PRO-KREMLIN PARTY DOMINATES NEW DUMA...
Newly elected State Duma deputies gathered on 29 December to elect the leaders of the new State Duma, Russian media reported. Former Interior Minister Boris Gryzlov, whose resignation from the cabinet took effect on 29 December according to regions.ru, was elected speaker with 352 votes, easily more than the 226 needed. Lyubov Sliska and Aleksandr Zhukov, both of the Unified Russia faction, were elected first deputy speakers. Eight deputy speakers were also elected: from Unified Russia, Georgii Boos, Vyacheslav Volodin, Oleg Morozov, Vladimir Pekhtin and Artur Chilingarov; and Valentin Kuptsov from the Communist Party; Dmitrii Rogozin of the Motherland faction; and Vladimir Zhirinovskii of the Liberal Democratic Party of Russia (LDPR). The new Duma has only four factions and no deputies groups, compared with six factions and three groups in the previous Duma. The largest faction is Unified Russia with 300 members, which is headed by Gryzlov. The Communist faction, led by Gennadii Zyuganov, has 52 members. The LDPR faction, led by Igor Lebedev, has 36 members, and Motherland, led by Sergei Glazev, also has 36. Twenty-three deputies are nonaligned. JAC
...AND PREVENTS SMALLER GROUPS FROM FORMING
In order to forestall "the artificial creation of small factions," Unified Russia on 29 December proposed an amendment to the Duma's regulations raising the minimal number of deputies required to form a faction from 35 to 55, Russian media reported. The amendment was then adopted. Mikhail Zadornov, one of the few Yabloko members elected in a single-mandate district, commented that the change represents "a vivid manifestation of the undemocratic nature" of the present Duma, Interfax reported. In an interview with Ekho Moskvy, Deputy Vladimir Ryzhkov (independent) said he plans to appeal to the Constitutional Court regarding the way factions and groups were formed in the new Duma. "The public did not give Unified Russia a mandate to form a constitutional majority in the State Duma," Ryzhkov commented. Other changes to the Duma regulations will result in some of its 28 committees being reorganized and renamed, according to Federal Post, but the total number will remain unchanged. Strana.ru reported that some journalists in the Duma were lamenting the absence of the colorful personalities of the previous Duma, such as Communist Vasilii Shandybin. "It will be difficult to be a parliamentary correspondent," an NTV journalist said. Spending all day with these deputies will take a toll on one's psyche." JAC
MOTHERLAND DEPUTY CALLS FOR CONSTITUTIONAL REFORM, CANCELING GUBERNATORIAL ELECTIONS
Speaking to the Duma on 29 December, Motherland deputy faction leader Sergei Baburin called for carrying out "serious constitutional reform," RIA-Novosti reported. As part of this reform, Baburin suggested that "the heads of regions should not be [directly] elected, but should be appointed with the consent of local legislatures." He said the main task before the new Duma is to alleviate poverty. He called for transforming "the epoch of great expectations...into an epoch of great achievements." JAC
KHAKAMADA TO RUN FOR PRESIDENT
In an interview with Ekho Moskvy on 30 December, Union of Rightist Forces (SPS) co-chairperson and former State Duma Deputy Speaker Irina Khakamada confirmed that she will run in the 14 March presidential election. Khakamada lost her bid to win a Duma seat from a St. Petersburg single-mandate district in the 7 December Duma elections. A demonstration in support of Khakamada's presidential candidacy was held in Moscow on 29 December. In order for Khakamada to run, at least 500 citizens would have to meet to nominate her and to submit the necessary documents to the Central Election Commission before 1 January. She will then have to gather 2 million signatures in support of her candidacy by 28 January. Khakamada said that if the rightist parties SPS and Yabloko do not nominate a joint candidate for the presidential election, then they "would really demonstrate their weakness and undemocratic vision." JAC
JURY ACQUITS PHYSICIST ACCUSED OF ESPIONAGE...
A jury at the Krasnoyarsk Krai Court on 29 December acquitted Valentin Danilov of charges that he spied for China, Russian media reported. The 53-year-old physicist was arrested in February 2001 on charges that he transferred classified information about a Russian satellite to Chinese intelligence agents (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 21 October 2003). Danilov's lawyer, Yelena Yevmenova, told ITAR-TASS that prosecutors did everything possible to block the presentation of evidence showing that the information Danilov had transferred was not secret and was in the public domain. The judge, she said, handed down the not-guilty verdict after eight of the 12 jurors voted to acquit her client. Danilov also attributed his acquittal to the fact that he was tried before a jury, telling Ekho Moskvy that "signs of justice" seem to be appearing in Russia. The prosecutor in the case, Sergei Kharin, claimed the trial proceedings violated the Criminal Procedural Code and said he will appeal the verdict to the Supreme Court, Interfax reported on 29 December. JB
...WHILE ANOTHER ACCUSED 'SPY' SAYS SUCH ARRESTS WILL CONTINUE
Moscow Helsinki Group Chairman Lyudmila Alekseeva called Valentin Danilov's acquittal a Christmas and New Year's present and said she will raise a New Year's toast this year to jury trials, Interfax reported on 29 December. The jury trial of another academic accused of spying, Igor Sutyagin, was recently postponed indefinitely, and his lawyer suggested that prosecutors fear the jury will acquit him (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 29 December 2003). However, Grigorii Pasko, the former military journalist who spent two years and eight months in prison on espionage charges before being paroled in January 2003, told Ekho Moskvy on 29 December that the authorities will continue to bring cases like Danilov's as long as the Federal Security Service (FSB) officials responsible for them are not themselves prosecuted for fabricating criminal cases, making illegal arrests, and illegally holding suspects in custody. Pasko also said it is difficult to predict how the Supreme Court will rule on the prosecution's appeal of the Danilov verdict, given that the Supreme Court is "terribly biased" and has a kind of "sixth sense" for prevailing political trends. JB
FSB SEIZES BOOK AS 'ANTI-STATE PROPAGANDA'
Police officers seized almost 4,500 copies of "The FSB Blows Up Russia," a book co-authored by Aleksandr Litvinenko (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 28 August 2001), the former FSB officer and associate of self-exiled tycoon Boris Berezovskii, Ekho Moskvy reported on 29 December. Aleksandr Podrabinek, editor in chief of the Prima news agency, said Prima had ordered the copies of the book, which alleges that the FSB was behind a series of apartment-building bombings in 1999 that killed more than 300 people, and planned to sell them. According to Podrabinek, the books were printed in Latvia and trucked into Russia legally, but were seized by police who were carrying out antiterrorism checks on the road from Pskov to Moscow. The truck's driver was questioned by FSB operatives, who told him the books were being seized as "anti-state propaganda." Podrabinek told the Berezovskii-controlled website grani.ru on 29 December that he does not know whether the decision to seize the books was made by the local FSB or on orders from Moscow, but said he suspects the latter. JB
