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Newsline - February 3, 2004


RUSSIAN PRESS PUBLISHES MORE DETAILS OF ALLEGED IRAQI BRIBES...
Various Russian media, including newsru.com and gzt.ru, provided new details on 2 February about an article published in the Baghdad daily "Al-Mada" last month concerning individuals and organizations that allegedly took bribes from the regime of deposed Iraqi President Saddam Hussein. The information came from a translation of the "Al-Mada" article provided by the Washington-based Middle East Media Research Institute. The article, allegedly based on documents obtained from Iraq's former State Oil Marketing Organization (SOMO), indicated that individuals and organizations that supported the Iraqi regime had received monetary payments and/or "vouchers" for oil quotas that were then sold to oil traders, who then obtained the Iraqi oil in contravention of UN sanctions. According to "Al-Mada," among those who received Iraqi oil quotas were the Liberal Democratic Party of Russia (LDPR) (63 million barrels) and its leader, State Duma Deputy Speaker Vladimir Zhirinovskii (1 million); Lukoil (63 million); Rosneft (35.3 million); Gazprom (26 million); former Soviet-era Council of Ministers Chairman Nikolai Ryzhkov (13 million); Sibneft (8.1 million); and Yukos (2 million). JB

...WHILE FOREIGN MINISTRY DENIES THE ALLEGATIONS...
The Foreign Ministry said the reports about alleged Iraqi bribes to Russian oil companies were either the result of ignorance about "the mechanism for exporting Iraqi oil under the sanctions" or were "deliberate disinformation," newsru.com reported on 2 February. All exports of Iraqi oil were carried out under the UN's oil-for-food program and were carefully monitored, the ministry said in a statement. Lukoil sources told gzt.ru on 2 February that it received export quotas from Iraq exclusively through the oil-for-food program and almost lost its contract to develop Iraq's West Qurna oil field because the firm refused to violate the sanctions. Others on the list, including LDPR leader Zhirinovskii, the Communist Party, and the Russian Orthodox Church have denied receiving Iraqi payoffs (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 29 January 2003). Zhirinovskii told "Gazeta" on 29 January that in "an ordinary diplomatic exchange of gifts," former President Hussein had given him a gold Swiss watch, and he had given the Iraqi leader a chess set and a sword. JB

...AND AN ARCHBISHOP DENOUNCES THEM
Archbishop of Smolensk and Kaliningrad Kirill, who heads the Moscow Patriarchate's external relations department, said on 2 February that "Soviet atheists" are behind accusations that the Orthodox Church took payments from deposed Iraqi President Hussein, Interfax reported. Two or more times a year, he said, the church encounters a "well-organized propaganda campaign" against it, including the "mythical" sale of Iraqi oil, "which never happened and could only arise in a sick imagination." The church's emergence as "a powerful social institution arouses resistance from people who by their convictions don't agree with this," Archbishop Kirill said, adding that "during nearly 80 years we lived under the conditions of atheism, and the professional atheists, who fought against the church, haven't disappeared." JB

AUDIT CHAMBER REPORTEDLY EYING LUKOIL
Audit Chamber Chairman Sergei Stepashin arrived in the Komi Republic on 2 February, "Novye izvestiya" reported on 3 February. According to the paper, while the official reason for the visit is to inspect the work of local auditors, his real aim is to assess tax payments by regional oil companies, above all Lukoil-Ukhtaneftepererabotka. Stepashin's focus on the Lukoil affiliate seems strange, the newspaper wrote, given that Lukoil has emphasized its loyalty to the authorities and that its chief, Vagit Alekperov, has never displayed any political ambitions. But an anonymous Audit Chamber official told "Novye izvestiya" that by scrutinizing Lukoil, the authorities are acting according to the principle of "beat your own in order to frighten strangers." With the 14 March presidential election looming, the source said, "the authorities are making it known that the time has come to pay off bills and that he who is not with them is against them." Alekperov said on 2 February that the Tax Ministry has no complaints about Lukoil, Interfax reported. JB

FORMER STATISTICS CHIEF SENTENCED
The Moscow Municipal Court has sentenced Yurii Yurkov, the former head of the State Statistics Committee (Goskomstat), and Boris Saakyan, who was deputy head of the committee's computer department, to 4 1/2 years and four years, respectively, in a strict-regime labor camp, RIA-Novosti reported on 2 February. The court convicted Yurkov of allowing Saakyan to create a criminal group that in 1995-98 sold information both to private firms and government departments, including the Labor Ministry and the former the Federal Agency of Governmental Communications and Information (FAPSI), "The Moscow Times" reported on 3 February. Another Goskomstat department head, Vyacheslav Baranovskii, was given a four-year suspended sentence, while five other defendants were freed under an amnesty. JB

RUSSIA MIGHT EXPEDITE CLOSURE OF GEORGIAN MILITARY BASES
First Deputy Chief of General Staff Colonel General Yurii Baluevskii said on 2 February that while it is impossible to comply with Tbilisi's demand that the two remaining Russian military bases in Georgia be closed within three years, it might be possible to do so in seven to nine years, Interfax and "Vremya novostei" reported on 2 and 3 February, respectively. Russia initially argued that it would take 15 years to withdraw from the bases in Akhalkalaki and Batumi, then shortened the time frame to 11 years (see "RFE/RL Caucasus Report," 3 January 2003). Baluevskii said the precise timetable will depend on whether the international community can provide funding to build alternative infrastructure in Russia for the troops to be withdrawn. "Vremya novostei" claimed that while there is no consensus in Georgia on which of the two bases should be closed first, the Georgian Foreign Ministry agrees on the need for Russia to remove from Georgian territory military hardware in excess of that it is permitted to deploy there under the revised Treaty on Conventional Forces in Europe (CFE). LF

THOSE ACCUSED OF KILLING LIBERAL RUSSIA CO-FOUNDER GO ON TRIAL
The Moscow Municipal Court is scheduled on 3 February to take up the case of those accused of murdering Sergei Yushenkov, State Duma deputy and Liberal Russia co-founder, outside his Moscow apartment building last April, Interfax reported on 3 February. The trial, which is being heard before a jury, was set to begin on 2 February, but was postponed because some of the defendants changed lawyers. First Deputy Prosecutor-General Yurii Biryukov alleges that Liberal Russia co-founder Mikhail Kodanev and his aide, Aleksandr Vinnik, organized the murder. Prosecutors also alleged that the murder was carried out by Aleksandr Kulachinskii. Igor Kiselev, Vladislav Palkov, and Anton Drozd -- all of whom have criminal records -- were also allegedly involved in the plot, Biryukov said, charging that the motive for Yushenkov's murder was Liberal Russia's split into two rival factions. Kodanev co-chaired the Liberal Russia splinter group headed by the self-exiled tycoon Boris Berezovskii (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 13 August and 4 December 2003). All of the accused have denied the charges against them. JB

