PROSECUTORS THROW THE BOOK AT KHODORKOVSKII...
The Prosecutor-General's Office announced on 25 November that it has completed its preliminary investigation of former Yukos CEO Mikhail Khodorkovskii on charges of tax evasion and massive fraud, Russian news agencies reported. Materials in the case have been collected into 200 volumes and, according to a spokesman for the prosecutor's office, the matter may be sent to a court only after Khodorkovskii and his lawyers have reviewed the materials. Vasilii Aleksanyan, a lawyer for the jailed oligarch, told gazeta.ru that at least six months -- if not more -- will be required to review the materials, which were gathered by 20 investigators over 13 months. On 30 December, Khodorkovskii's lawyers will argue at a Moscow court hearing for his release from prison pending trial. JAC
...AS PUBLIC LIKES SEEING OLIGARCH BEHIND BARS
No less than 43 percent of respondents in a survey conducted between 13-16 November by VTsIOM-A said that they consider a decision by the Moscow City Court to keep Khodorkovskii behind bars correct, lenta.ru reported. Some 39 percent of the 1,600 respondents said they have no opinion on the matter, while just 18 percent opposed the decision. JAC
EXPERT PREDICTS RUSSIA'S INFLUENCE IN GEORGIA WILL INCREASE
Speaking on TV Tsentr on 24 November, historian and diplomat Nataliya Narochnitskaya, who is a member of the Motherland-National Patriotic Union leadership, said that during Foreign Minister Igor Ivanov's mediation mission in Georgia (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 24 and 25 November 2003), he gave certain guarantees to all political sides in Georgia and, in return, received unspecified guarantees concerning Russia's interests in the region. The situation in Georgia remains tenuous, Narochnitskaya said, and Russia's pledge not to undermine Georgia's territorial integrity can have a stabilizing effect, for example with regard to Adjaria. It is true that Russia assumed its mediating mission with the consent of all international players who have interests in the region and want normalization in Georgia, Narochnitskaya added, but the fact that Russia played this role shows its rising influence there. VY
OUSTED GEORGIAN PRESIDENT'S ARCH FOE APPEARS ON MOSCOW TELEVISION
Igor Giorgadze, the former head of Georgia's State Security Service who fled Georgia after being accused of masterminding the car-bomb attack on then-Georgian parliament Chairman Eduard Shevardnadze in August 1995, said on ORT on 25 November that he is very happy that Shevardnadze has left the political arena. Giorgadze also criticized the new Georgian leadership as Shevardnadze's "offspring." He said National Movement leader Mikhail Saakashvili is very intelligent, charismatic, and can lead crowds of people but is incapable of ruling the country. Giorgadze praised Russia's role in ousting Shevardnadze. Russia took advantage of the situation and "assumed the lead role in a scenario which it had not scripted," he said. Giorgadze added that he fully supports President Putin's comments on Shevardnadze's resignation (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 25 November 2003). Some people say that relations between Russia and Georgia must be pragmatic or neighborly, Giorgadze said, but he likes the fact that Putin again called them "fraternal." Giorgadze's father, Panteleimon, who heads the United Communist Party of Georgia, told Georgian journalists in Tbilisi on 25 November that his son hopes to return to Georgia soon in order to contest the pre-term presidential election scheduled for 4 January. VY/LF
ZHIRINOVSKII GETS THROWN OFF THE AIR...
NTV is refusing to allow Liberal Democratic Party (LDPR) leader Vladimir Zhirinovskii to appear on television again following his accusations during a program on 21 November that former Airborne Forces commander Colonel General Georgii Shpak killed his own son, Russian news agencies reported on 25 November (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 24 November 2003). Shpak's son died in Chechnya. Zhirinovskii will not be allowed to participate in the 5 December broadcast of the program "Svoboda slova," and the money that the party has already paid for its appearance will be refunded. According to polit.ru, the LDPR has already sent a complaint to the Central Election Commission asking that the electoral watchdog restore its legal rights as participants in the State Duma elections. JAC
...AS NON-COMMUNISTS JOIN CHORUS OF COMPLAINTS ABOUT NATIONAL TV COVERAGE
Meanwhile, State Duma Deputy (Union of Rightist Forces [SPS]) Alekandr Barannikov told "Nezavisimaya gazeta" on 25 November that federal television coverage of the campaign for the 7 December State Duma elections is "clearly biased." He continued: "The two major channels clearly prefer Unified Russia. It is only described in glowing colors. Whenever the Communists are mentioned, it is only to emphasize the negative actions of the sponsors. As for Yabloko, it is always mentioned in association with its financier, the imprisoned oligarch [Khodorkovskii]. And the Union of Rightist Forces is never mentioned out of the [unpopular Unified Energy Systems head Anatolii] Chubais context." JAC
MOSCOW MAYOR'S POLITICAL MACHINE TURNS THE SCREWS FOR PRO-KREMLIN PARTY...
Moscow city officials are pressuring business owners and their employees to vote "correctly" on 7 December, Ekho Moskvy reported on 25 November. According to the station, managers at the GUM shopping mall were recently advised to register at a single polling station and vote together -- "for whom it is not hard to guess." Moscow Mayor Yurii Luzhkov who is seeking re-election on 7 December, is also a member of the Unified Russia party and is on its party list. JAC
...AS UNIFIED RUSSIA RISKS ALIENATING FUTURE VOTERS IN SARATOV?
VolgaInform reported on 24 November that students in Saratov Oblast are being forced to write essays about a Unified Russia-backed candidate and former hockey player, Vladislav Tretyak, who is running in the 158th Duma district. Schools in the district held meetings with parents informing them that they should help their children take part in an essay contest. Two possible themes were provided: the one and only unified Russia, or the life and sports accomplishments of Vladislav Tretyak. JAC
SPS LEADER WARNS OF EXTREMIST 'EUPHORIA,' URGES REVISION OF CONSTITUTION
SPS leader Chubais warned in an "Izvestiya" interview published on 24 November that political groups espousing National Socialist and pro-fascist ideologies have mobilized, and alleged that such groups enjoy the support of Russian law enforcement. Chubais said the recent events surrounding Yukos have encouraged those extremists, "and the only thing they dislike is that too few [oligarchs] are behind bars and many more should be there." He said the country needs a thorough reform of the Prosecutor-General's Office and law enforcement, which he described as ineffective and obsolete, along with a "radical" revision of constitutional provisions on law enforcement. VY
OLIGARCHS' DIRECT KREMLIN LINES TO UNDERGO SCRUTINY
The presidential administration is about to "cut off 28 special telephone lines that connect Moscow's most influential private business tycoons to the Kremlin" in a process that is likely to leave some of those business leaders out of the loop for good, the "Financial Times" and "Izvestiya" reported on 25 November, citing sources close to the Kremlin. The disconnection is ostensibly for repairs, and takes place every few years, but a source cited by the "Financial Times" said "who will get back the special vertushka telephone sets" is "a strong indicator of who is in and out of favor" with the Kremlin. VY/AH
RIGHT-WING GROUP SEEKS TO LEGALIZE LOBBYING...
