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Newsline - January 8, 2004


CHEKISTS ENTER DUMA THROUGH PARTY LISTS...
The security and intelligence community has extended its representation in the newly elected State Duma, with the number of KGB veterans and active Federal Security Service (FSB) officers increasing from seven deputies in the last Duma to 10 in the new one, the monthly bulletin for veterans of the KGB special forces "Spetsnaz Rossii," No. 12 (http://www.specnaz.ru), reported. Among the new deputies is KGB Major General Aleksei Kondaurov (Communist), who in 1994 became head of the information department of Menatep, the financial arm of Mikhail Khodorkovskii's Yukos oil company. He later headed the same department at Yukos. Lieutenant General Nikolai Leonov, former head of the KGB Analytical Directorate, was elected from the Motherland-Patriotic Union party list. Lieutenant General Vitalii Margelov, who served as deputy director of the Foreign Intelligence Service (SVR) and is the father of Federation Council International Relations Committee Chairman Mikhail Margelov, was elected from Unified Russia. Likewise, former FSB Director Army General Nikolai Kovalev, Tax Police Lieutenant General Vasilii Volkovskii, and SVR officer Igor Morozov were elected from the Unified Russia party list. VY

...AND FROM SINGLE-MANDATE DISTRICTS
Lieutenant General Aleksandr Korzhakov, the controversial chief bodyguard for former President Boris Yeltsin, was re-elected to the Duma from a district in Tula Oblast, "Spetsnaz Rossii," No. 12, reported. Two members of the Security Committee in the last Duma, Lieutenant Colonel Mikhail Grishankov and Colonel General Gennadii Gudkov, were also re-elected from single-mandate districts. Lieutenant Colonel Igor Barinov, who remains the commander of the Alfa antiterrorism force, was also elected. The same issue of "Spetsnaz Rossii" pointed out that President Vladimir Putin is the third security-organs chief to occupy a leading role in running the country. Security police founder Feliks Dzerzhinskii was appointed in 1923 to overall control of the Soviet economy, and KGB Chairman Yurii Andropov was general secretary of the Communist Party of the Soviet Union from 1982 until his death in February 1984. VY

DEPUTY SAYS YUKOS MANAGERS BEING MONITORED...
Retired KGB Major General and State Duma Deputy Kondaurov (Communist), has said the phones of up to half the managers of the embattled oil giant Yukos are being monitored, "Moskovskie novosti," No. 49, reported. He said that word-for-word transcripts of his own conversations have been posted on the Internet. Kondaurov refused to accuse any specific organization of conducting the eavesdropping, but noted that the FSB has not investigated it. VY

...BUT ADDS THAT DIALOG IS STILL POSSIBLE
In the same "Moskovskie novosti" interview, Kondaurov said that talks between Yukos and the state are still possible. "Whatever my personal attitude to the present administration, it was legitimately elected by the people," he said. On the other hand, Yukos is a pillar of the Russian economy. Therefore, the company should continue its effort to convince the administration that its persecution of the company is harmful to the country and its citizens, Kondaurov said. VY

ANTI-PUTIN NGO, WEBSITE LAUNCHED
Retired KGB Colonel Yurii Starchikov, a former local legislator in Tambov, has launched a new NGO called the Committee to Resist the Putin Dictatorship, gazeta.ru reported on 6 January. According to the website, Starchikov left the Communist Party on 7 December to protest what he considered its accommodating stance toward the current administration. The goal of the new organization is to organize acts of civil disobedience, including encouraging voters to boycott the 14 March presidential election and picketing government buildings. Local authorities have not reacted to the organization so far, but the website noted that "nothing is known of any attempt to register the organization officially." Meanwhile, on 26 December, grani.ru launched a new website called "Russia Without Putin" (http://www.boycott.ru). Grani.ru is financed by self-exiled tycoon Boris Berezovskii. JAC

PUTIN SAYS ORTHODOXY INTEGRAL TO RUSSIAN CULTURE
President Putin on 7 January continued his Orthodox Christmas tour, visiting monasteries and churches near the ancient city of Zvenigorod, ORT and RTR reported. Speaking with clerics at a monastery orphanage, Putin said Russian Orthodoxy is an integral party of the national culture and that it is not necessary to separate that culture from the church. "Of course, by law the church in Russia is separate from the state, but in our souls as well as in our history, we are together. So it is and shall be forever," Putin said. Putin returned to Moscow the same day and, together with his wife, Lyudmila, visited Patriarch of Moscow and All Russia Aleksii II to wish him a merry Christmas. VY

COURT BLAMES PILOTS FOR ALEKSANDR LEBED'S DEATH
A Krasnoyarsk Krai court on 6 January convicted two pilots of professional negligence leading to the April 2002 helicopter crash that killed krai Governor Aleksandr Lebed and seven other people (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 29 April 2002), Russian media reported. The court sentenced Takhir Akhmetov to four years' imprisonment and gave Aleksei Kurilovich a three-year suspended sentence. Both pilots maintain their innocence. TV-Tsentr on 6 January commented that the nature of the crash remains a mystery. If the pilots were guilty, the sentences seem inordinately lenient, the station said, but if they are not, then it would appear they are simply being used as scapegoats. VY

VOLGOGRAD SHIVERS THROUGH CHRISTMAS
Some 51 towns and villages in Volgograd Oblast were without electricity on 7 January, Russian Orthodox Christmas, RTR reported. According to ORT, some 20,000 people were forced to rely on kerosene lamps to light their houses. Power lines were covered with thick ice after a heavy snowfall in the region was followed by sharp fluctuations in temperature with freezing temperatures at night and warmer temperatures during the day. In Primorskii Krai, meteorologists are predicting that the situation with water supplies in the southern half of the region will worsen this month. Some 80 percent of residents in Vladivostok and Artem are now getting only cold water, while 20 percent have water supplies for just 4-5 hours each night. JAC

NEW PASSPORT RULES PLEASE MUSLIMS AND OLD BELIEVERS
Residents of a remote village of Old Believers in the Republic of Tuva have exchanged their old Soviet passports for new Russian passports, regions.ru reported on 7 January. The residents initially resisted the change because the Interior Ministry rules stated that people must pose bareheaded for their passport photographs. That rule sparked protests not only from Old Believers, but also from Muslim women, particularly in Tatarstan (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 14 June 2002). The Interior Ministry rule was revoked in June (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 3 June 2003) JAC

ANOTHER GOVERNOR TO SEEK THIRD TERM
Chita Oblast Governor Ravil Geniatulin will participate in the oblast's 14 March gubernatorial election, Interfax reported on 6 January, citing the oblast administration press service. Genaitulin, who will be seeking his third term, said that he will not seek the backing of any political party. Fatherland-All Russia supported Genaitulin during his 2000 re-election bid. JAC

