DUMA RESUMES DEBATE ON BENEFITS REFORM...
The Duma on 2 February resumed its discussion of the government's controversial program to convert most in-kind social benefits to cash payments, ITAR-TASS and other Russian media reported. Duma Speaker Boris Gryzlov noted that deputies have just returned from the regions, where they saw first-hand how the reform is being implemented. Also on 2 February, five deputies from the Motherland faction who have been on a hunger strike since 21 January to protest the reform ended their action after the presidium of the party announced the faction will boycott all Duma sessions until a vote of no confidence in the government is placed on the agenda, ITAR-TASS reported. Motherland faction leader Dmitrii Rogozin told the news agency the hunger strike and the boycott are only the beginning of a "large-scale protest" by the Motherland faction. "The Motherland faction and the Communist Party will regulate from a single center many protest actions against the implementation of the law on payment of compensation," Rogozin said. He added that Motherland is drafting a bill on the role of opposition parties that will be submitted to the Duma in the near future. RC
...AS MOTHERLAND LEADER STEPS UP HIS OPPOSITION
In a long interview with "Nezavisimaya gazeta" on 1 February, Motherland leader Rogozin said he has received 12,000 telegrams of support for his hunger strike, despite what he described as an information blackout of the protest by state-controlled media. He said no one from the presidential administration had spoken to him during the hunger strike. Rogozin added the faction is adopting new, stronger methods of opposition to the policies of the majority faction. "I'm prepared to use nonparliamentary methods of struggle as well," Rogozin said. Rogozin admitted that during the December 2003 Duma elections, his purported opposition bloc cooperated with the Kremlin in order to avoid "being ejected from the campaign as an unregistered bloc." However, he claimed, Motherland now has no more contact with the Kremlin than other Duma factions. "We are not snakes rising out of baskets to the piping of Kremlin administrators," Rogozin said. He said state-controlled television only covers Motherland when its position corresponds with the Kremlin's views, noting that the faction's support of a recent political reform to end the direct election of regional governors was given thorough coverage. "But as soon as we started talking about something they didn't agree with, instantly there was a moratorium imposed on any of us appearing on screen," Rogozin said. "Clearly, they were trying to use us." RC
COMMUNISTS PUSH AHEAD WITH NO-CONFIDENCE INITIATIVE
Communist Party leader Gennadii Zyuganov told journalists on 1 February that he has informed President Vladimir Putin that his faction will demand a Duma vote of no confidence in the government, ITAR-TASS reported. Zyuganov said his party has secured the signatures of 97 deputies on the motion, and that only 90 are needed to compel the Duma's leadership to put such a vote on the agenda. "We hope we'll get some more signatures [on 2 February] and turn the list in to the Duma's regulations department by the end of the day," Zyuganov said. Zyuganov also said he complained to Putin that the president no longer holds regular meetings with opposition Duma factions. "He holds meetings only with the parliamentary majority now," Zyuganov said. RC
BENEFITS-REFORM UNREST FAILS TO BENEFIT OPPOSITION
Opposition parties have largely failed to increase their popularity despite the wave of public unrest sparked by the government's benefits reform, "Vremya novostei" reported on 2 February. According to a new poll by the Public Opinion foundation, only 9 percent of respondents said they would vote for the Communist Party if elections were held now, while 3 percent said they would support Motherland, and 2 percent said they would vote for Yabloko. In the December 2003 Duma elections, the Communists polled 12.6 percent, Motherland 9 percent, and Yabloko 4.3 percent. Twenty-one percent said they would support the pro-Kremlin Unified Russia party, which polled 37.6 percent in December 2003. RC
BUREAUCRATS SHELTERED FROM BENEFITS REFORM
Despite having eliminated in-kind social benefits for veterans, pensioners, and the handicapped, the government has maintained many benefits for civil servants, "Novye izvestiya" reported on 2 February. According to the daily, many bureaucrats continue to qualify for free medical care at elite clinics, subsidized stays at state sanatoriums, free higher education, free state apartments, and other benefits. Retiring State Duma deputies qualify for a monthly pension of $2,000, the daily reported. Russia has 540,000 federal civil servants and 1.23 million regional ones, and virtually all state agencies continue to run highly subsidized clinics, sanatoriums, and day-care facilities for their employees. The largest system of in-kind benefits for bureaucrats is overseen directly by the presidential administration and serves administration employees, both houses of the legislature, the offices of the presidential envoys to the federal districts, and the country's three highest courts, "Novye izvestiya" reported. Under the newly adopted Housing Code, bureaucrats are the only category of citizens who still qualify for free state apartments. According to the report, a government commission is considering how to replace these benefits with cash payments, but no changes are expected to be made before 2007. RC
GOVERNMENT BOOSTS BENEFITS COMPENSATION FOR MILITARY, POLICE
Prime Minister Mikhail Fradkov on 1 February signed an order increasing the compensation paid to military personnel and police officers for their lost in-kind benefits, including free public transportation and a property-tax exemption, Interfax reported. The decree boosts such compensation to between 130 percent and 200 percent of a serviceman's basic salary, Prime-TASS reported on 2 February. RC
GORBACHEV SAYS PUTIN HAS DISAPPOINTED RUSSIAN PUBLIC'S HOPES
Former Soviet President Mikhail Gorbachev harshly criticized President Putin during a 1 February press conference in Moscow, Russian media reported. Gorbachev accused Putin of seeking a second term in office "only for the sake of securing his own power" and said the president has disappointed those who had placed their hopes in him. He said Putin has turned his back on the "social-democratic" platform that he espoused prior to the election and which he had used to justify the bolstering of executive-branch power that characterized his first term. Gorbachev added that the crisis over the government's benefits reform has arisen because the government did not listen to public opinion, nongovernmental organizations, academics, or other outside experts when it drafted its plan. He called government efforts to scale back education and health-care subsidies a "violation of the constitution." Gorbachev's comments took many analysts by surprise because he had previously defended Putin from criticism both in Russia and abroad. In a 2003 interview with "Izvestiya," Gorbachev said that if Putin's second term is successful, it would be worthwhile finding a way for him to run for a third term. RC
STABILIZATION FUND SOARS...
