Thursday, October 02, 2014


Newsline

Newsline - December 23, 2002

FOREIGN MINISTER SUMS UP FOREIGN-POLICY ACHIEVEMENTS OF 2002...
In an appearance on an ORT talk show on 22 December, Foreign Minister Igor Ivanov said that in 2002 Russia "seriously advanced" its relations with the United States, the European Union, and the countries of the Asia-Pacific region. Ivanov named the creation of the Russia-NATO Council in May as "the most important event of the year," saying that it gives Russia the opportunity to influence decision making within the alliance. Ivanov rejected assertions that Russia has made too many concessions to the United States and has adopted the role of Washington's junior partner. He said that such steps as closing down Russian military basis at Lourdes, Cuba, and Cam Ranh Bay, Vietnam; Russia's consent to a U.S. military presence in Central Asia; and the Kremlin's softening attitude toward NATO expansion were all in line with Russia's national interests. "Sometimes, Russia's national interests not only do not contradict, but even coincide with, America's foreign-policy objectives," Ivanov said. He added that Russia has "objective interests" in close relations with China and India, as well as with North and South Korea, Malaysia, and Japan. However, he said that neither China nor India is seeking a military alliance with Russia. VY

...AND ITS FAILURES...
In the same appearance, Foreign Minister Igor Ivanov conceded that the Kremlin has had less success in its dealings with the countries of the former Soviet Union. "The development of political dialogue within the CIS in 2002 has not been satisfactory from Russia's side," he said. VY

...AND EXPERTS OFFER THEIR OWN VIEWS
Appearing on the same ORT program on 22 December, Federation Council Foreign Affairs Committee Chairman Mikhail Margelov said that for the first time in many decades Russia has enhanced its national security without sacrificing the lives of its soldiers. "I am absolutely certain that if the United States had not come into Afghanistan, then we would have had to do so ourselves in order to defend our security from the Taliban," Margelov said. "This is like judo or the other Oriental martial arts, in which you use the energy of your adversary to achieve your own goals. [President Vladimir] Putin is a great master of this art." Political analyst Andranik Migranyan said Russia halted its campaign against NATO expansion because its position was too weak to make any reprisal threats credible. First Deputy Chief of the General Staff Colonel General Yurii Baluevskii said a military threat to Russia from NATO expansion "does exist," but Moscow hopes to minimize it by asking the Baltic States to join the Treaty on Conventional Forces in Europe. Baluevskii also warned that Russia should not alter its policies regarding China or antagonize that country. Otherwise, Russia could face a serious threat from that direction. "The best policy toward China is to have it as a friend, neighbor, and partner, but never as an enemy," he said. VY

FOREIGN MINISTER NIXES RUSSIAN ROLE IN MILITARY ACTION AGAINST HUSSEIN...
In an appearance on ORT on 22 December, Foreign Minister Igor Ivanov said that Russia "see no grounds to join a military coalition against Iraq," although he said that Moscow and Washington share the goal of eliminating Iraq's weapons of mass destruction. All other goals, he said, are beyond the scope of United Nations resolutions on Iraq and are outside of Russia's interests. VY

...AS IRAQ REVERSES ITS AFFRONT TO RUSSIA
Responding to a question during the same broadcast concerning Iraq's cancellation of a contract with LUKoil to develop the West Qurna oil field (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 13 December 2002), Foreign Minister Ivanov said the issue emerged a couple of years ago and is not directly linked with the present political situation. Meanwhile, the Iraqi Oil Ministry has published a statement in which its says the contract to develop the huge Qurna-2 oil deposit has been earmarked for Russia, "Kommersant-Daily" and other Russian news agencies reported on 23 December. The latest Iraqi statement asks the Russian government to give the contract to another Russian company. VY

GOVERNMENT RELEASES CHECHNYA CASUALTY FIGURES
From the beginning of the current military campaign in Chechnya on 1 October 1999 to 15 December 2002, 4,705 Russian servicemen were killed and 13,040 wounded, while 28 are still reported missing, Russian news agencies reported on 16 December, citing the Joint Group of Federal Forces in the North Caucasus. Of that number, 2,738 Defense Ministry troops were killed and 6,439 wounded, with the rest of the casualties belonging to the Interior Ministry and the Federal Security Service. According to official statistics, 14,113 Chechen fighters were killed during this period. VY

MILITARY INAUGURATES NEW EARLY-WARNING STATION IN BELARUS
General Anatolii Perminov, commander of the Russian Space Forces, announced that a new Volga strategic early-warning station near the Belarusian city of Baranovichi has begun operation, regnum.ru and other Russian news agencies reported on 21 December. The new station is designed to replace a similar facility in Estonia that the military is no longer able to use and will track missiles and objects in space at a range of several thousand kilometers. VY

ATOMIC ENERGY MINISTRY LOOKING FOR NEW PROJECTS IN IRAN
Atomic Energy Minister Aleksandr Rumyantsev arrived in Tehran for talks with Iranian Vice President Qolam Reza Aqazadeh-Khoi, who is responsible for the country's nuclear programs, iran.ru and other Russian news agencies reported on 23 December. Rumyantsev will discuss the technical and financial aspects of further nuclear-energy cooperation and will try to get Tehran's agreement to ship spent nuclear fuel to Russia for reprocessing. Rumyantsev will also inspect the Bushehr nuclear-power plant that is being constructed by Russian specialists, nns.ru reported on 22 December. In an interview with RIA-Novosti on 22 December, Rumyantsev said Iran plans to construct several new nuclear-power plants and to increase its nuclear-power capacity by six times. Rumyantsev said the Atomic Energy Ministry hopes to play an active role in developing these plans. VY

