrgyz Prime Minister Nikolai Tanaev told journalists in Bishkek on 6 November that Kyrgyzstan's recently increased economic cooperation with Russia is already bringing positive results, Interfax reported. He cited as specific examples the signing of $100 million worth of contracts at the Kyrgyz-Russian Investment Forum on 23-24 October and the purchase by Russians of large blocks of shares in some key Kyrgyz industries. Tanaev attributed the new level of economic ties between Kyrgyzstan and Russia to a program adopted by the presidents of the two countries during Russian President Vladimir Putin's October visit to Kyrgyzstan to open the Russian air base at Kant (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 24 October 2003). Deutsche Welle noted on 4 October that some people in Kyrgyzstan are beginning to complain that the country's industries are being taken over by Russia. BB

KYRGYZ MEDIA COUNCIL APPEALS TO PRESIDENT ON CRIMINAL LIBEL ISSUE
The recently created Media Council of Kyrgyzstan issued an appeal to President Akaev and the country's journalists on 6 November, focusing on the charge of criminal libel as one of the main hindrances to journalistic activity in Kyrgyzstan, according to Akipress.org, which published the text of the appeal. The appeal stated that this conclusion is the result of a poll of journalists taken as the council's first action after its creation (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 16 September 2003), and asked the president to try again to persuade the parliament to drop imprisonment as a punishment for libel and to introduce a fee for filing lawsuits against the media. Akaev has already tried twice to persuade the legislature to decriminalize libel. Government officials and others have frequently used the charge to silence critical media and journalists by bankrupting them with huge fines. The independent Kyrgyz media has been suspicious of the Media Council because it was created under government auspices. BB

TURKMENISTAN FAILS TO SIGN CASPIAN ENVIRONMENTAL CONVENTION
Of the five Caspian littoral states, only Turkmenistan has failed to approve the Convention on the Protection of the Caspian Environment that was signed in Tehran on 5 November, "Vremya novostei" reported on 6 November. Representatives from Iran, Azerbaijan, Russia, and Kazakhstan all signed the agreement. The Turkmen delegation at the convention's final session was reportedly not authorized by Turkmen President Saparmurat Niyazov to sign the document. The head of the Russian delegation, Deputy Natural Resources Minister Ivan Glumov, was quoted as saying the presence of a Turkmen delegation was major progress, because Turkmenistan had previously opposed the convention. Glumov said the other signatories hope Turkmenistan will eventually sign. If it does not do so within one year, the document will be legally void. BB

INDIAN FOREIGN MINISTER DISCUSSES TRADE IN TASHKENT
Indian Foreign Minister Yashwant Singh, on an official visit to Uzbekistan, met with Uzbek Prime Minister Otkir Sultonov on 6 November to discuss regional security issues and the potential for increasing trade and economic ties between the two countries, Interfax reported. Sultonov attributed the present limited level of trade to the lack of a suitable transportation infrastructure. He proposed that Uzbekistan and India cooperate on the reconstruction of a transport corridor from Uzbekistan via Afghanistan and Iran to Indian seaports. BB

BELARUS SLAMS U.S. STATE DEPARTMENT'S HUMAN RIGHTS REPORT
The Belarusian Foreign Ministry has passed to the U.S. Embassy in Minsk its official comment regarding the U.S. State Department's report on human rights practices in Belarus in 2002, Belapan reported on 6 November, quoting ministry spokesman Syarhey Skvartsou. Skvartsou said Minsk considers the U.S. report to be biased, adding that many statements in it "contradict reality" and are "legally unverified" or "simply phony." The ministry criticizes the State Department for relying on anonymous sources as well as opposition and nongovernmental human rights organizations rather than official sources. In its report, released on 31 March, the State Department concluded that the Belarusian regime's record "remained poor and worsened in several areas" in 2002 (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 2 April 2003). JM

UKRAINIAN OPPOSITION ACCUSES AUTHORITIES OF POLITICAL TERROR
Our Ukraine, the Yuliya Tymoshenko Bloc, and the Socialist Party of Ukraine issued a statement on 6 November charging that "the current authority headed by President [Leonid] Kuchma is acquiring traits of a gangster dictatorship," Interfax reported. The three organizations charge that "the presidential administration, local state administrations, [and] law enforcement bodies have been turned into a repression machine against political opponents." The statement says foiling the planned Our Ukraine congress in Donetsk on 31 October (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 5 November 2003) revealed the real face of the "criminal regime" in Ukraine and showed that Donetsk is "outlaw territory" and a "reservation" inhabited by "wretched people without any rights." The statement demands that all officials involved in "the organization of the repression of democratic forces" in Donetsk be dismissed. JM

UKRAINIAN MINISTER, DEPUTY PROSECUTOR-GENERAL TO REPORT ON DONETSK EVENTS
The Verkhovna Rada will question Interior Minister Mykola Bilokon and First Deputy Prosecutor-General Serhiy Vynokurov about reports that anti-Our Ukraine protesters were "using fascist symbols" and "fomenting ethnic antagonism" in Donets on 31 October (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 5 November 2003), Interfax reported on 7 November. A formal query was submitted by Our Ukraine lawmaker Mykola Tomenko and communicated at a parliamentary session on 7 November by parliamentary speaker Volodymyr Lytvyn. The Constitutional Court ruled this week that deputies' interpellations of the state authority or local self-government do not require approval of the entire chamber. The same court decided, however, that voting is required to interpellate the Ukrainian president. JM

