DEFENSE MINISTER SAYS CFE TREATY IS OUTMODED...
Sergei Ivanov told the 40th annual security conference in Munich that the Treaty on Conventional Forces in Europe (CFE) "in its actual form cannot uphold stability and the balance of interests of the signatory states considering the actual military and political developments in Europe," RFE/RL's Munich correspondent reported on 9 February. Ivanov complained that the Baltic states, which are likely to become NATO members as early as April, have not signed the treaty, while NATO is poised to start operating "in a zone of vitally important interests of our country," AP reported. Meanwhile, Ivanov said, Russia has been fulfilling its "unilateral commitments on restraint in stationing military equipment and armaments" in Kaliningrad Oblast, AFP reported on 8 February. Ivanov argued that the updated version of the CFE Treaty, which was agreed to in 1999 but not signed, is a political commitment that has nothing to do with the CFE Treaty itself, RFE/RL reported. JB
...AND CALLS FOR ON-SITE RUSSIAN MONITORING OF NATO BASES
Defense Minister Ivanov said on 7 February, the opening day of the Munich security conference, that Russia should have monitoring facilities at NATO bases "to verify the fact that the uses of those facilities, as we are told, pose no threat to Russia," AP reported. Ivanov said the construction of NATO bases in Romania and Bulgaria is justified for antiterrorism operations in the Middle East, but asked what terrorist threat necessitates NATO bases in Poland and the Baltic states. Latvian Defense Minister Girts Kristovskis told AP that Ivanov's idea of Russian monitoring facilities at NATO bases is "very strange." Meanwhile, U.S. Senator John McCain (Republican, Arizona) strongly criticized Russia in his 7 February address to the Munich conference. President Vladimir Putin's rule, he said, "has lately been characterized by the dismantling of Russia's independent media, a fierce crackdown on the political opposition, the prosecution of a bloody war against Chechnya's civilian population, and a new assertiveness that challenges the democratic and territorial integrity of Russia's sovereign neighbors." JB
DEPUTY FSB CHIEF SAYS METRO BLAST WAS PROBABLY A SUICIDE BOMBING...
Deputy Federal Security Service (FSB) Director Vyacheslav Ushakov said on 9 February that his agency, which is leading the investigation into the 6 February Moscow metro blast, is now working on the theory that the explosion was the work of a suicide bomber, RIA-Novosti reported. The Moscow explosion, he said, was similar to one on a commuter train in the Stavropol Krai town of Yessentuki in December that killed more than 40 people (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 5 and 11 December 2003). The Russian authorities believe the Yessentuki bombing and a bombing at an open-air rock concert in the Moscow neighborhood of Tushino in July were carried out by Chechen suicide bombers. As a result, investigators are looking for a "Chechen trail" in the Moscow metro blast, Ushakov said. JB
...AND SAYS SPECIAL SERVICES NEED NEW POWERS TO FIGHT TERRORISM
Deputy FSB Director Ushakov said on 9 February that the special services must be granted additional powers to fight terrorism, RIA-Novosti reported. Addressing the State Duma, Ushakov stressed the need to draft and pass laws aimed at uncovering and neutralizing terrorist groups "in the early stages of their activity." Following the 11 September 2001 attacks in New York City and Washington D.C., he said, the U.S. Congress passed the USAPATRIOT Act, which gave the U.S. special services "unprecedented powers in the fight against terrorism." "Clearly the time has come for us to think about this as well," Ushakov said. He predicted further terrorist attacks in Russia this year, possibly aimed at transportation, nuclear facilities, and the energy sector. Following the 6 February explosion in the Moscow subway, Duma Speaker and former Interior Minister Boris Gryzlov (Unified Russia) said all laws dealing with combating terrorism will be revised and that he has already ordered the relevant Duma committees to begin that work, "Vremya novostei" reported on 10 February. JB
NATIONALITIES MINISTER WARNS AGAINST POST-BLAST XENOPHOBIA
Minister without portfolio Vladimir Zorin, who is responsible for nationalities policy, spoke out on 9 February against inciting nationalistic and xenophobic sentiments in the wake of the 6 February Moscow subway blast, Interfax reported. "International terrorism is unquestionably the No. 1 danger today," Zorin said. "But it is no less dangerous to foment anti-Caucasus, xenophobic sentiment in such a great multiethnic country as Russia." "Terrorists, like all criminals, have neither nationality nor religion," he added. Zorin called for the state and "civil society" to unite in fighting terrorism. On 7 February, Ella Pamfilova, chairwoman of the Presidential Commission on Human Rights, said that ethnic confrontations related to the Moscow metro blast must be prevented, RFE/RL's Russian Service reported. She also warned law enforcement organs against violating citizens' rights and spoke out against introducing any kind of state of emergency in Moscow or other cities. Following the incident, Motherland co-leader Dmitrii Rogozin called for a state of emergency and Liberal Democratic Party of Russia (LDPR) leader and Deputy Duma Speaker Vladimir Zhirinovskii called for all "suspicious" people to be sent away from Moscow (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 9 February 2004). JB
THREE OF SIX DEFENDANTS ADMIT INVOLVEMENT IN LEGISLATOR'S MURDER...
Three of six defendants on trial for the April 2003 murder of Sergei Yushenkov, the Liberal Russia co-chairman and State Duma deputy, admitted in court on 9 February that they were involved in the killing, Interfax reported. Aleksandr Vinnik, an aide to Mikhail Kodanev, who headed a dissident Liberal Russia faction that supports self-exiled tycoon Boris Berezovskii, told the Moscow Municipal Court that Kodanev asked him in 2002 to "eliminate" Yushenkov, saying it had to be done before Liberal Russia's May 2003 party congress. Vinnik added that he did no know who made the decision to eliminate Yushenkov or why it was deemed necessary. JB
...WHILE ONE BACKS AWAY FROM IMPLICATING EXILED TYCOON
Vinnik described how he convinced a friend, Igor Kiselev, to organize Deputy Yushenkov's murder, adding that Kiselev asked for $50,000 for the hit. Kodanev provided the money, Vinnik said. Vinnik said in his initial testimony to investigators that he thought Berezovskii, who was a Liberal Russia founder and de facto leader of the dissident faction, financed the murder. In his court testimony on 9 February, however, Vinnik said Berezovskii's alleged involvement was only a "supposition." Vinnik earlier told investigators he feared for his family's safety. Kiselev and another suspect, Aleksandr Kulachinskii, partly admitted their guilt in court on 9 February, while three others, including Kodanev, maintained their innocence, Interfax reported. JB
CANDIDATE RYBKIN STILL MISSING...
As of the morning of 10 February, presidential candidate and former State Duma speaker Ivan Rybkin was still missing, Russian media reported (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 9 February 2004) Rybkin was last seen outside his Moscow home on 5 February. Although Moscow prosecutors initially opened a murder investigation in connection with the case, they later closed that probe, treating the matter as simple a missing-person case. Rybkin's campaign manager, Ksenia Ponomareva, said on 9 February that Rybkin's disappearance has caused his campaign to "fall to pieces," according to "Vremya novostei" on 10 February. Central Election Commission (TsIK) Chairman Aleksandr Veshnyakov said the same day that election legislation allows for proxies to campaign on behalf of candidates if he or she is absent for a valid reason. However, Ponomareva said that the campaign is not yet ready to delegate the right to speak for their candidate. JAC
...AS COURT OKAYS ARREST OF RYBKIN CAMPAIGN WORKER...
