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Newsline - November 14, 2003


PUTIN SEEKS TO REASSURE INTERNATIONAL FINANCIAL COMMUNITY
President Vladimir Putin told visiting International Monetary Fund (IMF) Managing Director Horst Koehler on 13 November that while prosecutors have accused senior Yukos executives of criminal activities, they remain innocent unless a court declares them guilty, NTV and RTR reported. "There is no basis to suppose that the use of laws is selective or will be selective," Putin said, according to economic aide Andrei Illarionov. Illarionov said the president told Koehler that prosecutors "must prove its case in an open and fair trial," according to Interfax. He added that Putin "stressed that [the Yukos affair] cannot be seen as aimed at reviewing the results of privatization," according to "The Moscow Times." The same day, Putin met with John Rutherford, president and CEO of Moody's Corporation, along with Moody's Vice President Jonathan Schiffer, RIA-Novosti reported. Shiffer was quoted as saying that the agency has no plan to change Russia's credit rating over the Yukos affair, which he described as a unique case. Moody's has been criticized by the competition for granting Russia an investment-grade rating just weeks before Yukos head Mikhail Khodorkovskii was jailed, sending many investors fleeing. VY

KHODORKOVSKII NGO DECRIES SENIOR PROSECUTOR'S REMARKS
The Open Russia charity founded and financed by Khodorkovskii has criticized Deputy Prosecutor-General Vladimir Kolesnikov for his suggestion in the State Duma that the jailed oligarch could spend as long as two years in prison without a conviction (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 13 November 2003), "Izvestiya" reported on 13 November. Kolesnikov demonstrated that he represents "not law enforcement, but a repressive organization," the group said. The official "Rossiiskaya gazeta" the same day reported that Kolesnikov failed to identify the specific legal grounds for keeping someone like Khodorkovskii in pretrial detention for such a period. In a speech on 12 November, billionaire George Soros effectively urged that Russia be expelled from the Group of Eight industrialized countries for its "persecution" of Khodorkovskii," according to Dow Jones Business News. The Moscow offices of the Soros Foundation were raided and shut down recently, just days after Soros publicly criticized Khodorkovskii's detention on fraud and tax-evasion charges. VY/AH

KHODORKOVSKII'S AMERICAN LAWYERS IN LIMBO
Two U.S. lawyers for Khodorkovskii postponed a planned trip to Russia following alleged warnings from Russian authorities that they risked "serious problems" by entering that country, Russian and international media reported on 12 November. Sanford Saunders and John Pappalardo, of law firm Greenberg Traurig, were reportedly sent the warnings through a Moscow firm assisting in their visa requests, Interfax reported. Saunders told Reuters that the Russian firm, Visa House, was searched by the Russian Federal Security Service (FSB) last week and files for the U.S. lawyers were seized. Yevgenii Khorishko, a spokesman with the Russian Embassy in Washington, countered the same day that "these two gentlemen have valid visas...and they can enter Russia with no problem," according to Reuters. "If they had any kind of problems, the visas would have been denied for them." Reuters quoted a U.S. State Department source as confirming reports of the warnings and saying it has expressed concern to the Russian Embassy. "We regard access to legal counsel as an important part of a rule-of-law society," the source reportedly said. The chairman of the Moscow Lawyers Chamber, Genri Reznik, was quoted by Interfax as noting that attorneys who are not registered in Russia "cannot take part in our criminal judicial proceedings." He added that such regulations do not preempt consulting services, however. VY/AH

MENATEP NAMES ACTING DIRECTOR, PENDING LEBEDEV RELEASE
Group Menatep, the holding company that controls a core stake in embattled oil giant Yukos, announced the appointment of Stephen Curtis as managing director until jailed chairman Platon Lebedev can return to his duties, Interfax reported on 14 November. Citing a press release, the agency said Curtis will be responsible for day-to-day operations at Group Menatep. "This is a policy matter and has nothing whatsoever to do with business," Interfax quoted a press spokesman at IFA Menatep as saying, adding that Lebedev's custody has meant he cannot attend to day-to-day management tasks. "Platon Lebedev is not trying to distance himself from management of the group, and there are no plans to remove him from the board of directors," spokesman Yurii Kotler said. AH

PUTIN CALLS FOR INCREASED VIGILANCE TO PROTECT STRATEGIC LOCATIONS
Speaking at a joint meeting of Russia's National Security Council and the state council on combating terrorism and emergency situations, President Putin said on 13 November that the country spends 600 billion rubles ($21.5 billion) per year to repair damage from natural and man-made catastrophes, local media reported. He said technological disasters constitute more than 70 percent of all emergency situations, blaming the fact that much of Russia's aging infrastructure was built in the 1950s and 1960s. On the terrorist threat, Putin said Russia should reinforce its system for protecting strategically crucial objects, regardless of whether they are federal or private property. Emergency Situations Minister Sergei Shoigu said after the same meeting that the government adopted new guidelines on nuclear, biological, and chemical security and allocated 11 billion rubles to defend strategic objects, RIA-Novosti reported. Atomic Energy Minister Aleksandr Rumyantsev said the rise of suicide attacks required additional security at nuclear installations. VY

CHURCH OFFICIAL HINTS AT POSSIBLE MEETING BETWEEN PATRIARCH AND POPE
Archbishop Kirill, the head of the Moscow Patriarchate Foreign Relations Department, said in New York on 13 November that the Russian Orthodox Church allows for the possibility of a meeting between Patriarch of All Russia and Moscow Aleksei II and Pope John Paul II of the Roman Catholic Church, nns.ru reported. The website reported that Putin contacted the Russian patriarch with "very important information" following an audience with the Roman Catholic pontiff in early November (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 7 November 2003). VY

CENTRAL ELECTION COMMISSION TO CONSIDER DISSOLVING BASHKIR COUNTERPART
The Central Election Commission (TsIK) will consider on 17 November whether to initiate the dissolution of Bashkortostan's election commission for failing to adhere to TsIK rulings, commission Chairman Aleksandr Veshnyakov announced on 13 November. The Bashkortostan commission has continued to refuse to register former Mezhprombank executive Sergei Veremeenko, the chief rival of the incumbent President Murtaza Rakhimov (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 4 November 2003). According to Radio Mayak, if the TsIK decides in favor of dissolution, then a court must confirm the commission's decision. However, even if the court does so, the disbanding of the republican commission will not become possible until after the 7 December presidential election in Bashkortostan. Also on 13 November, the republican commission canceled the registration of another Rakhimov rival, Ralif Safin, the current Federation Council representative for the Altai Republic, "Kommersant-Daily" reported on 14 November. Safin was accused of trying to buy votes by hosting a free concert at which his daughter, a popular pop singer, performed. JAC

YABLOKO TURNS DOWN ANOTHER MARRIAGE OFFER FROM SPS...
Unified Energy Systems (EES) head and Union of Rightist Forces (SPS) co-Chairman Anatolii Chubais told reporters on 13 November that the Yabloko party turned down his party's offer to merge just after the State Duma elections and nominate a single candidate for the March presidential elections, Russian media reported (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 6 November 2003). According to Chubais, he did not receive a formal "no" from Yabloko's leaders, but silence "means a negative reply to the proposal of joint action at a time when it is extremely important for the country." Yabloko responded to Chubais's statement by calling it "pre-election rhetoric, which is not always well-balanced and is always full of emotions," NTV reported. The same day, Yabloko leader Grigorii Yavlinskii and SPS leader Boris Nemtsov participated in an election debate on RTR. When asked why the merger will not take place, Yavlinskii responded, "Yabloko cannot join with such people as Chubais and [former Gazprom-Media head Alfred] Kokh." JAC