KYIV WILL WEIGH SINGLE ECONOMIC SPACE ONLY AFTER SETTLING DAM CONTROVERSY WITH MOSCOW
Ukrainian Foreign Minister Kostyantyn Hryschenko told journalists in Kyiv on 6 November that Ukraine will consider the ratification of an agreement on the formation of a Single Economic Space with Russia, Kazakhstan, and Belarus only after resolving the dispute over the construction of a dam in the Kerch Strait by Russia (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 6 November 2003), Interfax reported. Hryshchenko asserted that Ukraine is interested in determining the status of the Azov Sea and the Kerch Strait as soon as possible on the basis of international law. Asked if Russians have to pay large fees for passing through the Kerch Strait, Hryshchenko said the Ukrainian state does not apply any duties, as all fees go to the Kerch port authority. He said the fees are not large, adding that the issue is not serious enough to be raised in talks with Moscow. JM

ESTONIA LIKELY TO HAVE OPEN TICKETS IN EUROPEAN PARLIAMENT ELECTIONS
The parliament approved on 6 November the first reading of a bill proposed by the opposition Pro Patria Union according to which open tickets would be used in the elections to the European Parliament in June 2004, BNS reported. The bill stipulates that candidates in the list of a party winning at least one mandate will be reranked in accordance to the number of votes the candidates collect, and those gaining the most votes would win seats. The current election law requires a closed ticket, which means that candidates placed at the top of a party's ticket are elected. Both systems are used in the Europarliament elections. Germany, France, and Britain, for example, use the closed system and the Nordic countries use the open system. The bill also calls for assigning an individual registration number to each candidate and not only to parties and independent candidates as is the current practice. Although the government has not formally backed the bill, the ruling Res Publica faction strongly supported it, with its deputy Urmas Reinsalu expressing thanks to the Pro Patria Union for launching the bill. He also called on all parties to pass the bill before the end of the year. SG

LATVIAN HEALTH MINISTER CALLED ON TO RESIGN FOR PERFORMING ABORTIONS
Deputy parliamentary speaker and Latvia's First Party (LPP) Chairman Eriks Jekabsons told a press conference in Riga on 6 November that Ingrida Circene of the New Era party should resign because she has continued to perform abortions while serving as health minister, BNS reported. LPP and New Era are both members of the four-party ruling coalition. Circene, a gynecologist, has told LPP members that she continued to practice medicine to avoid losing her medical certificate, and has performed three abortions since becoming health minister in April. Jekabsons, who is a clergyman, said he believes Circene's actions are "extremely immoral and unethical" in view of the demographic situation in Latvia and the government's policy to raise the birthrate. LPP party faction Chairman Oskars Kastens said Circene has promised not to perform any further abortions. A spokeswoman for Latvian Prime Minister Einars Repse declined to comment on Jekabsons' statement. SG

LITHUANIAN PRESIDENT VISITING GERMANY
Rolandas Paksas arrived in Frankfurt on the evening of 5 November from Brussels and met early the next day with EU Enlargement Commissioner Guenter Verheugen, ELTA reported. Verheugen pledged support for Lithuania's efforts concerning infrastructure projects and its motion to involve Armenia, Azerbaijan, and Georgia in the EU New Neighbors Initiative. The officials then went together to the international conference "The New Constitution of Europe." Paksas read a report called "Prospects and Challenges in the New Europe" in which he stressed that the expanded EU will be strong only if it finds the proper balance between large and small states and said the future European constitution should guarantee equal rights and opportunities to all member states. He later held talks with Hessen Prime Minister Roland Koch and parliament speaker Norbert Kartmann and at a meeting of the association of Hessen companies called for greater investments in Lithuania. Paksas was scheduled to hold talks in Berlin on 7 October with German Chancellor Gerhard Schroeder and Berlin Mayor Klaus Wowereit. SG

POLISH CEMETERY OPENED IN UKRAINE
A Polish cemetery was opened near Rivne in northwestern Ukraine on 6 November, Polish Radio reported. The cemetery is located at the site where in March 1943 a unit of Nazis and Ukrainian police collaborators razed the Polish village of Borszczowka and murdered virtually all of its inhabitants. Those who managed to escape the slaughter included the father of Poland's current first lady, Jolanta Kwasniewska. Two of Kwasniewska's relatives were killed and buried in a collective grave near Borszczowka in 1943. "This was exceptionally painful to me, when we were able to light candles and lay flowers in many places around the world but had no such possibility in the place where our close ones were murdered," Kwasniewska said during the opening ceremony. An inscription at the cemetery reads, "To those brutally murdered by fascists," since the Ukrainian side disagreed with a formulation saying that the crime was committed by Germans and Ukrainians, according to Polish Radio. JM

POLISH POLICE SMASH MAJOR CRIMINAL GANG
The Polish Interior Ministry's Central Bureau of Investigation has arrested 24 individuals from the so-called Uchal Gang in Wyszkow, central Poland, Polish Radio reported on 6 November, quoting a police source. Those arrested include suspected murderers, bombers, extortionists, and individuals believed responsible for the production of narcotics worth some 6 million zlotys ($1.5 million). The ringleader, known as "Uchal," was arrested three years ago. JM

10 COUNTRIES TO JOIN CZECH-LED NATO NBC UNIT
Petr Pavel, commander of the Czech special forces, told CTK on 6 November that the Czech Republic and nine other countries will contribute personnel to a NATO rapid-reaction unit that will be based in Liberec, northern Bohemia. Pavel said the anti-nuclear, -biological, and -chemical unit will be composed of some 500 soldiers from Belgium, the Czech Republic, Great Britain, Italy, Poland, Portugal, Romania, Spain, Turkey, and the United States. The unit is to be set up by 1 December 2003 and have a command staff of 46 officers, 19 of whom will be Czech. It will specialize in defense against weapons of mass destruction. MS