FLU EPIDEMIC CONTINUES TO SPREAD
The epidemic of influenza and other respiratory illnesses has spread to new regions of Russia, newsru.com reported on 7 January. The flu, which had already affected 42 regions, has now been registered for the first time in Irkutsk, Yuzhno-Sakhalinsk in Sakhalin Oblast, and Barnaul in Altai Krai. In Ulan-Ude, the capital of Buryatia, schools will remain closed for the holidays until 12 January instead of 8 January because of the outbreak, Interfax reported. JAC

VILLAGES REVIVE CHRISTMAS-CAROL TRADITION
The tradition of singing carols to celebrate Russian Orthodox Christmas is undergoing a rebirth in many Russian villages, regions.ru reported on 7 January, citing Vladimir State Television (http://www.vladtv.ru). Carolers today often dress as Grandfather Frost (Ded Moroz), rather than as bears or Punch of Punch and Judy, as they did in pre-revolutionary times. Caroling starts on the evening of 6 January, Christmas Eve, and townspeople prepare food for the roving carolers. Snowy weather is considered a harbinger of good grain harvest to come. Snowfall on Christmas Eve is considered a sign of flourishing farms in the coming year. Freezing temperatures presage a year of love and domestic harmony. JAC

ARMENIAN JUNIOR COALITION PARTNERS OBTAIN FURTHER GOVERNMENT POSTS
In line with an agreement reached last October between his Republican Party of Armenia (HHK) and its junior coalition partners Orinats Yerkir (Law-Based State) and the Armenian Revolutionary Federatio-Dashnaktsutiun (HHD) (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 26 September and 8, 10, and 16 October 2003), Prime Minister Andranik Markarian named four additional deputy ministers on 7 January, RFE/RL's Yerevan bureau reported. Three of them represent Orinats Yerkir, including Gagik Aslanian, who served as deputy speaker in the previous parliament. Aslanian has been named a deputy minister for local government, together with Bagrat Sargsian (HHD). LF

FORMER AZERBAIJANI INTERIOR MINISTER CALLS FOR NATIONAL CONSOLIDATION TO WIN BACK KARABAKH
Iskander Hamidov, who was released from prison on 30 December under a pardon decree promulgated by President Ilham Aliyev (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 5 January 2004), told journalists in Baku on 7 January that he sees no other way to restore Azerbaijan's control over Nagorno-Karabakh except by military force, zerkalo.az reported on 8 January. Hamidov called on the Azerbaijani authorities and opposition to close ranks to that end, advocating the creation of a working group that would include representatives of parliament, the Foreign Ministry, and other structures to draft a program of measures in consultation with the population. Hamidov further accused France and Russia, both co-chairs of the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE) Minsk Group tasked with promoting a peaceful settlement of the conflict, of pressuring Azerbaijan to recognize the Nagorno-Karabakh Republic as an independent state. LF

IMF RELEASES FURTHER LOAN TRANCHE FOR AZERBAIJAN
Azerbaijan has received a fourth loan tranche, worth some $19 million, under an ongoing three-year International monetary fund (IMF) Poverty Reduction and Growth Facility program, Caucasus Press reported on 6 January quoting Azerbaijani Finance Minister Avaz Alekperov. An IMF press release of 19 December summarizing the fund's review of Azerbaijan's economy over the past year noted impressive macroeconomic performance, strong and broad-based GDP growth, low-single-digit inflation and a stable exchange rate. At the same time, it pointed to continued widespread poverty and the economy's vulnerability to any fall in world oil prices. It stressed the need for the swift implementation of structural reforms, particularly in the energy and banking sectors (see http://www.imf.org/external/np/sec/pr/2003pr03227.htm). LF

ADJARIA ARRESTS ACTIVISTS, REIMPOSES STATE OF EMERGENCY
Two members of the Georgian youth movement Kmara (Enough!) that backed the November 2003 campaign to force President Eduard Shevardnadze's resignation were arrested late on 6 January in Batumi, Georgian media reported on 7 January. Adjar Supreme Council Chairman Aslan Abashidze told local television on 7 January that the arrests were required to "defend constitutional order," and that police confiscated "weapons, ammunition, and antigovernment leaflets" from the two detainees. In Tbilisi, Georgian Minister of State Zurab Zhvania condemned the arrests, according to rustavi2.com. The Adjar Supreme Council voted late on 7 January to reimpose the state of emergency first declared in the wake of Shevardnadze's forced resignation. The state of emergency was lifted on 3 January to enable voters in the autonomous republic to cast their ballots in the Georgian presidential election. LF

U.S. CONGRATULATES GEORGIAN PRESIDENT-ELECT
U.S. President George W. Bush telephoned Mikheil Saakashvili on 7 January to congratulate him on his victory in the 4 January presidential election, Caucasus Press reported. Bush reportedly expressed support for Saakashvili's plans to advance democratic and market-oriented economic reforms, to fight corruption, to strengthen the partnership with the United States, and to bolster relations with Russia, according to rustavi2.com. Meanwhile, the U.S. State Department has urged the new Georgian leadership to "work in close cooperation" with the IMF, which is to send a mission to Tbilisi in early February to discuss a possible new loan program, Caucasus Press reported on 8 January. The State Department noted that agreement with the IMF is a prerequisite for discussing with the Paris Club the possibility of rescheduling Georgia's $2 billion national debt. LF

CONTROVERSIAL OFFICER TO HEAD GEORGIAN PEACEKEEPERS IN IRAQ
Georgia will send a 207-person peacekeeping contingent to Iraq in early February, Defense Minister Lieutenant General David Tevzadze told journalists on 7 January, Interfax reported. Some 70 Georgian officers, including 20 medical personnel, were deployed to Iraq in August 2003, where they are serving in Tikrit in the U.S. sector (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 5 August 2003). Tevzadze said the new contingent will not include any medical personnel. Caucasus Press on 8 January quoted unidentified Georgian Defense Ministry sources as saying the new contingent will be commanded by a colonel who was expelled from a training course at the U.S.-funded George Marshall Center in southern Germany for assaulting a U.S. serviceman. On 13 December, U.S. Ambassador to Tbilisi Richard Miles said the Georgian peacekeeping contingent in Iraq will expand to 500 men by the summer of 2004, Caucasus Press reported. LF

KAZAKH PARLIAMENTARIAN CALLS FOR INCREASE IN SIZE OF PARLIAMENT
Mazhilis (lower house of the Kazakh parliament) deputy Serikbolsyn Abdildin, head of the Communist Party of Kazakhstan, has called for constitutional changes that would increase the size of the country's top legislative body, Interfax-Kazakhstan reported on 7 January. The parliament is considering changes to election legislation prior to parliamentary elections later this year. Abdildin proposed increasing the number of Mazhilis members to 118 from the present 67 and reducing the number of upper-chamber members to 32 by abolishing the practice of having seven members appointed by the president. The resulting parliament would comprise 150 members, with one member for each 100,000 constituents. BB