A Moscow court has ordered the arrest of Viktor Fedoruk on suspicion of preparing falsified signature lists in support of presidential candidate Ivan Rybkin, RIA-Novosti reported on 9 February. Police detained Fedoruk on 4 February during a raid on Rybkin's campaign headquarters, "Kommersant-Daily" reported on 6 February. During the raid, police seized two computers and forms with 30,000 signatures that had been rejected by campaign staff, "Nezavisimaya gazeta" reported. A similar raid was also conducted at Rybkin's local campaign headquarters in Udmurtia and at the local office of Motherland faction leader and presidential candidate Sergei Glazev (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 2 February 2004). JAC
...AND WEEKLY SAYS NO EVIDENCE TO SUPPORT RYBKIN'S CHARGES
In an interview with RFE/RL's Moscow bureau on 9 February, "Moskovskie novosti" political commentator Yurii Vasilev said he personally has not seen any documents supporting Rybkin's claims that businessmen Gennadii Timchenko and Mikhail and Yurii Kovalchuk have gained control over major financial flows in Russia (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 9 February 2004). Rybkin made the claim in a paid advertisement that appeared in "Kommersant-Daily," which is controlled by Berezovskii, on 2 February. Vasilev said he believes either Rybkin does not have any such documents or, for some reason, he does not want to reveal them. Vasilev said that an article in "Moskovskie novosti," No. 4, confirmed that these people are acquaintances of President Putin and came into contact with him while he was working in the administration of former St. Petersburg Mayor Anatolii Sobchak. However, "to rank them as some kind of oligarchs or representatives of big business is, in my opinion, is a big stretch," Vasilev said. According to the article, Timchenko divides his time between St. Petersburg and Helsinki, overseeing two firms that are involved in exporting oil products. JAC
PUBLIC SHOWS PREFERENCE FOR NTV NEWS COVERAGE
Television ratings for the week of 2-8 February showed that television viewers in Moscow prefer to receive information about breaking events from NTV, "Kommersant-Daily" reported on 10 February. According to the daily, on 6 February, the day of the Moscow metro bombing, NTV's "Segodnya," which is hosted by Tatyana Mitkova, was the top-rated program for the entire week. NTV's "Svoboda slova" with host Savik Shuster, which was also devoted to the metro bombing, came in third. According to the daily, the show was broadcast live, although earlier media reports indicated that the formerly live show is now being taped in advance (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 9 September 2003). JAC
URALS LEADER POISED TO BECOME GOVERNOR-FOR-LIFE?
Sverdlovsk Oblast Governor Eduard Rossel told "Oblastnaya gazeta" that after his current, third term, he will serve eight more years if oblast residents want him to, "Vremya novostei" reported on 10 February. Rossel was re-elected in September. According to the daily, Rossel's comment caused a political "sensation" in Yekaterinburg, even though it has long been known that Russian legislation allows him to run for a fourth term. It had been assumed that the 66-year-old governor would retire following his current term. The daily reported that some political observers believe Rossel is sending a signal to his unofficial "successor," oblast administration Prime Minister Aleksei Vorobev, not to count his chickens before they have hatched. JAC
RUSSIAN COMEDIAN SEES LOCAL ELECTION AS REALITY TV
Seven candidates, including popular comedian Mikhail Yevdokimov, are currently registered for the 14 March gubernatorial election in Altai Krai, regions.ru reported on 9 February. Also running are incumbent krai head Aleksandr Surikov, former State Duma Deputy Vladimir Semenov (Union of Rightist Forces), deputy head of the krai administration's Foreign Economic Relations Department Vladimir Nikulin, and Altaienergo General Director Sergei Shabalin. Nikulin is the head of the local branch of the Motherland bloc. According to "Gazeta" on 9 February, Yevdokimov plans to turn the campaign into a reality show and to broadcast his television program, "Anshlag," from Altai Krai. According to the daily, one local slogan making the rounds is: "Who are you going to vote for, Surikov or Yevdokimov? For Yevdokimov -- better four years of laughing than four years of crying." In 1995, Yevdokimov ran unsuccessfully for a State Duma seat from the krai's capital city, Barnaul, "Nezavisimaya gazeta" reported on 6 February. JAC
NEW DEPUTY EMERGENCY SITUATIONS MINISTER NAMED
President Putin has named General Yurii Kovalev as deputy emergency situations minister, replacing Aleksandr Moskalets, who was elected to the State Duma on the Unified Russia party list in December, "Kommersant-Daily" reported on 10 February. Kovalev most recently headed the ministry's Central Regional Center for Civil Defense and Emergency Situations. According to Interfax, he personally supervised the rescue of victims of the apartment building bombings in Moscow in 1999. According to "Kommersant-Daily," Prime Minister Mikhail Kasyanov has signed an order dismissing Deputy Agriculture Minister Georgii Sazhikov at his own request. JAC
HARRY POTTER -- BOY WIZARD, POLITICAL FOOTBALL
Aleksandr Shchetinin, who spearheaded the drive to elect "Garri Ivanovich Potter" governor of Sverdlovsk Oblast last fall, sees a political subtext to recent criticisms of the latest installment in the popular Harry Potter series by the head of the regional organization of the pro-Putin youth organization Moving Together, Aleksei Chereshkov, regions.ru reported on 9 February (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 27 February 2003). Chereshkov has criticized the latest book by A. K. Rowling, declaring that Russia has its own culture and originality. Shchetinin noted that the New Rightists election bloc, to which Chereshkov belongs, will participate in the 14 March oblast legislature elections. But Garri Potter, according to Shchetinin, will not run in this race. "He simply doesn't have enough strength, and he doesn't want to be an insignificant pawn in someone else's game." JAC
ARMENIAN PRISONERS END PROTEST
Some 30 Armenian prisoners serving life sentences abandoned on 7 February a hunger strike they began several days earlier to demand either new trials or the right to be released after serving 15 years of their sentence, RFE/RL's Yerevan bureau reported (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 5 February 2004). That decision followed a meeting on 6 February with representatives of the OSCE and Council of Europe, who undertook to investigate the prisoners' complaints that they were unfairly convicted, and that the existing provision allowing for early release only after 20 years is excessively severe. LF
ARMENIAN DEFENSE MINISTER: NO WOMEN TO SERVE IN ARMED FORCES
Addressing a youth conference in Tsakhkadzor on 7 February, Serzh Sarkisian said he opposes allowing women to serve in the armed forces, according to Armenian Public Television, as cited by Groong. He said the army "cannot ensure appropriate conditions" for women, adding that "I do not think our national mentality allows our girls to do our jobs." The duty of "girls," he continued, is to write "sincere letters" to their sweethearts serving in the armed forces. On 9 February, senior academics at Armenia's state-run universities criticized a draft bill unveiled last week that would abolish the present system, under which male graduate students may postpone their compulsory military service until after completion of their course of graduate study, RFE/RL's Yerevan bureau reported (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 6 February 2004). LF
DETAINED AZERBAIJANI OPPOSITIONISTS LAUNCH HUNGER STRIKE
