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Newsline - November 20, 2003


MOSCOW CRITICIZES U.S. MOVES IN IRAQ
Deputy Foreign Minister Yurii Fedotov criticized on 19 November an agreement signed in Baghdad on 15 November by U.S. Coalition Provisional Authority head L. Paul Bremer and the Iraqi Governing Council (see "RFE/RL Iraq Report," 20 November 2002), Interfax reported. Fedotov said that the agreement was negotiated in secret and therefore has little chance of proving durable. He said that Russia believes any timetable for the transfer of power in Iraq to Iraqis must take into consideration the views of the UN Security Council and of Iraq's neighbors. He said that only a process of collective agreement will give Iraq's political process international and domestic legitimacy, Fedotov said. ORT political commentator Mikhail Leontev, who is reportedly close to the Kremlin and who is known for his harshly anti-American positions, said on 19 November that now that the United States is already in Iraq, it is in Russia's interests that it stay there until the end and "bear responsibility for it." VY

RUSSIA WELCOMES UN'S ADOPTION OF ROAD-MAP PEACE PLAN
The UN Security Council on 19 November approved Resolution 1515, which was introduced by Russia and calls for the so-called road-map Middle Eastern peace plan to be adopted as a UN document, Western and Russian media reported. The plan to resolve the Israeli-Palestinian conflict was drafted by the United States, Russia, the EU, and the UN. Russian Ambassador to the UN Sergei Lavrov said that although Resolution 1515 lacks an enforcement mechanism, its passage sends a signal to both sides that they must stop violating the plan's provisions. VY

JORDAN'S KING HOLDS TALKS IN MOSCOW
President Vladimir Putin on 19 November met in the Kremlin with Jordan's visiting King Abdullah II, Russian and international media reported. Speaking at a joint press conference following the talks, Putin said that Moscow and Amman have virtually identical positions on major Middle Eastern issues and, particularly, Iraq, ORT reported. King Abdullah said that there is no alternative to the so-called road-map peace plan for the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. The two men also discussed bilateral trade and military-technical cooperation. During the press conference, Putin thanked King Abdullah for supporting Russia's efforts to establish closer contacts with the Organization of the Islamic Conference (OIC) (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 6 and 15 August and 16 October 2003). King Abdullah, who was educated in the United States and Great Britain, trained briefly with an elite Russian airborne unit in the 1980s. VY

JUSTICE MINISTER ACCUSES FORMER YUKOS HEAD OF OBSTRUCTING JUSTICE
Yurii Chaika said on 19 November that law enforcement officials have intercepted a note from jailed former Yukos CEO Mikhail Khodorkovskii in which he allegedly instructed lawyers on how to pressure potential witnesses in the cases pending against him, RBK and other Russian media reported. The note was allegedly seized on 12 November during a search of Khodorkovskii's lawyer, Olga Artyukova, after a meeting with her client. Anton Drel, another Khodorkovskii lawyer, said on 18 November that his client "did nothing stupid, wrote no instructions, and a court must decide whether it is legal to confiscate notes from a lawyer," lenta.ru reported. Chaika claimed that prison video cameras had filmed Khodorkovskii handing the note to Artyukova. He added that the ministry will look into whether Artyukova's actions could result in her being stripped of her right to practice law. VY

AUDIT CHAMBER REPORTS FINANCIAL VIOLATIONS IN FOREIGN MINISTRY
The Audit Chamber has uncovered the misallocation of more than 2 billion rubles ($133 million) from the 2002 budget of the Foreign Ministry, "Argumenty i fakty," No. 47, reported. According to the report, the chamber found that funds intended for renting residences and purchasing automobiles were misspent. According to the weekly, Foreign Minister Igor Ivanov received a copy of the Audit Chamber's report before it was released and asked Federal Security Service (FSB) Director Nikolai Patrushev to investigate how the report was leaked. The weekly cited an unidentified Foreign Ministry official as saying that the report could be intended as part of an effort to remove Ivanov. VY

LEGISLATORS GIVE NOD TO NEW LAW ON CIVIL SERVICE...
State Duma deputies voted on 19 November to pass a slew of legislation before the end of the current Duma's final session on 28 November, Russian media reported. Most importantly, deputies approved in its first reading an administration-sponsored bill on civil-service reform. The vote was 331 in favor, with two votes against and no abstentions. The bill would arrange civil-service positions in four categories of jobs at five separate levels, according to Interfax. Applicants for positions are to be reviewed by competitive commissions that would include independent experts, according to RosBalt. JAC

...AND PASS BILL ON COMMERCIAL SECRETS ALONG TO UPPER CHAMBER
Deputies also approved on 19 November in its second and third readings a government-drafted bill on protecting commercial secrets, Russian media reported. Some 263 deputies voted in favor of the bill, according to RIA-Novosti. The bill lays out criteria for determining what kind of information can be considered a commercial secret and regulates the use of such information. The bill will now go to the Federation Council. JAC

RUSSIAN ORTHODOX CHURCHES MOVE TOWARD REUNIFICATION
Archbishop Kirill, head of the Moscow Patriarchate's Foreign Relations Department, announced on 19 November that the Russian Orthodox Church and the Russian Orthodox Church Abroad have reached an agreement in principle on the need to unite the two churches, ORT reported. He said that the two churches, which split in 1917, will issue a canonic decision during their respective Metropolitan councils next year. Archbishop Kirill said there are virtually no areas of disagreement remaining between the two churches, "although there remain psychological divisions generated by the Russian Civil War." VY

COMMUNISTS EXPEL TALKATIVE DEPUTY
The Communist Party faction in the State Duma voted on 19 November to expel Deputy Leonid Maevskii from its ranks, ITAR-TASS reported, citing a party press release. On 17 November, Maevskii told reporters in Moscow that self-exiled tycoon Boris Berezovskii is financing the party in full, repeating a charge he made during a 2 November program on RTR (see "RFE/RL Russian Political Weekly," 19 November 2003). Maevskii is locked in a bitter struggle for a seat in the 130th single-mandate district in Omsk Oblast with Aleksandr Kravets, who has the Communist Party's backing. Unified Russia supports Aleksandr Kharitonov, the head of the local police academy. According to RFE/RL's Omsk correspondent on 16 October, local analysts believe Maevskii distinguished himself during the September race for governor of the oblast as a new kind of Communist -- "young, not stupid, and energetic." JAC

COMMUNISTS RENEW COMPLAINTS ABOUT SLANTED NATIONAL TV COVERAGE
Central Election Commission (TsIK) member Vadim Solovev, who was nominated by the Communist Party, has submitted a complaint to the commission regarding the political coverage of state-controlled ORT and state-owned RTR, regions.ru reported on 19 November (see "RFE/RL Russian Political Weekly," 12 November 2003). In his complaint, Solovev provides a detailed analysis of the channel's broadcasts from 3 October until 9 November. According to Solovev, the activities of the pro-Kremlin Unified Russia party were depicted in a positive manner, while "exclusively negative" information was broadcast about the Communist Party. Solovev charges that the national television channels leadership are systematically violating election legislation, and he asks that they be held accountable. On 19 November, RTR reported that a split is developing among Communist Party members in Ulyanovsk, the birthplace of Soviet founder Vladimir Lenin. According to the station, the local Communist proletariat is battling with the local Communist "bourgeoisie." Dmitrii Yezhov of the Communists bloc, which is not part of the Communist Party, was shown saying that the first secretary of the oblast Communist Party committee drives a BMW-750 "limousine." JAC

