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Newsline - November 13, 2003


SENIOR PROSECUTOR SAYS JAILED OLIGARCH'S CASE WILL GO TO COURT IN TWO MONTHS
Deputy Prosecutor-General Vladimir Kolesnikov told a State Duma panel devoted to the Yukos scandal that the case against former Yukos head Mikhail Khodorkovskii will be handed over to the courts within two months, RTR and newsru.com reported. Kolesnikov noted, however, that the law allows for prosecutors to extend their investigation for as long as two years. Kolesnikov told Duma deputies that the eight financial charges pending against Russia's richest magnate mean that "unfortunately, we cannot sentence him to more than 10 years," according to RTR. Kolesnikov reportedly said the $1 billion in taxes that Khodorkovskii is alleged to have evaded represent the minimum monthly salaries of more than 19 million people or minimum pensions for 49 million retirees. NTV suggested that Kolesnikov has a history of making threatening statements in prominent legal cases, but failing to deliver. VY

PROBES ARE LAUNCHED OF YUKOS-RELATED COMPANIES...
Regional prosecutors in Khanty-Mansii Autonomous Okrug have begun environmental probes into the activities of Yukos's largest petrochemical subsidiary, Yuganskneftegas, polit.ru reported on 12 November. Yukos-related companies Artikgas, UrengoiOil, and Rospan International are also reportedly under investigation in the Yamalo-Nenetz Autonomous Okrug, while prosecutors in Tomsk Oblast have launched a criminal case against Yukos affiliate Tomskneft BNK. Speaking on Ekho Moskvy on 12 November, Igor Shuvalov, the deputy head of the presidential administration, said the Kremlin is acting on public information and on the basis of principles that apply to all Russian citizens. Shuvalov added that he hopes the Yukos situation will stabilize and that the outflow of capital will stop. Khodorkovskii's recently appointed successor at Yukos, Semen Kukes, said on 12 November that fears about the company's functioning are groundless, according to the BBC. "There is a problem between Khodorkovskii and the Russian government; but we at the company take no political position," Kukes said. VY

...AND FRENCH NATIONAL CLAIMS SHE WILL DISCUSS YUKOS'S OFFSHORE DEALS
A French national who claims to have been in charge of offshore operations involving Yukos said on 12 November that she intends to make public information about several jailed Yukos-related oligarchs' financial deals in offshore zones, "Vremya novostei" and other Russian media reported the next day. Elena Collong-Popova was quoted as saying she ran Yukos offshore operations on which she was ordered to pay 15 million euros ($17.6 million) in taxes by French authorities. Collong-Popova also claimed that she was sentenced to 12 months of probation by a French court after the oil giant failed to provide the taxes it allegedly owed. She vowed to divulge further information at an upcoming tax forum. A Yukos official declined to comment on Collong-Popova's allegations, according to Interfax on 12 November. VY

RUSSIAN, INDIAN LEADERS PLEDGE WORK ON JOINT MISSION TO THE MOON
Russian President Vladimir Putin and Indian Prime Minister Atal Bihari Vajpayee signed documents on 12 November setting in motion preparations for the joint training of astronauts and a joint, manned mission to the Moon, RTR and lenta.ru reported. Also during Vajpayee's three-day official visit to Russia, the two sides agreed that some $2.7 billion in Indian debt to the former Soviet Union will be repaid through bilateral investment projects. Russian and Indian officials also agreed to calculate mutual trade in dollars, rather than in rubles or rupees. VY

CENSUS RESULTS CHALLENGED ON RELIGION, NATIONALITY TOTALS
Council of Muftis head Ravil Gainutdin told reporters on 11 November that he disagrees with the preliminary conclusion of the Russian census that there are only 14.5 million Muslims in Russia, "Izvestiya" reported on 12 November (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 12 November 2003). According to Gainutdin, there are no fewer than 20 million Muslims in Russia. Part of the problem is that the census-takers did not count all segments of the population, such as illegal immigrants. He estimated that there are no fewer than 4 million people living and working in Russia from Azerbaijan, Kazakhstan, Uzbekistan, and Tajikistan. Aleksei Malashenko of the Carnegie Moscow Center told the daily that he also believes that Russia has significantly more Muslims than the census suggests. However, Malashenko said he does not think the issue will affect relations between different religious groups and the matter in the end is one for scholars and statisticians. The daily also reported that the number of ethnic Chechens has increased 1.5 times in recent years. According to "Trud" the same day, a number of unidentified experts are skeptical of the purported rise in the Chechen population. JAC

WEEKLY MULLS OVER REPLACEMENTS FOR KASYANOV...
According to "Moskovskie novosti," No. 44, few analysts believe that Prime Minister Mikhail Kasyanov would remain in office if Putin is re-elected president in March 2004. The weekly suggests that Finance Minister Aleksei Kudrin, State Duma Budget Committee Chairman Aleksandr Zhukov, Deputy Prime Minister Boris Aleshin, and deputy head of the presidential administration Igor Shuvalov are already on the shortlist to replace Kasyanov. Kudrin has the advantage of having warm relations with Putin, support from Unified Energy Systems head Anatolii Chubais, and a good reputation in the eyes of the international business community. However, "these pluses are minuses in the eyes of the siloviki, who will dictate the course of events," the weekly concludes. JAC

...AND COMES UP WITH ALESHIN AS LIKELY SUCCESSOR
Zhukov is a respected professional on economic questions, but his inclusion at the top of Unified Russia's party list and his clear liberal economic-policy preferences preclude him from consideration as a purely "technical prime minister," "Moskovskie novosti," No. 44, opines. Shuvalov has a good working knowledge of the Russian White House but is not a professional economist. That leaves Aleshin, whom the weekly considers the most likely choice. And according to rumors, he himself is already trying the position on for size. However, "Kommersant-Vlast," No. 44, had a different assessment of Aleshin, noting that he has so far been not very influential. JAC

ARMED MEN REPORTEDLY DROP BY ELECTION HEADQUARTERS OF MOSCOW MAYOR'S RIVAL
A group of armed men on 12 November occupied the election headquarters of National Reserve Bank head Aleksandr Lebedev, who is a candidate in the 7 December Moscow mayoral race, Ren-TV and RBK reported, citing the bank's press service. Lebedev told Ekho Moskvy that the armed men are connected with the new owners of the building in which the headquarters are located and are not representatives of any kind of law enforcement agencies. Lebedev added that work was blocked, and for two hours no one in the headquarters could enter or leave the building. However, according to lenta.ru, the Interior Ministry directorate for Moscow reported that some policemen were dispatched to the headquarters but did not discover any armed men on the premises. JAC

NEW APPOINTEES NAMED FOR SECURITY COUNCIL
President Putin has signed a decree appointing presidential-administration head Dmitrii Medvedev and presidential envoy to the Northwest Federal District Ilya Klebanov to the Security Council, replacing Aleksandr Voloshin and Valentina Matvienko, ITAR-TASS reported on 12 November, citing the government press service. All seven of the presidential envoys serve on the Security Council. JAC

INAUGURATION OF NORILSK MAYOR SCALED DOWN
A court in Norilsk on 12 November postponed hearing the case on the legality of the 26 October mayoral election in that city until 17 November, polit.ru reported. The victor in that race was Norilsk Nickel trade-union leader Valerii Melnikov, who was opposed by the local business and political elite. Last April, Melnikov's candidacy was canceled after he won the first round of mayoral elections (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 30 April 2003). Melnikov's inauguration proceeded modestly as celebrants were aware that Melnikov could soon be deprived of his office by a court decision in a matter of days, "Kommersant-Daily" reported on 13 November.Grani.ru reported the previous day that, by law, Melnikov is supposed to give up all of his previously held positions, such as trade-union leader and deputy in the Krasnoyarsk Krai legislature, before he is inaugurated; if he does not, then he will lose his mayoral position. A fellow Krasnoyarsk legislator told Regnum that the legislature is in no hurry to deprive Melnikov of his seat, since Melnikov could find himself in a situation where he is neither deputy, mayor, nor union leader. JAC

