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Newsline - November 19, 2003


DEPUTIES ASK PROSECUTOR TO GO AFTER COMMUNIST PARTY BENEFACTOR...
Duma deputies on 18 November adopted a resolution sponsored by the pro-Kremlin centrist factions that appeals to Prosecutor-General Vladimir Ustinov to investigate Rosagropromstroi and its president, Viktor Vidmanov, Russian media reported. Vidmanov is on the Communist Party's party list for the 7 December Duma elections and is considered one of the party's chief financial backers, "Vremya novostei" reported on 19 November. According to the daily, the Duma renews its interest in Vidmanov and his company every four years as Duma elections approach. Traditionally, Vidmanov is accused of embezzlement and misallocating resources. JAC

...ON ACCUSATIONS OF EMBEZZLEMENT AND CONTACTS WITH BEREZOVSKII
This time, deputies charged that Rosagropromstroi used millions of dollars in federally allocated funds to finance the Communist Party in 1998-99, Russian media reported on 19 November. Vidmanov has also been accused of maintaining unspecified ties with self-exiled tycoon Boris Berezovskii, who is wanted in Russia on several fraud and embezzlement charges. Some 241 deputies voted to support the appeal, according to Interfax. JAC

FSB FIGURES LEAD THE CHARGE AGAINST THE COMMUNISTS...
The resolution against Rosagropromstroi was drafted by Duma Security Committee Deputy Chairman and former Federal Security Service (FSB) Director Nikolai Kovalev (Unified Russia) and committee member Gennadii Gudkov (People's Deputy), Russian media reported on 19 November. Speaking before the Security Committee on 17 November, Kovalev accused the Communist Party and Berezovskii of plotting against Russia, Ekho Moskvy reported. Addressing Communist deputies, Kovalev said: "You are working with Berezovskii, who is plotting against Russia and preparing to take power. I lost my position as FSB director [in 1998] for trying to stop Berezovskii's activities. Do you think it is normal to have contacts with him, especially after he was granted political asylum in Great Britain at the request of [British counterintelligence]?" Kovalev's comments were endorsed by fellow committee member and former FSB and KGB officer Mikhail Grishakov. VY

...AS COMMUNIST LEADERS RESPOND...
In a response to the Duma's resolution that was posted on the Communist Party's website (http://www.kprf.ru), party leader Gennadii Zyuganov called Security Committee Deputy Chairman Kovalev's statement "a provocation by the party of power," which is "avoiding public dialogue and open debate and [instead] is using such shameful methods." "FSB General Kovalev and his Security Committee colleagues Gennadii Gudkov and Mikhail Grishakov, both also former high-ranking FSB officers, have confused the State Duma with [FSB headquarters] Lubyanka," Zyuganov wrote. Deputy Sergei Reshulskii, deputy head of the Communist faction in the Duma, said on 18 November the faction will sue all 241 deputies who voted in favor of the resolution because they knew that it is based on false information, Russian media reported on 19 November. VY

...AND ACCUSED BENEFACTOR ADMITS TO CONTACTS WITH BEREZOVSKII
Rosagropromstroi President Vidmanov told journalists on 18 November that reports that Berezovskii has financed the Communist Party are completely false, but admitted that he had business dealings with Berezovskii in London in 2001-02, RTR and TV-Tsentr reported. He emphasized that the contacts were purely business and not political. "I dealt with him as one businessman to another involved in joint projects," Vidmanov said. Deputy Communist faction head Reshulskii said that the Communist Party leadership did not authorize Vidmanov's contacts with Berezovskii and repeated the party's position that "Communists do not take money from enemies," the Communist Party website reported on 18 November. TV-Tsentr on 18 November wondered rhetorically when having contact with Berezovskii became a criminal offense, noting that in 1999 the party Unity -- the predecessor to the pro-Kremlin Unified Russia party -- was created largely with Berezovskii's money. VY

KGB VETERANS ASK COMMUNISTS TO DUMP FORMER PROSECUTOR
A group of KGB veterans who are also Communist Party members has sent a letter to party head Zyuganov asking him to drop former Prosecutor-General Yurii Skuratov from the Communist Party party list for the 7 December Duma elections, Russian media reported on 18 November. Skuratov resigned in 1999 amidst a sex scandal that he claims was politically motivated retaliation by then-FSB Director Vladimir Putin for his probes into government corruption. Deputy faction head Reshulskii told apn.ru on 18 November that Skuratov was included on the party list because he knows a lot "about crime and government corruption." If he becomes a deputy and is protected by a legislator's immunity from prosecution, it will be easier for him to reveal publicly all that he knows, Reshulskii said. VY

SPIN DOCTOR PREDICTS KHODORKOVSKII ARREST TO RESULT IN SHOW TRIAL
In an interview with "Novaya gazeta," No. 86, Foundation for Effective Politics head Gleb Pavlovskii argued that if everyone is wondering why former Yukos CEO Mikhail Khodorkovskii has been detained, then part of the reason for detaining him has already been realized. Khodorkovskii, according to Pavlovskii, is being made an example. "He is a perfect object for taxidermy.... A stuffed Khodorkovskii will frighten a great many people in Russia precisely because this is Khodorkovskii," Pavlovskii said. Pavlovskii also argued that "a public enemy is what was wanted, and that is what is being created." He also noted that the Prosecutor-General's Office took the unprecedented step of posting all the charges against Khodorkovskii on the Internet. Pavlovskii concluded that the Prosecutor-General's Office will try to stage a "show trial" of Khodorkovskii, but this will be difficult in modern Russia with the involvement of independent lawyers and the Internet. JAC

DUMA SOFTENS PUNISHMENTS FOR ECONOMIC CRIMES
The State Duma on 18 November approved in its second reading two bills amending the Criminal Code and Criminal Procedure Code, Russian media reported. The vote was 355 in favor on the bill amending the Criminal Code and 288 in favor on the bill amending the Criminal Procedure Code, according to polit.ru. The packages of amendments were introduced by the presidential administration and were designed to ease fines and other punishments for a number of economic crimes, "Vremya novostei" reported on 19 November. Aleksandr Kotenkov, the presidential envoy to the Duma, commented that the bills continue the government's policy of liberalizing the state's current punitive economic policies. The daily commented that the "liberal" attitude of the authorities toward people who have committed economic crimes is, to a great extent, "dialectical." JAC

PUTIN LAYS OUT VISION FOR FUTURE MILITARY...
Speaking to an annual conference of senior military officers in Moscow on 18 November, President Putin said that Russia's military must be prepared to cope with the threats of tomorrow rather than the wars of the last century, Russian media reported. "Russia needs a flexible, advanced army, ready for change and development," Putin said. Putin outlined the government's goal to switch one-half of the army to volunteer status by 2007. He added that by that time, the term of service for conscripts will be reduced to one year. He said it is important to improve the material conditions of service personnel, but stressed that material incentives "are not the entire story." He said that the average officer's salary in the pre-revolutionary army was higher than the average bureaucrat's salary, but "this did not prevent it from being defeated in the [1904-05] Russo-Japanese War and the 1917 Bolshevik revolution." Putin rejected calls to use the country's hard-currency reserves for defense needs. "This money provides the basic foundation of our economic development and...can raise up the entire country," Putin said. VY

...AS DEFENSE MINISTER COMPLAINS OF MILITARY'S NONCOMBAT LOSSES...
Speaking after President Putin at the same Moscow conference on 18 November, Sergei Ivanov said that 337 service personnel have died so far this year as a result of noncombat-related incidents and crime in the military, ITAR-TASS reported on 18 November. Thirty-five percent of those casualties were suicides, Ivanov said. He blamed the situation on the fact that commanders often assign authority in units to demoralized soldiers elevated to the rank of sergeant. "This is why we have hazing, suicides, and mass desertions," Ivanov said. He called for improvements in military training, and said that volunteers should not be recruited but selected. "We do not need people in the army who are just looking for shelter from the disorder and problems of their personal lives," Ivanov said. VY