DUMA CANDIDATE IN PERM SAYS HE SURVIVED ASSASSINATION ATTEMPT...
Perm Oblast legislator Ilea Neustroev, who is a Union of Rightist Forces (SPS) candidate in a single-mandate district in the 7 December State Duma elections, said that an unknown assailant fired a pistol at him on 19 November outside his home when he was returning home from a jog, Novyi region reported. Neustroev said that hid in his car and was not hurt. Neustroev reportedly received a threatening phone call a few days before. Nikita Belykh, head of the regional branch of the SPS, said that other SPS activists have received threats during the campaign. According to the regional SPS branch, SPS leader Boris Nemtsov will ask Prosecutor-General Vladimir Ustinov to assume control over the investigation of the incident. JAC

...AS CANDIDATE IN SMOLENSK BEATEN SEVERELY
Also on 19 November, regions.ru reported that Sergei Fomchenkov, a candidate in a single-mandate district in Smolensk, has been severely beaten. The report did not say when the incident occurred or provide details of Fomchenkov's injuries. Fomchenkov is a member of radical writer Eduard Limonov's National Bolshevik Party and is running against local Communist Party Secretary Vladimir Berezov and Federation Council representative for Smolensk Oblast Sergei Antufev. Antufev is supported by Unified Russia. JAC

YUKOS EXECUTIVE LOSES SEAT IN SENATE FOR GOOD
The Evenk Autonomous Okrug legislative assembly will not challenge a 6 November decision by a Krasnoyarsk Krai court that nullified their election of former Yukos-Moscow head Vasilii Shaknovskii to represent them in the Federation Council (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 7 November 2003). A seat in the upper legislative chamber gives its holder immunity from criminal prosecution. A lawyer for the legislators told reporters that they are afraid that they would lose their case before the Supreme Court and a dangerous legal precedent would thus be set. JAC

MIDDLE EAST ENVOY GETS CUSHIER ASSIGNMENT
President Putin has appointed Andrei Vdovin as Russia's ambassador to Greece, replacing Mikhail Bocharnikov, Interfax reported on 19 November. Vdovin most recently served as Russia's special envoy to the Middle East, and he previously served as Russia's envoy to the Council of Europe. JAC

DUMA CANDIDATE'S CAMPAIGN MANAGER ABDUCTED IN GROZNY
Aboyadig Saayev, the campaign manager of former Chechen envoy in the Russian Federation Salambek Maigov, who is running in the 7 December State Duma elections, was kidnapped by gunmen in Grozny on 19 November, Interfax reported quoting NTV. Chechen police and republican presidential administration sources told Interfax they have no information about the kidnapping. Maigov, who heads the Gromos Fund for Economic Cooperation and Development, is one of five registered candidates running from Chechnya's single-mandate district. Pro-Moscow Chechen leader Akhmed-hadji Kadyrov last week expressed support for Maigov and his policies (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 18 November 2003). LF

ARAB FIELD COMMANDER THREATENS ATTACKS IN RUSSIAN REGIONS
Abu al-Walid, an Arab field commander operating in Chechnya, has vowed in a videotape broadcast by Al-Jazeera on 19 November to strike against targets in other parts of Russia, dpa reported. On 14 November, Russian military spokesman for North Caucasus operations Colonel Ilya Shabalkin said that Russian law enforcement agencies will pay $100,000 for information leading to al-Walid's "neutralization." One month earlier, Chechen police said they believed al-Walid was killed during an air strike in southern Chechnya in late September or early October, Interfax reported on 17 October. LF

UN, NGOS LAUNCH APPEAL FOR AID FOR NORTH CAUCASUS
The UN and 20 NGOs have appealed to the international community to provide $62 million in 2004 for humanitarian aid to the North Caucasus, Russian media reported on 19 November, quoting acting UN coordinator for humanitarian issues Mikko Vienonen. Half of that sum is needed to provide food aid for Chechen residents and displaced persons. Vienonen also appealed to the abductors of Aryan Erkel, a Doctors Without Borders activist who was abducted in Daghestan in August 2002, to release him immediately, Interfax reported (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 13 and 14 August 2002). LF

U.S. GENERAL VISITS ARMENIA
General Charles Wald, who is deputy commander U.S. Forces Europe, met in Yerevan on 19 November with Armenian Defense Minister and National Security Council head Serzh Sarkisian, Noyan Tapan and Interfax reported. Issues discussed included bilateral military cooperation, regional security, and combating terrorism. Interfax quoted Wald as saying that the Pentagon is not engaged in a competition with Russia over cooperation with the states of the South Caucasus. He did not exclude cooperation between U.S. forces in Europe and the Russian-Armenian joint military group to be formed within the framework of the CIS Collective Security Treaty Organization. In a 19 November interview with RFE/RL's Armenian Service, Sarkisian said he does not believe the current political crisis in Georgia will fuel rivalry between Russia and the United States in the South Caucasus. He said the two countries don't need new problems, because they have more serious issues with which to cope. LF

AZERBAIJANI PRESIDENT SNUBS PACE DELEGATION...
Ilham Aliyev, who until this summer headed Azerbaijan's delegation to the Parliamentary Assembly of the Council of Europe (PACE), failed "for technical reasons" to meet with visiting PACE rapporteur Andreas Gross, Turan reported on 19 November. Gross met in Baku on 17 November with leaders of Azerbaijan's most important opposition parties to discuss their defeat in, and official reprisals in the wake of, the 15 October presidential election, which according to official data Aliyev won with 76 percent of the vote. Gross also met on 18 November with Interior Minister Ramil Usubov and with human rights activists. LF

...AS AZERBAIJANI HUMAN RIGHTS ACTIVISTS CALL FOR END TO REPRISALS
Human rights activists have appealed to the Azerbaijani leadership to desist from further reprisals against opposition members in the wake of the disputed 15 October presidential ballot, Turan reported on 19 November. At a Baku press conference, the activists said that if the authorities genuinely want to embark on a dialogue with the opposition, they must first stop persecuting the opposition and release all people arrested for their actual or alleged participation in the protests in Baku on 15-16 October. President Aliyev has claimed he is ready for such a dialogue, but that the opposition has rejected his overtures (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 23 October and 3 November 2003). LF

GEORGIAN TV HEAD QUITS
State Television Chairman Zaza Shengelia resigned on 19 November after President Eduard Shevardnadze criticized the coverage of domestic political events by state television's first channel, Georgian media reported. Shevardnadze said the independent television stations Imedi and Mze have been more objective in their coverage. Shengelia told a press conference later on 19 November that he believes state television has a responsibility to present diverging points of view. He said Shevardnadze is "living in a vacuum," and has no clear idea of the true situation in Georgia, Reuters reported. Shengelia's wife, Sesili Gogoberidze, also resigned on 19 November from her post as culture minister, Georgian media reported. Badri Bitsadze, who is married to parliament speaker and opposition leader Nino Burdjanadze, has stepped down as first deputy prosecutor-general, Caucasus Press reported on 20 November. LF