...AFTER WHICH SPS GOES ON THE ATTACK
Then, according to "Kommersant-Daily" on 14 November, Nemtsov countered in the televised debate by saying that SPS is not asking for "a marriage" but to "put out the fire of an authoritarian regime." "Chubais and Yavlinskii don't love each other, so what? Forget about your differences!" Nemtsov said. During the period of the debate when candidates are allowed to ask each other questions, Nemtsov asked Yavlinskii what connects him to Russia, since he was born in Ukraine, his family lives in England, and he spends half of his time abroad. Yavlinskii responded that he does not see anything bad in being born in Ukraine, and that his family lives in Moscow but his youngest son studies in England because there is no place in Russia to study his particular high level of mathematics. "Kommersant-Daily," which is controlled by Boris Berezovskii, asked why Nemtsov would ask such a question of a potential comrade-in-arms and concluded that now the leadership of SPS feels freed of any obligations to Yabloko and will support President Putin in the March 2004 presidential election. JAC

COMMUNISTS' DALLIANCE WITH BEREZOVSKII RESURFACES DURING LEAD-UP TO DUMA BALLOT
During a hearing of the State Duma's Security Committee on 13 November, committee Deputy Chairman Nikolai Kovalev (Unity-Unified Russia) accused fellow committee member and Communist Deputy Aleksandr Kulikov of "working as part of a staff which is preparing a conspiracy against Russia," Interfax reported. Members of the committee were discussing a draft appeal to Prosecutor-General Vladimir Ustinov to investigate the alleged misuse of federal budget funds by Rosagropromstroi, which is headed by Viktor Vidmanov. Vidmanov is on the Communist Party's party list for the State Duma elections. Kovalev also charged that "there is documentary evidence" that Vidmanov has met with Berezovskii. According to Kovalev, Berezovskii is planning a seizure of power. JAC

ANOTHER SENATOR FACING LEGAL CHALLENGE
The Vyborg city court in Leningrad Oblast will begin hearing on 16 January a case challenging the legality of the September election of Federation Council representative Grigorii Naginskii by the oblast legislature, RosBalt reported on 13 November. Before Naginskii, the legislature had selected a fellow deputy, Damir Shadaev, in June; however, the Vyborg city court deprived him of his seat the next month (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 30 June 2003). In March 2002, it had elected former Gazprom Media head Alfred Kokh, whose selection was also later declared invalid (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 29 March 2002). JAC

WHEN THE GOING GETS TOUGH, THE GOVERNORS GET GOING
Writing in "The Moscow Times" on 13 November, Nikolai Petrov, head of the Moscow-based Center for Political and Geographical Research, argued that the Yukos case "has had a major impact on [regional] governors, and not only in the three dozen or so regions that are directly tied to the oil major." Petrov suggested that the governors have not been inspired to launch their own mini-crackdowns on local oligarchs, since they are frequently tied to them themselves. Instead, the legal assault against Yukos has "put the fear of God into the governors," according to Petrov, so that "they demonstrate a little more zeal in their preparations for elections and a little more concern for their constituents" during the lead-up to the 7 December State Duma race. JAC

KNOW WHEN TO FOLD 'EM
A Moscow district military court began the closed trial on 13 November of a lieutenant colonel in the Russian Foreign Intelligence Service (SVR) accused of gambling away more than $60,000 of Aeroflot's money in a casino, "Izvestiya" reported. The officer was reportedly working undercover as an Aeroflot employee when he allegedly gambled away the funds in an Eastern European casino. SVR spokesman Boris Labusov declined to comment on the proceedings, but "Izvestiya" called it the first such trial in the 80-year history of Aeroflot or the 85-year history of the SVR. VY

BRITISH COURT THROWS OUT RUSSIAN REQUEST TO EXTRADITE CHECHEN OFFICIAL
A London magistrates' court rejected on 13 November a demand by the Russian Prosecutor-General's Office for the extradition of Akhmed Zakaev, vice premier in Chechen President Aslan Maskhadov's government, British media reported. Judge Timothy Workman said there is "a substantial risk" that Zakaev would be subjected to torture if he were sent back to Russia to face what are widely regarded as fabricated charges of terrorism, hostage taking, and murder. The Russian Prosecutor-General's Office condemned the court decision as an example of "double standards," Interfax reported on 13 November, while Russian presidential aide Sergei Yastrzhembskii described it as an attempt to justify terrorism, according to chechenpress.com. Yastrzhembskii warned that the ruling could negatively affect Russian-British relations. LF

FINAL CHECHEN DEPUTY PREMIER NAMED
Akhmad-hadji Kadyrov, named by the Kremlin as the winner of a disputed 5 October presidential ballot, appointed Bilkhis Baidaeva on 13 November as deputy prime minister with responsibility for social issues in his pro-Moscow government, ITAR-TASS reported. She is the last member of Anatolii Popov's new cabinet to be named, and its only female member. The other members of the new cabinet were announced on 4 November. Eli Isaev is first deputy premier and finance minister; former First Deputy Prime Minister Dukvakha Abdurakhmanov was named deputy premier and agriculture minister; Lema Dadaev -- education minister; Shakhid Akhmadov -- health minister; Abdula Magomedov -- economic development and trade minister; Taus Dzhabrailov -- nationalities and media minister; and Amad Temishev -- industry, science, technology, and computerization minister, Interfax reported on 4 November. LF

ARMENIAN DEFENSE MINISTER ARGUES BENEFITS OF MILITARY COOPERATION WITH RUSSIA
Serzh Sarkisian rejected on 13 November media criticism of a bilateral agreement signed during his Russian counterpart Sergei Ivanov's visit to Yerevan earlier this week under which the Armenian government will pay for public utilities to the Russian military base in Armenia, Noyan Tapan and RFE/RL's Yerevan bureau reported. The total annual cost of those services is estimated at some $1.5 million, but Sarkisian argued that Armenia nonetheless derives a net gain from military cooperation with Russia. LF

PARLIAMENTARIAN SAYS ARMENIA SHOULD BE READY TO 'STABILIZE' GEORGIA
Armen Rustamian, who chairs the Armenian parliament's Foreign Relations Committee, told RFE/RL's Yerevan bureau on 13 November that he believes the Armenian government should be prepared to intervene in Georgia if the postelection standoff between the Georgian leadership and opposition triggers unrest that could threaten Armenia's communications with the outside world or the security of the large Armenian minority in southern Georgia. But Rustamian, who is a leading member of the Armenian Revolutionary Federation-Dashnaktsutiun, one of the two junior partners in the ruling three-party coalition government, added that Armenia should remain neutral in the dispute. On 12 November, the Armenian Embassy in Tbilisi issued a statement saying Yerevan will not under any circumstances "interfere in Georgia's internal affairs" (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 13 November 2003). LF

AZERBAIJANI OPPOSITION PARTY EVICTED FROM HEADQUARTERS
Baku's Sabail Raion Court ruled on 13 November that the opposition Musavat Party should be evicted from its headquarters, Turan reported. The Baku city council demanded on 24 October that the party vacate those premises voluntarily within one week, but no suitable alternative accommodation has been made available (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 24 and 31 October 2003). The Musavat party, whose candidate Isa Qambar claims to have polled 60 percent of the vote in the 15 October presidential ballot, issued a statement on 13 November condemning the court ruling as illegal, and as the continuation of an official campaign of "pressure and persecution launched following the falsification of the elections," Turan and zerkalo.az reported. Its staffers have nonetheless vacated the building in question. Also on 13 November, a second Baku district court annulled a three-year rental agreement concluded in 2001 by the conservative wing of the opposition Azerbaijan Popular Front Party for an apartment that serves as the party's head office, zerkalo.az reported on 14 November. The party plans to appeal that decision in court. LF

