LIBERAL LEADER SAYS RUSSIA STILL WAITING FOR DEMOCRATIC REVOLUTION...
In an interview with RFE/RL on 9 January, Yabloko leader Grigorii Yavlinskii said the failure of the liberal parties in the 7 December State Duma elections was not a defeat for Russian democracy "because real democrats have never been in power in Russia." "In contrast to the countries of Eastern Europe, which experienced democratic revolutions and a change of elites, Russia has never seen a process like that," Yavlinskii said. "For example, in Hungary, the Czech Republic, and Poland, the democratic revolutions began as early as 1956 and 1968, while in Russia people only received democratic freedoms in the 1980s straight from the hands of Soviet leader Mikhail Gorbachev. And the country was not ready for it. As a result, the democratic revolution in Russia lasted only two days [when Muscovites resisted an anti-Gorbachev coup attempt in August 1991]. On the third day, power returned to the hands of the nomenklatura." Since that time, he noted, Russia has had seven prime ministers, all of whom emerged from either the Central Committee of the Communist Party of the Soviet Union, the KGB/Federal Security Service (FSB), or the Komsomol. VY
...AND CRITICIZES PUTIN'S 'STATIST' VIEWS...
In the same 9 January RFE/RL interview, Yavlinskii said that President Vladimir Putin is a "statist," a politician for whom a strong state is everything and the interests of the individual are not important. For the sake of strengthening the state as he understands it, Putin is ready to ignore everything else, Yavlinskii said. However, he noted that Putin's policies include progressive elements, such as aligning Russia with the West in the global war on terrorism. But he has shown no progressiveness in combating another "absolute evil -- the oligarchic system," Yavlinskii said. In this case, Putin is acting completely wrongly, and Yabloko has an entirely different approach to solving this problem, Yavlinskii concluded. VY
...AS ANALYST SAYS PUTIN WANTED YABLOKO TO ENTER DUMA
Merkator Research Group Director Dmitrii Oreshkin, reputedly a Kremlin insider, told Ekho Moskvy on 9 January that those who believe President Putin will play the role of the country's main liberal in the wake of the liberals' defeat in the 7 December elections are mistaken. The siloviki, the bureaucrats, and the senior military commanders are too interested in strengthening the state to allow Putin to act in this way even if he wanted to, Oreshkin said. The idea that Putin is in a strong enough position to carry out any policy he likes is also wrong, as was shown by the recent elections. Oreshkin said that Putin wanted a small liberal party such as Yabloko, which has a good reputation in the West, to be present in the new Duma. In the last stages of the campaign, Oreshkin claimed, presidential resources were activated to support Yabloko. Putin even telephoned Yaboko leader Yavlinskii at 1 a.m. on 8 December to congratulate him on entering the Duma. That gesture, however, was premature. Because of the zeal of the bureaucrats in many regions, especially Tatarstan and Bashkortostan, Yabloko received only about one-third as many votes as pre-election polls indicated. Putin was disappointed that the party failed to surmount the 5 percent hurdle, Oreshkin said. VY
RUSSIA LOBBIES FOR LOWER GLOBAL OIL PRICES
Energy Minister Igor Yusufov met in Riyadh with Saudi Arabian Energy Minister Ali Naimi on 8 January to discuss cooperation between the world's two largest energy exporters in stabilizing oil prices, polit.ru and other Russian media reported. Yusufov also met with his counterparts in Kuwait and Qatar. Polit.ru noted that Moscow is worried about the situation on world energy markets, where prices have now reached a two-year high. The goal of Yusufov's trip is to reach agreement with leading OPEC members on reducing oil prices by eliminating supply shortfalls. Russia believes the optimal oil price is $25 per barrel and is asking Saudi Arabia, Kuwait, and Qatar to increase production by 1.5 million barrels a day in order to reach this target. VY
MOSCOW REMAINS OPPOSED TO BAKU-CEYHAN PIPELINE
An unidentified government official has said that Moscow has not changed its negative attitude toward the Baku-Ceyhan oil-export pipeline, currently under construction and backed by Azerbaijan, Georgia, Turkey, and the United States, newsinfo.ru and gazeta.ru reported on 9 January. "We do not believe this project is economically feasible, and therefore Russia's participation in it is not justified," the official said. He added that although Russia controls 24 percent of the Caspian Pipeline Consortium, "it has seen practically no profit from it." VY
SPS LEADER DENIES KREMLIN PLAYED A ROLE IN HER CANDIDACY...
Union of Rightist Forces (SPS) co-Chairwoman Irina Khakamada told Ekho Moskvy on 10 January that her quest to register as a candidate for the 14 March presidential election is not the result of a suggestion from the Kremlin. "I never met with anyone from the Kremlin or saw anyone, and no one telephoned me," Khakamada said. She also reported that SPS co-Chairman Yegor Gaidar has authorized the heads of SPS regional branches to help gather signatures to support her candidacy if they wish to do so. Meanwhile, the SPS branch in Tyumen Oblast announced that it has a team of 200 people that plans to gather some 30,000 signatures, vslykh.ru reported on 11 January. Khakamada must gather at least 2 million signatures by 28 January. JAC
...AS EXPERT SUGGESTS ADMINISTRATION, NOT ELECTION COMMISSION, WILL DECIDE WHO RUNS
Aleksandr Shemelev, executive director of the Moscow Bureau for Political Jurisprudence, told "Vedomosti" on 12 January that the Central Election Commission (TsIK) can reject practically any of the self-nominated candidates by invalidating the necessary number of signatures. "In any situation, the Kremlin will make the decision...whether Putin need a given competitor or not," Shemelev concluded. In November 2000, the TsIK rejected an appeal by environmental groups to hold a national referendum on environmental issues, claiming that that only 1.9 million of the 2.5 million signatures submitted were valid (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 30 November 2000). JAC
WOULD-BE CANDIDATE LOSES SUPREME COURT APPEAL
The Supreme Court on 9 January rejected an appeal by businessman German Sterligov, who was seeking to overturn a TsIK decision rejecting his candidacy for the 14 March presidential election, Russian media reported. The court noted that the TsIK had recommended that Sterligov take back his registration documents and bring them into conformity with election law, according to RosBalt. Sterligov said he will appeal his case to the European Court of Human Rights in Strasbourg. Meanwhile, another potential presidential candidate, former State Duma Speaker Ivan Rybkin, told "Vedomosti" on 12 January that he still doesn't know if self-exiled tycoon Boris Berezovskii will contribute any money to his presidential campaign. However, he said that a circle of large and small businesses that are dissatisfied with the current situation is ready to support him. On 7 January, Rybkin told RFE/RL's Moscow bureau that his team has already gathered 500,000 of the 2 million signatures needed to support his candidacy. JAC
ELECTION HEAD SAYS INTERNATIONAL OBSERVERS UNFAIRLY FAVORED GEORGIA
Comparing the recent assessment of the Georgian presidential election by the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE) with that organization's assessment of the 7 December State Duma elections, TsIK Chairman Aleksandr Veshnyakov said on 8 January that he regrets that a "policy of double standards" is at work in the assessments of international election observers. Veshnyakov told Radio Rossii that it seems the assessments depend on "whether the elected leaders are to one's liking or not." After the State Duma elections, OSCE Parliamentary Assembly President Bruce George said the contest "failed in meeting many OSCE and international standards" and was a "regression in the democratization process in Russia" (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 9 December 2003) JAC
COMMUNISTS TO TRY TO HOLD ONTO RED REGION
The Communist Party will again back incumbent Ryazan Oblast Governor Vyacheslav Lyubimov in his 14 March re-election bid, "Kommersant-Daily" reported on 9 January. Lyubimov is seeking his third term, and the pro-Kremlin Unified Russia party has not yet selected a candidate to run against him. The daily reported that at least two local political officials enjoy support from Unified Russia -- Igor Morozov, who was recently elected to the State Duma, and Ryazan Mayor Pavel Mamatov. Morozov, who until recently represented Ryazan in the Federation Council, also worked in the Foreign Intelligence Service (SVR) and in the presidential administration. So far, two candidates have declared plans to run: Viktor Milekhin, a human rights campaigner who did poorly in the State Duma elections, and Sergei Fedorov, general director of the Ryazan Design Institute, who is a "technical candidate" running in support of Lyubimov. JAC
FAR EASTERN MAYOR FINALLY TO FACE THE MUSIC?
