SPS LEADERS CALL MOTHERLAND A 'NATIONAL-SOCIALIST' THREAT...
Union of Rightist Forces (SPS) leaders Boris Nemtsov, Irina Khakamada, and Anatolii Chubais said on 3 December that their party might not win 5 percent of the vote in the 7 December election and thus might not be represented in the next State Duma, Russian media reported. The three SPS leaders told a Moscow press conference that the party is teetering on the edge of the 5 percent barrier, "plus or minus half a percent," newsru.com reported. Warning of a "colossal and unprecedented" risk, Chubais said that "national-socialism" has "reared its head in the country in its most disgusting and most dangerous form." He specifically pointed to the Motherland-Patriotic Union bloc headed by economist Sergei Glazev and State Duma Foreign Affairs Committee Chairman Dmitrii Rogozin. Chubais said the Kremlin created Motherland to siphon votes from the Communists, adding that "it is also clear that this force will devour, above all, those who created it." Earlier in the day, SPS campaign manager Alfred Kokh declared that the mixture of the "nationalist" Rogozin and the "socialist" Glazev "can without equivocation be called fascism." JB
...WHILE MOTHERLAND CO-LEADER ACCUSES THEM OF UNDERMINING RUSSIA
Responding to the SPS leaders, Motherland-Patriotic Union bloc co-Chairman Rogozin on 3 December accused the SPS of "whipping up" the threat of national socialism to "disparage" his bloc, Interfax reported. "With their statements about the threat of national socialism in Russia they are undermining the reputation of our state," the news agency quoted him as saying. JB
PARTY OF LIFE UNVEILS ITS ECONOMIC POLICY...
Russian Party of Life leader and Federation Council Chairman Sergei Mironov unveiled his party's economic program at a Moscow press conference on 3 December, Interfax reported. Mironov said it is necessary to carry out structural changes in Russia's economy and choose a direction for social policy that will guarantee a stable growth rate and innovative development of the state. To that end, he said, it is necessary to double the share of machine building and construction in the gross domestic product while reducing the fuel and energy complex's share in the country's output by one-third. Mironov said he is critical of the economic reforms carried out in the 1990s, but also opposes any cardinal moves away from the idea of a market economy. He said his party's faction in the new Duma will demand that all branches of the government comply with "social standards" designed to help the citizens fulfill their constitutional rights, and will push through a law on the responsibilities of state officials. JB
...WHILE AGRARIAN LEADER WANTS LOST SAVINGS REIMBURSED
Agrarian Party leader Mikhail Lapshin, meanwhile, has demanded citizens be reimbursed for funds in accounts in Sberbank, the state savings bank, that were eaten away by the inflation that raged during the early 1990s, Interfax reported on 3 December. "As a result of the reforms of the last decade, the unfair redistribution of the property of the former Soviet Union, the default of 1998, the savings that our citizens deposited in the accounts of the Sberbank of the USSR, and then of Russia, practically disappeared," Lapshin, who is also head of the Altai Republic, told supporters at a demonstration outside the White House in Moscow. "Millions of people lost honestly earned savings put aside for old age and, having given their strength, youth, and health for their native country, wound up on the edge of poverty." Lapshin complained that rather than compensating those who lost savings, the state is demanding that the agricultural sector pay back the massive debt it accumulated during the reform years -- an "injustice that deeply outrages all the citizens of Russia who lost their savings." JB
UNIFIED RUSSIA WANTS TO OUST DUMA DEPUTY
Valerii Bogomolov, secretary of the General Council of Unified Russia, on 3 December called for the expulsion of State Duma Deputy Vladimir Yudin from the party's ranks, "Nezavisimaya gazeta" reported on 4 December. The call for Yudin's expulsion from Unified Russia followed a press conference he gave on 2 December, during which he accused Interior Minister Boris Gryzlov, who heads Unified Russia, of including representatives of the Yukos and TNK oil companies on the party's candidates list in exchange for financing. In response to the call for his expulsion from Unified Russia, "Nezavisimaya gazeta" quoted Yudin as saying: "They have the desire to exclude me from the party, but according to the [party] rules they cannot exclude me. Only a [party] congress can exclude me from the party, inasmuch as I am a member of the central control auditing commission." Yudin, for his part, said Gryzlov should be removed as Unified Russia's leader, and proposed Emergency Situations Minister Sergei Shoigu, Moscow Mayor Yurii Luzhkov, and Tatarstan's President Mintimer Shaimiev as possible replacements. JB
PUTIN SAYS RISK OF TERRORISTS OBTAINING WMD IS ON THE RISE
Speaking at a 3 December Security Council meeting devoted to the issue of the proliferation of weapons of mass destruction (WMD), President Vladimir Putin said that the threat of international terrorists obtaining WMD is increasing, RTR and strana.ru reported. He noted that more and mores states are acquiring the technological capacity to create WMD, making the possibility that such weapons could be used by individual states or terrorist groups the biggest threat to global security in the 21st century. He called on the international community to develop security mechanisms and a legal system to counter existing threats. Putin also defended Russia's assistance to Iran's nuclear program and said he will seek to lift U.S. sanctions imposed on several Russian companies that are suspected of transferring nuclear technology to Iran. VY
OFFICIAL SAYS RUSSIA SEEKS REVISION OF INTERNATIONAL AGREEMENTS ON DESTRUCTION OF WMD
Security Council Deputy Secretary Oleg Chernov said after the 3 December council meeting that Russia wants to revise all agreements it has made under which it receives international financial assistance to destroy parts of its stockpile of WMD, nns.ru reported. He said that Russia cannot make long-term planning for the construction of facilities for the scrapping of nuclear and chemical weapons because the United States is "annually revising its financial-aid programs, linking them with political considerations." Chernov echoed Putin's calls for the United States to lift sanctions it imposed from 1998-2001 on Russian companies it suspected of assisting Iran's nuclear program. VY
FSB INVESTIGATES DISCOVERY OF ANTIAIRCRAFT MISSILE STOLEN FROM BALTIC FLEET
The Federal Security Service (FSB) recently discovered in Baltiisk a shoulder-launched Igla missile system stolen from a ship from the Baltic Fleet, RTR reported on 3 December. The Igla is considered one of the world's most effective weapons against air targets and can fetch $40,000 on the black market. According FSB investigators, a sailor stole the missile system in 2001 in exchange for 4 grams of heroin allegedly promised by a local criminal group. VY
RUSSIA PROTESTS WANTED TYCOON'S VISIT TO GEORGIA
The Foreign Ministry on 3 December summoned Georgian Ambassador to Russia Zurab Abashidze to hand him an official note of protest concerning self-exiled tycoon and Kremlin opponent Boris Berezovskii's visit to Tbilisi on the night of 2-3 December, Russian media reported. Berezovskii, who was recently granted political asylum in Great Britain (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 11 and 15 September 2003), flew to Georgia by private jet to meet with his close business associate Badri Patarkatsishvili, according to Western and Russian media. The Foreign Ministry reportedly stated in its note that Georgia must be aware that Berezovskii is on Russia's most-wanted list and asked the Georgian side to explain why Berezovskii was not arrested in Tbilisi. Meanwhile, Georgian Border Guard spokesman Shalva Londaridze told RTR on 3 December that Berezovskii apparently entered the country using documents with a picture resembling Berezovskii but bearing the name Platon Elenin. "Neither Platon Elenin nor Boris Berezovskii are wanted in Georgia, so the border guards had no basis to detain the person resembling Boris Berezovskii," Londaridze told AFP. Both Berezovskii and Patarkatsishvili are wanted by the Russian Prosecutor-General's Office in connection with various economic crimes. Both men have stated that the accusations are politically motivated. VY
YUSHENKOV MURDER CASE TO GO TO JURY TRIAL
The Prosecutor-General's Office has sent to the Moscow City Court the criminal case into the 17 April assassination of former Duma deputy and Liberal Party leader Sergei Yushenkov (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 18 April 2003), Russian media reported. Six people have been charged in connection with the killing, including Mikhail Kodanev, the former co-chairman of the Liberal Russia splinter group headed by Berezovskii (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 13 August 2003), and two of Kodanev's associates, "Izvestiya" reported on 3 December. The case will be heard in jury trial, as requested by the defendants. In addition, Yushenkov's family supports the case being heard in a jury trial because the late politician always favored the introduction of jury trials in Russia, the newspaper noted. VY
LEFT AND RIGHT AGREE ON JOINT MONITORING OF UPCOMING DUMA ELECTION
Yabloko Duma faction deputy head Sergei Ivanenko, his counterpart from the SPS Boris Nadezhdin, and Communist Party deputy head Ivan Melnikov issued a joint statement in Moscow on 3 December announcing that the three parties have agreed to cooperate in monitoring the upcoming the Duma election, strana.ru and the other Russian media reported. The statement said that "the authoritarian trends in the country are gaining momentum" and "we have a joint action plan to prevent the falsification of ballots," strana.ru reported. Meanwhile, Politika foundation President Vyacheslav Nikonov told a panel in Moscow that the parties' decision to work together in overseeing the election is a positive but ill-fated development, due to the dominance of the pro-Kremlin Unity party. VY
An "RFE/RL Newsline" item entitled "OSCE Criticizes State TV For Biased Campaign Coverage" incorrectly stated that the OSCE criticized Union of Rightist Forces co-leader Anatolii Chubais for allegedly misusing his position as head of Unified Energy Systems. The OSCE report instead noted that others have made this criticism and reported that the Central Election Commission cleared Chubais of any wrongdoing.