GEORGIAN OPPOSITION ANNOUNCES MASS PROTEST DEMONSTRATION...
National Movement (EM) Chairman Mikhail Saakashvili, who claims his party won the 2 November parliamentary elections, appealed to the Georgian people on 13 November to attend a mass rally in front of the parliament building in Tbilisi the following day to demand the resignation of President Eduard Shevardnadze, Georgian and Western media reported. Saakashvili argued that Shevardnadze is ultimately responsible for the falsification of the outcome of the ballot to ensure the victory of the For a Free Georgia bloc that supports him. Saakashvili ruled out any further dialogue with the president as pointless. Parliament speaker Nino Burdjanadze, who co-leads the Burdjanadze-Democrats bloc with her predecessor Zurab Zhvania, said the opposition will not "bargain" with Shevardnadze and will continue to demand the annulment of the election results. Djumber Patiashvili, leader of the opposition Ertoba movement, said on 13 November that he supports the demand for Shevardnadze's resignation but not that for repeat elections, Caucasus Press reported. LF

...AS GEORGIAN PRESIDENT APPEALS FOR CALM
Shevardnadze responded to the opposition appeal in a televised address to the people of Georgia on 14 November, Reuters reported. Shevardnadze appealed to the population not to attend the rally, which he said "might be the start of bad things to come," and "to go about their business." "I appeal to everyone to calm down and act peacefully for the sake of...our motherland," Shevardnadze said. He also reaffirmed his readiness to meet with Burdjanadze and Zhvania, and even with Saakashvili, in order "to prevent confrontation and the escalation of tensions," ITAR-TASS reported on 14 November. At the same time, Shevardnadze stressed that he will not step down as president. LF

GEORGIAN ELECTIONS RESULTS INVALIDATED IN KUTAISI
A district court in Kutaisi, Georgia's second-largest city, ruled on 13 November in response to appeals by the opposition Labor Party and Democratic Revival Union to annul the elections results for the city for both the proportional and majority vote, Caucasus Press reported. Burdjanadze was widely expected to win election from a Kutaisi constituency. As of 10 November, the vote had been declared invalid in 27 constituencies and repeat elections scheduled for 16 November, according to ITAR-TASS. A poll of 325 people summarized on 13 November in the newspaper "Alia" found that 79.4 percent believe new elections should be held, Caucasus Press reported. LF

OSCE CALLS FOR 'RESTRAINT' IN GEORGIA
In a 13 November statement posted on the OSCE's website (http://www.osce.org/news/show_news.php?id=3682), OSCE Chairman in Office and Netherlands Foreign Minister Jaap de Hoop Scheffer called on all parties to the political standoff in Georgia to demonstrate restraint, refrain from violence, and intensify the search for a democratic solution to the ongoing crisis. In an implicit criticism of the Georgian authorities, he noted that "irregularities and delays in the voting process on polling day and in the subsequent counting and tabulation process reflected a lack of political will and administrative capacity for the conduct of free, fair, and transparent elections." LF

KAZAKH OPPOSITION ACCUSES GOVERNMENT OFFICIALS OF UNDERMINING REFORMS
Bolat Abilov, co-chairman of the opposition Ak Zhol Party, on 13 November told a correspondent from the Kazakhstan Today news agency (www.gazeta.kz) that reforms in Kazakhstan are being "torpedoed" by the entourage of President Nursultan Nazarbaev and members of the government. Abilov said that the officials opposing economic and political reform do not want Kazakh society to become more open and transparent. Thus, they do not want honest elections, competitive media, decentralization of power, or for heads of regional government administrations to be elected rather than appointed. Abilov said the officials are also opposed to openness in the raw-materials industries. Abilov's remarks were part of his account of the recent congress of the Ak Zhol Party (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 10 November 2003), at which preparations began for parliamentary elections in 2004. BB

KYRGYZ OBLAST ADMINISTRATION WARNS UZBEK NEIGHBORS OVER BORDER-POST PROTESTS
The administration of southern Kyrgyzstan's Batken Oblast has sent a letter to its counterpart in the neighboring Ferghana Oblast of Uzbekistan, warning that if inhabitants of the Uzbek exclave of Sokh do not stop their attempts to have a Kyrgyz border post removed, the inhabitants of Batken Oblast will block the road linking the exclave to Uzbekistan, RFE/RL's Kyrgyz Service reported on 13 November. On 11 November, inhabitants of Sokh blocked the road linking the town of Batken with Osh, the main city of southern Kyrgyzstan, as part of their protest against the border post (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 12 November 2003). The Batken administration letter informed Ferghana officials that the Kyrgyz border post will remain in place until Uzbekistan removes its border post on the road into Sokh. BB

TYPHOID OUTBREAK IN SOUTHERN KYRGYZSTAN ATTRIBUTED TO CONTAMINATED WATER FROM TAJIKISTAN...
An outbreak of typhoid fever in southern Kyrgyzstan's Batken and Djalal-Abad oblasts is being blamed at least partly on contaminated water flowing into the area from Tajikistan, KyrgyzInfo reported on 13 November. The outbreak had infected 96 people as of that day, according to ITAR-TASS, quoting the Kyrgyz Health Ministry. The ministry said that all the infected persons said they had drunk water from canals originating in Tajikistan, and the local health services were organizing the delivery of clean drinking water to affected villages in addition to distributing information about the disease. Local health specialists are reported to be using the typhoid outbreak to criticize the neglect of water-supply facilities in the affected areas. BB

...WHILE TAJIK OFFICIAL DENIES TYPHOID EPIDEMIC IN TAJIKISTAN
First Deputy Health Minister Abdumuslim Temirov denied on 13 November that there is an epidemic of typhoid in Dushanbe or elsewhere in the country, ITAR-TASS reported. Temirov described recent outbreaks of the disease as a seasonal phenomenon and rejected media assertions that 1,000 people contracted the disease in Dushanbe, saying that the total number of confirmed cases at present is 301, down from 500-600 in October (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 27 October 2003). Temirov did not confirm media reports that up to 2,000 inhabitants of villages near the Afghan border contracted typhoid. In 2002, health officials registered more than 2,500 cases of typhoid in Tajikistan. BB

U.S. IMPRESSED WITH DEMOCRATIZATION IN TAJIKISTAN
Lorne Craner, the U.S. assistant secretary of state for democracy, human rights, and labor, told journalists after meeting with Tajik President Imomali Rakhmonov on 13 November that the U.S. State Department finds Tajikistan's progress in democratization to be "impressive," especially considering the country's long civil war (1992-97), RIA-Novosti reported. Craner, who is on a visit to Tajikistan with Assistant Secretary of State for European and Eurasian Affairs Elizabeth Jones, cited as top priorities for Tajikistan the adoption of new legislation on elections and on the media. Jones praised the level of cooperation that has developed between the United States and Tajikistan in dealing with Afghan issues, and named the development of Tajik civil society and economic reforms as areas for further cooperation. She also stressed the importance of regional integration, and promised U.S. assistance to Tajik border forces in countering the illegal drug trade. BB

ASIAN DEVELOPMENT BANK TO LOAN UZBEKISTAN UP TO $150 MILLION ANNUALLY
The Tashkent representative of the Asian Development Bank (ABD) told RIA-Novosti on 13 November that under the bank's revised program for Uzbekistan for 2004 to 2006, the country will receive loans of $100 million to $150 million annually for the next three years. The loans are intended to stimulate economic growth and the development of human resources, focusing particularly on maternal and child health, publication of textbooks, entrepreneurship, agricultural development, and modernizing energy-delivery systems. The ADB loaned Uzbekistan $695.5 million from 1996 to 2002. BB

