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Newsline - December 17, 2003


GUNMEN IN DAGHESTAN RELEASE HOSTAGES
The Chechen militants who seized 11 hostages on 15 and 16 December in the villages of Shauri and Galatli released those hostages later on 16 December, Russian media reported. Chechenpress.info on 17 December cited Kavkaz-Tsentr as reporting that one of the militants denied claims by Russian officials that up to seven militants had been killed in a Russian air attack. That militant also rejected as "absurd" the suggestion by some Russian and Daghestani officials, including presidential envoy to the Southern Federal District Viktor Kazantsev, that the Chechens plan to retreat into Georgia. Daghestan parliament Chairman Mukhu Aliev pointed out on 16 December that all mountain passes leading from Daghestan to Georgia are currently blocked by heavy snows. LF

GOVERNORS PULLED OUT ALL THE STOPS FOR PRO-KREMLIN PARTY...
"Ekspert," No. 47, argues that part of Unified Russia's success in the 7 December State Duma elections can be attributed to an unofficial agreement between the federal center and regional executives under which Moscow allegedly allowed governors to win second and third terms in exchange for their support for the pro-Kremlin Unified Russia party. According to the weekly, regions that had governors on Unified Russia's party list showed strong support for the party. For example, in Mordovia -- whose head, Nikolai Merkushkin, is on the party's Supreme Council -- some 80 percent of voters supported Unified Russia. High support for Unified Russia also correlated with regions with a low standard of living and strong ethnicity-based elites, such as the republics of Mordovia, Daghestan, Chechnya, Tuva, and Kalmykia. All those regions registered more than 50 percent for Unified Russia. JAC

...AS KALMYKIA LEADER MIGHT HAVE TRIED TOO HARD
In Kalmykia, the opposition to incumbent President Kirsan Ilyumzhinov has charged that falsification occurred during the election, regnum reported on 11 December. According to the report, the office of presidential envoy to the Southern Federal District Kazantsev has pledged to form a commission to analyze the work of the republican election commission and to determine whether any violations took place. JAC

ALLEGED MOSCOW THEATER SIEGE PARTICIPANT DIES IN CAR ACCIDENT...
Khanpash Terkibaev, a Chechen journalist who some observers allege participated in the October 2002 seizure of a Moscow theater by Chechen fighters, was killed in a traffic accident near Grozny on 15 December, Interfax reported on 16 December. The agency quoted Grozny district administration head Shaid Dzhamaldaev as saying that four other people riding in the car with Terkibaev also died in the accident, the causes of which are under investigation. In April, "Novaya gazeta" correspondent Anna Politkovskaya reported that Terkibaev traveled to Moscow with the Chechen fighters who seized the theater and ensured that their journey was unimpeded, and that he left the theater before Russian commandos stormed it. Politkovskaya, who interviewed Terkibaev, claimed he had been sent on the raid by Russia's special services. Terkibaev, who was reportedly accredited with the government daily "Rossiiskaya gazeta," denied involvement in the theater raid. JB

...AS SOME SAID HE WAS AN EX-FSB AGENT AND PROVOCATEUR...
Also in April, former FSB Colonel Aleksandr Litvinenko, who now lives in London and who has repeatedly charged that the FSB was involved in the 1999 apartment-building bombings that served as a pretext for the latest Russian military incursion into Chechnya, said he had given Liberal Russia co-Chairman Sergei Yushenkov information about Khanpash Terkibaev shortly before Yushenkov was shot dead in Moscow on 17 April (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 28 and 29 April 2003). Litvinenko described Terkibaev as a former FSB agent who specialized in penetrating Chechen rebel groups to organize provocations. Litvinenko also said that Terkibaev had worked in the press service of Chechen President Aslan Maskhadov and that in March, he accompanied Dmitrii Rogozin, then chairman of the State Duma's Foreign Affairs Committee, to a session of the Parliamentary Assembly of the Council of Europe in Strasbourg. Terkibaev claimed in his interview with Politkovskaya that he had been working closely with top Kremlin officials, including presidential spokesman Sergei Yastrzhembskii and deputy presidential administration head Vladislav Surkov, to arrange peace talks with Chechen groups. JB

...AND OTHERS SAY HE WAS A 'DOUBLE AGENT'
On 16 December, following news of Terkibaev's death, Politkovskaya told Ekho Moskvy, "It is a shame to speak ill of a dead person, but a person who betrays many different sides condemns himself." She said that after her interview with Terkibaev was published, "very many people, both from the Chechen side and from Russia's special services, said he wouldn't live much longer." "I was told that [radical Chechen field commander Shamil] Basaev had condemned him and that the [Russian] special services had condemned him," Politkovskaya said. "He was in Baku for a while, and people who were also there said things were not so good for him. As result, he wound up in Chechnya." Politkovskaya called Terkibaev "a kind of double agent." "Nevertheless," she added. "I deeply regret that this last witness was killed." JB

PRIME MINISTER HOLDS TALKS IN TOKYO...
Mikhail Kasyanov held talks in Tokyo with Japanese Prime Minister Junichiro Koizumi on 16 December, Russian and Western media reported. The two leaders said in a joint statement that a Japanese proposal to build an oil pipeline linking Russia's Pacific coast to Eastern Siberia "is important from the standpoint of the development of Eastern Siberia and Russian Far East, the effective use of energy resources in the region, and stable energy supplies in the Asia-Pacific region." However, Kasyanov and Koizumi made no commitment to build the pipeline, and Kasyanov said it would be built only "when its economic component is as obvious as its political one." The prime ministers also called for, among other things, "actively continuing" negotiations to conclude a peace treaty between Japan and Russia, which have remained formally at war since World War II, largely because of the unresolved Kurile Islands territorial dispute. The statement also called for "bilateral cooperation in the area of eliminating the Russian nuclear weapons that are subject to reduction," creating a joint organization to promote trade and investment, and intensifying the fight against contraband Russian seafood. JB

...WHILE ECONOMIC ADVISER AGAIN ATTACKS KYOTO PROTOCOL
The Japanese government also called on the Russian government to ratify as quickly as possible the Kyoto Protocol, an international agreement intended to limit the emission of greenhouse gases, Interfax reported on 16 December. Prime Minister Kasyanov said Russia remains "on track" to ratify it, but "is currently weighing up the consequences of ratifying the protocol and the benefits that we might derive," ITAR-TASS reported. "We have to be sure that other countries will assume an appropriate part of the burden of environmental safety," Kasyanov added. Presidential economic adviser Andrei Illarionov reiterated his opposition to ratifying the protocol, saying it would freeze economic growth and prevent Russia from achieving President Vladimir Putin's stated goal of doubling the country's GDP in 10 years, Interfax reported on 16 December. JB

MORE OFFICIALS COMMENT ON HUSSEIN'S CAPTURE
Russian officials on 16 December continued to comment on the 13 December capture of deposed Iraqi President Saddam Hussein. Defense Minister Sergei Ivanov said the development will promote stability in Iraq and the "speedy formation of a lawful government," Interfax reported. Ivanov said he hopes Hussein's capture will also "answer the question of whether there are weapons of mass destruction in Iraq." Federation Council Chairman Sergei Mironov said Hussein "must be brought to justice for yet-to-be proved crimes against the Iraqi people in an international court, and not under U.S. legislation, because he is not a citizen of that country," ITAR-TASS reported. Pointing to the car bombings that immediately followed Hussein's capture, Mironov said he doubts the capture will end terrorism in Iraq. "Nezavisimaya gazeta" wrote on 16 December that Hussein's arrest "has not caused particular delight in Moscow." The newspaper reported that the Foreign Ministry and the Kremlin's press service have confirmed that no "words of congratulation" were conveyed to Washington following the capture. JB

