MILITARY OFFICIALS TAKE THE HEAT FOR FREEZING CONSCRIPTS...
The Military Prosecutor's Office has launched criminal proceedings against three senior military officials for an incident last month in which 119 border-guard conscripts were forced to stand outside for hours in sub-zero temperatures during refueling stops on a flight from the Moscow region to Magadan, Russian media reported on 19 January. The three officials are Mikhail Chizh, the Siberian Military District's acting unit commander; Vladimir Satsava, senior aide to the head of the Far Eastern Military District's military-transport service; and Oleg Kostryukov, acting head of the Magadan border-guard unit. According to Interfax, military prosecutors are also considering filing charges against Colonel General Vasilii Smirnov, the head of the General Staff's mobilization-organizational department; General Vladimir Bakin, the head of the Siberian Military District; General Valerii Gerasimov, head of the Far Eastern Military District; the head of the Defense Ministry's military-transport department; and the deputy heads of the border-guard service. Interfax did not identify the latter officials. In all, 250 people, including 22 generals, have been questioned in the case. JB
...40 OF WHOM REMAIN HOSPITALIZED
Following their ill-fated flight across Russia, more than 90 conscripts fell ill with pneumonia and other respiratory illnesses and one of them, Vladimir Berezin of suburban Moscow's Lubertsy Raion, died of double pneumonia on 2 January, Russian media reported. Berezin's mother went public with details of the incident, and President Vladimir Putin ordered an investigation on 15 January, telling a meeting of senior security officials that "the case must be thoroughly investigated" and those found responsible punished, "The Moscow Times" reported on 16 January. Forty of the stricken servicemen remain in Magadan hospitals, 38 with acute respiratory viral infections and two with pneumonia, newsru.com reported on 20 January. All are in stable condition. However, Valentina Melnikova, executive secretary of the Union of Committees of Soldiers' Mothers of Russia, told Ekho Moskvy on 19 January that the health of one of the stricken conscripts has worsened and that another, who has been flown to Moscow for surgery, might lose a lung. JB
ACTIVIST CLAIMS OFFICIALS ASK BRIBES FOR ALTERNATIVE SERVICE
Tatyana Kuznetsova, chairwoman of the Moscow Committee of Soldiers' Mothers, said on 19 January that military commissioner's offices in Moscow are demanding bribes to accept applications for alternative service, Interfax reported. "The parents of those potential draftees who have decided to discharge their military duty in alternative civil service are...complaining to us that Moscow military commissioner's offices demand up to $800 for accepting an application," Kuznetsova told reporters. She also alleged that officials in military commissioner's offices continue to charge up to $5,000 for complete draft deferments. Public organizations exercise no control over the Defense Ministry when it comes to the draft, Kuznetsova said. "We are not allowed to enter military commissioner's offices in Moscow, let alone the territory of military units," she said. JB
DEFENSE MINISTER TO FORMALIZE AIRCRAFT-CARRIER SALE TO INDIA
Sergei Ivanov arrived in India on 19 January for a three-day official visit, Russian media reported. The trip's highlight is expected to be a formal announcement that India will purchase the aircraft carrier "Admiral Gorshkov," along with an unspecified number of carrier-based MiG-29K fighter jets. India's governmental Security Committee cleared the deal in principle on 17 January, the Press Trust of India reported. Ivanov said upon arrival in India that the forthcoming contract for the sale of the carrier, which will come to about "about $1.5 billion," will be signed by Andrei Belyaminov, the head of Rosoboroneksport, Russia's state arms-export agency, Interfax reported on 19 January. Ivanov praised India as a "strategic partner" and a country that "fights against international terrorism not with words but with deeds, and shares a number of our political viewpoints regarding the need to construct a multipolar world, taking into account the interests of all states, especially major ones," ITAR-TASS reported on 19 January. JB
FOREIGN MINISTER SAYS RUSSIA, U.S. MUST TRANSCEND TACTICAL DIFFERENCES...
The Foreign Ministry has announced that U.S. Secretary of State Colin Powell will visit Moscow on 26-27 January, Russian and Western media reported on 16 January. The dates were agreed to during a 16 January phone call between Powell and Foreign Minister Igor Ivanov, who said on 19 January that the Russia and the United States should rise above their "tactical differences." "We might have different approaches in looking at various issues, but we have to rise above tactical differences and give our strategic partnership top priority," Ivanov said at the opening of a meeting with a delegation from the Washington D.C.-based Nixon Center, RIA-Novosti reported. JB
...WHILE CRITICIZING THE U.S. ROLE IN IRAQ
In an article posted on the Foreign Ministry's website (http://www.mid.ru) entitled "The Iraq Crisis And The Struggle For A New World Order," Foreign Minister Ivanov wrote that democracy cannot be imposed on Iraq, but "can only be helped along from outside by creating favorable external conditions for the development of democratic processes and by offering the necessary political and socioeconomic support." Ivanov argued that there is now reason to fear that "the escalation of chaos and violence" in Iraq could merge with other focal points of regional instability, above all the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. This calls for "the immediate launch of a plan for a political settlement like the one the world community managed to implement in Afghanistan," including a "precise mandate for international security forces," Ivanov wrote, RIA-Novosti reported on 19 January. JB
TOP OFFICIALS HOLD FORTH ON BATTLING CORRUPTION...
First deputy Kremlin chief of staff Dmitrii Kozak and Deputy Prime Minister Boris Aleshin said on 18 January that the best means of fighting corruption is transparency at all levels of the state and government, Interfax reported. Appearing on ORT's "Vremena" program, Kozak, who heads a commission on official ethics within the new Council for the Struggle Against Corruption (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 13 January 2004), said it is necessary to develop mechanisms to combat corruption, but added that simply raising officials' salaries without increasing social control over the actions of the bureaucracy would not yield results. He also said it is impossible to eradicate corruption entirely. Speaking on the same television program, Aleshin said every step taken by officials should be "maximally transparent," and that police and other officials must no longer be free to walk into any company and seize documents without sanction. JB
...WHILE A LEADING OBSERVER SAYS IT'S WORSE THAN EVER
Writing in "Novaya gazeta," No. 2, Indem foundation President Georgii Satarov said "a group of Moscow business owners" recently told him that the "sums of money extorted from companies by corrupt state officials have increased by orders of magnitude in recent months." The foundation has received similar reports from other regions, Satarov wrote, adding that "there has also been a radical rise in activity by state officials aimed at seizing control of companies." Under these conditions, "increasing business transparency only serves to provide helpful information to such 'hijackers.'" Business owners, he wrote, "are wondering whether it's better to sell a successful company, even at a loss, and flee the country or to wait a while, hoping all this will pass." According to Satarov, the legal onslaught against oil giant Yukos has provided the impetus for these processes. JB
UNIFIED RUSSIA TAKES FORMAL CONTROL OF ALL DUMA COMMITTEES...