PART OF STALIN ARCHIVE DECLASSIFIED
Speaking on 21 December on the occasion of the anniversary of the birth of Soviet dictator Josef Stalin, Federal Archive Service head Vladimir Kozlov announced that President Putin has authorized the transfer of materials from Stalin's personal archive to the public domain, "Kommersant-Daily" and other Russian news agencies reported. The materials released include about 1,200 files, including some correspondence with former NKVD chief Nikolai Yezhov and close Stalin associates Vyacheslav Molotov and Lazar Kaganovich. The materials will be kept at the Russian State Sociopolitical History Archive. A further 300 files remain classified because they allegedly contain state or military secrets, Kozlov said. VY

PARTY OF POWER PROMISES TO WHIP UP AN IDEOLOGY
At a session of Unified Russia's Central Political Council on 21 December, Chairman of the party's High Council and Interior Minister Boris Gryzlov announced that the party's ideology will be adopted at the party's second congress in March 2003, RIA-Novosti reported. He added that the middle class, to which, he said, 75 percent of the country belongs, is not satisfied with its standard of living, and the main task of the party will be to activate the interest of this class and to seek its support. According to "Kommersant-Daily," the party currently has 270,442 members, but Gryzlov believes its ranks will swell to 2 million in 2003. JAC

PARTIES LOSE GROUND IN REGIONAL ELECTIONS...
Writing in "Vremya-MN" on 20 December, Aleksandr Khramchikhin of the Institute for Political and Military Analysis argues that all the federal-level parties -- including the Communist Party, Unified Russia, Union of Rightist Forces (SPS), and Yabloko -- lost ground in regional elections held during 2002. According to Khramchikhin, whenever Unified Russia tried to challenge an incumbent governor or mayor, such as in the Altai Republic or the city of Novgorod, it failed. Although the majority of regional legislatures have a Unified Russia faction, not all the deputies the party supported in the elections even bother to join. SPS lost its mayors in Kyzyl and Vladimir and held on to only 30 seats in seven regional legislatures. JAC

...AS COMMUNISTS IN FAR EAST FOLLOW KREMLIN RATHER THAN WORKERS' BIDDING
The Communist Party, meanwhile, has the problem of candidates or political figures who are nominally Communist but who support Kremlin policies, Khramchikhin writes. For example, in Kamchatka, both the governor and the mayor of the capital, Petropavlovsk-Kamchatskii, are members of the Communist Party. However, the mayor, who is facing a crippling labor strike by municipal workers and mounting calls for his resignation, has defended himself by explaining that he has only been following the orders of Moscow in his implementation of the reform of the city's communal-housing and public-utilities sectors (see "RFE/RL Russian Political Weekly," 18 December 2002). This is despite the fact that the Communist Party has been outspokenly critical of the reforms. RIA-Novosti reported on 20 December that Kamchatka Governor Mikhail Mashkovtsev sent a letter to President Putin asking him to grant the oblast administration the power of direct rule over the city's finances, because the city "remains under the threat of a large-scale crisis in the utilities and municipal-services sectors." JAC

SPS HEAD SLAMS YABLOKO'S LEADERSHIP
SPS leader Boris Nemtsov told reporters on 21 December that he has little hope for a coalition with Yabloko, lenta.ru reported. He said he believes the "probability of such a coalition is small," because "unfortunately, our partners are very ambitious, they think only of themselves, [and] they do not agree." "But this is their choice; this is their fate," he added. Nevertheless, Nemtsov expressed confidence that even if SPS does not join forces with Yabloko for the 2003 legislative elections, SPS will improve its results. Asked whether he would cede a leadership role in a coalition to Yabloko leader Grigorii Yavlinskii, Nemtsov said that while the problem of leadership is an important one, we "have suggested a procedure to resolve it." JAC

KREMLIN PROMISES TO VETO FOREIGN-CURRENCY BILL
State Duma deputies approved on 20 December in their second and third readings amendments to the law on the regulation of foreign currency that would allow individuals to take up to $10,000 out of Russia, RIA-Novosti reported. President Putin will veto the bill if it passes the Federation Council in its present form, Aleksandr Kotenkov, presidential envoy to the Duma, announced. The government had already agreed to allow export of up $3,000 rather than the current level of $1,500, but it is opposed to raising the ceiling to $10,000. Also on 20 December, deputies approved a bill authorizing the use of an electronic voting system in its third and final reading (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 6 November and 16 December 2002). JAC

STUDENTS DRAW ON PUTIN FOR INSPIRATION
The elementary school that President Putin attended as a boy celebrated Secret Services Day on 20 December by having its students draw pictures of its famous graduate and former intelligence officer, TVS reported on 20 December. According to the station, the school also celebrated Putin's birthday on 7 October with a special concert. For the current exhibition, one student drew Putin as a young man on his first date with a submarine featured in the background. JAC

NORTHERN GOVERNOR NO LONGER FACING CRIMINAL CHARGES
Deputy Prosecutor-General Vladimir Zubrin told journalists on 20 December that his office has suspended the criminal investigation opened previously against Nenets Autonomous Okrug Governor Vladimir Butov, regions.ru reported on 20 December, citing the Pskov Information Agency (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 28 June and 2 July 2002). According to Zubrin, Butov and his deputies and other members of his administration figured in at least seven criminal cases, and the closure of these cases does not mean there were no violations of the law by the okrug administration. One of the Butov's deputies will be charged with abuse of office, and investigations of two other officials are being turned over to the Leningrad Oblast tax police and the okrug's Interior Ministry. According to "Kommersant-Daily" on 21 December, three deputy governors are the subjects of criminal investigations by the Prosecutor-General's Office in the Northwest Federal District. JAC

