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Newsline - December 19, 2003


PUTIN WILL SEEK SECOND TERM, CALLS THREATENED ELECTION BOYCOTT 'COWARDLY'
Speaking to journalists on 18 December after a 2 1/2 hour national phone-in discussion that was broadcast on federal television, President Vladimir Putin called the threatened boycott of the 14 March presidential election by the Communist, Union of Rightist Forces (SPS), and Yabloko parties "cowardly," RIA-Novosti reported. "Boycotting the election is a silly and harmful idea," he said. He added that it is the position of "people who have no chance of winning," and cautioned that a boycott "might negatively affect the country's political life and its economy." Putin also announced that he will run for re-election without the formal backing of any political party. In an interview with Ekho Moskvy, Liberal Democratic Party of Russia (LDPR) leader Vladimir Zhirinovskii, who on 10 December announced that he would seek the presidency (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 11 December 2003), said he will not run for president if Communist Party leader Gennadii Zyuganov does not compete. Also on 18 December, the Central Election Commission (TsIK) rejected the Communist Party's demand for a hand recount of the ballots from the 7 December State Duma elections in some 11 regions (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 18 December 2003). According to TsIK Chairman Aleksandr Veshnaykov, data from the Communist Party's own accounting of the election results does not amount to justification for a recount. The elections' official results were expected to be certified on 19 December. JAC

PRESIDENT CALLS FOR TAX INCREASES ON OIL SECTOR'S 'SUPER PROFITS'...
During his nationally televised question-and-answer session on 18 December, President Putin called for tax increases on "super profits" in the oil sector, newsru.com and other Russian media reported. He said the government last year submitted a "fair" proposal to the State Duma to "increase the state's share of surplus profits" from 50 percent to 80 percent, but that it was blocked by "oil-company lobbyists in the State Duma," namely the factions of Yabloko, the SPS, and the Communist Party. However, Putin also called the oil sector "the goose that lays the golden egg," and said that killing it would be "stupid and impermissible" and "won't happen." Still, Putin's comments seemed to back proposals associated with Motherland-Patriotic Union bloc co-leader and leftist economist Sergei Glazev. While Putin said privatization should continue, he added that "state structures," legislation, and administration should be improved "so that the effect of every efficient private enterprise has an impact on the country's economy and on each and every citizen." JB

...AND WARNS THE U.S. AGAINST IMPERIAL AMBITIONS
In one of the few exchanges about foreign policy during his 18 December national phone-in discussion, President Putin took aim at U.S. foreign policy, stating that "in all times in human history," countries that "sought to be called empires" invariably suffered from a sense of "invulnerability," "greatness," and "flawlessness," ITAR-TASS reported. "I am hoping that this will not happen to our U.S. partners," he said, adding that anything done "without the UN Security Council's approval cannot be recognized as fair or justified." Putin specifically mentioned the Iraq war, saying that there were "no international terrorists under [deposed Iraqi President] Saddam Hussein." Still, Russia has no interest in seeing the United States defeated in the fight against international terrorism, he said. JB

U.S. ENVOY ON IRAQI DEBT ARRIVES IN MOSCOW...
President Putin met in Moscow on 18 December with former U.S. Secretary of State James Baker, who is U.S. President George W. Bush's special envoy dealing with Iraq's debt, Interfax reported. According to a statement by the Kremlin press service, Putin said Russia is ready to enter into negotiations to reduce Iraq's debt burden on the basis of the guidelines of the Paris Club of creditors, and that Russia's position will be determined by such factors as its national economic interests and those of Russian companies in Iraq. Finance Minister Aleksei Kudrin, who also attended the meeting, noted that the terms of the Paris Club envisage the adoption of a special International Monetary Fund (IMF) program providing for structural and institutional measures to rebuild Iraq's economy. Iraq's total foreign debt is $120 billion, $8 billion of which it owes to Russia. JB

...AS FOREIGN MINISTER SAYS RUSSIAN COMPANIES WILL GET IRAQI RECONSTRUCTION CONTRACTS
Igor Ivanov, on a working visit to Argentina, said on 18 December that he has no doubt that Russian companies will participate in Iraq's reconstruction, ITAR-TASS reported. Commenting on a recent U.S. decision to bar countries that opposed the military operation in Iraq from bidding on U.S.-funded rebuilding contracts, Ivanov said Russia will resolve this matter with "the Iraqi leadership." He added that the Iraqi Governing Council has indicated that it would like to see "important projects" by Russian companies continue. The Interim Governing Council's current president, Abd al-Aziz al-Hakim, who also heads the Supreme Council for the Islamic Revolution in Iraq (SCIRI), one of the country's main Shi'a political parties, said he will visit Russia in the next few days. "Russia plays and can play an important role in Iraq, including regarding issues of returning sovereignty to the Iraqis," Al-Hakim told RIA-Novosti on 18 December. He noted that Russia and Iraq have "traditionally good" economic relations. "Many contracts have been signed and we seek to develop them in the future," he said. JB

FOREIGN MINISTRY APPLAUDS IRAN'S SIGNING OF IAEA PROTOCOL
The Foreign Ministry on 18 December welcomed Tehran's signing of the Additional Protocol of the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty (NPT), under which the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) will carry out comprehensive inspections of Iran's nuclear facilities, Interfax reported. "We welcome this responsible move on the part of the Iranian leadership, which testifies to the fact that Tehran is set to move consistently toward ensuring the full transparency of its nuclear program," Foreign Ministry spokesman Aleksandr Yakovenko said. He also praised the IAEA for carrying out its monitoring of Iran's nuclear program "on an objective and unbiased basis and without unnecessarily politicizing its work." Russia is helping Iran build a nuclear-power station at Bushehr. JB

FSB ASKS EUROPEAN COUNTERPARTS TO HAND OVER STAROVOITOVA MURDER SUSPECT...
Aleksandr Bortnikov, head of the Federal Security Service (FSB) directorate for St. Petersburg and Leningrad Oblast, said he has asked European law enforcement agencies to hand over to Russia a suspect in the 1998 murder of liberal State Duma Deputy and human rights activist Galina Starovoitova, ITAR-TASS reported on 18 December. He did not identify the suspect or say which country he or she might be in. Bortnikov said 10 people are suspected of involvement in the murder. Six of them are currently on trial in St. Petersburg. The other four are fugitives, and three of them are believed to be abroad. Bortnikov said investigators continue to work on identifying who ordered the murder, but added that it is "a complicated task" and "several versions" of what happened have been put forward. JB

...WHILE SIX OTHER SUSPECTS IN THE CASE WANT A JURY TRIAL
The St. Petersburg Municipal Court on 17 December began preliminary hearings for the six incarcerated suspects in the Starovoitova murder case, who asked that the case be transferred to a jury trial, RBK reported. The news agency identified the defendents as Yurii Kolchin -- described by RBK as the alleged "organizer of the criminal group" -- Igor Lelyavin, Vitalii Akishin, Igor Krasnov, Anatolii Voronin, and Yurii Ionov, all of whom come from the Bryansk Oblast town of Dyatkovo. In September, "Vremya novostei" reported that Yurii Kolchin, aka Yura Bryanskii, was a veteran of a secret-services unit who allegedly went on to work as a driver for a leader of St. Petersburg's powerful Tambov crime group. The newspaper claimed that the Tambov group ordered Starovoitova's murder (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 11 September 2003). JB

RIVAL BASHKIR CANDIDATE SUSPENDS 'ACTIVE CAMPAIGNING'...
Businessman Sergei Veremeenko, who is running in the 21 December second-round presidential election in Bashkortostan, announced on local television on 18 December that he has stopped actively campaigning, Russian media reported (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 18 December 2003). Bashkortostan's Election Commission Secretary Nailya Altynova said Veremeenko's announcement will not disrupt the election, since his name will remain on the ballot. Incumbent Bashkir President Murtaza Rakhimov is seeking a third term, and according to some reports, he was supported by certain groups within the presidential administration in exchange for throwing his resources behind the pro-Kremlin Unified Russia party in the 7 December State Duma elections. Unified Russia won 39 percent of the party-list vote in the republic, and its candidates won all single-mandate-district seats from the republic. JAC