...AND DUMA APPROVES NEW LIST OF MILITARY CELEBRATIONS
The Duma on 18 November approved in its third reading the new list of military anniversaries to be marked in the armed forces, polit.ru reported. The list, which was submitted by the presidential administration, includes the anniversary of the Battle on the Ice against Teutonic knights in 1242, the anniversary of the Russian victory over the Mongols at Kulikovo Field in 1380, the 1612 liberation of Moscow from Polish occupation, the defeat of the Swedes by Tsar Peter the Great at Poltava in 1709, and the capture by Russian forces of the Turkish fortress at Ismail in 1790, among others. VY

ANOTHER GOVERNOR MISSING...
Evenk Autonomous Okrug Governor Boris Zolotarev has reportedly been "unavailable" for the past 12 days, "Nezavisimaya gazeta" reported on 18 November. Zolotarev, a former Yukos executive, was expected to return from vacation on 17 November. The daily, which is controlled by self-exiled tycoon Boris Berezovskii, speculated that Zolotarev has become yet another Yukos refugee. The newspaper reported that rumors are circulating in "Moscow political circles" that Zolotarev is abroad seeking political asylum. The daily reported that Zolotarev is "undoubtedly" a close associate of the jailed former Yukos CEO Khodorkovskii, noting that the two men worked together at Yukos and, before that, at Menatep bank. JAC

...AS PROSECUTORS WAIT WITH QUESTIONS
Evenk Autonomous Okrug prosecutors have been waiting to question Governor Zolotarev about the election last month of former Yukos-Moscow head Vasilii Shakhnovskii to the Federation Council (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 7 November 2003), "Nezavisimaya gazeta" reported on 18 November. On 19 November, "Kommersant-Daily" reported that Zolotarev intends to answer prosecutors' questions by the end of the week, according to an unidentified source in the okrug administration. Earlier this year, two other governors -- Nenets Autonomous Okrug Vladimir Butov and Tver Oblast Governor Vladimir Platov -- evaded prosecutors' queries by checking themselves into hospitals (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 8 August and 11 September 2003). JAC

FEDERAL JUDGE KILLED IN CONTRACT HIT
Federal judge Galina Zuevich was killed outside her home in Voronezh late on 17 November by an unknown assailant, gazeta.ru reported on 18 November. She was reportedly struck on the head with a blunt object. Law-enforcement officials do not believe the motive was robbery and are investigating the possibility that the murder was a contract hit. According to the site, one of Zuevich's last important cases was against a local oligarch named Anatolii Naumov. Zuevich sentenced Naumov, the former director of an aluminum-processing plant, to four years in prison and confiscation of property for embezzlement and other crimes. JAC

BASHKIR PRESIDENT'S RIVAL PLAYS THE ETHNIC CARD
In a recent interview, Sergei Veremeenko, a leading candidate in Bashkortostan's 7 December presidential race, said that certain needs of ethnic Tatars are not being met in the republic, RFE/RL's Tatar-Bashkir Service reported on 18 November. Veremeenko said that local radio and television rarely broadcast in Tatar; teachers for Tatar kindergartens are not being trained; and the number of books, magazines, and newspapers printed in Tatar is insufficient. Veremeenko suggested that as a partial solution periodicals published in Tatarstan should be made available in Bashkortostan. He also suggested that raions that are predominantly populated by Tatars be given special status. JAC

CHECHEN LEADER HAILS BRITISH COURT VERDICT...
In a statement carried by chechenpress.com on 18 November, Aslan Maskhadov, who was elected Chechen president in January 1997 in a ballot recognized as legal by Russia and the international community, expressed his satisfaction at last week's rejection by a London magistrate's court of a demand by the Russian authorities to extradite Maskhadov's Deputy Prime Minister and special representative Akhmed Zakaev (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 14 November 2003). Maskhadov said the court ruling marked the first time during the centuries-long struggle between Chechnya and Russia that "Russia was constrained to speak with the Chechen side not in the language of force but the language of the law," and that it demonstrated to the world that the Chechens are waging "a just national-liberation struggle." In a separate statement carried by chechenpress.com on 17 November, Zakaev urged the Russian people to vote against President Putin in the March 2004 Russian presidential ballot. Zakaev argued that Putin initiated the current war, and that if he left power the Chechen and Russian peoples could still reach a consensus. LF

...REJECTS RUSSIAN ALLEGATIONS
President Maskhadov also denied in his 18 November statement that he is planning to abandon any claim to the northern, lowland region of Chechnya and proclaim an "Independent Mountain Ichkeria" in the south of the republic. He said that as president, he is obliged to defend Chechnya's territorial integrity. On 16 November, Russian military spokesman Colonel Ilya Shabalkin told Russian journalists that Maskhadov has decided to declare a separate Chechen republic, because he has realized he can no longer offer serious resistance to Russian forces and in order to prolong his status as president. Maskhadov commented that "it is already abundantly clear that the Kremlin regime will never agree to a peaceful end to the Russian-Chechen war, because in that case Putin and his entourage would have to face trial as war criminals and the perpetrators of genocide." He too appealed to Russian voters not to re-elect Putin in next year's presidential ballot. LF

TRIAL IN CASE OF ARMENIAN TV HEAD'S MURDER ENDS
The trial of a dozen men accused of planning and committing the December 2002 murder of Armenian Public Television head Tigran Naghdalian ended on 18 November, RFE/RL's Yerevan bureau reported. The judge sentenced businessman Armen Sargsian, whose brother Aram is a former prime minister and a prominent opposition politician, to 15 years' imprisonment for allegedly masterminding and paying for the killing. Sargsian has repeatedly denied any connection with the murder, and his lawyer said on 18 November that he will appeal his conviction. John Harutiunian, who was found guilty of committing the murder, was also sentenced to 15 years' imprisonment. The remaining defendants received prison terms ranging from seven to 12 years. LF

AZERBAIJAN PROTESTS RUSSIAN-ARMENIAN DEFENSE COOPERATION PLANS
In an 18 November statement, the Azerbaijani Foreign Ministry criticized statements made last week by Russian Defense Minister Sergei Ivanov during a visit to Armenia, Turan and Interfax reported (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 13 and 14 November 2003). Specifically, Baku protested Ivanov's announcement that Russia will supply new equipment to its base in Armenia and plans to establish a joint military group with Armenia. The statement termed such intentions dangerous and at odds with Russia's obligations as a co-chairman of the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE) Minsk Group to mediate a resolution of the Karabakh conflict. "Under the patronage of certain Russian circles, Armenia has evolved into a destructive force in the region," the statement said. LF

AZERBAIJANI PRESIDENT CHAIRS FIRST CABINET SESSION
Ilham Aliyev chaired on 17 November the first session of the cabinet he reappointed in the wake of his 15 October election as president, Turan and zerkalo.az reported on 18 and 19 November, respectively. After praising the achievements over the past decade of his father and predecessor Heidar Aliyev, President Aliyev highlighted urgent problems, including arrears for gas and electricity supplies amounting to $500 million annually. Noting that two-thirds of Azerbaijan's economic potential is concentrated in Baku and the Apsheron Peninsula, Aliyev instructed ministers to draft a program to expedite the economic development of the country's regions. He also stressed the need to ensure that highways meet international standards. Finally, he told ministers that he expects them to demonstrate responsibility in discharging their duties in order to justify the trust placed by the population in the country's leadership. LF