GLAZEV CANDIDACY REPORTEDLY WORRIES THE KREMLIN...
The presidential administration is concerned that Motherland faction leader and would-be presidential candidate Sergei Glazev has enough financial resources and support in the regions to prevent President Vladimir Putin from winning in the first round of the 14 March presidential election, "Yezhenedelnyi zhurnal," No. 54, reported, citing anonymous Kremlin sources. The weekly also reported that potential financial backers of Glazev are afraid to give him money because of fear of punishment from the Kremlin. An unidentified source told the weekly that "if once Glazev could ask for money from [Oleg Deripaska's holding company] Base Element, he cannot now." "Nezavisimaya gazeta" on 2 February asked a variety of experts to explain why the presidential administration is afraid of Glazev. Analyst Sergei Markov said the administration is keen to ensure that Putin wins in the first round to show that the president "has massive public support for his policies." He added that some in the Kremlin see Glazev "as a potentially dangerous competitor" in the 2008 presidential election. JAC

...AS TSIK GIVES PUTIN SIGNATURE COLLECTION A GLOWING REVIEW
The Central Election Commission (TsIK) formally registered on 2 February President Putin as a candidate in the 14 March presidential election, Russian media reported. The commission checked 600,000 of the 2.5 million signatures submitted and found only 1.16 percent of them invalid, ITAR-TASS reported. Commission members voted unanimously to register Putin's candidacy. According to the agency, Putin's special campaign account had 2.53 million rubles ($84,300) in it as of 23 January. Commentator Vitalii Leibin writing for polit.ru suggested that presidential candidates other than Putin may have resorted to "market mechanisms" to meet the 2 million-signature requirement for non-party candidates and that the going price for a signature was 25 rubles. "Izvestiya" reported on 28 January that people collecting signatures for former Union of Rightist Forces (SPS) co-Chairwoman Irina Khakamada in Barnaul were misrepresenting themselves, telling people that their signatures would be counted in support of Putin. JAC

ANOTHER ST. PETERSBURG 'SILOVIK' JOINS THE UPPER HOUSE
Legislators in Yamalo-Nenets Autonomous Okrug on 29 January accepted the resignation of the representative of the okrug's executive branch in the Federation Council, Aleksandr Yevstifeev, who will become the chairman of the Arbitration Appeals Court in Moscow, uralpolit.ru reported on 2 February. Yevstifeev served in the council for two years, having been appointed in January 2002 (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 15 January 2002). Legislators approved retired General Vladimir Spitsnadel to replace Yevstifeev. Spitsnadel is a former head of the Main Punishments Administration for St. Petersburg and Leningrad Oblast and a former adviser to Federation Council Chairman Sergei Mironov. JAC

EXPLOSION OCCURS NEAR APARTMENT OF FORMER KREMLIN JOURNALIST
A bomb exploded on 2 February near the apartment of former Kremlin correspondent Yelena Tregubova, gazeta.ru reported. Tregubova recently published an irreverent tell-all memoir about her years covering the end of the administration of former President Boris Yeltsin and the beginning of the Putin administration (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 18 November 2003). An unidentified police officer told the daily the bomb was not especially powerful and damaged only the doorframe of a neighbor's apartment. The steel door of Tregubova's apartment was not damaged. Nevertheless, she is certain that she was the intended target. As she told the daily, she was standing in front of the mirror adjusting her appearance, having just received a telephone call informing her that a taxi she had ordered was waiting downstairs. "That's what's most nasty -- it means, obviously, that they are listening to my telephone calls," she said. JAC

BATTLE FOR KORYAK GETTING NASTY
The Koryak Autonomous Okrug Election Commission met on 2 February to consider complaints against the local edition of "Komsomolskaya pravda" and against "Kamchatskie vesti," regions.ru reported. The publications, which are reportedly distributed throughout the okrug, are accused of having damaged the business and moral reputations of two candidates in the okrug's 14 March gubernatorial election. The report did not specify which of the eight candidates were allegedly defamed. On 29 January, okrug Deputy Governor Vasilii Myshlyaev announced his resignation. He told reporters in Petropavlovsk-Kamchatski that his resignation is not connected with the criminal charges pending against his boss, Governor Vladimir Loginov. Loginov faces charges of misusing budgetary funds, Regnum reported on 29 January. Myshlyaev said he is resigning because of threats against him, his family, and his unborn child. In addition to telephone threats, unknown people entered his home and threatened him with a knife, warning him not to participate in the gubernatorial elections. Myshlyaev said he hasn't reported the incidents to police because they cannot protect him. JAC

DEPUTY PROSECUTOR TO STAY ON
Former Deputy Prosecutor-General Valerii Kolmogorov has been named an adviser to Prosecutor-General Vladimir Ustinov, gazeta.ru reported on 2 February. Last week, the Federation Council released Kolmogorov from his position as deputy prosecutor because he has reached the mandatory retirement age of 60. Gazeta.ru reported last year that the late investigative journalist and Duma Deputy Yurii Shchekochikhin had collected evidence that implicated Kolmogorov in the Tri Kita scandal (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 7 July 2003). In 2001, Kolmogorov launched a bid for the presidency of the Sakha (Yakutia) Republic, but he withdrew his candidacy before the election (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 17 December 2001). JAC

FEWER PARTIES MAKING THE GRADE IN SVERDLOVSK
The chairman of Yabloko's Sverdlovsk branch, Yurii Kuznetsov, told gazeta.ru on 2 February that the Sverdlovsk Oblast Election Commission has blocked the registration of opposition candidates in the 14 March elections to the oblast legislature. Kuznetsov charged that the commission has "consciously tightened the procedure for registering agents for parties' and blocs' financial accounts, so that rivals to the present authorities cannot register." The commission on 27 January declined to register either the local branch of the Motherland-Patriotic Union bloc or the Justice bloc, uralpolit.ru reported. The Justice bloc is led by State Duma Deputy Anton Bakov (independent), who finished second in the oblast's gubernatorial election in September. Unified Russia, the Agrarian party, the LDPR, the Party of Life, the Communist Party, and the Party of Pensioners have been allowed to register, regions.ru reported on 2 February. JAC

ARMENIAN PARLIAMENT REJECTS OPPOSITION DEMAND FOR DEBATE ON 'REFERENDUM OF CONFIDENCE'
On 2 February -- the first day of the legislature's spring session -- the pro-government majority rejected a demand by opposition deputies to include on the agenda a debate on proposed constitutional amendments that would have paved the way for a national referendum of confidence in President Robert Kocharian, RFE/RL's Yerevan bureau reported. The Constitutional Court raised the possibility of holding such a referendum in response to opposition demands that it invalidate the outcome of the disputed February-March 2003 presidential election (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 17 and 22 April and 1 December 2003). Opposition leaders warned on 2 February that they will continue their campaign "to restore constitutional order and to install a legitimate government." LF

