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Newsline - November 21, 2003

The State Duma Council on 20 November agreed to place on the legislature's agenda for 28 November -- the last day of the current Duma's final session -- a nonbinding resolution asking Prime Minister Mikhail Kasyanov to begin the process of removing Anatolii Chubais from his post as head of the state electricity monopoly Unified Energy Systems (EES), and other Russian media reported. The initiative was drafted by Deputies Sergei Glaziev and Dmitrii Rogozin, both of whom head the leftist Motherland-Patriotic Union bloc in the current Duma election campaign. Chubais is a leader of the Union of Rightist Forces (SPS) and that party's No. 3 candidate in the 7 December elections. Speaking on Ekho Moskvy on 20 November, Rogozin said he offered the resolution because "Chubais, while heading all the energy systems in Russia and holding his finger on the power switch, nonetheless considers it possible to head the election campaign of SPS, which is running on antipresidential slogans." Chubais and SPS head Boris Nemtsov both noted that the Duma has tried and failed to remove Chubais repeatedly in the past and said this initiative will also fail. RC

The Central Election Commission (TsIK) has asked EES to submit to it letters and other materials sent recently to citizens in a number of Russian regions under EES head Chubais's signature informing them of electricity-rate reductions, reported on 13 November. TsIK Chairman Aleksandr Veshnyakov said the materials will be studied to determine whether they constitute illegal campaigning. Although SPS and Chubais have said the rate reduction has nothing to do with politics, SPS did post an announcement of the move on its website ( under the headline "Anatolii Chubais Announces Massive Reductions in Electricity Rates." As of 1 November, EES introduced rate cuts of 20 percent in St. Petersburg and Leningrad, Perm, Sverdlovsk, and Nizhnii Novgorod oblasts. RC

"Nezavisimaya gazeta," which is controlled by self-exiled former oligarch Boris Berezovskii, wrote on 21 November that the Duma's latest initiative against EES head Chubais has a better chance of passing than previous such efforts. The paper notes that the campaign program of the pro-Kremlin Unified Russia party includes the statement that "the rightists destroyed the economy," and concluded that the party's faction could join with leftist deputies in voting in favor of Rogozin's resolution. The paper further notes that the resolution puts Grigorii Yavlinskii's Yabloko in a tricky position, since it has long been critical of Chubais and EES but would loathe to appear to be siding with the government against SPS. The paper said the initiative, which the Kremlin has disavowed although analysts widely believe that Rogozin's Motherland-Patriotic Union bloc is supported by the presidential administration as a way of siphoning votes away from the Communist Party, could mean that the Kremlin is shifting its attention from the oligarchs to the "liberals" who carried out Russia's economic reforms. It asked rhetorically whether former Soviet Politburo member Aleksandr Yakovlev, Alfa-Bank Director Petr Aven, or former acting Prime Minister Yegor Gaidar will be targeted next. RC

Duma Foreign Affairs Committee Chairman and Motherland-Patriotic Union bloc leader Rogozin on 20 November said the TsIK is investigating whether the bloc violated rules pertaining to the use of state-provided campaign funds when it offered a 15 million-ruble ($500,000) reward for the capture of Chechen field commander Shamil Basaev (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 29 October 2003), RTR and reported on 20 November. Rogozin said the TsIK's investigation came at the request of Communist Party member Farkhad Ilyasov, who questioned whether the reward money might be paid from state funds. Rogozin said Ilyasov's complaint, published in "Sovetskaya Rossiya" on 11 November, was formulated by the Communist Party. In turn, Motherland-Patriotic Union has asked the Prosecutor-General's Office to prove allegations presented in journalist Kirill Belyaminov's recently published book "Russia in Embrace of the Werewolves." Belyaminov claims in his book that there is a connection between the Communist Party, self-exiled tycoon Boris Berezovskii, and "terrorist groups" operating in Chechnya. Rogozin said he believes that the Communist Party defends Chechens because both are funded by Berezovskii. VY

Speaking at a press conference in Volgograd on 19 November, Communist Party leader Gennadii Zyuganov accused the government and presidential administration of "total corruption" and the Prosecutor-General's Office of shielding corrupt officials from justice, reported, citing the Communist Party website Zyuganov said the State Duma's commission on corruption that is headed by Communist Aleksandr Kulikov collected an enormous amount of material pointing to corruption in the government. The commission has initiated 76 criminal cases against federal officials based on such information, Zyuganov said. He charged that an even greater amount of material on senior officials -- including members of the cabinet and two deputy prosecutors-general -- is collecting dust in the Prosecutor-General's Office. Instead, he claimed, former Federal Security Service (FSB) officers Nikolai Kovalev, Gennadii Gudkov, and Mikhail Grishankov have unleashed a series of "active measures" against the Communist Party under the banner of Unified Russia, accusing the Communist Party of ties with Berezovskii and Chechen separatists (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 20 November 2003). VY

The TsIK rejected on 20 November an appeal by former Prosecutor-General Yurii Skuratov to reverse a local election commission's decision to deny him registration as a candidate in the upcoming Duma elections, ITAR-TASS and other Russian news agencies reported. The commission said there were flaws and omissions in Skuratov's application documents. Skuratov was nominated by the Communist Party to run in the 9th single-mandate district in Agin-Buryatskii Autonomous Okrug (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 5, 12, and 19 November 2003) The new ruling contradicts the TsIK's own decision from 4 November, when it ordered the okrug's election commission to register Skuratov, RBK reported on 20 November. Despite the TsIK's instructions, the local commission again rejected Skuratov's application on 11 November. Meanwhile, Skuratov has vowed to appeal the TsIK decision to the Supreme Court. VY

President Vladimir Putin called Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan on 20 November to express his condolences for the lives lost as a result of the terrorist bombings that day in Istanbul, Russian news agencies reported. Eleven people were killed when the Turkish headquarters of the London-based HSBC bank was targeted by a truck bomb and at least 16 people were killed when a similar attack targeted the British Consulate, according to AFP. More than 400 people were injured in the two attacks. The presidential press service reported that Putin and Erdogan agreed on the need to increase cooperation in fighting terrorism. Putin also conveyed his condolences to British Prime Minister Tony Blair over the attack on the British Consulate. British Consul General Roger Short and three other British citizens were killed in that bombing, according to dpa. Speaking at the Kremlin during a reception for foreign ambassadors, Putin said on 20 November that the tragic events in Turkey have proven once again that international terrorism is not on the wane, RIA-Novosti reported. "Thus, we can really counter this threat only by creating efficient mechanisms of practical coordination," he said. VY