Duma deputies on 16 January voted to confirm members of the pro-Kremlin Unified Russia faction as chairmen of all 29 Duma committees, Russian media reported. In addition to the 28 committees in the previous Duma, deputies voted to create a new Veterans Affairs Committee. Former Justice Minister Pavel Krasheninnikov will head the Legislation Committee; Vladislav Reznik, the Credit Organizations and Financial Markets Committee; former Pyatigorsk Mayor Yurii Vasiliev, the Budget Committee; former assistant to Prime Minister Yevgenii Primakov Konstantin Kosachev, the Foreign Relations Committee; former Deputy Interior Minister Vladimir Vasilev, the Security Committee; and former Russian representative to NATO General Viktor Zavarzin, the Defense Committee. Zavarzin gained fame for sending an advance force of Russian peacekeepers to Prishtina airport in Kosova ahead of NATO troops in 1999 (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 14 June 1999). According to RFE/RL's Moscow bureau, the appointment of the little-known Yurii Vasilev to the important Budget Committee illustrates that loyal party comrades can make good careers. Vasilev is deputy chairman of the party in the Southern Federal District, and he attended Leningrad State University. Former St. Petersburg resident, Vladimir Pligin, who was once an attorney for former St. Petersburg Mayor Anatolii Sobchak, will now head the Constitutional Legislation Committee, according to RFE/RL's Moscow bureau. JAC
...AS FORMER INTERIOR MINISTER STRIVES TO INSTILL DISCIPLINE
Duma Speaker Boris Gryzlov, who heads Unified Russia, announced on 16 January that the Unified Russia faction now numbers 304 deputies, of whom 246 are also party members, RosBalt reported. Also on 16 January, Gryzlov denied media reports that he has forbidden members of the faction to speak with journalists. However, "Gazeta" reported that a source in the faction's secretariat commented: "Earlier, journalists, when they needed to come to the Duma for a meeting with a deputy or [to attend] a committee session, they appealed to us. It was quicker to order a pass through the secretariat. But Gryzlov's people, who come from the apparatus of the Interior Ministry, declared that they themselves will decide all questions." On 19 January, deputy head of the Unified Russia faction Valerii Ryazanskii told RosBalt that deputies from the faction are free to comment on the situations in their electoral districts, but they are not free to make comments in the name of the faction. "This is a question of discipline," he said. JAC
CHANGES UNDER WAY IN UPPER HOUSE
Federation Council Chairman Sergei Mironov announced on 19 January that Valerii Goreglyad (Sakhalin Oblast) will step down as first deputy chairman of the council to become simply a senator, "Gazeta" reported on 20 January. According to the daily, "many observers" interpreted Goreglyad's departure as a sign of a strengthening of Mironov's position, because Goreglyad has recently become one of Mironov's chief opponents in the chamber. Goreglyad played a leading role in the effort to block Mironov's choice, Khakasia representative Valentina Petrenko, from replacing Deputy Chairman Andrei Vikharev when he resigned (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 12 June 2003). However, the daily also reported that unidentified sources in the presidential administration report that after the 14 March presidential election Mironov will be replaced. The two most likely contenders are current Federation Council representative Dmitrii Mezentsev (Irkutsk Oblast) and Audit Chamber head Sergei Stepashin. Dmitrii Badkovskii of the Institute for Social Systems at Moscow State University told the daily that it would be "somehow absurd" for Mironov, after having gathered less than 1 percent of the vote in the presidential election, to remain as head of the upper chamber. JAC
JOURNALISTS, SPS ACTIVISTS FORM COMMITTEE FOR FREE 2008 PRESIDENTIAL ELECTION...
A number of politicians and public figures have formed a new organization called Free Choice 2008, which will seek to promote a fair and free presidential election in 2008, Ekho Moskvy reported on 17 January. Union of Rightist Forces (SPS) co-Chairman Boris Nemtsov, world chess champion Garri Kasparov, former TVS journalist and "Kukly" creator Viktor Shenderovich, newspaper and television commentator Yuliya Latynina, former SPS Duma Deputy Boris Nadezhdin, and "Moskovskie novosti" Editor in Chief Yevgenii Kiselev have joined the committee. According to Nemtsov, one of the key tasks of the committee is to ensure the election of a "civic president" and not an "heir to the throne as directed by [President] Putin." Valerii Khomyakov, general director of the Agency for Applied and Regional Politics, on 16 January described Free Choice 2008 as an "anti-Putin" committee (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 16 January 2004). JAC
...AND LEAVE YABLOKO OUT
Yabloko deputy leader Sergei Mitrokhin told Ekho Moskvy on 17 January that none of his colleagues were invited to join Free Choice 2008. On 19 January, VTsIOM-A head Yurii Levada told Interfax that Yabloko leader Grigorii Yavlinskii has dropped out of the list of Russia's most-popular politicians for the first time in recent years. According to a poll conducted on 9-13 January of 1,600 respondents across Russia, Motherland head and State Duma Deputy Sergei Glaziev finished fifth. President Putin was first; Emergency Situations Minister Sergei Shoigu was second; Liberal Democratic Party of Russia (LDPR) leader Vladimir Zhirinovskii was third; and Moscow Mayor Yurii Luzhkov was fourth. JAC
MEDIA REPLETE WITH STORIES OF SICK CHILDREN
The head doctor of a maternity hospital in Sverdlovsk Oblast where six newborn infants recently died because of unsanitary conditions has been dismissed, Radio Rossii reported on 17 January. The hospital has had its license revoked and has been closed for cleaning. NTV reported on 17 January that dozens of children in an orphanage in Krasnoyarsk Krai have been diagnosed with dysentery. Within the last two weeks, half of the children from the municipal children's home have been hospitalized. According to the station, experts say the home should be closed completely because of "terrible violations of hygiene regulations," but nobody knows where to place the 56 orphans, since orphanages in the region are already operating at capacity. The chief doctor of a children's hospital in Blagoveshchensk in Amur Oblast told Interfax-Eurasia on 6 January that 80 percent of the students in the 10th and 11th grades in his city have some kind of illness. Clinical examinations have revealed that many of these children have two or three illnesses, including depression and diseases of the stomach and liver. JAC
IT'S A CAT'S LIFE
The Novgorod Oblast administration has raised the subsistence level for local residents to 66 rubles ($2.30) a day, RIA-Novosti reported on 17 January. "Novgorodskie vedomosti" noted that on average a British house cat costs its owner 476 pounds ($849) per year, which is almost equal to the oblast's new subsistence level. The demographic situation in the oblast is considered "difficult" because the death rate has consistently outstripped the birthrate, regions.ru reported on 19 January. In 2003, the oblast's population fell by more than 9,700. JAC
CHECHEN LEADER ENDS VISIT TO SAUDI ARABIA
On an official visit to Saudi Arabia on 15-18 January, Chechen administration head Akhmed-hadji Kadyrov visited Mecca, Interfax reported. He also in Riyadh with Crown Prince Abdallah bin Abdulaziz, government ministers, businesspeople, and Islamic Development Bank officials, Interfax reported. Kadyrov told Interfax that his hosts have little idea of the situation in Chechnya or the identities of the Islamic militants fighting on the Chechen side. He solicited Saudi investment in reconstruction in Chechnya and in the republic's oil sector. Kadyrov and Crown Prince Abdallah also discussed Saudi-Russian relations and Russia's stated desire for closer relations with the Organization of the Islamic Conference (OIC) (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 6 and 15 August and 17 October 2003). During talks on 18 January, Kadyrov and Saudi Minister for Islamic Guidance Salih al-Sheikh endorsed the idea of holding an international conference of Islamic religious leaders and members of the intelligentsia in Moscow under the rubric "Islam Is A Religion Of Peace And The Good," Interfax reported, quoting Russian Ambassador to Saudi Arabia Andrei Baklanov. LF
AZERBAIJANI COURTS PROLONG DETENTION OF OPPOSITION ACTIVISTS