Some 60 people currently being held in the Bailov pretrial-detention center for their alleged roles in the 15-16 October clashes in the wake of the Azerbaijani presidential election have begun a protest hunger strike, Turan and Interfax reported on 9 February. They include Musavat Party Deputy Chairman Arif Gadjiev, Umid Party Chairman Igbal Agazade, and People's Party Chairman Panakh Huseinov. Eight opposition activists currently on trial for their alleged roles in the protests have also begun a hunger strike to protest police brutality, Tutan reported on 9 February. One of them, a member of a local election commission from Gazakh Raion, said local police "treated me in such a way that I was ready to confess I had murdered [U.S. President] John F. Kennedy." LF
AZERBAIJAN TO CONTINUE OIL EXPORTS VIA RUSSIA
On his return on 8 February to Baku after a three-day official visit to Moscow, Azerbaijani President Ilham Aliyev told journalists that the declaration on bilateral relations he signed together with Russian President Vladimir Putin affirms Baku's intent to continue exporting oil via the Baku-Novorossiisk pipeline, Interfax reported. Aliyev reportedly said the longer that pipeline remains in use, the better, and that Baku might increase the amount of oil it exports by that route as production expands. Azerbaijan's state oil company SOCAR exports crude both via Novorossiisk and Georgia. Interfax on 6 February quoted Russian Energy Minister Igor Yusufov as saying talks are in progress on a 15-year agreement on Azerbaijani oil exports via Russia, and that Moscow is ready to compromise and reduce transport tariffs. The present tariff for oil exported via the Baku-Novorossiisk pipeline is $15.67 per ton. LF
GEORGIAN PRESIDENT DOES U-TURN ON CABINET MAKEUP
Mikheil Saakashvili told journalists in Tbilisi late on 9 February after talks with Minister of State Zurab Zhvania that the ministerial candidates Zhvania has proposed are too young, Caucasus Press reported. "We have many people of middle age and older whose experience and knowledge can be of help to the cabinet," Caucasus Press quoted Saakashvili as saying. On 6 February, Saakashvili told Caucasus Press that Georgia will have a cabinet composed of young ministers with initiative and professional training. LF
GEORGIAN FINANCE MINISTER UNVEILS REVISED DRAFT BUDGET
Zurab Nogaideli outlined the main provisions of the 2004 draft budget at a Tbilisi press conference on 9 February, Caucasus Press reported. It sets revenues at 1.773 billion laris ($866 million), including 1.52 billion laris in taxes, and expenditures at 1.93 billion laris, resulting in a 157 million lari deficit. Nogaideli said it is planned to repay 45 million laris in credits, to pay all pensions and wages arrears, and to raise teachers' salaries by 35 percent. LF
GEORGIAN MINISTER IMPLICATES ABKHAZIA IN MOSCOW METRO BOMBING
State Security Minister Valeri Khaburzania told journalists in Tbilisi on 9 February that his agency has detained a man from the North Caucasus, Nazir Aidobolov, who was allegedly recruited by Abkhaz intelligence and sent to Georgia to establish contact with Chechens in the Pankisi Gorge, Russian media reported. Khaburzania claimed that Aidobolov had instructions to go to the Russian Embassy in Tbilisi on 5 February and inform the resident Russian Federal Security Service officer that a major terrorist attack was planned for the following day in Moscow, and a second several days later in Stavropol Krai, and to name Chechens from Pankisi as the organizers. "Vremya novostei" on 10 February quoted Abkhaz Prime Minister Raul Khadjimba as dismissing Khaburzania's statement as the ravings of a madman. LF
GEORGIA NOTCHES 8 PERCENT GDP GROWTH
Georgia's GDP grew by 8.6 percent in 2003 to reach 8.4 billion laris ($4.1 billion), Caucasus Press reported on 10 February. Industrial production increased by 10.6 percent and agricultural output by 7 percent. Agricultural production accounted for some 20 percent of total GDP. Foreign trade turnover grew by 39.2 percent. Inflation was 7 percent. LF
KAZAKHSTAN SIGNS FOR ADB LOAN TO PROVIDE RURAL DRINKING WATER
The Kazakh government signed an agreement with the Asian Development Bank (ADB) in Astana on 9 February, under which the ADB will loan Kazakhstan $34.6 million over 25 years for a rural drinking-water project, khabar.kz, KazInform, and other Kazakh media reported. The project, which is being financed by Kazakhstan (about $21 million) and the Islamic Development Bank ($9.5 million) as well as by the ADB, is scheduled to be completed by the end of 2009. More than 400 villages in Aqmola, North Kazakhstan, Karaganda, and South Kazakhstan oblasts will obtain new water and sewage systems. The government of Japan is providing an additional $350,000 to the project to train Kazakh specialists in maintaining and managing the new systems. BB
KAZAKHSTAN SIGNS ADDITIONAL NONPROLIFERATION PROTOCOL
Kazakhstan's Foreign Ministry announced on 9 February that the country's ambassador to the international organizations headquartered in Vienna, Rakhat Aliev, has signed the Additional Protocol to the Comprehensive Safeguards Agreement of the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA), Interfax reported. The protocol is intended to prevent the diversion of nuclear materials from peaceful to military uses. A Foreign Minsitry statement described the signing as a further demonstration of Kazakhstan's commitment to nuclear nonproliferation. BB
KYRGYZSTAN'S TOP JAILER SAYS COUNTRY NEEDS MORE AND BETTER PRISONS
Vladimir Nosov, head of the Kyrgyz Justice Ministry's Penal Board, told a news conference in Bishkek on 9 February that Kyrgyzstan needs more penal facilities, kabar.kg reported. Nosov said that new facilities housing no more than 200-250 inmates each would make it possible to provide better conditions for prisoners, and would make it possible to incarcerate recidivists separately from other inmates. He gave a figure of 17,000 for Kyrgyzstan's current prison population, with one guard responsible for eight inmates, a figure Nosov said is high in comparison with other countries. BB
KYRGYZ PRESIDENT CONTINUES TOP PERSONNEL CHANGES
Kyrgyz President Askar Akaev continued on 9 February the turnover in top government personnel he announced on 7 February as part of a thoroughgoing restructuring of the Kyrgyz government (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 9 February 2004), akipress.org reported. Azamat Kangeldiev, formerly head of the national Accounting Office, had been appointed governor of Chui Oblast, replacing Toichubek Kasymov, who has been named to head the presidential administration (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 9 February 2004). So far the restructuring process has consisted of moving top officials from one job to another, causing some Kyrgyz political observers to note that the structure might be new, but the faces are the same. Akaev has also called for an immediate halt to the squandering of budgetary funds on such purchases as expensive foreign cars. He warned senior officials they must stop attending unnecessary seminars and conferences abroad at government expense, according to Interfax on 9 February. BB/LF
HUNGARIAN STATE SECRETARY VISITS TAJIKISTAN
Tajik President Imomali Rakhmonov, meeting with visiting Hungarian Foreign Ministry State Secretary Andras Barsony on 9 February, complained that relations between the two countries are less than satisfactory, RIA-Novosti reported. The talks focused particularly on the fight against terrorism and drug trafficking, and the normalization process in Afghanistan. Both sides noted that there are no significant differences of views between them, so it should be possible to develop closer political contacts. Barsony arrived in Dushanbe on 8 February for a two-day visit that included meetings with Prime Minister Oqil Oqilov and Foreign Minister Talbak Nazarov, as well as with Rakhmonov. BB
UZBEK PRESIDENT SATISFIED WITH 2003 GROWTH RATE
Islam Karimov told a session of the government on 7 February that he is satisfied with Uzbekistan's economic results in 2003, Interfax reported on 9 February. According to Karimov, the country's GDP grew by 4.4 percent in 2003, with industrial production up 6.2 percent. Macroeconomic stability was achieved, along with a steady growth rate. The objective of the 7 February meeting was to assess the effects of various reforms undertaken in 2003 and to determine the direction further liberalization should take in 2004. BB
PRESIDENT PRODI APPROVES ACCEDING EU MEMBERS' APPOINTMENTS...
