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Newsline - February 17, 2004


PUTIN WANTS THOSE RESPONSIBLE FOR WATER-PARK DISASTER PUNISHED...
President Vladimir Putin conveyed his condolences on 16 February to the families of those killed when the glass and concrete dome of Transvaal Park, an indoor water park in southwestern Moscow, collapsed on 14 February, RIA-Novosti reported. "This terrible accident demands a thorough investigation," the presidential press service quoted him as saying. "Those guilty must be punished." While the official death toll stands at 25, with more than 100 injured, Moscow Mayor Yurii Luzhkov said on 16 February that anywhere from nine to 13 more victims might be buried beneath the ruins and there is no chance of saving any of them, Interfax reported. Meanwhile, Luzhkov's wife, Yelena Baturina, released a statement on 16 February denying media reports claiming that her company, Inteko, owned Transvaal Park, RBK reported. "Kommersant-Daily" and "Vedomosti" reported on 16 February that a company controlled by Inteko called Terra Oil owned the water park. Baturina also said Inteko never had a contractual relationship with Transvaal Park. JB

...AMID SPECULATION ABOUT THE CAUSE OF THE TRAGEDY
State Construction Committee chief Nikolai Koshman said he has suspended the licenses of three companies involved in building Transvaal Park -- Turkish general contractor Kocak Insaat, Russian architectural firm Sergei Kiselev and Partners, and K, the designer of the glass and concrete dome -- "The Moscow Times" reported on 17 February. Moscow Deputy Prosecutor-General Vladimir Yudin suggested the dome's collapse might have been caused by "both construction defects and violations of construction norms and rules," "Vremya novostei" reported on 17 February. But the newspaper, citing sources close to the investigation, reported that Transvaal Park was built on a landfill at the edge of a ravine and that shifting soil might have led to the dome's collapse. Various media have speculated that the feverish pace of construction in Moscow and an allegedly corrupt construction-oversight system played a role in the disaster. However, "Kommersant-Daily" on 17 February quoted unnamed members of the team investigating the incident as saying that a terrorist bombing could not be ruled out. JB

YUKOS SHAREHOLDER OFFERS TO HAND OVER STAKE IN ORDER TO SPRING COMRADES
Leonid Nevzlin said on 16 February that he and two other key Yukos shareholders, Vladimir Dubov and Mihail Brudno, are ready to hand over their Yukos stakes to the state if the company's former CEO, Mikhail Khodorkovskii, Group Menatep Chairman Platon Lebedev, and Yukos security official Aleksei Pichugin are freed from prison, "Kommersant-Daily" reported on 17 February. Earlier, Nevzlin had told Bloomberg that he and his fellow shareholders would "abandon" their stakes if there were a "guarantee" that the imprisoned Yukos officials would be freed. However, Nevzlin told "The Moscow Times" that the release of the Yukos "hostages" would only be a starting point for negotiations, the newspaper reported on 17 February. "Novaya gazeta" reported on 16 February, No. 11, that Pichugin, who has reportedly developed diabetes, has lost 28 kilograms in prison and could die (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 13 February 2004). Various media gave different estimates of the value of the 44-percent stake that Yukos's core shareholders own, ranging from a minimum of $8 billion ("Kommersant-Daily," 17 February) to $14.6 billion (newsru.com, 16 February). JB

PAPER SAYS RUSSIA IS MOVING AWAY FROM IRAN
Russia is preparing to "modify" its policy of nuclear cooperation with Iran, "Nezavisimaya gazeta" reported on 17 February. According to the newspaper, the evidence for that conclusion is that a planned visit to Iran by a Russian Atomic Energy Ministry delegation, which was supposed to take place on 15-18 February, was canceled at the last minute for "technical reasons." Prior to the trip's cancellation, Atomic Energy Minister Aleksandr Rumyantsev told the newspaper that the delegation would visit the Bushehr nuclear reactor, which Russian technicians are building, and discuss future nuclear cooperation. However, U.S. President George W. Bush then gave an anti-proliferation speech on 11 February in which he proposed, among other things, new restrictions on the sale of nuclear fuel for civilian power plants. A "noticeable cooling" in relations between Russia and the European Union has forced Russia to take greater account of U.S. concerns about Iran's nuclear program, "Nezavisimaya gazeta" reported. JB

RUSSIA HOLDS NUCLEAR EXERCISES
The Russian navy is conducting maneuvers in the Barents Sea as part of large-scale exercises by the military's strategic forces, RIA-Novosti reported on 17 February. Ten surface ships are involved in the Barents Sea maneuvers, including the "Admiral Kuznetsov" heavy-aircraft-carrying cruiser and the "Pyotr Velikii" atomic-missile cruiser, as are nuclear submarines, a variety of aircraft, and some 5,000 servicemen. The exercises will include the test firing of an intercontinental ballistic missile from the "Novomoskovsk" submarine, the target being a testing range on the Kamchatka Peninsula. President Putin went to Severomorsk, headquarters of the Russian navy's Northern Fleet, on 16 February, accompanied by Defense Minister Sergei Ivanov. Putin then boarded the nuclear-powered "Arkhangelsk" ballistic-missile submarine to observe the test firing of missiles in the Barents Sea, RTR reported on 16 February. He planned to stay on board until midday on 17 February. JB

PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATES COMPLAIN ABOUT NATIONAL TV COVERAGE...
Presidential candidates Irina Khakamada and Nikolai Kharitonov have filed complaints with the Central Election Commission (TsIK) alleging that the federal media violated election laws by giving too much attention to President Putin's 12 February meeting with his election agents, Radio Rossii reported on 16 February. ORT and RTR aired Putin's 29-minute speech live, newsru.com reported. TsIK Chairman Aleksandr Veshnyakov on 13 February acknowledged that "certain state TV channels slightly overdid it" with their coverage of Putin's speech, ITAR-TASS reported. He promised that the commission will analyze the issue and render a judgment. Viktoria Arutyunova, press secretary for the All-Russia State Television and Radio Company (VGTRK), said the "state TV channels cannot stop covering the activities of the presidency, while Vladimir Putin has not stopped [fulfilling] his responsibilities as president." JAC

...AS SOME REGIONAL STATIONS DEVIATE FROM MOSCOW SCRIPT
Some regional television stations did not broadcast the complete feed from their networks, "Kommersant-Daily" reported on 16 February. According to the daily, TRK "Peterburg" and Voronezh state television limited their broadcasts of the speech because they did not want to violate election law. In Samara, the private television station SKAT, described the speech as "the biggest PR action of President Putin's election campaign." In Bashkortostan, journalists took a different tack and "assured residents of the republic that in the instance of Putin's re-election they could expect the 'next surge of the economy and prosperity [for all] citizens.'" They warned that "there are forces in the country that want to disrupt the elections." According to "Kommersant-Daily," the newspaper "Republika Bashkortostan" specifically named former Union of Rightist Forces leader Boris Nemtsov as being a member of this grouping. Nemtsov together with world chess champion Garri Kasparov organized Committee 2008 to create a broad democratic front of people who wish to defend democracy (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 21 January 2008). JAC

RYBKIN SAYS HE'S WAITING FOR MEDICAL TESTS TO CONFIRM HE WAS DRUGGED...
Presidential candidate Ivan Rybkin told reporters in London on 16 February that he is awaiting the results of a medical examination he believes will help determine what happened to him while he was in Kyiv (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 11 and 12 February 2004). Rybkin gave a press conference on 13 February during which he declared he was lured to Kyiv by a false report that Chechen President Aslan Maskhadov wanted to speak with him there about ways to end the war, BBC reported. While waiting for Maskhadov in an apartment in Kyiv, Rybkin said, he drank some tea and ate some sandwiches that caused him to lapse into unconsciousness and wake up days later. He said a guard told him it was part of a "special operation." "Then they showed me a revolting videotape with my participation and they told me it was a plan to compromise me and force me to be cooperative," Rybkin said. JAC

...AND VOWS TO TAKE PART IN ELECTION DEBATES
Rybkin said at his 16 February press conference that he will not return to Russia until after the 14 March presidential election. According to BBC, Rybkin said his wife's recent comment that she "pities poor Russia that such people want to lead it" was a result of stress (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 11 February 2004). He said she has been under terrific pressure during the election campaign, and that when he kissed her goodbye before traveling to London, he told her: "Don't believe those ruffians. I am much better than them," BBC reported. According to regions.ru, Rybkin has said in London that he will participate in broadcast election debates with other presidential candidates via telelink from England. JAC

