RUSSIAN INDIVIDUALS, ENTITIES, ALLEGEDLY RECEIVED IRAQI PAYOFFS...
A list of 270 individuals and organizations from 46 countries that allegedly received payments from the regime of deposed Iraqi President Saddam Hussein in return for support includes more than 40 Russian entries, Russian and Western newspapers reported on 28 and 29 January. Among the entities listed are the Communist Party of the Russian Federation (KPRF), the Liberal Democratic Party of Russia (LDPR), the Russian Orthodox Church, Russia's Emergency Situations Ministry, the administration of Chechnya, and Yabloko, "Vedomosti" reported on 29 January. The list published by the Baghdad daily "Al-Mada" is based on documents allegedly obtained from Iraq's former State Oil Marketing Organization (SOMO), "The Daily Telegraph" reported on 28 January. The British daily reported that "Al-Mada" provided it with a photocopied list of recipients of oil contracts, arranged by nationality. Iraqi Governing Council member Nasir Kamil Chadirchi said he believes the list is authentic, Britain's "The Independent" reported on 28 January. The list also includes members of ruling families, religious and political groups, and politicians from various Middle East countries, Austria, and France, "The Independent" reported. JB
...INCLUDING NATIONALISTS AND COMMUNISTS...
LDPR leader Vladimir Zhirinovskii told Interfax on 28 January that he did not receive "one Iraqi dinar" or "a single dollar" from Iraq, but said former Iraqi Foreign Ministry officials told him that the Soviet Communist Party received Iraqi bribes. Zhirinovskii denied to "Vremya novostei" of 29 January that the LDPR received any money from Iraq's government or president in exchange for support. KPRF leader Gennadii Zyuganov called the report that his party received money from Iraq "undisguised nonsense and a lie," Interfax reported. KPRF State Duma Deputy Viktor Ilyukhin issued a similar denial to "Vremya novostei," but claimed that Zhirinovskii concluded contracts with and received profits from Iraqi oil companies. "Vedomosti" reported on 29 January that among the Russians who allegedly received money from Hussein's regime was "the head of the presidential palace," which the newspaper took to mean Pavel Borodin, secretary of the Russia-Belarus Union and former head of the Kremlin's property department. Borodin's press secretary, Ivan Makushok, told the newspaper that his boss reacts to such reports with "great humor." JB
...AND EVEN LIBERALS AND CLERICS
Yabloko was "extremely surprised" by the news that it is listed among those who allegedly received money from Hussein's regime, "Vedomosti" reported on 29 January. "We are not a commercial organization and do not engage in any kind of illegal activity," said Yevgeniya Dillendorf, press secretary to Yabloko leader Grigorii Yavlinskii. Archpriest Vsevolod Chaplin, deputy head of the Moscow Patriarchate's external-relations department, also denied receiving money from Iraq, telling "Vremya novostei" that the delegations the church sent to Iraq in 2002 and 2003 were on strictly "peacemaking" and "humanitarian" missions. He also categorically denied that any structures closely connected to the church -- including RAO International Economic Cooperation (MES) -- concluded oil contracts with Iraq. "Nezavisimaya gazeta," however, reported on 29 January that MES participated in the oil-for-food program with Iraq starting in 1996. JB
HUMAN RIGHTS EDITOR REFUSES TO ANSWER FSB QUESTIONS
Aleksandr Podrabinek, editor in chief of Prima news agency, on 28 January was questioned for two hours by Federal Security Service (FSB) investigators. He told Interfax that he was summoned as a witness in a criminal case involving the alleged divulgence of state secrets in two books -- "The FSB Blows Up Russia," co-authored by former FSB officer Aleksandr Litvinenko and historian Yurii Felshtinskii, and Litvinenko's "LPG -- Lyubyanskaya Prestupnaya Gruppirovka" ["Lyubyanka Criminal Group"]. Prodrabinek said most of the questions concerned Prima's purchase of more than 4,000 copies of "The FSB Blows Up Russia," which were seized last December (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 28 January 2004). He said he was told the copies were seized as part of the criminal case involving the two books, but he refused to answer any questions during his interrogation because he did not see how Prima's purchase of the copies was relevant to the case. Podrabinek also said he refused to sign an agreement not to discuss his interrogation and was warned that criminal charges could be brought against him for refusing to answer questions. JB
RUSSIAN ACTIVISTS SAY JAILED YUKOS EXECS ARE POLITICAL PRISONERS...
A group of Russian human rights activists have asked Amnesty International to recognize three jailed executives for the oil giant Yukos -- Mikhail Khodorkovskii, Platon Lebedev, and Aleksei Pichugin -- as political prisoners, Interfax reported on 28 January. Lev Ponomarev, head of the For Human Rights movement, told Ekho Moskvy that the request was made last October at a conference of nongovernmental organizations attended by 500 activists from across Russia. He also said that human rights groups plan to picket near the Prosecutor-General's Office and the Moscow City Court on behalf of political prisoners. However, a spokesman for Amnesty International's Russian chapter, Denis Krivosheev, told Interfax that the organization's Secretary-General Irene Khan has already answered the Russian human rights activists' request to recognize Khodorkovskii as a political prisoner. Amnesty International "thus far does not have sufficient information to conclude reliably that the situation is connected precisely to Khodorkovskii's political activities," Krivosheev said. JB
...AS THE AUTHORITIES ASK YUKOS TO JUMP THROUGH MORE HOOPS
Tax Minister Gennadii Bukaev told a briefing organized by the Russian-British Chamber of Commerce on 28 January that his ministry is investigating Yukos' financial activities during 2001-02, Interfax reported. After the briefing, Bukaev told the news agency that while his ministry "made representations" to Yukos at the end of last year over taxes it failed to pay in 2000, the oil company "countered with objections." The Tax Ministry claims Yukos failed to pay 98 billion rubles ($3.4 billion) in taxes it owed in 2000 (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 15 and 27 January 2003). Meanwhile, a regional branch of the Natural Resources Ministry has ordered Yukos to plant vegetation on the tundra surrounding a well at its Arktikgaz subsidiary, located near the Arctic Circle, by 2 February or face punishment, "The Moscow Times" reported on 29 January. JB
POLL SHOWS LITTLE OPTIMISM ABOUT FIGHTING CORRUPTION
In a poll conducted 23-26 January by VTsIOM-A, 30 percent of respondents said they think the level of corruption in Russia is now higher than it was a year ago, while 45 percent said they think it is unchanged, Marketing & Consulting (iamik.ru) reported on 29 January. Asked at which level of officialdom they think corruption and bribe taking is worse, 11 percent answered "the lower organs of power," 35 percent said "at the top," and 48 percent said they believe it is the same at both levels. In a poll conducted 15-20 January by ROMIR Monitoring, only 12 percent-13 percent of those surveyed said they believe President Vladimir Putin has been successful in fighting corruption and reducing the oligarchs' influence on the government. One-third of those polled cited solving the problem of wage and pension arrears as Putin's main achievement, 26 percent said he improved the Russian economy, and 16 percent said he has been successful in resolving the Chechen problem. JB