The SPS faction has introduced into the State Duma legislation that would legalize lobbying in the lower legislative chamber and government ministries, "Gazeta" reported on 25 November. The faction believes that legalizing lobbying would reduce the current level of corruption. Under the bill, a list of accredited lobbyists and their goals would be published on a quarterly basis. The bill would prohibit lobbying of courts or judges and ban lobbyists from also working as civil servants or legislators. According to the daily, State Duma Chairman Gennadii Seleznev has already said that he is categorically against the bill; however, he did not block the bill from being quickly considered, and it is scheduled to be discussed at the chamber's next plenary session. The newspaper also commented that the state of the unofficial Russian lobbying industry is "not far from" that in Great Britain, where the industry has annual turnover of 500 million pounds ($849 million). JAC
...AS FISHING LOBBY WINS NEW VICTORY IN DUMA
"Vedomosti" reported on 25 November that lobbyists for the fishing industry have won Duma centrists over to their way of thinking. According to the daily, deputies are planning to amend a government decree of 21 November redistributing fishing quotas and adopt a law that would issue quotas not only to the winners of the fishing auctions of 2001-03 but also those who received quotas five years ago from officials and regional governors. The deputies want to transfer the right to redistribute quotas to the fishermen's unions. The deputies also want to overturn the distribution of quotas on a three-year basis that the 21 November decree would institute. Traditionally, quotas have been issued for periods of five years, and the industry objects to changing this time period. JAC
FOREIGN MINISTER OFFERS CONDOLENCES TO FAMILIES OF VICTIMS OF MOSCOW DORM FIRE
Igor Ivanov has expressed his condolences and offered material compensation to the families of foreign students killed by the huge dormitory fire that raged through an international dormitory at Moscow's Patrice Lumumba People's Friendship University on 24 November, Russian media reported on 26 November. The death toll stands at 36 -- all of them students from 21 African, Asian, and Latin American countries -- with another 70 injured in the blaze. First Deputy Interior Minister Rashid Nurgaliev suggested to the cabinet on 24 November that the probable cause of the tragedy was negligence in the use of an electrical appliance. VY
IMF DISBURSES ANOTHER LOAN TRANCHE TO ARMENIA
Meeting on 24 November in New York, the Executive Board of the International Monetary Fund (IMF) agreed to release a $14 million tranche -- the fifth -- of a three-year, $100 million Poverty Reduction and Growth Facility Loan launched in May 2001, RFE/RL's Yerevan bureau reported on 25 November. In a written statement, IMF Deputy Managing Director Agustin Carstens praised Armenia's "very strong economic performance," which he attributed to "prudent macroeconomic policies and structural reforms." At the same time, Carstens urged the Armenian leadership to boost tax collection in order to be able to increase social spending, and to crack down on widespread corruption in order to improve the business climate. LF
AZERBAIJANI PRESIDENT CALLS ON GOVERNMENT TO DRAFT ECONOMIC DEVELOPMENT PROGRAMS
In a decree signed on 24 November and published the following day, President Ilham Aliyev instructed the government to draft measures intended to develop the non-oil sectors of the economy, create jobs, and make social spending more effective, ITAR-TASS and Turan reported. Aliyev specifically called for programs to tackle unemployment among young people, improve conditions in displaced persons' camps, develop the non-oil sector, improve socioeconomic conditions in rural areas, expedite agricultural reform, raise pensions and state-sector wages, and ensure transparency in using money from the State Oil Fund. He also commissioned proposals for the restructuring of the cabinet and of local government. LF
NEW GEORGIAN LEADERSHIP NAMES PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE...
At a joint press conference in Tbilisi on 26 November, the three opposition leaders who spearheaded the campaign for President Shevardnadze's resignation in the wake of the rigged 2 November parliamentary elections announced the nomination of a single candidate, National Movement Chairman Mikhail Saakashvili, for the preterm presidential election scheduled for 4 January, Caucasus Press and Reuters reported. Acting President Nino Burdjanadze said the decision to align behind a single candidate was dictated by the need to "preserve and protect the achievement we have won together with the Georgian people." Saakashvili said that Burdjanadze, whom he termed "the most attractive political face in Georgia," will head the opposition list of candidates in the parliamentary ballot, for which no date has yet been set. Former Economy Minister Lado Papava, who is now Burdjanadze's main economic adviser, told Reuters on 26 November that "Saakashvili deserves to become president and Nino Burdjanadze has little chance of beating him." LF
...WHO MIGHT FACE LITTLE COMPETITION
Opposition Ertoba Chairman and former Communist Party of Georgia First Secretary Djumber Patiashvili was quoted by Interfax on 25 November as saying that although he has already been nominated as a presidential candidate, he would step down and back a united opposition candidate if one were proposed. The Democratic Revival Union of Adjar Supreme Council Chairman Aslan Abashidze will not nominate a presidential candidate, nor will Industry Will Save Georgia, or the New Rightists, Caucasus Press quoted members of those parties as saying on 25-26 November. Labor Party leader Shalva Natelashvili told Caucasus Press on 25 November he has not decided whether to contest the ballot, as he doubts whether it is possible to hold fair elections after "power has been usurped by a terrorist dictatorship." He argued that it is impossible to organize elections within the 45-day time span stipulated by the constitution, and that his party is negotiation with unspecified others on an election boycott. LF
MORE SENIOR GEORGIAN OFFICIALS RESIGN
Minister of State Avtandil Djorbenadze announced his resignation on 25 November after meeting with former President Shevardnadze, and after acting President Burdjanadze professed to be "astonished" that he had not already stepped down voluntarily, Caucasus Press and rustavi2.com reported. Djorbenadze said he will not quit politics, and that he is ready to cooperate with any political faction. Georgian Foreign Minister Irakli Menagharishvili, Finance Minister Mirian Gogiashvili, Audit Chamber Chairman Sulkhan Molashvili, and Georgian Railways Chairman Akaki Chkhaidze all submitted their resignations late on 25 November, Caucasus Press reported. Also on 25 November, Burdjanadze named Deputy Interior Minister Ruben Asanidze acting interior minister following the resignation the previous day of Koba Narchemashvili, Caucasus Press reported. Burdjanadze also lifted the state of emergency proclaimed by Shevardnadze on 22 November. LF
GEORGIAN LEADERS ASSESS PROSPECTS FOR ECONOMIC AID
Acting President Burdjanadze met in Tbilisi on 25 November with senior economic officials to determine just how serious an economic crisis Georgia faces, Caucasus Press reported. Temur Basilia, who served as economic adviser to President Shevardnadze, said the budget deficit for the first 10 months of 2003 amounts to 125 million laris ($58.5 million). Saakashvili told a French television station on 25 November that "the Americans have promised money, but one is never sure with the Americans," Reuters reported. Jonathan Dunn, who is the resident IMF representative in Georgia, said after talks with Burdjanadze on 26 November that "we will do our best to be helpful" to Georgia during the run-up to the January presidential elections, Reuters reported. The IMF suspended loans to Georgia earlier this year (see "RFE/RL Caucasus Report," 22 August 2003 and "RFE/RL Newsline," 25 August and 30 October 2003). LF
CAMPAIGN FOR RESIGNATION OF EXILE ABKHAZ GOVERNMENT INTENSIFIES
Some 40 NGOs representing the interests of the Georgian displaced persons who fled Abkhazia during the 1992-93 war launched a picket in Tbilisi on 26 November to demand the resignation of the Tbilisi-based Abkhaz government and parliament-in-exile, Caucasus Press and rustavi2.com reported. They say they will continue their protest until Abkhaz Supreme Council Chairman Tamaz Nadareishvili resigns. After meeting on 24 November with Burdjanadze and Saakashvili, Nadareishvili rejected a demand by Georgian guerrilla leader Zurab Samushia for his resignation (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 25 November 2003). LF