PRO-, ANTI-GOVERNMENT DEMONSTRATORS CLASH IN SOUTHERN GEORGIA
Several dozen people were injured on 19 November when some 100 supporters of President Shevardnadze clashed in the region of Bolnisi, southeast of Tbilisi, with 200 opposition protesters, Reuters reported. In Tbilisi, several thousand supporters of Adjar Supreme Council Chairman Aslan Abashidze's Democratic Revival Union continued their rally outside the parliament building. Meanwhile, opposition leaders have traveled to Georgia's regions in the hope of recruiting protesters to join a mass march on Tbilisi, the date of which has not yet been publicly announced. The Central Election Commission is required by law to release by 6 p.m. local time on 20 November the final results of the 2 November parliamentary elections. Repeat voting will, however, take place on 23 November in several districts where the results were invalidated. LF

GEORGIAN PRESIDENT REAFFIRMS READINESS FOR DIALOGUE WITH OPPOSITION
Addressing a government session on 19 November, President Shevardnadze again affirmed that he is prepared to meet individually or collectively with opposition leaders Burdjanadze, Zurab Zhvania, and Mikhail Saakashvili despite "insulting" remarks addressed to him by Burdjanadze and Saakashvili, Caucasus Press reported. Zhvania, however, said the same day that he and his opposition colleagues will not agree to any dialogue unless the Georgian authorities first declare the 2 November ballot invalid and admit that the ongoing crisis was precipitated by the authorities' attempts to rig the outcome of that ballot. LF

ABKHAZIA DENIES PLANNING KODORI OFFENSIVE
Sergei Shamba, foreign minister of the unrecognized Republic of Abkhazia, told Interfax on 19 November there is no truth to Georgian media speculation that Abkhazia might take advantage of the domestic political turmoil in Georgia to seize the upper, Georgian-populated reaches of the Kodori Gorge. On 15 November, Kodori Governor Emzar Kvitsiani told Interfax that the district's Georgian population is "in panic" and is trying to flee by car despite heavy snowfall. On 18 November, Interfax quoted Kvitsiani as telling a meeting of President Shevardnadze's supporters that Sukhum is planning to occupy the upper reaches of the gorge. On 19 November, Shevardnadze said domestic political tensions are hampering a resumption of negotiations with the leaderships of both Abkhazia and the similarly unrecognized Republic of South Ossetia, Caucasus Press reported. LF

KAZAKH PRESIDENT POSTPONES VISIT TO AUSTRIA
Nursultan Nazarbaev has postponed an official visit to Austria that was to begin on 20 November, due to the illness of Austrian President Thomas Klestil, khabar.kz reported on 19 November. Nazarbaev himself was reported to have been hospitalized for a cold at the beginning of the week (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 18 November 2003). The Kazakh president was also scheduled to take part in the weekly meeting of the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE) Permanent Council on 20 November; according to the 19 November issue of "Vremya novostei," Kazakh Security Council Secretary Bulat Utemuratov was warned during his recent visit to the OSCE's Vienna headquarters (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 13 November 2003) that Nazarbaev should expect some searching questions when he appears before the Permanent Council. BB

CIS COLLECTIVE SECURITY TREATY FOREIGN MINISTERS MEET IN BISHKEK
The foreign ministers of the member states of the CIS Collective Security Treaty Organization (CSTO; members are Armenia, Belarus, Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan, Russia, and Tajikistan) met in Bishkek on 19 November to discuss a range of issues including the situation in Afghanistan and the CSTO's relations with NATO, kabar.kg, ITAR-TASS, and other Kyrgyz and Russian media reported the same day. CSTO Secretary-General Nikolai Bordyuzha told a press conference at the end of the meeting that the organization will work with NATO rather than competing with it. Tajik Foreign Minister Talbak Nazarov said that drug trafficking from Afghanistan is posing a threat to the security of the CSTO states. Kyrgyz Foreign Minister Askar Aitmatov said that Kyrgyzstan is a model for NATO-CSTO cooperation because the Russian and antiterrorism-coalition air bases in the country have complementary tasks in protecting the region's security. BB

KYRGYZ SUPREME COURT BANS 'EXTREMIST' ORGANIZATIONS
In response to a request from the Kyrgyz Prosecutor-General's Office, the country's Supreme Court has formally banned specific international organizations designated as "extremist" or "terrorist," akipress.org reported on 19 November. The radical Islamic movement Hizb ut-Tahrir is designated extremist because it seeks to overthrow the constitutional order, while Sharki Azat Turkestan and Sharki Turkestan Islam Partiyasi (both are Uighur separatist groups) and the Islamic Party of Turkestan, formerly the Islamic Movement of Uzbekistan, are designated terrorist, on the grounds that their members have committed terrorist acts in Kyrgyzstan, according to the Prosecutor-General's Office. BB

NEW GOVERNOR OF KYRGYZSTAN'S BATKEN OBLAST APPOINTED
Kyrgyz President Askar Akaev appointed the head of the Finance Ministry's Committee on Incomes Askarbek Shadiev acting governor of southern Kyrgyzstan's Batken Oblast on 19 November, akipress.org reported the same day. Shadiev, trained as an economist and a lawyer, is a former member of the lower house of the Kyrgyz parliament. He replaces Batken Governor Mamat Aibaliev, who was transferred the same day to unspecified "other work." Batken is the newest and most impoverished of Kyrgyzstan's oblasts. It was formed in 1999 after incursions into the neglected region by militants of the Islamic Movement of Uzbekistan. BB

TURKMENISTAN'S UN REPRESENTATIVE OPPOSES HUMAN RIGHTS RESOLUTION
Turkmenistan's permanent representative to the United Nations, Aksoltan Ataeva, has asked that a draft resolution on human rights violations in her country not be put to a vote and called on other delegations to reject it if it does come to a vote, the UN News Center (http://www.un.org/news) reported on 18 November. The draft resolution, authored by EU countries, has been distributed informally among UN delegations. Ataeva affirmed Turkmenistan's willingness to work with international organizations on human rights issues. Meanwhile, a decree issued by Turkmen President Saparmurat Niyazov in October is restricting the activities of genuine grassroots nongovernmental organizations in Turkmenistan, Deutsche Welle reported on 18 November. All NGOs must reregister with the Justice Ministry or face criminal prosecution for illegal activity. NGO members are supposed to demonstrate the same knowledge of Niyazov's book "Rukhnama" as is required of state employees, and according to some NGOs, are supposed to know poems praising Niyazov. BB

CRITICAL BRITISH AMBASSADOR RETURNS TO UZBEKISTAN
British Ambassador to Uzbekistan Craig Murray returned to work in Tashkent on 17 November, centrasia.ru reported on 19 November. Murray has been in Great Britain for two months, officially for medical treatment, but Uzbek human rights activists have asserted that he was recalled because he had upset the Uzbek authorities with his sharp criticism of Uzbekistan's human rights record. BB