ANALYST NOT SURPRISED BY ELECTION RESULTS
In an interview with "Kommersant-Vlast," No. 49, VTsIOM-A polling agency Director Yurii Levada said his firm conducted a poll a week before the elections that showed a spurt in support for the leftist Motherland-Patriotic Union bloc, a drop in support for the Communist Party, and a decline in the ratings of the rightist parties Yabloko and the Union of Rightist Forces (SPS). Russian election law forbids the publication of polling results right before the election. Levada attributed the rebirth of the Liberal Democratic Party of Russia (LDPR) to its leader, Vladimir Zhirinovskii, whom he called "the most talented actor on the political scene," and his successful strategy of wooing the "protest electorate." Motherland succeeded by taking voters away from the Communist Party using the methods of Zhirinovskii, Levada said. Levada also said that Dmitrii Rogozin is the real leader of Motherland, not Sergei Glazev. Levada attributed the failure of Yabloko and the SPS to enter the Duma to their refusal to unite in the last months of the campaign. JAC

URALS GOVERNOR FLOATS IDEA OF MERGER OF SVERDLOVSK, CHELYABINSK, KURGAN OBLASTS...
Sverdlovsk Governor Eduard Rossel told reporters on 16 December that the proposed unification of Perm Oblast with the Komi-Permyak Autonomous Okrug should be seen as a "trial balloon," and after the successful results of the 7 December referendums in those federation subjects, the process of reducing the number of regions will gain momentum, regions.ru reported. Rossel described the process as "unavoidable," noting that "in India 1.76 billion people live in 20 regions, while Russia, which has about 140 million [people], has 89 federation subjects." In the Urals region, Rossel believes that combining Sverdlovsk, Chelyabinsk, and Kurgan oblasts would be economically expedient. "We have studied this question thoroughly according to the ethnic make-up of the areas, their economic potential, and the system of administration, and this would be an extremely useful merger," Rossel said. Deputy Prime Minister Vladimir Yakovlev said on 9 December that "2 1/2 dozen regions could be painlessly unified in the short term following the example of Perm Oblast and the Komi-Permyak Autonomous Okrug" (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 12 December 2003). JAC

...AS PRESIDENTIAL ENVOY TO PROPOSE PILOT PROJECTS NEXT MONTH
Presidential envoy to the Northwest Federal District Ilya Klebanov told media in St. Petersburg that his office is preparing suggestions for merging several regions in his district, "Vremya novostei" reported on 16 December. "There are two or three pilot projects that we plan to present to the presidential administration at the beginning of 2004," Klebanov said. Valerii Khomyakov, director of the Agency for Applied and Regional Politics, told the daily that the process of unification "will be opposed by regional elites, who will hardly support a reduction in the number of leadership posts." He added that in his opinion initiatives for merging regions should come exclusively from below, and the most promising regions in this regard are "Chechnya and Ingushetia and the Altai Krai and Altai Republic." JAC

SAME OLD LOOK, SAME OLD SERVICE?
Aeroflot has confirmed "revolutionary changes" in the uniforms of its flight attendants, "Komsomolskaya pravda" reported on 16 December. The changes were inspired in part by the company's desire for more "Russianness" in its uniforms. Commenting on the new look, the daily suggested the new uniforms are reminiscent of Soviet-era clothing. When asked whether the new uniforms were inspired by nostalgia for the USSR, Aeroflot General Director Valerii Okulov responded that "our [long history] is important for us." "If we can emphasize this, then that's good," he said. He added that the firm's palette -- blue, gray, and orange -- "flows from our values of openheartedness and hospitality." JAC

SENIOR ARMENIAN POLITICIANS QUESTION MURDER TRIAL VERDICT
Two senior members of the Republican Party of Armenia (HHK), the senior partner in the ruling three-party coalition, attended on 16 December the opening session of the Appeals Court's hearing of an appeal by businessman Armen Sargsian against his conviction by a lower court last month on charges of masterminding the December 2002 murder of Armenian Public Television and Radio head Tigran Naghdalian, Interfax and RFE/RL's Yerevan bureau reported (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 19 November 2003). The lower court sentenced Sargsian to 15 years' imprisonment. Sargsian, whose brother, former Prime Minister Aram Sargsian is an outspoken critic of President Robert Kocharian, has denied any connection with the killing and claims the case against him was fabricated for political reasons. Interfax quoted HHK parliament faction member Galust Sahakian as saying, "I do not believe Armen could have been involved in Tigran's murder." Former Social Security Minister Razmik Martirosian said he has doubts about the prosecution case against Armen Sargsian. Both men said they remain on friendly terms with the Sargsian family. LF

NEW RIGHT-WING ALLIANCE FORMED IN GEORGIA
Union of Traditionalists of Georgia Chairman Akaki Asatiani announced in Tbilisi on 16 December the merger of his party with the National Democratic Party of Georgia to form a new right-wing party, Georgian media and Interfax reported. The new party is to be provisionally named the National Democratic Party-Union of Traditionalists, and talks are continuing on the possible alignment with it of the New Rightists and Industry Will Save Georgia. Asatiani said the new party will remain in opposition to the new Georgian leadership because "many pledges made by the interim administration are unacceptable for us." In early November, Asatiani aligned with the Georgian opposition parties protesting the falsification of the 2 November parliamentary election, but later withdrew that support, accusing National Movement leader and presidential candidate Mikhail Saakashvili of populism. LF

SUPPORTERS OF FORMER GEORGIAN SECURITY MINISTER ABANDON PROTEST
Supporters of former State Security Minister Igor Giorgadze who on 15 December began a picket near the Central Election Commission to protest that body's refusal to register Giorgadze as a candidate for the 4 January presidential election ended their action on 16 December, Caucasus Press reported. But picket organizer and Monarchist Party leader Temur Zhorzholiani said they will call for a campaign of civil disobedience and appeal to the electorate to boycott the presidential ballot. Police searched Giorgadze's home in the west Georgian town of Samtredia late on 16 December, his aunt told Caucasus Press the following day. LF

NEW GEORGIAN INTERIOR MINISTER OUTLINES PRIORITIES
Speaking at a press conference in Tbilisi on 16 December, Giorgi Baramidze said he has reduced the number of his deputies from five to four as part of a cost-cutting program, Caucasus Press reported. He named to one of two vacant deputy ministerial positions Petre Tsiskarishvili, a parliament deputy and leading member of Saakashvili's National Movement, according to rustavi2.com. Baramidze listed as his ministry's three main priorities combating drug trafficking, the mafia, and high-level corruption. On 15 December, Baramidze admitted that the crime rate for the Adjar Autonomous Republic is lower than that for Georgia as a whole, primarily because the Adjar police are better funded and equipped, Caucasus Press reported. LF

NEW GEORGIAN BODY TO PROMOTE NATIONAL RECONCILIATION
Georgia's National Security Council has proposed establishing a government commission to promote the rehabilitation of supporters of deceased President Zviad Gamsakhurdia, Caucasus Press reported on 16 December. It will be headed by Guram Absandze, who served under Gamsakhurdia as finance minister and was recently appointed deputy minister of state (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 9 December 2003), who is to draft within 10 days a program for reconciliation. It is hoped that the creation of the commission will help defuse tensions in the west Georgian region of Mingrelia, a bastion of support for Gamsakhurdia, caused by the new Georgian leadership's appointment of a new regional police chief. A parliamentary commission to expedite the rehabilitation of Gamsakhurdia supporters was established in the late1990s. LF