The Supreme Court on 9 January upheld a decision by a Kamchatka Oblast-level court that Petropavlovsk-Kamchatskii Mayor Yurii Golenishchev can be held criminally responsible for disruptions of heat supplies during the 2002 heating season in his city, polit.ru reported. If convicted, Golenishchev, who also faces charges of negligence and misusing budgetary funds, would have to pay a large fine and might serve up to seven years on prison (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 10 December 2002 and 2 December 2003). According to the website, hearings of the case were postponed six times because of Golenishchev's poor health. JAC
CHECHEN PRESIDENT SLAMS INTELLIGENCE SHORTCOMINGS
President Aslan Maskhadov, who was slightly wounded in a 27 December attack to prevent an ambush by combined Russian and pro-Moscow Chechen forces (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 5 January 2004), convened a meeting in Shatoi Raion on 11 January of mid-level field commanders and officers responsible for sabotage operations behind enemy lines, chechenpress.info reported on 12 January. Maskhadov complained that intelligence is not being relayed to the military high command quickly enough, and issued orders that new information should not only be made available to field commanders, but also relayed to the General Staff. Maskhadov also criticized the low level of effectiveness of counterintelligence operations aimed at identifying Chechens who collaborate with the pro-Moscow leadership. LF
PROSECUTOR CALLS FOR SEVEN-YEAR SENTENCE IN ALLEGED PLOT TO KILL ARMENIAN DEFENSE MINISTER
The prosecution demanded a seven-year prison sentence on 9 January for a former Security Ministry official accused of plotting to kill former Security Minister Serzh Sarkisian, RFE/RL's Yerevan bureau reported. The accused, Levon Abrahamian, allegedly blamed Sarkisian for his 1998 arrest and sentence on charges of kidnapping an Iranian citizen for ransom. Abrahamian was released from jail under an amnesty in 2002. The case against him rests on testimony by a former fellow prisoner, former army officer Ara Narimanian. Abrahamian, who was arrested in September, insists that Narimanian is the author of the plot to kill Sarkisian. LF
AZERBAIJANI PARLIAMENT PASSES LAW ON PUBLIC TV IN FINAL READING
The Milli Mejlis passed the controversial bill establishing a public television broadcaster in its third and final reading on 9 January, Turan reported. Deputies did not incorporate into the draft any of the recommendations made by the Council of Europe and other international organizations between May 2003, when the bill was adopted in its first reading, and its second reading last month (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 30 December 2003). The new public broadcaster will be administered by a nine-member Broadcast Council, whose members may not be members of any political party. The board selects the broadcaster's general director, who serves for a five year term and whose candidacy must be approved by the president of Azerbaijan. LF
CONTROVERSY OVER ARMENIAN OFFICERS' VISIT TO BAKU CONTINUES
Three Armenian Army officers will travel to Baku on 12 January as planned to participate in a conference to discuss preparations for war games to be held in Azerbaijan later this year under the aegis of NATO's Partnership for Peace program, ITAR-TASS reported on 10 January quoting Armenian Defense Ministry spokesman Colonel Seyran Shahsuvarian. On 9 January, Shahsuvarian issued a statement accusing Azerbaijan of acting illegally by denying visas to the three officers. Those visa applications were submitted to the Azerbaijani Embassy in Tbilisi; Shahsuvarian said the three men will try to obtain visas on arrival at Baku's Bina Airport. Also on 9 January, members of the Organization for the Liberation of Karabakh issued a further statement in Baku protesting the anticipated presence of the Armenian contingent at the conference, Turan reported (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 9 January 2004). LF
TURKEY AGAIN OFFERS TO MEDIATE BETWEEN ARMENIA, AZERBAIJAN
Visiting Baku on 9-10 January, Turkish Foreign Minister Abdullah Gul met with Azerbaijani President Ilham Aliyev, parliament speaker Murtuz Alesqerov, Prime Minister Artur Rasizade, and Foreign Minister Vilayat Guliev to discuss the Karabakh conflict and various aspects of bilateral relations, according to Turan, AP, and Azerbaijani media, cited by Groong. Gul called for reversing the recent decline in bilateral trade (which currently stands at $300 million), and said Ankara is willing to host trilateral talks with Armenia and Azerbaijan on resolving the Karabakh conflict. Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan made a similar proposal when visiting Baku one year ago (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 9 January 2003). Gul said any solution to the conflict must preserve Azerbaijan's territorial integrity. Gul also said Turkey will not open a border crossing with Armenia as long as Armenia occupies Azerbaijani territory, according to the Turkish TRT 2 television channel, as cited by Groong. LF
GEORGIAN PRESIDENT-ELECT SENDS MIXED SIGNALS OVER NEW PARLIAMENT...