European Commission President Romano Prodi on 9 February approved all 10 candidates proposed by the states that are expected to join the EU in May, TASR reported. Prodi said he is "very satisfied" with the records of the prospective commissioners and with the fact that they hail from different fields. The candidates must now be approved by the current 15 members of the EU and then by the European Parliament. The new commissioners will not be in charge of any portfolios until their countries' have been members for at least six months. Eight Central and Eastern European postcommunist countries are expected to accede to the EU on 1 May. MS
...BUT SOME EUROPARLIAMENTARY DEPUTIES WILL BE MORE EQUAL THAN OTHERS
Slovak and Hungarian politicians are "furious" that acceding states' deputies in the European Parliament will receive wages far below those of their colleagues from current EU member states, dpa reported on 9 February. Last month, officials representing the current 15 member states failed to agree on a pay-reform plan aimed at balancing pay in the European legislature, which will swell to more than 700 members after the organization's enlargement. As a result, members from acceding states will be paid from the budgets of their respective countries at the same rates as domestic lawmakers. According to dpa, this means lawmakers representing Slovakia or Hungary will receive less than 900 euros ($1,136) per month -- or about one-twelfth of the salary paid to an Italian deputy in the European Parliament. MS
BELARUSIAN OPPOSITION REPORTEDLY SEEKING SUPPORT IN WASHINGTON
The leaders of Belarus's Five Plus opposition coalition, Chamber of Representatives deputy Valery Fralou, and Hrodna-based NGO activist Alyaksandr Milinkevich arrived in Washington on 9 February at the invitation of Senator John McCain (Republican, Arizona), RFE/RL's Belarusian Service reported. The visit was arranged during last week's conference in Riga on the development of democracy beyond the Baltic states (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 9 February 2004). The Belarusian delegation is scheduled to meet in Washington with representatives of influential human rights groups and think tanks. "We agreed [in Riga] to continue our talks in Washington about the information blockade [in Belarus] that needs to be removed -- [I mean] a return of the Racja [Poland] and Baltic Wave [Lithuania] radio stations on the air -- and about those informational capabilities that already exist," Anatol Lyabedzka of the Five Plus coalition told RFE/RL. "It is necessary to help the independent press and the third sector [in Belarus]." JM
KYIV DENIES REPORTS OF NUCLEAR SALES TO AL-QAEDA
The Ukrainian Foreign Ministry said in a statement on 9 February that reports in some foreign and Ukrainian media alleging sales of tactical nuclear weapons to the Al-Qaeda terrorist network by Ukrainian scientists are "totally groundless and surprising," Interfax reported. The London-based "Al-Hayat" newspaper, referring to unnamed members of Al-Qaeda, reported on 8 February that Ukrainian scientists traveled to the Afghan city of Kandahar in 1998 and struck a deal with Al-Qaeda for the sale of an unspecified number of nuclear "suitcase bombs." The ministry asserts that "suitcase nuclear weapons" were not stored in Ukraine. The statement notes that all tactical nuclear weapons were transferred from Ukraine to Russia in May 1992 under a bilateral agreement with Russia. "I can say this is a completely dull canard, which highlights once again that certain circles in this world are willing to defame Ukraine," Volodymyr Horbulin, a presidential adviser on national security, commented on the "Al-Hayat" allegations. In September 2002, Communist Party leader Petro Symonenko alleged that the government documented the transfer of 2,200 of Ukraine's 2,400 nuclear warheads to Russia, while the fate of the remaining 200 warheads is unknown (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 13 September 2002). JM
BLAST IN KYIV DISTRICT COURT INJURES 10
An explosion in the basement of Kyiv's Darnytsya District Court on 9 February injured 10 people, Interfax reported. The court building's facade was partially destroyed, and windows in nearby buildings were smashed by the shock waves. A police officer on duty in the court reportedly said there was a smell of carbide prior to the explosion. Police are investigating the cause of the blast. JM
ESTONIAN PRESIDENT FAVORS CLOSED LISTS IN EUROPEAN PARLIAMENT ELECTIONS
President Arnold Ruutel opposes apparent parliamentary plans to change the procedure for upcoming elections to the European Parliament to reduce the significance of candidates' rankings on party lists, BNS reported, quoting an interview with Ruutel in the daily "Postimees." Ruutel said it is too soon before the 13 June elections to change the electoral system, according to BNS. Lawmakers have approved in the first two readings an amendment to replace the current system of closed lists with open lists, in which results are based solely on the number of votes candidates receive regardless of their positions on party tickets. A third and final vote is expected on 11 February. Two of the ruling coalition's three parties, the Reform Party and People's Union, want to keep the closed-list system, while Res Publica -- along with the opposition Center Party, Moderates, and Pro Patria Union -- favors the open-list system. SG
PARTY DEFECTIONS COULD TIP BALANCE IN FAVOR OF LATVIA'S RULING COALITION
Five deputies from the leftist National Harmony Party (TSP) announced their decision on 9 February to join Latvia's First Party (LPP), which withdrew from the four-party ruling coalition last month in a move that led to the government's resignation (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 29 January 2004), BNS reported. The defections could allow for the creation of a new four-party coalition with a majority of 54 deputies (instead of the previous 49) in the 100-seat parliament. Under one possible scenario, the People's Party (20 deputies) would replace New Era (26 deputies) as the senior coalition party, with the LPP (15 deputies), the Union of Greens and Farmers (12 deputies), and For the Fatherland and Freedom/LNNK (seven deputies) remaining as the other members. President Vaira Vike-Freiberga meanwhile held talks on 9 February with representatives of all parliamentary parties about the general principles underlying the formation of a new government and concluded, "There are no deep ideological obstacles for parties to cooperate," according to BNS. She has not yet decided whom to ask to form a new government. SG
LITHUANIAN IMPEACHMENT PANEL DELAYS FINAL REPORT
Julius Sabatauskas, deputy chairman of the parliamentary commission formed to investigate possible impeachment proceedings against President Rolandas Paksas (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 23 December 2003), told reporters on 10 February that the commission will not be able to present its conclusions by the planned deadline of 13 February, Lithuanian Radio reported. Sabatauskas cited an unexpected decision by Paksas that morning to present a written response to accusations against him. Other factors include the failure of 10 of the 40 witnesses who testified to the commission to sign the transcripts of the evidence they gave, ELTA reported on 9 February. The 10 include presidential advisers Gintaras Surkus and Vitale Vinickiene, former adviser Remigijus Acas, and leading Liberal Democratic Party members Valentinas Mazuronis and Henrikas Zukauskas. SG
POLISH POLITICIANS INDICTED OVER LEAKS TO ORGANIZED CRIME
Prosecutors in Kielce have indicted Democratic Left Alliance (SLD) lawmaker and former Deputy Interior Minister Zbigniew Sobotka along with two former SLD politicians over their alleged roles in a leak of information about a planned police raid on local organized-crime structures in Starachowice (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 21 October 2003), Polish media reported on 9 February. Sobotka is accused of disclosing state and official secrets as well as of endangering the lives of policemen taking part in the raid in Starachowice, while Andrzej Jagiello and Henryk Dlugosz are charged with hampering law enforcement efforts. The three men face sentences of up to eight years in jail, if convicted. JM
POLISH MINISTER ORDERS PROBE IN WITNESS-PROTECTION-FUND SCANDAL
Interior Minister Jozef Oleksy has ordered an internal inquiry at the ministry's Central Bureau of Investigation (CBS), Polish Television reported on 9 February. The inquiry appears to be a reaction to media reports alleging embezzlement from a CBS fund to protect crown witnesses. The sum involved is said to be 1 million-4 million zlotys ($260,000-$1.1 million). JM
CZECH PRESIDENT ASSAILS EURO AGAIN...
