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Newsline - January 30, 2004


U.S. ENVOY MEETS WITH DEPUTY FOREIGN MINISTER...
U.S. Undersecretary of State John Bolton held talks in Moscow on 29 January with Deputy Foreign Minister Sergei Kislyak, RIA-Novosti reported. Bolton told reporters after the meeting that the talks centered on preventing weapons of mass destruction and the means for delivering them from falling into "third hands." Bolton said he and Kislyak also discussed international security and bilateral relations, the upcoming meeting of the International Atomic Energy Agency's board of directors to discuss Iran's nuclear program, and the situation surrounding North Korea's nuclear program. Kislyak described the meeting as "a serious, businesslike, pragmatic conversation" aimed at expanding cooperation in the areas of nonproliferation and disarmament, Interfax reported on 29 January. Bolton also met on 29 January with State Duma Foreign Affairs Committee Chairman Konstantin Kosachev (Unified Russia). Following the meeting, Kosachev said he and Bolton discussed nuclear proliferation and U.S.-Russian efforts to reduce stockpiles of nuclear and chemical weapons, RosBalt reported on 29 January. JB

...APPARENTLY AIMING TO BRING RUSSIA INTO ANTIPROLIFERATION CLUB...
ITAR-TASS reported on 29 January prior to U.S. Undersecretary of State Bolton's meetings in Moscow that he would try to persuade Russia to follow the example of the other seven members of the Group of Eight and join the Proliferation Security Initiative (PSI). The PSI is an agreement aimed at halting the flow of missiles and materials that could be used for the production of nuclear, chemical, or biological weapons to so-called rogue states. But an "informed source" told the news agency that Russia is more interested in discussing the Treaty on Strategic Offensive Reductions, which was signed by U.S. President George W. Bush and President Vladimir Putin in 2002, and "general issues concerning the nonproliferation regime." JB

...AS MINISTER DEFENDS IRAN PROJECT ONE MORE TIME
Atomic Energy Minister Aleksandr Rumyantsev told reporters on 29 January that he would meet with U.S. Undersecretary of State Bolton the following day to discuss the proliferation of nuclear materials and technologies, as well as radiation and nuclear safety, RIA-Novosti reported on 30 January. He said their meeting would also touch on international cooperation in reducing nuclear threats, including antiterrorism measures. Asked whether the issue of Iran's Bushehr nuclear power plant, which Russia is helping to construct, would come up, Rumyantsev said it would. He added that Russia's construction of the plant is "a normal commercial project" that is "completely legitimate and transparent" and not in violation of international law. "There are no complaints from the International Atomic Energy Agency," Rumyantsev said. JB

FSB SEARCHES WEEKLY'S OFFICES...
A Federal Security Service (FSB) investigator searched the offices of the weekly "Versiya" on 29 January as a part of a new criminal investigation, newsru.com reported on 29 January. Andrei Soldatov, the newspaper's national-security editor, told the website that the probe was prompted by an article published in a September 2003 issue, No. 33. An anonymous FSB official told newsru.com that the article allegedly revealed state secrets. According to Soldatov, the article was written by Vadim Saranov, a "Versiya" correspondent specializing in naval affairs who has written a number of articles about corruption in the Russian Navy. The article was about special-operations submarines, but contained nothing "noteworthy," Soldatov said. The article's author said all material used in it was taken from open sources. The FSB investigator who searched the office -- identified as Lieutenant Aleksandr Pavlov -- seized documents, including copies of the issue of the newspaper containing the offending article, newsru.com reported. JB

...FOR THE THIRD TIME IN AS MANY YEARS
"Versiya" editor Soldatov said the weekly earlier published a series of articles on embezzlement allegedly carried out with the knowledge of navy commander and Fleet Admiral Vladimir Kuroedov, after which it received warnings to cease publishing such articles. Newsru.com on 29 January quoted unnamed "Versiya" staffers as saying the current criminal investigation, like two earlier ones, is simply aimed at "pressuring" the newspaper's journalists. Unlike in the previous two criminal probes of "Versiya," which were prompted by investigative articles on the October 2002 Moscow theater hostage crisis and the August 2000 sinking of the "Kursk" nuclear submarine, no computer equipment was seized during the latest search. JB

WEBSITE EDITOR DETAINED ON SUSPICION OF EXTORTION
Yuliya Pelekhova, editor in chief of the dossie.ru website, which bills itself as the "voice of the special services," has been arrested on suspicion of extortion, Interfax reported on 29 January. According to Filipp Zolotnitskii, a spokesman for the Moscow police's economic-crime unit, police received information that Pelekhova had demanded $100,000 from a businessman not to publish a commercial secret. She was detained on 28 January as the first installment of the extortion payment -- $40,000 -- was being handed over to her, Zolotnitskii said. On 29 January, dossie.ru posted an item on Pelekhova's detention, stating that she had made many enemies as a result of her corruption investigations and that her arrest was the result of having been "set up." Pelekhova previously worked for the weekly "Versiya." JB

EX-BANKER FREED FROM U.S. JAIL
A U.S. district judge in Alexandria, Virginia, on 28 January ordered the release of former banker Aleksandr Konanykhine from jail, "The Moscow Times" reported on 30 January. Konanykhine was taken into custody in December as he and his wife tried to cross into Canada after the U.S. Justice Department rescinded a 1999 decision granting him asylum. On 27 January, the U.S. Justice Department reversed its decision to deport Konanykhine to Russia, and said it would reopen hearings into his political asylum case, "The Moscow Times" reported on 29 January. In an interview with NTV on 29 January, Konanykhine iterated his claim that the Russian authorities are seeking his extradition because of his association with jailed former Yukos CEO Mikhail Khodorkovskii. Konanykhine ran the U.S. operations of Khodorkovskii's Menatep Bank in the mid-1990s. JB

POTANIN SEEKS MERGER OF BUSINESS GROUPS
Vladimir Potanin, head of the Interros holding company, on 29 January wrote to Russian Union of Industrialists and Entrepreneurs (RSPP) President Arkadii Volskii calling for a merger of three prominent organizations that represent business interests, "Izvestiya" and "Kommersant-Daily" reported on 30 January. Potanin wants the RSPP to merge with Support of Russia, an association of small and medium-sized businesses, and with Business Russia, which represents both medium-sized and large companies. The RSPP board, which includes the leaders of the other two groups, will consider Potanin's suggestion on 11 February. "Kommersant-Daily" quoted senior members of Business Russia as welcoming the idea, as long as the organizations are equally represented in the new union. In the Russian business community, the RSPP is informally known as the "oligarchs' union," and the other organizations are widely viewed as groups promoted by political authorities as a counterweight to the RSPP. LB

KHAKAMADA DISCUSSES PARTY-BUILDING PROJECT...
Presidential hopeful Irina Khakamada on 29 January announced plans to form a new democratic movement, comprising more than 60 members of the Union of Rightist Forces (SPS) and perhaps representatives of Yabloko as well, "Kommersant-Daily" and "Rossiiskaya gazeta" reported on 30 January. A recent SPS congress declined to endorse Khakamada's candidacy (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 26 January 2004), demonstrating that, in her view, the party is "not ready for tough opposition to the current authorities." She predicted that Unified Energy Systems (EES) CEO Anatolii Chubais will become the SPS leader after the presidential election. As for the new democratic movement, "Kommersant-Daily" quoted Khakamada as saying: "I want the leader to be a charismatic man, not a half-Japanese woman. But if there is no hero, I'll have to become the heroine myself." Khakamada's Common Cause party gained less than 1 percent of the vote in the 1995 elections to the State Duma. LB