KYRGYZ OMBUDSMAN WANTS ROLE IN HUMAN RIGHTS LEGISLATION
Kyrgyz Ombudsman Tursunbai Bakir-uulu has sent a letter to President Askar Akaev stating that all government-drafted legislation involving human rights should be submitted to his office for evaluation, and all government agencies drafting such legislation should be required to incorporate the office's recommendations, "Obshchestvennyi reiting" reported on 16 December. Earlier Bakir-uulu persuaded Akaev to support his proposals for a death-penalty moratorium, to add psychologists to the staffs of pretrial-detention facilities, and to transfer responsibility for the penal system from the Interior Ministry to the Justice Ministry. In his letter to Akaev, Bakir-uulu asked that the moratorium on the death penalty be extended through 2004 and that the death penalty be abolished entirely in 2005. He also called for the installation of X-ray machines in five of the country's pretrial-detention facilities so that detainees could be screened for tuberculosis, and requested that juvenile female prisoners be separated from adult female prisoners. BB

KYRGYZ MAYOR FACES CHARGES OVER TYPHOID OUTBREAK
The Djalal-Abad Oblast prosecutor's office has filed charges against the mayor of the town of Maili-Suu in connection with an outbreak of typhoid fever in villages surrounding the town, KyrgyzInfo reported on 17 December. Oblast Prosecutor Aibek Turganbaev asserted publicly that the head of the city administration has ultimate responsibility for the outbreak, which resulted in the hospitalization of 50 inhabitants of nearby villages in the late fall. Health workers traced the disease to the villagers' use of water from the Maili-Suu River, which had been contaminated by the city's sewage-treatment plant. Other outbreaks of typhoid in southern Kyrgyzstan at the same time were attributed to contaminated water from areas of Tajikistan affected by the disease (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 14 November 2003). Maili-Suu, known in Kyrgyzstan for its light-bulb factory, has gained international notoriety for its uranium-waste dumps. BB

SOUTH KOREA SIGNS AGREEMENT WITH KYRGYZSTAN ON LABOR MIGRANTS
South Korea has become the first country to sign an agreement with Kyrgyzstan on accepting Kyrgyz labor migrants, kabar.kg reported on 16 December. Korean agencies expressed an interest in receiving Kyrgyz workers in November 2002, but final arrangements were made only in September during a visit to South Korea by Kyrgyz Labor and Social Security Minister Roza Aknazarova. The ministry's employment centers will have responsibility for the selection and training of Kyrgyz citizens taking jobs in South Korea. A private Kyrgyz firm called Eldorado has concluded its own contract with South Korea to supply workers. The Foreign Ministry says it intends to launch television commercials in January that will inform job seekers about how to apply for work in South Korea, although Foreign Ministry Migration Department Director Zafar Hakimov told a press conference in Bishkek on 16 December that the number of Kyrgyz citizens seeking jobs abroad has declined since 2000. Interfax reported on 17 December that Hakimov attributed the decline to improvements in the Kyrgyz economy. BB

TURKMEN OFFICIAL SAYS MOVEMENT TO DESERT IS VOLUNTARY
Turkmen Ambassador to the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE) and Austria Vladimir Kadyrov reacted to concerns raised by the United States and the European Union at the 9 December meeting of the OSCE's Permanent Council by asserting that Turkmen citizens of all nationalities are voluntarily moving to salt flats in the desert, centrasia.ru reported on 15 December. The concerns arose after reports that members of Turkmenistan's ethnic minorities, particularly Uzbeks, are being forced to move to remote areas in the country's northern desert that are supposed to become agricultural lands under President Saparmurat Niyazov's grandiose scheme to create a freshwater lake in a salt depression using irrigation runoff. Kadyrov complained that the Turkmen government's decisions were not always understood correctly outside the country, asserting that the movement to the desert was intended to provide employment, particularly for young people, and denying that anyone was forced to move. BB

TURKMENISTAN, UKRAINE AGREE ON GAS DELIVERIES IN 2004
Turkmenistan's gas-export firm Turkmenneftegaz and the Ukrainian gas firm Naftohaz have finally agreed on terms -- including the price -- for the delivery of Turkmen gas to Ukraine in 2004, the Ukrainian news site Obozrevatel (http://www.obozrevatel.com.ua) reported on 15 December. A basic agreement on the delivery of Turkmen gas was signed in July. The details were worked out during the visit of a Naftohaz delegation to Ashgabat on 11-12 December, during which Naftohaz Chairman Yuriy Boyko met with Turkmen President Saparmurat Niyazov and assured him that in the next few months the Ukrainian side will finish paying its debts for Turkmen gas delivered in 1999-2001. Under the July agreement, Turkmenistan will supply 31.5 billion cubic meters of gas in 2004, with an additional 4.5 billion cubic meters being supplied as payment for various Ukrainian projects in Turkmenistan. As usual, Ukraine will pay half its 2004 gas debt to Turkmenistan in goods and half in cash. The price was set at $44 per 1,000 cubic meters. BB

UZBEK, AFGHAN TV STATIONS SIGN COOPERATION AGREEMENT
A delegation from Samarkand Radio and Television has visited the town of Shibargan in northern Afghanistan and signed a three-year cooperation agreement with the local television station Oyna, uzreport.com reported on 16 December. The memorandum includes the exchange of television programs and joint program production, according to Oyna official Yusuf Ravanyor. The Samarkand station has also promised to provide technical assistance to Oyna. The same day uzreport.com said that the Kazakh embassy in Tashkent is negotiating with Uzbek radio and television officials on starting broadcasts of Kazakh programs to Uzbekistan and Uzbek programs to Kazakhstan. BB

BELARUSIAN PRESIDENTS SLAMS KGB FOR POOR PERFORMANCE
President Alyaksandr Lukashenka criticized the Committee for State Security (KGB) on 16 December, saying the espionage agency does not supply him with "necessary, objective, reliable, and timely" information, Belarusian Television reported. He said he receives a lot of information from "other sources" than the KGB. "How can one interpret a situation in which the special service [KGB] does not see and does not know the channels that supply the radical opposition in the country with the technical means for information warfare and financial flows?" Lukashenka wondered aloud. "One has the impression that the KGB is taking a detached look at the so-called import of democracy." The Belarusian president also criticized the KGB for failing to obtain "verified information on processes in the world economy." JM

BELARUSIAN JOURNALIST COMPLETES SENTENCE FOR SLANDERING LUKASHENKA
Journalist Viktar Ivashkevich was released from a special facility in Baranavichy, Brest Oblast, on 16 December after serving his one-year "restricted-freedom" sentence for slandering President Lukashenka (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 16 September 2003), Belapan reported. Ivashkevich told the agency that he is planning to fill an administrative position at the headquarters of the opposition Belarusian Popular Front and start looking for funds to launch a new periodical. Ivashkevich, former editor in chief of the independent newspaper "Rabochy," was sentenced to two years of restricted movement after publishing an article that implicated Lukashenka in serious economic crimes. He had his sentence curtailed by one year in June as a result of an amnesty. JM