COMMUNIST CANDIDATE SEEKS BUSINESS SPONSORS
Communist Party presidential candidate Nikolai Kharitonov announced on 28 January that the KPRF is soliciting funds from businesses for his campaign, Ekho Moskvy reported. He declined to specify which businesses are negotiating with the Communists, saying, "As soon as a person speaks out loud in support of a particular candidate, he is immediately arrested or a warrant is issued." The Prosecutor-General's Office issued a warrant for the arrest of Yukos shareholder Leonid Nevzlin less than two weeks after he announced plans to help organize former Union of Rightist Forces (SPS) co-Chairwoman Irina Khakamada's presidential campaign (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 15 and 28 January 2004). LB
TWO MORE CANDIDATES SUBMIT SIGNATURE LISTS
Motherland co-leader Sergei Glazev and former SPS co-Chairwoman Khakamada each submitted petitions containing more than 2 million nominating signatures to the Central Election Commission (TsIK) on 28 January, the last day candidates could file such petitions, Russian media reported. The TsIK will check the authenticity of the signatures, along with documents such as candidates' income and property declarations, before deciding by 8 February whether would-be candidates will appear on the ballot for the 14 March presidential election. Five candidates have submitted nominating petitions: President Putin, Federation Council Chairman Sergei Mironov, former Duma Speaker Ivan Rybkin, Glazev, and Khakamada. Pharmaceutical magnate Vladimir Bryntsalov, who ran a Zhirinovskii-style presidential campaign in 1996, announced on 28 January that he will not compete in this year's race. Nikolai Kharitonov and Oleg Malyshkin did not collect signatures because they represent political parties that won more than 5 percent of the vote in the December State Duma elections. LB
KORYAK GOVERNOR FACES CRIMINAL INVESTIGATION
The Koryak Autonomous Okrug's Prosecutor's Office has opened a criminal case against Koryak Governor Vladimir Loginov on suspicion he misused funds from the okrug budget, NTV and RIA-Novosti reported on 28 January. The okrug administration reportedly spent 700 million rubles ($24 million) on energy supplies, but only about 300 million rubles' worth of coal and fuel oil was shipped to the okrug. Investigators have conducted searches and confiscated documents of the okrug administration. Loginov claims the case is politically motivated, as he is expected to face okrug prosecutor Boris Chuev in the okrug's 14 March gubernatorial election. LB
STANDARD & POOR'S RAISES RUSSIA'S CREDIT RATING
The international rating agency Standard & Poor's on 27 January raised Russia's long-term foreign currency sovereign credit rating to BB+ from BB, the newspaper "Gazeta" reported the next day. Ruble-denominated bonds received an investment-grade rating of BBB-, the lowest investment-grade rating on the S&P scale. The upgrade of Russia's long-term foreign currency sovereign credit rating to BB+ still leaves bonds denominated in foreign currency below investment grade and means that while S&P does not consider the short-term risks significant, it still sees long-term uncertainties. Aleksandr Baranov, vice president of the investment fund Russkie Fondy, told "Gazeta" that when the ratings of ruble-denominated bonds differ from those of hard-currency instruments, "it means that the agency sees political risks for investment. In this case it fears that not all investors will be able to bring profits out of the country." In October, the rating agency Moody's raised Russia's credit rating to investment grade (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 9 October 2003). LB
PUTIN, CHECHEN LEADER DISCUSS ECONOMIC ISSUES
President Putin urged Chechen administration head Akhmed-hadji Kadyrov in Moscow on 28 January to monitor closely the effectiveness of policies aimed at raising living standards in Chechnya and creating new jobs, Russian media reported. Putin also stressed the importance of carefully evaluating applications for financial compensation for the loss of property during the fighting in Chechnya. He said everything must be done to ensure that such funds are paid only to persons who are entitled to them. Kadyrov admitted that the process of releasing such payments is slow. He said he personally vets the list of applications and that between 40 percent-50 percent of applications for compensation are found to be groundless. LF
CHECHEN PREMIER TO TAKE EXTENDED LEAVE
Anatolii Popov, who suffered a serious bout of poisoning last fall, will take vacation until 9 April following hospital treatment and extended therapy, ITAR-TASS reported on 28 January (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 29 and 30 September 2003). Eli Isaev, whom Chechen administration head Kadyrov named acting prime minister last month, will continue to oversee the government in Popov's absence. It remains unclear, however, whether Popov will return to Grozny. In an interview with "Nezavisimaya gazeta" of 22 January, Popov indicated that he may resign and run for the post of governor of Volgograd. LF
PACE DEPLORES ARMENIAN ELECTION FRAUD, HIATUS IN REFORMS
In a resolution approved late on 27 January, the Parliamentary Assembly of the Council of Europe (PACE) expressed "profound disappointment" over the "serious irregularities and massive fraud" that accompanied last year's Armenian presidential and parliamentary ballots, RFE/RL's Armenian Service reported from Strasbourg. The resolution also called for the abolition of Soviet-era legislation under which hundreds of opposition supporters were arrested during postelection protests. The resolution further noted that progress on structural reforms was delayed due to the elections, but that efforts made since September testify to Armenia's commitment to honoring its obligations to the Council of Europe. The assembly amended the wording of a draft resolution on the Karabakh conflict, removing a reference to the unrecognized Nagorno-Karabakh Republic as an internationally recognized part of Azerbaijan. It also rejected a call by the Armenian opposition for a nationwide referendum of confidence in President Robert Kocharian. LF
GEORGIAN PRESIDENT ADDRESSES PACE
In a 28 January address to the Parliamentary Assembly of the Council of Europe (PACE), Mikheil Saakashvili reaffirmed Georgia's European roots and the country's ambition to join the EU, an RFE/RL correspondent reported. Saakashvili said the November revolution could serve as a model for peaceful and democratic change across the former USSR. He said Georgia "cherishes its long-term partnership with the U.S.," but at the same time aspires to "long-term friendship and partnership" with Russia, even though that country "played a negative role" in Georgia in the early 1990s. LF
TENSIONS RISE IN ADJARIA
Armed supporters of Adjar State Council Chairman Aslan Abashidze took to the streets of Batumi on 28 January and security at government buildings was intensified in anticipation of a Tbilisi-backed move by Abashidze's opponents to oust him, Georgian media reported. Abashidze pledged to do all in his power to preserve stability, Interfax reported. In Tbilisi, Georgian Interior Minister Giorgi Baramidze said he will not permit bloodshed in Adjaria, the independent television station Rustavi-2 reported. LF
ABKHAZ LEADER REAFFIRMS READINESS FOR DIALOGUE WITH GEORGIA...