The government's stabilization fund has swollen to 740 billion rubles ($26.5 billion), Finance Minister Aleksei Kudrin said on 1 February, ITAR-TASS and other Russian media reported. The fund stood at 522 billion rubles on 1 January. The increase is apparently due to the government's transfer of its 2004 budget surplus to the fund. Kudrin said the fund will be used to meet the government's commitments to the pension fund in 2005, but that pension increases will most likely be financed from the budget. RC
...AS GOVERNMENT MOVES TO REDUCE FOREIGN DEBT
Finance Minister Kudrin announced on 1 February that the government has dipped into the stabilization fund to pay off ahead of schedule the remaining $3.3 billion that it owed the International Monetary Fund (IMF), ORT, RTR, and other Russian media reported. The debt was to have come due in stages between now and 2008, and paying it off early saved the government $204 million in interest. Kudrin said the government's hard-currency reserves are now greater than its total debt, meaning the country is well positioned to pursue an active policy of debt reduction. He added he is negotiating the early repayment of some of Russia's $44 billion debt to the Paris Club of leading creditor countries. RC
CHINESE BANKS GET INVOLVED IN FUNDING YUGANSKNEFTEGAZ TAKEOVER
A group of Chinese banks will provide $6 billion to facilitate Rosneft's purchase of Yuganskneftegaz, which was formerly the main production asset of the embattled oil giant Yukos, "The Moscow Times" reported on 2 February. Finance Minister Kudrin told journalists on 1 February that the banks will lend the money to state-owned Vneshekonombank, which will in turn lend the money to state-owned Rosneft. Officials from the Federal Property Fund and the Justice Ministry refused to answer questions as to whether Rosneft has yet paid for Yuganskneftegaz, which was sold off by the state on 19 December, the daily reported. A spokesman for Yukos said the company does not recognize the sale of Yuganskneftegaz, adding that the Federal Tax Service has not informed the company that its tax burden has been reduced as a result of the tender. A tax service spokeswoman declined to comment on Yukos' tax debt, "The Moscow Times" reported. According to the daily, the Central Bank's hard-currency reserves fell by $6 billion between 7 January and 21 January, leading analysts to speculate that the state has paid for the Yuganskneftegaz purchase while Rosneft sought outside sources of financing. "As soon as the Chinese transfer the money," analyst Stanislav Belkovskii told the daily, "the reserves will go back up." RC
JEWISH ORGANIZATION TO LAUNCH SUIT AGAINST DUMA DEPUTIES FOR ANTI-SEMITIC LETTER
The Russian Jewish Congress announced on 1 February that it will file a legal case against the State Duma deputies who signed and later retracted a letter to Prosecutor-General Vladimir Ustinov calling for an investigation into Jewish organizations for inciting ethnic and religious enmity, Ekho Moskvy reported (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 25 and 26 January 2005). "The withdrawal of the appeal from the Prosecutor-General's Office does not in any way change the overt anti-Semitic text of this document or the fact that it was widely disseminated through the Internet and the press," Russian Jewish Congress spokesman Yevgenii Fedorov was quoted as saying. Fedorov said the group also intends to file complaints against media outlets that reproduced the text of the deputies' letter. RC
DUMA TO PREPARE AMNESTY FOR WORLD WAR II COMMEMORATION
State Duma deputies have begun drafting an amnesty to be issued in May to mark the 60th anniversary of the end of World War II, "Rossiiskaya gazeta" reported on 1 February, citing Duma Legislation Committee Chairman Pavel Krasheninnikov (Unified Russia). He said the amnesty will cover all of Russia, including Chechnya. The details of the amnesty have not yet been worked out, but it could cover either all veterans of military actions or all those convicted of nonviolent crimes, Krasheninnikov said. According to the daily, the Duma has the sole authority to issue amnesties, and the bill does not need to be passed by the Federation Council or signed by the president. RC
CHAIRMAN IN OFFICE DISCUSSES OSCE'S FUTURE WITH RUSSIAN OFFICIALS
Dmitrij Rupel, Slovenia's foreign minister and chairman in office of the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE), met in Moscow on 1 February with Russian officials, including Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov and Security Council Secretary Igor Ivanov. They discussed the criticisms of the OSCE Russia has raised repeatedly over the last year and how they should be addressed, Interfax reported (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 12 July, 16 September, 20 October, 16 November, and 6 December 2004 and 14 January 2005). Lavrov told journalists after meeting with Rupel that he believes "we are approaching a common understanding" on revising the scale of membership fees. Rupel had proposed on 14 January that the European Union should pay more in OSCE membership fees in future and Russia less, according to AFP on 19 January. Lavrov also said they discussed the optimum balance between the three main areas of the OSCE's work -- security issues, economic issues and humanitarian matters -- and also the degree of its involvement in election monitoring. Ivanov's press service issued a statement after his meeting with Rupel saying that Moscow continues to insist that the Treaty on Conventional Forces in Europe (CFE) be adopted as the cornerstone of European security as soon as possible, Interfax reported. Only a handful of the 30 signatory states, including Russia, Belarus, Ukraine, and Kazakhstan, have ratified the amended CFE treaty to date. LF
KREMLIN ENVOY WARNS BESLAN PARENTS
Presidential envoy to the Southern Federal District Dmitrii Kozak met for two hours on 1 February in Rostov-na-Donu with a group of relatives of children killed during the hostage taking in a school in North Ossetia in September, and warned them against any protest actions that violate the law, Reuters and Russian agencies reported. Relatives of those killed in Beslan blocked the main Rostov-na-Donu-Baku highway for several days last month to demand the resignation of North Ossetian President Aleksandr Dzasokhov, whom they accuse of bungling the handling of the crisis (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 21 and 24 January 2005). At the same time, Kozak agreed that any official who could have intervened during the crisis but failed to do so should be punished, Interfax reported. He said the investigation into the circumstances surrounding the hostage taking is almost complete, and that officials guilty of dereliction of duty, including unnamed members of the law enforcement agencies, will be brought to trial, kavkazweb.net reported. LF
POLICE OFFER REWARD FOR RECOVERY OF ARMS STOLEN IN NALCHIK RAID...
Police in the Republic of Kabardino-Balkaria have offered a 300,000 ruble ($10,000) reward for information leading to the recovery of weaponry stolen in December from the republican office of the Federal Antinarcotics Agency, Russian media reported on 1 February (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 15 and 16 December 2004). Police earlier blamed that raid on members of the Yarmuk militant group, but failed to recover any of the stolen weaponry from the apartments in Nalchik where seven suspected Yarmuk members were killed in an attack by police and spetznaz last week (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 26, 27, and 28 January 2005). In a statement posted on the Chechen website Kavkaz-tsentr, Yarmuk members pledged to continue their "djihad" on the territory of Kabardino-Balkaria, kavkazweb.net reported on 1 February. They also announced that they will shortly elect a new leader to succeed Muslim Ataev, who was killed in last week's raid. And they vowed to target the children of Interior Ministry and FSB officials in Kabardino-Balkaria in revenge for the killing of Ataev's 6-month-old daughter during that raid. Russian officials have denied any children died in the operation. LF
...AND CLAIM GEORGIAN CONNECTION
Kabardino-Balkaria Interior Ministry officials say Yarmuk was formed in the summer of 2002 in Georgia's Pankisi Gorge and that its approximately 30 members are mostly from Kabardino-Balkaria's Elbrus Raion, kavkazweb.net reported on 1 February. Yarmuk leader Ataev was a former member of the band of militants led by Chechen field commander Ruslan Gelaev, who is believed to have used Pankisi for several years as a base camp prior to his death in Daghestan one year ago. Since then, Ataev had reportedly taken his orders from radical Chechen field commander Shamil Basaev. LF
A 1 February "RFE/RL Newsline" item titled "Moscow Court Dismisses Land-Fraud Case Against Minister's Wife" was based on an erroneous media report. The case against Yulya Zurabova, wife of Health and Social Development Minister Mikhail Zurabov, is still being heard by a Moscow Oblast court, and the next hearing is scheduled for 25 February. RC
ARMENIAN BUSINESSMEN COMPLAIN ABOUT SELECTIVE TAX DEMANDS
Several members of organizations representing the interests of Armenian businessmen complained on 1 February that tax authorities are selectively targeting small and medium businesses within the framework of a crackdown on tax evasion, while ignoring companies owned by their friends and associates, RFE/RL's Armenian Service reported. President Robert Kocharian condemned that selective approach last month (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 12 January 2005). LF
GEORGIAN OFFICIALS CLAIM GORI BLAST WAS MASTERMINDED FROM ABROAD...