UKRAINIAN JOURNALIST FOUND HANGED
Volodymyr Karachevtsev, an Internet reporter and the head of an independent journalists' union in Melitopol, Zaporizhzhya Oblast, was found hanged from the handle of his refrigerator on 14 December, Ukrainian and international news agencies reported on 16 December, citing the vlasti.net website for which Karachevtsev worked. "Forensic experts found that death was due to mechanical asphyxia caused by hanging," the website reported. "We have a lot of questions. First, the wife of the deceased said Volodymyr's death was not accidental. Second, it is not clear how an adult...could be hanged on the handle of a refrigerator." Local police are investigating the incident. JM

INVESTIGATION URGED OF UKRAINIAN OPPOSITION LAWMAKER'S HOUSE FIRE
The Yuliya Tymoshenko Bloc has appealed to the Prosecutor-General's Office, the Interior Ministry, and the Ukrainian Security Service to investigate the circumstances under which Yuliya Tymoshenko Bloc lawmaker Yevhen Kyrylchuk's house and car caught fire in Lutsk in northwestern Ukraine on 15 December, Interfax reported. The appeal calls the fire an "act of political terror," adding that it took place after Kyrylchuk convinced a public forum in Lutsk to oppose proposed constitutional amendments that would allow parliament, rather than voters, to choose Ukraine's next president. JM

UKRAINIAN GOVERNMENT WANTS TO START 2004 WITH A WEEK OFF
The Ukrainian cabinet on 17 December recommended that Ukrainian businesses, institutions, and organizations make the week of 1-7 January 2004 an official holiday, thus allowing people to celebrate the New Year and Christmas freely (Orthodox Christmas falls on 7 January), UNIAN reported, citing Deputy Prime Minister Dmytro Tabachnyk. JM

ESTONIA AMONG MOST DEVELOPED E-COUNTRIES IN CENTRAL, EASTERN EUROPE
A survey of 32 countries by international research company TNS concluded that Estonia is one of the most developed users of public sector electronic services in Central and Eastern Europe, BNS reported on 16 December. It estimated that 36 percent of Estonia's residents between the ages of 16 and 74 have used the Internet in communicating with the public sector -- looking for information from state agencies' websites, printing out documents, forwarding information, making payments to public institutions, or taking part in public debate. Public-sector e-services are most widely used in Denmark and Norway, where 62 percent-63 percent of residents have used such services via the Internet. In the 12 months before the study, 26 percent of Estonia's residents had paid taxes and fees via the Internet, the survey found, a share exceeded in Europe only by Finland. According to the survey, Internet usage is 47 percent among Estonian residents aged 16 to 74. SG

LATVIAN COURT GIVES TWO-YEAR SUSPENDED SENTENCE TO PENSIONER FOR GENOCIDE
The Kurzeme Regional Court found former Latvian KGB official Nikolai Tess, who is a citizen of Russia, guilty of genocide and crimes against humanity and handed down a two-year suspended prison sentence on 16 December, BNS reported. The court found Tess guilty of participation in the deportation of 138 Latvians to Siberia in March 1949, but suspended the sentence in light of Tess's age, 82, and poor health, as well as the fact that he was acting on orders from his superiors and not on his own initiative. Russian Deputy Foreign Minister Yurii Fedotov condemned the sentence, charging that the trials of World War II veterans in the Baltic states contradict international law and are politically motivated, Interfax reported. Fedotov said the Tess trial flies in the face of a resolution by the European Court of Human Rights banning the retroactive application of criminal law and "demonstrates once again that Latvia is far from a genuine democracy and does not have a civilized order." SG

LEGISLATIVE SUPPORT HIGH FOR IMPEACHMENT OF LITHUANIAN PRESIDENT
Parliament speaker Arturas Paulauskas on 16 December became the 86th parliamentary deputy to sign the draft resolution to impeach President Rolandas Paksas, "Kauno diena" reported the next day. The 36 signatures needed to launch the impeachment process were gathered quickly earlier in the month (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 12 December 2003), but additional signatures were collected to reach the 85-signature mark required to approve impeachment under the Lithuanian Constitution. (One hundred and thirty-seven of the chamber's 141 seats are currently filled, although the Lithuanian Constitutional Court has ruled that the 60 percent requirement for impeachment should reflect its prescribed membership.) The number of deputies voting to impeach Paksas is likely to rise, as five deputies who are also cabinet ministers refrained from signing the draft impeachment. The collection of signatures proceeded more slowly than planned, and Paulauskas will formally present the signatures to the parliament on 18 December. Presidential spokeswoman Jurate Overlingiene said Paksas continues to maintain his innocence and has no intention of resigning. SG

LITHUANIA SETS DATE FOR ELECTIONS TO EUROPEAN PARLIAMENT
Lithuanian lawmakers overwhelmingly backed a resolution on 16 December to hold the country's first-ever elections to the European Parliament on Sunday, 13 June 2004, ELTA reported. Voters will elect 13 deputies to the European Parliament in a multiple-mandate district covering the whole country. All registered political parties will have the right to present lists of between five and 26 candidates no later than 65 days prior to the elections. A party will have to receive a minimum of 5 percent of the vote to win representation. Citizens of Lithuania and EU member countries who have permanent residency in Lithuania may run if they are at least 21 years old on the day of the elections. SG

POLISH PREMIER VOWS TO RESIST EU 'THREATS'
Prime Minister Leszek Miller was quoted by the "Financial Times" on 17 December as saying Poland will not bow to "threats" from Brussels and will not soften its opposition to an EU constitution that weakens Warsaw's voting power in the EU Council of Ministers. Miller dismissed suggestions that Poland could be financially punished by net contributors to the EU budget for blocking the adoption of a draft constitution at the EU summit on 12-13 December. "I don't think there will be any retaliation. That would mean a deep crisis in the union as well as a rise in skepticism in many of the countries entering the union," Miller said. Miller said the letter sent earlier this week by six EU countries, including Germany and France, calling for a freeze on EU budgetary spending until 2013 is not aimed at Poland. "I don't think there is any link between this letter and the results of the summit. This type of declaration would have been formulated no matter what the results of the summit [were]," Miller said. JM

CZECH PRESIDENT COUNTERS PREMIER OVER EU CONSTITUTION
President Vaclav Klaus told the daily "Pravo" of 16 December that he would consider it a great personal victory if the recent failure to agree on the text of an EU constitution triggered a serious discussion over the necessity and consequences of such a document in Europe and the Czech Republic. He warned against a rush by the Czech Republic to join any eventual group of fast-track integration states within the EU -- a clear reference to Prime Minister Vladimir Spidla's comment the previous day (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 16 December 2003). Klaus reiterated that the EU dispute is between those who want a "supranational state" in Europe and those who want to maintain the nation-state as the main EU entity. MS

CZECH OPPOSITION PARTY CHIDES GOVERNMENT OVER FIGHTER PURCHASE
Petr Necas, who is the main opposition Civic Democratic Party's (ODS) shadow defense minister, told journalists on 16 December that the government is hiding behind unpublished documents ahead of the imminent decision on the purchase of supersonic fighter jets, CTK reported. He noted that the Defense Ministry panel that recommended the purchase of Gripen fighters based its opinion on information that has not been made public. Necas said the ODS believes the decision in favor of the Gripen is "political" and that the governing parties would bear sole responsibility for it. Also on 16 December, Belgium and the Netherlands asked unsuccessfully to be granted the opportunity to make a further "final" offer in the tender. The same request was made by the United States, including by outgoing Ambassador to the Czech Republic Craig Stapleton (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 12 December 2003). MS

