Accessibility links

Newsline - February 11, 2004


MISSING PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE RESURFACES TO FIND HIMSELF IN HOT WATER
Former Duma Speaker and presidential candidate Ivan Rybkin, who was reported missing on 5 February, phoned home on 10 February to say that he had spent the last four days in Kyiv with friends, unaware of the current "hysteria" in Moscow about his whereabouts, Interfax reported. "I have the right to two or three days of a private life," Rybkin said. "I came to Kyiv with my friends, had fun, turned off my mobile phones, and did not watch television." Albina Rybkina, Rybkin's wife, told the agency that she "pities poor Russia that such people want to lead it," and confirmed that she was speaking of her husband. Ksenia Ponomareva, the head of Rybkin's election headquarters, said that she is likely to resign, but that she first wanted to hear Rybkin's explanation. When greeted by reporters upon his arrival back in Moscow, Rybkin did not deny that he might withdraw his candidacy, "Kommersant-Daily" reported on 11 February. Rybkin said he returned from a difficult round of talks on Chechnya, but that he was not detained against his will. No other media mentioned any talks on Chechnya. Asked what happened, Rybkin said "no comment," but admitted that he was very upset to hear his daughter crying over the phone. He then said he was glad to be back in his native land and that he had nothing more to say on the matter. JAC

MENATEP CHIEF FACES NEW CHARGES
In a sign that the Russian authorities are not easing up on embattled oil giant Yukos, a spokesperson for the Prosecutor-General's Office told ITAR-TASS on 10 February that the office has filed a new, "expanded" charge of large-scale tax evasion against one of the company's key shareholders, Menatep Chairman Platon Lebedev. The source added that it is likely that "new charges will appear" against Lebedev in the near future. Lebedev, who heads the holding company that controls a core stake in Yukos, was arrested in July 2003 and subsequently charged with a variety of crimes, including fraud, embezzlement, and tax evasion. On 9 February, the Moscow Municipal Court rejected a request that Lebedev be released from prison on grounds of poor health and upheld a December decision by Moscow's Basmannyi Raion Court that extended Lebedev's period of pretrial detention until at least 30 March. Lebedev's lawyer, Yevgenii Baru, told ITAR-TASS on 10 February that he remains worried about his client's health after visiting him recently at the Matrosskaya Tishina remand prison. JB

YOUTH GANG KILLS TAJIK GIRL IN ST. PETERSBURG...
A group of reportedly drunken teenagers in St. Petersburg attacked and killed a 9-year-old Tajik girl, Khursheda Sultanova, on 9 February and seriously injured her father and her 11-year-old cousin, ORT reported on 10 February. Sultanova, whose father is a citizen of Tajikistan, was stabbed 11 times, "The Moscow Times" reported. The station said the teenage boys did not appear to be skinheads, but "Vremya novostei" and "Kommersant-Daily" the next day described the assailants as "skinheads." Local police initially arrested about 20 young men in connection with the killing, but they were later released, "Vremya novostei"' reported on 11 February. According to the daily, the teenagers yelled "Russia for Russians" during the attack. St. Petersburg Governor Valentina Matvienko condemned the attack, saying, "It is doubly distressing that this happened in St. Petersburg, a city where different religions and creeds have coexisted for years." JAC

...AS OFFICIALS CONDEMN THE KILLING
Federal officials condemned the 9 February killing in St. Petersburg of a 9-year-old Tajik girl, allegedly by a group of what some media described as "skinheads." Acting Interior Minister Rashid Nurgaliev has taken personal control of the search for the killers of Khursheda Sultanova, RIA-Novosti reported on 10 February. Presidential envoy to the Northwest Federal District Ilya Klebanov said the state should protect all its inhabitants regardless of their ethnicity and promised an uncompromising fight against such "medieval savagery," "Vremya novostei" reported on 11 February. Minister without portfolio Vladimir Zorin, who is responsible for nationalities policy, said the "brutal murder of a Tajik girl in St. Petersburg is an insolent challenge to all of us," Interfax reported on 10 February. Zorin spoke out on 9 February against inciting xenophobic sentiments in the wake of the 6 February Moscow subway blast (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 10 February 2004). State Duma Speaker Boris Gryzlov described the killing as "beyond the boundaries of understanding" and the killers as "scum," RIA-Novosti reported on 10 February. JB

DUMA COMMITTEE DRAFTS A LAW ON THE RUSSIAN PEOPLE...
Duma Nationalities Committee Chairman Yevgenii Trofimov (Unified Russia) spoke on 10 February about a draft law "on the Russian people," which his committee has begun working on, Regnum reported. The development of the bill is neither unnatural nor artificial, he said, adding that Russia's official National Policy Concept states that interethnic relations will be largely defined by the Russian people, who are the foundation of Russian statehood. However, there is "not a single law that mentions the people that are playing the decisive role in creating the Russian state." The Nationalities Committee, Trofimov said, believes that one of the most important directions in the development of a strategy for Russia's nationalities policy is movement away from human rights toward the rights of peoples. JB

...THAT PUTS A PREMIUM ON ETHNICITY
"Novye izvestiya" on 11 February published sections of the draft law "On the Russian People." One of the sections states that the government will take measures to "create a system of national education and upbringing; develop preschool institutions and middle-educational institutions with a Russian ethno-cultural component; and deepen the study of the Russian language, history, literature, spiritual culture, and the traditions and customs of the Russian people." The newspaper also quoted unnamed members of the Duma's Nationalities Committee as saying that belonging to the Russian people "biologically" will "without question be taken into account," and that migrants living in Russia on a continual basis "will be considered nothing more than people who have integrated into Russian culture." JB

MOSCOW MAYOR RAISES LIKELY TOLL FROM METRO BLAST
Moscow Mayor Yurii Luzhkov said on 10 February that the final death toll from the 6 February Moscow subway explosion is likely to be "around 50." Luzhkov told TV-Tsentr that 38 people killed by the blast have been identified, but that "there are still so-called body fragments." Luzhkov called a media report that the city authorities are hiding the true death toll on the orders of the Federal Security Service (FSB) "complete rubbish." "We have never lied to the people of Moscow and have no intention of lying," Luzhkov said. Meanwhile, "Kommersant-Daily" reported on 10 February that on one of the bodies, investigators found a battery and a tumbler with a small amount of wire attached, which the FSB is convinced is part of an explosive device detonated by a suicide bomber. JB

RUSSIA'S UN AMBASSADOR SAYS 'I TOLD YOU SO' ON IRAQI WMD
Russian Ambassador to the United Nations Sergei Lavrov said on 10 February that Russia was never sure that Iraq had weapons of mass destruction, despite assertions by former chief U.S. arms inspector in Iraq David Kay that "we were almost all wrong," Reuters reported. Lavrov told reporters at the UN that Russian officials said repeatedly they did not have enough information to prove either that WMD programs remained in Iraq or that the programs had been "fully stopped." Lavrov said that prior to the military operation against Iraq, his government had hoped that UN inspectors could "finish their job," and thus Moscow supported the November 2002 Security Council resolution, No. 1441, that gave "an unprecedented, intrusive mandate to UN inspectors." Lavrov told ITAR-TASS on 10 February that Russia is "fully in accord" with UN Secretary-General Kofi Annan's bid to help Iraq reach a consensus on how to form its transitional governing structures. A UN mission headed by Algerian diplomat Lakhdar Brahimi is currently in Iraq looking into these issues. JB