BELARUSIAN OPPOSITION VIES FOR ELECTION COALITION
The opposition alliance formed by the United Civic Party, the Belarusian Popular Front, the Belarusian Party of Labor, the Belarusian Social Democratic Assembly, and the Belarusian Party of Communists will hold a parliamentary election campaign in 2004 under the name of the Popular Coalition Five Plus, Belapan reported on 13 November, quoting United Civic Party leader Anatol Lyabedzka. Lyabedzka said the Popular Coalition Five Plus is seeking to enlist cooperation from pro-democracy individuals and non-governmental organizations in the election campaign. Meanwhile, the opposition Social Democratic Party (Popular Assembly) led by Mikalay Statkevich has called on pro-democracy activists and organizations to join the recently created opposition coalition Free Belarus in order to lead a coordinated election campaign in 2004 (see "RFE/RL Poland, Belarus, and Ukraine Report," 4 November 2003). JM

BELARUSIAN YOUTH FRONT ACTIVISTS PUNISHED FOR MOBILIZING PROTEST
A district court in Minsk on 13 November sentenced Artur Finkevich to 15 days in jail and fined Eduard Zelyankow, Volha Varabyova, and Alena Skrabunova $155 each for staging an unauthorized demonstration, Belapan reported. The four, who are members of the opposition Youth Front, were detained by police the previous day at a rock concert in Minsk, where they were distributing leaflets calling for a rally on 24 November to protest President Alyaksandr Lukashenka's possible third term in office. JM

IN NIXING TEXTILE QUOTA REQUEST, BRUSSELS DECRIES BELARUSIAN RIGHTS RECORD
Belarusian Foreign Ministry spokesman Andrey Savinykh said on 13 November that a recent refusal by the European Commission to increase the textile import quota for Belarus runs counter to principles of the European Union and the World Trade Organization, Belapan reported. Savinykh said the European Commission initially expressed its consent to increase this quota but later backed down, accusing the Belarusian government of violations of trade union rights and demanding it improve the situation. Arancha Gonzales, spokeswoman of EU Trade Commissioner Pascal Lamy, told RFE/RL's Belarusian Service that in making that decision, Brussels also took into account Minsk's poor human rights record and suppression of the freedom of speech. Belarus sells some $120 million worth of textiles to EU countries annually. JM

UKRAINIAN PRESIDENT WANTS TO KNOW HOW TO DISBAND PARLIAMENT
President Leonid Kuchma on 13 November requested that the Constitutional Court supply an official interpretation of the provisions in the Ukrainian Constitution pertaining to the dissolution of the Verkhovna Rada prior to the expiration of its term, Interfax reported, quoting the presidential press service. Kuchma said in his request that his move was provoked by the blockade of the ongoing parliamentary session by "certain deputies, groups, and caucuses." In particular, Kuchma wants an elucidation of the provision of Article 90 of the basic law stipulating that the president may terminate the authority of the Verkhovna Rada if it fails to hold a plenary sitting within 30 days of a regular parliamentary session. Lawmakers from Our Ukraine, the Yuliya Tymoshenko Bloc, and the Socialist Party have recently disrupted several daily sittings of the Verkhovna Rada, demanding that the authorities account for the foiled Our Ukraine congress in Donetsk on 31 October (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 6 November 2003). JM

ESTONIAN PARLIAMENT KEEPS RUSSIAN-LANGUAGE SECONDARY SCHOOLS
The parliament by a vote of 40-7 with two abstentions rejected an amendment to the Secondary School Act that called for changing the language of instruction in Russian-language secondary schools to Estonian beginning with the 2007-2008 school year, BNS reported. The amendment had been proposed by the opposition Pro Patria Union. The main argument for the amendment was the high cost of maintaining schools in two languages. Also on 13 November, the government expressed support for an amendment to the Citizenship Act under which the state would compensate language-learning expenses to those who pass the citizenship exam. The amendment bill provides for fully compensating money paid to licensed private schools for courses of Estonian. SG

LATVIAN PARLIAMENT PASSES 2004 NATIONAL BUDGET
The parliament on 13 November passed the national budget for 2004 that foresees revenues of 1.92 billion lats ($3.34 billion) and expenditures of 2.07 billion lats, LETA reported the next day. The budget passed by a vote of 53-43. The budget deficit is estimated to be 137.15 million lats or about 2 percent of GDP. Even though corporate income tax will be reduced from 19 to 15 percent, revenues in 2004 are projected to be 9.5 percent higher than in the 2003 budget primarily due to improving tax administration and reducing contraband, VAT fraud schemes, and under-the-table payment of salaries. The main revenue sources will be social insurance payments (601.5 million lats); VAT revenues (480.7 million lats); excise taxes (225 million lats); personal income tax (111.5 million lats); and corporate-income tax (85.7 million lats). The budget was based on forecasts of a 6.1 percent growth in GDP and 3 percent inflation. SG

LITHUANIAN INTELLECTUALS URGE PRESIDENT TO RESIGN
Some 400 known cultural and social figures have signed an appeal to Rolandas Paksas calling on him to resign and thus "preserve the authority of the presidential institution," "Lietuvos rytas" reported on 14 November. The appeal, organized by the Open Lithuanian Foundation, states that Paksas "will not be able to escape responsibility for purposefully or unintentionally made mistakes and will be unable to regain the trust of the Lithuanian people regardless of how effectively his apparatus works." Noted historian Edvardas Gudavicius said he previously did not think Paksas should resign, believing that only Paksas' advisers had ties with criminal groups. He said his opinion changed, however, when the president, instead of cooperating with the ad hoc parliament commission formed to investigate these ties (see "RFE/RL Newsline, " 4 November 2003) tried to influence its work. In an apparent attempt to distract attention from the commission's hearings, which were broadcast live on radio and television for the first time on 14 November, Paksas is planning to make trips to Iraq next week, and to Ukraine on 1-3 December. SG

GERMAN MINISTER IN WARSAW HINTS AT COMPROMISE ON EU CONSTITUTION
German Foreign Minister Joschka Fischer said in Warsaw on 13 November that the draft EU constitution proposed by the European Convention may be changed in order to win over its key opponents, Poland and Spain, Reuters reported. The constitution envisages that key decisions in an enlarged EU would be made by a simple majority of countries representing at least 60 percent of EU citizens, effectively allowing Germany, France, Great Britain, and Italy to force through any decisions over the heads of smaller EU members. Fischer suggested that the 60 percent threshold could be raised, thus making it easier for smaller and medium-sized EU countries to block the big four. "We can discuss if the 60 percent limit is right -- we can find a compromise here," he said. "There are other points where we can find solutions ensuring Poland will not be discriminated against," he added but did not elaborate. JM

POLISH DAILY REPORTS CORRUPT MILITARY TENDERS
"Zycie Warszawy" reported on 13 November that many tenders for purchasing equipment for the Polish army in 2002 and 2003, including gear for the Polish contingent in Iraq, were allegedly dishonest. According to the daily, conditions for a tender were set so as to suit only one specific firm, which paid a bribe after winning it. Some 30 people have reportedly been arrested on charges of involvement. The opposition Law and Justice (PiS) party called on Defense Minister Jerzy Szmajdzinski to urgently report on the "Zycie Warszawy" revelations to the parliamentary Commission for National Defense. "If the press reports are confirmed, the consequences should be borne not only by the accused, but also by the high-ranking officials and politicians responsible for supervision at the Defense Ministry," PiS said in a statement. JM

CZECH PREMIER RULES OUT INVOLVEMENT OF STATE IN BUGGING SCANDAL
Prime Minister Vladimir Spidla on 13 November ruled out the possibility that any of the secret services or police are behind the bugging of parliamentary deputy Josef Hojdar's car telephone, CTK reported (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 14 November 2003). Spidla called "nothing but speculation" the allegations attributed to some politicians that either the Security Information Service (BIS), the Military Counterintelligence Service (VOZ), or Czech police could be behind the wiretapping, saying there is no "circumstantial evidence" to suspect their involvement. Defense Minister Miroslav Kostelka and Interior Minister Stanislav Gross said one day earlier that none of the services they oversee is involved in the new scandal. MS