MEDIA CLEANSING CONTINUES IN BASHKORTOSTAN
For the last several weeks, local nonstate media in Bashkortostan have been submitted to unprecedented pressure, polit.ru reported on 12 November. Two independent radio stations have gone off the air and a third, the Ufa-based Khit-FM, is not expected to last much longer. Meanwhile, the Ufa municipal power service sent a letter notifying Radio Bulgar's management that the radio station's facilities in Ufa will be cut off from power on 12 November due to a technical failure following the recent assault on its transmission antenna, RFE/RL's Tatar-Bashkir Service reported on 12 November (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 6 November 2003). RFE/RL's Tatar-Bashkir Service itself has been criticized by the Bashkortostan state-run media outlets for "misrepresenting the situation in Bashkortostan" and circulating "unfound criticism that discredits the republic's image." Radio Azatliq was also included along with the media of President Rakhimov's opposition as facing serious administrative barriers when trying to broadcast or publish. JAC

ARMENIA, RUSSIA SIGN FURTHER MILITARY-COOPERATION AGREEMENTS
Visiting Yerevan on 10-12 November, Russian Defense Minister Sergei Ivanov met with President Robert Kocharian, Prime Minister Andranik Markarian, parliament speaker Artur Baghdasarian, and with his Armenian counterpart Serzh Sarkisian, Noyan Tapan and ITAR-TASS reported. On 11 November, the two ministers signed agreements under which the 3,000-man Russian military facilities at Giumri in northern Armenia will be merged into one base in keeping with Russian Defense Ministry requirements. Armenia will make available additional territory for the combined base. They also signed a cooperation agreement between their respective ministries for 2004. Ivanov told journalists the same day that Russia will continue to supply Armenia with weaponry and military hardware of "a purely defensive nature," stressing that such materiel does not serve, as some Azerbaijani politicians have claimed, to destabilize the situation in the South Caucasus. A Russian military aircraft crashed in northern Armenia on 12 November for reasons that have yet to be clarified, killing the pilot, ITAR-TASS reported. LF

ARMENIAN PARLIAMENT COMMITTEE APPROVES INCREASE IN DEFENSE SPENDING
The Armenian parliament's Finance and Economy Committee approved on 11 November the government's proposal to increase defense spending by almost 12 percent in 2004 to 49.6 billion drams ($87 million), RFE/RL's Yerevan bureau reported. Committee Chairman Gagik Minasian (Republican Party of Armenia) told RFE/RL the increase "will raise our defense to a new level." Defense spending is the largest single item of the draft budget, accounting for over 13 percent of all planned expenditures. LF

ARMENIA EXCLUDES INTERVENTION IN GEORGIAN CRISIS
The Armenian Embassy in Tbilisi issued a statement on 12 November saying that Armenia will under no circumstances "take any actions that might damage the Georgian state or be regarded as interference in its internal affairs," RFE/RL's Yerevan bureau reported. The statement further criticized as "inadmissible" Georgian media speculation that the large Armenian minority in southern Georgia might be induced to back one or another party in the inner-political conflict. It stressed that the Armenian community in Georgia is "sincerely interested" in preserving that country's "unity, stability, and prosperity." LF

AZERBAIJANI PRESIDENT MEETS GEORGIAN REGIONAL LEADER...
President Ilham Aliyev met in Baku on 12 November with Adjar Supreme Council Chairman Aslan Abashidze to assess the postelection crisis in neighboring Georgia, Turan and Russian news agencies reported. In a telephone conversation the previous evening, Aliyev assured Georgian President Eduard Shevardnadze of his support for Shevardnadze's moves to stabilize the political situation, and expressed confidence that they will prove effective, ITAR-TASS reported. LF

...AND TOP MUSLIM CLERIC
President Aliyev met on 11 November with Sheikh ul-Islam Allakhshukur Pashazade, chairman of the Spiritual Board of Muslims of the Caucasus, Turan reported. Pashazade congratulated Aliyev on his election as president and expressed confidence that he will continue the economic course launched by his father and predecessor as president, Heidar Aliyev, strengthen the country's economy, and achieve a peaceful solution to the Karabakh conflict. LF

TALKS BETWEEN GEORGIAN AUTHORITIES, OPPOSITION FAIL...
Talks at the Georgian parliament building late on 12 November between President Shevardnadze's representative, former Defense Minister Giorgi Karkarashvili, and the leaders of two prominent opposition blocs failed to yield a compromise solution to the ongoing standoff in the wake of the disputed 2 November parliamentary election, Reuters reported. National Movement leader Mikhail Saakashvili, who claims his bloc was the winner of the ballot, said afterward that the president "is not willing to compromise." Earlier that day, Saakashvili began collecting signatures to a petition demanding that Shevardnadze resign, Caucasus Press reported. He also appealed to businessmen to withhold paying taxes to a "corrupt government." LF

...DESPITE STATED DESIRE FOR COMPROMISE...
Earlier on 12 November, Socialist Party leader Vakhtang Rcheulishvili, one of the co-chairmen of the pro-presidential For a New Georgia bloc that according to the Central Election Commission has won the ballot, told Caucasus Press that Shevardnadze should acknowledge the National Movement election victory. Parliament speaker Nino Burdjanadze for her part affirmed the opposition's readiness "to look, together with President Shevardnadze, for a compromise and a way out of the present situation," ITAR-TASS reported. She said it would be enough for Shevardnadze to admit that "crude violations" during the voting call the official results into question. She added that if Shevardnadze does not make serious moves in the near future toward compromise, she will endorse Saakashvili's demand for his resignation. LF

...AND OFFERS TO MEDIATE
Following a 12 November meeting with Shevardnadze, the ambassadors in Tbilisi of several EU states including France, Germany, Italy, and the United Kingdom urged the Georgian leadership to continue talks with the opposition leaders in the hope of defusing the crisis, Caucasus Press reported. Italian Ambassador Fabrizio Romano told journalists after the meeting that he and his fellow ambassadors stressed that "the violations noted during the parliamentary elections have to be corrected in a lawful way," Interfax reported. The Federation of Georgian Journalists and a group of NGOs both offered on 12 November to mediate between the president and the opposition, Caucasus Press reported. Also on 12 November, the head of the Georgian Orthodox Church, Ilia II, appealed to the Georgian leadership and opposition to take "timely, practical steps" to "avoid destabilization," Caucasus Press reported. LF

KAZAKH PRESIDENT INVITES KOREAN INVESTMENT IN CASPIAN OIL
Visiting Kazakh President Nursultan Nazarbaev has invited South Korean firms to participate in developing the oil and gas resources of Kazakhstan's share of the Caspian Sea, KazInform reported on 13 November. Speaking with his South Korean counterpart, Nazarbaev also called for small and mid-sized Korean businesses to come to Kazakhstan and share their experience in innovative development. Nazarbaev's Korean interlocutors suggested that Kazakhstan could provide a base for Korean investment in other CIS economies. In the past decade, South Korean firms have invested over $1.6 billion in Kazakhstan, primarily in the processing, telecommunications, and electronics industries. Prior to his state visit to South Korea, Nazarbaev took his message about investment opportunities in Kazakhstan to Singapore (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 10 November 2003) and the Philippines. BB