GEORGIAN PRESIDENT BEGINS MOSCOW VISIT
Mikheil Saakashvili arrived on 10 February in Moscow for a working visit and, in what appears to be a demeaning violation of diplomatic protocol, was greeted at the airport by First Deputy Foreign Minister Valerii Loshchinin, Interfax reported. In an address later on 10 February to the Moscow State Institute of International Relations (MGIMO), Saakashvili branded the present level of Georgian-Russian relations "unacceptable" and said they must be improved. He blamed that situation partly on Georgia's previous leadership, but at the same time accused Russia of having distanced itself from the Caucasus in the 1990s. Saakashvili denied that Georgia will host a U.S. military base, saying the country should not become a battlefield in a tussle for influence between Russia and the United States. Saakashvili also denied that the Baku-Tbilisi-Ceyhan (BTC) oil pipeline, currently under construction, is of vital economic significance for Georgia. He predicted that once the BTC pipeline is completed, Turkey will restrict even further the passage of oil tankers through the Turkish straits. He proposed construction of a pipeline from Novorossiisk via Georgia to Turkey as an alternative export route for Russian crude, Caucasus Press reported. LF

PARTY OF POWER LEADER DECIDES TO JOIN THE PARTY...
State Duma Speaker and Unified Russia party leader Gryzlov announced on 9 February that he would like to join the party he leads, ITAR-TASS reported on 10 February. Gryzlov has been leader of the pro-Kremlin Unified Russia since November 2002, but when he was serving as interior minister, he was forbidden by law from joining any political party (see "RFE/RL Russian Political Weekly," 17 January 2003). Now that he is no longer a minister, he is no longer subject to that restriction. JAC

...AS GOVERNMENT NOT AFRAID OF EXCESSIVE INDEPENDENCE OF PRO-KREMLIN PARTY
Unified Russia Duma Deputy Valerii Bogomolov, who is secretary of the party's General Council, is organizing an open discussion forum for Unified Russia faction members to talk over legislation before its "zero" reading, when Duma members consult with the government, "Vedomosti" reported on 10 February. An unidentified source told the daily that the goal of the forum is to determine the party's position on specific pieces of legislation before they are discussed at the committee level. However, the daily noted that the government is not concerned that the Unified Russia faction could become "too independent." "For us it is only important how the zero reading proceeds. Everything else is an internal party matter," Aleksandr Gorshkov, head of the government's information department. JAC

SPS, YABLOKO COME TOGETHER BUT CAN'T GET ON THE BALLOT
The Central Election Commission (TsIK) upheld on 10 February a recent decision by the Sverdlovsk Oblast Election Commission not to register the election blocs of the Union of Rightist Forces (SPS)/Yabloko, the Union of New Rightists, and Our Home Is the Urals for the 14 March oblast-legislature elections, polit.ru reported. The local branches of Yabloko and SPS had united for the election. These groups largely form the political opposition to the administration of Sverdlovsk Oblast Governor Eduard Rossel, and their leaders charged that the oblast election commission's refusal to register them was part of a broader effort to cleanse the region's political arena of dissenters (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 3 February 2004). SPS/Yabloko bloc leader Yurii Kuznetsov told RFE/RL's Moscow bureau that the oblast commission conveniently managed to lack a quorum when the bloc needed the commission's permission to register its financial agent to open a bank account. After the banks were closed for the day, a quorum appeared, but too late to meet the deadline established by election law. JAC

RIGHTIST POLITICIAN TO MAKE A CAREER MOVE
SPS Political Council member Boris Nemtsov has reportedly agreed to become vice president for public and government relations for the Neftyanoi oil company, "Vedomosti" reported on 11 February, citing anonymous SPS sources. According to the daily, former colleagues of Nemtsov say he has decided to simply earn money. Nemtsov is reportedly an old acquaintance of Neftyanoi company head Igor Linshits. Like Nemtsov, Linshits ran unsuccessfully for a Duma seat in December's elections, but Linshits ran on the Communist Party's party list. Former Yabloko Duma Deputy Igor Artemev was named deputy economic development and trade minister for economic development and trade at the end of January. JAC

HERMITAGE DIRECTOR SUGGESTS NEW HOME FOR FABERGE EGGS
State Hermitage Museum Director Mikhail Piotrovskii told journalists in St. Petersburg on 10 February that he thinks the ideal arrangement for displaying the collection of Faberge eggs recently purchased by oil and aluminum oligarch Viktor Vekselberg would be to create a Faberge museum in St. Petersburg, RosBalt reported. Last week, Vekselberg purchased at auction the collection of Faberge Easter eggs and other pieces, which was previously owned by the family of the late U.S. multi-millionaire Malcolm Forbes. Piotrovskii emphasized that the eggs now belong to a private individual, and it is not polite to say, "Give [them to me], Give [them to me]." Piotrovskii praised Vekselberg's idea of organizing an exhibition of the collection -- which includes 189 pieces, including nine of the 42 Faberge eggs known to still exist -- in major Russian cities, beginning with Yekaterinburg and including Tyumen, Moscow, and St. Petersburg. According to the agency, the exact sum Vekselberg paid is not known; however, experts estimate it was between $90 million and $120 million. Ten other Faberge eggs are in the collection of the Kremlin Armory Museum in Moscow. JAC

ARMENIAN OFFICIALS DENY SPLIT WITHIN RULING COALITION
Defense Minister Serzh Sarkisian denied on 10 February that criticisms of the three-party-coalition government by members of the Armenian Revolutionary Federation-Dashnaktsutiun (HHD), one of the two coalition junior partners, reflect a serious rift within the coalition, according to Mediamax, as cited by Groong. Addressing a HHD congress on 6 February, Hrant Markarian criticized President Robert Kocharian for his alleged toleration of corruption and failure to rein in powerful oligarchs. He also implied that Prime Minister Andranik Markarian's Republican Party of Armenia (HHK) falsified the outcome of last year's presidential and parliamentary elections. Also on 10 February, a spokesman for Kocharian admitted that "the political forces making up the coalition government might have different approaches to different issues," but at the same time he expressed confidence that the government will continue to function effectively. The remaining two coalition parties, the HHK and Orinats Yerkir, which is headed by parliament speaker Artur Baghdasarian, have not yet formally responded to Hrant Markarian's charges. LF

IRAN BACKS AZERBAIJANI CASPIAN PROPOSAL
Iranian Ambassador to Azerbajan Ahad Qazai told journalists on 9 February that Tehran supports Azerbaijani President Ilham Aliyev's recent call for the demilitarization of the Caspian Sea, Interfax reported on 10 February. He said the arms buildup in the region does not benefit any of the littoral states, and that demilitarization would not only improve the ecological situation, but also encourage trade and economic ties, including the North-South transport corridor linking Russia with Iran. Kazakhstan is in the process of building up its naval base on the Caspian (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 6 January 2004). Qazai also denied that there is any formal obstacle to the long-delayed opening of an Azerbaijani consulate in Tabriz, Turan reported. Qazai told a second press conference on 10 February that Iran and Azerbaijan will begin discussions on drafting a bilateral agreement on military cooperation, Baku's Trend News Agency reported. LF

AZERBAIJANI OPPOSITION LEADER APPEALS FOR END TO DETAINEES' HUNGER STRIKE
Musavat Party Chairman Isa Qambar has called on the 60-plus people who have launched a hunger strike to protest their detention in the wake of the 15-16 October post-presidential-election clashes in Baku to end that protest, Turan reported on 11 February (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 9 February 2004). LF

OSCE REPRESENTATIVES MEET WITH NAKHICHEVAN PROTESTERS
Staff members of the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE) Office in Baku have met with residents of the Nakhichevan village of Negram and with members of the autonomous republic's leadership to discuss last month's protests over increased electricity tariffs, Turan reported on 11 February (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 28 January 2004). LF

