10 CANDIDATES MAKE FIRST CUT IN RACE FOR PRESIDENCY...
Central Election Commission (TsIK) Chairman Aleksandr Veshnyakov told reporters in Moscow on 5 January that 10 people have completed the first steps to compete as candidates in the 14 March presidential election, RIA-Novosti reported. Four political parties -- the Communist Party, the Liberal Democratic Party of Russia (LDPR), the Party of Life, and the Russian Regions party -- have nominated candidates. The Communists are backing State Duma Deputy Nikolai Kharitonov. The LDPR has nominated party-security-service head Oleg Malyshkin. The Party of Life has nominated its leader, Federation Council Chairman Sergei Mironov, and Russian Regions has tapped former Central Bank Chairman Viktor Gerashchenko (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 5 January 2004). At the same time, nonpartisan voter groups have nominated six candidates, including incumbent President Vladimir Putin, Rodina faction leader Sergei Glazev, Union of Rightist Forces co-Chairwoman Irina Khakamada, former State Duma Chairman Ivan Rybkin, pharmaceutical tycoon and State Duma Deputy Vladimir Bryntsalov (Unified Russia), and businessman Anzori Aksentev-Kikalishvili. The six non-party candidates must gather at least 2 million signatures in support of their candidacy by 28 January in order to qualify for the ballot. JAC
...AS CONTROVERSIAL BUSINESSMAN AGAIN MAKES BID FOR TOP OFFICE
Anzori Aksentev-Kikalishvili attempted to register as a candidate in the 2000 presidential election but the TsIK ruled that too many of the signatures he submitted were invalid, RIA-Novosti reported on 30 December. He founded the obscure All-Russia Political Party of the People and is the director of the 21st Century Corporation, which has been labeled by some Lithuanian media outlets as a Russian crime group. Aksentev-Kikalishvili has recently been linked with Lithuanian President Rolandas Paksas (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 31 October 2003). According to "Le Monde" on 28 November, Aksentev-Kikalishvili has been banned from entering the United States. JAC
MOTHERLAND BLOC TO FIELD PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATES IN ORDER TO SUPPORT PUTIN...
Lieutenant General Nikolai Leonov, one of the leaders of the Motherland-Patriotic Union bloc, said in an interview with infonews.ru on 5 January that the bloc is running two candidates -- Motherland faction leader Glazev and former Central Bank Chairman Gerashchenko -- in the 14 March presidential election in order to help President Putin fight against forces that "are preventing the president from carrying out his policies in the interests of the people." Leonov, a former head of the KGB's Analytical Directorate, added that these forces are "those who in reality control the mass media and the finances of the country and who are using their power to distort the policies of the president." VY
...AND HOPES TO FORM PRO-PRESIDENTIAL, LEFT-CENTER BLOC IN DUMA
Lieutenant General Leonov commented that, unlike the Communist Party, Motherland is not struggling against "an anti-people regime." "There is no such regime in Russia," he said. "There is a state power that should be respected and enhanced." However, Leonov drew a distinction between the president and the government. "While the president has been struggling with the oligarchs in the way we'd like, the government [of Prime Minister Mikhail Kasyanov] has repeatedly supported them." Leonov concluded by saying that in the new Duma Motherland hopes to be able to realize Putin's wish to form a new left-center coalition that could include Motherland, the LDPR, and the Communist Party. VY
PUTIN HONORS TROOPS WHO QUASHED DAGHESTAN INCURSION...
At a 5 January Kremlin ceremony, President Putin awarded medals and orders to a group of military intelligence (GRU) special-forces troops who participated in the military operation against a group of Chechen militants who penetrated into Daghestan on 15 December (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 16, 17, and 22 December 2003), RIA-Novosti and ORT reported. An unidentified GRU officer who spoke at the award ceremony said that as a result of the operation "a major group of rebels led by a serious field commander has ceased to exist" and that the public will soon learn more about this. VY
...AMID SPECULATION OVER IDENTITY OF CHECHEN FIELD COMMANDER
President Putin's personal attention to the Daghestan operation has fueled speculation that Chechen field commander Ruslan Gelaev was among those killed during the fighting, Russian media reported on 5 January. Gazeta.ru and Ekho Moskvy reported that Daghestan prosecutor's office official Mirzaballah Mirzaballaev had stated that Gelaev was indeed among the dead, citing information received from the three fighters who were captured. However, Deputy Prosecutor-General Sergei Fridinskii denied this report. "Neither among the material gathered during the investigation nor in the testimony of the detained rebels is there any information that Gelaev was killed in the operation," Fridinskii said on RTR on 5 January. Pro-Moscow Chechen Security Council Secretary Rudnik Dudaev dismissed the report of Gelaev's death as "disinformation," nns.ru reported. ORT on 5 January speculated that the slain field commander might have been Abu al-Walid. VY
MOSCOW WRITES OFF HUGE MONGOLIAN DEBT
Russia has decided to write off $10 billion in Mongolian debt, the lion's share of that country's indebtedness to Moscow that was accumulated during 70 years as a Soviet satellite, polit.ru and newsru.com reported on 5 January. Mongolia was Russia's third-largest debtor after Cuba and Syria, and the amount of the forgiven debt is about 10 times the country's annual GDP, polit.ru reported. Under the agreement, Ulan Bator will repay just $300 million, which it intends to raise through a state-bond issue. In recent years, Mongolia has been energetically developing economic ties with the European Union, Japan, and the United States, a process that has been retarded by the country's debts to Russia and China. Finance Minister Aleksei Kudrin said that the agreement with Mongolia could be of interest to other countries that have enormous "Soviet debts" that they are unable to repay, newsru.com reported on 5 January. VY
TRIAL IN CASE OF SLAIN LIBERAL DEPUTY OPENS
The St. Petersburg Municipal Court on 5 January began hearing the indictments in the trials of six men who are accused of participating in the November 1998 slaying of liberal State Duma Deputy and human rights activist Galina Starovoitova (see End Note, "RFE/RL Newsline," 5 January 2004), Russian media reported. Four of the accused are charged with immediate participation in the killing, while the other two are charged with abetting the crime. Four other suspects are reportedly still being sought, and investigators are continuing to look into the question of who ordered the murder, RTR reported. The trial judge on 5 January rejected a defense motion to change the composition of the court. The next hearing in the case will be on 24 February. VY
NGOS REPORT RUSSIA FACING MENTAL-HEALTH CATASTROPHE
The Moscow Helsinki Group and several other human rights NGOs have issued a report on the serious deterioration of the mental health of Russian citizens and the alarming rate of psychiatric illness in the country, newsru.com and TV-Tsentr reported on 5 January. According to the report, the number of Russians needing psychiatric help has grown over the last 10 years to 14 million, just less than 10 percent of the population. Some 3.8 million are suffering from "serious mental disorders," the report claimed. It further asserted that the number of crimes committed by people suffering from mental disorders has increased by 50 percent during the same period. In 2000 alone, the Russian Army discharged nearly 10,000 service personnel because of psychological problems, the report said. VY
UDMURT PRESIDENT TO SEEK 'SECOND' TERM
Udmurt President Aleksandr Volkov informed the republic's election commission on 31 December that he will seek a second term in the republican presidential elections scheduled for 14 March, regions.ru reported. If elected, Volkov would formally be serving only his second term, although he has ruled Udmurtia since March 1995. The office of republican presidency was introduced only in October 2000 (see "RFE/RL Russian Federation Report," 16 August and 27 September 2000). So far, Volkov will be competing Sergei Kletenkov, an unemployed lawyer who resides in Kazan. Volkov participated in the 7 December State Duma elections on Unified Russia's party list, but declined to take a seat in the Duma. JAC
WINTER HEATING ISSUE CROPS UP AGAIN...