Addressing a forum at Germany's Passau University on 7-8 February, President Vaclav Klaus reiterated his criticism of European monetary union, describing it as a "purely political" tool that might harm EU members, dpa and Czech media reported. "Currency unification is a Trojan Horse for the harmonization of the economy, politics, and legal regulations in the EU," dpa quoted him as saying. Klaus said the introduction of the euro encourages a lack of financial discipline, and said those guilty of such laxity might go unpunished and even pass the financial burden to other members of the eurozone and thereby trigger "tension between states." This could have a particularly adverse effect on the weaker economies of the postcommunist countries, including the Czech Republic, Klaus said. While conceding that the euro "is here to stay," Klaus said he knows from his experience as prime minister during the Czech and Slovak republics' "velvet divorce" of 1992-93 that doing away with a unified currency is "easy and low-cost." MS
...AND BECOMES MOST POPULAR POLITICIAN IN HIS COUNTRY
A recent CVVM public-opinion poll indicates that President Klaus is now the most popular Czech politician, enjoying the trust of 69 percent of respondents, CTK reported. Klaus for the first time overtook Interior Minister Stanislav Gross, whom polls have long shown to be the country's most-popular politician. Gross is now trusted by 60 percent of respondents, followed by Ombudsman Otakar Motejl at 54 percent. Klaus's popularity has thus risen 14 percentage points in the 11 months since he took office, according to CVVM. MS
CZECH UNEMPLOYMENT HITS NEW RECORD
Unemployment in the Czech Republic reached a post-WWII record of 10.8 percent in January, local media reported on 10 February, citing Labor Ministry data. The figure also represents the steepest increase in the number of job hunters since late 2002, which now totals 570,000. MS
HIGH REPRESENTATIVE AND U.S. INCREASE PRESSURE ON SOME BOSNIAN SERB OFFICIALS...
High Representative Paddy Ashdown announced in Sarajevo on 9 February the sacking of three Bosnian Serb police officials and the dismissal of former Bosnian Presidency member Mirko Sarovic from his post as vice president of the Serbian Democratic Party (SDS), RFE/RL's South Slavic and Albanian Languages Service reported. The police officials are Veljko Borovcanin, who heads the Bosnian Serb police district of Srpsko Sarajevo, Pale police chief Ivan Sarac, and police officer Dragan Basevic. The four men are suspected of having helped former Bosnian Serb leader and indicted war criminal Radovan Karadzic evade capture by NATO peacekeepers (see "RFE/RL Balkan Report," 23 January 2004). In Washington, the U.S. Treasury Department added the four men and nine other individuals to its blacklist of people allegedly impeding implementation of the 1995 Dayton peace agreements. The blacklisting freezes the U.S. assets of those involved and bars their entry to the United States (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 30 May, 2 June, and 2 and 8 July 2003). PM
...AMID PROTESTS FROM BOSNIAN SERB POLITICIANS
Unnamed representatives of the pro-government parties in the Bosnian Serb parliament said in a statement in Banja Luka on 9 February that the latest moves by Ashdown and the United States against several Bosnian Serb officials "constitute a continuation and intensification of a political campaign against key political figures who have a clear role in defending the Serbian people and their interests," RFE/RL's South Slavic and Albanian Languages Service reported. Republika Srpska President Dragan Cavic called on Ashdown's office and the U.S. Embassy to supply proof of the charges against Sarovic. But Bosnian Serb Prime Minister Dragan Mikerevic said his government will take unspecified legal measures against those charged with helping indicted war criminals. He added that U.S. officials recently made it very clear to him in Washington that the U.S. government wants all remaining war crimes suspects arrested by the end of 2004. PM
MYSTERIOUS EXPLOSIONS IN MACEDONIAN CITY
Two explosions shook the southern Macedonian city of Bitola in the early morning hours of 8 February, damaging a mosque and shop without causing any injuries, "Utrinski vesnik" reported. The blasts destroyed parts of a mosque and a shop in the city center, which is owned by a Macedonian Muslim. Initial investigations into the blasts suggest that they were caused by hand grenades. In April and May 2001, crowds of ethnic Macedonians stoned or burned dozens of ethnic Albanian homes and businesses in Bitola in revenge for the killings elsewhere of Macedonian soldiers by Albanian rebels (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 2 and 4 May 2001 and "RFE/RL Balkan Report," 5 June 2001). UB
SERBIAN PARLIAMENT REASSIGNS SEATS IN LEGISLATURE OF SERBIA AND MONTENEGRO
On 9 February, the administrative committee of the Serbian parliament reassigned Serbia's seats in the joint legislature of Serbia and Montenegro in keeping with the results of the 28 December parliamentary elections, Deutsche Welle's "Monitor" reported (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 9 February 2004 and "RFE/RL Balkan Report," 12 December 2003 and 9 January 2004). The new breakdown is: 30 seats for the Serbian Radical Party (SRS); 20 for the Democratic Party of Serbia (DSS); 13 for the Democratic Party; 12 for the G-17 Plus party; eight for the coalition of the Serbian Renewal Movement (SPO) and New Serbia party; and eight for the Socialist Party of Serbia (SPS). The joint parliament has 126 members, of whom 91 are from Serbia and 35 from Montenegro. PM
ROMANIAN PRESIDENT FAILS TO CONVINCE EU RAPPORTEUR
Baroness Emma Nicholson, the European Parliament's rapporteur for Romania, told journalists after meeting in Bucharest on 9 February with President Ion Iliescu that she continues to believe the EU's accession negotiations with Romania should be suspended, Mediafax reported. Nicholson said Romania can still meet its EU-accession target date of 2007, but to do so the country must radically improve its performance. She said corruption is still widespread at the political level and the judiciary is not independent, adding that when parliament approves legislation the new laws are often not implemented due to the poor performance of the judiciary and public administration. Nicholson also said freedom of the press is endangered by both political and economic pressure exerted on the media. In a press release after the meeting, the presidential office cited Iliescu as saying it is not right that the Romanian people will have to suffer as the result of electioneering ahead of the Europarliament ballot, and that "nothing happened in Romania in the last months" to justify the drastic measures proposed by some Europarliament deputies. MS
BARONESS NICHOLSON MEETS ROMANIAN PREMIER
Baroness Nicholson also met on 9 February with Prime Minister Adrian Nastase and described the encounter as "powerful, productive, and very amiable," Mediafax reported. She said the Europarliament and the Romanian government are to establish "new communication channels" and that she will return to Bucharest to meet with Romanian leaders on 12 March. Before meeting with Nastase, Nicholson met with Justice Minister Rodica Stanoiu. Nastase announced after the meeting that he has invited Europarliamentarian Arie Oostlander, who has called for EU-accession negotiations with Romania to be suspended, to travel to Bucharest as a member of that body's delegation on 12 March in order to "disperse the artificial tension." Romania's chief negotiator with the EU, Vasile Puscas, denied on 9 February that European President Romano Prodi has lobbied for "exceptions" to the moratorium on international adoptions, as was claimed the previous day by Democratic Party Chairman Traian Basescu (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 9 February 2004). MS
OSCE MISSION IN MOLDOVA CALLS FOR DEMILITARIZATION OF SECURITY ZONE...