Vladislav Ardzinba, president of the unrecognized Republic of Abkhazia, has issued a statement reaffirming Abkhazia's readiness for talks with the Georgian central government, but at the same time warning that his republic "has the means to protect...its sovereignty and territorial integrity," Interfax and Caucasus Press reported on 28 January. Ardzinba further noted that recent statements by members of Georgia's new leadership cast doubts on their professed commitment to resolving the conflict with Abkhazia by exclusively peaceful means. He appealed to the UN, Russia, and the five-country group known as the Friends of the UN Secretary-General to impress on Tbilisi the need to refrain from statements and actions that could undermine the peace process. LF
...AS OPPOSITION DEMANDS HIS RESIGNATION
Some 150 members of the opposition movement Amtsakhara and the Independent Federation of Trade Unions staged a demonstration on 28 January outside the parliament building in Sukhum to demand Ardzinba's resignation on the grounds of his failing health and a controversial decree reforming the timber industry that may result in the loss of jobs, Caucasus Press reported the following day. Ardzinba's second presidential term ends in October 2004. LF
NGO LEADER ABDUCTED IN WESTERN GEORGIA
Georgian NGO head David Badzagua was abducted late on 27 January in western Georgia, allegedly by Abkhaz gunmen, Caucasus Press reported. Police in Abkhazia's Gali Raion, where Badzagua is believed to be held, have pledged to help secure his release. Meanwhile on 28 January, Abkhaz State Security Service head Givi Agrba denied any Abkhaz involvement in Badzagua's abduction. In an interview with Apsnypress summarized by Caucasus Press, Agrba accused Tbilisi of providing covert support over the past decade for Georgian guerrilla organizations that have killed some 100 members of the Russian peacekeeping force deployed since July 1994 in the Abkhaz conflict zone. LF
GEORGIAN PRO-REGIME PARTIES MERGE
Minister of State Zurab Zhvania told journalists in Tbilisi on 28 January that at a meeting earlier that day leading representatives of his United Democrats and President Saakashvili's National Movement agreed to a merger of the two parties, Georgian media reported. Zhvania said the new party will field one list of candidates for the 28 March parliamentary elections, and that its primary objective will be to provide political support for President Saakashvili's plans to improve the political and economic situation as fast as possible. The new party will hold its founding congress and choose a name "soon," Zhvania said. LF
KYRGYZ HUMAN RIGHTS GROUPS AGAIN CALL FOR JAILED OPPOSITION LEADER'S RELEASE
Some 400 people, including opposition party leaders and human rights activists, attended public hearings in Bishkek on 28 January on the case of former Vice President and opposition Ar-Namys party leader Feliks Kulov, demanding his immediate release from prison, Interfax reported. They also demanded that Kulov be permitted to contest the parliamentary and presidential elections due next year. Kulov, who was jailed three years ago, is serving multiple sentences on charges of embezzlement and abuse of his official position (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 22 January 2001 and 9 May 2002). LF
UNESCO BUREAU CRITICIZES NEW KAZAKH MEDIA BILL
Sergei Karpov, head of the UNESCO bureau in Kazakhstan, told a news briefing in Almaty on 28 January that the bureau has criticized the new draft media law now making its way through parliament and sympathizes with the concerns Kazakh journalists have expressed about the bill, Interfax-Kazakhstan reported. The government draft was criticized by journalists in a series of public hearings for giving the authorities too much power over the media. Following discussion in the Kazakh parliament's lower house, the draft was sent to the Senate on 25 December. UNESCO official Karpov told the news briefing that there should be separate laws governing electronic media, print media, and Internet publications. BB
KAZAKH LOWER HOUSE APPEALS TO NEIGHBORING COUNTRIES TO SAVE RESERVOIR
The Mazhilis (lower house) of the Kazakh parliament on 28 January adopted an appeal to the presidents and parliaments of Kyrgyzstan and Uzbekistan to help save the Shardara Reservoir on the Syrdarya River, gazeta.kz reported. The appeal was an initiative of the pro-government Agrarian Party. The reservoir, which forms part of the Kazakh-Uzbek border, was flooded when Kyrgyzstan raised the amount of water released from its power dams higher up the Syrdarya. In early January, Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan, and Uzbekistan devised a number of measures to prevent flooding on the lower Syrdarya in Kazakhstan and save the Shardara power dam (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 6 and 16 January 2004), but the agreed measures either have been implemented slowly or not at all. Kazakh parliamentarian Nurbakh Rustemov, commenting on the appeal, said that for several years the governments of the three countries have been unable to resolve the issue of jointly using the Syrdarya rationally. Thirty villages in the South Kazakhstan and Kyzyl-Orda oblasts are currently threatened with flooding. BB
KYRGYZ MILITARY PLANTS WILL NOT BE GIVEN TO RUSSIA
Four Kyrgyz plants producing military equipment will not be given to Russia as partial payment of Kyrgyzstan's debt to the Russian Federation, "Vremya novostei" reported on 28 January. Instead, the plants will remain the property of Kyrgyzstan but will concentrate on filling Russian orders. Kyrgyz Foreign Trade Minister Sadriddin Dzhienbekov said that a session of the Joint Russian-Kyrgyz Commission on Military-Technical Cooperation that took place during Kyrgyz Prime Minister Nikolai Tanaev's recent visit to Moscow (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 21 January 2004) agreed on joint production of military equipment and its export to the two countries. BB
KYRGYZ CEC CHAIRMAN SAYS CHANGES TO ELECTION CODE MEET INTERNATIONAL STANDARDS
Sulaiman Imanbaev, chairman of Kyrgyzstan's Central Election Commission (CEC), told a press conference on 27 January that changes made to the country's Election Code to bring it in line with constitutional changes adopted in February 2003 are also in accord with international standards, RFE/RL's Kyrgyz Service reported. Changes include the use of glass ballot boxes and voting booths that are open on three sides. In addition, one-third of the members of all election commissions will be political-party representatives. Parliamentary campaigns may begin only 25 days prior to an election, presidential campaigns 35 days prior to the election date, and local-election campaigns 20 days before the election. BB
TAJIK PRESIDENTIAL GUARDS COMMANDER PROTESTS DISMISSAL
Lieutenant General Gaffor Mirzoev, the commander of the Tajik Presidential Guard who was dismissed by President Imomali Rakhmonov when the Presidential Guard was reorganized into the National Guard (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 27 January 2004), on 27 January protested his dismissal at a Dushanbe news conference, Asia Plus-Blitz reported the next day. Mirzoev said no one discussed the decision with him, and he considers the dismissal unjustified. He also said he was not consulted about his successor and called for a commission to be formed to evaluate his work. Mirzoev, prominent civil-war commander on the government's side, held the Presidential Guard post for nine years. Some 200 officers of the Presidential Guard tendered their resignations following the announcement of Mirzoev's dismissal, Interfax reported on 27 January. BB
NEW DEPUTY PRIME MINISTER APPOINTED IN UZBEKISTAN
Uzbek President Islam Karimov signed a decree on 28 January appointing Svetlana Inamova as deputy prime minister and chairwoman of the government's Women's Committee of Uzbekistan, uzreport.com reported on 29 January. Inamova replaced long-serving Deputy Prime Minister and Women's Committee Chairwoman Dilbar Gulyamova. Inamova previously chaired the Soglom Avlod Uchun (For a Healthy Generation) Foundation, a group that is close to the government but is considered a nongovernmental organization. It has been very visible in projects promoting maternal care and children's health. BB
BELARUSIAN TAX INSPECTORS DEMAND HEAVY PENALTY FROM NGO
Belarus's tax authorities claim the Belarusian Helsinki Committee (BHK) owes them more than 380 million rubles ($176,000) in penalties for its alleged failure to pay taxes on aid received under the European Union's Technical Assistance to CIS Countries (TACIS) program in 2002 and 2003, Belapan reported on 28 January. According to the authorities, the BHK did not register the foreign aid received in those years, thus violating a presidential decree. The BHK claims the decision by the tax authorities contradicts a 1999 memorandum between the Belarusian government and the European Commission that exempted EU donations from duties and taxes. JM
RUSSIAN OFFICIAL CALLS ON BELARUSIAN VETS TO DUMP 'COLD-WAR STEREOTYPES'