SLOVAK PRESIDENT VISITS TURKEY
Visiting Slovak President Rudolf Schuster met in Ankara on 16 December with his Turkish counterpart Ahmet Necdet Sezer and with Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan, TASR and CTK reported. Sezer and Schuster agreed that mutual relations are problem-free. But they also agreed that commercial ties lag behind their potential and vowed to establish trade missions in their respective capitals. Sezer said Turkey wishes to learn from the Slovak experience in negotiations with the EU, since, like Turkey now, Slovakia once encountered difficulties in its accession bid. Although Schuster pledged to back Turkey's EU aspirations, "just as Turkey has helped Slovakia" gain NATO membership, the Slovak president said the success of Ankara's EU bid "depends primarily on Turkey itself," according to CTK. MS

SLOVAK MEMORY INSTITUTE STARTS DECLASSIFICATION OF SECRET-POLICE FILES
Jan Langos, chairman of Slovakia's Institute for National Memory (UNP), told CTK on 16 December that the institute has begun declassifying communist-era secret-police (StB) files, CTK reported. He said that of the 75,000 StB files previously in the custody of the Slovak Intelligence Service (SIS), some 10,000-15,000 files have been handed over to the UNP. Roughly 4,000 people have submitted requests to see their files, he added. Langos also said the UNP is certain to request the indictment of some former StB officers. He said there is ample evidence that crimes were committed, adding that "the victims are known and there is evidence in the files against the perpetrators." MS

HUNGARY SETS UP COMMISSION TO NEGOTIATE OVER DANUBE PROJECT
The Hungarian Environment Ministry on 16 December announced the creation of an intragovernmental commission to coordinate tasks related to the controversial Gabcikovo-Nagymaros hydropower project on the Hungarian-Slovak stretch of the Danube River, the MTI news agency reported. Environment Minister Miklos Persanyi, the chairman of the new commission, said he will name a government official by 15 January to lead the Hungarian team in new negotiations with Slovakia. Persanyi said the role of the new commission will be to follow up on the 1997 ruling by the International Court of Justice in The Hague. The court determined that Hungary broke international law by abandoning a 1977 bilateral agreement with Slovakia on construction of a hydropower network on the Danube, but it also ruled that Slovakia was wrong in pressing ahead with the project and diverting the waters of the Danube from Hungary to Slovakia (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 25 September 1997). The last round of talks took place under Hungary's previous FIDESZ administration; the Socialist-led cabinet dissolved the Danube commissioner's office after taking office in 2002. MSZ

NEW ROMANY MOVEMENT LAUNCHED IN HUNGARY
The National Gypsy Authority (OCO) will launch a new movement in January to promote equal opportunity under the banner "The Decade of Romany Integration," OCO Chairman Orban Kolompar announced on 16 December. Kolompar said the Romany community in Hungary is in a "disastrous position," as 73 percent of Roma live in poverty, compared to a figure of 33 percent in 1989, "Magyar Hirlap" reported. MSZ

FORMER NATO COMMANDER TESTIFIES AT SERBIAN LEADER'S WAR CRIMES TRIAL...
Retired U.S. General Wesley Clark, who was supreme commander of NATO forces during the 1999 Kosova conflict, testified at the war-crimes trial of former Serbian and Yugoslav President Slobodan Milosevic in The Hague on 15-16 December, RFE/RL reported. The contents of his testimony have not been made public, but Clark later told reporters: "I think I could provide the testimony, from hundreds of hours of discussions and dialogue with Milosevic, about his state of mind and his intent and, in addition, my impression of his overall leadership style in the conduct, the manner in which he mixed diplomacy and war in his campaigns for a decade in the Balkans." Clark believes he is "probably the only commander in 20th-century military history who has ever known his opponent to the degree and extent that I did [regarding] his attitudes, character, thought processes, [and] the way he would respond to situations. I had great and detailed knowledge of him and I used that knowledge, I believe, to good effect during the campaign in Kosovo." PM

...ON BOSNIA AS WELL AS KOSOVA
Clark told reporters in The Hague on 16 December that Srebrenica and Milosevic's advance knowledge of the 1995 massacre there "came up" in the course of the retired general's appearance before the tribunal, RFE/RL reported. "It is very important that the NATO countries that are on the ground in Bosnia finish the job and arrest the remaining outstanding war criminals, or indicted war-criminal suspects, including Mr. [Radovan] Karadzic and General [Ratko] Mladic. I think that history and justice require that they be brought here and made to answer for their crimes," Clark said. PM

HERZEGOVINIAN CROAT LEADER TELLS OF ISLAMIC RADICALS' DEATH THREATS
The office of Dragan Covic of the Croatian Democratic Community (HDZ), who heads the Bosnian Presidency, said in a statement on 16 December in Sarajevo that unnamed "foreign intelligence services informed...Covic of assassination threats [against him over the Christmas holidays] from Islamic radical circles in Bosnia," Hina reported. During the past summer, Covic told "The Washington Times" that there are Al-Qaeda cells in Bosnia. Legislators from the Muslim Party of Democratic Action (SDA) subsequently criticized Covic's remarks in the parliament. NATO troops recently searched a village in central Bosnia for possible Al-Qaeda links (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 12 December 2003). PM

BOSNIA TO COMPENSATE FAMILIES OF GUANTANAMO PRISONERS
The Bosnian government agreed on 16 December to pay a total of more than $20,000 to the families of six Arab men whom the Bosnian authorities arrested in January 2002 and extradited to the United States because of their alleged links to Al-Qaeda, RFE/RL's South Slavic and Albanian Languages Service reported (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 23 January and 22 February 2002). The five Algerians and one Yemeni fought in the 1992-95 Bosnian war on the Muslim side, married local women, and became Bosnian citizens. Bosnia's Human Rights Chamber, which is the top court dealing with human rights issues, ruled that the men were wrongly extradited and their families are entitled to compensation. The extraditions led to many protests and media discussions in Bosnia. PM

CROATIA'S OLD AND NEW PRIME MINISTERS TAKE STOCK
In Zagreb on 16 December, outgoing Croatian Prime Minister Ivica Racan and Prime Minister-designate Ivo Sanader discussed plans for an orderly transition between their respective governments, Hina reported (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 10, 12, and 16 December 2003 and "RFE/RL Balkan Report," 27 June and 5 December 2003). Sanader said that he is "an optimist and believes that in the next few months, which will be of historic importance for Croatia, we will gain the status of an EU [membership] candidate, and that is our most important task in the next six months, along with improving the living standards of all Croatian citizens." Racan stressed that his "government absolutely deserves credit" for the progress that Croatia has made toward EU membership. PM

MACEDONIA, BULGARIA AGREE ON CLOSER MILITARY COOPERATION
On 15 December, Macedonian Defense Minister Vlado Buckovski and his visiting Bulgarian counterpart Nikolai Svinarov agreed to boost military cooperation between their countries, dpa reported. During the two-day talks, Macedonian officials announced that the government will ask the International Monetary Fund (IMF) for a credit to enable it to scrap 60 of the 90 aging T-55 tanks that were donated by Bulgaria in 1999, "Dnevnik" reported. NATO has advised Macedonia to dismantle the tanks and four Sukhoi Su-24 ground-attack aircraft to bring its forces closer to Western standards. UB