...HER PRESIDENTIAL CAMPAIGN...
Speaking to journalists on 29 January, Khakamada said she is encouraged by the more than 4 million people who signed petitions supporting her presidential candidacy, "Rossiiskaya gazeta" reported on 30 January. She argued that "despite all the intrigues, people want democratic elections, want to see an opposition candidate and need a program for the modernization of Russia." Khakamada also told journalists that so far only her husband, a businessman, has contributed to her campaign fund. She is unlikely to receive much financial support from the business community, in light of the recent international warrant issued for Yukos shareholder Leonid Nevzlin, shortly after he announced his support of her bid (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 22 January 2004). Khakamada denied rumors that she is negotiating for the endorsement of former State Duma Speaker Ivan Rybkin, a close associate of self-exiled tycoon Boris Berezovskii who also hopes to run in the 14 March presidential election (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 28 January 2004). LB

...AND HER RECENT TRIP TO WASHINGTON
On 26-27 January, Khakamada visited Washington, D.C., where she met informally with U.S. national security adviser Condaleeza Rice and members of the U.S. Congress, "Izvestiya" reported on 28 January. She also spoke publicly at the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace. In those remarks, Khakamada said the Russian authorities have crushed political competition and destroyed the independent media over the past four years, that the "party of power" in the State Duma has neither a program nor ideas, and that Russia will move irrevocably along an authoritarian path if democratic forces cannot make their voices heard in four years. Speaking to Russian journalists in Moscow on 29 January, Khakamada argued that the U.S. "political establishment" takes a negative view of the 7 December parliamentary-election results, "Rossiiskaya gazeta" reported on 30 January. LB

PUTIN MEETS WITH SENIOR YABLOKO MEMBER
President Putin met with former State Duma Deputy Speaker Vladimir Lukin, a leading figure in Yabloko, in the Kremlin on 29 January, ORT reported. Officials released no details about their meeting. Yabloko leaders have blamed fraud for the party's failure to clear the 5 percent threshold in the recent parliamentary election. In an interview in "Moskovskii komsomolets" on 30 January, Yabloko leader Grigorii Yavlinskii said the party has reviewed some 12,500 protocols from polling stations, of which 16 percent did not correspond to official figures released by the Central Election Commission (TsIK). At the same time, Yabloko's place within the "democratic" opposition remains unclear. Politicians and journalists who organized the Committee 2008 earlier this month (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 20 and 21 January 2004) did not invite any Yabloko members to join. "Kommersant-Daily" on 30 January quoted Yabloko deputy chairman Sergei Mitrokhin as saying that Irina Khakamada's plan to form a new democratic movement is a "good thing," but that Yabloko is "strengthening as an independent party and has no plans to merge with anyone." LB

PLAN TO MOVE COURTS TO ST. PETERSBURG GAINS MOMENTUM
Prime Minister Mikhail Kasyanov on 24 January instructed the St. Petersburg administration and four federal agencies to develop a "preliminary plan" by 15 March for moving Russia's highest courts from Moscow to St. Petersburg, Russian media reported on 29 January, citing unnamed officials. The proposal would affect the Constitutional Court, the Supreme Court, and the Supreme Arbitration Court. President Putin has advocated moving some federal bodies to his native St. Petersburg, and moving the high courts to the "northern capital" was a campaign promise of St. Petersburg Governor Valentina Matvienko during her election campaign last year. "Kommersant-Daily" and "Izvestiya" on 30 January quoted judges who serve on all three bodies as speaking out against the proposal on the grounds that it would create great financial and logistical problems while bringing no benefits. LB

INCOME GAP WIDENING IN RUSSIA
According to new figures released by the State Statistics Committee, the incomes of the wealthiest Russians continue to grow faster than the incomes of the poorest stratum of society, "Vedomosti" reported on 29 January. In 2003, the wealthiest 10 percent of Russians earned 29.5 percent of all incomes, up from 29.3 percent in 2002. The poorest 10 percent last year earned just 2.1 percent of all incomes, unchanged from the previous year. The average income among the wealthiest 10 percent was 14.3 times greater than the average income of the poorest 10 percent, up from a multiplier of 14.1 in 2002. Overall per capita real incomes, however, rose by 14.5 percent in 2003, and the proportion of the Russian population with incomes below the "subsistence minimum" fell from 25 percent in 2002 to 20 percent. Last spring, President Putin named battling poverty as one of his principal social and economic goals. LB

POLITICAL EDUCATION STARTS EARLY IN ROSTOV
The Rostov Oblast Election Commission has produced a new book for use in the region's kindergarten classes, NTV reported on 29 January. The book portrays an alien from an unnamed planet, which is governed by a "supreme leader." The alien wants to learn how Russia is governed, and the book covers the basics of the political system, such as that the head of state is the president who is elected by the people to a four-year term. It's a revelation to the visitor from outer space, who comments that his planet's supreme leader makes all the decisions -- once even deciding that all toys on planet belong to him and no one else should be allowed to play with them! NTV's correspondent commented that the election commission hopes to raise children's awareness of the political world early so that they will grow up to be voters. LB

DEADLINE FOR RETURN OF DISPLACED PERSONS TO CHECHNYA DROPPED
The Russian authorities have abolished the 1 March deadline by which residents were supposed to leave three displaced-persons camps in Ingushetia, UN Undersecretary for Humanitarian Affairs Jan Egeland told journalists in Moscow on 29 January, Reuters reported (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 13 January 2004). He said he pointed out to Russian officials that imposing such a deadline contradicts statements that the return of Chechen displaced persons to Chechnya is purely voluntary. Egeland visited Chechnya and Ingushetia earlier this week, and characterized the plight of the civilian population and displaced persons in Chechnya as "critical," according to Reuters on 27 January. LF

RUSSIA 'NOT PLANNING' TO REVISE DEBT DEAL WITH ARMENIA
Arriving in Yerevan on 29 January for a two-day official visit, Russian Deputy Prime Minister Boris Aleshin rejected media reports that the purpose of his visit is to renegotiate the enterprises-for-debt deal sealed between the two countries in November 2002, RFE/RL's Yerevan bureau reported (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 6 November 2002). He added, however, that Moscow hopes to "complement [the deal] so that the two sides find it comfortable to operate within the framework of that program." Armenian officials note that Russia has not yet made good on its commitment to invest in modernizing the five enterprises that Armenia ceded in payment of its $100 million debt. LF

AZERBAIJAN SAYS EU KARABAKH PROPOSAL 'ACCEPTABLE'
Azerbaijani Deputy Foreign Minister Araz Azimov told journalists on 28 January that Baku "supports" the proposal contained in a recent EU report on the South Caucasus that Armenian forces should be withdrawn from five districts adjacent to the unrecognized Nagorno-Karabakh Republic in return for the resumption of rail traffic between Armenia and Azerbaijan, Interfax and Caucasus Press reported on 29 January. On 30 January, zerkalo.az quoted Azerbaijani parliament speaker Murtuz Alesqerov as saying the proposal is "acceptable." On 30 December, Turan quoted Azerbaijani Foreign Minister Vilayat Guliev as saying such an exchange "is not on the agenda." LF