GEORGIAN, ABKHAZ DELEGATIONS DISCUSS SECURITY ISSUES...
An Abkhaz government delegation traveled to Tbilisi on 10 February for UN-mediated talks with the Georgian leadership, Georgian and Russian media reported. The Georgians reportedly rejected a demand by the Abkhaz delegation, led by Foreign Minister Sergei Shamba, for the withdrawal of Georgian troops from the upper reaches of the Kodori Gorge and their replacement by CIS peacekeepers and UN observers. Shamba told journalists that the Georgians also rejected their demand for security guarantees, including the disarmament of Georgian armed groups operating in the conflict zone, that would enable Georgians who fled southern Abkhazia during the 1992-93 war to return. Both sides reaffirmed their commitment to a non-resumption of hostilities, Caucasus Press reported, citing a UN statement. They also agreed to hold a follow-up meeting in Sukhum on 20 May. LF

...AS AIDE SAYS ABKHAZ PRESIDENT WILL NOT SEEK THIRD TERM
Vladislav Ardzinba will not seek re-election after his second presidential term expires this fall as the constitution permits one person to serve only two terms, Ardzinba's aide, Astamur Tania, announced in Tbilisi on 10 February on the sidelines of the UN-mediated talks, ITAR-TASS and Caucasus Press reported. Tania added, however, that neither will Ardzinba yield to opposition pressure to step down before his term expires (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 29 and 30 January and 6 February 2004). Tania said the presidential ballot will take place in October, and the precise date will be announced in July. LF

ABKHAZ SECURITY AGENCY DENIES PRIOR KNOWLEDGE OF MOSCOW METRO BOMBING
The National Security Service of the unrecognized Republic of Abkhazia has denied any involvement in the 6 February Moscow subway bombing that left at least 39 people dead (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 6 February 2004), Apsnypress reported on 11 February. The statement said that if the Abkhaz leadership had known of the planned attack in advance, it would have alerted Moscow immediately. On 9 February, Georgian State Security Minister Valeri Khaburzania claimed that his men had detained a Balkar man allegedly sent by Abkhaz intelligence to Georgia with instructions to inform the Russian Federal Security Service (FSB) representative in Tbilisi on 5 February that the bombing was being planned by Chechens who had taken refuge in Georgia's Pankisi Gorge (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 10 February 2004). LF

KAZAKH TV CHANNEL SHOWS ABUSE OF PRISON INMATES, SPARKS PROBE
The Kazakh KTK television channel has launched a nationwide discussion of torture in the country's penal facilities by broadcasting during the week of 2-6 February footage of the savage beating of inmates at the Arkalyk Prison No. 1, Deutsche Welle reported on 10 February. The Justice Ministry has set up a commission headed by Deputy Justice Minister Sabyrzhan Bekbosynov to look into the incidents shown on television. The commission has reportedly confirmed the KTK report, and four employees of the Arkalyk Prison are being prosecuted for exceeding their authority. The head of the prison and of the Kostanai Oblast penal system have reportedly been fired. The new acting head of the Kostanai penal system, Amangeldy Rakhmetov, told a press conference in Kostanai that the film of the beatings was faked in order to weaken the prison system. BB

KAZAKHSTAN APPEALS FOR MORE AID FOR SEMIPALATINSK
Kazakh First Deputy Foreign Minister Kayrat Abuseitov appealed to international donors at a conference in Almaty on 10 February for more international assistance to the Semipalatinsk region to mitigate the effects of 40 years of Soviet nuclear-weapons testing there, Interfax-Kazakhstan reported. Abuseitov added that the problems of Semipalatinsk can be resolved only through the joint efforts of Kazakhstan and the international community. UN Permanent Representative in Kazakhstan Fikret Akcura told the conference that at present only Japan is involved in implementing UN Development Program initiatives in Semipalatinsk. Akcura called for greater international involvement in medical-assistance programs, improving the local social infrastructure, and establishing micro-credit programs to develop small and medium-sized businesses in the area. BB

KAZAKH, RUSSIAN SECURITY COUNCIL CHIEFS SIGN ANNUAL COOPERATION PLAN
Russian Security Council Secretary Vladimir Rushailo, at the start of a visit to Kazakhstan that began on 9 February, and his Kazakh counterpart, Bulat Utemiratov, signed a joint declaration and a joint action plan for 2004 in Astana on 10 February, Interfax-Kazakhstan and khabar.kz reported. After a meeting with President Nursultan Nazarbaev, Rushailo said that due to recent terrorist incidents -- he cited specifically the 6 February explosion in the Moscow subway that left at least 39 people dead (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 6 February 2004) -- this year's action plan differs from previous ones in addressing the common struggle against terrorism, crime, and external threats. Rushailo also met with Kazakh Interior Minister Zautbek Turisbekov to discuss joint efforts against drug trafficking and illegal migration. On 11 February, Rushailo met with Kazakh Defense Minister Mukhtar Altynbaev to discuss bilateral military cooperation, RIA-Novosti reported. BB

TAJIK FOREIGN MINISTRY REACTS TO KILLING OF TAJIK GIRL IN ST. PETERSBURG
Igor Sattorov, head of the information section of the Tajik Foreign Ministry, gave a briefing on 10 February to convey the official Tajik reaction to the killing of a 9-year-old Tajik girl in St. Petersburg on the evening of 9 February, centrasia.ru reported on 11 February. The family of Yusuf Sultanov was brutally attacked by what some Russian media have described as a drunken gang of neofascist youths (see Russia item, above). Khursheda Sultanova, who was stabbed 11 times, died before medical help arrived. Sultanov and an 11-year-old cousin of Sultanova were seriously injured in the attack. The Foreign Ministry said Tajikistan is deeply concerned about attacks by Russian neofascist and nationalist gangs on Tajik citizens in the Russian Federation. BB

TURKMEN PRESIDENT REWARDS POLICE OFFICER FOR ROLE IN THWARTING PURPORTED ASSASSINATION ATTEMPT
Turkmen President Saparmurat Niyazov has rewarded a traffic police officer for standing in the path of a truck during the purported assassination attempt against Niyazov on 25 November 2002, turkmenistan.ru reported on 10 February. According to official accounts of the incident, the truck was attempting to infiltrate Niyazov's motorcade in order to separate the president from his bodyguards. The reward to Amanmyrat Khojamberdiev, a senior inspector in the Defense Ministry's traffic and fire-protection section, consists of an apartment in one of the high-rise apartment blocks that Niyazov has been requiring ministries and other government agencies to build in recent years, but in which few government employees can afford to live. Khojamberdiev received a medal in 2003 for his exploit against the truck. BB

MINSK STILL AT ODDS WITH MOSCOW OVER SINGLE CURRENCY, GAS SUPPLIES
During talks in Moscow on 10 February, Belarusian Prime Minister Syarhey Sidorski and his Russian counterpart Mikhail Kasyanov apparently failed to reach agreement over the planned introduction of the Russian ruble as a single currency in the Russia-Belarus Union or Gazprom's halt of gas supplies to Belarus, RFE/RL's Belarusian Service reported. "We have reached an understanding on this issue [gas supplies]," Sidorski said after the meeting. But Kasyanov qualified Sidorski's statement, saying, "We have not reached any specific agreements on cooperation in the gas sphere." The Gazprom press service told RFE/RL the same day that the company has not resumed gas supplies to Belarus that were halted following failed contract talks and a lingering dispute over the sale of Belarus's Beltranshaz gas-pipeline operator to Gazprom (see "RFE/RL Poland, Belarus, and Ukraine Report," 13 and 27 January 2004). Kasyanov also said the two sides made no progress toward introducing the Russian ruble in Belarus in 2005, adding that a "political decision" by the Belarusian leadership is required to make such a step. JM