Georgian officials said on 1 February that a car bomb earlier that day in Gori, which killed three policemen and left more than 20 people injured, was masterminded from abroad. In a televised address to the nation, President Mikheil Saakashvili described it as "a political terrorist act" perpetrated by unnamed forces that do not want Georgia to become stronger, Caucasus Press reported. Several parliamentary deputies and Foreign Minister Salome Zourabichvili suggested the blast was a direct response to the peace initiative to South Ossetia that Saakashvili unveiled last week, Caucasus Press and rustavi2.com reported (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 27 January 2005). Parliament deputy speaker Mikheil Machavariani accused a foreign intelligence service, without identifying which country, ITAR-TASS reported. Interior Minister Vano Merabishvili said on 1 February he does not believe either South Ossetian criminal groups or the South Ossetian leadership could have mounted the attack, and Defense Minister Irakli Okruashvili told the private Imedi television station that it was planned a month ago, when the car used in the blast was purchased, Caucasus Press reported. Okruashvili further suggested that whoever organized the explosion anticipated that Tbilisi would blame it on the South Ossetian leadership, according to Caucasus Press on 2 February. LF
...AS SOUTH OSSETIA DISCLAIMS RESPONSIBILITY
South Ossetian officials denied on 1 February any connection to the blast in Gori, which is close to the South Ossetian conflict zone. Caucasus Press quoted South Ossetian Security Council Secretary Oleg Alborov as condemning the bombing and as warning against any attempts to fuel tensions between Georgia and South Ossetia by blaming South Ossetia for it. South Ossetian government spokeswoman Irina Gagloeva told the independent Georgian television station Rustavi-2 that the bombing was "a terrible incident," adding, "We are unequivocal...that we had nothing to do with the explosion, and we hope the Georgian authorities will soon identify those responsible." South Ossetia's unofficial representative in Moscow, Dmitrii Medoev, told Interfax on 1 February that attempts to portray the blast as a response to Saakashvili's peace initiative are "dangerous nonsense." LF
GEORGIAN PARLIAMENT REJECTS PRESIDENT'S DRAFT BILL
On the eve of the spring parliament session, the parliament bureau rejected a package of proposed constitutional amendments drafted by President Saakashvili and asked him to revise them, Caucasus Press reported on 1 February, quoting the daily "Alia." Specifically, the bureau objected to renaming the Interior Ministry the Ministry for Police and Public Order, and empowering the president to appoint all nine members of the Constitutional Court. Saakashvili also proposed reducing the number of parliamentary deputies from 225 to 150. LF
KAZAKH PRESIDENT DECRIES BLOATED COMPANIES
At a cabinet meeting on 1 February, Kazakh President Nursultan Nazarbaev criticized state-owned companies, banks and large holding companies for holding too many noncore assets, Interfax-Kazakhstan reported. Nazarbaev said overly large companies need to slim down, adding that bloat hinders competition and stifles small business. "They should rid themselves of their noncore assets in line with the market by selling them into a competitive environment," Nazarbayev said, according to "Kazakhstan Today." Nazarbaev cited Kazakhstan Temir Zholy, the national railroad company, as an example of a structure with too many noncore assets. Setting out economic priorities, he said Kazakhstan needs to attract 30 transnational companies to work in the country's processing industry. Nazarbaev asked the government to complete a program for housing development in the first quarter of 2005 and to present a program for developing a micro-credit system in the next two weeks. DK
LAWSUIT AGAINST KYRGYZ NEWSPAPER RILES OPPOSITION
The Kyrgyz newspaper "Vechernii Bishkek" has filed suit against the newspaper "MSN," asking for 5 million soms ($121,500) in damages for what it calls inaccurate allegations printed by "MSN," RFE/RL's Kyrgyz Service reported on 1 February. In addition, Olga Bezborodova, former editor in chief of "Vechernii Bishkek," is suing "MSN" for 2 million soms. Both suits seek smaller sums from the author of the "MSN" article, which suggested that the son-in-law of President Askar Akaev controls "Vechernii Bishkek." The opposition People's Movement of Kyrgyzstan published an appeal to Akaev in "MSN" on 1 February, listing various actions taken against the newspaper in recent months and charging that the authorities "want to close 'MSN'...on the threshold of parliamentary and presidential elections." The appeal called on the president "to put an immediate end to the persecution of 'MSN' and other independent media." DK
KYRGYZ ELECTION COMMISSION RELEASES CANDIDATE LIST FOR PARLIAMENTARY ELECTIONS
Kyrgyzstan's Central Election Commission made public on 1 February the final list of candidates for the 27 February parliamentary elections, RFE/RL's Kyrgyz Service reported. The commission has officially registered 427 candidates. Candidates for the new unicameral parliament include 50 current members of the lower chamber of parliament and 18 current members of the upper chamber. DK
TAJIK SECURITY MINISTRY RULES OUT GAS LEAK AS CAUSE OF BLAST
Tajikistan's Security Ministry has ruled out the possibility that a gas leak was responsible for an explosion that killed one person and injured four in Dushanbe on 31 January, RFE/RL's Tajik Service reported on 1 February. The Security and Interior ministries are conducting a joint investigation of the blast. Abdurahim Qahhorov, first deputy head of the Interior Ministry, told Asia Plus-Blitz, "It is early to talk about a terrorist act before the investigation reaches its final conclusion." DK
RUSSIAN ALUMINUM LAUNCHES TAJIK FEASIBILITY STUDY
Sergei Annenkov, deputy director of Russian Aluminum (Rusal), told a news conference in Dushanbe on 1 February that the Russian company will pay 2 million euros ($2.6 million) to Germany's Lehmeyer International to conduct a feasibility study for completing the construction of Tajikistan's Roghun hydropower plant, Avesta reported. The study will be completed by October 2005. Annenkov said a feasibility study for the construction of additional aluminum production facilities in Tajikistan will begin soon. Also on 1 February, Rusal Chairman Oleg Deripaska met with Tajik President Imomali Rakhmonov to discuss the company's investment plans in Tajikistan. Under agreements announced during Russian President Vladimir Putin's visit to Tajikistan on 16 October 2004, Rusal is slated to invest a total of $1.6 billion in Tajikistan over the next seven years (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 18 October 2004). DK