President Putin met on 5 January with Deputy Prime Minister Vladimir Yakovlev and Irkutsk Governor Boris Govorin to discuss the communal-housing and public-utilities sector, Russian media reported. ORT noted that the town of Ust-Kut, where a young boy reached the president during a nationally televised telephone chat in 2001 to complain that his school had been closed because of a lack of heat, is located in Irkutsk Oblast (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 28 December 2001). Govorin promised that town authorities have managed to prepare for this winter and have been given money from both the oblast and federal budgets. JAC
...AS REGIONS WITH SHORTAGES HOLD FEDERAL GOVERNMENT AT LEAST PARTIALLY RESPONSIBLE
Residents of Primorskii Krai, which continues to suffer from heat, water, and electricity shortages despite the departure of former Governor Yevgenii Nazadratenko in 2001, expressed the lowest level of approval of the activities of the federal government in a recent survey conducted by the Public Opinion Foundation, regions.ru reported on 5 January. Some 67 percent of respondents in Primore found the federal government's work unsatisfactory. Ulyanovsk, Tver, Irkutsk, and Kurgan oblasts followed Primorskii Krai in expressing the highest rates of disapproval. JAC
BASHKIR LEADER BEGINS NEW TERM WITH BIG PRIVATIZATION PLANS
Stakes in 10 state enterprises based in Bashkortostan will be put up for sale in 2004, VolgaInform reported on 5 January. Specialists estimate that the sale of these stakes will bring no less than 40 billion rubles ($1.4 billion) to the federal budget, according to the agency. Included among the 10 companies are the Ufa International Airport, Bashkir Airlines, the Kumertauskii aviation company, and the Ufa-based Magnetron microelectronics plant. Bashkortostan President Murtaza Rakhimov was inaugurated for his third term on 29 December. At the ceremony, presidential envoy to the Volga Federal District Sergei Kirienko presented Rakhimov with a beehive, which he said is a "symbol of diligence and peoples' friendship," while Sverdlovsk Oblast Governor Eduard Rossel presented a chess set made of malachite, which he said symbolized "Byzantine thinking," RFE/RL's Tatar-Bashkir Service reported the next day. JAC
RUSSIANS PREFER COMEDIES
In a national survey conducted by ROMIR of 1,500 people, 15 percent said they have never been to a movie theater, regions.ru reported on 5 January, citing "Samara segodnya." Fifty percent said they last went to the movies more than a year ago. Only 6 percent reported seeing a movie at a theater in the last month, according to romir.ru. According to "Samara segodnya," movie going is most popular among residents of the Russian Far East and students and businesspeople." Thirty-seven percent of respondents said they prefer comedies, compared with 18 percent who prefer dramas, and 16 percent who are partial to war films. JAC
NEW FEDERATION COUNCIL MEMBER SELECTED
Moscow businessman Umar Dzhabrailov will represent the executive branch of Chechnya in the Federation Council, RBK reported on 5 January. Dzhabrailov replaces Akhmar Zakaev, who was elected to the State Duma on 7 December. Dzhabrailov ran in the 2000 Russian presidential race, finishing last with just 0.08 percent of the vote. The website gazeta.ru commented that Dzhabrailov, 45, is better known for his connections to various scandals than for his political activities. For example, Dzhabrailov's brother, Salavat, was among the gunmen who fired at the car of Moscow Deputy Mayor Iosif Ordzhonikidze in the summer of 2002 and was himself shot dead by Ordzhonikidze's bodyguards (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 24 June 2002). Dzhabrailov also came to public attention in the mid-1990s during a dispute over ownership of Moscow's Radisson-Slavyanskaya Hotel. Dzhabrailov's partner in that project, controversial U.S. businessman Paul Tatum, was shot dead near the hotel in November 1996. JAC
CHECHNYA CAR-BOMB TRIAL POSTPONED
The trial, which was scheduled to begin on 5 January, of three men charged in connection with the car-bomb attack on 27 December 2002 that virtually destroyed the Chechen government building in Grozny has been postponed because an unspecified number of witnesses who sustained injuries in the attack failed to appear in court, ITAR-TASS reported on 5 January. Some 80 people were killed and more than 200 injured when two trucks packed with explosives rammed the building (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 27 and 30 December 2002). Radical Chechen field commander Shamil Basaev subsequently claimed responsibility for planning the attack. LF
ANOTHER AZERBAIJANI JOURNALIST ARRESTED
Sadig Ismaylov, a journalist with the newspaper "Baki habar," was detained on the street in Baku on 30 December and charged with participation in the clashes between police and opposition supporters that followed the disputed 15 October presidential election, and with resisting the authorities, Turan reported on 5 January. A Baku district court ruled on 31 December that Ismaylov should be remanded in pretrial custody for three months. Ismaylov's lawyer, Mubariz Garayev, lodged a formal appeal against that ruling on 5 January. Ismaylov denies the charges. LF
DISMISSED AZERBAIJANI ACTIVIST REINSTATED
Akif Nagi, who was fired last month from his post as a lecturer in history at Azerbaijan's Technical University (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 29 December 2003), is to retain his job, Turan reported on 5 January. The university rector declined to endorse a faculty decision to dismiss Nagi, who attributed the threatened loss of his job to his leadership of an organization that advocates a military campaign to bring Nagorno-Karabakh back under the control of the Azerbaijani central authorities. LF
AZERBAIJAN, U.S. SIGN AGREEMENT ON WMD
U.S. Ambassador Reno Harnish and Azerbaijani Defense Minister Colonel General Safar Abiev signed an agreement in Baku on 2 January on cooperation in preventing the proliferation of weapons of mass destruction (WMD), ITAR-TASS and Turan reported on 2 and 5 January, respectively. Under the agreement, Washington is to provide Azerbaijan with $10 million to strengthen its borders and to enhance its capability to detect such weapons and to prevent their transportation across or storage on Azerbaijani territory. LF
OSCE SAYS GEORGIAN BALLOT SHOWED 'PROGRESS'
The conduct of the 4 January Georgian presidential election reflected "notable progress" and "political will" on the part of the country's leadership and constituted "a welcome contrast to the deeply flawed 2 November parliamentary elections," Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE) Parliamentary Assembly President Bruce George said in Tbilisi on 5 January, according to an OSCE press release (http://www.osce.org/news/generate.pf.php3?news_id=3802). Craig Jenness, who headed the International Election Observation Mission, commented that "we noted clear improvements, particularly in the conduct of voting, new voters lists, the legal framework, and overall election administration." But at the same time, he added that "there were nevertheless clear concerns," including political imbalance in election administration in favor of the interim leadership and the continued lack of clear separation between party and state structures. LF