BELARUSIAN PRESIDENT SACKS PROPERTY MANAGER
President Alyaksandr Lukashenka on 10 February fired Halina Zhuraukova, chief of the presidential administration's Property Management Department, RFE/RL's Belarusian Service reported. Lukashenka's decree claims Zhuraukova's dismissal will "ensure necessary conditions for an objective and comprehensive investigation of criminal cases." Six months ago, law enforcement agents arrested six of Zhuraukova's subordinates on suspicion that they abused their powers and took bribes; prosecutors have opened criminal proceedings against some of them. JM

UKRAINIAN POPULATION STILL SHRINKING
The State Statistics Committee announced on 10 February birth and mortality figures for 2003 that suggest the country's population is contracting, according to Ukrainian news agencies. Statisticians recorded 408,591 births and 765,408 deaths in Ukraine over the course of last year, thus reducing the country's population to 47.6 million people. JM

PROMINENT LAWMAKER SUSPENDS MEMBERSHIP IN OUR UKRAINE BLOC
Lawmaker Taras Chornovil, son of the late nationalist leader Vyacheslav Chornovil, has suspended his membership of the Our Ukraine parliamentary caucus, citing a disagreement over the bloc's tactics, Ukrainian media reported on 10 February. "We missed the opportunity for a Georgian scenario in 2001, and we missed the opportunities we had after the parliamentary election victory [in 2002]," Chornovil told Radio Kontynent the same day. "Now we are, in fact, losing the opportunity to win the presidential election [in 2004]." Chornovil told the "Ukrayinska pravda" website that Viktor Pynzenyk, leader of the Law and Order Party, is among those who should be blamed for Our Ukraine's failures. Last week, one lawmaker suspended his membership of Our Ukraine and another quit the bloc's parliamentary caucus. JM

ESTONIA, FINLAND, RUSSIA TO LAUNCH JOINT MARITIME-CONTROL SYSTEM
Estonia, Finland, and Russia will complete arrangements by July to establish a sea-traffic advisory network in the Gulf of Finland, BNS reported on 10 February, citing the Finnish daily "Aamulehti." Ministers from those three countries signed an agreement on establishing the system in August 2001 that was prompted by the growing traffic of cargo ships, especially oil tankers and passenger ferries. The amount of oil shipped through the Gulf of Finland is rapidly increasing, from 15 million tons in 1987 to an estimated 150 million tons in 2010. Once implemented, the system should allow ferries sailing between Tallinn and Helsinki to get real-time information about oil tankers in their vicinity and vice versa. The maritime-control system would be similar to air-traffic-control systems, with the important difference that it would have no right to issue orders to ship captains. SG

LATVIAN PRESIDENT TO SIGN EDUCATION AMENDMENTS INTO LAW
Vaira Vike-Freiberga announced on 10 February that she will sign the contentious amendments to the education law that parliament passed amid fierce public protests last week (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 6 February 2004), BNS reported. The amendments, which require that 60 percent of subjects in minority schools be taught in the Latvian language from 1 September, were condemned by the Russian State Duma and the Russian Foreign Ministry after their passage. Vike-Freiberga said it is important that the reform not be allowed to adversely affect studies. The chairman of Latvia's Russian Language School Support Association (LASOR), Igors Pimenovs, expressed regret that no serious discussions were held with the teachers and parents of pupils in Russian-language schools. He predicted that the amendments will promote the further division of society in two hostile camps. LASOR was organizing a picket in front of the president's residence for 11 February and a conference of defenders of Russian schools on 6 March. Nearly one-third of Latvia's population is ethnic Russian. SG

LITHUANIAN PARLIAMENTARY CHAIRMAN ISSUES ULTIMATUM
Parliamentary speaker Arturas Paulauskas told Secret Investigation Service (STT) chief Valentinas Junokas on 10 February that he has one month to present parliament with a list of deputies who might have illegally acquired land or face a no-confidence vote, "Lietuvos zinios" reported the next day. In an apparent attempt to determine whether lawmakers have illegally profited from the country's ongoing restitution and land-transfer issues, the chamber asked the STT last summer to determine whether any parliamentary deputies had improperly obtained land. After repeated requests, Junokas provided Paulauskas with a list on 3 February of parliamentary deputies who had acquired plots of land but noted that further investigation was required to determine whether those acquisitions were conducted legally. That list had in fact been prepared by the parliamentary comptrollers in August, and the STT did not comment on the propriety of the acquisitions. Paulauskas said he will not reveal the names on the list, which he hinted had been given to him in the hope that its contents will be revealed and thus help discredit parliament before it votes on the possible impeachment of President Rolandas Paksas. SG

AMBASSADOR HINTS AT 'MODEST' U.S. MILITARY PRESENCE IN POLAND...
U.S. Ambassador to Poland Christopher Hill suggested on 10 February that a possible relocation of U.S. military resources to Poland might fall short of Polish expectations, PAP and dpa reported. Speaking at a seminar at the Polish Foreign Ministry Academy in Warsaw, Hill said Poles should expect U.S. military "installations" and "structures" rather than full-blown bases like those currently in Germany. He added that talks on a "modest" U.S. military presence in Poland are already under way. JM

...AND ANNOUNCES U.S. IMMIGRATION CONTROLS AT POLISH AIRPORTS
Ambassador Hill also announced on 10 February that in a few months, Poles departing for the United States will undergo controls at Polish airports by U.S. immigration services, Polish Radio reported. Hill added that such controls, which he said should make life easier for traveling Poles, will free them of such procedures on U.S. territory. "We cannot solve the problem of visas all of a sudden, because unfortunately some people use tourist visas to work in the United States, and this is contrary to our law," Polish Radio quoted Hill as saying. JM

POLISH PREMIER ORDERS PROBE INTO LOST IRAQI CONTRACT
Prime Minister Leszek Miller on 10 February ordered that the government's Collegium for Special Services check the propriety of steps taken by government institutions in connection with a tender to supply weapons and equipment to the new Iraqi Army, PAP reported. The tender has prompted heated debate in Poland since it was learned that the government favorite, Bumar, lost to the consortium Nour -- which includes two Polish firms, a Polish defense-industry group and Ostrowski Arms. It has since emerged that Ostrowski Arms has no license to trade internationally in arms, according to PAP. JM

CZECH LOWER HOUSE OVERRIDES VETO OF JUDICIAL BILL
The Chamber of Deputies narrowly overrode President Vaclav Klaus's veto of an amendment to the law that governs the Czech Constitutional Court and other judicial processes on 10 February, CTK reported. One hundred and one deputies voted for the override, which is the minimum number required and the same number of seats that the center-left coalition controls in the chamber. Klaus had reasoned that the amendment would considerably alter the division of state powers, undermining the prerogatives of the legislature in favor of the Constitutional Court and the executive branch, among other objections (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 13 January 2004). The amendment will now take effect on 1 April. MS

SLOVAK PREMIER VISITS GERMANY
Prime Minister Mikulas Dzurinda met with Chancellor Gerhard Schroeder in Berlin on 10 February at the start of a three-day visit to Germany, TASR and CTK reported. They reportedly discussed bilateral relations and future cooperation as NATO allies, and sought ways to boost mutual economic cooperation. Schroeder praised the economic progress made by Slovakia as it advances toward EU membership and emphasized that Germany is the biggest foreign investor in Slovakia. The two leaders agreed that bilateral relations are problem-free despite differences of opinion on some European and international issues. MS