Russia's Security Council Secretary Vladimir Rushailo told a gathering of World War II veterans in Minsk on 28 January that "cold-war stereotypes" should be abandoned, Belapan reported. He stressed that Russia and the United States are now partners with common enemies, such as international terrorists and traffickers in humans and drugs. Rushailo's pronouncements came in response to veterans' queries about NATO enlargement and the presence of U.S. troops in CIS countries. JM
UKRAINIAN COURT CLOSES MAJOR OPPOSITION NEWSPAPER FOR PURPORTED ANTI-SEMITISM
A district court in Kyiv on 28 January ordered the closure of the "Silski visti" newspaper after finding it guilty of fomenting interethnic antagonisms in Ukraine, Interfax and UNIAN reported, quoting the Socialist Party press service. The decision reportedly followed a lawsuit by an organization called the Jewish Antifascist Committee, which charged that "Silski visti" reprinted two anti-Semitic articles written by Professor Vasyl Yaremenko of the International Academy of Personnel Management. Socialist Party member Mykola Rudkovskyy told UNIAN that the court order was the result of a "political instruction by the presidential administration" aimed at "do[ing] away with the largest Ukrainian opposition newspaper." Rudkovskyy said a group of lawyers is now preparing an appeal against the closure. "Silski visti," which targets primarily rural readers, is widely believed to be linked to the Ukrainian Socialist Party and its leader, Oleksandr Moroz. JM
UKRAINIAN PRESIDENT VOWS TO PURSUE 'REAL ANTICORRUPTION POLICY' IN ELECTION YEAR
President Leonid Kuchma promised on 29 January to pursue a "tough, real anticorruption policy" in 2004, UNIAN reported. "Some are likely to expect that in the election year, under the cover of disorder and chaos, they will invigorate their shady businesses," Kuchma said. "Let them abandon this expectation. There will be no chaos! On the contrary, I will rigorously demand the implementation of a tough, real -- I repeat: real -- anticorruption policy, no matter who stands in my way." JM
ESTONIAN COALITION PARTIES DIVIDED OVER EDUCATION REFORM
Education Minister Toivo Maimets of Res Publica on 27 January presented a new scheme to parliament for financing schools, LETA reported on 28 January. He proposed using a school-voucher scheme to improve the quality of education in schools. Under Maimets' plan, state funding would be allocated for individual pupils through vouchers that could be used at the school of their choice. The current system largely bases state and municipal funding for schools on their total enrollment, with individual municipalities providing additional funding on their own. The Reform Party expressed support for the reform, but the People's Union opposed it, arguing that it would lead to the closure of rural schools. SG
LATVIA'S FIRST PARTY WITHDRAWS FROM RULING COALITION
The board of Latvia's First Party (LPP) responded to Ainars Slesers' dismissal as deputy prime minister by withdrawing on 28 January from the ruling coalition formed in November 2002, BNS reported (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 17 January 2004). The number of members of the coalition was thus reduced from 55 to 45 -- representing New Era (26), Union of Greens and Farmers (12), and For the Fatherland and Freedom/LNNK (seven). There are 100 members of parliament. The LPP board also recalled its three remaining ministers in the cabinet: Juris Lujans (Economy), Ainars Bastiks (Children and Family Affairs), and Nils Muiznieks (Society Integration), but did not insist on the resignation of the entire cabinet. Prime Minister Einars Repse, who dismissed Slesers, expressed regret over the departure of the three LPP ministers. SG
LITHUANIAN PREMIER SLAMS FOREIGN MINISTER FOR PUBLICIZING UNOFFICIAL INFORMATION
Algirdas Brazauskas told the media after meeting with President Rolandas Paksas on 28 January that Foreign Minister Antanas Valionis should not have relayed the contents of unofficial discussions he recently had in Washington concerning the political scandal involving Paksas (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 27 January 2004), BNS reported. Brazauskas said Paksas did not request Valionis's dismissal, but will consult with his coalition partners, the Social Liberals, on possible sanctions against the minister. Valionis refused to change his position following a half-hour meeting with Brazauskas later that day, saying, "Lithuania's foreign policy now is like a table with three legs, we can not bury our heads in the sand like ostriches," "Lietuvos rytas" reported on 29 January. Parliament speaker and Social Liberal Chairman Arturas Paulauskas said Valionis was correct in announcing both the official and unofficial results of his trip to Washington. SG
LITHUANIA'S REPORTS 8.9 PERCENT GDP GROWTH
Statistics Department Director Algirdas Semeta announced on 28 January that preliminary data indicates that the country's GDP increased by 8.9 percent in 2003 to 54.85 billion litas ($17.1 billion), BNS reported. It was the highest growth recorded since the country regained its independence in 1990. The international credit-rating agency Fitch Ratings announced on 28 January that it has increased Lithuania's local-currency rating from A- to A and its long-term foreign-currency rating from BBB to BBB+. Finance Minster Dalia Grybauskaite said the improved ratings should help lower the borrowing and debt-servicing costs on the 600 million-euro ($750 million) long-term Eurobond that Lithuania is planning to issue on international markets in the first quarter of this year. SG
POLISH RULING PARTY FAILS TO WOO MINOR PARTNER
The Democratic Left Alliance (SLD), which runs a minority cabinet led by Prime Minister Leszek Miller, decided on 28 January that it will not enter into a coalition with the Peasant Democratic Party headed by Roman Jagielinski, Polish Television reported. Jagielinski, who chairs the 15-member Federalist Parliamentary Club in the Sejm, said after the abortive talks that without a majority government, Poland will face early parliamentary elections. Jagielinski's group, which until recently supported Miller's cabinet in key votes, refused to do so last week during a vote on a budget amendment. Jagielinski reportedly demanded government posts for continued support for Miller's cabinet in parliament (see "RFE/RL Poland, Belarus, and Ukraine Report," 27 January 2004). JM
POLISH PRESIDENT APPOINTS NEW TREASURY MINISTER...
President Aleksander Kwasniewski appointed Zbigniew Kaniewski as Poland's new treasury minister on 28 January, PAP reported. Premier Miller nominated Kaniewski to replace Piotr Czyzewski, who was sacked last week. Earlier the same day, Kaniewski pledged to speed up privatization in order to yield the planned 8.83 billion zlotys ($2.35 billion) in privatization revenues in 2004. Kaniewski is the fourth treasury minister since Miller took the reins of government in October 2001. JM
...AND SIGNS 2004 BUDGET BILL
President Kwasniewski signed the recently passed budget bill into law on 26 January, PAP reported on 28 January. The 2004 budget projects revenues of 155 billion zlotys ($41 billion) and a deficit of 45 billion zlotys. JM
CZECH UPPER HOUSE APPROVES DEPLOYMENT OF TROOPS TO AFGHANISTAN
The Czech Senate on 28 January approved the government's proposal to send 150 soldiers to Afghanistan to participate in U.S.-led Operation Enduring Freedom, CTK and dpa reported. Fifty-one of 59 senators present approved the deployment, which should begin in mid-April and last six months. The Chamber of Deputies is expected to vote on the issue in February. According to CTK, opposition to the deployment is likely to be much stronger in the lower house (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 15 and 26 January 2004). MS
CZECH COURT STIFFENS SENTENCE AGAINST 'MEIN KAMPF' PUBLISHER
A Prague city court heeded an appeal by the prosecution on 28 January and extended a district court's sentence against the publisher of a Czech translation of Adolf Hitler's "Mein Kampf," CTK reported. A district court last year gave Michal Zitko a 22-month suspended sentence and three years of probation for defaming the Jewish people (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 12 August 2003). The Prague court extended the suspended sentence to three years and the probation period to five years, as well as altering the charge to illegal support for a movement aimed at suppressing human rights. The judge concluded that the prosecution has produced proof that neo-Nazi groups in the Czech Republic are influenced by "Mein Kampf" and that Zitko may therefore be convicted for supporting them. The Czech Supreme Court ruled in 2002 that Zitko may only be convicted if the prosecution demonstrates that by publishing the translation, Zitko was encouraging neo-Nazi groups active in the Czech Republic. Zitko called the revised verdict an encroachment on the freedom of speech and vowed to appeal to the Supreme Court and, if necessary, to the Constitutional Court and the International Court of Human Rights in Strasbourg. Zitko sold most of a print-run of 100,000 copies of "Mein Kampf" in 2000, the daily "Mlada fronta Dnes" reported. MS
SLOVAK CABINET APPOINTS NEW SECURITY CHIEF...