MOTHERLAND BLOC GIVES BIRTH TO TWO MOTHERLAND PARTIES
The Russian Regions party held a congress on 15 February at which presidential candidate Sergei Glazev resigned as the party's co-chairman and former Central Bank Chairman Viktor Gerashchenko was named to replace him, ITAR-TASS reported. Congress delegates also "unanimously decided to support" President Putin in the March presidential elections, Interfax reported. In addition, delegates decided to rename the party Motherland, the name of the bloc to which it belonged during the December State Duma elections. Glazev in an interview with Ekho Moskvy condemned the name change as an attempt to "privatize" the party's "brand" and "claim the entire political legacy of the Motherland bloc" on "direct orders of the presidential administration." Glazev previously held a founding congress at which he and his supporters attempted to reorganize the Motherland bloc into a political party called Motherland People's Patriotic Union (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 2 February 2004). Rogozin said Glazev's departure from Russian Regions will not affect the work of the Motherland faction in the Duma. JAC

TOP YABLOKO OFFICIAL NAMED TO HUMAN RIGHTS POST...
The State Duma voted on 13 February to approve former State Duma Deputy (Yabloko) and former Russian Ambassador to the United States Vladimir Lukin as Russia's new ombudsman for human rights, Interfax reported. The vote was 333 in favor, with four against and one abstention. Lukin needed 300 votes to be appointed. President Putin nominated Lukin, who will replace Oleg Mironov (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 12 February 2004). In compliance with the law that requires that the ombudsman not belong to any party, Lukin is resigning as a member of Yabloko. Lukin told NTV on 14 February that he still does not know how much he will be paid. He explained that "I am somewhat of an oddity these days -- I consider myself to be a man who, all his life, has lived under communism, in that my needs have been approximately equal to what I earn." Lukin told Ekho Moskvy that many regions still do not have an ombudsman. Under the law they may be appointed or elected, but "'may' does not mean that they are actually being elected," he said. JAC

...AS ANOTHER FORMER RIGHTIST DEPUTY GETS NEW POST
Also on 13 February, State Duma deputies voted to confirm former State Duma Deputy Yelena Mizulina (Union of Rightist Forces) as the Duma's representative to the Constitutional Court, Russian news agencies reported. Mizulina was elected to the previous Duma on Yabloko's party list, but later switched parties to join the Union of Rightist Forces. She is a former deputy chairwoman of the Duma's Legislation Committee. JAC

PUTIN ENCROACHING ON SANTA'S SPHERE OF INFLUENCE
A boy living in Ufa who sent Russian President Putin a letter saying he "does not believe in God but believes only in the president" has been given a computer, an RFE/RL Ufa correspondent reported on 12 February. The gift was reportedly paid for by local authorities. Another child from Bashkortostan reportedly wrote to Putin asking for a puppy. The 8-year-old girl from Ufa received a reply saying her request was forwarded to the Bashkortostan authorities. Ufa's Sovietskii Raion administration, which was tasked with dealing with the issue, determined that the girl's family is too impoverished to support the puppy. However, raion officials said that they cannot avoid giving the child a puppy because it was an order by the Kremlin. JAC

FORMER ACTING CHECHEN PRESIDENT KILLED IN QATAR
Zelimkhan Yandarbiev, who served as acting Chechen president for several months following the murder in April 1996 of Djokhar Dudaev, died on 13 February in a Qatar hospital of injuries received when a remote-controlled bomb destroyed his car earlier that day, Russian news agencies reported. Yandarbiev had lived in Qatar for several years; the Qatar authorities had ignored several Russian requests for his extradition. Russian security services have repeatedly claimed that Yandarbiev was responsible for channeling funds from Saudi Arabia to the Chechen resistance, and Russian and Chechen officials suggested on 13 and 14 February that disputes over those funds may have been the motive for his killing. But in a 13 February statement posted on chechenpress.com, the Chechen leadership headed by President Maskhadov accused Russian security services of masterminding the bombing. LF

CHECHEN, INGUSH OFFICIALS DENY DISPLACED PERSONS WILL BE FORCIBLY REPATRIATED
Ingushetia's President Murat Zyazikov denied on 13 February that camps in Ingushetia for displaced persons who fled Chechnya during the ongoing hostilities will be shut down and the residents forcibly repatriated, Interfax reported. He said no deadline for the return of displaced persons to Chechnya exists, and that any who wish to remain in Ingushetia may do so. Acting Chechen Prime Minister Eli Isaev similarly told Interfax that "there are no plans or dates for a forced repatriation and closure of the camps." He said the 1 March deadline announced last month "was set for officials," but that the Chechen authorities should create conditions by that date to enable those displaced persons who wish to return to Chechnya to do so. In January, Isaev argued that conditions in the displaced persons' camps were appalling, while superior accommodation was already available for displaced persons in Grozny with mains water, electricity, and gas, and school facilities. On 13 February, Lyudmila Alekseeva of the Moscow Helsinki Group told Interfax that residents of displaced persons camps are under increasing pressure to leave the camps and return to Chechnya. LF

ARMENIAN PREMIER DOWNPLAYS PREDICTIONS OF COALITION COLLAPSE
Andranik Markarian told RFE/RL's Yerevan bureau on 13 February that despite criticism of his Republican Party of Armenian (HHK) by the Armenian Revolutionary Federation-Dashnaktsutiun (HHD), he does not think the coalition government is in danger of collapse. Markarian added, however, that "a certain clarification of positions is needed." A leading member of the HHD accused the HHK on 6 February of rigging the outcome of the May 2003 parliamentary election and criticized both Markarian's government and President Robert Kocharian (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 11 February 2004). Markarian condemned those allegations as unacceptable, arguing that like the HHK, the HHD was represented on election commissions and thus shares the blame for the election irregularities, which he said did not affect the overall outcome of the ballot. LF

ARMENIAN OPPOSITION PLEDGES TO CONTINUE PARLIAMENT BOYCOTT
The Artarutiun bloc and the National Unity Party (AMK) parliament faction will continue to boycott parliament sessions until the pro-government majority agrees to a nationwide vote of confidence in President Kocharian, an Artarutiun deputy said on 13 February, RFE/RL's Yerevan bureau reported. The majority refused earlier this month to schedule a debate on the issue, claiming it is unconstitutional. LF

ARMENIAN OPPOSITION LEADER ANNOUNCES SPRING PROTESTS
Visiting southern Armenia on 16 February, AMK Chairman Artashes Geghamian said the opposition will urge its supporters in late April or early May to "rise up" against the Kocharian leadership, RFE/RL's Yerevan bureau reported. Explaining the delay, he said the opposition needs time to familiarize the population with its agenda, and that prolonged mass rallies are not expedient until the weather becomes warmer. LF

ARMENIA ACCEDES TO EUROPEAN STATEMENT ON MEDIA FREEDOM
Armenia was one of the signatories to a document adopted on 12 February by the Council of Europe Committee of Ministers that protects journalists' right to "disseminate negative information and critical opinions" about government ministers without incurring the risk of criminal prosecution for libel, except in exceptional circumstances, RFE/RL's Yerevan bureau reported on 13 February. In June 2003, the OSCE office and Western journalists in Yerevan called for the removal from the new Criminal Code of an article under which journalists found guilty of libel may be imprisoned for up to three years. The code also allows for the imprisonment of people found guilty of insulting a government official. Parliament deputy speaker Tigran Torosian rejected that appeal at the time as interference in Armenia's domestic affairs (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 23 June 2003). LF

NEW POLITICAL PARTY CALLS FOR ARMENIA TO QUIT CIS COLLECTIVE SECURITY TREATY
Former pro-government parliamentarian Hovannes Hovannisian told the founding congress of his Liberal Progressive Party (AAK) on 16 February that Armenia should quit the CIS Collective Security Treaty and join NATO, RFE/RL's Yerevan bureau reported. Hovannisian also criticized the equities-for-debts deal the Armenian government concluded with Moscow in 2002. He further expressed support for the ongoing opposition campaign to oust President Kocharian, and called for new presidential and parliamentary elections before the end of 2004. LF