Russia's Gazprom and the Turkish state-owned pipeline concern Pipeline Transportation Corporation's (BOTAS) signed an agreement in Ankara late on 19 November regulating future supplies of Russian gas to Turkey via the Blue Stream pipeline, ITAR-TASS and Interfax reported on 19 and 20 November. Earlier this year exports to Turkey via Blue Stream were suspended after Ankara demanded both a reduction in the minimum amount of gas it would buy and in the price to be paid (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 1 August 2003). A Turkish Energy and Natural Resources Ministry official said a new unified price has been agreed for future gas purchases in place of the four prices hitherto in force, but did not divulge it. He also said the amount of gas Turkey will buy from Russia has been cut, but not by how much. LF

Deputy Foreign Minister Viktor Kalyuzhnyi, addressing an international energy-security forum in Geneva on 20 November, urged strict government control over Russia's energy sector, and other Russian media reported. "The stability and reliability of the energy sector is too important for the country to let it be sold on the open market," Kalyuzhnyi said. Kalyuzhnyi is President Putin's special representative on issues relating to the Caspian Sea. He said "the state must not be afraid to exercise strict control over all basic technical indicators, such as production levels and the pace of development." He added that although Russia desires foreign investment in its energy sector, it must not allow foreign companies to acquire a dominant position. He concluded by declaring that "the role of a source of natural resources for developed economies is not satisfactory for Russia." Transneft Vice President Igor Solyarskii, LUKoil President Vagit Alekperov, and Inter President Igor Makarov are among the Russians who attended the one-day Geneva forum, RIA-Novosti reported on 20 November. RC

The latest opinion poll by the Public Opinion foundation found that Unified Russia is still leading in the run-up to the 7 December Duma elections, and other Russian media reported on 20 November. The poll of 3,000 respondents in 63 Russian regions found that 20 percent support Unified Russia, while 15 percent back the Communist Party, 6 percent support the Liberal Democratic Party of Russia (LDPR), 5 percent back SPS, 4 percent will vote for Yabloko, and 3 percent support the Motherland-Patriotic Union bloc. Twelve percent of respondents said they do not intend to vote, 6 percent said they will vote against all candidates, and 24 percent said they have not yet made up their minds. A VTsIOM-A poll in September found Unified Russia's support at 28 percent and the Communist Party's at 23 percent (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 30 September 2003). RC

"Vedomosti" on 21 November reported that a poll by VTsIOM-A conducted on 13-16 November found that 70 percent of Russians are not interested in the Duma campaign. Surprisingly, the most respondents -- 12 percent -- said that Unified Russia's representative performed best during the recent televised campaign debates, even though Unified Russia did not participate. Only 6 percent of those questioned said they are following the campaign closely. RC

Sergei Aksenov, a leader of the National Bolshevik Party and publisher of the party newspaper "Limonka," was released from prison on 20 November, after having been granted early release by the St. Petersburg Municipal Court on 10 November, reported. Aksenov was arrested together with radical writer and National Bolshevik Party founder Eduard Limonov on 7 April 2001 and charged with illegal weapons possession (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 17 April 2001). On 15 April 2003, he was sentenced to 3 1/2 years' imprisonment, and Limonov was sentenced four years (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 16 April 2003). Limonov was released on parole on 30 June (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 1 July 2003). RC

The Armenian Justice Ministry has refused to reregister the Hnchakan party on the grounds that nine points in its charter do not conform to Armenian law and five others show "serious discrepancies," Interfax reported on 20 November, quoting the ministry's press secretary, Ara Saghatelian. Saghatelian added that the party is free to appeal the ministry's decision in court. The Hnchakan party was founded in 1887 and was active in the Middle East and the United States during the Soviet period. In 1992, it opened an office in Yerevan but failed to recruit many sympathizers. All political parties are required to reregister following the passage of a new law on political parties. Of the 59 applications received as of 18 November, Hnchakan's is the only one to have been refused registration to date. But "Haikakan zhamanak" suggested on 20 November that the rationale for the new law is to deny reregistration to former Prime Minister Aram Sargsian's Hanrapetutiun party, which is a member of the main Artarutiun opposition parliament bloc. The only member of Ardarutiun to have passed reregistration by 18 November was Stepan Demirchian's People's Party of Armenia, Noyan Tapan reported. LF

On a one-day visit to Baku on 20 November, Christian Strohal, who is director of the OSCE's Office for Democratic Institutions and Human Rights, visited the Baailov jail to meet with some of those arrested in connection with the violent protests that followed the disputed 15 October presidential election, Turan and reported. Strohal later met with presidential administration head Ramiz Mekhtiev for what he termed a constructive discussion of the flaws in the election process, and with Foreign Minister Vilayat Guliev, who rejected as "unobjective" and "based on unverified information" some of the criticisms of the ballot contained in the International Election Observer Mission's final report. Strohal also met with Interior Minister Ramil Usubov, Prosecutor-General Zakir Garalov, and several opposition party leaders. Asked by journalists why a scheduled meeting with President Ilham Aliyev did not take place, Strohal advised addressing that question to the president. President Aliyev has similarly failed to meet with either a senior visiting Norwegian government official or with the head of a Parliamentary Assembly of the Council of Europe delegation (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 10 and 20 November 2003). LF

Five Azerbaijani opposition newspapers that were constrained to suspend publication last week because of a shortage of newsprint and the withdrawal of access to state-owned printing facilities reappeared on 20 November, Turan reported. They were printed at the Cap Evi publishing house, whose owner, Shahbaz Huduoglu, made newsprint available at below the market price. But one of the five editors said the solution is only temporary, as Huduoglu has warned them that in future they will have to find their own alternative source of newsprint, possibly by importing it from Georgia or Daghestan. LF