VILLAGERS GO CELLULAR TO KEEP IN TOUCH WITH OUTSIDE WORLD
The 11 residents of a village in Novgorod Oblast have invested in a communal mobile phone so that they will be able to call for help in emergencies, RIA-Novosti reported on 20 December. Previously, the closest telephone was located in a neighboring village. The fees for the phone will be divided among the residents, most of whom are pensioners, and will be kept by the village medic. JAC

INDEPENDENT ARMENIAN TV STATION FACES CONTINUED CLOSURE
The director of the independent A1+ Armenian television, which has been shut down by the authorities since April, announced on 21 December that the station "has lost any chance" of resuming broadcasting before next year's presidential and parliamentary elections, RFE/RL's Yerevan bureau reported. Mesrop Movsesian made the announcement after encountering another delay in a court action that suspended the scheduled auction of television frequencies, which has been seen as the only real possibility of A1+'s return to the air. The tender was suspended by the Armenian Economic Arbitration Court after the private Noyan Tapan television station protested its exclusion by the National Commission on Television and Radio. RG

SMALL ARMENIAN OPPOSITION PARTY OFFERS SUPPORT FOR FORMER FOREIGN MINISTER'S PRESIDENTIAL BID
The leadership of the small National Democratic Party (AZhK) pledged on 21 December to support the candidacy of U.S.-born former Foreign Minister Raffi Hovannisian in the upcoming presidential election, according to RFE/RL's Yerevan bureau. The party agreed to endorse Hovannisian if the leading opposition parties fail to agree on a single candidate to challenge incumbent President Robert Kocharian in the 19 February contest. A serious challenge to Hovannisian's candidacy, however, centers on his official registration as a presidential candidate, which is contingent on a legal interpretation of his Armenian citizenship. It was formally granted only last year, although he has lived in the country for over a decade and has renounced his American citizenship. The Armenian Constitution stipulates that presidential candidates must have been Armenian nationals for the preceding 10 years. RG

ARMENIAN PRESIDENT WARNS SECURITY OFFICIALS TO REFRAIN FROM INTERFERING IN COMING ELECTIONS
President Kocharian issued a warning to officials of the country's National Security Ministry on 20 December advising them to refrain from any interference or involvement with the upcoming presidential and parliamentary elections, RFE/RL's Yerevan bureau reported. The warning stressed that the "elections must be free, fair, and transparent, and law-enforcement authorities' involvement in those elections must be ruled out." Both the warning and the recent presidential decree reorganizing the security ministries seek to overcome a legacy of overt interference by security personnel in past elections. The opposition continues to charge that the president will use the security forces to intimidate voters and point to his recent appointment of Defense Minister Serzh Sarkisian as campaign manager as evidence of this danger RG

AZERBAIJANI FOREIGN MINISTER REFUTES SUGGESTED TURKISH NORMALIZATION OF RELATIONS WITH ARMENIA
Foreign Minister Vilayet Quliev on 20 December issued a statement refuting recent reports suggesting that Turkey plans to normalize relations with Armenia (see " RFE/RL Newsline," 20 December 2002), according to ANS television. Quliev issued the statement following a meeting with Turkish Ambassador to Azerbaijan Unal Chevikoz, adding that he had been assured that Turkey will not extend diplomatic relations to Armenia or lift its blockade until the Nagorno-Karabakh conflict is settled. RG

RUSSIAN OIL COMPANY TO SELL STAKE IN CASPIAN OIL FIELD
Officials of Russia's LUKoil announced plans on 20 December to sell its 10 percent stake in an international consortium developing the offshore Azeri-Chirag-Guneshli oil fields in the Caspian Sea, according to AP and ITAR-TASS. LUKoil officials confirmed that the company intends to sell its stake in the project to Japan's INPEX Corporation for about $1.37 billion. The deal would effectively end any Russian role in the development of one of the largest oil projects in the Caspian, although its completion is conditional upon negotiations with the Azerbaijani State Oil Company SOCAR and British Petroleum-Amoco, which heads the consortium. RG

GEORGIAN ANTICORRUPTION OFFICIAL CRITICIZES INTERIOR MINISTER
During a 21 December meeting of the Georgian National Security Council, the head of the Anticorruption Bureau, Kakha Ugulava, criticized Interior Minister Koba Narchemashvili for failing to implement promised reforms in his ministry, according to the online Civil Georgia news agency. Rejecting the interior minister's defense that his ministry lacks sufficient funding to carry out the reforms, Ugulava charged that the security bodies remain the "most corrupt" governmental institutions in the country. RG

GEORGIAN PARLIAMENTARY SPEAKER BLAMES GOVERNMENT FOR IMPASSE
Georgian Parliamentary speaker Nino Burjanadze criticized the "executive government and pro-presidential factions" for hindering the parliament's consideration of the draft 2003 state budget, according to Civil Georgia and "The Georgian Times." The current parliamentary session, now at the last legislative day of the 2002 calendar, remains at an impasse since the 19 December walkout of five pro-government factions (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 20 December 2002). The subsequent lack of a quorum has prevented the session from considering the budget, as well as addressing some 30 other pieces of legislation. RG

RUSSIAN TROOPS BEGIN PARTIAL WITHDRAWAL FROM GEORGIA TO ARMENIA
As part of a partial withdrawal, a number of Russian troops began arriving at the Russian base in Armenia on 20 December, according to AP and "The Moscow Times." The Russian troops, assigned to a military communications battalion outside of Tbilisi, are to be reassigned to the Russian base at Gyumri, with the remainder of their unit to be completely transferred by the end of the month. The move follows an earlier redeployment in November 2000 when 76 Russian armored vehicles and other equipment were sent to Armenia after being withdrawn from Georgia. The Georgian government is seeking a complete Russian military withdrawal, although Russia is demanding another 10 years before it fully withdraws from its two remaining bases at Akhalkalaki and Batumi. RG