SLOVAKIA REJECTS NGO'S FINDINGS ON ILLEGAL ARMS EXPORTS
A spokesman for the Slovak Foreign Ministry on 10 February denied allegations included in a Human Rights Watch (HRW) report issued the same day that his country "allow[s] arms to be exported or illegally trafficked to human rights-abusing countries in Africa and elsewhere." In an interview with RFE/RL, spokesman Juraj Tomaga said a preliminary study of the report indicated that the situation described there "does not correspond with the reality at all." The report claims "serious and longstanding problems with [Slovakia's] weapons trade controls" and asserts that weapons traders there and in other countries in the region are using legal loopholes to circumvent international arms embargoes against countries with poor records on human rights, according to a copy on the HRW website (http://www.hrw.org). The author, arms-trade researcher Lisa Misol, said several postcommunist countries that are about to join NATO "need the money to finance military modernization" and often sell surplus weapons rather than destroy them. MS

SLOVAK CABINET SENDS ANTIDISCRIMINATION BILL TO PARLIAMENT
The cabinet approved a draft law on 10 February that would ban any form of discrimination, including for sexual orientation, TASR reported. Ministers representing the Christian Democratic Movement (KDH) voted against the draft or abstained. Deputy Prime Minister Pal Csaky, the cabinet member responsible for human rights, reportedly said after the vote that the draft law makes no provision for same-sex partnerships or the adoption of children by homosexual couples. Csaky expressed confidence that parliament will approve the draft as worded. Passing an antidiscrimination bill is one of the obligations Slovakia has to meet before joining the EU, which it is expected to do in May. MS

FORMER HUNGARIAN PREMIER OFFERS BLEAK ASSESSMENT, DRAWING IRE FROM COALITION
Opposition FIDESZ Chairman and former Prime Minister Viktor Orban on 10 February questioned the current Socialist-led government's trustworthiness and argued that 2003 was a year of "fear and uncertainty" for the population, Hungarian media reported. In a speech at Budapest University, Orban criticized the cabinet over the escalating budget deficit and inflation, and for purportedly reducing housing subsidies and student loans. "Are we already in the transition to a welfare society, or is it going to get even worse?" Orban asked, adding that Hungarians should not expect great powers or the global economy to come to their aid. "We expected more from the leader of the opposition," Socialist Party Executive Director Jozsef Tobias commented after the speech, according to "Magyar Hirlap" of 11 February. A responsible politician should have offered solutions to existing problems and presented a message for the future, Tobias added. The junior ruling Free Democrats' chairman, Gabor Kuncze, said Orban voiced only general slogans and did not establish his own responsibility as a politician. MSZ

TRUSTEES AT EMBATTLED HUNGARIAN RADIO STATION RESIGN
The chairman of Tilos Radio's board of trustees and three other trustees resigned on 10 February after the board rejected a proposal to allow the station to limit its programming to music while it retrains its staff, Hungarian media reported. A majority of trustees reportedly agreed with plans to make sweeping changes but disagreed with the idea of curbing its presenters' comments in the meantime to assuage criticism. The station should remain a forum for free speech, they argued. Live call-ins and other commentary represented 40 percent of Tilos Radio's broadcasting before one of its on-air hosts advocated "exterminating all Christians" in a 24 December broadcast. More recently, another host read out a purported text message calling FIDESZ Chairman and former Prime Minister Orban a "fascist" (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 5, 8, 12, 13, and 29 January and 5 February 2004). MS

HAGUE PROSECUTOR INSISTS FORMER BOSNIAN SERB LEADER LIVES IN BELGRADE
Carla Del Ponte, who is the chief prosecutor of the Hague-based war crimes tribunal, said in Brussels on 11 February that former Bosnian Serb leader and indicted war criminal Radovan Karadzic is living in Belgrade and that her relations with the Serbian authorities are "frozen" as a result, Reuters reported. "I received just last week information from a credible source that even Karadzic is now in Belgrade. So Belgrade is now a safe haven for our fugitives.... Karadzic is now residing in Belgrade," she added. Del Ponte stressed that "at this time, cooperation is frozen" (see "RFE/RL Balkan Report," 23 January 2004). In London, "The Guardian" reported that Del Ponte is resisting alleged pressure by Washington and London to curb her powers because she has supposedly been too independent in her approach. The daily added that Washington and London reportedly want judges, rather than the prosecutor, to determine the order in which cases are heard. The paper noted that Russia, France, and Germany purportedly want to keep the prosecutor independent of unspecified "political pressure." "The Guardian" concluded that the result of what it called "a power struggle" might be that fewer indictees will be brought to trial. PM

GOVERNING BOSNIAN SERB PARTY LEADERSHIP RESIGNS
The members of the presidium of the governing Serbian Democratic Party (SDS) resigned en masse in Banja Luka on 11 February rather than approve the dismissal of SDS Vice President Mirko Sarovic, which High Representative Paddy Ashdown recently ordered, Deutsche Welle's Bosnian Service reported (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 9 February 2004 and "RFE/RL Balkan Report," 23 January 2004). Ashdown charged that Sarovic and three Bosnian Serb police officials are suspected of helping Radovan Karadzic evade capture by NATO peacekeepers. Sarovic subsequently denied the charges, calling on Ashdown and U.S. Ambassador to Bosnia Clifford Bond to prove their accusations, RFE/RL's South Slavic and Albanian Languages Service reported. Sarovic added that his only "sin" has been to defend the cause of the Republika Srpska. Karadzic founded the SDS in July 1990. PM

NEW ELECTIONS ARE STILL A POSSIBILITY FOR SERBIA...
Dragan Marsicanin, who was recently elected speaker of the Serbian parliament, said in Belgrade on 10 February that new elections are likely if a coalition government is not formed soon, Reuters reported (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 9 February 2004 and "RFE/RL Balkan Report," 12 December 2003 and 9 January 2004). "We are getting close to a final solution, and at the end of this week or early next week, we will be able to say if it is possible to secure a majority in parliament or if we have to call elections," he added. Marsicanin is expected to name Vojislav Kostunica prime minister-designate soon. Both men belong to the Democratic Party of Serbia (DSS), which has two coalition partners, the G-17 Plus party and the coalition of Vuk Draskovic's Serbian Renewal Movement (SPO) and the New Serbia party. But those parties need the support of either the Democratic Party or former Yugoslav President Slobodan Milosevic's Socialist Party of Serbia (SPS) to have a working majority in the parliament. On 11 February, Reuters reported that new elections will indeed be announced shortly, quoting a Serbian state radio broadcast that cited unnamed DSS sources. PM

...AS COALITION TALKS TEETER
"Vesti" reported on 11 February that Draskovic rejected the option of a minority government backed by the SPS in the parliament so long as the SPS is formally headed by Milosevic. Elsewhere in Belgrade, SPS leader Ivica Dacic said his party is willing to support a minority government but will not break with Milosevic, RFE/RL's South Slavic and Albanian Languages Service reported. Velimir Ilic of New Serbia said that coalition talks have grown very complicated and that new elections are likely. Elsewhere, G-17 Plus leader Miroljub Labus called for the quick formation of a government consisting only of parties that did not support the Milosevic regime. Democratic Party Vice President Zoran Zivkovic said that the only option for his party is to be a full member of a majority government, not just the parliamentary ally of a minority cabinet. PM