KAZAKH PARLIAMENTARIANS CALL FOR NEW ELECTION LAW
Members of the Kazakh Mazhilis (lower house) have called on Prime Minister Daniyal Akhmetov to submit speedily to parliament the government draft of a new law on elections, gazeta.kz reported on 26 November. The appeal, which noted that recent events in Georgia have shown how dangerous election manipulation can be, was submitted at a joint session of parliament the previous day. The parliamentarians offered their support to Akhmetov in launching genuine democratization, starting with a change in the leadership of the electoral commission and its local branches, as well as the adoption of an election law in accord with OSCE principles. They also called for ensuring the independence of the media; changes to the law on political parties; constitutional guarantees of citizens' rights; instituting the election, rather than the appointment, of all senators and local heads of administration; and with creation of a constitutional court. BB
KAZAKHSTAN INQUIRES ABOUT ITS CITIZENS AT GUANTANAMO
Kazakh Foreign Minister Qasymzhomart Toqaev told Interfax-Kazakhstan on 25 November that his ministry is trying to determine whether any Kazakh citizens were among the prisoners released from the Guantanamo Bay detention facility on 17 November, the news agency reported. Toqaev said the Kazakh side has been discussing with its U.S. counterpart the return to Kazakhstan of the Kazakh citizens incarcerated at Guantanamo, but added that the situation is complicated by the admissions of some of the prisoners that they took part in military operations with the Taliban in Afghanistan. The Kazakh National Security Committee has reported that none of the Kazakh citizens held at Guantanamo admitted having fought for the Taliban. The committee claimed they had been employed as support personnel. BB
TURKMEN MOSQUE CLOSED DOWN FOR REFUSING TO PLACE PRESIDENT'S BOOK NEXT TO KORAN
A mosque in a Turkmen town outside Ashgabat has been closed down by authorities because its imam refused to display President Saparmurat Niyazov's book on Turkmen history and traditions, the "Rukhnama," beside the Koran, KyrgyzInfo reported on 24 November, quoting a report of the Norwegian-based Forum-18, a group that monitors religious freedom in the former Soviet Union. The town in which the incident took place was not identified, apparently out of fear of retaliation against the imam. Prior to the closure of the mosque by national security agents, a television crew had demanded to film the Koran lying next to the "Rukhnama" in order to show that Muslims honored both books equally. The imam refused on the grounds that such an act would violate a basic tenet of Islam. Sunni Islam is one of the two confessions allowed to function legally in Turkmenistan -- the other is Russian Orthodoxy -- but this has not prevented individual Sunni clerics and congregations from being harassed by authorities. BB
TURKMEN STATE AND OPPOSITION MARK ANNIVERSARY OF PURPORTED ASSASSINATION ATTEMPT
The state-controlled Turkmen media marked the first anniversary of an alleged assassination attempt against President Saparmurat Niyazov on 25 November 2002 by publishing a commentary distributed by the Turkmen State News Agency calling on the population to rally more closely behind the president, turkmenistan.ru reported. The same day, the Turkmen opposition website gundogar.org posted a report on a meeting of opposition figures in Vienna on 23-24 November to mark the anniversary and to discuss ways of promoting democratization in Turkmenistan and removing Niyazov. The meeting, which brought together leaders of various exile groups including the Republican Party of Turkmenistan, the People's Democratic Movement, the Watan Social-Political Movement, and the United Democratic Opposition, was also attended by representatives of international human rights groups and the media. A working group was set up to draft a post-Niyazov constitution. Some Turkmen opposition figures reportedly refused to attend the meeting for fear of being branded "international terrorists" by the regime in Ashgabat. BB
UZBEKISTAN AND BULGARIA PLEDGE TO FIGHT TERRORISM AND EXPAND TRADE TIES
Visiting Uzbek President Islam Karimov told journalists after a meeting with his Bulgarian counterpart Georgi Parvanov on 24 November that they pledged to cooperate in the struggle against international terrorism and drug trafficking, according to uzreport.com the following day, which was quoting Bulgarian media. Karimov and Parvanov also promised to improve economic ties between the two countries, in particular their transport links, which were identified as a major hindrance to bilateral trade. On 25 November, the two presidents opened an Uzbek-Bulgarian business forum in Sofia to promote business contacts between the two countries, ITAR-TASS reported the same day. BB
UZBEKISTAN MISSES ANNUAL COTTON GOAL
Bad weather has put an end to Uzbekistan's annual cotton harvest and, according to preliminary data from the country's Agriculture Ministry, only 2.856 million tons of cotton was gathered this year. The independent news agency zamon.info reported on 23 November that this is the poorest harvest in many years. The government planned a harvest of 3.6 million tons and took extraordinary measures to prevent cotton harvested in Uzbekistan from being smuggled by Uzbek pickers into Kazakhstan and Kyrgyzstan, where prices being paid for raw cotton were much higher (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 17 October 2003). Cotton specialists at the Uzbek Academy of Sciences attributed the 2003 cotton shortfall to spring rains that necessitated the replanting of one-third of the land sown to cotton and delayed the harvest by three weeks. The report noted that international financial agencies say the government monopoly on the export of cotton deprives Uzbek growers of incentive to produce. BB
THREE OPPOSITION YOUTHS JAILED FOR UNAUTHORIZED PROTEST IN MINSK
A district court in Minsk sentenced three opposition activists to jail on 25 November for their participation in an unauthorized demonstration organized by Youth Front on 24 November to protest a possible referendum on extending Belarusian President Alyaksandr Lukashenka's term in office (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 25 November 2003), Belapan reported. Dzmitry Dashkevich and Vasil Parfyankou were sentenced to 15 days each in jail, while Ales Zapartyka received a five-day jail sentence. JM
UKRAINIAN PARLIAMENT SETS NEW MINIMUM WAGE
The Verkhovna Rada voted 237-46 to approve a new minimum monthly wage at 205 hryvnyas ($38.50) as of December 2003, 237 hryvnyas as of November 2004, and 262 hryvnyas as of January 2005, Ukrainian news agencies reported. Some 161 opposition lawmakers ignored the vote. Deputies from the Our Ukraine, Socialist Party, and Yuliya Tymoshenko Bloc caucuses were blocking the parliamentary rostrum before and after the vote as a means of protesting this new minimum wage, which they consider too low. Parliamentary speaker Volodymyr Lytvyn closed the session over the tumult. The current minimum monthly wage in Ukraine is 185 hryvnyas. JM
CIS COUNCIL OF FOREIGN MINISTERS GATHERS IN KYIV OVER GEORGIA CRISIS
Participants in a meeting of the CIS Council of Foreign Ministers in Kyiv on 25 November said they expect that current political processes in Georgia will return to the constitutional track, Interfax reported. "The [CIS] Council of Foreign Ministers voices its hope that the future, legitimately elected authorities of Georgia will consistently follow a policy of preserving and developing friendly relations with the CIS member states and other countries of the world," reads a statement adopted at the meeting. Turkmenistan was not represented at the meeting. JM
ESTONIA'S PEOPLE'S UNION MAKES NEW DEMANDS ON COALITION PARTNERS
People's Union Chairman Villu Reiljan responded to the compromise proposal of Res Publica Chairman and Prime Minister Juhan Parts (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 20 November 2003) by indirectly requesting new taxes, an abandonment of a balanced state budget, and increased state lending, LETA and BNS reported on 25 November, citing the daily "Postimees." Reiljan said that his party would accept the reduction in personal income-tax rates that the Reform Party is advocating only if other taxes, such as those on businesses and real-estate owners, are raised and budgetary expenditures are increased by slightly more than 4 billion kroons ($301 million). The increased budget spending would help pay for higher pensions, family benefits, increased teachers' salaries, and assistance to local governments, according to Reiljan. SG