UN LABOR BODY TO PROBE ALLEGED LABOR ABUSES IN BELARUS
The UN's International Labor Organization (ILO) on 19 November set up a "commission of inquiry," one of its strongest procedures, into allegations of serious workers' rights abuses in Belarus, Reuters reported. The move follows complaints from Belarus's independent trade-union leaders at the ILO's annual conference in Geneva in July that the administration of Belarusian President Alyaksandr Lukashenka was guilty of interfering in the trade unions' internal affairs, adopting anti-union legislation and executive decrees, harassing and threatening union activists, freezing unions' bank accounts, and forcing workers to withdraw their union membership. The ILO can condemn violations of labor rights in a member country, but it has no means of enforcing its decisions. However, Leroy Trotman, chairman of the ILO's Workers' Group, told Reuters that the ILO will seek to convince the EU to launch an inquiry into events in Belarus, with the aim of getting EU trade privileges withdrawn. JM

KYIV MIGHT TURN TO THE HAGUE OVER TUZLA SPAT WITH MOSCOW
Ukrainian Foreign Minister Kostyantyn Hryshchenko told journalists on 19 November that Kyiv might ask the International Court of Justice in The Hague to resolve the Ukrainian-Russian dispute over Tuzla Island in the Kerch Strait if bilateral talks with Moscow prove unsatisfactory (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 6 November 2003), Interfax reported. "However, we of course prefer to find a solution in a bilateral format, which can allow us [to put the issue behind us] much sooner than any court examination or hearing," Hryshchenko added. JM

TWO PRO-PRESIDENTIAL PARLIAMENTARY GROUPS MERGE IN UKRAINE
Verkhovna Rada speaker Volodymyr Lytvyn announced on 20 November that two parliamentary caucuses, Ukraine's Regions and European Choice, have united under the name Ukraine's Regions, UNIAN reported. The new caucus, which is co-chaired by Rayisa Bohatyryova and Volodymyr Pekhota, becomes the second-largest deputies' group in the Ukrainian parliament. The current array of forces in the Verkhovna Rada is as follows: Our Ukraine (103 deputies), Ukraine's Regions (64), the Communist Party (60), the Party of Industrialists and Entrepreneurs-Labor Ukraine (42), the Social Democratic Party-united (36), People's Power (21), the Socialist Party (20), the Yuliya Tymoshenko Bloc (19), the Agrarian Party (16), People's Choice (14), and 22 independent deputies. JM

ESTONIAN PEOPLE'S UNION STANDS FIRM ON COALITION DEMAND, VOTES AGAINST PARTNERS
The People's Union responded to an ultimatum by its coalition partners, Res Publica and the Reform Party (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 19 November 2003), by declaring its desire to remain in the coalition but not withdrawing its demands to change the three-party coalition agreement, BNS reported on 19 November. As if to highlight the growing rift, the People's Union voted with the opposition the same day to back amendments to a tax-reform bill that would fundamentally change the legislation. The amendments were backed by 54 of parliament's 101 deputies. The government responded by pushing through a suspension of the second reading of the tax-reform bill. Pro Patria Union Chairman Tunne Kelam has meanwhile insisted that any potential coalition with his party be preconditioned on the suspension of income-tax reform, making the replacement of the People's Union by the Pro Patria Union with Res Publica and the Reform Party unlikely. Res Publica Chairman and Prime Minister Juhan Parts met with his coalition partners late on 19 November, when, according to "Postimees," he suggested a compromise that would entail cutting the income-tax rate from 26 percent to 25 percent in 2004 -- instead of the proposed 24 percent -- and allocating more funds for family benefits and education, and speeding up administrative reform, LETA reported on 20 November. SG

COUNCIL OF EUROPE COMMITTEE CHAIRWOMAN VISITS LATVIA
Josette Durrieu, the head of the Parliamentary Assembly of the Council of Europe's (PACE) Monitoring Committee, began a two-day visit to Latvia on 19 November, LETA reported. In talks with Society Integration Minister Nils Muiznieks, Durrieu predicted that Latvia's membership in the EU will result in a greater number of noncitizens seeking Latvian citizenship, a view that was supported by the fact that the number of naturalization applications in October (after a "yes" vote in the September EU-membership referendum) was higher than in any other month of the year. Durrieu also met the same day with Foreign Minister Sandra Kalniete, Education and Science Minister Karlis Sadurskis, parliament speaker Ingrida Udre, and Naturalization Board head Eizenija Aldermane. She is scheduled to meet with President Vaira Vike-Freiberga and Prime Minister Einars Repse on 20 November. SG

LITHUANIAN FOREIGN MINISTER SAYS PRESIDENT WAS INDIFFERENT TO WARNINGS ABOUT ADVISER
On 19 November, Antanas Valionis suggested to the parliamentary ad hoc commission formed to investigate the potential threat to national security posed by presidential office staff (see "RFE/RL Newsline, " 4 November 2003) that President Rolandas Paksas ignored repeated warnings concerning his national security adviser, Remigijus Acas, "Kauna diena" reported the next day. At a hearing broadcast live by Lithuanian state television and radio, Valionis said he had informed President Paksas at least four times since August about concerns expressed by NATO ambassadors about Acas's activities. Valionis said the president reacted simply by declaring that the matter was unworthy of attention or by not discussing the matter further. The commission also heard allegations that the Paksas election committee violated campaign regulations by not reporting that Avia Baltica, the company led by Paksas's main financial backer, Yurii Borisov, had paid 105,000 litas ($31,600) for the publication of 300,000 copies of the 3 January issue of the tabloid "Vakaro zinios" that were distributed free as campaign literature. SG

PRESIDENT SAYS POLAND 'OPEN TO ARGUMENTS' ON TREATY OF NICE
Polish President Aleksander Kwasniewski told Polish Radio on 19 November that Poland is "open to arguments" in the ongoing debate on the EU constitution. Prime Minister Leszek Miller's government has assumed a tough stance on the European constitution, suggesting that Poland might reject the document if it fails to incorporate the system for counting votes stipulated by the Treaty of Nice of 2000 (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 6 October 2003). Meanwhile, when asked by a radio interviewer whether Poland should defend the Treaty of Nice "at all costs," Kwasniewski answered in the negative. "Not at all costs, because there is no such thing. Blowing apart Europe doesn't make sense. Plunging the European Union into oblivion doesn't make sense," Kwasniewski said. British Foreign Secretary Jack Straw said in Brussels on 18 November that Great Britain will support the Treaty of Nice system of voting "unless there is a proposal on voting which is acceptable to Poland as [well as] to all the other member states," AFP reported. "Rzeczpospolita" opined on 20 November that London would not have dared to make such a declaration had it not been certain that Warsaw would agree to a "reasonable" compromise on the EU constitution. JM

CZECH PRESIDENT STARTS U.S. VISIT
President Vaclav Klaus, speaking at the Wilson Center in Washington on 19 November, said the EU's monetary union is likely to be followed by a union of fiscal policies that will lead to the political unification of EU members, CTK reported. Klaus, who has often distanced himself from the EU's current trends, said these developments are an encroachment on the prerogatives of nation-states and therefore an infringement on democracy. The Czech president also met on 19 November with Senator Richard Lugar (Republican, Indiana), who is chairman of the Senate Foreign Affairs Committee. Klaus was expected to meet with Vice President Dick Cheney on 20 November. MS