TAX MINISTRY REPORTEDLY PRESENTS YUKOS WITH A $3.4 BILLION BILL
The Tax Ministry on 29 December officially presented the Yukos oil company with a bill for approximately 100 billion rubles (around $3.4 billion) in unpaid taxes from 2000, Interfax reported, citing an unnamed ministry source. A Tax Ministry spokesman answered "no comment" when asked to confirm the report, while Yukos spokesman Andrei Shadrin told Interfax he knows nothing about any Tax Ministry claims. Deputy Tax Minister Igor Golikov sent a letter to Prosecutor-General Vladimir Ustinov at the beginning of December alleging that Yukos and its affiliates failed to pay 150 billion rubles (about $5 billion) in taxes in 1998-2002 and requesting a criminal investigation (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 3 December 2003). Aleksei Kondaurov, a former KGB major general who is a Yukos executive and who won a State Duma seat on the Communist Party ticket on 7 December, claimed in an interview posted on the "Moskovskie novosti" website (http://www.mn.ru) on 29 December that the FSB has plans to kidnap "a Yukos shareholder living abroad" and bring him back to Russia, possibly referring to Leonid Nevzlin, a major shareholder who was recently granted Israeli citizenship (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 5 November 2003). JB
FOREIGN MINISTRY CRITICIZES STATE DEPARTMENT RELIGIOUS-FREEDOM REPORT
The Foreign Ministry's information department on 29 December criticized a U.S. State Department report on international religious freedom for 2003, saying it "contradicts the spirit of partnership" between Russia and the United States and is "counterproductive" for establishing a "comprehensive dialogue," RBK reported. The report, which was released on 18 December, states that the Russian authorities have imposed restrictions on some religious groups and do not always respect the Russian Constitution's provisions for the equality of all religions before the law and the separation of church and state. It further charges that the security services "were increasingly treating the leadership of some minority religious groups as security threats." The report can be seen on the State Department's website at http://www.state.gov/s/d/rm/27404.htm. The Foreign Ministry called the report "tendentiously biased against Russia" and said it "ignores profound positive changes in relations between the state and religions that are reflected in the constitution and legislation." JB
ENERGY AGREEMENT DEFROSTS RUSSIA-UKRAINE RELATIONS
Energy Minister Igor Yusufov and Ukrainian Energy Minister Serhiy Yermilov signed a protocol on 29 December for an agreement on cooperation in 2004 in developing the fuel and energy sectors, Russian media reported. The two countries reached agreement in principle on the plan in September. The two sides have agreed on the terms for supplying Russian fuel and energy to Ukraine, as well as for transiting Russian natural gas, oil, and electricity to Europe via Ukraine. The energy agreement follows a 24 December meeting between President Vladimir Putin and Ukrainian President Leonid Kuchma in Ukraine's Black Sea port of Kerch, during which they moved closer to resolving a territorial dispute by signing a framework agreement on joint use of the Sea of Azov and the Kerch Strait. Under the agreement, Russia and Ukraine will set up a consortium to control joint use of the strait, Prime-TASS reported (see "RFE/RL Newsline Part II"). JB
MAYOR GETS A TRANSFER HE CAN'T REFUSE?
Legislators in Krasnodar Krai on 29 December elected Sochi Mayor Leonid Mostov as their representative to the Federation Council, replacing former krai Governor Nikolai Kondratenko, "Izvestiya" reported. Kondratenko was recently elected to the Duma on the Communist Party list. However, Mostov has refused to resign as mayor and accept the new position, a Sochi administration spokesman told the daily. An unidentified krai legislator told the daily that Mostov has agreed to a "transfer to other work." Mostov is currently in the hospital undergoing therapy for an unspecified illness. He is reportedly facing pressure from several camps, including Krasnodar Krai Governor Aleksandr Tkachev, "influential people in the presidential administration," and Moscow Mayor Yurii Luzhkov, whose family has considerable commercial interests in the city. JAC
ARTISTS FACING CRIMINAL CHARGES FOR MISUSING RELIGIOUS SYMBOLS
The human rights group Common Action is organizing the defense of the organizers of an anti-clerical exhibition that was held at the Andrei Sakharov Museum in January (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 21 January 2003), grani.ru reported on 29 December. Museum director Yurii Samodurov and three artists who participated in the "Caution, Religion" exhibition now face charges of inciting religious hatred and could face three to five years in prison. In August, a Moscow court threw out criminal charges against two Russian Orthodox believers who vandalized the exhibition, saying that their actions were justified because their "religious sensibilities" had been offended (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 12 August 2003). According to a statement by Common Action that was signed by representatives of other human rights organizations, Russia hasn't experienced a similar legal case against artists for profaning religious symbols since writer Leo Tolstoy was excommunicated from the Russian Orthodox Church at the beginning of the last century. JAC
INGUSH PRESIDENT AGAIN RULES OUT MERGER WITH CHECHNYA
In an interview with "Politika" that was reposted on 30 December on http://www.ingushetiya.ru, Murat Zyazikov affirmed that as long as he remains president of Ingushetia, he will oppose reuniting that republic with Chechnya as a single federation subject. Zyazikov argued that "these are two fraternal peoples, two fraternal republics, but at the same time two self-contained (samostoyatelnye) subjects of the Russian Federation." Zyazikov first rejected the idea of a re-merger when Chechen administration head Akhmed-hadji Kadyrov suggested it in October (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 15 October and 3 November 2003). LF
INGUSH DEPUTY INTERIOR MINISTER KILLED
Apti Khakiev died of injuries received when his car came under fire on 28 December in the village of Alkhasty, Interfax reported. A Russian serviceman has been arrested and has reportedly confessed to the shooting, which he claimed was an accident during a quail shoot, according to ingushetiya.ru on 29 December. Khakiev, who was 36, joined the Interior Ministry in 1992. LF
EMBATTLED ARMENIAN TELEVISION STATION LOSES NEW TENDER BID