CZECH SENATE APPROVES FINANCIAL-REFORM PACKAGE
The Senate on 6 November approved nine out of 11 bills related to the government-proposed package of legislation on financial reform, CTK reported on 6 November. The last bills of the package are to be debated next week. The Chamber of Deputies in September approved the package, which is aimed at drastically curtailing government spending over the next three years (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 26 and 29 September 2003). MS

CZECH POLITICS MAKES STRANGE BEDFELLOWS
Controversial independent Senator Vladimir Zelezny on 6 November was elected chairman of a new parliamentary group called the Unaffiliated that brings together three senators of the Communist Party of Bohemia and Moravia (KSCM) and independent Senator Jaroslav Kubin, CTK reported. Zelezny -- the ousted manager of TV Nova whose parliamentary immunity was lifted in early 2003, allowing prosecutors to pursue charges of tax evasion and other illegalities -- is known to hold rightist views, as does Senator Kubin, who usually votes alongside the rightist opposition Civic Democratic Party (ODS). KSCM Senator Jaroslav Doubrava was elected deputy parliamentary leader of the Unaffiliated. Zelezny explained that the formation of the group is not based on any ideological affinity, but on reasons of expediency. House rules stipulate that a parliamentary group must include at least five members and entitle the group to a monthly allowance of 31,850 crowns ($1,139) and 4,420 for each of its members, as well as the use of an official car. MS

CZECH SENATOR'S IMMUNITY LIFTED
The upper house decided on 6 November to lift the parliamentary immunity of ODS Senator Alexander Novak, who has been charged with abuse of office on suspicion of bribe taking, CTK reported. Novak has been accused of receiving a 41 million crowns ($1.4 million) bribe in a deal for the sale of energy and gas companies owned by the northern Bohemian town of Chomutov, of which he was mayor. He has denied the accusation. ODS Chairman Miroslav Topolanek voted in favor of lifting Novak's immunity, saying he deserves the opportunity to prove his innocence in court. MS

CZECH POLICE INTERCEPT SEMTEX CONSIGNMENT
Czech police on 6 November arrested three men as they were allegedly attempting to smuggle 2.5 kilograms of the plastic explosive Semtex into neighboring Austria, CTK and AP reported. Police spokeswoman Anna Stloukalova said the three were traveling in a car with Dutch license plates and one of them has dual Czech and Dutch citizenship. One of the men in the car reportedly had the Semtex strapped to his body. The Czech-made explosive has been used by terrorists on several occasions, the most notorious being the blowing up of a Pan Am passenger plane over Lockerbie, Scotland, in 1998. A spokesperson for Explosia, the company that produces Semtex, said the marketing of Semtex is strictly supervised. He ruled out the possibility that the Semtex was stolen from the company's plant in Pardubice, east Bohemia, saying no such thefts have been registered for several years. MS

IRISH PRIME MINISTER IN SLOVAKIA
Visiting Irish Prime Minister Bertie Ahern and his Slovak counterpart Mikulas Dzurinda met in Bratislava on 6 November and discussed EU enlargement and problems related to EU security policy, TASR reported. The two prime ministers also discussed bilateral relations and ways of improving commercial ties between their countries. The visit was the first to Slovakia by an Irish prime minister. Ahern is touring future EU member countries ahead of Ireland's takeover of the EU Presidency on 1 January 2004. MS

HUNGARIAN FINANCIAL WATCHDOG DEMANDS INDEPENDENT INQUIRY
The financial watchdog PSZAF on 6 November demanded that an international team of experts be invited to carry out an independent inquiry into PSZAF's past operations, "Magyar Hirlap" reported. In its statement, the agency proposed that parliament be allowed to vote on the government's plans to dismantle PSZAF (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 30 October and 4 November 2003) only after such an external evaluation is completed. PSZAF also urged deputies to seriously consider dropping the cabinet's proposal from the parliamentary agenda. MSZ

HUNGARIAN CALVINIST ACQUITTED OF INCITEMENT CHARGE
The Budapest Appeals Court on 6 November acquitted Calvinist Reverend Lorant Hegedus Jr. of charges that he incited hatred in an article he wrote in 2001 that many deemed anti-Semitic, Hungarian television reported. The ruling overturned a lower court's conviction (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 17 June and 9 December 2002), reasoning that "an opinion can be freely expressed until it turns into incitement for hatred" and that Hegedus therefore committed no crime. Proceedings were launched against Hegedus over his article, published in a district newsletter of the extremist Hungarian Justice and Life Party, in which he wrote that the Christian Hungarian nation was weakened by "hordes from Galicia." He called on readers to "Exclude them! Otherwise they will do the same to you!" The Federation of Jewish Religious Communities and Foreign Minister Laszlo Kovacs reportedly expressed shock at the higher court's ruling. MSZ

SERBIAN PARLIAMENT AGAIN PUTS OFF CRUCIAL VOTE
The Serbian parliament agreed on 6 November to suspend debate on a series of no-confidence proposals regarding Prime Minister Zoran Zivkovic's shaky government and parliamentary speaker Natasa Micic, who is also acting president, Reuters reported (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 17 and 20 October 2003). Micic announced that the debate will resume on 18 November, two days after the presidential election. The government has sought to postpone what is likely to be a close vote on the no-confidence proposals. The opposition demands new elections, which are widely expected in 2004. PM