A Baku district court ruled on 15 January that Musavat Party functionaries Ibrahim Ibrahimli and Sulhaddin Akper, People's Party Chairman Panakh Huseinov, and Umid Party Chairman Igbal Agazade must remain in pretrial detention for a further three months, Turan reported. The four men were arrested for their participation in the clashes in Baku on 16 October to protest the perceived falsification of the outcome of the previous day's presidential election. On 17 January, a second Baku court similarly ruled that Rauf Arifoglu, the editor of the opposition newspaper "Yeni Musavat" who is also charged with participating in the clashes with police, must also remain in detention for a further three months. The first hearings in the case of 27 people accused of participating in the post-election clashes have been scheduled for 27 January, Turan reported on 19 January. LF
IRANIAN DIPLOMAT VISITS AZERBAIJAN
Iranian Deputy Foreign Minister Mohsen Aminzadeh met in Baku on 16 January with Azerbaijani Foreign Minister Vilayat Guliev, Economic Development Minister Farkhad Aliyev, and President Ilham Aliyev, Turan and Interfax reported. Topics discussed included the North-South Transport Corridor linking the two countries with Russia and the Persian Gulf; the still unresolved legal status of the Caspian Sea; regional-security issues, including the Karabakh conflict; and planned visits scheduled for 2004 by Aliyev to Iran and Iranian President Mohammed Khatami to Azerbaijan. Aminzadeh told journalists after the talks that Tehran sees no need either for U.S. assistance to Azerbaijan in protecting its Caspian oil fields or for the creation of a NATO base in Azerbaijan. Asked when Tehran will finally give the green light for opening an Azerbaijani consulate in Tabriz, Aminzadeh declined to answer. LF
TWO FORMER SENIOR GEORGIAN OFFICIALS ARRESTED
Georgian Interior Ministry officials took former Georgian Railways Director Akaki Chkhaidze to Tbilisi on 16 January from a Batumi clinic where he was being treated for heart problems, Caucasus Press reported. Chkhaidze has been formally charged with embezzling some 700,000 laris ($324,675) and remanded in a Tbilisi prison hospital for three months' pretrial detention. He told journalists he can prove that the charges against him are fabricated. On 17 January, former Energy Minister David Mirtskhulava, who was also undergoing hospital treatment for a heart condition, was formally charged with embezzling $6.7 million, Caucasus Press reported. Newly appointed Prosecutor-General Irakli Okruashvili further accused Mirtskhulava of faking his illness. LF
ONE ASSASSINATION ATTEMPT IN GEORGIA SUCCEEDS, ANOTHER FAILS
Senior Adjar Interior Ministry official Temur Inaishvili died after being shot by an unknown gunman in Batumi on 18 January, Caucasus Press reported the following day. The unofficial Tbilisi-based Our Adjaria movement claimed on 19 January that Inaishvili was killed because he openly sympathized with the movement, which aims to force by constitutional means the resignation of the present Adjar leadership headed by Aslan Abashidze (see "RFE/RL Caucasus Report," 15 January 2004). Georgian President-elect Mikheil Saakashvili has asked Prosecutor-General Okruashvili to take under his personal control the investigation into Inaishvili's death, Caucasus Press reported on 20 January. In Tbilisi, parliament deputy (Industry Will Save Georgia) and former banker Kakha Gigulashvili was shot and seriously wounded late on 19 January, Caucasus Press reported the following day. LF
GEORGIAN, ABKHAZ OFFICIALS DISCUSS SECURITY CONCERNS
Georgian and Abkhaz government ministers met in western Georgia on 19 January with representatives of the UN Observer Mission in Georgia (UNOMIG) and of the CIS peacekeeping force to review compliance by both sides with the Protocol on Measures to Defuse Tension and Improve Security Mechanisms on the Zone of Conflict that was signed last October, Caucasus Press reported (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 9 October 2003). The two sides pledged to continue to abide by the 1994 cease-fire agreement; to refrain from any activities that could destabilize the situation in the conflict zone or negatively affect the peace process; and to instruct the law enforcement agencies of both sides to continue their cooperation and to exchange information regularly. Abkhaz Foreign Minister Sergei Shamba, who represented Abkhazia at the meeting, told Interfax on 16 January that Georgian saboteurs continue to infiltrate Abkhazia's southern-most Gali Raion. LF
DETAINEES CONFESS TO PLANNING TO KILL GEORGIAN GUERRILLA LEADER
Three men detained by police in western Georgia on 10 January have confessed that they were promised $30,000 by Abkhaz militant Volmer Butba for the murder of Dato Shengelia, leader of the Forest Brothers Georgian guerrilla group, Caucasus Press reported on 20 January (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 12 January 2004). LF
FINAL STAGE OF U.S. TRAINING PROGRAM FOR GEORGIAN MILITARY GETS UNDER WAY
The final, four-month phase of the Train and Equip program launched in the early summer of 2002 was formally inaugurated on 17 January, Caucasus Press and Interfax reported. Thirty U.S. instructors will train 267 Georgian servicemen of the 11th Motorized Brigade in the use of Russian tanks and light armored personnel carriers. U.S. Ambassador Richard Miles said that the United States will continue training for the Georgian armed forces after the initial Train and Equip program ends. LF
KAZAKHSTAN, RUSSIA PLAN MUTUAL DEFENSE
Kazakh Defense Minister Mukhtar Altynbaev and his Russian counterpart, Sergei Ivanov, signed an agreement in Moscow on 16 January committing their countries to developing a mutual defense, RIA-Novosti and other Russian media reported. The ministers told journalists that the agreement covers the establishment of joint air-defense, air force, and naval systems. Altynbaev added that Kazakhstan intends to give preference to armaments manufactured in Russia because they are less expensive and because the CIS Collective Security Organization needs to use standardized equipment. BB
UZBEK JOB SEEKERS SQUEEZING LOCALS OUT OF WEST KAZAKH JOB MARKET
Job seekers from Uzbekistan are squeezing local labor out of the job market in western Kazakhstan's Atyrau Oblast, tribune-uz.info reported on 19 January. Atyrau trade union official Kazym Batyrkhanov was quoted as warning that the oblast could face social tensions as a result. According to official figures, more than 33,000 Uzbek citizens are working in the city of Atyrau, but local authorities say that most job seekers from neighboring countries do not bother to register, so the actual number is probably much higher. The population of the city is about 160,000. Atyrau Oblast is the site of several major oil-field projects. BB
KAZAKH PRESIDENT PROMOTES INVESTMENT OPPORTUNITIES IN KAZAKHSTAN AT UAE BUSINESS FORUM
Nursultan Nazarbaev arrived in the United Arab Emirates on 18 January on an official visit and the same day took part in a business forum in Abu Dhabi to promote investment opportunities in Kazakhstan, khabar.kz and gazeta.kz reported on 20 January. On 19 January, Nazarbaev met with representatives of the Dubai International Financial Center to discuss investment in Kazakhstan. In meetings with UAE officials and local business representatives, Nazarbaev urged the expansion of trade between the two countries. BB
KYRGYZ PARLIAMENT CHAIRMAN REJECTS ASSERTION THAT PARLIAMENTARIANS PLANTED BUGS THEMSELVES
Abdygany Erkebaev, the chairman of the lower house of the Kyrgyz parliament, condemned on 19 January National Security Committee Chairman Kalyk Imankulov's assertion that listening devices found in some parliamentarians' offices the previous week (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 15 and 16 January 2004) were planted by the parliamentarians themselves to embarrass the government, akipress.org reported. Erkebaev said that Imankulov's statement was "unethical." After lively parliamentary discussions of the bugging scandal on 15 and 16 January, including the questioning of Imankulov, Erkebaev said that three versions have emerged. Either, some parliamentarians were bugging others, or the security service planted the devices, or the bugging was done by foreign security services. Erkebaev rejected the suggestion that commercial interests were spying on parliamentarians. BB
KYRGYZ PRESIDENT APPEALS FOR UNOFFICIAL BAN ON EARLY ELECTION CAMPAIGNING
Askar Akaev has proposed an unofficial ban on what he called a "premature" election campaign, akipress.org reported on 19 January. The president, speaking to a group of Bishkek residents, also called for an unofficial ban on high-ranking officials organizing political parties and events. Presidential and parliamentary elections are scheduled for 2005, but some political parties -- pro-government and opposition alike -- have already begun preparing by merging or forming blocs and discussing potential presidential candidates. Some opposition figures say they believe the elections will be moved forward in order to catch the opposition unprepared. BB
TAJIK PRESIDENT CONTINUES GOVERNMENT SHAKE-UP