TWO GEORGIANS TIED TO FAILED PRESIDENTIAL ASSASSINATION ARRESTED
Officials of the Georgian Interior Ministry announced on 20 December that Russian security forces have detained two Georgian citizens in Chechnya on suspicion of involvement in the 1998 attempted assassination of Georgian President Eduard Shevardnadze, according to RIA-Novosti. The two Georgians were captured on 19 December and have long been sought by the Georgian authorities. They are suspected of carrying out the February 1998 car-bomb attack, in which a presidential bodyguard was killed. RG

DISSIDENT'S WIFE SAYS KAZAKH GOVERNMENT UNDERMINING HER CAMPAIGN FOR PARLIAMENT
In an interview with the Kazakh newspaper "Vremya" on 19 December, Karlygash Zhakiyanova accused the regional government in Pavlodar of staging dirty tricks to ensure her bid for a parliamentary seat fails. Zhakiyanova, who is the wife of imprisoned opposition leader Galymzhan Zhakiyanov, is a candidate for a vacant seat from northern Pavlodar Oblast that will be filled in a special election on 28 December. In the interview she complained that several local newspapers have published identical articles under different names defaming her, while permits for rally venues have been denied. She said government officials have threatened members of her campaign, with the result that 17 of them have stopped working for her. AA

KAZAKH NUCLEAR CHIEF DEFENDS PLANS TO ACCEPT WASTE
Speaking at a press conference in Almaty on 20 December, the president of Kazatomprom (Kazakh Atomic Industry), Mukhtar Zhakishev, slammed local environmental NGOs for agitating against the government's plan to import nuclear waste for storage on a commercial basis, Interfax-Kazakhstan reported. Kazakh NGOs recently convened a conference that condemned the idea (see "RFE/RL Central Asia Report," 17 October 2002). Zhakishev on 20 December accused the activists of being indifferent to the greater good of the country, adding that at least 40,000 Kazakh citizens are in favor of the plan. He went on to identify those supporters as Kazatomprom employees and their relatives. Zhakishev said Kazakhstan needs to accept radioactive waste from abroad as a way to earn money to clean up its own radioactive waste at home. Experts estimate it will cost $1.2 billion to bury the 237 million tons of nuclear waste currently in Kazakhstan. AA

KYRGYZ OPPOSITION TO CHALLENGE DECREE RESTRICTING FREEDOM OF MOVEMENT
The Movement for the Resignation of President Askar Akaev announced on 22 December that it will appeal to the Constitutional Court to overturn a 1999 presidential decree on strengthening the passport system, RFE/RL's Bishkek bureau reported. The opposition alleges the government used the decree to foil plans to hold the Third National Kurultai (citizens' gathering) on 16 November by detaining delegates trying to attend and forcing them to return home. The decree contradicts the spirit of the Kyrgyz Constitution by limiting freedom of movement, opposition leader Azimbek Beknazarov charged on 22 December. The Movement for the Resignation of President Askar Akaev said last week that it plans to reschedule the Third Kurultai for 17 March 2003, which is the anniversary of the fatal shootings in Aksy Raion (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 20 December 2002). AA

KYRGYZSTAN LAUNCHING NEW ROUND OF LARGE-SCALE PRIVATIZATION
A number of cash-strapped state enterprises are being put up for sale in Kyrgyzstan, starting with an electric-lamp factory in the southern town of Mayli-Say, which is being offered for $3.2 million but has so far attracted no bids, Kyrgyz-Press International news agency reported on 20 December. Other enterprises being offered for privatization, all of them in the south, include the Haydarken mercury factory, a cotton plant in Osh, and a semiconductor plant in Tash-Kumyr. Meanwhile a Russian metals company from Novosibirsk is reportedly negotiating for control of tin and tungsten mines along the southern shore of Lake Issyk-Kul. AA

TAJIK POLITICAL PARTY REGISTERED
Justice Minister Halifabobo Homidov has re-registered of the Social Democratic Party of Tajikistan (SDPT) and presented its registration certificate to the party's chairman, Rahmatullo Zoirov, on 20 December at a ceremony in Dushanbe, Tajik television reported. Last month the party sent an open letter to President Imomali Rakhmonov complaining that its efforts to re-register after its original permit was revoked in 1999 had been repeatedly thwarted and renewed its application (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 20 November 2002). Hamidov on 20 December said the SDPT's registration enriched the multiparty system and thus was a sign of growing democracy in the country. Zoirov, in turn, promised the party's activities will constructively serve the interests of the people of Tajikistan. AA

TAJIKISTAN THREATENED BY FAMINE THIS WINTER
In Dushanbe on 20 December, Deputy Agriculture Minister Siroge Murudov told journalists the country faces possible famine this winter despite an improved grain harvest over last year, AFP reported. Tajikistan produced 700,000 tons of grain in 2002, 50 percent more than 2001 when the country was struck by drought. But it will require 1 million more tons to stave off starvation this winter, according to Murudov. Meanwhile Asia Plus-Blitz reported on 20 December that the Asian Development Bank has approved a $35 million loan to Tajikistan for its agricultural sector. The money will be targeted mainly toward improving irrigation systems in the country's northern Khatlon and southern Soghd oblasts. AA