...AS STATE MONOPOLIES JOIN CHORUS OF SUPPORT FOR BASHKIR INCUMBENT...
Also on 18 December, in an interview with Bashkortostan State Television, Gazprom's deputy chairman for administration, Aleksandr Ryazonov, called on all Gazprom workers in the republic to vote for President Rakhimov, VolgaInform reported. Speaking to the same station, Russian Railways company head and former Railways Minister Gennadii Fadeev also endorsed Rakhimov. JAC

...AND NGO SAYS PROSECUTORS WERE DISMISSED BECAUSE OF PROBE INTO FAKE BALLOTS
The NGO For Human Rights has appealed to Prosecutor-General Vladimir Ustinov to reinstate former Bashkortostan's Prosecutor Florid Baikov -- who resigned on 15 December (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 16 December 2003) -- and former Bashkir First Deputy Prosecutor Vladimir Korostylev, who was dismissed the same day, VolgaInform reported on 18 December. The NGO charged that their removals came in retaliation for a criminal investigation they launched into a printing company owned by the republic's presidential administration that was caught on 4 December printing false ballots, VolgaInform reported (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 5 December 2003). Meanwhile, the number of hunger strikers protesting the results of the first round of the republican presidential election grew to 200 as of 18 December, an RFE/RL Ufa correspondent reported. Most of the strikers are supporters of candidate Relif Safin, who came in third (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 14 and 15 December 2003). JAC

STRUGGLE FOR DUMA SEATS CONTINUES IN DIFFERENT FORM...
Intense negotiations are ongoing among newly elected State Duma deputies representing single-mandate districts and the various political parties about forming Duma factions, "Gazeta" reported on 18 December. According to the daily, the Motherland-Patriotic Union bloc is hoping to increase the number of deputies in its group from 37 to 50 by winning over deputies who ran as independents. Six Motherland candidates won single-mandate-district seats, including bloc co-leaders Glazev and Dmitrii Rogozin. The Russian Regions group, which existed in the last Duma, is expected to continue in the new Duma with even more deputies. According to the daily, the group had more than 50 members as of 17 December, and the Communists had 56. Unified Russia had 222. Less clear is the future of the People's Deputy group led by Gennadii Raikov. Thirty-five seats are necessary to form a faction, and that group now has only 22, according to the daily. JAC

...AS INTERIOR MINISTER'S POST MAY SOON BE VACANT...
Unified Russia leader and Interior Minister Boris Gryzlov might soon resign his cabinet post to become the leader of the Unified Russia faction in the new Duma or even to combine the posts of faction leader and Duma speaker, "Gazeta" reported. Interfax also reported on 17 December, citing unidentified party sources, that Gryzlov will head the faction. "Izvestiya" reported on 16 December that President Putin has not yet decided who will replace Gryzlov at the Interior Ministry. JAC

...AND SPS MEMBER WILL FIGHT FOR CHANGE FROM WITHIN
Legislators seeking to form a rightist group in the new Duma have lost a potential recruit, izvestiya.ru reported on 18 December. SPS member Pavel Krasheninnikov, who won a single-mandate-district seat, confirmed on 18 December that he will join the Unified Russia faction. Commenting on Krasheninnikov's plans, SPS leader Boris Nemtsov said: "During [Soviet founder Vladimir] Lenin's time, many bourgeois specialists worked for Soviet power, but maintained their own viewpoints and civilian positions. Krasheninnikov will repeat their fate." JAC

MORE ALLEGED FOREIGN SPIES FOUND IN THE REGIONS
The FSB directorate in Nizhnii Novgorod Oblast has arrested 13 people suspected of working with foreign intelligence services, the Privolzhe news agency reported on 18 December, citing directorate head Lieutenant General Vladimir Bulavin. The alleged spies tried to gain access to scientific-technical institutions and to classified information. They were particularly interested in the Nuclear Center in Sarov and in certain defense enterprises where new weapons are being developed and tested, Bulavin said. Also on 18 December, Murmansk Oblast FSB directorate head Aleksandr Malyuchenkov announced that his office has arrested an unspecified number of local residents who were allegedly working for the intelligence services of an unspecified NATO country, RIA-Novosti reported. JAC

MAYOR FAILS TO COMES OUT SMELLING LIKE A ROSE?
The campaign to re-elect Yekaterinburg Mayor Arkadii Chernetskii on 21 December experienced an unexpected surprise when complimentary pocket calendars bearing his portrait and campaign slogan -- "We will continue together" -- turned out to contain rose-scented condoms, "Novyi region" reported on 18 December. According to the agency, local pharmacies were given the calendars to hand out by Chernetksii's campaign workers, and at some point rose-scented Contex brand condoms were inserted. Asked by the agency to explain the possible meaning of the surprise, an unidentified regular user of Contex brand condoms said, "It isn't worth explaining that consumers of such a delicate product as rose-scented Contex would never vote for such a impertinent fellow as Chernetskii." JAC

ARMENIA ADOPTS PROGRAM TO SUPPORT DIAMOND INDUSTRY
The Armenian government approved on 18 December a three-year program to double, to $500 million, the volume of rough diamonds polished in and exported from Armenia, RFE/RL's Yerevan bureau reported. The anticipated increase in production is expected to create some 10,000 new jobs. Trade and Development Minister Karen Chshmaritian told journalists that the diamond sector has experienced a 10-fold increase in output over the past six years and currently employs some 4,000 people. He said Armenia occupies ninth place in the world diamond market in terms of production volume and fifth place in terms of productivity. LF

STATE MONOPOLY HINDERS DEVELOPMENT OF INTERNET IN AZERBAIJAN
Obstacles to the expansion of Internet use are greater in Azerbaijan than in other CIS states, Turan reported on 19 December, quoting Information Technologies Center head Osman Gunduzov. Gunduzov pointed out that as the telephone network remains under state ownership, the Communications Ministry retains a monopoly over the telecommunications infrastructure. Of 14 Internet providers, only three have satellite access. In addition, Gunduzov said, Azerbaijan charges inordinately high Internet-service and domain-registration fees. LF

RUSSIAN PRESIDENT AMBIVALENT ON GEORGIAN TERRITORIAL INTEGRITY
Speaking during a live radio and television broadcast on 18 December, Vladimir Putin said Russia cannot insist that its own territorial integrity be respected while denying the same right, which is recognized under international law, to its neighbors, including Georgia, Russian media reported. But, Putin added -- in a clear allusion to aspirations on the part of the leadership of Georgia's breakaway Republic of South Ossetia to a merger of that republic with the Republic of North Ossetia-Alania, which is a subject of the Russian Federation -- that "there are certain specific aspects." "The highland peoples form a kind of community and Russia cannot ignore this," Putin said. On 19 December, Caucasus Press quoted Liberal Democratic Party of Russia head Vladimir Zhirinovskii as saying that if he wins the 14 March Russian presidential election, he will grant both South Ossetia and the unrecognized Republic of Abkhazia the status of Russian Federation subjects. In Tbilisi, acting Georgian President Nino Burdjanadze on 18 December welcomed Putin's statement that Russia respects Georgia's territorial integrity, ITAR-TASS reported. LF

GEORGIAN PRESIDENTIAL HOPEFUL APPEALS FOR ELECTION PARTICIPATION...
National Movement Chairman Mikhail Saakashvili appealed to Georgian voters on 18 December to make sure that their names are included on voters lists, which are currently undergoing revision, and to cast their ballots in the 4 January extraordinary presidential election, Georgian media reported. Saakashvili is widely expected to win that ballot. He said he hopes that the 50 percent of registered voters necessary to validate the poll participate, and noted that a low turnout would raise questions of whether the ballot was free and fair. Hungarian parliamentarian Matyas Eorsi, who heads a Parliamentary Assembly of the Council of Europe delegation currently visiting Tbilisi, was quoted by rustavi2.com as saying after meeting on 18 December with Central Election Commission Chairman Zurab Chiaberashvili that the 4 January ballot "will not be perfect or ideal," but at least the outcome will not be falsified. LF