OSCE mission spokesman Claus Neukirch said on 9 February that the mission backs the idea of demilitarizing the security zone dividing Moldovan and Transdniester forces, Flux reported. The agency quoted Neukirch as saying the peacekeeping forces in the zone should be stationed there "for a limited period of time and under a new formula." He refused to elaborate, but presumably he was alluding to a possible presence of EU peacekeepers in the region, after an agreement is reached. Neukirch also said that the negotiation process must include the extension of security guarantees in order to promote stability. MS
...AND SAYS AUTHORITIES SHOULD RECONSIDER SUSPENSION OF LICENSES
The OSCE mission in Moldova on 6 February called on the authorities to reconsider the suspension of the broadcast licenses of Chisinau municipal Radio Antena C and the municipal Euro TV station, Flux reported (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 4 February 2004). The mission said the decision deprives Chisinau inhabitants of "alternative information sources" and is "severe." It said such steps are not warranted before all other alternative measures have been fully exhausted. On 7 February, Euro TV employees called on the Audiovisual Coordinating Council (CCA) to review its decision, and said in a resolution approved by the employees' council that they will take all possible legal steps to bring about the nullification of the suspension, Flux reported. On 6 February, former Prime Minister Dumitru Braghis, co-chairman of the Our Moldova alliance, said in parliament that the decision to suspend the two municipal broadcasters is aimed at the "liquidation of political pluralism and suppressing the fundamental rights and freedoms of the Moldovan people," Infotag reported. Braghis said the ruling Party of Moldovan Communists (PCM) is using the "fully subordinated CCA" to "wage war against its political opponents and 'undesirable' media outlets." MS
TIRASPOL ASKS UKRAINE TO SEND 'PEACEKEEPERS' TO TRANSDNIESTER
Separatist Supreme Soviet speaker Grigorii Marakutsa said Tiraspol is asking Ukraine to send peacekeepers to Transdniester, Flux reported on 9 February. Addressing a delegation of Ukrainian parliamentarians in Tiraspol, Marakutsa said it is "only a matter of time" until Moldova will become integrated with Romania, which will lead to the evacuation to the Russian troops in the region. Tiraspol is therefore appealing to Ukraine to deploy to the region a "small contingent of peacekeepers" in addition to the 10 Ukrainian soldiers currently serving as peacekeepers in the region. MS
EXPERT TESTIMONY DELAYS CONCLUSION OF LIBYAN TRIAL OF BULGARIAN MEDICS
What was to be the last hearing in the case of Bulgarian medical personnel charged in Libya with deliberately infecting more than 400 Libyan children with HIV/ AIDS in a Benghazi hospital was adjourned on 9 February until 16 February, mediapool.bg reported. The five Bulgarian nurses and one doctor were arrested in February 1999. The Benghazi court adjourned the session after hearing the opinion of a Libyan expert who said the children may have been infected as a result of inadequate precautionary measures at the hospital. In September, the French AIDS expert Luc Montagnier and his Italian colleague Vittorio Colizzi testified that the hospital housed patients with the virus in 1997, before the Bulgarians began working there, possibly because of the multiple use of syringes. In January, a group of Libyan doctors contradicted Montagnier's and Colizzi's finding, saying the defendants deliberately infected patients at the hospital (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 4 September 2003 and 6 and 22 January and 3 February 2004). UB
BULGARIAN MEDIA COUNCIL CALLS FOR SUSPENSION OF NATIONAL TV HEAD PENDING INVESTIGATION
Members of the Council on Electronic Media (SEM), the Bulgarian state media regulatory body, proposed on 9 February that Bulgarian National TV (BNT) Director Kiril Gotsev be replaced by an acting director until investigations into a contract between BNT and a Russian advertising company are completed, "Sega" reported. Although the contract conforms to the trade law, it breaches the media law, according to some members of the council. Under the contract, the Russian advertising giant Video International has full control over BNT's advertising time and can reportedly influence its editorial policy. Video International can collect significant penalties in the event that the contract is violated. UB
KYRGYZ PRESIDENT SHAKES UP THE GOVERNMENT
Last week in Kyrgyzstan saw an extensive government reshuffle -- not merely a rematching of people and posts, however, but a significant reorganization of the structure of the government itself.
At an extraordinary session of the People's Assembly (parliament's upper chamber) in the capital Bishkek on 6 February, Kyrgyz legislators approved structural reforms to the government proposed by President Askar Akaev. The proposed new structure of the government maintained the same number of ministries (14) but it changed or redistributed some of the functions of ministerial departments. It also merged some state commissions into existing ministries, Kabar and RFE/RL reported.
Most significantly, the Ministry for Foreign Trade and Industry was reorganized into a new super-ministry, the Ministry for Economic Development, Industry, and Trade. It will also comprise a new division handling state property management and take over some of the functions of the Ministry of Finance. A state commission on culture is to be established under the aegis of the Ministry of Education and Culture. A new national commission on state service was also set up. State commissions on business development and antimonopoly policy were abolished, their powers transferred elsewhere. The inspectorate for standardization and measurements was abolished, Kabar reported. Furthermore, parliamentarian Baiaman Erkinbaev proposed to the chamber that a special committee on water resources, separate from the Ministry of Agriculture, should be established in order to consider not only questions of domestic water use but export sales of water to neighboring Uzbekistan and Kazakhstan, Kyrgyz Radio reported.
Finally, Akaev proposed changing the official name of the militia. "In accordance with the practice of most foreign countries, it would be in general agreement if we changed the name 'militiamen' to 'policemen,'" said the president as quoted by RFE/RL's Bishkek bureau, which noted that the term "militia" has taken on odious connotations since militia in southern Aksy Raion opened fire on protesters in March 2002, killing five people (see "RFE/RL Central Asia Report," 21 March, 2003)
According to Akaev, addressing the People's Assembly, the rationale for the government restructuring was to be found in the reforms to the constitution -- he referred to it as the "new edition of the constitution" -- approved by referendum in early 2003 (see "RFE/RL Central Asia Report," 6 February and 25 July 2003). The abolition of the current two-chamber legislature and the creation of a unicameral one were the most important changes in government structure endorsed by the referendum. However, Akaev has consistently maintained that the overall thrust of the constitutional reforms was to make government work better, and on that basis he argued on 6 February that the referendum had effectively given him a mandate to recast the system. "These proposals were submitted in accordance with the new edition of the Constitution...to upgrade the state administrative system, strengthen democratic principles, combat corruption and bureaucracy, eliminate the duplication of functions, and strengthen the local branches of power," Akaev told legislators. He added that some of his proposals were prompted by "the need to increase the efficiency of the executive branch," Kabar and Kyrgyz Radio reported. The reorganization of government was a first step towards implementing administrative reforms which were supported by the World Bank, the United Nations Development Program, and other donors and which would be complete by the end of 2004, Akaev said.