Georgia's Central Election Commission (CEC) announced the final results of the 2 November parliamentary election on 20 November, the deadline set by the election law for doing so, Caucasus Press reported. Five CEC members representing opposition parties refused to endorse the final results, which gave the pro-presidential For a New Georgia (AS) bloc 21.39 percent of the proportional vote, or 38 seats, followed by the Democratic Revival Union (DAK) (18.84 percent, 33 seats), the Saakashvili-National Movement bloc (18.8 percent, 32 seats), the Labor Party (12.04 percent, 20 seats), the Burdjanadze-Democrats bloc (8.79 percent, 15 seats), and the New Rightists (7.35 percent, 12 seats). Of the 75 mandates from single-candidate constituencies, AS won 19, DAK six, Saakashvili-National Movement four, New Rightists three, Industry Will Save Georgia two, Burdjanadze-Democrats one, and Labor one. Independent candidates won 16 of the single-mandate constituencies; repeat voting is scheduled in the remaining 23. AS can therefore count on up to 84 seats, including the 16 "independents" and 11 deputies elected in 1992 from constituencies in Abkhazia whose mandates are automatically prolonged. DAK, whose leader, Adjar Supreme Council Chairman Aslan Abashidze has affirmed his support for Shevardnadze, has a total of 39 seats, giving the two factions a combined total of 123, or just over half the total 235. LF

Mikhail Saakashvili, who heads the eponymous opposition bloc, said on 20 November that he considers the new parliament illegitimate and will continue to fight to have the election results annulled, "The Daily Telegraph" and "The New York Times" reported on 20 November. He said he will stage a peaceful protest march on Tbilisi to thwart the first session of the new parliament, which is scheduled for 22 November. The two leaders of the Burdjanadze-Democrats bloc, outgoing parliament speaker Nino Burdjanadze and her predecessor Zurab Zhvania, similarly said they will boycott sessions of the new parliament and work to have them overturned, according to ITAR-TASS. The Labor Party too has threatened to boycott the new parliament, Caucasus Press reported on 20 November. LF

Speaking in Washington on 20 November, U.S. State Department spokesman Adam Ereli said the United States is "deeply disappointed" by the official results of the 2 November ballot and in the Georgian leadership, an RFE/RL correspondent reported. Ereli said the "results do not accurately reflect the will of the Georgian people, but instead reflect massive vote fraud in Adjaria and other Georgian regions." LF

Badri Bitsadze, who resigned on 20 November as deputy prosecutor-general, told a press conference later that day that Audit Chamber head Sulkhan Molashvili ordered the Prosecutor-General's Office to launch corruption probes only against opposition sympathizers but not against members of the government, even if there were clear indications of malpractice by the latter, Interfax reported. LF

A Mangystau Oblast court has convicted five men for involvement in the 19 May killing of former Industry Minister Khairula Ospanov (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 15 July 2003), the official daily "Kazakhstanskaya Pravda" reported on 20 November. Ospanov headed the State Oil Construction company at the time of his death. According to investigators, the contract killing of Ospanov was organized in order to hide financial irregularities committed by the former management of the construction firm. Two men were sentenced to 18 years in prison for carrying out the killing, while two others received prison sentences of 14 and 17 years for organizing the attack. A fifth man was sentenced to four years' imprisonment for failing to inform the authorities that the killing was being planned. BB

The South Kazakhstan Oblast office of the Kazakh National Security Committee has extradited to neighboring Uzbekistan two Uzbek citizens who are suspected of belonging to the extremist Islamic Movement of Uzbekistan (IMU), KazInform and reported on 20 November. Azamat Iskanfarov and Khaidar Makhmudov were arrested by the Kazakh security service in July 2003 on charges of illegally crossing the border and membership in an extremist religious organization. The Uzbek National Security Service alleges that the two fought for the Taliban and the IMU in Afghanistan in 1998-2001. BB

Kyrgyz President Askar Akaev has signed a law amending the Criminal Code to make torture of civilians by law enforcement officers or other government officials a crime, KyrgyzInfo reported on 21 November. Depending on the severity of the torture, the penalty can be up to 10 years in prison. KyrgyzInfo noted that Kyrgyzstan has been sharply criticized by the International Organization Against Torture for the physical abuse of political prisoners and members of the extreme Islamist Hizb ut-Tahrir party. BB

Turkmen President Saparmurat Niyazov has invited Italian Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi, whose country holds the EU Presidency, and European Commission Chairman Romano Prodi to visit Turkmenistan any time that suits them, RIA-Novosti and reported on 20 November. The invitation is part of an effort by Niyazov to expand cooperation with the EU and the European Commission. RIA-Novosti noted that Turkmenistan's trade turnover with Italy alone is reportedly worth over $500 million annually. Neither report mentioned that the European Bank for Reconstruction and Development (EBRD) has limited its activities in Turkmenistan in recent years because the country does not meet the political requirements in the bank's mandate. BB

The Uzbek authorities have rejected a U.S. State Department request that imprisoned journalist and human rights activist Ruslan Sharipov be pardoned, reported on 19 November. Sharipov was sentenced to five years in prison in August 2003 on homosexuality charges (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 2 June, 12 and 15 August, and 1 October 2003) that many in the Uzbek and international human rights communities believe were fabricated because of Sharipov's human rights activities. The sentence was later reduced to four years. Homosexuality is considered a crime in Uzbekistan, but Sharipov is the first person to be prosecuted for it. He has reported having been subjected to severe torture while in detention. U.S. Assistant Secretary of State for Democracy, Human Rights, and Labor Lorne Craner told a press conference in Tashkent on 10 November that Sharipov should be amnestied because of doubts about the fairness of his trial. Uzbek Foreign Minister Sodiq Safaev told the same press conference that there is no doubt that Sharipov engaged in sexual relations with minors, although that charge has been dropped. BB

A senior military expert within the Belarusian Foreign Ministry reported on 20 November that the main importers of Belarusian arms and military hardware are Iran, Cote d'Ivoire, Sudan, and Algeria, according to Belapan. Vasil Paulau was briefing journalists on a report prepared by the government for the National Assembly on Belarusian arms exports in late 2002 and the first half of 2003. Paulau said the report refutes allegations that Belarus sells weapons to rogue states. The report is to be published on the Belarusian Foreign Ministry's official website ( JM