ARMENIAN DEFENSE MINISTER MEETS WITH NATO COMMANDER
Serzh Sarkisian, who is accompanying Armenian President Robert Kocharian on a two-day visit to Belgium, met in Mons on 3 December with NATO's Supreme Allied Commander in Europe General James Jones, according to Mediamax, as cited by Groong. The two men discussed Armenian cooperation with NATO within the framework of the Partnership for Peace program and the planned dispatch next month of an Armenian platoon to participate in the NATO peacekeeping operation in Kosova. Visiting NATO headquarters in Brussels the same day, President Kocharian said after talks with outgoing Secretary-General Lord George Robertson that Armenia will soon name a permanent representative to NATO, RFE/RL's Armenian Service reported. Armenia is currently represented at NATO by its ambassador to Belgium and the EU, Vigen Chitechian. LF
ARMENIA RAISES MINIMUM WAGE
Parliament voted on 3 December to increase the minimum monthly legal wage from 5,000 drams ($9) to 13,000 drams beginning in January 2004, RFE/RL's Yerevan bureau reported. Social Security Minister Aghvan Vartanian said the increase will in the first instance benefit some 35,000 public-sector workers who are currently paid 7,000-8,000 drams per month. The average salary in the public sector, which employs some 260,000 people, is 22,000 drams per month. LF
ARMENIAN BUSINESSMAN APPEALS MURDER-TRIAL SENTENCE
Lawyers for Armen Sargsian have appealed the 15-year jail sentence handed down to him last month on charges of commissioning the contract killing of Armenian Public Television and Radio head Tigran Naghdalian, Noyan Tapan reported on 3 December (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 19 November 2003). They argued that Sargsian's involvement in the murder was not proven, and demanded that the court revise its verdict and find Sargsian not guilty. LF
U.S. DEFENSE SECRETARY VISITS AZERBAIJAN
Visiting Baku on 3 December, Donald Rumsfeld met with Azerbaijan's President Ilham Aliyev and Defense Minister Colonel General Safar Abiev to discuss expanding bilateral military cooperation, Turan and Russian news agencies reported. Rumsfeld said Washington values both ongoing bilateral military cooperation and Baku's support in the war against international terrorism. He said it is not within his competence to comment on Azerbaijani press reports that Washington plans to locate a military base in Azerbaijan, but added that he does not rule out possible future discussions on that possibility with the Azerbaijani government, ITAR-TASS reported. Rumsfeld said the United States will continue to help Azerbaijan strengthen control of its Caspian Sea border, Turan reported. LF
GEORGIAN SECURITY MINISTRY INVESTIGATES TV-STATION BLAST
Georgia's State Security Ministry has launched an investigation into an explosion that damaged the building of State Television and Radio late on 3 December, Reuters and Georgian news agencies reported. No one was injured in the blast, but programming was subsequently interrupted for 40 minutes while the building was searched following an anonymous telephone warning of a bomb in the building. Acting President Nino Burdjanadze said the blast was intended to provoke "panic." Late on 2 December, unidentified gunmen opened fire on the home of Irina Sarishvili-Chanturia, spokeswoman for the pro-presidential For a New Georgia (AS) election bloc. Interior Minister Irakli Batiashvili said that attack might have been politically motivated, Interfax reported. On 3 December, a young man hurled stones through the window of an office belonging to the wife of Vakhtang Rcheulishvili, one of the co-leaders of AS, Caucasus Press reported. LF
ADJAR LEADER OPPOSES CLOSURE OF RUSSIAN MILITARY BASE...
Speaking at a press conference in Moscow on 3 December, Aslan Abashidze, who is chairman of the Supreme Council of Georgia's Adjar Autonomous Republic, said he opposes the closure, which the Georgian leadership continues to demand, of the Russian military base in the Adjar capital, Batumi, Caucasus Press reported. LF
...SAYS HE WILL BOYCOTT GEORGIAN PRESIDENTIAL ELECTION...