NEWSPRINT SHORTAGE PARALYZES AZERBAIJANI OPPOSITION PRESS
The opposition newspapers "Azadlig," "Yeni Musavat," Baki habar," "Yeni Zaman," and "Novoe vremya" have not been published since 14 November because of a sudden increase in the cost of newsprint and the refusal of both state-owned and privately owned publishing houses to print those publications, Turan reported on 17 November. The price of newsprint, of which senior government officials are reportedly monopoly suppliers, has risen from $700 to $900 per ton, and was not available on 14 November even for $1,000 per ton. Editors believe the shortage was deliberately created to muzzle the opposition press. The pro-presidential "525 gazeti" on 19 November quoted Nazim Ibrahimov, director of the state publishing house Azerbaycan, as claiming the papers owe his concern a total of 2 billion manats ($408,796). The editors of the five papers listed above have agreed to create a consortium and to appeal to international organizations for assistance in establishing an independent publishing house, according to Turan on 18 November, quoting "Azadlig" editor Ganimat Zahidov. LF

U.S. STATE DEPARTMENT OFFICIAL VISITS AZERBAIJAN...
President Aliyev and Azerbaijani Foreign Minister Vilayat Guliev met on 17 November with U.S. Deputy Assistant Secretary of State Lynn Pascoe, Turan reported on 18 November. Pascoe is currently on a tour of Central Asian and South Caucasus states. He told journalists that he discussed with President Aliyev bilateral relations, the situation in the South Caucasus, and the situation in Azerbaijan following the disputed 15 October presidential ballot. He said he made clear Washington's "concern" over the procedural irregularities reported during the voting and the vote count and over the subsequent arrests of opposition activists. Pascoe told journalists that he met in Baku with opposition politicians, but did not divulge names or any details. LF

...AND GEORGIA
Pascoe met in Tbilisi on 18 November with Georgian President Eduard Shevardnadze and with the three opposition leaders who are demanding that Shevardnadze admit that he ordered the falsification of the 2 November parliamentary elections and that he annul the results, Reuters and Georgian media reported. Caucasus Press quoted Pascoe as saying that the United States "does not have an official position" on the dispute. He nonetheless urged all sides to make concessions and seek to resolve the dispute through peaceful dialogue and in a way that respects the interests of the Georgian people. LF

GEORGIAN PRESIDENT'S ALLY SENDS SUPPORTERS TO TBILISI...
Adjar Supreme Council leader Aslan Abashidze dispatched several thousand men to the Georgian capital where they participated on 18 November in a demonstration of support for embattled President Shevardnadze, Reuters and Russian and Georgian media reported. That action is due to last for several days. Tsotne Bakuria, who heads the Tbilisi branch of Abashidze's Democratic Revival Union (DAK), was quoted by Interfax as saying the demonstrators from Adjaria are "far from happy" with Shevardnadze's leadership, but that "all processes should proceed in accordance with the current constitution." Also on18 November, Gogi Topadze told journalists in Tbilisi that his Industry Will Save Georgia electoral bloc will join the DAK-sponsored demonstration of support for Shevardnadze, Interfax reported. He said doing so will demonstrate that "there are objective political forces that do not want political chaos" in Georgia. Topadze's faction was the third largest in the outgoing parliament, but with votes from almost all polling stations counted, it is not clear whether it has garnered the minimum 7 percent of the vote needed to win representation in the new legislature. LF

...AND OPPOSITION LEADER CALLS FOR THEIR EXPULSION
Opposition National Movement leader Mikhail Saakashvili told journalists on 18 November that Adjar Supreme Council leader Abashidze and President Shevardnadze are planning to bring 2,000 Adjar police to Tbilisi where, he claimed, they will occupy the Philharmonic Building (the largest venue for meetings in the city center) and block traffic. He called for efforts to evict the participants of the pro-Shevardnadze rally from the capital, Interfax reported. LF

KAZAKH OPPOSITION EDITOR FORBIDDEN TO WORK AS PUBLISHER
Ermurat Bapi, former editor in chief of the Kazakh opposition newspaper "SolDat," was given a one-year suspended sentence by an Almaty court on 17 November, fined, and forbidden to work as a publisher for five years, Deutsche Welle and eurasia.org.ru reported the next day. Bapi said after the sentence was handed down that the prohibition on publishing work showed the authorities want to silence the opposition press. Bapi was charged with financial irregularities in his management of the newspaper; his supporters say the charges were not proved (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 2 July 2003). "SolDat" stopped appearing in August 2003 but Bapi said activists of the opposition Republican People's Party want to resurrect it under a different name. BB

NEW KAZAKH AMBASSADOR TO RUSSIA APPOINTED
The governor of oil-rich West Kazakhstan Oblast, Krymbek Kusherbaev, has been appointed Kazakhstan's new ambassador to the Russian Federation, Interfax-Kazakhstan reported on 18 November. Kusherbaev replaces Altynbek Sarsenbaev, a former secretary of the Kazakh Security Council who served for only about a year in Moscow before his abrupt recall in October 2003. Sarsenbaev was elected a leader of the opposition Ak Zhol Party upon his return to Kazakhstan (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 10 November 2003). Interfax-Kazakhstan also reported Kusherbaev's replacement as governor of West Kazakhstan by First Deputy Energy Minister Nurgali Ashimov. BB

KYRGYZ POLICE STILL SEARCHING FOR MISSING MULLAH
Police in southern Kyrgyzstan's Uzgen Raion are still searching for popular local mullah Sadykzhan Rakhmanov, who was apparently kidnapped in September, but their investigation into his disappearance is being thwarted by Uzbek authorities, KyrgyzInfo reported on 18 November. The agency quoted deputy head of the Uzgen Raion police Mamatali Turgunbaev, who said that officers from his department have just returned empty-handed from a trip to Uzbekistan seeking information. Kyrgyz law enforcement officials have said that evidence available to them indicates Rakhmanov was kidnapped by Uzbek security officials, possibly because of his religious activity in the Uzbek city of Namangan, where he taught basic Islam in the early 1990s (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 25 September and 20 October 2003). Without the cooperation of Uzbek law enforcement, the Kyrgyz police have succeeded only in determining that Rakhmanov's kidnapping was not criminally motivated nor was it connected with his commercial activities, though they have unconfirmed information that some of the mullah's students in Namangan may have been involved in antigovernment activity. BB

KYRGYZ MINISTER ELECTED MAYOR OF OSH
The city council of Osh, officially known as Kyrgyzstan's southern capital, elected Ecology and Emergency Situations Minister Satybaldy Chyrmashev mayor of the city, kabar.kg reported on 18 November. Prime Minister Nikolai Tanaev took part in the council session, in which 24 council members voted for Chyrmashev and five against. Chyrmashev's opponent, Temirbek Sokeev, deputy governor of Chui Oblast in northern Kyrgyzstan, withdrew his candidacy before the vote. The former mayor of Osh, Zhantoro Satybaldiev, was appointed President Askar Akaev's special representative on electricity problems on 10 November. BB

REPRIMANDS DROPPED AGAINST TOP KYRGYZ INTERIOR OFFICIALS
The Kyrgyz government has dropped reprimands given to Interior Minister Bakirdin Subanbekov and two of his deputies after an armed attack on the city and oblast police premises in the southern Kyrgyz city of Djalal-Abad in May (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 16 May 2003), akipress.org reported on 18 November. The government announcement explained the removal of the reprimands by saying that the drop of 3 percent in Kyrgyzstan's overall crime rate, and of 6 percent in the rate of serious crime, for the first eight months of 2003 shows the country's law enforcement agencies have been able to strengthen their ability to cope with the crime situation, and no unpleasant incidents occurred during major events in 2003. BB

UZBEK LIBERAL DEMOCRATIC PARTY HOLDS FOUNDING CONGRESS
The Liberal Democratic Party of Uzbekistan held its founding congress on 16 November, chose a party chairman, and decided to establish its own newspaper, according to uzreport.com on 18 November. About 300 delegates from all parts of the country attended the congress of the new party, which is intended to represent business and entrepreneurial interests. Pakhta Bank Chairman Kobilzhon Tashmatov was chosen to head the party. Uzbek President Islam Karimov has given his blessing to the establishment of the new party (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 9 October 2003), guaranteeing that it will have no problem registering with the Justice Ministry. BB