Ukrainian First Deputy Prime Minister Mykola Azarov and Israeli Deputy Prime Minister Yosef Lapid signed an agreement in Kyiv on 20 November whereby Ukraine will pay financial compensation to the families of Israeli passengers who died on 4 October 2001 when a stray Ukrainian rocket shot down the civilian passenger jet in which they were flying, Ukrainian and international news agencies reported. The missile, launched during a military exercise, hit the Russian Tu-154 over the Black Sea, killing all 78 people onboard, most of whom were Israeli and Russian citizens (see "RFE/RL Poland, Belarus, and Ukraine Report," 9 and 16 October 2001). Lapid told the Kyiv-based "Segodnya" newspaper that relatives of the 40 Israelis killed in the tragedy will receive a total of $7.5 million. Azarov told journalists that a similar agreement on compensation is expected between Ukraine and the Russian Federation "shortly." JM

Oleksandr Levit, a correspondent for the Kyiv-based "Fakty I kommentarii" newspaper, was attacked in Odesa on 19 November by five unidentified people, Interfax reported on 20 November, quoting a police source. The attackers reportedly beat the journalist and told him that he will be killed if he continues to write "critical materials." JM

The cabinet on 20 November approved the extension of the Estonian peacekeeping mission in Afghanistan by 14 months until March 2005, BNS reported. The parliament had authorized a 12-member mission for 10 months, ending on 3 January 2004, financed by funds from the Defense Ministry. The government said extending the mission, pending parliamentary approval, allows Estonia to contribute in real terms to the international fight against terrorism and thus to global security. The same day, a deputy to U.S. administrator in Iraq L. Paul Bremer told visiting Estonian defense-forces commander Vice Admiral Tarmo Kouts that the United States is satisfied with the performance of Estonian troops serving in Iraq and wants Estonia to continue its mission. SG

Deputies on 20 November rejected the imposition of an administrative fine on Union of Greens and Farmers (ZZS) Chairwoman and parliament speaker Ingrida Udre in connection with the discovery of illegal party contributions, LETA and BNS reported. The vote was 27 to 12, with 49 abstentions. The entire New Era faction and a few other coalition deputies, including Latvia's First Party (LPP) Chairman Eriks Jekabsons, voted for imposing the fine, while the ZZS voted against and the opposition abstained. The Corruption Prevention Bureau discovered that the ZZS received more than 56,000 lats ($100,000) in illegal contributions ahead of elections in 2002 and asked that the funds be transferred to the Finance Ministry. When this was not done, the bureau imposed a fine of 250 lats on Udre as the party's leader. According to the Latvian Constitution, parliamentary authorization is required before a fine may be imposed on one of its deputies. ZZS faction head Augusts Brigmanis said the funds in question were not transferred because the ZZS simply did not have the money, but the party will hand them over once it is able. He also claimed that the Corruption Prevention Bureau found that roughly 65 percent of all party donations are questionable, adding that "the problem is in the system and legislation, not the parties." SG

President Rolandas Paksas told a press conference at the Vilnius airport on 20 November that he "can declare openly, precisely, and unambiguously that I have no intention of resigning," "Lietuvos rytas" reported the next day. Paksas has come under increasing pressure following reports of ties between presidential staff members and the criminal underworld. When asked whether he will testify before an ad hoc parliamentary commission formed to investigate the resulting potential threat to national security (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 4 November 2003), Paksas said he asked the commission to present him questions in a written form, which he will answer "in a way acceptable to all." Commission Chairman Aloyzas Sakalas responded that the commission decided that it will not present any written questions, as it must be able to pose follow-up questions. The commission urged the president to answer its questions in a public hearing. Presidential advisers Visvaldas Rackauskas (legal questions), Remigijus Acas (national security), and Alvydas Medalinskas (foreign policy) were questioned on 20 November by the commission in a hearing broadcast live by Lithuanian state television and radio. SG

Poland's economy is picking up but the country needs the full implementation of Economy Minister Jerzy Hausner's austerity plan (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 10 October 2003) in order to make this improvement a lasting trend, PAP reported on 20 November, quoting analysts from the International Monetary Fund (IMF). IMF economists expect Poland's economy to grow 3.25 percent this year and accelerate to 4.25 percent growth in 2004. "The construction of political consensus for the [Hausner] plan may be difficult, but we are supporting attempts to secure backing for the plan of various interest groups," the IMF analysts said in a report. JM

Polish Television reported on 20 November that "thousands" of police officers, firemen, and border guards staged pickets all over the country to demand wage hikes and better equipment from the Interior Ministry. The ministry reportedly has signaled that it does not have the funds to meet their demands. JM

Polish President Aleksander Kwasniewski met with his Lithuanian counterpart Rolandas Paksas in Warsaw on 20 November, Polish media reported. "I did not break either the [presidential] oath or any laws," Paksas told journalists in reference to allegations that his closest aides served the interests of the Russian underworld (see item above). Asked to give the reason for the allegations, Paksas said, "Maybe not the right man became president." Paksas added that he has no plans to resign and that the scandal will not harm Lithuania's bid to join the EU and NATO. JM

Poland's Orlen and Hungary's MOL signed a letter of intent in Warsaw on 20 November concerning a possible merger that could create Central Europe's single largest petroleum manufacturer and retailer, Polish media reported. The signing ceremony was attended by the Polish and Hungarian prime ministers, Leszek Miller and Peter Medgyessy, respectively. JM

President Vaclav Klaus said after a meeting with U.S. Vice President Dick Cheney in Washington on 20 November that neither the Czech Republic nor the United States is an "ardent supporter" of creating a European joint-defense system independent of NATO, according to CTK. Klaus said the two countries hold "roughly similar views" on the matter and each understands the importance of trans-Atlantic relations. Klaus, who is on a four-day working visit to the United States, described the talks with Cheney as friendly. He said they also discussed Iraq and the recent terrorist attacks in Turkey. MS