Mikheil Saakashvili told journalists in Tbilisi on 10 January that fears that the timing of 28 March parliamentary elections will not allow opposition parties enough time to launch effective campaigns, and consequently the new parliament will be monopolized by the bloc comprising his National Movement and the Burdjanadze-Democrats bloc, are unfounded, Caucasus Press reported. "It is very important that the opposition is in parliament, rather than on the street," Interfax quoted him as saying. Two days later, however, Saakashvili told journalists that "the opposition compromised itself when it refused to stand by the people during the 'Velvet Revolution,' and so it has no chances of representation in the new parliament," Caucasus Press reported. The National Democratic Party of Georgia and Industry Will Save Georgia both issued statements on 9 January arguing that the parliamentary ballot should be scheduled for May. LF
...AND ENDORSES 'STRONG PRESIDENCY'
Saakashvili told the Imedi television station on 9 January that he will not limit the presidential powers, ITAR-TASS reported. "The people of Georgia has entrusted me with the presidential powers. I think that the country must have a strong presidency, and I will not raise with parliament the question of limiting or reducing the presidential powers," Saakashvili was quoted as saying. LF
GEORGIAN PROSECUTOR SEEKS TO FREEZE SUSPECTS' FOREIGN BANK ACCOUNTS
The Georgian Prosecutor-General's Office has sent official requests to the Justice ministries of Switzerland, Liechtenstein, Germany, and Luxembourg to freeze the bank accounts of some 80 Georgian officials suspected of large-scale corruption and embezzlement, Caucasus Press and the website of the independent television station Rustavi-2 reported. The suspects include former Kvemo Kartli Governor Levan Mamaladze, former Georgian Railways Director Akaki Chkhaidze, and former Energy Minister David Mirtskhulava (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 30 December 2003 and 9 January 2004). LF
POLICE FREE ABDUCTED GEORGIAN BANKER
Georgian police and security officials freed United Georgian bank co-Chairman Tamaz Maghlaperidze on 10 January from a cave near Tbilisi where he was being held hostage, Georgian media reported. Maghlaperidze was snatched in Tbilisi in early December (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 8 December 2003). Police also arrested the putative organizer of the kidnapping, former Deputy Defense Minister Lieutenant Colonel Gia Vashakidze, together with two of his alleged henchmen. President-elect Saakashvili told journalists on 10 January that Vashakidze, a former close associate of now deceased Mkhedrioni leader Djaba Ioseliani, is "the right-hand man" of former State Security Minister Igor Giorgadze, Caucasus Press reported. LF
KILLING OF CONTROVERSIAL GEORGIAN POLITICIAN REPORTEDLY THWARTED
Police in Zugdidi detained two Russian citizens on 10 January on suspicion that they were planning to assassinate several Georgian officials, including Tamaz Nadareishvili, chairman of the Tbilisi-based Abkhaz parliament in exile, Caucasus Press on 12 January quoted Nadareishvili as telling journalists on 11 January. On 9 January, representatives of a number of organizations representing Georgian displaced persons who fled Abkhazia during the 1992-93 war resumed their protest action to demand Nadareishvili's resignation, Caucasus Press and the website of the independent television station Rustavi-2 reported (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 25 and 26 November and 18 December 2003). LF
RUSSIAN, KAZAKH PRESIDENTS SIGN LONG-TERM AGREEMENT ON USE OF BAIKONUR...
Russian President Vladimir Putin and Kazak President Nursultan Nazarbaev signed a bilateral agreement on 9 January in Astana on the long-term use of the Baikonur space-launch complex, Russian and Kazakh media reported. The agreement extends to 2050 a 1994 bilateral lease contract. The annual rental fee, set at $115 million in 1999, remained unchanged under the extended agreement. According to some Russian and Kazakh officials, the issue of the fee was not even raised in discussions preceding the signing. Putin and Nazarbaev also signed a memorandum on bilateral and international use of the Baikonur facilities, giving particular attention to solving environmental problems at the complex, including the use of less toxic types of rocket fuel and the cleanup of an area formerly used for intercontinental ballistic missile (ICBM) silos. BB
...AND ISSUE STATEMENT ON COOPERATION IN ENERGY DEVELOPMENT
Also during President Putin's stay in Astana on 9 January, he and President Nazarbaev issued a joint statement on bilateral cooperation in the energy sector, Interfax reported. The statement focused on the joint development of Kazakhstan's oil fields at the northern end of the Caspian Sea, the transport of Kazakh oil and gas to world markets, and cooperation in developing the electric-power industry. The two presidents also expressed their intention to strengthen military-technical cooperation as an important element of their strategic partnership and regional-security policy. On 10 January, the two leaders launched a Year of Russia in Kazakhstan, which Nazarbaev said would boost relations between the two countries. The Year of Kazakhstan in Russia was celebrated in 2003. BB
HOOF-AND-MOUTH DISEASE SPREADS IN KYRGYZSTAN
There has been an outbreak of hoof-and-mouth disease in cattle in several parts of Kyrgyzstan, "Obshchestvenyi reiting" reported on 9 January, quoting the Agriculture Ministry's Veterinary Department. The disease was first reported in Talas Oblast, where livestock markets were closed after about 100 cattle contracted the highly contagious disease. The Talas outbreak was followed by an outbreak in Naryn Oblast that affected several dozen animals. The ministry said it is trying to restrict the disease to the oblasts already affected by setting up quarantine posts and conducting a vaccination program. BB
RUSSIA SUPPORTS TAJIK TAKEOVER OF PROTECTION OF AFGHAN-TAJIK BORDER
Deputy chief of the Russian border-guard service Lieutenant General Aleksandr Manilov said on 11 January during a visit to Novosibirsk that Russia supports the idea of Tajik border guards gradually taking over responsibility for guarding the Tajik-Afghan border, adding that the Russian border service's directorate in Tajikistan would remain, ITAR-TASS reported on 11 January. Tajik border officials said on several occasions in 2003 that Tajikistan is ready to assume responsibility for protection of the country's border with Afghanistan (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 22 September and 18 December 2003). Manilov said Tajik border troops are still unable to guard the entire length of Tajikistan's border with Afghanistan by themselves. The timing and other details of a transfer of responsibility for protecting the Tajik-Afghan border is expected to be addressed by a joint commission of Tajik and Russian border officials later this year. BB
STATE ORGANIZATIONS REFUSE TO DISTRIBUTE BELARUSIAN INDEPENDENT NEWSPAPER