KAZAKHSTAN STILL HOPING FOR OSCE CHAIRMANSHIP
Kazakh Security Council Secretary Bulat Utemuratov visited the Vienna headquarters of the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE) on 10-12 November to assure the organization that Kazakhstan is still interested in holding that organization's annual chairmanship in 2009, Interfax-Kazakhstan reported on 12 November, quoting a press release from the presidential press service. Questions arose in the Russian media regarding Kazakhstan's intentions, since the country's delegation to the OSCE joined the delegations of three other CIS states in criticizing OSCE missions in their countries. Utemuratov met with the current chairman of the OSCE Permanent Council, Dutch delegation head Justus de Visser; the OSCE representative on freedom of the media, Freimut Duve; and the U.S., Italian, German, Russian, and Norwegian delegations, with whom he discussed economic and social developments in Kazakhstan, the election system, the media, and the role of civil society. Utemuratov's visit was presumably intended to pave the way for President Nazarbaev's appearance at the OSCE Permanent Council later this month. BB

KAZAKH OPPOSITION LEADER WELCOMES CREATION OF WELL-CONNECTED PARTY
Bolat Abilov, one of the five co-chairmen of the opposition Ak Zhol Party, told correspondents in Almaty on 12 November that his party's leadership welcomes the creation of Dariga Nazarbaeva's new political party, Asar, so long as it adheres to democratic principles, gazeta.kz reported the same day. Nazarbaeva is the daughter of Kazakh President Nazarbaev. Abilov said Ak Zhol interprets the founding of Asar as Nazarbaeva's signal that she intends to become a strong player on the political scene prior to parliamentary elections in the fall of 2004. He predicted that some pro-government parties will not survive that balloting. BB

STATE DEPARTMENT OFFICIAL THANKS KAZAKHSTAN FOR SUPPORT AGAINST TERRORISM
U.S. Assistant Secretary of State for European and Eurasian Affairs Elizabeth Jones and Assistant Secretary of State for Democracy, Human Rights, and Labor Lorne Craner told a press conference in Astana on 12 November that U.S. President George Bush and Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld have sent special thanks to Kazakhstan for that country's support in the effort to combat international terrorism and in the reconstruction of Iraq and Afghanistan, gazeta.kz reported the same day. Jones, who is a former ambassador to Kazakhstan, said talks with Kazakh officials, human rights groups, and NGOs included discussions of draft laws on countering narcotics and human trafficking, on the media, and on elections. Jones praised the Central Election Commission for having turned to OSCE experts for help in drafting the new election law. While in Astana, Jones and Craner took part in the formal opening of a permanent office of the U.S. Embassy, which remains in the former capital Almaty. BB

TRANSPORT PROBLEMS SAID TO BE SAPPING KYRGYZ EXPORT POTENTIAL
Kyrgyz Prime Minister Nikolai Tanaev told visiting International Monetary Fund (IMF) Managing Director Horst Koehler on 12 November that almost half the country's export potential is lost because of its isolation from major markets, kabar.kg reported the same day. IMF experts have estimated that Kyrgyzstan is losing 43 percent of its export potential. Tanaev complained that Kyrgyz membership in the World Trade Organization has not enabled the country to overcome its transport problems, adding that talks are under way with Kazakhstan on reducing tariffs on the importation and transit of Kyrgyz products, but that relations with Uzbekistan are particularly difficult and transit of Kyrgyz goods is blocked. China has also introduced quotas on Kyrgyz tobacco and textile products. BB

UN LAND-MINE EXPERTS ARRIVE IN TAJIKISTAN TO MAP UZBEK MINEFIELDS
A group of UN land-mine experts has arrived in Tajikistan to identify areas on the Tajik-Uzbek border where the Uzbek military has planted land mines, Asia-Plus Blitz reported on 12 November. According to the Tajik Center for Land-Mine Problems, the UN group will also investigate the 4 November incident in Sughd Oblast in which two Tajik citizens were killed and three others injured by one or more suspected Uzbek land mines while gathering wood on the Uzbek side of the poorly marked border (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 6 November 2003). BB

CORRECTION:
Contrary to information in the "Nezavisimaya gazeta" report cited in "RFE/RL Newsline" item "New Commander Predicts 10-15 Years Of Russian Border Troops In Tajikistan" on 12 November, Lieutenant General Aleksandr Markin is no longer the commander of Russian border troops in Tajikistan. The outgoing Markin presented his successor in that post, Major General Aleksandr Baranov, to Tajik President Imomali Rakhmonov on 12 November.

BELARUSIAN MINISTRY DENIES REGISTRATION TO NGO UMBRELLA GROUP
The Justice Ministry has turned down a request for registration by the Assembly of Nongovernmental Organizations (NGO), Belapan reported on 12 November. The assembly, which is the country's largest NGO umbrella organization, applied for registration in April 2002. Although the law limits the period for consideration of such applications to one month, the ministry communicated its decision only in a document dated 17 October 2003. "None of us is surprised at the justice ministry's decision," NGO activist Ales Byalyatski told Belapan. "When courts close the most respected and powerful organizations,... it would be illogical to expect the Justice Ministry to legalize the largest association of NGOs." JM

BELARUSIAN PICKETERS HEAVILY FINED OVER POLL ON PRESIDENT
A court in Homel fined Ales Karniyenka and Vasil Palyakou 1.65 million Belarusian rubles ($775) each for conducting an unauthorized poll on a possible third term for President Alyaksandr Lukashenka during an authorized picket (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 10 November 2003), RFE/RL's Belarusian Service reported on 12 November. Karniyenka and Palyakou told the court that when they applied for permission to hold the picket, they notified authorities that they planned to conduct a poll. They also argued unsuccessfully that the law on public gatherings does not ban polls at pickets. "The law [on public gatherings] does not forbid conducting polls," Karniyenka said after the verdict was announced. "But I'm told that I violated something. On the same grounds, police may say tomorrow, 'Why are people at your picket wearing red coats? We haven't allowed you to gather people in red coats!'" JM

UKRAINIAN CONSTITUTIONAL COURT SAYS PARLIAMENT MAY ELECT PRESIDENT
The Constitutional Court on 12 November announced its preliminary ruling on a draft political-reform bill that was proposed earlier this year by President Leonid Kuchma and reportedly supported by signatures of 292 lawmakers (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 15 September 2003), Interfax reported. In particular, the court decided that the bill's provision calling for the election of a president in 2006 by a new parliament would not contravene the Ukrainian Constitution. The bill also proposes that the 450-seat Verkhovna Rada be elected for five years under a fully proportional party-list system beginning in 2006. JM

UKRAINIAN PRESIDENT WANTS CLEAR DIVISION OF SEA BORDER WITH RUSSIA
President Kuchma on 12 November said that Ukraine's position regarding the delimitation of the border in the Kerch Strait and the Azov Sea is unalterable, Interfax reported. "The Tuzla Island [in the Kerch Strait] is Ukrainian territory," Kuchma said at a news conference. "The border between Ukraine and Russia should be clearly determined. We think that the state border should be drawn both on the bottom and the surface, dividing the Azov Sea into Russia's internal waters and Ukraine's internal waters." Kuchma said Ukraine is not going to restore its status of nuclear state, which was renounced in 1992. "Indeed, if we today had the world's third-largest nuclear potential, we could talk in a different way. But I'm sure that, despite various arguments, we made the correct decision [in 1992]," Kuchma said. JM