INTERNATIONAL COMMUNITY CONGRATULATES GEORGIAN PRESIDENT-ELECT
German Chancellor Gerhard Schroeder has congratulated Mikhail Saakashvili on his clear victory in the 4 January election, ITAR-TASS reported. Schroeder expressed the hope that Georgia "will now make a leap forward on the road toward strengthening democracy, a law-based state, and a market economy." German Foreign Minister Joschka Fischer designated Saakashvili's election win as "a vote of confidence by the Georgian people." In Brussels, EU High Representative for Foreign and Security Policy Javier Solana congratulated Saakashvili and assured him that the EU will continue its support for Georgian efforts to strengthen political stability and democracy, ITAR-TASS reported on 5 January. A dissenting note was struck by Azerbaijan, where "Yeni Azerbaycan," the newspaper of the eponymous ruling party, commented that the 15 October Azerbaijani presidential election was far more democratic than the 4 January Georgian ballot, Turan reported on 6 January. LF
GEORGIAN LEADERSHIP, OPPOSITION AT ODDS OVER TIMING OF NEW PARLIAMENTARY BALLOT
The new Georgian leadership headed by Saakashvili, acting President Nino Burdjanadze, and Minister of State Zurab Zhvania is at odds with other political parties over the optimal timing of the repeat vote for the 150 parliament seats to be allocated under the party-list system, Caucasus Press reported on 6 January. On 25 November, Georgia's Supreme Court annulled the results of the vote for those 150 seats (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 25 November 2003). A spokesman for the state chancellery said late on 5 January that the ballot will be scheduled for late March or the first Sunday in April (4 April), despite protests by the New Rightists and the Industry Will Save Georgia parliament faction. In a 5 January statement made available to "RFE/RL Newsline," the New Rightists argued that holding the parliamentary elections in early March would preclude compiling new and accurate voter lists and, more importantly, deprive political parties of the chance to conduct an effective election campaign. This, the statement continued, "will bring an end to political pluralism in Georgia, and the country will get a single-party parliament with no real opposition force to balance it." The statement called on the new leadership to schedule the ballot for May or June. OSCE Parliamentary Assembly President Bruce George similarly recommended that time frame on 5 January. LF
DEMOCRATS, NATIONAL MOVEMENT WIN REPEAT PARLIAMENTARY ELECTIONS IN GEORGIA
Candidates representing Saakashvili's National Movement and the Burdjanadze-Democrats bloc won in almost all the 11 constituencies where runoff parliamentary elections were held concurrently with the 4 January presidential ballot, Caucasus Press reported on 5 January. Repeat parliamentary elections were also held in four constituencies. Acting President Burdjanadze won a seat in Kutaisi, thus ensuring her return to her previous post as parliament speaker. Giga Tsereteli, who has temporarily replaced her as parliament speaker, won election from a Tbilisi constituency. LF
BOMB DISCOVERED ON TRAIN IN ABKHAZIA
A bomb was discovered on 5 January on a commuter train traveling from the Abkhaz capital, Sukhum, to the Russian resort city of Sochi, Abkhaz Security Service head Givi Agrba told Interfax. The bomb, which was successfully defused, was timed to explode as the train approached the Psou River, which marks the border between Abkhazia and Russia. LF
THREE CENTRAL ASIAN STATES COOPERATE AGAINST SYR DARYA FLOODING
High-level delegations from Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan, and Uzbekistan met in Shymkent in South Kazakhstan Oblast on 4 January to discuss measures to prevent flooding from a major reservoir on the Syr Darya River, khabar.kz and Interfax-Kazakhstan reported the following day. The Chardara Reservoir, which forms part of the Kazakh-Uzbek border, is in imminent danger of overflowing and destroying its dam because Kyrgyzstan has released too much water from its reservoirs in order to generate hydroelectric power. Kazakh First Deputy Prime Minister Aleksandr Pavlov, who headed the Kazakh delegation to the talks, warned that southern Kazakhstan, particularly Kyzyl-Orda Oblast, could be facing an environmental disaster if this happens. The discussion ended with the signing of a protocol under which Kazakhstan will supply coal and fuel oil to Kyrgyzstan in January and Kyrgyzstan will reduce its hydroelectric output and increase power generation in its thermal plants, while Uzbekistan will raise the flow of water from the Chardara Reservoir into its nearby Arnasai Reservoir. The three delegations also agreed to set up a working group to regulate the flow of the Syr Darya. BB
MANGYSTAU OBLAST TO BE MAIN KAZAKH NAVAL BASE
Astana has decided that Kazakhstan's main naval base on the Caspian Sea will be located in Mangystau Oblast, at Aqtau, the oblast administrative center; Bautino; and two other bays, gazeta.kz reported on 5 January, quoting deputy commander of the Western Military District Marat Toilekbaev, who was discussing plans for the naval base with oblast and port officials and local businesspeople. The base will include not only warships but also shore batteries and marine units. A naval presence was established at Aqtau in 1996, but the ships were given to the border service in 1999. In line with its intention to have a fully functioning navy within 10 years, Kazakhstan is obtaining two warships from Russia in summer 2004 and intends to seek Turkish help in acquiring more. BB
TOP MANAGERS IN TAJIK PYRAMID-SCHEME CASE SENTENCED
The Tajik Supreme Court on 31 December handed down hefty jail sentences to top managers of the Dushanbe firm Jamal and Co. for tax evasion and illegal banking activities, Asia Plus-Blitz reported on 4 January. The firm had set up a pyramid scheme that involved thousands of Tajik citizens who purchased beads from the firm, which promised to buy back the finished jewelry at a considerable markup. The firm's top managers were arrested in August (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 18 and 27 August 2003), and the Prosecutor-General's Office handed the case directly to the Supreme Court at the end of October (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 3 November 2003). Jamal director Dzhamshed Siyoev was sentenced to 11 years in prison, while his deputy Zafar Kamolov and chief accountant Vyacheslav Tsoi were sentenced to eight years each. Their lawyer announced that he intends to appeal. BB
TURKMEN STATE BUDGET FOR 2004 PUBLISHED
Turkmen state media on 5 January published some details of the state budget for 2004, Interfax and RIA-Novosti reported the same day. According to the budget law, which was adopted in November and later approved by the president, the state budget is perfectly balanced between income and expenditures, at 64.3 trillion manats (about $12.2 billion at the official exchange rate). In addition to income from taxes and state-owned industries, the budget projects a substantial increase in non-state investments, to 26 percent-27 percent of all investment. The published budget designates 1.4 trillion manats (about $2.65 million) to finance the free supply of gas, water, electricity, and salt to the population, one of the most important elements of President Saparmurat Niyazov's social program. BB