CRIMINAL CHARGES FILED AGAINST HIZB UT-TAHRIR ACTIVISTS IN NORTHERN KAZAKHSTAN
The Interior Ministry branch in northern Kazakhstan's Pavlodar Oblast has opened a criminal case against four young people who were arrested while allegedly distributing literature of the extremist Islamist Hizb ut-Tahrir party near the central mosque in the city of Pavlodar in November 2003 (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 24 November 2003), Interfax-Kazakhstan reported on 7 January. It is the first case of its kind in Pavlodar, according to oblast law enforcement officials. The four activists are being charged with incitement to ethnic, racial, and religious hostility. Unlike other Central Asian countries, Kazakhstan has not banned Hizb ut-Tahrir, so membership of the organization is not in itself a crime. BB

TAJIK PROSECUTOR TO PROBE KILLINGS OF JOURNALISTS
The Tajik Prosecutor-General's Office has set up a special group to investigate the killings of journalists during Tajikistan's 1992-97 civil war, Asia Plus-Blitz and ITAR-TASS reported on 7 January, quoting a letter sent by the office to the New York-based NGO the Committee for the Protection of Journalists (CPJ). The CPJ recently submitted a list of journalists killed during the civil war to the Tajik authorities and asked what steps have been taken to identify and punish the killers. The Prosecutor-General's Office responded that some cases have been solved and the culprits have been sentenced to long prison terms, but admitted that investigations into some cases were suspended due to a lack of evidence. Some 73 journalists, both Tajik and foreign, are believed to have been killed during the Tajik civil war. BB

TAJIK DRUG AGENCY REPORTS 9.6 TONS OF AFGHAN NARCOTICS SEIZED IN 2003
Avaz Yuldashev, head of the press office of the Tajik Agency for Narcotics Control, announced on 7 January that Tajik law enforcement and Russian border guards seized 9.6 tons of illegal drugs along the Tajik-Afghan border in 2003, RIA-Novosti reported. This represented an increase of 3 tons over 2002. The total included 5.6 tons of heroin. Yuldashev said the cultivation of opium poppies and other plants providing the raw material for contraband drugs is expected to double in Afghanistan in 2004, and complained that the international antiterrorism campaign in that country has not affected drug production. BB

TURKMEN FOREIGN MINISTRY SAYS EXIT VISAS WERE TEMPORARY MEASURE
Echoing Turkmen President Saparmurat Niyazov's assertion earlier this week that Turkmenistan does not require exit visas (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 7 January 2004), the Turkmen Foreign Ministry issued a statement on 7 January that the exit-visa regime reinstituted in March 2003 was only intended to prevent people allegedly involved in the November 2002 purported coup attempt against Niyazov from leaving the country, RIA-Novosti reported. The exit-visa requirement has been replaced by a special stamp obtainable from the ministry's consular section upon presentation of an entry visa to the country of destination, the same requirement that applied after the suspension of the exit-visa regime in 2001. The ministry insisted that citizens of Turkmenistan are guaranteed freedom of movement in accordance with international standards. Restrictions on freedom to leave the country apply only to people involved in criminal or civil cases. BB

BELARUS SAYS IT SEEKS 'COMMON ECONOMIC SPACE' WITH EU
Foreign Minister Syarhey Martynau suggested that Belarus is interested in a "common economic space" and in trade relations with the EU and its new postcommunist members, Belapan reported on 7 January. The EU will share a border with Belarus following Poland's expected accession to the union on 1 May. Martynau said Minsk is interested in the EU's proposals for cooperation with its new neighbors, particularly Belarus, Ukraine, and Moldova. He noted that EU enlargement will significantly affect Belarus's economy because it will change commodity flows among Belarus's traditional trading partners. "These countries on 1 May will have to [accept] all commitments of the EU member states, including anti-dumping measures, and that may lead to a reduction in our exports of potash fertilizers and chemical fibers," Martynau said. "We are working together with these countries to find solutions." AM

UKRAINIAN PREMIER SAYS KUCHMA PRESIDENTIAL BID IS UP TO KUCHMA
Ukrainian Prime Minister Viktor Yanukovych told journalists on 5 January that President Leonid Kuchma should decide on his own whether or not to run for a third term as president in 2004, UNIAN reported. Yanukovych was responding to a question about support by pro-government forces for Kuchma as a joint candidate. The Ukrainian Constitutional Court ruled last week that Kuchma may seek the presidency in 2004 despite a two-term limit in the constitution that went into effect in 1996, during Kuchma's first term as president (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 5 January 2004). AM

ESTONIA SEEKS CASTIGATION OF RUSSIAN POLICY BY EUROPARLIAMENT
Estonia's observer in the European Parliament, the ruling Res Publica party's Eiki Berg, has proposed amendments to reports on the EU's relations with Russia and the Transcaucasus, BNS reported on 7 January. He said the report on Russia must draw attention to Moscow's reluctance to apply its Partnership and Cooperation Agreement with the EU to acceding member states, thus contradicting the underlying principles of the accord. Russia should also be urged to ratify border agreements with Estonia and Latvia, Berg said. Noting the need "for developing closer contractual ties with Transcaucasus states that suffer from crises typical of transition societies and may thus become a threat to European stability," Berg said that "the European Union must provide those states with strong incentives to carry out democratization processes and economic reforms." His amendments will be put to a vote in the European Parliament's foreign affairs committee in the last week of January and then at the February session. SG

FOREIGN MINISTER SELECTED AS LATVIA'S EUROPEAN COMMISSIONER
Prime Minister Einars Repse has selected Foreign Minister Sandra Kalniete as Latvia's nominee for a seat on the European Commission, LETA reported on 8 January. Repse told reporters the previous day that he has informed President Vaira Vike-Freiberga about his choice and received her approval, but he declined to name the individual pending confirmation that the candidate is acceptable to European Commission Chairman Romano Prodi. The parliamentary leaders of the other three parties in Latvia's ruling coalition responded immediately with a joint letter to Repse declaring that the selection should have been discussed within the coalition and the public. The head of the State Chancellery's communications department, Ieva Skrastina, later told LETA that Prodi has approved Kalniete's selection. The cabinet is likely to confirm Kalniete's selection at its next session on 13 January. SG