DIVIDED AZERBAIJANI OPPOSITION PARTY MAY REUNITE
Mirmahmud Fattaev, who heads the conservative wing of the divided Azerbaijan Popular Front Party (AHCP), told journalists in Baku on 16 February that the two parties that split in recent years from the AHCP have responded favorably to his 10 February proposal that they reunite, Turan reported. Fattaev advocated the reunification of his AHCP wing with the AHCP progressive wing headed by Ali Kerimli and the so-called Three Gs Group (Gruppa Gudrata Gasankulieva) headed by Hudrat Hasanquliyev. Kerimli's faction has signaled its willingness to realign with Fattaev's party, but ruled out any rapprochement with the Three Gs group, which is widely suspected of cooperating clandestinely with the Azerbaijani authorities. LF

AZERBAIJANI PRINTING HOUSE APPEALS TO ECONOMIC COURT
The independent publishing house Chap Evi has appealed to the Economic Court the decision by the power-distribution concern Barmek to deprive it permanently of electricity, zerkalo.az reported on 14 February (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 13 February 2004). The publishing house is demanding 40 million manats ($8,115) in damages. Meanwhile, the owner of the building in which the publishing house is located has asked Chap Evi director Shahbaz Khudaoglu to vacate the premises within five days. Chap Evi prints up to 100 newspapers, including some published by opposition parties. LF

GEORGIA OPTIMISTIC AFTER TALKS WITH IMF
The International Monetary Fund (IMF) has already decided to resume lending to Georgia, and an announcement to that effect will be made in late April or early May, interim Georgian Finance Minister Zurab Nogaideli told journalists on 16 February after meeting with an IMF mission headed by Paolo Neuhaus. Nogaideli added that the fund mission praised the determination of the new Georgian leadership to eliminate corruption. He said the mission has listed conditions Georgia must meet, including adopting the 2004 budget as soon as possible, passing legislation against money laundering, and introducing more effective measures to counter smuggling. LF

ABKHAZIA BOYCOTTS TALKS UNDER UN AEGIS
The Abkhaz leadership has declined to send a delegation to attend talks in Geneva on 17-18 February on the Abkhaz conflict, Caucasus Press reported. The talks involve UN Secretary General Kofi Annan's special envoy Heidi Tagliavini, and representatives of the Georgian government and of the five countries (Russia, the United States, the United Kingdom, France, and Germany) that belong to the Friends of the UN Secretary-General group tasked with seeking a solution to the conflict. Abkhaz Foreign Minister Sergei Shamba said the unrecognized republic will not send a representative, as the meeting is to discuss a UN-drafted proposal that assumes Abkhazia is an integral part of Georgia. Shamba also said he considers the Coordinating Council established in 1997 under the UN aegis a more appropriate forum for talks on resolving the conflict. On 15 February, Abkhaz Prime Minister Raul Khadjimba flew to Moscow for talks with the Russian leadership, Caucasus Press reported. LF

KAZAKHSTAN REPLACES PEACEKEEPING CONTINGENT IN IRAQ
Kazakhstan has finished rotating its 27-man peacekeeping contingent in Iraq, the Kazakh Defense Ministry's press service announced on 17 February, according to RIA-Novosti. The first group of Kazakh military engineers was sent to Iraq in August to defuse ordnance, remove land mines, and dig water wells for the population. Their replacements will continue the same work as part of the stabilization forces. The Defense Ministry noted that there were five to six volunteers for each spot in the peacekeeping group. BB

KAZAKH PARTY HEAD VISITS STATE DEPARTMENT
Dariga Nazarbaeva, head of the new Asar political party and the eldest daughter of President Nursultan Nazarbaev, visited the U.S. State Department on 14 February, gazeta.kz reported. Nazarbaeva has been meeting with businesspeople and representatives from think tanks interested in Kazakhstan. At the State Department, she met with Deputy Secretary of State for Eurasian Affairs Lynn Pasco and other mid-level officials responsible for relations with Kazakhstan, with the discussion focusing on the need for reform of Kazakhstan's election legislation and the controversy surrounding the new law on the media, which critics say gives the authorities too much power over the media. The State Department officials called for the upcoming (end-2004) parliamentary elections in Kazakhstan to be honest and transparent. BB

UZBEKISTAN BLAMES KYRGYZSTAN FOR CURRENT WATER PROBLEMS IN SYR DARYA BASIN
Uzbek President Islam Karimov sent a letter to his Kazakh counterpart Nursultan Nazarbaev on 14 February blaming the current excess of water in the basin of the Syr Darya River on Kyrgyzstan's carelessness in releasing water from the Toktogul reservoir, akipress.org reported on 16 February. Karimov said this is not the first year that Kyrgyzstan has put its own needs for power generation before the irrigation needs of its downstream neighbors, adding that all the countries of the Syr Darya basin should be involved in decisions about the river's water. Kyrgyzstan has argued that it needed to generate additional electricity to meet a contract to sell power to Russia. The Uzbek president went on to emphasize the importance of each of the three countries (Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan, and Uzbekistan) directly involved in the current situation on the Syr Darya fulfilling the commitments undertaken at intergovernmental meetings in Shymkent in January and Bishkek (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 6 January and 12 February 2004). After the Shymkent meeting, Uzbekistan was criticized by the other two countries for not fulfilling its obligations (see "RFE/RL Central Asia Report," 16 February 2004). BB

KYRGYZ PARLIAMENTARIANS WALK OUT OF SESSION
Several members of the Kyrgyz Legislative Assembly walked out of a parliamentary session on 16 February to protest what they called discrimination against the state language, akipress.org reported. Opposition parliamentarian Azimbek Beknazarov later told akipress.org that he refused to look at a draft law submitted by the government in Russian, which in Kyrgyzstan has the status of "official language," and a number of other parliamentarians agreed with him. Beknazarov added that he will not return to the chamber until the government provides its drafts in Kyrgyz as well as Russian. The Kyrgyz parliament has just spent several weeks debating a government-drafted law requiring that all government officials be competent in the use of the state language (Kyrgyz) (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 13 February 2004). BB

INTERIOR MINISTER SAYS KYRGYZ POLICE ACCEPT EUROPEAN STANDARDS
Kyrgyz Interior Minister Bakirdin Subanbekov assured visiting OSCE officials on 12 February that the controversial OSCE police-training project launched in August is already having an effect, in that Kyrgyz law enforcement officers are accepting European and U.S. standards in policing practices, akipress.org reported the following day. Subanbekov reported the creation in December of a social council attached to the Interior Ministry consisting of parliamentarians, NGO representatives, political-party officials, journalists, and religious figures. The council is expected to conduct meetings in rural areas to explain how the police are supposed to work. Laws on strict respect for human rights and protection for victims of crime are in preparation. Part of the Kyrgyz opposition has objected to the OSCE program on the grounds that crowd-control skills taught to the Kyrgyz police could be used to prevent peaceful demonstrations. BB

UZBEK SUPREME COURT SENTENCES CONVICTED TERRORIST TO DEATH
Uzbekistan's Supreme Court sentenced an alleged member of the Islamic Movement of Uzbekistan (IMU) to death on 16 February following convictions for terrorism, murder, and attempted murder, RIA-Novosti reported. Azizbek Karimov was said to have been trained at a terrorist camp in Chechnya in 1998 and fought on the side of the Taliban against the Northern Alliance. The court determined that he set off a grenade at a Bishkek market in December 2002, killing seven people and wounding 20 others. Karimov was also convicted of involvement in other terrorist activities in Kyrgyzstan and Uzbekistan. He was arrested in May. BB