Imomali Rakhmonov on 19 January continued the government shake-up he started in December (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 15 and 16 December 2003), RIA-Novosti and Interfax reported. Presidential spokesman Abdufatokh Sharipov explained the changes as eliminating unnecessary bureaucracy and bringing younger people into the government. In the 19 January round of changes, Nigina Sharopova was replaced as deputy prime minister by Khairinisso Mavlonova, and Energy Minister Abdullo Yerov was replaced by Dzhurabek Nurmakhmadov. Nurmakhmadov is the former head of the Barki Tojik Holding Company, which has been transferred to the Energy Ministry. State Television and Radio Chairman Ubaidullo Radzhabov was replaced by Abdudzhabbor Rakhmonov, who previously headed the culture department of the president's office. The state airline has been removed from the Transportation Ministry's control and turned into an independent state company in order to make the civil-aviation sector more efficient. BB
UZBEK AMNESTY FREES MOST WOMEN SENTENCED FOR RELIGIOUS EXTREMISM
An amnesty declared by Uzbek President Islam Karimov at the beginning of December 2003 to mark the 11th anniversary of the Uzbek Constitution (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 3 December 2003) has freed 21 of the 24 Muslim women known to have been convicted of religious extremism between 1997 and 2001, centrasia.ru reported on 19 January, citing the Independent Human Rights Organization of Uzbekistan. All 21 -- who had been sentenced to from three to 16 years' imprisonment -- were all reportedly released by 17 January. According to the human rights group, it remains unclear why the three women who are still imprisoned were not freed. BB
BELARUSIAN COURT LEVIES HEAVY FINE AGAINST OPPOSITION ACTIVIST
A district judge in Minsk has imposed a fine of 4.37 million rubles ($2,000) on opposition activist Aksana Novikava for staging an unsanctioned protest in 2003, Belapan reported on 16 January. Novikava was arrested on 24 November while trying to lead a group of antigovernment protesters in downtown Minsk. Novikava refused to testify at her trial, saying she has no confidence in judges appointed by President Alyaksandr Lukashenka. "I am not going to pay the fine, which is a truly fantastic sum," she told Belapan. Novikava is unemployed and has a two-year-old daughter. Novikava received a two-year, suspended sentence in April for distributing leaflets that the court deemed defamatory of Lukashenka. Novikava is expected to stand trial later this month in connection with an unsanctioned demonstration in December. JM
RUSSIA'S NTV NETWORK TO REOPEN OFFICE IN MINSK
The Belarusian Ministry of Information and Russia's NTV television network have signed an agreement providing for the reopening of an NTV bureau in Minsk on 1 February, Belapan reported on 19 January, quoting Russian news agencies. Belarusian authorities closed down the office in July, charging that the station slandered the government in Minsk in coverage of Belarusian writer Vasil Bykau's funeral in June. The Belarusian Interior Ministry subsequently expelled NTV correspondent Pavel Selin, and President Alyaksandr Lukashenka demanded apologies for the report from NTV's management (see RFE/RL Newsline," 30 June and 9 July 2003). JM
UKRAINIAN PRESIDENT SAID TO BE READY TO DISCUSS POLITICAL REFORM WITH OPPOSITION
Stepan Havrysh, coordinator of the pro-government majority in the Verkhovna Rada, told Interfax on 19 January that President Leonid Kuchma has agreed to pursue compromises regarding political reform through roundtable talks with opposition leaders (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 14, 15, and 16 January 2004). Havrysh was commenting on Kuchma's meeting with leaders of the parliamentary majority earlier the same day. He added that Kuchma will meet with opposition leaders on condition that they undertake specific commitments regarding a vote on political reform. Havrysh said majority leaders did not discuss Kuchma's possible participation in the 2004 presidential election in their meeting. JM
RUSSIAN GROUPS IN CRIMEA BACK RE-ELECTION OF UKRAINIAN PRESIDENT
The Congress of Russian Communities of Crimea has urged President Kuchma to run in this year's presidential election, Interfax reported on 19 January. "Any change in the top state leadership at this historical stage will upset the system of succession of Ukraine's domestic- and foreign-policy courses," the congress said in a statement. The Ukrainian Constitutional Court ruled on 30 December 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 Poland, Belarus, and Ukraine Report," 20 January 2004). JM
RALLY IN KYIV RECALLS OLD UNION WITH RUSSIA, URGES NEW ONE
More than 1,000 people took part in a rally organized by the Progressive Socialist Party and the Russian Bloc in Kyiv on 17 January to commemorate the 350th anniversary of the Treaty of Pereyaslav, whereby Ukrainian Cossacks allied with Moscow against Poland. Participants in the rally called for the unification of the three countries that formed the Slavic core of the former Soviet Union: Russia, Ukraine, and Belarus. JM
REPRESENTATIVES OF BALTIC PARLIAMENTARY FOREIGN-AFFAIRS COMMITTEES MEET IN TALLINN
Delegations from the Latvian and Lithuanian parliamentary foreign-affairs committees, headed by Inese Vaidere and Gediminas Kirkilas, respectively, held talks with their Estonian counterparts in Tallinn on 19 January, BNS reported. The lawmakers primarily discussed the elections to the European Parliament, Baltic cooperation following the three states' accession to the EU in May, and relations with Russia. The Latvian and Lithuanian deputies asked Estonian European Commission candidate Siim Kallas (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 16 January 2004) how he foresees his work in the commission. They also met with Estonian parliament speaker Ene Ergma, Foreign Minister Kristiina Ojuland, and members of parliament's National Defense Committee. SG
LATVIA POSTS LOWER-THAN-EXPECTED PUBLIC-BUDGET DEFICIT
The State Treasury announced on 19 January that the 2003 public budget, consisting of the state and municipal budgets, had a deficit of 103.1 million lats ($190 million), or 1.8 percent of GDP, BNS and LETA reported. Finance Minister Valdis Dombrovskis expressed satisfaction with the results, as the planned deficit was 169 million lats. He said the lower deficit is primarily due to the improved tax collection of 2.11 billion lats, commenting that "revenues from the fuel excise tax have grown 27 percent and we all know that it was not due to people taking 20 percent longer car rides." The collection of value-added taxes (VAT) increased by nearly 20 percent to 459 million lats compared to 2002, and social-security tax receipts rose by 7 percent to 574 million lats. Revenues from corporate-income taxes fell because the tax rate was lowered from 22 to 19 percent, as did the tax on natural resources due to tax breaks for recycling. SG
LITHUANIAN PRESIDENT FINALLY FORMS TEAM OF SENIOR ADVISERS
Rolandas Paksas presented advisers to the presidential office at a press conference on 19 January -- more than two months after asking their predecessors to resign (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 13 November 2003), "Kauno diena" reported the next day. Former Ambassador to Latvia Petras Vaitiekumas, who was delegated to the post by the Foreign Ministry, replaced Alvydas Medalinskas as foreign-policy adviser. Romualdas Senovaitis will replace Remigijus Acas as national-security adviser and Milda Vainiute will serve as the president's legal-affairs adviser, replacing Ona Buisiene. Jonas Ragauskas, who resigned but later returned as economic adviser, was assigned the additional tasks of covering domestic affairs. Paksas called on politicians and the media not to use the term "diplomatic isolation" to describe the situation resulting from the postponement of foreign dignitaries' visits to Lithuania and Paksas's visits as the president's possible impeachment is being considered. Paksas said the term "does not reflect the real situation" and could be used to describe the situations in North Korea or Libya, but not a country that will join the EU and NATO this year. SG
POLAND, UKRAINE SIGN ACCORD ON EXTENSION OF ODESA-BRODY PIPELINE
The deputy prime ministers of Poland and Ukraine signed an accord in Warsaw on 16 January on the creation of a joint venture to extend the Odesa-Brody oil pipeline to Plock in northern Poland, Polish Television reported. Under the accord, the construction of a 556-kilometer extension will begin in the second half of 2004 and be completed in 2005. "This undertaking has enormous significance for the government of Ukraine and will positively influence cooperation with the European Union," Ukrainian Deputy Prime Minister Andriy Klyuyev said at the signing ceremony, attended by his Polish counterpart Marek Pol. "This is a strategic step." The plan for the extension has the support of the European Commission. Ukraine built the Odesa-Brody pipeline with the intention of pumping Caspian oil to Europe. JM