ROMANIAN NGO WARNS AGAINST CHANGE OF ELECTORAL SYSTEM
The Romanian Academic Society (SAR) warned in a report on 16 December that switching from the current system of proportional representation to one of single-mandate districts could greatly distort parliamentary representation, according to an SAR press release. Using the returns of the latest public-opinion poll by the Center for Urban and Rural Sociology, SAR projected that a single-mandate system in Senate elections would enable the ruling Social Democratic Party (PSD) to win an absolute majority of 62 percent of seats. The National Liberal Party-Democratic Party alliance would receive 31 percent of seats, and the Greater Romania Party would go unrepresented in the upper house. The Hungarian Democratic Federation of Romania ( UDMR) would gain representation only in Covasna and Harghita counties and some districts in the Targu-Mures and Satu-Mare counties. SAR concluded that the switch would result in a gross distortion of Romania's political makeup. The PNL-Democratic Party advocates single-mandate systems for both chambers, while the UDMR opposes any change in the representation system. MS

ROMANIAN RULING PARTY COMPLAINS OF HUNGARIAN PARTY'S 'INADMISSIBLE MINGLING'
The ruling PSD charged on 15 December that speeches delivered in Cluj-Napoca last week by Hungary's FIDESZ opposition-party Deputy Chairman Laszlo Kover and Reformed Bishop Laszlo Toekes amount to a "highly aggressive and dangerous display on Romanian territory of Hungarian irredentism," Mediafax reported. At his speech, Kover said FIDESZ will support in the European Parliament demands for autonomy by Transylvanian ethnic Hungarians. The PSD also said Romanian authorities must undertake "immediate measures to counter the actions" of the newly established National Council of Transylvanian Hungarians (CNMT), whose aim it described as "unleashing interethnic tension and endangering the territorial integrity of the Romanian state." FIDESZ responded to the PSD warning on 16 December by saying the demand for autonomy is line with statements issued by the Council of Europe on national minority affairs, Mediafax reported, citing MTI (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 15 December 2003). MS

ROMANIA RECEIVES U.S. TRADE AWARD
U.S. Trade and Development Agency (USTDA) Director Thelma Askey presented the agency's 2003 Country of the Year award to Romanian President Ion Iliescu in Bucharest on 16 December, according to a USTDA press release. Askey said the award "reflects the level of success we have achieved with our Romanian partners across a broad range of sectors." She also said the USTDA "looks forward to building on this impressive track record to assist Romanian project sponsors in fulfilling their future development goals." Askey also met with Prime Minister Adrian Nastase, Romanian Radio reported. MS

OSCE SPOKESMAN SAYS PROPOSALS FOR TRANSDNIESTER SETTLEMENT STILL VALID
Claus Neukirch, OSCE mission spokesman in Moldova, told Flux on 16 December that proposals for the settlement of the Transdniester conflict worked out in October by international mediators from the OSCE, Russia, and Ukraine remain valid. According to unconfirmed reports in the local and international media, those proposals are based on the idea of Moldova's federalization -- like a recently rejected Russian plan and proposals presented by Moldovan President Vladimir Voronin. Neukirch said the reason they have not been made public is that the proposals have not been officially presented to Chisinau and Tiraspol. Neukirch said he does not rule out mediators presenting the proposals officially after the winter holiday season, but added that until that time "the negotiation process has been in general interrupted." MS

TRANSDNIESTRIAN LEADER REITERATES THREAT TO HALT RUSSIAN TROOP WITHDRAWAL
Separatist leader Igor Smirnov told journalists in Moscow on 16 December that Tiraspol might again decide to block the withdrawal of Russian ammunition and other military equipment from the breakaway region, Infotag reported. Smirnov was reiterating a threat first made by Transdniestrian official Boris Akulov on 12 December (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 15 December 2003). "Chisinau's refusal to sign the Moscow-proposed plan for a peaceful resolution of the conflict is offering Russia the political opportunity and moral grounds to revise the timing of its military evacuation from Transdniester," Smirnov said. "We are not putting any pressure on Russia. We shall simply stop the withdrawal process, if we conclude the process is becoming a threat to our security." Smirnov also said that, in the event of an agreement being reached with Chisinau, Transdniester will insist on Russian security guarantees. "We are concerned that [Romanian] nationalism might overtly manifest itself in Moldova once again, as it did in the early 1990s," he said. MS

THREATS PROMPT TIGHTER PROTECTION OF BULGARIAN POLITICIANS, FAMILIES
Conservative opposition Union of Democratic Forces (SDS) Chairwoman Nadezhda Mihailova and legislator Dilyana Grozdanova of the governing National Movement Simeon II (NDSV) have been put under special protection of the National Security Service (NSO) after their husbands reportedly received threats from organized-crime structures, mediapool.bg reported on 16 December. Grozdanova's husband, Lyubomir Pavlov, is the director of the Sofia Municipal Bank. Both men have reportedly received threatening telephone calls by suspected members of the notorious SIK group. The Sofia City Council has initiated an investigation into real-estate deals involving a company owned by the Sofia municipality and the SIK group, which was notorious for blackmailing and racketeering in the mid-1990s. UB

COUNCIL OF EUROPE SENDS MIXED SIGNALS OVER BULGARIAN LAW RELIGIOUS COMMUNITIES
The Parliamentary Assembly of the Council of Europe's (PACE) Committee on Legal Affairs and Human Rights in a draft resolution calls a Bulgarian law on religious communities passed in 2002 (which the council calls the "Confessions Act") a "step forward," according to the council's website (http://www.coe.int). But the committee also expressed concern that the law interferes in the internal affairs of religious communities by seemingly favoring Patriarch Maxim in the split within the Bulgarian Orthodox Church. "The role of the authorities in such circumstances is not to remove the cause of tension by eliminating pluralism, but to ensure that the competing groups tolerate each other," the committee warned (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 14 March and 11 June 2003). UB

FINGER-POINTING IN BULGARIA
Organized crime and corruption are arguably the most serious problems in Bulgaria today. They deter foreign investment and stymie private initiative. And they threaten to become a stumbling block on Bulgaria's road to EU membership as they expose the shortcomings in the country's legal and law enforcement systems.

It is difficult to describe the combination of reasons why the police, the prosecutors, and the courts are unable to cope with the growing impact of drug smuggling, human trafficking, racketeering, and counterfeiting. But one of the most obvious factors contributing to Bulgaria's poor results in combating crime is the lack of cooperation between the law enforcement authorities on the one hand and the judiciary on the other.

Those involved -- the police in the streets, investigating magistrates, prosecutors, and judges, as well as most politicians -- are well aware of this problem. There have even been serious efforts to address it -- including possibly amending the constitution and by forming special coordinating bodies within the president's or prime minister's offices. And there have, undoubtedly, been some successes breaking up counterfeiting rings and drug laboratories. However, in an 8 December statement, U.S. Ambassador to Bulgaria James Pardew pointed out that such successes are rarely followed by convictions.

Although many Bulgarian citizens have experienced the past 13 years of transition mainly as an economic tragedy exacerbated by the activities of criminal structures, today's politicians tend to downplay this crucial aspect of the crime problem. They thus risk inadvertently reducing the fight against crime and corruption to mere farce.

The latest act of this farce was triggered by General Boyko Borisov, who is the Interior Ministry's chief secretary in charge of the police forces, during a visit this month to Washington. Addressing a conference organized by the Western Policy Center, Borisov complained on 2 December that thanks to Bulgaria's liberal legislation, some 30 convicted killers have been released on bail and are currently killing each other to get rid of witnesses. What really angered some people in Sofia was when he said: "Many thugs in Bulgaria are at large because of the prosecutor's office." "Judges and --most of all -- prosecutors are to blame for letting criminals remain at large," he added.