ARMENIAN PARLIAMENTARIANS, DIPLOMATS SPAR OVER COUNCIL OF EUROPE CRITICISM
Speaking at a Yerevan press conference on 2 February, Armenian deputy parliament speaker Tigran Torosian accused Armenian diplomats abroad of failing to support the country's delegation, which he heads, to the Parliamentary Assembly of the Council of Europe (PACE), RFE/RL's Yerevan bureau reported. Torosian said Armenian diplomats had informed the delegation that several countries would support Armenia's objections to a reference in a draft PACE resolution on Armenia to "the conflict over Nagorno-Karabakh and other occupied territories of Azerbaijan," but that the PACE delegations from the countries in question failed to provide such support. Armenian Foreign Minister Vartan Oskanian has demanded the expulsion from Armenia's PACE delegation of opposition parliament deputies Shavarsh Kocharian (no relation to President Kocharian) and Artashes Geghamian, who called at last week's PACE winter session for a referendum of confidence in President Kocharian. Parliament speaker Artur Baghdasarian, however, said he opposes changing the composition of the PACE delegation. LF

ARMENIA RULES OUT 'PARTIAL SOLUTION' TO KARABAKH CONFLICT
Yerevan will not agree to any "partial solution" of the Karabakh conflict, Armenian Foreign Minister Oskanian told a press conference in Yerevan on 30 January, according to "The Russia Journal" of 2 February, as cited by Groong. Oskanian was referring to an EU report suggesting that Armenian troops be withdrawn from the Agdam, Djabrail, Fizuli, Gubadly, and Zangelan districts of Azerbaijan in return for the restoration of rail communication between Azerbaijan and Armenia (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 30 January 2004). Several senior Azerbaijani politicians have signaled their readiness to accept that proposal. But the independent daily "Ekho" on 30 January quoted opposition Social Democratic Party of Azerbaijan co-Chairman Araz Alizade and Azerbaijan Popular Front Party (reformist wing) Deputy Chairman Fuad Mustafaev as expressing reservations about it, according to Groong. LF

AZERBAIJANI SECURITY MINISTER SAYS ESPIONAGE NETWORK IN ARMENIA REMAINS INTACT
The five people sentenced late last month by an Armenian court for spying for Azerbaijan (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 27 January 2004) were not part of Baku's espionage network in Armenia, which is still functioning, online newspaper "Baku Today" (http://www.bakutoday.net) quoted National Security Minister Namik Abbasov as saying on 31 January. Abbasov further accused Armenia of selling into prostitution "thousands" of Azerbaijani women taken hostage during the Karabakh war, according to "Baku Today," as cited by Groong. LF

AZERBAIJAN OUTLINES MEASURES TO PROTECT JOURNALISTS
The Azerbaijani Interior Ministry and the independent Press Council established last year (see "RFE/RL Caucasus Report," 13 March 2003) have drafted measures to minimize the likelihood that journalists covering political demonstrations will be targeted by police in the event that a demonstration turns violent, Turan reported on 2 February. Press Council Chairman Aflatun Amashev explained that 500 special jackets will be manufactured at a cost of 20 million manats ($4,091) and distributed to editorial offices. It is unclear how the jackets will serve to protect journalists. Special access to the site of demonstrations will also be provided for journalists, and a group comprising Interior Ministry and Press Council representatives will monitor demonstrations and take immediate action if journalists are endangered. In the event of police violence against journalists, the monitoring group will insist on an investigation. LF

GEORGIA NAMES NEW AMBASSADOR TO RUSSIA
Georgian President Mikheil Saakashvili announced on 1 February that he plans to appoint Kote Kemularia as Georgia's new ambassador to Russia, Georgian media reported on 2 February. Kemularia, who was born in 1954, is a trained lawyer who served as justice minister in 1992-93 and then worked for several years for a private law firm in Moscow. He was elected to parliament in 1999 as an independent candidate, and later joined Saakashvili's opposition National Movement. Kemularia would replace Zurab Abashidze, who has served as ambassador since 2000. Saakashvili charged on 2 February that Abashidze was responsible for falsifying the results of absentee voting by Georgians in Russia during the 2 November parliamentary election and might face criminal charges for having done so, Caucasus Press reported. LF

GEORGIAN PRESIDENTIAL ALLY PROTESTS PLANNED MERGER OF RULING PARTIES
Koba Davitashvili told journalists in Tbilisi on 3 February that he has resigned as political secretary of President Saakashvili's National Movement to protest the formal merger, scheduled for 4 February, of the National Movement and the Burdjanadze-Democrats bloc, Georgian media reported. Davitashvili argued that only a National Movement assembly is empowered to decide on such a merger. Davitashvili reaffirmed his loyalty to Saakashvili, but expressed concern that the president has fallen under the influence of former parliament speaker Zurab Zhvania, one of the two co-leaders of the Burdjanadze-Democrats bloc. Davitashvili accused Zhvania of acting contrary to Georgia's national interests. LF

TWO ADJAR OPPOSITION MOVEMENTS MERGE
Two opposition movements established in recent weeks in Tbilisi with the stated aim of forcing the resignation of Adjar State Council Chairman Aslan Abashidze by peaceful and constitutional pressure agreed at a meeting on 3 February to merge, Georgian media reported (see "RFE/RL Caucasus Report," 15 January 2004 and "RFE/RL Newsline," 28 January 2004). The newly combined organization will be named Our Adjaria after one of the two original organizations. Koba Khabazi, who headed the original Our Adjaria, will now head the Batumi branch of the combined organization, while Georgian parliament deputy Eduard Surmanidze, leader of Democratic Adjaria, will coordinate the new organization's activities in Tbilisi. LF

KAZAKH PRESIDENT WILL SEEK RE-ELECTION IN 2006, SAYS AIDE
An adviser to President Nursultan Nazarbaev, Yermukhamet Yertysbaev, told journalists in Almaty on 31 January that Nazarbaev will definitely run for re-election in 2006, Interfax-Kazakhstan reported on 2 February. Yertysbaev said that the president revealed his re-election plans on 16 January, and the president also predicted that he would win. The next presidential election must be held in December 2006. Kazakhstan's 1995 constitution specifies that a person may serve only two consecutive seven-year terms as president. Since Nazarbaev has been elected only once under this constitution, he may run again, although he has served as president since 1990. Yertysbaev has said repeatedly that the issue of the next president of Kazakhstan will not arise until 2013. BB

KAZAKH DEVELOPMENT BANK TO ENTER CENTRAL ASIAN MARKETS
Development Bank of Kazakhstan (DBK) President Kambar Shalgimbaev told a news conference in Astana on 2 February that the bank will enter other Central Asian markets -- particularly Kyrgyzstan, Uzbekistan, and Tajikistan -- in the near future, Interfax-Kazakhstan reported. Shalgimbaev said the bank has the political support of President Nazarbaev for its plans, which include opening a representative office in Uzbekistan and cooperating with the Islamic Development Bank and the Asian Development Bank. The DBK will also finance jointly with the Islamic Development Bank and the European Bank for Reconstruction and Development (EBRD) major investment projects linked to Kazakhstan. BB

NEW ANTIDRUG CHIEF TO FIGHT CORRUPTION WITHIN HIS AGENCY
The newly appointed director of Tajikistan's presidential Narcotics Control Board, Colonel General Gaffor Mirzoev, told Interfax on 2 February that he will combat corruption among board employees. He said that in his view any official who is supposed to combat drug trafficking but who instead becomes involved in the drug trade is doubly guilty. BB