Foreign Minister and former Christian Democratic Union-People's Party (KDU-CSL) Chairman Cyril Svoboda will no longer represent his party in talks among the ruling center-left coalition's leaders, CTK reported on 20 November, citing the daily "Pravo." Svoboda recently lost his post as party chairman to Miroslav Kalousek (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 10 November 2003). The daily reported that the KDU-CSL will now be represented in coalition meetings by Kalousek, party First Deputy Chairman Jan Kasal, and Transportation Minister and party Deputy Chairman Milan Simonovsky. Svoboda will participate in the talks only when foreign affairs are on the agenda. Svoboda told "Pravo" that he welcomes the decision, which will allow him to concentrate on activities at the Foreign Ministry. "The party is not a charity," Kalousek said. "Its task is to search for the best possible solutions for the future." Svoboda and Kalousek have long been political adversaries. The ruling three-party coalition also includes the Social Democratic Party and the Freedom Union-Democratic Union (US-DEU). MS

The US-DEU republican committee expressed confidence in the party's current leadership on 20 November and decided that a party conference slated for December will not vote on the party's leadership, CTK reported on 20 November, citing party Chairman Petr Mares. Two of the junior coalition party's regional committees had asked that the conference include a vote on the leadership in light of the US-DEU's poor showing in recent polls, which suggest the US-DEU might fail to pass the parliamentary threshold in the 2006 elections. The party's republican committee includes the party leadership and representatives of regional committees. Mares conceded on Czech Radio on 20 November that some party members have migrated to other political formations, but he denied this was in any way a mass desertion. He said there are no plans for a US-DEU merger with any other parties, something that observers took to be an allusion to the opposition Civic Democratic Party (ODS), from which many US-DEU members originally hail. MS

Ivan Simko and Zuzana Martinakova, who recently set up the Free Forum faction within the ruling Slovak Democratic and Christian Union (SDKU), met on 20 November with President Rudolf Schuster and pledged not to withdraw support from the ruling four-party, center-right coalition, TASR reported (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 18 November 2003). Participants at the meeting also assured the president that they will not provoke and do not support early elections, and said they do not intend to leave the SDKU. However, former Defense Minister Simko criticized Prime Minister Mikulas Dzurinda for allegedly intending to meet with members of the new faction individually, rather than as a group, saying he considers that a pressure tactic. He also said the Free Forum has not yet decided whether its deputies will support the government's draft budget for 2004, adding that such a decision will come following a briefing of the SDKU parliamentary group. MS

Unknown perpetrators painted swastikas and anti-Semitic and pro-Nazi slogans in the eastern Slovak Jewish cemetery of Humenne, CTK reported on 20 November. Police opened an investigation. Vandalism against Jewish cemeteries has been on the rise in Slovakia in 2003 (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 22 January, 13 May, 29 October, and 4 November 2003). MS

Hungarian State Television (MTV) President Imre Ragats can remain in his post following a vote on 20 November by the full MTV supervisory board, which includes NGO representatives, Hungarian television reported. Just nine of the supervisory board's 28 members supported Ragats's dismissal in the latest vote, with one board member abstaining and 18 others voting that Ragats should stay on. The supervisory board thus rejected a proposal that was unanimously approved by the board of trustees to remove Ragats (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 12 November 2003). The state broadcaster's board of trustees comprises representatives of the ruling Socialist Party and Free Democrats, and the opposition Democratic Forum. The board of trustees' decision came after revelations that Ragats signed a secret contract in April on selling advertising time on the network. MSZ

Lorant Hegedus Jr., a Calvinist pastor and deputy chairman of the far-right Hungarian Justice and Life Party (MIEP), on 20 November signaled his refusal to apologize for a purportedly anti-Semitic article he wrote two years ago, "Nepszabadsag" reported. One day earlier, Calvinist Bishop Istvan Szabo called on Hegedus to apologize to "those whom he has offended" in his article, published in a MIEP party newspaper. In that article, Hegedus called on readers to "exclude hordes from Galicia." The pastor was convicted of incitement against a community by a lower court, but was recently acquitted by the Budapest Appeals Court (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 17 June and 9 December 2002 and 7 November 2003). Hegedus told reporters that he quoted from several Hungarian writers, and he cannot apologize to anyone on their behalf, the daily reported. MSZ

Just over 4 million registered voters are eligible to go to the polls in Croatia and in diaspora communities abroad on 23 November to elect between 150 and 160 members of the parliament, international and regional media reported. There are 10 geographically based electoral districts in Croatia, plus one at-large district for the ethnic minorities and one for the diaspora. The final number of seats in parliament will depend on how many members of the minorities and the diaspora cast their ballots. PM

Polls ahead of the 23 November Croatian parliamentary elections suggest a close race for first place between Prime Minister Ivica Racan's Social Democratic Party (SDP) and the conservative opposition Croatian Democratic Community (HDZ) led by Ivo Sanader, international and regional media report. The next government is likely to be made up of either the SDP or the HDZ in coalition with one or more smaller parties. Leaders of both of those leading parties have ruled out a coalition between them. Racan argues that his government has done the best it could to promote reforms and raise living standards since taking office in early 2000. Sanader stresses that the HDZ has broken with its authoritarian past and would be accepted by the EU as a negotiating partner. The liberal Croatian People's Party (HNS) plans to remain in a coalition with the SDP. The more conservative Croatian Peasants' Party (HSS) is a potential coalition partner for either of the two largest parties. The conservative Democratic Center and Croatian Social and Liberal Party (HSLS) will field a joint slate and could potentially form a government with the HDZ. The far-right Croatian Party of [Historic] Rights (HSP) is also a possible partner of the HDZ but is probably not acceptable to the EU. PM

The European Parliament agreed on 20 November that it is not important that Serbia and Montenegro maintain a joint state "at all costs," RFE/RL's South Slavic and Albanian Languages Service reported. The parliament stressed that what is crucial is that both Belgrade and Podgorica remain firmly engaged in the stabilization and association process that will ultimately lead to EU membership. The parliament also agreed that any state that concludes a bilateral agreement with the United States prohibiting the handover of each other's citizens to the International Criminal Court (ICC) should not be admitted to the EU (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 17 October 2003, and "RFE/RL Balkan Report," 27 June 2003). PM

Former General Zivota Panic died in Belgrade on 19 November at the age of 70, "Vesti" reported. Panic became head of the Yugoslav Army General Staff following a purge of non-Serbian generals in May 1992, replacing General Blagoje Adzic. Panic relinquished his post a year later after Serbian Radical Party leader Vojislav Seselj accused him of corruption. PM