CZECH FOREIGN MINISTER MEETS WITH SYMPATHY IN ITALY...
Foreign Minister Cyril Svoboda said on 13 November after talks in Rome with his Italian counterpart, Franco Frattini, that some of the amendments proposed by Prague to the draft European constitution currently under debate met with a positive response from Frattini, CTK reported. Frattini told journalists that on some of the proposed amendments, specifically those concerning a rotating EU presidency and the role of a future European foreign minister, Italy and the Czech Republic have similar positions. MS

...AND CRITICISM AT VATICAN
Foreign Minister Svoboda admitted after talks at the Vatican with Secretary of State Cardinal Angelo Soldano that he cannot predict if and when the Czech parliament will ratify an agreement with the Holy See, CTK reported. Svoboda, from the Christian Democratic Union-People's Party, said there is no strong political will in his country to solve the problem but negotiations between the sides must continue. Earlier this year, the lower house rejected a treaty signed by Svoboda and the Vatican in 2002, prompting strong criticism from the Holy See. Critics in parliament said the document gives the Catholic Church too many rights that other religious denominations do not enjoy. MS

NEW CONFLICT LOOMING OVER SLOVAK COALITION?
The Hungarian Coalition Party (SMK) on 13 November vetoed placing on the government's agenda an amended list of settlements with a minority population of 20 percent or more, TASR reported. The SMK said it first wants the Coalition Council to discuss its proposal that the legislation on displaying street signs in minority native tongues and using those languages in contact with local administration be amended. The SMK wants the current legislation amended to grant that right in settlements where an ethnic minority makes up 10 percent of the population instead of 20 percent. Construction Minister Laszlo Gyurovszky (SMK) said the amendment would benefit all national minorities, not just Hungarians. The results of the 2001 census show a drop in the number of settlements where ethnic Hungarians make up at least 20 percent of the population (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 4 November 2003). MS

IRELAND DOES NOT OPPOSE HUNGARIAN PROPOSAL REGARDING EU CONSTITUTION...
Visiting Irish Premier Bertie Ahern on 13 November promised his Hungarian counterpart, Peter Medgyessy, that Ireland will not oppose the Hungarian proposal to incorporate the rights of ethnic minorities in the new European Constitution, Hungarian and international media reported. Ahern, who was visiting Budapest, said he hopes talks on the draft constitution will end before Ireland takes over the EU presidency from Italy in January 2004, Hungarian radio reported. For his part, Medgyessy told reporters that trade between Ireland and Hungary has risen five-fold since the end of the 1990s. Irish capital investment in Hungary has reached some 160 million euros ($187 million), Medgyessy explained. MSZ

...WHILE GERMANY CAUTIOUS ON THE MATTER
German Foreign Minister Joschka Fischer told his visiting Hungarian counterpart, Laszlo Kovacs, during their talks in Berlin on 13 November that while Germany understands the Hungarian proposal to include minority rights into the future EU Constitution, it will proceed with caution on the matter. Fisher said public support for the Hungarian proposal depends largely whether France and Spain display any resistance to the idea. According to AP, Kovacs said it is difficult to understand why the EU made minority rights a condition for joining the union but now several member states oppose their inclusion in the constitution. Following the talks, Kovacs admitted that Berlin and Budapest also disagree over the size of the future European Commission. Germany wants to reduce the current 20-member Commission to 15 members plus a further 10 non-voting members, while Hungary supports the view that each member state needs to be represented in the Commission. MSZ

HUNGARIAN OFFICIALS COMMENT ON PUBLIC ROW OVER COURT RULINGS
Supreme Court President Zoltan Lomnici said at a press briefing on 13 November that he has asked members of the judiciary not to launch lawsuits against philosopher and journalist Miklos Gaspar Tamas for his article in "Magyar Hirlap" earlier this week, "Nepszabadsag" reported. Tamas claimed in his article that a considerable part of Hungary's judges belong to the upper-middle class, are against Roma, hate women, are homophobic, xenophobic, anti-Semitic, and deeply despise the downtrodden poor. Justice Minister Peter Barandy said at the same briefing that judges should pay more attention to ensure that the general public understands their verdicts. He said he has asked the Budapest Appeals Court to publish on the Internet the decision and the justification of the verdict in the acquittal of Calvinist pastor Lorant Hegedus (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 7 and 13 November 2003). Meanwhile, the daily "Nepszabadsag" wrote that Calvinist Bishop Gusztav Bolcskei said on 13 November that the church synod has dissociated itself from Hegedus' anti-Semitic article, which was published in 2001, and found the content of the article to be irreconcilable with the Bible and with the Calvinist religion. MSZ

SERBIA PREPARES TO HOLD ELECTIONS FOR A PRESIDENT...
More than 6.5 million Serbian citizens are registered to vote in the presidential elections scheduled for 16 November, RFE/RL's South Slavic and Albanian Languages Service reported on 14 November. The leading candidates are Dragoljub Micunovic, who is the candidate of the governing Democratic Opposition of Serbia (DOS) coalition, and Tomislav Nikolic, who is the candidate of Vojislav Seselj's Serbian Radical Party (SRS). Voter apathy and a boycott of the ballot by the leading opposition parties make it unlikely that the necessary 50 percent of registered voters will turn out to make the election valid (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 12 November 2003). In Prishtina, the Kosovar government said that Belgrade's plans to involve Kosova's Serbian minority in the voting will not help promote the minority's integration into Kosova's political life. The UN civilian administration in Kosova (UNMIK) said that its policy will be what it was in previous Serbian elections; namely, neither to promote nor to hinder the participation of local Serbs in the vote (see "RFE/RL Balkan Report," 13 and 20 June, 1 August, and 16 October 2003). PM

...AND A PARLIAMENT
The Serbian parliament approved on 13 November a proposal by speaker Natasa Micic to dissolve itself and hold early elections on 28 December, RFE/RL's South Slavic and Albanian Languages Service reported (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 12 and 13 November 2003). The move was widely expected because the governing Democratic Opposition of Serbia (DOS) coalition recently lost its shaky parliamentary majority when the small Social Democratic Party (SDP) withdrew its support. Polls suggest that the opposition Democratic Party of Serbia (DSS) of former Yugoslav President Vojislav Kostunica is likely to finish first, but the government that emerges from the ballot is likely to be a coalition. Most parties not linked to the regime of former Yugoslav President Slobodan Milosevic are at least nominally committed to political, economic, and military reform. Many politicians nonetheless tend to devote their time to infighting and exploiting nationalist sentiments. Mutual accusations between politicians of corruption are widespread (see "RFE/RL Balkan Report," 9 May and 25 July 2003). PM

SERBIA AND MONTENEGRO'S PRESIDENT APOLOGIZES TO BOSNIANS
Serbia and Montenegro's President Svetozar Marovic said in Sarajevo on 13 November that he apologizes on his own behalf as well as that of "the people of Serbia and Montenegro for every evil or misfortune which anyone in Bosnia-Herzegovina suffered from anyone from Serbia and Montenegro" during the 1992-95 conflict, Reuters and dpa reported. He also apologized for "injustice, evil, and killings," recalling mutual apologies that he and Croatian President Stipe Mesic exchanged recently (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 11, 12, and 13 September 2003). But Bosnian media reported that most Bosnian Muslims, who suffered the most wartime casualties, were not impressed with Marovic's remarks, calling them too little and too late. Some Muslims noted that Marovic is not a Serb but a Montenegrin, whose party has long committed itself to reconciliation. Those Muslims also observed that former Yugoslav President Kostunica visited Bosnia twice but did not apologize. PM