The independent television station A1+, which was forced to cease broadcasting in the spring of 2002 after losing a tender for the frequency on which it broadcast (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 2 and 3 April 2002), was passed over on 29 December in the fourth tender bid for a new frequency that it has submitted this year, Noyan Tapan and RFE/RL's Yerevan bureau reported (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 12 June, 15 and 18 July, and 14 October 2003). Armenia's National Committee on Television and Radio instead awarded the frequency in question to a newly created television company reportedly linked to the Armenian Revolutionary Federation-Dashnaktsutiun, a junior member of the ruling three-party coalition. No further frequencies will be available for tender for at least five years. But A1+ Director Mesrop Movsesian told the independent daily "Aravot" on 25 December that while he has no hope his station will be able to resume broadcasting as long as Robert Kocharian remains president of Armenia, "all presidents are temporary, and I am not in a hurry." LF
GEORGIAN MINISTER OF STATE VISITS ARMENIA
On a one-day visit to Yerevan on 29 December, Georgian Minister of State Zurab Zhvania met with Armenian President Kocharian, parliament speaker Artur Baghdasarian, and Prime Minister Andranik Markarian, Caucasus Press and RFE/RL's Yerevan bureau reported. Echoing statements he made during a similar visit to Baku on 27 December, Zhvania stressed the importance Georgia's new leadership attaches to stable and harmonious bilateral relations. He and Kocharian discussed the political situation in Georgia and regional security. Markarian presented Zhvania with a written request to reduce rail-freight charges for goods transported to or from Armenia via Georgia, Caucasus Press reported on 30 December. The former leadership of Georgian Railways opposed any such reduction, and the company's proposed new director, businessman Giorgi Lezhava, might likewise refuse to do so rather than jeopardize his business interests in Azerbaijan, according to Caucasus Press. LF
AZERBAIJAN PASSES BILL ON PUBLIC TELEVISION IN SECOND READING
Parliament deputies approved on 24 December in its second reading a controversial draft law on creating a public broadcaster, Turan reported. The bill passed in its first reading in May, but none of the numerous recommendations made in recent months by international organizations such as the Council of Europe were incorporated prior to the second reading. Participants in a roundtable discussion pointed out that the draft does not specify how the public television is to be funded, nor that it should replace, rather than coexist with, the present state television channels. Passage of the draft bill is one of the conditions the Council of Europe wants Azerbaijan to meet before the end of this year. LF
AZERBAIJANI POLICE CONFISCATE ELECTRICAL DEVICES TO REDUCE ENERGY CONSUMPTION
Police in the Azerbaijani exclave of Nakhichevan began forcibly confiscating electrical devices from the population on 29 December in order to reduce energy consumption, Turan reported. Many people have been left without heating, and temperatures in the region are currently around -10 degrees Centigrade. All households pay a flat rate of 20,000 manats ($4) per month for electricity. LF
GEORGIAN ELECTION OFFICIAL VISITS ADJARIA
Central Election Commission Chairman Zurab Chiaberashvili traveled on 29 December to Batumi where he discussed with Adjar Supreme Council Chairman Aslan Abashidze preparations for the 4 January Georgian presidential election, Caucasus Press and www.rustavi2.com reported. Caucasus Press quoted Chiaberashvili as saying he doubts Adjar voter lists are accurate, as the reregistration of voters currently under way elsewhere in Georgia is not being conducted in Adjaria. But in Tbilisi, Tsotne Bakuria, head of the Tbilisi branch of Abashidze's Democratic Revival Union, said on 29 December that the Adjar voter lists were checked prior to the 2 November parliamentary ballot and no reregistration is needed. On 30 December, Caucasus Press said unnamed Georgian officials fear that the authorities in Adjaria will force voters to mark the "against all candidates" option on their ballot papers. LF
ANOTHER GEORGIAN EMBEZZLEMENT SUSPECT SUFFERS HEART ATTACK
Former Georgian Railways Director Akaki Chkhaidze, whose Silk Road party was a member of the pro-presidential For a New Georgia election bloc, has reportedly been hospitalized in Batumi after suffering a heart attack, Caucasus Press reported on 29 December. Earlier that day, Georgian Interior Minister Giorgi Baramidze warned that a search warrant would be issued for Chkhaidze unless he turned himself in for questioning concerning suspected large-scale embezzlement. Meanwhile, officials from the Prosecutor-General's Office have still not been able to question former Energy Minister David Mirtskhulava, who is also recovering from a heart attack (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 29 December 2003). LF
GEORGIAN POLITICAL PARTIES DISAPPROVE OF PLANNED WEALTH TAX
In separate statements reported by Caucasus Press, the New Rightists, the Union of Traditionalists of Georgia (STK), and the Socialist Party have criticized a planned wealth tax announced on 22 December by Minister of State Zhvania (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 23 December 2003). STK Chairman Akaki Asatiani and the Socialists termed the tax a return to Bolshevism, while David Gamkrelidze of the New Rights called it "populist." Asatiani also criticized the proposed abolition of the land tax. Acting Georgian President Nino Burdjanadze proposed on 23 December renaming the draft bill on the wealth tax the "solidarity law," while on 24 December David Salaridze, chairman of the parliament commission on tax revenues, welcomed the proposed wealth tax but said the definition of wealth should be more precise. He suggested it should apply to owners of residences worth more than 300,000 laris ($139,000) and automobiles worth more than 150,000 laris. LF
ABKHAZ HOSTAGES, GEORGIAN DETAINEES RELEASED
A group of young Georgians detained by Abkhaz police on 27 December for allegedly violating passport regulations was released on 29 December in return for the release of three Abkhaz border guards who were reportedly taken hostage on 25 December, Caucasus Press reported. LF
KAZAKH PRESIDENT CALLS FOR REVITALIZATION OF INTERNATIONAL ORGANIZATIONS
In a wide-ranging interview in "Izvestiya" on 29 December, Nursultan Nazarbaev called for a close examination of international organizations by the world community and for reforms to overcome what he called "stagnation" in addressing some international problems, particularly the fight against terrorism. Nazarbaev also called for the creation of an association of Caspian littoral states, but complained that the other Caspian states have shown little interest in this proposal. Nazarbaev also said no country should be barred from taking part in stabilization efforts in Iraq because it had its own assessment of the problems there. He also complained about Russian media reports calling the closure of the Kazakh-Russian border to stop illegal migration and drug trafficking. According to Nazarbaev, Kazakhstan has expended a great deal of effort and money providing a defensive line for Russia against these problems. BB