BELARUSIAN PRESIDENT THREATENS TO ABANDON ACCORDS WITH RUSSIA...
President Alyaksandr Lukashenka said on 13 February that Minsk might renounce unspecified bilateral agreements with Russia if Gazprom continues to pressure Minsk to pay more for gas deliveries and reduce the asking price for a stake in Belarus's gas-pipeline operator (see "RFE/RL Poland, Belarus, and Ukraine Report," 13 and 27 January 2004), Belarusian Television reported. "We are offered some $300 million or $400 million [by Gazprom for pipeline operator Beltranshaz]...for what international auditors value at $5 billion," Lukashenka said, adding that agreeing to such a deal would constitute a "crime." "Speaking straightforwardly, the problem is as such: 'Give us [Beltranshaz] for free, then we will open a gas valve for you,'" Lukashenka said to characterize the Russian position. "And now they keep on opening and closing it. They are blackmailing [our] country and people, and they are probably blackmailing Western Europe, because [their] gas goes across Belarus to Western Europe." JM

...AND PROPOSES EXCHANGE FOR GAS DEPOSIT IN YAMAL
Lukashenka added on 13 February that he would demand higher transit fees on natural gas bound for Europe in exchange for a price of $50 per 1,000 cubic meters of Russian gas, Belarusian Television reported. Neighboring Ukraine currently pays the same $50 price for Russian gas. But Lukashenka added that Gazprom wants no part of such a deal, according to the report. The Belarusian president also proposed selling a 50 percent stake in Beltranshaz for a gas deposit on Russia's Yamal Peninsula from which Belarus could extract some 15 billion-20 billion cubic meters of gas per year. "Why are Americans and Germans allowed to extract gas there, and we are not?" Lukashenka asked. "And why it is legally permissible in Russia to buy just 20 percent of such a [state-owned] asset, while they demand that we give them all, and moreover free of charge?" JM

BELARUS'S STATE-BROADCASTING CHIEF SACKED
Lukashenka on 13 February dismissed Yahor Rybakou, chairman of Belarusian State Television and Radio Company since October 2001, Belapan reported. Lukashenka ousted Rybakou following a meeting with Prosecutor-General Viktar Sheyman, who reportedly told the president that Rybakou committed "illegal acts." JM

UKRAINIAN PREMIER SAYS HE WILL RUN FOR PRESIDENT IF SUPPORTED BY ALLIES
Prime Minister Viktor Yanukovych said on 14 February that he has not yet decided whether to run for president, Interfax reported. "Today, my task as head of government is to deal with other problems and other duties," he said at a meeting with voters in Donetsk Oblast. Yanukovych declared that he will run for president if members of his own party and political allies wish it. "I primarily have in mind the leaders of political forces that today represent the centrist bloc, both in parliament and in the state," he said. Yanukovych, prime minister since November 2002, also heads the Party of Regions, which has 67 seats in the Verkhovna Rada. A late-January poll by the Democratic Initiatives Fund and the Kyiv-based International Institute of Sociology found that 22 percent of voters would support Our Ukraine leader Viktor Yushchenko (down from 26 percent in October), 9 percent Viktor Yanukovych (versus 10 percent), and 8.9 percent Communist Party leader Petro Symonenko (15 percent in October), 4.2 percent Socialist Party leader Oleksandr Moroz (from 4.5 percent), and 3.2 percent Yuliya Tymoshenko (from 4 percent). The same poll suggested that 70 percent of respondents do not want President Leonid Kuchma to seek re-election in 2004. JM

ONE IN THREE UKRAINIANS REPORTEDLY WANTS TO EMIGRATE
A poll conducted in late January by the Democratic Initiatives Fund and the Kyiv-based International Institute of Sociology suggested that 34 percent of Ukrainian citizens would like to move to another country, Interfax reported on 16 February. The pollsters concluded that 7.7 percent would choose to move to Russia, 7.4 percent to Germany, 3.9 percent to Canada, 3.8 percent to the United States, 1.8 percent to France, 1.2 percent to the United Kingdom, and 1.2 percent to Israel. JM

ESTONIAN PRIME MINISTER VISITS SPAIN
Juhan Parts and former Spanish Prime Minister Mariano Rajoy agreed during a meeting in Madrid on 13 February that the EU policy of speaking with one voice with Russia was in the interests of both sides, BNS reported. The Estonian president also reaffirmed the importance of fairness within any European constitution, saying, "The constitutional treaty can be born only if it ensures equal opportunities to all member countries." Parts also met with Spanish Prime Minister Jose Maria Aznar to discuss the current state of the EU economy and the challenges it will face after the accession of Estonia and nine other countries in May. Parts was in Madrid to attend a meeting of leaders of the Christian Democrat and People's Parties International on 13 February. SG

LITHUANIA MARKS 86TH ANNIVERSARY OF INDEPENDENCE
Events surrounding the celebration on 16 February of 86 years since Lithuania reestablished its independence in 1918 provided a clear signal that tensions raised by possible impeachment proceedings against President Rolandas Paksas remain high, "Lietuvos rytas" reported on 17 February. "Today we cannot celebrate 16 February and rejoice in the freedom of the homeland in peace, as we all understand very well how fragile that freedom is," Cardinal Audrys Juozas Backis told a gathering for Mass attended by Paksas, Prime Minister Algirdas Brazauskas, and parliament Chairman Arturas Paulauskas. "It will depend on the responsibility and self-sacrifice of each one of us whether future generations will be able to mark the nation's independence freely." Backis has sent a letter to Paksas urging the embattled president to resign. SG

POLISH PREMIER SAYS PARTY WILL DECIDE HIS FATE
Prime Minister Leszek Miller said on 16 February that he has no plans to surrender leadership of the Democratic Left Alliance (SLD) in the wake of a poll last week that showed support for the SLD at a new low (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 13 February 2004), Polish media reported. The SLD must decide for itself whether it needs a new party leader, he added. Miller said the topic might arise at a party convention on 6 March. Meanwhile, Sejm speaker Marek Borowski said the same day that it would be a "natural thing" for Miller to resign as the SLD leader and focus on leading the cabinet, PAP reported. Borowski also opined that a change in the post of prime minister "would be a very risky and difficult thing," adding, "We don't have such a definite majority in the Sejm that could easily support any candidate." JM

POLISH PRESIDENT SIGNS LAW ON ELECTIONS TO EUROPEAN PARLIAMENT...
President Aleksander Kwasniewski has signed a bill into law that regulates Poland's first-ever elections to the European Parliament in June, Polish Radio reported on 16 February. Under the law, Poland will elect 54 deputies in 13 multiple-mandate constituencies. The number of mandates ascribed to constituencies will depend on turnout. Candidates for the European Parliament must be at least 21 years of age and may be proposed by election committees formed by political parties, party coalitions, or voters. A single list of candidates in any given constituency will require at least 10,000 signatures for registration. Election committees that register lists in at least half of the constituencies will be able to register further lists without collecting further signatures. JM

...AND URGES ELECTION-LAW CHANGES FOR UPPER HOUSE
President Kwasniewski has proposed the introduction of single-mandate constituencies in elections to the Polish Senate, Polish Radio reported on 13 February. Under the current parliamentary election law, 100 senators are elected in constituencies with two to four mandates. "The single-mandate electoral constituencies have been formulated on the basis of having roughly equal numbers of electors [in each]," Kwasniewski said of the draft bill. JM

CZECH PREMIER BACKS NATO DEPLOYMENT IN IRAQ...
In an interview with dpa ahead of his 17 February visit to Germany, Czech Prime Minister Vladimir Spidla said he favors the deployment of NATO units to Iraq. "A stable Iraq is vital to Europe and to the whole [middle Eastern] region," said Spidla, whose government allied the Czech Republic with the U.S.-led effort to oust Iraqi President Saddam Hussein. Building a secure Iraq, Spidla warned, might take several years. As a result, according to Spidla, the "transfer of power" to an Iraqi provisional government should proceed "step by step." Spidla also said Prague is prepared to compromise on the draft European Constitution, provided the "balance" between small and large EU members is maintained. He said he considers the decision by some current EU members to limit access to their labor markets for citizens of new member states to be "disappointing" but "not completely surprising." MS

...AND SCORES VICTORY AGAINST PARTY REBELS
A weekend meeting of the senior ruling Social Democratic Party (CSSD) leadership overwhelmingly approved a resolution calling on party members to refrain from public criticism of the party ahead of June elections to the European Parliament, CTK and dpa reported. The resolution is widely viewed as representing a victory for the prime minister over a group of 23 CSSD lawmakers who recently criticized the party's leadership (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 13 February 2004). CTK reported that the forum rejected a resolution tabled by CSSD parliamentary deputy Milos Melcak calling on the party's presidium to invite former Prime Minister and ex-Chairman Milos Zeman to attend its debates. Zeman told CTK the resolution was submitted without his knowledge and that his return to politics under the current CSSD leadership "would not be productive." MS