POLISH RULING PARTY'S PARLIAMENTARY CAUCUS ELECTS NEW LEADER
The parliamentary caucus of the Democratic Left Alliance (SLD) elected Interior Minister Jerzy Janik as its new leader on 19 January, PAP reported. Janik replaces Jerzy Jaskiernia, who resigned earlier the same day. Some recent media reports have linked Jaskiernia's name to incidents of suspected bribery, although no such allegations have been confirmed (see "RFE/RL Poland, Belarus, and Ukraine Report," 2 December 2003). JM
CZECH FOREIGN MINISTER ENDS TOUR OF MIDDLE EAST
Foreign Minister Cyril Svoboda ended his tour of Middle Eastern countries with a meeting in Cairo with Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak and Arab League Secretary-General Amr Moussa on 18 January, CTK reported. Talks focused on the Israeli-Palestinian conflict and ways to promote a peaceful solution. Svoboda met in Ramallah on 17 January with Palestinian Authority Chairman Yasser Arafat, who urged him to pressure Israel to help end the current impasse, according to dpa. CTK cited Svoboda as saying after his talks with Arafat that the Palestinian leadership must act decisively to curb terrorism aimed at Israel. MS
CZECH WEEKLY'S EDITOR HOSPITALIZED AFTER ATTACK
Police have launched a search for two men suspected of having brutally attacked "Respekt" Editor in Chief Tomas Nemecek near his home on 16 January, CTK and dpa reported. The attackers reportedly sprayed Nemecek with tear gas, struck him in the head with a club, and kicked and beat him in the face and upper body. He is expected to spend a week in the hospital, according to CTK. Nemecek said he believes the attack was triggered by an article in "Respekt" dealing with crime gangs in the northern Bohemian cities of Litvinov and Most. "We live in a postcommunist country whose powerful elite for years have increasingly talked about journalists in such terms as useless 'dung' or 'scum,' in which politicians publicly express their desire to destroy inconvenient media," Erik Tabery wrote in a "Respekt" commentary on 19 January. "An attack like this cannot be particularly surprising in such an atmosphere." CTK reported that the case represents the 12th attack or planned attack on a journalist in the Czech Republic since 1997. MS
SLOVAK PRESIDENT VISITS EGYPT
Visiting Slovak President Rudolf Schuster met with President Hosni Mubarak on 19 January during a three-day visit to Egypt, discussing the Middle East peace process and bilateral economic cooperation, TASR and CTK reported. The two men agreed that a cessation of violence on all sides is a precondition for embarking on the road to peace between Israel and the Palestinians. They also agreed that a group of Egyptian businesspeople will visit Slovakia soon in an effort to strengthen commercial ties between the two countries and examine ways to facilitate exports to third countries. MS
SLOVAK COMMUNISTS WILL NOT FIELD CANDIDATE IN PRESIDENTIAL ELECTION
The opposition Communist Party of Slovakia (KSS) on 17 January decided against running a candidate of its own in the presidential election slated for 3 April, TASR reported. KSS Central Committee Secretary Ladislav Jaca told the agency that the party will leave its members to decide individually which candidate to support in the first round. If no winner emerges from that round, the KSS will make a recommendation to its members for the runoff. The party leadership also decided that parliamentary deputy Karol Fajor will head the KSS lists in the June elections to the European Parliament. MS
HUNGARIAN UNIVERSITY OFFICIALLY SET UP IN SLOVAKIA
The Hungarian-language Janos Selye University was officially established in the southwestern Slovak city of Komarno on 17 January, CTK and TASR reported. The Slovak parliament approved the establishment of the university last year. The first 300 students will be enrolled in the fall, with plans for an enrollment of 2,000 students within five years. The university is expected to house three departments: economics, theology, and pedagogy for Hungarian schools. MS
NEW HUNGARIAN FINANCE MINISTER TO HAVE ADDITIONAL DUTIES
Prime Minister Peter Medgyessy told reporters on 19 January that incoming Finance Minister Tibor Draskovics will also be responsible for coordinating national economic policy, "Magyar Hirlap" reported the next day. Draskovics, who is expected to be sworn in on 15 February, will oversee reforms that are necessary to ensure the country's long-term economic growth, Medgyessy said. Ildiko Lendvai, parliamentary group leader of the ruling Socialist Party, said her caucus plans to cooperate closely with Draskovics, the daily said. Draskovics, who is not a member of any political party, has vowed to consult his Socialist Party colleagues before any key economic and financial reforms are implemented. He also pledged no cuts to infrastructure programs and that no EU subsidies will be lost because of the cuts, which are aimed at curbing yawning fiscal deficits. MSZ
BRITISH OFFICIALS REPORTEDLY FEAR INDICTED BOSNIAN SERB WAR CRIMINAL MIGHT NEVER BE BROUGHT TO JUSTICE
London's "The Times" of 20 January quoted unnamed British officials as saying they fear that indicted Bosnian Serb war criminal Radovan Karadzic might never be brought to justice unless NATO carries out a "serious intelligence-led effort" to catch him before the Atlantic alliance's mandate in Bosnia runs out later in 2004. The officials dismissed SFOR's recent attempts to find Karadzic in the Pale area as a "public-relations show" (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 16 January 2004). One unnamed source said that "at the moment, it is really only the Americans and the British taking part in the hunt.... The French, who in the past were accused of tipping off the Serbs about NATO operations, are still regarded with suspicion by other allies, and key intelligence on the manhunt is withheld from them." Referring to the case of indicted war criminal and former Bosnian Serb General Ratko Mladic, an unnamed "Whitehall source" told the daily that "whatever government emerges in Belgrade, it is clear that it will be even harder than before to get them to cooperate in catching war criminals, like Mladic," whom officials of the Hague-based war crimes tribunal say is living in Serbia under official protection. PM
WAS THERE A LINK BETWEEN SERBIAN LEADER'S ASSASSINATION AND PLANS TO ARREST AN INDICTED WAR CRIMINAL?
Carla Del Ponte, who is the chief prosecutor of the Hague-based war crimes tribunal, told the Brussels daily "La Libre Belgique" of 17 January that Serbian Prime Minister Zoran Djindjic promised her shortly before his 12 March assassination that he intended to arrest General Mladic, RFE/RL's South Slavic and Albanian Languages Service reported (see "RFE/RL Balkan Report," 28 March, 9 May, and 12 December 2003 and 9 January 2004). Del Ponte added that two weeks before he was killed, Djindjic told her that his plans to reform the police and army were almost complete and that she would "have Mladic in the spring." The prosecutor stressed that the situation in Belgrade has been in disarray since the assassination. She also told the daily that she believes unnamed Croatian officials are protecting that country's most prominent indicted war criminal, General Ante Gotovina, who is at large. Both the Serbian and Croatian governments deny that any of their officials are protecting indicted war criminals. PM
MACEDONIAN GROUPS CHARGE THAT PRESIDENT SUPPORTS HOMOPHOBIA
In response to a statement by Macedonian President Boris Trajkovski in which he slammed a U.S. and Swedish sponsored "Face the Reality" campaign to improve the rights of sexual minorities, the Skopje-based NGO Center for Civil and Human Rights charged that Trajkovski is helping spread homophobia, "Utrinski vesnik" reported on 20 January. Trajkovski previously told the U.S.-based "National Review Online" (http://www.nationalreview.com) of 6 January that he was appalled to see that the U.S. Embassy would sponsor such a campaign. "U.S. taxpayer funds should not be used to promote alternative lifestyles in my country, and I do not believe that most Americans would appreciate this," Trajkovski said. "We have many more pressing issues that the money could be used for." The president, who is a Protestant, stressed that the campaign is "deeply offensive to most people in Macedonia, which represents a very conservative mix of the Orthodox Christian and Muslim faiths." A 2002 opinion poll sponsored by the Macedonian Helsinki Committee and the Open Society foundation showed that 64 percent of respondents believe that homosexuality is a disease, 60 percent consider it "immoral," and nearly 35 percent want it to be punishable by law. UB
IS SERBIA MOVING TOWARD A MINORITY GOVERNMENT?