BELARUSIAN PRESIDENT PROPOSES LABOR FOR RECOVERING ALCOHOLICS
President Alyaksandr Lukashenka instructed the Interior and Health ministries on 18 November to work together to run detoxification and rehabilitation centers for alcoholics, Belapan reported. Lukashenka said the government was wrong to transfer responsibilities for so-called dry-out clinics from the police to the Health Ministry, adding that drunks create "chaos" at hospitals, which, he said, are turning into "detention centers." The Belarusian president emphasized the need to rehabilitate alcoholics through labor. He also stressed that detoxification and rehabilitation centers should be financed by patients. "We cannot accommodate these people at public expense. They should be sent to do agricultural work [or] clean streets," he said. JM

UKRAINIAN OPPOSITION LEADERS PLEDGE TO ACT JOINTLY...
Four Ukrainian opposition leaders -- Oleksandr Moroz (Socialist Party), Viktor Yushchenko (Our Ukraine), Yuliya Tymoshenko (Yuliya Tymoshenko Bloc), and Petro Symonenko (Communist Party) -- signed a declaration on 19 November regarding "joint actions," UNIAN reported. Moroz told the news agency that the four parties pledged to cooperate on "strategic issues" to counter authorities' attempts to split the opposition. According to Moroz, the primary concern of the opposition is to adopt a law on a fully proportional party-list system of parliamentary elections. Touching on planned political reform in the country, Moroz said the opposition essentially differs only in its views on how best to elect a president. The Communist Party, like the pro-government parliamentary majority, wants the Verkhovna Rada to elect the head of state, while the three other opposition parties favor direct elections. JM

...BUT WILL THEY FOLLOW THROUGH?
Yuriy Kostenko -- leader of the Ukrainian Popular Party that is a component of Yushchenko's Our Ukraine bloc -- said in a statement that "the Communists and the Bolsheviks [pro-government parliamentary majority] have now taken responsibility for an antinational budget" currently under consideration in parliament, UNIAN reported on 19 November. According to the statement, concerted voting by the Communist Party and the pro-government majority on 18 November to appoint a prosecutor-general and a deputy speaker (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 18 November 2003) testified to an agreement between the two forces regarding the implementation of political reform under a "scenario" prepared by the presidential administration. Symonenko has denied that there were any agreements between his party and the pro-government majority regarding the 18 November votes. Meanwhile, lawmaker Oleksandr Zadorozhnyy, who is a presidential representative in the Verkhovna Rada, told journalists on 18 November that the pro-government majority voted to appoint Communist deputy Adam Martynyuk as deputy speaker on condition that the Communists support the political-reform bill worked out by the presidential administration. JM

ESTONIA'S RES PUBLICA, REFORM PARTY REJECT CHANGES IN COALITION AGREEMENT
Prime Minister and Res Publica Chairman Juhan Parts and Reform Party Chairman Siim Kallas rejected the idea of changes to the coalition agreement that were outlined in a recent letter from the People's Union (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 18 November 2003), BNS reported on 18 November. The men issued a joint ultimatum to the People's Union to respond by midday on 19 November on whether it will remain in the three-party coalition and fully support all draft laws that are based on the coalition agreement. "A delay of the answer or its postponement will be viewed by us as a severance of the coalition agreement and resignation from the coalition," the joint letter states. People's Union Chairman Villu Reiljan told ETV television on 18 November that his coalition partners' response was emotional and unconstructive, and that Estonia needs a new centrist coalition that will value the individual and the social factor. SG

LATVIAN FOREIGN MINISTER CALLS ON EU TO REMAIN UNITED IN FURTHER TALKS WITH RUSSIA
Sandra Kalniete told a meeting of the EU's General Affairs and External Relations Council in Brussels on 17 November that the EU should remain united in its talks with Russia, LETA reported the next day. Kalniete called Russia's attempts to link EU concerns over human rights in Chechnya with the situation of Russian-speakers in Latvia unacceptable. Kalniete stressed that the EU-Russia Partnership and Cooperation Agreement will be automatically applied to the new member states as soon as they accede to the EU. She reiterated that view at the meeting of the EU Intergovernmental Conference in Brussels on 18 November, where EU member and candidate states' foreign ministries discussed the section of the European constitution on the role of the EU foreign affairs minister. SG

LITHUANIAN PRESIDENT FLIES TO IRAQ
Rolandas Paksas left Vilnius on 18 November at the head of a major Lithuanian delegation to Iraq, "Lietuvos rytas" reported the next day. Paksas was joined on a rented Latvian cargo plane by Defense Minister Linas Linkevicius, Foreign Ministry Secretary Evaldas Ignatavicius, presidential defense adviser Algirdas Norkus, U.S. Defense and Military Attache to Lithuania Larry Beisel, and Defense Ministry press spokeswoman Rita Grumadaite. The plane landed in Ankara, Turkey, where Paksas was met by Lithuanian Ambassador to Turkey Halina Kobeckaite before continuing on to Iraq the next morning. Paksas is scheduled to meet with representatives of the U.S. civilian administration in Iraq and the nearly 100 Lithuanian soldiers serving in a Polish battalion in central Iraq and in a Danish battalion in Al-Basrah. The opposition has criticized the trip as being expensive and of questionable benefit and timing. SG

POLISH GOVERNMENT BACKS HEALTH-SECTOR OVERHAUL AS WORKERS PROTEST
Some 5,000 nurses and doctors gathered in Warsaw on 18 November to protest the government's plan to restructure their heavily indebted sector, Polish media reported. Protesters said the plan will result in the closure of nearly one-third of Poland's hospitals. The same day, the government endorsed a restructuring plan for the health sector that was proposed by Health Minister Leszek Sikorski. That plan calls for the transformation of all health-care facilities into "public-utility companies" within two years. Under the plan, 75 percent of the shares in such companies will be held by a public entity, while the remaining 25 percent will be owned by a private entity or employees. The plan also opens the way to bankruptcy for hospitals that spend more than they take in from the National Health Fund. The obligatory premium for all employed Poles is to be increased to 8.25 percent of wages, from the current 8 percent. JM

CZECH PRESIDENT PROMULGATES FINANCE REFORM RELATED BILLS
President Vaclav Klaus signed into law on 18 November four finance-reform bills recently approved by the Czech parliament, CTK reported. They include legislation to lower the real-estate-transfer tax from 5 percent to 3 percent, health-insurance reform designed to prevent abuses, a bill on social security aimed at preventing fraud in applications for benefits, and a three-year freeze on the salaries of elected officials. Five more finance-reform related bills await promulgation by Klaus, and two bills have been approved by the lower house but must still be debated in the Senate. MS

AUSTRIA PROTESTS PLAN FOR CZECH NUCLEAR-PLANT EXPANSION...
Austrian Environment Minister Josef Proell said on 18 November that Austrian Ambassador to the Czech Republic Klaus Daublesky was instructed to lodge a protest with the Czech Foreign Ministry against a plan to expand the controversial Temelin nuclear-power plant, dpa reported. The move follows a statement made by Czech Deputy Trade and Industry Minister Martin Pecina, who recently told the weekly "Tyden" that his country plans to build two more nuclear reactors at Temelin, starting in 2009. According to a CTK report, Daublesky handed the protest to Deputy Foreign Minister Jan Kohout, who told him that the government has not yet approved its new energy strategy and that the construction of new reactors at Temelin is not on the agenda. Austria, which is nuclear-free, has repeatedly protested the Temelin plant, which is close to their mutual border and has been called unsafe by its critics. MS