SERBIAN GOVERNMENT STEPS UP PROPAGANDA CAMPAIGN OVER KOSOVA...
In an apparent appeal to nationalist voters, the Serbian government released a "White Book" on 5 November claiming that 156 members of the former Kosova Liberation Army (UCK) are active in drug smuggling and human trafficking, dpa reported (see "RFE/RL Balkan Report," 22 August and 17 October 2003). Among the 156 are Hashim Thaci, who heads the Democratic Party of Kosova (PDK), and General Agim Ceku, who heads the civilian Kosova Protection Corps (TMK). The document also accuses the two of encouraging the expulsion of Kosova's Serbian minority. The latest campaign recalls those during the rule of former Yugoslav President Slobodan Milosevic, which also portrayed ethnic Albanians as drug dealers and gangsters seeking to force the dwindling Serbian minority to leave the province. PM

...AS DO POLITICIANS
Vladimir Vukcevic, who is the Serbian government's special war crimes prosecutor, launched an investigation on 5 November of Thaci, Ceku, and Ramush Haradinaj and his brother Daut Haradinaj, dpa reported. Ramush Haradinaj heads the Alliance for the Future of Kosova (AAK), which has the third-largest faction in the Kosovar parliament after President Ibrahim Rugova's Democratic League of Kosova (LDK) and the PDK. Daut Haradinaj is serving a five-year jail sentence in Kosova for war crimes against fellow Albanians, whom other Albanians suspected of collaborating with Serbian forces during the 1998-99 conflict. On 6 November, Serbian Deputy Prime Minister Nebojsa Covic warned that any discussion of independence for Kosova could lead to a reopening of "the Serbian question" in the Balkans, RFE/RL's South Slavic and Albanian Languages Service reported. PM

U.S. DIPLOMAT SAYS MACEDONIA MUST CONTINUE REFORMS
In Skopje on 6 November, U.S. Undersecretary of State for Political Affairs Marc Grossman discussed with Macedonian President Boris Trajkovski and Prime Minister Branko Crvenkovski their country's aspirations for NATO and EU membership, as well as the future of neighboring Kosova, dpa reported. "Macedonia should focus on the reforms in the country, implementation of the [2001] Ohrid peace deal, and it should support the efforts aimed at achieving standards" in Kosova, Grossman said. The Macedonian leaders reportedly asked Grossman that Macedonia be given a timetable for its NATO and EU membership and that the border demarcation between Kosova and Macedonia be finalized before the final status of Kosova is determined, "Dnevnik" and "Utrinski vesnik" reported (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 5 November 2003). UB

BOSNIAN SERB PARLIAMENT APPROVES MILITARY REFORMS
The Bosnian Serb parliament approved a series of constitutional amendments on 5 November to transfer command over the Bosnian Serb military and the power to declare war from the Banja Luka authorities to the Bosnian Presidency, RFE/RL's South Slavic and Albanian Languages Service reported. The amendments are part of a series of measures to establish a joint military, which Bosnia must have in order to join NATO's Partnership for Peace program (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 26 September 2003). PM

BOSNIANS CHALLENGE HIGH REPRESENTATIVE
Republika Srpska Prime Minister Dragan Mikerevic said in Banja Luka on 6 November that the government will go ahead with its plans to raise the minimum wage and pensions despite statements by High Representative Paddy Ashdown that there is no money for the projects, RFE/RL's South Slavic and Albanian Languages Service reported. Mikerevic stressed that money will be found for the increases, which he called an essential part of ongoing reforms. In Sarajevo, the governing board of Bosnian public television rejected a demand by Ashdown to quickly approve a reorganization program (see "RFE/RL Balkan Report," 5 September 2003). PM

ROMANIAN PREMIER COMPLAINS ABOUT EU MISSION'S TRANSLATION OF PROGRESS REPORT
Prime Minister Adrian Nastase said on 6 November that the EU mission in Bucharest made a "heartless translation" of the European Commission's report on the country's progress toward EU accession, Mediafax reported (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 6 November 2003). Nastase referred to a somewhat ambiguous passage contained in the report, which was released on 5 November, that said in English that Romania "can be considered as a functioning market economy once the good progress made has continued decisively." Nastase took issue with the mission's Romanian translation of the report. He said that Romania's "friends in Brussels [the commission] introduced in the report a positive formulation...showing that Romania can be considered a functioning market economy and that this status will be confirmed by the measures we shall continue to take." EU Ambassador to Romania Jonathan Scheele responded that the EU mission attempted to produce an accurate translation into Romanian, but if the formulation is not clear enough "the reference text is that in English." President Ion Iliescu also said that the report "fundamentally shows that Romania has a functioning market economy that must be consolidated through the continuation of reforms." MS

ROMANIAN LIBERALS WANT URGENT PARTY CONSULTATIONS IN WAKE OF EC REPORT
National Liberal Party (PNL) Deputy Chairman Teodor Melescanu said on 6 November that the European Commission's progress report noted some "positive measures" undertaken by Romania but fell short of granting it the status of a functioning market economy, RFE/RL's Bucharest bureau reported. Melescanu said the 5 November report is evidence that Romania is considered to be last among EU aspirants in terms of preparation for accession, which makes accession to EU in 2007 questionable. The PNL believes that as a result, President Iliescu should convoke urgent consultations with all parliamentary parties to analyze the report and recommend the appropriate measures to correct the situation. President Iliescu responded that the PNL's proposal is "interesting" and in accordance with his belief that all responsible political forces must cooperate in continuing structural reforms. MS