SLOVAK RULING PARTY RECRUITS SPORTS LEGEND FOR EUROPARLIAMENTARY ELECTIONS
The leadership of the senior ruling Slovak Democratic and Christian Union (SDKU) has nominated ice-hockey legend Peter Stastny to head the SDKU ticket in the June elections to the European Parliament, TASR and CTK reported on 14 February. Prime Minister Mikulas Dzurinda announced the plan, which must still be confirmed by a party primary in March, noting that Stastny is not an SDKU member. The former NHL star said he considers himself "absolutely qualified" for the position because his life has always been dedicated to "values and visions." Also on 14 February, an SDKU executive body urged Slovak voters to ignore the nonbinding referendum on early elections called by President Rudolf Schuster for 3 April, the same day as the first round of presidential balloting. The SDKU will nonetheless send representatives to electoral commissions tallying referendum votes (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 5 and 9 February 2004). MS

SLOVAK FOREIGN MINISTER LEADS PRESIDENTIAL POLL
SDKU candidate and Foreign Minister Eduard Kukan leads the field of candidates ahead of Slovakia's April presidential ballot, according to a public-opinion poll conducted by the Median polling agency, CTK reported on 15 February. The survey suggested 29 percent support for Kukan compared with 21 percent for incumbent President Schuster. Movement for a Democratic Slovakia Chairman (HZDS) and former Prime Minister Vladimir Meciar was endorsed by 19 percent, followed by former parliamentary speaker Ivan Gasparovic (12 percent), who heads the extraparliamentary Movement for Democracy (HZD). Nearly 41 percent of respondents said they will definitely vote, 34 percent are "inclined" to cast a ballot, and 13 percent said they will definitely not vote in the presidential ballot. MS

NATO SUPREME ALLIED COMMANDER VISITS SLOVAKIA
Visiting Supreme Allied Commander Europe General James Jones on 13 February praised Slovakia's preparedness for NATO membership, saying Slovak military reforms have proceeded well and the country is properly prepared to become a NATO member, CTK reported. At a press conference attended by Slovak Chief of Staff General Milan Cerovsky, Jones also praised Slovakia's participation in peacekeeping operations in Kosova, Afghanistan, and Iraq. Jones also met with Defense Ministry officials, Deputy Premier Pal Csaky, and President Schuster. Slovakia was among seven postcommunist countries invited to join the North Atlantic alliance at its November 2002 Prague summit (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 21 November 2002), with membership expected by mid-2004. MS

HUNGARIAN PREMIER ACKNOWLEDGES MISTAKES
In a "state of the nation" speech before parliament on 16 February, Prime Minister Peter Medgyessy conceded that his cabinet "overestimated the power of our economy" and has been unable to meet all the electoral pledges made ahead of the 2002 elections, Hungarian media and dpa reported. Medgyessy promised savings amounting to $906 million in 2004, emphasizing that the budget deficit must be reduced and funds from the EU and from revenues must be better used, according to dpa. Medgyessy made three political proposals during the speech. He urged the ruling coalition and the conservative opposition in parliament to draw up a joint list for the Europarliamentary elections in June, saying the government and opposition should divide seats slotted for Hungary's representation on a 50-50 basis. The proposal was booed by the conservative opposition, whom polls show far ahead of Medgyessy's ruling Socialists in popularity polls. Medgyessy also proposed that the president be elected in future by popular vote rather than by parliament and that parliamentary representation be reduced from the current 386 to 250 deputies. Also on 16 February, Tibor Draskovics was sworn in as Hungary's new finance minister. MS

HUNGARIAN FARMERS BLOCK ROADS
Some 1,000 Hungarian farmers blocked lanes in 65 locations throughout the country on 16 February with tractors and trucks to demand increased government funding for agriculture, Hungarian media AFP reported. Representatives claimed Hungary's farmers are on the verge of bankruptcy ahead of EU accession and fear they will be priced out of competition in the common European market. The protesters pledged to continue demonstrations until 28 February unless the government agrees to boost funding for agriculture and guarantee stable prices for their goods. MS

SYMBOLIC DIVISIONS MARK ANNIVERSARY OF BUDAPEST'S LIBERATION...
Members of the ruling center-left coalition attended celebrations marking the 59th anniversary of the liberation of Budapest from Nazi rule in a ceremony at Buda Castle organized by the Budapest City Council on 13 February, while opposition FIDESZ city councilors criticized the event, Hungarian media and AFP reported. Foreign Minister Laszlo Kovacs said at the ceremony that divisions are no longer between left and right, but rather between those committed to democracy and those threatening it. The Free Democrats' Imre Mecs said it is time for Hungary to confront its authoritarian past, adding that Germany has done so and is a model democracy. A FIDESZ representative on the City Council was quoted by AFP as saying, "We are outraged that this terrible event should be remembered as [the capital's] liberation. During the Soviet occupation, tens of thousands of innocent Hungarians were robbed, raped, executed, and deported." MS

...WHILE HUNGARIAN NEO-NAZIS HOLD COUNTERDEMONSTRATION
In a separate ceremony on 14 February, some 800 members of the extreme-right Blood and Honor Association laid flowers and wreaths at a makeshift monument formed from a cross crowned with a military helmet in Budapest Heroes' Square, Hungarian media and AP reported. Speakers attacked the current Hungarian leadership, including the opposition FIDESZ, and described themselves as "soldiers of honor" continuing the heroic traditions of the Hungarian Royal Armed Forces, the fascist Arrow Cross, the German Wehrmacht, and the Waffen SS. They later took flowers to the site where Arrow Cross leader Ferenc Szalasi is believed to be buried. MS

SERBIA PREPARES FOR MINORITY GOVERNMENT...
Leaders of the Democratic Party of Serbia (DSS), the G-17 Plus party, the Serbian Renewal Movement (SPO), and the New Serbia party agreed on 15 February to form a minority government, which former Yugoslav President Slobodan Milosevic's Socialist Party of Serbia (SPS) said it will support in the parliament, RFE/RL's South Slavic and Albanian Languages Service reported. G-17 Plus leader Miroljub Labus argued that having a minority government is preferable to holding new elections, adding that the government will survive if it does its work well. New Serbia leader Velimir Ilic stressed that politicians must stop squabbling and get to work. SPO leader Vuk Draskovic reportedly opposed forming a government with SPS support but relented after finding himself isolated within his own party. DSS leader Vojislav Kostunica is expected to become prime minister in the new cabinet, which will probably be announced in late February (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 12 and 13 February 2004 and "RFE/RL Balkan Report," 12 December 2003 and 9 January 2004). PM

...BUT NOT EVERYONE IS HAPPY THERE...
New Serbia leader Ilic also said on 15 February that the governing coalition "will make one more proposal to the Democratic Party [for it to back a minority government], and if they reject it, we have already secured the support of the Socialist Party," RFE/RL's South Slavic and Albanian Service reported. Democratic Party Vice President Boris Tadic said that the 28 December election results would have been very different if voters had known they were endorsing a coalition government dependent on the SPS. Tadic stressed that the best thing for Serbia is a majority government. The "Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung" reported on 13 February that Kostunica has blocked all attempts by his coalition partners to include the Democratic Party in the cabinet because of his long-standing feud with the Democrats' leadership. PM

...OR ABROAD
Speaking to RFE/RL's South Slavic and Albanian Languages Service by telephone from Brussels on 16 February, European Commission spokesman for external relations Diego de Ojeda said the EU will "have to wait for the deeds of the [new Serbian] government...in order to be able to judge them, but clearly, beforehand, one can be slightly skeptical that this government formation, as it is shaping up, is the best one to bring Serbia closer to the European Union." He stressed that Brussels expects "any country in the Balkans...willing to join the European Union in due course,... including Serbia, to have full compliance and cooperation" with the Hague-based war crimes tribunal. The "Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung" reported on 13 February that it is unclear what the SPS and the far-right Serbian Radical Party (SRS) hope to achieve in the coming months because Western diplomats shun those two parties' leaders, who, in turn, avoid the Western media. The SRS won the most votes in the last elections but could not convince any other party to form a coalition with it. PM