Three masked men armed with submachine guns stole $24,000 in Serbian dinars and possibly over $1.3 million in foreign currency from the National Bank of Greece's branch in central Belgrade on 20 November, dpa reported. No one was injured. The robbers are still at large. PM

A joint session of both houses of Romania's parliament on 20 November approved the cabinet's bill on the 2004 budget, Romanian Radio and Mediafax reported. The bill received 248 votes in favor and 44 against. The budget foresees a growth of 5.5 percent in the country's gross domestic product and an inflation rate of 9 percent. Its approval in only two days sets a record in the postcommunist history of budgetary debates. MS

Visiting Romanian President Ion Iliescu met on 20 November with French Prime Minister Jean-Pierre Raffarin, who reiterated his country's support for Romania's bid to join the EU, AFP reported. Raffarin told journalists that France is in favor of "a Europe of 27, an enlarged Europe," and that Romania and France "share a Latin culture" and can be "partners that understand each other." Iliescu is to wrap up his official visit to France on 21 November, after meeting with President Jacques Chirac. MS

Continuing a tour of EU candidate countries, Irish Prime Minister Bertie Ahern discussed on 20 November in Bucharest with his counterpart Adrian Nastase the process of Romanian accession to the EU and bilateral relations, Mediafax reported. Nastase said that Bucharest intends to end the negotiation process in 2004, which means that it would have to close most of the remaining 11 chapters during the Irish presidency of the EU, which starts on 1 January 2004. He also said he hopes Romanian citizens will be able to travel to Ireland without visas as of next year. MS

Romanian Prime Minister Nastase met on 20 November with the heads of government agencies in charge of security and preventing terrorism -- the Romanian Intelligence Service, the Protection and Guard Service, the Foreign Information Service, the Interior Ministry, and the Defense Ministry, RFE/RL's Bucharest bureau reported. The meeting followed the new wave of bombings in Istanbul. Their possible implications for Romania were examined by the participants, who nonetheless concluded that the danger of terrorist attacks on Romania "continues to be low-level." Bulgaria on 20 November stepped up border controls and security at embassies and synagogues following that day's renewed wave of terrorist bombings in neighboring Turkey, Reuters reported, citing Interior Minister Georgi Petkanov. There were earlier Turkish media reports that Al-Qaeda might target Romania and Bulgaria (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 20 November 2003). MS

Dmitrii Kozak, who is widely believed to have drafted the recent Russian plan for Moldova's federalization, said in Chisinau on 20 November that the plan is a compromise bridging Moldova's and Tiraspol's positions, RFE/RL's Chisinau bureau and ITAR-TASS reported. Kozak, who is deputy head of President Vladimir Putin's administration, said that the two sides are still attempting to introduce changes in the plan that would favor their own position but he is hopeful that the parliaments in Chisinau and Tiraspol will end up approving the document. Kozak said he wishes to remind everyone that Russia drafted the plan at the urging of Moldovan President Vladimir Voronin. He also said that the plan will not affect the current five-sided negotiations framework, in which the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE), Russia, and Ukraine participate as mediators together with Moldova and Transdniester. MS

Separatist leader Igor Smirnov on 20 November called on Transdniestrians to support the Russian plan for federalization, Flux reported. Smirnov said that if the envisaged federal state is to be demilitarized, as the so-called Kozak plan stipulates, its security should be ensured by Russian military forces. He also said that Tiraspol wants the Russian language to have the status of a state language and not merely of an official language as the plan envisages. MS

Iurie Rosca, chairman of the opposition Popular Party Christian Democratic, said on 20 November on the private Radio Antena C that the envisaged demilitarization of Moldova would be tantamount to the loss of its statehood, Flux reported. He said he believes President Voronin is not very happy with the Russian plan, but "has been cornered" by Moscow and does not know how to escape from the trap he is in. "Nobody, not even a communist, wants to see the disappearance of the state he lives in and to become a citizen without rights in his own country," he said, adding that "anyone with links with this country's past, present, and future is duty bound to defend it." MS

Sources in the Transdniester leadership told ITAR-TASS on 20 November that the separatists' telecommunication workers have stopped jamming mobile-phone signals from Moldova. The sources said the decision reflected the leadership's readiness to resume a dialogue with Chisinau on Russia's plan for the settlement of the conflict. Earlier, President Voronin likewise ordered Moldovan telecommunication workers to stop the "telephone war" that has been ongoing for over two months. MS

Prime Minister Simeon Saxecoburggotski rejected on 20 November recent calls from his party's junior coalition ally to reshuffle his government, bnn reported. Ahmed Dogan, leader of the ethnic Turkish Movement for Rights and Freedoms (DPS), earlier this month urged the prime minister to reshuffle the cabinet, after the ruling National Movement Simeon II (NDSV) suffered a crushing defeat in last month's local elections (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 12 November 2003). Saxecoburggotski said, "It is risky to replace a minister at a moment when the cabinet is working as a team to fulfill several important tasks in the months ahead." He added that those goals include Bulgaria's NATO membership and completion of accession negotiations with the EU next year, as well as improving the business environment and raising incomes. "Narrow party interests may delay Bulgaria's progress on its path to faster economic development and to the EU," Saxecoburggotski said, alluding to the DPS, without whose support in parliament his cabinet would lose its majority. MS

Prime Minister Saxecoburggotski told journalists on 20 November after talks with his visiting Irish counterpart Bertie Ahern that Bulgaria and Romania will join the EU as part of its fifth enlargement, bnn reported. Seeking to downplay fears that his country's eventual EU membership might be delayed because the European Commission has paired it with Romania, which lags behind in accession negotiation, Saxecoburggotski said Bulgaria has "too many problems and difficulties to surmount" before accession to worry about other candidates' chances. Ahern, who briefly visited Bulgaria as part of a tour of candidate countries ahead of Ireland's assuming of the EU Presidency in January 2004, pledged to support Bulgaria's bid to complete negotiations next year. MS

Hundreds of riot police cordoned off the parliament building in Sofia on 20 November, as some 1,000 people rallied in front of it to protest poverty and unemployment, bnn reported. The protesters demanded that lawmakers increase the minimum monthly wage from the current 110 ($67.54) to 150 leva. The rally was called by the Confederation of Independent Unions in Bulgaria. The average monthly salary in Bulgaria is about $160, while the unemployment rate currently stands at 12.8 percent. MS

For the second time in four months, Bulgarian Prime Minister Simeon Saxecoburggotski is under pressure to reshuffle his government. The first reshuffle in July was prompted mainly by media criticism and pressure from within his own party, the National Movement Simeon II (NDSV). Back then, an NDSV faction called New Time protested the "undemocratic" leadership of the NDSV's parliamentary group.