Abashidze also said in Moscow on 3 December that his republic will boycott the upcoming Georgian presidential and parliamentary elections unless both ballots are postponed, Interfax and the webpage of the independent television station Rustavi-2 reported. Abashidze argued that it is impossible to hold democratic elections within such a short time span. He said that in a recent telephone conversation with Georgian Minister of State Zurab Zhvania he proposed first reaching agreement on whether Georgia should be a federal, confederate, or unitary state before holding new elections, Interfax reported. Abashidze denied that Adjaria aspires to secede from Georgia. LF
...AS WILL GEORGIAN LABOR PARTY LEADER
Labor Party Chairman Shalva Natelashvili told a press conference in Tbilisi on 3 December that he will boycott the 4 January presidential ballot because the current Georgian leadership is "illegitimate," ITAR-TASS and the website of the independent television station Rustavi-2 reported. He claimed that the so-called Rose Revolution that culminated in the forced resignation of President Eduard Shevardnadze was directed not against Shevardnadze but against the Labor Party. According to official returns, Labor placed fourth in the 2 November parliamentary election. LF
KAZAKH INDEPENDENT WEBSITE COMPLAINS OF GOVERNMENT INTERFERENCE
The editor in chief of the Kazakh independent Internet publication "Navigator" (http://www.navi.kz), Yurii Mizinov, has said that the authorities are blocking access to the site from inside Kazakhstan, Deutsche Welle reported on 3 December. The site can be accessed without problems from Europe, the United States, and Russia. Mizinov claimed the interference came in response to the publication's reporting in recent months on the opposition Ak Zhol Party and on Asar, the party of President Nursultan Nazarbaev's daughter Dariga, as well as to the site's dissemination of a number of satirical items that some political officials apparently believed were aimed at them. "Navigator" was among the "destructive sites" listed in an apparent internal report sent to Kazakh National Security Chairman Nurtai Dutbaev that later turned up on a Russian website. Mizinov said some officials have threatened him that "measures will be taken." BB
KYRGYZ NATIONAL SECURITY CHIEF SAYS BAN ON EXTREMIST GROUPS MAKES HIS WORK EASIER
National Security Service head Kalyk Imankulov has said that the Kyrgyz Supreme Court's recent ruling banning the activities of a number of terrorist and extremist groups (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 20 November 2003) is making it easier for the Security Service to operate, Interfax reported on 3 December. Among the groups listed are the Islamic extremist party Hizb ut-Tahrir and the Islamic Party of Turkestan, formerly the Islamic Movement of Uzbekistan. Imankulov said that the court ruling allows his agency to take harsher measures against the extremists in accordance with the law, but most importantly, it gives the authorities backing for anti-extremist campaigns among the population. He indicated that Hizb ut-Tahrir members could face harsher punishments than the fines some of them have been given for distributing party literature. Mere membership in the party is not grounds for detention. Imankulov added that it is not always easy to gather clear evidence that party members have incited interethnic hatred or called for the overthrow of constitutional order, the usual charges brought against them. BB
TAJIK OPPOSITION FEARS FIRING MIGHT DESTABILIZE POLITICAL SITUATION
Members of the Tajik opposition fear that President Imomali Rakhmonov's firing of Tojikgaz Chairman Mamadruzi Iskanderov on 28 November might destabilize the political situation in the country, centran.ru reported on 3 December. Iskanderov, who heads the Democratic Party of Tajikistan, part of the United Tajik Opposition during the country's civil war (1992-97), was fired in the course of a government meeting in which the Tajik gas industry was severely criticized for its poor performance in supplying gas to the population. Iskanderov obtained the post under the peace accord that ended the civil war, which gave one-third of all government posts to the opposition. Opposition members have complained that President Rakhmonov has been quietly removing them from government jobs and replacing them with his own supporters. BB
TAJIK COMMUNIST PARTY ATTACKS DRAFT LAWS ENDING VETERANS' PRIVILEGES
The Communist faction in the lower house of the Tajik parliament attacked draft laws submitted on 3 December that would end privileges of veterans and the disabled for receiving gas and electricity, Asia Plus-Blitz reported the same day. The draft laws were submitted to the legislature by Shermuhammad Shoev, President Rakhmonov's representative to the parliament, as part of the country's Poverty Reduction Strategy. Communist Party Chairman Shodi Shabdolov told the lower house that the drafts violate the country's constitution, adding that few World War II veterans are still alive in Tajikistan. He went on to criticize the low level of pensions in Tajikistan, which he said have not kept pace with rising costs. Despite the Communists' protests, both drafts were adopted by the lower house, as was a national program for improving the teaching of Russian and English. BB
TURKMEN TV HEAD FIRED AFTER FIVE MONTHS
Turkmen State Television head Gurbansoltan Handurdyeva has been fired by President Saparmurat Niyazov after only five months in office, turkmenistan.ru reported on 3 December. The presidential decree on the firing stated that Handurdyeva and her two deputies, Klychmurad Kurbanov and Annaberdy Silabov, who were fired at the same time, were unable to discharge their responsibilities. Prior to the firings, Niyazov had criticized state television for its low level of professionalism and its failure to produce programming that can attract viewers. He used the same arguments when firing Handurdyeva's predecessor in July (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 16 July 2003). BB
UZBEK ELECTRONIC MEDIA FORMS ASSOCIATION
An Association of Electronic Mass Media held a constituent congress in Tashkent on 3 December, Deutsche Welle reported. The group includes 65 radio, and broadcast- and cable-television outlets. The association's charter, which was adopted at the congress, states that the group is independent of the authorities and seeks to create the economic conditions necessary for an independent electronic media market. It also intends to defend the electronic media and its employees against state interference, and to work with foreign radio and television companies. Chairman of Samarkand Public Radio and Television and parliamentarian Firdaus Abdukhalikov was elected chairman of the association. The congress on 3 December was the group's third -- the previous two failed to reach agreement on whether representatives of Uzbek State Radio can be included in the governing board. BB
AUSTRIAN PARLIAMENT RATIFIES EU ENLARGEMENT
The Austrian parliament ratified the coming wave of EU enlargement on 3 December by a vote of 181 to two, Reuters and dpa reported. The two opposing votes were cast by members of the ultra-right, junior coalition Freedom Party as a symbolic gesture signaling their opposition to neighboring Czech Republic's refusal to abolish the postwar Benes Decrees and to the controversial Temelin nuclear-power plant in that country. All 15 current EU members must ratify the enlargement treaty on expanding the organization with 10 new members. The Danish, German, and Spanish parliaments have also ratified the treaty. MS
BELARUSIAN CABINET REDRAFTS 2004 ECONOMIC PLANS TO MEET BOLDER TARGETS
Belarusian President Alyaksandr Lukashenka approved revised drafts on 3 December of a socioeconomic development plan, monetary policy guidelines, and a 2004 budget that sets out ambitious economic targets, Belapan reported, quoting the presidential press service. The draft budget projects GDP growth of 10 percent, in accordance with Lukashenka's directive to the government last month (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 24 November 2003). The documents also provide for a reduction in the tax burden and foresee a rise in average pay in the budget-funded sector to $170 by the end of 2004. JM
CRIMEAN AUTHORITIES ARRANGE '50-50' DEAL IN LAND ROW BETWEEN TATARS, LOCALS
The government of the Autonomous Republic of Crimea has settled a conflict between a local Russian-speaking community and a group of Crimean Tatars who last month seized an 11-hectare plot of land in southeastern Crimea and began construction work on it, Interfax reported on 4 December. The Tatars justified their move by accusing local authorities in the settlement of Partenit near Alushta of being reluctant to allocate land to Soviet-era deportees. Some of those deportees have returned to their homeland and unsuccessfully sought to obtain land plots through legal channels, they said. The seizure of the land sparked a protest by local residents, who on 3 December blocked roads around Partenit. The same day, the autonomous Crimean government convened a meeting with both sides in the dispute and reportedly forced through a "gentleman's agreement" under which land for construction purposes around Partenit will be distributed to Tatar returnees and local residents starting this coming spring on a "50-50" basis. JM
ESTONIAN PRIME MINISTER FAILS TO HALT TRADE-UNION STRIKE
The efforts of Juhan Parts on 3 December to convince Estonian Employees Unions Confederation (TALO) Board Chairman Toivo Roosimaa and Estonian Educational Workers Union Chairman Sven Rondik to call off the planned one-day strike the next day were unsuccessful, BNS and LETA reported. About 20,000 teachers and cultural workers are expected join one of the largest strikes ever in Estonia to demand that the minimum wage of teachers be raised to 7,300 kroons ($565) a month. Some universities, science institutions, theaters, and libraries have promised to support the strike by closing down for the day, while railway workers will hold a one-hour strike. Parts tried to convince the union leaders to call off the strike, arguing that the salaries of educational workers will be increased by 12 percent next year and all workers will benefit from the decision to raise the monthly tax-exempt income from 1,000 to 1,400 kroons. He also suggested that negotiations be held to discuss how to guarantee that local governments really use the money to raise teachers' pay. SG
LATVIAN DEPUTY PARLIAMENT SPEAKER URGES BOOSTING COOPERATION WITH CHINA
Eriks Jekabsons, who headed a delegation of parliamentary deputies visiting China from 25 November until 1 December, urged President Vaira Vike-Freiberga, ministers, and city-council heads on 3 December to boost political and economic cooperation with China, BNS reported. He said he has invited Chinese National People's Congress (the Chinese parliament) Deputy Speaker Xu Jialu and the chairman of the Chinese-Latvian parliamentary cooperation group, Xing Shizhong, to visit Latvia. Jekabsons said China is forecast to have one of the fastest-growing economies in the world and close cooperation could promote Latvia's growth. He agreed with the suggestions of Chinese parliament deputies and First Deputy Foreign Minister Dai Bingguo that the two countries should sign an investment-protection treaty as well as an agreement on maritime and railway transportation. Jekabsons also discussed the planned April visit to China by President Vike-Freiberga. SG
LITHUANIAN TASK FORCE RECOMMENDS IMPEACHMENT UNDER THREE ARTICLES OF CONSTITUTION...