KAZAKH SENATE ADDS LIFE IMPRISONMENT TO CRIMINAL CODE
The upper house of the Kazakh parliament on 29 December adopted a law drafted by the Justice Ministry adding life imprisonment to the possible sentences enumerated in the Criminal Code, khabar.kz and gazeta.kz reported. The inclusion of life imprisonment is part of President Nazarbaev's plan for the gradual abolition of the death penalty. On 17 December, he instituted a moratorium on the death penalty (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 19 December 2003). The law on life imprisonment will go into effect on 1 January. Deputy Justice Minister Sabyrzhan Bekbolsynov told khabar.kz that a special facility in Kostanai Oblast has been designated for convicts sentenced to life imprisonment and for the 20 Kazakh citizens sentenced to death in 2003. The latter are covered by the moratorium. Bekbolsynov told the upper chamber that 60 percent of the Kazakh population opposes abolition of the death penalty, down from almost 70 percent in 2002. BB
KYRGYZ PARLIAMENT AMENDS ELECTION CODE
The Kyrgyz parliament has adopted changes to the Election Code to give the same rights to candidates on party election lists as enjoyed by individual, independent candidates, KyrgyzInfo and Interfax reported on 29 December. The amendments also give election observers and candidates' representatives the right to be present for the vote count and to sign election-commission protocols. The amendments also specify that ballot boxes be made of transparent plastic to prevent tampering. The changes to the Election Code were proposed by President Askar Akaev. BB
KYRGYZ SAY 25 DECEMBER LAND-MINE DEATH WAS ON TAJIK-UZBEK BORDER
Kyrgyzstan's Border Service reported that it has investigated information provided by Tajik border guards about two purported land-mine deaths on the Tajik-Kyrgyz border on 25 December, and found that, in reality, one person was killed by a mine on that date on the Tajik-Uzbek border, akipress.org reported on 29 December. According to the Kyrgyz Border Service, the victim was a resident of Isfara Raion in northern Tajikistan's Sughd Oblast. Two people were killed by Uzbek mines in the oblast in early November (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 6 November 2003). Uzbekistan mined parts of its borders with Tajikistan and Kyrgyzstan in 1999 and 2000 to prevent incursions by Islamist militants, and has refused to remove them, citing national security. BB
GAZPROM SQUEEZES ITERA OUT OF TURKMEN GAS EXPORT MARKET
The Russian state-controlled gas firm Gazprom has succeeded in forcing competitor Itera out of the market for exporting gas from Turkmenistan, centrasia.ru reported on 29 December, citing a 26 December article in "Vedomosti." Gazprom, which controls the export pipelines for Turkmen gas, reportedly explained the exclusion of Itera from the Turkmen export market as due to the lack of pipeline capacity through Uzbekistan. Earlier this year, Itera purchased 4 billion cubic meters of gas from Ashgabat and expressed the intention to purchase 4.8 billion cubic meters in 2004. Itera asked Gazprom in November to approve the transport of 7 billion cubic meters of gas from Turkmenistan in 2004, but Gazprom refused. Gazprom partner Eural TG, which is registered in Hungary, will take over the markets that Itera loses, according to "Vedomosti." BB
TAJIK PRIME MINISTER VISITS UZBEKISTAN
Tajik Prime Minister Oqil Oqilov paid a one-day visit to Tashkent on 29 December, meeting with Uzbek President Islam Karimov and new Uzbek Prime Minister Shavkat Mirzayoyev and signing agreements on gas supplies to Tajikistan and on water use, uza.uz and ITAR-TASS reported. Oqilov also discussed with Karimov combating drug trafficking, international terrorism, and religious extremism, topics that were also covered in talks between Uzbek Foreign Minister Sodyq Safaev and his Tajik counterpart Talbak Nazarov. Oqilov was accompanied by representatives of Tajikistan's drug agency, the Interior Ministry, and the security service. According to Nazarov, those officials came to discuss the struggle against contraband drugs exported from Afghanistan across Tajikistan and into Uzbekistan. BB
BELARUS, NATO TO SEAL PARTNERSHIP PROGRAM
Belarus and NATO are expected to seal a 2004-05 individual-partnership program within two months, Belapan reported on 29 December, quoting Belarusian Defense Ministry aide Syarhey Bulyhin. The program, approved at NATO headquarters in Brussels on 26 November, provides for 183 events in 21 areas of cooperation, according to Bulyhin. It includes political consultations within the framework of the Euro-Atlantic Partnership Council and the Partnership for Peace, participation in the work of the main NATO bodies, staff talks with representatives of NATO headquarters, and participation in joint war games, exercises, and training, Bulyhin said. Belarus does not insist on the special partnership regime that NATO maintains with Russia and Ukraine, Bulyhin added. AM
UKRAINE, RUSSIA SIGN AGREEMENT ON USE OF KERCH STRAIT AND SEA OF AZOV
Ukrainian President Leonid Kuchma and Russian President Vladimir Putin signed an agreement on the use of waters of the Kerch Strait and the Sea of Azov in the Crimean city of Kerch on 24 December, Interfax reported (see "RFE/RL Newsline Part I"). The agreement defines the Sea of Azov as the internal waters of both Ukraine and Russia, and it provides for the free navigation of Ukrainian and Russian military and civilian vessels in the area, while third-flag vessels need the consent of both Ukraine and Russia to operate within those waters. The document also provides for delimitation of the state border on the bottom and the surface of the sea. The unclear status of the Azov and the Kerch Strait prompted a high-profile dispute between Kyiv and Moscow in October-November (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 3 October 2003). AM
ESTONIAN PRESIDENT SIGNS 2004 STATE BUDGET
Arnold Ruutel signed the country's 2004 state budget bill into law on 29 December, BNS reported. The budget, which was adopted by the parliament earlier this month, foresees revenues of 47.62 billion kroons ($3.76 billion) and expenditures of 47.69 billion kroons (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 18 December 2003). The opposition Center Party had urged Ruutel on 23 December not to promulgate the budget bill, arguing that it infringes the constitutional guarantee of a right to state assistance by setting the subsistence allowance at just 500 kroons. The Center Party also suggested that the transfer of four percentage points of the 33 percent social tax from the state pension insurance fund to private pension funds for individuals who chose to join them is unconstitutional. SG
LITHUANIAN PRESIDENTIAL-IMPEACHMENT COMMISSION HOLDS FIRST SESSION...