Cabinet ministers appointed military-intelligence expert Aurel Ugor to be the new head of Slovakia's National Security Office (NBU) on 28 January, TASR and CTK reported. Ugor is not well known to the Slovak public, CTK added. He replaces former NBU chief Jan Mojzis, who was dismissed in October following a prolonged party crisis that also triggered the dismissal of former Defense Minister Ivan Simko (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 11 and 25 September and 3 October 2003). Simko, who refused to support Prime Minister Mikulas Dzurinda's proposal to dismiss Mojzis, subsequently cost the coalition its parliamentary majority by leading disgruntled Christian and Democratic Union (SDKU) lawmakers in the formation of the Freedom Forum. MS
...AND SELECTS WOULD-BE EUROPEAN COMMISSIONER
Also on 27 January, the cabinet approved the designation of Jan Figel as Slovakia's candidate for the post of European commissioner (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 27 January 2004). The appointment was welcomed in Brussels by European Commissioner for Enlargement Guenter Verheugen's spokesman, Jean-Christophe Filori, who called Figel "a respectable, hard-working, and trustworthy man," but added that the final decision on appointments will be made by European Commission President Romano Prodi, according to TASR. MS
TWO MORE SLOVAK PRESIDENTIAL HOPEFULS SUBMIT CANDIDACIES
Former Slovak parliamentary speaker Ivan Gasparovic, who is chairman of the extraparliamentary Movement for Democracy (HZD), formally submitted his presidential candidacy on 28 January, TASR reported. Eighteen lawmakers and more than 25,000 eligible voters supported Gasparovic's bid (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 26 January 2004). Also on 28 January, former Slovak Ambassador to the United States Marin Butora submitted a petition for a presidential bid with the signatures of prominent Slovak intellectual and cultural personalities, TASR reported. The report did not say whether Butora's petition included the 15,000 signatures from voters (or, alternatively, 15 lawmakers) that are required for registration. The recently established Free Forum said it would back Butora's bid. Butora, a communist-era dissident, is Slovakia's most prominent sociologist. MS
FORMER SLOVAK SOLDIER SUSPECTED OF TRYING TO SELL SEMTEX
Interior Minister Vladimir Palko and Defense Minister Juraj Liska announced on 28 January that Slovak police have detained a former soldier suspected of trying to sell Semtex to members of the criminal underworld, CTK reported. The former captain was arrested while allegedly trying to sell 2.5 kilograms of the plastic explosive, according to the report, and police found an additional 37 kilograms, as well as military ammunition, in a subsequent search of the suspect's flat. If convicted, the man faces between three and 10 years in jail. MS
HUNGARIAN COURT SUSPENDS BAN ON CONTROVERSIAL RADIO STATION
Budapest's Tilos Radio went back on the air on 29 January after the Metropolitan Court issued an injunction to block a 30-day ban imposed by the National Radio and Television Authority (ORTT) (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 22 January 2004), the MTI news agency reported. The ORTT sought to punish the station for having aired derogatory remarks aimed at Christians on 24 December. Tilos challenged the 30-day ban with the Metropolitan Court, while the right-wing Movement for a Right (or "Better") Hungary demanded that the same court sanction the withdrawal of the station's broadcast license. The court suspended the ban until it issues a final ruling in the case. MSZ
HUNGARIAN RIGHT-WING PARTY PUBLICLY LINKED TO OUSTED IRAQI DICTATOR
The Hungarian Interests Party (MEP), a minor right-wing grouping founded in 1993, is included on a list of organizations that the Baghdad-based "Al-Mada" daily alleges were involved in illicit oil deals for ousted Iraqi President Saddam Hussein, "Nepszabadsag" reported on 29 January. The MEP helped Hussein sell some 4.7 million barrels of Iraqi oil, according to "Magyar Hirlap," in exchange for roughly $140 million in cash. The Hungarian party allegedly signed a deal with Iraqi's ruling Ba'ath Party in 1999, during the UN-imposed embargo on trade with Iraq. MEP was founded by Izabella B. Kiraly after her expulsion from the Democratic Forum. She reportedly told both newspapers that she has withdrawn from politics and will not give any statements to the media. Socialist deputy Ferenc Juhasz, while in the opposition in 2000, told parliament that Kiraly imported 1.5 million barrels of oil from Iraq, according to the Iraqi Embassy in Budapest. MSZ
HIGH REPRESENTATIVE ORDERS HERZEGOVINIAN CITY UNIFIED...
High Representative Paddy Ashdown said in Mostar on 28 January that the city will become a single administrative unit in 2004, regional and international media reported. His long-awaited ruling signals the end of the division of Herzegovina's capital into six municipalities, three of which are dominated by Croats and three by Muslims. Most Muslim politicians want to continue that arrangement, while most Croats prefer a unified city, according to a recent referendum. Ashdown also said the number of elected Mostar officials will be slashed from 194 to 35. A two-thirds majority vote will be required in the city council on some particularly sensitive issues to prevent any one ethnic group from ruling with a simple majority. One-third of the administrative posts will be reserved for Serbs, who made up at least 19 percent of the pre-1992 population but have mostly since fled or left, primarily to the Republika Srpska. Ashdown stressed that "one of the objectives of this statute is to promote the return of the Serb population and restore the civic and multiethnic character of the city of Mostar, for which it was once world famous" (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 27 January 2004 and "RFE/RL Balkan Report," 5 September 2003). PM
...BUT OBJECTIONS REMAIN
Ashdown said in Mostar on 28 January that settling the political status of Mostar will open the way for more investment, regional and international media reported. Dragan Covic, who is the head of the Bosnian Presidency and a Croat with his electoral base in Herzegovina, noted on 28 January that Ashdown's plan fails to fully unify the city because it retains six electoral districts instead of transforming it into a single one, as Covic's Croatian Democratic Community (HDZ) wants. Bosnian Prime Minister Adnan Terzic of the Muslim Party of Democratic Action (SDA) argued that "if we are to wait for the high representative to issue decisions, our journey to Europe will finish before it has started." Ashdown sought for months to persuade the HDZ and SDA to agree among themselves on a formula for Mostar. PM
NATO TROOPS ARREST BOSNIAN SERB SUSPECTED OF WAR CRIMES LINKS
Masked SFOR soldiers arrested Zeljko Jankovic "Luna" while he was taking his daughter to school in Bijeljina on 28 January, saying he is "from the entourage" of indicted war criminal and former Bosnian Serb leader Radovan Karadzic, regional and international media reported. Media reports suggest, however, that he might be Karadzic's chief bodyguard. Bosnian Serb police said NATO troops took Jankovic to Tuzla, where U.S. forces have their main base (see "RFE/RL Balkan Report," 16 January 2004). PM
HAGUE TRIBUNAL CONVICTS FORMER CROATIAN SERB REBEL LEADER
The Hague-based war crimes tribunal convicted former Croatian Serb rebel leader Milan Babic on 28 January on one count of a crime against humanity, lifting other charges against him in keeping with a plea bargain he reached with prosecutors, RFE/RL's South Slavic and Albanian Languages Service reported (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 27 and 28 January 2004). PM
SERBIAN LEADER DENIES TALKS WITH SOCIALISTS
Democratic Party of Serbia (DSS) leader Vojislav Kostunica said in Belgrade on 28 January that the DSS has not begun talks with the Socialist Party of Serbia (SPS) about possible SPS support for a DSS-led government, RFE/RL's South Slavic and Albanian Languages Service reported (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 28 January 2004 and "RFE/RL Balkan Report," 12 December 2003 and 9 January 2004). PM
MORE STRIKES LOOMING IN MACEDONIA?