The task force formed to prepare articles of impeachment against President Rolandas Paksas in its first session on 3 December suggested he be charged under all three articles stipulated in the Lithuanian Constitution, "Lietuvos rytas" reported the next day. They are: a gross violation of the constitution, breaking the presidential oath, and suspicion of committing a crime. The task force consists of one member from each of four parliament factions: Social Democrat Julius Sabataukas, Social Liberal Alvydas Sadeckas, Liberal and Center Unionist Raimondas Sukys, and Conservative Andrius Kubilius. The task force is expected to complete its work next week and the necessary 36 signatures of parliamentary deputies are likely to be collected for impeachment. SG
...AND PRESIDENT POSTPONES TRIP TO UNITED STATES
The presidential press office announced on 4 December that Paksas has decided to postpone indefinitely his visit to the United States scheduled for 7-9 December, ELTA reported. The main point of the trip would have been a meeting with President George W. Bush in the White House. Paksas apparently discussed the trip's postponement with U.S. Ambassador to Lithuania Stephen Mull the previous evening. The announcement was not totally unexpected as Paksas apparently will face impeachment, and Algimantas Gecas, chairman of the Lithuanian American Community, reportedly wrote a letter to Paksas urging him to postpone the trip, BNS reported on 2 December. SG
MINISTER SAYS POLAND READY TO CUT VISA COSTS FOR BELARUSIANS
Polish Foreign Minister Wlodzimierz Cimoszewicz told RFE/R's Belarusian Service on 3 December that Poland is ready to reduce the cost of entry visas for Belarusians by as much as half. "Regarding single-entry visas, they could certainly cost less than 10 euros ($12). And charging [50 euros] for a multiple-entry visa simply means replenishing the state budget. We do not want to profit on visas but there should be a principle of reciprocity here," Cimoszewicz said. Cimoszewicz suggested that it is Minsk that does not want such a cost reduction. "If the Belarusian side wants to receive our proposals once again, we can do it at any time. But this is actually not the point here. The point is in the political will that is needed to solve this problem," the Polish minister said. Cimoszewicz also said Poland supports the idea, which is currently being discussed by the European Commission in Brussels, of introducing free visas for residents of border regions of the countries that will neighbor with the EU after enlargement in May. JM
CZECH LOWER HOUSE APPROVES 2004 BUDGET
The Chamber of Deputies approved a 2004 budget bill on 3 December that includes a record deficit of 115 billion crowns ($4.25 billion), CTK and dpa reported. Of 198 deputies present, 98 voted in favor of the bill and 95 deputies from the opposition Civic Democratic Party (ODS) and Communist Party of Bohemia and Moravia (KSCM) opposed it. President Vaclav Klaus must still sign the bill before it becomes law. Prime Minister Vladimir Spidla, who threatened on several occasions to resign if the bill was rejected, said the 2004 budget creates the necessary conditions for implementing the financial reforms already approved by parliament, which are aimed at bringing the deficit under control over the next three years and enabling the Czech Republic to adopt the euro before 2010. MS
CZECH SENATE APPROVES ANOTHER KLAUS NOMINEE FOR CONSTITUTIONAL COURT
The upper house on 3 December approved President Klaus's nomination of lawyer Jiri Nykodym as a new member of the Czech Constitutional Court, CTK reported. After Klaus appoints Nykodym, there will still be three vacancies left on the 15-member court. The 58-year-old Nykodym is a member of the Czech Legislative Council and an expert on administrative and property law. MS
PREMIER ASSURES EUROPEAN COMMISSION SLOVAKIA WILL BE READY FOR ACCESSION
Prime Minister Mikulas Dzurinda said in Brussels after talks with members of the European Commission on 3 December that his country will eliminate all the shortcomings mentioned in the commission's recent assessment and will be fully prepared to enter the EU by May 2004, CTK and TASR reported. Guenter Verheugen, the EU commissioner for enlargement, praised Bratislava's performance, saying Slovakia has transformed itself from a country generally perceived to be problematic into one that can exemplify the success of the enlargement process. Dzurinda avoided directly responding to a question inquiring whether Slovakia will appoint a woman as its commissioner, saying only that he "believes in natural selection." European Commission President Romano Prodi reportedly said he expects the 10 acceding states to appoint at least three women as commissioners. According to CTK, the most likely Slovak candidates are two men: Slovakia's former chief negotiator with the EU, Jan Figel; and Dzurinda-supported Ivan Stefanec, who is the former manager of Coca-Cola's operations in Slovakia. MS
SLOVAK OPPOSITION ALLEGES GOVERNMENT 'BUYING' SUPPORT FOR 2004 BUDGET
Representatives of Slovak opposition parties on 3 December accused the ruling coalition -- which lost its parliamentary majority due to defections -- of purchasing the support of deputies ahead of a crucial vote on the 2004 budget, CTK reported. Smer (Direction) Chairman Robert Fico said the ruling coalition is offering diplomatic posts in exchange for the deputies' support, among other things. According to the Czech daily "Pravo," the opposition claims it has evidence that Prime Minister Dzurinda recently visited independent deputy Anton Danko in Poprad, where Danko also serves as mayor, and promised him funds for the construction of a sports hall in the eastern Slovak town. The daily also writes that the recent decision of the Slovak Communist Party (KSS) to expel from its ranks deputy Herman Arvay is due to Arvay's having been "bought" by the ruling coalition. The debate on the 2004 budget began on 2 December. MS
SLOVAK PARLIAMENT SHORTENS COMPULSORY MILITARY SERVICE
Lawmakers on 3 December approved a reduction in compulsory military service from the current nine to six months, TASR reported. The legislation becomes effective on 1 January. The length of alternative service was shortened from the current 13 1/2 months to nine months. Slovakia intends to phase out compulsory service by 2006, when a professional force is to replace it. MS
HUNGARIAN PARLIAMENTARY PARTIES RALLY BEHIND PRESIDENT OVER DUAL CITIZENSHIP
At a 3 December meeting called by opposition Democratic Forum Chairwoman Ibolya David, Hungary's four parliamentary parties backed President Ferenc Madl's proposal for granting citizenship to ethnic Hungarians abroad, "Nepszabadsag" reported. Representatives of all four parties agreed that legislative experts should formulate specific recommendations in the wake of the basic principles recently outlined by Madl. In a statement released on 1 December, Madl said that simplifying the citizenship procedure for ethnic Hungarians in Serbia and Croatia would not run into any legal barriers. He said foreign citizens whose lineage is Hungarian may receive Hungarian citizenship, even if they have no residency permit and do not want to settle in Hungary. Free Democrat Istvan Szent-Ivanyi told "Nepszabadsag" after the meeting that consultations should be held with neighboring countries as well. That daily recalled that Serbian Prime Minister Zoran Zivkovic firmly rejected granting ethnic-based dual citizenship to ethnic Hungarians living in Serbia when he visited Budapest in October (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 22 October 2003). MSZ
HUNGARIAN COURT REPRIMANDS RIGHT-WING GROUP LEADER
The Buda Central District Court handed down a warning on 3 December to Imre Kocsis, leader of the Conscience '88 political movement, the main organizer of an unlawful demonstration two days earlier (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 3 December 2003). The judge told Kocsis that the protest march to the residence of Prime Minister Peter Medgyessy constituted an intentional disruption of law and order, since he went ahead with the demonstration after failing to secure a permit, the MTI news agency reported. Some 50 supporters of Kocsis gathered around the court building where the trial was being held and shouted slogans in support of Kocsis. MSZ
SERBIA STEPS UP SECURITY MEASURES
