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Newsline - December 3, 2003


OSCE CRITICIZES STATE TV FOR BIASED CAMPAIGN COVERAGE...
Andrei Davydov, director of the international department of the Central Election Commission (TsIK), said on 2 December that about 1,000 international observers will be on hand to monitor the 7 December State Duma elections, Interfax reported. Observers from 50 countries and 12 foreign-national and international organizations have been accredited, Davydov said, adding that the largest delegation will be from the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe's (OSCE) Office for Democratic Institutions and Human Rights. A 1 December OSCE report accused state-controlled national television of favoring the pro-Kremlin Unified Russia party, which, the report said, has an unfair campaign advantage because of "verified instances of the use of administrative resources" by its candidates, "The Moscow Times" reported on 2 December. The OSCE also criticized Union of Rightist Forces (SPS) co-leader Anatolii Chubais for "the improper use" of his position as chief of Russia's electricity monopoly. TsIK Chairman Aleksandr Veshnyakov said on 2 December that any attempt "to distort the outcome of voting is an assault on constitutional principles," for which the TsIK will seek "the maximum penalties." JB

...AND COMMUNISTS PROTEST KREMLIN CAMPAIGN OF 'LIES AND INTIMIDATION'
Communist Party leader Gennadii Zyuganov has sent a letter to President Vladimir Putin accusing the presidential administration of suppressing its political opponents in the Duma election campaign through "lies and intimidation," according to the Communist Party website (http://www.kprf.ru). Zyuganov charged that dozens of governors, ministers and mayors who are Unified Russia supporters are systematically using their offices, staff, and resources to deny opposition parties contact with the electorate. He said there have been cases of officials closing halls where campaign rallies were to take place, cutting off electricity to rallies, and intimidating rally participants. He added that the courts have obediently removed candidates to whom the Kremlin objects, including former Prosecutor-General Yurii Skuratov, a former Communist candidate who was disqualified by the Supreme Court on 28 November (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 2 December 2003). "And then you, Mr. President, go to the West and talk about democracy in Russia," Zyuganov wrote. "If this is democracy, then what is authoritarianism and arbitrariness?" He concluded that although he does not hope to convince Putin to do anything differently, he feels obliged to tell Putin that he bears responsibility for everything that has occurred. VY

SPS ALLEGES OFFICIAL HARASSMENT IN TYUMEN...
The SPS's press service alleged in a 2 December statement that police searched the headquarters of the party's Tyumen Oblast regional branch, Interfax reported. According to the statement, police officials "searched the premises, opened up bundles with campaign leaflets and also letters to voters from SPS leaders Boris Nemtsov, Irina Khakamada, and Anatolii Chubais." The police did not present a search warrant or any other document authorizing their actions, the SPS statement added. Vadim Bondar, a State Duma deputy from Tyumen, and Yurii Ryabchenyuk, head of the SPS's Tyumen regional branch, complained to the local prosecutor's office about the search, which the statement described as "just another attempt by Tyumen officials to impede the work of Union of Rightist Forces' regional branch." The SPS also said that leaflets have appeared in Tyumen bearing the party's logo that "call for the granting of freedom to sexual minorities [and] permitting same-sex marriages, as well as leaflets with anti-presidential contents." The SPS called these leaflets a "provocation." JB

...WHILE DIRTY TRICKS AND BLACK PR ARE REPORTED ELSEWHERE
Traffic police in Bryansk stopped an automobile transporting more than 4,000 copies of a book entitled "Three Responses To Our Political Opponents" containing fictitious comments attributed to Communist Party leader Zyuganov, gazeta.ru reported on 2 December. The books, which were apparently aimed at discrediting the Communist Party, had no publishing data, and the driver would not say from where they came. Police in Vladikavkaz arrested seven people, three of whom had previously been arrested for narcotics sales and theft, for allegedly painting the name of a Duma candidate on city streets using stencils. The republic's election commission warned the candidate's campaign headquarters that such agitation is unacceptable, RIA-Novosti reported. JB

ZHIRINOVSKII APOLOGIZES FOR DEBATE ANTICS
NTV on 2 December received a written apology from Liberal Democratic Party of Russia (LDPR) leader Vladimir Zhirinovskii, whom the channel banned from its airwaves for incidents that took place during and immediately after a campaign debate on the 21 November edition of the "Svoboda slova" program, "Kommersant-Daily" reported on 3 December. During the debate, Zhirinovskii insulted former Airborne Forces commander Colonel General Georgii Shpak, a candidate from the Motherland-Patriotic Union bloc. After the debate, Zhirinovskii and his bodyguards got into a fight outside the studio with Shpak, economist Mikhail Delyagin, and Yabloko Duma Deputy Sergei Mitrokhin (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 24 and 26 November 2003). While video footage of the post-debate brawl reportedly shows that Zhirinovskii actively took part in it, he told NTV in his letter that his bodyguards were at fault and have been replaced. He asked that NTV lift its ban on him, "Kommersant-Daily" reported. An LDPR source told Interfax on 2 December that Zhirinovskii has already signed a new agreement with NTV to participate in a debate on 5 December. JB

YUKOS DENIES REPORT THAT IT WILL COMPROMISE WITH SIBNEFT
Officials and shareholders of embattled oil giant Yukos denied on 2 December a report in that day's "The Wall Street Journal" that claimed the company is prepared to compromise in order to save its planned merger with Sibneft, Russian and Western media reported. "The Wall Street Journal" reported that Yukos is willing to cede top management positions in the proposed new company to Sibneft. Leonid Nevzlin, a major Yukos shareholder and formerly the company's No. 2 manager, told "Izvestiya" on 2 December that Yukos intends to stick to the original agreement with Sibneft and is not making any closed-door deals that could affect the rights of minority shareholders of either company. Yurii Kotler, press spokesman for Yukos's financial arm Menatep, denied reports that Yukos intends to surrender top management posts at YukosSibneft and that it has agreed to the nomination of former presidential administration head Aleksandr Voloshin as the company's chairman of the board, Ekho Moskvy reported on 2 December. Kotler said that any changes to the initial agreement would be viewed as grounds for annulling the deal. VY

DEPUTY ASKS PROSECUTORS TO INVESTIGATE CURRENT YUKOS CEO...
Duma Deputy Vladimir Yudin (Fatherland-Unified Russia), who helped initiate the investigations and arrests of Menatep President Platon Lebedev and former Yukos CEO Mikhail Khodorkovskii, has sent a request to the Prosecutor-General's Office asking it to investigate current Yukos head Semen Kukes, newsru.com and other Russian media reported on 2 December. Yudin has alleged that the Tyumen Oil Company (TNK), which Kukes headed before joining Yukos, violated several Russian laws. His complaint is based on a case currently before a U.S. court in which a Canadian oil company has accused TNK's management of money laundering. VY

...AS TAX MINISTRY SAYS YUKOS OWES $5 BILLION
The Tax Ministry alleged on 2 December that Yukos and affiliated companies failed to pay about 150 billion rubles ($5 billion) in taxes in 1998-2002, Russian media reported. Deputy Tax Minister Igor Golikov said he has sent Prosecutor-General Vladimir Ustinov a letter detailing the alleged tax evasion and requesting a criminal investigation. VY

ANALYSTS SEE KREMLIN'S HAND BEHIND LATEST YUKOS DEVELOPMENTS
Gazeta.ru on 2 December noted that the Tax Ministry's announcement and Deputy Yudin's new accusations against Yukos head Kukes came immediately after Yukos's statement that it will not cede senior management positions at YukosSibneft to Sibneft. The recent open involvement in the merger deal of Sibneft founder and Chukotka Autonomous Okrug Governor Roman Abramovich is a bad sign for Yukos, as he may be implementing the will of the Kremlin, TV-Tsentr speculated on 2 December. Abramovich, it noted, is the person who took away the assets of Kremlin foe and former Krasnoyarsk Aluminum head Anatolii Bykov. He also took over Sibneft and other assets from Kremlin opponent and self-exiled tycoon Boris Berezovskii, the station added. VY