EU ANNOUNCES MACEDONIAN BLACKLIST
On 10 February, the EU officially announced a blacklist of 12 people whom Brussels believes are actively obstructing the implementation of the 2001 Ohrid peace agreement and who are therefore banned from entering EU countries, RFE/RL's Macedonian broadcasters reported (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 27 January and 10 February 2004). The list includes alleged leaders of the ethnic Albanian National Liberation Army (UCK) and the shadowy Albanian National Army (AKSH) as well as two ethnic Macedonian commanders of the disbanded special police unit known as the Lions. The most prominent figure on the list is Fadil Sulejmani, the former rector of the recently legalized Albanian-language university in Tetovo. Commenting on his appearance on the list, he said he deserves the Nobel Prize for years of work in the field of science, education, and culture rather than being blacklisted (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 22 January 2004 and "RFE/RL Balkan Report," 30 January 2004). In related news, the U.S. Treasury Department added Democratic Party of the Albanians (PDSH) Deputy Chairman Menduh Thaci to its blacklist of individuals allegedly obstructing implementation of the Ohrid agreement. UB

ROMANIAN PRIME MINISTER REFUTES BUCHAREST MAYOR'S CLAIMS REGARDING ADOPTIONS
Prime Minister Adrian Nastase in a 10 February press release accused Bucharest Mayor and Democratic Party Chairman Traian Basescu of defamation for claiming recently that government decisions to grant exceptions to the country's 2001 moratorium on international adoptions resulted in Romanian children being trafficked abroad for prostitution and human organs. Nastase nonetheless said he will not demand that legal action be taken, lest Basescu take advantage of such a situation to claim his freedom of speech is being violated. Nastase also denied that European Commission President Romano Prodi or other foreign officials "lobbied" Romania to grant international adoptions while the moratorium was in force. Nastase said these officials merely provided personal guarantees regarding the worthiness of prospective adoptive parents. Nastase also touted his government's preparation of an "excellent" package of laws that guarantee the protection of children, whereas he said his critics, and particularly Basescu and National Liberal Party Chairman Theodor Stolojan, are members of parties that ruled in 1996-2000, when the enormous market of international adoptions "thrived" before coming to an end with the 2001 moratorium (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 8 and 9 February 2004). MS

CLARIFICATION:
The 9 February "RFE/RL Newsline" item titled "As Does The United States" cited a 7 February Flux report that inaccurately quoted U.S. Ambassador to the OSCE Stephen Minikes. The item should have quoted Minikes as concluding his address to the OSCE Permanent Council in Vienna on 5 February by saying, "I would like to express the hope that we will see substantive progress toward a political settlement in Moldova this year, and I would add that the OSCE's continued engagement in this area is crucial." Regarding the withdrawal of the Russian arsenal from Transdniester, he should have been quoted as saying: "Unfortunately, over six weeks have now passed since we last saw any evidence of further movement on withdrawal. While this may have been due to the holidays or to bad weather, as Ambassador [William] Hill points out, neither the Russian Federation nor the Transdniestrian authorities have offered an explanation."

EUROPEAN COMMISSION PROPOSES GENEROUS BUDGET FOR POST-ACCESSION ROMANIA, BULGARIA...
The European Commission on 10 February proposed allocating to Romania and Bulgaria a three-year budget-share package of as much as 9 billion euros ($11.4 billion), dpa reported. The allocations are to follow those two countries' planned 2007 accession of the EU. EU Enlargement Commissioner Guenter Verheugen called the proposal "generous and realistic." The commission estimates that by 2009 Bulgaria will receive 431 million euros in direct financial assistance while Romania will receive 881 million euros. The proposal foresees 617 million euros for economic development of rural areas in Bulgaria and 2.42 billion euros for Romania. Approximately 350 million euros would be allocated for the closure of Bulgaria's Kozloduy nuclear-power plant between 2004-09, and funds totaling 82 million euros combined would be used to improve the countries' public administrations. MS

...AND IS CHEERED BY ROMANIAN OFFICIALS
Prime Minister Nastase responded to the EU's proposed budget allocation by calling it an implicit message that the EU intends to stay on course for Romanian and Bulgarian accession in 2007, Mediafax reported. Foreign Minister Mircea Geoana said the proposal should end speculation regarding the union's possible suspension of accession negotiations with Bucharest. MS

BULGARIAN GOVERNMENT OPTIMISTIC ABOUT EU DRAFT BUDGET
Daniel Valchev, chairman of the Bulgarian parliament's European Integration Committee, responded favorably to the fact that of the individual EU states, Bulgaria would receive the largest proportion of the draft budget proposed on 10 February by the European Commission, BTA reported. According to EU representative in Sofia Dimitris Kourkoulas, Bulgaria will receive 1.79 billion euros (some $1.4 billion), or 7 percent of the country's GDP, from Brussels in 2007, mediapool.bg reported (see item above). Bulgarian European Integration Minister Meglena Kuneva described the draft budget as a good basis for ongoing negotiations with the EU regarding the country's financial framework. Finance Minister Milen Velchev said the draft budget makes him more optimistic about the future, adding that the EU payments will amount to about one-half of the country's total foreign debt. Some donor states, such as Germany, Britain, France, Austria, Sweden, and the Netherlands have criticized the draft budget, saying the envisioned spending level must be limited, the "Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung" reported on 10 February. UB

BULGARIAN PREMIER SAYS BULGARIA WILL CONTINUE COOPERATION WITH ROMANIA ON EU ACCESSION
Prime Minister Simeon Saxecoburggotski on 10 February said Bulgaria will continue cooperating with Romania on EU accession, mediapool.bg reported. Following criticisms of Romania by the European Parliament (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 9 and 10 February 2004), Bulgarian Foreign Minister Solomon Pasi recently warned that the European Commission might not announce a financial framework for Bulgaria because of Romania's lack of progress in the accession process. Romania's chief negotiator with the EU, Vasile Puscas, dismissed Pasi's warning as rhetoric. UB

UKRAINIAN PRESIDENT BACKS DOWN IN WAKE OF HARSH PACE RESOLUTION
A Council of Europe group of rapporteurs headed by Hanne Sevirensen visited Ukraine on 18-20 January. They reported their highly critical findings to the Council of Europe on 26 January, and, on the basis of their report, the Parliamentary Assembly of the Council of Europe (PACE) voted to hold a debate on "the political crisis in Ukraine." (The planned topic had been "the constitutional crisis in Ukraine.") Following PACE debate on 29 January, delegates adopted in a 46-13 vote a damning resolution on Ukraine.

That PACE resolution expressed support for Kyiv's "sincere aspirations" to conduct democratic reforms. But at the same time it made clear that PACE and other Western organizations and governments view the reforms currently being implemented as an attempt at blocking a victory by leading opposition candidate and former Prime Minister Viktor Yushchenko in the presidential election to be held in October 2004. The PACE resolution questions the timing of political reforms in an election year.

The resolution asked Ukraine to begin cooperating with the European Commission for Democracy Through Law (the so-called Venice Commission), whose advice parliamentary speaker Volodymyr Lytvyn requested, but subsequently ignored, regarding proposed constitutional amendments that would pave the way for parliament to elect the president in 2006. Ukraine's parliament effectively ignored the commission's advice to retain the system under which Ukraine's president is elected by popular vote by approving on 24 December those draft constitutional amendments. PACE condemned this action in its resolution, stating in point 50 its resolution that the authorities "had no intention whatsoever to follow any of the recommendations of the Venice Commission" adopted on 13 December. This, the resolution points out, "casts serious doubt as to the real willingness of the Ukrainian authorities to cooperate with the Venice Commission in any meaningful way.

The second point of the PACE resolution expressed regret that Ukrainian authorities, including President Leonid Kuchma and the Foreign Affairs Ministry, "consider the activities of the Council of Europe, namely the assembly's monitoring procedure, the visits of the co-rapporteurs of the Monitoring Committee, and their statements" as "'interference in the internal affairs of Ukraine.'" In response, the resolution reminded the Ukrainian leadership that it voluntarily accepted the obligations of the Council of Europe when it joined in 1995. Consequently, "the assembly finds such a stand of the Ukrainian authorities...groundless and unjustified."