Serbian Interior Minister Dusan Mihajlovic said in Belgrade on 3 December that unspecified security precautions have been stepped up in recent days near possible terrorist targets in several parts of Serbia, "Vesti" reported. He warned that his ministry will not permit "a second Istanbul," a reference to the Turkish city that recently witnessed two sets of terrorist attacks. Serbian Deputy Prime Minister Nebojsa Covic also confirmed the need for heightened security in view of what press reports called credible evidence following the recent arrests of several foreigners in Pancevo. Both Mihajlovic and Covic are candidates on slates that have little chance of meeting the 5 percent electoral threshold in the 28 December parliamentary elections (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 24 November and 1 December 2003 and "RFE/RL Balkan Report," 21 November 2003). PM
FORMER SERBIAN LEADER CAMPAIGNS FROM THE HAGUE
Former Yugoslav President Slobodan Milosevic, whose Socialist Party of Serbia (SPS) is fielding one of three slates headed by an indicted war criminal in the 28 December Serbian parliamentary elections, said in a taped broadcast to Serbian radio listeners on 3 December that "Serbia is in Europe and does not need to humbly stand in anyone's waiting room," Reuters reported (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 2 December 2003 and "RFE/RL Balkan Report," 9 May and 3 October 2003). "Serbia needs 1 million new jobs, apartments, hospitals, schools, roads, railways, bridges, [and] accelerated improvement of the standard of living," he said. Milosevic did not mention that Serbia slid into poverty under his rule, but argued that "all of us together have an obligation to fight for victory." Recent polls suggest that the SPS will win at least 6 percent of the votes in the parliamentary elections. PM
FORMER GUERRILLAS SLAM SUSPENSION OF KOSOVAR CIVILIAN CORPS MEMBERS
Former Kosova Liberation Army (UCK) General Agim Ceku, who now heads the civilian Kosova Protection Corps (TMK), told reporters in Prishtina on 3 December that the decision by UN civilian administration (UNMIK) chief Harri Holkeri to suspend 12 TMK members "is unacceptable for us and as such will not be taken into consideration," Reuters reported (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 3 December 2003). Among the 12 men whom Holkeri suspects of having links to the illegal Albanian National Army (AKSH) are former UCK Generals Nuredin Lushtaku and Rrahman Rama. Holkeri defended the suspensions as being in line with "the approach taken by European institutions when serious allegations are made against their members." PM
MACEDONIAN PRESIDENT DEFENDS MACEDONIAN ORTHODOX CHURCH
After a meeting with Macedonian Orthodox Church (MPC) head Archbishop Gospodin Gospodin Stefan in Skopje on 3 December, President Boris Trajkovski strongly condemned the decision of the Serbian Orthodox Church to set up an autonomous archbishopric in Macedonia, Makfax news agency reported. "The formation of a parallel Holy Synod for...Macedonia by the Serbian Orthodox Church is an attack not only on the Macedonian autocephalous Orthodox Church, but also a direct attack on the sovereignty of...Macedonia and on the national feelings of the Macedonian people," a joint statement by Trajkovski and the archbishop said. The MPC, which split from the Serbian Orthodox Church in 1967 with the help of the communist authorities, is not recognized by other Orthodox churches. In October, Russian Orthodox Church head Patriarch Aleksii II offered to mediate in the church dispute (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 26 September 2002 and 28 May and 25 July 2003, and "RFE/RL Balkan Report," 12 July 2002). Trajkovski is a Protestant. UB
U.S. CALLS ON BOSNIAN SERBS TO ARREST FORMER LEADER
U.S. Ambassador-at-Large for War Crime Issues Pierre-Richard Prosper called on Bosnian Serb authorities in Banja Luka on 3 December to arrest indicted war criminal Radovan Karadzic, adding that bringing the former Bosnian Serb president to justice "is an issue that the [United States] and the international community believe must be resolved," dpa reported (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 30 October 2003 and "RFE/RL Balkan Report," 5 September 2003). PM
TAXI STRIKE PARALYZES BOSNIAN CAPITAL
Some 1,000 taxis blocked streets in Sarajevo for the second consecutive day on 4 December, RFE/RL's South Slavic and Albanian Languages Service reported. The drivers want the Sarajevo cantonal government to adopt a package of rules to govern their profession, including sanctions against drivers who do not pay tax. The largest company, Sarajevo Taxi, says that it pays full taxes for its 1,400 drivers, while some 500 other drivers ply their trade illegally, dpa reported. PM
ROMANIA EXPECTS U.S. MILITARY VISIT AHEAD OF DECISION ON RELOCATION OF MILITARY BASES
Defense Minister Ioan Mircea Pascu said on 3 December that a U.S. military delegation will visit Romania "in the next eight days" to discuss the possibility of establishing military bases on Romanian territory, Romanian Radio reported. At the recent meeting in Brussels of NATO defense ministers, which he attended, Pascu said U.S. Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld officially announced the decision to reposition bases from Western Europe to the eastern part of the continent, and the visit is to take place within that framework. Asked by journalists whether the bases are to be U.S. or NATO facilities, Pascu replied, "as far as we understand it, this is a U.S. decision, but one that is part and parcel of the NATO joint defense.... It is difficult to make a strict distinction, but we are talking primarily about U.S. bases." MS
ROMANIAN FOREIGN MINISTER BLAMES RUSSIA FOR MAASTRICHT FAILURE...
Romanian Foreign Minister Mircea Geoana told journalists on 2 December that Russia's refusal to accept any mention of a deadline for the withdrawal of its troops from Georgia and Moldova has caused a deadlock that made impossible the signing of any agreement at the end of the 1-2 December Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE) Ministerial Council gathering, AP reported, citing Rompres. Geoana said the United States, the EU countries, and Romania considered the absence of such a mention would be unacceptable and that an impasse would be preferable. Geoana said the Russian plan for Moldova's federalization has lost its viability and can be considered "a thing of the past." He also said the OSCE must now examine whether to leave in place the five-pronged negotiations framework -- including Moldova, Transdniester, the OSCE, Russia, and Ukraine -- or to replace it with a new political instrument that would give the negotiations a new impetus. "We believe it is evident that without the explicit involvement of the EU and the U.S.," the current framework is "not balanced and fails to take into account the region's realities, including the role Romania should be playing in this political equation," Geoana said. MS
...WHILE MOLDOVAN PRESIDENT HERALDS NEW PROPOSALS...
President Vladimir Voronin told journalists in Chisinau on 3 December that Moldova will "soon" present new proposals for the country's federalization, BASA-press and international news agencies reported. Voronin said the new proposals would be a "symbiosis" of the Russian plan, the plan earlier worked out by the OSCE, and the earlier Moldovan proposals. Voronin said he regrets the failure of the OSCE Maastricht gathering to stipulate a final deadline for the withdrawal of Russian troops and he remains convinced Moldova's federalization is the only "civilized and democratic way for the state's reunification." Voronin added, however, that he rejects any federalization that would "weaken the state, weaken its legislating and executive powers" and thereby create an "everlasting potential for a renewed outbreak of the conflict and make necessary the permanent stationing of foreign troops" in the country. Voronin said the Russian-proposed plan has "well served the interests of [Moldovan and Transdniester] leaders, but not the long-term interests of the people on the two banks [of the River Dniester]." He also said he decided against signing the Russian-proposed agreement when he saw that the proposed document referred to the separatist region as "the Dniester Moldovan Republic." MS
...ALLUDING TO POSSIBLE TOKEN WESTERN MILITARY PRESENCE...