...THREATENS TO JAIL AGRICULTURE MINISTER
Saakashvili warned Agriculture Minister David Salaridze on 18 December that he faces dismissal and prosecution if bread prices are raised, Caucasus Press reported. The interim Georgian leadership, however, is not empowered to fire any ministers. Georgian businesspeople warned the previous day that given the shortage of grain in all CIS states, a rise in bread prices is inevitable unless customs taxes and VAT are reduced. according to rustavi2.com. LF

COUNCIL OF EUROPE URGES ADJAR LEADER TO TO BOYCOTT GEORGIAN BALLOT
Adjar Supreme Council Chairman Aslan Abashidze met in Strasbourg on 18 December with Council of Europe Secretary-General Walter Schwimmer, who told him it is essential that voting in the 4 January presidential election also take place in Adjaria because that region is a constituent part of Georgia, Caucasus Press reported on 19 December. Abashidze has repeatedly said the poll is not legitimate and no polling stations will be opened in Adjaria. He wants both the presidential ballot and repeat parliamentary elections to be postponed for several months. ITAR-TASS on 18 December quoted Saakashvili as saying Abashidze will have to answer before the law if he refuses to allow voting in the presidential election to take place. Some 10 percent of Georgian voters are resident in Adjaria. LF

GEORGIAN PIPELINE CONSTRUCTION WORKERS END STRIKE
The workers building the Georgian section of the Baku-Tbilisi-Ceyhan export pipeline for Caspian Sea oil on 18 December ended the strike they began several days earlier to demand higher wages, Caucasus Press reported (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 16 December 2003). Caucasus Press also summarized a statement by the company overseeing construction that stresses that recruitment of some 3,000 local builders to work on the project was undertaken in conformity with Georgian law and international practice. The workers are paid between 400 and 1,100 laris ($185.50-$510.20) per month. LF

NEW GEORGIAN LEADERSHIP PLANS REFORM OF LOCAL GOVERNMENT
The new Georgian leadership intends to abolish the post of regional governors appointed by the president and to institute elections for the post of mayors of the country's major cities, Caucasus Press quoted acting parliament speaker Gigi Tsereteli as telling participants at a Tbilisi conference on self-government on 18 December. At the same time, Tsereteli admitted that the new leadership has replaced a number of governors in recent weeks in order to preserve political stability. LF

KAZAKH PRESIDENT ORDERS INDEFINITE MORATORIUM ON DEATH PENALTY
Nursultan Nazarbaev has signed a decree ordering an indefinite moratorium on the application of the death penalty, khabar.kz and RIA-Novosti reported on 18 December, quoting presidential administration deputy head Igor Rogov. The moratorium is intended to remain in force until the death penalty is abolished altogether. The decree instructs the government to draft an amendment to the Criminal Code that would designate life imprisonment as a possible punishment for serious crimes. The introduction of life imprisonment to replace the death penalty has been under discussion in Kazakhstan for much of this year in connection with the ongoing reforms of the penal system. Nazarbaev and other political figures have often noted that the population remains largely in favor of retaining the death penalty. BB

KAZAKH AND FOREIGN JOURNALISTS' ORGANIZATIONS CONTINUE TO OPPOSE NEW MEDIA LAW
The fourth and last public hearing on a controversial draft media law was held in Almaty on 18 December, with Kazakh and international journalism groups calling on the parliament not to adopt the government draft, gazeta.kz and Interfax-Kazakhstan reported. An appeal from Russia's Glasnost Defense Foundation to the Kazakh leadership described the draft law as harmful to Kazakhstan's reputation as a developing democracy. The Moscow-based Center for Journalism in Extreme Situations, speaking for a number of Kazakh and international publications and journalism groups, said the law violates international standards of free speech, and the Paris-based Reporters Without Borders called on the parliament not to discuss the draft at all. Kazakh Congress of Journalists lawyer Tamara Simakhina criticized the draft for giving officials the right to refuse or withdraw a journalist's accreditation, and denied an assertion by Deputy Information Minister Ardak Dosjan that the Journalists' Congress, which is part of a working group on the draft, is in full agreement with the government text. BB

KYRGYZ PARLIAMENTARIANS HOLD HEARING ON UZBEK POLICE INCURSION
The State Security Committee of the Kyrgyz parliament's lower house began a hearing on 18 December on the 10 December incident during which a group of Uzbek law enforcement officers illegally entered Kyrgyzstan to arrest a Kyrgyz citizen (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 12 December 2003), RFE/RL's Kyrgyz Service reported. Opposition parliamentarian Azimbek Beknazarov reportedly gained the support of almost all the lower house when he called earlier in the week for a parliamentary investigation (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 16 December 2003). Foreign Minister Askar Aitmatov told the hearing that his ministry has sent a note about the incident to Uzbekistan (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 15 December 2003), pointing out that the action violated a 1996 treaty between the two countries. Several parliamentarians criticized Djalal-Abad Oblast law enforcement officials and questioned their competence for having allowed the Uzbek officers to leave Kyrgyzstan before informing Bishkek about the incident. BB

TAJIK FOREIGN MINISTRY COMPLAINS ABOUT RUSSIAN MEDIA REPORTING
Igor Sattarov, the head of the Tajik Foreign Ministry's information department, said the ministry has sent a note to the Russian Embassy in Dushanbe complaining that some Russian reporting on social and political life in Tajikistan is tendentious, Asia Plus-Blitz and Interfax and other Russian media reported on 18 December. Sattarov said that "a Russian information campaign against Tajikistan" has been going on for a long time, and the Foreign Ministry has repeatedly raised the issue with its Russian counterpart. The present complaint focuses on an article that appeared in "Novaya gazeta" on 11 and 15 December that Sattarov said was full of "slanderous fabrications." BB

TURKMEN PROSECUTOR-GENERAL ARRESTED
Turkmen Prosecutor-General Gurbanbibi Atadjanova, who has been responsible for the denunciation and arrests of many of her colleagues in the Turkmen government beginning with the 2002 purge of the National Security Committee, was herself arrested during a 17 December cabinet meeting, "Vremya novostei" reported on 19 December. The Turkmen state media have been silent about the arrest, but other sources alleged to "RFE/RL Newsline" that Atadjanova's family is involved in drug trafficking. Atadjanova -- who was appointed prosecutor-general in 1997 after working her way up through the prosecutorial system -- apparently had no legal education, but was fanatically devoted to President Saparmurat Niyazov. She also played a prominent role in orchestrating the arrests of prominent opponents of Niyazov after the alleged coup or assassination attempt on him in November 2002. BB

PURPORTED WITNESS REPORTS SEEING BELARUSIAN PRESIDENT AT SCENE OF ALLEGED 1999 ASSASSINATION
The Russian newspaper "Novaya gazeta" published the transcript on 18 December of a videotape in which a Minsk resident purportedly claims to have seen Belarusian President Alyaksandr Lukashenka at the scene of the presumed slayings in 1999 of opposition activist Viktar Hanchar and a friend. Hanchar and Anatol Krasouski were gunned down with automatic weapons at the Northern Cemetery in Minsk in September 1999, the witness claimed. Their bodies have never been found. The purported witness, Viktar Zabalotski, is in hiding in Russia, according to "Novaya gazeta." Zabalotski asserts that he saw Lukashenka, former Interior Minister Yury Sivakou, Interior Ministry special-task-unit commander Dzmitry Paulichenka, and other individuals at the scene. Zabalotski said he heard shouts of "I am Hanchar!" and "I am Krasouski!" shortly before automatic-weapon and pistol fire was heard. He said he subsequently talked with Sivakou and Paulichenka and saw half-buried bodies in a grave. "It is the first [publication on Hanchar and Krasouski] in which a witness claims to have seen Belarusian President Alyaksandr Lukashenka at the scene of the crime," Iryna Khalip, the author of the "Novaya gazeta" report, told RFE/RL's Belarusian Service on 18 December. "Frankly speaking, I don't know if this [allegation] is true. But I think that we had no right to keep such information [the accusation] secret." The full "Novaya gazeta" publication can be found at http://www.charter97.org/bel/news/2003/12/18/svidetel. JM