The 12-member ad hoc commission on the possible impeachment of President Rolandas Paksas held its first meeting on 29 December, "Kauno diena" reported the next day. Commission Deputy Chairman Julius Sabatauskas told reporters that the 2 1/2-hour session did not resolve any of the issues on its agenda, which include determining who should be called as witnesses. The closed-door session was attended by Paksas's legal counsel, which has increased from the three lawyers who represented him at an earlier meeting of the Constitutional Court to six. The new additions are Kestutis Stungys, Vytautas Sviderskis, and Rimas Andrikis, three of Vilnius's most sought-after criminal-defense lawyers. Sabatauskas said the president's lawyers may present proposals to the commission, but are prevented from protracting its work since all decisions are made collectively by the commission itself. The commission will seek security clearance from the State Security Department to receive classified information, Sabatauskas added. SG
...WHILE CONSTITUTIONAL COURT RULES THAT PRESIDENT VIOLATED CONSTITUTION
Lithuania's Constitutional Court ruled on 30 December that President Paksas violated the constitution by granting citizenship to a Russian businessman who backed his election campaign, rferl.org reported the same day. The head of the court, Egidijus Kuris, announced that the decree, issued by Paksas on 11 April and granting citizenship to Jurijus Borisovas, contradicted three articles (29, 82, and 84) of the Lithuanian Constitution. The decision of the court is final. Borisov was Paksas's main financial backer in his election campaign, and was accused of selling arms to Sudan in a Lithuanian security services report. AH
POLAND HERALDS 'FUNDAMENTAL CHANGE' IN NATURE OF ITS GROUND FORCES'
Polish and Israeli defense officials signed agreements on 29 December on the supply of Spike guided missiles to the Polish Army, Polish state radio reported. The signing of supply and technology-transfer agreements was attended by Israel's ambassador to Poland, Shevah Weiss, and Polish Defense Minister Jerzy Szmajdzinski. "Armored personnel carriers, Hummer-type vehicles, and guided antitank missiles mean a fundamental change in the nature of the [Polish] ground forces," Szmajdzinski said. The Israeli missiles will be almost entirely manufactured in Poland. The $250 million contract runs out in 2013, and the Polish forces will be equipped with Spike missiles for at least 30 years. Additional offset agreements remain to be signed in the next two months. AM
HINTS OF A CZECH CABINET RESHUFFLE
Junior coalition Christian Democratic Union-People's Party (KDU-CSL) Chairman Miroslav Kalousek told the daily "Pravo" on 30 December that he might soon join the three-party, center-left cabinet headed by Vladimir Spidla, CTK reported. One day earlier, CTK quoted Social Democratic Party (CSSD) Deputy Chairman and Interior Minister Stanislav Gross as saying Kalousek, like the other two coalition-party leaders, should become a member of the cabinet. After his election in November as KDU-CSL chairman to replace Foreign Minister Cyril Svoboda, Kalousek denied any intention of becoming a minister. But he told "Pravo" this week that if the other coalition partners (the CSSD and the Freedom Union-Democratic Union [US-DEU]) are ready to renegotiate the coalition agreement, he will agree to becoming the KDU-CSL's "fourth minister." Kalousek said it would be "premature" to discuss a specific ministerial post. "Pravo" speculated that Kalousek, who heads the Budget Committee in the lower house, might replace Svoboda in the latter's deputy prime minister's post. Svoboda told "Pravo" that any change in the coalition agreement would be risky and that "the idea of Miroslav Kalousek becoming foreign minister is out of the question." Prime Minister Spidla was quoted by the daily "Lidove noviny" on 27 December as saying he does not want to make changes to the cabinet for the time being. MS
SERBIAN RADICALS SINGLE OUT FORMER YUGOSLAV PRESIDENT'S PARTY FOR COALITION
Tomislav Nikolic, the deputy chairman of the victorious Serbian Radical Party (SRS), told a press conference on 29 December that the only party in the newly elected Serbian parliament that could serve as a coalition partner for the SRS is the Democratic Party of Serbia (DSS) headed by former Yugoslav President Vojislav Kostunica, Tanjug reported. The DSS leadership refrained from officially commenting on Nikolic's public offer. Nikolic stressed the similar nature of those two parties' programs. He ruled out an SRS coalition with either Slobodan Milosevic's Socialist Party (SPS) or the Serbian Renewal Movement (SPO) and New Serbia coalition, saying those parties do not have sufficient seats in parliament to form a stable government, "Politika" reported. According to the preliminary electoral results, the SRS will have 81 seats and the DSS 54 seats in the 240-seat legislature (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 29 December 2003 and "RFE/RL Balkan Report," 12 December 2003). UB
DEMOCRATIC LEADERS SKEPTICAL OF NEW SERBIAN GOVERNMENT
Speaking on Belgrade-based BKTV on 28 December, Serbia and Montenegro's Defense Minister Boris Tadic -- who led the Democratic Party's list of candidates -- reiterated his conviction that there can be no democratic government if his party is excluded, but added that the Democratic Party would not enter a government at any price. The Democratic Party won 38 seats in the Serbian parliament. Also on 28 December, Miroljub Labus of the G-17 Plus party positively assessed the election results, saying that over 60 percent of voters opted for democratic parties, BKTV reported. Labus cautioned, however, that his party is worried whether a stable government can be formed. UB
OBSERVERS SAY SERBIAN VOTE DEMOCRATIC, BUT URGE REVIEW OF ELECTION LAWS
Representatives of the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE) and the Parliamentary Assembly of the Council of Europe (PACE) stressed the democratic character of Serbia's recent parliamentary vote in a joint news conference in Belgrade on 29 December, but they also urged a review of the country's electoral legislation, the OSCE's homepage (http://www.osce.org) reported. Nikolai Vulchanov, head of the OSCE's election-observation mission, stressed that "transparency needs to be enhanced to allow voters to know which candidates they are voting for, rather than enable parties to name [members of parliament] arbitrarily from the candidates' lists." Murat Mercan, who headed the PACE delegation, said: "Three candidate lists are led by indicted war criminals. This sends out a negative message. While formally not in breach of the law, it shows a lack of political responsibility and is a reminder that a number of political parties in Serbia are still caught up in the denounced legacy of the past." UB
INTERNATIONAL COMMUNITY EXPRESSES CONCERN OVER SERBIAN ELECTIONS...