On 28 January, the state-administration and judiciary employees' union announced a strike for 4 February, "Utrinski vesnik" reported. The judiciary employees say the government has not given them pay raises included in contracts signed over a year ago. Vanco Muratovski, who heads the Federation of Trade Unions in Macedonia (SSM), said there is still enough time for talks to head off the strike. Justice Minister Hixhet Mehmeti argued that the employees' situation is not particularly bad, adding that a strike would be "drastic" and unnecessary. Meanwhile, the government began talks on 28 January with the SSM and the teachers' union to end a strike for higher pay in the educational system (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 26 January 2004). UB
SLOVENIAN PARLIAMENT RATIFIES AGREEMENT WITH VATICAN
The legislature voted on 28 January to approve Slovenia's first agreement with the Vatican regulating the status of the Roman Catholic Church in that country, Hina reported. President Janez Drnovsek said the pact clarifies the church's relationship to the state in keeping with the constitution and a recent decision in favor of the agreement by the Constitutional Court. Some left-of-center deputies had argued that the agreement violates the constitutional principle of the separation of church and state, forcing a two-year delay in ratification while the court considered the matter. Slovenian political life has traditionally been divided into liberal, clerical, and leftist camps. PM
COUNCIL OF EUROPE DISMISSES MOLDOVAN COMPLAINT REGARDING ROMANIA'S LESSONS ON HOLOCAUST...
The Council of Europe's Committee of Ministers on 28 January said that Romanian authorities are closely cooperating with the Council of Europe in matters related to the teaching of the Holocaust in schools, Mediafax reported. The committee said that "Romania participates in the Council of Europe's multilateral project on history teaching" and the country has announced it intends to introduce a day of remembrance of the Holocaust in schools. The committee also said Romania is "closely cooperating with the International Task Force on Holocaust Education, Remembrance, and Research." The statement came in response to a written question submitted last month by former Moldovan Council of Europe parliamentary deputy Andrei Neguta. Neguta, who has since been appointed ambassador to France, wrote that history in Romania is taught in such a way as to "rehabilitate the war crimes and the Holocaust organized by the Romanian leaders of that period" and that "during [the] 1,213 days of Romanian occupation of Moldova a Jew was killed approximately every two minutes." He said that "at the level of public perception, [wartime leader] Marshal Ion Antonescu, a war criminal, is considered a national hero." MS
...AMID SMOKE-SCREEN PROPAGANDA WAR BETWEEN BUCHAREST AND CHISINAU
Neguta said in his question addressed to the Committee of Ministers last month that he wants to know what measures the committee intends to take to "assist the Romanian government in the modernization of history teaching in Romanian schools and universities," Mediafax reported. The question was apparently a Moldovan response to Romanian support for protests against Chisinau's intention of introducing the teaching of "General History" in place of the "History of Romanians." MS
MOLDOVAN PRESIDENT SAYS EUROPEAN INTEGRATION IS 'ABSOLUTE PRIORITY'
President Vladimir Voronin said on 28 January that European integration must be considered Moldova's "absolute priority" in 2004, Infotag and Flux reported. Addressing a meeting of the National Commission for European Integration, Voronin insisted on the need to implement structural and legal reforms aimed at bringing Moldovan institutions and legislation in line with EU provisions. Voronin said negotiations with EU experts on its Joint Action Plan must be concluded by 15 March. Voronin also announced that an advisory council is to be set up under his authority to ensure the coordination of efforts and to resolve issues related to EU integration and Moldova's fulfillment of obligations assumed vis-a-vis the EU. MS
COUNCIL OF EUROPE SEES ROOM TO IMPROVE BULGARIA'S MINORITY POLICIES
A report released on 27 January by the Council of Europe's European Commission against Racism and Intolerance (ECRI) cites some progress in Bulgaria's efforts to protect its religious and ethnic minorities (see http://www.coe.int). However, the report recommends that the government take more steps to improve the situation, particularly as regards the country's large Romany minority. The report shows that this group comprising about 370,000 people, or about 5 percent of the overall population, remains subject to discrimination, police violence, and segregation. "With regard to the police, [the ECRI] advocates amending the legislation on the use of firearms and closely monitoring the situation as regards the excessive use of such weapons and of force against Roma," the report states. The report also calls on the government to improve the integration of other minorities, such as Macedonians and Muslim Pomaks, as well as of the situation of asylum seekers in Bulgaria. In addition, the ECRI criticizes Bulgaria's lack of guarantees of freedom of religion. "For instance, the new Denominations Act passed in 2002 does not remedy all the shortcomings as regards freedom of religion in Bulgaria," the report reads (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 17 December 2003). UB
BULGARIA'S GOVERNING MAJORITY VOTES DOWN INVESTIGATION OF PREMIER'S PROPERTY HOLDINGS
The governing coalition of the National Movement Simeon II (NDSV) and the Movement for Rights and Freedoms (DPS) on 28 January voted down a proposal by the opposition Coalition for Bulgaria to form a temporary commission of inquiry to investigate Prime Minister Simeon Saxecoburggotski's property holdings, "Sega" reported. The Coalition for Bulgaria, which is dominated by the Socialist Party (BSP), claims that the restitution of property to former monarch Saxecoburggotski was unlawful. Saxecoburggotski was dethroned in 1946 after a referendum organized by the Communist Party, the predecessor of today's BSP. UB
NATO IN AZERBAIJAN: NEITHER PARTNERSHIP NOR PEACE
Just three months after Ilham Aliyev's election as president of Azerbaijan, a new chill has settled over that country's troubled relations with Armenia. The most recent crisis was triggered by Baku's refusal to grant entry visas to a three-person Armenian military delegation invited to participate in a NATO planning meeting in Baku. This exacerbation of Azerbaijani-Armenian relations served to dispel the optimism engendered by the resumption last month in Geneva after a one-year hiatus of face-to-face talks between the Armenian and Azerbaijani presidents on approaches to resolving the Karabakh conflict. More crucially, it has highlighted a degree of inconsistency in Azerbaijan's foreign policy that poses problems well beyond that country's relations with Armenia.
The Armenian delegation, consisting of two officers and an interpreter, was to attend a planning conference organized by NATO's Partnership for Peace program from 13-15 January. The conference was empowered to prepare the logistics for the annual multinational "Cooperative Best Effort-2004" military exercises to be held in Azerbaijan in August. Despite holding a formal NATO invitation and following NATO recommendations for travel, the Armenian delegation was denied entry visas by the Azerbaijani Embassy in Tbilisi, and therefore decided to obtain visas upon their arrival at Baku Airport. But according to an Armenian Defense Ministry spokesman, the Turkish authorities in Istanbul would not allow the three men to board the plane bound for Baku without visas. Armenian Defense Ministry officials have made clear that despite the visa refusal, they still intend to send a military contingent to participate in the NATO maneuvers. That statement of intent could herald a further clash with the Azerbaijani authorities.
Although the visa refusal centered on the perceived undesirability of a symbolic Armenian military presence in Baku, it is actually the latest in a series of Azerbaijani missteps in dealing with NATO. NATO's 10-year-old Partnership for Peace program, an ambitious effort designed to foster cooperation and forge integration between the alliance and the states of the former Soviet Union, has served as the main vehicle for Western military aid and training in the former Soviet bloc. And given the checkered record of armed conflict and politically ambitious warlords in the South Caucasus, NATO's program to professionalize and modernize the local armed forces bolsters efforts by other international organizations in the sphere of conflict containment and prevention.