Now, New Time has sided with the NDSV's junior coalition partner, the Movement for Rights and Freedoms (DPS), as well as with the conservative opposition Union of Democratic Forces (SDS) in its call for a government reshuffle. Those three groups, which have disparate political agendas, also have diverging reasons for demanding a "refreshment" of the government.

For the New Time faction headed by legislators Borislav Tsekov and Emil Koshlukov, the main argument for replacing ministers is that the party needs a renewal after it fared poorly in the 26 October local elections across the country. Public support for the NDSV dropped to about 6 percent in that ballot, from over 40 percent in the 2001 parliamentary elections. On 13 November, Tsekov told journalists that he does not believe the NDSV can be reformed. "I proposed that an extraordinary [party] congress be held in hopes that an internal reform can be achieved -- with a new party statute, new approaches," Tsekov said. "[But] based on the reactions of the political council and some of its representatives that we saw, it is clear that these people live in a virtual world, [and that they] are obsessed by an insane greed for power and posts, which drove them to break with realities." Other critics, such as legislator Dimitar Lambovski, stated simply that the NDSV cannot survive with its current name (which refers to Saxecoburggotski's role as the country's former king, Simeon II), statute, or leadership.

As a first concrete step toward renewing the party, the New Time faction expressed its support for the opposition SDS's demand that Interior Minister Georgi Petkanov be dismissed. On 12 November, SDS legislator Dimitar Abadzhiev read a statement in parliament in which his party demanded that Saxecoburggotski dismiss Petkanov and the political leadership of the Interior Ministry because of their purported inability to curb crime. That demand came in response to a recent flare-up of violence that culminated on 8 November, when criminals engaged in a shootout in a Sofia disco that was packed with 2,000 guests. No one was injured. Police subsequently detained and questioned many suspects, but subsequently released them all for the lack of evidence. The next day, a bomb blast destroyed a bar in downtown Sofia. In addition, since 1 November, two suspected criminals and a businessman have been shot dead in the streets of the capital.

Saxecoburggotski, for his part, sought to downplay the significance of the violence. On 14 November, he suggested to parliament that the shootings have not affected law-abiding citizens but rather criminals, clearly signaling that he is unwilling to dismiss Petkanov. "These excesses and killings take place in certain circles," he said. "This is neither international terrorism nor something...that affects the whole country."

For Saxecoburggotski's junior coalition partner, the DPS, Petkanov does not constitute a problem. Strengthened by voters in the local elections, the DPS simply wants more influence within the government. Since the elections, DPS Chairman Ahmed Dogan has repeatedly made it clear that he regards the 2001 coalition agreement as dead. Whereas several leading DPS members have suggested that some ministers should be replaced, Dogan said on a number of occasions that what he is pressing for is not a government reshuffle but an improvement in the government's work. But on 10 November, Dogan too joined his party colleagues in demanding ministerial changes. "Apart from changes to the government's composition, there has to be a change in the strategy of the...ruling majority," Dogan said, adding that a failure to act will erode popular support.

The ministers whom the DPS has targeted are Environment Minister Dolores Arsenova and Regional Development Minister Valentin Tserovski. The DPS accuses Arsenova and her ministry of being ineffective in securing EU funds for ecological projects. DPS Deputy Chairman Unal Lutfi meanwhile charged that the Regional Development Ministry must find more effective forms of support for municipalities. According to an unconfirmed report by the daily "Sega" on 14 November that quoted sources from within the DPS leadership, the DPS wants to control at least two more ministries. Apart from the regional development and environment ministers, party members also criticized the work of Foreign Minister Solomon Pasi, who allegedly made a number of gaffes during recent visits to Europe and the United States.

Meanwhile, Saxecoburggotski made an initial concession to his critics -- albeit on a less important issue, that of renaming his party. "[That particular] name was necessary at that time, but now that the party has been admitted to the Liberal International, it may sound a little bit like a sort of personality cult," bnn quoted him as saying on 14 November. "That is why, as a reformer, I'd like to change this."

It remains to be seen whether he will make further concessions and engage in a far-reaching reform of his government and his party, or withdraw from the party leadership, as some commentators have predicted.

Three soldiers loyal to the Afghan Transitional Administration were killed and three others were injured on 19 November in the Sangin District of Helmand Province, Hindukosh news agency reported on 20 November. The soldiers were manning a security checkpoint when they were attacked by a group of armed men in a pickup truck. According to Hindukosh, the attackers were loyalists of the ousted Taliban regime. AT

A statement from Hamid Agha, who identified himself as a spokesman for the Taliban Movement, denied reports that the group has claimed responsibility for the killing of Bettina Goislard on 16 November, Al-Jazeera television reported on 20 November. In the statement, Hamid Agha said news reports asserting otherwise are groundless. Goislard, a French national who worked for the Office of the UN High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR), was fatally shot while in her car at a bazaar in the town of Ghazni. In some reports, the claim that the neo-Taliban killed Goislard was attributed to Abdul Samad, not Hamid Agha (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 20 November 2003). The fact that two different people appear to have spoken, in contradictory terms, in the name of the Taliban suggests that supporters or leaders of the former Taliban regime in Afghanistan are not a unified group and that militant and terrorist cells -- neo-Taliban -- are carrying out activities in the name of the "Taliban." AT

In a commentary on 17 November, the Kabul-based daily "Anis" charges that local commanders are protecting opium-poppy fields across Afghanistan. Discussing reasons behind the continuing cultivation of opium poppy in Afghanistan, "Anis" said farmers in eastern Afghanistan have cited a number of reasons that include: the opium-poppy harvest sells exponentially better than any other crop; money that was earmarked for farmers to encourage alternative crops has been handed over to tribal elders, not small land owners; narcotic smugglers give the farmers advance payment, forcing them to grow opium poppies to compensate for funds already received. The "Anis" commentary concludes that the situation will not improve until international organizations and the International Security Assistance Force (ISAF) take measures to curb the influence of "armed men and local commanders, who protect their poppy plantations with their weapons and are involved in the trafficking and trade" of narcotics. Afghanistan leads the world in opium-poppy cultivation (see "RFE/RL Afghanistan Report," 20 February, 29 May, 5 June, and 25 September 2003). AT