The U.S. State Department fully supported the OSCE's findings (see item above) in an official statement published on its website (http://www.state.gov) on 29 December, stressing the need for electoral reform in Serbia. At the same time, the State Department urged political parties to form a new government quickly and continue the reforms begun after the fall of Slobodan Milosevic in October 2000. "We expect those parties representing democratic ideals and standards to continue the process of economic, judicial and military reform, as well as support full implementation of the Dayton agreement, full cooperation with the International Criminal Tribunal for the Former Yugoslavia (ICTY) including the arrest and transfer of Ratko Mladic to the ICTY for trial," the statement says. Erhard Busek, who heads the EU-led Stability Pact for Southeastern Europe, told Deutsche Welle on 28 December that it might prove difficult to form a democratic, Western-oriented government in the wake of the recent Serbian elections. He stressed, however, that all involved parties must bear in mind that there is no alternative to forming a broad coalition of democratic forces. UB
...WHILE REGIONAL LEADERS REMAIN CAUTIOUSLY OPTIMISTIC
On 29 December, Prime Minister Milo Djukanovic said Montenegro must accept the will of the Serbian electorate, adding that "one thing we cannot do is to engage in polemics over the will of people in any state," MINA news agency reported. Djukanovic added that Montenegro has enough autonomy within the joint union of Serbia and Montenegro that a political crisis in the former could not spill over into the latter. Montenegrin President Filip Vujanovic said the elections in Serbia might negatively affect the functioning of the state union, as it could take some time until Serbia has delegated its new members to the union's council of ministers and the Supreme Defense Council, SRNA news agency reported. Croatian President Stipe Mesic meanwhile told "Vjesnik" on 29 December that the results of Serbia's elections came as no surprise to him. The results might in fact help Croatia's bid for EU membership, Mesic claimed, suggesting that Croatia leads the region in democratic development. UB
MOLDOVAN PRESIDENT INTENSIFIES RHETORIC REGARDING ROMANIA...
Speaking on Russian-language NIT television on 27 December, President Vladimir Voronin said the latest Romanian criticism of the Concept of the State's Nationalities Policies recently adopted by the Moldovan parliament is aimed at diverting the Romanian public's attention away from the problems facing that country, Infotag reported on 29 December. "Romania has homework to do and is instead attacking the Moldovan leadership," Voronin said. The Moldovan president said his Romanian counterpart's second term will expire soon and President Ion Iliescu "would like to leave [office] elegantly and with dignity. However, Romanian society is demanding answers to some questions," he said, including Iliescu's role in the events of December 1989, when communist dictator Nicolae Ceausescu was overthrown and executed after a summary trial. "The Romanian president always felt uneasy in answering such questions, so he is trying to focus his attacks on us." In reality, Voronin said, the Romanian authorities do not care about what is happening in Moldova. Voronin called Romania "the only empire in Europe, consisting of the [historical provinces] of Moldavia, Dobruja, and Transylvania," adding that Bucharest must "put an end to the decade-long interference in Moldovan affairs." MS
...AND SAYS COMMUNIST DICTATOR WAS DENIED ASYLUM BY SOVIETS
President Voronin also said in the 27 December interview with NIT that as a result of his former post as interior minister of the Moldovan Soviet Socialist Republic, he knows that Soviet authorities repeatedly denied permission to land in Bolhrad, Ukraine, to an airplane carrying former dictator Ceausescu and his family in 1989, Infotag reported. In an apparent attempt to discredit President Iliescu, who has denied links with the Soviet regime or former Soviet President Mikhail Gorbachev, Voronin said: "In light of what happened recently in Iraq with Saddam Hussein, events in Romania [in 1989] acquire a different meaning. Why did Iliescu and Gorbachev not permit Ceausescu's airplane to land? Why does Iliescu not answer this question? Why is the Romanian president looking across the fence instead of looking at what happens in his own yard?" Voronin's statements mark the first time such an allegation about the 1989 Romanian events has been made. Ceausescu and his spouse Elena flew by helicopter from Bucharest on 22 December, but they are not known to have boarded any plane before being caught and brought by car to Targoviste, where both were executed on 25 December 1989. MS
VORONIN DEPLORES TIRASPOL DECISION TO HALT RUSSIAN EVACUATION
President Voronin also said in his 27 December interview with NIT that he is deeply concerned over the decision by separatist authorities in Tiraspol to halt once again the evacuation of Russian troops and ammunition from Transdniester, Infotag and ITAR-TASS reported. Voronin said the withdrawal issue has acquired an international dimension that can only be solved by Russia and by the international community. "The withdrawal should not be allowed to become a political trump in [Transdniestrian separatist leader] Igor Smirnov's hands. By dragging out the evacuation, the Smirnov team...believes the presence of the armor grants them some guarantees. However, those weapons will guarantee nothing but problems," he said. MS
TRANSDNIESTRIAN POWER PLANT SOLD TO RUSSIAN-BELGIAN CONSORTIUM
A Russian-Belgian consortium has won a Transdniestrian tender for a 100 percent stake in the Moldavskaya Thermal Power Plant near Tiraspol, which is Moldova's largest electricity producer, RFE/RL's Chisinau bureau reported on 29 December. Saint Gidon Invest offered $29 million plus $161 million in investment into the plant's modernization over the next four years. The Transdniestrian authorities rejected a joint bid backed by Russian gas giant Gazprom and Unified Energy Systems to exchange the plant for a write-off of Tiraspol debt to Gazprom. MS
BULGARIAN PRESIDENT SIGNS, SLAMS BUDGET
President Georgi Parvanov signed the 2004 budget into law on 29 December despite strong reservations that he articulated the same day, mediapool.bg reported. Parvanov suggested that he would have preferred to veto the budget, but he feared the "political consequences" of such a move. He said the real incomes of millions of Bulgarians will fall due to rising prices for fuel, electricity, and heating despite minor increases in pensions and the salaries of state employees. The new fiscal framework will also slow education reforms, Parvanov added. The president also cast doubt on the legality of some provisions of the budget, which was passed by parliament earlier this month (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 3 and 19 December 2003). He said Bulgaria's Constitutional Court will likely be asked to examine some aspects of the budget. UB
GEORGIA PREPARES FOR EXTRAORDINARY PRESIDENTIAL BALLOT
Voters in Georgia go to the polls on 4 January to elect a successor to Eduard Shevardnadze, who was forced from office on 23 November on a wave of popular anger at the falsification of the outcome of the parliamentary elections three weeks earlier. Most observers both in Georgia and abroad anticipate that Mikhail Saakashvili, the charismatic leader of the opposition National Movement who spearheaded the campaign for Shevardnadze's resignation, will win by a considerable margin.
Five rival candidates have also registered for the ballot. They are former Imereti Governor Temur Shashiashvili; David the Builder Society Chairman Roin Liparteliani; Georgian Barristers Union head Kartlos Gharibashvili; Zurab Kelekhsashvili of the Mdzleveli political organization; and Zaza Sikharulidze. Liparteliani ran against Shevardnadze in the presidential election in 1995, and Gharibashvili ran in 1995 and 2000, but they polled less than 1 percent of the vote.