IS THE EU SEEKING TO INFLUENCE THE CROATIAN ELECTIONS?
EU Enlargement Commissioner Guenter Verheugen said in Zagreb on 13 November that he welcomes Croatia's bid to join the Brussels-based bloc by 2007, Croatian media reported. He added, however, that Croatia should also recall why it is not part of the group of 10 countries that will join in 2004. Some observers interpreted that remark as a reference to the nationalist rule of the late President Franjo Tudjman and his Croatian Democratic Community (HDZ), which ended in 2000 and was widely criticized abroad. The HDZ has since sought to project a more moderate image and hopes to do well in the 23 November parliamentary elections. Many observers interpreted Verheugen's remarks as a warning to Croats not to return the conservatives to office. But Croatian Foreign Minister Tonino Picula told "Vjesnik" that Verheugen informed his hosts that he is "here to explain, not to campaign." Verheugen was nicknamed "the schoolmaster" in some Eastern European countries for his alleged tendency to lecture applicant countries (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 10 October 2003 and "RFE/RL Balkan Report," 27 June 2003). PM

MACEDONIA SET TO APPLY FOR EU MEMBERSHIP BY FEBRUARY
Macedonian Prime Minister Branko Crvenkovski, who is on an official visit to Romania, said in Bucharest on 13 November that Macedonia will apply for EU membership by February 2004 at the latest, the BBC's Macedonian service reported. A government spokesman declined to answer whether the final decision on the membership application depends on recommendations from Brussels, which has been cool toward the Macedonian initiative (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 20 and 29 October 2003, and "RFE/RL Balkan Report," 27 June 2003). In other news, the Macedonian police issued an arrest warrant for former Defense Minister Ljuben Paunovski, who is still at large after being sentenced to five years in jail for fraud and abuse of power during the 2001 uprising, dpa reported. UB/PM

SECOND ROMANIAN CASUALTY IN AFGHANISTAN
The Romanian soldier wounded in Afghanistan in the 11 November incident near Kandahar died of his wounds on 14 November, Mediafax reported. Like Sergeant Silviu Fagaras, whose burial is to take place on 14 November, Sergeant Mihail Anton Samuila, who is the second Romanian casualty in Afghanistan, has been promoted post-mortem to the rank of first lieutenant. MS

PARLIAMENTARY SPEAKER COMPLAINS ABOUT ROMANIAN TREATMENT OF UKRAINIAN MINORITY
Visiting Ukrainian parliamentary speaker Volodymyr Lytvyn said on 13 November after talks with Romanian Senate Chairman Nicolae Vacaroiu that Romania does "too little" for its Ukrainian minority, Mediafax reported. Lytvyn said there is only one Ukrainian high school in Romania, which has neither a library nor a reading room. In comparison, he said, in Ukraine there are 94 schools where teaching is in Romanian, and several universities in Ukraine prepare Romanian-language teachers to serve in those schools, all of which are permanently provided with Romanian-language books. Vacaroiu said in reply that Romania respects the rights of national minorities and has been commended for it by the Council of Europe. Lytvyn was also received by Premier Adrian Nastase, who said he hopes the Romanian Senate will ratify the basic treaty between the two countries by the end of this year. MS

ROMANIAN PRESIDENT DENIES ABANDONING POSITION ABOVE POLITICS
The presidential office on 13 November issued a statement saying that President Ion Iliescu has not stopped consultations with parliamentary parties on the date for the 2004 parliamentary, presidential, and local elections, Romanian Radio reported. The statement came after the National Liberal Party (PNL) and the Democratic Party accused Iliescu of having infringed on the constitutional provision obliging the head of state to display even-handedness toward all political forces. The presidential office explained that after having heard the proposals of the ruling Social Democratic Party (PSD) on the electoral dates (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 12 and 13 November 2003), Iliescu believes the parliamentary commission in charge of overseeing the electoral process should debate the proposals. He would personally intervene "as mediator" if the need arose. The office said Iliescu has explained his position in a telephone conversation with PNL Chairman Theodor Stolojan. The office also said Iliescu "wishes to remind" the PNL and the Democrats that he has convoked consultations with all parliamentary parties on the recent European Commission report. MS

NATIONAL SZEKLER COUNCIL IN ROMANIA RELEASES AUTONOMY PROJECT
The permanent commission of the recently established Szekler National Council on 13 November published a Romanian-language version of a draft law on the autonomy of the envisaged Szekler region. The commission said it did so in order to demonstrate that the setting up of the autonomous region would not affect Romania's territorial integrity and that Romanian legislation will be respected in the region. The commission also said the draft is to be submitted for approval of its members on 6 January. If approved, it would be forwarded to the Romanian parliament as draft legislation. The envisaged autonomous region would include the Covasna, Harghita, and Mures counties in Transylvania. MS

UKRAINIAN PRESIDENT IN MOLDOVA
Visiting Ukrainian President Leonid Kuchma said in Chisinau after talks with his Moldovan counterpart Vladimir Voronin on 13 November that Ukraine wants to see a negotiated settlement putting an end to the conflict with Transdniester, RFE/RL's Chisinau bureau reported. Kuchma said such a settlement is important not only for Moldova, but also for Ukraine, which "is interested of having a stable state as its neighbor." He said Ukraine's attitude toward the Transdniester conflict continues to be based on the principles of "non-interference in [Moldova's] domestic affairs and respect for Moldova's territorial integrity." Voronin said there are "no outstanding issues with Ukraine, and we have the good intention of turning our bilateral relationship into a model for Europe as a whole." For us, he said, "Ukraine is an example of political partnership and good neighborly relations." The sides signed several agreements, including one on free trade. Kuchma also met with Premier Vasile Tarlev and parliamentary speaker Evgenia Ostapciuc and was decorated by Voronin with a high state order. He also visited Ukrainian peacekeepers in the security zone dividing Moldovan and Transdniester forces. MS

MOLDOVAN OFFICIAL WANTS PROBE INTO BOOKS IMPORTED FROM ROMANIA
Victor Stepaniuc, leader of the Party of Moldovan Communists (PCM) parliamentary group, demanded on 13 November that the Security and Information Service, the Education Ministry, and the Prosecutor-General's Office launch a probe into books imported from Romania and present parliament a report to parliament, Flux reported. Stepaniuc said authorities must determine whether the imported books are not infringing on the provisions of the constitution and on legislation concerning national security. Stepaniuc also accused the pro-unionist opposition Popular Party Christian Democratic (PPCD) of "subversive activity" directed against the state and carried out through the "dissemination of literature brought into Moldova from over the River Prut." He mentioned in this connection the book "Bessarabia" by Paul Goma, a Romanian dissident writer who now lives in French exile. Stepaniuc described the volume as "anti-Semitic" and as including "agitation and propaganda directed against the roots of Moldovan statehood." MS

MOLDOVAN COMMUNIST MAJORITY APPROVES LAW ON TELERADIO MOLDOVA'S REORGANIZATION
The PCM majority in parliament approved on 13 November legislation for the liquidation of Teleradio Moldova and its reorganization into two separate radio and television companies as part of its transformation into a public company, Infotag reported. The current company's debts to the state budget are to be canceled. The legislation stipulates that all current staff members are to be terminated and those wishing to work for the new companies would have to be selected alongside new journalists by a competition commission. The opposition Our Moldova and PPCD parliamentary groups voted against the legislation, claiming it provides an instrument for the government to get rid of journalists who refuse to submit to its directives. MS