The spokesman for the Pakistani Foreign Ministry, Masood Khan, repeated recent accusations that India is using its consulates in Afghanistan for anti-Pakistani activities, Associated Press of Pakistan reported on 20 November. Responding to Indian External Affairs Minister Yashwant Sinha -- who is reported to have said that if "any harm comes to any member of Indian consulates either in Jalalabad or Kandahar," New Delhi will hold Islamabad responsible -- Khan said that Indian intelligence agencies kill their own people and blame such violence on Pakistan. Islamabad has voiced concern at the reopening of Indian consulates in Afghan cities (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 24 April 2003). Afghanistan had no official relations with India during the Islamabad-backed rule of the Taliban. One of Pakistan's strategic objectives in supporting the Taliban was to foment disagreement between Afghanistan and Islamabad's archenemy, India. At the time, New Delhi accused Pakistan of training Kashmiri terrorists inside Afghanistan. AT

Mahmud Mousavi, head of the provincial office of the Bureau for Alien and Foreign Immigrant Affairs (BAFAI) in Shiraz, told the Islamic Republic News Agency on 20 November that 900 Afghan refugees have left Shiraz for their homeland in the past week. Mousavi said that Afghans can return home under the repatriation program that was put in place last year. The programs provide various facilities that make the repatriation process easier. Since the beginning of the Iranian year (21 March 2003), 13,775 Afghans have left Iran under the program. A tripartite agreement signed in Geneva by Afghanistan, Iran, and the UNHCR, governs the voluntary repatriation of Afghans. Under the terms of the agreement, refugees must exit through the border crossing at Dogharoun in Khorasan Province or the one at Milak in Sistan va Baluchistan Province. With the program in effect, rules for entry have become stricter and Afghans must have proper documents to gain admittance. Afghans without residence permits are turned over to immigration authorities. JLH

At least half a dozen rockets on 21 November struck two hotels in Baghdad that house international journalists and U.S. civilian contractors, international media reported. AFP quoted U.S. Colonel Peter Mansoor as saying that rocket launchers believed to be used in the attacks "were found on carts pulled by donkeys. They were concealed under agricultural goods." Donkey carts are frequently used to distribute bottled gas throughout the Iraqi capital. AP reported that the Palestine Hotel appears to have been hit at least five times, on the eighth, 15th, and 16th floors of the 18-story hotel. One rocket reportedly hit the adjacent Sheraton hotel, which shares the namesake of the international hotel chain, but is no longer affiliated with it. Initial reports indicate that one U.S. civilian contractor was seriously injured at the Palestine Hotel, and another person was lightly injured at the Sheraton, AFP reported. U.S. Colonel Brad May called the attacks "well executed." On 20 November, Brigadier General Martin Dempsey told reporters that there has been a 70 percent drop in violence in Baghdad. KR/MH

Militants on 21 November also launched rockets at the Iraqi Oil Ministry in Baghdad, international media reported. U.S. Colonel Peter Mansoor said two out of eight rockets fired at the Oil Ministry detonated, AFP reported. However, witnesses reported five explosions at the ministry. There were no reported injuries stemming from the attack. The ministry is closed on Fridays, which is a Muslim holy day. The attackers reportedly used rocket launchers mounted atop donkey carts in the Oil Ministry attack. Meanwhile, Iraqi police discovered a third cart loaded with 21 rockets near the Italian and Turkish embassies, Reuters reported. A U.S. soldier told the news agency that a fourth rocket-laden cart was found in the same area. KR

An Assyrian politician working with coalition authorities in the southern Iraqi city of Al-Basrah was abducted and killed on 18 November by unknown attackers, AP reported on 20 November. Sargoun Nanou Murado, a representative of the Assyrian Democratic Movement party and member of Al-Basrah's city council, was reportedly ambushed while en route to work. The assassination was one of two that day in southern Iraq involving people working with coalition authorities. In Al-Diwaniyah, gunmen on 18 November killed the Education Ministry's director-general for Al-Qadisiyah Province. Guerrillas have warned that they will target any Iraqi who collaborates with occupation authorities. The Assyrian Democratic Movement, which represents Iraq's long-oppressed Assyrian minority, is represented on the 25-seat Iraqi Governing Council set up by the U.S.-led coalition authorities (see "RFE/RL Iraq Report," 17 July 2003). MH

UN Secretary-General Kofi Annan said on 20 November that he has received a letter from the Iraqi Governing Council suggesting new political arrangements and asking for UN support, UN News Service announced. The Security Council was awaiting a letter also, because Jalal Talabani, the current chairman of the Governing Council, indicated on 9 November that one was being sent. Political transition is an area in which the UN has had experience and could offer advice, depending on the circumstances, Annan said. In planning for possible future UN action in Iraq, he said that "we are looking at what we can do from outside Iraq, what we can do cross-border, and what we can do once the circumstances permit us to deploy fully back in Iraq," adding that the security situation is not yet stable enough to allow a UN return to Iraq. After sending its letter to the Security Council, the Governing Council was scheduled to send a report to the UN by 15 December. MH

Kofi Annan on 20 November called the multibillion-dollar UN oil-for-food program in Iraq "unprecedented," UN News Service reported. The program, which was scheduled to be handed over to the U.S.-run Coalition Provisional Authority on 21 November (see "RFE/RL Iraq Report," 20 November 2003), fed most Iraqis for seven years under Saddam Hussein's sanctions-bound regime. Annan vowed to continue helping Iraq's "long-suffering people." The program, which allowed the former Iraqi government to sell oil for food and humanitarian supplies and served as the sole source of sustenance for 60 percent of Iraq's estimated 27 million people, became obsolete after Security Council Resolution 1483 in May lifted sanctions imposed on Baghdad for its 1990 invasion and occupation of Kuwait. MH