Other issues raised in the resolution dealt with the lack of independence of the judiciary, the need to hold presidential elections as scheduled this year, and called on the secretary-general of the Council of Europe to appoint a special representative for Ukraine. The resolution criticized the removal of Mukachevo Mayor Vasyl Petyovka, who was aligned with the opposition bloc Our Ukraine. The resolution ended by threatening to suspend Ukraine if it does not hold elections this year or if it continues to force through constitutional changes.

During their January visit to Ukraine, the Council of Europe rapporteurs also focused on two other issues. First, they called on Kuchma not to run for a third term. Both Poland and the United States have declared their disagreement with the 30 December Constitutional Court decision allowing Kuchma to do so based on their ruling that he is only in his first term.

Second, the rapporteurs criticized the lack of any progress in the investigation into the killing in autumn 2000 of opposition journalist Heorhiy Gongadze. The media situation in Ukraine has considerably worsened since Gongadze's killing, with the opposition excluded from appearing on state- and oligarch-controlled television. Point 12 of the PACE resolution called, among many other things, for a "nationwide popular discussion" on constitutional changes, especially on television and radio. This is a welcome call, as television coverage of what the Ukrainian authorities call political reform has been conducted in traditional Soviet style, with workers collectives and other state bodies being forcibly made to sign petitions in support of such "reform" and in condemnation of the opposition.

The PACE resolution therefore presented the Ukrainian authorities with a difficult dilemma, particularly as it was followed by strong statements and comments from the EU (backed by acceding countries and European Free Trade Association members), NATO, Poland, and the United States. Faced with this widespread Western condemnation, the Ukrainian authorities had two choices. The first was to continue to ignore the Venice Commission and to continue to condemn Western "interference" in Ukraine's internal affairs, as well as carry on railroading constitutional changes through parliament. Such a step would have possibly led to Ukraine's suspension from the Council of Europe and a deterioration of relations with the United States, EU, and NATO. Ukraine would have de facto become a second Belarus. Social Democratic Party-united parliamentary faction head and former President Leonid Kravchuk recently warned that following such a path of isolation from the West could lead to the undoing of his work in 1991-92 that brought Ukraine's independence.

Ukraine's second option was to yield to PACE pressure and drop the most contentious issues in the proposed constitutional changes, under which the procedure for choosing the president would be changed from popular vote to election by parliament.

The authorities responded by taking the second option, with parliament voting on 3 February to remove the articles pertaining to electing the president by parliamentary vote and also approving a resolution to hold elections this year through popular vote for a five-year term. These reworked constitutional changes would continue to transfer power from the executive to the prime minister, meaning that the president elected this year might merely turn out to be a figurehead. The pro-presidential majority in parliament would therefore continue to hold real, effective power through their control of parliament and government, while the opposition would inherit a highly weakened executive.

This scenario permits Kuchma to continue to maintain a modicum of balance between Russia and the West. Lytvyn promised to cooperate with the PACE special representative on Ukraine once that official is named, and with the Venice Commission.

Unlike the 24 December vote, which was only backed by the pro-presidential majority and the Communist Party, the 3 February vote was also backed by the Socialists, who argued that political reform should be undertaken before the presidential elections. The opposition is therefore now even more divided, with only the right (Our Ukraine and the Yuliya Tymoshenko Bloc) continuing to insist that political reform be undertaken after only the elections. This position is backed by PACE, the European Union, and the United States.

Taras Kuzio is a resident fellow at the Centre for Russian and East European Studies and adjunct professor at the University of Toronto's Department of Political Science.

UN'S ANTIDRUG CHIEF URGES FOREIGN-TROOP INVOLVEMENT IN AFGHAN WAR ON DRUGS
Antonio Maria Costa, head of the UN Office on Drugs and Crime, told the International Conference on Counternarcotics in Kabul on 10 February that foreign troops in Afghanistan must combat drug traffickers, the BBC reported. Costa warned that while he cannot call Afghanistan "a narco-state now,... [the country] is obviously at a critical juncture." He added that the more the international community tolerates the situation, "the more dangerous the situation becomes." Costa said the rare U.S. bombing of a drug laboratory in northeastern Afghan province of Badakhshan in January sent shock waves through Afghanistan's drug world. Costa's comments have also been echoed by the director-general of Afghanistan's Counternarcotics Department, Mirwais Yasini (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 5 and 10 February 2004). NATO Secretary-General Jaap de Hoop Scheffer, who was in Kabul for the transfer of command of the International Security Assistance Force (ISAF), said on 9 February that counternarcotics operations are not the main responsibility of the NATO-led international force. AT

POPPY CULTIVATION ON THE RISE IN AFGHANISTAN'S KAPISA PROVINCE
Sayyed Ahmad Haqbin, governor of the Kapisa Province north of Kabul, says poppy cultivation is increasing in his province, the Kabul-based daily "Erada" reported on 8 February. Haqbin attributed the rise to the appalling economic conditions of local farmers and the encouragement of drug smugglers. Haqbin singled out remote districts of Tagab and Nejrab as areas where large amounts of poppy are grown. Kapisa is not traditionally among Afghanistan's poppy-growing regions. AT

NATO SAYS FURTHER EXPANSIONS PLANNED IN AFGHANISTAN
Secretary-General de Hoop Scheffer said in Kabul on 8 January that the NATO-led ISAF is planning further expansion in the form of Provincial Reconstruction Teams (PRTs), IRIN reported the next day. In January, NATO assumed responsibility for a PRT in the northern Afghan province of Konduz under German command. NATO sees the PRT in Konduz as a pilot project for possible further expansion of the force (see "RFE/RL Afghanistan Report," 8 and 23 January 2004). While de Hoop Scheffer said he is "confident that more PRTs are going to be set up [by NATO]," he added, according to IRIN, "When exactly that is going to happen, I do not know." Afghan officials, on the other hand, have suggested that NATO expedite the establishment of new PRTs. "Unfortunately we have not been able to establish a capable and trained police force across the country, and the PRTs will prove a key element in accelerating police training, voter registration for presidential elections, and administrative reform in the local and provincial levels," Afghan Deputy Interior Minister Hillaludin Hilal said. AT

UN CHIEF PICKS FRENCH DIPLOMAT AS ENVOY TO AFGHANISTAN
UN Secretary-General Kofi Annan has selected Jean Arnault of France as his special representative for Afghanistan, UN News Center reported on 10 February. Annan has informed the UN Security Council of his intention. Arnault, who has been serving as acting special representative in Afghanistan since Lakhdar Brahimi stepped down in early January, has served as a deputy to Brahimi for political affairs since March (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 6 January 2004). Arnault served as a UN political officer in Kabul in 1990. AT

FORMER AFGHAN KING RECOVERING IN INDIA
Former Afghan king Mohammad Zaher, who left Kabul on 3 February for medical treatment in New Delhi, is in satisfactory condition, Afghanistan Television reported on 10 February (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 5 February 2004). The 88-year-old former monarch is described as the "Father of the Nation" in the new Afghan Constitution. He is reportedly suffering from an intestinal blockage. AT

IRAN AT A CROSSROADS AS IT COMMEMORATES REVOLUTION'S 25TH ANNIVERSARY
The Iranian government marked the 25th anniversary of the Islamic revolution with nationwide rallies on 11 February (22 Bahman) and a speech by President Hojatoleslam Mohammad Khatami at Tehran's Azadi Square, according to state television. Khatami said the country is at a crossroads. One road wants to ignore Iran's religious and cultural identity and copy the West, Khatami said, while the second, extremist, road ignores people's needs, views, and votes and "under the flag of the religion and values is overtly or covertly struggling with freedom and democracy and considers itself a right to decide on behalf of the people." Khatami compared this road to the Taliban regime of Afghanistan. "The third way," Khatami was quoted by state television as saying, "is the way of the Islamic Republic of Iran in [the] true meaning of the word. The result of our revolution was the Islamic Republic of Iran." Expediency Council Chairman Ayatollah Ali Akbar Hashemi-Rafsanjani attended the event in Tehran, IRNA reported. BS