Belposhta, Belarus's national postal service, has unilaterally canceled a contract to distribute subscriptions to the prominent independent newspaper "Belorusskaya delovaya gazeta" in the first half of 2004, Belapan and RFE/RL's Belarusian Service reported on 9 January, quoting newspaper publisher Pyotr Martsau. Belposhta will return subscription money to subscribers, he added. Belsayuzdruk, the Belarusian national press's retail-sales network, has meanwhile refused to distribute "Belorusskaya delovaya gazeta" through its kiosks in Minsk, Brest, and Vitsebsk. According to Martsau, the moves to curb his paper's distribution originated within the presidential administration. "It is a planned blow [to kill] the newspaper," Martsau said, adding that the newspaper will seek other ways to reach its readers. Last year, the authorities suspended the publication of "Belorusskaya delovaya gazeta" for three months. JM
GAZPROM SUSPENDS GAS SUPPLIES TO BELARUS
Russia's Gazprom ceased gas supplies to Belarus on 1 January in the wake of the failure last year to reach an agreement with Minsk on the creation of a joint company to run Beltranshaz, Belarus's gas-transport network, "Kommersant-Daily" reported on 9 January. The two sides disagree over the value of Beltranshaz, with Minsk putting the figure at $5 billion and Gazprom at $600 million. According to "Kommersant-Daily," Belarus will receive 2 billion cubic meters of gas supplied by Itera and Transnafta at the price of $46.68 for 1,000 cubic meters in January. Belarus needs 20.5 billion cubic meters of gas in 2004; Gazprom is reportedly prepared to supply 10.2 billion cubic meters, but no price has been set because of the disagreement over Beltranshaz. JM
UKRAINIAN PRESIDENT APPOINTS THREE CABINET MINISTERS
President Leonid Kuchma made three new appointments to the Ukrainian cabinet on 12 January, UNIAN and Interfax reported, quoting presidential spokeswoman Olena Hromnytska. Mykola Derkach was sworn in as minister for economy and European integration, Viktor Slauta as agriculture minister, and Oleksandr Neustroyev as minister for industrial policy. Derkach, a former Ukrainian ambassador to Lithuania, replaces Valeriy Khoroshkovskyy, who cited obstacles to his ministry's activities when he resigned earlier this month (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 6 January 2004). Slauta, a lawmaker from Donetsk Oblast, takes over for Serhiy Ryzhuk, who was appointed head of the Zhytomyr Oblast state administration. Neustroyev assumes the industrial-policy portfolio from Anatoliy Myalytsya. JM
UKRAINE POSTS 15.8 PERCENT INDUSTRIAL GROWTH
The State Statistics Committee announced last week that industrial production in Ukraine grew by 15.8 percent in 2003, including an annualized 18.4 percent in December, Interfax reported on 10 January. Ukraine's industrial output increased by 12.4 percent in 2000, 14.2 percent in 2001, and 7 percent in 2002. JM
ESTONIA RANKED SIXTH IN ECONOMIC-FREEDOM INDEX
Estonia retained its ranking of sixth in the 2004 Index of Economic Freedom compiled by the Heritage Foundation and "The Wall Street Journal," while Lithuania jumped from 29th place to 22nd and Latvia improved from 33rd to 29th. The annual index ranked 155 countries according to 50 economic variables such as trade restrictions, tax policies, government intervention in the economy, trade and fiscal policies, foreign investment, banking and finance, price and wage regulations, real estate, and the scale of the black market (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 13 November 2002). SG
LATVIAN PRESIDENT CALLS FOR UNIVERSAL HUMAN VALUES TO SHAPE NEW WORLD ORDER
Vaira Vike-Freiberga told the international Bertelsman Forum entitled "Europe -- Moving Toward a New Era" in Berlin on 10 January that the new European Constitution and world order should be based on universal human values and principles, not narrow economic and geopolitical interests, BNS reported. She said that close international cooperation between Europe and North America is vital to successfully dealing with environmental issues, poverty, epidemics, international terrorism, and organized crime. Vike-Freiberga arrived in Berlin on 8 January and had meetings the following day with German President Johannes Rau, opposition Christian Democratic Union head Angela Merkel, and Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan. SG
POLISH PREMIER OUTLINES KEY TASKS FOR 2004
Polish Prime Minister Leszek Miller addressed the country on radio and television on 10 January, saying that his government's primary task in 2004 is to ensure continued economic growth so that all Poles can benefit. Miller vowed to battle for the best possible terms of participation in the European Union once Poland joins that political bloc on 1 May. Miller also stressed that his government will strive to improve the "condition, strength, and effectiveness" of the Polish state. The previous day, Miller, who is still recuperating from a spinal injury suffered in a helicopter crash last month (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 5 December 2003), met with leaders of the ruling Democratic Left Alliance (SLD) to discuss the country's political situation. SLD Deputy Chairman Jozef Oleksy told journalists that the talks concerned cabinet changes, but he declined to give details. JM
POLISH TV BOSS RULES OUT ANOTHER TERM
Robert Kwiatkowski has withdrawn from the contest for a new term as chairman of the management board at Polish Television, the station reported on 10 January. Kwiatkowski said his candidacy has divided the Polish Television Supervisory Council, adding that such a situation does not benefit public television. Last year, the Polish Television Supervisory Council announced an open competition to select a chairman and four members of the Polish Television board (see "RFE/RL Poland, Belarus, and Ukraine Report," 11 November 2003). Some Polish media have speculated that Kwiatkowski was behind Lew Rywin's alleged bribery proposal in the notorious Rywingate media-law scandal (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 8 December 2003). JM
CZECH PREMIER DISMISSES RUMOR OF RESHUFFLE
Prime Minister Vladimir Spidla said on 9 January that media reports of an imminent government reshuffle aimed at bringing the junior coalition Christian Democratic Union-People's Party Chairman Miroslav Kalousek into the cabinet are "nothing but wild speculation," CTK reported. "If and when I conclude that the time is ripe for such changes, they will be made. No date has been set," Spidla said. Kalousek said the same day that he is perfectly satisfied with his party's current, three-minister representation within the cabinet. "The coalition agreement guarantees our party three ministerial seats, and I see no reason to replace [the current cabinet members]," Kalousek said (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 30 December 2003). MS
BOMBING SUSPECT DIES IN CZECH HOSPITAL
The man arrested last month on suspicion that he carried out or threatened 18 bomb attacks in the Czech Republic since 1999 died in a Prague hospital of self-inflicted wounds, CTK and AP reported on 11 January. The man, a 68-year-old retired locksmith from Prague, repeatedly stabbed himself in the neck when he realized police were about to apprehend him (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 5 January 2004). He is believed to have been responsible for a string of threats and bombings of targets that included train lines, a Prague hospital, and memorial sites. MS
HZDS TO FIELD OWN CANDIDATE IN SLOVAK PRESIDENTIAL ELECTIONS...