LITHUANIAN IMPEACHMENT COMMISSION CALLS ALLEGATION AGAINST PRESIDENT 'REASONABLE'
The ad hoc parliamentary commission on the possible impeachment of President Rolandas Paksas decided unanimously on 7 January that there is no need to investigate further the charges that Paksas improperly intervened to grant Lithuanian citizenship to Russian businessman Yurii Borisov, since the Lithuanian Constitutional Court has already gathered enough evidence, BNS reported. The court ruled that Paksas violated three articles of the constitution (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 30 December 2003). The parliamentary commission thus rejected proposals by the president's lawyers to call further witnesses. "Whether or not the allegation is well-founded is not something that we will conclude at the time being. But we have enough facts to ascertain that the allegation is reasonable," commission Deputy Chairman Julius Sabatauskas said. The commission has been asked to present its conclusions to the parliament by 13 February. SG

WARSAW 'DISSATISFIED' WITH RIGOROUS NEW U.S. ENTRY MEASURES
A spokesman for the Polish Foreign Ministry said on 7 January that the Polish government is "dissatisfied" with Washington's decision to impose more stringent conditions for entry to the United States, PAP reported. The United States began the fingerprinting and photographing of citizens from states that require visas and is moving toward increased visa requirements in connection with efforts to defend the country against security threats. "We are pointing to what in our view is clear lack of logic in the actions taken by the United States," Majewski said. "If this is to serve security against terrorism, then the new system should either include everybody or else the group of states that in the evaluation of the American special services do constitute a real threat." Poland is not among the 27 countries whose nationals do not currently need visas to enter the United States. AM

CZECH CABINET HEDGES OVER EU LABOR POLICY
Cabinet ministers decided on 7 January to postpone a decision on possible retaliatory measures against foreign workers from EU countries that deny complete access for Czech nationals to their own labor markets after enlargement in May, CTK reported (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 7 January 2003). Labor and Social Affairs Minister Zdenek Skromach, who submitted a proposal outlining such steps, told journalists after the cabinet meeting that Prague "might" decide to do impose "transition periods" on the free movement of labor if developments on the Czech labor market warrant such steps. "We want to protect our internal labor market, but we do not want to use this defense as revenge or sanctions," Skromach said. At the same cabinet session, the government approved a package of measures aimed at curbing unemployment and encouraging small and medium-sized businesses. A spokeswoman for the Labor and Social Affairs Ministry said unemployment rose to 9.9 percent at the end of 2003 and is expected to continue climbing. MS

CZECH OFFICIALS CLASSIFY STATESMAN'S DEATH IN 1948 AS MURDER
Czech police investigators have concluded that Jan Masaryk, the country's foreign minister in March 1948 and the son of Czechoslovakia's founder and first President Tomas Garrigue Masaryk, did not commit suicide but was pushed to his death from a window of the Foreign Ministry, "Mlada fronta Dnes" reported on 7 January. The conclusion directly contradicts the findings of an investigation carried out by the communist-era secret police (StB) at the time that deemed the incident a suicide. The StB reported that Masaryk, distressed by the Communist Party's seizure of power two weeks earlier, leapt from a window of Cerny Palace. The more recent probe determined largely on expert speculation of his trajectory and other physical factors that Masaryk was forced out the window, the daily reported, but investigators said they were denied access to Russian government archives that might have led them to identify Masaryk's murderer. "It was murder, even if we don't have the murderer," investigator Ilja Pravda said, according to "Mlada fronta Dnes." MS

SLOVAK PARLIAMENTARIAN QUITS LEADERSHIP POST TO JOIN SPLINTER PARTY
Parliamentarian Zuzana Martinakova said on 7 January that she intends to resign her post as deputy speaker of the chamber and join a new party led by ousted Defense Minister Ivan Simko, TASR reported. Martinakova, a member of Prime Minister Mikulas Dzurinda's Slovak Democratic and Christian Union (SDKU), said the Free Forum party would be registered on 8 January. She said it is "now up to Mikulas Dzurinda to choose whether he will work with us or with other political parties." She added, "We are ready for political negotiations." Simko was dismissed in September after failing to support Dzurinda's demand that the cabinet dismiss former National Security Office (NBU) head Jan Mojzis (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 17, 22, 23, 25, and 26 September 2003). Simko announced his intention in December to set up a new party together with six other SDKU deputies. The ruling four-party, center-right coalition now controls just 68 seats in the 150-member parliament (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 11 September and 9 December 2003). Deputy Prime Minister Pal Csaky told journalists on 7 January that he sees no other solution to ensure the coalition's survival than bringing the new party into the coalition as a fifth member, TASR reported. MS

SLOVAK PRESIDENTIAL ELECTIONS SLATED FOR EARLY APRIL
The speaker of the Slovak parliament, Pavol Hrusovsky, announced on 8 January that presidential elections will be held on 3 April, with a second round of balloting on 17 April if necessary, CTK and AP reported. "Today I exercised the right of the chairman of the Slovak National Council and signed a decision on the announcement of the presidential election," Hrusovsky said, according to CTK. Incumbent President Rudolf Schuster has not announced whether he will run for a second five-year term. Former Prime Minister and current Movement for a Democratic Slovakia (HZDS) Chairman Vladimir Meciar is reportedly considering a bid for the presidency. Local media suggest that Foreign Minister and SDKU Deputy Chairman Eduard Kukan and former parliamentary speaker Ivan Gasparovic (Movement for Democracy) are front-runners among those who have expressed their intentions to run. Slovakia elects its president through a direct popular vote. AH

HUNGARIAN PREMIER SQUEEZES OUT FINANCE MINISTER
Finance Minister Csaba Laszlo resigned on 7 January following a request by Prime Minister Peter Medgyessy, international news agencies reported. The resignation is effective 15 February, when Laszlo will be replaced by Medgyessy's chief of staff, Tibor Draskovics. Data released by the Finance Ministry on 7 January put Hungary's state budget deficit at 5.6 percent of GDP in 2003, higher than both the ministry's initial 4.8 percent target and its revised target of 5.2 percent. Medgyessy told journalists after a meeting of the cabinet that he has asked Laszlo to resign because "the [actual] figures are worse than predicted by the Finance Ministry," according to AFP. "The difference is so large that it must have personal consequences," he added. The deficit could threaten Hungary's plans to join the European Monetary Union and to adopt the euro in 2008, whose guidelines require a deficit no higher than 3 percent of GDP for two years prior to joining the eurozone. MS

HUNGARIAN WATCHDOG RESISTS CALLS FOR WITHDRAWAL OF RADIO LICENSE
The president and governing coalition representatives of Hungary's National Radio and Television Authority (ORTT) rejected an opposition-backed proposal on 7 January to rescind the license of state-funded Tilos Radio, "Nepszabadsag" reported. The ORTT is expected to revisit the matter later this week. A number of church groups, conservative right-wing parties, and nongovernmental organizations condemned Tilos Radio after one of its hosts told listeners on 24 December that he would like to "exterminate all Christians" (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 5 January 2004). Prosecutors in Budapest's ninth district, where the Tilos Radio studios are located, have launched an investigation. MSZ