Akaev did not offer the parliament any direct explanation why it had suddenly become so pressing to shake up the government now, only saying that he considered 2004 a "key year" to consolidate progress achieved so far and resolve outstanding issues in the economic and social spheres, Kyrgyz Radio reported. It is suggestive, however, that the theme of an expanded-format government meeting on 7 February was the crisis of economic management in the country, exacerbated by government corruption, RFE/RL's Bishkek bureau reported. Akaev lamented the decline of exports over the last 2-3 years, criticized free trade zones for facilitating tax evasion, and slammed the ministries of agriculture and industry for exaggerating their achievements by falsifying production data.
The announcements of personnel changes came in a sudden cascade. Although they were surely planned in connection with the government restructuring, there were still hints of improvisation about them, as if Akaev, instead of having thought out his decisions well in advance, was modifying them as he went along. For example, on 5 February he issued a decree removing Kurmanbek Osmonov from the post of justice minister, which he has held since January 2003, but keeping him in his concurrent position as first deputy prime minister (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 6 February 2004). Yet within a day Akaev apparently had changed his mind. On 6 February he named Transport and Communications Minister Kubanychbek Jumaliev to be first deputy prime minister. This required Osmonov to relinquish the position, which he did. Instead, Osmonov was appointed to the chairmanship of the Supreme Court. That move required the incumbent, Nellia Beishenalieva, to step down. She resigned as chairwoman of the Supreme Court on 6 February, only to be assigned Osmonov's old job as minister of justice. This game of musical chairs came across to political observers more as a scramble than a carefully considered and well-executed plan.
Other new appointments were issued in a presidential decree on 7 February and included the following. Ularbek Mateyev, previously chief of the Energy Agency, became deputy prime minister for social mobilization, a newly-created post. His old job at the state energy agency was filled by Emil Uzakbaev, who had chaired the now-defunct commission on antimonopoly policy. The newly constituted Ministry of Economic Development, Industry, and Trade was taken over by Amangeldy Muraliev, a former prime minister who more recently had been heading the stock exchange.
Kyrgyz Security Council Secretary Misir Ashyrkulov was relieved of his duty as Kyrgyz representative to the Central Asian Cooperation Organization. He was replaced by Bazarbay Mambetov, who has been serving as Kyrgyz representative to the Eurasian Economic Community, akipress.org reported. Meanwhile, Akaev has been revamping his own team. On 6 February, the same news agency said that Toychubek Kasymov, governor of Chuy Oblast, had become head of the presidential administration. Bolot Dzhanuzakov, who already runs the defense and security department in Akaev's office, was promoted to first deputy head under Kasymov. Alikbek Dzhekshenkulov, a former first deputy foreign minister who Akaev appointed last month to take over the foreign-policy department in the president's office (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 15 January 2004), was also promoted last week to deputy head.
AFGHAN LEADER OPENS CONFERENCE ON NARCOTICS...
Afghan Transitional Administration (ATA) Chairman Hamid Karzai inaugurated the International Conference on Counternarcotics in Kabul on 9 February (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 9 February 2004), Afghanistan Television reported. Karzai said opium-poppy cultivation and heroin production pose serious problems for Afghanistan and the world. The increase in drug production in Afghanistan is also greatly damaging Afghanistan's international image, Karzai said. He outlined measures taken so far by his administration to combat what he called an "evil phenomenon," but he stressed that Afghanistan needs more funds to make further progress. Karzai also said Afghan farmers are not benefiting from poppy cultivation, adding that such money goes to international narcotics and terrorism networks. He acknowledged, however, "that Afghan farmers, due to the last 30 years of conflict and poverty, have had to grow poppies," AFP reported on 9 February. Afghan farmers need an alternative means of livelihood, including substitute crops, Karzai said. AT
...AS AFGHAN OFFICIAL SUGGESTS FORCE THE ONLY MEANS TO COMBAT PROBLEM
The director-general of Afghanistan's Counternarcotics Department, Mirwais Yasini, told the International Conference on Counternarcotics on 9 February that his department has "used different approaches to prevent poppy cultivation, but none of them helped," Hindukosh news agency reported. Yasini added that his department's current strategy is to prevent poppy cultivation "only by force." Addressing working groups at the conference on 8 February, Yasini outlined a military operation conducted in January in the northeastern Afghan province of Badakhshan in which around 2 tons of drugs were seized and laboratories destroyed (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 5 February 2004). AT
CANADA ASSUMES COMMAND OF ISAF IN AFGHANISTAN...
At a ceremony held in Kabul on 9 February, Canada assumed command of the NATO-led International Security Assistance Force (ISAF) from Germany and the Netherlands, Hindukosh news agency reported. Transitional Administration Chairman Karzai said safeguarding security in the Afghan capital during the Constitutional Loya Jirga in December was the ISAF's greatest achievement in 2003. ISAF's new commander, Canadian Lieutenant General Rick Hiller, said that while command of the force has changed, its commitment to Afghanistan has not. AT
...BUT OTTAWA MIGHT CURTAIL CANADA'S PRESENCE
The outgoing deputy commander of ISAF, Canadian Major General Andrew Leslie, said on 6 February that his country will probably reduce its troop numbers in Afghanistan, AFP reported. Leslie said Canada might leave 500 of its current 2,000 soldiers in Afghanistan once the Canadian command of ISAF comes to an end. "As a professional soldier, I can tell you that the Canadian Army does not have the critical mass of soldiers to maintain 2,000 soldiers in Afghanistan past August," Leslie said. The Canadian general warned, however, that Afghanistan would rapidly plunge into "large-scale violence" without the ISAF presence. Leslie said he is confident that ISAF will expand its presence in northern Afghanistan, but he pointed out that ISAF requires 8,000-12,000 additional troops in order to do so (see "RFE/RL Afghanistan Report," 23 January 2004). ISAF currently comprises about 5,000 troops. AT
IRANIAN, TAJIK, CHINESE OFFICIALS DISCUSS COUNTERNARCOTICS COOPERATION
The deputy head of Iran's Drug Control Headquarters (DCHQ), Mujtaba Jabal-Ameli, met with his Tajik counterpart Uktam Toshmatov in Tehran on 8 February, and the two officials emphasized the need for more regional cooperation to stem the flow of narcotics from Afghanistan, Iranian state radio reported from Mashhad. They also called for more vigorous implementation of the memorandum of understanding signed when President Hojatoleslam Mohammad Khatami visited Dushanbe in April 2002. That memorandum called for information exchanges, counternarcotics cooperation, and controlling drug production in Afghanistan. DCHQ chief Ali Hashemi met with Van Chuan Rong, the vice secretary of China's National Commission for Drug Control, on 4 February in Tehran, IRNA reported. Hashemi expressed the hope that the two sides will sign a counternarcotics memorandum of understanding. The Chinese official noted that both countries have a major interest in fighting drug trafficking because they both share borders with Afghanistan. BS
IRANIAN POLICE LAUNCH WEB-BASED PROJECT
President Khatami said in his message on the 9 February launch of the "Police 10+" service that the police are among the most important institutions in the establishment of order and public security, IRNA reported. The police public-relations department announced the launch of "Police 10+" on 31 January and said it will be in operation in Tehran and 10 of the country's 28 provinces, according to IRNA. Some of the services available through "Police 10+" are issuing the papers that show a jobseeker is cleared of criminal charges, issuing job permits, issuing license plates and drivers licenses, and renewing passports. This Internet-based service is connected with improvements in the police department's communications network that began two years ago, and it is meant to contribute to decentralization, reduce government involvement in public affairs, improve people's access to public services, and make it easier to deal with the array of police services. More information on "Police 10+" is available at http://www.police.ir. BS