MACEDONIAN TEACHERS END STRIKE
Some 35,000 teachers and other employees in the education sector returned to work on 16 February, ending a three-week general strike for higher pay, "Utrinski vesnik" reported. The government and the union representing the educators started contract talks on 15 February. The Education Ministry is now seeking ways to compensate some 190,000 students for the classes they missed (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 26 and 29 January and 4 and 13 February 2004). In related news, the Federation of Trade Unions in Macedonia (SSM) staged a street protest on 16 February outside major government buildings in Skopje to support the teachers and to warn of growing social problems, dpa reported. UB

FOUR FORMER GUERRILLAS ARRESTED IN KOSOVA
On 16 February, UN police arrested four former fighters of the Kosova Liberation Army (UCK), including former General Selim Krasniqi, in Prizren and Prishtina, international and regional media reported. All four are wanted by a local court for serious crimes, including murder, allegedly committed against fellow ethnic Albanians suspected of collaborating with Serbian forces during the 1998-99 crackdown. The four arrested men are all currently members of the civilian Kosova Protection Corps (TMK), which denied the charges, saying evidence against the men came from pro-Serbian collaborators. Kosova's President Ibrahim Rugova said the police sought to enforce the law and were not attempting to challenge the TMK. PM

UN ADMINISTRATOR AND SERBS BOYCOTT OPENING OF KOSOVA'S PARLIAMENT BUILDING
On 16 February, Kosova's President Rugova, Prime Minister Bajram Rexhepi, and other ethnic Albanian political leaders -- including Hashim Thaci of the Democratic Party of Kosova (PDK) and Ramush Haradinaj of the Alliance for the Future of Kosova (AAK) -- formally reopened the recently renovated parliament building, RFE/RL's South Slavic and Albanian Languages Service reported. Harry Holkeri, who heads the UN civilian administration in Kosova (UNMIK), and legislators from the Serbian minority stayed away from the ceremonies, saying that the decorations inside the building depicted events from only Albanian history rather than from a multiethnic perspective. PM

ROMANIAN EXTREMIST LEADER'S PENITENCE MEETS WITH UNIVERSAL SKEPTICISM
Greater Romania Party (PRM) Chairman Corneliu Vadim Tudor has written a letter to Israeli electoral expert Eyal Arad asking for forgiveness for his past anti-Semitic pronouncements and announcing his intention to take 100 young PRM leaders to a pilgrimage to Auschwitz later this year, the daily "Jurnalul national" reported. Tudor, a well-known Holocaust denier and a deputy chairman of the Marshal Ion Antonescu League, said he now acknowledges that some 400,000 Jews perished in Romania in 1941-44 under the marshal's regime. Tudor also said that he will no longer allow anti-Semitic and Holocaust-denying articles to be published in his weekly "Romania mare." In addition, he said, should he be elected president in November 2004 he will introduce in public schools courses on the Holocaust. Reports said Tudor intended to read the letter to the Senate's plenum on 16 February, but according to "Romania libera" he failed to do so. The daily "Ziua" on 15 February said Tudor's letter was met with surprise and criticism in the PRM parliamentary group. Politicians from across the political spectrum, as well as members of the Jewish community in Romania, expressed skepticism about the sincerity of Tudor's letter. MS

DEMOCRATIC PARTY CHAIRMAN ACCUSED OF BEING INFORMER
Popular Alliance spokesman Mugur Ciuvica on 15 February told journalists that Democratic Party Chairman Traian Basescu's name is included on a list of Romanian Communist Party members who signed a pledge in 1978 to inform on their colleagues and subordinates, Mediafax reported. Ciuvica said the pledge to serve as an "information source" for the Romanian Securitate was signed when Basescu was working in the maritime fleet. Basescu, who has denied similar allegations in the past, announced that he will sue Ciuvica. On 17 February, Basescu asked the National Council for the Study of the Securitate Archives (CNSAS) to investigate Ciuvica's allegations. The Popular Alliance dispatched a similar request to the CNSAS. MS

U.S. CITIZEN OFFICIALLY ANNOUNCES ROMANIAN PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDACY
Lia Roberts, who holds dual U.S. and Romanian citizenship, officially announced on 16 February she will run in Romania's presidential elections this fall, the dailies "Romania libera" and "Adevarul" reported. Roberts, who is honorary consul of Romania in Los Angeles and chairwoman of the Nevada Republican Party, said her presidency would focus on uprooting corruption and attracting foreign investors to Romania. She also announced that the Humanist Party has agreed to endorse her candidacy and help her collect the 300,000 signatures she needs to register as a candidate. Roberts' electoral campaign is to be managed by Dick Morris, one of former U.S. President Bill Clinton's main political advisers (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 14 January 2004. MS

OSCE MAKES PUBLIC MEDIATORS' PLAN FOR MOLDOVA'S FEDERALIZATION
The OSCE mission in Chisinau on 16 February published the new proposals worked out at the 26 January Sofia meeting of the three mediators of the conflict -- Russia, Ukraine, and the OSCE, Flux reported. The plan envisages granting Transdniester the status of a "federation subject," but no mention is made of Moldova's own status. The proposal stipulates that Transdniester has the right to draft its own constitution and separate legislation, but that federal legislation would take precedence. Transdniester would also have its own executive, and a separate budget and fiscal system partly derived from local taxation and partly from allocations from the federal budget. Federal Moldova would have a bicameral parliament, president, and government, according to the plan. MS

RUSSIA SAYS IT WILL EVACUATE AMMUNITION, BUT NOT TROOPS FROM TRANSDNIESTER
Russian Foreign Ministry spokesman Aleksandr Yakovenko said on 14 February that his country will fulfill the obligations it assumed at the OSCE 1999 and 2001 summits to evacuate military equipment from Transdniester, Infotag and Flux reported. In an interview with Interfax the same day, Yakovenko said it is counterproductive to link the evacuation of the Russian contingent from Transdniester with the resolution of the conflict between Tiraspol and Chisinau. Yakovenko was responding to a 13 February statement by the Moldovan Foreign Ministry calling for the earliest possible withdrawal of the Russian contingent. The ministry also stated its opposition to Russian participation in the privatization of enterprises in the separatist region and the opening of a Russian consulate in Tiraspol. Yakovenko responded by saying that potential Russian investors are prepared to work with all sides in Moldova, including in Transdniester, ITAR-TASS reported. "Nearly 70,000 Russian citizens are currently living in the Transdniester Republic [and]...they have a right to proper consular service," Yakovenko said. "Regretfully, thus far the Moldovan side has not given its consent to our request [to open a consulate in Tiraspol]." MS

MOLDOVAN PARLIAMENT LIFTS IMMUNITY OF THREE PPCD DEPUTIES
Parliament on 13 February heeded the recommendation of its Judicial Committee and lifted the parliamentary immunity of Popular Party Christian Democratic (PPCD) deputies Vlad Cubreacov, Stefan Secareanu, and Valentin Chilat, Flux and Infotag reported. The vote on lifting the immunity of PPCD Chairman Iurie Rosca was postponed because he was in Madrid attending a meeting of the Christian Democratic International. The decision was made with the vote of the majority Party of Moldovan Communists (PCM). Deputies representing the Our Moldova alliance did not participate in the vote, and those representing the PPCD walked out prior to the vote to protest parliamentary speaker Evgenia Ostapchuk's refusal to allow Cubreacov to address the house (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 13 February 2004). MS

COMMANDER OF BULGARIAN CONTINGENT IN IRAQ REPLACED
The Defense Ministry announced on 15 February that Lieutenant Colonel Petko Lilov will replace Lieutenant Colonel Nasko Lyutskanov as commander of the 500-member Bulgarian contingent stationed in Karbala, Iraq, vsekiden.com reported. Lyutskanov was reportedly recalled because of his poor knowledge of English, which made it impossible for him to communicate with the U.S. and Polish command of coalition forces in the area. UB