ESTONIAN RALLY DEMANDS EQUAL BENEFITS FOR PARENTS
About 150 young people staged a peaceful rally lasting less than an hour in front of the parliament building in Tallinn on 12 November to demand that a proposed parents'-benefits bill be amended so that all recipients receive the same amount, LETA and BNS reported. The demonstration was organized by the Center Party Youth Assembly, the Young Social-Democrats, Young Pro Patria, the Reform Party Youth Assembly, along with a number of nonprofit groups supporting families' and women's rights. The bill was initiated by the ruling coalition of Res Publica, the Reform Party, and the People's Union. Demonstrators said that basing the amount of such benefits on parent's previous pay puts more than half the sum allocated for benefits in the hands of the wealthiest one-fifth of families. They further demanded that the period during which the benefits are paid be extended from 12 to 18 months. SG

NEW SWEDISH FOREIGN MINISTER VISITS LATVIA
Laila Freivalds told a press conference in Riga after talks with her Latvian counterpart Sandra Kalniete on 12 November that the visit marks "the first time in Sweden's history that a newly-appointed foreign minister first travels to the Baltics, not Finland," BNS reported. She said it was a symbolic gesture to show how much the Nordic countries value cooperation with Baltic states. Freivalds, who was born in Riga in 1942 and taken to Sweden by her parents during World Wart II, replaced Anna Lindh as foreign minister after Lindh was stabbed to death in Stockholm in September. In talks with President Vaira Vike-Freiberga, Freivalds said that Russian allegations that the human rights of ethnic Russians in Latvia are being violated appear unfounded and that the EU backs Latvia's insistence that it is in compliance with international commitments and does not deny ethnic Russians their rights. Kalniete and Freivalds also discussed about cooperation between the two countries in strengthening administrative capabilities and the justice system, utilizing EU funds, and environmental and safety in the Baltic Sea. Freiwalds also discussed these topics with parliament speaker Ingrida Udre, as well as the need for closer cooperation between the Baltic Assembly and the Nordic Council and also with Ukraine, Belarus, and Moldova. SG

LITHUANIAN PRESIDENT DUMPS SENIOR ADVISERS
During a meeting lasting several hours on 12 November, Rolandas Paksas and his staff agreed that the heads of his six advisorial groups should submit their letters of resignation, ELTA reported. The advisers are: press spokesman Rosvaldas Gorbaciovas and advisers Dalia Kutraite-Giedraitiene (domestic policy), Jonas Ragauskas (economic issues) -- all three of whom submitted their resignations the same day -- Alvydas Medalinskas (foreign affairs), Ona Buisiene (legal issues) -- who submitted their resignations the following day, according to Lithuanian radio -- and Remigijus Acas (national security). Acas, whom Paksas had already suspended, did not attend the meeting. Gorbaciovas and Medalinskas said they will not remain in their posts, even if asked. The parliament approved a protocol resolution on 13 November proposed by Aloyzas Sakalas, the head of the ad hoc commission formed to investigate the potential threat to national security stemming from alleged ties between the presidential office and organized crime (see "RFE/RL Newsline, " 4 November 2003), urging Paksas not to meet with the country's top law enforcement officials until the commission ends its work. Paksas met with Prosecutor-General Antanas Klimavicius on 12 November and with Supreme Court head Vytautas Greicius on 11 November; both men criticized the commission's work. SG

GENERAL STRIKE ON POLISH RAILWAYS AVERTED -- OR AT LEAST DELAYED
The government and the Solidarity trade union agreed on 12 November that an all-out rail strike planned for 13 November (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 6 November 2003) will be postponed by at least three weeks, Polish Television reported. The government and trade unionists reportedly will seek a solution to state-run Polish Railways' (PKP) problems in the interim. The trade union wants the government to present a satisfactory restructuring plan for PKP and provide subsidies for regional traffic. "We want dialogue, we are showing goodwill; but if we do not achieve our goals over these three weeks, then there will be an all-out strike," Solidarity activist Stanislaw Kogut told journalists. JM

POLISH INVESTIGATORS SEEK TOTALITARIAN-CRIMES CENTER
Poland's National Remembrance Institute (IPN) wants to set up a European Center for the Investigation of Crimes Committed by Totalitarian Regimes to store data on Nazi- and communist-era crimes, PAP reported on 12 November, quoting IPN head Leon Kieres. Kieres said the center should be run as a joint venture by the IPN and other Central European organizations. He added that the center should seek to present "all, and not just a few chosen, effects of the totalitarian tragedy that was forced resettlement." JM

CZECH PREMIER SAYS POSSIBLE REFERENDUM ON EU CONSTITUTION SHOULD BE BINDING
Vladimir Spidla told the Senate on 12 November that the results should be binding if a Czech referendum is held on the draft European constitution, CTK reported. Prime Minister Spidla said he cannot fathom allowing the possibility that parliament could overturn the results of the referendum. Spidla and Foreign Minister Cyril Svoboda briefed the upper house on the cabinet's position on the envisaged document. Spidla said he personally favors a referendum, because the opposition Civic Democratic Party has constantly criticized the draft European constitution, and that it should be left for the people to decide. He also said Prague is not pressing for an end to the current debates and is ready to continue them at "another intergovernmental conference," if necessary. MS

CZECH GOVERNMENT APPROVES MILITARY REFORM
The cabinet on 12 November unanimously approved the final draft of a military-reform blueprint presented to it by Defense Minister Miroslav Kostelka, CTK and dpa reported. The plan envisages the creation of a 30,000-strong fully professional army by 2008 and the abolition of compulsory military service as of the end of 2004. Within NATO, the reformed Czech Army is to specialize in anti-nuclear, -bacteriological, and -chemical (NBC) warfare and in military health care, and would rely on its NATO allies in other fields of specialization. The blueprint stipulates that defense spending increase next year to about 50 billion crowns ($1.8 billion), or 1.9 percent of the Czech Republic's gross domestic product. Also on 12 November, the government approved granting the recently established regional governments 3.4 billion crowns (some $122.4 million) in assistance to overcome the crisis in the health sector and to cover the debts of the former district hospitals. Government spokeswoman Anna Veverkova said the regional governments will receive 2.7 billion crowns by the end of this year and the remaining 700 million in 2004. MS

CZECH MAVERICK POLITICIAN AGAIN ALLEGES HE IS BEING BUGGED
Parliamentary deputy Josef Hojdar told the lower house's Defense Committee on 12 November that police in Most, northern Bohemia, recently discovered an eavesdropping device attached to his car phone, CTK reported. Hojdar, who earlier this year caused a mini-crisis in the coalition when he resigned from the ruling Social Democratic Party (CSSD) parliamentary group -- although not from the CSSD itself -- said he asked police to check his car because he suspected his calls were being monitored. Earlier this year, police discovered a listening device in Hojdar's north Bohemian office, but the investigation concluded that neither police nor the Security Information Service (BIS) had Hojdar under surveillance. Media later reported that Hojdar was likely being targeted by rival businessmen, which he denied. Jan Klas of the opposition Civic Democratic Party alleged that Prime Minister Spidla bears full responsibility for the recent wiretapping scandals. Klas, who heads the lower house's committee supervising the activity of the BIS, told CTK that Spidla does not trust anyone and visits the BIS offices on a weekly basis to read transcripts of taped conversations. MS

CZECH SENATE CONFIRMS PRESIDENTIAL NOMINEE FOR CONSTITUTIONAL COURT...
The upper house on 12 November approved President Vaclav Klaus's nomination of Jan Musil to serve as a judge on the Constitutional Court, CTK reported. In a secret vote, 50 out of 73 voting senators backed the nomination of Musil, who is deputy chancellor of the Prague Police Academy. In recent months, the Senate rejected four of Klaus's candidates for the position, which led to tension between the upper house and the presidency. Four more vacancies remain to be filled on the 15-member Constitutional Court. MS