ARE SERBIAN COALITION TALKS MOVING TOWARD CONCLUSION?
Former Yugoslav President Vojislav Kostunica's Democratic Party of Serbia (DSS) will soon discuss the possible formation of a broad-based coalition government with Vojislav Seselj's Serbian Radical Party (SRS) and former Yugoslav President Slobodan Milosevic's Socialist Party of Serbia (SPS), RFE/RL's South Slavic and Albanian Languages Service reported on 7 January (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 5, 6, and 7 January 2004 and "RFE/RL Balkan Report," 12 December 2003). Most of the parliamentary parties have already rejected the proposal, although Kostunica called on them to reserve judgment until he spells out the details. Several parties have reportedly indicated that, in any event, an unspecified coalition will be formed within a few days. PM

GERMANY WARNS SERBIA AGAINST ALL-PARTY COALITION
Gert Weisskirchen, who is the Social Democratic Party of Germany (SPD) foreign policy spokesman in the parliament and a member of the recent OSCE election-monitoring team in Serbia, told the "Frankfurter Rundschau" of 7 January that an all-party government in Serbia is "absolutely unacceptable to the EU and Germany." "Neither the EU nor Germany can support a government with parties whose heads have to stand trial at the UN war crimes tribunal in The Hague," he stressed. Weisskirchen warned that if parties led by indicted war criminals join the cabinet, "no more funds will be transferred from the rest of Europe for the reconstruction of the country." The German legislator called on Kostunica to stop playing "tactical games," show decisive leadership of a sort he did not always display during his presidency, and "lead Serbia on toward democracy as the head of government." PM

HIGH REPRESENTATIVE WARNS BOSNIA OF 'MOMENT OF TRUTH'
High Representative Paddy Ashdown said in Sarajevo on 7 January that Bosnia has approximately six months to face its "moment of truth...[and] confirm [its] European destiny or...[it] will have slipped back into the no-man's land on the edges of Europe," dpa reported (see "RFE/RL Balkan Report," 5 September 2003). He stressed the importance of rapidly completing the reform process launched in 2003, which involves security, intelligence, the judiciary, the economy, and local government. PM

LOCAL AUTHORITIES IN MACEDONIA APPROACH COUNCIL OF EUROPE OVER REDISTRICTING PLANS
In response to the Macedonian government's controversial redistricting plans, the Community of Local Self-Government Units has asked the Council of Europe to discuss the applicability of a provision in the 1985 European Charter of Local Self-Government, "Utrinski vesnik" reported on 8 January. Article 5 of the charter stipulates that any changes to administrative boundaries "shall not be made without prior consultation of the local communities concerned, possibly by means of a referendum where this is permitted by statute." Minister of Local-Self Government Aleksandar Gestakovski recently suggested that the results of such referendums are not binding upon the government, "Dnevnik" reported. A first set of referendums took place on 4 January, and it is expected that about 30 more referendums will follow in the coming weeks (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 23 December 2003 and 7 January 2004 and "RFE/RL Balkan Report," 21 February 2003). UB

FORMER ROMANIAN HEALTH MINISTER COMES OUT ON TOP
Former Romanian Health Minister Mircea Beuran, who was forced to resign last October after he was accused of plagiarism, has won a lawsuit against the Bucharest Medical and Pharmaceutical University on procedural grounds, Mediafax reported on 7 January (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 2, 6, and 21 October 2003). A Bucharest tribunal ruled that the university violated legal procedures when it dismissed him as a lecturer following the plagiarism scandal. The university has reportedly opted against appealing the tribunal's ruling and Beuran has been reinstated to his teaching position. According to Mediafax, Beuran will also escape any legal action related to the plagiarism scandal, as the French and U.S. publishers of the medical tracts Beuran and his associates published under their names failed to launch a complaint within the two months provided for by Romanian legislation in cases of suspected plagiarism. MS

LIBERTY MONUMENT DISPUTE IN ROMANIA REMAINS UNSOLVED...
Representatives of the Ruling Social Democratic Party (PSD) and the Hungarian Democratic Federation of Romania (UDMR), which earlier announced a compromise in the longstanding dispute over the reerection of the Liberty Monument in Arad, failed to agree on 7 January on where the planned Reconciliation Park will be located, Mediafax reported. While the UDMR wants the park to be located on the square where the monument stood until its 1924 dismantling, the PSD insists that the park be constructed within the citadel in Arad's Old Town (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 29 December 2003). MS

...AS MONUMENT TO YITZHAK RABIN STIRS UP NEW CONTROVERSY
Greater Romania Party (PRM) Senator Nicolae Iorga announced on 7 January that a statue of slain Israeli Prime Minister Yitzhak Rabin, sponsored by the PRM, will be erected in Brasov on 15 January, Mediafax reported. Brasov's City Council last year refused to grant permission to erect the statue and Iorga did not say whether that decision has since been changed. The erection of the statue is apparently part of PRM Chairman Corneliu Vadim Tudor's efforts to rid himself of his reputation as an anti-Semite. The daily "Evenimentul zilei" on 8 January quoted Israeli diplomat Sandra Simonovici as saying: "Corneliu Vadim Tudor is an anti-Semite. We do not believe he is sincere.... The move is only aimed at serving his own political interests." Meanwhile, the daily "Ziua" reported that in spite of Israeli and Romanian protests, Eyal Arad, an Israeli electoral spin doctor, has arrived in Romania for talks with Tudor on managing his 2004 election campaign (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 18 December 2003). MS

ROMANIA 'CONCERNED' ABOUT FATE OF TIRASPOL PRISONER
Foreign Ministry State Secretary Cristian Diaconescu said on 7 January that "the Romanian authorities take note, with concern, of the situation of Romanian citizen Andrei Ivantoc, who has been imprisoned in Transdniester for 11 years," Rompres reported. Diaconescu said the ministry has sent "clear instructions" to its diplomatic representation in Chisinau to verify whether the authorities in the breakaway region are abiding by the norms that any "civilized country" should respect in its treatment of prisoners. Diaconescu was reacting to reports that Ivantoc -- a member of the Ilascu group -- has been isolated in an unheated cell and is threatening to commit suicide (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 7 January 2004). MS

BULGARIA TO CHANGE MILITARY-DEPLOYMENT POLICY
Defense Minister Nikolay Svinarov, in an apparent response to the refusal by dozens of volunteer soldiers to participate in Bulgaria's second military contingent in Iraq, announced on 6 January that the government will change the legal basis for foreign military missions, "Sega" reported. Svinarov said that in the future, professional soldiers will be obligated to participate in any troop deployment if called upon to do so. To date, Bulgarian contingents participating in international military operations -- such as the country's current contingent stationed in the central Iraqi city of Karbala -- have been made up of volunteers (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 16 and 29 December 2003 and 5 and 7 January 2004). The second Bulgarian contingent in Iraq is to be deployed within a month. UB