LATVIA WILL NOT PARTICIPATE IN EXPO 2005
The Latvian government decided on 25 November to revoke a decision by the previous government to participate in the international "Expo 2005" exhibition in Aichi, Japan, in 2005, LETA reported. The coalition partners at a meeting the previous day reportedly could not find a way to raise the 800,000 lats ($1.45 million) needed for participation. Latvia's First Party (LPP) Chairman Oskars Kastens said he regrets the decision, noting that 118 countries, including all current EU members and candidates such as the Czech Republic and Lithuania, are planning to participate in the exhibition. New Era faction Deputy Chairman Artis Kampars said it is more sensible to spend 500,000 lats to open an embassy in Japan rather than participate in "Expo 2005." SG
LITHUANIAN PARLIAMENT CHAIRMAN VISITS DENMARK
Arturas Paulauskas, in Copenhagen on a three-day official visit to Denmark, thanked Queen Margrethe II on 25 November for actively backing Lithuania's "desire to return to the community of Western democracy," ELTA reported. On 24 November, Paulauskas asked Danish Minister for Transport and Cooperation with Nordic Countries Flemming Hansen to support Lithuania's efforts to have its infrastructure projects, such as the Lithuania-Poland power bridge, Via Baltica highway, and Rail Baltica rail line, receive EU priority status. He also visited research institutions in the Medicon Valley and the environment friendly Energie-E2 power plant. In talks with Danish parliamentary Chairman Christian Mejdahl on 25 November, Paulauskas stressed the importance of inter-parliamentary ties in the enlarging EU. He also gave a speech on the EU's New Neighbors Initiative at the Danish Institute of International Affairs in which he expressed Lithuania's concern that Belarus may lose its independence, and urged the EU to give exceptional attention to "the issue of Belarus's statehood and efforts to strengthen Belarusians' identity," BNS reported. SG
POLISH SECRET SERVICE CHIEF BRIEFS PARLIAMENT ON LOBBYING
At a closed session of the Sejm that began late on 25 November, Internal Security Service head Andrzej Barcikowski presented a secret report on lobbying in connection with important government-organized tenders and contracts, Polish media reported. Polish Television said Barcikowski reported on companies and newspapers that, in his view, "conduct campaigns of disinformation" linked to major contracts in Poland. Barcikowski's report "is a sort of counter bomb. Since media publish materials about big [corruption] scandals, it is necessary to suggest that these materials, too, result from pressure and backstage actions," the "Gazeta Wyborcza" website quoted lawmaker Jaroslaw Kaczynski, leader of the opposition Law and Justice party, as saying. "It looked like an attempt at discrediting investigative journalism texts that have not yet appeared," "Rzeczpospolita" on 26 November quoted another lawmaker as saying on the condition of anonymity. JM
POLAND, SPAIN STAND FIRM ON NICE TREATY VOTING SYSTEM
Polish Premier Leszek Miller and his Spanish counterpart Jose Maria Aznar confirmed in Madrid on 25 November that their countries are strongly defending the EU decision-making system stipulated by the 2000 Treaty of Nice, which gives them 27 votes each, Polish media reported. Meanwhile, the draft EU constitution proposed by the European Convention envisages that key decisions in an enlarged EU would be made by a simple majority of countries representing at least 60 percent of EU citizens. "If many people are saying now that there is no need to die for Nice, I reply that there is no need to kill Nice," Polish Radio quoted Miller as saying. Miller stressed that a European constitution without the Nice provisions would not be adopted by either the Polish parliament or by Polish citizens, should a referendum on the constitution take place. JM
CZECH JUNIOR COALITION PARTY LEADER REACTS TO THREAT OF BREAKUP
Freedom Union-Democratic Union (US-DEU) Chairman Petr Mares said on 25 November that he is convinced his party's December national conference will not result in a split, CTK reported. Mares conceded that some isolated party members might decide to leave, however. He was reacting to a statement the previous day by US-DEU Deputy Chairman Ratibor Majzlik, who said the Democratic Union might opt to end its participation in the joint party if a new US-DEU leadership does not emerge from the republican conference (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 24 November 2003). Mares added that the US-DEU's future participation in the ruling coalition (which also includes the Social Democratic Party and the Christian Democratic Union-People's Party) will likely depend on the continuation of public-finance reforms. If the coalition lacks the courage to proceed to a second stage of reforms aimed at lowering taxes and labor costs, Mares said, the US-DEU is likely to leave the government. MS
SLOVAK PRESIDENT VETOES FLAT TAX
President Rudolf Schuster on 25 November vetoed a bill to introduce a flat 19 percent income and corporate tax from the beginning of next year, TASR reported. Schuster said the bill violates the principle of fair taxation by unfairly benefiting those with monthly incomes of 25,000 crowns ($719) and over, as well as businesses. Schuster said just 11 percent of taxpayers would benefit from the change, which might result in reduced domestic demand and higher unemployment. The bill was approved by parliament in October. Parliament can override the presidential veto with an absolute majority in the 150-strong parliament. MS
SLOVAK OPPOSITION DEPUTY ARRESTED FOR ALLEGEDLY TAKING A BRIBE
Movement for a Democratic Slovakia (HZDS) parliamentary deputy Gabriel Karlin was arrest on 25 November in Banska Bystrica on suspicion of accepting a bribe, TASR and CTK reported. The Banska Bystrica police department's serious-crime squad is in charge of the investigation, and Prosecutor-General Milan Hanzel has informed parliamentary speaker Pavol Hrusovsky of Karlin's detention. Karlin enjoys parliamentary immunity from prosecution, and only parliament may strip him of that privilege. The case marks the first time a Slovak parliamentary deputy has been detained by police. According to TASR, several other people were detained in Karlin's office at the time the alleged bribery, involving 1 million crowns ($28,757), was in progress. MS
HUNGARIAN PARLIAMENT APPROVES BOTTOM-LINE BUDGET FIGURES
By a vote of 195-164, parliament on 25 November approved the main figures of Hungary's 2004 state budget, the MTI news agency reported. Before approving the figures, parliament voted on all 1,895 proposed amendments to the bill, 1,428 of which were filed by the opposition FIDESZ party. The central budget's revenues in 2004 were approved at 5.5 trillion forints ($24.8 billion) with expenditures of 6.1 trillion forints, resulting in a proposed deficit of 651 billion forints ($3 billion). MSZ
FIDESZ OBJECTS TO PROPOSED SECRET DATABASE
Opposition FIDESZ deputy Ervin Demeter, chairman of parliament's National Security Committee, said on 25 November that a proposed government secret database that would concentrate all personal data in one place could be unconstitutional, "Vilaggazdasag" reported the next day. The Secret Services Ministry explained its proposal by saying that, after the 11 September 2001 terrorist attacks on the United States, collecting data in one place would enhance security at public institutions. The setting up of such a database had been envisaged in a government resolution passed in the previous term by the FIDESZ-led administration, but it has never been implemented, the ministry added. Demeter also claimed that in setting up the centralized database, the ministry seeks a 5.2 billion-forint ($23 million) exemption from public-procurement regulations, citing national-security considerations. MSZ
HEAVY ANTI-ROMA BIAS ALLEGED IN SURVEY COMMISSIONED BY HUNGARIAN HEALTH MINISTRY
Doctors and nurses who have recently received a questionnaire on anti-Roma attitudes in the health sector have complained that some of the questions in the questionnaire are provocative, "Nepszabadsag" reported on 26 November. The questionnaire, commissioned by the Health Ministry and created by the Delphoi Consulting sociological research company, contains such questions as "To what extent is it typical of gypsies in Hungary that they are lazy, dirty, beget more children than necessary, are unreliable, too noisy, dangerous and have a tendency to become criminals?" Ferenc Babusik, the head of Delphoi Consulting, said such provocative questions are frequently used in sociological surveys on racist behaviors. The questionnaire has been sent out to nearly 6,000 doctors and nurses. MSZ