PUTIN TALKS TOUGH ON EU ECONOMIC DEMANDS...
Speaking with a group of leading businesspeople from the European Union in the Kremlin on 2 December, President Putin said that Moscow does not want to end its privileged trade relations with the Central and Eastern European countries that are set to join the EU in May, Russian media reported. Putin said that those countries have already informed Russia that the privileges -- which have existed since the Soviet era -- will be discontinued, and Russia views this as harmful to its economic interests. Putin said that the EU is insisting on "unjustified and inflexible requirements" before acceding to Russia's membership of the World Trade Organization (WTO). Putin said that the EU's demand that Russia raise domestic energy tariffs to world levels "is completely unacceptable." "The existing low prices for energy objectively reflect our competitive advantages, and we see no need to change them," Putin said. VY

...AND ECONOMIC ADVISER BACKS HIM UP
Presidential economic adviser Andrei Illarionov said on 2 December that President Putin discussed with the EU businesspeople Russia's anticipated economic losses following the EU's eastward expansion, strana.ru reported. Illarionov said those losses could amount to billions of dollars, and added that the two sides have agreed to study the issue. Illarionov also said that Russia will not ratify the Kyoto Protocol, which seeks to reduce emissions of the gases believed to cause global warming, and that Moscow will not agree to join the WTO if doing so is not advantageous. "We cannot restrict the level of the country's economic development," Illarionov said. "WTO entry is a top priority for Russia, but Russia will not agree to a substantial reduction of its economic competitiveness, which is what would happen if domestic energy prices are raised." VY

MMM FOUNDER SENTENCED TO PRISON
A Moscow raion court on 2 December sentenced Sergei Mavrodi, founder of the notorious MMM pyramid scheme, to 13 months' imprisonment for forging a passport, RIA Novosti reported. Mavrodi was arrested in January after five years on the run and several months later was indicted on charges of forging documents. His trial got under way in September (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 16 September 2003). Mavrodi is the target of two other criminal investigations, one involving allegations of large-scale fraud connected to MMM's activities and the other concerning alleged tax evasion. "Kommersant-Daily" wrote on 3 December that Mavrodi's sentence was relatively light and noted that he faces a much stiffer one if convicted of large-scale fraud. Mavrodi's younger brother and MMM co-founder, Vyacheslav Mavrodi, was sentenced in February to five years and three months in prison after being convicted of conducting illegal banking and precious-commodities operations (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 14 February 2003). JB

CENSUS SHOWS URBANIZATION HAS HALTED
Deputy State Statistics Committee Chairman Sergei Kolsenikov told a meeting of the Russian Parliamentarians Club in Moscow on 2 December that according to the national census carried out last year, Russia's population is 145.2 million, making it the seventh-most populous country in the world, Interfax reported. There are 10 million more women then men in Russia, and in 1989-2002, 11 million people came into the country, while around 5 million left. The census shows that around 80 percent of Russia's population is ethnic Russian, but the population includes 168 different nationalities. First Deputy State Statistics Committee Chairman Aleksandr Surinov told an audience in Yekaterinburg on 2 December that the census showed that since the beginning of the 1990s, Russia's rural population has virtually stopped moving into the towns and cities, ITAR-TASS reported. The urban-to-rural population ratio has remained 73.3 percent to 26.7 percent for 10 years. At the same time, there are more than 13,000 abandoned villages in Russia and a "huge number" of population centers inhabited by only five to 10 people, Surinov said. JB

ACTING PRIME MINISTER NAMED IN CHECHNYA
Chechen leader Akhmed-hadji Kadyrov appointed First Deputy Prime Minister and Finance Minister Eli Isaev on 2 December to serve as acting prime minister in place of Anatolii Popov, who is undergoing treatment for an unspecified illness, Russian media reported. Kadyrov described Isaev, who is 36, as a skilled professional. Popov was flown to Moscow in late September for emergency medical treatment for apparent food poisoning (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 29 and 30 September and 1 October 2003), but he returned to Chechnya within days. LF

GROZNY TO BE REBUILT WITHIN FIVE YEARS?
The Chechen capital will be completely rebuilt within five years, Russian Minister for Chechen Affairs Stanislav Ilyasov told a 2 December session of the governmental committee to oversee reconstruction in Chechnya, ITAR-TASS reported. Ilyasov's spokesman Aleksandr Arapov predicted that the population of Grozny will increase to 500,000. Ilyasov also told the committee session that the payment of compensation to Chechen families whose homes were destroyed in the fighting is proceeding more slowly than anticipated. On 19 November, a Chechen official told ITAR-TASS that only 246 families have received compensation payments over the previous two months and a further 160 applications for compensation are under consideration. Some 39,000 families are scheduled to receive compensation over the next two years. LF

ARMENIAN PARLIAMENT GUNMEN SENTENCED TO LIFE IMPRISONMENT...
The five gunmen convicted of murdering eight senior officials in the parliament chamber in October 1999 were sentenced to life imprisonment on 2 December, together with a sixth man convicted of abetting them, RFE/RL's Yerevan bureau reported. A seventh defendant was sentenced to 14 years' imprisonment. All seven said they will appeal the sentences. People's Party of Armenia Chairman Stepan Demirchian, whose father Karen was among the eight victims and who suspects the Armenian leadership of involvement in the killings, accused the Armenian authorities of seeking to "cover up the crime," adding that the gunmen should have been sentenced to death. LF

...BUT COULD BE FREED AFTER 16 YEARS
The six men sentenced to life imprisonment in connection with the parliament killings could be eligible for parole in 2020 because amendments to the Criminal Code adopted by parliament on 5 November stipulating that people sentenced for murder and other grave crimes are not eligible for release after serving 20 years of their sentences have not yet come into force, RFE/RL's Yerevan bureau reported (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 5 November 2003). The amendments were submitted to President Robert Kocharian on 10 November, but signed into law only on 26 November and will take effect only after publication. Opposition parliament deputies suggested that Kocharian delayed signing the amendments in order to provide "security guarantees" for the gunmen. Former Prime Minister Aram Sargsian, whose brother Vazgen was one of the eight victims, said on 28 November that the gunmen might be killed in prison because they remain in a position to implicate the present leadership, RFE/RL's Yerevan bureau reported. LF

MEDIA WATCHDOG CONCERNED AT TRENDS IN AZERBAIJAN
Reporters Without Borders Secretary-General Robert Menard held a press conference on 2 December at the end of a two-day visit to Baku, during which he met with government and presidential administration officials, journalists arrested following the 15-16 October violence in Baku in the wake of the disputed presidential ballot, and editors of opposition papers, Turan reported. Menard said he received the impression that the Azerbaijani leadership has no interest in either taking measures to resolve media-related problems or in establishing an independent public television station. He said papers' debts to publishing houses and artificially created shortages of newsprint should not be used to pressure the press (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 19 and 21 November 2003). Menard also said he sees no reason why Rauf Arifoglu, editor of the opposition newspaper "Yeni Musavat," who was arrested for his role in the post-election clashes, should not be released on bail pending trial, Turan reported on 1 December. On 2 December, presidential administration official Ali Hasanov confirmed that Arifoglu will be tried and predicted that he will be found guilty, referring to video footage where Arifoglu allegedly said, "I organized it all," Turan reported. LF