Former Georgian State Security Minister Igor Giorgadze, who submitted to the Central Election Commission (CEC) the required 50,000 signatures in support of his candidacy, was denied registration on the grounds that he has not been resident in Georgia for the past two years. Giorgadze fled the country in early September 1995 after being accused of masterminding a car-bomb attack on Shevardnadze. A further seven presidential hopefuls, including two women, one ethnic Russian, and one ethnic Armenian citizen of Georgia, either withdrew their applications or failed to collect the required signatures.
Giorgadze appealed, without success, against the CEC's refusal to register him, and alleged that the interim Georgian leadership is afraid to allow him to participate in the ballot because of the level of clandestine support he claims to command. Of the five registered alternatives to Saakashvili, only Shashiashvili, who made his mark as an energetic and innovative administrator, seems to have any hope of exceeding 10 percent of the vote. Shashiashvili has challenged his rivals, including Saakashvili, to a televised debate, but met no takers.
Saakashvili's challengers have complained to the CEC that he enjoys an unfair advantage, in that his activities as a member of the interim three-person leadership receive considerable media coverage. In addition, they have complained that the free airtime they have been allocated for election broadcasts is at a time of day (between 3 p.m. and 5 p.m. local time) at which few people watch television. Gharibashvili has demanded that Saakashvili's registration be revoked on the grounds that it is illegal for Minister of State Zurab Zhvania to head his election campaign.
In other respects, however, the interim leadership and its appointee to head the CEC, Zurab Chiaberashvili who formerly headed the NGO Fair Elections, have stressed repeatedly their determination to ensure that the 4 January vote is not marred by a repetition of the egregious falsification that characterized previous ballots, but is acknowledged by the international community as free, fair, and democratic. To that end, they have appealed to all voters to reregister at their local polling station to ensure that no one is prevented from participating in the ballot because his or her name has been omitted from the electoral roll. As of 29 December, 1,739,324 persons have reregistered of the 2,870,000 who participated in the 2 November parliamentary ballot.
Reregistration has not, however, taken place in the Adjar Autonomous Republic, whose autocratic and authoritarian ruler, Aslan Abashidze, agreed only on 27 December under pressure from the international community to open polling stations in his fiefdom to allow the estimated 270,000 voters to participate in the ballot. Abashidze had previously argued that the presidential poll was unconstitutional, and that the timeframe of 45 days stipulated by the Georgian Constitution was too short to take measures to ensure that the outcome would not be rigged. Abashidze proposed instead postponing for a minimum of six months both the presidential ballot and the repeat voting for those 150 parliament seats to be allocated under the party-list system. He has also called for sweeping amendments to the constitution to transform Georgia into a federal state, in which Adjaria would enjoy even greater privileges than it currently does.
Abashidze could still appeal to members of his Democratic Revival Union to boycott the election, or alternatively to mark the "against all candidates" option. The opposition Labor Party, which alleges that Saakashvili's National Movement as well as the pro-Shevardnadze For a Free Georgia bloc benefited from the "redistribution" of ballots cast in the 2 November parliamentary election, has likewise called on its supporters to boycott the vote.
CONSENSUS ELUDES AFGHAN CONSTITUTIONAL ASSEMBLY...
The Constitutional Loya Jirga ended its 16th day of debate on 29 December without agreement on a draft constitution for Afghanistan, international news agencies reported. Plans to put a revised draft to a vote were delayed when some delegates accused the internationally backed Afghan Transitional Administration of interference in assembly procedures. "If the government wants to interfere, they should have made it a government constitution," "The New York Times" of 30 December quoted an anonymous delegate as saying. The source added that amendments tacked on by the assembly's 50-member reconciliation committee on 27 and 28 December did not reflect debate within the Constitutional Loya Jirga's 10 working committees (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 17 and 18 December). An unnamed official from the Afghan Constitutional Commission that submitted the original draft said the dissenters were members of conservative Islamic parties, such as former Afghan President Burhanuddin Rabbani's Jamiat-e Islami. Delays also stemmed from the unavailability of voting cards and a refusal by delegates to skip dinner parties, Afghanistan Television and AP reported on 29 December. Safia Sediqi, a deputy chairwoman of the assembly, said it is impossible to predict when the assembly might end, the BBC reported on 29 December. AT
...BUT ARTICLES LIKELY TO COME TO A VOTE
Constitutional Loya Jirga Chairman Sebghatullah Mojadeddi asked delegates to the constitutional gathering on 29 December to be present in the assembly hall on 30 December to begin voting on articles of the draft constitution, Afghanistan Television reported the same day. Mojadeddi, a former Afghan president, added that delegates rejected his proposal to discuss and approve the constitution by consensus rather than taking a vote. AT
DOZENS OF AFGHAN CHILDREN FREEZE TO DEATH
Snowfall and freezing temperatures in the Kandahar Province have claimed the lives of dozens of Afghan children, IRNA reported on 29 December. Many of the victims were reportedly living in makeshift housing around Spin Boldak, near the Afghan-Pakistani border, to which they fled to escape factional fighting in northern Afghanistan. AT
600 AFGHANS AMONG THE DEAD IN IRANIAN EARTHQUAKE
A spokesman for Afghan Transitional Administration Chairman Hamid Karzai said that 600 Afghans were among those killed in the earthquake that struck the southern Iranian city of Bam on 26 December, Afghanistan Television reported on 29 December (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 29 December 2003). A delegation from the Afghan Ministry of Refugee Affairs has departed for Bam to prepare the transfer of the Afghan victims' bodies to their homeland, IRNA reported on 29 December. Iran has been host to more than 1 million Afghan refugees since the 1980s. AT
IRANIAN PRESIDENT TAKES CHARGE OF EARTHQUAKE RELIEF