CROATIAN COALITION TALKS BEGIN
Leaders of the Croatian Democratic Community (HDZ), which won the most votes in the recent parliamentary elections, began talks with centrist and center-right potential coalition partners on 25 November, RFE/RL's South Slavic and Albanian Languages Service reported (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 25 November 2003). HDZ President Ivo Sanader scheduled negotiations for 26 November with Zlatko Tomcic of the Croatian Peasants' Party (HSS). The HSS, which belongs to the outgoing government, wants to change government economic policy, set up a government of experts, and grant more power to the parliament. Meanwhile, Vesna Pusic, who leads the Croatian People's Party (HNS), said she hopes her party and the others in the current government will have a chance to form a new cabinet if the HDZ fails to put together a working legislative majority. PM
SERBIAN ASSASSINATION TRIAL TO OPEN JUST BEFORE ELECTIONS
A spokesperson for Serbia's top-security special court handling organized crime cases said in Belgrade on 25 November that 21 people will go on trial on 22 December in connection with the 12 March assassination of Serbian Prime Minister Zoran Djindjic, Reuters reported (see "RFE/RL Balkan Report," 28 March and 9 May 2003). Milorad Lukovic "Legija" and 14 other suspects are still on the run and will be tried in absentia. Serbian parliamentary elections take place on 28 December. It is not clear if the opening of the trial was deliberately set to coincide with the last days of the election campaign. PM
U.S. TO HELP SLOVENIA...
The U.S. Embassy in Ljubljana said in a statement on 26 November that, despite the two countries' disagreements over the International Criminal Court (ICC), the United States will provide $2 million to help train the Slovenian Army in finding chemical and biological weapons and equipping it for missions abroad, RFE/RL's South Slavic and Albanian Languages Service reported. In deference to the EU's wishes, Slovenia refuses to conclude a bilateral agreement with the United States prohibiting the handover of each other's citizens to the ICC (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 4 June and 2 July 2003). PM
U.S. Secretary of State Colin Powell told Macedonian Prime Minister Branko Crvenkovski in Washington on 25 November that the United States will help Macedonia in achieving Euro-Atlantic integration, RFE/RL's South Slavic and Albanian Languages Service reported (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 24 and 25 November 2003, and "RFE/RL Balkan Report," 22 November 2002). Powell thanked Crvenkovski for Macedonia's contributions to the "global anti-terrorist coalition." PM
MACEDONIAN GOVERNMENT KICKS OFF NATIONAL CAMPAIGN AGAINST VIOLENCE
The Macedonian Health Ministry on 25 November kicked off an anti-violence campaign that aims at raising public awareness of the problem, "Dnevnik" reported. Campaign sponsors include the World Health Organization, UNICEF, and a number of NGOs. Women's organizations used the opportunity to draw attention to domestic violence. According to Biljana Gerasimovska-Kitanovska, who heads the Organization for Emancipation, Solidarity, and Equality (ESE), up to 25 percent of the country's women are maltreated. The police are called in just 20 percent of the cases, and only 10 percent of the victims go to a doctor, Gerasimovska-Kitanovska said. UB
ROMANIAN NATIONAL FORUM FOR EUROPEAN INTEGRATION MEETS IN BUCHAREST...
A forum in Bucharest on 25 November that included representatives of all parliamentary parties and of civil society, trade unions, and business interests debated the latest assessment by the European Commission and ways to accelerate Romania's integration into the EU, RFE/RL's Bucharest bureau reported. All parliamentary leaders invited by President Ion Iliescu to attend said they are ready to back the government's efforts, though opposition parties criticized the cabinet's performance. Prime Minister Adrian Nastase said next year's efforts will focus on the reform of public administration and the justice system, and on combating corruption and mending structural economic deficiencies mentioned in the commission's report. At the end of the meeting, President Iliescu proposed establishing a forum secretariat tasked with gathering the participants' proposals and monitoring their implementation; setting up by the end of 2003 a consultative council that would advise Romania's chief negotiator with the EU; holding in January 2004 a tripartite consultation of government, trade unions, and employers' representatives; and continuing consultations with parliamentary parties for reaching an agreement on the 2004 electoral calendar. MS
...AS EU OFFICIAL TELLS ROMANIA TO SPEED REFORM...
In a statement issued following the 25 November visit of new EU chief negotiator with Romania Fabrizio Barbaso, the European Commission said Romania has agreed to carry out key short-term tasks to ensure it will be able to join the EU in 2007, Reuters reported. The commission said Barbaso has urged Romania to maintain macroeconomic stability and further strengthen financial discipline with a view to gaining the status of a "functioning market economy" in 2004. The statement also said the country must take decisive measures against corruption at all levels, pursue public administration reforms, and make sure it can efficiently absorb EU funds if it is to meet its 2007 accession target. Barbaso met with Premier Nastase and other Romanian officials. MS
...AND DUTCH PREMIER BELIEVES 2007 ACCESSION IS FEASIBLE
Visiting Dutch Premier Jan Peter Balkenende said on 25 November after meeting with Premier Nastase that he believes Romania can meet the January 2007 accession target even if negotiations with the EU are not finalized before mid-2005, Mediafax reported. The Netherlands will take over the rotating EU Presidency in the second half of 2004. Nastase replied that his country is determined to finalize accession negotiations next year and said Bucharest is counting on the help of the Dutch government. MS
ROMANIAN COMPROMISE ON ELECTORAL CALENDAR IN SIGHT
President Iliescu said on 25 November that he believes the proposal made by National Liberal Party Honorary Chairman Mircea Ionescu-Quintus for the 2004 election dates is "feasible, realistic, and in line with the constitutional provisions," Mediafax reported. Ionescu-Quintus proposed that the local elections take place on 6 June, the first round of the presidential elections on 28 November, and the presidential runoff on 12 December 2004, when parliamentary elections should also take place. The same proposal was made on 25 November by the government's department for relations with parliament, Romanian Radio reported. MS
ROMANIAN PRESIDENT SAYS HE WILL NOT QUIT POLITICS AFTER MANDATE EXPIRES
President Iliescu said on the private Antena 1 television channel on 24 November that he will remain active in politics after his mandate ends, Mediafax reported. Iliescu also said he does not rule out a possible return to the currently ruling Social Democratic Party (PSD) "if the party wishes that." He declined to reply to the question of whether he intends to return to the post of PSD chairman, saying that will depend on the party's options. Asked whether he would accept the position if it were offered to him, Iliescu replied: "Maybe yes." He also said during the interview that Premier Nastase continues "for now" to be the best possible PSD candidate for president. Premier Nastase commented on 25 November that the return of Iliescu at the head of the party would be "natural" and that the position would be "permanently his" because he founded the party and contributed to its modernization. MS
FORMER ROMANIAN AGRICULTURE MINISTER INVESTIGATED BY ANTICORRUPTION PROSECUTION
Former Agriculture Minister Ioan Muresan, who has been charged by the National Anticorruption Prosecution (PNA) with corruption and abuse of office, answered a summons on 25 November after having failed to do so on several previous occasions, Mediafax reported (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 18 July and 20 November 2003). Muresan told journalists before entering the PNA Bucharest office that he is pleading not guilty. The investigation is continuing. MS
IN TURNABOUT, VORONIN SAYS AGREEMENT ON RUSSIA'S PLAN WOULD BE 'PREMATURE'...