FREEDOM HOUSE SAYS BELARUS IS 'NOT FREE,' UKRAINE 'PARTLY FREE'
The New-York-based NGO Freedom House classified Belarus as "not free" and Ukraine as "partly free" in its annual survey of freedom and democracy around the world, released on 18 December. Belarus is the only country in Europe ranked in the "not free" category, which comprises 48 countries worldwide. "There are two of the 12 former Soviet countries [in which], despite the difficulties, there is some possibility of forward momentum," Freedom House analyst Adrian Karatnycky told RFE/RL. "One is, of course, Georgia. The second one, paradoxically, is Ukraine. If Ukraine goes through this [coming] year and this election cycle with a relatively clean process, it is possible that the trends toward authoritarianism could be averted and reversed." JM

UKRAINIAN PRESIDENT ORDERS PROBE INTO FATAL BUS ACCIDENT
President Leonid Kuchma has decreed the creation of a special commission to investigate a bus accident in Crimea in which 17 people died, Ukrainian news agencies reported on 18 December. A bus carrying miners from Pavlovhrad in Dnipropetrovsk Oblast overturned and plummeted 10 meters down an embankment near Alushta in Crimea on 17 December, killing 17 passengers and injuring 19 others. Last week, another Ukrainian bus overturned on a highway in Khmelnytskyy Oblast, killing nine people and injuring 43 in an accident police blamed on poor road conditions. JM

ESTONIAN PARTIES BANNED FROM ACCEPTING CORPORATE DONATIONS
The parliament passed a bill on 18 December that provides for more effective control of the financing of political parties and bans corporate donations to parties, BNS reported. The bill passed by a vote of 68-10. The Pro Patria Union and Moderates voted against the bill, arguing it is undemocratic and hampers the emergence of new parties. According to the bill, parties may get financial support only from membership fees, state budget appropriations, donations by individuals, and income from party property. The state will provide 150,000 kroons ($12,000) per year to parties that collected 1-4 percent of the vote in the parliamentary elections held in March 2003; 250,000 kroons will go to parties that collected 4 percent-5 percent. The rest of the allotted 60 million kroons will be divided according to the number of parliamentary seats won by the six victorious parties. The bill prohibits judges, prosecutors, police officers, and legal chancellors from being members of political parties until 2008. SG

LATVIAN PARLIAMENT ADOPTS NEW VAT
On 18 December the parliament approved amendments to the law on value-added tax (VAT) that will go into effect on 1 May 2004 when Latvia is scheduled to join the EU, LETA reported. The amendments, proposed by the Finance Ministry, set two VAT rates: 18 percent, and a 5 percent rate to be applied to medicine and medical supplies, veterinary medicine, baby food, books, mass media, accommodation services, the centralized supply of water, sewage services, and waste disposal, replacing the current 9 percent and 0 percent VAT rates, respectively, on these items. The ministry predicts budget revenues will decrease by 4.2 million lats ($7.78 million) and expenditures by 3.5 million lats in 2004, resulting in a loss of 700,000 lats. In subsequent years, only revenues will be affected, decreasing by 7.2 million lats. This was the last session of the fall parliament. The next session is scheduled for 12 January 2004. SG

LITHUANIAN PARLIAMENT BEGINS IMPEACHMENT OF PRESIDENT
Parliament Chairman Arturas Paulauskas began the impeachment procedure against Lithuanian President Rolandas Paksas on 18 December, "Kauno diena" reported the next day. Paulauskas formally presented a proposal signed by 86 parliament deputies. The move would be the first impeachment of a president in a postcommunist European country. The parliament approved the formation of a 12-member ad hoc investigation commission, made up of parliamentary deputies and lawyers who are proposed by the Courts' Council and Prosecutor-General's Office. The members of the commission will be formally announced at a special parliament session on 22 December. It likely to include Social Democrats Alfonsas Macaitis and Julius Sabatauskas, Liberal-Centrists Raimondas Sukys and Gintaras Steponavicius, Social Liberal Alvydas Sadeckas, and Conservative Jurgis Razma, and six lawyers chosen from among at least 12 candidates nominated by the Courts' Council and Prosecutor-General's Office. SG

POLISH SECRET SERVICE ISSUES TERROR ALERT
Poland's Internal Security Agency (ABW) called on 18 December for "increased vigilance," saying the threat of terror attacks in that country has risen since the capture on 13 December of former Iraqi leader Saddam Hussein, Polish and international news agencies reported. "There is no reason to be terrified or to panic, but there is great need for caution and vigilance," Polish Radio quoted ABW spokeswoman Magdalena Stanczyk as saying. The same day, Interior Minister Krzysztof Janik revealed that Polish border guards recently detained several people "who were unable to define the purpose of their visit and who came from countries that we describe as high-risk countries." JM

POLISH FOREIGN MINISTER MEETS BELARUSIAN OPPOSITION
Foreign Minister Wlodzimierz Cimoszewicz met with leaders of the Belarusian opposition alliance Five-Plus in Warsaw on 18 December, Belapan reported. Five-Plus consists of the United Civic Party, Belarusian Popular Front, the Belarusian Party of Communists, the Belarusian Labor Party, and the Belarusian Social Democratic Assembly. Cimoszewicz reportedly assured the Belarusian delegation that the Polish leadership is ready to provide maximum assistance to help Belarus return to the European fold. JM

STRIKE AT POLISH RAILWAYS SPREADS AS TALKS WITH GOVERNMENT CONTINUE
Polish rail workers are blockading railway junctions and stations throughout the country after talks between railway unions and the government on 18 December failed to avert a threat of a general strike at the Polish Railways, PAP reported on 19 December. The "Gazeta Wyborcza" website (http://www1.gazeta.pl) reported that talks resumed in the morning on 19 December but have yielded nothing. Protesters are demanding that the government meet previous pledges to provide additional funding for regional railways, halt planned line closures, and present a Polish Railways restructuring program. JM

U.S. TRADE SECRETARY SAYS CZECH JET DECISION 'A MISTAKE'
U.S. Trade Secretary Donald Evans said in Budapest on 18 December that he is "disappointed" by the Czech government's decision to grant exclusivity to Sweden in negotiations for the lease of supersonic fighter jets (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 18 December 2003), calling it "a mistake," according to AP. Evans was in Prague last week to lobby on behalf of U.S.-designed fighters. The State Department, on the other hand, said in a written statement that the United States respects the choice but expects the Czech government to explain the grounds for its decision, CTK reported on 19 December. Swedish Defense Minister Leni Bjoerklund hailed the Czech decision, saying it greatly improves Sweden's chances to sell military hardware to other NATO members, AFP reported. Robert Novotny, who chaired the Defense Ministry commission that recommended the Swedish bid, noted that a Belgian offer of modernized F-16s was cheaper but entailed higher maintenance costs, according to Reuters. Defense Minister Miroslav Kostelka said a 10-year lease agreement is likely to cost the Czechs about 21 billion crowns ($806 million), but he added that the deal might be limited to a five-year contract. MS