AZERBAIJANI RULING PARTY CHASTISES COUNCIL OF EUROPE RAPPORTEUR
The press service of the ruling Yeni Azerbaycan Party has released a statement accusing Swiss parliamentarian Andreas Gross, who is the Parliamentary Assembly of the Council of Europe's special rapporteur for Azerbaijan, of interfering in the country's domestic political affairs, Turan reported on 2 December. The statement refers to Azerbaijani media reports quoting Gross as urging the Azerbaijani opposition to emulate its Georgian counterpart and stage a "bloodless revolution." It is not clear when Gross is alleged to have made those statements, given that his most recent visit to Baku preceded the ouster of Georgian President Eduard Shevardnadze (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 20 November 2003). LF

OFFICIAL DENIES AZERBAIJAN WILL HOST U.S. MILITARY BASE
There is no truth to rumors that Azerbaijan will host a U.S. military base, presidential administration foreign relations department head Novruz Mamedov told journalists on 2 December, according to Interfax. He added that bilateral military cooperation with the United States focuses on cooperation in the war against international terrorism, participation in international peacekeeping operations, and NATO activities. LF

U.S. WARNS RUSSIA OVER SUPPORT FOR BREAKAWAY GEORGIAN REPUBLICS
Addressing the OSCE Ministerial Council meeting in Maastricht on 2 December, U.S. Secretary of State Colin Powell urged the international community to do "everything possible to support Georgia's territorial integrity throughout and beyond the election process," washingtonpost.com reported on 3 December. In an apparent allusion to the talks in Moscow last week between senior Russian officials and the leaders of Georgia's two breakaway republics and one autonomous republic, Powell said that "no support should be given to breakaway elements seeking to weaken Georgia's territorial integrity." Following a meeting the same day with Powell on the summit sidelines, Georgian acting President Nino Burdjanadze said Powell expressed support for the new Georgian leadership and repeated Washington's negative attitude to separatist aspirations in OSCE member states, Caucasus Press reported. Also on 2 December, Russian Foreign Minister Igor Ivanov again denied that Moscow's consultations with the leaders of the three Georgian republics constitute interference into that country's internal affairs, Interfax reported. LF

GEORGIAN ACTING PRESIDENT MEETS WITH EU OFFICIALS
Burdjanadze traveled to Brussels later on 2 December, where she met with European Commission President Romano Prodi and EU Commissioner for Foreign and Security Policy Javier Solana, ITAR-TASS reported. Prodi said the EU will give Georgia emergency aid in the form of food to the value of 5 million euros ($6.05 million) and a further 2 million euros toward the cost of the 4 January presidential election. At the same time, he rejected Burdjanadze's request that Georgia be included in the recently adopted EU cooperation program embracing a dozen East European and Mediterranean countries. Solana expressed approval of the new Georgian leadership's plans for economic and government reform and for tackling endemic corruption, Caucasus Press reported on 3 December. LF

GEORGIA UNLIKELY TO JOIN NATO IN NEAR FUTURE
Georgian Defense Minister Lieutenant General David Tevzadze said in Brussels on 2 December that his country is unlikely to join NATO before 2010 at the earliest, Reuters reported. Tevzadze predicted that it will take up to 10 years to carry out the required military reforms and sufficiently improve the country's economy. LF

15 CANDIDATES SEEK REGISTRATION FOR GEORGIAN PRESIDENTIAL BALLOT
Fifteen hopefuls have applied to Georgia's Central Election Commission (CEC) to register as candidates in the 4 January presidential election, Interfax and Caucasus reported on 2 December, the deadline for such submissions. They must now collect and submit by 11 December a minimum of 50,000 signatures in their support. Interior Minister Giorgi Baramidze told the CEC on 2 December that revised voter lists will be ready by 20 December, after which voters will be able to verify that their names have been included. Also on 2 December, the CEC scheduled new parliamentary elections for 25 January in response to a Supreme Court proposal, but at the same time asked acting President Burdjanadze to postpone them, Caucasus Press reported. Last week, Burdjanadze proposed holding repeat parliamentary elections in April or May as she said it would be "too difficult" to hold parliamentary and presidential elections simultaneously (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 25 November 2003). On 1 December in Maastricht, Burdjanadze said the parliamentary elections should ideally be held concurrently with the extraordinary presidential ballot, but that the parliamentary ballot will be held somewhat later. LF

UZBEKISTAN WANTS CASH FOR ITS GAS
Uzbekistan is demanding that Kyrgyzstan pay entirely in cash for imported Uzbek natural gas, instead of paying partly with agricultural produce, but Kyrgyzstan does not have the money to meet the Uzbek demand, Deputy Chairman of the gas-importing firm Kyrgyzgaz Kubanychbek Dzhusupov told a news conference in Bishkek on 2 December, kabar.kg and akipress.org reported. As a result of the dispute, the annual contract for delivery of Uzbek gas to Kyrgyzstan remains unsigned. According to Dzhusupov, this is the first time in 13 years that Uzbekistan has demanded full payment in cash. The Kyrgyz side wants to include in the contract a stipulation that gas will be supplied to Kyrgyz power stations, which so far the Uzbek exporters have been unwilling to do. Kyrgyzstan currently owes Uzbekistan the equivalent of $10.6 million for gas, but only $900,000 of that amount in cash, which Dzhusupov said will be paid on time. BB

TAJIK TRANSPORT FIRMS LOOK TO GOVERNMENT FOR HELP WITH UZBEK BORDER CLOSINGS
Transport firms in the western Tajik town of Penjikent are looking to the Tajik government for help in ensuring that they can cross into Uzbekistan in order to transport goods and passengers to other parts of Tajikistan in winter, the northern Tajik news agency Varorud reported on 1 December. The closure of the Anzob Pass by snow prevents direct north-south transit within Tajikistan, making communication by road impossible without crossing Uzbek territory. The Penjikent shippers say that Uzbek border troops and customs officials are not always willing to open the nearest border-crossing point, resulting in major losses to the Tajiks, and they want the government to put pressure on the Uzbeks to ensure transit between north and south Tajikistan. A tunnel at the Anzob Pass, which is being constructed with Iranian assistance, is supposed to provide year-round transit through Tajikistan. BB

U.S. SECRETARY OF STATE ACCUSES TURKMENISTAN OF VIOLATING OSCE COMMITMENTS
U.S. Secretary of State Colin Powell on 2 December accused Turkmenistan of violating their basic commitments as participating states of the OSCE, RIA-Novosti reported. Powell was speaking at the annual OSCE Ministerial Council in Maastricht. He said that Turkmenistan's leadership was flouting OSCE commitments on human rights, in both the political and religious spheres, and called on Ashgabat to act exclusively in accord with the international standards set out by the OSCE. BB

EBRD EXTENDS CREDIT LINE FOR TURKMEN SMALL BUSINESS
The European Bank for Reconstruction and Development (EBRD) has extended its existing credit line for Turkmen small and medium-sized businesses to the end of September 2005, turkmenistan.ru reported on 2 December. The $15 million credit line was established in 1996 to promote economic reform through the development of private enterprise in accordance with the bank's charter. So far it has financed 113 projects, providing credit averaging $75,000 for existing firms to expand or modernize their output of either goods or services. The credit line for small business is one of the few areas in which the EBRD is still functioning in Turkmenistan because the Turkmen government consistently violates the requirements on political reform and democratization included in the bank's charter. BB

UZBEK GOVERNMENT SEEKS TO REGULARIZE LABOR MIGRATION
The Uzbek government has adopted a decree on regularizing the movement of Uzbek citizens going abroad in search of work, Kazinform reported from Tashkent on 2 December. The decree seeks to establish an orderly mechanism for Uzbek labor migrants, including developing an infrastructure of labor agencies in Tashkent, Ferghana, Karshi, and Nukus to help job seekers find work outside the country, inform them about conditions and legal requirements in various countries, and help them fill out necessary documents. According to the report, not only are Uzbek citizens seeking work abroad in increasing numbers, but foreign employers are actively trying to recruit labor in Uzbekistan. Responsibility for running the system is laid on the Labor Ministry's Agency for Foreign Labor Migration Issues. The number of Uzbek labor migrants has not been publicized. BB