FORMER ROMANIAN GOVERNMENTAL ADVISER CHARGED IN CORRUPTION CASE
Former governmental adviser Virgil Teodorescu was charged by the National Anticorruption Prosecution on 6 November with accepting a $95,000 bribe from a Switzerland-based Romanian businessman, Romanian Radio reported. According to prosecutors, Teodorescu demanded $2 million from businessman Octavian Ionescu to secure EU funding for his plans to build a winter resort in the Carpathian town of Busteni. The prosecutor confronted Teodorescu with Ionescu, who launched the complaint after the project was not approved. Ionescu claims 10 other local Busteni officials accepted bribes from him and subsequently failed to deliver on their promises regarding the project. Teodorescu was dismissed last month following the complaint (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 17 October 2003). MS

ROMANIAN FOREIGN MINISTER SAYS MOLDOVA HAS MADE 'TACTICAL ERROR'...
Romanian Foreign Minister Mircea Geoana said in Chisinau on 6 November that Moldova made a "tactical error" by sharpening the tone of its latest attacks on Romania, Romanian Radio reported. Geoana, who attended the meeting of the Council of Europe's Committee of Ministers (CECM) in Moldova's capital, told journalists that Bucharest is taking a "prudent" attitude toward these attacks and hopes they will soon be forgotten. Geoana said Romania has positively reacted to Moldova's request to have its $15 million debt for energy deliveries restructured and has rescheduled payments over a period of eight years. Geoana also said no other country is more interested in a resolution of the Transdniester conflict than Romania, as that conflict affects the security of its own borders, Infotag reported. He also said that for now, the current format of the negotiations involving three mediators (Russia, Ukraine, and the OSCE) should be preserved. Romania, he said, might be ready to join a postconflict peacekeeping mission alongside other countries and organizations. The EU, he added, "could play an essential, possibly crucial" role in such a mission. MS

...WHILE MOLDOVAN OFFICIAL CONFIRMS INTENTION TO APPEAL TO COUNCIL OF EUROPE
Alexei Tulbure, Moldova's permanent representative at the Council of Europe in Strasbourg, confirmed on 6 November that his country is asking the council to examine whether Romania's attitude toward Moldova meets European norms, RFE/RL's Chisinau bureau reported. Tulbure told journalists at a press conference following the CECM session in Chisinau that Moldova particularly objects to Bucharest's claim that the Moldovan ethnic majority is made up by Romanians rather than by "Moldovans." Asked by journalists whether the council would be willing to address the Moldovan request, Council of Europe Secretary-General Walter Schwimmer said the it would do so if it concludes that the Moldovan complaint is "grounded in reality." MS

FUTURE NATO SECRETARY-GENERAL URGES SETTLEMENT OF TRANSDNIESTER CONFLICT
Addressing a forum of nongovernmental organizations in Chisinau on 6 November, OSCE Chairman in Office and NATO Secretary-General designate Jaap de Hoop Scheffer urged Moldova and Transdniester to step up efforts to reach a settlement of their 13-year conflict, Reuters reported. He said both the EU and NATO want peace near their borders, noting that Moldova will become a neighbor of NATO after Romania joins the alliance in 2004 and that Romania is likely to become a EU member in 2007. Scheffer said that "foreign forces cannot solve the problem" and that "the solution must be found by the sides [involved in the conflict] themselves." According to Infotag, Scheffer described as "absurd" the allegations by some Moldovan opposition parties (mainly the Popular Party Christian Democratic) that OSCE mission chief William Hill is promoting Russian interests in the current mediation efforts. He said Russia plays an essential role in the ongoing negotiations and a settlement of the conflict is impossible without Moscow's participation. Scheffer also met with President Vladimir Voronin. MS

RUSSIAN DIPLOMAT CONFIRMS POSTPONEMENT OF TRANSDNIESTER WITHDRAWAL
In an interview with RFE/RL on 6 November, Russian First Deputy Foreign Minister Vyacheslav Trubnikov confirmed that his country will not complete the withdrawal of its troops from Transdniester by 31 December 2003, despite the obligation assumed at the OSCE December 2002 summit in Porto, Portugal. Trubnikov said that Moscow pledged in Porto to complete the withdrawal "if the necessary conditions are created," adding that those conditions are "dictated by Transdniester's leader [Igor Smirnov]." He said Russia evacuated 30 trainloads of materiel from Transdniester in early 2003 but the withdrawal process was later stopped by Smirnov. "Now the process has been restarted and we hope it will not be interrupted again. But it is difficult to talk about deadlines," Trubnikov said. "In any case, it is now clear that we shall not succeed [in completing the withdrawal] by the end of this year." According to Infotag, 20 Russian freight cars loaded with ammunition left Tiraspol on 6 November. MS

BULGARIA'S TOP COP SPARKS CONTROVERSY OVER POLITICAL SYSTEM
The chief secretary of the Interior Ministry, General Boyko Borisov, said in an interview with Bulgarian National TV (BNT) on 6 November that he would prefer that Bulgaria have a presidential republic similar to that in the United States or France rather than its current parliamentary system, BTA reported. The coordination of state agencies tasked with security and policing is much better in a presidential republic because, Borisov said, they are all subordinate to the president. Under the Bulgarian Constitution, some state agencies such as the National Intelligence Service (NRS) are subordinate to the president and others to the prime minister. Borisov also proposed that the role of the country's justice minister should be the same as that of the attorney general in the United States. Legislators from both the governing coalition and the opposition rebuffed Borisov's calls for constitutional changes but agreed to Borisov's criticism that the work of the police, intelligence, and security services is badly coordinated, mediapool.bg reported. UB