Although Borisov later tried to downplay his statement by saying that the media misinterpreted him and that the Interior Ministry, too, bears come of the blame for the situation, Borisov provoked an avalanche of ill-considered statements more reminiscent of a banana republic than of a future NATO member and serious EU candidate. Those reactions were all the more surprising because Borisov has made similar statements before. What seems to have made the difference was the fact that on this occasion he was speaking in Washington, not in Sofia, as former Prosecutor-General Ivan Tatarchev's words seem to confirm. "[Borisov] dared to insult in an arrogant way the judiciary, especially the prosecutor's office, in front of the world public," Tatarchev said, alleging that Borisov himself has ties to organized crime structures.

While he was still in the U.S. capital, Borisov received a letter "inviting" him to the prosecutor's office at the Supreme Appellate Court as soon as he returns to explain what he meant with his accusations. "I hope that this is a joke," Borisov commented. But it was no joke, and Borisov duly went to see prosecutors on 8 December, where, according to witnesses, he was outnumbered 20 to one.

Prosecutor-General Nikola Filchev -- who has been repeatedly criticized by international observers -- did not show up to question Borisov, but most of the country's highest-ranking prosecutors did. In an effort to prove that their own inactivity is not the reason why criminals remain at large, the prosecutors ordered Borisov to take measures to detain all the "dozens of criminals who are at large" -- within three days. At the same time, the prosecutor's office reminded the police of their responsibility to provide the documentation necessary to order pretrial detention.

An anonymous commentator wrote this month in the weekly "Kapital," No. 48, that the prosecutors' counteraccusations prove yet again that they are indeed among those who hamper the struggle against crime, and that instead of cooperating with the Interior Ministry, they seek to offload the blame onto it. "Currently the prosecutor is the 'head of the pretrial investigation,'" the commentator wrote. "As the 'brain' does not function well, it obviously seeks [to escape] by either refusing to take the responsibility or by remaining silent."

Interior Minister Georgi Petkanov on 11 December decided to send General Vasil Vasilev, the head of the National Police Service, into retirement. With this surprising move, which he did not explain, Petkanov sparked new speculation that he was making Vasilev a scapegoat for any shortcomings in the Interior Ministry. The same day, Petkanov also blamed his colleagues in the cabinet for delaying debate on a national strategy that his ministry prepared on the fight against organized crime, saying that only four ministries have submitted their comments on the document. The prime minister's Security Council on 28 November ordered the Interior Ministry to prepare the anticrime strategy and ordered the other ministries to submit their comments by 11 December.

Moreover, on 13 December, following the police operation ordered by the prosecutors to arrest the "dozens of criminals," Petkanov charged that not dozens but hundreds of criminals are still at liberty due to shortcomings in the judiciary.

Whatever the outcome of this latest tragi-farce, the government and state institutions would be better advised to concentrate on improving the cooperation between the judiciary and the Interior Ministry instead of engaging in childish finger-pointing. Otherwise Bulgaria risks turning into a failing state ruined by organized crime instead of becoming a respected member of NATO and the EU.

AFGHAN CONSTITUTIONAL ASSEMBLY OPTS FOR COMMITTEE DEBATE...
The second working day of the Afghan Constitutional Loya Jirga, 15 December, resulted in a decision to form 10 committees to discuss the draft Afghan constitution -- one for each article of the document -- Afghanistan Television reported. The chairman of the constitutional assembly, former Afghan President Sebghatullah Mojadeddi, said each committee will comprise 50 members and will debate a given article of the draft before reporting back to the full assembly. The report did not provide the rationale behind the formation of the committees. AT

...WHILE FEMALE DELEGATE IS EJECTED AFTER CHARGING THAT EX-MUJAHEDIN ARE 'CRIMINALS'...
An unidentified female delegate to the Constitutional Loya Jirga from Farah Province said on 17 December that the assembly should not include former mujahedin leaders, describing them as "criminals," Afghanistan Television reported. The delegate specifically objected to the presence of Abdul Rab al-Rasul Sayyaf, the ultraconservative leader of the Ettehad-e Islami party. Sayyaf countered that those who call the mujahedin criminals are themselves "criminals." Chairman Mojadeddi, himself a former mujahedin leader, reportedly ordered the Farah delegate to be thrown out of the assembly. Former mujahedin leaders have assumed leadership positions in the Constitutional Loya Jirga and appear to be trying to safeguard their status in Afghan political and social life by promoting conservative religious norms in the Afghan constitution. AT

...AND MUJAHEDIN LEADER OBJECTS TO SECULARISM AND PRESIDENTIAL SYSTEM
Ettehad-e Islami leader and Constitutional Loya Jirga delegate Sayyaf has rejected the notion of secular laws in the Afghan constitution, the Kabul-based weekly "Farda" reported on 14 December. Sayyaf said the "inclusion of Islamic points in the law [draft constitution] is a major achievement" of former mujahedin leaders who aspire to see Afghanistan develop an Islamic administration. "There is no place for secularism in Afghanistan," he said, according to "Farda," before warning, "If the United States of America and the present [Afghan] government try to exclude the participation of former mujahedin [from the political process], blood will be shed all over Afghanistan." Sayyaf rejected the presidential system that the current draft recommends, saying it contradicts Islam and Afghanistan's traditions and could not survive (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 15 December 2003). The former mujahedin parties fought the Soviet occupation forces and their hand-picked regimes from 1978 to 1992, but subsequently engaged in internecine warfare that took a heavy toll on the country and its civilian population. AT

10 DIE IN CLASHES IN EASTERN AFGHANISTAN
Armed clashes between commander Esmatullah Mohabat and the forces of commander Hazrat Ali have resulted in 10 deaths in two separate incidents, Hindukosh news agency reported on 15 December. Five people were killed in the Nangarhar Province city of Jalalabad -- where Hazrat Ali's forces are based -- during a meeting aimed at mutual reconciliation. Five others were killed in the neighboring Laghman Province, where Mohabat's forces are based. A delegation has been sent by the Afghan Defense Ministry to investigate. U.S. forces reportedly killed six fighters loyal to one or the other of those commanders in an attempt to capture Esmatullah on 11 December (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 12 December 2003). AT

LOCAL AFGHAN AND UZBEK BROADCASTERS TO COOPERATE
A television station in the Uzbek city of Samarkand has signed a memorandum of cooperation with its counterpart in Shebarghan, the capital of the Afghan province of Jowzjan, Uzbek television reported on 16 December. The three-year agreement will include the exchange of information, along with joint programming and films. Shebarghan's population mainly comprises ethnic Uzbeks. AT

IRANIAN HEAVY-WATER PLANT NEAR COMPLETION
Iranian Vice President for Atomic Energy Qolam-Reza Aqazadeh-Khoi said on 16 December that the heavy-water production project at Arak is near completion, ISNA reported. "This project is considered to be a remarkable feat for our country, through which Iran will acquire heavy-water technology, thus placing our country's name alongside world manufacturers of this industry," Aqazadeh said. Light-water nuclear reactors are more common than heavy-water ones, according to Reuters, but heavy-water reactors can use non-enriched uranium as fuel that can subsequently be reprocessed for the extraction of weapons-grade plutonium. "Both the design and production, as well as the installation of the equipment, have been carried out by Iranian experts for the first time in the country," Aqazadeh said. BS