TAJIK PARTIES SIGN ACCORD IN LEAD-UP TO ELECTION
Tajikistan's six political parties signed an accord on 1 February establishing "rules of conduct and mutual relations" in the lead-up to the 27 February parliamentary elections, RFE/RL's Tajik Service reported. Vladimir Sotirov, head of the UN's Tajikistan Office of Peace Building, hailed the agreement as "a unique code of conduct for political parties [that] indicates that civil society movement along the path of democracy is gaining strength in Tajikistan," ITAR-TASS reported. The signatories to the accord are the People's Democratic Party, Democratic Party, Socialist Party, Communist Party, Islamic Renaissance Party, and the Social-Democratic Party. DK
TURKMEN PARLIAMENT USHERS IN 'YEAR OF RUKHNAMA'
Turkmenistan's parliament met on 1 February for its first session after the 19 December elections, turkmenistan.ru reported. One of its first acts was to pronounce 2005 the "year of the 'Rukhnama,'" President Saparmurat Niyazov's spiritual guide for the Turkmen people. In an address before parliament carried live by Turkmen Television, Niyazov said the country should eventually hold presidential elections with "at least three or four contenders." Niyazov left the time frame for such an election somewhat unclear, saying, "The next presidential election can be held when there are people who have authority and prestige among the people." DK
TURKMEN ELECTRICITY EXPORTS DOUBLE
Turkmenistan's electricity exports rose 120 percent in 2004 to 1.1 billion kilowatt-hours, turkmenistan.ru reported on 1 February, citing a source in the country's Energy Ministry. The value of exports rose 160 percent to $29.2 million. Iran and Turkey were the recipients of 95 percent of Turkmenistan's electricity exports. DK
PROTESTERS DON ORANGE IN UZBEKISTAN
Demonstrators whose homes have been demolished due to an Uzbek-Kazakh border agreement held a protest at the administrative seat of Tashkent Province on 1 February, RFE/RL's Uzbek Service reported. Protesters claim they received no compensation when their homes along the border were torn down to comply with an agreement that prohibits dwellings near the frontier. Pensioner Petr Saykov complained that local authorities destroyed his home without legal cause and ignored his protests, and that border guards threatened him. The 25 demonstrators' orange scarves and banners prompted one official to ask them: "Why are you holding orange banners? Couldn't you hold Uzbek flags?" Nevertheless, Tashkent Governor Kozim Tulaganov received the protesters and promised them that a government commission will visit their village on 4 February to assess property values for future compensation. DK
BELARUS LAUNCHES SATELLITE TV CHANNEL
Belarus on 1 February inaugurated broadcasts of its first satellite-television channel, Belarus-TV, Belarusian Television reported. According to Belarusian Television's main newscast, "Panarama," Belarus-TV programs, which are aired through the Intelsat 904 satellite, can be received in 20 countries in Europe and Asia, including Poland, Germany, France, and the Nordic countries. "The main task of the [Belarus-TV] channel is to supply objective information about life in Belarus to the countries of near and far abroad," National Television and Radio Company head Uladzimir Matvyaychuk said. "We have accomplished a major breakthrough. Today we are in a single information space with the world's leading television channels." JM
BELARUSIAN MONTHLY WAGE OFFICIALLY RISES TO $200 IN 2004
The Ministry of Statistics and Analysis has reported that the average before-tax monthly wage rose from 299,859 Belarusian rubles ($139 at the then exchange rate) in December 2003 to 434,900 Belarusian rubles ($200 at the current exchange rate) in December 2004, Belapan reported on 1 February. The official exchange rate of the U.S. dollar increased by 0.6 percent and that of the euro by 9.7 percent in 2004. JM
UKRAINIAN PREMIER-DESIGNATE WANTS TOTALLY NEW GOVERNMENT
Yuliya Tymoshenko, whom President Viktor Yushchenko designated as acting prime minister last week (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 25 January 2005), told the "Ukrayinska pravda" website (http://www2.pravda.com.ua) on 1 February that she has already prepared a list of candidates for the posts of all cabinet ministers and regional governors for Yushchenko's approval. Tymoshenko revealed that the list does not include any of the ministers or governors from former Prime Minister Viktor Yanukovych's government. Tymoshenko has been meeting with different parliamentary groups for the past few days for consultations ahead of the expected parliamentary vote on her approval as prime minister on 3 February. JM
UKRAINIAN PRESIDENT CLAIMS TO HAVE PREPARED THREE-YEAR REFORM PLAN WITH EU
President Yushchenko has told journalists from "The Times" of London that he is going to implement a three-year reform plan that was coordinated with the European Union, Interfax reported on 2 February, citing the presidential press service. Yushchenko said he wants to launch talks with Brussels on Ukraine's EU membership as soon as the reform plan is implemented. "[It is very important] that the three-year action plan, worked out jointly by the EU and Ukraine, could lead to the inauguration of talks in 2007 on [Ukraine's EU] entry," Yushchenko reportedly told British journalists. JM
UKRAINIAN LAWMAKERS WANT EXPLANATIONS ABOUT KUCHMA'S RETIREMENT DETAILS
The Verkhovna Rada on 2 February voted to ask acting Prime Minister Tymoshenko about the circumstances surrounding the adoption of a cabinet resolution that gave former President Leonid Kuchma some special benefits after his departure from office, Interfax reported. Some Ukrainian media have reported that the cabinet led by Tymoshenko's predecessor, acting Prime Minister Mykola Azarov, decided to give Kuchma the right to continue drawing his presidential salary, use a state dacha and two cars, and have three assistants paid from the state budget for the rest of his life. The parliament also supported a query to Prosecutor-General Svyatoslav Piskun on whether he is going to investigate Kuchma's alleged involvement in the kidnapping and killing of Internet journalist Heorhiy Gongadze in 2000. JM
HAGUE PROSECUTOR THREATENS TO REVEAL WHY TOP INDICTEES WERE NOT ARRESTED...