...WHILE GOVERNMENT MAKES APPOINTMENT OF INTERIM NBU HEAD PERMANENT
Jan Mares, interim head of the National Security Office (NBU), was appointed by the cabinet as permanent head of that office on 12 November, CTK reported. The NBU is in charge of vetting officials who have access to classified information. Mares replaces Tomas Kadlec, who resigned in May. MS

SLOVAK INTELLIGENCE SERVICE ASKS MECIAR TO SUPPORT ALLEGATIONS
The Slovak Information Service (SIS) on 12 November demanded that the chairman of the Movement for a Democratic Slovakia, three-time former Prime Minister Vladimir Meciar, provide law enforcement authorities with any proof he has that SIS employees are selling tapes of wiretapped telephone conversations involving politicians, TASR reported. The SIS was responding to a statement by Meciar carried earlier on 12 November by the daily "Sme." Meciar told the daily that he has been offered wiretapped recordings of Prime Minister Mikulas Dzurinda's conversations but turned down the offer and reported the incident to Dzurinda. He said the tapes were selling for 100,000 crowns ($2,427), and implied that the offer came from SIS employees. He told "Sme" that it is impossible to control the SIS under the legislation that is currently in place. MS

SLOVAK PARLIAMENT APPROVES PRIVATIZATION OF STRATEGIC UTILITIES
Parliament on 12 November approved an amendment to the privatization law that would make it possible to sell majority stakes in so-called strategic natural-resource companies and public utilities, TASR reported. Under previous legislation, there was a 49 percent cap on the selling of shares of these companies to private investors. The amendment would make it possible to sell majority stakes in companies such as Slovak Gas, the VSE, ZSE and SSE energy distributors, the SE electricity utility, and the Transpetrol oil distributor. The government-proposed amendment was approved by 75 deputies representing the ruling coalition and opposed by 47 opposition deputies, with one abstention. President Rudolf Schuster has threatened to veto the legislation. MS

HUNGARIAN PRESIDENT SPEAKS OUT OVER CRITICISM OF COURT VERDICTS
Hungarian President Ferenc Madl said on 12 November that he agrees with Supreme Court President Zoltan Lomnici that the cabinet and parliament should condemn recent statements by politicians and journalists that could be construed as encroachment on judicial independence, Hungarian media reported. Madl said the expression of opinions related to specific court proceedings, or public criticism of the general direction of jurisprudence, can jeopardize the independence of judges. A number of politicians and organizations -- including minority rights Ombudsman Jeno Kaltenbach, philosopher and journalist Miklos Gaspar Tamas, and Socialist Party Chairman Laszlo Kovacs -- have criticized the recent acquittal of Calvinist pastor and Hungarian Justice and Life Party (MIEP) Deputy Chairman Lorant Hegedus Jr. (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 7 November 2003), as well as a Szeged court's ruling on compensation for two Romany brothers deemed "primitive" (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 12 November 2003). MIEP Chairman Istvan Csurka said on 12 November that the Federation of Jewish Religious Communities in Hungary and its followers are fomenting a revolt against the courts, "Magyar Hirlap" reported. MSZ

FREE DEMOCRATS' CHAIRMAN BACKS TIGHTER PENALTIES FOR HATE SPEECH IN HUNGARY
Free Democratic party Chairman Gabor Kuncze said on Hungarian television on 10 November that -- in light of the recent Hegedus acquittal -- he would support a proposal by the senior ruling Socialist Party to introduce heavier penalties for hate-speech offenses, Hungarian media reported (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 7 November 2003). Kuncze said a precondition for such support would be a request by President Madl for a preliminary review of the proposed bill by the Constitutional Court. According to "Nepszabadsag," Madl reportedly rejects that approach unless he is first presented with the text of such a draft bill. At a vote taken on the proposal by the Free Democratic Party's parliamentary group later on 10 November, 11 deputies voted in favor of supporting the bill while six opposed on the grounds that it would curtail the freedom of speech. MSZ

HUNGARIAN SURVEY ON ROMA PAINTS DISMAL PICTURE
A survey conducted by sociologist Istvan Kemeny suggests that just 16 percent of working-age Romany men in Hungary have regular jobs, and 56 percent of Romany households belong to the poorest segments of society, "Magyar Hirlap" reported on 13 November. The survey was titled "Plight of the Gypsy Population in Hungary at the Start of the 21st Century." MSZ

HUNGARIAN HOSPITAL PRIVATIZATION ON HOLD
The Hungarian Workers Party will start collecting signatures to force parliament to organize a referendum on reversing the bill on hospital privatization, party Chairman Gyula Thurmer said on 11 November, according to "Nepszabadsag." The announcement came following a Constitutional Court decision on 10 November that cleared the way for four left-wing political groups to gather signatures for a referendum that would ask citizens: "Are you in agreement with keeping public health-care institutions and hospitals under state or municipal ownership, and [do you] thus demand that parliament rescind the law contradictory to this?" Officials of ITD Hungary, a state-funded company coordinating private investment in the health-care sector, said the ruling has effectively put plans on hold because ITD cannot start negotiations with potential investors until the legal dispute is settled, "Napi Gazdasag" reported on 13 November. MSZ

SERBIA MOVING TOWARD ELECTIONS IN DECEMBER
Dragoljub Micunovic, who is the candidate of the governing Democratic Opposition of Serbia (DOS) coalition in the 16 November Serbian presidential vote, said in Belgrade on 13 November that early parliamentary elections are likely on 28 December, Reuters reported (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 12 November 2003). Parliamentary speaker Natasa Micic is expected to announce shortly the apparent decision by the DOS to end its long-standing opposition to early elections, which the opposition demands. The latest developments follow media reports that the DOS recently lost its majority in the parliament and is therefore likely to lose on any one of several no-confidence motions that are before the legislature. An important question is whether the shaky DOS, which is centered on the Democratic Party (DS), will stay together or dissolve in the run-up to the December vote. Recent polls suggest that the Democratic Party of Serbia (DSS) will place first. Serbian opinion surveys are not fully reliable, however, because they generally indicate that about one-third of the electorate is undecided or refuses to answer pollsters' questions. PM

SERBIA AND MONTENEGRO'S PRESIDENT BEGINS VISIT TO BOSNIA
Serbia and Montenegro's President Svetozar Marovic arrived in Sarajevo on 13 November with a high-ranking delegation on the first such official visit from Belgrade since the two countries established diplomatic relations on 15 December 2000, RFE/RL's South Slavic and Albanian Languages Service reported. The visitors' meetings in the Bosnian capital are expected to concentrate on concrete bilateral issues. Before leaving Belgrade, Marovic told Bosnian Radio that those responsible for atrocities during the 1992-95 conflict must be brought to justice, but the peoples of the two states must now draw closer together. He denied that indicted war criminal and former Bosnian Serb General Ratko Mladic is on the territory of Serbia and Montenegro, as members of the Hague-based war crimes tribunal have charged. PM

ROW OVER NEW ADMINISTRATIVE BORDERS IN MACEDONIA
Nikola Gruevski, who is the chairman of the opposition Internal Macedonian Revolutionary Organization (VMRO-DPMNE), said in Skopje on 11 November that the government should not adopt proposed legislation that would cut the number of administrative districts from 123 to about 50 or 60, "Utrinski vesnik" reported. According to Gruevski, the draft law would create some districts with an ethnic Albanian majority. Minister for Local Self-Government Aleksandar Gestakovski replied on 12 November that the aim of the proposal is not to create ethnically pure districts but rather to promote democracy and interethnic relations, "Utrinski vesnik" reported. The draft law on administrative borders is part of the government's efforts to decentralize administration, which has long been an important demand of the ethnic Albanian minority (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 14 October 2003 and "RFE/RL Balkan Report," 21 February 2003). UB