In his 2 December press conference (see above), Voronin also said the new federalization proposals Moldova intends to make would opt for maintaining the current five-pronged negotiations framework, but would also insist on having the EU open a permanent mission in Chisinau that would monitor the negotiation process. He said a multinational peacekeeping force such as mentioned by U.S. Secretary of State Colin Powell (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 3 December 2003) could be dispatched to the region before or after the signing of an agreement, and that he "does not rule out" the possibility that Russia would "reserve for itself" the dominant role in such a force. He added, however, that the force would have to act under an international mandate and cannot be identical with the Russian contingent currently stationed in Transdniester, whose mission is mainly that of guarding Russian ammunition depots. MS
...AND OFFERS 'DIALOGUE' TO OPPOSITION
President Voronin told journalists at his 3 December press conference that he is ready to engage in a "permanent and constructive dialogue" with the opposition, but would under no circumstances agree to pressure "exercised from the street," BASA-press reported. Voronin said the demonstrations against federalization have gathered all those opposed to the plan "under the banner...of the Popular Party Christian Democratic (PPCD), under the banner [symbolizing] unification with Romania," and that at present there exist only two political forces in Moldova. One is the force of "the so-called united opposition headed by the PPCD," and the other is the force represented by "the ruling party, which pleads for the country's reintegration and for integration in Europe." He said he would agree to a renewal of the so-called "round table talks" between government and opposition, and would not object to Moldovan state television broadcasting a program called "Opposition's Hour," in which opposition parties would make their views known. The recently established Committee for the Defense of Moldovan Independence and Constitution (CAIC) has earlier protested against Teleradio Moldova's refusal to allow the opposition access to state television and announced its intention to begin picketing Teleradio Moldova as of 4 December. MS
MOLDOVAN OPPOSITION TO UNIFY AGAINST COMMUNISTS?
Leaders of the political parties that founded the CAIC late last month said on 3 December that they do not rule out the possibility of running jointly against the ruling Party of Moldovan Communists in the next parliamentary elections, RFE/RL's Chisinau bureau reported. PPCD Chairman Iurie Rosca said the opposition must maintain its unity until the parliamentary elections and run on joint lists in order to forestall any federalization plans. The plan submitted by Russia envisaged parliamentary elections in 2005. Our Moldova co-Chairman Dumitru Braghis said the opposition parties should be grateful to Russia for bringing them together against its plan. Braghis added that CAIC is now united not only against federalization but also against "all the abuses and illegalities of communist rule," and that the newly found unity should be maintained. MS
PROTESTERS BLOCK STREETS IN BULGARIAN CAPITAL
Following a government decision to raise taxes on diesel fuel, gasoline, and LPG, some 200 buses and trucks blocked streets outside the parliamentary building in downtown Sofia on 3 December, vsekiden.com reported (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 3 December 2003). A number of employers' organizations and transport associations organized the protest. Georgi Petarneychev, who heads the Union of Automobile Transporters, which represents the interests of truck and taxi drivers, said the protest was economically and socially motivated, not political. He added that the protest was a warning action against the increase in fuel excises, the introduction of a road toll system, and traffic jams at border checkpoints. The protests were expected to continue on 4 December (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 31 October and 3 December 2003). UB
BULGARIAN GOVERNMENT CALLS FOR MEDIA SELF-REGULATION
In reaction to an opinion piece published in the daily "Novinar," government spokesman Dimitar Tsonev has called on the Union of Publishers to take a position "in the name of Bulgarian journalism and its professionalism and morale," "Sega" reported on 4 December. In his commentary, poet Rumen Leonidov likened Prime Minister Simeon Saxecoburggotski to a "Soviet-style communist" and a "Kostovite" [after former Prime Minister Ivan Kostov, who was notorious for his dictatorial style of governing], and questioned Saxecoburggotski's perception of reality. "This is not censorship of some individuals' personal opinions, but a question of self-control and I expect the publishers to tighten it," Tsonev said. Ivo Prokopiev, who is the Union of Publishers' deputy chairman, said the union is not responsible for newspapers' editorial politics. He added, however, that it is important for journalism to self-regulate and that the formation of a body where complaints can be lodged is being discussed. UB
WHICH WAY WILL OIL FLOW THROUGH ODESA-BRODY PIPELINE?
On 26 November, the Ukrainian cabinet somewhat unexpectedly approved an agreement on "integrating" the Odesa-Brody oil pipeline with the Polish pipeline network. Two days later, in Brussels, Polish Deputy Prime Minister Marek Pol and Ukrainian Deputy Prime Minister Vitaliy Hayduk signed an agreement on a linkup of the Polish and Ukrainian oil-transport systems.
Yet Ukraine's commitment to the linkup is not unequivocal. When announcing the cabinet's decision to the media, Ukrainian Foreign Minister Kostyantyn Hryshchenko called the agreement "an intergovernmental document...of principal importance for integrating the Ukrainian system with that of Europe." He added, however, that a separate agreement will be needed on whether the pipeline will actually be used to pump oil to Poland or whether it will be engineered in the reverse direction, to shift Russian oil (received via Belarus) to Odesa, and then onward by sea.
When the pipeline plan was first conceived in the 1990s, there was no doubt about how it would be used. Oil from the Caspian basin and Central Asia would be shipped across the Black Sea to the new Odesa oil terminal, and then go by pipeline to Brody, and then on via Poland (with links to the Plock refinery and Gdansk) to Western and Northern Europe. The route would not only earn transit fees for Ukraine, but would also comply with Turkey's desire to limit tanker transit through the Dardanelles. However, although the pipeline was duly built, plans for its use ran into difficulties. Poland was unable to raise the cash to construct the necessary linkups, and no Western oil company came forward with a firm offer to purchase oil conveyed by this route. In the meantime, the Russians came up with their own plan to reverse the direction of flow.
Both in Ukraine and abroad, the choice was seen as far more than a purely economic one: it became a symbol of Ukraine's choice of future -- with "Europe" or with Russia.
"The [Odesa-Brody] scenario is like plagiarism of the drama of the [Single Economic Space] SES," wrote the "Ukrayinska pravda" website (http://www2.pravda.com.ua/en) on 3 October. "There are the pro-European 'goodies' who advocate using the pipeline to transport Caspian oil to the West, although there is not a single contract to guarantee this direction. And there are the pro-Russian 'baddies' who advocate using the pipeline for the needs of the northern neighbor [i.e., Russia] that promises Ukraine immediate economic benefits. The value for Ukraine is either rubles today, or the unique role of an alternative to Russia tomorrow or the day after."
Likewise, on 8 October, during the visit of Ukrainian Prime Minister Viktor Yanukovych to Washington, U.S. Vice President Dick Cheney pressed him on what Ukraine intends to do with the Odesa-Brody pipeline. The U.S. government has always supported the idea of the westward pipeline, as a way of preventing a Russian stranglehold on Central Asian and Caspian oil. But at the time of the Yanukovych-Cheney meeting, the issue was particularly topical: that same day was Ukraine's deadline on an offer from the Russian oil company TNK-BP (formed by Russia's Tyumen Oil Company and British Petroleum), which had offered a deal of 9 million tons of oil to be transported annually for a fee variously reported as $60 million and $90 million. Yanukovych's reply was somewhat unequivocal: He "as a state official" had "never doubted the western direction of the pipeline," but it was now up to the Western oil companies to go "from statements to actions" with a specific offer.
At the same time, a power struggle had developed within the Ukrtransnafta oil-transport company, between its "pro-Russian" Executive Director Stanislav Vasylenko and its "pro-European" President Oleksandr Todiychuk. Over the late summer and early autumn, the latter had been canvassing support for the original western direction of flow, and after negotiations in Brussels in September, he told a BBC interviewer that he had found "potential" European buyers for 6 million tons of oil. He also outlined strategies to use the pipeline in advance of the Polish linkup, to supply oil to Slovakia, the Czech Republic, and Germany, using rail transport onward from Brody.