Carla Del Ponte, who is the chief prosecutor for the Hague-based war crimes tribunal, said in Sarajevo on 1 February that if leading fugitive Bosnian Serb war crimes indictees Radovan Karadzic and former General Ratko Mladic are not arrested by the end of 2005, she "will come out with all negative elements why Karadzic and Mladic were not arrested in the beginning," Reuters reported. The news agency suggested that her remarks "hint heavily" at unnamed "NATO powers," who ran the international peacekeeping mission in Bosnia-Herzegovina from the end of the 1992-95 conflict until late 2004. Del Ponte added that she "expects this year to be the year of the arrest and transfer [to The Hague] of these two accused. The world is commemorating Auschwitz, but Sarajevo can commemorate nothing at all if we don't have our fugitives arrested." There has been much speculation over the years as to why NATO failed to arrest the two men, but no conclusive evidence has appeared in the regional or international media. Most speculation has centered on the possibility of deals between one or more NATO states and the fugitives, or the alleged reluctance of the Atlantic alliance to provoke Serbian anger, or some alleged pro-Serbian sympathies at high levels in the U.K. or French militaries. PM
...AS CROATIAN LEADERS CALL FOR STEPPED-UP HUNT FOR FUGITIVE EX-GENERAL
In a rare joint statement, Croatian President Stipe Mesic and Prime Minister Ivo Sanader called on police and intelligence services on 1 February to intensify the hunt for fugitive war crimes indictee and former General Ante Gotovina, Reuters reported. "We request that all relevant institutions...step up activities in cooperation with other countries to track down and arrest General Gotovina and hand him over to the Hague tribunal," the two leaders said. The failure to catch Gotovina is threatening to hold up talks between Zagreb and Brussels on Croatia's joining the EU, which is the government's chief foreign-policy priority (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 1 February 2005). The Croatian authorities maintain that Gotovina is not in their country, which many EU and tribunal officials dispute. Gotovina also holds a French passport dating from his earlier years in the Foreign Legion. PM
UN CHIEF SAYS RESOLVING KOSOVA'S STATUS WILL HELP THE REGION
Soren Jessen-Petersen, who heads the UN's civilian administration in Kosova (UNMIK), said in Prishtina on 1 February after returning from New York that resolving the final status of Kosova will help stabilize neighboring Serbia and Montenegro, Prishtina dailies reported (see "RFE/RL Balkan Report," 17 December 2004 and 7 January 2005). In other news, Kosova's Minister of Returns Slavisa Petkovic distributed 40 tons of oil to 80 Serbian families in Batusha. When rival Serbian politician Oliver Ivanovic accused him of staging a publicity stunt, Petkovic replied that he does not "comment on statements made by unserious people" (see "Jobs, Responsibility, And Walks -- Kosova's Serbian Cabinet Member Challenges His Critics," rferl.org, 1 February 2005). Finally, former war crimes trial witness Sadik Musa, who was shot in Peja recently, died at the U.S. base at Camp Bondsteel of his wounds (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 1 February 2005). The shooting incident is still under investigation. PM
GREECE REPORTEDLY EXTRADITES KEY MURDER SUSPECT TO SERBIA
The private Beta news agency reported that Greek police handed over Dejan Milenkovic (aka Bugsy) to their Serbian counterparts at Athens airport on 2 February. Serbian Interpol officials reportedly accompanied him on a flight to Belgrade, where he is a key suspect in the March 2003 assassination of Prime Minister Zoran Djindjic (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 19 July and 24 August 2004, and "RFE/RL Balkan Report," 28 March and 9 May 2003). PM
MACEDONIAN PRESIDENT ON WORKING VISIT TO BELGRADE
Macedonian President Branko Crvenkovski paid a working visit to Belgrade on 1 February, where he met with high-ranking officials from Serbia and Montenegro, MIA news agency reported. Crvenkovski said after talks with Svetozar Marovic, who is the president of Serbia and Montenegro, that Macedonia supports the international community's position that certain standards must be met before the future status of Kosova can be determined. Marovic argued that Kosova is not only an issue between Belgrade and Prishtina, but for the whole region. In his meeting with Serbian President Boris Tadic, Crvenkovski discussed the issue of border demarcation between Kosova and Macedonia. While Tadic argued that the border demarcation must be carried out by Belgrade, Skopje, and UNMIK representatives, Crvenkovski stressed that local -- that is Kosovar -- representatives should also be involved (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 10 September and 9 December 2004 and 13 January 2005). UB
EU BLACKLISTS MACEDONIAN LEGISLATOR
The EU has blacklisted Ruzhdi Matoshi, who is a lawmaker of the opposition Democratic Party of the Albanians (PDSH), along with 20 other Macedonian citizens, Macedonian media reported on 1 and 2 February. Most of the blacklisted people allegedly "undermined peace and security" in Macedonia. Apart from Matoshi, the list includes leading members of the shadowy Albanian National Army (AKSH), as well as a former commander of a special ethnic Macedonian police unit known as the Lions. The blacklist also includes the driver and bodyguard of Ali Ahmeti, who heads the governing ethnic Albanian Democratic Union for Integration (BDI). Matoshi said he is the victim of an intrigue and will protest the EU's decision, the private A1 TV reported. There is some speculation in the media that Matoshi was blacklisted because of alleged connections with the leaders of an illegal armed Albanian group that recently made its presence felt in the village of Kondovo for several weeks (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 15, 16, and 20 December 2004 and 12 January 2005, and "RFE/RL Balkan Report," 10 December 2004 and 14 January 2005). UB
ALBANIA FACES UPHILL FIGHT FOR EU MEMBERSHIP
Jean Asselborn, who is the foreign minister of Luxembourg, which currently holds the rotating EU presidency, said in Brussels on 1 February that the "integration of Albania into the European Union remains one of its priorities. The prospect is quite clear," Reuters reported. Asselborn added, however, that Albania must hold free and fair parliamentary elections in June and do more to combat crime and corruption before it can conclude its Stabilization and Association Agreement, which Croatia and Macedonia have already done. Bosnia-Herzegovina is expected to start talks later in 2005 leading to such an agreement, but Serbia and Montenegro has yet to even begin the process (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 30 December 2004, and 25 January 2005). Also in Brussels, Albanian Foreign Minister Kastriot Islami said: "We are aware of the challenge that we have to face. We are working, beside the election, on fighting against corruption, fighting against organized crime and trafficking. We know that there is a lot of work ahead of us." PM
SLOVENIAN PARLIAMENT APPROVES EU CONSTITUTION
The Slovenian parliament voted overwhelmingly on 1 February to approve the proposed EU constitution, becoming the third country after Lithuania and Hungary to ratify the document, regional and international media reported. Center-right Prime Minister Janez Jansa called the document a "good compromise." The constitution's backers say it is necessary if the EU, which grew to 25 members in May, is to function effectively. The constitution's detractors argue that it will set up a less-than-transparent super-state at the expense of individual member countries and their elected institutions. PM
BOSNIA TO SEEK RELEASE OF GUANTANAMO DETAINEES
Bosnia-Herzegovina's Prime Minister Adnan Terzic said in Sarajevo on 1 February that he hopes to begin talks with unnamed U.S. authorities soon on the extradition of six Bosnian citizens of Arab origin being held at the U.S. base in Guantanamo Bay, Cuba, on suspicion of links to Al-Qaeda, dpa reported (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 1 February 2005). The Bosnian authorities plan to release four of the detainees, while the other two are wanted in Bosnia on minor charges. PM
ROMANIAN CONSTITUTIONAL COURT BLOCKS POSSIBLE RECALL OF LOWER HOUSE SPEAKER
The Constitutional Court ruled on 1 February that parts of Article 25 of the lower house's regulations are unconstitutional, the dailies "Adevarul" and "Jurnalul national" reported the next day. The provisions deemed by the court to be unconstitutional enable the chamber to recall the speaker if one-third of the deputies propose a recall vote and a majority votes in favor of it. The court's opinion, which is binding, was delivered at the request of lower-house speaker Adrian Nastase, after President Traian Basescu and the main coalition partner, the Justice and Truth alliance, called for Nastase's removal. The court left in place a stipulation providing that the speaker may be removed at the initiative of the party that nominated him or her. Justice and Truth alliance members said in reaction that they would still attempt to recall Nastase on grounds that his 20 December election was not by secret ballot (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 21 December 2004, and 6, 7, 10, 18, and 20 January 2005). MS
ROMANIAN JUSTICE MINISTER ASKS CNSAS TO CHECK JUDGES' COMMUNIST-ERA SECURITATE COLLABORATION
Monica Macovei on 31 January said in an interview with Realitatea TV that she wants the National College for the Study of the Securitate Archives (CNSAS) to check the background of all judges and senior magistrates to determine whether they collaborated with the communist secret police, AP reported the next day. Macovei said the move is necessary for "transparency in the justice system." Concern that collaborators with the Securitate still hold important positions in the justice system reemerged recently after prosecutor Ilie Piciorus was elected in January as secretary-general of the Superior Magistrates' Council, which oversees judicial appointments and sanctions. Under communism, Piciorus prosecuted dissident Gheorghe Ursu, who was killed in prison in 1985 while under investigation. Ursu was charged by Piciorus with illegally holding foreign currency and was beaten to death by a fellow inmate at what his family says were the orders of the Securitate (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 15 July 2003). MS
MOLDOVAN GOVERNMENT SAYS TRANSDNIESTER MOBILIZING MILITARY...