TAJIK GUARDS REPLACE RUSSIANS ALONG CHINESE BORDER
Russian border troops guarding Tajikistan's frontier with China handed over their responsibilities to Tajik soldiers of the Murghob border guard unit on 20 December, Interfax reported. There are a total of eight posts and a command center along the border, according to the Tajikistan's State Border Protection Committee Chairman Abrurrakhmon Azimov. Meanwhile, the Varorud news agency noted the same day that much of the border area in eastern Tajikistan's Murghob Raion has been ceded to China in an interstate agreement. The formal transfer of the sections in question will occur after the Chinese parliament ratifies the agreement, the news agency said. AA

TURKMENISTAN EXPELS UZBEK AMBASSADOR
A statement issued by the Turkmen Foreign Ministry in Ashgabat on 21 December declared Uzbekistan's Ambassador Abdurashid Kadyrov persona non grata "for committing acts incompatible with the status of a diplomat" and demanded that he leave the country within 24 hours, RFE/RL and turkmenistan.ru reported. The ministry said it made the decision to expel Kadyrov on the basis of evidence presented by Turkmenistan's Prosecutor-General Kurbanbibi Atajanova, who accused Kadyrov last week of colluding in the 25 November plot to assassinate President Saparmurat Niyazov (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 19 December 2002). Kadyrov left Turkmenistan on 22 December, ITAR-TASS reported. Meanwhile, the authorities denied that he had been expelled. Uzbek Deputy Foreign Minister Ilhom Nematov insisted on 22 December that the ambassador was being urgently recalled home for consultations, the news agency said. AA

POLICE ASK PUBLIC FOR INFORMATION ON PLOTTERS
Turkmen special services say they believe former Foreign Minister Boris Shikhmuradov and businessman Iklym Iklymov are still in Turkmenistan and have mounted a large manhunt, Interfax reported on 20 December. Shikhmuradov and Iklymov, who is the brother of the exiled former Deputy Agriculture Minister Sapar Iklymov, are accused of being the prime organizers of the assassination bid. On 21 December, Turkmen television called on citizens to assist in the manhunt, showing photographs of the two men and urging viewers to report any information about their whereabouts to the police. AA

MORE PRO-PRESIDENTIAL DEMONSTRATIONS STAGED ACROSS TURKMENISTAN
Rallies demanding punishment for President Niyazov's would-be assassins are continuing throughout the country, Turkmen television said on 20 December. In Ashgabat, presidential supporters were shown demanding by turns that the plotters "and their children and relatives" be damned, eliminated, exiled, jailed, or shot. Meanwhile at a rally in northern Dashoguz Province, a woman captioned as the mother of former Dashoguz Governor Yazgeldy Gundogdiev expressed remorse that her son is a criminal. Gundogdyev is one of the top officials arrested last week in connection with the assassination plot (see "RFE/RL Newsline, 19 December 2002"). AA

UZBEKISTAN DENIES REPORTS OF TROOP MOVEMENTS
Armored infantry units stationed in Uzbekistan's Bukhara, Khorezm, and Kashkadryo oblasts are being moved closer to the country's borders with Turkmenistan, the Turkmen opposition site watan.ru reported on 20 December. The website said the redeployments mirror troop movements on the Turkmen side, which is allegedly strengthening its borders near the northern town of Dashoguz. On 20 December, Uzbek Deputy Foreign Minister Ilhom Nematov refused to confirm or deny the report, saying he possesses no information on the matter, ITAR-TASS noted. But a source in the Uzbek Defense Ministry told Interfax the same day that it is not taking any emergency measures to strengthen the Uzbek-Turkmen border, although it did not rule out the possibility of intensified search activities at frontier and customs posts. AA

UZBEKISTAN TO BOOST WINTER ENERGY SUPPLIES TO TAJIKISTAN
A Tajik delegation led by Prime Minister Oqil Oqilov arrived in Tashkent on 20 December and secured a promise that Uzbekistan will increase deliveries of natural gas and electricity over the winter, Tajik television reported. Between now and 1 April, Uzbekistan agreed to supply more than 900 million cubic meters of gas and 790 million kilowatt-hours of electricity. Tajikistan is suffering one of the harshest winters in living memory, but there have been fears that Uzbekistan, as in past years, might cut off gas supplies and demand prepayment, Transitions Online noted on 19 December. Last week, Tajik President Rakhmonov slammed his subordinates for poorly preparing for the winter (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 18 December 2002). AA

BELARUSIAN SOCIAL DEMOCRATS POOL EFFORTS FOR LOCAL ELECTIONS
The Belarusian Social Democratic Party (Popular Assembly) has formed a joint headquarters for the March local elections with two other social democratic parties, the Belarusian Party of Labor and the Women's Party Hope, Belapan reported on 20 December. The offices, headed by Belarusian Social Democratic Party (National Assembly) leader Mikalay Statkevich, will organize joint local campaigns in support of candidates from a coalition of these three parties called the Social Democratic Union. The coalition slammed Belarusian authorities for refusing to endorse a CIS convention on free and fair election standards that was adopted at a recent CIS summit in Chisinau. "The move once again showed the world that the Belarusian government continues to ignore all principles relating to democratization of society and respect for the basic political rights of citizens," the coalition said in a statement. AM

BELARUSIAN WRITER FINDS REFUGE IN CZECH REPUBLIC
Vasil Bykau, a 78-year-old Belarusian dissident writer, has been granted permanent residence in the Czech Republic, Czech news agency CTK reported on 20 December. Bykau has lived in Finnish and German exile since 1998. "We are very glad that such a significant personality, persecuted by the current Belarusian regime, has found refuge in the Czech Republic," said Tomas Pojar of Czech NGO People in Need. "We believe this is an important symbol of the Czech Republic's relation toward the current Belarusian regime." Official relations between Prague and Minsk deteriorated after Czech authorities denied a visa to Belarusian President Alyaksandr Lukashenka, barring him from attending the NATO summit in Prague on 21-22 November (see "RFE/RL Newsline" 12, 13, 14, and 15 November 2002). AM