UZBEK PRESIDENT DECREES AMNESTY
Islam Karimov has signed an amnesty decree in connection with the 11th anniversary of Uzbekistan's constitution, uzreport.com reported on 3 December. As is usual practice in Uzbekistan, the amnesty covers convicts sentenced for petty crimes, women serving first-time sentences, men over 60 years of age, disabled people, and prisoners who are seriously ill. Foreigners who are not permanent residents of Uzbekistan are also covered, as are persons sentenced to 10 years or less for participation in an extremist organization or committing crimes against the constitutional order, if they have indicated they will not offend again. Sentences of convicts not covered by the amnesty are to be reduced by one-fourth if the sentence was 10 years or less, by one-fifth if the sentence exceeded 10 years. The report did not indicate how many prisoners would be included in the amnesty. BB

OSCE MEETING ISSUES ACTION PLAN TO COMBAT DISCRIMINATION AGAINST ROMA, SINTI MINORITIES
The Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE) Ministerial Council approved an action plan on 2 December in Maastricht aimed at eradicating discrimination against the Romany and Sinti minorities, according to an official statement. The plan, subtitled "For Roma, with Roma," details ways to fight different forms of discrimination and racism directed against members of these groups. It deals with issues such as treatment of the Roma and Sinti by police and in the media, housing and living conditions, unemployment, health care, and improving access to education. The OSCE's Office for Democratic Institutions and Human Rights (ODHIR) is to take over new responsibilities, such as assisting OSCE members in developing antidiscrimination legislation and setting up antidiscrimination bodies, collecting documentation, and developing policies on Roma-related issues in cooperation with other OSCE institutions and structures. MS

UKRAINIAN PRESIDENT SIGNS 2004 BUDGET
President Leonid Kuchma signed into law on 2 December the 2004 budget bill that was passed last week by the Verkhovna Rada (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 1 December 2003), Ukrainian and international news agencies reported. The budget projects revenues of 60.7 billion hryvnyas ($11.4 billion) and spending of 64.2 billion hryvnyas, representing a deficit of 1.2 percent of GDP. In comparison with the 2003 budget, revenues were increased by 14 percent, spending by 15 percent, and the deficit by 30 percent. The government expects to repay interest and principal on foreign loans worth a total of $156 million in 2004 while borrowing $144 million. JM

UKRAINIAN PREMIER IN TURKEY
Ukrainian Prime Minister Viktor Yanukovych visited Turkey on 1-2 December, where he met with his Turkish counterpart Recep Tayyip Erdogan, Ukrainian news agencies reported. The two reportedly discussed a wide range of issues pertaining to bilateral, regional, and international cooperation. "Turkey expressed the desire to take part in the extension of the Odesa-Brody pipeline [to Plock in Poland], and we think this project has prospects," Yanukovych told a news conference in Ankara on 2 December. JM

NATO DEFENSE MINISTERS PRAISE UKRAINE'S ARMY REFORM
NATO defense ministers said in a statement on 2 December that they welcome Ukraine's progress in military reforms and encourage the country to continue in the same vein, Interfax reported. The statement followed a meeting of the Ukraine-NATO Commission, at which Ukraine was represented by Defense Minister Yevhen Marchuk. NATO Secretary-General Lord George Robertson also praised Kyiv for sending peacekeepers to Iraq and the Balkans, and described the country as an "exporter of stability," Reuters reported. Marchuk reportedly chided NATO for cooperating more actively with Russia than with Ukraine. He pledged that Ukraine's defense reforms, which are backed by NATO assistance, will speed up over the next two years and by 2006 the country's military force will be reduced to 200,000. JM

WORLD BANK LENDS $30 MILLION FOR UKRAINIAN CORPORATE RESTRUCTURING
The World Bank has earmarked $30 million for a long-term, low-interest loan to Ukraine to help reorganize 160 enterprises in six Ukrainian regions, Interfax reported. Some 600 advisers from Western consulting firms are to render assistance in this reorganization effort and train 350 Ukrainian managers in 2004-07. JM

OSCE COMMISSIONER SAYS LATVIAN MINORITY-EDUCATION REFORM NECESSARY
OSCE High Commissioner on National Minorities Rolf Ekeus told Latvian Foreign Minister Sandra Kalniete in Maastricht on 2 December that he considers the planned reform of minority education in Latvia necessary, BNS reported. The reform, vigorously opposed by Russian speakers, calls for increasing the proportion of lessons taught in the Latvian language in minority schools to 60 percent. Ekeus said he understands Latvia's requirement that citizens must know the Latvian language, and that the decision not to allow non-citizens to vote in local elections is an incentive for naturalization. Kalniete spoke about the planned campaign by Children and Family Affairs Minister Ainars Bastiks and Society Integration Minister Nils Muiznieks urging noncitizens to register their newborn children as Latvian citizens. SG

LITHUANIAN PARLIAMENT APPROVES CONCLUSIONS OF ITS AD HOC COMMISSION
Parliament approved by a vote of 70-16 with 10 abstentions on 2 December the report of the ad hoc commission formed to investigate the potential threat to national security posed by presidential office staff (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 4 November 2003) presented by its chairman, Aloyzas Sakalas, "Lietuvos rytas" reported the next day. The session, which was scheduled for an hour and a half, but lasted more than three hours, was broadcast live by state radio and television. Before its completion, President Rolandas Paksas made a brief televised speech in which he declared his innocence and asserted that the purpose of the commission "was not to establish the truth, but to break me morally and destroy me politically." Parliament Chairman Arturas Paulauskas subsequently expressed regret that Paksas was not taking the "manly, correct step" of resigning. The ruling coalition of the Social Democrats and New Union (Social Liberals), along with the opposition Homeland Union (Conservatives) and the Center and Liberal Union, who have a total of 110 deputies, agreed to meet next week to draw up an impeachment document. SG

'RYWINGATE' TRIAL OPENS IN POLAND
The Warsaw District Court began the trial on 2 December of film producer Lew Rywin, who is accused of soliciting a $17.5 million bribe from Agora, publisher of the daily "Gazeta Wyborcza," in exchange for lobbying a "group of people in power" to pass favorable amendments to a media law that would allow Agora to buy a television station (see "RFE/RL Poland, Belarus, and Ukraine Report," 14 January, 18 February, and 29 April 2003), Polish media reported. A special parliamentary commission is also investigating the case, dubbed "Rywingate" by the Polish media. Rywin pleaded not guilty, adding that he is a victim of political intrigue. "In view of the fact, that in parallel to the court case, the [parliamentary] investigative commission is carrying out an investigation in which I was deprived of the right to defend myself, at the present stage of the trial, apart from questions from the defense lawyers, I'm using the right to refuse to testify," Polish Television quoted him as saying. If Rywin is found guilty, he faces up to three years in prison. JM

POLAND WANTS LESS NORWEGIAN GAS
Poland's PGNiG oil and gas company and Norway's Statoil are renegotiating a 2001 accord under which Poland was to receive 74 billion cubic meters of gas from Norway in 2008-24 (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 4 September 2001), PAP reported on 2 December. The PGNiG management said it will not be able to receive the contracted amount of gas as domestic demand for gas is lower than forecast. Poland's annual demand for gas is some 11 billion cubic meters, 7 billion cubic meters of which is imported from Russia. JM