UZBEKISTAN SIGNS GAS CONTRACTS WITH TAJIKISTAN AND KYRGYZSTAN
Tajik and Kyrgyz natural-gas firms have succeeded in signing contracts with Uzbekistan's gas supplier Uztransgaz for deliveries of gas in 2004. The Tajik state gas firm Tojikgaz was able to increase the amount it will receive by 200 million cubic meters more than in 2003, but the Tajik side has to pay for the entire amount in advance, according to gazeta.kz on 3 January. Despite lengthy negotiations, Kyrgyz gas importer Kyrgyzgaz was unable to persuade the Uzbek side to accept partial payment in barter goods as in previous years, and in 2004 Kyrgyzstan will have to pay exclusively in U.S. dollars, RFE/RL's Kyrgyz Service and Deutsche Welle reported on 3 and 4 January respectively. In addition, in 2004 the price of Uzbek gas sold to Kyrgyzstan has risen to $42 per thousand cubic meters from $40 in 2003. Kyrgyzstan already owes Uzbekistan around $11 million for gas deliveries in previous years. BB
UZBEK OPPOSITION MOVEMENT'S REGISTRATION ATTEMPT REJECTED
The Uzbek Justice Ministry has rejected the opposition Birlik (Unity) movement's second attempt to register as a political party, Deutsche Welle reported on 4 January. The first registration attempt was rejected in October 2003 (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 29 October 2003). According to Birlik Secretary-General Vasila Inoyatova, the movement is eager to register so that it can participate as a party in parliamentary elections scheduled for the end of 2004. Without registration, Birlik members who want to run in the election will have to do so as independent candidates. Inoyatova said that some Birlik members have already started collecting the 50,000 signatures required for registration as an independent. On 5 January another opposition party, the Free Peasants Party, submitted its request for registration to the Justice Ministry, centrasia.ru reported the following day. BB
BELARUSIAN SOCIAL DEMOCRATS URGE OPPOSITION UNITY
The Belarusian Social Democratic Party (National Assembly) has issued a statement appealing to the country's opposition parties to sign an accord committing to unity in order to counter government strength, Belapan reported on 4 January. The statement recommends that opposition parties renounce public criticism among themselves during the 2004 parliamentary campaign, coordinate election monitoring, and together field joint candidates. The party also urged the regional branches of opposition parties to conclude similar accords. "Only united and having offered the public a positive popular alternative to the current dead-end course of the ruling regime, can we win," the statement said. AM
UKRAINIAN ECONOMY MINISTER RESIGNS
Economy and European Integration Minister Valeriy Khoroshkovskyy submitted his resignation on 3 January, Interfax reported. Among the reasons for his resignation, Khoroshkovskyy cited obstacles to his ministry's activity. "The ministry currently has only five of 11 deputy ministers appointed on my recommendation, but for more than five months the cabinet of ministers has not considered any other proposed candidates," Khoroshkovskyy said. He also argued that economic policy is dominated by the Finance Ministry, since Finance Minister Mykola Azarov also holds the post of first deputy prime minister, thus rendering the efficient performance of tasks at the Economy Ministry impossible. AM
ESTONIA EXTENDS DETENTION OF FORMER RUSSIAN MILITARY OFFICER
A Tallinn administrative court has extended by two months the detention in a deportation center of Nikolai Mikolenko, a 49-year-old Russian military retiree who has waged a lengthy battle to avoid expulsion, BNS reported on 5 January. Mikolenko had obtained $25,000 in aid from a U.S. program to assist the withdrawal of former Soviet troops from the Baltics, which he used to purchase an apartment in St. Petersburg in 1995, but he did not leave Estonia when his residence permit expired on 1 January 2000. Mikolenko subsequently lost three court cases in Estonia and has appealed to the European Court of Human Rights to prevent his expulsion from that country. He was arrested and placed in a detention center at the end of October (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 31 October 2003) but has refused to apply for a certificate of return from the Russian Embassy in Tallinn. A spokesman for the Citizenship and Migration Board, Heikki Kirotar, said deportees' detentions have been extended in the past, with one Russian citizen having spent three years in detention. SG
ELECTRONIC DOCUMENTS GRANTED LEGAL FORCE IN LATVIA
Latvia's new law on electronic documents went into force on 1 January, granting legal recognition to electronic signatures, BNS reported on 5 January. As a result, an electronic document acquires legal force when it is connected to a safe electronic signature available only to the signatory and certified by a qualified certification institution; however, no such institutions currently exist in Latvia, according to the news agency. Nearly three of four Latvian municipalities surveyed by government portal eparvalde.lv indicated that they were not prepared to accept electronic documents, with only 22 percent saying that they have received sufficient information about such documents. The law does not apply to contracts relating to real-estate transactions, except for rent, or to transactions related to family and hereditary law. SG
LITHUANIAN PRESIDENT SNUBS IMPEACHMENT COMMISSION
Neither President Rolandas Paksas nor any of his defense lawyers attended a meeting on 5 January of the parliamentary commission considering his impeachment despite an invitation to attend the proceedings, "Kauno diena" reported the next day. Paksas issued a press release declaring that he would not attend the session because he had not yet received complete information about the charges against him, including a statement confirming that all such information had been delivered to him. Commission Deputy Chairman Julius Sabatauskas dismissed Paksas's reasoning as incorrect, noting that the president was asked by the commission to present his views on the impeachment charges that were signed by 86 parliament deputies (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 19 December 2003). Sabatauskas accused the president's lawyers of trying to delay the impeachment process, saying they have not requested access to the classified data on which some of the charges are based. In the two-hour session, four of the ad hoc commission's 12 members presented the conclusions of its investigations, expanding the list of charges against the president from six to 11. SG
POLISH PRESIDENT, DEFENSE MINISTER URGE GREATER NATO INVOLVEMENT IN IRAQ