Although Azerbaijani officials have paid lip service to the need for deeper ties with NATO, even suggesting possible basing rights for NATO troops, there has been a pattern of inconsistency revealing an undercurrent of indecision and instability within the ruling elite. Upon closer examination, Baku's record of dealing with NATO has been haphazard. For example, Azerbaijan has routinely ignored annual Partnership for Peace exercises, thereby raising some doubts over the depth of its commitment to NATO. In June 2002, Georgia hosted multinational maneuvers in which both Armenia and Turkey participated, but Azerbaijan did not, despite the "neutral" location. Baku again failed to participate in exercises in Armenia in June 2003, in contrast to Turkey, whose delegation was accorded a cordial welcome by the Armenian hosts.
Moreover, the latest snub to both Armenia and, by extension, to NATO, highlights the core challenge to NATO's engagement in the South Caucasus, demonstrating that the most pressing obstacle to closer cooperation is not Russia, but the instability, vulnerability, and hence the inconsistency, of regional leaderships. Even though official Azerbaijani policy is predicated on integration with Western institutions, there has been a disturbing shortfall in concrete actions. And judging by recent statements in Baku, there seems to be a new disdain for NATO bordering on either arrogance or gross miscalculation.
Several factors, individually or in combination, may have contributed to that apparent disdain. The first is widespread popular frustration with the lack of progress in resolving the Nagorno-Karabakh conflict, with some domestic groups increasingly advocating a return to the military option. Spearheading demands for a military solution to the conflict has been the hard-line Karabakh Liberation Organization, which the authorities have hesitated to crack down on. Similar sentiments have been expressed by former Interior Minister Iskander Hamidov, leader of an extreme nationalist party, who was recently released from prison. An even larger segment of public opinion in the country has been expressing mounting disappointment with NATO, and with strategic ally Turkey, for not doing more to support Azerbaijan.
The second factor is the questionable legitimacy of the new Azerbaijani leadership. Largely dependent on powerful ministers and advisers from his father's regime, President Aliyev is particularly susceptible to such challenges from the right, and has tended to counter them by hardening his own position. His recent interviews have invariably stressed that Azerbaijan has the right to resort to military force to bring Karabakh under its control.
Finally, it is not clear whether, and if yes to what extent, Russia is seeking to take advantage of the two factors discussed above to deflect a perceived threat in the form of the projection of Western military power into the South Caucasus and Central Asia. Covert pressure on the Azerbaijani leadership to backtrack on its commitments to NATO is less easy to detect -- but could prove more effective -- than a verbal confrontation between Moscow and Washington over the desirability of Baku offering to host a U.S. or NATO base. Indeed, President Aliyev's statement in a 23 January interview with "Le Figaro" that the Caucasus should be free of any foreign military bases (including the Russian base in Armenia) may well be the fruit of precisely such Russian pressure.
COALITION FORCES SET TO INTENSIFY HUNT FOR AL-QAEDA, TALIBAN LEADERS
A spokesman for the coalition forces in Afghanistan said U.S.-led forces are planning a military operation aimed at capturing Al-Qaeda leader Osama bin Laden, Taliban leader Mullah Mohammad Omar, and Hizb-e Islami head Gulbuddin Hekmatyar by the end of 2004, Radio Afghanistan reported on 28 January. U.S. Lieutenant Colonel Brian Hilferty identified bin Laden and Mullah Omar as serious threats to security in Afghanistan and around the world, according to AP. AP also quoted an unidentified U.S. "defense official" as saying the Department of Defense has ordered equipment and supplies to support the upcoming operation -- which AP dubbed a "spring offensive." AT
LOYA JIRGA DELEGATES CLAIM AFGHAN CONSTITUTION WAS ALTERED...
A group of delegates to Afghanistan's recent Constitutional Loya Jirga claimed on 28 January that the basic law signed by Afghan Transitional Administration (ATA) Chairman Hamid Karzai is different from the draft approved by the constitutional assembly on 4 January, AFP reported. "I myself have discovered more than 15 changes that the government does not have the authority to make," said Abdul Hafiz Mansur, whose claim is reportedly backed by about 20 other delegates to the December-January assembly that approved the constitution (see "RFE/RL Afghanistan Report," 29 January 2004). The group has lodged complaints with the United Nations, the Afghan Transitional Administration, the Afghan Independent Human Rights Commission, and the U.S. Embassy in Kabul. It has also encouraged other delegates -- particularly from northern Afghanistan -- to follow suit. AT
...ELICITING DENIAL BY CONSTITUTIONAL COMMISSION MEMBER
The director of the secretariat to the Afghan Constitutional Commission that drew up the initial draft, Faruq Wardak, rejected the allegation, according to AFP, saying the text signed by Karzai is identical to the one approved by the Constitutional Loya Jirga. Wardak added that there have been "absolutely no manipulation or changes." Wardak said confusion might have arisen from the fact that assembly delegates were handed a text on 3 January that did not include final changes. Mansur led a bloc of delegates that resisted many of the ideas set forth by Karzai's supporters at the Constitutional Loya Jirga, including a strong presidency. AT
AFGHAN BORDER MILITIAS NOT BEING PAID
Many of the 30,000-strong militia forces stationed along the Afghan-Pakistani border have complained that they have not been paid salaries or benefits since June, the Kabul-based daily "Erada" reported on 28 January. The militia members say they have been protecting Afghanistan's border with Pakistan since the ouster of the Taliban regime in December 2001 and that they are included in the military structure of the Ministry of Border and Tribal Affairs. AT
AFGHAN LEADER MEETS PASHTUN PARTY LEADER FROM PAKISTAN
ATA Chairman Karzai met on 28 January with Senator Akram Shah Khan, the secretary-general of Pakistan's Pakhtun Khah party, Radio Afghanistan reported. Akram Shah conveyed congratulations from his party's leader, Mahmud Khan Achakzai, on the adoption of the new Afghan Constitution. Pakhtun Khah is based in the North-West Frontier Province of Pakistan and advocates Pashtun-minority rights in Pakistan. AT
IRANIAN OFFICIALS IN BEIRUT TO HONOR EXCHANGED HIZBALLAH PRISONERS
A Lebanese aircraft bearing Israeli businessman Elhanan Tenenbaum and the remains of three Israeli soldiers left for a German airbase in Cologne early on 29 January, as did an Israeli aircraft carrying 27 Arab prisoners, Voice of Israel reported. Israel will begin releasing Palestinian prisoners and transferring the remains of Lebanese Hizballah personnel once the Israeli Defense Forces identify the three soldiers' remains. An Iranian parliamentary delegation arrived in Beirut on 28 January to participate in ceremonies honoring the Lebanese returnees. The delegation is headed by Tehran representative Hojatoleslam Ali Akbar Mohtashami-Pur, one of Hizballah's founders, and it includes Tehran's Hojatoleslam Hadi Khamenei, Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei's brother, and Assadollah Kian-Ersi, a member of the Bakhtiari Islamic Association who represents an Isfahan Province constituency. Mohammad Reza Dehqani, the Iranian charge d'affaires in Beirut, said in the 28 January issue of "Al-Mustaqbal" newspaper that another delegation will come to Lebanon soon to investigate the matter of four Iranian diplomats who have been missing since 1982. "We believe they are still alive," he said. "Those who claim they are dead or martyred have to offer evidence and information to this effect." BS
TEHRAN PLAYS DOWN CHANCES OF NEW ERA IN RELATIONS WITH U.S...