CZECH PRESIDENT TELLS SWEDES EURO HAS MORE DRAWBACKS THAN ADVANTAGES
Visiting President Vaclav Klaus said in a speech delivered in the Swedish parliament on 2 December that the European single currency has more drawbacks than advantages, CTK reported. Klaus said the euro was born of political rather than economic reasons. He said the success of a monetary union is dependent on tax discipline, but the unification of taxation rules promotes the very opposite of discipline. He said the budgetary deficits of France and Germany and the resulting infringement of the agreement stipulating a 3 percent ceiling on state deficits are examples of the high price paid for monetary unification and of the subsequent punishment. He also said the rigidity of monetary union strips countries of their independence in monetary policy. The Swedish electorate rejected adoption of the euro in a referendum earlier this year. MS

CZECH CHIEF OF STAFF SKEPTICAL ON RECOMMENDATION TO PURCHASE GRIPEN FIGHTERS
Chief of Staff General Pavel Stefka told CTK on 2 December that the government should take into account the current and future needs of the Czech Air Force when making its decision on which supersonic fighters to purchase. Stefka was commenting on the recommendation by a nine-member governmental commission that said the cabinet should opt for a Swedish offer of 14 Gripen fighters rather than purchase used F-16 U.S.-made fighters or Canadian F/A-18 planes (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 2 December 2003). Stefka said: "We must think of what will follow. Will we continue to use the Gripen fighters or will we purchase another plane? We have to take into consideration logistical support as well." He added that the decision is ultimately a political one. President Klaus, currently on a visit to Sweden, told Prime Minister Goran Persson that he will accept any decision the government makes on this matter. MS

DEFIANT 'PIRATE OF PRAGUE' WANTS TO BE EU LAWMAKER
Wealthy Czech-born financier Viktor Kozeny told Czech Radio on 2 December that he plans to run for the European Parliament, dpa reported. Kozeny, who has been dubbed "the pirate of Prague" for allegedly cheating investors of nearly $600 million, said he plans to launch his electoral campaign from his current home in the Bahamas and return to his native Czech Republic for the elections slated for mid-2004. Czech and U.S. authorities have issued arrest warrants against Kozeny, but he denies any wrongdoing or having fled to the Bahamas to avoid prosecution. MS

SLOVAKIA TO DEPLOY MORE TROOPS TO IRAQ, AFGHANISTAN
Chief of Staff General Milan Cerovsky said on 2 December that Slovakia plans to station more troops in Afghanistan and Iraq by mid-2004, dpa reported, citing a Cerovsky interview with TASR. Cerovsky said 30 soldiers will be sent to provide security to the 82 troops currently clearing land mines in southern Iraq and some 15 Slovak soldiers will be deployed to support NATO operations in Afghanistan. Cerovsky said 849 Slovak soldiers are currently serving abroad, mainly as UN peacekeepers. MS

HUNGARIAN POLICE QUESTION RIGHT-WING DEMONSTRATORS
Police on 2 December questioned around 50 people who had participated in a street demonstration the previous day to protest a meeting that took place one year ago between Prime Minister Peter Medgyessy and his Romanian counterpart Adrian Nastase (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 2 and 3 December 2002), "Nepszabadsag" reported. The demonstrators were dispersed by police as they were marching toward Medgyessy's residence to protest the fact that he met with Nastase in Budapest last year on 1 December, a Romanian national holiday to mark the anniversary of Transylvania's annexation to that country. After the demonstration was broken up, police detained organizer Imre Kocsis, leader of the Conscience '88 political movement. Deputy Ombudsman for civil rights Albert Takacs told reporters that police had no alternative but to disperse the unlawful demonstration. Police had refused to issue a permit for the protest, a decision that was upheld by the courts, the daily reported. Takacs said, however, that he will launch an inquiry into whether the manner in which police officers dispersed the crowd was lawful. MSZ

HUNGARY'S CURRENCY, STOCK MARKET FALTER IN WAKE OF INTERVENTION
The Hungarian currency slid to 274 forints to the euro in trading on 2 December despite recent intervention by the central bank (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 1 December 2003), signaling a loss of investor confidence that reverberated on the Budapest Stock Exchange the same day, according to local media. The Hungarian National Bank and Prime Minister Medgyessy have indicated a desire to see the forint rebound against the euro. In Brussels on 2 December, Medgyessy insisted the Hungarian economy's fundamentals are sound and repeated that a range of 250-260 forints to the euro is conducive to government goals, including the prospective launch of the euro in Hungary in 2008, according to "Nepszabadsag" the next day. Many analysts quoted on 3 December suggest that investor confidence in the Socialist-led government is waning. AH

HAGUE TRIBUNAL SENTENCES BOSNIAN SERB FOR SREBRENICA KILLINGS...
On 2 December, the Hague-based war crimes tribunal sentenced Momir Nikolic, who is the former security chief of the Bosnian Serb Army's Bratunac Brigade, to 27 years in prison for his admitted role in the 1995 massacre of up to 8,000 mainly Muslim males in Srebrenica, international and regional media reported (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 7 May, and 22 and 24 September 2003, and "RFE/RL Balkan Report," 6 September 2002). As part of a plea bargain, he confessed in May that he'd helped plan the massacre prior to the town's fall, but the judges decided on a much tougher sentence than the 20-year sentence called for by the prosecution. Judge Liu Daqun said "the mass murder or forcible transfer of the Muslim population from this part of eastern Bosnia in slightly over one week was committed with a level of brutality and depravity not seen previously in the conflict in the former Yugoslavia, which had already cost too many their lives." PM

...AND LAUNCHES THE TRIAL OF SENIOR MUSLIMS
Former Bosnian Army commanders Enver Hadzihasanovic and Amir Kubura went on trial before the Hague-based war crimes tribunal on 2 December, London's "The Independent" reported. They are charged with responsibility for the killings of more than 200 Croatian and Serbian civilians at the hands of Muslim troops between January 1993 and January 1994 in central Bosnia. Among the specific charges were using captives as human shields and having links to a "ritual beheading." Both men have denied the charges. This is the first trial before the tribunal of senior Muslims. In related news, a Bosnian court sentenced Mustafa Hota, a former Muslim soldier, on 2 December to nine years in prison for his role in the massacre of 33 Croats in Grabovica near Jablanica in September 1993, Reuters reported. PM

UN ADMINISTRATOR SUSPENDS 12 KOSOVA CIVILIAN CORPS MEMBERS
On 3 December, Harri Holkeri, who heads the UN's civilian administration in Kosova (UNMIK), suspended 12 ethnic Albanian members of the civilian Kosova Protection Corps (TMK) for six months while their alleged links to the outlawed Albanian National Army (AKSH) are investigated, RFE/RL's South Slavic and Albanian Languages Service reported. Holkeri first discussed the matter with TMK commander Agim Ceku, but they reached no decision, Hina reported. Holkeri then sought the support of Western diplomats in Prishtina. PM

SERBIAN POLICE ARREST SERBIAN ABDUCTORS OF KOSOVARS
The UN police in Prishtina said in a statement on 2 December that Serbian police recently arrested four Serbs in Novi Sad and Smederevo for their role in the abduction of two ethnic Albanian businessmen on 29 November, dpa reported. The four allegedly sought a ransom of more than $83,000 for the two, who are now back in Kosova. The UN police also hailed the Kosovar police for their role in the successful operation. Many Kosovars have passports issued by Serbia and Montenegro and travel there, although they widely regard trips to Serbia as potentially dangerous. PM