AZERBAIJAN TO INCREASE GAS IMPORTS FROM RUSSIA
Meeting on 29 January in Baku with two senior Gazprom officials, Azerbaijani President Ilham Aliyev said Baku will increase purchases of natural gas from Russia, Turan and ITAR-TASS reported. Under a five-year agreement signed last month, Azerbaijan was to buy 2.75 billion cubic meters of Russian and Kazakh gas from Gazprom in 2004, and up to 4 billion cubic meters in following years. Aliyev said the planned increase will make it possible to supply all districts of Azerbaijan with natural gas. LF

GEORGIA UNVEILS NEW ANTICORRUPTION MEASURES...
President Mikheil Saakashvili submitted to parliament on 27 January a package of bills on further measures to combat corruption, Georgian media reported. Prosecutor-General Irakli Okruashvili and National Security Council Secretary Vano Merabishvili told journalists on 29 January that the bills would allow for filing civil suits against officials suspected of bribery, requiring them to prove that their assets were acquired legally. The bills would also allow the government to confiscate any assets that could not be justified. In addition, prosecutors would be able to release, or mitigate the punishment for, officials under investigation who supply information or evidence of crimes that they or colleagues committed. According to Interfax on 29 January, the bills stipulate that detained officials may not adduce ill health as an excuse for not answering prosecutors' questions. LF

...AS ANOTHER OFFICIAL ARRESTED
Vakhtang Chakhnashvili, the deputy chairman of the Finance Ministry's Tax Department, was arrested in his office on 29 January in the presence of Prosecutor-General Okruashvili, Caucasus Press reported. Chakhnashvili is accused of embezzling some 500,000 laris ($232,000) while serving as chairman of the Union of Major Taxpayers, but Okruashvili told journalists the actual amount in question could be as high as 5 million laris. Chakhnashvili termed his arrest a "misunderstanding," and has refused to answer questions. LF

ABKHAZ GOVERNMENT REJECTS CALLS FOR PRESIDENT'S RESIGNATION...
Deputy Prime Minister Astamur Tarba chaired a closed session of the Abkhaz Council of Ministers and heads of local government bodies on 29 January to discuss demands unveiled the previous day by the opposition movement Amtsakhara for the resignation of ailing President Vladislav Ardzinba, Apsnypress reported (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 29 January 2004). Participants at the meeting adopted an appeal to the population of the unrecognized republic to refrain from exacerbating tensions and to resolve all contentious issues within the framework of the constitution. The statement stressed that the government is taking steps to reform the political system and improve the economic situation. Ardzinba convened a similar meeting on 29 January with senior parliament officials. LF

...AS MILITARY, PREMIER WARN AGAINST DESTABILIZATION
Also on 29 January, the Abkhaz armed forces issued a statement conceding that some of the criticisms of Ardzinba are justified, but that resorting to "unconstitutional methods" is "inadmissible." Abkhaz Prime Minister Raul Khadjimba similarly admitted that Ardzinba's recent decree on the timber industry has "complicated" the situation, Apsnypress reported. At the same time, he warned the opposition against further "irresponsible actions that will inevitably lead to the collapse of the Abkhaz state." LF

GEORGIAN OPPOSITION POLITICIAN DEMANDS FINANCIAL COMPENSATION FROM UNITED STATES
Labor Party Chairman Shalva Natelashvili told a Tbilisi press conference on 29 January that he has written to the U.S. Congress demanding $100 million in "moral damage" in compensation for what he termed the U.S. role in the ouster last November of President Eduard Shevardnadze, Interfax and Caucasus Press reported. Natelashvili accused the United States of insulting the Georgian people by treating them as "guinea pigs" in a "political experiment." He said he will use the compensation money to create a fund to help the most impoverished strata of the Georgian population. LF

IMPRISONED KAZAKH JOURNALIST DENIES HE WAS RELEASED
Sergei Duvanov, who was sentenced to 3 1/2 years' imprisonment early last year after being convicted on a rape charge that he and his supporters say was fabricated, told Deutsche Welle on 29 January that his recent transfer from prison to a minimum-security facility does not mean that he has been released. Some foreign journalists and human rights activists who have been calling for Duvanov's release have insisted that he was freed. Duvanov said he is still under observation by law enforcement officials, he must report regularly to the facility, and he may not attend public events. However, he is allowed to live at home. He added that he still insists on full exoneration. BB

KAZAKH POLICE SEARCH EDITORIAL OFFICE OF LOCAL NEWSPAPER
The editorial offices of the Aktyubinsk Oblast newspaper "Diapazon" were searched by police for several hours on 26 January and some documents, including lists of the newspaper's employees, were removed, khabar.kz reported on 29 January. The police action was reportedly undertaken in connection with a dispute between Aktyubrentgen, one of the city's major firms, and the publishing house that prints "Diapazon" over removal of a wall. The editorial staff denies that police had any legal grounds for the search, because publishing-house employees had already answered questions relevant to the dispute. BB

DISMISSED HEAD OF TAJIK PRESIDENTIAL GUARD TURNS DOWN NEW APPOINTMENT
The former commander of Tajikistan's Presidential Guard, Lieutenant General Gaffor Mirzoev, met with President Imomali Rakhmonov on 28 January and later told Deutsche Welle that he has turned down Rakhmonov's offer of the chairmanship of the Tajik Athletic Committee. Rakhmonov dismissed Mirzoev on 26 January and reorganized the Presidential Guard into a National Guard (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 27 January 2004), a move Mirzoev publicly protested (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 29 January 2004). Mirzoev told Deutsche Welle that he blames his dismissal not on Rakhmonov, but on the president's "incompetent" advisers. He also described as "provocations" articles in the media speculating that he was planning a military coup. BB

TAJIKISTAN TO BE ADMITTED TO INTERPOL WITHOUT FEE
Tajikistan is being admitted to the International Criminal Police Organization, Interpol, without having the pay the standard fee of 50,000 euros ($62,000), Tajik Interior Minister Khumdin Sharipov told journalists in Dushanbe on 29 January, Asia Plus-Blitz reported. The organization has also promised to provide the Tajik Interior Ministry with a special communications system for receiving and transmitting confidential information. BB

UZBEK PRESIDENT NAMES NEW GOVERNOR OF TASHKENT OBLAST
Islam Karimov signed a decree on 29 January naming First Deputy Prime Minister Kozim Tulyaganov, a former mayor of Tashkent, to the post of governor of Tashkent Oblast, uza.uz reported. Ummat Mirzakulov, Tulyaganov's predecessor, retired recently. Speaking to a session of the oblast council, Karimov criticized Mirzakulov's management of the oblast, particularly in the social sphere, education, and health. BB

UZBEK OPPOSITION PARTY MAKES ANOTHER ATTEMPT TO REGISTER
The Uzbek opposition party Birlik has submitted registration documentation to the Justice Ministry for the third time in two years, centrasia.ru reported on 30 January, quoting a 26 January party statement. The ministry turned down the two previous registration attempts on technicalities. Although Birlik members have said they are prepared to run as independent candidates in parliamentary elections to be held on 26 December, the party hopes to obtain registration at least six months before the election so it can participate as a genuine opposition party. BB