KOSOVAR PRIME MINISTER TO SET UP WORKING GROUPS ON MEETING INTERNATIONAL COMMUNITY'S BENCHMARKS
Kosova's Prime Minister Bajram Rexhepi said in Prishtina on 12 November that the government will shortly set up five working groups to deal with meeting eight standards, or benchmarks, that the international community says must be met before the final status of the province can be addressed, RFE/RL's South Slavic and Albanian Languages Service reported (see "RFE/RL Balkan Report," 1 and 22 August and 17 October 2003). Rexhepi said he is confident that Kosova will be ready for status talks by the end of 2004, which is not far from the mid-2005 date recently suggested by U.S. Undersecretary of State for Political Affairs Marc Grossman (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 5 November 2003). Many Kosovars and outside observers regard the continuation of the UN civilian administration in Kosova (UNMIK) as colonialist in nature, expensive, and unnecessary, given that many Kosovars have experience in public administration from the 1970s and 1980s. It has also been widely suggested that failure to define Kosova's final status is a source of instability not only in Kosova but throughout the region. Kosova's more than 90 percent ethnic Albanian majority solidly supports independence. PM

ROMANIAN GOVERNMENT REJECTS CRITICISM OF ELECTORAL PROPOSALS...
The government said in a press release on 12 November that the constitution and current electoral laws grant the cabinet the sole right to set the dates for parliamentary and presidential elections. The government said its proposal to hold the next parliamentary election and the first round of the presidential election simultaneously on 12 December 2004 was made in view of the fact that parliament's mandate will expire on 11 December and to hold elections earlier would violate the constitution. In response to criticism from other parties about the Social Democratic Party (PSD) minority cabinet's proposal to hold the presidential runoff on 19 December (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 12 November 2003), the cabinet said it chose that date to avoid balloting over Christmas. In a separate press release, the PSD accused the Democratic Party and the National Liberal Party of resorting to "populism" in their reactions to its electoral proposals, Mediafax reported. MS

...BUT PRESIDENT ILIESCU IS MORE RESTRAINED
President Ion Iliescu said during his visit to Calarasi County on 12 November that the PSD's proposal to hold parliamentary and presidential elections simultaneously on 12 December 2004 is "rational," taking into consideration organizational, logistic, and financial aspects, Mediafax reported. Contradicting the cabinet's statement, Iliescu added that the ballot could take place at an earlier date, if all parliamentary parties agree to it. Iliescu said he does not intend to consult with parliamentary parties' representatives on the matter, because electoral decisions should only be made by a special commission of the parliament. However, he said he "remains open to discussions, should those prove necessary." MS

ROMANIAN ORTHODOX CHURCH OPPOSES CONTROVERSIAL MINING PROJECT
The synod of the Romanian Orthodox Church on 12 November issued an official statement opposing the controversial Rosia Montana mining project, Mediafax reported (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 10 November 2003). The synod said the project would result in harmful ecological and cultural damages. It said that, among other things, the project would necessitate the removal of churches and "what is even more grave, removing the dead from their graves." The Orthodox tradition, the synod said, is that graves "remain sealed until the second coming of Our Lord Jesus Christ. Under no circumstance can we agree that the dead be removed." MS

MOLDOVAN PRESIDENT SAYS GAGAUZ-YERI SHOULD BE THIRD FEDERATION SUBJECT
President Vladimir Voronin said on 13 November that in addition to Moldova and Transdniester, Gagauz-Yeri should also be a subject of the envisaged federation, Flux reported. Voronin said the Transdniester's rulers are opposed to the idea, but Chisinau will not change its position that "the Gagauz-Yeri Autonomous Region is just as entitled to this status as is Transdniester." MS

BESSARABIAN METROPOLITAN CHURCH SUCCESSFUL IN CHALLENGING GOVERNMENT DECISION
The Supreme Court on 12 November nullified a decision by the Chisinau Court of Appeals and decided that a panel of the court's judges should rule on a complaint launched by the Bessarabian Metropolitan Church against a government decision of September 2001, RFE/RL's Chisinau bureau reported. The decision stipulated that the rival Moscow-subordinated Metropolitan Church of Moldova is the lone lawful successor and inheritor of the Metropolitan Church of Bessarabia, which functioned until 1940. The Chisinau Court of Appeals refused to examine the complaint. MS

BULGARIAN OPPOSITION DEMANDS CHANGES TO MEDIA LAW...
Following the Council on Electronic Media's (SEM) decision to revoke the license of TV Den, the conservative opposition Union of Democratic Forces (SDS) on 12 November demanded that the country's media legislation be amended, mediapool.bg reported. The SDS said the revocation procedure must be based on clear rules, and claimed that the council acted at the behest of the governing Movement for Rights and Freedoms (DPS). The SEM ruled that the anchorman of a call-in program on TV Den, which is run by Union Television, 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 (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 7 November 2003). Although the opposition Socialist Party (BSP) also criticized the revocation, it refused to cooperate with the SDS. A DPS lawmaker said the SEM is an independent body and that politicians should not meddle in its work. UB

...AND CALLS ON INTERIOR MINISTER TO RESIGN
The conservative opposition SDS on 12 November called on Prime Minister Simeon Saxecoburggotski to dismiss Interior Minister Georgi Petkanov for not doing enough to curb crime, bnn reported. The demand follows a recent flare-up of violence that included a shoot-out at a Sofia disco on 7 November and a bomb blast the following day. "We are again witnessing the inaction and the inability of the government and of the Interior Ministry leadership to cope with the situation," SDS legislator Dimitar Abadzhiev said in parliament. "The lack of political will to really fight crime is visible in the government and in the ruling majority," he added. UB

MIXED SIGNALS ON AZERBAIJAN COULD JEOPARDIZE LONG-TERM DEMOCRATIZATION
"The results of the ballot did not come unexpectedly for us." So said Azerbaijan's president-elect, Ilham Aliyev, shortly after his victory in what international monitors termed a less than free and fair election on 15 October. But the extent of the arrests and crackdowns on opposition political parties that followed the election were unexpected for Western governments and international bodies, which had repeatedly exhorted the regime in Baku to meet the letter and the spirit of the country's electoral code.

The authorities' behavior during and after the election could lead to a further radicalization of political life in Azerbaijan. As with other areas of institutional life in Azerbaijan, the country's electoral process is tightly controlled and deeply corrupted. And as with polls conducted in Azerbaijan over the course of the last decade, this time around the elections fell well short of meeting international standards. The balloting was accompanied by reports of serious irregularities, including inaccurate voter lists leading to the denial of eligible voters the right to vote, electoral fraud, such as individual payments at polling places to deliver votes for Ilham Aliyev, and various forms of voter intimidation. There were also serious irregularities in vote counting and tabulation.

Since the election, international monitoring bodies and Western governments have groped to find an appropriate response to the flawed election process and the subsequent campaign of state violence and reprisals, which included arrests of hundreds of opposition officials and supporters. Although most Western ambassadors in Baku failed to attend Ilham Aliyev's 31 October inauguration, the West has offered only mild criticism of the ballot, and has staked a position voicing support for the regime in Baku as a guarantor of "stability." That reticence, however, raises questions about the international community's longer-term commitment to promote the rule of law in Azerbaijan.