BULGARIAN CABLE TV LOSES LICENSE FOR INCITING ETHNIC HATRED
The Council on Electronic Media, the state institution that regulates the media, on 6 November revoked the license of the private cable-television operator Union Television for inciting ethnic hatred, mediapool.bg reported. The council ruled that the anchorman of a call-in program on TV Den, which is run by Union Television, had incited ethnic hatred by allowing callers too much room to air their criticism that the government has granted too many rights to ethnic Turks and Roma. Union Television has announced that it will challenge the council's decision before a court. The Union of Bulgarian Journalists criticized the revocation of the license as too drastic and said such a decision must be justified before the journalists' guild and the public. UB

DMITRII MEDVEDEV: COMPROMISE IN THE KREMLIN
Dmitrii Medvedev, who was named head of the presidential administration on 30 October after the resignation of Aleksandr Voloshin, was born in Leningrad in 1965. In 1990, he earned a doctorate in law from Leningrad State University (LGU), subsequently becoming an assistant professor at the university. The deacon of LGU's law faculty, Nikolai Kropachev, told "Moskovskii komsomolets" in July 2000 that there were only three or four specialists of Medvedev's caliber in St. Petersburg.

The local authorities also took note of Medvedev's abilities, and from 1990 until 1995 he served as an adviser to the chairman of the city's Legislative Assembly and a legal consultant to the External Relations Committee of the St. Petersburg mayor's office. At that time, Anatolii Sobchak was the city's mayor, and Vladimir Putin headed the External Relations Committee. In November 1993, Medvedev also joined Ilim Pulp Enterprise, a St. Petersburg-based timber company, as its legal affairs director. In 1998, he was elected a member of the board of the Bratskii LPK paper mill.

In November 1999, Putin, who had just a few months earlier been appointed prime minister, named Medvedev deputy head of the government apparatus. When Putin became acting president at the end of 1999, he made Medvedev a deputy head of the presidential administration in charge of personnel and the president's schedule, and elevated him in 2000 to the rank of first deputy chief of staff. Putin also tapped Medvedev to run his campaign for the March 2000 presidential election. In June 2000, Medvedev was elected chairman of the board of Gazprom, replacing Viktor Chernomyrdin. In April 2001, Medvedev was made chairman of a 15-member working group set up to look into reforming the 38 percent state-owned gas monopoly.

While Medvedev is widely viewed as holding democratic and liberal views, these are not labels he fully embraces. Asked in a 30 March 2000 interview with the newspaper "Vek" whether he considers himself a democrat, he answered: "When one tries to characterize one's convictions with one term, misunderstandings arise, especially taking into account that a number of concepts have turned into cliches. I can say openly: I like the word 'liberal' better, but that term has also acquired a negative hue here. Therefore I wouldn't like to identify my views with one word. Although, unquestionably, my outlook is located within the bounds of those values customarily called 'European.'"

Still, when "Vek" followed up by asking Medvedev whether he considers himself a "Westernizer," he said that term is also a cliche and that the historical juxtaposition of "Westernizers" and "Slavophiles" is a "simplification." Medvedev also said that while he had never worked for or "cooperated with" the country's special services, he considered such experience, especially "work in the special services' elite sub-units," to be "extraordinarily useful." Medvedev, who was at that time in charge of Putin's election campaign, said that if the acting president were elected, Russia would have a chance to become a superpower again.

In an interview after he was picked to replace Voloshin as head of the presidential administration, Medvedev suggested that he shared Putin's oft-repeated belief that Russia's Soviet past should not be discarded wholesale. "I believe it is important for our generation that we can compare two epochs: one that is gone -- we were brought up and educated during it -- and the epoch that has arrived, with all its pros and cons," Medvedev told RTR television on 2 November. "I think this is quite important in making sense of the situation and making balanced decisions." Asked during which epoch his life was easier, Medvedev said, "The previous one was more fun, this one is more interesting."

Questions of ideology and worldview aside, most observers agree that Medvedev is unswerving in his loyalty to Putin, and he has shown himself ready to defend Putin's interests vigorously. For example, in an interview published in the 16 February 2000 edition of "Nezavisimaya gazeta" -- while he was heading Putin's presidential campaign -- Medvedev said he hoped the presidential contest would not lead to an "information war." He added, however, that if anybody tried "to declare such a war on us, we will find an effective and, as military men sometimes say, asymmetrical response."

In the next breath, Medvedev implied he was joking about the "asymmetrical response." But on 4 March 2000, Putin's campaign headquarters issued a statement accusing some media of a "tendentious approach" and "one-sidedness" in covering Putin, mentioning by name "Segodnya," the now-defunct newspaper belonging to oligarch Vladimir Gusinskii's Media-MOST. The headquarters said it would continue to monitor all instances of "lies" concerning Putin and reserved the right to use "all means available in its arsenal" for "an 'asymmetrical' answer to the provocations." When Gazprom took over most of Gusinskii's media holdings the following year, Medvedev was chairman of the gas giant's board of directors.

In 2000, Putin tapped Medvedev to head a presidential-administration commission on civil-service reform. Medvedev declared in 2002 that "civil servants must be held accountable for any harm they cause the state by issuing incompetent directives or divulging state secrets." On the basis of the commission's work, the Kremlin in September introduced legislation that would, among other things, make nepotism more difficult and require civil servants to fill out income and property declarations.