TEHRAN TO GET COMPUTERIZED VOTE TABULATION
Tehran Governor-General Ali-Akbar Rahmani said on 15 December that the vote-counting process in the capital in the February parliamentary elections will be computerized, IRNA reported. IRNA added that this will, in its words, "win the trust of valued and competent candidates." Mohammad Ali Moshfeq, director of the Interior Ministry's election headquarters, said in the 8 December issue of the "Jomhuri-yi Islami" daily newspaper that the possibility of using similar technologies in other major cities, such as Isfahan, Mashhad, and Tabriz, has been considered. The cities must provide the necessary hardware, Moshfeq said. The hand counting of votes in Tehran and other major cities delayed the announcement of results of the February 2000 parliamentary election by as long as three months. BS

ISRAELI SECURITY CHIEF SAYS IRAN POSES GREATEST THREAT
Avi Dichter, the director of Israel's Shin Bet domestic-security service, said on 16 December that Iran "can be described in the sharpest and clearest terms as the number-one terrorist state in the world," the Voice of Israel reported. Dichter charged that Iran operates against Israel and Israeli interests on three tracks: The first track involves Palestinian terrorist organizations such as Islamic Jihad, Hamas, and the Fatah-Tanzim. The second track involves Lebanese Hizballah. "The third channel, which is perhaps the most dangerous and worrisome as far as we are concerned, is the fact that Iran has marked the Israeli Arabs as an optional fifth column as far as it is concerned," Dichter said. He alleged that there has been a recent increase in Hizballah's recruitment of Israeli Arabs in Lebanon. He preceded these comments by pointing out that while there has been a recent reduction in suicide bombings, more than 20 suicide bombers have been intercepted on their way to Israel in the last 10 weeks, three of them within the last 10 days. BS

IRANIANS RELEASED FROM CAPTIVITY IN IRAQ
Forty-one Iranians who were detained by coalition forces after they entered Iraq illegally returned to Iranian soil on 16 December, IRNA reported. Khorramshahr Governor Mohammad-Ali Shirali said most of those released were pilgrims and relief workers. They were freed through the efforts of the Iranian Embassy in Baghdad and the International Committee of the Red Cross, Shirali said, but "most of the detained Iranians' belongings, especially their vehicles, were confiscated by the American forces." BS

IRANIAN LEADER SAYS SADDAM'S CAPTURE IS A LESSON
Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei said on 16 December in his first public comments about the capture of former Iraqi President Saddam Hussein that the Iraqi dictator's fate is a lesson, state radio reported. "The cruel, contemptuous, arrogant, and conceited Saddam Hussein was reduced to living in a hole, prepared to endure any disgrace to save his evil and despicable life," he said. Not only will the world be better off without Hussein, Khamenei said, it would be better off without U.S. President George W. Bush and Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon: "Today, let those people who, in the name of democracy, in the name of human rights, are ruling over the world of humanity dictatorially and tyrannically, like the president of the United States, and those people who, without having the slightest right in a land, are subjecting that land's people to savage pressure, like the leaders of Zionism, who subject the owners of the house, the people of Palestine, to torment, torture, murder, killings, and repression in this way -- let them know that they will have a fate no better than that of Saddam." BS

IRANIAN JUDICIARY CHIEF WANTS HUSSEIN TRIED IN IRAQ
In what appears to be a divergence from the Iranian government's stand on the fate of Saddam Hussein, judiciary chief Ayatollah Mahmud Hashemi-Shahrudi said on 16 December that the Iraqi Governing Council should establish a court for trying the former Iraqi president, IRNA reported. Iranian government spokesman Abdullah Ramezanzadeh had said on 15 December that an international tribunal should investigate Hussein's crimes (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 16 December 2003). "Saddam committed crimes of the highest and worst order in the case of Iranian and Iraqi people and should be tried in a court within Iraq so that scale of the crimes committed by him and those assisting him as well as the innocence of the Iranian and Iraqi peoples" are made clear, Shahrudi said. Shahrudi made his comments during a meeting in Tehran with Ibrahim Bahr al-Ulum, Iraq's interim oil minister. BS

BOMB KILLS AT LEAST 17 IN BAGHDAD
A fuel truck was bombed in Baghdad during morning rush hour on 17 December, killing at least 17 civilians, international media reported. Those killed in the explosion, in the Bayya district of Baghdad, include passengers in civilian cars and one minibus. Approximately 16 others were wounded in the explosion. Reuters said it was not immediately clear if the truck exploded as a result of a roadside bomb or if it was carrying an explosive device. KR

U.S. FORCES CONTINUE STEPPED-UP EFFORT TO DETAIN MILITANTS
U.S. military officials said on 16 December that U.S. forces have stepped up efforts to capture anticoalition militants in the town of Samarra, located about 100 kilometers north of Baghdad, international media reported on 17 December. U.S. troops raided a home in the town on 16 December and detained 73 suspected militants, including a person thought to be a cell leader responsible for funding operations. According to Reuters, the operation was stepped up overnight with the launch of Operation Ivy Blizzard. "The operation is a combined effort to isolate and eliminate former regime elements and other anticoalition cells that continue to try to destabilize Iraq," the news agency quoted a U.S. Army statement as saying on 17 December. Militants attempted to ambush U.S. troops in the town on 15 December, but U.S. forces fought back, killing 11 (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 16 December 2003). KR

IRAQI FOREIGN MINISTER ADDRESSES UN
Iraqi Foreign Minister Hoshyar Zebari addressed the UN Security Council on 16 December and called on members to expand the UN's role in Iraq, UN News Center reported the same day (http://www.un.org/news). Zebari said the capture of deposed Iraqi President Hussein marks "the beginning of a new era" for Iraq. "Iraq must not live any longer in the past but look forward to the future, and the United Nations is the key forum for collective international action to help us achieve our goals of reconstructing and democratizing our country," he said. Zebari also criticized the UN, saying, "The United Nations as an organization failed to help rescue the Iraqi people from a murderous tyranny that lasted over 35 years. Today we are unearthing thousands of victims in horrifying testament to that failure.... The UN must not fail the Iraqi people again," AP reported on 17 December. KR

CIA REPORTEDLY INTERROGATING HUSSEIN
The U.S. Central Intelligence Agency (CIA) is heading the interrogation of Saddam Hussein, U.S. Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld said on 16 December, according to RFE/RL. "I have asked [CIA Director] George Tenet to be responsible for the handling of the interrogation of Saddam Hussein." Rumsfeld told reporters at a Pentagon press briefing. He added that the CIA is better equipped to interrogate Hussein than the U.S. military. "[Tenet] and his people will be the regulator over the interrogations -- who will do it, the questions that will get posed, the management of the information that flows from those interrogations," Reuters quoted Rumsfeld as saying. He also told reporters that he will not comment on whether Hussein is being cooperative or defiant, as some U.S. military officers have done in recent days in both Washington and the Middle East. "I think that characterizing his general relationship with his captors would probably be -- the best word would be -- 'resigned,'" he said. KR

U.S., FRANCE, AND GERMANY AGREE ON IMPORTANCE OF DEBT RELIEF FOR IRAQ
U.S. special envoy James Baker reportedly made progress on the issue of debt relief for Iraq in his 16 December meetings (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 16 December 2003) with French President Jacques Chirac and German Chancellor Gerhard Schroeder. A joint statement issued by the two European leaders and U.S. President George W. Bush following the meetings in Paris and Berlin said, "Debt reduction is critical if the Iraqi people are to have any chance to build a free and prosperous Iraq," Reuters reported on 17 December. "Therefore France, Germany, and the United States agree that there should be substantial debt reduction for Iraq in the Paris Club in 2004, and will work closely with each other and with other countries to achieve this objective." The International Monetary Fund estimates Iraq's debt to be around $120 billion, some $40 billion of which is owed to the Paris Club of creditor states. KR

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