ANTIRIOT EXERCISES HELD IN TURKMEN LABOR CAMP
The Turkmen Interior Ministry recently staged antiriot exercises at the maximum-security labor camp at Seidi in eastern Turkmenistan, the Justice Ministry's weekly "Adalat" reported on 30 January. The date of the exercise was not given, but according to the report the participants -- police officers and military personnel -- practiced suppressing large-scale riots by convicts, preventing the escape of convicts, and freeing bus passengers who had been taken "hostage." The exercises, apparently among the first of their type, were organized by the Interior Ministry's Correctional Facilities Department. BB

NEW U.S. AMBASSADOR TO UZBEKISTAN SAYS FUNDING WON'T BE CUT
John Robert Purnell, the new U.S. ambassador to Uzbekistan, told a news conference on 2 February that despite U.S. State Department recommendations that financial assistance to Uzbekistan be reduced because of that country's lack of progress in human rights, the amount of assistance will not be reduced, uzreport.com reported on 3 February. Purnell said that during his first meeting with Uzbek President Islam Karimov the main topics of discussion were combating terrorism and drug trafficking, as well as political and economic development. BB

SOME 700 RELIGIOUS EXTREMISTS FREED UNDER UZBEK AMNESTY
Zuhriddin Husniddinov, an adviser to President Karimov, told ITAR-TASS on 2 February that about 700 people convicted of religious extremism have been freed under the December amnesty commemorating the 11th anniversary of the Uzbek Constitution. He added that the state-supported Muslim Spiritual Board of Uzbekistan and the State Committee for Religious Affairs have been tasked with helping the former extremists to find jobs and with ensuring that they do not return to extremist groups. BB

VISITING RUSSIAN OFFICIAL PLAYS DOWN GAS DISPUTE WITH BELARUS
Russian Foreign Minister Igor Ivanov said in Minsk on 2 February that the current difficulties over Russian gas deliveries to Belarus do not represent a conflict between Russia and Belarus but stem from "certain disagreements" between two economic entities, Russia's Gazprom and Belarus's Beltranshaz, Belapan reported (see "RFE/RL Poland, Belarus, and Ukraine Report," 27 January 2004). Ivanov added that the gas-supply dispute will not affect continuing efforts to expand the Russia-Belarus Union. Ivanov and his Belarusian counterpart Syarhey Martynau reportedly approved a large-scale plan for cooperation between their ministries regarding relations with the United Nations, the Commonwealth of Independent States, and other regional organizations. JM

UKRAINIAN PARLIAMENT REMOVES PRESIDENTIAL-ELECTION CLAUSES FROM POLITICAL REFORM...
The Verkhovna Rada voted on 3 February to extract a clause prescribing the election of an "interim" president by direct election in 2004 and the subsequent parliamentary selection of a head of state from a contentious bill on political reform, UNIAN and Interfax reported. Those clauses -- contained in the bill that was preliminarily approved on 23 December (see "RFE/RL Poland, Belarus, and Ukraine Report," 20 January 2004) -- were bitterly opposed by the opposition Our Ukraine, the Socialist Party, and the Yuliya Tymoshenko Bloc. The Socialist Party supported the amendment, while Our Ukraine and the Yuliya Tymoshenko Bloc did not take part in the vote. The amendment to exclude the presidential clauses received 304 votes in the 3 February vote in the 450-seat legislature, and could further the chances for passage of major constitutional reforms. JM

...BUT WILL THIS PLEASE THE WHOLE OPPOSITION?
Verkhovna Rada speaker Volodymyr Lytvyn opened a short "extraordinary" parliamentary session on 3 February that degenerated into turmoil after lawmakers from Our Ukraine and the Yuliya Tymoshenko Bloc protested the vote on an amendment to the constitutional-reform bill, UNIAN and Interfax reported. In a replay of several such occasions last year, lawmakers from the pro-government Social Democratic Party-united (SPDU-o) circled the parliamentary rostrum in order to prevent deputies from Our Ukraine and the Yuliya Tymoshenko Bloc from disrupting the debate. Opposition lawmakers responded by destroying all the microphones in the session hall and began to fling draft bills and other papers in the direction of the parliamentary presidium. One opposition deputy reportedly poured a bottle of "sweet water" on Lytvyn's head. Lytvyn managed to announce that a regular parliamentary session would open later the same day. JM

ESTONIAN PRESIDENT PROCLAIMS YEAR OF ESTONIAN FLAG
Arnold Ruutel proclaimed 2004 the year of the Estonian flag in a speech in Tartu on 2 February to mark the 84th anniversary of the signing of the Tartu Peace Treaty, BNS reported. The Tartu Treaty with Soviet Russia in 1920 represented the first international document recognizing the independence of Estonia. Ruutel said Estonia's independence was born fighting under the blue, black, and white flag and restored again in 1991 under the same colors. The flag, which was first consecrated in the southern town of Otepaa as the flag of the Estonian Student Association in June 1884, was adopted as the country's flag in November 1918. Ruutel noted Estonia's expected accession to the EU in May. In another speech in Tartu, parliamentary speaker Ene Ergma warned that "there have always been and will be forces in Russia dreaming of a big, mighty, and indivisible country," suggesting that such a vision would include Estonian territory. SG

LATVIAN PRESIDENT SAYS REPSE'S GOVERNMENT MIGHT HAVE TO RESIGN
Vaira Vike-Freiberga said in a television interview on 1 February that the current government of Prime Minister Einars Repse might have to resign if it is unable to form a stable majority, BNS reported on 2 February. Talking to commercial LNT television channel, Vike-Freiberga said one of the reasons behind the government crisis is poor personal relations between leading politicians. "Personal incompatibility and emotions definitely play their role," Vike-Freiberga said. She added that she has no complaints about Repse's work as prime minister, but was surprised by his negative reaction to the formation of a parliamentary commission to investigate the circumstances around bank loans he received. Repse should have immediately released details of his deals with banks to clear any doubts, she said, especially as he has always been an advocate of financial transparency. Vike-Freiberga said she does not think Repse violated the law, but "from the viewpoint of ethics, certain aspects have wound up in the gray zone." SG

CONTROVERSIAL ADVISER RETURNS TO LITHUANIAN PRESIDENT'S OFFICE, HINTS AT EUROPARLIAMENTARY BID
Alvydas Medalinskas, a controversial adviser to President Rolandas Paksas asked to step down at the start of a scandal that could lead to the latter's impeachment, announced on 2 February that he will return to work in the president's office as an adviser on political affairs, "Lietuvos rytas" reported the next day. Medalinskas will reportedly serve in an independent role and will not belong to any of the president's advisory groups. Medalinskas was the president's main adviser on foreign affairs, but was asked by Paksas to step down in November amid allegations that some presidential staffers represented a threat to national security (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 13 November 2003); Medalinskas's post was subsequently filled by Lithuania's former ambassador to Latvia, Petras Vaitiekunas. Medalinskas was severely criticized in his earlier work for conflicting with and seeking the ouster of Foreign Minister Antanas Valionis. Medalinskas also said on 2 February that he intends to run in the June elections to the European Parliament as a candidate for Lithuania's opposition Liberal Democratic Party, which Paksas helped found. SG