In an official statement, the Moldovan government said on 1 February it is "concerned" in the face of actions of the separatist authorities in Tiraspol aimed at creating "new tension in the Transdniester region." The statement said that as of mid-January, Transdniester has been mobilizing military forces and concentrating those forces and military equipment in the security zone that divides the two conflicting sides. It also said that Transdniester has launched a "propaganda campaign aimed at intimidating the region's public by spreading rumors about an alleged military threat stemming from Moldova and its people." The statement said Transdniester has also increased its military forces in the vicinity of those Moldovan villages that are on the eastern side of the Dniester River. The Moldovan government accused Tiraspol of generating "absurd hysteria" aimed at preparing the ground for "a methodical and well-planned, large-scale military destabilization on the banks of the Dniester River." MS
...DENIES AGGRESSIVE INTENTIONS
The Moldovan government's official statement of 1 February also said that Moldova "has been and continues to be" faithful to the principles of "settling the conflict by political means alone." "We shall never be dragged into a military confrontation with our fellow citizens from Transdniester. Neither the [Moldovan] Army, nor police threaten or will in any way threaten the region's population," the communique said. The statement said the government wants to draw attention to the fact that these military conflict plans "coincide with the electoral process under way in Moldova, with the numerous visits paid to Moldova by delegations from the Council of Europe and Russia" and intensified contacts with Ukraine, Romania, and EU member states aimed at bringing about a resolution of the Transdniester conflict. It also said that the recent "radical transformations" in Ukraine and the intensified cooperation between Ukrainian and Moldovan customs officials are "creating panic" in Tiraspol, which is "grasping any means" to "maintain [its] dominance over the region's population," to influence the electoral process in Moldova, and to stop "Moldova's imminent integration [into the EU]." MS
MOLDOVAN OPPOSITION PARTY COMPLAINS OF POLICE ABUSE, HARASSMENT OF SUPPORTERS
The Popular Party Christian Democratic (PPCD) said on 1 February police tore down PPCD campaign signs in Ungheni, ahead of a 27 January visit to the town by President Vladimir Voronin, Flux reported. The PPCD remarked that "in all likelihood, Voronin was not expected to see [in Ungheni] other election signs than those of the Communists." The PPCD also said that party youth-organization head Daniel Dohot and several members of the youth organization's Chisinau leadership were detained by police on 28 January in a student hostel on grounds that distributing electoral leaflets in the hostel is prohibited by law. It also said that on 31 January, the local police chief in the town of Telenesti tore down the national flag from the building of the local PPCD headquarters. MS
ACCORD ON CASPIAN LEGAL STATUS STILL HOSTAGE TO RIVAL CLAIMS
More than 13 years after the collapse of the Soviet Union, the five countries bordering the Caspian Sea have still not reached agreement on dividing the sea and its resources among themselves. In July 2001, Iran sent gunboats into Azerbaijani territorial waters to intimidate a survey vessel chartered by an international oil company. More recently, Turkmenistan has engaged in talks with a Canadian oil company on developing an oil field to which Azerbaijan lays claim, and has suggested, not for the first time, referring the dispute over that field's ownership to the UN.
The demise of the Soviet Union in late 1991 increased the number of independent states bordering the Caspian Sea from two (the USSR and Iran) to five (Azerbaijan, Kazakhstan, Russia, Turkmenistan, and Iran) and thus called into question the international treaties signed between the Russian Soviet Federated Socialist Republic and Iran in 1921, and the USSR and Iran in 1940, on the use of the sea. Despite numerous rounds of talks over the past 13 years, the five littoral states have still not reached agreement on a draft convention defining the legal status of the sea and how its resources should be divided.
Some of the five have, however, forged bilateral agreements on the demarcation of their respective sectors of the sea. Russia signed such an agreement with Kazakhstan in July 1998, and Azerbaijan did likewise with Kazakhstan in November 2001 and with Russia in September 2002. And those three countries then signed a trilateral agreement in May 2003 fixing the point at which their respective sectors meet. Those agreements were based on the principle of dividing the sea bed into national sectors, while allowing all five states the use of the waters and surface of the sea, an approach that theoretically enables each country to proceed with the extraction of hydrocarbon resources beneath the sea bed.
Azerbaijan has not, however, concluded comparable bilateral agreements with either Iran or Turkmenistan. While Azerbaijan, Kazakhstan, and Russia advocate dividing the sea along the so-called median line, Iran rejects this approach, arguing that the sea should be divide equitably among the five littoral states to give each an approximately 20 percent share. The proposed median line division would give Iran the smallest share, some 14 percent. Turkmenistan, for its part, disagrees with Azerbaijan's criteria for determining the median line.
The failure of Baku and Ashgabat to agree on the demarcation of the respective sectors of the Caspian has effectively prevented exploitation of the oil field known in Turkmen as Serdar and in Azeri as Kyapaz. That field is believed to contain between 150 million-200 million tons of oil. In July 1997, Baku signed a memorandum of intent with Rosneft and LUKoil to develop Serdar/Kyapaz, but the two Russian companies went back on that agreement within weeks after Ashgabat protested. Then in September 1997, Turkmenistan launched a rival tender for Serdar/Kyapaz, which then Azerbaijani President Heidar Aliyev denounced as illegal. Mobil was named the winner of that tender in June 1998, but assured Baku that it would not begin work on the field until the ownership dispute was resolved.
Meanwhile, in late 1997 Turkmen President Saparmurat Niyazov appealed to the UN to intervene, and then in the summer of 1999 the U.S government presented to both sides a plan for resolving the disagreement, which apparently went nowhere. In March 2000, then Turkmen Foreign Minister Boris Shikhmuradov announced that Ashgabat had invited unnamed Iranian companies to participate in the development of Serdar/Kyapaz; Shikhmuradov's Azerbaijani counterpart Vilayat Guliev countered that any such development cannot begin before final agreement is reached on the status of the Caspian. And in April 2002, at the long-awaited Caspian summit, which failed to resolve any outstanding issues, Niyazov again proposed to his Azerbaijani counterpart Heidar Aliyev that they should jointly ask international organizations to rule on whether development of Serdar/Kyapaz is permissible, a suggestion that Aliyev declined.
Since then, Azerbaijan and Turkmenistan have held two rounds of bilateral talks at deputy foreign minister level, in May 2001 and January 2004, in an attempt to reach agreement on the demarcation of the seabed between their respective sectors. Officials from both countries characterized the 2004 talks as having taken place in "an atmosphere of friendship and mutual understanding," adding that there "was a significant rapprochement of positions between the two sides on the principle of dividing the Caspian seabed," Turan reported on 31 January 2004. But despite that reported progress, a third round of talks scheduled for December 2004 was postponed indefinitely, and in January 2005 Niyazov held talks with a Canadian oil company interested in developing Serdar/Kyapaz, after which the Turkmen Foreign Ministry resurrected Niyazov's earlier proposal to refer the ownership issue to international arbitration, possibly to the UN. Azerbaijan rejected that proposal as inappropriate.