President Mohammad Khatami arrived in the earthquake-stricken city of Bam on 29 December and later that day traveled on to the provincial capital, Kerman, where he spent the night, local and international media reported. Khatami was accompanied by a number of government and military officials, the province's parliamentary representatives, and provincial Governor-General Mohammad Ali Karimi. At an emergency meeting at the Bam airport, the officials discussed how to organize the humanitarian aid that is being rushed to the city. "Although all political and social institutions and offices of Bam City were fully annihilated," Karimi said, according to IRNA, "[provision of] emergency services started as of the first few minutes after the occurrence of the disastrous quake, resorting to the quite limited means we had at our disposal." Government spokesman Abdullah Ramezanzadeh added, "What we need are officials familiar with the city Bam, but these people are either dead or in deep shock over the loss of their families," according to dpa. Some 28,000 of the estimated 30,000 dead have been buried already, and the roughly 30,000 injured are at hospitals around the country. About 60,000 Bam residents and 40,000 people from nearby villages reportedly are homeless, but most now have food and some shelter. Parts of Bam have reportedly been quarantined to prevent the spread of disease, and survivors are reportedly being vaccinated. Security forces are working to prevent looting and unauthorized departures. BS
IRANIAN PARLIAMENT REJECTS MORE GUARDIANS COUNCIL NOMINEES
The parliament on 24 December rejected two more nominees for the Guardians Council, IRNA reported the same day. The head of the judiciary must nominate the six jurists who serve on the Guardians Council, and the 290-member legislature must approve those nominees before they assume their posts. The other six members of the Guardians Council are clerics appointed by the Supreme Leader who are not subject to parliamentary approval. Mohammad-Hadi Sadeqi received only five of a possible 184 votes, while only 76 votes were cast for Firuz Aslani. Guardians Council member Mohammad Reza Abbasifard resigned recently, and on 12 November the legislature rejected two nominated replacements -- Fazlollah Musavi and Gholamhussein Elham (see "RFE/RL Iran Report," 17 November 2003). Judiciary chief Ayatollah Mahmud Hashemi-Shahrudi again proposed Musavi and Sadeqi at the end of November, prompting angry reactions from the legislators (see "RFE/RL Iran Report," 8 December 2003). BS
IRANIAN MINORITIES GET ANOTHER DEGREE OF EQUALITY
Expediency Council Secretary Mohsen Rezai said on 27 December that the arbitration body has approved a parliamentary bill that would grant equal "blood money" (diyeh) for Muslims and non-Muslims, IRNA reported. In November 2002, the parliament approved a bill that would make the amount of blood money paid by a perpetrator for the killing or wounding of a Christian, Jew, or Zoroastrian the same as for the killing or wounding of a Muslim (see "RFE/RL Iran Report," 2 December 2002). Previously, the blood money for minorities was less than that for Muslims -- $18,750 for a Muslim male and half that amount for a minority or a Muslim female. In April, the Guardians Council rejected the bill on the grounds that it violated Islamic law and the constitution. The Iranian Constitution states that Iran is a Shia Muslim state and Christianity, Judaism, and Zoroastrianism are recognized minority faiths. These minorities' parliamentary representatives hailed passage of the legislation, IRNA reported on 28 December. Morris Motamed of the Jewish community; Yonathan Bet Kolia, who represents the Assyrians and Chaldeans; and Khosrow Danestani of the Zoroastrian community described this measure as one that shows the minorities' freedom in Iran. BS
KURDISH LEADER PUSHES FOR 'KURDISH RIGHTS' IN IRAQ
Mas'ud Barzani, leader of the Kurdistan Democratic Party (KDP), called for a revision of the power-transfer agreement signed between the U.S.-led coalition and the interim Iraqi Governing Council (IGC) to recognize "Kurdish rights," AFP reported on 29 December, quoting a KDP newspaper. "The 15 November accord must be revised and Kurdish rights within an Iraqi federation must be mentioned," Barzani said. "We want a federation, and this is one of the basic demands of our people." He added that the "armed struggle is over and now is the time for polls." On 28 December, Barzani told a visiting Arab League delegation not to oppose Kurds in their drive to win their rights because "Kurds and the Arabs are allies and not enemies." The 15 November agreement calls for setting up a national assembly by the end of May that will put in place a custodian government by June that will then draft a new constitution and hold national elections (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 18 November 2003). MH
U.S. TROOPS KILL THREE IRAQIS SUSPECTED OF TIES WITH AL-QAEDA
U.S. forces killed three suspected members of a group linked to Al-Qaeda in a gun battle in Iraq on 29 December, Reuters reported. U.S. military officers said that "suspected members of the Ansar al-Islam terrorist group" attacked soldiers with gunfire and grenades during a raid on a house in the northern city of Mosul on the night of 28 December, wounding two of the soldiers. "When the soldiers attempted to enter the home, the suspects engaged them with small arms fire and one grenade. The unit returned fire, then entered and cleared the building," the 101st Airborne Division said in a public statement. "The American soldiers killed three terrorists during the operation, and turned one male, two females, and three children over to the Iraqi police." Two rocket-propelled-grenade launchers, eight grenades, and several religious books with "anticoalition content" were also reported seized. MH
HUSSEIN SAID TO BE GIVING DETAILS ON BILLIONS STASHED ABROAD
Iyad Allawi of the Iraqi Governing Council (IGC) said that Iraq's ousted leader, Saddam Hussein, has given his captors information about billions of dollars he stashed abroad while in power, bbc.com reported on 29 December, citing Arabic news sources. Allawi told two London-based Arabic newspapers that Hussein has also named individuals who know where the money was deposited. Allawi told "Al-Hayat" and "Al-Sharq al-Awsat" that Hussein has acknowledged sending money to foreign bank accounts before he was deposed. "Saddam has started to give information on money that has been looted from Iraq and deposited abroad," Allawi said, adding that the amount stolen was reported to be about $40 billion. Allawi added that interrogators are now focusing on possible connections between Hussein and militant groups attacking coalition forces in Iraq, as well as funds that might have been paid to "elements outside Iraq." Ahmed al-Bayak, another member of the IGC, told AP that he has information that Hussein has begun to provide the names of people inside Iraq who are attacking coalition forces, but he has not revealed anything about funds. Allawi's comments have not been confirmed by other IGC members. MH
JAPAN PLEDGES TO ERASE $4.1 BILLION IN IRAQI DEBT
The largest creditor country to Iraq among the 19 members of the Paris Club is set to pledge to reduce a "significant" amount of the $4.1 billion debt owed by Iraq to help with reconstruction, Al-Jazeera reported on 28 December. Japanese Prime Minister Junichiro Koizumi will not tell James Baker -- the U.S. special envoy on Iraqi debt -- the extent of the reduction until he makes a final decision sometime in 2004, following talks with other members of the Paris Club, Japan's "Nihon Keizai Shimbun" newspaper reported, according to Al-Jazeera. Japan had been reluctant to forgive the debt on the grounds that the balance could eventually be repaid from Iraqi oil revenues. Instead of writing off the debt, Tokyo wanted to reschedule it. The Japanese government has already pledged $5 billion toward Iraqi reconstruction efforts. MH