...WHILE CZECH VILLAGERS VOTE DOWN NUCLEAR-WASTE SITE IN LOCAL REFERENDUM
Czech officials cited by dpa said the country's first-ever local referendum on nuclear waste has resulted in the defeat of a government plan to build an underground repository in the south of the country. The agency said nearly all the voters in three villages opposed the plan in the nonbinding referendum -- roughly 97 percent in the villages of Nadejkov and Bozetice, while in the smallest of the three settlements, Prestenice, there was one vote in favor and 167 against. The Industry and Trade Ministry shortlisted a site near those three villages along with five other locations around the country. The Radioactive Waste Repository Authority is expected to choose a site in April and open the waste facility in 2010. At least two other local communities near proposed sites are planning similar local referendums. MS

SLOVAK PREMIER REACTS TO ESTABLISHMENT OF FACTION WITHIN OWN PARTY...
Prime Minister Mikulas Dzurinda told journalists on 18 November that he is convinced the Slovak Democratic and Christian Union (SDKU) will be able to cope with the establishment of the SDKU Free Forum by former Interior Minister Ivan Simko, TASR reported (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 18 November 2003). Dzurinda said free discussion has always been an SDKU hallmark and all party bodies are free forums. "If there are people within the SDKU who wish to hold discussions outside the existing forums, I have no problem with that," he said. Dzurinda rejected the idea that the SDKU is turning into a party whose main goal is the conservation of power, as Simko has charged. He said the SDKU remains a party whose policies are based on principles. MS

...AND CALLS DIVISION OF SLOVAKIA INTO ELECTORAL DISTRICTS UNLIKELY
Dzurinda also said on 18 November that he considers it unlikely that the 2006 elections will be held in four electoral districts, as proposed by the Interior Ministry in a draft bill, according to TASR. He said the bill was discussed within the Coalition Council, where representatives of the Alliance for a New Citizen (ANO) vetoed the proposal, saying the country must either be divided into eight districts corresponding to Slovakia's new administrative division or leave intact the current, single-district system. The leaders of the other coalition parties opted for the latter, Dzurinda said. MS

HUNGARIAN OPPOSITION PARTY SEEKS REFERENCE TO CHRISTIAN VALUES IN EUROPEAN CONSTITUTION...
The opposition Hungarian Democratic Forum announced on 18 November that it will launch a campaign to collect signatures in support of incorporating references to Christian values into the preamble of the draft European constitution, "Magyar Hirlap" reported. The Democratic Forum's move follows the announcement of a similar effort by Paul Rubig, an Austrian member of the European People's Party. Hungary's senior ruling Socialist Party is not initiating such an effort, but has signaled that it might support a reference to Christianity in the EU constitution, while the junior coalition Free Democrats say they are opposed to the idea, the daily reported. MSZ

...AS GOVERNMENT LOBBIES FOR MINORITY-RIGHTS MENTION
Prime Minister Peter Medgyessy told a meeting of ambassadors from the 25 EU member and accession states in Budapest on 18 November that Hungary believes it is important to include minority rights in the European constitution, the MTI news agency reported. Meanwhile, Hungarian Foreign Minister Laszlo Kovacs held several bilateral meetings on the sidelines of the EU Intergovernmental Conference in Brussels and sought support for the Hungarian proposal that defense of minority rights be incorporated into the text of the EU constitution, "Nepszabadsag" reported on 19 November. Kovacs told the daily that his Spanish counterpart Ana Palacio said Madrid opposes the Hungarian proposal on the issue, due to the problem of the Basque minority in Spain. In another meeting, Romanian Foreign Minister Mircea Geoana told Kovacs that Romania would only express support for the Hungarian proposal if the text referred to the individual rights of persons belonging to ethnic minorities, and not their collective rights, MTI reported. MSZ

SERBIAN POLITICAL COALITION FORMALLY DISBANDS...
Leaders of the governing Democratic Opposition of Serbia (DOS) coalition announced in Belgrade on 18 November that the DOS has "completed its historic mission" and disbanded in preparation for the 28 December parliamentary elections, RFE/RL's South Slavic and Albanian Languages Service reported. Serbian Prime Minister Zoran Zivkovic said one of the smaller parties belonging to DOS, the Democratic Center (DC) of defeated DOS Serbian presidential candidate Dragoljub Micunovic, is expected to merge with Zivkovic's Democratic Party (DS) shortly. Recent opinion polls suggest that none of the smaller parties belonging to the DOS is likely to meet the 5 percent electoral threshold without forming a coalition with the Democratic Party or one of the two opposition parties once linked to the DOS, namely the Democratic Party of Serbia (DSS) or the G-17 Plus political party. The Democratic Party, DSS, and G-17 Plus have indicated that they will each field separate lists of candidates in the parliamentary vote. Attention is now focused on the plans of prominent politicians linked to small parties, such as Serbian Deputy Prime Minister Nebojsa Covic and Serbia and Montenegro's Foreign Minister Goran Svilanovic (see "End Note" below). PM

...AS THE RADICALS SEEK TO PRESS THEIR ADVANTAGE
Officials of Vojislav Seselj's Serbian Radical Party (SRS) said in Belgrade on 18 November that they intend to capitalize on the strong showing made by Tomislav Nikolic in the recent Serbian presidential elections by winning the 28 December parliamentary ballot, dpa reported (see "End Note" below). The SRS officials dismissed statements by DOS leaders that the international community will isolate Serbia again if the ultranationalists form the next government. An SRS statement argued that "neither the United States nor European Union said a word against the victory of Tomislav Nikolic. Only bogus guardians of democracy have [sought] to frighten the world with the possible victory of SRS." Prior to the presidential vote, Nikolic rejected Western-backed reforms as "merciless." After Nikolic placed first in the presidential ballot, SRS Secretary-General Aleksandar Vucic sent congratulations to "all Serbs imprisoned by the Hague [-based war crimes] tribunal, especially to our leader Vojislav Seselj." PM

U.S. CAUTIOUSLY BACKS EU MISSION IN BOSNIA
Speaking in Brussels on 18 November, U.S. Secretary of State Colin Powell said the United States supports an EU takeover of the international peacekeeping mission in Bosnia from NATO but that it remains a "question of timing," RFE/RL reported (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 29 October and 18 November 2003 and "RFE/RL Balkan Report," 19 September 2003). The EU -- especially France -- is anxious to take over the mission in 2004. The EU is currently in charge of international police efforts in Bosnia. Several U.S. officials previously said that it is too early to discuss NATO's exit from the Balkans, where many Muslims and ethnic Albanians trust the United States but not the EU. Many in Washington also have doubts about the EU's ability to manage the security situation in Bosnia and about the EU's ultimate goal in building up a military bloc without the participation of the United States. PM

EU TELLS BOSNIA 'YES, BUT...'
EU External Affairs Commissioner Chris Patten told the European Parliament in Strasbourg on 18 November that the European Commission hopes Bosnia will be ready to begin talks regarding a Stabilization and Association Agreement in the second half of 2004, Reuters reported. He stressed, however, that Bosnia must first make progress in several key areas, including protecting human rights and combating organized crime. Patten summed up the EU's attitude to talks with Bosnia as "yes, but...." In Sarajevo, Bosnian Prime Minister Adnan Terzic said he is confident that his country will be ready for negotiations by late 2004. PM

ALBANIA REJECTS GREEK CHARGES
Greek Foreign Minister George Papandreou told his EU counterparts in Brussels on 18 November that there were serious incidents during two rounds of recent local elections in the Himare area of southern Albania with a "massive population of Greek origin," Reuters reported. Papandreou stressed that the incidents showed that Albania is not fit to join the EU. In Tirana, governing Socialist Party Secretary-General Gramoz Ruci replied that Papandreou's remarks were "emotional" and unfounded. Ruci called on the Greek minister to help "Europeanize the Balkans and not Balkanize Europe [by taking] nationalistic stands." Albania's acting Foreign Minister Luan Hajdaraga pledged that the government will "hold accountable those who have broken the law." On 12 October, anti-Albanian protests led by Greeks from the Himare area took place in some parts of Greece after the first round of Albanian local elections (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 15 October 2003). PM