MOLDOVAN MEDIA WATCHDOG WANTS VIOLENCE, PORNOGRAPHY OFF TV SCREENS DURING PRIME TIME
The Coordination Board of the Electronic Media decided on 12 November that films and programs shown on television must carry warnings if they include violent or pornographic scenes, Infotag reported. The decision follows the monitoring of nine channels, which concluded that only the First Channel of Moldovan Television and the ORT-Moldova channel of Russian Public Television do not carry such scenes. Board director Ion Mihailo said "violence and a lack of morality" are often displayed on the other channels, leading to "the perversion of our children." Mihailo said the monitoring has uncovered a new phenomenon: violence finding its way into news programs. As an example, he cited the Pro-TV private Romanian channel's 5 p.m. newscasts. As a consequence, the board is demanding that the program be either canceled or moved to a later hour. MS

BULGARIAN RULING PARTY MEMBERS DEMAND GOVERNMENT RESHUFFLE
Members of the New Era "discussion club," a faction within the governing National Movement Simeon II (NDSV), on 13 November demanded that Interior Minister Georgi Petkanov and a number of senior Interior Ministry officials resign as they have failed to curb crime, mediapool.bg reported (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 13 November 2003). Legislator Borislav Tsekov told the media that there will be a new government reshuffle, but this time the new composition of the cabinet will be decided by the NDSV's parliamentary group, and not by Prime Minister Simeon Saxecoburggotski alone, as was the case in July (see "End note," "RFE/RL Newsline," 21 July 2003). Emil Koshlukov, an independent member of the NDSV's parliamentary group, proposed replacing Petkanov with one of his predecessors, Bogomil Bonev, bnn reported. UB

LABOR PROTESTS IN BULGARIA
Several thousand unionists gathered outside the government building in Sofia on 14 November demanding that the government resign, the BBC's Bulgarian service reported. The meeting was organized by the Confederation of Independent Trade Unions in Bulgaria and the Podkrepa Labor Confederation, which protested a government decision to cut sickness benefits for the first five days of absence from 80 to 50 percent of the salary. Union leaders announced more protests for 20 November, when the parliament is to vote on the 2004 budget, which they claim to be antisocial. UB

POLAND, CZECH REPUBLIC TAKE ON DIFFERENT NATO ROLES
Although Poland and the Czech Republic joined NATO together in 1999, the two countries have taken markedly different paths in reforming and retooling their militaries to better contribute to the Atlantic alliance.

Poland's thinking reflects that of an emerging regional power that wants a military and a role to match its ambitions. The Czechs, like many other small countries that have joined NATO, are seeking to identify niche areas where they can make modest, yet meaningful, contributions.

The differences in approach reflect changing strategic and political realities for NATO. As the alliance expands from its current 19 members to 26 and continues its evolution from a defensive alliance designed to counter the Soviet threat to a more proactive and flexible fighting machine, different demands are being made on new members depending on their specific capabilities and geographic locations.

Warsaw made international headlines in April by agreeing to a $3.5 billion deal to purchase 48 F-16 fighter jets from the U.S. defense contractor Lockheed Martin. U.S. officials at the time referred to the agreement as "the contract of the century."

The Czech Republic, meanwhile, has more modest aspirations as it ponders how to replace its aging fleet of Soviet-made MIG fighter jets. Prague is considering proposals to either lease 14 British/Swedish-made Gripins, or to buy 14 used F-16s. While few questioned the Polish F-16 purchase, many in Prague have openly questioned whether a small country like the Czech Republic needs supersonic fighter jets at all.

Similar differences also exist in the countries' plans to downsize their respective armed forces. Poland currently has 150,000 men under arms, with plans to reduce that number over the next six years to 100,000 -- half of whom will be draftees and half volunteers.

The Czech government plans to phase out conscription altogether by 2006, reduce its armed forces from the current 50,000 personnel to an all-volunteer force of 35,000, and close half of the country's 150 bases. Prague has decided that rather than try to have it all, it can best contribute to NATO by directing most of its military resources into a few small niche areas where it can fulfill specific needs.

''We tried to figure out how to play the best role as a small country with limited resources,'' Czech Defense Ministry strategic planning director Jan Vana said in an interview last year. ''The idea was to specialize, but we weren't going to specialize in cooks.''

The Czechs decided to create what Vana calls ''centers of excellence'' and ''active assets'' that can meet NATO's needs. These included two anti-nuclear, -biological, and -chemical (NBC) units, a mobile field hospital, and a new passive radar system.

Other small countries have followed the Czechs' lead in specializing, most notably the seven countries that were invited to join the alliance at NATO's November 2002 Prague Summit. Slovakia is working closely with the Czechs to improve its own NBC unit. Latvia, Lithuania, and Estonia are cooperating to operate a Baltic-wide radar system that guards the northwestern frontier of NATO's airspace. Romania and Slovenia have each touted their militaries' skills in fighting on mountainous terrain.

NATO officials say niche contributions will be a key part of a new rapid-deployment force that the alliance unveiled in October. The force currently has 9,000 troops and will be expanded to 20,000 by 2006.

Warsaw is also focusing on specific areas of excellence, most notably the country's special forces, which have received high marks for their performance in Iraq. But Poland, which is four times the size of the Czech Republic and shares borders with Ukraine and Belarus, accounting for a large part of NATO's eastern frontier, faces greater security threats than the Czech Republic and therefore does not have the luxury of only specializing in a few niche areas.

"Poland is not small enough to specialize," said Bronislaw Komorowski, deputy chairman of the Sejm's National Defense Committee. "It is a frontier country in NATO and cannot afford to eliminate certain forces. Being a frontier country, we must have a military prepared to defend our territory -- land, sea, and air."

But Poland, alone among the former communist states that have joined NATO, aspires to play a leading role in Central and Eastern Europe.

"Poland has a chance to play the role of leader in this part of the world," Komorowski said.

KANDAHAR GOVERNOR DISCUSSES SECURITY, NARCOTICS, AND ELECTIONS
In a 12 November interview with EurasiaNet, Kandahar Province Governor Yusof Pashtun said that "security has been the number one item" on his agenda since he assumed the post in August (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 14 August 2003). Pashtun said that over the past six months, "the Taliban has started sending small groups from across the border in Pakistan" into Kandahar to "hit some soft targets, such as aid agencies" in order to block reconstruction efforts. Pashtun also blamed the former governor of the neighboring Zabul Province, Hamidullah Tokhi, for ignoring "the Taliban threat to the extent that they established a firm foothold" in some districts of his province. He said that while opium poppy is not cultivated in his province, Kandahar "is a major transit route" and as such is the "second major problem" for him. The Kandahar governor expressed doubt that the presidential elections slated for June 2004 will be held on time, adding that holding elections, "unfortunately," will not be possible next year. Pashtun suggested getting "some fresh mandate" for the Afghan Transitional Administration if elections are postponed. AT

DECREE ON VOTER REGISTRATION MADE PUBLIC
A decree from Afghan Transitional Administration Chairman Hamid Karzai on voter registration for the 2004 presidential elections in Afghanistan was made public on 12 November, Afghanistan Television reported. The 23-article decree makes Afghan citizens aged 18 years or older eligible to vote. According to the decree, separate polling stations should be set up for women and voter registration cards should be issued for all eligible voters. The issue that might force a postponement of the election -- a lack of security -- is discussed in the last article of the decree, stipulating that the "the Ministry of the Interior, in consultation with relevant departments and ministries, shall take action to ensure cooperation of the National Army soldiers and national security and with the police in restoring security during the registration phase." The Afghan National Army has fewer than 4,000 soldiers, while independent or semi-autonomous warlords and commanders rule most large swaths of Afghanistan. The decree does not touch on a mechanism for ensuring that those powerful elements do not interfere in the election process. AT