ANOTHER BELGRADE POLITICIAN BLAMES THE WEST FOR SERBIAN NATIONALISTS' GAINS
Serbia and Montenegro's Minister for Human Rights and Minority Rights Rasim Ljajic told Reuters in Belgrade on 3 December that the Hague-based war crimes tribunal has undermined the governing Democratic Opposition of Serbia (DOS) coalition by insisting on the arrest and extradition of indicted war criminals. "Spite is not simply an emotional factor here, it's a political factor," Rajic added. He conceded that the DOS failed to sufficiently improve ordinary Serbs' standards of living. Rajic, who is a Bosnian Muslim from Sandzak, nonetheless blamed the tribunal for the recent rise in popular support for Vojislav Seselj's Serbian Radical Party (SRS), which some polls suggest could emerge as the strongest single party in the parliament scheduled to be elected on 28 December (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 2 December 2003, and "RFE/RL Balkan Report," 28 March, 9 May, and 8 August 2003). PM

ALBANIAN COURT ORDERS NEW MAYORAL VOTE
Albania's Electoral College ruled on 3 December that the 12 October vote for mayor of Tirana must be repeated in 130 of 346 precincts, citing massive "irregularities" in October, dpa reported. Socialist Mayor Edi Rama won re-election with over 57 percent of the vote against Democratic Party challenger Spartak Ngjela, who took about 38 percent. Democratic Party leader Sali Berisha called the Electoral College's ruling "a victory for democracy in Albania." Socialist Prime Minister Fatos Nano, however, charged that the decision was politically motivated and the result of opposition pressure (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 14 and 15 October 2003). Meanwhile, President Alfred Moisiu on 1 December called on Nano to hold a vote of confidence to end the political deadlock that has left two key ministries vacant, the "Southeast European Times" reported (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 12 November 2003). PM

MACEDONIAN CENSUS RESULTS SPARK CONTROVERSIAL REACTIONS
In their reactions to the recently released Macedonian census results, the opposition Internal Macedonian Revolutionary Organization (VMRO-DPMNE) and the Liberal Party said the statistics require close analysis, Macedonian media reported. The two parties question the state Statistics Agency's explanation that the growth of the Albanian minority from about 21 percent of the overall population in 1994 to more than 25 percent in 2002 can be explained by the Albanians' natural increase alone (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 2 December 2003). "The fact that the population grew by 76,000 persons -- up to 68,000 of whom are Albanians and only 2,000 Macedonians -- is contestable," "Dnevnik" quoted VMRO-DPMNE Chairman Nikola Gruevski as saying. He demanded that a commission be formed to investigate what he called shortcomings in the census. UB

CROATIAN RIGHTISTS WANT CABINET SEATS
Anto Djapic, who heads the far-right Croatian Party of [Historical] Rights (HSP), told RFE/RL's South Slavic and Albanian Languages Service on 2 December that his party will not support a government with its votes in the parliament if the cabinet does not include HSP ministers (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 23 September, 25 November, and 3 December 2003). The Croatian Democratic Community (HDZ), which won the recent elections, is reportedly reluctant to include HSP deputies in the cabinet lest it face international isolation as did the Austrian government when the far-right Freedom Party (FPO) first entered a cabinet. PM

ROMANIAN LOWER HOUSE REJECTS PROPOSAL TO INVESTIGATE CONSTITUTIONAL REFERENDUM
The Chamber of Deputies rejected on 2 December an opposition initiative to set up an ad hoc commission to look into alleged irregularities during the 18-19 October referendum on amending the constitution, Mediafax reported. Eighty-five deputies representing the National Liberal Party (PNL), the Democratic Party, and the Greater Romania Party (PRM) backed the proposal. There were 148 votes cast against the proposal by deputies representing the ruling Social Democratic Party (PSD) and the Hungarian Democratic Federation of Romania (UDMR). The proposal's supporters said they are not questioning the plebiscite's validity, but want to avoid a repetition of such irregularities in next year's presidential and parliamentary elections. MS

ROMANIA, EU SIGN ACCORD ON 2003 PHARE FUNDING
EU Ambassador to Romania Jonathan Scheele and European Integration Minister Alexandru Farcas signed three accords in Bucharest on 2 December for PHARE financing of programs aimed at backing Romania's EU accession efforts, Mediafax reported. Romania is to receive a total of 275 million euros ($329 million) this year under the inked agreements. MS

OSCE ANNUAL MEETING STALEMATED OVER MOLDOVA...
The annual meeting of the OSCE's Ministerial Council closed in Maastricht on 2 December without an agreement on either the withdrawal of Russian forces from Transdniester or the fate of the several plans for Moldova's federalization, international news agencies reported. According to AP, Russia insisted on a reference to its federalization plan but failed to mobilize the support of other key OSCE members. OSCE Chairman in Office Jaap de Hoop Scheffer read a statement saying that "most [foreign] ministers" called for an international peacekeeping force in Moldova, while Russia said it "does not consider itself bound by the recommendations and considerations " of that document. OSCE decisions require consensus, and U.S. Secretary of State Colin Powell deplored the participants' inability to bridge over differences. Powell earlier told the gathering that the OSCE "must play a vital role in creating a genuinely international stabilization force, which is essential to a lasting settlement [in Transdniester]" and that "the internationally mandated force should be multilateral in character and limited in scope and duration," Reuters reported. Powell also said Russia's failure to abide by its obligations to withdraw its forces from Transdniester "is a setback, though some progress has been made [in that direction]." MS

...WHICH IS DEPLORED BY CHISINAU
The Moldovan delegation headed by Foreign Minister Nicolae Dudau issued a statement at the end of the Maastricht meeting saying it supports the declaration made by de Hoop Scheffer but wishes to express its regret that no consensus could be reached on the Transdniester conflict and ways to settle it, Infotag reported. The Moldovan statement said Chisinau had hoped that at Maastricht the OSCE members would be capable of taking note of the progress made in 2003 toward a settlement of that conflict and to welcome the completion of the Russian troop withdrawal from that region in line with obligations earlier assumed by Moscow. The statement said a "complete and unconditional withdrawal...as enshrined in the Istanbul [1999] OSCE summit decision...must be accomplished without any further delay." MS

SUBSIDIES ISSUE GNAWS AT BULGARIA'S RULING COALITION
A dispute between Finance Minister Milen Velchev of the National Movement Simeon II (NDSV) and the junior coalition partner in the government, the Movement for Rights and Freedoms (DPS), is hampering the adoption of the 2004 draft budget by the parliamentary Budget Committee, mediapool.bg reported on 2 December. The DPS charges that cuts in subsidies aimed at covering a 70 million-lev ($42 million) shortfall are targeting those sectors controlled by the DPS -- the so-called agriculture and tobacco funds. The draft budget includes reductions of 25 million levs in subsidies to those funds, the agency reported. Velchev's 9.1 billion-lev draft budget also provides for 35 million levs in cuts to the state railway company (BDZh) and across all ministries. The agriculture and tobacco funds, along with state railways, are the last areas of the Bulgarian economy to receive state subsidies. Velchev said he hopes the DPS will nevertheless support the draft budget. UB

BULGARIAN GOVERNMENT RAISES FUEL EXCISES, DESPITE PROTESTS
Despite fierce protests by fuel distributors and several transport associations, the governing coalition of the National Movement Simeon II and the DPS on 2 December decided to raise excises on gasoline and diesel fuel by about $34 per ton, and on LPG, which is mainly used as fuel for taxis, by about $49 per ton, mediapool.bg reported. The decision has been postponed on several occasions because of differences within the governing coalition. Opponents of the decision have announced roadblocks and street protests for 3 and 4 December. UB

OPPOSITION INHERITS A COLLAPSING GEORGIAN STATE
The impressively peaceful transition of leadership in Georgia has generated an atmosphere of optimism that contrasts starkly with the normally tumultuous politics of the South Caucasus. The leaders of two of the main opposition groupings, the Burdjanadze-Democrats and Saakashvili-National Movement blocs, succeeded in channeling popular anger over the allegedly rigged outcome of the 2 November parliamentary ballot into demands for regime change that forced the resignation of President Eduard Shevardnadze. This success was greatly bolstered by the opposition's prudent reliance on peaceful confrontation. But the real tests for the new leaders, and for the country as a whole, lie in controlling the chaos and containing the collapse that currently define the Georgian state.