President Aleksander Kwasniewski said in a farewell address to the second contingent of Polish troops bound for Iraq that he is in favor of NATO states assuming a greater role in the mission in that country, Polish Radio reported. "The NATO summit which is to take place at the end of June in Turkey could be a good moment for certain agreements.... We are very interested in including NATO in stabilization tasks," Kwasniewski said. Defense Minister Jerzy Szmajdzinski added, "Our goal is to create political conditions such that NATO can make a decision about taking over responsibility for operations in Iraq in a way that is similar to what it did with regard to Afghanistan." AM
CZECH GOVERNMENT WILLING TO CUT IRAQI DEBT BY ONE-THIRD
The Czech Republic joined the group of countries willing to consider substantially reducing the amount of Iraqi debt owed to them, dpa reported on 5 January, citing Prague media reports. Prime Minister Vladimir Spidla was quoted as saying that "around one-third" of the outstanding 126 million-euro ($159 million) debt can be written off. Spidla added that most of the sum owed by Iraq was for "military equipment" delivered by the Czech Republic. Thus far, China, France, Germany, and Japan have signaled willingness to substantially reduce or write off billions of dollars of Iraqi debt at the urging of the U.S. administration. MS
CZECHS CRITICIZE NEW U.S. BORDER CONTROLS
Foreign Ministry spokesman Vit Kolar said on 5 June that the Czech Republic has "several times in the past" notified U.S. authorities that it opposes the fingerprinting of Czech citizens entering the United States, CTK reported. The United States introduced fingerprinting and photographing of all foreign nationals traveling to that country on visas as of 5 January, citing the war against international terrorism. Kolar said the Czech Foreign Ministry does not intend to reciprocate with similar controls for U.S. citizens entering the Czech Republic, but will continue to seek an end to visa requirements for Czech citizens and will "consider...further steps," he added without elaborating. The new U.S. measures do not apply to nationals from the current EU member states. The Czech Republic, which does not impose visa requirements on U.S. citizens, is expected to join the EU in May along with nine other invitee states. MS
CZECHS BUDGET DEFICIT MORE THAN DOUBLES
The Czech state budget deficit totaled 109 billion crowns ($4.2 billion) in 2003, more than double the 46 billion deficit of the previous year, dpa reported, citing preliminary figures released in a Finance Ministry statement on 5 January. The 2003 shortfall was more than 2 billion crowns below the ministry's predicted 111 billion deficit, however. According to dpa, the growing deficit threatens the country's bid to join the eurozone by 2007. Analysts estimate that the budget gap -- which will be fully known only after GDP figures are finalized in March -- will amount to more than 4 percent of Czech GDP -- well over the 3 percent Maastricht criterion required by the European Monetary Union. This compares with a 2 percent state budget deficit in 2002. MS
FORMER CZECH PRESIDENT AWARDED GANDHI PEACE PRIZE
Indian President Abdul Kalam conferred the 2003 Gandhi Peace Prize on former Czech President Vaclav Havel in a ceremony at the presidential palace in New Delhi on 5 January, CTK and international media reported. The 10 million-rupee ($220,000) prize was awarded to Havel "in recognition of his outstanding contribution towards upholding the spirit of human dignity, his faith in nonviolence, and for being a fearless voice against oppression," according to dpa. President Kalam said the Czech playwright and former head of state "kindled and kept the flame of democracy burning amidst a storm of repression and autocracy, [which] truly reflects the commitment which Havel has for Gandhian principles of nonviolence and fearlessness in the face of oppression," CTK reported. MS
SLOVAK OPPOSITION LEADER REJECTS LINKING REFERENDUM TO PRESIDENTIAL ELECTIONS
Former Slovak Prime Minister Vladimir Meciar on 5 January dismissed the idea of holding a referendum on early elections jointly with the presidential elections slated for April, TASR reported. Meciar, who heads the opposition Movement for a Democratic Slovakia (HZDS), was reacting to a 30 December statement by presidential spokesman Jan Fule, who said President Rudolf Schuster is considering calling a publicly backed referendum on early elections the same day as the first round of the presidential vote. The nonbinding referendum is required following a petition drive organized by the Slovak Trade Unions Confederation (KOZ). Meciar said that holding the two votes simultaneously would pose not only political, but also organizational and technical problems, as each of them would have to be separately supervised by an electoral commission and voting would have to be separate. Meciar recalled that a 1998 referendum on privatizing state companies held concurrently with parliamentary elections failed due to insufficient turnout, while some 80 percent of voters cast a ballot in the accompanying parliamentary elections. MS
HUNGARIAN TELEVISION BOARD APPROVES PRESIDENT'S DISMISSAL
The supervisory board of Hungarian Television (MTV), which includes representatives of parliamentary parties and of nongovernmental organizations, on 5 January approved the dismissal of MTV President Imre Ragats, Hungarian dailies reported. Ragats resigned his post on 17 December after it was discovered that he purchased a 10-year-old nature-film series from his stepdaughter for MTV at a seemingly inflated price (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 18 and 19 December 2003). The board also agreed to appoint the network's vice president for finance, Gyorgy Pinke, as Ragats's temporary successor, "Nepszabadsag" reported. MSZ
SERBIAN LEADER WANTS ALL-PARTY COALITION
Former Yugoslav President Vojislav Kostunica, who heads the Democratic Party of Serbia (DSS), told a Belgrade press conference on 5 January that overcoming what he called the current political crisis requires a coalition of all the parties represented in the parliament, Serbian media reported (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 5 January 2003, and "RFE/RL Balkan Report," 12 December 2003). He urged other parties not to reject his proposal until he spells out the details, adding that he opposes holding new elections as a way out if coalition talks fail. Kostunica also stressed his long-standing view that Serbia urgently requires a new constitution. The Serbian Radical Party (SRS), which placed first in the 28 December parliamentary elections, nonetheless quickly rejected the idea of an all-party coalition. The SRS wants a government limited to itself and the DSS. The Democratic Party of Serbian Prime Minister Zoran Zivkovic also turned down Kostunica's proposal, saying it wants nothing to do with the SRS or former Yugoslav President Slobodan Milosevic's Socialist Party of Serbia (SPS). Observers note that coalition talks are likely to be protracted and acrimonious, and that some of the public statements made by leading politicians probably should be seen as posturing rather than as final policy statements. PM
MACEDONIAN ORTHODOX CHURCH HEAD PESSIMISTIC ABOUT RELATIONS WITH SERBIAN CHURCH...