After announcing the cancellation of Russian President Vladimir Putin's visit to Chisinau, President Vladimir Voronin said on 25 November that signing an agreement on the Russian plan for Moldova's federalization would be "premature" at this stage, RFE/RL's Chisinau bureau reported (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 25 November 2003). Voronin said Moldova must first consult with European organizations -- primarily with the OSCE -- in view of the fact that European integration is a priority objective for his country and that the conflict's dimensions have long ceased to be simply local. Voronin praised the plan as bringing the sides closer than ever before, but in an allusion to the ongoing protests against the planned federalization, he added that "every new attempt to reach a settlement results in a clash of forces from both outside [Moldova] and with local politicians seeking to make political dividends," according to ITAR-TASS. He said no agreement can be reached so long as there is "resistance on one side or the other." MS
...AS RUSSIAN ENVOY EXPRESSES DISAPPOINTMENT...
Russian presidential-administration deputy head Dmitrii Kozak said in Chisinau on 25 November that "late last night, at the very last moment, on the eve of the official signing [of the document], the Moldovan leadership decided to renounce the agreements which had already been reached," RFE/RL's Chisinau bureau reported. Kozak deplored what he called "the inconsistency of the Moldovan leadership, which constantly changed its position," ITAR-TASS reported. He said the dialogue between the sides made possible by the Russian plan has been "without precedent" and that Moscow will continue to back the reestablishment of contacts between Chisinau and Tiraspol "irrespective of whether they take place within the Russian or any other plan." Russia, he said, continues to be "ready to render assistance if the sides request it." Flux cited Kozak as saying before his departure from Chisinau that Voronin has shown that he lacks both "political courage" and the "political will to engage in a dialogue with the population." MS
...WHILE OSCE VOICES OPPOSITION TO PLAN
OSCE Chairman in Office Jaap de Hoop Scheffer said in a statement released on 24 November in Vienna that the organization's members have not been able to reach a consensus on the Russian-proposed document, Infotag reported. The statement said that Scheffer has communicated this position to President Voronin in a telephone conversation. He added that should Moldova and Transdniester nonetheless reach an agreement on the Russian plan, the OSCE would adopt a "neutral position," leaving it "to the Moldovan people to decide on the agreement," RFE/RL's Romania-Moldova service cited OSCE mission spokesman in Moldova Claus Neukirch as saying. Scheffer had expressed to Voronin "serious reservations" about the lack of clarity in the Russian plan on the proposed division of powers between federal and subject authorities, the veto powers granted to Transdniester, and other aspects. MS
RUSSIAN PLAN'S OPPONENTS INTENSIFY DEMONSTRATIONS IN MOLDOVA
In Chisinau, some 8,000 people protested the Russian federalization plan, blocking traffic on main roads and gathering en masse at the Russian Embassy in the Moldovan capital, RFE/RL's Chisinau bureau reported. The demonstrators chanted: "Voronin is a traitor," and "Russian Army out." They also burned Russian flags and portraits of President Putin, and waved NATO and EU flags. The Committee for the Defense of Moldovan Independence and Constitution, set up the previous day by eight opposition parties and 18 public organizations, announced it intends to intensify the protest, and that demonstrations will be staged daily in Chisinau until 7 December. The committee also called on the parliament to convoke a meeting debating "the high treason committed by the country's communist leadership," according to Flux. MS
BULGARIAN PRESIDENT MEETS WITH MUSLIM LEADER
Speaking after a meeting with President Georgi Parvanov on the occasion of the end of Ramadan on 25 November, Chief Mufti Selim Mehmed said the leaders of the country's Muslim community will make sure that only "traditional" Islam is being preached and taught in Bulgaria and that the influence of sects and radical forms of Islam are not being allowed, mediapool.bg reported. "The former members [of the communist-era secret service] such as [former Chief Mufti Nedim] Gendzhev...have no place in the structures of the chief mufti's office because of the extremely disastrous role they played in the totalitarian period to suppress Islamic religious practices in Bulgaria," Mehmed said. His statement came in reaction to Gendzhev's accusations that he supports radical Islamist groups (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 25 November 2003). Parvanov proposed the formation of a forum of the country's religious leaders, which could give a clear signal for religious tolerance. UB
BULGARIA'S CONSERVATIVES DISCUSS THEIR FUTURE
At a meeting of the National Council of the conservative opposition Union of Democratic Forces (SDS) on 25 November, the party supported Chairwoman Nadezhda Mihailova and the National Executive Council in seeking cooperation with other conservative parties, mediapool.bg reported. The ongoing dispute between Mihailova and her predecessor, former Prime Minister Ivan Kostov, who believes the SDS should not cooperate with other parties, overshadowed the meeting. Kostov singled out the Union of Liberal Democrats, headed by Sofia Mayor Stefan Sofiyanski. "Don't you see that [Sofiyanski] wants to take over the SDS?" Kostov asked (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 22 October 2003 and End Note, "RFE/RL Newsline," 30 October 2003). UB
BULGARIA WITHDRAWS DIPLOMATS FROM IRAQ
Foreign Ministry spokesman Lyubomir Todorov announced on 25 November that all Bulgarian diplomats will temporarily leave Iraq because of the deteriorating security situation there, the "Sofia Morning News" reported. Todorov cited recent attacks on Baghdad hotels that house diplomats. UB
PERFORMANCE ANXIETY: BELARUS'S PRESIDENT DEMANDS 10 PERCENT GROWTH
Belarus's economic performance is perhaps what Belarusian President Alyaksandr Lukashenka likes to boast of before domestic and foreign audiences most of all. According to the official version, eight consecutive years of economic growth since 1996 have allowed not only to make up for the downfall of the first years of independence, but also to boost output above the Soviet-era level and to double real incomes compared to those existing when Lukashenka was first elected president in 1994. Even though there are plenty of ways to question this rosy picture, it is undeniable that a stable economy and relatively acceptable living standards were keys to Lukashenka's political success and to his ability to accumulate absolute authority to the applause of his electorate.
Lukashenka's 'economic miracle,' however, began to fizzle out several years ago, and by 2001 the Belarusian economy grew at the slowest rate in the former Soviet Union. But his reelection was secured just before the disappointing figures began to arrive and, even more importantly, before living standards took a drastic slump in the first few months of Lukashenka's second term.