Movement For a Democratic Slovakia Chairman (HZDS) and former Prime Minister Vladimir Meciar said on 9 January that the HZDS will field its own candidate in the 3 April presidential elections, TASR reported. Many observers expect Meciar, a three-time prime minister who served briefly as president due to a 1998-99 constitutional stalemate, to run for the post. Meciar said his party's candidate will be selected at a nominating convention in the city of Martin on 24 January. That convention will also select 14 candidates for the European Parliament elections in June. MS
...AS LABOR GROUP URGES INCUMBENT TO SEEK SECOND TERM
Also on 9 January, Trade Unions Confederation (KOZ) Chairman Ivan Saktor called on incumbent President Rudolf Schuster to run for a second term, TASR reported. Saktor praised Schuster's repeatedly expressed concern for social affairs and said he hopes the future president and KOZ can work jointly for the creation of a welfare state with a market economy. Schuster has not yet announced a decision. Fifteen people have signaled their intentions to run in the presidential ballot. MS
SLOVAK NATIONALIST POLITICIANS TRADE ACCUSATIONS
Former Slovak National Party (SNS) Chairwoman Anna Malikova has been hospitalized with multiple concussions purportedly suffered during an incident last week at SNS party headquarters, TASR reported on 10 January, citing Malikova's husband, Alexander Belousov (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 9 January 2004). Malikova later called a press conference, where she said she had been attacked by a "gorilla weighing 150 kilograms, who threw me against the nearest wall." Malikova said she has filed charges in connection with the incident, in which a rival SNS group took control of the party's Bratislava headquarters. The leader of that rival group, Peter Sulovsky, dismissed Malikova's allegations. Sulovsky said the occupation was supervised by a notary and a lawyer who were overseeing the implementation of a Bratislava court ruling. Sulovsky accused Malikova of libel. MS
THOUSANDS MARCH IN BUDAPEST AGAINST TILOS RADIO
An estimated 3,000-4,000 people participated in a demonstration staged by right-wing groups in front of Tilos Radio's studios in Budapest on 11 January, demanding that the National Radio and Television Authority (ORTT) immediately revoke the station's broadcasting license, the MTI news agency reported. A Tilos Radio host said in a live broadcast on 24 December that he would like to "exterminate all Christians," prompting widespread protest by political parties and nongovernmental organizations (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 5 and 8 January 2004). Journalist Istvan Lovas told the crowd, "Let's announce a zero-tolerance policy against a Hungarian- and Christian-hating minority; otherwise our children will be labeled Nazis and will live on reservations," the agency reported. According to the index.hu Internet news portal, a small group of protesters burned an Israeli flag at the demonstration. The ORTT failed last week to decide on appropriate sanctions for the station. Prosecutors are meanwhile investigating whether charges for inciting hatred against a community should be pursued. MSZ
NATO LOOKS FOR BOSNIAN SERB WAR CRIMES INDICTEE
At least 200 SFOR troops launched an ongoing operation in the Pale area of Bosnia on 10 January to arrest indicted war criminal and former Bosnian Serb leader Radovan Karadzic, who was believed to be in the area seeking medical treatment at the time, international and regional media reported. A NATO spokesman said that Karadzic's wife, Ljiljana Karadzic-Jelen, cooperated with peacekeepers in their search of the family house. She complained, however, that "they have been looking for my husband in the walls, in every inch of the house, and, how absurd, in the septic tank. They seem to believe Radovan would hide like [ousted Iraqi leader] Saddam Hussein." SFOR soldiers also searched medical facilities and a Serbian Orthodox church. Italian Carabinieri set up checkpoints on roads leading in and out of the area. Republika Srpska police were also involved in the operation, RFE/RL's South Slavic and Albanian Languages Service reported. A NATO spokesman said peacekeepers also searched for indicted war criminal and former Bosnian Serb General Ratko Mladic. The two men head the Hague-based war crimes tribunal's list of most wanted indictees. PM
KEY SERBIAN PARTY STILL UNDECIDED ON COALITION ROLE
Leaders of the Democratic Party met for seven hours in Belgrade on 11 January but failed to agree as to whether they will join a coalition government of all parliamentary parties not linked to the rule of former Yugoslav President Slobodan Milosevic, or support a minority government, RFE/RL's South Slavic and Albanian Languages Service reported. The leaders agreed to make a final decision "in a week's time" and named Serbia and Montenegro's Defense Minister Boris Tadic and outgoing Serbian Prime Minister Zoran Zivkovic to represent the Democrats in coalition talks (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 8 January 2004 and "RFE/RL Balkan Report," 12 December 2003). In related news, Serbia and Montenegro's Foreign Minister Goran Svilanovic said there is a broad consensus in Serbia regarding foreign policy, which will not change as a result of the 28 December Serbian elections. He stressed that any new Serbian government will have to deal with the issues of cooperation with the Hague-based war crimes tribunal, Kosova, and relations with Montenegro. PM
HAGUE KEEPS MUZZLE ON SERBIAN INDICTED WAR CRIMINALS
The Hague-based war crimes tribunal decided on 9 January to keep in place for an additional 30 days a ban on most contact with the outside by former President Milosevic and Serbian Radical Party (SRS) leader Vojislav Seselj, RFE/RL's South Slavic and Albanian Languages Service reported (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 12 December 2003). The extension is reportedly aimed at preventing the two men from taking an active role in negotiations regarding the formation of a new Serbian government. In related news, the governing body of Milosevic's Socialist Party of Serbia (SPS) decided unanimously on 11 January that it will not assign one of the party's 22 legislative seats to the absent Milosevic. PM
NEW TWISTS IN MACEDONIAN-SERBIAN CHURCH DISPUTE
Monks and nuns of four Macedonian monasteries have announced that they will follow the call of Serbian Orthodox Church head Patriarch Pavle and join the autonomous Archbishopric of Ohrid, which was recently formed by the Serbian Church, "Dnevnik" reported. Macedonian Orthodox Church (MPC) spokesman Bishop Timotej announced on 11 January that the monks and nuns will be expelled. "As individuals, they may go wherever they want to, but the churches and monasteries remain [under the authority of the MPC]," he said. The MPC, which split from the Serbian Orthodox Church in 1957, is not recognized by other Orthodox churches. The formation of the Archbishopric of Ohrid is widely seen as an attempt by the Serbian Orthodox Church to divide the MPC. In related news, on 11 January in Bitola, Macedonian police detained Zoran Vranisovski, who is a former bishop of the MPC and now heads the autonomous Archbishopric of Ohrid, as well as several clerics, "Utrinski vesnik" reported. An Interior Ministry spokeswoman said neighbors had called the police after Vranisovski allegedly threatened them with unspecified weapons (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 4 December 2003 and 6 January 2004 and "RFE/RL Balkan Report," 12 July 2002). UB
ALBANIA DECLARES DAY OF MOURNING FOR VICTIMS OF BOAT DISASTER
On 11 January, Albanian authorities announced a day of mourning to honor at least 21 people who died after their high-speed inflatable craft sank following engine failure while en route from the Vlora area to Italy, international and Albanian media reported. The engine caught fire, burning some of the passengers to death. Some of the 11 survivors managed to alert relatives, the police, and an Albanian television station by mobile telephone. Italian rescue ships began to arrive 12 hours later, but by that time several of the survivors had died of exposure. The authorities subsequently arrested two of the survivors, the police chief of Vlora, and two other unidentified individuals and are looking for seven others. Some reports suggested that the two arrested survivors were themselves policemen. There are conflicting reports as to whether a second boat was lost as well. The beaches in the Vlora area are a well-known launching point for human-trafficking expeditions to Italy, with passengers paying up to $2,500 for the trip. The passengers of the latest ill-fated expedition appear to have come from northern Albania. PM
SLOVENIAN COURT BLOCKS CONTROVERSIAL REFERENDUM