CZECH GOVERNMENT TO EXPLORE WAYS TO CURB INFLUX OF SLOVAK ROMA...
Prime Minister Vladimir Spidla said after a cabinet meeting on 19 November that his government has tasked Interior Minister Stanislav Gross and Deputy Prime Minister Petr Mares with drafting proposals to curb the influx of Slovak Roma into the Czech Republic, CTK reported. Spidla said the number of Slovak Roma residing in the Czech Republic "vary around 14,000," according to a report presented the same day by the Interior Ministry and approved by the cabinet. "This does not mean there is an avalanche, yet this is a problem that must be solved," Spidla said. On 18 November, dpa reported that Gross wants the government to monitor Romany settlements in the Czech Republic because he fears many Slovak Roma intend to emigrate to the Czech Republic in search of work and higher social benefits. A Labor Ministry assessment cited by CTK concluded that the influx of Slovak Roma has had little effect on social programs and benefits. MS

...PRODUCING MIXED REACTIONS AMONG SLOVAK POLITICIANS
Slovak Deputy Prime Minister Pal Csaky, who is in charge of minority affairs, countered on 19 November that the Czech government's intention to curb the influx of Slovak Roma was prompted by an "overestimated figure," CTK reported. Csaky said that, according to information available to him, the number of Slovak Roma who have moved to the Czech Republic is considerably lower than 14,000. He also said he intends to set up a Slovak commission next week to help deal with the issue and will invite Czech officials to a joint discussion with the commission's members. Slovak President Rudolf Schuster, who on 19 November paid a visit to Ostrava in northern Moravia, said he drew attention to the same issue some time ago. Schuster said some Slovak Roma have tried to migrate to other countries as well, but were sent back to Slovakia. "And this is correct," he added, "because they cannot claim they do not have democracy at home." MS

CZECH POLICE SAY SEIZED RADIOACTIVE MATERIAL NOT WEAPONS-GRADE
The radioactive material seized last week from two Slovak nationals in Brno cannot be used to produce weapons that might be employed in a terrorist attack, CTK reported on 19 November, citing a report on Czech Television (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 18 November 2003). Jana Drabova, chairwoman of the Czech State Office for Nuclear Safety (SUJB), said no weapons could be produced from the material seized by police. Czech Television reported that the material was probably stolen from one of the countries of the former Soviet Union. MS

NATO URGES SLOVAKIA TO APPOINT NEW SECURITY DIRECTOR
The Atlantic alliance is urging the Slovak government to reach an agreement on appointing a new head of the National Security Office (NBU), TASR reported on 19 November. Foreign Ministry State Secretary Ivan Korcok said after talks in Brussels with representatives of NATO member states that those parleys focused on the protection of classified information, but personnel issues were also raised. The ruling four-party, center-right coalition has failed to agree on a successor to former NBU head Jan Mojzis, who was dismissed at the behest of Prime Minister Mikulas Dzurinda in early October (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 3 October 2003). The NBU is in charge of granting security clearance to individuals who might have access to classified information. MS

SLOVAK GOVERNMENT APPROVES AMENDMENT TO ELECTION LAW...
Cabinet ministers approved a draft law for amending the Slovak election law on 19 November, TASR reported. The draft stipulates that the ballot is to be held on a single day, instead of two days as in previous elections. It also allows absentee balloting for Slovak citizens abroad. The government wants to introduce a requirement that any party competing in elections must provide a deposit of 500,000 crowns ($14,616), which would be returned if the party garners at least 3 percent of the vote. The current threshold of 5 percent for parliamentary representation would be maintained, as would the requirement that an electoral alliance of two parties must garner at least 7 percent, while alliances of three parties or more would require 10 percent to gain representation in the legislature. The Interior Ministry's proposed amendment to have the country divided into two electoral districts was recently voted down (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 19 November 2003). MS

...PROMPTING OPPOSITION CRITICISM
Opposition Smer (Direction) Chairman Robert Fico called the cabinet's proposed amendment of Slovakia's election law "cosmetic" and said Smer will propose an amendment of its own, TASR reported. Movement for a Democratic Slovakia (HZDS) Deputy Chairman Sergej Kozlik said the proposed amendment fails to fulfill the ruling coalition's pledge to bring deputies closer to their constituencies. Kozlik said that maintaining the system of a single electoral district means maintaining a distance between voters and their representatives. He said the HZDS would have supported an amendment under which each member of the 150-seat legislature represented a different district. Communist Party of Slovakia (KSS) parliamentary deputy Samuel Zubo said the KSS would have preferred the division into four districts originally proposed by the Interior Ministry. MS

GERMAN CHANCELLOR ADVISES HUNGARY AGAINST PUSHING FOR MINORITY RIGHTS IN EU CONSTITUTION
Gerhard Schroeder during his 19 November meeting with Prime Minister Peter Medgyessy advised Hungary against pursuing the inclusion of the protection of minorities in the future EU constitution, MTI news agency reported. Schroeder reportedly said that Germany is not opposed to the idea of incorporating minority rights in the EU constitution, but that it will not support Hungary on the issue. Medgyessy said after the meeting that that the German chancellor frequently offers us good advice, but not in this case. In addition, Schroeder told reporters that the German and Hungarian positions differ regarding the number of EU commissioners following the union's expansion. Germany wants to reduce the current 20-member European Commission to 15 members plus an additional 10 nonvoting members, while Hungary supports the position that each member state should be represented on the commission. MSZ

HUNGARIAN SUPREME COURT CHAIRMAN, MINORITY RIGHTS OMBUDSMAN MAKE PEACE
Supreme Court President Zoltan Lomnici and Minority Rights Ombudsman Jeno Kaltenbach on 19 November met at the Constitutional Court to discuss their recent disagreement over the Hungarian judicial system, "Nepszabadsag" reported. The friction between the two was sparked after several politicians and journalist Miklos Tamas Gaspar criticized the recent acquittal of Calvinist pastor and Hungarian Justice and Life Party (MIEP) Deputy Chairman Lorant Hegedus Jr. (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 7 November 2003), and following a Szeged court's decision to acquit to two Romany brothers of murder on the basis that they are "primitive" (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 12 November 2003). Lomnici accused those politicians and Kaltenbach of endangering the independence of the judiciary by vocalizing their criticisms. Kaltenbach told reporters after meeting with Lomnici that a misunderstanding caused the spat because "nothing actually happened that endangers the independence of judges." For his part, Lomnici said he considers his dispute with Kaltenbach closed. MSZ

ISRAELI AMBASSADOR TO BUDAPEST PRESENTS 'RIGHTEOUS AMONG NATIONS' AWARDS
Israeli Ambassador to Hungary Judith Varnai Shorer on 19 November presented "Righteous Among Nations" honors to 20 Hungarians -- 17 posthumously -- at the Hungarian Academy of Sciences, "Magyar Hirlap" reported. The Israeli Yad Vashem Institute presents the award to non-Jews who saved Jews during the Holocaust. More than 500 Hungarians have received the award since 1989. MSZ