An official economic forecast for 2004 prepared by the Economy Ministry was already too optimistic and raised questions about how some economic targets could be achieved even inside the regime-controlled legislature. The ministry increased the gross domestic product (GDP) forecast figures to 7.5 percent from 6.5 percent planned for the year in the General Guidelines for Socioeconomic Development -- a five-year plan adopted by a Soviet-style All-Belarusian Popular Congress in 2001. Deputies belonging to the parliamentary group called Assistance to Economic Development (consisting of regime loyalists who nevertheless advocate some market reforms) warned that without a huge inflow of foreign investment such growth can only be reached through printing money.
If this is ruled out, the government as well as companies will have no choice but to report false data, engaging in the Soviet-era practice of "pripiski" (reporting of false data).
But even these unrealistic figures presented by the Economy Ministry were not sufficient for Lukashenka. At a seminar for top state officials on 20 November he ordered a revision of the economic forecast for 2004-2005 and insisted that GDP growth figures should reach 10 percent annually in these two years. Moreover, Lukashenka ordered that real incomes be doubled by the end of 2005 compared with 2001. The reason for this revision was the government's failure to comply with the General Guidelines in the two previous years. "No one has the right to ignore the program approved by the people," Lukashenka declared to his government, referring to the fact that the General Guidelines adopted in 2001 were incorporated into his platform in the 2001 presidential election. He further warned that those officials who fail to deliver the required targets will be immediately sacked. Lukashenka's recipe for the forthcoming economic miracle was not convincing, though. He called for "hard work and mobilization of all available managerial resources" plus full involvement of the scientific potential of the country, avoiding discussion of any macro- or microeconomic specifics.
There is little doubt about what is behind Lukashenka's growth push. He will most certainly run for presidency for the third time in 2006 (even though he is currently barred from doing this by the constitution), and he needs to give some legitimacy to this plan in the eyes of the public. As the economic deterioration has considerably diminished his popularity since his re-election in 2001, it is no surprise that Lukashenka turns growth figures into an ideological issue.
In 1997-98, when Lukashenka's first 'economic miracle' occurred, Belarus witnessed a 8 percent-11 percent economic growth. But this was made possible by a combination of factors that can hardly be reproduced today. The first factor was extremely cheap oil and gas that Belarus bought from Russia.
Nowadays, prices for Russian oil and gas are steadily reaching world-market levels, and there is no guarantee that yet another hike would not occur next year in another round of the "gas attack" by Russia. The second factor was an abundance of bartering schemes through which Belarusian industries could find a market in Russia.
However, today in Belarus barter is discouraged, as it was discovered that cashless transactions represent a relatively easy way of tax evasion. The third factor was Russia's consent to buy Belarusian goods at a price higher than what could be found in a free market.
The fourth and final factor was printing money, which allowed to invigorate, at least temporarily, economic activity and keep loss-making companies alive. But printing money represents a political problem in itself if Lukashenka wants to win hearts and minds of his electorate to get his third term in office. Inflation (and low nominal wages) were easily tolerated by the population several years ago, when utility bills amounted to little more than $1 per month and foodstuff prices were heavily subsidized. Today, however, the same bill will need $30-$60 to be paid and food can cost even more than it does in neighboring countries.
By ordering that such ambitious economic targets be met, Lukashenka is ignoring the fact that his economy is very open to foreign trade and economic growth can be generated by increasing competitiveness of the country's exports. However, Belarus currently runs a huge trade deficit (nearly 10 percent of GDP), and given the growing gas bill, this number may even increase in 2004. Moreover, the current inflow of foreign direct investments is too low to boost the competitiveness of Belarusian industry and to activate its export sector in so short period of time.
Another fact Lukashenka ignores is that economic growth achieved in a command economy like that in Belarus does not necessarily bring forth an increase in living standards. Stocks of unsold goods represent a loss of -- not an increase in -- income for the population. So does the inflationary spending to activate the real sector, if the government decides to engage in it against the political risks. And if enterprises are forced to meet production plans by reducing investment and amortization payments, they may find themselves unable to maintain competitiveness even at very low wage rates within a very short period of time, and will have to run into even deeper wage cuts.
Hence, the government bureaucracy has a limited range of choices to fulfill Lukashenka's demands. None of them, however, is likely to please the president, since they are limited to wage cuts, inflation, or pripiski. And Lukashenka may need to think in advance who will be appointed a scapegoat for failure to deliver the people-approved plans, or for delivering them in the way that did more harm than good to the people.
Vital Silitski is a Minsk-based freelance researcher.
AFGHAN DEFENSE MINISTER SAYS MOST DISMISSED SOLDIERS HAVE BEEN PAID
Afghan Defense Minister Marshall Mohammad Qasim Fahim told a 24 November cabinet session that most of the 1,800 recently dismissed military personnel have been paid their salaries, Radio Afghanistan reported. Fahim said 1,200 of the 1,800 former soldiers in question have received back pay, and the rest will receive their unpaid salaries soon. One dismissed soldier reportedly died and three others were left injured following a 23 November protest in front of the Defense Ministry building (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 24 November 2003). Fahim said a number of people tried to break into the building, and he claimed that those who instigated the violence were among those not being paid that day. He added that the files of dismissed personnel will be reviewed and they will be informed of their rights. AT
AFGHAN FINANCE MINISTER HIGHLIGHTS FUNDING FOR NEO-TALIBAN
Ashraf Ghani Ahmadzai called on the international community to investigate possible sources of financial support for neo-Taliban forces, the BBC reported on 25 November. According to Ahmadzai, such investigations should probe whether the funds are coming from individuals or a foreign government is involved. While Ahmadzai avoided naming a country, the BBC commented that Afghan officials have blamed Pakistan for failing to take adequate measures against the neo-Taliban (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 25 November 2003). AT
ANTI-U.S. LEAFLETS TURN UP IN EASTERN AFGHAN PROVINCE
Leaflets denouncing U.S. military activities in Afghanistan have been distributed in parts of the Nangarhar Province, Radio Afghanistan reported on 25 November. The leaflets claim that the U.S.-led coalition has killed hundreds of Afghans during bombing raids but claimed that the number of casualties was much lower. According to Radio Afghanistan, many people in the region blame Pakistan for the distribution of such materials. AT
WESTERN POWERS AGREE ON NUCLEAR RESOLUTION ON IRAN
The United States is satisfied with a resolution it has drafted with key European partners that condemns Iran's covert nuclear activities over two decades and provides for penalties if Iranian secrecy persists, AFP reported on 25 November. The draft text, which was approved by the UN nuclear watchdog on 26 November, is a compromise between the United States, which has sought an immediate and tough response to a nuclear program it suspects entails military aims, and France, Britain, and Germany, which are members of the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) governing board and favor steady pressure to ensure that Iran will allow snap inspections of its atomic installations. The text allows the governing board to consider "all options at its disposal" should Iran fail again to abide strictly by the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty (NPT), AP reported on 25 November. Washington understands this to be the "trigger mechanism" it wants, allowing an immediate referral to the Security Council. "I think the language is clear enough," AFP cited a Western diplomat as saying. VS