OPPOSITION LEADER DEMANDS THAT MANDATE FOR BULGARIAN FORCES IN IRAQ BE CHANGED
Opposition Socialist Party (BSP) Chairman Sergey Stanishev has demanded that the mandate for Bulgarian forces participating in Iraq be changed to account for the situation on the ground, "Sega" reported on 8 January. Stanishev said one of the reasons the series of suicide attacks in Karbala on 27 December resulted in the loss of so many lives was the unclear definition of the Bulgarian contingent's functions in that city (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 29 December 2003). Stanishev said the parliament's decision to deploy troops to Iraq outlined only guard duties, and did not take into account the possibility of terrorist attacks. Stanishev demanded that the parliament's Defense Committee form a broad commission to determine any shortcomings on the part of Bulgaria's military policy that could have facilitated the suicide attacks. UB

PROVOKING COMMUNALISM IN PUTIN'S RUSSIA
The transition from nascent democracy to a stealth-like, soft authoritarianism, together with the supposed rise of Russian nationalism, under President Vladimir Putin has received much attention of late. However, the rollback of another set of institutions and, as a consequence, the possible rise of another form of nationalism in Russia has been largely ignored. The current regime has been characterized by the weakening and dismantling of Russia's emerging federalism and other institutional arrangements for containing nationalism/communalism that proved significantly effective under Putin's predecessor, President Boris Yeltsin.

Throughout the 1990s, such mechanisms helped contain communalism -- that is, ethno-national, linguistic, and religious aspirations for self-determination and even secession - and intercommunal conflict, with the exception of the Chechen wars and the Ingush-Ossetian clashes in 1992. The federal center managed by means of these federative and consensus-building institutions -- however weak they were -- to avoid major intercommunal conflicts in a country with more than 100 nationalities, as well as to limit self-determination aspirations to demands for internal self-administration in 31 of 32 national autonomies (the exception being Chechnya).

Yeltsin's ad hoc "asymmetrical federalism," like somewhat similar although more developed and effective systems in Spain and India, afforded the regions, especially the ethno-national republics, considerable autonomy in their cultural, economic, and political affairs. Yeltsin signed 42 power-sharing treaties with 46 regional governments, most often the national republics, to provide much of this autonomy.

Regional autonomy was backed up with the necessary material and financial base. The federal-regional treaties and attendant agreements gave property, land, and special tax breaks to many regions, especially the national republics. Overall federative fiscal policy maintained an approximate 50-50 balance between revenues kept in Moscow and those distributed to the regions.

Under Yeltsin, the Federation Council more or less performed the function it should in federal democracies -- to represent equally the interests of regions and sometimes communal groups themselves as compensation for the unequal representation of minorities and small, less powerful regions in the lower house. An element of "consociational" or consensus rule (as opposed to majority rule) was deployed through of form of the so-called minority veto. Under Yeltsin any piece of draft federal legislation could be forced into a federal-regional "conciliation procedure" if in more than one-third of Russia's regions, the chief executive or the legislature filed a protest against a draft law going through the federal parliament.

To be sure, some of these arrangements were non-institutionalized or were clear violations of the federal constitution and federal laws, making for an "unofficial" or illegal asymmetry in Russia's federalism. Regional constitutions and laws violated federal norms, even after the Constitutional Court struck down the offending regional norms, and some regions at various times refused to send taxes to Moscow.

The federal government joined in the orgy of unofficial asymmetry, signing federal-regional bilateral treaties that openly violated the Russian Constitution and failing to provide budget-mandated funds to the regions. The federal-regional treaty-making process, while bringing in an element of consensual agreement and negotiation, was neither well institutionalized nor democratic. The federal and regional parliaments played no role in their adoption, and the national populations were completely excluded from the process. Instead of parliamentary approval and a multiple-stage referendum process as occurred in the case of the adoption of Spain's statutes of autonomy, Russia's power-sharing treaties and attendant agreements were purely inter-executive-branch affairs.

This process, as well as the mentioned institutional arrangements, constituted a reasonably acceptable start to federation building in Russia, given the circumstances under which it had to be developed. The various institutions needed to be improved, not destroyed, as they have been under Putin.

Since coming to power in 2000, Putin has undermined every federative and consociational element of the federative system that emerged under Yeltsin. Asymmetry and regional autonomy have been reduced to a minimum by forcing regional constitutions and laws into conformity with their federal counterparts. Centralization has returned with an absurd vengeance: for example, federal law now dictates the size of traffic-violation fees. The federal-regional power-sharing treaties have been devalued by Putin, allowed to expire or encouraged to be abrogated. It is unclear whether regions like Tatarstan and Bashkortostan that forged the power-sharing-treaty process at the core of Russian asymmetry will be allowed to conclude new treaties with Moscow, and if they are, what if any asymmetry and autonomy the new treaties will offer.

The Federation Council, initially made up of elected senators and later each region's locally elected chief executive and legislative assembly chairman ex officio under Yeltsin, was reorganized under Putin's system with two appointees from each region, one each selected by the local executive and legislative branches. Remember that under the second Yeltsin-era method of selecting senators, the regional chief executives were popularly elected in their regions, and legislative assembly chairmen were popularly elected as deputies before being elected by the regional assembly as its chairman. Also, Putin has raised the bar for regional veto of draft legislation and reversion to the federal-regional conciliation procedure. Now both branches of one-third of Russia's regions must challenge a draft law to take it off the table and send it into conciliation.

Moreover, other Putin policies have undermined the institutional containment of communalism. The Kremlin has sought -- though sometimes unsuccessfully -- to institute more assimilative cultural, educational, and language policies. There was the Education Ministry's failed effort to introduce a mandatory course on Russian Orthodoxy in Russian elementary schools. There was an effort to ban Tatarstan's plans to convert Tatar from the Cyrillic to the Latin alphabet. There also was an attempt to manipulate the October 2002 census to divide the Tatar nation into several sub-groups.

Finally, amendments to Russia's laws on political parties and elections were reformed in ways that impinged on communal minorities' political rights. Political parties based on minority ethnic, religious, or linguistic groups are forbidden from running candidates in elections. This will not necessarily achieve the integrative goals set out by the administration. The leading Muslim party simply renamed itself and managed to get registered to run in December's State Duma elections, rather than disband or merge or join into a coalition with a more generic party. The ban on such parties is likely to alienate groups like Muslims from the political process.

Such policies, because they impinge on the most basic level of communalist aspirations for autonomy -- those spheres directly related to their national identity -- provoked outrage from Tatars and other nationalities. Pursuing them further against the background of the continued weakening and dismantling of core communalism-containment mechanisms risks a backlash by national minorities and autonomies.