Slovenia's Constitutional Court voted on 9 January to suspend a recent decision by the parliament to hold a referendum on 15 February on a bill restoring the residency status of non-Slovenes "erased" from the country's population records in 1992, Slovenian media reported (see "RFE/RL Balkan Report," 31 October 2003 and 9 January 2004). The court is expected to make its final ruling within two weeks. Due to emigration and additional legislation, the 30,000 people affected by the decision 12 years ago now number only 4,000, but the issue has become increasingly politicized. Observers suggest that the center-left government fears a defeat in the referendum and seeks to postpone it, while conservative opposition politicians sense that they have found a popular issue to use against the government. Elections will take place in June for the European Parliament and in October for the Slovenian legislature. PM/DR
ROMANIA READY TO HOST NATO, U.S. BASES
Prime Minister Adrian Nastase said in Berlin on 9 January that if asked, Romania would be ready to host NATO or U.S. military bases, Romanian Television reported. Nastase, who was in the German capital to participate in a forum on Europe's future, said a planned joint European defense system should not be an alternative to NATO, but a "complementary element" of the alliance. Citing VOA, Mediafax reported on 11 January that Poland and Romania have already begun negotiations for the stationing of U.S. troops on their territory. The agency cited Nastase as saying that Romania's strategic location on the Black Sea and in the proximity of the Middle East will benefit NATO. Also on 11 January, Mediafax reported that a NATO military delegation is due to visit Romania later this week. MS
RABIN STATUE BRINGS FINE ON GREATER ROMANIA PARTY
The Greater Romania Party (PRM) has been fined 20 million lei ($633) by the Brasov town hall for erecting a bust of former Israeli Prime Minister Yitzhak Rabin without authorization, the daily "Ziarul de Iasi" reported on 10 January (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 9 January 2003). The party expects to unveil the statue of the slain Israeli leader on 15 January. The daily also reported that an invitation extended to PRM Chairman Corneliu Vadim Tudor to attend the 52nd National Prayer Breakfast at the White House in early February has been canceled. Also reportedly canceled were invitations to businessman Marian Munteanu, former chairman of the now defunct pro-Iron Guard Movement for Romania, and that movement's ideological mentor, Sociology Professor Ilie Badescu of the University of Bucharest. MS
RIFT AMONG ROMANIA'S HUNGARIAN MINORITY WIDENS
The recently formed National Council of Transylvanian Hungarians (CNMT) has demanded in a letter addressed to Hungarian Democratic Federation of Romania (UDMR) Chairman Bela Marko that the UDMR consider autonomy a priority of the Hungarian community in Romania, Mediafax reported on 9 January, citing CNMT Chairman Bishop Laszlo Toekes. Toekes said the CNMT is not a political party and is therefore asking for support from parties and nongovernmental organizations. He said the Hungarian Civic Union and the Szekler National Council have positively responded to the appeal. Marko responded the next day by saying the CNMT would be welcome to present its autonomy proposals to the UDMR if it established a platform within the UDMR. However, he noted, the UDMR rejects the CNMT as an alternative political option for Romania's Hungarian minority. Should the CNMT establish a platform within the UDMR, Marko added, its autonomy proposals would be duly debated by the organization. Also on 11 January, prominent CNMT member and UDMR parliamentary deputy Tibor Toro said the UDMR leadership is attempting to prevent the setting up of a political alternative to the UDMR by using "Balkan methods." MS
ROMANIAN PRESIDENT SNUBS 'GREATER MOLDOVA' CONCEPT
President Ion Iliescu on 10 January said that the concept of Greater Moldova --including both the Romanian province of Moldavia and the current Republic of Moldova -- is "a falsification of historical reality and an expression of revisionist inclinations that we resolutely reject," Mediafax reported. Iliescu made the comments while in the Moldavian town of Vaslui to inaugurate the "Year of Stephen the Great," which commemorates the 500th anniversary of the Moldavian prince's death. Iliescu was alluding to remarks made of late by Moldovan officials, in particular by President Vladimir Voronin, who also announced earlier this year festivities marking the anniversary of Stephen's death. Iliescu said Stephen is part of the "sacred patrimony" of the Romanian people and "no one is allowed to annex him under the pretext of expressing their own statehood." In a clear hint to his eastern counterpart, Iliescu said that "all amateurs of trips through history must understand that national identities cannot be constructed through historical falsehood." Historic Moldavia, he said, is at the origin of modern Romania, and Moldavian culture and civilization are essential components of Romanian national culture. "This does not mean we are contesting the [independent] statehood of the Moldovan Republic, which we respect as an objective reality and wish its consolidation, prosperity, and a joint future in a united Europe," he concluded. MS
U.S. CALLS ON MOLDOVA, TRANSDNIESTER TO RESUME NEGOTIATIONS
A recent statement released by U.S. Ambassador to Moldova Heather Hodges said Washington is calling on Moldova and Transdniester to resume negotiations, ITAR-TASS reported on 11 January. The Russian news agency said the negotiations should be resumed under the five-party format that includes Moldova and Transdniester and three mediators -- the OSCE, Russia, and Ukraine. Meanwhile, ITAR-TASS reported on 11 January that the separatist authorities reject the idea of placing an international peacekeeping force in the security zone between Moldova and Transdniester under the aegis of the OSCE. The agency cited the separatist representatives on the Joint Control Commission as saying the breakaway region would consider the arrival of such a peacekeeping contingent to be "a foreign military intervention and a change in the existent [five-party] format of the regional peacekeeping operation." The Tiraspol statement came in reaction to an announcement by Moldovan Reintegration Minister Vasile Sova, who said Chisinau might call upon the international community to ensure "stabilization" in Bendery-Tighina. The separatist authorities in control of that town earlier gave an ultimatum to Moldovan police forces there to leave Bendery-Tighina by the end of 2003. The 1992 cease-fire agreement placed that town under the control of both Moldovan and Transdniester police forces. MS
THREE KILLED, 22 INJURED IN GAS LEAK AT BULGARIAN STEEL MILL
Two workers and one firefighter died and 22 people were injured on 10 January when poisonous gas leaked from a blast furnace at the Kremikovtsi steel mill outside Sofia, mediapool.bg reported. President Georgi Parvanov said after the accident that authorities must establish strict controls to determine whether companies are observing rules and regulations to ensure safe working conditions. Parvanov also called on the Economy Ministry and other authorities in charge of overseeing safety in the workplace to explain the reasons for the accident to the relatives of the victims and to Bulgarian society. The ministry responded that responsibility for the accident lies solely with the management of the steel mill. UB
SERBIA'S UNCERTAIN FUTURE
Serbia's electorate has clearly registered its unhappiness with the record of the fractious Democratic Opposition of Serbia (DOS) coalition, which has governed since the ouster of former Yugoslav President Slobodan Milosevic in October 2000. The future, however, seems to offer little hope for anything but an even shakier coalition.
The Serbian Election Commission announced on 30 December that Vojislav Seselj's Serbian Radical Party (SRS) won the most seats in the 250-member legislature in the 28 December Serbian parliamentary elections. The SRS will have 82 seats, followed by former Yugoslav President Vojislav Kostunica's Democratic Party of Serbia (DSS) with 53. The SRS took just over 27 percent of the vote, which is 10 percent more than its closest rival. The Democratic Party of the late Serbian Prime Minister Zoran Djindjic will have 37 representatives in the new parliament, followed by Miroljub Labus's G-17 Plus party with 34. A coalition of Vuk Draskovic's Serbian Renewal Movement (SPO) and Velimir Ilic's New Serbia party will have 22 seats, as will Milosevic's Socialist Party of Serbia (SPS).
Both Seselj and Milosevic are in custody in The Hague, where they face trial for alleged war crimes. Tomislav Nikolic leads the SRS in Seselj's absence, and Ivica Dacic plays a similar role for Milosevic in the SPS.
But many experts agree that the outcome of the vote was not the result of a resurgence of nationalism, since the parties loyal to the Milosevic regime actually won fewer votes in 2003 than in 2000, RFE/RL reported on 8 January. Kostunica blamed foreign pressures on Belgrade to cooperate with the Hague-based war crimes tribunal for the SRS's strong showing, but his argument does not seem convincing, since "the war crimes issue...is not a priority in our society," as leading Belgrade human rights activist Natasa Kandic put it.