Vojislav Kostunica, who heads the Democratic Party of Serbia (DSS), said in Belgrade on 19 January that officials of his party will meet soon with their counterparts from the G-17 Plus political party, the Serbian Renewal Movement (SPO), and the New Serbia party to finalize plans to form a minority Serbian government, RFE/RL's South Slavic and Albanian Languages Service reported (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 16 January 2004 and "RFE/RL Balkan Report," 9 January 2004). He added that the proposed governing coalition will offer the Democratic Party a cooperation agreement according to which the Democrats would support the minority government in the parliament in return for unspecified posts in the joint government and parliament of Serbia and Montenegro. Media reports suggest that the Democratic Party remains divided on its future course of action. Some leaders are willing to accept Kostunica's proposal, while others want their party either to enter the government or to join the opposition. PM
ALBANIAN POLICE DETAIN WOULD-BE MIGRANTS
Albanian police officials announced in Tirana on 19 January that police recently detained 24 Kosovars who planned to sail illegally from Durres to Italy, RFE/RL's South Slavic and Albanian Languages Service reported (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 12 and 15 January 2004). The Kosovars held valid passports issued by the UN civilian authority in Kosova (UNMIK), Serbia and Montenegro, or Croatia, but with forged German or French visas. It is not clear when or under what circumstances the police detained the Kosovars. PM
CNS AUTONOMY PROPOSAL CREATES UPROAR IN ROMANIA
Meeting in Sfantu-Gheorghe on 17 January, the Szekler National Council (SZNT in Hungarian, CNS in Romanian) approved a draft-law proposal regarding the autonomy of lands inhabited by the Szeklers, a group within the Hungarian minority in Romania, Mediafax reported the next day. The draft provides for the election of a president of the Szekler lands to serve a four-year mandate, a local council serving as parliament, and a police force serving under the local council. Prosecutors and judges are to be bilingual in Romanian and Hungarian and to reflect the demographics of the region. The draft is to be presented to the Romanian parliament in early February. Interior Minister and Social Democratic Party (PSD) Deputy Chairman Ioan Rus was quoted on 19 January by the daily "Evenimentul zilei" as saying that only institutions mentioned in the Romanian Constitution can function in that country. PSD Covasna County Chairman Vlad Casunean said the CNS is entitled to have its own government, parliament, "and even its own territory -- but in Hungary." The opposition National Liberal Party-Democratic Party Alliance also criticized the proposal. MS
ROMANIAN POPULAR ACTION PARTY ACCUSES INTERIOR MINISTER OF MONEY LAUNDERING
Popular Action spokesman Mugur Ciuvica on 18 January told journalists that Interior Minister Rus is a member of a network engaged in tax evasion and exporting profits to offshore companies, the dailies "Evenimentul zilei" and "Ziua" reported the next day. Ciuvica said the illegal money trafficking is facilitated by companies selling automobiles in Romania, and that Rus is a member of those companies' administrative boards. He said the losses to the state budget amount to "tens of millions of euros." Rus denied any wrongdoing. MS
ILIESCU MULLS OVER AUSTRIAN PROPOSAL TO BUILD PRISON IN ROMANIA
During his one-day visit to Vienna on 18 January, President Ion Iliescu discussed with Chancellor Wolfgang Schuessel and members of his cabinet a proposal to build in Romania a prison for Romanian citizens sentenced in Austria, Mediafax reported. Iliescu said the Austrian proposal would serve both Romanian and Austrian interests, as the costs per prisoner in Romania are considerably lower and the country suffers from overcrowded jails. Justice Minister Rodica Stanoiu, who accompanied Iliescu on his visit, said a similar agreement was signed with Italy last year and is in the course of being implemented. MS
TIRASPOL PRISONER ENDS HUNGER STRIKE
Tiraspol prisoner Andrei Ivantoc, a member of the so-called "Ilascu group" imprisoned by the separatist authorities, has agreed to end his hunger strike following a visit he received from an International Red Cross medical team, RFE/RL's Romania-Moldova Service reported on 16 January (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 7, 8, and 14 January 2004). Ivantoc's wife, Eudochia, told RFE/RL that she accompanied the Red Cross delegation to Tiraspol, but the separatist authorities did not agree to allow her to see her husband. The delegation urged Ivantoc to end his hunger strike, saying his state of health was "critical." MS
U.S. ENVOY MEETS WITH MOLDOVAN PRESIDENT
Rudolf Perina, U.S. special negotiator on Eurasian issues, met in Chisinau with President Vladimir Voronin on 19 January to discuss ways to accelerate the settlement of the Transdniester conflict, Infotag reported. Unidentified sources cited by the agency indicated that the meeting is directly related to next week's planned meeting in Sofia, Bulgaria, of representatives of the three mediators -- the OSCE, Russia, and Ukraine. They are to discuss the possible resumption of negotiations between Chisinau and Tiraspol. Bulgarian Foreign Minister Solomon Pasi recently became the OSCE's chairman in office. MS
FORMER MOLDOVAN OFFICIALS RECEIVE SUSPENDED SENTENCES
The Supreme Court on 16 January sentenced General Nicolae Alexei, former head of the Interior Ministry's department for combating organized crime (1999-2000), to a suspended five-year prison sentence for abuse of office, Flux and Infotag reported. Alexei's former deputy, Anatol Tincu, was sentenced to a three-year suspended sentence on the same charges. Alexei is a parliamentary representative for the opposition Popular Party Christian Democratic (PPCD). However, the sentence means that neither of the men may serve in public office until the terms of their suspensions are over. MS
TELERADIO MOLDOVA DECIDES 'GOOD MORNING' CAN STAY FOR NOW
Iurie Tabarta, chairman of the Council of Observers that oversees Teleradio Moldova broadcasts, said on 16 January that the "Good Morning" program will remain on air despite the Teleradio Moldova Administrative Council's decision to suspend the show as of 19 January, Flux reported (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 16 January 2003). Tabarta said the Council of Observers alone is empowered to decide on the suspensions of television programs, adding that it is currently evaluating all of the station's television programs. MS
FORMER BULGARIAN PREMIER SAYS PRESIDENT LIED ABOUT KARBALA
Former Prime Minister Ivan Kostov of the conservative opposition Union of Democratic Forces (SDS) on 19 January accused President Georgi Parvanov of misleading the public regarding the threat of a terrorist attack against the Bulgarian contingent in Iraq, BTA reported. Kostov claims that Bulgarian and foreign intelligence services warned the president's Consultative Council on National Security of a possible terrorist attack in Karbala, Iraq, about 10 days before five Bulgarian soldiers stationed in that city were killed in a suicide bombing on 27 December. Kostov alleged Parvanov issued a statement saying there was no concrete threat of an attack in Karbala despite receiving information to the contrary (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 29 December 2003; 8, 9, 13, 15, and 16 January 2004; and End Note below). UB
FOUR DIE IN SOFIA BOMB BLAST
Four people were killed on 19 January when a bomb went off in an elevator at the headquarters of the Bul Ins insurance company in central Sofia, the "Sofia Morning News" reported. Authorities say the explosion was part of a series of underworld slayings. General Boyko Borisov, who coordinates the country's police services, said that the explosion might have been prevented had a Sofia court not decided in December to release Anton Miltenov (aka Klyuna), who was accused of ordering the killing of a drug dealer, vsekiden.com reported (see End Note, "RFE/RL Newsline," 5 September; and "RFE/RL Newsline," 9 December 2003. UB
BULGARIA'S TROUBLE WITH IRAQ
When the question arose of Bulgaria's participation in any military operation in Iraq, the government of Prime Minister Simeon Saxecoburggotski had to balance the country's interests -- mainly the repayment of the $1.7 billion Iraqi debt -- with the conflicting interests of its allies in the United States and in Europe (especially France and Germany). In the end, and despite domestic resistance -- mainly from the opposition Socialist Party (BSP) and from President Georgi Parvanov, who belongs to that party -- the government decided last May to deploy troops to Iraq.