The results of the election proved divisive both for the people of Azerbaijan and the international monitors who observed it. Observers from the Institute for Democracy in Eastern Europe (IDEE) -- which represented nearly a third of the observer mission operating under the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe/Office for Democratic Institutions and Human Rights (OSCE/ODHIR) -- dissented from the findings of the OSCE/ODHIR's preliminary report and were highly critical of the election process. However, a later OSCE/ODHIR report released on 13 November seemed to take into account the dissenters' earlier concerns and agreed that the election had failed to meet OSCE commitments and other international standards.

On 6 November, the head of the OSCE office in Baku expressed alarm at the "growing number of complaints and reports regarding such dismissals of Azerbaijani citizens from their jobs on the basis of their political convictions and membership in opposition parties."

Meanwhile, President-elect Aliyev has re-appointed a number of key officials who served in his father's administration, including former Prime Minister Artur Rasizade, Defense Minister Safar Abiev, Interior Minister Ramil Usubov, and National Security Minister Namiq Abbasov.

Many observers believe that, despite widespread discontent over flawed leadership, Ilham Aliyev -- like his father before him -- would have prevailed in an open and fair contest. But he would have likely done so with a far smaller margin than the more than 76 percent of the vote given him by the official count. In such case, a strong showing by the opposition would have changed the nature of power relations in this authoritarian state, opening up the prospect for a future rotation of power. Such a possibility is, however, anathema to the Aliyev clan and its powerful backers. The Aliyevs and their highly placed supporters -- many of whom rely on the current structure for their personal enrichment -- are a potent check against cleaner elections, and pose enormous obstacles to further democratization.

The logic of autocratic governance, Azerbaijan-style, is this: while the government wants validation by international bodies and foreign governments, its head of state cannot afford to "suffer" a victory of modest proportions, since this would be perceived by the circle of powerful Azerbaijani politico-business interests as a sign of political weakness. Only a firm grip on power earns respect from the elites in the country. For a new and largely untested candidate like Ilham Aliyev, this is clearly a sensitive issue, although many observers had hoped the end of Heidar Aliyev's reign could usher in a new, more open era. Sadly, average Azerbaijanis are the constituency effectively left out of this equation.

All of this is going on within the context of considerable voter dissatisfaction in Azerbaijan. A poll commissioned earlier this year by Western assistance organizations indicates extremely high levels of dissatisfaction among the public on issues such as social protections, economic reforms, and the fight against corruption. Voters were also disappointed by the fractious opposition's failure either to align behind a single candidate, or to offer viable alternatives to the policies of the present leadership. Festering problems in Azerbaijan, which could be ameliorated through genuine steps toward democratization, may trigger wider popular discontent.

Azerbaijan now sorely needs a dose of both rule of law and democracy, as well as clear Western support for the development of a strong, indigenous civil society that is essential for promoting and consolidating democratic institutions and practices. But in the eyes of many Azerbaijanis, Western countries and key international organizations seem prepared to tolerate antidemocratic practices for the sake of economic interests and the appearance of stability. This, as recent history has proven in country after country, is a bad bargain for the democratic world. If the West does not make its support for democracy and the rule of law absolutely clear, it runs the risk of losing the support of average Azerbaijanis, who may come to see Western powers as complicit in regime corruption and brutality.

Christopher Walker is director of studies at Freedom House.

AFGHAN LEADER EXPECTS ATTACKS TO ESCALATE
Afghan Transitional Administration Chairman Hamid Karzai on 12 November said that he expects that the enemies of stability in Afghanistan will increase their attacks, and called on Afghans to be vigilant, Radio Afghanistan reported. Karzai said during a ceremony to announce his decree on voter registration for the 2004 elections that he believes that the rise in the number in attacks might be related to the Constitutional Loya Jirga set to begin on 10 December (see "RFE/RL Afghanistan Report," 6 and 13 November 2003). The loya jirga is expected adopt a new constitution for the country. AT

NINE KILLED IN CLASH WITH SUSPECTED NEO-TALIBAN IN ZABUL PROVINCE
One solider loyal to the Afghan government and eight suspected loyalists of the former Taliban regime were killed on 8 November in a clash that took place in Khak-e Afghan District of Zabul Province, Radio Afghanistan reported on 10 November. Meanwhile, two explosions reportedly occurred in the provincial capital Qalat on 8 November. The Afghan Interior Ministry confirmed the clash in Khak-e Afghan District, but said it had no information regarding explosions in Qalat. Reports attributed the information about the Qalat explosions to Mawlawi Mohammad Omar, the deputy governor of Zabul. He was quoted in the reports as saying that four districts in the province are not under government control (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 10 November 2003). AT

FOUR AFGHANS KILLED IN KONAR PROVINCE
At least four Afghan civilians died on 12 November when their car was blown up in Asadabad, Konar Province, Reuters reported the next day. The explosion was apparently set off by remote control. Eyewitnesses said the likely target of blast was a U.S. military vehicle. The blast, which occurred about 2 kilometers from a U.S. military base, came as U.S. forces are leading operation Mountain Resolve to clear antigovernment and anticoalition forces from areas of Konar Province and neighboring Nuristan Province (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 12 November 2003). AT

AFGHAN GOVERNMENT FORCES CLASH WITH CIVILIANS FOLLOWING CELEBRATORY SHOOTINGS
Forces loyal to the Afghan government clashed with residents of Nangarhar Province's Shewa District on 11 November after residents fired shots in the air to celebrate a birth, Radio Afghanistan reported. Participants from both sides reportedly sustained injuries. The security commander of the district, Gol Jan, said gunfire is banned, and that security forces intervened when the celebratory gunshots began. AT

FORMER TALIBAN ENVOY TO RUN IN AFGHAN PRESIDENTIAL ELECTIONS
Retired General Rahmatullah Safi has declared his candidacy for Afghanistan's 2004 presidential elections, Hindukosh news agency reported on 12 November. Safi, who represented the ousted Taliban regime in Europe, has formed a new political party called Adalat, according to the news agency. AT

IRANIAN PARLIAMENTARY LEADER HOSPITALIZED
The 12 November morning session of the legislature came to a halt when parliament speaker Hojatoleslam Mehdi Karrubi fell ill, ILNA reported. He felt nauseous and was taken to the hospital, Mehr News Agency reported. Karrubi's son Hussein later told reporters that his father fell ill because of low blood sugar. It later emerged that the speaker has a heart disorder, according to IRNA, although Hussein said his father has no history of heart problems. He described his father's situation as stable and said he must remain under medical supervision for 48 hours. Less than three hours after Karrubi fell ill, President Mohammad Khatami was by his side. Expediency Council chairman Ayatollah Ali-Akbar Hashemi-Rafsanjani sent his son, Mohsen Hashemi, to visit Karrubi later in the day, IRNA reported. BS

TEHRAN ACCEPTS ADDITIONAL PROTOCOL
Ali Akbar Salehi, Iranian representative to the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA), delivered a letter on 11 September to IAEA Director-General Mohammad el-Baradei in which Tehran accepted the Additional Protocol of the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty (NPT), according to the IAEA website (http://www.iaea.org). Salehi also told el-Baradei that Iran has decided to suspend its uranium-enrichment and -reprocessing activities. The IAEA Board of Governors is expected to consider Iran's application at its 20 November meeting. BS

IAEA REPORT ON IRAN DESCRIBES EXTENSIVE NUCLEAR PROGRAM
Also on 11 November, el-Baradei released a "restricted circulation" report to IAEA member states on the status of NPT safeguards' implementation in Iran, according to iaea.org. That 30-page report was leaked in full to the Reuters correspondent in Vienna, home of the IAEA, one day earlier. It showed that Iran conducted nuclear research clandestinely for decades and four countries had helped it, according to the news agency. Although Tehran engaged in activities like plutonium production and uranium enrichment -- using laser and centrifuge enrichment -- that are associated with making nuclear weapons, the IAEA had not found any evidence of an Iranian atomic-weapons program. "To date there is no evidence that [Iran's] previously undeclared nuclear material and activities referred to above were related to a nuclear weapons program," the IAEA reported. In light of Iran's record of concealment, however, "it will take some time" before the IAEA can be sure that Iran has a peaceful nuclear program. BS