CORRUPTION REMAINS HIGH IN BULGARIA
According to Coalition 2000's annual "Corruption Assessment Report" released on 16 February (http://www.anticorruption.bg), respondents of a poll carried out by Vitosha Research say customs officers, police officers, and judges are the most corrupt professions in Bulgaria, vsekiden.com reported. Prosecutors, lawyers, ministers, and tax officers were also among those professions listed. According to the report, judges, prosecutors, and lawyers accuse each other of being the biggest bribe takers within the judiciary. Some 35-40 percent of all public procurements are tainted by graft, according to the poll. Vitosha Research director Aleksandar Stoyanov warned that corruption could increase as more EU funds become available to Bulgaria. UB

SEA TRAGEDY CLAIMS BULGARIAN, UKRAINIAN CREW
Seventeen Bulgarian and two Ukrainian sailors are believed to have been killed when the freighter the "Hera" sank on 13 February during a snowstorm near Istanbul, mediapool.bg reported. Bad weather conditions hampered rescue operations, which continued on 16 February near the Bosphorus Strait, AFP reported. None of the 19-member crew are believed to have survived. Preliminary investigations have established that the company that hired the sailors in Varna was not legally registered, mediapool.bg reported. According to AFP, the Cambodian freighter was owned by a Bulgarian. UB

THE KENNAN CENTURY


Events move so quickly it is easy to forget how much of the world we live in was fashioned in a single lifetime. February 16 marked the 100th birthday of George Frost Kennan, American diplomat and scholar. Few Americans have played so significant a role in shaping today's world, albeit often secondhand and through influence on others.

Kennan is so automatically associated with Russia that it bears remembering how much of his long professional life involved other countries. He knew Germany both in the Weimar and Nazi periods. Indeed, some of the most poignant pages of his famous memoirs are of his wartime months in Berlin. He thus experienced both great European tyrannies firsthand, and was familiar with the workings of both the Gestapo and NKVD. His understanding of the need for some kind of solution to the "German problem" deeply influenced Kennan's work in postwar Washington on the Marshall Plan. He saw early the need for European multinational institutions to withstand Soviet pressures and to channel German energies in peaceful directions. He later served as ambassador in Belgrade at a time when Yugoslavia seemed the hope of the Balkans and a model for multiethnic socialist development.

It is, of course, in connection with Russia's painful modern history that Kennan is best known (although Washington's Kennan Institute is actually named for his Siberian explorer uncle). Kennan began his Russian studies at an inauspicious time. There were no diplomatic relations with the Soviet state nor any prospect of them. The Russian language was no fast track for advancement in the U.S. diplomatic service. For some time, Kennan was a "Russia watcher" in the Baltics before helping to establish the U.S. Embassy in Moscow, then little more than a stone's throw from the forbidding Kremlin wall. He witnessed the purge trials firsthand, and was a clear-eyed observer of the Stalinist system when many Americans saw Russia as a positive alternative to the growing fascist menace.

Kennan is probably most famous for the so-called "Long Telegram" and "X Article" explications of the Soviet challenge. They are, however, by no means Kennan's best work. Much more interesting are memoranda he wrote for U.S. Ambassador William Averell Harriman in Moscow during the worst of the Stalinist tyranny. Kennan looked beyond Stalin, and even beyond the Soviet Union itself, to a post-Soviet Russia and its problems. How extraordinary these writings are, even in hindsight. When the Cold War had not yet overtly begun, Kennan was thinking past its end and assuming the Soviet system would ultimately fail. Especially striking is his focus on the role of spiritual factors and religion in a post-Soviet Russia.

These insights were more rare than most Sovietologists might care to acknowledge. Within the U.S. foreign-affairs establishment, official and private, the operating assumption was that the Soviet Union constituted the logical conclusion of Russian history and was therefore permanent, as were the Cold War and its institutions (on both sides). In contrast, Kennan saw the Soviet Union as a phase of Russian history and as something the West could defeat without armed conflict.

Kennan's name is often linked with the policy of "containment," although he justifiably argues the policy as practiced was not his. "Massive retaliation," "limited war," and "Mutual Assured Destruction" were never his prescription. Kennan's containment concept was actually rather Russian, similar to Marshal Kutuzov's strategy (at least in Lev Tolstoy's account) for defeating Napoleon's invasion: "patience and time." Although sometimes derided as "soft," Kennan's concept was validated. The Soviet Union slowly defeated itself, with a fraction of the loss of life that would have resulted from a Western pursuit of overt "victory."

Kennan's disagreements with more impatient men in Washington led him to his second career, as a writer of diplomatic history. Often among the driest forms of historical study, in Kennan's hands the contrary is true. Much of his research concerns the decades preceding his own lifetime. He documents the genuine efforts of Russian, German, French, and other diplomats to find security for their countries but who precipitated catastrophe for the entire European state system. The men he portrays are always flesh and blood, often extraordinarily earnest in their labors, but ultimately counterproductive in their approach. Above all, Kennan shows the futility of static policies in a dynamic world, just as he outlived two ideological systems that thought themselves permanent but then disintegrated more quickly than the regimes they had displaced.

In his own country, Kennan has seldom fit into a convenient category. Both as man and diplomat he reflects a world seemingly out of reach. Very much a product of the American Midwest, Kennan is also entirely of the American intellectual elite. It is difficult to label him, other than as "patriot," perhaps reflecting the vagueness of available labels (what, after all, are "neoliberalism" and "neoconservatism"?). He regularly harkens back to Secretary of State Quincy Adams' warning that "America goes not abroad in search of monsters to destroy." Often, Kennan advocates international conduct based on the virtues he represents in person: dignity, courtesy, clarity of thought, and becoming modesty in achievement.

As Ambassador Kennan begins his second century, the world is much altered from the onset of his first. The "German question" is more or less settled. The Balkans, anything but. Many questions hang over Russia, above all whether the damage from the horrendous error of Soviet Communism is reparable. Russia in 2004 faces many of the same issues it did in 1904, but with less favorable prospects for their solution.

The greatest change during the Kennan century is in the role of the United States. Already the world's largest industrial power when Kennan was born, America has become the global lodestone. Kennan's careers reflected America's growing engagement with the world. Today, the question is more the world's engagement with America, a process for which neither side is intellectually prepared. In doing their homework for this difficult relationship, both Americans and non-Americans can benefit deeply from a study of the work of George F. Kennan.

E. Wayne Merry served as a U.S. diplomat in Russia, Germany, and the Balkans, and is now a senior associate at the American Foreign Policy Council in Washington.

MINE-CLEARANCE WORKERS KILLED IN WESTERN AFGHANISTAN
Four staff members of the Organization for Mine Clearance and Afghan Rehabilitation (OMAR) were killed in an apparent ambush in Farah Province on 14 February, Hindukosh news agency reported the next day. Unidentified assailants overtook a vehicle that was carrying the OMAR employees from Farah to Herat Province in the Bala Bolok District, Voice of the Islamic Republic of Iran reported on 15 February. No one has claimed responsibility for the slayings. AT

U.S. SOLDIER KILLED IN LAND-MINE EXPLOSION IN CENTRAL AFGHANISTAN
One U.S. soldier was killed and nine others were wounded when a land mine exploded in the central Afghan province of Ghazni on 13 February, American Forces Press Service reported the next day. It was unclear whether the device was planted recently to target coalition forces or was left over from Afghanistan's past conflicts. AT

COALITION FORCES ARREST TWO SUSPECTED NEO-TALIBAN LEADERS IN AFGHANISTAN
A spokesman for the U.S.-led coalition forces, U.S. Lieutenant Colonel Bryan Hilferty, said on 16 February that 40 people were arrested in an operation in the southern Afghan provinces of Helmand and Oruzgan, Bakhtar News Agency reported the same day. Thirty-eight of those arrested were released after further investigation, but two are believed to have been mid-level Taliban leaders and remain in custody, Hindukosh news agency reported on 16 February. The identities of the two suspected Taliban members have not been released. AT

DETAINEES IN MAURITANIA REPORTEDLY LINKED TO FORMER AFGHAN REGIME
Mauritanian authorities have arrested five individuals suspected of having links to Afghanistan's former Taliban regime, the London-based daily "Al-Sharq al-Awsat" reported on 15 February. The five were arrested in the Mauritanian capital Nouakchott and are said to include one Algerian, one Moroccan, and one Tunisian. AT