BELARUSIAN PRESIDENT PLAYS DOWN ENERGY CRUNCH
President Alyaksandr Lukashenka declared at a government session on 29 January that energy resources have never been and will not be in short supply in Belarus, Belapan reported. He suggested that Minsk's current difficulties in securing Russian gas supplies have been exaggerated by the media (see "RFE/RL Poland, Belarus, and Ukraine Report," 27 January 2004). "We should react to this calmly, hold talks and negotiate with Russia, whatever difficult problems the governments of the two countries may face," Lukashenka was quoted as saying to cabinet ministers. Earlier the same day, Lukashenka met with Russian Security Council Secretary Vladimir Rushailo. Lukashenka conceded that there are problems in the Belarusian-Russian relationship but added that there is no "tragic acuteness" to the situation. Minsk has so far been unable to negotiate a contract for gas supplies in 2004 with Gazprom but, according to ITAR-TASS on 29 January, the Belarusian authorities have negotiated the supply of some 1.7 billion cubic meters of Russian gas by Itera and Transnafta for February but have not yet agreed on a price. JM

BELARUSIAN AUTHORITIES CLOSED 50 NGOS IN 2003
Justice Minister Viktar Halavanau told journalists on 29 January that his ministry conducted inspections of more than 800 nongovernmental organizations (NGOs) last year, resulting in the judicial liquidation of 51 of them, Belapan reported. The Minsk City Court boosted that figure the same day by ordering the liquidation of the Independent Society of Legal Studies. The court found the organization guilty of declaring an incorrect address in its founding documents and carrying out activities outside Minsk despite a constraint in its charter. JM

PACE WARNS UKRAINE OVER POLITICAL REFORM, UPCOMING ELECTION...
The Parliamentary Assembly of the Council of Europe (PACE) voted 46-13 on 29 January to adopt a resolution threatening to suspend Ukraine's membership in the Council of Europe if Ukrainian authorities continue to push through the current political reform by unconstitutional means or fail to guarantee a free and fair presidential ballot in October, Ukrainian and international news agencies reported. The resolution says the process of introducing constitutional amendments initiated in Ukraine last year contradicts both the Ukrainian Constitution and the Verkhovna Rada's rules of procedure. The resolution calls on all forces in the Verkhovna Rada to reconsider all three draft laws on constitutional amendments in an open debate and with full respect for parliamentary rules, take into account recommendations of the Venice Commission regarding the constitutional amendments, and hold a scheduled presidential election in 2004 for the term prescribed in the current constitution. The resolution expresses hopes that President Leonid Kuchma will step down at the end of his second term in 2004. JM

...AS KYIV DEFENDS 'NORMAL CONSTITUTIONAL PROCESS'
Ukrainian Foreign Minister Kostyantyn Hryshchenko told a PACE session in Strasbourg on 29 January that "Ukraine is not experiencing a political crisis but faces heated and emotional debates" on how to change the political system in the country, Interfax reported. According to Hryshchenko, all the changes envisaged in the political reforms making their way through parliament are proceeding in line with the constitution. "We are open for further dialogue," Hryshchenko declared. "Nevertheless, the situation requires that resolutions be considered and adopted. A normal constitutional process is in progress in Ukraine." JM

ESTONIAN CENTER PARTY SEEKS TO EASE NATURALIZATION REQUIREMENTS
The opposition Center Party parliament faction on 29 January presented amendments to the citizenship law proposing that applicants for citizenship who were born prior to 1939 be exempted from requirements that they exhibit proficiency in the Estonian language, BNS reported. The faction argued that teachers and psychologists have determined that it is much more difficult for elderly people to learn a foreign language. The proposals also call for requirements that applicants pass tests on their knowledge of the Estonian Constitution and citizenship law be dropped for persons born prior to 1939. Center Party deputy Mikhail Stalnukhin said the elimination of the requirements would benefit more than 17,000 elderly people. The proposed amendments also call for people who settled in Estonia prior to 1 July 1990 to be allowed to take a simplified Estonian-language course whose requirements the government would determine separately. The amendments, if passed, will go into effect on 1 January 2005. SG

LATVIAN PARLIAMENT ADOPTS EUROPARLIAMENT ELECTION BILL
The parliament on 29 January approved in its final reading a bill on elections to the European Parliament, BNS reported. The final version of the bill did not include the provision included in the first two readings that would have barred former KGB agents and persons who continued to be members of the Communist Party after January 1991 from running for the European Parliament (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 15 January 2004). Deputies from Latvia's First Party, which quit the ruling coalition the previous day, New Era, and leftist opposition parties voted for the removal of the provision, while the coalition Union of Greens and Farmers and For the Fatherland and Freedom/LNNK along with the rightist opposition People's Party sought to retain it. President Vaira Vike-Freiberga praised the deletion of the provision as a move in accordance with internationally accepted human rights requirements. SG

LITHUANIAN PRIME MINISTER DISMISSES SPECULATION OVER MAZEIKIAI OIL
Algirdas Brazauskas told parliament on 29 January that rumors that Lithuania is considering purchasing shares of Mazeikiu Nafta (Mazeikiai Oil) from the Russian oil giant Yukos to offset fears the Russian government might take control of the shares is completely groundless, BNS reported. The speculation was in great part prompted by the recent warrant issued by Russia for the arrest of Yukos Vice President and Mazeikiai Oil Chairman Mikhail Brudno. Brazauskas explained that the 53.7 percent shares of Mazeikiai Oil in question are registered to the Netherlands-based Yukos Finance B.V., so there is no danger of them being confiscated by Russia. Meanwhile, Mazeikiai Oil on 29 January released favorable performance results for 2003. Its refinery processed 7.16 million tons of crude oil in 2003, up 9.3 percent from 2002; and its Butinge oil terminal exported 10.72 million tons of crude oil last year, a 76 percent increase from 2002. However, the volume of oil pumped through the company's Birzai pipeline dropped by 12 percent to 20.56 million tons due to Russia's stoppage of oil shipments to the Latvian port of Ventspils. SG

POLISH OPPOSITION QUARRELS OVER ALLEGATIONS OF FINANCIAL ABUSES
A coalition of the opposition Civic Platform and Law and Justice parties in the capital has been dissolved, Polish media reported on 29 January, quoting Warsaw City Council Chairman Wojciech Kozak. Kozak, a member of the Civic Platform, said the reason for the split was a joint motion by councilors from Law and Justice and the League of Polish Families to vote him out of his post. The motion alleges that Kozak was responsible for the city's financial losses during the construction of a bridge and motorway in Warsaw in 1996-2002. The Supreme Audit Chamber concluded in a recent report that Warsaw lost at least 30 million zlotys ($7.8 million) during that construction project. "The practice of the Civic Platform-Law and Justice coalition in Warsaw shows how difficult it might be for the parties to agree at the national level," PAP quoted Civic Platform activist Andrzej Machowski as saying. Some Polish observers have speculated that a coalition of the Civic Platform and Law and Justice could take over after the current ruling Democratic Left Alliance-Labor Union bloc. JM

CZECH AGRICULTURE MINISTER DENIES ALLEGATIONS OF KGB COLLABORATION
A copy of a document purporting to demonstrate that Agriculture Minister Jaroslav Palas (Social Democratic Party) collaborated with the Soviet-era KGB is circulating in the Czech Senate, CTK reported on 29 January, citing a Czech Radio report. A spokesman for the Agriculture Ministry reportedly described the document as a blatant forgery. Palas, who is on a visit to Greece, told CTK he believes the document is part of an attempt to destabilize the government. MS