Macedonian Orthodox Church (MPC) head Archbishop Gospodin Gospodin Stefan told "Dnevnik" of 5 January -- shortly before Orthodox Christmas -- that the Serbian Orthodox Church (SPC) is not interested in a dialogue aimed at resolving the ongoing dispute between the two churches. Archbishop Stefan charged that by setting up an autonomous Archbishopric of Ohrid, the SPC has severely upset the "spiritual peace" of the Macedonian believers (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 26 September 2002 and 28 May, 25 July, and 4 December 2003, and "RFE/RL Balkan Report," 12 July 2002). He added that in such a situation, the MPC will concentrate on its own "spiritual renewal" to strengthen it against further "challenges and evils." The MPC split from the SPC in 1967 with the help of the communist authorities. It is not recognized by other Orthodox Churches. UB
...WHICH SEEMS TO BE A JUSTIFIED CONCLUSION
In his 5 January message marking Orthodox Christmas, Serbian Orthodox Patriarch Pavle called on Serbs "not to forget Kosovo," "Vesti" reported. Pavle also called on Orthodox "brothers and sisters in Macedonia" to unite around the Archbishopric of Ohrid, RFE/RL's South Slavic and Albanian Languages Service reported. In response, the MPC rejected Pavle's appeal, as well as his assertion that the MPC is a "communist creation." Macedonian Orthodox Bishop Timotej told Macedonian media that Pavle's message amounts to a "provocation, which the MPC hierarchy rejects with indignation." PM
TITO TOPS CROATIAN POLL OF GREAT CROATS
Former Yugoslav President Josip Broz "Tito" easily took first place in a recent poll by the weekly "Nacional" aimed at ascertaining whom Croats consider their greatest compatriot of all time, the "Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung" reported on 6 January. Tito won 2,055 votes among the nearly 8,000 people in the sample, followed by the scientists Nikola Tesla with 1,614 votes and Rudjer Boskovic with 628 votes. Fourth place went to writer Miroslav Krleza, followed by the late President Franjo Tudjman and athlete Drazen Petrovic, "Vesti" noted. Tesla is also claimed by Serbs as their own. PM
ROMANIA BIDDING TO SUPPLY MILITARY EQUIPMENT TO IRAQ, AFGHANISTAN
Economy and Industry Minister State Secretary Decebal Ilina said on 5 January that Romania intends to participate in tenders for supplying military equipment to the new Iraqi and Afghan armies, Mediafax reported. Ilina, who is a former general in the Romanian Army, said Bucharest has already submitted bids in Iraq. "In theory, our chance should be good, since it is unlikely that Iraq will purchase state-of-the-art modern equipment, and would rather purchase equipment that can be produced in Romania," he said. "We want to become involved in both Iraq and Afghanistan and penetrate those markets." Meanwhile, a 25-strong military-police unit left Romania for Kabul on 5 January to replace colleagues who have been serving in Afghanistan since last summer, according to Mediafax. The Romanian mission in Afghanistan includes traffic control, protection of convoys, and guarding strategic sites. MS
MOLDOVAN MINISTER SAYS TRANSDNIESTRIAN DECREE INFRINGES ON HUMAN RIGHTS
Reintegration Minister Vasile Sova told the Flux news agency on 5 January that a decree recently issued by separatist leader Igor Smirnov that halts the mutual recognition of documents between Moldova and the breakaway region of Transdniester amounts to "an attempt to suppress the human rights of ordinary citizens" (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 5 January 2004). Sova said Smirnov's decree is aimed at further straining relations between Chisinau and Tiraspol, and added that Moldovan authorities will not retaliate and will "continue to defend the rights and freedoms of ordinary Moldovan citizens." MS
MOLDOVAN OPPOSITION RENEWS PROTESTS IN FRONT OF RUSSIAN EMBASSY
Members and supporters of the opposition Popular Party Christian Democratic (PPCD) renewed their picketing of the Russian Embassy in Chisinau on 1 January, Flux reported on 5 January. Protesters burned a Russian flag and a portrait of Russian President Vladimir Putin while chanting slogans that included, "Down with the occupation!" The agency did not report the number of participants in the protest, which is directed against Moscow's failure to abide by the resolutions of the OSCE 1999 Istanbul and 2002 Porto summits and withdraw its arsenal and troops from Transdniester. According to Flux, several people were detained after the protest. PPCD Deputy Chairman Stefan Secareanu called on Interior Minister Gheorghe Papuc and Prosecutor-General Valeriu Balaban to investigate the detention of Tudor Braga, director of the Constantin Brancusi Exhibition Hall. Secareanu said Braga was detained illegally and held in "inhumane conditions" by police. Braga was later levied an "administrative fine" of 180 lei ($13.61) for resisting arrest and insulting a police officer, Secareanu said. Braga's lawyer announced that his client will appeal the fine. Several other participants in the protest, including a popular folk singer and Dumitru Manea, leader of the PPCD youth organization, were summoned to the police station. MS
NEW TWIST IN LIBYAN TRIAL OF BULGARIAN MEDICS
The trial against six Bulgarian medical workers charged with deliberately infecting some 400 Libyan children with the AIDS virus in a Benghazi hospital in 1998 has taken a new, unpleasant twist for the defendants, vsekiden.com reported on 5 January. A new expert opinion reportedly prepared by Libyan specialists testifies to the initial charges that the children were deliberately infected by the Bulgarians, the website reported, contradicting the testimony of French AIDS experts Luc Montagnier and his Italian colleague Vittorio Colizzi (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 4 September 2003). The new opinion also casts doubt on the Bulgarian medics' charge that they were tortured by Libyan authorities, according to vsekiden.com. UB
BULGARIAN PARLIAMENTARIANS CHALLENGE SUPREME COURT HEAD'S MANDATE
Legislators from the governing coalition of the National Movement Simeon II (NDSV) and the Movement for Rights and Freedoms (DPS), as well as from the opposition Socialist Party (BSP), have asked the Bulgarian Constitutional Court to rule on the mandate of Supreme Court of Appeals head Ivan Grigorov, mediapool.bg reported. The Constitutional Court must decide whether Grigorov is serving a seven-year term of his own or whether he is continuing the term of his predecessor, Rumen Yankov, who left the court before the end of his term. Yankov's term would have ended in 2003. The lawmakers' lawsuit is an apparent attempt to remove Grigorov, who has repeatedly criticized the government (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 4 April and 26 September 2003). He took office under the previous government of the now-opposition conservative Union of Democratic Forces (SDS). UB
GEORGIA'S GREAT EXPECTATIONS
Popular opposition National Movement leader Mikhail Saakashvili was elected Georgian president on 4 January in the second stage of the country's ongoing transition from more than a decade of rule by Eduard Shevardnadze. But Saakashvili's election victory could turn out to be as much punishment as reward for his effective mobilization of public discontent and his steadfast demand for Shevardnadze's resignation in the wake of the rigged 2 November parliamentary ballot. The euphoria generated by the so-called Rose Revolution at least partly eclipsed the magnitude of the problems bequeathed to the new leadership by its predecessors.
Although the immediate aftermath of the opposition's forced ouster of President Shevardnadze in late November was not marred by the violence that some observers feared (a fear generally grounded in Georgia's early period of chaotic independence), the Georgian transition is by no means complete. In fact, a disturbing number of factors could herald a return to the instability and violence of the early 1990s unless the new Georgian leadership can move quickly to maintain its still potent popular support.