SLOVAK COALITION SPLIT OVER CONSTITUTIONAL AMENDMENT LINKED TO EU ACCESSION
Slovakia's four-party, center-right coalition is split over a constitutional amendment that needs to be approved prior to accession to the EU, expected on 1 May, CTK reported. Prime Minister Mikulas Dzurinda and his Slovak Democratic and Christian Union (SDKU) oppose a proposal backed by the three junior coalition parties -- the Christian Democratic Movement, the Hungarian Coalition Party, and the Alliance for a New Citizen -- that would oblige Slovakia's ministerial representative on EU bodies to heed parliamentary decisions on EU affairs. Dzurinda wants those decisions to be regarded as recommendations, arguing that parliamentary delays might hamper the activities of Slovakia's representative in Brussels. Approval of the constitutional amendment requires the support of 90 of 150 parliamentary deputies; the governing coalition has lost control of 10 of its 78 seats since it was formed in 2002. The Communist Party of Slovakia backs the junior coalition parties' proposal, but the positions of the opposition Movement for a Democratic Slovakia and Smer (Direction) are still unclear. MS

KUKAN AND MECIAR LEAD SLOVAKIA'S POTENTIAL PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATES
A public-opinion poll conducted in December by the MVK polling agency shows that former Prime Minister Vladimir Meciar and current Foreign Minister Eduard Kukan would stand the best chance of reaching a runoff in April's presidential elections, CTK reported on 17 December. The poll suggests that Meciar would poll ahead of Kukan in the first round, 20.1 percent to 19.3 percent, but that Kukan would clearly win a runoff, 61 percent to 39 percent. Kukan has already declared his candidacy. Most observers expect Meciar, who heads the opposition Movement for a Democratic Slovakia, to run as well. MS

OUTGOING HUNGARIAN TV HEAD DENIED SEVERANCE PAY
The Hungarian Television (MTV) board of trustees voted on 18 December not to grant severance pay to Imre Ragats, who resigned the previous day under pressure as president of Hungarian Television (MTV) (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 18 December 2003). The daily "Nepszabadsag" speculated that the health reasons initially cited by Ragats for his resignation cannot have been mentioned in his resignation letter, since in that case he would have been entitled to severance pay. Ragats is believed to have concluded contracts that were disadvantageous for MTV, and a new revelation that one of them favored his stepdaughter prompted his resignation (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 12 and 21 November and 18 December 2003). MSZ

HUNGARIAN COURT VINDICATES ROMANY PLAINTIFFS
The Csongrad County Court ruled on 18 December that a Szeged court erred in its reasoning when it awarded reduced compensation to two Romany men on the grounds that they are "primitive" (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 12 November 2003). The county court said the justification of the first instance was "humiliating" and changed the description of the two Romany brothers to "simple," according to "Nepszava." The higher court nevertheless upheld the lower court's decision to award each of the plaintiffs just 1.2 million forints ($5,500), instead of the 2 million forints demanded by their lawyer for their unfair 15-month incarceration. MSZ

RETIRED U.S. GENERAL SAYS SERBIA'S EX-LEADER ADMITTED FOREKNOWLEDGE OF MASSACRE
Testifying recently at the war crimes trial of former Serbian and Yugoslav President Slobodan Milosevic in The Hague, retired U.S. General Wesley Clark said Milosevic admitted to him in 1995 that he had advance knowledge of the July 1995 Srebrenica massacre of up to 8,000 mainly Muslim males, international and regional media reported on 18 December after U.S. officials approved Clark's testimony for publication (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 17 December 2003). The "Washington Post" wrote, "Clark said he recalled asking Milosevic... 'should we be dealing with you, or should we be dealing with the Bosnian Serbs?' He said Milosevic replied, 'With me, of course.' Clark said he...privately asked Milosevic: 'You say you have too much influence over the Bosnian Serbs. How is it then, if you have such influence, you allowed General Mladic to kill all those people in Srebrenica?'.... According to Clark, Milosevic replied, 'I warned Mladic not to do this, but he didn't listen to me.' Clark said he found the remark 'stunning...[because] that was an admission that he had foreknowledge of Srebrenica.'" Milosevic called Clark's statement "a blatant lie" and denied that the conversation took place. Clark also called Milosevic the "guiding force" of the 1991-99 wars in former Yugoslavia. PM

WAR CRIMES TRIBUNAL SENTENCES BOSNIAN SERB TO 23 YEARS
On 18 December, the Hague-based war crimes tribunal sentenced Dragan Nikolic "Jenki" to 23 years in prison for murdering and torturing Muslim prisoners at the Bosnian Serbs' Susica detention camp in 1992, regional and international media reported. The prosecution asked for a sentence of 16 years after Nikolic pleaded guilty to four counts of crimes against humanity in a plea bargain. The judges ruled, "one of the most chilling aspects of [Nikolic's crimes] was the enjoyment he derived from this criminal conduct.... These were not isolated acts but expressions of sadism by the accused." PM

WAR VETERANS BLOCK BORDER CROSSINGS BETWEEN BOSNIA AND CROATIA
An unspecified number of veterans of the Bosnian Croat army (HVO) from the 1992-95 conflict continued their ongoing protest for better benefits on 19 December by blocking the border crossings between Bosnia and Croatia at Vinjani, Kamensko, and Doljani, RFE/RL's South Slavic and Albanian Languages Service reported. Veterans' leaders said the protest will continue through the New Year holidays. Bosnian border guard officials said they will not attempt to oust the protesters, calling on travelers to use other border crossings instead. PM

CROATIAN UNION CHARGES IMF REPRESENTATIVE WITH INTERFERENCE
On 18 December, the Croatian Union of Commercial Sector Workers criticized the statement by the head of the IMF's mission to Croatia, Hans Flickenschild, calling on Croatia to lift its ban on opening shops on Sundays, Hina reported. The union called the statement an "act of interference in Croatia's sovereignty." "It is unacceptable that a clerk of the international financial organization advises a sovereign state to give up the implementation of a law, because laws have to be implemented in all law-based states," the union said in a statement. The union also argued that "Flickenschild should know that the Labor Act defines Sunday as a day of rest, and work on Sundays should be allowed only in vital sectors, which commerce definitely is not. We hope the new government will send a clear message to the gentlemen in the IMF that Croatia is a sovereign state and that we do not need lecturing." Caritas Croatia and the Franciscan Institute for the Culture of Peace also criticized Flickenschild. PM

KOSOVA'S PARLIAMENT PASSES HAGUE COOPERATION LAW
Kosova's parliament approved legislation on 18 December on cooperating with the Hague-based war crimes tribunal, Hina reported. Prime Minister Bajram Rexhepi said the passage of the law shows Kosova is moving ahead toward integration into Euro-Atlantic institutions. PM

UN OFFICIAL SLAMS ROLE OF INDICTED WAR CRIMINALS IN SERBIAN ELECTION
Laurie Wiseberg, who heads the Belgrade mission of the UN Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights, told Reuters on 19 December that "it is obviously very disturbing" that several parties are fielding indicted war criminals as candidates in the 28 December Serbian parliamentary elections and that one of those parties is in first place in recent public-opinion polls (see "RFE/RL Balkan Report," 12 December 2003). She finds it particularly concerning that "nobody seems to be terribly upset" about the use of indicted war criminals to garner votes. PM

MACEDONIAN PRESIDENT CRITICIZES GOVERNMENT
In his annual address to the parliament on 18 December, President Boris Trajkovski criticized the government on a number of issues ranging from its education policy to its administrative decentralization efforts, RFE/RL's Macedonian broadcasters reported. Trajkovski stressed that he disagrees with the government's plan to legalize the private Albanian-language university in Tetovo, saying the government should concentrate instead on improving academic quality rather than creating new educational centers that will further drain already-scarce financial resources (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 10 December 2003, and "RFE/RL Balkan Report," 11 and 18 July 2003). Commenting on recent protests against redistricting, Trajkovski said decentralization should be the result of a broad consensus (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 12 and 18 December 2003). He also urged the government to strengthen the rule of law and to help transform the economy. UB