POLAND URGED TO VOTE IN EUROPEAN ELECTIONS
The president of the European Parliament, Patrick Cox, called on Polish politicians on 2 February to usher into the European Parliament "the voice of that Poland which contributed to the liberation of the continent," PAP reported. Cox was participating in a debate organized by "Gazeta Wyborcza" on the June elections to the European Parliament, the first in which the eight acceding postcommunist countries will participate. Poland is to elect 54 deputies to the European Parliament. Cox said the elections represent a chance for a renewal of European politics. JM

CZECH REPUBLIC SEEKS RUSSIAN HELICOPTERS
Deputy Defense Minister Jaroslav Kopriva told CTK on 2 February that the Czech Republic is considering a deal for Russian Mi-24 and Mi-17 helicopters in partial payment of Russia's 22 billion-crown ($821 million) debt. The two countries agreed that about half the debt will be covered by deliveries of military equipment, and Prague originally opted for three Antonov An-70 transport aircraft. Kopriva said the Czech Republic might opt for the Russian helicopters instead, thus helping to modernize its aging helicopter fleet. Kostelka told the BBC's Czech Service the same day that negotiations with Moscow are under way. Defense Ministry spokesman Ladislav Sticha said that while Prague has pledged to contribute large transport aircraft to its NATO partners, the planes need not be Czech and might instead be leased. MS

CZECH APPLICANTS FARE WELL IN FIRST ROUND OF EU JOB HUNT
Czech applicants for jobs within EU institutions fared best among the eight acceding postcommunist countries in the first round of the selection process for such jobs, CTK reported on 2 February, citing figures from the European Personnel Selection Office (EPSO). Thirty-eight percent of the 1,340 Czech applicants -- or 508 people -- advanced to the second round to fill an expected 245 Czech positions requiring a university education in the first phase of an enlarged EU administration. EPSO Director Eric Halskov said there have, meanwhile, been far too few applicants for clerical positions among the acceding states. MS

CZECH POLICE DETAIN RUSSIAN NEO-NAZI MUSICAL BAND MEMBER
Czech authorities detained one member of a Russian band that is suspected of performing neo-Nazi songs at a recent skinhead concert in eastern Bohemia, CTK reported on 2 February. A police spokesman said the movements of the 27-year-old man were being monitored after his band, Kolovrat, allegedly played racist songs at a concert attended by skinheads from all over the region in Chroustovice on 24 January. The spokesman said large amounts of neo-Nazi propaganda were found in the man's luggage as he was trying to check in for a flight at Prague's Ruzyne Airport on 30 January, and he has been charged with supporting a movement aimed at suppressing others' rights and freedoms. His name has not been released. MS

BELGIAN DEFENSE MINISTER VISITS SLOVAKIA
Visiting Belgian Defense Minister Andre Flahaut and his Slovak counterpart Juraj Liska discussed plans to set up an EU rapid-reaction force and reform of the Slovak Army during their meeting in Bratislava on 2 February, TASR and CTK reported. Flahaut said the planned EU force is intended to complement NATO forces, rather than compete with them. He said Europe has become a major economic power and as such needs a military option to back its diplomatic efforts. Liska said Slovakia could learn from Belgian experience in professionalizing its army, as Bratislava intends to fully professionalize its own military by 2006. Flahaut also met with President Rudolf Schuster. MS

HUNGARY APPOINTS CANDIDATE FOR EU COMMISSION
The Hungarian cabinet appointed Hungarian Ambassador to the EU Peter Balazs as its candidate for a European Commission post on 2 February, AFP and Hungarian media reported. Commissioners representing the 10 new member states after the EU's enlargement on 1 May will have the right to vote but will not be responsible for any specific portfolio until the current European Commission's term ends on 31 October. Prime Minister Peter Medgyessy said Balazs's appointment followed consultations with the opposition, although the government is not obliged to consult those parties. Opposition FIDESZ parliamentary deputy Jozsef Szajer countered that he does not consider the release of information to be tantamount to consultations and added that the opposition was informed of the decision three minutes before it was officially announced. MS

HUNGARIAN INTELLIGENCE SERVICES SAY MINOR PARTY PROFITED FROM IRAQI OIL
An intelligence probe has confirmed recent allegations that Izabella B. Kiraly and her small right-wing Hungarian Interests Party received commissions from illicit Iraqi oil deals in the late 1990s, "Nepszabadsag" reported on 3 February. The daily cited the findings of an investigation led last week by Andras Toth, the political secretary who supervises the Hungarian Civilian National Security Services, into a list of alleged beneficiaries published late last month by Baghdad-based "Al-Mada" newspaper (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 29 and 30 January 2004). According to the reported findings of that investigation, Kiraly herself was never involved in the oil trade. Kiraly organized a demonstration outside the U.S. Embassy in Budapest in March 2002 in support of Iraqi President Saddam Hussein, and was in contact with the foreign affairs department of the Iraqi Ba'ath Party, the security services reportedly concluded. MSZ

HUNGARY OBJECTS TO CROATIAN PLANS FOR POWER PLANT PLAN ON DRAVA RIVER
The Hungarian Environment Ministry issued a statement on 2 February in which it urged neighboring Croatia to abandon plans to build a hydroelectric power plant on the Drava River, Hungarian radio reported. Building the plant would endanger the ecology of the river downstream, where it forms the international border between Hungary and Croatia, the ministry argued. If Croatia starts construction of the power plant, Hungary will appeal to an international court as stipulated in the Helsinki Convention on shared waterways, the statement concluded. MSZ

CORRECTION:
The weekly "Magyar Demokrata" was incorrectly identified on 22 January as a publication of the Hungarian Justice and Life Party. In fact, the weekly describes itself as politically independent, and Editor in Chief and co-owner Andras Bencsik, who was convicted of libel, is a member of the senior opposition FIDESZ party.

SERBIAN DEMOCRATIC PARTY SLAMS FORMER ALLIES
Boris Tadic, who is a deputy chairman of the Democratic Party, said in Belgrade on 2 February that the recent decision of the Democratic Party of Serbia (DSS) to continue coalition talks with former Yugoslav President Slobodan Milosevic's Socialist Party of Serbia (SPS) and not with the Democrats means that "Milosevic is coming back to power," RFE/RL's South Slavic and Albanian Languages Service reported. Tadic also claimed that the DSS has thereby undone the progress made by the parties opposed to Milosevic since they ousted him in October 2000 (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 2 February 2004 and "RFE/RL Balkan Report," 12 December 2003 and 9 January 2004). Democratic Party Chairman Dragoljub Micunovic said the conditions that the DSS and its allies gave the Democrats as a basis for cooperation amounted to "an ultimatum worse that that presented by Austria [to Serbia] in 1914," the BBC's Serbian Service reported. Elsewhere, officials of the SPS said they want changes in the rules affecting the privatization process and an end to the extradition of indicted Serbian war criminals to the Hague-based tribunal. It remains to be seen how flexible and pragmatic the SPS has become in practice after more than three years out of power. PM