True, in its campaign to force both new parliamentary elections and Shevardnadze's resignation, the opposition acted well within the parameters of Western methods, although not necessarily in accord with Western values. But the window of opportunity for the new leadership to take advantage of public support to implement real reform will close fast, and public expectations have been raised to perhaps unrealistic levels by the sweeping promises contained in Saakashvili's ambitious election platform. As events of recent months indicate, Georgia's citizens might no longer be content with the role of spectator and, in the event of discontent, might quickly turn on their erstwhile heroes. Shevardnadze was, after all, welcomed home to Georgia in March 1992 as the one true savior capable of restoring stability and security to the country in the aftermath of the excesses of the Gamsakhurdia regime.
In addition to inheriting such great expectations, the new leadership has also inherited the very same problems that served so well as public indictments of the Shevardnadze government. These fundamental challenges -- ranging from systemic crime and corruption to the loss of territorial control over several key areas of the country -- threaten the authority and legitimacy of the Georgian state no matter who is in charge. Georgia's new president has comparatively little experience to draw on in tackling those challenges.
Further limiting the new government's room to maneuver is Georgia's ever-present neighbor to the north, Russia. The present situation in Georgia is both a temptation and a possible trap for Moscow, even though the direct intervention by Russian Foreign Minister Igor Ivanov that expedited Shevardnadze's resignation on 23 November has served to bolster Russia's influence.
In the months to come, however, it seems likely that the traditional friction between Georgian and Russian interests will resurface, and it might be too late to neutralize the powerful leverage that Moscow now holds over Tbilisi. This Russian leverage is threefold: political, military and, most recently, economic. The political leverage stems from the rather hidden Russian influence over significant segments of the Georgian political elite, both within Georgia and through some former political figures enjoying refuge in Russia. But the political leverage is the weakest of the three, and could dwindle further as members of the former Georgian leadership are replaced by Saakashvili appointees. Moreover, that political leverage is only truly effective when exercised in conjunction with the military or economic leverage.
The continued presence of two of the original four military bases in the country (at Batumi and Akhalkalaki) constitutes a fundamental threat to Georgian sovereignty. More significantly, those two bases are in the most geopolitically sensitive regions: Adjaria and the predominantly Armenian-populated southern region of Samtskhe-Javakheti.
The third and most recent instrument of Russian pressure is economic. In August 2003, Russia's Unified Energy Systems (EES) acquired a 75 percent stake in the Telasi energy-distribution company that supplies the Georgian capital. A month earlier, the Russian state-owned natural-gas monopoly Gazprom forged a 25-year agreement designating Gazprom as Georgia's primary natural-gas supplier. As Russia's manipulation of energy supplies is its most effective leverage, these moves serve to reinforce its control over the Georgian economy.
In general terms, it seems certain that the new Georgian leadership will continue to pursue the country's traditional foreign policy, based on the imperative to strengthen statehood in the wake of a severe decline in state power and control. This is likely to be matched by a deepening of Georgia's pronounced pro-Western strategic orientation, despite repeated avowals by Saakashvili of his desire for more cordial relations with Russia.
In a possible reflection of their vulnerability, and of the residual potential for instability, Saakashvili and his partners have already hinted that they might schedule the repeat parliamentary elections for March, rather than wait until April or May as advised by OSCE Parliamentary Assembly President Bruce George.
KANDAHAR BLAST KILLS AT LEAST 10 AFGHAN CIVILIANS
A powerful bomb blast killed at least 10 people in the southern Afghan city of Kandahar on 6 January, AP reported. Kandahar's deputy police chief, Salim, said another 15 people were injured in the incident. Most of the victims appear to have been civilians. According to an Afghan soldier quoted at the scene, a possible suspect was detained shortly after the blast. Kandahar was the birthplace of the Taliban regime in 1994. AT
COMMANDER, TWO OTHERS DEAD AMID FACTIONAL FIGHTING IN SOUTHEAST AFGHANISTAN
A local militia commander in Zabul Province and two of his troops were killed in factional fighting between provincial security forces and forces loyal to Zabul Governor Hafizullah Hashemi on 5 January, dpa and the Pakistan-based Afghan Islamic Press (AIP) reported. The fighting stopped when a U.S. helicopter appeared overhead, AP reported on 6 January. According to one source cited by both news agencies, commander Major General Shah Alam and his men were intervening in a firefight between Zabul security forces and guards loyal to Hashemi when the governor's men fired on Shah Alam's troops. Zabul Province has been the scene of a number of attacks blamed on neo-Taliban in recent months, and some of the province's districts have been controlled for short periods by the opposition. The continued fighting has spawned the mobilization of a number of disparate forces in the area. AT
THREE SUSPECTED REBELS KILLED IN AFGHANISTAN'S KHOST PROVINCE
Three suspected rebels were killed in the Mandozai District of the Khost Province on 4 January in armed clashes between Afghan National Army troops and forces opposed to the Afghan Transitional Administration, Afghanistan's official Bakhtar news agency reported. An unidentified source within the Afghan Defense Ministry was quoted as saying the slain fighters were loyal to Afghanistan's ousted Taliban regime. The agency reported that the Mandozai District has been the scene of two major clashes since 25 December between the Afghan National Army and the "opposition." AT
FRENCH NATIONAL SLATED TO REPLACE BRAHIMI AS UN ENVOY TO AFGHANISTAN...