In late August, the 500-strong Bulgarian contingent arrived in that war-torn country, where it was stationed in the city of Karbala and placed under Polish command. But due to a series of open questions and controversies between the government and the opposition, as well as misunderstandings among the coalition forces, the troop deployment remained on the political agenda at home.
Shortly after the troops arrived in Iraq, the first misunderstandings surfaced between the Polish command and the Bulgarian Army leadership concerning the exact duties of the Bulgarian contingent in Karbala. While the Bulgarian Army had expected to concentrate merely on guarding and policing tasks, the contingent's commander was named the city's military commander. This meant that he was not only in charge of the Bulgarian troops, but also of the civilian administration in the central Iraqi city.
At the time, BSP Chairman Sergey Stanishev protested that there was no clear definition of the tasks the Bulgarian contingent was expected to fulfill. He accused the government of having failed to meet its responsibilities during negotiations over Bulgaria's participation in the stabilization of Iraq. And when the army leadership, the government, and the president discussed the deployment of civilian specialists who were to help create a civilian administration, a BSP spokesman said his party would not agree to such plans.
In the meantime, the army prepared a replacement contingent. But in late November, the newspaper "Bulgarska armiya" reported that the army was experiencing difficulties in finding volunteers for the second contingent. Chief of General Staff General Nikola Kolev confirmed this information in mid-December, but declined to give any figures. Initially, most politicians ignored that information. However, when suicide bombers killed five Bulgarian and two Thai soldiers and wounded dozens of others in Karbala on 27 December, a new controversy erupted in Sofia.
After stressing Bulgaria's firm commitment to the war on terrorism despite the tragic incident and observing a day of mourning, the country's leading figures proceeded to address a number of questions regarding Bulgaria's military engagement in Iraq.
During a meeting on 8 January, the military and political leadership discussed the incident and possible consequences under the auspices of President Parvanov. In his opening address, Parvanov demanded that a parliamentary commission investigate the Karbala attacks and also raised a number of questions regarding the assessment of the security situation in Karbala. Among these, after accusations were leveled that the Polish command neglected safety measures in Karbala, was communication among coalition forces.
As Parvanov said after the meeting, the participants --including Prime Minister Simeon Saxecoburggotski, Defense Minister Nikolay Svinarov, and high-ranking members of the General Staff -- agreed that the legal basis for troop deployments abroad must be reviewed, and that more financial means must be made available not only for equipment, but also for the social and welfare benefits of soldiers serving abroad and their families.
At the same time, the effects of the suicide attacks could be felt in the army. On 2 January, Kolev admitted on Radio Horizont that "between 25 and 30 soldiers have declined duty [in Iraq], probably as a result of pressure from their families." As it turned out, the soldiers, who had initially volunteered, backed out not only because of the increased risk, but also, as the daily "Sega" reported, due to the lack of suitable equipment. As a result, Svinarov announced on 6 January that in the future, professional soldiers will be obligated to participate in any troop deployment if called upon to do so. To date, the contingent is made up of volunteers.
The army leadership also faced demands for increased per diem allowances, which it eventually agreed upon, albeit not to the extent the soldiers had asked for. By coincidence, the Defense Ministry simultaneously received a letter in which about one-half of the troops stationed in Karbala demanded that their per diem allowances be raised to 100 euros ($128) per day. The soldiers explained that demand in terms of the increased psychological pressure and deteriorating security situation in Iraq. The next day, those soldiers apologized, saying they did not know about the pay raise the government had already approved.
As things stand, Bulgaria's political and military leaders seem to understand the need to rethink their deployment policy. While the current policy seems to have worked well for contingents participating in true peacekeeping operations such as those in which Bulgaria participated in Bosnia, Kosova, and Cambodia, it apparently is not suited for missions that carry more combat risk, such as that in Iraq.
11 AFGHAN CIVILIANS REPORTED KILLED IN BOMBING BLAMED ON U.S.
Eleven civilians, including four children and three women, were killed in a bombing raid by U.S. warplanes in the Chahar Chino district of the central Afghan province of Oruzgan on 18 January, international news agencies reported. Chahar Chino district head Abdul Rahman claimed to Pakistan-based Afghan Islamic Press on 19 January that "U.S. soldiers, accompanied by people from Khost [Province] and [ethnic] Hazaras, searched Saghtu village,... [prompting residents to flee] to the bank of the river, where they were bombed by American aircraft." Abdul Rahman added that his side contacted U.S. forces, who he said accepted responsibility for "their mistake." However, a spokesman for U.S. forces in Afghanistan, Lieutenant Colonel Bryan Hilferty, said he has no information about either the raid on Chahar Chino or the reported civilian casualties, the BBC reported on 19 January. On 20 January, AP quoted Hilferty as saying that five armed militants were killed in an aerial attack in the town of Deh Rawud in Oruzgan, about 40 kilometers south of Saghtu. AT
WHOOPING COUGH KILLS 16 AFGHAN CHILDREN
An outbreak of whooping cough (pertussis) in the Khawahan District of the northeastern Afghan province of Badakhshan has resulted in the deaths of 16 children, the Kabul-based daily "Anis" reported on 17 January. Many children in the area have developed serious respiratory illnesses as a result of low temperatures since 12 January, "Anis" added. Public-health officials in Badakhshan have said a lack of medicine, health facilities, and doctors are to blame for the deaths. More than 60 Afghan children died in January 2003 as a result of an outbreak of whooping cough in Badakhshan (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 6 January 2003). AT
TWO AFGHAN SOLDIERS AND THREE SUSPECTED NEO-TALIBAN KILLED IN KANDAHAR
Two soldiers loyal to the Afghan Transitional Administration (ATA) and three suspected neo-Taliban were killed in the village of Weish in the southern Kandahar Province on 17 January, Hindukosh news agency reported the next day. The soldiers were reportedly attacked on a road to the district of Khakrez by a group of 40 neo-Taliban. AT
AFGHAN LEADER REGISTERS TO VOTE, URGES OTHERS TO DO THE SAME
ATA Chairman Hamid Karzai registered to vote on 18 January and urged all of Afghanistan's eligible voters to do the same, Afghanistan Television reported. When asked whether the presidential election can be held according to a June deadline, Karzai said the ATA is doing its best, the station reported. "People are eager to register" to vote, he added. If the ATA "succeeded in providing facilities for" Afghans to register and vote, Karzai said he is sure that all 10.5 million eligible voters would vote. Regarding the security problems that observers including UN Secretary-General Kofi Annan (see "RFE/RL Afghanistan Report," 8 January 2004) have suggested might hamper the registration and voting processes, Karzai said the Transitional Administration is "trying to provide grounds for free and transparent voting without any fear or pressure." "This can be done, if there is security," which the ATA will do its utmost to ensure, he added. AT
IRAN TO STRENGTHEN BORDER SECURITY