BELARUSIAN LAWMAKERS VISIT CONVICTED JOURNALISTS
Valery Fralou and Syarhey Skrabets, members of the Respublika caucus in the Chamber of Representatives, visited correctional labor colonies in Asipovichy (Mahilyou Oblast) and Zhlobin (Homel Oblast) on 21 December, Belapan reported. The lawmakers met there with two convicted journalists from the Hrodna-based weekly "Pahonya" -- Mikalay Markevich and Pavel Mazheyka, who are serving "restricted-freedom" sentences for slandering President Lukashenka. Although the journalists are being kept in normal conditions, the lawmakers said, their confinement is condemnable in its effect on the press and on freedom of expression. The representatives added that they will do everything in their power to secure the journalists' release, as well as that of Viktar Ivashkevich, the editor in chief of Minsk-based "Rabochy" newspaper who is serving a similar sentence in Baranavichy (Brest Oblast). AM

U.S. BLACKLISTS UKRAINE OVER MONEY LAUNDERING
The U.S. government on 20 December labeled Ukraine and the South Pacific's independent republic of Nauru as of "concern" with respect to money laundering under the USA PATRIOT Act of 2001, Reuters reported. "We are telling the world clearly that these jurisdictions are bad for business and that their financial controls cannot be trusted," U.S. Deputy Treasury Secretary Ken Dam said in a statement. "We are serious about ensuring that the international financial system not be abused by money launderers, terrorist financiers and other criminals." Earlier the same day, the Paris-based Financial Action Task Force (FATF) announced that it is seeking "countermeasures" against Ukraine for not enacting tough laws against money laundering (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 20 December 2002). The FATF made a similar move against Nauru in December 2001. AM

UKRAINIAN JOURNALISTS FORM NEW TRADE UNION IN ODESA
Journalists from four newspapers in Ukraine's Odesa Oblast -- "Yug," "Slovo," "Morskie vedomosti," and "Vikna" -- established an independent trade union on 21 December, UNIAN reported. The organization promises to represent and protect "labor and the socioeconomic rights and interests" of its members. The Odesa trade union is headed by Leonid Zaslavskyy of "Yug." The group hopes to send a delegation to a constituent congress of an umbrella group for independent journalists in Kyiv in January. AM

LATVIAN SOCIALIST PARTY RE-ELECTS CHAIRMAN
The 8th Congress of the Latvian Socialist Party in Riga re-elected Alfreds Rubiks as party chairman in Riga on 21 December, LETA reported. Filips Stroganovs, Martijans Bekasovs, and Sergejs Hristolubovs were elected as his deputies. The congress made several amendments to its statutes, one of which is a new party slogan: "Power to the people, not the capital!" It also adopted a resolution demanding the right to hold public office for people who were members of the Communist Party, the early-1990s anti-independence Interfront, or similar organizations after 13 January 1991. The congress also called for a revival of the Latvian Communist Party, a move that would present problems within the For Human Rights in the three-way United Latvia alliance -- since one of it three partners, the National Harmony Party, is against such a proposal. SG

CHALLENGERS FORCE RUNOFF IN LITHUANIAN PRESIDENTIAL ELECTION
Incumbent Valdas Adamkus was the clear winner of the Lithuanian presidential election on 22 December with about 35 percent of the vote, according to unofficial returns cited by ELTA. Liberal Democratic Party (LDP) Chairman and former Prime Minister Rolandas Paksas finished second with about 20 percent of the popular vote. If the preliminary vote count holds up, Adamkus and Paksas will compete in a runoff election on 5 January. Parliamentary Chairman Arturas Paulauskas was third (8.5 percent), followed by television humorist Vytautas Serenas (7.9 percent), Social Democratic Party (LSDP) First Deputy Chairman Vytenis Andriukaitis (7.4 percent), and Union of Peasants and New Democracy Union (VNDPU) Chairwoman Kazimiera Prunskiene (5.1 percent). Although there were 17 candidates, only about 1.42 million of 2.7 million eligible voters participated -- considerably lower than the 71 percent that voted in the 1997 presidential election. SG

TRADITIONAL PARTIES DOMINATE LITHUANIA'S LOCAL ELECTIONS
Together with the presidential elections, Lithuanian voters also cast ballots to fill 1,560 deputy seats from among 10,138 candidates in 60 municipalities and raions, ELTA reported. The most successful parties in order of seats won were: LSDP, VNDPU, Homeland Union (Conservatives of Lithuania) [TSLK], Center Union, New Union (Social Liberals) [NSSL], Christian Democrats, LDP, and Liberal Union. In Vilnius, a coalition of the Liberal Union and Modern Christian Democrats finished first (29 percent), followed by the LSDP (11 percent) and TSLK (10 percent). In the second-largest city, Kaunas, the Liberal Union was first (15 percent), followed by the TSLK (also 15 percent) and the LSDP (14 percent). The Liberal Union (26 percent) was also first in the port city of Klaipeda, followed by the Center Union (22 percent), and the Union of Russians (10 percent). SG