CROATIA TO SEEK EXTRADITION OF WAR CRIMES SUSPECT
The Croatian Justice Ministry said on 18 November that it will soon ask Norway to extradite Milan Gojkovic, a former Croatian Serb rebel whom Norwegian police arrested in September on the basis of a Croatian Interpol warrant, RFE/RL's South Slavic and Albanian Languages Service reported. A Croatian court sentenced Gojkovic in 1997 to 20 years in jail in connection with war crimes committed in and around Vukovar in 1991. PM

ROMANIAN PREMIER HAS 'THOUGHTS' ON ELECTIONS...
Prime Minister Adrian Nastase said on 18 November that the government might propose that parliamentary elections be held concurrently with local elections in June, RFE/RL's Bucharest bureau reported. Nastase said this would meet the National Liberal Party's (PNL) and the Democratic Party's demands that the 2004 elections not take place close to the Christmas holidays. He said the presidential elections would in that case be held "two to three weeks before the end of December" 2004. Nastase stressed, however, that this is "just a thought" and that he is "launching the idea with great reservations." He said that if the opposition parties have other proposals to make, "I am at their disposal to discuss those proposals." Nastase also said that his Social Democratic Party (PSD) will not force any company to contribute to its electoral campaign and that the controversial statements made by PSD Secretary-General Dan Matei Agathon on having PSD candidates judged according to their fund-raising abilities and contributions to the PSD campaign "do not reflect what has been discussed in the party" (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 18 November 2003). MS

...INSPIRED BY PRESIDENT ILIESCU...
President Ion Iliescu said later on 18 November that it was he who suggested to Nastase to consider concurrently holding local, presidential, and parliamentary elections in June next year, RFE/RL's Bucharest bureau reported. Iliescu said that the legislation currently in force does not allow holding parliamentary elections before 12 December 2004 unless the ballot takes place in the form of early elections. The constitutional provisions, he explained, do not allow holding early elections in the six months preceding the end of the parliament's mandate, and this is why the latest date for early parliamentary elections must be 6 June 2004. Iliescu also said that presidential elections could also be held on 6 June, with the winner taking over on 20 December after Iliescu's term ends. This, he explained, would spare the state from having to pay for three separate elections. MS

...WHICH OPPOSITION LEADERS FIND 'SUPERFICIAL' AND 'SELF-SERVING'
PNL Chairman Theodor Stolojan responded to Nastase's new proposals by saying that they "once more prove the growing superficiality of the current government," Mediafax reported. He said the proposals would serve the interests of the ruling PSD and that Nastase is prepared to change one set of proposals after the other with no regard to the elections' importance to Romania's democratic system. The government reacted by issuing a statement inviting the PNL to offer "constructive counterproposals" for the "electoral calendar." Democratic Party Chairman Traian Basescu likewise accused Nastase of making the new proposal "strictly to serve the interests of the PSD." Basescu said the ruling party is aware that the PNL-Democratic Party alliance intends to run separately in the local elections and is thus trying to prevent them from doing so by staging the local polls simultaneously with the parliamentary and the presidential ballot. This, Basescu claimed, shows how much the PSD fears the PNL-Democratic Party alliance. He also said he will propose that the alliance consider boycotting parliamentary debates if the PSD "continues to play with democracy." MS

ROMANIA TO REDENOMINATE CURRENCY IN 2005
Finance Minister Mihai Tanasescu said on 18 November that Romania will slash three zeros off its currency, the leu, in the first half of 2005, the private Antena 1 television channel reported. At the same time, he announced that a new 1 million-leu ($30.33) banknote will be introduced by the end of this month. MS

ROMANIA TO INTRODUCE STRICTER CONTROLS AT MOLDOVAN BORDER
Romania will require as of 2004 that Moldovan citizens entering its territory hold passports and be able to prove that they have at least 500 euros ($588) to cover expenses during their stay, Mediafax reported on 17 November, citing Foreign Minister Mircea Geoana. Geoana said in an interview with the private Moldovan channel Pro TV Chisinau that Bucharest is obliged to introduce these stricter controls, but has managed to convince the EU to agree to delaying the introduction of visa obligations for Moldovans visiting Romania until 2007, when Romania will became part of the Schengen system. MS

MOLDOVAN PRESIDENT REACTS POSITIVELY TO RUSSIAN FEDERALIZATION PLAN...
President Vladimir Voronin said on 18 November that the Russian plan for resolving the Transdniester conflict and federalizing the country is a compromise between the positions of Chisinau and Tiraspol and therefore a "realistic" plan, RFE/RL's Chisinau bureau and Romanian Radio reported. Voronin's comments came during his meeting with leaders of Moldovan parliamentary parties. He said the solution proposed by Russia has many common elements with the document proposed by the OSCE. "History is offering us a unique chance" and political leaders must now "leave narrow party interests behind and think of the country's future," he said. Victor Stepaniuc, who heads the Party of Moldovan Communists parliamentary majority, said the Russian proposal is a "positive step," and that by proposing an "asymmetric federation," Moscow has adopted Chisinau's position. It remains to be seen, he added, whether Transdniester will also accept the proposals. OSCE mission spokesman Claus Neukirch said that "for now" the OSCE has not adopted a position toward the proposals and is still studying the document. Neukirch said he "does not know" what Voronin meant when he said the OSCE and the Russian proposals have many common points, and that the two are "not identical." MS

...WHILE OPPOSITION CRITICIZES IT
Popular Party Christian Democratic Chairman Iurie Rosca said after the meeting with Voronin on 18 November that the Russian proposal "fails to provide a solution to the main problem Moldova faces; namely, the continuation of a foreign military presence on its national territory," Flux reported. Rosca said the federalization project would mean accepting "the dictatorship of a minority over the majority" and thus signify "a reversal of democratic principles," which called unacceptable. He said that under the current constitution, Moldova can seek to integrate into Europe, but if the constitution and the state construction are changed, creating "nonfunctioning state structures," integration would become impossible. Our Moldova Alliance co-Chairman and former Prime Minister Dumitru Braghis said on 18 November that he needs to study the plan further, but that it is clear that any federal plan must be approved by the people in a referendum. MS

RUSSIA SAYS IT NEEDS AT LEAST SIX MONTHS TO COMPLETE TRANSDNIESTER EVACUATION
Vladimir Isakov, Russia's deputy defense minister in charge of support services, told journalists on 18 November in Moscow that 60 trainloads of military equipment and other assets remain to be evacuated from Transdniester, ITAR-TASS reported. "If the current evacuation pace of two trainloads a week is maintained, we will complete [the operation] in six months -- seven at most," Isakov said. MS

BULGARIA TO DEMAND LARGE COMPENSATION FOR CLOSURE OF AGING NUCLEAR REACTORS
Energy Minister Milko Kovachev said on 18 November that Bulgaria will probably demand 1.7 billion euros ($1.99 billion) from the European Union to compensate for the eventual closure of blocks No. 3 and No. 4 at its controversial Kozloduy nuclear-power plant, bnn reported. The EU considers the blocks dangerous and wants Bulgaria to shut them down permanently by 2006. An EU expert mission is currently in Bulgaria at Sofia's request to assess the Soviet-designed reactors. Bulgaria hopes the inspection will help it negotiate an extension of the 2006 deadline, which the government previously accepted. Government spokesman Dimitar Tsonev said the experts will announce the results of their inspection in Brussels on 2 December. Bulgaria yielded to EU pressure and permanently closed two other older units at Kozloduy in late 2002. MS

ALBANIAN PREMIER ENDS BULGARIAN VISIT
Albanian Prime Minister Fatos Nano, on a two-day visit to Bulgaria, agreed with his Bulgarian counterpart Simeon Saxecoburggotski that a free-trade zone should be established in the Balkans as a step to prepare the region's countries for eventual EU membership, bnn reported. The two prime ministers also said their countries will cooperate in developing infrastructure and tourism and in the sphere of energy. They also discussed the implementation of a project to build an oil pipeline and a highway linking the Bulgarian Black Sea coast with the Albanian Adriatic coast. MS

DOES SERBIA FACE A CRISIS?
A surprisingly strong showing by a far-right candidate in a failed Serbian presidential poll has raised concerns about a possible return to power by ultranationalists in the upcoming parliamentary elections. Such fears are unlikely to materialize, but Serbia remains a far cry from a stable democracy.