INTERNATIONAL SUPPORT FOR SERBIA
U.S. Ambassador to Serbia and Montenegro William Montgomery said in Belgrade on 19 November that he is confident that "democratically oriented" political forces will win the 28 December parliamentary elections and form the next Serbian government, RFE/RL's South Slavic and Albanian Languages Service reported (see End Note, "RFE/RL Newsline," 19 November 2003). In Rome, Italian Defense Minister Antonio Martino said the arrest of indicted war criminal and former Bosnian Serb General Ratko Mladic is the only obstacle standing in the way of Serbia and Montenegro's membership in NATO's Partnership for Peace program. PM

PARTIES PREPARE FOR SERBIAN ELECTIONS
The three leading Serbian parties not linked to the regime of former Yugoslav President Slobodan Milosevic -- the Democratic Party (DS), Democratic Party of Serbia (DSS), and G-17 Plus political party -- will each field its own slate of candidates in the 28 December parliamentary elections, RFE/RL's South Slavic and Albanian Languages Service reported from Belgrade on 19 November (see End Note, "RFE/RL Newsline," 19 November 2003). Several smaller parties, however, are interested in forming coalitions in the hope of meeting the 5 percent electoral threshold. Vuk Draskovic's Serbian Renewal Movement (SPO) and Velimir Ilic's New Serbia (NS) thus agreed on 19 November to form an electoral coalition, as did the Sandzak Democratic Party (SDP) and League of Vojvodina Hungarians (SVM). In related news, the Otpor (Resistance) student movement that played a major role in Milosevic's ouster in October 2000 officially registered as a political party. PM

MONTENEGRIN INTERIOR MINISTER RESIGNS
Milan Filipovic resigned as Montenegrin interior minister on 20 November, RFE/RL's South Slavic and Albanian Languages Service reported from Podgorica. He vowed during the summer to quit if new legislation regulating the police and national security agency was not passed by the end of the fall. Some observers linked his decision to recent allegations by human rights activists that his ministry tried to hamper an investigation of a human-trafficking scandal (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 20 December 2002 and 28 January and 14 July 2003). PM

NATO PEACEKEEPERS FIND BOSNIAN SERB ARMS CACHE
An SFOR spokesman said in Banja Luka on 19 November that peacekeepers recently found and confiscated "three antitank missiles, one surface-to-air missile, 97 antitank rockets, 530 grenades, 37 mortar rounds, 23 antitank mines, 260 small arms, 75 kilograms of explosives, and more than 50,000 rounds of various kinds ammunition" in a forest near Gradiska, dpa reported (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 18 September and 9 October 2003). PM

ROMANIAN PARLIAMENT BEGINS DEBATING 2004 BUDGET
Prime Minister Adrian Nastase on 19 November opened debates in parliament on the 2004 budget, RFE/RL's Bucharest bureau reported. He said the budget's priorities are "a durable high economic growth, the acceleration of reforms, joining NATO, and integration in the EU." He said he expects that by the end of 2004 Romania will have emerged from its "1997-2000 recession" and GDP will have returned to 1989 levels. For the first time since 1989, Nastase said, the annual inflation rate will be in single digits. Representatives of the opposition Greater Romania Party, National Liberal Party (PNL), and Democratic Party said they will vote against the budget. MS

ROMANIAN OPPOSITION ALLIANCE PROPOSES OWN ELECTORAL CALENDAR
The Alliance for Justice and Truth formed by the PNL and the Democratic Party proposed on 19 November that local elections be scheduled on 6 and 20 June 2004 and the parliamentary elections be held concurrently with the presidential ballot on 28 November 2004, Romanian Radio reported. Under this proposal the second round of the presidential election would take place on 12 December 2004. Prime Minister Nastase responded that this schedule would be unconstitutional, and reminded the alliance that it is solely the government's prerogative to set the election dates, but that "we believed it would be correct to launch a public debate and find a consensus." MS

FORMER ROMANIAN MINISTER BELIEVED TO BE FUGITIVE
Ioan Andrei Muresan, who was agriculture minister in 1998-2000 and is currently under investigation on corruption charges, has failed to heed several summons by the National Anticorruption Prosecution (PNA), Romanian Radio reported on 19 November. The PNA has ordered border police to detain Muresan if he attempts to leave the country (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 18 July 2003). MS

ALBANIAN PREMIER IN ROMANIA
In Bucharest on 19 November, Albanian Prime Minister Fatos Nano and his Romanian counterpart Nastase signed agreements on military and medical cooperation and on mutual assistance in customs, Romanian Radio reported. Both prime ministers stressed that the countries' excellent political relations must lead to an increase in economic cooperation as well. MS

ROMANIAN FOREIGN MINISTER FINDS HOLES IN RUSSIAN PLAN FOR MOLDOVA'S FEDERALIZATION...
Romanian Foreign Minister Mircea Geoana said on 18 November that the plan presented by Russia earlier this week for Moldova's federalization still must be "seriously analyzed," but noted that the proposal makes no mention of the role international bodies would play in the region, specifically naming the EU and the OSCE, Flux reported (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 18 November 2003). Geoana also said the Russian plan does not specify whether peacekeeping forces would remain in Transdniester nor whether international organizations would be involved in monitoring the peace settlement. "It is important that Russia fulfill its pledge to withdraw its arsenal and military forces from Transdniester," Geoana said. "Romania has a fundamental interest in seeing Moldova regain its sovereignty and control over all its territory," he added, but it is "just as important for the mechanisms that would be in place to provide an element of regional stability." These mechanisms, he stressed, will also be discussed at the OSCE's Ministerial Council meeting in Maastricht in December. MS

...AS MOLDOVAN DIPLOMAT SAYS CHISINAU WANTS 'NO SPECIAL RELATIONSHIP' WITH BUCHAREST
Alexei Tulbure, the Moldovan permanent representative at the Council of Europe, told the official governmental daily "Moldova suverana" of 19 November that his country "does not want any special relationship" with Romania, Flux reported. Tulbure said he does not understand what Romanian Foreign Minister Geoana has in mind when he mentions such relations, but that "Mr. Geoana should bear in mind the simple truth that for love -- two partners are necessary." "We [just] want [to have with Romania] relations based on mutual respect and mutual benefits," Tulbure said. "We want equal relations. And we firmly believe these equal and good-neighborly relations must be addressed in a basic treaty between Romania and Moldova." MS

TRANSDNIESTER LEADER WELCOMES RUSSIAN PLAN AS 'GOOD BASIS FOR FUTURE WORK'
Igor Smirnov said on 18 November after meeting with Dimitrii Kozak, Russia's first deputy presidential administration head, that the proposal for Moldova's federation announced by Moscow earlier this week is "not an ideal one, but is a good basis for joint work [in the future]," RFE/RL's Chisinau bureau reported. Smirnov also said the plan's chief advantages rest in its inclusion of economic, political, and security guarantees. He said he intends to propose some amendments to Moscow in the near future. On 19 November, Moldovan President Vladimir Voronin discussed the Russian plan with his predecessors, Mircea Snegur and Petru Lucinschi, Infotag reported. Snegur told journalists after the meeting that he is opposed to any federalization plan, while Lucinschi said the new Russian proposal includes many "good points that could promote a settlement of the Transdniester conflict." MS