POLISH PREMIER PRESENTS REPORT ON EU ACCESSION...
Polish Premier Leszek Miller on 20 December presented the Sejm with a government report on the results of the recent EU summit in Copenhagen (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 18 December 2002), Polish Radio reported. "We are joining the European Union as a free, sovereign, and democratic nation. It is our great success but also a great challenge for everybody to protect jointly the most important values," Miller said. Jozef Oleksy from the ruling Democratic Left Alliance congratulated the premier on the outcome of the negotiations. Maciej Plazynski of the opposition Civic Platform said he will encourage people to participate in an EU referendum and cast a "yes" vote. Kazimierz Michal Ujazdowski of the opposition Law and Justice (PiS) called the result of the negotiations a "disaster on the part of Euro-enthusiasts" but added that the PiS has not yet decided on a policy toward the EU referendum. Self-Defense leader Andrzej Lepper said the EU negotiations were not Poland's success but the European Union's. "You sold Poland and Poles for 50 euros, which you brought for the president from Copenhagen," Lepper told Miller from the parliamentary rostrum. Miller called the right-wing Lepper's pronouncement "boorish and impudent." AM

...AS AMERICAN POLONIA LEADER PANS EU ENTRY
Edward Moskal, chairman of the American Polonia Congress, said in a statement in the Chicago-based "Dziennik Zwiazkowy" of 20 December that the EU accord reached in Copenhagen insufficiently secures Polish interests, Polish Radio reported on 21 December. According to Moskal, Poland's accession might result in a loss of political and economic sovereignty. He asserted that accession will liquidate Polish family farms and make Poland a market and a reservoir of cheap labor for the EU. Moskal claimed that entry to the North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA) could provide an alternative to EU accession. "I feel that there ought to be a reply by the Polish side," Senate Speaker Longin Pastusiak commented on Moskal's statement. "We maintain contacts with the American Polonia Congress, which is the largest Polish organization in the world. And this [statement] has indeed particularly hurt us." AM

CZECH PREMIER ATTACKS PREDECESSOR'S PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDACY...
Prime Minister Vladimir Spidla said in an interview with the daily "Pravo" of 21 December that his predecessor, Milos Zeman, is a "symbol of worn-out politics," CTK reported. Reacting to Zeman's possible presidential bid, party Chairman Spidla said it would be "politically incorrect" for his ruling Social Democratic Party (CSSD) to "allow the return of such people." Zeman won the CSSD primaries for the presidential post but said he will only run if the first three rounds of legislative voting on 15 January fail to elect a head of state. The CSSD leadership on 18 December chose former Justice Minister Jaroslav Bures as its presidential contender. If the president is not elected in the first three-round contest, new candidates can be proposed for a second, three-round ballot. Reacting to Spidla's interview, Zeman-supporter Josef Hojdar, who is CSSD's chairman of the lower house Economic Committee, said Spidla should have had the courage to criticize Zeman when the former was labor minister in Zeman's cabinet, adding that it is "unfair" of him to do so now. MS

...WHILE NEW OPPOSITION LEADER IS CRITICAL OF FORMER PARTY CHAIRMAN KLAUS
Miroslav Topolanek, who replaced former Civic Democratic Party (ODS) Chairman Klaus at the helm of the party earlier this month, said on 21 December that Klaus recently lost his "punch and drive," CTK reported. He said Klaus's most serious mistake was that, under his leadership, the ODS ceased to be a clear and comprehensible right-wing alternative to the CSSD. MS

POLL SHOWS MOST CZECHS BACK OMBUDSMAN FOR PRESIDENTIAL POST
A public-opinion poll conducted by the Institute for Public Opinion Research shows that most Czechs want Ombudsman Otakar Motejl to win the presidential contest, CTK reported on 20 December. Motejl is supported by 45 percent of those questioned. He is followed by Christian Democratic Union-People's Party candidate Petr Pithart (37 percent) and by ODS candidate Klaus (31 percent). Zeman is backed by 25 percent, while CSSD candidate Bures is supported by 20 percent of those interviewed. Among registered candidates, the field is led by Pithart. The Czech president, however, is not elected by popular vote but rather by a joint legislative session. MS

NATO TO FINANCE AIRCRAFT-FUEL STORAGE IN CZECH REPUBLIC
Members of a Czech military delegation who last week visited NATO headquarters in Brussels on 20 December told CTK that NATO will provide some 6 million euros ($6.1 million) for the construction of an aircraft fuel-storage facility in Hermanuv Mestec, Eastern Bohemia. The facility is the costliest of several projects that include the modernization of airfields in Caslav, Eastern Bohemia, and in Namest nad Oslavou, Southern Moravia, to enable the landing of NATO aircraft. MS

SLOVAK SUPREME COURT QUASHES SPY-CHIEF INDICTMENTS...
The Supreme Court on 20 December rejected an appeal by the Prosecutor-General's Office against a June decision of the Bratislava Regional Court to quash the indictment of former Slovak Intelligence Service (SIS) Director Ivan Lexa, TASR reported. The Supreme Court affirmed a lower court decision that cited a Constitutional Court ruling in 2001, in which Lexa's amnesty by former Premier Vladimir Meciar was deemed valid. Lexa and 11 other people were amnestied by Meciar while the former premier temporarily exercised some presidential functions after President Michal Kovac's mandate expired in 1998. Lexa was charged with masterminding the 1995 abduction of Kovac's son and with nine other charges. The ruling Christian Democratic Movement responded that it will try to enlist the support of at least 90 deputies to amend the constitution and eventually invalidate Meciar's amnesty. Lexa remains in custody on fraud and other charges, and a decision on his appeal against detention is due in early January. MS

...AND RE-ELECTS MECIAR APPOINTEE AS CHAIRMAN
The Supreme Court's Judicial Council on 20 December re-elected Stefan Harabin chairman of the court, TASR and CTK reported. Harabin garnered the support of 10 of the council's 18 members. He was first elected to the position during former Premier Meciar's 1992-98 administration. Former Justice Minister Jan Carnogursky attempted to bring about Harabin's dismissal, but Harabin sued before the European Court of Human Rights on grounds of discrimination and won the lawsuit. He will now be appointed by President Rudolf Schuster to a second five-year term that begins in February. MS