SLOVAKIA DENIES 'OFFICIAL INVOLVEMENT' IN ALLEGED IRAQI-OIL PAYOFFS
Slovakia's Foreign Ministry announced on 29 January that the country was in no way involved at an official level in oil payoffs allegedly made by former Iraqi dictator Saddam Hussein to individuals and organizations from 46 countries, TASR reported (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 29 January 2004). Recipients of the purported payoffs, published by the Iraqi daily "Al-Mada," include the Communist Party of Slovakia (KSS). The ministry said the Slovak Embassy in Baghdad has been tasked with requesting the list from Iraqi authorities but has not received a response. The KSS denied the allegation. According to the daily "Sme," the Slovak Party of the Democratic Left (SDL) is also included on the list. Former SDL Chairman and former parliamentary speaker Jozef Migas likewise said there is no truth in it. MS

MECIAR ANNOUNCES BID FOR SLOVAK PRESIDENCY
Former Slovak Prime Minister Vladimir Meciar announced on 30 January that he will run for president in the country's April election, TASR and international news agencies reported. Meciar, who is chairman of the opposition Movement for a Democratic Slovakia (HZDS), said he wants to bring "stability" to a country shaken by scandal. In response to a journalist's question, Meciar said that unlike in his unsuccessful 1999 bid, he should emerge victorious if people choose the "lesser evil." Meanwhile, three additional aspirants to the highest state office submitted signatures on 29 January supporting their presidential bids, TASR reported. This brings the number of candidates officially register thus far to eight, according to TASR. Other recently announced candidates include Stanislav Bernat, who is mayor of Martin; Jozef Kalman, who was a deputy premier in one of the cabinets headed by Vladimir Meciar and is now chairman of the extraparliamentary Left Bloc; and Banska Bystrica Mayor Jan Kralik, whose candidacy is supported by the now extraparliamentary SDL. MS

EUROPEAN PEOPLE'S PARTY DRAFT RESOLUTION PRODUCES UPROAR IN HUNGARY
Several Hungarian Socialist Party (MSZP) politicians and observers in the European Parliament expressed shock on 29 January over a proposal by the European People's Party (EPP) to ban communist-era apparatchiks from holding office in EU institutions, "Nepszabadsag" reported. Socialist Party Chairman Laszlo Kovacs called it an "unacceptable step" by Europe's right-wing Christian Democratic parties, also claiming that FIDESZ deputy Jozsef Szajer helped draft the resolution. Kovacs said he does not see why the condemnation of communist dictatorships has become topical so many years after those regimes fell. Szajer suggested that MSZP concerns demonstrate that those politicians feel continuity with Hungary's communist-era Socialist Workers' Party, "Magyar Hirlap" reported. MSZ

HUNGARIAN SECRET SERVICES INVESTIGATING IRAQ OIL REPORTS
Hungarian intelligence services are investigating the recent media report alleging that the right-wing Hungarian Interests Party led by Izabella Kiraly received some 4.7 million barrels of oil from ousted Iraqi President Saddam Hussein's regime in Iraq (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 29 January 2004), Foreign Ministry spokesman Tamas Toth told Budapest dailies on 29 January. Toth said the Foreign Ministry relayed a report sent by the Hungarian Embassy in Baghdad confirming the oil deal to the minister for intelligence services at the time, Ervin Demeter, "Nepszabadsag" reported. The daily also quoted Defense Minster Ferenc Juhasz claiming that the FIDESZ-led government, particularly former Foreign Minister Janos Martonyi, knew about the illegal oil dealings. MSZ

FORMER CHIEF U.S. DIPLOMAT CAUTIONS HUNGARIAN OPPOSITION LEADER OVER EXTREMISM
Visiting former U.S. Secretary of State Madeleine Albright told former Hungarian Premier Viktor Orban on 29 January that she is concerned about "some of the more extremist views" expressed by members of Orban's opposition FIDESZ party and warned him that it is counterproductive for FIDESZ to support "extremist nationalist views," AP reported. The news agency noted an 11 January demonstration against Tilos Radio, during which demonstrators burned an Israeli flag. FIDESZ has distanced itself from that act. "I also told [Orban that]...there is a general sense among people in the United States that there is a kind of resurgence of anti-Semitism in Europe," she said after the meeting. Albright said Orban defended his record as premier (1998-2002) and did not agree with her remarks. MS

SERBIAN PARTIES APPEAR ON ALLEGED IRAQI OIL LIST
Several Serbian political parties appear on a list published by the Iraqi daily "Al-Mada" on 25 January of companies, organizations, and individuals who allegedly received crude oil in return for political support for Saddam Hussein's regime in Iraq, RFE/RL reported. Mira Markovic's United Yugoslav Left (JUL) allegedly received 9.5 million barrels of oil, former Yugoslav President Slobodan Milosevic's Socialist Party of Serbia (SPS) is listed as having been given 1 million barrels, and something called the Italian Party allegedly got 1 million barrels. An individual whose name in Arabic transliteration appears to be that of former Yugoslav President Vojislav Kostunica is also listed as having received 1 million barrels. Persistent but unconfirmed reports in 2002 suggested that Kostunica or his entourage knew of or approved alleged covert Serbian and Bosnian Serb arms sales to Iraq (see "RFE/RL Balkan Report," 29 November 2002). The top Belgrade authorities at the time denied the charges. PM

WILL SERBIA HAVE A 'MAJORITY' GOVERNMENT?
Leaders of the Serbian parliamentary parties that did not support the rule of former Yugoslav President Slobodan Milosevic tentatively agreed in Belgrade on 29 January to form a government that will include officials of all those parties, RFE/RL's South Slavic and Albanian Languages Service reported (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 26 and 28 January 2004 and "RFE/RL Balkan Report," 12 December 2003 and 9 January 2004). Kostunica said he reluctantly agreed to include the Democratic Party in the cabinet because of popular demand for a government to be set up. The parties agreed that the prime minister will be from the DSS and the speaker of the parliament from the Democrats, but they remain divided over how to elect the speaker. The DSS wants to elect a speaker from its own ranks who will resign after the cabinet is formed, opening the way for a Democratic candidate. The Democrats want a speaker from their party to be elected outright. The speaker has the power to authorize formation of a government, serve as acting president, and call new elections. The parliament is scheduled to meet on 30 January. PM

MACEDONIAN CITIZENS SUPPORT NATO MEMBERSHIP
An opinion poll commissioned by the Macedonian Defense Ministry suggests that 72 percent of the respondents support NATO membership, "Utrinski vesnik" reported on 30 January. The results also show that support is much higher among the Albanian minority (88 percent), whereas 67 percent of the Macedonian respondents favor membership in the alliance. More than 72 percent of the adherents of the governing Social Democratic Union (SDSM) say the overall situation is more stable than two years ago, but only 27 percent of the followers of the opposition Internal Macedonian Revolutionary Organization (VMRO-DPMNE) sense an improvement. Sixty-eight percent of the adherents of the governing ethnic Albanian Democratic Union for Integration (BDI) say the security situation has improved, while followers of the opposition Party for Democratic Prosperity (PPD) and the Democratic Party of the Albanians (PDSH) are more skeptical (49 and 39 percent, respectively). The support for a strategic partnership with the United States is highest among the Romany minority (over 80 percent), followed by the Albanians (66 percent), and the Macedonians (49 percent), "Dnevnik" reported. UB

REGIONAL LEADERS MEET IN SLOVENIA
The prime ministers of Slovenia, Croatia, Italy, and Hungary began a one-day meeting in Brdo pri Kranju on 30 January, Hina reported. Economic cooperation and NATO-related issues top the agenda. PM