Just under 40 percent of the 6.5 million registered voters cast ballots in the Serbian presidential elections on 16 November, which required at least a 50 percent turnout to be valid. A total of five candidates appeared on the ballot to fill the post that has been vacant since the beginning of 2003, when former President Milan Milutinovic left office and surrendered voluntarily to the Hague-based war crimes tribunal, which had indicted him. Two attempts in 2002 to elect a successor prior to Milutinovic's departure failed. Parliament speaker Natasa Micic has filled the largely ceremonial post since shortly after Milutinovic left office.

Of those who voted in the latest poll, about 46 percent chose Tomislav Nikolic of Vojislav Seselj's ultranationalist Serbian Radical Party (SRS), while approximately 35 percent opted for Dragoljub Micunovic of the governing Democratic Opposition of Serbia (DOS) coalition.

The election had been widely expected to fail for two reasons. The first is widespread voter apathy, because many Serbs are angry and despondent over the government's failure to solve the central problems of poverty, crime, and corruption. Investigations following the 12 March assassination of Prime Minister Zoran Djindjic led to revelations of links between the underworld and leading political circles, including virtually all parties and coalitions. Unproven charges of criminal wrongdoing have been made against many leading politicians or their close advisers.

The second reason that the presidential election was considered a non-starter was a boycott by the two largest opposition political groupings, former Yugoslav President Vojislav Kostunica's Democratic Party of Serbia (DSS) and the G-17 Plus political party. The two charged that the presidential vote was simply a delaying tactic by the DOS to avoid calling early parliamentary elections.

In fact, many observers have suggested that the DOS deliberately intended the successive presidential elections to fail in order to put off making difficult political decisions, including the holding of new parliamentary elections. If the DOS had wanted a presidential vote to succeed, it could have changed the relevant legislation at any time by removing the 50 percent requirement, as was recently done in Montenegro. But this question became moot recently when the DOS lost its legislative majority and was forced to call new parliamentary elections for 28 December.

It is unclear when a new round of presidential voting will take place, or who is legally entitled to call a new election. In any event, the Serbian presidency became largely ceremonial under Milutinovic. Because he was an indicted war criminal and hence not in a position to travel abroad or receive foreign guests, the post has not been effectively filled for several years -- and Serbia has not fared the worse for it.

But this did not prevent many commentators from describing the outcome of the 16 November vote as a "crisis" on account of the unexpectedly strong showing by Nikolic. Some observers compared his performance to that of far-right candidate Jean-Marie Le Pen in the first round of French presidential voting in 2002.

Observers noted that the Western governments that did much to support the fractious leaders of the DOS, DSS, and G-17 Plus in recent years are likely to urge the politicians in those three "democratic forces" to sink their differences and ensure that the SRS and its allies do not make a strong showing in the parliamentary elections, which are expected to reshape the political landscape. Most analysts feel that a "democratic" candidate could have handily defeated Nikolic had the DSS and G-17 Plus not called for a boycott.

Nikolic's strong showing and the political antics that led to the DOS's loss of its parliamentary majority suggest, however, that the future for Serbian democracy is not necessarily bright. One way of giving a fresh impetus to democratic currents and reducing voter apathy would be for the "democratic" politicians to address the voters' real concerns. This means spending less time playing on nationalist sentiments by criticizing the Hague-based war crimes tribunal or promoting false hopes of regaining Kosova and more time outlining concrete programs for eliminating poverty, crime, and corruption.

UNHCR TO PULL FOREIGN STAFF FROM PARTS OF AFGHANISTAN
The Office of the UN High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) announced on 18 November that it is temporarily pulling 30 foreign staff members from parts of eastern and southern Afghanistan and closing four refugee centers in neighboring Pakistan, "The New York Times," reported. The decision comes after the killing of a French national working for UNHCR in Ghazni on 16 November (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 18 November 2003). The head of the UN refugee agency in Afghanistan, Filippo Grandi, said the slaying of their employee "tragically proved" that the UNHCR cannot carry out its mission alone. Grandi said the agency will review the situation on the ground in two weeks before considering reopening its offices. In an 18 November report, Radio Afghanistan said the UNHCR will resume its work in two weeks. AT

SOUTH KOREA EVACUATES ITS EMBASSY IN KABUL
The South Korean Foreign Ministry announced on 18 November that it evacuated its embassy staff from Kabul in response to an intelligence report identifying the country's mission as the target of a possible terrorist attack, Yonhap news agency reported from Seoul. Most of South Korea's diplomats have left Afghanistan for an unspecified neighboring country, with just one official at a "safe place" in Afghanistan. The South Korean Embassy reportedly received information from UN sources in Afghanistan that it might be the target of a suicide bomb attack. Speculation regarding a motive for the threat has focused on South Korea's decision to dispatch troops to Iraq. There are about 40 South Korean civilians living in Kabul, while some 200 South Korean soldiers are in Afghanistan as part of Operation Enduring Freedom. AT

EXPLOSION KILLS AFGHAN CHILD IN JALALABAD
A blast that was alternately reported as having come from unexploded ordnance or a deliberately planted explosive device killed an 11-year-old Afghan boy in Jalalabad in Nangarhar Province on 18 November, Radio Afghanistan reported. The child was collecting scrap steel when he set off an unexploded missile, according to Radio Afghanistan. However, Pakistan-based Afghan Islamic Press reported on 18 November that the child was killed by a bomb "which was planted by unidentified people." AT

STUDENTS IN KABUL PROTEST DRAFT CONSTITUTION
An unspecified number of Kabul University students demonstrated on 18 November against the draft constitution that was recently circulated by the Afghan Constitutional Committee (see "RFE/RL Afghanistan Report," 6 and 13 November 2003), the official Bakhtar news agency reported. The students were specifically protesting Article 43 of the draft, the news agency reported, without providing details. Article 43 stipulates that the state must provide free education up to the level of secondary school. AT

AFGHAN MINISTER CRITICIZES MISUSE OF POWER, CALLS FOR A 'BONN 2 CONFERENCE'
At a conference titled "Youth and Constitution" held in Kabul on 18 November, Afghan Finance Minister Ashraf Ghani indirectly criticized members of the cabinet for abusing their official positions, RFE/RL reported. "Ministers' chairs are no abode of power, but of service to the people," Ghani said. He strongly encouraged the 250 participants -- young men and women who participate in the Young Leaders Forum program run by the German-based Friedrich Ebert Foundation -- to actively participate in shaping the new constitution that will be discussed at the Constitutional Loya Jirga slated to open on 10 December in the Afghan capital. Ghani also called the current leadership a "bridge" that the young generation can cross toward a more democratic Afghanistan. At the same meeting, the Friedrich Ebert Foundation's Kabul representative, Almut Wieland-Karimi, called for another Bonn conference "providing for a long-term commitment of the international community, the Afghan government, and the Afghan people for security, democratization, and reconstruction" in Afghanistan that should "integrate the Bonn and Tokyo [donors'] processes." She added that efforts to "create a democratic state" go back to "the constitutional movement and Mahmud Tarzi [in the 1910s and 1920s]." JH