NATO PLANNING SMALL, MOBILE UNITS IN AFGHANISTAN
In order to compensate for serious shortfalls in its military capabilities in Afghanistan, NATO diplomats are contemplating the deployment of small mobile units of troops, the "Financial Times" reported on 13 November. An unidentified NATO diplomat offered an example of how the system would function by saying that if the UN asked the alliance for "troops for a few days to provide security for voters to register for the election or help with other security issues," then such mobile units would be deployed temporarily in areas where they were needed. The first test for the NATO-led International Security Assistance Force's (ISAF) expansion beyond Kabul will come when Germany takes command of a Provincial Reconstruction Team (PRT) in the northern Afghan city of Konduz in December. Based on the German experience, NATO might assume command of other PRTs around the country. Since taking command of ISAF in August, NATO has been unable to secure pledges for sufficient troops and equipment from either NATO member states or other countries (see "RFE/RL Afghanistan Report," 30 October 2003). AT

STUDENTS IN NORTHERN AFGHANISTAN PROTEST DRAFT CONSTITUTION
An estimated 1,000 students staged a protest in Mazar-e Sharif in Balkh Province on 12 November over the draft Afghan constitution, Reuters reported. The protestors demanded a parliamentary government, rather than the presidential system envisaged in the draft. The students also said the Uzbek language should be recognized as an official state language alongside Pashtu and Dari. The protestors rejected the title of "Father of the Nation" that is bestowed in the draft on the former Afghan monarch Mohammad Zaher. Basir Bahrawi, one of the organizers of the protest, reportedly said the students "will continue...[their] demonstrations until" their "demands are met" (see "RFE/RL Afghanistan Report," 6 and 13 November 2003). AT

TEHRAN PLEASED WITH BRITISH DECISION NOT TO EXTRADITE FORMER DIPLOMAT
Foreign Ministry spokesman Hamid Reza Assefi said on 13 November that he is pleased with the British decision not to continue with extradition proceedings against former Iranian diplomat Hadi Suleimanpur, ISNA reported. Most recently pursuing graduate studies at Durham University, Suleimanpur was the Iranian ambassador to Argentina when the AMIA Jewish Community Center in Buenos Aires was bombed in 1994, and he was detained in England in August pursuant to an Argentine extradition request relating to the bombing (see "RFE/RL Iran Report," 1 September 2003). Home Secretary David Blunkett reviewed 6,000 pages of evidence before deciding not to permit a full court hearing on the extradition request because the evidence is insufficient, AP reported on 12 November. Assefi said the British decision to drop the case "confirmed our previous suspicion regarding the Argentinean court's tainted ruling and lies propagated by the Zionist regime." Assefi continued: "the agents of the Zionist regime had plotted the attack ... The politically motivated act was orchestrated by the Zionist regime... The British ruling shows that all the Zionists' allegations against Iranian citizens regarding the AMIA attack have been baseless, lack legal credibility, and are politically motivated." BS

WASHINGTON UNHAPPY WITH IAEA REPORT ON IRANIAN NUKE ACTIVITIES
U.S. officials have reacted with incredulity at an 11 November International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) report that states that the nuclear watchdog had not found any evidence of an Iranian atomic-weapons program although Iran conducted nuclear research clandestinely for decades and engaged in activities that are associated with making nuclear weapons (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 13 November 2003). National Security Adviser Condoleezza Rice said at a 13 November press briefing in Washington, "I think that the IAEA report raises very serious concerns about what has been going on in Iran and what might be continuing to go on in Iran," the State Department's Bureau of International Information Programs reported (http://usinfo.state.gov). Rice suggested that any agreement signed with Tehran should take into consideration its past record of concealment and deception. "The report's assertion is simply impossible to believe," U.S. Undersecretary of State John Bolton said at a 12 November dinner for "American Spectator" magazine, Reuters reported. If anything, Bolton said, the report reaffirms Washington's belief that "the massive and covert Iranian effort to acquire sensitive nuclear capabilities makes sense only as part of a nuclear weapons program." BS

TEHRAN WARNS NUCLEAR WATCHDOG
Iran's representative to the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA), Ali Akbar Salehi, warned on 13 November that if Iran's nuclear program is referred to the United Nations Security Council, there would be an international crisis, AFP reported. Salehi was not specific in his threats, but he said, "We will be facing unpredictable consequences. It will not be conducive to the peaceful resolution of the issue. There are many things Iran can do," he said, although withdrawing from the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty (NPT) is not one of them. "We have a lot of leverage," Salehi continued. The IAEA Board of Governors is expected to discuss the report on Iran's nuclear program at its scheduled 20 November meeting. BS

CENTCOM CHIEF SAYS THERE IS A 'SENSE OF URGENCY' IN IRAQ
General John Abizaid on 13 November told reporters at U.S. Central Command (CENTCOM) headquarters in Florida that he feels a "sense of urgency" over the current military situation in Iraq, Reuters reported. Abizaid said that, "in all, I would say that the force of people actively armed and operating against us does not exceed 5,000." However, he added that the militants are showing new levels of coordination in their attacks against coalition forces. "There is some level of coordination that's taking place at very high levels, although I'm not so sure I'd say that there's a national-level resistance leadership -- not yet. It could develop, but I don't believe it's there yet," he said. KR

FRENCH FOREIGN MINISTER OFFERS FRENCH SUPPORT FOR U.S. IN IRAQ
French Foreign Minister Dominique de Villepin told France's Europe 1 Radio in a 13 November interview that France remains a committed ally of the United States and is prepared to offer its support through "solidarity, sound proposals, and courage." De Villepin, reiterating earlier calls for a special UN envoy to work alongside Coalition Provisional Authority head L. Paul Bremer, said that the international community "cannot wait any longer" and must adopt a change of approach in Iraq. The foreign minister also called for the establishment of a provisional Iraqi government by year-end and said his country is "ready to contribute to Iraq's development." When asked about his earlier statements contending that France will not contribute money or troops to Iraq, de Villepin replied: "We want to do it, and this is the condition we are placing on doing this. We want to do it in response to [requests from] an Iraqi government." He stressed that France is "prepared to engage in any dialogue" with the United States, adding that "a global approach is fundamental." KR

AUSTRALIA EXTENDS TROOP DEPLOYMENT; U.K. SAYS IT MAY SEND MORE TROOPS TO IRAQ
Australian Defense Minister Robert Hill has announced that some 160 Royal Australian Air Force personnel in Iraq will remain there for an additional six months, Radio Australia reported on 14 November. The detachment was scheduled to leave Iraq in January. Australia has some 850 troops stationed in Iraq. Meanwhile, British Foreign Secretary Jack Straw told the BBC on 13 November that the United Kingdom will send additional troops to Iraq if they are required. He said Great Britain currently has some 10,000 troops stationed in Iraq. "I know that both [Defense Secretary] Geoff Hoon and the chief of the Defense Staff [General Michael Walker] are constantly making judgments about whether force numbers are adequate," Straw said. Japan announced on 14 November that a team from its Self-Defense Force would leave for Iraq on 15 November to assess the security situation there. Japan has said it will delay its troop dispatch to Iraq because of the security situation (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 13 November 2003). Thailand will also send a military envoy to assess the security situation in Iraq, AFP reported on 14 November. KR

U.S. NATIONAL SECURITY ADVISER COMMENTS ON IRAQ MEETINGS
U.S. national-security adviser Condoleezza Rice spoke with reporters in Washington on 13 November following high-level administration meetings with Coalition Provisional Authority head Bremer, RFE/RL reported. Rice said the United States has faced some challenges in forming institutions and governing Iraq. "Nobody has ever tried to be locked in stone about the forms by which, or the mechanisms by which we would try to transfer more authority" to Iraqis, she said, referring to the 12 November meetings (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 13 November 2003). "It is still important that the Iraqi people have a permanent constitution, it's still important that they have elections for a permanent government. Nothing has changed, but what is also important is that we find ways to accelerate the transfer of authority to the Iraqi people," Rice said. KR

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