The fairly rapid fall of the Shevardnadze government came as a surprise to many, including the opposition leaders themselves. Although Nino Burdjanadze and Mikhail Saakashvili emerged as the public faces of the movement against the Shevardnadze government, there was a much broader effort involved. The breadth and depth of the movement opposing the government also marked the graduation of the country's civil society from a potential to a powerful agent for change.

But the explanation for such a smooth and peaceful transition lies much deeper than any public victory of civil society. The fundamental reason for such an easy transition was actually the vacuum that has existed in the country for some time. The steady collapse of the Georgian state, with a significant loss of authority and an obvious failure to provide the most basic services to its people, provided a relatively unopposed path to power. This loss of state power has been so profound and so extensive that it also resulted in a serious decrease in legitimacy. The failure of the army or the security forces to support the president at the height of the crisis further demonstrated the extent of this collapse. And it was this loss of legitimacy that accelerated the resignation of the president and paved the way for a new leadership.

But the very same factors that aided in the swift transition pose the most serious obstacles for the new leaders. The sheer magnitude of the collapse of the state in recent years, as reflected in the recently revealed bankruptcy of the state budget, presents the next Georgian leadership with a set of limited options. The empty state coffers, both literally and figuratively, combined with the danger of raised public expectations, demonstrate the difficulty of assuming the economic and political legacy of Shevardnadze's governance.

The current transitional leadership, led by acting President Burdjanadze and presidential aspirant Saakashvili, is already threatened by one concrete manifestation of this loss of state authority. Specifically, this pressure comes from Adjarian leader Aslan Abashidze. Personifying the erosion of state power, Abashidze has built a clan-based fiefdom in his southern Georgian region, withholding contributions to the central budget and exercising an increasingly potent ability to project power on the national level. His Revival Union was the second-largest faction in the parliament elected in 1999.

Further bolstered by the presence of a Russian military base and control over a key Black Sea port, Abashidze is in a strong position to leverage his regional power into a decisive role in determining the outcome of the next stage of Georgia's transition. In recent days, Abashidze has closed his region's borders with the rest of Georgia, threatened publicly to boycott the coming presidential elections, and conducted a series of high-level meetings in Moscow with senior Russian officials. By assuming the role of "kingmaker," Abashidze seeks to highlight his ability to either stabilize or undermine the next government.

The power and influence of the Adjarian leader is complemented by the roles of the breakaway regions of Abkhazia and South Ossetia. This steady devolution of power from the central Georgian government to the regions has been compounded by the external role of Russia, which has granted citizenship to much of these breakaway regions' populations. Meanwhile, in regions of southern Georgia, the majority Armenian and Azerbaijani populations are demanding greater autonomy. It is therefore becoming increasingly likely that recent events have only exacerbated the weakening of Tbilisi to the benefit of the regions.

This battle between the weakened central state and the emboldened regions could precipitate a return to the "warlordism" and violence of a decade ago. And although Georgia's geopolitical importance -- both as a "transit state" for the export of Caspian hydrocarbons and as a frontline state in the global "war on terrorism" -- remains constant, its current internal fragility could ultimately negate that strategic value. Thus the next stage in Georgia's difficult transition lies outside of the capital, but holds the key to the future of the country as a whole.

NORTHERN AFGHAN WARLORD ELECTED TO CONSTITUTIONAL LOYA JIRGA
Jowzjan Province has elected General Abdul Rashid Dostum as one of its representatives to the Constitutional Loya Jirga that is scheduled to begin in Kabul on 10 December, Radio Afghanistan reported on 2 December. Dostum was the leading vote getter among 10 representatives from the province. According to the report, a rival candidate named Payman said the elections were not conducted properly. Dostum, who heads the Junbish-e Melli party and its military units, is also nominally a special adviser on security and military affairs to Afghan Transitional Administration Chairman Hamid Karzai. According to a July decree from Karzai establishing procedures for the Constitutional Loya Jirga, military and national-security-department personnel are ineligible to stand for election as representatives (see "RFE/RL Afghanistan Report," 17 July 2003). AT

COLLECTION OF HEAVY WEAPONS CONTINUES IN NORTHERN AFGHANISTAN
Sixty-nine tanks have been collected from two rival military units under the disarmament program in northern Afghanistan that began on 21 November, Bakhtar news agency reported on 1 December. General Mohammad Eshaq Nuri, deputy chief of staff of the Afghan Armed Forces, said his team has been able to collect 70 percent of the heavy weapons controlled by the 7th Army Corps but very little from its rival, the 8th Army Corps. General Nuri said that of the 69 tanks handed over, 65 belonged to the 7th Army Corps and just four came from 8th Army Corps -- which he called an insignificant number, given the inventory of heavy weapons that the 8th Army Corps possesses. General Abdul Rashid heads the 8th Army Corps, while General Ata Mohammad, who represents the Jamiat-e Islami party in northern Afghanistan, heads the 7th Army Corps. Their respective troops have fought several battles in the region since the demise of the Taliban in 2001 (see "RFE/RL Afghanistan Report," 23 May, 5 June, and 13 November 2003). AT

AFGHAN, PAKISTANI, AND U.S. REPRESENTATIVES MEET IN KABUL
A tripartite commission comprising representatives of Afghanistan, Pakistan, and the United States convened in Kabul on 2 December for their fifth meeting since its inception, the Afghan Foreign Ministry announced. The commission discussed the security situation along the Afghan-Pakistani border, and it established a subcommittee on the exchange and coordination of military information to help develop a common operational picture of the terrorist threat in the border region. The tripartite commission was established in April by Afghan Transitional Administration Chairman Karzai and Pakistani President Pervez Musharaff, and held its first meeting in Islamabad in June. The commission is tasked with investigating the increasing number of border incursions from Pakistan into Afghanistan by elements opposed to the Afghan administration, along with other security matters involving the Afghan-Pakistani border. The latest meeting comes amid a war of words between Islamabad and Kabul over Afghanistan's accusations that Pakistan is not doing enough to stop cross-border incursions (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 18 June and 1 December 2003). AT

AFGHANISTAN PLANS ACTION TO TACKLE AIDS
The Afghan Health Ministry is planning to establish a special department in August 2004 to address the issue of AIDS in the country, Hindukosh news agency reported on 1 December. According to Health Ministry officials, some 200-300 people in the country have been diagnosed with AIDS. The transmission of HIV in the country is generally blamed on needles used by heroin addicts. Discussion of AIDS as a sexually transmitted disease in Afghanistan essentially remains taboo. AT

TURKMEN ASSOCIATION'S OFFICE SET ABLAZE IN WESTERN AFGHAN CITY
Unidentified arsonists set the offices of the Turkmen Association in the western Afghan city of Herat ablaze on 29 November, Herat News Center reported on 1 December. The Turkmen Association was established in 2001 to serve the interests of the Turkmen minority in that city, according to its head, Ata Mohammad Mohammadi. The motive for the attack was unclear, according to the report. No reliable census has taken place in Afghanistan for almost three decades, but the Turkmen minority is believed to comprise an estimated 3 percent-5 percent of the population. It has no major political parties or military organizations. AT