Jean Arnault is expected to replace Lakhdar Brahimi as the UN's special representative to Afghanistan following the latter's departure with the conclusion of the Afghan Constitutional Loya Jirga on 4 January (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 5 January 2004), dpa reported on 5 January. Arnault, who served as Brahimi's deputy, has been named acting special envoy. AT
...AS OUTGOING ENVOY WARNS OF SECURITY THREAT
In his farewell speech in Kabul on 4 January, Brahimi, a veteran UN diplomat and a former Algerian foreign minister, iterated that a lack of security in Afghanistan could derail presidential elections scheduled for June, according to an unofficial copy of those "impromptu remarks" that was obtained by RFE/RL. "There are insecurities [in Afghanistan] that we don't see much of in the press," Brahimi said. He added that there are commanders around the country "who have private jails" and who are terrorizing the population. Brahimi said he has informed the Afghan Transitional Administration of such lawlessness and hopes it "will not only take up measures against these individuals but will take measures so that this kind of misbehavior does stop all over the country." AT
RENAMING OF IRANIAN STREET PAVES WAY FOR NORMAL TEHRAN-CAIRO RELATIONS
The Tehran City Council decided on 6 January to change the name of Khalid Eslamboli Street, which is named after the man who assassinated Egypt's President Anwar Sadat in 1981, to Intifada Street, IRNA reported. Ties between Tehran and Cairo have been strained since 1979, when Egypt provided Iranian Shah Mohammad Reza Pahlavi with refuge, and the name of the Tehran street and Iranian hostility to Egypt's participation in the Camp David Accords only worsened the situation. A more recent point of contention is the status of Egyptian Al-Qaeda members whom Tehran allegedly has detained. The Tehran council had responded to a 5 January written request from Iranian Foreign Ministry spokesman Hamid Reza Assefi. Assefi attended the council meeting and said afterward, "The changing of the street name has taken place on the basis of the new atmosphere created between Iran and Egypt," IRNA reported. Iranian President Hojatoleslam Mohammad Khatami and Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak met in Geneva in early December on the sidelines of the World Electronic Media Forum (see "RFE/RL Iran Report," 15 December 2003). BS
IRANIAN WOMEN'S PARTY CREATED
The first women's political party in the Islamic Republic of Iran's history has received a license, ILNA reported on 5 January. Iranian Women's Party Secretary-General Fariba Davudi-Mohajer described the party's objectives as "enlightening public opinion and pursuing the forgotten demands of women." Davudi-Mohajer added that men and minority women can join the party, too. Iran has more than 100 licensed political organizations, although fewer than 20 are politically active. Dashtestan parliamentary representative Hamideh Idalat, who heads the legislature's Women's Faction, said in a recent speech at Tehran's Tarbiat Mudariss University that the Iranian Constitution describes equal gender rights but there is much room for improvement, "Iran Daily" reported on 15 December. "Despite these laws, we are still witness to certain gender disparities in areas such as inheritance and blood money." Idalat said. "Based on Article 20," she added, without detailing the document to which she was referring, "when a woman loses her husband, she is heir to only one-third of his possessions and this is a major concern of women today." Idalat said women's rights are violated in employment issues. BS
IRAN-U.S. OPENING SAID TO BE VICTIM OF DOMESTIC FACTIONALISM
Tehran parliamentary representative Muhsin Armin said on 4 January that Tehran's failure to respond positively to recent U.S. actions can be attributed to competition between Iran's conservatives and reformists, ILNA reported. At the end of December, the White House instructed the Department of the Treasury's Office of Foreign Assets Control temporarily to allow U.S. individuals and NGOs to transfer funds to organizations involved with humanitarian activities connected with the Bam earthquake (see "RFE/RL Iran Report," 5 January 2004). Armin said the White House's lifting of "economic sanctions against Iran must be interpreted as a positive move." Armin acknowledged that there are many factors hindering the resumption of relations but said this is a positive first step. Armin said President Khatami started off well in the foreign affairs arena but was inconsistent and his efforts faltered. "The same power centers, which do not have any responsibilities, did not want Mr. Khatami to get the credit for foreign policy successes, particularly the issue of the improvement of relations between Iran and America," Armin said. BS
U.K. REPRESENTATIVE TO IRAQ VISITS TEHRAN
Sir Jeremy Greenstock, the U.K. special representative to Iraq, met in Tehran on 5 January with Foreign Minister Kamal Kharrazi and officials from the Ministry of Intelligence and Security and the Ministry of Petroleum, IRNA and other news agencies reported. Greenstock reportedly stressed London's interest in continuing its dialogue with Tehran and said Iran plays a decisive regional role. The two sides discussed the reconstruction of Iraq, the pilgrimage trade, border issues, and Iraqi politics. Greenstock reportedly said that Tehran does not want to recreate an identical Islamic republic in Iraq, and opinion polls in Iraq show only about 15 percent of Iraqis want a religious government. BS
ARMY DAY TO REMAIN OFFICIAL IRAQI HOLIDAY
Iraqi Governing Council President for the month of January Adnan Pachachi said on 5 January that the country will continue to mark 6 January as Army Day, an official holiday, Voice of the Mujahedin Radio reported on 5 January. The Iraqi Army was founded on 6 January 1921 and became the world's fourth-largest army under deposed Iraqi President Saddam Hussein. After an intense debate by the Iraqi Governing Council on 5 January, Pachachi said Iraqis will continue to show pride in their army by marking the day. "If the toppled regime turned the armed forces into a means for waging wars and practicing suppression, this is not the fault of the Iraqi Army, but a tragedy that befell it," he said. The Iraqi Governing Council also voted 11-7 to issue a public statement condemning the abuses of the former army and calling on the New Iraqi Army to have no role other than that of defending Iraq, AP reported on 6 January. Meanwhile, washtimes.com reported on 6 January that the United States will soon announce a name change -- striking the word "new" from the New Iraqi Army. KR
BRITISH FOREIGN SECRETARY EXPECTS TROOPS TO REMAIN IN IRAQ FOR YEARS
Jack Straw told BBC Radio on 5 January that he expects coalition troops to remain in Iraq for at least two more years, bbc.co.uk reported on the same day. Straw said that he could "not give an exact timetable" of when troops would leave Iraq. "I can't say whether it's going to be 2006 or 2007," he said. "It is not going to be months for sure." He insisted that a withdrawal would be contingent upon the security situation in Iraq. "If we were to suddenly pull out, there would unquestionably be a security vacuum that would not only put lives at risk and cause a loss of life, but would also be a setback for the political process." Straw likened the role of coalition forces in Iraq to that of the forces in Afghanistan, whose presence he said helped establish a degree of stability "which has enabled the political process to take place" there. KR
U.S. REPORTEDLY REORGANIZING IRAQ MILITARY COMMAND
U.S. military officials are reportedly in the midst of reorganizing the structure of the U.S. military command in Iraq, washtimes.com reported on 6 January. The reorganization will likely include the appointment of a four-star officer to oversee the Pentagon's role in the Iraqi transition to self-rule, according to the website. Two senior military officials said that officer will head the day-to-day running of Iraq and help integrate the emerging 220,000-man Iraqi security force with the new Iraqi government slated to take power on 1 July. The appointment will also allow for the three-star or corps commander to focus on fighting anticoalition militants in Iraq. Military sources said the appointment will signify a realization that a strategic commander is needed to handle the next phase in Iraq. Under the current command structure, Lieutenant General Ricardo Sanchez heads tactical military operations in Iraq. He reports to U.S. Central Command (CENTCOM) commander General John Abizaid, who is responsible for military operations in the Middle East and East Africa. KR
IRAQI TURKOMAN LEADER COMMENTS ON TENSION WITH KURDS
Faruq Abdallah Abd al-Rahman, head of the Iraqi Turkoman Front, told London's "Al-Zaman" newspaper in an interview published on 5 January that tension between Turkomans and Kurds in northern Iraq is the result of "racist groups among the Kurds." "Our problems are not with the Kurds because we have lived with them for a long time. We have ties of brotherhood, marriage, and cooperation with them, but there are racist groups among the Kurds. These groups are trying to create confusion and instability in the region," Abd al-Rahman said. "Those elements have seized some villages by force and imposed a policy of fait accompli. They have also brought large families from the Kurdish areas of northern Iraq to live in Turkoman areas, especially Kirkuk. All these things make us afraid of the future. They also make us suspect that these operations are premeditated." The Turkoman leader said that his group is pursuing the issue through political means "because we do not have armed militias." KR