IRANIAN CANDIDATE LIST IS POSTED
Iran's Guardians Council, which has the final say in vetting prospective candidates for the 20 February parliamentary elections, on 10 February posted the final list of candidates on its website (http://www.irisn.com/akhbar/1382/13821120/13821120.pdf). The 190-page document contains some 5,600 names that are listed and numbered by province. BS
REFORMIST FEMALE LEGISLATOR WILL NOT STAND IN IRANIAN ELECTIONS
Tehran parliamentary representative Fatemeh Rakei announced on 8 February that she will not stand as a candidate in the upcoming parliamentary polls because "I personally have no motivation to participate in an undemocratic election," "Iran Daily" reported on 9 February. She ascribed this absence of motivation to President Khatami's failure to keep his word not to hold unfair elections. She described the upcoming elections as illegitimate because the new parliamentarians were chosen before the elections took place. Rakei urged all female prospective candidates who were disqualified to contact the parliamentary Women's Faction, according to "Iran Daily." BS
TWO IRANIAN PARTIES RULE OUT PARTICIPATION IN ELECTIONS
Urumiyeh parliamentary representative Shahrbanu Amani, who is a member of the Islamic Iran Solidarity Party (Hizb-i Hambastegi-yi Iran-i Islami) political committee, said on 9 February that her party will not put forward a list of candidates for the upcoming parliamentary elections, Fars News Agency reported. She explained that the candidacies of 120 party members were rejected. An anonymous Solidarity Party source said on 10 February, however, that the party will issue a common list with the Militant Clerics Association (Majma-yi Ruhaniyun-i Mubarez), Islamic Labor Party (Hezb-e Eslami-ye Kar), and the Executives of Construction (Kargozaran-e Sazandegi), Fars News Agency reported. The banned but tolerated Freedom Movement also declared that it will not participate in the elections, "Yas-i No" reported on 9 February. It complained of the Guardians Council's "illegal actions" and accused that body of favoring a "rubber-stamp election." The Freedom Movement described the Guardians Council's actions as contravening the law, national interests, and national security. BS
IRANIAN ELECTORAL SUPERVISORY BODY REJECTS COMPUTERIZED POLLING
The Guardians Council, which in addition to vetting candidates for elected office also supervises elections, announced on 9 February that it will not allow computerized vote counting, AFP reported. The council reportedly based its decision on shortcomings in the Interior Ministry's computer software, whereas Tehran Governor-General Ali Awsat Hashemi said there is nothing wrong with it. "We spent months preparing the software. Yet right from the very first day, the Guardians [Council's] technical representative made clear his disapproval," Hashemi said. "We still don't know what the guardians are making a fuss about." The council warned in early January that the Interior Ministry had yet to prepare adequate software and said the Central Supervisory Board had developed "reliable software" that the Interior Ministry can use instead (see "RFE/RL Iran Report," 12 January 2004). BS
AT LEAST 50 KILLED IN CAR-BOMB ATTACK ON IRAQI POLICE STATION
At least 50 people were killed when a car bomb detonated on 10 February outside a police station in the town of Al-Iskandariyah, located some 40 kilometers south of Baghdad, international media reported. "There are around 50 martyrs, 30 of whom have been identified, and dozens wounded," Dr. Tahsim Ahmad told Reuters. "It was a car (bomb) that was parked outside the station," Iraqi policeman Sadiq Khudayr told Reuters. "It brought down part of the building and the [adjoining] courthouse." Meanwhile, gunmen opened fire on two police vehicles carrying two officers each in separate incidents in Iraq on 10 February, killing two officers, CNN reported. A number of police stations have been targeted in Iraq in recent months. According to Reuters, some 300 police officers have lost their lives as the result of the insurgency in Iraq since the fall of the regime of former President Saddam Hussein. KR
SUICIDE BOMBER DETONATES OUTSIDE TRIBAL LEADER'S HOME
A suicide bomber blew himself up outside the home of an Iraqi tribal leader on 10 February, international media reported. According to Al-Arabiyah, the bomber targeted the home of Shaykh Amr Sulayman, chief of the Al-Dulaym tribe in the city of Al-Ramadi, located approximately 110 kilometers west of Baghdad. Four bodyguards were reportedly wounded in the incident. Reuters reported that the bomber initially approached the shaykh's house but was told by bodyguards to leave. He returned a second time and detonated explosives strapped to his body. AP reported that the bombing was in apparent response to the shaykh's cooperation with coalition forces. Pamphlets purportedly written by a coalition of 12 insurgent groups have recently been circulated inside the city, threatening attacks against those who cooperate with coalition forces. KR
FORMER BA'ATH PARTY OFFICIAL IN COALITION CUSTODY
U.S. forces have reportedly detained Muhsin Khadir al-Khafaji, a former Ba'ath Party chairman and commander of the party's militia in the Al-Qadisiyah Governorate, international media reported on 9 February. Al-Khafaji was 48th on the coalition's list of the 55 most-wanted Iraqis from the deposed Hussein regime. Al-Khafaji was reportedly detained over the weekend of 7-8 February, unidentified officials told AP. KR
U.S. REDUCING PRESENCE IN BAGHDAD, WITHDRAWING TO OUTSKIRTS OF CITY
The U.S. Army is closing down most of its bases in central Baghdad and redeploying its troops to the outskirts of the city, international media reported on 9 February. Brigadier General Mark Hertling said that new soldiers arriving from the First Cavalry Division will move into eight bases around Baghdad, and maintain one base in the city, Reuters reported. The division will assume command over Baghdad on 15 April. There are currently 26 U.S. bases in the Iraqi capital, down from 60 last summer. The change not only coincides with the U.S. troop rotation, but also will allow Iraqi police and Civil Defense Corps (ICDC) personnel to assume a greater role in policing the capital ahead of a U.S. withdrawal. Asked for a possible date for the U.S. withdrawal, Hertling said: "If you're asking me for a set date, there is none. Some of the regions within Baghdad will go faster than others." Iraqi Governing Council President for January Muhsin Abd al-Hamid told Al-Jazeera on 9 February that the U.S. redeployment is in accordance with the agreement signed between the council's security committee and the occupation authority. KR
U.S. SAYS AL-QAEDA LEADER PLOTTING CIVIL WAR IN IRAQ
U.S. civilian and military officials have said that they have evidence that Al-Qaeda leader Abu Mus'ab al-Zarqawi has plotted to spark a civil war in Iraq by encouraging religious and sectarian violence there, international media reported on 10 February. The evidence came in the form of a 17-page letter found on a computer disk seized by U.S. forces. Coalition Provisional Authority spokesman Dan Senor told reporters on 9 February that the letter calls for attacks on the Shi'ite leadership and religious shrines "in the hope that it would provoke reprisals against other ethnic groups in the country," Reuters reported. "There is a clear plan on the part of outsiders to come into this country and spark civil war, breed sectarian violence, and try to expose fissures in the society," Brigadier General Mark Kimmitt told reporters. Al-Zarqawi was suspected of being behind the 7 August bombing of the Jordanian Embassy in Baghdad (see "RFE/RL Iraq Report," 15 August 2003). He reportedly is also linked to the terrorist group Ansar Al-Islam, which was present in northern Iraq before the U.S.-led invasion, and is suspected of having infiltrated the central and southern areas of the country after the war in an effort to elude coalition forces. KR