In January 2001, "Novaya gazeta" reported that Medvedev and Mikhail Krasnov, a former presidential legal adviser, had drafted a series of amendments to the Russian Constitution. The proposed changes would have increased the presidential term from four to five years, reintroduced the post of vice president -- with the vice president serving simultaneously as prime minister -- and consolidated some 30 central Russian regions into six or seven, the newspaper reported. This report, however, has never been officially confirmed and the Kremlin has said several times that the constitution will not be altered.

The conventional wisdom now is that Dmitrii Medvedev lacks the prodigious administrative skills of Voloshin, who was able to turn the chief-of-staff position into the de facto second-most-powerful post in the country. This, if true, could mean either that the president will take more of the chief of staff's tasks upon himself, or that they will devolve to the two powerful representatives of the siloviki faction within the Kremlin administration -- deputy presidential administration heads Viktor Ivanov and Igor Sechin.

RIVAL NORTHERN AFGHAN COMMANDERS VOW TO WORK TOGETHER
After meeting with a delegation comprising representatives of all 15 member states of the UN Security Council on 5 November (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 6 November 2003), rival commanders General Abdul Rashid Dostum and General Ata Mohammad pledged that day to work toward unity, Balkh TV reported. While warning that "no one can govern" his "people by force [but] only by the law and principles," Ata Mohammad said his side wants to "ensure security," which "means being united" with all other forces in northern Afghanistan. On the topic of uniting Atta Mohammad's 7th Army Corps with his 8th Army Corps, Dostum said the forces "can be merged if an impartial commander is appointed to head it." Dostum added that he would consent to Kabul appointing a commander for the joint forces, provided that his side is "consulted first." Forces loyal to Dostum and Ata Mohammad have clashed intermittently since Taliban forces were defeated in Afghanistan in late 2001. AT

AFGHAN OFFICIAL SAYS NO NEGOTIATING WITH TURKISH ENGINEER'S KIDNAPPERS
Afghan Interior Minister Ali Ahmad Jalali said on 6 November that the Afghan Transitional Administration will not deal with the kidnappers of Turkish engineer Hasan Onal, dpa reported. Jalali said "efforts to free the engineer" are continuing, but he declined to provide details. Militants with presumed ties to the former Taliban regime kidnapped Onal and his driver on a road in Ghazni Province on 30 October and have threatened to kill him if the Afghan authorities fail to release six "high-ranking" former Taliban members (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 3 November 2003). It is unclear whether Afghan authorities are talking directly with the kidnappers or through a mediator. AT

FORMER TALIBAN LEADER REPORTEDLY SENTENCES MUTTAWAKIL TO DEATH
The spiritual leader of the former Taliban regime in Afghanistan, Mullah Mohammad Omar, has issued a death sentence against the maverick former Taliban Foreign Minister Mawlawi Wakil Ahmad Muttawakil, Hindukosh news agency reported on 6 November. Muttawakil, who has been characterized as a moderate member of the former regime, was reportedly released from U.S. custody sometime in October after he allegedly tried to mediate between the Afghan Transitional Administration and resurgent Taliban forces. The circumstances of Muttawakil's release have been shrouded in mystery, and Afghan authorities have offered mixed signals about his release (see "RFE/RL Afghanistan Report," 23 and 30 October 2003). AT

AUSTRIA REJECTS NATO REQUEST FOR TROOPS FOR AFGHANISTAN
Austrian Defense Minister Guenter Platter on 5 November turned down a NATO request for that country to send additional troops to bolster the International Security Assistance Force (ISAF) in Afghanistan, the Vienna-based daily "Die Presse" reported the next day. NATO Secretary-General Lord George Robertson told Platter that a contingent of Austrian troops within the NATO-led ISAF would boost security not only in Central Asia but also in Europe, dpa reported on 5 November. Since it assumed command of ISAF in August, NATO has been unable to obtain pledges for troop contributions from some of its own members and from non-NATO members such as Austria (see "RFE/RL Afghanistan Report," 30 October 2003). ISAF currently lists 33 countries as troop contributors, 18 of which are NATO members. AT

UN RAPPORTEUR NOTES IRANIAN LIMITS ON FREEDOM OF SPEECH
Ambeyi Ligabo, the United Nations' special rapporteur on the promotion and protection of the right to freedom of opinion and expression, met with Abdullah Nasseri, the managing-director of the official Islamic Republic News Agency (IRNA) on 6 November in Tehran, IRNA reported. Nasseri told his guest that the situation in Iran has changed in the last five or six years and "Iranian society is fully satisfied with the achievements made towards promoting freedom of the press." Nasseri added that a new press law drawn up by the government will contribute to the improvements in freedom of expression of the last five or six years. Nasseri described the red lines that IRNA must not cross: "religious, historical, and cultural sensitivities or some limitations set by the government." "We also noticed that there exist some limitations on freedom of speech and ideas in the country," Ligabo admitted. Reporters Without Borders on 4 November called on Tehran to release 11 jailed journalists (http://www.rsf.org/article.php3?id_article=8422) and allow Ligabo to meet with them. The same group also called on Tehran lift its ban on more than 100 newspapers. BS

IRANIAN STUDENTS MEET WITH UN RAPPORTEUR
Abdullah Momeni, secretary of the Allameh wing of the Office for Strengthening Unity student organization, said on 6 November that 11 members of his group met that day with the visiting UN special rapporteur Ligabo, ISNA reported. Momeni said they discussed citizens' rights, arrests, and the treatment of political activists and journalists. Momeni said that some people who have been arrested on other occasions participated in the meeting. Momeni was held in custody from late June until early August (see "RFE/RL Iran Report," 30 June and 11 August 2003). BS