Indeed, over time the decline of democracy and federalism will deinstitutionalize politics, both "secular" and communal, moving conflict resolution from the corridors to the streets. At the same time, the simultaneous rise of Russian and non-Russian nationalism will lead to ethno-politicization, mobilization, counter-mobilization, and ultimately, growing interethnic tensions and conflict. This is a powder keg, the fuse of which a decline in oil prices or some other economic or financial crisis could ignite. Putin is playing with fire.

Gordon Hahn is a William J. Fulbright visiting professor at the School of International Relations at St. Petersburg State University, Russia.

HUMAN RIGHTS GROUP SAYS AFGHAN CONSTITUTIONAL ASSEMBLY MARRED BY ABUSES...
Human Rights Watch (HRW) said in a statement released on 8 January that while the recently approved Afghan Constitution contains new human rights provisions and mandates better political representation for women, the domination of the approval process by warlords and factional leaders raises serious concerns about whether the country can hold free and fair elections this year. "Human rights protections were put on paper, but there were a lot of missed opportunities and complaints about threats and corruption during the convention," HRW's researcher on Afghanistan, John Sifton, said of the Constitutional Loya Jirga that concluded on 4 January. HRW said it documented numerous cases of death threats and corruption, as well as a general atmosphere of intimidation at election sites, during voting for delegates to the Constitutional Loya Jirga. UN officials have told HRW that many of the elected delegates to the convention were proxies or allies of local factional leaders, the group said. During the assembly's proceedings, HRW said, "independent delegates complained that warlords and factional leaders, and ministers of President Hamid Karzai's government, were strong-arming and even bribing delegates." AT

...AND RECOMMENDS MORE WORK ON SECURITY FOR JUNE ELECTIONS
In its 8 January statement, HRW echoed recent unconfirmed reports in asserting that U.S. officials met with factional leaders, including General Abdul Rashid Dostum and Abdul Rabb al-Rasul Sayyaf, to negotiate support for the Karzai government's draft of the constitution. "The atmosphere of fear and corruption at the convention, and efforts by U.S. officials and the Karzai government to secure bloc votes from factional leaders, affected how robustly some provisions were debated," Sifton said, adding that "the entire process casts doubt on the elections that are to be held" in June. Sifton recommended that the "United States and its allies in Afghanistan, especially NATO, need to keep expanding international security forces outside of Kabul, and have them focus on improving security." UN Secretary-General Kofi Annan warned that unless the security situation improves throughout Afghanistan, proper parliamentary and presidential elections cannot be held. Meanwhile, the NATO-led International Security Assistance Force (ISAF) assumed command of a Provincial Reconstruction Team (PRT) in Konduz on 6 January, as the pilot project for further expansion of ISAF (see "RFE/RL Afghanistan Report," 8 January 2004). AT

DELEGATES FROM WESTERN AFGHAN PROVINCE SAY THEY WERE PRESSURED
A number of delegates to the Constitutional Loya Jirga who have returned home to the Herat Province have complained that cabinet ministers in Kabul pressured them during the assembly, Hindukosh news agency reported on 7 January. Mohammad Rafiq Shahir said he and his colleagues were pressed to accept the presidential system that is strongly favored by Chairman Karzai for the country rather than a parliamentary system. The delegates refused to name specific ministers who might have been applying such pressure. AT

JAPANESE ENVOY EXPECTS NEW DONORS' CONFERENCE ON AFGHANISTAN...
Japan's ambassador to Afghanistan, Kinichi Komano, suggested on 7 January that a second major international donors' conference for Afghanistan might be held in March, Kyodo News Service reported. Komano added that such a meeting would call for larger pledges than the $4.5 billion made at the first donors' conference, which was held in Tokyo in January 2002. He said the ultimate goal of the international effort is to rebuild the war-ravaged country by 2015, adding that with $4.5 billion "we were unable even to lay the groundwork for reconstruction." AT

...AND CASTS DOUBT ON JUNE DATE FOR PARLIAMENTARY AND PRESIDENTIAL ELECTIONS
Japanese Ambassador Komano also said on 7 January that given the country's security problems, it will take time to register the Afghan electorate, Kyodo News Service reported. "It almost impossible that both [presidential and parliamentary] elections will be held by June," as envisioned in the 2001 Bonn agreement, Komano said. Komano also cited financial problems in the election process, saying available resources would cover just one-third of the required $76 million. Komano said Tokyo is ready to offer financial support for the election process and may consider sending election monitors. AT

TAJIK DRUG AGENCY REPORTS 9.6 TONS OF AFGHAN NARCOTICS SEIZED IN 2003
Avaz Yuldashev, head of the press office of the Tajik Agency for Narcotics Control, announced on 7 January that Tajik law enforcement and Russian border guards seized 9.6 tons of illegal drugs along the Tajik-Afghan border in 2003, RIA-Novosti reported. This represented an increase of 3 tons over 2002. The total included 5.6 tons of heroin. Yuldashev said the cultivation of opium poppies and other plants providing the raw material for contraband drugs is expected to double in Afghanistan in 2004, and complained that the international antiterrorism campaign in that country has not affected drug production. BB

IRAN, EGYPT CONCLUDING TALKS ON RESUMPTION OF FULL DIPLOMATIC RELATIONS
Iran and Egypt have completed "the essential stages" in talks to resume full diplomatic ties after 25 years of strained relations, and are addressing matters of protocol, international news agencies quoted Iranian Vice President for Legal and Parliamentary Affairs Hojatoleslam Mohammad Ali Abtahi as saying on 7 January. An official declaration will be made once protocol issues are resolved, AFP cited him as saying. Iranian Foreign Minister Kamal Kharrazi said he and his Egyptian counterpart Ahmad Maher have been tasked by their respective presidents with "paving the way for an expansion of Tehran-Cairo ties," IRNA reported on 7 January. "There must be a better atmosphere and positive steps taken to pave the way for trust in bilateral relations," he added. Both sides have been reluctant to provide details or dates on the expected resumption of full diplomatic relations, which have been strained since 1979 after Egypt signed a peace treaty with Israel and provided refuge to Iranian Shah Mohammad Reza Pahlavi following the 1979 revolution. VS

GUARDS COMMANDER SAYS U.S. IS 'PROVOKING INSECURITY' IN IRAN
Islamic Revolution Guards Corps (IRGC) head Major General Yahya Rahim-Safavi has accused the United States of fomenting unrest in Iran and seeking control of the Middle East, Central Asia, and the Caucasus, Fars News Agency reported on 7 January. "The warmongering administration and neoconservatives that have taken control of America have claims, as the heirs to Hitler, to economic, political, security, and cultural superiority over the world," Rahim-Safavi said. He accused the United States of providing "financial, political, and propaganda support" to its agents in Iran and encouraging "intrigue and provoking insecurity and tensions on the eve of the seventh parliament elections," which are due in February, the news agency reported. Rahim-Safavi said the IRGC will respond to any "military threat or aggression" against Iran, adding, "If the Zionist regime undertakes any military aggression against Iran, it will receive firm and crushing blows that will be an unforgettable lesson [to Israel]." VS