EU ENVOY TO MACEDONIA URGES IMPLEMENTATION OF PEACE AGREEMENT
The EU's new envoy to Macedonia, Soren Jessen Petersen, has urged the government to implement the Ohrid peace agreement that ended the 2001 interethnic conflict between the ethnic Albanian rebels of the National Liberation Army (UCK) and government forces, RFE/RL's Macedonian broadcasters reported on 2 February. Petersen stressed that it is important to improve the security situation, adding that he will help promote Macedonia's integration into Euro-Atlantic structures. However, he refused to comment on the government's plan to apply for EU membership by the end of February. Petersen's outgoing predecessor, Alexis Brouhns, said on behalf of the EU that implementing the Ohrid peace deal will be the most important issue when Brussels assesses Macedonia's membership application (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 27 January 2004). UB

BOSNIAN SERBS CONTINUE DEMOBILIZATION OF SECURITY FORCES
The government of Republika Srpska agreed on 2 February to demobilize 2,200 members of the Army of the Republika Srpska (VRS) and 621 police officers, RFE/RL's South Slavic and Albanian Languages Service reported. The cuts are part of a demilitarization process being implemented throughout Bosnia in keeping with the 1995 Dayton peace agreement, which seeks to reduce the security forces while improving their professional quality. A major obstacle is the general absence of jobs for demobilized personnel. PM

ANTICORRUPTION HOTLINE SET UP IN BOSNIA
The Berlin-based anticorruption NGO Transparency International recently set up a free telephone line at 0800-55555 that Bosnian citizens can call to report cases of corruption, Deutsche Welle's Bosnian Service reported from Banja Luka on 3 February. Transparency International's most recent worldwide study on perceived corruption placed Bosnia in 70th place among 133 countries. Boris Divjak, who is chairman of Transparency International's Bosnian branch, stressed that cooperation with state institutions is essential in uprooting corruption. Divjak noted that recent surveys indicate that Bosnian citizens trust NGOs as not being corrupt, adding that this bodes well for the hotline project. PM

ROMANIAN OPPOSITION PARTIES DEMAND GOVERNMENT'S RESIGNATION
The opposition National Liberal Party-Democratic Party alliance demanded on 2 February that the government resign for "having damaged Romania's honor and [international] image," the daily "Evenimentul zilei" reported the next day. The alliance claimed that an amendment proposed by Dutch Europarliamentarian Arie Oostlander to the country report about to be debated in the European Parliament is not directed against Romania as a whole but against Prime Minister Adrian Nastase's cabinet, which the alliance says "is in the habit of declaring one thing and doing the opposite" (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 23 and 26 January and 2 February 2004). A similar demand for the government's resignation was made one day earlier by the chairman of the Popular Alliance party, former President Emil Constantinescu. MS

ROMANIAN POLITICIAN DISMISSES RUMORS OF BUCHAREST MAYORAL BID
National Control Authority head Ionel Blanculescu denied on 30 January that he has agreed to run for mayor of Bucharest at the head of the Social Democratic Party (PSD) ticket, Mediafax reported. A report on Blanculescu's candidacy was published earlier the same day by the daily "Adevarul" (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 30 January 2004). Mediafax on 30 January cited PSD Senator Sergiu Nicolaescu as saying he believes the best PSD candidate for the post would be Foreign Minister Mircea Geoana. Local elections are scheduled for June. MS

ROMANIAN SOURCES SAY ONLY ECHR MAY ANNUL REHABILITATION OF WORLD WAR II-ERA OFFICERS
Unidentified "judicial sources" cited by Mediafax on 30 January said that only the European Court of Human Rights may annul the rehabilitation of alleged war criminals Colonels Radu Dinulescu and Gheorghe Petrescu. The sources were responding to a recent demand by the Wiesenthal Center that Prosecutor General Ilie Botos initiate the annulment of the Romanian Supreme Court decisions that rehabilitated those two World War II-era officers in 1997 and 1998, respectively (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 30 January 2004). The sources reportedly said Botos may not legally initiate the "extraordinary appeal procedure," since the Supreme Court acted on extraordinary appeals initiated by his predecessors when it quashed previous sentences and rehabilitated Dinulescu and Petrescu. MS

MOLDOVAN SUPREME COURT HEEDS APPEAL OF BESSARABIAN CHURCH
The Moldovan Supreme Court ruled on 2 February that a September 2001 decision by the Moldovan government declaring the Metropolitan Church of Moldova the lawful successor to the former Metropolitan Church of Bessarabia was illegal, Flux reported. The court thus heeded the appeal of the Bucharest-subordinated Bessarabian Metropolitan Church against the government's decision, which would have transferred the properties of the former Metropolitan Church of Bessarabia to the rival Moscow-subordinated Metropolitan Church of Moldova. The Metropolitan Church of Bessarabia functioned between 1918 and 1940. The decision may be appealed within 15 days. The Bessarabian Metropolitan Church has announced its intention to seek the restitution of all the former properties of its Romania-era predecessor. MS

SMIRNOV CLAIMS TRANSDNIESTER ONLY PRODUCING ARMAMENTS 'FOR OUR OWN ARMY'
Separatist leader Igor Smirnov on 31 January denied reports in international media that Transdniester is engaging in the large-scale production of armaments that are illegally exported to conflict-torn regions, Flux reported, citing RIA-Novosti. "We have never sold any of the armaments we produced, because what we make is not even sufficient for our own needs," Smirnov said. "We do produce some small amounts of weapons, but only for the needs of our own army." Smirnov added that reports in the U.S. dailies "The Washington Times" and "The Washington Post," as well as a recent AP report, are aimed at depicting Transdniestrians as terrorists in order to justify a military intervention against that separatist region. MS

PACE TO MONITOR LIBYAN TRIAL OF BULGARIAN MEDICS
Evgeni Kirilov, who is a Bulgarian member of the Council of Europe's Parliamentary Assembly (PACE), announced on 2 February that a PACE delegation will monitor the trial of six Bulgarian medics charged with deliberately infecting more than 400 Libyan children with HIV/AIDS in a Benghazi hospital, mediapool.bg reported. The last session of the Benghazi court before the announcement of the verdict is scheduled for 9 February. Kirilov said he expects any verdict to be challenged by either the Bulgarian or the Libyan side (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 6, 14, and 22 January 2004). UB

BULGARIA'S SOCIALIST LEADER SEEMINGLY SEEKING TO REVERSE DAMAGE AMID OIL SCANDAL
Opposition Socialist Party (BSP) Chairman Sergey Stanishev announced plans on 3 February to introduce a public register in which leading members of his party would list their assets and business activities, vsekiden.com reported. Stanishev's plan is described by the daily "Sega" as an apparent reaction to a recent article in the Baghdad daily "Al-Mada," according to which the BSP received oil payments from deposed Iraqi President Saddam Hussein's regime in return for political support (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 28 and 30 January 2004). Meanwhile, legislators of the conservative opposition coalition United Democratic Forces (ODS) demanded on 2 February that the parliamentary anticorruption committee be tasked with investigating links between Bulgarian politicians and the former Iraqi regime, "Sega" reported. In response to the ODS lawmakers' move, BSP legislator Ognyan Saparev said the oil-for-political-support scandal is aimed at discrediting Europe and deflecting attention from the declining popularity of U.S. President George W. Bush and British Prime Minister Tony Blair. UB

IS THE ARMENIAN ANTICORRUPTION PLAN UP TO THE JOB?