IRAN'S TOP PARLIAMENTARIAN CALLS FOR ELECTORAL REFORM...
Speaker of parliament Hojatoleslam Mehdi Karrubi criticized the Guardians Council's supervisory role in elections and called for changes in the country's election law at a 16 February news conference, IRNA reported. Karrubi said a large number of people are allowed to apply for candidacy and get involved in election-related activities only to be disqualified, sometimes for no good reason. He claimed that when the Guardians Council was created, it was only supposed to ensure the compatibility of legislation with Islam, but the wording of the constitution was vague in key places and allowed the council to interpret the constitution. In terms of vetting candidates for office, Karrubi said, the council initially made sure that wrongly disqualified people were allowed to stand as candidates. A more interventionist tendency became apparent in 1990, Karrubi claimed, and the council has displayed its political inclination from the 1992 parliamentary elections onward. BS

...AND CALLS FOR MASSIVE ELECTION TURNOUT
Karrubi told a 16 February meeting of clerics in Tehran that the massive disqualifications of prospective candidates for this week's parliamentary elections should not discourage voters because the revolution did not come about easily, IRNA reported. He said massive public participation in the elections is important and the holding of elections will have a positive impact on the country's politics, economy, and security. In light of regional events in the last four years, he said, the mere presence of the people is a display of power. Karrubi warned that propaganda from overseas is trying to discourage the public. BS

D-8 SUMMIT BEGINS IN TEHRAN
The fourth summit meeting of the Developing-8 (D-8) countries began in Tehran on 17 February, news agencies reported. The summit meeting was preceded on 16 February by the seventh meeting of D-8 foreign ministers, at which Iranian Foreign Minister Kamal Kharrazi said member states must coordinate their positions on economic issues on a regular basis, IRNA reported. Kharrazi added that there must be greater private- and public-sector cooperation between countries. He said D-8 members should form a common market, IRNA reported. The creation of the D-8 -- which currently comprises Bangladesh, Egypt, Indonesia, Iran, Malaysia, Nigeria, Pakistan, and Turkey -- was announced at the 15 June 1997 Summit of Heads of State/Government in Istanbul. The D-8's objectives include improving members' positions in the global economy, trade diversification, enhanced participation in international decision-making, and improved living standards, according to the D-8 website (http://www.d8net.org). BS

...WITH EGYPTIAN LEADERS
There had been speculation that Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak might attend the D-8 summit and meet with his Iranian counterpart Mohammad Khatami. Although that meeting failed to materialize, Egyptian Foreign Minister Ahmad Mahir came to Tehran, IRNA reported on 17 February. Mahir and Iranian Foreign Minister Kharrazi met on the sidelines of the summit, IRNA reported, and they discussed developments in bilateral relations, events in Iraq, and Middle East peace. Pakistani Prime Minister Mir Zafarullah Khan Jamali, Turkish President Ahmet Necdet Sezer, Indonesian President Megawati Sukarnoputri, and Malaysian Prime Minister Abdullah Ahmad Badawi arrived in Tehran on 17 February, and they will meet with President Hojatoleslam Mohammad Khatami, IRNA reported. BS

IRAN-U.S. WRESTLING DIPLOMACY CONTINUES
A team of male U.S. wrestlers arrived in Tehran on 16 February in order to participate in the Takhti Cup tournament, IRNA reported. The 19-20 February tournament will be held at Tehran's Azadi Sports Complex and features freestyle and Greco-Roman wrestling. The U.S. team is led by 2000 Olympic silver medallist and 1998 world freestyle champion Sammie Henson, who won a gold medal when he wrestled in the 1998 World Freestyle Championships in Tehran, according to USAWrestling (http://www.themat.com/pressbox/pressdetail.asp?aid=9206). U.S. wrestlers participated in the Takhti Cup in 1998, 2000, 2001 and 2003, and they also participated in the 1998 World Freestyle Championships when they were held in Iran. U.S. participation in the February 1998 Takhti tournament, especially after it rejected 1995 and 1996 invitations, led to speculation that U.S.-Iran "wrestling diplomacy" would recreate U.S.-China "ping-pong diplomacy" of the 1970s. That process hit a bump when Iranian wrestlers coming to an April 1998 tournament in Oklahoma were detained at Chicago's O'Hare airport for several hours for fingerprinting and photographs. BS

FORMER IRAQI PARLIAMENT SPEAKER RELEASED BY COALITION
Sa'dun Hammadi, the former speaker of the Iraqi National Assembly, was released on 14 February after nine months in coalition custody, international media reported. Hammadi's son Ghassan confirmed to Al-Jazeera television on 16 February that his father was released. He added that his father is in good health, but remains tired and was unavailable to speak to the press. Regarding his father's time spent in coalition custody, Ghassan Hammadi said that "he was treated with great respect, but the conditions for all of them [prisoners] were extremely bad; bad services, bad food, bad medical treatment," Reuters reported on 16 February. Sa'dun Hammadi served under the Ba'athist regime in Iraq for nearly four decades, holding various posts, including foreign minister, oil minister, and prime minister. In his early 70s, he was not included on the list of the 55 most-wanted Iraqis from the deposed Hussein regime, and reportedly faces no formal charges. KR

IRAQI POLICE CAPTURE ANOTHER 'MOST WANTED'
Iraqi police on 15 February captured No. 41 on the list of the 55 most-wanted Iraqis from the deposed Hussein regime, the Coalition Provisional Authority (CPA) announced the same day (http://www.cpa-iraq.org). Muhammad Zimam Abd al-Razzaq al-Sa'dun served as a Ba'ath Party chairman and commander of the Ba'ath Party Militia in the Al-Ta'mim and Ninawa governorates. Al-Sa'dun was hiding from police in an upstairs room of a residence in Baghdad, according to the CPA. His arrest came as the result of an Iraqi police investigation and "a series of coordinated raids" by the National Iraqi Police Service Emergency Response Unit. KR

FIVE SUSPECTS ARRESTED IN KILLING OF IRAQI GOVERNING COUNCIL MEMBER
Five suspects have been arrested for the 20 September shooting of Iraqi Governing Council member Aqilah al-Hashimi, who died five days later from wounds sustained in the attack (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 22 and 25 September 2003), Reuters reported on 17 February. An Interior Ministry official said the suspects were "paid money from a Ba'athist" to carry out the assassination. No further details on the arrests were released. KR

LABOR MINISTRY OPENS UNEMPLOYMENT CENTER
The Iraqi Labor and Social Affairs Ministry opened an unemployment center in Baghdad on 29 January, according to a 14 February CPA press release (http://www.cpa-iraq.org). The office is the "first official establishment allowing Iraqis the opportunity to seek employment," according to the CPA. It also offers English-language, computer, and business classes. Two more employment offices will open in Baghdad by March, Labor and Social Affairs Minister Sami al-Majun said. The unemployment center currently services around 500 jobseekers per day, down from the 1,000 per day who sought help from the ministry last summer. The center reportedly still has more jobs available than it can fill daily. KR

11,000 IRAQI TEACHERS GRADUATE FROM TRAINING PROGRAMS
Approximately 11,000 secondary-school teachers in Iraq graduated on 16 February from a weeklong teacher-training program that was designed to provide teachers with insight into the latest instructional methods, the Coalition Provisional Authority announced the same day (http://www.cpa-iraq.org). The nationwide training sponsored by the U.S. Agency for International Development (USAID) was a vast undertaking. Since September some 830 secondary-school "master trainers" throughout Iraq's 18 governorates have received training on methodologies, lesson planning, student assessment, student rights, and classroom management. The trainers then facilitate weeklong training programs such as the one that graduated 11,000 teachers this week. To date, some 33,000 secondary-school teachers and administrators in Iraq have been trained under the program. KR

KAZAKHSTAN REPLACES PEACEKEEPING CONTINGENT IN IRAQ
Kazakhstan has finished rotating its 27-man peacekeeping contingent in Iraq, the Kazakh Defense Ministry's press service announced on 17 February, according to RIA-Novosti. The first group of Kazakh military engineers was sent to Iraq in August to defuse ordnance, remove land mines, and dig water wells for the population. Their replacements will continue the same work as part of the stabilization forces. The Defense Ministry noted that there were five to six volunteers for each spot in the peacekeeping group. BB

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