But Azerbaijan's deputy foreign minister responsible for Caspian affairs, Khalaf Khalafov, nonetheless traveled to Ashgabat last week to attend the 16th meeting of the Caspian working group, and met separately on the sidelines of that session with senior Turkmen officials to discuss the delimitation of the two countries' sectors of the sea, ITAR-TASS reported. No details of those talks were divulged, however.
Meanwhile, it is unclear precisely how much progress, if any, was made in Ashgabat in the multilateral talks on the draft convention defining the legal status of the sea. In October 2004, Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov told Interfax that eight of the 33 provisions of the draft convention on the legal status of the Caspian Sea have been agreed upon and another eight provisions and preambles have been partially agreed upon. And the second Caspian summit, tentatively scheduled first for December 2004 and then for January 2005 in Tehran, has again been postponed. Iranian Ambassador to Moscow Gholam Reza Shafei told journalists on 1 February that the postponement was due to the position adopted by one of the leaders of the littoral states, but failed to say which one, Interfax reported. He said the summit will now not take place before the Iranian presidential election scheduled for 17 June.
INTERNATIONAL AGENCY URGES U.S. NOT TO ERADICATE AFGHAN OPIUM POPPIES
In a 31 January letter addressed to U.S. Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice, 31 international and Afghan civil society organizations urged the United States to reconsider its opium-poppy-eradication programs for Afghanistan, according to a CARE press release (http://www.care.org). The letter urges the United States not to carry out aerial eradication of poppy fields and not to overemphasize destroying the crops. Rather, the signatories recommend that the United States should help identify major drug traffickers and fund Afghan law-enforcement agencies in order to arrest them. "An effective counternarcotics strategy must contribute to the stabilization of Afghanistan and help authorities build a legitimate state and economy," CARE's country director in Afghanistan, Paul Baker, explained. After eyewitnesses reportedly saw U.S. aircraft spraying defoliants on poppy fields in Nangarhar Province in early November, the Afghan government said that it would not allow any country to carry out aerial spraying of poppy fields with herbicides. At the time, the United States denied that it had carried out the spraying (see "RFE/RL Afghanistan Report," 8 December 2004). AT
KABUL AND ISLAMABAD HOPE TO BOOST TRADE
In a meeting on 1 February in Islamabad with Afghan Commerce Minister Hedayat Amin Arsala, Pakistani Prime Minister Shaukat Aziz said that his government is taking steps to enhance trade between the two countries, Associated Press of Pakistan reported. "We are increasing the trading points up to ten[fold] at the border area that would be equipped with modern equipment to expedite clearance of goods," Aziz said. According to Aziz, Pakistan is also planning to provide preferential, "low-cost and hassle-free" access to landlocked Afghanistan, and Pakistani investors will be willing to invest in Afghanistan once the required infrastructure and security are in place. Arsala said that Afghanistan is considering establishing an industrial park to boost investments and industry. AT
PAKISTAN REPORTEDLY ARRESTS NOTABLE NEO-TALIBAN FIGURE
Authorities in Pakistan's Baluchistan Province have arrested Agha Ahmad in Chaman, a city on the Afghan-Pakistani border, the Rawalpindi daily "Nawa-i-Waqt" reported on 31 January. The report only mentioned that Agha Ahmad is an "important Taliban leader" without providing further details. According to Pakistani police sources, Agha Ahmad will be extradited to Afghanistan if it is determined that he has not been involved in any major activity against Pakistan. Pakistan has also detained and is interrogating three former Taliban officials identified as former Interior Minister Mullah Abdul Razaq, former Helmand Province Deputy Governor Mullah Khoshdel, and former Kabul police chief Mullah Ebrahim. AT
INTERIOR MINISTRY SHUTS DOWN BUSINESSES FOR IMMORALITY
Following raids in two Kabul neighborhoods, the Afghan Interior Ministry on 31 January ordered three Chinese-owned guest houses to close down, Pajhwak News Agency reported on 1 February. The raids were the first by a task force established in a drive against establishments serving alcohol (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 1 February 2005). Abdul Jabar Sabit, a legal adviser to the Interior Ministry, told Pajhwak that the three establishments were ordered to shut down because of "immoral practices." AT
IRAN PLEDGES CONTINUED SUPPORT FOR ANTI-ISRAELI ORGANIZATIONS
Expediency Council Chairman Ayatollah Ali-Akbar Hashemi-Rafsanjani told visiting Lebanese Defense Minister Abd al-Rahim Murad on 1 February that Iran will continue to support organizations fighting Israel, IRNA reported. He said, "The Islamic Republic of Iran will continue spiritual support for the Lebanese and Palestinian nations [in their campaign] to restore their rights and free their occupied lands." The visiting Lebanese official expressed gratitude for Iran's support and condemned what he called international silence on Israeli crimes in contrast with the hue and cry at "the least resistance of the Lebanese nation." Murad also met with Islamic Revolution Guards Corps commander Major General Yahya Rahim-Safavi on 1 February, IRNA reported. Rahim-Safavi said, "Iran's support for the Lebanese people and government against expansionist policies pursued by Tel Aviv is strategic." The two countries' officials, he added, emphasize "the need to keep up the resistance against Israeli occupiers and to safeguard unity and solidarity among the Iranians, Syrians, and Lebanese nations, [and this provides] proper grounds for further expansion of our bilateral ties." BS
POLITICS NOT BEHIND CHANGE IN IRAN-TURKEY PHONE CONTRACT
Parliamentary speaker Gholam Ali Haddad-Adel said on 1 February that the legislature's decision to reduce a Turkish firm's holdings in a mobile-phone operating contract is not politically motivated, IRNA reported. On 30 January, a parliamentary committee approved a decision to reduce from 70 percent to 49 percent the stake of Turkcell's Iranian affiliate Irancell (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 1 February 2005). The state will take a controlling 51 percent stake. Speaking at a ceremony to launch 5,469 telecommunications and postal projects, Haddad-Adel said the legislature must be sensitive about such big deals and added that he tried to prevent this issue from causing political tensions between the executive and legislative branches. BS
IRAN STILL HOLDING BRITISH BOATS
Brigadier General Mirfeisal Baqerzadeh, head of the Foundation for the Safeguard and Promotion of the Holy Defense Values, said on 31 January that three vessels seized from the U.K. Navy in June may be placed in a museum, Fars News Agency reported. He explained that anything seized during a conflict or during military operations must be submitted to the war museum. He added, "The boats left behind by the intruding British troops should not be returned to them because they are considered as war booty in accordance with the law." Tehran seized three British patrol boats and held their crews for several days after they were alleged to have entered Iranian territorial waters along the Shatt Al-Arab. After the crew's release, London said the vessels were forcibly escorted into Iranian waters before being seized (see "RFE/RL Iran Report," 28 June and 5 July 2004). First Sea Lord and Chief of the Naval Staff Admiral Sir Alan West said in the 24 January "Al-Sharq al-Awsat" that the United Kingdom and Iran are not at war and, "We want the boats back." Islamic Revolution Guards Corps spokesman Masud Jazayeri said on 26 January in response that return of the boats depends on Britain's fulfillment of unspecified promises, Mehr News Agency reported. BS
TEHRAN ANTICIPATES END OF IRAQI OCCUPATION