CROATIA EXPRESSES 'CONCERN' TO SERBIA OVER INCIDENTS...
Croatian Foreign Minister Miomir Zuzul told Milan Simurdic, the ambassador to Croatia from Serbia and Montenegro in Zagreb on 29 January that Croatia is "concerned" over what Zuzul called a deteriorating security situation for Croats in Vojvodina, Hina reported. Zuzul mentioned several recent violent incidents directed at members of the Croatian minority as well as threats made against the Croatian consulate in Subotica (see "RFE/RL Balkan Report," 30 January 2004). Deutsche Welle's "Monitor" quoted Serbia and Montenegro's Minister for Human Rights and Minority Rights Rasim Ljajic as saying that Serbian extreme nationalists allegedly behind the incidents feel emboldened following the success of the Serbian Radical Party (SRS) in the 28 December parliamentary elections. Serbian human rights activist Sonja Biserko argued that the institutions encouraging extreme nationalism are the Army, the Serbian Academy of Arts and Sciences, the Serbian Orthodox Church, and unnamed intellectual circles. "Monitor" also noted that some perpetrators of the incidents were under the influence of alcohol or drugs at the time. PM

...WHILE CROATIAN FANS ABUSE SERBIAN BASKETBALL PLAYERS
In Zagreb on 29 January, an unspecified number of Croatian hooligans shouted "Kill Serbs" and other forms of abuse at the players and fans of the Partizan Belgrade basketball team who arrived to play against Cibona Zagreb, "Vesti" reported. Police detained some of the rowdies after they seriously injured a driver for the Serbian team. Describing the atmosphere, one Serbian visitor said, "I felt like a pig in Tehran." PM

ROMANIAN PRESIDENT IN INDIA
President Ion Iliescu, on a four-day visit to India, told a forum of Indian businessmen in Bombay on 29 January that Romania will soon open a consulate in that city to boost bilateral trade, which is currently hovering around $100 million per year, AFP reported. "Our trade with China is worth $1 billion [annually]," Iliescu said. "I think that Indian-Romanian trade has the same potential, especially when taking into consideration that India is closer to Romania." Iliescu called on Indian companies to invest aggressively in Romania, which, he said, "can be a gateway to Europe." Iliescu was scheduled to meet with his Indian counterpart Abdul Kalam and Prime Minister Atal Bihari Vajpayee. MS

ROMANIANS AMONG ALLEGED RECIPIENTS OF IRAQI OIL PAYOFFS
The extraparliamentary Romanian Workers' Party (PMR) figures among the beneficiaries of alleged oil payoffs made by deposed Iraqi President Saddam Hussein to individuals and entities around the world in exchange for support for his regime, the daily "Adevarul" reported on 27 January (see Slovak item above and "RFE/RL Newsline," 28 and 29 January 2004). PMR Chairman Ioan Cristian Niculae admitted that his party received a "preferential contract" from the former Iraqi authorities, but said the deal did not violate the UN-imposed embargo on Iraq. Niculae said the oil received in the deal was part of the quota allowed by the UN for Iraqi oil sales. Iraq, he claimed, sought the PMR's assistance in finding buyers for the oil it was allowed to sell. He also said the deals involved 1.6 million barrels, not 5.5 million as reported in the Iraqi media. Niculae also claimed the PMR did not charge Iraq for this "service." MS

RULING ROMANIAN PARTY NAMES BUCHAREST MAYORAL CANDIDATE
Meeting in the mountain resort of Sinaia on 29 January, the leadership of the Social Democratic Party (PSD) selected National Control Authority head Ionel Blanculescu as its candidate for Bucharest mayoral election in June, the daily "Adevarul" reported on 30 January. The PSD on 28 January announced it is supporting all six current incumbent mayors of Bucharest sectors. MS

WIESENTHAL CENTER ASKS ROMANIA TO ANNUL PARDONS OF WORLD WAR II-ERA OFFICERS
Efraim Zuroff, director of the Israel branch of the Simon Wiesenthal Center, on 29 January asked Prosecutor-General Ilie Botos to annul pardons granted to two Romanian officers found guilty of war crimes, Mediafax reported. Colonels Radu Dinulescu and Gheorghe Petrescu were rehabilitated by the Supreme Court in 1997 and 1998, respectively. According to the Wiesenthal Center (see http://www.wiesenthal.com), the two participated the perpetration of crimes against Jews and in the extermination of Jews in Bessarabia and Bukovina in 1941. Botos said a special team of Romanian prosecutors is reexamining the two cases. MS

OSCE MISSION CHIEF DOES NOT FORESEE EARLY BREAKTHROUGH IN TRANSDNIESTER NEGOTIATIONS...
William Hill, the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE) mission chief to Moldova, told journalists on 29 January that he does not expect an early breakthrough allowing the resumption of negotiations between Chisinau and Tiraspol, Flux and Infotag reported. Hill's comments came following a meeting in Sofia of representatives of the three mediators in the conflict -- the OSCE, Russia, and Ukraine. He said it will take a couple of weeks to find out whether the Sofia meeting produced any results. Hill said the representatives agreed to maintain the five-party negotiations format and drafted a tentative "working program" that included the mediators' proposals and recommendations. He said the mediators expect Chisinau and Tiraspol to respond to those proposals "no later than 17 February." The representatives are to meet again on 24 February to examine the sides' counterproposals, he said. Hill described the decisions approved in Sofia as a "compromise" (presumably between the Russian and the OSCE plans for Moldova's federalization) intended to make possible the drafting of a final document. MS

...BUT HOPES RUSSIAN WITHDRAWAL WILL SOON BE RESUMED
OSCE mission chief to Moldova Hill also said on 29 January that he hopes the evacuation of Russian military equipment from Transdniester will resume in the nearest future, Infotag reported. He said the issue was not discussed during the conflict mediators' meeting in Sofia, and added that recent extremely poor weather conditions in the region would have made any attempt to load materiel on trains for evacuation a risky venture. He said he hopes the evacuation will resume once the weather improves. MS

BULGARIAN OPPOSITION PARTIES CLASH OVER ALLEGED IRAQI OIL PAYMENTS
In an apparent attempt to deflect attention from his party in connection with a recently published list of supporters of deposed Iraqi President Saddam Hussein (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 28 and 29 January 2004), opposition Socialist Party (BSP) Chairman Sergey Stanishev said on 28 January that business contacts with Iraq rose drastically under the previous government headed by Ivan Kostov of the now-opposition Union of Democratic Forces (SDS), mediapool.bg reported. The BSP was included in the list published by Baghdad daily "Al-Mada" of individuals and entities that allegedly received payments in oil in return for political support for Hussein's regime. Stanishev confirmed that in 2002, Zahari Zahariev, who was a member of the BSP's supreme council, struck a deal paid in crude oil on behalf of the Bulgarian company Mashinoeksport. In response to Stanishev's accusations, SDS Chairwoman Nadezhda Mihailova told mediapool.bg that the Baghdad daily's list referred to payments made in 1998, not in 2001 or 2002. Mihailova demanded that President Georgi Parvanov, who headed the BSP until his election in 2001, resign. UB

IRAN'S ROLE IN ISRAEL-HIZBALLAH PRISONER SWAP ACKNOWLEDGED
An aircraft bearing an Israeli businessman -- Elhanan Tenenbaum -- who has been held by Lebanese Hizballah since October 2000, as well as the remains of three Israeli soldiers, left for a German air base in Cologne early on 29 January, as did an Israeli aircraft carrying 27 Arab prisoners. After the Israeli Defense Forces identified the remains of the three soldiers -- Beni Avraham, Adi Avitan, and Umar Suwayd -- Israel began releasing Palestinian prisoners and transferring the remains of Hizballah personnel.