The real problem was that the DOS failed to live up to many Serbs' hopes for a better standard of living in a society governed honestly with the rule of law. In this context, the fact that about 40 percent of the electorate did not bother to vote seems particularly telling. For this reason alone, it seems unlikely that holding yet another round of elections -- as some have suggested -- would solve anything.
But whatever motivated individual Serbs to do what they did on 28 December, the point now is that the next government is likely to be a fractious coalition of one sort or another. Kostunica has proposed an all-party coalition that would concentrate on drafting a new constitution. Most other parties -- and the Western countries that Serbia counts on for support -- nonetheless reject this. The EU and United States have, moreover, made it clear that they do not want a government that includes parties headed by indicted war criminals.
The SRS has called for a coalition involving it and the DSS alone, but the DSS says only that it has not ruled out any option. The international community has specifically warned Kostunica against accepting the SRS's offer.
A government of the DSS, Democratic Party, G-17 Plus, and the SPO-New Serbia coalition would have a working majority, but it would amount to adding the mercurial Draskovic to the DOS's mixture of strong personalities that proved so volatile in the past. And perhaps typically for Balkan politics, it is often the compatibility of personalities rather than of programs that makes or breaks coalitions.
Perhaps in recognition of this, the Democratic Party has offered to support a minority government of the DSS, G-17 Plus, and the SPO-New Serbia coalition without joining the cabinet itself. Some observers have suggested that the Democratic Party could insist that it keep its seats in the joint government of Serbia and Montenegro as its price for such support.
Whatever Serbian coalition emerges, its stability at home and attractiveness to the international community seem open to doubt. This problem is compounded by differences over economic policy, in which the DSS stresses poverty relief while the G-17 Plus and Democratic Party use the rhetoric of reform. If the next government is to raise its voters' standard of living, it will need to attract serious foreign investment, and that will require a strong dose of reforms.
A government led by Kostunica, moreover, might prove less amenable than was the last Serbian government where cooperation with The Hague-based tribunal is concerned. If his performance as Yugoslav president is any indication of what the future may hold, he is likely to offer a combination of foot dragging and criticism that will serve to test the patience not only of the tribunal, but of the international community as a whole.
Kostunica and other members of the next government may also be as prone as were many in the last cabinet to engage in tough talk about Kosova as a way of distracting voters' attention from the government's failures to improve the standard of living.
In so doing, the government would give the minority Serbs of Kosova the false hope that their future will be decided in Belgrade rather than in Prishtina. Above all, such assertiveness by Serbia would make Kosova's more than 90 percent ethnic Albanian majority nervous about the future and thereby undermine regional security and stability.
Meanwhile, the government and voters of Montenegro will be watching and waiting to see what the changes in Serbia will mean for them. If Serbia proves ungovernable, or if a coalition headed by the SRS should somehow come to power, calls for Montenegrin independence seem certain to grow louder and more numerous.
Finally, it remains to be seen how effective the last DOS government was in cleaning up crime and corruption in the wake of the 12 March 2003 assassination of Serbian Prime Minister Zoran Djindjic. Many Serbs remain convinced that criminal structures remain in place, with close links to the worlds of politics, business, and the security forces. On 30 December, the British-based "Financial Times" wrote that "Serbia still remains a desperately unstable and unpredictable place." For now at least, that seems like a safe conclusion.
PAKISTAN'S PRIME MINISTER VISITS AFGHANISTAN
Mir Zafarullah Khan Jamali arrived in Kabul on 12 January for a one-day official visit to Afghanistan, Radio Pakistan reported. Jamali met with the Afghan Transitional Administration Chairman Hamid Karzai. At the Kabul airport, Jamali said Pakistan will continue to assist Afghanistan's reconstruction and rebuilding process. Prior to his departure for Kabul, Jamali said he is traveling to Afghanistan with high expectations and hopes to find reciprocity from the Afghan side. The visit marks Jamali's first trip to Afghanistan as Pakistani prime minister and the most senior visit by a Pakistani official since the Taliban were overthrown by a U.S.-led coalition in late 2001. AT
AFGHANISTAN AND PAKISTAN AGREE TO EXPAND MUTUAL TRADE
An official announcement on 11 January of the Joint Economic Commission (JEC) between Afghanistan and Pakistan stated that Kabul and Islamabad have agreed to increase bilateral trade and establish new trade routes, the Islamabad-based daily "The News" reported on 12 January. Pakistani Finance Minister Shaukat Aziz, who arrived to Kabul on 11 January to meet with his Afghan counterpart Ashraf Ghani Ahmadzai as part of the JEC dialogue, said bilateral trade in July-December totaled $360 million. "Pakistan is [a] natural trading partner of Afghanistan," Ahmadzai said. Pakistan indicated that it will open a third customs checkpoint between the two countries at Qila Ghulam Khan, which borders Khost Province in Afghanistan. AT
FIVE AFGHAN BORDER GUARDS KILLED IN KANDAHAR PROVINCE
Five Afghan border guards were killed in the Shorabak District of Kandahar Province on 10 January while trying to prevent armed drug smugglers from crossing the Afghan-Pakistani border, Afghanistan Television reported the next day, citing the official Afghan Bakhtar Information Agency. Meanwhile, Abdul Latif Hakimi, purporting to speak on behalf of the Taliban, claimed the border guards were killed by the neo-Taliban, according to "The News" on 11 January. Hakimi also put the number of dead guards at six. AT
FOUR SUSPECTED NEO-TALIBAN BELIEVED TO HAVE BEEN KILLED BY OWN EXPLOSIVE
Four suspected neo-Taliban insurgents were killed in Helmand Province on 10 January, reportedly as they tried to plant a roadside land mine, the BBC reported on 11 January. Helmand Province police chief Abdul Rahman Saber said his department has the four bodies but has not determined "yet whether they are all Afghans," AFP reported on 11 January. AT
IRANIAN VETTING BODY REJECTS ONE IN FOUR PARLIAMENTARY CANDIDATES
Although the official list of candidates for the 20 February parliamentary elections has not been posted, local media report that the Guardians Council has disqualified about 25 percent of the applicants. Mohammad Jahromi, who is in charge of election affairs at the Guardians Council, said that 2,033 of 8,145 candidates were disqualified, IRNA reported on 11 January. He said the rejections were made on the basis of "data collected from reliable sources and the investigations conducted in [applicants'] neighborhoods." More than 50 percent of the applicants in Tehran (877 of 1,700, according to ISNA on 11 January), 36 percent in Qom (48 of 134; ILNA, 11 January), and 42 percent in Mashhad (148 of 351; ILNA, 11 January) were reportedly rejected. Shiraz representative Jalil Sazgarnezhad said 80 members of the legislature had their candidacies rejected, ISNA reported. Most of the rejected individuals are connected with the reformist 2nd of Khordad coalition, although that affiliation is not the stated reason for disqualification. The Guardians Council's reasons for the rejections reportedly include applicants' alleged drug abuse, links with banned groups, or lack of Iranian nationality. BS