After years of pressure from Western donors, the Armenian government last month officially presented to the public a program of measures intended to combat endemic corruption. The document, which promises the creation of "a just system of state governance," contains a long list of mostly legislative measures to be taken over the next three years.

The program in question was drawn up -- after repeated delays -- by a team of government experts over three years, and was financed by a $345,000 World Bank grant. The government approved the program in November, but only after the bank and the International Monetary Fund (IMF) made further loans to Yerevan conditional on its publication.

Most of the measures outlined in the new program seem logical. However, it remains to be seen whether they will be energetically implemented, and whether they will have the desired effect, given the extent to which corruption has permeated the entire Armenian political system, and the apparent determination -- as reflected in the vote-rigging that marred last year's presidential and parliamentary elections -- of the ruling elite to maintain its grip on power. In short, corruption is the glue that holds together the network of politico-economic clans, security agencies, and government-connected tycoons that rules the country.

"The danger posed by corruption to society is extremely high," the document declares. It acknowledges that graft is commonplace in virtually every area of governance, including government regulation of the economy and taxation, as well as in law enforcement, health care, and education. The plan is divided into separate sections dealing with each of these spheres.

The program's stated aim of strengthening the rule of law and creating a "transparent" government that is accountable to the public is to be achieved through the increased "accessibility of public services," coupled with simplified bureaucratic procedures that would minimize citizens' contact with government officials at all levels. The program's authors emphasize that the success of the anticorruption drive hinges on that active involvement of the public, and calls on the mass media to provide "unbiased and objective information about manifestations of corruption."

The government pledges more stringent oversight of the way of its budgetary resources are used by ministries and local administrations. It also commits itself to ensuring a level playing field for all businesses and promises to curb unfair competition. It remains to be seen whether this ruling will be applied to the country's powerful defense minister, Serzh Sarkisian, who is reputed to control lucrative imports of fuel and foodstuffs.

The anticorruption program emphasizes passing new laws and amending existing ones by the end of 2006 -- even though current legislation is not vigorously enforced. A similar emphasis has also been made by the Council of Europe in its push for political reform in Armenia.Incidentally, the section of the plan that focuses on "political corruption" suggests no far-reaching solutions to the country's post-Soviet culture of electoral fraud.

A further shortcoming is the failure to acknowledge that law enforcement agencies, on whom the onus of implementing the program largely depends, are themselves corrupt. The government program makes no mention of those agencies' involvement in business. Instead, it promises to raise the salaries of police officers, prosecutors, and judges so that they will not be tempted to take bribes to make ends meet. Judges are already the highest-paid state officials, along with the president of the republic, earning more than 10 times the official average monthly wage of $50.

The new program contains only tiny chapters on tax collection and customs administration -- major bribery-stricken areas of governance that are widely seen as hampering Armenia's economic development. Those chapters contain only vague pledges to simplify fiscal rules and to put the two agencies under closer government scrutiny.

Promises to crack down on corruption are nothing new. Prime Minister Andranik Markarian, for instance, vowed a "merciless" fight against bribery, nepotism, and other corrupt practices when he took office in 2000. Similar statements figured in the 1998 and 2003 electoral platforms of President Robert Kocharian. However, there are few indications that the authorities have addressed the problem of corruption in earnest, with no serving high-level government official having been prosecuted on graft charges despite regular press coverage of the palatial mansions and opulent lifestyles of senior officials. Holding a government post remains an instrument for quick personal enrichment, and therefore government officials have little incentive to set about dismantling a system that for many of them has served as a way of accumulating considerable wealth. Many Armenian ministers and senior officials are wealthy people with lucrative business interests. This situation understandably continues to provoke anger from ordinary people, who feel powerless to do anything about it.

The authorities, meanwhile, have claimed a certain decrease in the scale of graft, pointing to Transparency International's most recent "corruption perception" rankings, which put Armenia well ahead of Georgia and Azerbaijan. Armenian officials argue that the government has simplified its business-registration and licensing procedures and has enacted new laws on state procurements, civil service, and financial disclosure in recent years.

The practical effects of these measures, however, have yet to be seen. For one thing, the much-vaunted income declaration by senior officials, introduced in 2002, has turned out to be a little more than a gimmick, with many ministers, parliament deputies, and top bureaucrats reportedly grossly underreporting their fortunes with impunity.

MAJOR SHIFTS AMONG AFGHAN PROVINCIAL GOVERNORS PENDING...
In order to increase the influence of the central government, the Afghan Transitional Administration has announced that it plans to transfer or replace about 10 provincial governors, Voice of the Islamic Republic of Iran reported on 2 February. The provinces involved include Badakhshan, Konduz, Jowzjan, and Badghis in northern Afghanistan; Ghazni in the center of the country; and Zabul in the south. Oruzgan, also in the south, might be affected as well. AT

...AS TWO GOVERNORS ARE REPLACED
At the initiative of the Interior Ministry and with the approval of Afghan Transitional Administration Chairman Hamid Karzai, Mohammad Yusof has been appointed governor of the western province of Farah, and Azizullah Afzali as been named governor of Badghis Province, Afghanistan Television reported on 2 February. AT

FEW AFGHAN WOMEN REGISTER FOR ELECTIONS
According to a representative of the United Nations Assistance Mission in Afghanistan (UNAMA), few women have registered to participate in the upcoming Afghan elections, Radio Afghanistan reported on 2 February. UNAMA Representative Zuhra, speaking at a voter registration center in Kabul, said that lack of awareness among Afghan women is one of the causes of low registration figures. She also cited illiteracy and the burden on women of looking after their families as causes of the problem. Zuhra said that some women fear their photographs, which are taken during the processing of voter-registration cards, could fall into wrong hands, even though only one photograph is taken from each person and there are no negatives. There are also rumors that the election results have already been set, and so there is no reason to vote, Zuhra added. The UNAMA representative pointed out that if women have not registered in sufficient numbers in Kabul, which has the highest literacy rates, then there will be much bigger problems in the provinces. AT

NETHERLANDS TO CONTRIBUTE HELICOPTERS TO ISAF
The Dutch government has decided to contribute six combat helicopters to the NATO-led International Security Assistance Force (ISAF) in Kabul, "NRC Handelsblad" reported on 31 January. The Apache helicopters will be stationed in Kabul, with the 135 Dutch troops already stationed there, and would operate around Kabul on rapid-response or ground-support missions. According to the report, the Dutch helicopters "in principle" are not required to operate outside of the reasonably safe zone around Kabul, despite the fact that ISAF has been extended to Konduz in northern Afghanistan. Dutch Defense Minister Henk Kamp said his country would "consider requests for missions outside the Kabul area on an ad-hoc basis," but will retain "the right to pull the red card and decline such a request." When NATO was planning to expand ISAF into Konduz in late 2003, it faced a severe shortage of helicopters and some observers have noted that NATO's political ambitions in Afghanistan do not match the alliance's troop and material contributions (see "RFE/RL Afghanistan Report," 23 January 2004). AT