This was effectively a bilateral deal, with Germany mediating between Israel and Hizballah, but Iran was involved, too. The extent of this involvement will probably always remain unclear -- Hizballah's long-standing practice of hostage taking is one of the murkier aspects of modern Middle East politics. However, an Iranian parliamentary delegation arrived in Beirut on 28 January to participate in ceremonies honoring the Lebanese returnees.

Tehran representative Hojatoleslam Ali Akbar Mohtashami-Pur, one of Hizballah's founders, headed the delegation, which included 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. Hizballah Secretary-General Hassan Nasrallah welcomed the Iranian delegation during his 29 January speech at Beirut's Seyyed al-Shuhada Complex, Al-Manar television reported.

Germany and Israel confirmed on 24 January that Hizballah will exchange Tenenbaum and the soldiers' remains for 400 Palestinians and dozens of other Arabs who have been in Israeli custody. Moreover, Israel agreed to provide Hizballah with the remains of 50 combatants, to provide information on 24 other combatants, and to provide maps of minefields in southern Lebanon, "The Jerusalem Post" reported on 26 January.

Germany's Ernst Urlau, who mediated in this exchange, said on 24 January that Iran was helpful in the matter, Jerusalem's Channel 1 television reported. Urlau said he and the German government will create committees to investigate the cases of Ron Arad -- an Israeli Air Force officer whose aircraft went down over Lebanon in 1986 and who is believed to be in Iran -- and four missing Iranians -- Charge d'Affaires Seyyed Mohsen Musavi, diplomats Ahmad Motevaselian and Taqi Rastegar-Moghaddam, and IRNA photojournalist Kazem Akhavan -- who disappeared in Lebanon in 1982. Tehran believes that the South Lebanon Army captured these men and turned them over to Israel.

The creation of these committees is effectively the second phase of this process. If the information on Arad is forthcoming, more Palestinians and Lebanese will be released, as will Samir al-Kuntar, who headed a Palestinian terrorist squad that killed a number of Israelis in 1979. German sources cited by "Ha'aretz" on 25 January and "The Jerusalem Post" on 26 January said the release of an Iranian and two Lebanese imprisoned for murdering Iranian-Kurdish dissidents in Germany in 1992 might also be part of this second phase.

Hizballah Secretary-General Hassan Nasrallah at a 25 January press conference confirmed an Iranian role. "The Iranians did not complicate the process. The Iranian brothers could have said -- as a result of the close relationship they have with us and because there are four missing Iranians in Lebanon -- 'please brothers, do not proceed without the four Iranians.' They did not say this," Nasrallah said, Al-Manar television reported. "On the contrary, they said: 'Do whatever you see is appropriate, what makes the negotiation process easier, and what secures the release of the largest number of detainees. We have no problem. Our diplomats are like your sons and brothers, and whether you deal with them in the first stage or second stage, we have no problem.' So the Iranians were helpful and cooperative."

Nasrallah also insisted that Arad is not in Iran. "The Israelis claim that Ron Arad is in Iran," he said. "I categorically deny this, based on my personal follow-up. Iran also denies this. I mean, Ron Arad is in Lebanon, and not in Iran or elsewhere."

Adding further detail was a 25 January analysis in "Ha'aretz" that cited anonymous German sources as saying that when the talks were at an impasse in November, Iranian Supreme National Security Council Secretary Hojatoleslam Hassan Rohani "encouraged" Hizballah to conclude the deal.

Iranian Foreign Minister Kamal Kharrazi on 26 January hailed the exchange of prisoners as, in the words of state television, "a great victory for the resistance of Lebanese people and government." Kharrazi said he hopes this will clarify the fate of the diplomats and end their families' suffering.

Mohammad Reza Dehqani, the Iranian charge d'affaires in Beirut, said in the 28 January issue of "Al-Mustaqbal" newspaper that an Iranian delegation will come to Lebanon soon to investigate the matter of the missing Iranian diplomats. "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."

SEVEN U.S. SOLDIERS KILLED IN AFGHANISTAN
An explosion at a weapons cache in the village of Deh Hindu in the central Afghan province of Ghazni on 29 January claimed the lives of seven U.S. soldiers and injured three others and an Afghan interpreter, international news agencies reported. An additional U.S. soldier remains missing in the wake of the blast. The explosion occurred as U.S. troops worked near a weapons cache. A spokesman for U.S. forces in Afghanistan, Lieutenant Colonel Bryan Hilferty, said "there is no indication" of whether the blast was an accident or planned. Hilferty added that an investigation has been launched, AP reported on 30 January. Ghazni Governor Asadullah Khan claimed the blast was accidental, adding that he is "sure it wasn't a plot by the Taliban," since his side knows the area of Deh Hindu where the "people are good." The U.S. deaths come at the end of a bloody month, during which "about 80 people have died in violent incidents in Afghanistan, including civilians, militants, police officers, [and] international peacekeepers," AP commented. AT

NEO-TALIBAN IDENTIFY ATTACKERS AGAINST ISAF
Abdul Latif Hakimi, purporting to speak on behalf of ousted Taliban forces, identified the two suicide bombers who carried out attacks against the NATO-led International Security Assistance Force (ISAF) in Kabul, London-based "Al-Hayah" reported on 29 January. Hakimi claimed that Sayyed Mohammad Ahmad, a Palestinian carrying an Algerian passport, was responsible for a 28 January attack against British troops, while Hafez Abdullah, an Afghan from Khost Province, carried out the attack against Canadian forces on 27 January. Those two suicide attacks against ISAF forces in Kabul took the lives of a Canadian and a British soldier, along with two Afghan civilians (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 27 and 28 January 2004). Suicide operations are a new phenomenon in Afghanistan, Hakimi said, adding that the neo-Taliban has "hundreds" of fighters ready to carry out further suicide missions. Hakimi warned that the Taliban are planning to carry out new suicide attacks in the "coming days." AT

AFGHAN ENVOY TO IRAN CRITICIZES INTERNATIONAL EFFORTS TO STOP POPPY CULTIVATION
Afghan Ambassador to Iran Ahmad Moshahed said on 29 January that the international community is not doing enough to help Afghanistan fight the increasing cultivation of opium poppy, Voice of the Islamic Republic of Iran reported. Moshahed specifically singled out countries near Afghanistan for not acting to prevent poppy cultivation or helping to prepare conditions in Afghanistan for alternative crops. Afghanistan, without international help and cooperation from its neighbors, cannot effectively combat the problem, Moshahed said. He blamed the rising drug problem in Afghanistan on poverty. AT

PAKISTAN NETS LARGEST-EVER HEROIN HAUL
Customs officials in Pakistan have reported the seizure of the largest-ever single haul of heroin, weighing in at 1,600 kilograms, the BBC reported on 29 January. The drugs were found in Pakistan's Baluchistan Province, near the border with Afghanistan. Pakistan is believed to be a key transit route for heroin from Afghanistan. BBC added that since the fall of the Taliban regime in 2001, heroin production is approaching record levels in Afghanistan due to poverty and the rule of warlords over large swaths of the country. AT