ANNIVERSARY OF CEAUSESCU'S OVERTHROW MARKED BY ROMANIAN PARLIAMENT IN DISSONANCE
A "solemn meeting" of the Romanian parliament marking the 14th anniversary of the overthrow of the communist regime was nearly transformed into what the private Antena 1 television channel called a "mini-revolution." Scandalized by the absence of many lawmakers and the disinterest displayed by a few who, during President Ion Iliescu's speech, were dozing off or engaged in conversations, former dissidents who participated in the 1989 events accused today's lawmakers of having shown cowardice in 1989 and of displaying arrogance 14 years later. MS

SOLUTION IN OFFING FOR LIBERTY MONUMENT IN ROMANIAN TRANSYLVANIAN TOWN?
Hungarian Democratic Federation of Romania (UDMR) Chairman Bela Marko said on 18 December that he has "recently" discussed with Prime Minister Adrian Nastase the issue of the Liberty Statue in the Transylvanian town of Arad and that a "solution is in the offing" in 2004, Mediafax reported (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 22 August, 2, 9, and 10 September, and 29 October 2003). Marko said the dispute over the statue's re-erection has brought relations between the UDMR and the ruling Social Democratic Party (PSD) close to a "crisis situation." Marko said he disagrees with Nastase on the issue of Hungarian politicians visiting Romania who make statements considered by the government to be territorial revisionism and incitement. Nastase threatened on 17 October to declare such Hungarian politicians "persona non grata" in Romania. Marko said he also dislikes such declarations from Hungarian politicians, but that they must be countered "with political, not with judiciary arguments," while respecting freedom of expression. MS

ROMANIA'S RULING PARTY HIRES U.S. COMPANY FOR ELECTION CAMPAIGN
Ruling PSD Deputy Chairman Viorel Hrebenciuc said on 19 December that the party has hired the U.S.-based Greenberg-Carville-Shrum (GCS) company to manage its 2004 electoral campaign, Mediafax reported. GCS has managed campaigns for former U.S. President Bill Clinton, British Prime Minister Tony Blair, and German Chancellor Gerhard Schroeder. Hrebenciuc, the PSD's campaign manager, cited the professionalism of GCS and said the Socialist International warmly recommended the company to the PSD. MS

ISRAELI FINANCE MINISTER IN ROMANIA
Visiting Israeli Finance Minister Benjamin Netanyahu met with Prime Minister Nastase and Foreign Minister Mircea Geoana on 18 December, Mediafax reported. Netanyahu said after talks with Nastase that they had focused on the further development of economic cooperation between their countries. He also said he received assurances from Romanian officials that properties confiscated from members of Romania's Jewish community during the communist regime will soon be restituted. Netanyahu called his talks with Geoana "excellent" and said the two countries share "joint values," such as "intolerance towards totalitarian forces." MS

NEW PLAN FOR TRANSDNIESTER SETTLEMENT ELABORATED IN MOLDOVA
A Chisinau-based non-governmental organization calling itself United European Moldova published a new plan for the settlement of the Transdniester conflict on 18 December, Flux reported. The organization is not officially registered as an NGO. The plan calls for dividing Moldova into six regions, each having its own legislature, executive powers and independent judiciary. The separatist Transdniester region and the Gagauz-Yeri Autonomous Republic would each form one of the six regions, according to the plan, which also stipulates Moldova would have no president. The country would be defined as "an independent, sovereign, democratic state" and a "parliamentary democracy." The six regions would have "equal rights," but the state would function on the basis of "unity of the national territory" and a single defense, customs and monetary system. The plan also stipulates that Moldova would be a neutral state that cannot join regional or global military alliances. According to the plan's authors, Moldova's state language would be "Moldovan-Romanian based on the Latin transcript," while Russian, Ukrainian, Bulgarian and Gagauz would be granted the status of "regional languages." MS

MOLDOVAN SUPREME COURT AGREES TO EXAMINE BESSARABIAN CHURCH'S COMPLAINT
The Supreme Court on 18 December ruled that the Bessarabian Metropolitan Church's complaint against the government regarding the rightful succession of the former (1918-40) Romanian Episcopate of Hotin and Bessarabian Metropolitan Church is "admissible" and said it would begin examining the case in January 2004, Flux reported. The re-established Bessarabian Metropolitan Church and Popular Party Christian Democratic (PPCD) leaders Iurie Rosca and Vlad Cubreacov had appealed against the government's decision of 26 September 2001 declaring the Moscow-subordinated Moldovan Metropolitan Church as the sole rightful successor of the former Episcopate of Hotin and Bessarabian Metropolitan Church. The Supreme Court thus upheld an appeal against the Chisinau Court of Appeal's ruling, which said the Constitutional Court should examine the case. MS

COMMUNIST MAJORITY NIXES NAME CHANGE FOR MOLDOVAN OPPOSITION PARTY
The Communist majority in Moldova's parliament ruled on 18 December that the opposition Our Moldova parliamentary group must abandon its new denomination and return to its original name, Braghis Alliance, Flux reported. Maria Postoico, chairwoman of the parliament's Judicial, Immunity and Denominations Committee, said house rules stipulate that parliamentary groups may only change their names within 10 days after parliament is convoked for its first session. The Our Moldova Alliance was established earlier this year, when the Braghis Alliance merged with other political parties and groups of independents. MS

MOLDOVAN PRESIDENT DISSATISFIED WITH ARMY'S PERFORMANCE
President Vladimir Voronin told a meeting of high-ranking officers on 16 December that the performance and efficiency of the Moldovan Army is poor, Infotag reported. Voronin said that, 12 years after coming into being, the Moldovan Army still fails to meet the basic requirements of the state. He said the problem is not the strength of the troops, but their poor performance. "The time has come for a real reform of the armed forces, which should lead to enhancing the country's defensive capability and an improved image of Moldova's military both at home and abroad," said Voronin, who is commander-in-chief of the army. He said the Defense Ministry must work out a reform program that takes into account the country's economic capabilities, while parliament and the government should ensure that the necessary financial means are channeled to this purpose. MS

POSSIBLE U.S. MILITARY BASES A CONCERN FOR RUSSIAN POLITICIAN VISITING BULGARIA
Speaking in Sofia on 17 December, visiting Russian Federation Council Chairman Sergei Mironov said his country is "not delighted" by the prospect of the United States setting up military bases in Bulgaria, bnn reported. "We believe that our partners in the anti-terrorist coalition, the United States and Britain, will inform us about their plans," Mironov said after a meeting with parliamentary speaker Ognyan Gerdzhikov. Mironov added that he hopes the bases will serve the combat against terrorism and will "not get out of proportion." UB

BULGARIAN SOCIALISTS DISCUSS CRIME-FIGHTING STRATEGIES
Opposition Socialist Party (BSP) Chairman Sergey Stanishev held consultations on 18 December with the leadership of the National Investigation Service (NSlS), mediapool.bg reported (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 5, 9, 10, 12, and 15 December 2003 and End Note, "RFE/RL Newsline," 17 December 2003). Stanishev proposed testing a new model of cooperation between the Interior Ministry, the NSlS, and the prosecutor's office, that would be put under joint leadership in one Sofia district. He also discussed establishing a special fund for victims of crimes. Such a fund could be funded by property the state confiscates from criminals, he said. BSP Deputy Chairman Rumen Petkov accused the now-opposition conservative Union of Democratic Forces (SDS), which governed the country between 1997-2001, of being responsible for the "collapse of the Interior Ministry, the courts, and the prosecutors' offices." UB

BULGARIAN PARLIAMENT PASSES CONTROVERSIAL BUDGET
On 18 December, the parliament adopted the 2004 budget in its second reading, mediapool.bg reported. The budget includes a compromise reached between the coalition partners National Movement Simeon II (NDSV) and the Movement for Rights and Freedoms (DPS) over subsidies for the so-called agriculture and tobacco funds, and the state railways -- the last areas of the Bulgarian economy to receive state subsidies (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 3 December 2003). The budget for the first time sets a minimum for the country's foreign-currency reserve of 2.5 billion levs ($1.58 billion). UB

THREE WAR SCENARIOS FOR KOSOVA
Kosova now has a clear road map to follow regarding the standards it must meet before talks on its final status can begin. This does not necessarily mean, however, that Kosova's peaceful development is assured.