IRANIAN LEGISLATORS MEET WITH PRESIDENT
Some of the Iranian legislators who resigned on 1 February met with President Hojatoleslam Mohammad Khatami on 3 February, Fars News Agency reported. "We only paid a visit to the president to ask about his health," Tehran's Elias Hazrati said later, according to the Mehr News Agency. Khatami was hospitalized with "severe back pain" on 31 January, according to Mehr. Hazrati was vague about their discussion, although he said the legislators briefed Khatami on developments in their constituencies after the Guardians Council's rejection of their eligibility as candidates. Hazrati said that after meeting with the parliamentarians the president and Speaker of Parliament Hojatoleslam Mehdi Karrubi went to a meeting with Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei. BS

NUMBER OF IRANIAN PARLIAMENTARY RESIGNATIONS REACHES 125
Late on 2 February IRNA published a list of 125 members of parliament who have offered their resignations to protest the recent disqualifications of prospective candidates for the 20 February parliamentary elections. On 1 February, IRNA published a list of 116 names. BS

IRANIAN REFORMIST PARTY WILL NOT PARTICIPATE IN ELECTION
Tehran parliamentary representative Mohammad Reza Khatami, who is the secretary-general of the Islamic Iran Participation Party (IIPP), said after the organization's 2 February meeting that the IIPP will not participate in the forthcoming parliamentary polls, IRNA reported. "This election is not legal and fair," Khatami said, according to Reuters, "and nothing has been changed in the last few weeks although many efforts have been made in this regard." He repeated the call for postponing the elections, a request the Guardians Council has already rejected. "We have two conditions for going to the elections: first, to qualify all the candidates who were disqualified illegally and then to give more time for the candidates to be able to compete with each other. So postponing the election is inevitable," Khatami said. "Time is very important for us, because, at this moment, if today all these candidates qualify, there is no time for campaigning and to compete fairly." Khatami also said, according to IRNA, "we will not ask the people to boycott the elections, since making a decision in that regard is up to the people themselves." He predicted that the absence of parties would have a negative impact. BS

IRANIAN FOREIGN MINISTER FOLLOWS UP ON MISSING DIPLOMATS
Iranian Foreign Ministry spokesman Hamid Reza Assefi announced on 2 February that Foreign Minister Kamal Kharrazi will visit Lebanon "this week" to look into the case of four Iranian diplomats who have been missing since 1982, Al-Manar television reported. Determination of the status of the missing diplomats is the second part of the Israel-Hizballah prisoner exchange that took place on 29 January (see "RFE/RL Iran Report," 2 February 2004). Tehran representative Hojatoleslam Ali Akbar Mohtashami-Pur headed an Iranian parliamentary delegation to Beirut that welcomed the returnees, and in an interview that appeared in the 29 January issue of the "Al-Safir" newspaper, he said that in 1982 the Israelis controlled the situation in Lebanon. "We hold the Israelis responsible for the abduction of the four Iranians. The four were delivered to the Zionist entity [after being detained by the Christian Lebanese Forces]," Mohtashami-Pur said. "We later received information from Israeli jails that they were alive and detained in Israel." Another aspect of the second part of the prisoner exchange is missing Israeli aviator Ron Arad. "We have frequently declared that we have no information about him [Arad]," Mohtashami said. BS

IRANIAN PILGRIMS DIE DURING HAJJ
About 14 Iranians have died while participating in this year's pilgrimage to Mecca, IRNA reported on 2 February, but none of them were victims of a 1 February stampede, in which approximately 250 pilgrims perished. The Iranians reportedly succumbed to heart failure and, in two cases, died in accidents. IRNA reported on 8 January that 96,000 Iranians were expected to fly to Saudi Arabia over a 17-day period to make the pilgrimage. BS

JAPANESE TROOPS LEAVE FOR IRAQ
Ninety members of the Japanese Army -- the Ground Self-Defense Force (GSDF) -- left Japan on 3 February for Kuwait and will arrive in the southern Iraqi city of Samawa on 7 February at the earliest, Kyodo news service reported. The team comprises mostly engineers and security personnel, and the GSDF mission eventually will include 550 troops. Responding to public concerns about safety, Japanese Defense Agency Director General Shigeru Ishiba promised that vigilance will be maintained, adding that Samawa is a safe place. "But conditions could change any second, so we would like always to strive to gather information carefully and accurately," Ishiba added. A 200-member Air Self-Defense Force contingent has already been deployed in the theater, and 300 members of the Maritime Self-Defense Force are to be deployed in February, according to Kyodo. A GSDF advance team arrived in Samawa on 19 January, and on 1 February it set up an office in the city's branch of the Coalition Provisional Authority. BS

MOSCOW DENIES RECEIVING BRIBES FROM HUSSEIN...
The Russian Foreign Ministry on 2 February rejected allegations that the country's oil companies received bribes from deposed Iraqi President Saddam Hussein's regime, RIA-Novosti and ITAR-TASS reported. "Such assertions can only be made by people who are completely unfamiliar with the arrangements for the export of Iraqi oil at the time when sanctions were in force," the Foreign Ministry statement said. It went on to suggest that these assertions are part of a disinformation campaign timed to coincide with Russian companies' efforts to return to the Iraqi market. A Baghdad daily, "Al-Mada," claimed that the Iraqi regime used illicit oil sales and bribes to garner support from a range of individuals and institutions, and even to obtain weapons and other materials unavailable under the UN sanctions regime (see "RFE/RL Iraq Report," 30 January 2004). BS

...AS DO UKRAINIAN COMMUNISTS
Ukrainian Communist Party leader Petro Symonenko on 2 February denied involvement in commercial transactions with Iraq, the UNIAN news agency reported. Symonenko said such reports are a form of U.S. involvement in the Ukrainian presidential campaign, and he added that the Communist Party is the only one struggling against U.S. efforts to turn Ukraine into a protectorate. BS

ROMANIAN FOREIGN MINISTER SAYS EARLY ELECTIONS IN IRAQ ARE 'UNREALISTIC'
Romanian Foreign Minister Mircea Geoana told ambassadors representing the 15 members of the UN Security Council on 2 February that the United Nations must return to Iraq and help bid a stable democracy there, adding that holding early elections in that country is an "unrealistic" project, AP reported. Geoana was speaking at a private lunch in New York at which the possible dispatch of a UN team to Iraq for a feasibility study on elections was the main item of the agenda. Romania last month became a nonpermanent member of the UN Security Council. The U.S. government asked UN Secretary-General Kofi Annan to send such a team after Iraq's leading Shi'ite cleric, Grand Ayatollah Ali al-Hussein al-Sistani, demanded that the Iraqi provisional government slated to take power by 1 July be elected rather than chosen in regional caucuses. Geoana said he is confident such a UN team will go to Iraq in the near future, but said it is unrealistic "for us to believe that we'll be able to organize full-blown, full democratic...elections in a large country like Iraq in only a few months' time." He added, "Now, probably, the discussion will be heading into which will be the mix of solutions to enable us to transfer authority to a form of elected Iraqi authorities." MS

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