TEHRAN NONPLUSSED BY IAEA REPORT
Iranian Foreign Ministry spokesman Hamid Reza admitted to reporters in Tehran on 12 November that the IAEA report "could have been better," in IRNA's words. On the positive side, he added, the report proved that the Iranian nuclear program is peaceful and Iran is cooperating with the IAEA transparently. Supreme National Security Council Secretary Hojatoleslam Hassan Rohani said on 11 November, "this [IAEA] report shows the U.S. and Israeli propaganda against Iran was baseless and Iran did not violate the NPT and also that its nuclear activities were not for military purposes," Reuters reported, citing Iranian state television. Iran's representative to the IAEA, Salehi, said on state television, "The failures attributed to Iran are insignificant and are at the level of gram and microgram of nuclear materials." BS

WHITE HOUSE CONTINUES 'NATIONAL EMERGENCY WITH RESPECT TO IRAN'
Because U.S. relations with Iran have not "returned to normal," President George W. Bush on 12 November continued the "national emergency with respect to Iran" for another year, according to the White House website (http://www.whitehouse.gov). President Jimmy Carter originally declared this national emergency on 14 November 1979 by Executive Order 12170 "to deal with the unusual and extraordinary threat to the national security, foreign policy, and economy of the United States constituted by the situation in Iran." This most recent notice was transmitted to the Congress. BS

IRANIAN LEGISLATURE REJECTS HARD-LINE CANDIDATES FOR GUARDIANS COUNCIL
The legislature on 12 November rejected the judiciary's candidates for membership on the Guardians Council, "Iran Daily" reported the next day. Six clerics appointed by Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei serve on the council, along with six jurists selected by the judiciary chief, who must win the legislature's approval. Council jurist Mohammad Reza Abbasifard resigned recently, possibly so that he could stand as a candidate for parliament. One of the judiciary's two nominees was Fazlollah Musavi; only 90 people voted in favor of him. The other candidate was Gholamhussein Elham, the judiciary spokesman and former Guardians Council Research Center chief. For these reasons, Radio Farda's (RFE/RL) Siavash Ardalan reported, the reformists know Elham well, and this is why only four of the 199 ballots cast by the parliamentarians were in his favor. The legislators said afterward that if the judiciary had consulted with them, it would have known that Elham would never win approval, especially since he was rejected twice before, Radio Farda reported. Elham claimed in a speech to the legislature that he does not want the job, either, but hinted that it is the supreme leader's choice. BS

ITALIAN MILITARY POLICE HEADQUARTERS BOMBED IN AL-NASIRIYAH...
Militants bombed the Italian military police headquarters in Al-Nasiriyah on 12 November, international media reported. Early reports indicated that as many as 26 people were killed in the blast, including 18 Italians and eight Iraqis. A British spokeswoman in southern Iraq said the blast occurred after a truck crashed through the front of the Italian security installation, followed by a car carrying the explosives. The director of Al-Nasiriyah General Hospital, Khudayr al-Hazbar, told Reuters that more than 80 people were wounded in the incident. According to AP, about 60 of them are thought to be Iraqis. The explosion caused the building to collapse, reportedly trapping an unknown number of people. Italian Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi said in a statement that the attack would not affect Italy's commitment to the coalition in Iraq. "No intimidation will budge us from our willingness to help that country rise up again and rebuild itself with self-government, security, and freedom." Some 2,300 Italian troops are stationed in southern Iraq under the command of British forces. KR

...AND U.S. RESPONDS WITH FORCE
The United States military struck back at militants in Baghdad on 12 November though air strikes as part of Operation Iron Hammer, international media reported. U.S. forces bombed a warehouse believed to be used by militants, setting off a string of explosions that could be heard across Baghdad, AP reported on 13 November. "The facility is a known meeting, planning, storage, and rendezvous point for belligerent elements currently conducting attacks on coalition forces and infrastructure," AP quoted the U.S. Defense Department as saying. Meanwhile, a new field assessment by the U.S. Central Intelligence Agency (CIA) warns that aggressive U.S. counterinsurgency measures have left many Iraqis disillusioned and might have pushed them to support anticoalition militants in Iraq, Reuters reported on 13 November. KR

SOME U.S. MILITARY COMMANDERS SAY INSURGENCY IS PLANNED
A number of U.S. military commanders in Iraq have concurred with the above-mentioned CIA assessment that posits that insurgent attacks in Iraq might be part of deposed Iraqi President Saddam Hussein's war plan, washingtonpost.com reported on 13 November. "I believe Saddam Hussein always intended to fight an insurgency should Iraqi fall," said Major General Charles Swannack Jr., the commanding general of the 82nd Airborne Division. "That's why you see so many of these arms caches out there in significant numbers all over the country." Swannack said there is no evidence that Hussein is running the day-to-day planning of militant attacks, since it appears that he is still changing his position rather frequently. The 12 November car bombing in Al-Nasiriyah was the 13th vehicle bombing in Iraq since the 7 August car bombing of the Jordanian Embassy in Baghdad (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 7 August 2003), AP reported on 13 November. KR

JAPAN POSTPONES TROOP DEPLOYMENT
Japan announced on 13 November that conditions are not right for the deployment of Japanese forces to Iraq, following the 12 November attack on the Italian military police headquarters in Al-Nasiriyah, AFP reported on 13 November. "If the situation allowed our Self-Defense Forces to participate, they could go at any time," Chief Cabinet Secretary Yasuo Fukuda told reporters in Tokyo. "Unfortunately, it is not such a situation." Tokyo had planned to send troops to Iraq by year-end. Japan passed a law in July allowing Japanese troops to be dispatched to Iraq on a noncombat mission. The troops were to be stationed in the relatively quiet south-central zone, where the Al-Nasiriyah bombing occurred. The Japanese opposition, which gained power in the country's 9 November parliamentary elections, has opposed a troop deployment to Iraq on various grounds. U.S. Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld is scheduled to visit Japan on 14 November. Japan pledged some $2 billion in grants and another $3.5 billion in medium-term loans to Iraq at the 23-24 donors conference in Madrid (see "RFE/RL Newsline" 24 October 2003). Meanwhile, Portugal said on 12 November that it will now dispatch 128 elite policemen to Al-Basrah instead of Al-Nasiriyah, AP reported on 13 November. KR

U.S. ADMINISTRATOR SAYS HE WILL TAKE PRESIDENT'S REMARKS TO GOVERNING COUNCIL
The head of the U.S. Coalition Provisional Authority in Iraq, L. Paul Bremer, told reporters that he will be taking U.S. President George W. Bush's remarks back to the Iraqi Governing Council following high-level administration meetings in Washington on 12 November, RFE/RL reported. "The Governing Council itself has a number of plans they've been discussing, and it was useful for me to come back and reflect to the president and his advisers what those options might be," Bremer said. "They are not my options, they are options put forward by the Governing Council. I will now go back and reflect the president's and his advisers' views on the path forward." Bremer did not disclose details of the meetings, except to say that "we have been moving forward to find ways to continue to transfer authority to the Iraqis as they are ready for it. We think they've made a lot of progress on that. I have made proposals to transfer more authority to the Iraqi Governing Council, and that is the backdrop for all of these discussions," he said. KR

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