Harri Holkeri, who heads the UN civilian administration in Kosova (UNMIK), made public the long-awaited program called "Standards for Kosovo" in Prishtina on 10 December. Three days later, the UN Security Council formally endorsed the package.

Representatives of Kosova's more than 90 percent ethnic Albanian majority immediately hailed the document, and leaders of the Turkish, Roma, and Bosnian Muslim minorities endorsed Holkeri's proposal.

But representatives of the Serbian minority boycotted the 10 December meeting and rejected the plan, saying that it does not go far enough to enable Serbs who fled the province with Serbian forces in 1999 to return. The real reason for their objections is probably that the Serbs realize that any steps toward resolving the status question will sooner or later mean an end to even the formal links between Belgrade and Kosova mentioned in UN Security Council Resolution 1244 of 1999. This was designed to provide a face-saving concession to Serbia and satisfy Belgrade's friends in the international community, as former U.S. Secretary of State Madeleine Albright stated in her recent memoirs.

Holkeri's document on standards lists targets that must be met in key areas such as democracy, the rule of law, the economy, and the Serbs' return before talks can begin on the final status of Kosova, perhaps in mid-2005. All Kosovar political parties agree that independence is the only option and that they want no political links to Belgrade.

Kosova's President Ibrahim Rugova told Holkeri's meeting that "we give our support to these standards and we shall work and be committed to implementing them." Kosovar leaders have long asked for a clear road map for status talks, arguing that delays promote insecurity and impede progress.

The presentation of the document and the widespread endorsement -- except from the local Serbs and Belgrade -- does not mean that the doubts and fears of the ethnic Albanian majority have been put aside, however. Some Albanians say that they fear that their own parties and leaders could start fighting among themselves if UNMIK leaves.

Many more Albanians argue, however, that the present regime, which is widely seen as colonial, can be tolerated for a maximum of just two or three more years.

In fact, there is a surprising amount of agreement among prominent Kosovar Albanians that any one of three scenarios could lead to the resumption of mass resistance and guerrilla war.

The first would involve UNMIK seeking to extend its presence indefinitely, thereby relegating Kosova to a semi-permanent colonial or protectorate status. This is widely perceived as intolerable, because it would mean denying Kosova the right to self-determination and majority rule that was granted to Slovenia, Croatia, Bosnia, and Macedonia (under the 1974 Yugoslav constitution, the provinces of Kosova and Vojvodina had rights virtually identical to those of federal republics). Kosova, moreover, has a population more than twice that of Montenegro and roughly equal to that of Slovenia.

UNMIK, furthermore, is rightly or wrongly regarded as inefficient, as well as heavy-handed and overpaid. It seems scarcely possible to have a conversation with Kosovars for very long before they say that UNMIK has spent hundreds of thousands of euros on ostensibly renovating the electrical-power system but has little to show for it. Blackouts and power failures are still a regular occurrence.

Some Kosovars blame inefficiency for the continuing problem, others suspect corruption. Many tell U.S. visitors that they do not understand why numerous West Europeans criticize the U.S.-led administration in Iraq for failing to do in a country of 27 million in six months what experts from EU countries have not been able to do in a country of 2 million people in four years.

A second scenario that makes prominent Kosovars more than somber would involve the partition of the province into Serbian and Albanian regions. Over the years, several Serbian leaders have produced plans aimed at partition. Most focus on granting Serbia the mines in northern Kosova rather than the famous Serbian medieval cultural sites located in several different parts of the province. The existence already of a de facto separate Serbian regime in northern Mitrovica and beyond to the Serbian border prompts many ethnic Albanians to argue that partition has already begun.

Were any Belgrade leaders to convince the international community of the advisability of partitioning Kosova -- either as part of a settlement affecting the province or as part of a more comprehensive redrawing of Balkan borders -- leading Kosovar politicians say they will insist on new frontiers, too.

This would probably mean opening the broader issue that is sometimes called the Albanian question. Most certainly, Kosovar leaders would demand those areas of southern Serbia with large ethnic Albanian populations, generally known to Albanians as eastern Kosova or referred to abroad as the Presevo Valley. Some Kosovars would go further, saying that time would have come for all ethnic Albanians in the Balkans to be united in a single state, even though no mainstream ethnic Albanian political party anywhere currently advocates that as a serious goal.

A third scenario that many prominent Kosovars say would lead to renewed fighting would be the withdrawal of U.S. forces from the province. In short, Kosovars tend to blame the EU countries for sitting by while former Serbian and Yugoslav President Slobodan Milosevic oppressed, expelled, or killed Albanians from the late 1980s until the NATO intervention of 1999. Conversely, Kosovars generally credit the United States with the successful military intervention that freed the province from Serbian control.

The widespread fear in Kosova is that a U.S. withdrawal would mean the exit of the Kosovars' only trustworthy and reliable protector. No amount of assurances would likely dispel fears that any residual EU force would be unable or unwilling to prevent the return of Serbian forces, which Kosovars say would lead to a new war of self-defense. That, in turn, would undo much of what the international community has achieved since 1999 in the province, leading to a new bloodletting and probably an even more costly foreign intervention and occupation than before.

UN PROTECTING DELEGATE TO AFGHAN CONSTITUTIONAL ASSEMBLY...
The UN is providing extraordinary protection to Malalai Joya, a female delegate to the Afghan Constitutional Loya Jirga who was ejected from the assembly after she objected to the presence of former mujahedin leaders and labeled them "criminals," the BBC reported on 18 December (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 17 and 18 December 2003). Joya reportedly received threats following the 17 December speech that prompted her ejection, but she attended the Constitutional Loya Jirga session on 18 December. Joya has been relocated from the housing complex reserved for delegates to an undisclosed location under UN protection, according to the BBC. A spokesman for the UN Assistance Mission in Afghanistan (UNAMA), Manoel de Almeida e Silva, said the UN deplores the decision that nearly led to Joya's exclusion from the assembly and condemns the threats against her. AT

...AS AMNESTY INTERNATIONAL CALLS EXPULSION THREATS 'UNACCEPTABLE'
In a 17 December press release, Amnesty International called on Constitutional Loya Jirga Chairman and former Afghan President Sebghatullah Mojadeddi to ensure that all delegates "are able to freely express their views." Amnesty International's statement added that Mojadeddi prevented Joya from continuing her speech on 17 December, while some delegates shouted abuse at her. According to the press release, some people in the Constitutional Loya Jirga heard delegates vowing to kill Joya for calling former mujahedin leaders "criminals." Amnesty International warned that "the Constitutional Loya Jirga presents the people of Afghanistan with the opportunity to turn away from the abuses of the past and create a new system in which the rights of all are ensured." It added, "If delegates are threatened or otherwise prevented from expressing their views, this process of building a new future for Afghanistan will be severely threatened." AT

150 DELEGATES COMPLAIN ABOUT LEADERSHIP OF AFGHAN CONSTITUTIONAL ASSEMBLY
One hundred and fifty delegates to the Constitutional Loya Jirga have complained in a letter to the UN Assistance Mission in Afghanistan about the management and control of the assembly by Chairman Mojadeddi, Herat News Center reported on 18 December. The signatories also request that Uzbek be recognized as one of Afghanistan's official languages, in addition to Pashtu and Dari. The protesting delegates further demand fairer ethnic representation among the 10 committee-chairmen's posts at the loya jirga; former mujahedin leaders currently head five of those committees. There are no women chairing any of the committees (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 18 December 2003). AT