U.S. THREATENS TO BLOCK NUCLEAR-TECHNOLOGY TRANSFERS TO IRAN
U.S. Undersecretary of State John Bolton said on 2 December that his country will block nuclear- and missile-technology transfers to Iran, which it suspects of developing nuclear weapons, according to Reuters. Washington, Bolton said, will work "to prevent the transfer of sensitive nuclear and ballistic-missile technology to Iran, from whatever source" and monitor Iran's "situation," Reuters added. The United States has pressed for extremely tough UN inspections of Iran's nuclear activities, but failed in late November to have Iran reported to the UN Security Council for allegedly violating the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty. Iran says its nuclear program is peaceful. Foreign Minister Kamal Kharrazi has said that a diplomat will soon replace Iran's current representative at the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA), Ali Akbar Salehi, "Iran" reported on 2 December. The ministry, Kharrazi said, has so far known little of the "details" of Iranian nuclear policies. VS

PRESIDENT, MINISTER WANT EXTENSIVE CANDIDACIES FOR LEGISLATIVE POLLS
President Hojatoleslam Mohammad Khatami said on 1 December that all those willing to work within Iran's constitution should be allowed to run for parliamentary elections set for February, "Iran" reported the next day. "There are very few of those who could not be considered eligible to represent people in parliament," he told a group of election supervisors. Iranian reformers fear that the conservative-controlled Guardians Council, which examines all candidacies and supervises the electoral process, will use its powers to exclude reformist hopefuls and ensure a conservative victory. Interior Minister Abdulvahid Musavi-Lari has said the council and its agents may only reject aspirants who solid evidence shows are not loyal to the political system or have criminal records, "Iran" reported. "It is nonsense to say that we rejected someone because we could not reach a conclusion," he said. "This law is clear, and I am surprised at those who sometimes forget its clarity." VS

IRANIAN LEADERS CONDEMN 'SAVAGE' GUN BATTLE IN IRAQ...
Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei condemned what he described as a "savage attack by the aggressive occupiers on the people of Samarra," denouncing the U.S. response on 30 November to an ambush by Iraqi insurgents in Samarra, a city north of Baghdad, ISNA reported on 2 December. "The fearsome and arrogant aggressors have shown once more that they respect neither people's lives nor their sanctities," Khamenei stated, referring to Muslim shrines that Iranian officials say were "desecrated" in the firefight. The gun battle "caused the murder of more than 50 men, women, and children," he added, although U.S. forces have said they believe most casualties were insurgents. Judiciary chief Ayatollah Mahmud Hashemi-Shahrudi in turn deplored "the attack on pilgrims and Muslim people" in Samarra's historic mausoleums, "Entekhab" reported on 2 December. He said he hopes that "Iraq and the region will be rid of the Great Satan and live in peace and stability," the daily added. VS

...AND FOREIGN MINISTRY LODGES PROTEST OVER IRANIAN CASUALTY
Iran's Foreign Ministry summoned Swiss Ambassador to Iran Tim Guldimann to protest the death of an Iranian "pilgrim" in a gun battle between U.S. forces and suspected Iraqi insurgents on 30 November, "Entekhab" reported on 2 December. Iran has blamed the death on the United States, represented in Tehran by Switzerland since Iranian-U.S. ties were severed in 1979. Foreign Ministry official Mehdi Mohtashami called for a "clarification of the dimensions of this affair, its investigation and the announcement of results by the United States government, and due compensation," "Entekhab" added. President Khatami said on 2 December that "Iran approves of the [Iraqi] Governing Council and considers it a step toward the formation of a popular government in Iraq," according to ISNA. He said in a meeting with Iraqi Governing Council member Ahmad Chalabi that "the resolution of Iraq's problems is not possible without shortening the occupation period." Chalabi in turn asked for Iranian "cooperation and support in building the new Iraq" and said, "We want to establish political, economic, and cultural ties with Iran," ISNA reported. VS

IRAQI OFFICIALS DENY DOZENS KILLED IN SAMARRA
Iraqi officials reiterated their belief that U.S. forces did not kill some 50 Iraqis in a 30 November raid in Samarra as U.S. officials claimed (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 1 December 2003), Al-Arabiyah television reported on 2 December. "The Samarra Public Hospital received 54 wounded, whose names have been recorded," local police official Sa'dun Issawi said. He added that eight individuals were killed in the incident, including two civilians. KR

IRAQI PARTIES WILL CONTRIBUTE TO NEW PARAMILITARY FORCE
U.S. officials in Iraq have agreed to establish a paramilitary unit comprising fighters from the five major Iraqi political parties, washingtonpost.com reported on 3 December. The force will work to identify and apprehend anticoalition militants. The five political parties jointly will contribute between 750 and 850 militiamen, who will serve in the new counterterrorism battalion under the Iraqi Civil Defense Corps. Iraqi political parties have long sought to play a greater role in security in Iraq. Each party -- former opposition groups -- had armed militias operating in Iraq, but U.S. forces disbanded nearly all of them in the early months following the downfall of Saddam Hussein's regime, maintaining that fighters should operate under a unified Iraqi army, not as separate militias. The political parties are: the Iraqi National Congress (INC), the Supreme Council for the Islamic Revolution in Iraq (SCIRI), the Iraqi National Accord (INA), the Patriotic Union of Kurdistan (PUK), and the Kurdistan Democratic Party (KDP). KR

U.S. FORCES CAPTURE FORMER IRAQI OFFICIAL IN RAID
U.S. troops captured a senior former member of the Iraqi Republican Guard in a 2 December raid in the northern Iraqi town of Hawija, located some 50 kilometers west of Kirkuk, AP reported on 3 December. U.S. Lieutenant Colonel William MacDonald told reporters that the raids in Hawija targeted senior former regime members suspected of financing terrorist attacks in the area. He denied reports, however, that the second-most-wanted man in Iraq, Izzat Ibrahim al-Duri, had been caught in the raid. Meanwhile, Kirkuk Police Major General Turhan Abd al-Rahman told Al-Jazeera on 2 December that more than 100 people were detained in the raid. The satellite news channel identified the former senior regime member as the director of al-Duri's office, identified only as Major General Sa'd. KR

AL-SISTANI CLARIFIES STATEMENTS ON ELECTIONS
An aide to Iraqi Shi'ite Grand Ayatollah Ali al-Sistani has clarified al-Sistani's recent statements regarding elections in Iraq. Murtada al-Kashmiri, a London-based representative of al-Sistani, told "Al-Hayat" on 2 December that al-Sistani believes elections in Iraq would serve two purposes: First, an elected body would fairly represent the Iraqi people, and second, an elected body's legitimacy could not be contested. "If the assembly members are chosen, uncontested, by the representatives of the Governing Council and the provincial and municipal councils -- who were appointed in one way or another by the occupation forces -- then its legitimacy will be questioned," al-Kashmiri said. He added that al-Sistani has said experts and specialists must decide how elections are to be carried out, since Iraq does not have current census information. Al-Sistani reportedly suggested that eligible voters be identified through the Iraqi ration card system or other "associated documents," al-Kashmiri added. KR

IRAQI WOMEN CALL FOR GREATER ROLE
The only two female members of the Iraqi Governing Council called for a greater role for women in the new Iraqi government in a 3 December editorial on the nytimes.com website. Raja Habib Khaza'i and Songul Chabuk contend there are many capable women willing to participate in the rebuilding of their country, yet they remain "severely underrepresented" in the U.S.-installed offices. Only three women were appointed to the Iraqi Governing Council. One, Aqilah al-Hashimi, was assassinated in September; her seat has not been filled. Moreover, only one woman, Nasreen Barwari, has been appointed to the Iraqi cabinet. She serves as minister of municipalities and public works. Khaza'i and Chabuk called on the United States to set aside slots for women in all levels of government, and in the constitutional drafting process "in proportion to their percentage in the population," to "make good on its previous pledge to appoint at least five women as deputy ministers of governmental agencies," and to increase the number of women on the Governing Council and on any successive governing body. KR

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