FORMER BULGARIAN INTELLIGENCE CHIEF DOWNPLAYS REPORTS THAT AL-QAEDA WILL TARGET SOFIA, BUCHAREST
Former Bulgarian Intelligence Service head Brigo Aspahurov said on 19 November that reports that terrorists with purported links to Al-Qaeda are planning to carry out bomb attacks in Sofia or Bucharest this month might have been leaked by security services, bnn reported. In the wake of the 15 November bombings of two synagogues in Istanbul, the Turkish daily "Sabah" on 18 November reported that Al-Qaeda is now targeting Sofia and Bucharest and that an alert has been declared in the two capitals. Aspahurov said that security services and governments sometimes "use such preventive methods" to make "terrorists keep away from a certain area," bnn reported. In reference to the Turkish daily's report, Interior Minister Georgi Petkanov said that "we have not received any such signals...but...we must be on alert regardless of having concrete signals or not." The Romanian Intelligence Service said in a press release on 19 November that it has no indication that the threat of a terrorist attack has risen as of late, but added that Romania's "potential risk [as a target] derives from its active involvement in the war against international terrorism," Mediafax reported. MS

UNIFIED RUSSIA'S UNIFIED PLATFORM OF POWER
In 1993, Russia's Choice preached monetarism. In 1995, Our Home Is Russia promised stability. In 2003, Unified Russia represents power. The evolution, as it were, of Russia's would-be ruling parties competing in parliamentary elections over the past 10 years shows an unmistakable trend -- a steady retreat from ideas, ideology, programs and platforms in favor of a colorless bureaucratic elite. The process seems to have reached its logical conclusion with Unified Russia, a party that appears to represent no constituency except the bureaucracy, exist for no reason other than to support President Vladimir Putin, and stand for nothing other than its own right to rule.

Russia's latest "party of power" seems unconcerned with selling anything resembling a platform to the electorate. Explaining Unified Russia's decision to opt out of televised debates, party leader and Interior Minister Boris Gryzlov said the other contenders carry "no political weight."

The official party program features banal slogans such as "Together we must make Russia united and strong"; "We accept only reforms that assure prosperity"; and "Order and corruption are incompatible."

Its campaign posters feature something for everybody -- a vast array of famous, infamous, and politically incompatible figures from Russian history. Against the backdrop of the Russian tricolor flag, with the slogan "Strong Russia-Unified Russia," are Soviet leaders Josef Stalin and Nikita Khrushchev, anticommunist dissident Andrei Sakharov, poet Joseph Brodsky, Nobel Prize laureate Alexander Solzhenitsyn, and 19th-century writers Leo Tolstoy and Aleksandr Griboedov, according to "The Moscow Times."

But the real key to understanding Unified Russia and what it stands for is its party list, which is headed by two federal government ministers, Gryzlov and Emergency Situations Minister Sergei Shoigu, and two heavyweight regional leaders, Moscow Mayor Yurii Luzhkov and Tatar President Mintimer Shaimiev.

Overall, a startling 30 regional governors, representing more than one-third of Russia's 89 regions, are running for the Duma as Unified Russia candidates. The trend marks a sharp turnaround from the 1999 Duma election, when many regional leaders -- led by Luzhkov and Shaimiev -- ran against the Kremlin with the opposition Fatherland-All Russia bloc.

Having so many governors on board allows Unified Russia to take advantage of what political analysts call "administrative resources" to assure positive results in the regions. These range from positive television coverage of favored candidates and parties to harassment of opponents by law enforcement officials, to subtle forms of persuasion to get state employees to toe the party line.

"Needless to say, Unified Russia relies heavily on state resources, considering them its major asset," "Kommersant-Vlast" wrote in its 13-19 October edition. Writing in "The Moscow Times" on 14 October, political analyst Boris Kagarlitskii was less charitable. "The people are increasingly unnecessary to express the will of the people," he wrote.

Having government officials on a party list is, of course, nothing new. In the 1993 Duma elections, postcommunist Russia's first attempt at a party of power, Russia's Choice, included several cabinet members such as Yegor Gaidar, Anatolii Chubais, and Vladimir Shumeiko, and top Kremlin officials like Yeltsin's then-chief of staff Sergei Filatov. The difference was that they all more or less represented a particular political orientation -- the monetarist "shock therapy" that Gaidar preached after the Soviet breakup.

The governors dominating Unified Russia's list, moreover, are as politically diverse -- although not nearly as renowned -- as the historical figures on the party's campaign posters.

There are Communists like Kemerovo's Aman Tuleev and Nizhnii Novgorod's Gennadii Khodyrev, aging Soviet Politburo veterans like Orel Governor Yegor Stroev, and non-ideological regional strongmen such as Luzhkov, Shaimiev, Bashkir President Murtaza Rakhimov, and Sverdlovsk Governor Eduard Rossel. The only thing that apparently unites this group is power.

Most of the governors "running" for the Duma, however, do not plan to take up their seats, which will then be apportioned to others lower on the list. Just below the governors are a vast array of deputy governors, mayors, and other regional officials. These include the deputy governors of Rostov Oblast, Viktor Vodolatskii, and Novosibirsk Oblast, Viktor Kosourov, as well as Kaliningrad Mayor Yurii Savenko and Pyatigorsk Mayor Yurii Vasiliev.

If Unified Russia has taken one innovative step in its electoral strategy, it is the party's de-emphasizing its federal list in favor of regional lists. The 450-seat Duma is elected half by proportional representation from party lists and half from single-mandate districts. For the proportional-representation part of the election, each party submits a federal list as well as lists from each of Russia's 89 regions and republics. Only after a party wins a high enough percentage of the vote to get its entire federal list into the Duma are seats granted from regional lists.

It has been customary until now for parties to have long federal lists where it places its marquee candidates. The Communist Party's federal list, led by Gennadii Zyuganov, has 18 names. Grigorii Yavlinskii's Yabloko has 17. Unified Russia has just four: Gryzlov, Shoigu, Luzhkov, and Shaimiev. This means that the party's Duma candidates will come predominantly from the regions and will be indebted to the regional leaders who assured them their seats. The regional leaders, in turn, will be beholden to President Vladimir Putin, consolidating his "vertical of power."

If Unified Russia performs as well as expected in December's elections, it will represent the culmination of a process that began when former Prime Minister Viktor Chernomyrdin formed Our Home Is Russia -- then the "party of power" -- in 1995 by proclaiming that "the era of emotional democracy is over."

If that era wasn't quite over then, it certainly seems to be now.