UN REPRESENTATIVE DENIES RIGGING OF VOTES FOR ASSEMBLY
Lakhdar Brahimi, the UN secretary-general's special representative for Afghanistan, has denied allegations of irregularities in the voting process for delegates to the Constitutional Loya Jirga, the Pakistani daily "The Nation" reported on 18 December. "It is absolutely not true that there was general or widespread rigging," Brahimi was quoted as saying. However, he acknowledged that "there have been irregularities and cases of intimidation and corruption." Brahimi said the Afghan general elections slated for June "definitely cannot be held" that soon. He added that the UN had planned to begin a voter-registration drive on 1 December, but it was unable to do so "because of the security situation." Afghan officials have insisted that the elections will be held by June, as spelled out in the 2001 Bonn agreement. AT

MORE TESTIMONY ABOUT IRANIAN INVOLVEMENT IN KHOBAR BOMBING
Former U.S. Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) Director Louis Freeh and former FBI counterterrorism chief Dale Watson testified in a U.S. federal court on 18 December that two Iranian government security agencies and senior Iranian officials were responsible for the 25 June 1996 bombing of U.S. military housing in Saudi Arabia, AP and "The Washington Post" reported. The bombing of the Khobar Towers killed 19 U.S. Air Force personnel and wounded hundreds more. The victims' families are seeking compensation for their losses. "My own conclusion, not speaking for the FBI at this point, was that the attack was planned, funded, and sponsored by the senior leadership of the government of Iran," Freeh said. Freeh and Watson said their view on Iranian involvement is based on interviews with six men in Saudi Arabia who admitted their involvement in the bombing. They interviewed these six members of Saudi Hizballah in 1999 and 2000. The six reportedly provided information on planning, financing, and training. Freeh and Watson said they cannot reveal much of the information that supports their stand on Iranian responsibility. BS

TEHRAN DENIES INVOLVEMENT WITH TERRORISM
Foreign Ministry spokesman Hamid-Reza Assefi on 18 December rejected recent Israeli allegations about Iranian involvement in terrorism, IRNA reported. Two days earlier, Avi Dichter, director of the Shin Bet domestic-security service, had described Iran as "the number-one terrorist state in the world." Dichter also described Iranian involvement with Lebanese Hizballah, Hamas, and Palestinian Islamic Jihad, and mentioned Iranian use of Israeli Arabs as "an optional fifth column" (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 17 December 2003). Assefi said, "Resisting the occupiers and confronting brutal aggressions of the Zionists are the natural and legal rights of the Palestinian nation." Assefi added that Dichter's comments prove Israel's inability to confront the Palestinian uprising, and are intended to pave the way for the Israeli expulsion of Arabs. BS

TEHRAN SIGNS ADDITIONAL PROTOCOL OF THE NUCLEAR NON-PROLIFERATION TREATY
Ali Akbar Salehi, Iran's outgoing ambassador to the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA), signed the Additional Protocol of the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty (NPT) on 18 December, IRNA and other news agencies reported. "With the signing of the additional protocol, Iran has taken a significant step towards demonstrating that it wants to be transparent and is fully committed to building international trust," Salehi said. He went on to say this should end what he termed "unfair and politically motivated accusations and allegations." Speaking to reporters the previous day, Iranian Vice President for Atomic Energy Qolam-Reza Aqazadeh-Khoi said, "We have agreed to sign the protocol to prove our activities are peaceful," Reuters reported. The Additional Protocol allows IAEA inspectors to do their work with as little as two hours warning; allows the IAEA to conduct environmental sampling and demand information on non-governmental entities; and imposes greater reporting responsibilities on states themselves. BS

KURDISH LEADER ADVOCATES LIFE SENTENCE FOR FORMER IRAQI PRESIDENT...
Iraqi Kurdish leader Jalal Talabani said in an 18 December interview cited by AFP that he would rather see Saddam Hussein sentenced to life in prison than executed. "I want Saddam put in jail for life," Talabani said, according to AFP. "I want him to suffer daily as he realizes how his people hate him. Let him see how we build a new Iraq free from his evil grip." Talabani, a member of the interim Iraqi Governing Council (IGC), was interviewed while visiting Paris with three fellow IGC members to garner help in rebuilding Iraq. He said there should be no rush to put Hussein on trial because "we'll get far better results if we interrogate him slowly over several months." MH

...WHILE THE INTERNATIONAL COMMUNITY DEBATES POSSIBLE DEATH SENTENCE
Much of the international community has been debating whether Hussein might face the death penalty for alleged war crimes and crimes against humanity, Al-Jazeera reported on 18 December. Iraqi Governing Council member Ahmad Chalabi said on 17 December that the captured former Iraqi president should be tried by Iraqis and face execution -- an opinion shared by U.S. President George W. Bush in a call to Chalabi earlier that day. However, AFP reported, Iraqi legal experts are predicting huge difficulties ahead in finding conclusive evidence of Hussein's guilt in crimes committed by his regime in Iraq. At a Washington meeting organized by the American Enterprise Institute, such observers warned that any trial of Hussein could simply get bogged down over a lack of evidence. "It is one thing to say what we all know about what Saddam did. But it's another to prove it in a court of law," said Kanan Makiya, founder of the Iraq Memory Foundation, one of the groups helping to draw up a new Iraqi constitution, according to AFP. The foundation is gathering and analyzing documents from various parts of the Iraqi regime, including the intelligence services, police, and army. Some 6 million pages, most signed by the former Iraqi leader and his close deputies over the three decades of his regime, have been collected by the foundation. MH

HEAD OF U.S. WMD SEARCH TEAM IN IRAQ MIGHT LEAVE
U.S. officials said on 18 December that the head of the U.S. search team for banned weapons, including weapons of mass destruction (WMD), David Kay, told administration officials he is considering leaving the job as early as January, Reuters reported. Kay has expressed "personal and family" obligations as the reasons for wanting to leave. No banned weapons have been found despite months of searching, and Kay's staff has shrunk as some have been diverted to helping combat armed resistance in Iraq. Kay and his team were sent to Iraq to locate the weapons that were cited by President Bush and his top advisers as the main justification for invading. Officials said Kay, who is directing the weapons search as an adviser to the CIA, could step down before his Iraq Survey Group issues its next interim report slated for February, although U.S. presidential spokesman Scott McClellan has said he "would point out that the search is an important priority...and the Iraq Survey Group will continue and complete its work." MH

MIDDLE EASTERN STATES PREPARING TO FILE LAWSUITS AGAINST HUSSEIN
Several of Iraq's neighbors are getting ready to file suit against Saddam Hussein for crimes committed while he was leader of Iraq, Reuters reported on 17 December. Kuwait, invaded by Iraq in 1990, became the latest of several countries, including Iran and Israel, to say it is preparing a file on alleged crimes and wants to take part in any trial. The Kuwait News Agency quoted Prime Minister Sheikh Sabah al-Ahmad al-Sabah as saying the Foreign and Justice ministries have been instructed "to prepare a complete file on the crimes committed by Saddam Hussein against Kuwait and its people." Hussein is in U.S. custody after his capture on 13 December by U.S. forces from a pit hideout near his hometown of Tikrit (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 15 December 2003). The U.S.-backed Iraqi Governing Council said he is being held in the Baghdad area and will face a public trial in Iraq. Washington has said it will help ensure the court meets international standards. Iranian government spokesman Abdollah Ramazanzadeh said on 15 December that while the Iraqi people have priority in trying Hussein, "that doesn't negate the rights of others for filing a suit at international circles against him." MH

UN SEEKS MEETING TO DETERMINE FUTURE ROLE IN IRAQ
UN Secretary-General Kofi Annan said on 18 December that he hopes to meet next month with members of Iraq's Governing Council as well as the coalition to elucidate the future role of the United Nations in the country, the UN News Service reported. Responding to questions during his annual year-end press conference, Annan said he suggested that the meeting be held around 15 January. "I hope we'll be able to sit to clarify what assistance and what role the UN can play and what they expect of us. It has to be a three-way conversation" among the Governing Council, the coalition forces, and the UN, he added. Asked if he has received confirmation from the other participants about their attendance, he said members of the Governing Council will attend, but that the meeting is still in the preliminary planning stages. MH

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