A few days before the 8 October deadline, Vasylenko appeared to have won: the Ukrainian media had reported that Ukrtransnafta accepted the Russians' offer. But Fuel and Energy Minister Serhiy Yermilov denied this: The decision, he said, is one of "strategic importance" that only the government can make. Vasylenko countered by threatening that Ukraine stands to lose $200 million if the Russian offer is rejected, adding that Ukrtransnafta needs the money to refurbish its existing obsolescent pipes, which now pose an environmental danger.
However, any Ukrainian government decision now appeared to be on hold until the results of a feasibility study on the reverse use of the pipe: Various news agencies quoted Yermilov as saying that a decision could be expected "in late December or early January" (ITAR-TASS) or "by 15 January" (UNIAN). Shortly after this statement, Loyola de Palacio, the European Community vice president with responsibility for transport and energy, postponed a scheduled visit to Kyiv that was expected to focus on prospects for extending the pipeline to Plock. Although the official reason for the postponement was de Palacio's "busy schedule," Todiychuk attributed it to de Palacio's "disappointment at recent events in Ukraine" and to the "ongoing active discussion...of the possibility of reversing the direction of flow."
A "feasibility study" is often a means of buying time. It did not, however, stop debate and speculation in and outside Ukraine. An interview by the new U.S. ambassador to Ukraine, John Herbst, (carried by the "Zerkalo nedeli" website [www.zerkalo-nedeli.com]) and some "off-the-record" remarks by a U.S. Embassy official were interpreted by the media as a commitment by Chevron to purchase oil delivered to Brody via the pipeline. (The U.S. Embassy subsequently put out a denial, but belief in the commitment continued to circulate in Ukraine.) In Kazakhstan, which is keen to use the pipeline to transport its oil to Europe, Foreign Minister Qasymzhomart Toqaev and President Nursultan Nazarbaev stressed that the Odesa-Brody pipeline and its extension to the Polish port of Gdansk is a top priority in Kazakh-Ukrainian relations. And at the EU-Ukraine summit in late October, the issue of the pipeline was raised again, with the EU delegates warning against "reverse flow."
Then, in the last days of November, several weeks before the expected announcement on the feasibility study, the Ukrainian government acted. The timing may have been fortuitous (international agreements, even ones that have long been discussed, cannot be drawn up overnight). However, recent events must have strengthened the hand of those favoring the "Western" option. The current investigation into Russia's Yukos oil company has put a question mark to the future of all other Russian oil companies (see "RFE/RL Organized Crime and Terrorism Watch," 3 November 2003). The nationwide commemoration on 22 November of the Ukrainian victims of the "artificial famine" of 1933 (deliberately created by Stalin to subdue Ukrainian resistance to the Soviet system) inevitably stirred old fears of Russia. And the "Rose Revolution" in Georgia evoked pointed suggestions from Ukrainian opposition activists that President Leonid Kuchma should follow the example of Eduard Shevardnadze and resign his presidency early. All factors that made the decision on the pipeline enhance the "Western-looking" image of the Ukrainian government, while still leaving their ultimate option open.
Vera Rich is a London-based freelance researcher
U.S. DEFENSE SECRETARY MEETS WITH NORTHERN AFGHAN WARLORDS...
U.S. Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld arrived in the Balkh Province capital, Mazar-e Sharif, on 4 December for a one-day visit, during which he met with rival northern Afghan warlords Abdul Rashid Dostum and Ata Mohammad, RFE/RL reported. An unidentified U.S. official traveling with Rumsfeld said the signal the United States is "trying to send is that this is an important effort that [Afghan Transitional Administration Chairman Hamid] Karzai's trying to do to extend the reach of the central government into the provinces, and particularly into the north," Reuters reported on 4 December. Karzai has been unable to exert central government authority in northern Afghanistan or bring an end to factional fighting between Generals Dostum and Ata Mohammad (see "RFE/RL Afghanistan Report," 23 May, 5 June, 13 November, and 4 December 2003). AT
...AND WITH BRITISH PROVINCIAL RECONSTRUCTION TEAM
During his trip to Mazar-e Sharif on 4 December, Rumsfeld met with members of the British Provincial Reconstruction Team (PRT) stationed in that northern Afghan city, RFE/RL reported. The PRT in Mazar-e Sharif has been tasked with providing security in the region to allow reconstruction projects to continue, but it has been unable to significantly curb factional fighting in the region (see "RFE/RL Afghanistan Report," 16 and 23 October 2003). There is currently a truce between Dostum and Ata Mohammad, and Kabul has been trying to collect their heavy weapons. But the Afghan Defense Ministry said that Dostum has thus far relinquished control of just three tanks, Reuters reported on 4 December. Michelle Lippner, head of the UN Assistance Mission in northern Afghanistan, also cast doubt on the effectiveness of the truce between Dostum and Ata Mohammad, saying that "factional fighting in parts of the north will continue because the fighting has gone on by lower-level and mid-level commanders," the BBC reported on 4 December. AT
SUSPECTED TERRORISTS ARRESTED IN AFGHANISTAN
Afghan police and members of the international stabilization force in Kabul say they have arrested at least two suspected terrorists, RFE/RL reported on 4 December. The International Security Assistance Force (ISAF) said in a statement that two of the suspects arrested on 3 December are believed to be members of former Afghan Prime Minister Gulbuddin Hekmatyar's Hizb-e-Islami, which the statement described as "a terrorist group with a history of terrorist atrocities." No details were given about the third suspect. The statement said the arrests occurred north of Kabul on a road heading toward Bagram, which houses the U.S. military headquarters in Afghanistan. The news comes as the U.S. military and the Afghan leader Karzai have warned that antigovernment militants might try to disrupt the planned meeting next week of the Constitutional Loya Jirga (see "RFE/RL Afghanistan Report," 20 November 2003). AT
TURKEY TO PROVIDE NATO WITH HELICOPTERS FOR AFGHANISTAN
Ankara has offered three helicopters for use by the NATO-led ISAF in Afghanistan, Reuters reported on 4 December. NATO, which is expanding its stabilization force beyond Kabul, is reportedly facing shortages in helicopters and other equipment. An unidentified diplomat said that with Turkey agreeing to provide three Blackhawks, the "helicopter problem" has been solved. Supreme Allied Commander General James Jones said in October that the political enthusiasm to expand the NATO-led ISAF in Afghanistan is not matched by available resources, adding that NATO does not have complete resources for ISAF in Kabul itself. Afghanistan represents NATO's first direct involvement in the Greater Middle East; while there has been political agreement on allowing the alliance to take command of ISAF, members are less unanimous in their political will to contribute increased forces and equipment for expanding rapidly throughout the country (see "RFE/RL Afghanistan Report," 30 October and 6 November 2003). AT
IRANIAN PARLIAMENT'S CREATION OF A 'WELFARE MINISTRY' CRITICIZED
The Iranian legislature on 2 December approved creation of a Welfare and Social Security Ministry in what IRNA referred to as "part of efforts to implement a comprehensive plan to promote the country's social welfare status." Creation of the ministry is reportedly connected with reform of the country's social security system. Parliamentary deputy Mohammad Mirmohammadi said on 2 December that such a ministry could not handle all the country's welfare and social security organizations on its own, "Tehran Times" reported the next day. Mirmohammadi recommended the creation of a "Supreme Council" to coordinate and organize social security issues. Mirmohammadi predicted that creation of the ministry would be harmful to low-income groups, and he said the creation of one ministry that is distinct from the Health, Housing, and Labor ministries would reduce to one the number of voices speaking for welfare and social security in the government. He also noted that creation of the ministry enlarges the size of the government, a measure that goes against the Third Development Plan, and he warned that the ministry will be bureaucratic and inefficient. BS