MILITANTS KILL SOLDIER IN SOUTHERN AFGHAN PROVINCE
Suspected neo-Taliban militants attacked a security post in the Greshk District of Helmand Province on 19 November, killing a government soldier, Radio Afghanistan reported. In addition to the pro-government soldier, one member of the neo-Taliban group was killed and three unspecified individuals were reported injured. AT

AFGHAN PRIVATE SECURITY GUARD KILLED
An Afghan national who worked as a security guard for a Japanese-funded road-construction project was killed on 19 November, Kyodo World Service reported the next day. An unknown assailant or assailants killed the unidentified guard some 50 kilometers from the city of Kandahar. It was unclear whether the man was on duty when he was attacked. The Pakistan-based Afghan Islamic Press's coverage of the same incident on 20 November reported that the slain Afghan was working for a U.S.-based private-security firm. The project to repair the badly damaged 500-kilometer highway between Kabul and Kandahar began one year ago (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 11 November 2002) but has proceeded slowly due to security problems along the route. AT

NEO-TALIBAN FORCES THREATEN TO SHIFT BATTLE TO KABUL...
In an interview with the Arabic-language daily "Al-Hayat" on 19 November, a man who identified himself as a commander in the "Taliban Movement's Army of Muslims" said his group is planning to bring its battle to Kabul in the same way that resistance to the U.S. occupation in Iraq is returning to Baghdad. When asked why the neo-Taliban are attacking relief workers in Afghanistan, Akbar Agha claimed that foreign organizations are "proselytizing" Afghan students. Afghan Transitional Administration Chairman Hamid Karzai recently said he expects the enemies of stability in Afghanistan to increase their attacks in an attempt to derail the Constitutional Loya Jirga, which is set to begin on 10 December (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 13 November 2003). AT

...AND CLAIM RESPONSIBILITY FOR THE ABDUCTION OF TURKISH ENGINEER
In the same "Al-Hayat" interview of 19 November, Akbar Agha said his so-called Taliban Movement's Army of Muslims is holding Hasan Onal, a Turkish engineer abducted while working on the reconstruction of the Kabul-to-Kandahar highway (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 3 and 7 November 2003). Agha said his group kidnapped Onal "because Turkey is part of the international coalition," adding that his group is "demanding that 18 Afghan detainees who have no connection with the Taliban be released." Agha said Onal is "in good health" and will not be hurt. Afghan Interior Minister Ali Ahmad Jalali has said the Afghan Transitional Administration will not negotiate with Onal's kidnappers. AT

NEO-TALIBAN ACCEPT RESPONSIBILITY FOR DEATH OF FRENCH UN WORKER
Abdul Samad, speaking on behalf of the Taliban, has accepted responsibility for the 16 November slaying of Bettina Goislard, Voice of the Islamic Republic of Iran reported on 19 November. Goislard, a French national who worked for the Office of the UN High Commissioner for Refugees, was shot while in her car at a bazaar in the town of Ghazni (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 18 November 2003). Abdul Samad said his group killed the French woman because she was spying on the Taliban. AT

IRANIAN REFORMIST SAYS HIGH ELECTION TURNOUT CAN SAVE REFORM MOVEMENT
Behzad Nabavi, a prominent pro-reform lawmaker from the Mujahedin of the Islamic Revolution Organization, told members of the Qom chapter of the Iran Islamic Participation Party on 18 November that only a full turnout for the parliamentary elections scheduled for February can save the reform movement, IRNA reported. "Opponents of reform have launched massive propaganda campaigns, based on the presumption that they will be victorious in the next parliamentary elections," he said. Nabavi said the fundamentalists have based their expectations on the poor showings of reform candidates in city- and village-council elections earlier this year, when voters stayed away from the polls in droves. "They, the conservatives, believe that the people have turned their backs on the reform movement, whereas we believe that the people have turned their backs on all political parties," Nabavi said. JLH

IRAN TO BE WELL REPRESENTED AT EXHIBITION FOR IRAQ RECONSTRUCTION
More than 90 Iranian companies will participate in the International Exhibition for the Reconstruction of Iraq, which is to be held from 19 to 23 January 2004, IRNA reported on 18 November, citing exhibition manager Abd al-Rahman al-Ansar. Al-Ansar announced at a press conference in Kuwait that the exhibition will be the largest in Kuwait in 10 years and will occupy an area of 40,000 square meters and host more than 700 Iraqi businessmen. Iran's pavilion will comprise 1,000 square meters, second in size only to Kuwait's. To date, 882 companies from 42 countries are planning to participate. The final count is expected to exceed 900. JLH

PUK OFFICES BOMBED IN KIRKUK
The offices of the Kurdish political party Patriotic Union of Kurdistan (PUK) were bombed in Kirkuk on 20 November, international media reported. Dubai's Al-Arabiyah television reported that a car bomb caused the explosion. Initial reports indicated that at least three people were killed in the blast and several others were wounded. "I am 100 percent sure it was a suicide bombing," police officer Shwan Majid Karim told Reuters. KurdSat television reported on 19 November that the PUK had foiled several attempted terrorist attacks aimed at destabilizing the security situation in the northern Iraqi city of Mosul, including planned attacks against PUK headquarters in Mosul. The PUK accused militant group Ansar Al-Islam of being behind those planned attacks. PUK head Jalal Talabani is serving as the Iraqi Governing Council's president for the month of November. Talabani is currently leading an Iraqi delegation of ministers and Governing Council members on an official visit to Turkey. KR

CAR BOMB DETONATED IN AL-RAMADI
A car bomb detonated in Al-Ramadi, on 19 November, international media reported. According to Reuters, the bomb targeted the offices of a U.S.-appointed local council in the town. Al-Jazeera reported on 20 November that the bomb targeted the home of Shaykh Majid al-Ali Sulayman, a chieftain of the Al-Dulaym tribes and the head of the Al-Anbar Tribal Chieftains Council. Sulayman is also a member of the U.S.-appointed local council in the Al-Anbar Governorate. Sulayman was reportedly not injured in the attack. However, witnesses said the explosion killed a number of people, including a child, and wounded several others. Al-Ramadi is located approximately 100 kilometers west of Baghdad within the so-called Sunni Triangle. KR

U.S. OFFERS $10 MILLION FOR INFORMATION ON AL-DURI
The U.S.-led coalition in Iraq has offered $10 million for information leading to the killing or capture of Izzat Ibrahim al-Duri, who is sixth on the coalition's list of the 55 most wanted Iraqis from the deposed Hussein regime. Al-Duri is suspected of directing attacks against coalition forces in Iraq. "This week we will be launching a public information campaign across Iraq to promote the $10 million reward for information leading to his capture or killing," Coalition Provisional Authority (CPA) spokesman Dan Senor told reporters in Baghdad on 19 November. The reward is the fourth such reward offered by the U.S.-led coalition. In July, an Iraqi collected $30 million ($15 million each) for providing information on the whereabouts of Saddam Hussein's sons Uday and Qusay, who were subsequently killed in a shootout in Mosul. A bounty on ousted President Saddam Hussein remains set at $25 million. KR

BUSH DEFENDS IRAQ WAR, WARNS UN ON IRRELEVANCE
U.S. President George W. Bush defended the coalition's decision to go to war in Iraq during the first day of his visit to the United Kingdom on 19 November, RFE/RL reported. In a speech at London's Whitehall Palace, Bush said: "There were good faith disagreements in your country [Great Britain] and mine over the course and timing of military action in Iraq. Whatever has come before, we now have only two options: To keep our word or to break our word. The failure of democracy in Iraq would throw its people back into misery and turn that country over to terrorists who wish to destroy us. Yet, democracy will succeed in Iraq because our will is firm, our word is good, and the Iraqi people will not surrender their freedom." Bush also scolded the United Nations for failing to support the U.S.-led war in Iraq, saying, "America and Great Britain have done and will do all in our power to prevent the United Nations from solemnly choosing its own irrelevance and inviting the fate of the League of Nations. It is not enough to meet the dangers of the world with resolutions. We must meet those dangers with resolve." KR

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