. Supreme National Security Council Secretary Hojatoleslam Hassan Rohani told Semnan Province university students and officials on 28 January that the possible resumption of Iran-U.S. relations is remote, IRNA reported. "It is the Americans who should adopt a policy to enable us to resume ties with them," Rohani said. "America is now considered as our enemy which threatens the Islamic Republic of Iran." Rohani added, "Whenever the Islamic Republic of Iran is assured that the US does not pursue a policy of hegemony and plunder and instead favors logical relations to secure mutual interests, Iran can decide on the matter." BS
...AS TEHRAN'S UN REPRESENTATIVE VISITS WASHINGTON
Mohammad Javad Zarif, the Iranian ambassador to the United Nations, met with a bipartisan U.S. Congressional group on 28 January, "The Washington Post" reported on 29 January. About six members of both houses attended a dinner with Zarif that was hosted by Representative Robert Ney (Republican, Ohio) and Senator Arlen Spectre (Republican, Pennsylvania). Ney said many more would have attended the dinner as there is "extreme interest on [Capitol] Hill on both sides of the aisle." "The Washington Post" noted that although this was not an official visit, Zarif had to obtain State Department permission because Iranian officials' movements are restricted to within 25 miles of New York City. "Dialogue on a good number of regional issues would be beneficial for both countries as long as there is an interest in moving forward with an open mind and a new approach," Zarif told reporters before the dinner. "Iran cannot be excluded from any discussions of Iraq and Afghanistan. Iran is an important part of the region." BS
DISQUALIFIED IRANIAN PARLIAMENTARIANS NOT YET REINSTATED
Mohammad Jahromi, the Guardians Council official responsible for elections, announced on 29 January that the council has reinstated 861 people previously disqualified for the 20 February parliamentary elections, state radio reported. However, Election Headquarters chief Morteza Moballegh said on 28 January that the 83 sitting parliamentarians whose candidacies were rejected have not yet been reinstated, "Iran Daily" reported on 29 January. Meanwhile, Guardians Council Secretary Ayatollah Ahmad Jannati said in a 28 January letter to Interior Minister Hojatoleslam Abdolvahed Musavi-Lari that the approval of an individual's candidacy in the past does not justify later approval if there is knowledge to the contrary, ISNA reported. Jannati's letter specified the reasons for rejecting people and gave the specific number of offenses in each case. BS
IRANIAN OFFICIALS DISPUTE ELECTION DATE
Provincial governors-general met for four hours at the Interior Ministry in the evening of 28 January and subsequently announced that organizing a "free and fair election" for 20 February is "impossible," IRNA reported. The announcement added that "public trust, convergence of ideas, and the nation's participation in the elections are all seriously at stake under the current conditions." "Setting a new date for the elections seems to be quite essential under the current conditions," the governors-general concluded. President Hojatoleslam Mohammad Khatami said after the 28 January cabinet meeting, "God willing, the election will be held on time," IRNA reported. Speaker of parliament Hojatoleslam Mehdi Karrubi said on 28 January that there is no crisis and insisted that the elections will proceed on schedule, IRNA reported. He noted that elections even took place during the 1980-88 Iran-Iraq War. BS
TEHRAN BANS ASIAN BIRDS DUE TO FLU THREAT
The Iran Veterinary Organization (IVO) on 27 January urged the country's chicken farmers not to import poultry from countries affected by a lethal strain of the avian flu, IRNA reported. The group also said that neither returning Iranians nor visitors should import any birds, and it urged travelers to countries hit by the avian flu not to visit locations where birds are kept. The flu strain -- H5N1 -- has been detected in Cambodia, Indonesia, Japan, South Korea, Thailand, and Vietnam, and weaker strains have appeared in Laos, Pakistan, and Taiwan. The World Health Organization (WHO) on 28 January urged these countries to aggressively cull poultry to prevent the spread of the disease to humans, the "Financial Times" reported on 29 January. WHO official Shigeru Omi said culling is the only way to eliminate the virus, to which humans have no known immunity. Indonesia, where 3 million chickens have died of avian flu, has rejected a mass culling, according to the "Financial Times," opting instead to leave it to the discretion of individual producers. BS
HUTTON RELEASES REPORT ON U.K. WEAPONS EXPERT'S DEATH, BRITISH CASE FOR IRAQ WAR
Britain's Lord Hutton released on 28 January the findings of his investigation into the circumstances surrounding the death of U.K. weapons expert David Kelly, international media reported. Kelly committed suicide in July after he was named as the source for a BBC report claiming that the British Government had "sexed up" an intelligence dossier on the threat from Iraq. Among Lord Hutton's findings posted on the Hutton Inquiry website (http://www.the-hutton-inquiry.org.uk) is that there was no deliberate plan by British Prime Minister Tony Blair or his cabinet to deliberately leak Kelly's name as the source, and that the government acted "reasonably" in its handling of the situation. Hutton did criticize the Defense Ministry for not telling Kelly it would confirm him as a source, however. Hutton also criticized BBC management and its governors for failing to properly investigate BBC reporter Andrew Gilligan's assertions that the government's claim in a September 2002 dossier that Iraq could launch weapons of mass destruction within 45 minutes was wrong. Hutton said he believes Kelly did not tell Gilligan that the government embellished the dossier "with intelligence known or believed to be false or unreliable," as Gilligan claimed. KR
DOCUMENTS INDICATE THAT HUSSEIN PAID OFF OFFICIALS, JOURNALISTS...
An article that appeared in the 25 January edition of Baghdad daily "Al-Mada" claims to have documentary evidence from Iraq's State Oil Marketing Organization (SOMO) that the regime of deposed President Saddam Hussein paid off Western and Arab countries through illicit oil sales and bribes in exchange for their support for the regime, or to help the regime obtain weapons and even extravagant materials unavailable to it under UN sanctions. The article purports that several well-known officials, organizations, political parties, and companies benefited from the regime, including the Russian Orthodox Church and the Communist Party of the Russian Federation, Khalid Abd al-Nasir, son of the late Egyptian President, and U.K. Labour Party member George Galloway. It also includes the names of individuals and companies in Algeria, Austria, Bahrain, Belarus, Brazil, Bulgaria, Canada, Chad, China, Cyprus, Egypt, France, Hungary, India, Indonesia, Ireland, Italy, Jordan, Kenya, Lebanon, Libya, Malaysia, Morocco, Myanmar, Netherlands, Nigeria, Pakistan, Palestine, Panama, Philippines, Qatar, Romania, Russia, Slovakia, South Africa, Spain, Syria, Sudan, Switzerland, Tunisia, Turkey, United Arab Emirates, United Kingdom, Ukraine, Vietnam, Yemen, and the former Yugoslavia. KR
...AS ARAB LEADERS CALL FOR INVESTIGATION OF ALLEGATIONS
The Jordanian government announced on 28 January that it will investigate allegations that prominent Jordanian citizens were involved in the illicit oil-sales scandal, Jordanian and Western media reported. The "Al-Mada" article names 14 Amman-based firms and Jordanian citizens, including former government officials, AP reported. Meanwhile, Egyptian activist Mamduh al-Shaykh said he will ask the prosecutor-general to investigate allegations about Egyptian involvement in the scandal. Al-Shaykh reportedly filed suit last year against a number of Egyptian politicians and journalists, claiming they took bribes from the Hussein regime. Iraqi Governing Council member Nasir Kamil Chadirchi said on 28 January that the Governing Council has asked the Justice Ministry to investigate the matter and look into prosecuting Iraqi and foreign parties involved, Reuters reported. KR
IRAQI GOVERNING COUNCIL PRESIDENT SAYS HE WILL REQUEST UN HELP IN CONDUCTING CENSUS
Governing Council President for the month of January Adnan Pachachi said on 28 January that he will ask the United Nations to help carry out Iraq's first nationwide census in 45 years, international media reported. According to Al-Jazeera, Pachachi's comments came during a meeting with Baghdad municipal-council members. Pachachi said a census is just one of several issues that should be addressed before power is handed over to a new Iraqi government at the end of June, Reuters reported. "We will ask the United Nations to run a complete exact census and to put in place voter lists via voter registration centers throughout Iraq," he said. KR