FORMER PRESIDENT SAYS U.S. NEEDS TIES WITH IRAN
Expediency Council Chairman Ali-Akbar Hashemi-Rafsanjani has said that U.S. proposals to send a delegation to Tehran to follow aid sent after the 26 December earthquake in Bam show that "it needs relations with Iran," IRNA reported on 7 January. "One must not be hasty in forging ties with America," he said. "American officials must announce that they have been mistaken in their response to the Islamic revolution." Meanwhile, the Mujahedin of the Islamic Revolution Organization, a member of the reformist coalition in parliament, urged the government to "take the initiative and wise measures" to reduce tensions with the United States and bring a definitive end to sanctions imposed on Iran, IRNA reported on 7 January. It urged the government and parliament to "take nothing but national interests into consideration" regarding Tehran-Washington ties. ILNA reported on 7 January that Vice President Abtahi said the issue is not on the government agenda "for now." Foreign Minister Kharrazi has said the United States must change its "hostile" attitude toward Iran before diplomatic relations can be resumed, IRNA reported. VS

IRANIAN REFORMISTS RESUME THREAT OF ELECTION BOYCOTT
Deputy speaker of parliament Mohammad Reza Khatami, who is the secretary-general of the Islamic Iran Participation Party (IIPP), warned on 7 January that the IIPP might boycott the February parliamentary election if too many candidates are disqualified, IRNA reported. "If rejection of eligibility of the candidates gets to an extent to which we could not defend the legitimacy of the election, we will not provide a list of candidates," he said. Khatami, who has been talking about a possible boycott for almost a year, added that the IIPP would do so with the greatest reluctance. "The more candidates are disqualified the less legitimate the election will be, and certainly public participation will drop and the political parties will lose their motives, which will ultimately damage the government's legitimacy," Khatami explained. The 12-man Guardians Council is the ultimate arbiter of candidate eligibility, and Khatami observed: "The idea that several dignitaries come together and decide what attitudes should be confirmed and what should not will damage the status of the constitutional body rather than the dignitaries themselves, and will damage the legitimacy of the system as well," IRNA reported. BS

MORTAR ATTACK STRIKES U.S. SOLDIERS IN IRAQ
One U.S. soldier was killed and 34 were wounded in the evening of 7 January when six mortar rounds struck a military base west of Baghdad, international media reported on 8 January, citing a U.S. military spokesman. The soldiers were mainly from the 3rd Corps Support Command and were in or near the base's living quarters when the attack occurred at about 6:45 p.m. local time, according to a U.S. military statement issued on 7 January. Several soldiers from the U.S. Army's 541st Maintenance Battalion, also stationed at the base, were also injured, the military added. Some soldiers were treated at the scene while others were evacuated, according to the statement. The camp is located in the "Sunni triangle," a traditional stronghold of supporters of ousted Iraqi President Saddam Hussein and a center for resistance against the U.S. military presence in Iraq. MH

U.S. WEAPONS TEAM REPORTEDLY WITHDRAWN FROM IRAQ...
The administration of U.S. President George W. Bush has quietly withdrawn from Iraq a 400-member military team whose job was to search for military equipment, nytimes.com reported on 8 January, citing unidentified senior government officials. The step was described by some military officials as a sign that the administration no longer expects to uncover the caches of chemical and biological weapons the White House cited as a principal reason for going to war last March. These government officials said the most important evidence from the weapons hunt might be contained in a vast collection of seized Iraqi documents being stored in a secret military warehouse in Qatar. Only a small fraction of these documents has been translated. MH

...AS EVIDENCE MOUNTS THAT IRAQI WEAPONS DESTROYED YEARS AGO
"The Washington Post" on 7 January cited a previously undisclosed document that suggests that Iraq might have destroyed its biological weapons as early as 1991. Interviews given to "The Washington Post" last month by Iraqi weapons engineer Modher Sadiq Saba Tamimi, along with the nine-month record of arms investigators since the fall of Baghdad, mention discoveries of other concealed arms research, most of it less advanced. According to the nine-month record, investigators found no evidence to support U.S. statements that Iraq had maintained illegal weapons dating from the Persian Gulf War of 1991 or that it had advanced programs to build new ones. The investigators' report also documented a pattern of deceit that was found in every field of special weaponry. It said that, according to Iraqi designers and foreign investigators, program managers exaggerated the results they could achieve, or even promised results they knew they could not accomplish, in an effort to appease former President Hussein. However, in some cases the managers simply did so to advance their careers, preserve their jobs, or even to conduct intrigues against their rivals, according to the report. MH

REPORT SUGGESTS U.S. USE OF UN WEAPONS INSPECTORS FOR PROBE
A new paper released on 8 January by the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace suggests that the United States should bring UN weapons inspectors into the probe of Iraq's weapons programs to gain a better understanding of how effective the United Nations was in using inspections, sanctions, and monitoring to constrain former President Hussein, washingtonpost.com reported. The paper also criticizes the U.S. administration's public assessments of the danger posed by Iraq in the months leading to the war, describing as "questionable" and "unexamined" the threat cited by administration officials that Iraq or another rogue state would turn over chemical, biological, or nuclear weapons to terrorists. More likely, the Carnegie report said, is the possibility that terrorists could get such weapons from "poorly guarded stockpiles in Russia and other former Soviet states" or countries such as Pakistan and North Korea, where "instability, corruption, or a desperate need for cash could allow terrorist groups to gain access to nuclear weapons or materials." The solution Carnegie proposes is to make security of nuclear weapons and materials "a much higher priority" for U.S. national security policy. Much of the Carnegie report examines prewar intelligence reports and statements by administration officials about Iraq under Hussein. MH

WAR CRIMES SUSPECT HIDING IN IRBIL
The Kurdish weekly "Hawlati" reported on 7 January that war-crimes suspect Shaykh Jaffar Barzinji is still in Kurdistan, hiding in the city of Irbil, kurdishmedia.com reported. Barzinji is accused of being responsible for the killing of hundreds of Kurds as a former governor of Sulaymaniyah. He later became the member of the Saddam's assembly for Kurdistan, a body affiliated to the Iraqi intelligence services. "Hawlati" is controlled by the Kurdistan Democratic Party (KDP), and kurdishmedia.com reported that Barzinji is related to some high-ranking members of the KDP. MH

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