IRANIAN REFORMIST COALITION WILL SIT OUT ELECTIONS
Ali Mohammad Hazeri, secretary and spokesman of the reformist 2nd of Khordad Front's election headquarters, said on 10 February that the coalition's coordinating council has decided not to participate in the 20 February parliamentary elections, Fars News Agency reported. Individual groups within the coalition can decide individually if they will participate, he added. "This time, the funeral lament of an exciting election has been sung," Hazeri said. BS

HARD-LINE IRANIAN CLERIC CALLS U.S. TIES 'TREASON'
Ayatollah Mohammad Taqi Mesbah-Yazdi claimed during a recent seminar organized by the Khorasan Province Basij at the Imam's Mosque in Mashhad that reformists intend to establish relations with the United States, "Aftab-i Yazd" reported on 7 February. "This action is treason against the people and the country," he added. Mesbah-Yazdi also criticized the current parliament as an embarrassment and warned that if the current situation continues, "we have to hold a funeral for Islam in this country because no one will mention the name of Islam again" by the time the eighth parliament begins in 2008. BS

IRANIAN FOUNDATION BACKS FATWA AGAINST RUSHDIE
Iran's Martyrs Foundation (Bonyad-i Shahid) issued a statement on 10 February reiterating its support for Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini's 14 February 1989 religious decree (fatwa) against British author Salman Rushdie, ILNA reported. Rushdie wrote a book titled "The Satanic Verses" which, according to Khomeini, "was a manifestation of the satanic conspiracies of global arrogance and usurping Zionism that came out of this apostate devil's sleeve." The fatwa sentenced Rushdie to death, and the 15th of Khordad Foundation put a $2.5 million bounty on his head (the bounty was later increased). The current supreme leader, Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, subsequently said of the fatwa, "[Khomeini's] sentence regarding the apostate Salman Rushdie is based on the divine verses [of the Koran] and is as solid and inviolable as the divine verses." The Rushdie issue bedeviled Tehran's relations with the West until September 1998, when President Khatami described the Rushdie affair as "completely finished." In March 1999, however, Khatami declared that Rushdie had "desecrated...the feelings of more than 1 billion Muslims" before "confirming" the fatwa (see "RFE/RL Iran Report," 19 February 2001). BS

IRAN BACKS AZERBAIJANI CASPIAN PROPOSAL
Ahad Qazai, who is Iran's ambassador in Baku, told journalists on 9 February that Tehran supports Azerbaijani President Ilham Aliyev's recent call for the demilitarization of the Caspian Sea, Interfax reported on 10 February. He said the arms buildup in the region does not benefit any of the littoral states, adding that demilitarization would not only improve the ecological situation but would also encourage trade and economic ties, including the North-South transport corridor linking Russia with Iran. Kazakhstan is in the process of building up its naval base on the Caspian (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 6 January 2004). Qazai also denied that there is any formal obstacle to the long-delayed opening of an Azerbaijani consulate in Tabriz, Turan reported. Qazai told a second press conference on 10 February that Iran and Azerbaijan will begin discussions on drafting a bilateral agreement on military cooperation, Baku's Trend News Agency reported. LF

SUICIDE CAR BOMB KILLS SCORES OUTSIDE NEW IRAQI ARMY BASE
A suicide car bomb detonated on 11 February outside an Iraqi Army recruitment center located on the grounds of Baghdad's Muthanna Airport, international media reported. The bombing left at least 44 dead and 35 wounded, many of whom were Iraqi men lining up to apply for positions in the Iraqi army. "It was a suicide attack by a single male," U.S. Colonel Ralph Baker told Reuters. "It was aimed strictly at Iraqis." Baker added that the car was packed with between 140-230 kilograms of plastic explosives mixed with artillery shells, which he said maximized the "kill effect." The bombing was the second major attack against Iraqi security forces in 24 hours. A car bomb detonated outside the Al-Iskandariyah police station on 10 February, killing more than 50 people, and injuring more than 100 others (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 10 February 2004). KR

U.K. LAUNCHES INQUIRY INTO ALLEGED MISTREATMENT OF IRAQI PRISONERS OF WAR
The U.K. Defense Ministry said on 11 February that it is investigating a number of alleged incidents of mistreatment of Iraqi prisoners of war (POW) by British soldiers, international media reported. According to the BBC, one of the cases involves a British soldier accused of beating an Iraqi POW to death. "If British soldiers are found to have acted unlawfully, appropriate action will be taken," BBC quoted a Defense Ministry spokeswoman as saying. KR

IRAQI GOVERNING COUNCIL APPROVES PENSION FOR FORMER PRESIDENT
The Iraqi Governing Council said on 10 February that it will pay a monthly pension to former Iraqi President Abd al-Rahman Arif, who was overthrown more than 35 years ago in a Ba'ath Party coup. Arif will receive a stipend of $1,000 month, AP reported. The council has also allocated $5,000 to cover the cost of Arif's medical treatment in Jordan. Arif served as Iraq's third president from 1966-68, taking the helm after his brother, former Iraqi President Abd al-Salam Arif, was killed in a helicopter crash. Arif was deposed during the 17 July 1968 coup, which brought Ba'ath Party leaders Ahmad Hasan al-Bakr and Saddam Hussein to power. KR

UN WANTS IRAQI GOVERNING COUNCIL, CPA TO PROVIDE EVIDENCE ON OIL-SCANDAL ALLEGATIONS
The United Nations has said that it will ask the Iraqi Governing Council and the Coalition Provisional Authority (CPA) in Iraq to investigate allegations that the world body or its officials might have been involved in the Hussein regime's alleged payment of oil for support while the country was under UN sanctions, ft.com reported on 11 February. The scandal includes allegations that Benon Sevan, former UN head of the UN's oil-for-food program, received oil or kickbacks from the former regime (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 29 January 2004). "I should like to state that there is absolutely no substance to the allegations made in a local Iraqi newspaper...that I had received oil or oil monies from the former Iraqi regime," Sevan said. According to ft.com, the UN has also received two letters from an IGC adviser alleging "serious transgressions" within the oil-for-food program, including allegations that Sevan was bribed by the former regime. KR

RUSSIA'S UN AMBASSADOR SAYS 'I TOLD YOU SO' ON IRAQI WMD
Russian Ambassador to the United Nations Sergei Lavrov said on 10 February that Russia was never sure that Iraq had weapons of mass destruction, despite assertions by former chief U.S. arms inspector in Iraq David Kay that "we were almost all wrong," Reuters reported. Lavrov told reporters at the UN that Russian officials said repeatedly they did not have enough information to prove either that WMD programs remained in Iraq or that the programs had been "fully stopped." Lavrov said that prior to the military operation against Iraq, his government had hoped that UN inspectors could "finish their job," and thus Moscow supported the November 2002 Security Council resolution, No. 1441, that gave "an unprecedented, intrusive mandate to UN inspectors." Lavrov told ITAR-TASS on 10 February that Russia is "fully in accord" with UN Secretary-General Kofi Annan's bid to help Iraq reach a consensus on how to form its transitional governing structures. A UN mission headed by Algerian diplomat Lakhdar Brahimi is currently in Iraq looking into these issues. JB

XS
SM
MD
LG