IRANIAN LEGISLATORS, EXECUTIVE PROTEST REJECTIONS
The majority of parliamentarians walked out of the legislative session on 11 January to protest the Guardians Council's disqualifications of parliamentary hopefuls and then held a sit-in, ISNA reported. Deputy speaker of parliament Mohammad Reza Khatami, one of the disqualified candidates, said on 11 January that the Guardians Council's action demonstrates that, in ISNA's words, "there is nothing left of democracy but a picture on the wall." Khatami added that the parliament is being punished for defending the people's rights. Speaker of parliament Hojatoleslam Mehdi Karrubi voiced unhappiness with the rejections, IRNA reported. Karrubi said he and President Hojatoleslam Mohammad Khatami will consult with Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, Guardians Council Secretary Ayatollah Ahmad Jannati, and other officials on the matter. President Khatami said he disagrees with the disqualifications and announced, "I will use legal channels to deal with this issue that I hope will bear fruit," IRNA reported. Khatami called on the legislators to stay calm. He expressed the belief that the extent of disqualifications goes against what the supreme leader wants. BS
HARD-LINE IRANIAN POLITICAL ORGANIZATION HOLDS GENERAL ASSEMBLY
The hard-line Islamic Coalition Society (Jamiyat-i Motalifih-yi Islami), one of Iran's oldest political groups, held its general assembly on 8 January at Tehran's Al-Zahra Mosque and announced subsequently that its new name is the Islamic Coalition Party, ISNA reported. The meeting marked the organization's 40th anniversary and was attended by members, Interior Minister Abdolvahed Musavi-Lari, former Islamic Revolution Guards Corps chief and Oppressed and Disabled Foundation head Mohsen Rafiqdust, former speaker of parliament Hojatoleslam Ali-Akbar Nateq-Nuri, and other political figures. The Guardians Council approved the candidacy of Habibullah Asgaroladi-Mosalman, the party's secretary-general, for the February parliamentary elections, ISNA reported on 11 January. BS
IRANIAN WOMEN WANT RIGHTS IMPROVEMENTS
During a 10 January meeting with British Ambassador Richard Dalton, the head of the Iranian Center for Women's Participation called for improvements in women's rights and in the portrayal of women in Iran, ISNA reported. Among the issues that Zahra Shojai touched on were battery, poverty, discrimination, illiteracy, and insufficient appreciation for the value of women's work. "We are determined to show a realistic picture of Iranian women to the world," Shojai added, "because we believe that international media and communications do not report all the facts about Iranian women." Shojai said the interaction of Iranian and Western women would be welcome. Dalton asked about the status of legislation on Iranian membership of the UN Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination Against Women (CEDAW) -- the Guardians Council's rejected that legislation in August on the grounds that the bill violates Islamic law and the Iranian Constitution (see "RFE/RL Iran Report," 28 July, 11 and 18 August, and 1 September 2003). Shojai said the Expediency Council is examining the bill. BS
DANISH TROOPS IN IRAQ FIND TRACES OF BLISTER GAS ON MORTAR SHELLS
Danish troops in Iraq have found dozens of mortar shells containing trace elements of blister gases -- a group of chemical compounds that includes mustard gas, international media reported on 10 January. According to bbc.co.uk, some 36 120-millimeter mortar rounds that initially tested positive for containing chemical weapons appear to have been buried for at least 10 years. U.S. officials said the weapons likely date from the 1980-88 Iran-Iraq war. Danish troops said they expect more conclusive results early this week. The shells were discovered at a site north of the southern Iraqi city of Al-Basrah. "Most were wrapped in plastic bags and some were leaking," U.S. military spokesman Brigadier General Mark Kimmitt said. Weapons inspectors from the U.S.-led Iraq Survey Group withdrew from Iraq last week (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 8 January 2003), having reportedly found no physical evidence of weapons of mass destruction. KR
CPA HEAD REACTS TO AYATOLLAH'S ELECTION DEMANDS
Coalition Provisional Authority (CPA) head L. Paul Bremer told reporters on 12 January that the Iraqi Governing Council and the coalition will stick to an agreement reached last November over the timetable for a transfer of power in Iraq, despite continued calls by Iraqi Shi'ite Grand Ayatollah Ali al-Sistani for early elections, RFE/RL reported. "We think it is important to implement the November 15 agreement which was agreed by the Governing Council and has been submitted to the United Nations as the best way forward before the return of sovereignty to the Iraqi people and to provide for elections," Bremer said in Baghdad. Under the November plan, a transitional national assembly would be elected no later than 31 May, and the new transitional administration would receive full sovereign powers by 30 June (http://www.cpa-iraq.org). Regarding al-Sistani's demands, he added, "the Governing Council is in discussions with the grand ayatollah, for whom we have the greatest respect, and I think it's probably best if I leave those discussions between the Governing Council and the ayatollah." KR
BRAHIMI TO BE UN ADVISER ON IRAQ
UN Secretary-General Kofi Annan has picked former Algerian foreign minister and former head of the UN mission to Afghanistan Lakhdar Brahimi as his senior adviser to the UN on Iraq's transition to self-rule, washingtonpost.com reported on 12 January. Diplomats said the appointment signifies a willingness by the UN to step up planning for a return to Iraq following the withdrawal of UN forces last fall (see "RFE/RL Iraq Report," 14 November 2003). Annan has come under increasing pressure from U.S. and Iraqi officials to take a more prominent role in Iraq. The three parties are scheduled to hold talks next week on the future role of the UN in Iraq (see "RFE/RL Iraq Report," 9 January 2003). UN officials told washingtonpost.com that it is unlikely that Brahimi will actually replace former UN envoy to Iraq Sergio Vieira de Mello, who was killed in the August bombing of the UN's Baghdad headquarters. KR
FIVE IRAQIS KILLED WHEN PROTEST TURNS VIOLENT IN AL-AMARAH
At least five Iraqis were killed in clashes that broke out on 10 January when Iraqi police and British forces opened fire on protesters demanding jobs in the southern Iraqi town of Al-Amarah, international media reported. Police said they opened fire only after protestors began hurling stones at the headquarters for the Maysan Governorate, breaking several windows. British Army spokesman Captain Hisham Halawi said British troops assisting the police opened fire on two protesters suspected of being armed with grenades. Iraqis gathered again in the city on 11 January to protest the previous days' killings. Similar demonstrations also took place in the city of Al-Kut in the nearby Wasit Governorate, Al-Jazeera television reported on 10 January. Talks are reportedly under way between British and Iraqi forces and protestors to resolve the tense situation. KR
COALITION UNVEILS HUSSEIN-FREE POSTAGE STAMPS
The CPA has unveiled new Iraqi postage stamps in the theme of ancient transport -- boats, camel caravans, and horse-drawn carriages -- to replace those bearing the likeness of deposed Iraqi President Saddam Hussein, whose image dominated Iraqi stamps for the past quarter century, international media reported on 10 January. Representatives of the Iraqi Governing Council chose the designs. Five million stamps of various denominations have been printed, CPA spokesman Dan Senor said. The smallest denomination available is 50 dinars (about $.03), the new flat domestic postage rate that is reportedly about twice the previous rate. Senor said the Iraqi mail system is now working at about 80 percent of its former capacity. KR