IRANIAN DEFENSE MINISTER SAYS ELECTIONS WILL PROCEED ON SCHEDULE
Iran's minister of defense and armed forces logistics, Admiral Ali Shamkhani, said on 29 January that "Iran will hold exciting elections on the scheduled date [20 February], disappointing its enemies and proving once more that there is no such thing as a deadlock in the political life of the Islamic Republic," ISNA reported. Shamkhani reportedly is on a presidential committee that is negotiating with the Guardians Council regarding the scheduled parliamentary elections, and he said they met on 28 and 29 January. "The committee has reached some positive results aimed at making the elections more competitive," he said. He added that the committee intends to meet with legislators. BS

IRANIAN INTERIOR MINISTER WANTS ELECTIONS POSTPONED
Hojatoleslam Abdolvahed Musavi-Lari in a 29 January letter to Guardians Council Secretary Ayatollah Ahmad Jannati asked for postponement of the parliamentary elections scheduled for 20 February, ISNA reported. Postponement, Musavi-Lari said in his letter, "will allow us and the esteemed Guardians Council to create suitable conditions for holding true and healthy elections." Provincial governors-general, who are Interior Ministry personnel, on 28 January called for postponement of the elections (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 29 January 2004). Hojatoleslam Hashem Hashemzadeh-Harisi, who serves on the presidentially appointed Committee for the Implementation and Supervision of the Constitution, told Radio Farda on 30 January that a postponement is permissible. "If the executives at the Interior Ministry and the Guardians Council agree, they can postpone up to one month, or 20 days, or 10 days. They also have the authority not to postpone them, but the 7th Parliament has to be ready by the end of May." BS

IRANIAN PRESIDENT CONGRATULATES LEBANON ON PRISONER EXCHANGE
Hojatoleslam Mohammad Khatami in a 29 January telephone conversation congratulated his Lebanese counterpart Emil Lahud on the release of Lebanese combatants imprisoned in Israel, Iranian state radio reported the next day (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 29 January 2004). Lahud thanked Iran for its support and reportedly expressed his hope that the final status of four Iranian diplomats who disappeared in Lebanon in 1982 will become clear. "By the successful conclusion of the prisoner exchange, the Islamic resistance of Lebanon proved that, contrary to the claims of the Zionist regime, which calls it a terrorist [movement], Hizballah is the national resistance of Lebanon," Lahud added. Hizballah Secretary-General Hassan Nasrallah spoke on 29 January at Beirut's Seyyed al-Shuhada Complex during a ceremony for the returnees, Al-Manar television reported. He welcomed an Iranian parliamentary delegation. Later in his speech he reminded the families of the missing Iranian diplomats that they are a "Lebanese responsibility, because they were Lebanon's guests on its soil." "They were abducted in Lebanon by Lebanese groups," he added, before shifting the blame to Israel. "These groups have turned them over to the Israeli enemy and Israel is responsible for revealing the fate of the four Iranian diplomats." BS

TEHRAN CONSIDERING OFFICIAL U.S. VISIT
The Iranian representative to the United Nations, Mohammad Javad Zarif, said in a 29 January telephone interview that Iran is thinking about receiving a U.S. Congressional delegation, "USA Today" reported on 30 January. Zarif said a date for such an event has not been set yet, but guests at a 28 January dinner with Zarif in Washington said dates as early as 11 February were discussed for a preliminary visit by Congressional aides. Guests at that dinner, which took place in a room near the office of House of Representatives Speaker Dennis Hastert (Republican, Illinois), were Senator Arlen Specter (Republican, Pennsylvania), and Representatives Bob Ney (Republican, Ohio), John Larson (Democrat, Connecticut), Doug Bereuter (Republican, Nebraska), and Vic Snyder (Democrat, Arizona). A Congressional visit is unlikely before Iran's parliamentary elections take place, according to "USA Today." BS

IRAQI GOVERNING COUNCIL GIVES AL-SADR 48 HOURS TO RELEASE PRISONERS
The Iraqi Governing Council on 29 January ordered Iraqi Shi'ite cleric Muqtada al-Sadr to close within 48 hours a court and prison he established and hand the detainees in his custody over to Iraqi authorities, London's "Al-Sharq al-Awsat" reported. The cleric's men reportedly arrested a number of people in the Shi'ite holy city of Al-Najaf because of their connection with legal cases being examined by a religious court he established at the Al-Najaf Shrine. According to the daily, Iraqi Interior Minister Nuri Badran is investigating al-Sadr's actions, and allegations that the cleric's men tortured the detainees. A Governing Council source told the daily that the police planned to raid the illicit prison if the detainees are not handed over within 48 hours. The daily's report has not been confirmed by other sources. Meanwhile, PUK representative Adil Murad accused al-Sadr's representative in Kirkuk, Abd al-Fatah al-Musawi, of fomenting conflict between Kurds and Turkomans in Kirkuk, "Al-Sharq al-Awsat" reported on 29 January. Murad said he has evidence that al-Musawi also stirred up fear among Shi'a Arabs living in the city (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 5 January 2004). KR

GOVERNING COUNCIL DECISION REPORTEDLY SHELVED
Iraqi Governing Council Decision No. 137 (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 22 January 2004) -- which replaced civil law with Islamic sharia law with regard to family issues, setting back women's rights in Iraq -- has reportedly been shelved after numerous protests from women's groups and Iraqi political leaders, KurdSat reported on 29 January. Some Governing Council members and religious leaders also voiced opposition to the decision. KurdSat reported that a source at the Iraqi Justice Minsitry confirmed that the decision has been put on hold, and that the Personal Status Law, in force for more than 40 years, remains in effect. The source added that the decision will be brought up for further discussion at the Governing Council. KR

IRAQI GOVERNING COUNCIL PRESIDENT DISCUSSES PROPOSALS FOR SELF-RULE
Iraqi Governing Council President for the month of January Adnan Pachachi said on 29 January that one of the options being proposed for a new Iraqi interim leadership is the appointment of a three-person ruling body, Al-Jazeera reported. "One of the proposals that were presented was forming a three-person committee or having one president who will have deputies," Pachachi said. "These issues have been raised [but] we have not reached a decision yet." Pachachi added that the UN elections-assessment team will arrive in Iraq in one week's time and will propose alternatives to national direct elections if it determines that elections are not viable at this time. KR

WORLD BANK AUTHORIZES TRUST FUND FOR IRAQ
The World Bank's Board of Executive Directors on 29 January authorized the bank to act as administrator for the Iraq Trust Fund that will finance donor aid and reconstruction, according to a press release posted on the World Bank website (http://www.worldbank.org). The bank will also run a work program based on last year's Joint Iraq Needs Assessment (see "RFE/RL Iraq Report," 24 October 2003) focusing on economic and sector work "aimed at laying the groundwork for an expanded development assistance program in the near future," the press release stated. KR

OIL SPILLS INTO TIGRIS FROM UNKNOWN SOURCE
Oil has spilled into the Tigris River north of Baghdad from an unknown source for the second time in a month, Reuters reported on 30 January. According to U.S. military spokeswoman Major Josslyn Aberle, military engineers have yet to determine the source of the spill, which is believed to be from a broken pipeline. Earlier this month, the U.S. Army identified and plugged an oil leak that spilled into the river as a result of a 10 December pipeline failure. KR

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