Iranian police chief Brigadier General Mohammad Baqer Qalibaf said at a 19 January security seminar in Tehran that Iran has land and sea borders with some 15 countries, "but, in many areas only one side of the borders are under control," IRNA reported. The chief of the border patrol, Colonel Behnam Shariati-Far, added that security along the frontiers has deteriorated since the liberations of Afghanistan and Iraq, and he said that smuggling and illegal border crossings are the main problems. In Zaranj, a city in southwestern Afghanistan's Nimruz Province, Iranian Ambassador Mohammad Reza Bahrami said on 19 January that Iran plans to build five checkpoints along the shared border there, Iranian state radio's Pashtu service reported. BS
TEHRAN REFOCUSES COUNTERNARCOTICS APPROACH
Ali Hashemi, secretary-general of Iran's Drug Control Headquarters (DCHQ), said at a ceremony in Kerman Province on 19 January marking the recent seizure of four tons of narcotics that Iran's counternarcotics approach over the last 24 years has been one-dimensional and impractical, IRNA reported. Although Iran has directed its efforts at interdiction, Hashemi said that Iran needs to learn from the international approach, which focuses more on treatment and the reduction of vulnerability. The lowest proportion of drug-control spending went to treatment and prevention, he said, and "over 90 percent of expenditures by the government in its antidrug campaign has been ineffective." Hashemi went on to say that, for the first time in Iran's history, only 40 percent of the counternarcotics budget will go to interdiction while 60 percent of the budget will go to "cultural, educational, and precautionary measures." Hashemi said 160 metric tons of narcotics was seized in the first three quarters of the Iranian year (which began on 21 March 2003), and this is 40 percent more than in the same period one year earlier. He attributed the higher figure to increased trafficking and to improved policing. Iran's leads the world in seizures of opiates, and Afghanistan is the world's leading opium producer (see "RFE/RL Iran Report," 15 August and 3 November 2003 and http://www.unodc.org/unodc/global_illicit_drug_trends.html and http://www.unodc.org/pdf/afg/afghanistan_opium_survey_2003.pdf). BS
IRAN'S GUARDIANS COUNCIL REINSTATES SOME CANDIDATES
Mohammad Jahromi, who is in charge of election affairs at the Guardians Council, said on 19 January that the files of some of the disqualified prospective candidates for the February parliamentary election have been examined and they have been reinstated, Fars News Agency reported. In other cases, the initial opinions of the supervisory boards that led to their disqualifications have been confirmed, he said. The files relating to Hormozgan, Kurdistan, Semnan, Sistan va Baluchistan, and Tehran provinces have been examined, Jahromi said. He added that the Guardians Council has received 3,125 complaints, 1,830 from disqualified candidates and the remainder from individuals whose credentials could not be confirmed. The anonymous head of the Supervisory Board in Kohkiluyeh va Boirahmad Province said on 19 January that the qualifications of many disqualified prospective candidates have been approved. The names have not been finalized yet, he said, and they will be informed soon. BS
IRANIAN PRESIDENT RETURNS TO SWITZERLAND
President Hojatoleslam Mohammad Khatami and Foreign Minister Kamal Kharrazi arrived in Zurich on 19 January for a four-day visit to Switzerland, IRNA reported. Khatami is expected to deliver an address at the opening of the World Economic Forum in Davos, which is scheduled to take place on 21-25 January. Khatami said that officials in charge of the Davos forum "insisted" that he attend when they met during Khatami's previous visit to Switzerland (see "RFE/RL Iran Report," 15 December 2003), state television reported. "The visit will create an opportunity to meet world political, economic and cultural authorities without formalities and diplomatic procedure," Khatami also said, according to state television. According to IRNA, Khatami's visit came at the invitation of Swiss President Joseph Deiss. Deiss visited Tehran when he was foreign minister (see "RFE/RL Iran Report," 4 November 2002). Iranian-Swiss trade has increased recently, with Swiss exports to Iran in 2002 totaling more than $379 million, according to IRNA. The two sides have also signed recent agreements addressing double taxation and investment protection, the agency reported. BS
CPA, IRAQI GOVERNING COUNCIL MEMBERS MEET WITH UN SECRETARY-GENERAL
Coalition Provisional Authority (CPA) officials L. Paul Bremer and Sir Jeremy Greenstock and a delegation of Iraqi Governing Council members met at UN headquarters in New York on 19 January with UN Secretary-General Kofi Annan to discuss the UN's future role in Iraq, RFE/RL reported. "Both the Governing Council and the CPA representatives have expressed a strong wish that the UN should quickly send a technical mission to Iraq to advise on the feasibility of elections within the next few months and, if not, what alternatives might be possible," Annan told reporters after the meeting. Annan said he will consider the request. Bremer meanwhile told reporters that should Annan send a team to assess the possibility of holding direct elections before June, the Iraqi Governing Council will work closely with the UN team, providing them with security and technical assistance. KR
TENS OF THOUSANDS DEMONSTRATE IN BAGHDAD FOR DIRECT ELECTIONS...
As many as 100,000 Iraqis took part in a peaceful demonstration in Baghdad on 19 January to demand immediate direct elections in Iraq, international media reported. A representative of Shi'ite Grand Ayatollah Ali al-Sistani conveyed a message from the ayatollah, who has demanded direct elections, rejecting an agreed upon plan by the Iraqi Governing Council and the coalition for elections based on a caucus system. "The sons of the Iraqi people demand a political system based on direct elections and a constitution that realizes justice and equality for everyone," AP quoted al-Sistani's representative Hashim al-Awad as saying. A smaller protest took place on 20 January in Baghdad. Some 30,000 Iraqis demonstrated for direct elections in the southern Iraqi city of Al-Basrah on 15 January. KR
...AS SHI'ITES SAY DEMONSTRATIONS TO CONTINUE
Tahir al-Asadi, a spokesman for Iraqi Shi'ite cleric Muqtada al-Sadr, has told Al-Jazeera television that the 19 January demonstration was organized by the leading Shi'ite groups; the Supreme Council for the Islamic Revolution in Iraq (SCIRI) and its armed wing, the Badr Corps; and the Islamic Al-Da'wah party. Sunni Muslims also reportedly took part in the demonstration. Sunni and Shi'ite prayer leaders across Iraq threatened during 16 January Friday prayers to continue to stage popular demonstrations that might lead to clashes with coalition troops in the coming months if direct elections are not held, Al-Jazeera reported the same day. KR
'REBUILD IRAQ 2004' EXPO OPENS IN KUWAIT
Kuwaiti Commerce and Industry Minister Abdullah al-Taweel opened the "Rebuild Iraq 2004" exposition in Kuwait on 19 January, KUNA reported. More than 1,100 companies from 45 countries are participating in the exposition, offering a wide range of products and services to the Iraqi reconstruction effort. The Arab Gulf states, as well as Egypt, Jordan, Lebanon, Syria, and Tunisia are taking part in the five-day exposition, which will close on 23 January. KR
JAPAN'S SELF-DEFENSE FORCE ARRIVES IN SAMAWAH
An advance team from Japan's Self-Defense Force arrived in Samawah, Iraq, on 19 January to set up a base camp within the Dutch base in that city, Kyodo World Service reported on 20 January. The advance team, which arrived from Kuwait, will prepare for some 550 ground troops expected to arrive in the coming weeks. "The advance unit's duty is to gather information related to [local] security and humanitarian reconstruction aid necessary for activities of the main units," said Colonel Masahisa Sato, who heads the team. "We want to [also] hold discussions with the [Iraqis]...about what they expect in assistance." Japan's deployment of troops will make it the 39th country to join the coalition on the ground in Iraq, Kyodo reported. KR