IRAN PROMOTES GAS PIPELINE TO INDIA
Deputy Petroleum Minister Mohammad Reza Nematzadeh, who also serves as chairman of the National Petrochemical Company, said on 3 December in New Delhi that the proposed gas pipeline from Iran to India would lead to a reduction in gas prices on the Indian domestic market, the "New Delhi Business Standard" reported. He added that there are many opportunities for Indian firms in Persian Gulf onshore and offshore activities. Nematzadeh said that Iran-India bilateral trade stood at $2.2 billion in 2002 and has been climbing since 1998. Deputy Commerce Minister Mujtaba Khosrotaj said at the 3 December meeting of India's First Exclusive Exhibition in Tehran that the gas project would serve as the axis for the two countries' bilateral relations, IRNA reported. Khosrotaj criticized the lack of private-sector involvement in bilateral economic and commercial relations. He also noted that Indian firms are active in projects at the South Pars refinery, in oil and gas exploration in Iran, and in petrochemical projects. In 2002, Khosrotaj said, Iran's non-oil exports to India amounted to $190 million, and Indian exports to Iran amounted to $720 million. BS
IRANIAN STATE BROADCASTING STARTS INTERNET BUSINESS
Parliamentary speaker Mehdi Karrubi inaugurated the Sorush Interactive Network (http://www.sinet.ir), which is affiliated with the Iranian state broadcasting organization, on 2 December, state radio reported the next day. According to the news report, network subscribers will have access to live television programming and to films. The network will facilitate e-commerce and provide links to other domestic networks. According to the website, Sorush will also offer web hosting, dial-up services, and high-speed connections. This development comes as the Iranian government continues to block citizens' access to websites that it sees as immoral or politically threatening, a process that began in early 2003. A committee formed by the Supreme Council of Cultural Revolution occasionally provides Internet Content Providers (ICP) with a list of sites that should be filtered. An anonymous ICP manager said in the 25 November edition of "Farhang-i Ashti" that this list is logical because it focuses on pornographic sites and those that are anti-regime. A compact disc distributed to ICPs by the Data Processing Company of Iran (http://www.dpi.net.ir), however, listed thousands of websites, even "ordinary and useful" ones such as the google.com search engine. If all these sites were filtered, the manager said, "it would have been more feasible to shut down everything." BS
IRANIAN MARXIST PARTY TO ESTABLISH SATELLITE TELEVISION CHANNEL
An anonymous "source close to the leadership of the Communist Workers Party of Iraq" was quoted in the 1 December issue of the Kurdish weekly "Jamawar" as saying the Communist Workers Party of Iran intends to establish a satellite television channel and has already raised 23,000 of the required 25,000 pounds [approximately $43,200] for doing so. According to an announcement on the Iranian party's website (http://www.wpiran.org/english.htm), however, 90,000 pounds is required establish a satellite channel, of which some 60,000 pounds has been raised. The website also said broadcasts will commence in January 2004. The Iranian and Iraqi parties reportedly will share airtime. The party of Iraq owns Ila al-Amam radio -- which broadcasts in Arabic and English and is heard in Kirkuk, Arbil, and Mosul -- and Voice of the Worker Communist Party of Iraq, which is heard in Baghdad. BS
IRAQI GOVERNING COUNCIL ANNULS RACIST CITIZENSHIP LAW
The Iraqi Governing Council has annulled Revolutionary Command Decree 666, which was issued by the former Hussein regime and banned citizenship in Iraq for Iraqis of "Persian" origin, KurdSat reported on 3 December. The decree was enacted in May 1980 and targeted Iraqi Kurds. It stripped them of their citizenship and property, eventually deporting them to Iran. Many Kurds were held in detention camps en route to Iran. The governing council also decided to establish a subcommittee to lay down a new nationality law protecting citizens' rights, KurdSat reported. KR
SAUDI ARABIA WITHHOLDS IRAQ PLEDGES, BUT REITERATES COMMITMENT
Saudi Arabia has reportedly decided to withhold some $1 billion in loans and credits it pledged for Iraqi reconstruction, arabnews.com reported on 4 December. Saudi Ambassador to the United States Prince Bandar bin Sultan denied that Saudi Arabia's commitment to Iraq had changed in a statement posted on the embassy's website (http://www.saudiembassy.net). "We stand with the world community in efforts to bring stability and peace to Iraq and relieve the suffering of the Iraqi people. To that end, we have already provided more than $60 million in aid to the Iraqi people, including food, water, medicine and supplies. We also continue to maintain a field hospital in Baghdad with over 150 medical staff that has conducted thousands of medical operations and has evacuated more intensive cases to Saudi Arabia for special treatment," the statement read. According to arabnews.com, U.S. and Saudi officials said the Saudi government's decision to withhold the loans and credits will last until the security situation in Iraq stabilizes and a sovereign Iraqi government is established. KR
IRAQI GOVERNING COUNCIL MEMBER FILES LAWSUIT AGAINST DEPOSED PRESIDENT
Iraqi Governing Council member Iyad Allawi has reportedly filed a lawsuit against deposed Iraqi President Saddam Hussein over an alleged 1978 assassination attempt, dpa reported on 3 December. Allawi said that he has "presented the court with documents including confessions of several hit men who testified that Saddam [Hussein] hired them to kill me." Allawi survived an assassination attempt in London, where he had sought asylum from the Hussein regime. KR
IRAQ TO SUPPLY JORDAN WITH SUBSIDIZED OIL
Iraqi Governing Council member Iyad Allawi told dpa that his country has agreed to supply Jordan with subsidized oil, the news agency reported on 3 December. "It is not a possibility, but it is rather a commitment to supply Jordan with oil for its pivotal role in supporting a free Iraq," Allawi said. According to dpa, the deal will be finalized later this month. Jordan had received oil from Iraq at subsidized prices since 1990 in a deal struck between deposed Iraqi President Saddam Hussein and the late Jordanian King Hussein. The Hashemite Kingdom agreed last month to purchase oil from fields in Al-Basrah at market prices, but the new deal will reportedly override that agreement. KR
OVERSIGHT BOARD BEGINS AUDIT WORK ON IRAQ
The International Advisory and Monitoring Board established under UN Security Council Resolution 1483 in May is set to begin auditing Iraqi funds held by the U.S. occupation authority in the Development Fund for Iraq, Reuters reported on 3 December. The board is also responsible for auditing Iraqi oil and gas exports, and the Iraqi Central Bank account where oil revenues are deposited. IMF senior adviser Bert Keuppens, UN Controller Jean-Pierre Halbwachs, and World Bank Controller Fayezul Choudhury will hold three of four seats on the board. A representative of the Arab Fund for Economic and Social Development (http://www.arabfund.org) will hold the fourth seat. KR
FORMER IRAQI OFFICIAL SAYS HUSSEIN STASHED TENS OF BILLIONS ABROAD
A former Iraqi minister has said that deposed Iraqi President Hussein in 1972 began depositing 5 percent of Iraq's oil revenues into overseas accounts and has likely accumulated tens of billions of dollars outside Iraq, AP reported on 3 December. Jawad Hashim, former planning minister in the late 1960s and early 1970s, said Hussein began depositing money overseas when Iraq nationalized its oil industry the same year. Hussein told Hashim and other ministers that "the Ba'ath Party has come to rule for 300 years and to continue ruling or to come back to rule if toppled by a coup, [and therefore] the party must have a huge amount of money outside Iraq," AP quoted Hashim from his autobiography, as excerpted in London's "Al-Sharq al-Awsat" on 3 December. The former minister said he believes that 5 percent of revenues from 1972 to 1990, the year in which UN sanctions prevented Iraq from transferring funds abroad, amounts to some $31 billion. KR