IRAN REJECTS 'HOSTILE' ISRAELI CLAIMS ABOUT ITS NUCLEAR PROGRAM
Iranian Foreign Ministry spokesman Hamid Reza Asefi has denounced Israel's "entirely hostile" charges and its "distortion of the truth and negative propaganda" regarding Iran's nuclear program, ISNA reported on 25 November. Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon is reportedly personally supervising his country's efforts to prevent its foe Iran from acquiring nuclear bombs, AFP reported on 23 November. Iran, which does not recognize the state of Israel, denies similar charges that Israel and the United States have often thrown at it. Israel is using "blackmail and sabotage" to block Iran's "positive and transparent cooperation with the IAEA and European countries," ISNA quoted Asefi as saying. Iran's parliament was in an uproar on 24 November after a deputy blamed politicians for allowing foreign powers to accuse Iran of deceit in its nuclear activities, "Aftab-i Yazd" reported the next day. "Our behavior has led the Americans to confidently claim, 'Did we not tell you the truth about the Islamic Republic [of Iran]?'" parliamentarian Ahmad Shirzad said. VS
IRANIAN CABINET APPROVES ANTITERRORISM BILL
Iran's cabinet has approved an antiterrorism bill it will present to parliament for ratification, "Aftab-i Yazd" reported on 25 November. Iranian Vice President for Legal and Parliamentary Affairs Mohammad Ali Abtahi said the bill is designed to fill a legal vacuum inside the country and "show the world the Islamic Republic of Iran's determination to fight all aspects of this phenomenon," the daily reported. The bill, he said, is a fitting response to "the baseless claims of certain foreign countries" that Iran supports terrorism. Iran often claims it is a victim of terrorism. Iran and Iraq have already signed an agreement on preventing terrorist activities inside and beyond their territories, mehrnews.com reported on 25 November. That agreement followed a visit to Iran last week by Iraqi Governing Council member Jalal Talabani, the website cited sources close to the Iraqi ruling council as noting, adding that the antiterrorism effort encompasses the activities of the Mujahedin Khalq Organization, an armed group in Iraq opposed to the Iranian government. VS
NOBEL PRIZE WINNER URGES IRANIANS TO VOTE IN UPCOMING PARLIAMENTARY ELECTIONS
Shirin Ebadi, an Iranian lawyer and recent winner of the Nobel Peace Prize, has urged her compatriots not to boycott parliamentary elections, due in February, out of disappointment with the pace of democratic reforms in Iran, "Aftab-i Yazd" reported on 25 November. "I believe as a citizen that [a boycott] will not resolve our ills, because if it did, the local-council elections would have resolved problems," she said, referring to recent municipal elections that saw low voter turnout in large cities. Reformers fear that a mass boycott would hand control of parliament to conservatives elected by a determined minority. The chief electoral supervisory body, the Guardians Council, has asked the Interior Ministry to provide the software it proposes to use for electronic vote counting in the elections, Fars News Agency reported on 25 November. Ayatollah Ahmad Jannati, head of the conservative-controlled body, informed the ministry that unless it inspects the software, its electoral supervisors will have to re-count the votes by hand, the agency added. VS
IRAQI GRAND AYATOLLAH WANTS TRANSITION PLAN REEVALUATED
Iraqi Shi'ite Grand Ayatollah Ali al-Sistani has reportedly told the head of the Supreme Council for the Islamic Revolution in Iraq (SCIRI) and Iraqi Governing Council member Abd al-Aziz al-Hakim that he has concerns over the recently released transitional plan for the transfer of power from the U.S.-led Coalition Provisional Authority to the Iraqi people, Al-Jazeera reported on 25 November. Al-Sistani is particularly concerned with the transitional phase, which he reportedly described as not providing enough of a role for the Iraqi people. The grand ayatollah conveyed his concerns to al-Hakim during a recent meeting in Al-Najaf. Al-Sistani had issued a fatwa, or religious edict, in June that said he would only support a constitution written by Iraqis picked through a general election, rather than one drafted by Iraqis picked by the United States. Washingtonpost.com reported on 26 November that al-Sistani has refused its request for a comment on the current plan. The site, however, quoted SCIRI representative Adil Abd al-Mahdi, who has met with al-Sistani's office several times to discuss the transfer of power, as saying that al-Sistani "certainly has not blessed the plan." KR
BREMER, ABIZAID SAY ATTACKS TARGETING IRAQI CIVILIANS ON THE RISE...
U.S. Civilian Administrator L. Paul Bremer and the commander of U.S. Central Command, General John Abizaid, told reporters at a 25 November press conference in Baghdad that Iraqi militants are increasingly targeting Iraqi civilians, RFE/RL reported. "The former regime loyalists and jihadists have always pursued a policy of intimidation. They have failed to intimidate the coalition, they have now begun a pattern of terrorizing innocent Iraqis in an effort to drive them away from the goal they share with the coalition -- a democratic and peaceful Iraq. They will not succeed," Bremer told reporters. "These offensive actions in the past two weeks have actually driven down the attacks against coalition forces, but unfortunately we've found that attacks against Iraqis have increased," Abizaid added. KR
...AND U.S. DEFENSE SECRETARY CONCURS
U.S. Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld concurred with Ambassador Bremer and General Abizaid's claims that militants are increasingly attacking civilian targets in Iraq, RFE/RL reported on 25 November. "The overall number of attacks against Americans and coalition forces is actually down, but the number of attacks against Iraqi citizens has risen," Rumsfeld told a 25 November press briefing at the Pentagon in Washington. "Make no mistake; former regime loyalists are intensifying their efforts and increasing the lethality of their attacks. These attacks against the coalition and against Iraqi citizens demonstrate the utter disregard for life these former regime loyalists hold in their efforts to create instability." KR
U.K. FOREIGN SECRETARY VISITS BAGHDAD
British Foreign Secretary Jack Straw arrived in Baghdad on 25 November on an unannounced trip for meetings with U.S. officials and Iraqi Governing Council members, international media reported. Speaking to reporters in Baghdad on 26 November, Straw said a plan to transfer power to Iraqis more quickly will contribute to improving the security situation in Iraq. "I'm absolutely sure that a more rapid political process will assist the security situation," he said. "The more we can give Iraqis a stake in their future, and a stable political architecture in which to work, the more I think Iraqis will become committed to that future and the fewer will think that terror, or acquiescence in terror is a way forward," Straw added. The United Kingdom has about 9,800 troops stationed in Iraq. KR
SOUTH KOREA TO SEND 3,000 TROOPS ON INDEPENDENT MISSION TO IRAQ
South Korea has decided to send some 3,000 troops to Iraq to carry out an independent mission, Prime Minister Goh Kun said on 26 November, Seoul's Yonhap news agency reported. "The troops will carry on an independent operation in a certain region" not yet identified by the United States and South Koreans," Goh told reporters. "The option of a functional approach, such as sending [more] medics and army engineers, has been abandoned due to local circumstances in Iraq and a request from the United States," he added. Washington had requested in September that South Korea contribute around 5,000 troops to help maintain security in Iraq. That Southeast Asian country currently has 464 medics and engineers in Iraq. KR
BULGARIA WITHDRAWS DIPLOMATS FROM IRAQ
Foreign Ministry spokesman Lyubomir Todorov announced on 25 November that all Bulgarian diplomats will temporarily leave Iraq because of the deteriorating security situation there, the "Sofia Morning News" reported. Todorov cited recent attacks on Baghdad hotels that house diplomats. UB