Foreign Minister Kamal Kharrazi said in a 31 January message to his Iraqi counterpart Hoshyar al-Zebari that the Iraqi elections the day before are an important step towards creating a democracy, ISNA reported. Kharrazi congratulated the Iraqi people and government and expressed hope the elections will bring the withdrawal of foreign forces, regional security and stability, and further bilateral cooperation. Government spokesman Abdullah Ramezanzadeh said Iran respects Iraqis' decision and will cooperate with whatever government they choose, Islamic Republic of Iran News Network reported. He added, "We hope that these elections will pave the way for ending the occupation and bring about full security in Iraq as a result." An Iranian state radio commentary on 1 February struck a different tone, saying that Washington plans to militarily dominate Iraq. "They, in fact, want to take Iraq's political and economic affairs into their hands under the name of training Iraqi forces," it added. Occupation forces want to stay in Iraq and "intend to keep away from urban and rural areas," though the commentary did not explain where this would be. BS
HIGH IRAQI EXPATRIATE TURNOUT REPORTED IN IRAN
Almost 93 percent of the people in Iran who registered to vote in the Iraqi elections actually did so, according to the International Organization for Migration's Out-of-Country-Voting Program website (http://www.iraqocv.org). 56,568 people voted at polling centers in Tehran, Qom, Urumiyeh, Kermanshah, Ahvaz, and Mashhad. Expatriates could vote on 28, 29, or 30 January. The highest total turnout was in Iran, but proportionately there were higher turnouts in Turkey, Germany, Canada, Denmark, France, the Netherlands, Sweden, the United States, and Australia. BS
IRANIAN AYATOLLAH DID NOT VOTE IN IRAQ
Expediency Council Chairman Ayatollah Hashemi-Rafsanjani said on 31 January in Tehran, "The fact that the people of Iraq have gone to the ballot boxes to decide their own fate is the result of efforts by the Iraqi clergy and sources of emulation, led by Ayatollah [Ali] al-Sistani," Islamic Republic of Iran News Network reported. The most important postelection issue, he added, is the prevention of vote rigging. Ayatollah al-Sistani said on 31 January that he did not vote in the previous day's elections in Iraq because he is Iranian by birth and not legally entitled to vote in Iraq, "Iraq For All News" website (http://www.iraq4allnews.dk) reported. Al-Sistani thanked the Iraqi people for voting. BS
AYATOLLAH'S REPRESENTATIVE SAYS IRAQI TRANSITIONAL LAW 'UNFAIR'
Ahmad al-Safi, a representative of Shi'ite Grand Ayatollah Ali al-Sistani, told Al-Diyar television on 1 February that many people regard the State Administration Law as "unfair," adding it may not be binding on Iraqis. The law was issued by the Coalition Provisional Authority to serve as the guide for the administration of Iraq through the transitional period, which is slated to end on 31 December (http://www.rferl.org/specials/iraqcrisis/iraq-interim-constitution.pdf). Al-Safi said the law "does not have any legitimacy, especially since it was not adopted by the UN Security Council." "Complaints about the law were numerous and they still exist," al-Safi added. "I am not giving a final opinion here, but I say that perhaps the transitional Iraqi State Administration Law is not binding on us. We still do not see a reason for us to abide by this law. Yes, the law managed the state until now, until 30 January. But after that, the law is unable to address what might happen in the future." He also rejected the law because of its stipulation that the new constitution can be rejected if a majority in three governorates vote against it, saying, "This is not practical." KR
NORTHERN IRAQI POLICE CHIEF ORDERS INSURGENTS TO HAND IN WEAPONS
Mosul police chief Brigadier Muhammad Ahmad al-Juburi has reportedly given insurgents in the northern Iraqi city two weeks to hand over their weapons or face a police crackdown, Reuters reported on 2 February. "Hand over your weapons or we will come and get you," al-Juburi said in a message broadcast on a local television channel. Al-Juburi, who was appointed in January, faces the challenge of bringing order to Iraq's third-largest city, which appears to have become a base for insurgents in recent months (see "RFE/RL Iraq Report," 5 November 2004). Thousands of police abandoned their posts in the city in November; that same month the police chief was fired and later arrested for allowing insurgents to seize control of police stations in Mosul (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 23 November 2004). KR
IRAQI SUNNI OPPOSITIONISTS TAKE QUIETER TONE IN INTERVIEWS
A Sunni imam and member of the Muslim Scholars Association told Al-Arabiyah television in a 1 February interview that the association "respects the viewpoints of the Iraqis whether they boycotted or took part in the elections." Sheikh Abd al-Ghafur al-Samarra'i said that interim President Ghazi Ajil al-Yawir's 1 February call for a national dialogue on the drafting of the constitution that includes all groups, including those that boycotted the elections, was a good step. Asked how the association will respond, al-Samarra'i said: "We are studying the issue. We welcome any action which seeks and encourages Iraq's unity and liberating Iraq through any means on which the Iraqis agree," adding that al-Yawir has credibility among Muslim Scholars Association members, who respect the interim president. Meanwhile, Muslim Scholars Association spokesman Bashar al-Faydi said that the association respects the groups that took part in the elections, adding that the association will respect the next government and will consider it a caretaker government because it represents part of the Iraqi people, Al-Sharqiyah television reported. KR
IRAQI ASSYRIANS, TURKOMANS COMPLAIN ABOUT INABILITY TO VOTE
Assyrian Democratic Movement representative Ishaq Ishaq told London's "Al-Hayat" that some 30,000 Christians were not able to vote in the 30 January elections in Ninawah Governorate because ballot boxes were not delivered to their towns and villages, the daily reported on 1 February. In all, about 70,000 voters including Arabs, Kurds, Shabaks, Yezidis, and Christians were not able to vote, he said. Meanwhile, the Iraqi Turkoman Front has complained that about 1,000 Turkomans were unable to vote in Kirkuk due to a shortage of ballots and ballot boxes, "Al-Hayat" reported. Dhannun al-Qassab, a Turkoman Front leader, accused Kurdish policemen in Kirkuk of trying to create problems with Turkoman voters on election day as they made their way to the polls. He claimed that the police tried to arrest Turkomans in order to prevent them from casting their ballots. Turkomans and Kurds have been vying for power in the oil-rich city (see "RFE/RL Iraq Report," 28 January 2005). KR
OIL PIPELINE ATTACKED IN CENTRAL IRAQ
An oil pipeline connecting the Bayji oil installation with the Al-Dawrah Refinery in Baghdad was attacked in Samarra on 2 February, Al-Sharqiyah television reported. The pipeline has come under numerous attacks in recent months and has contributed to the fuel and electricity crisis plaguing Iraq. Oil Minister Thamir al-Ghadban told "Al-Hayat" that production capacity this year will depend on the government's ability to thwart insurgent attacks on the oil industry. The minister said that his ministry's investment budget for the year is around $3 billion, which will be allocated "for rehabilitating the Iraqi oil sector and raising the production capacity to 2.2 million barrels per day in the south and 700,000 barrels per day in the north -- a total capacity of 2.9 million barrels per day." He added that this budget does not include another $2.4 billion allocated in the interim government's budget for the import of oil products. Al-Ghadban said that five oil wells and 246 oil installations, including 51 export pipelines, were blown up in 2004, "Al-Hayat" reported. That number was a marked increase from the 77 reported attacks in 2003. The attacks cost the Iraqi treasury $6 billion in 2004, he said. KR