IRANIAN PARLIAMENT LEGISLATES MILITARY POLITICAL ACTIVITY
The Iranian legislature has already passed several parts of a 137-article bill regulating military offenses, "Sharq" reported on 5 November. These articles of the bill are intended to prevent political and electoral activities by military personnel. Article 40 of the bill bans military personnel from membership in political organizations or parties, forbids their interference with or participation in "political line-ups and disputes," and bans them from engaging in election publicity. Article 17 states that military personnel who use armed forces' assets to engage in planning intended to change or overthrow the Islamic republican system and who form an association of more than three people with this intention will be subject to the punishment for those who are "at war with God" (muharib; the penalty is death). Under another article, military personnel found to have created an association of more than two people with the intention of undermining national security or "causing fear, riots, or murder" will serve three to 15 years in prison unless they are found to be at war with God. Military personnel who try to damage the country's independence or territorial integrity will face the punishment for those who are at war with God. BS

TEHRAN REJECTS ALLEGATIONS OF INVOLVEMENT IN 1994 ARGENTINA BOMBING
Foreign Ministry spokesman Hamid Reza Assefi on 7 November rejected an Iranian defector's allegations of Iranian responsibility for the 1994 bombing of the AMIA Jewish community center in Buenos Aires, IRNA reported. The defector, former intelligence officer Abolghasem Mesbahi, testified from Germany via teleconference to a panel of judges in Buenos Aires that "the entire AMIA operation was headed, organized, and executed by Iran" (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 6 November 2003). Assefi denounced the allegations as an attempt to cover up the presiding judge's receipt of bribes and added that the Argentinian judiciary is trying to please Israel. "The baseless allegations of the 'Witness C' [Mesbahi] are the lies that have been devised by the Zionist circles and the judge of the case to cover up their political plot against the Islamic Republic," Assefi said. BS

SIX KILLED IN U.S. HELICOPTER CRASH IN IRAQ
A U.S. Black Hawk helicopter crashed near Tikrit on 7 November, killing all six U.S. soldiers on board, international media reported. The helicopter was flying in formation with a second helicopter on their way to Camp Ironhorse, the U.S. base in Tikrit. The second helicopter reportedly did not witness any hostile fire in the area, and the incident remains under investigation. "At this stage we don't know if it was due to mechanical failure or another reason," said Major Josslyn Aberle of the U.S. Army's 4th Infantry Division. The crash came just five days after a U.S. Chinook helicopter crashed some 48 kilometers west of Baghdad, killing 15 and injuring 25 soldiers (see "RFE/RL Iraq Report, 7 November 2003). Eyewitnesses claimed that helicopter was hit by a surface-to-air missile, but the incident remains under investigation. KR

FIRST POLISH SOLDIER DIES IN IRAQ
A Polish major was killed in Iraq on 6 November when unknown assailants fired on a convoy he was traveling in, Reuters reported the same day. The incident occurred near the Iraqi town of Al-Musayyib, located northeast of Karbala. In Warsaw, President Aleksander Kwasniewski on 6 November called for one minute of silence in memory of the fallen soldier, PAP news agency reported. Kwasniewski called the soldier's death "one of the saddest moments in my presidency and in my life." He added that the incident will not deter Poland's commitment in Iraq. "Up to now, we have managed to avoid casualties. But this is a front, this is a struggle, I think that we also have to be prepared for such bad news." Poland leads a multinational force of 10,000 in south-central Iraq that includes some 2,000 Polish troops. KR

PENTAGON HAS COVERT COMMANDO FORCE HUNTING HUSSEIN, BIN LADEN
The United States has created a covert commando force to hunt down deposed Iraqi President Saddam Hussein, as well as Al-Qaeda leader Osama bin Laden and other key terrorists in the Middle East, nytimes.com reported on 6 November, citing unidentified U.S. officials. The force is designed to act quickly on intelligence tips about "high-value targets" according to the report. Officials said U.S. Central Command chief John Abizaid disbanded two special-operations missions -- Task Force 20 in Iraq and Task Force 5 in Afghanistan -- and formed the new force, called Task Force 121. The force has a broader regional mission than the previous special-operations missions. The officials claimed that the force has come close to capturing Hussein, but declined to give details. The officials declined to reveal the rules under which the task force operates, including whether it has received permission from the governments of the countries in which it operates. KR

HALF OF NORTHERN IRAQIS POLLED FAVOR U.S. PRESENCE FOR THREE YEARS AFTER ELECTIONS
A public-opinion poll conducted by the Fikri Opinion Poll Center of the Iraqi Institute for Democracy in cooperation with the Baghdad-based newspaper "Al-Ahali" and U.S.-based Baylor University's Middle East Research Center has found that 48.8 percent of those polled favor the presence of U.S. troops for three years after parliamentary elections are held and an Iraqi government is formed, "Al-Ahali" reported on 4 November. Some 36.6 percent of respondents said that U.S. forces should withdraw one year after elections and the formation of a government, and 14.6 percent demanded the departure of U.S. troops before parliamentary elections. Some 628 Iraqi men and women participated in the poll, which was conducted in the northern Iraqi cities of Mosul, Dahuk, and Irbil. KR

IRAQI RED CRESCENT RELAYING LETTERS BETWEEN DETAINED CIVILIANS, FAMILIES
The Iraqi Red Crescent Society (ICRS) has begun to relay letters between Iraqi citizens under coalition detention and their families, Baghdad's "Al-Jaridah" reported on 6 November. An unidentified ICRS official said the families of individuals on the coalition's list of the 55 most-wanted Iraqis from the deposed Hussein regime can also communicate with their relatives through the Red Crescent. KR

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