IRAN RETURNS TO NORTHERN AFGHANISTAN
Iran is preparing to reopen its consulate in Mazar-e Sharif, ending a five-year hiatus, IRNA reported on 16 November. The office in Balkh Province was closed in July 1998 after Taliban troops stormed the consulate and killed eight diplomats and a journalist. A five-person Iranian delegation headed by Majid Islami, the provisional consul, is currently holding talks in Mazar-e Sharif with local police authorities. Consular and embassy officials from Kabul accompanying the group said that preparations to reopen the consulate have already been completed. JLH

IRANIAN OFFICIAL SAYS IRAN WILL NOT CONSIDER SUSPENDING URANIUM ENRICHMENT
In contrast to Iran's reported agreement with the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) to halt its uranium-enrichment program (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 13 November 2003), the country's top national-security official on 19 November said Tehran will refuse any further demands from the UN's nuclear watchdog to halt its such activities, RFE/RL reported. Supreme National Security Council Secretary Hassan Rohani said that any resolution imposing a "legal obligation" on Iran to suspend uranium enrichment is "unacceptable," IRNA reported. Rohani's statement came the day before the Vienna-based IAEA is to meet to discuss Iran's nuclear program. Iran has said that its nuclear program is to generate energy for peaceful purposes. Some Western countries, particularly the United States, suspect that the program conceals Iranian efforts to develop nuclear weapons. RFE

U.S. SECRETARY OF STATE ADVISES CAUTION ON PERCEIVED IRANIAN NUCLEAR COOPERATION
In response to EU foreign-policy and security chief Javier Solana's 17 November statement in which he said Tehran has been honest in its cooperation with the IAEA, U.S. Secretary of State Colin Powell said, "I wouldn't have gone quite so far," "Iran Expert" reported on 17 November. Powell acknowledged that the French and German foreign ministers and the British foreign secretary played a "very, very helpful role" in gaining Iran's agreement with the IAEA last week to halt its uranium-enrichment program (see above). However, he said that "Iran's history in regard to its nuclear program should cause all of us to have serious concerns about judging too quickly whether or not we have received a full and complete story from the Iranians." Meeting in Brussels on 18 November, EU officials reaffirmed their commitment to the Tehran Declaration signed by Iran, Germany, France, and Britain. JLH

LEBANON SAYS IRAN HAS LEGITIMATE RIGHT TO USE NUCLEAR ENERGY
Lebanese President Emile Lahoud said during a meeting with Iranian Ambassador Massoud Idrissi on 17 November that Iran has the right to use nuclear energy to generate electricity and that the world community should be more attentive to Israel, which he claimed is stockpiling nuclear weapons, IRNA reported. Idrissi said Iran signed the Additional Protocol to the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty and voluntarily stopped its uranium-enrichment program as a sign of goodwill. He also said that Iran would appreciate President Lahoud's assistance in securing the release of four Iranian diplomats who were captured in Lebanon by Israel in 1982. JLH

IRANIAN PRESIDENT RECOGNIZES IRAQI GOVERNING COUNCIL
Iranian President Mohammad Khatami said on 18 November that his country "recognizes the Iraqi Governing Council," Reuters reported, citing Iranian media. Khatami's comments came during a two-day visit by Iraqi Governing Council President for the month of November Jalal Talabani, who headed a delegation of seven Iraqi ministers and 10 Governing Council members. Both Khatami and Iranian Foreign Minister Kamal Kharrazi told council members during the visit that Iran has no intentions of interfering in Iraq's internal affairs. Iran agreed to assist Iraq in the reconstruction of its industrial sector through the provision of raw materials and technical training. Plans are also reportedly under way for the signing of a free-trade agreement between the two states, Iranian media reported. KR

GOVERNING COUNCIL MEMBER EXPLAINS RELATIONS WITH IRAN
Governing Council member Muwaffaq al-Rubay'i told Al-Jazeera on 18 November that Iraq intends to forge strong relations with neighboring Iran. "The occupation authority or the Americans view Iran as part of the 'axis of evil' while we view Iran as a strategic partner," al-Rubay'i said. "We want to establish tourist relations, exchange visits, and have cultural, economic, and security relations to consolidate the situation at the borders. We also want industrial relations, relations to coordinate our foreign policies." He said Iraq wants the "relationship between new Iraq and Iran to be a model for [the] new Iraq's relations with its neighbors and the other countries of the world." Asked if this is possible considering the current U.S. position on Iran, al-Rubay'i answered: "We defend and represent the Iraqi people's interests. We do not pay attention to what others, or the Americans say. That's where we part [ways] with them." KR

AL-BASRAH LOOKS TO IRAN FOR ELECTRICITY
Al-Basrah Province Governor Wael Abd al-Latif on 17 November broached the subject of purchasing electricity from Iran during a meeting in Tehran, "Iran Daily" reported the following day. Abd al-Latif said that several petrochemical and fertilizer factories in the southern Iraqi province escaped serious damage during the U.S. invasion, but a severe shortage of electricity has hampered efforts to restart them. Mohammad Mehdi Raiszadeh, head of Tehran's Chamber of Commerce, Industries, and Mines, said during the meeting that more than 120 reconstruction projects are planned for the Al-Basrah area. JLH

EU 'SATISFIED' WITH U.S.-IRAQI PLANS FOR TRANSFER OF POWER...
The European Union said in a statement issued on 17 November during a foreign ministers' meeting in Brussels that the ministers "took note with satisfaction" that plans are under way to transfer power to Iraqis by next June, euobserver.com reported on 18 November. Meanwhile, the U.S. State Department announced (http://www.usinfo.state.gov) that Italian Foreign Minister Franco Frattini told reporters following the EU foreign ministers' lunch attended by U.S. Secretary of State Powell on 18 November that the ministers also confirmed "the importance of an overall framework where the United Nations has an important role in reconstruction and security." KR

...BUT FRENCH FOREIGN MINISTER STILL OBJECTS
In an interview with French daily "La Croix" published on 17 November and posted on the French Ministry of Foreign Affairs website (http://www.france.diplomatie.fr), French Foreign Minister Dominique de Villepin said the creation of an Iraqi provisional government by June 2004 is "too late." "There already exists in Baghdad an interim governing council, a constitutional committee, and a cabinet," he said. "Each body has 25 members. We could, for example, bring all these people together, add some forces to them, and thus create a representative assembly that would elect a transitional government of around 15 members. All this by the end of the year," de Villepin suggested. KR

CENTCOM REPORTS PROGRESS IN REIGNING IN MILITANTS
U.S. Central Command (CENTCOM) has reported on its website (http://www.centcom.mil) that U.S. forces in Iraq continue to make progress in their mission to rein in militants. Some 50 individuals were detained during searches, patrols, and raids on 17-18 November, a number of whom were suspected of directing attacks against coalition forces. Acting on a tip from an Iraqi citizen, U.S. forces arrested four regime loyalists in Al-Habbaniyah on the night of 17-18 November and uncovered on the same premises various weapons, a satellite telephone, and a computer used to print out counterfeit Iraqi dinars. Meanwhile in Al-Ramadi, U.S. forces uncovered anticoalition paperwork and Jihad sign-up sheets at one residence. "Later this morning, the resident of that house was detained as he went to coalition forces to claim his paperwork," CENTCOM reported on 18 November. "He is also suspected of financing the production and placement of improvised explosive devices (IEDs) in the Ramadi area," the statement added. KR

COALITION FORCES CLOSE JULY 14 BRIDGE
Coalition forces in Iraq have reportedly closed the July 14 Bridge in Baghdad due to an increase in terrorist attacks against Iraqi Governing Council members and coalition troops, Baghdad's "Al-Manar" reported on 16 November. The U.S. military on 25 October reopened the bridge, which was closed for security reasons after U.S. forces entered Baghdad in April (see "RFE/RL Iraq Report," 31 October 2003). KR

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