SLOVAK OPPOSITION DEPUTY CHAIRMAN RENEWS ATTACK ON MECIAR
Movement for a Democratic Slovakia (HZDS) Deputy Chairman Vojtech Tkac said on 22 December on TV Markiza that the party's current chairman, former Premier Meciar, is "the biggest brake" on the HZDS, TASR reported. Tkac said there is discontent within the rank-and-file and district levels with the violation of the party's statutes, nontransparent financing, and the performance of the leadership in December's municipal elections. He said he intends to set up a new party faction and that "departure from the HZDS is only an extreme solution." Tkac added: "I am not a traitor. I neither want to be the gravedigger of the HZDS nor the one who brings about a split. But is its essential to change [the party's] style." MS

SLOVAK COMMUNISTS WANT TO SPEED UP REFERENDUM ON NATO ACCESSION
The Communist Party of Slovakia (KSS) on 21 December said it wants parliamentary speaker Pavol Hrusovsky to submit to the legislature next month the 12 December KSS proposal to hold a referendum on the country's accession to NATO, TASR reported. KSS parliamentary leader Ivan Hopta said that if Hrusovsky fails to do so, the KSS will itself propose a resolution. Hopta said Hrusovsky is "dragging his feet" on the initiative by saying he will submit the proposal after receiving the opinions of the Defense and Foreign ministries and the cabinet. MS

HUNGARIAN PREMIER SAYS RUSSIA TO REPAY ONE-THIRD OF ITS DEBT...
Russia agreed on 20 December to repay $90 million to Hungary within a month, Prime Minister Peter Medgyessy was quoted in the media as saying upon his return from a Moscow visit on 21 December. The agreement was reached by the two countries' Finance ministries after Medgyessy met with President Vladimir Putin. Russia would thus settle 36 percent of its $240 million Soviet-era debt to Hungary. The debt rose as high as $400 million, but agreement was reached to deduct $160 million on the basis of earlier agreements. During Medgyessy's visit, the countries also reached a deal on the Sarospatak Library, which was taken away by the Soviets during World War II. Medgyessy said he is hopeful the library will return to Hungary next year. In turn, Hungary pledged to return any Russian art treasures found in that country. Medgyessy also met with Prime Minister Mikhail Kasyanov, discussing possible Russian investments in his country and Russian participation in the construction of a fourth subway line in Budapest (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 20 December 2002). MS

...AND RALLIES TO AID OF CONTROVERSIAL MUSEUM
Premier Medgyessy said on 21 December that his government must provide support to the controversial House of Terror museum in Budapest, stressing that the facility must not be "expropriated" by any single political force, Hungarian media reported. Medgyessy was reacting to parliament's decision to slash the museum's budget to 180 million forints ($780,000) from 350 million forints proposed by the government (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 19 December 2002). Maria Schmidt, the House of Terror's director and a former adviser to Premier Viktor Orban, said the lower figure will only cover operating costs and the museum will no longer be able to fund scholarly work on the Nazi and communist terror nor stage new exhibitions. Orban has criticized the move as politically motivated. Culture Minister Gabor Gorgey said at a joint press conference with Schmidt on 20 December that if the museum decides to close down as a result of the parliamentary decision, he will ask its board of directors to resign. Schmidt said only that the board can fire her, if it so wishes. MS

HUNGARIAN PRESIDENT DEFENDS STATUS LAW
In an interview with Duna TV on 21 December, President Ferenc Madl defended the Status Law approved at the initiative of the country's previous government, "Nepszabadsag" and "Magyar Hirlap" reported. Madl said every country is entitled to provide aid to citizens of other countries who share with the kin-state an ethnic and linguistic identity, and this must not be interpreted as an infringement on another state's sovereignty. He added that with the accession of Slovakia to the EU, the situation will change for ethnic Hungarians in that country, since EU legislation prohibits any discrimination on ethnic grounds. But ethnic Hungarians who will be left out of the expansion might face a difficult situation for a long time yet, he said. In related news, Romanian Radio on 21 December quoted Foreign Minister Laszlo Kovacs as saying an agreement has been reached with Romania on seven basic principles that should guide the planned amendment of the Status Law. MS

MONTENEGRIN PRESIDENTIAL VOTE FLOPS
Only 45.9 percent of registered voters cast their ballots in the 22 December presidential election, which required a 50 percent turnout to be legally valid, Montenegrin Television reported. Filip Vujanovic, the candidate of the governing coalition, led the field with 83.9 percent of the vote. He won more votes than his coalition did in the 20 October parliamentary vote. After Vujanovic came Dragan Hajdukovic with 5.9 percent, followed by nine other candidates. The leading opposition parties had called for a boycott. Turnout was also adversely affected by voter apathy and a scandal that linked some leading government officials to trafficking in women (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 20 December 2002). When he cast his ballot, Vujanovic urged his countrymen to vote lest Montenegro be without a head of state for the first time in its history. Once the election commission confirms that the vote is invalid, it will reschedule a new round in which all 11 candidates are again eligible to run, dpa reported. If that ballot also fails, a completely new election will be scheduled. OSCE election monitors called on the Montenegrin authorities to drop the requirement of a 50 percent turnout for future elections to be valid. PM

WAR CRIMES PROSECUTOR SLAMS YUGOSLAV FOREIGN MINISTER
Speaking in The Hague on 20 December, Carla Del Ponte, who is chief prosecutor of the war crimes tribunal, said she "sent yesterday a letter to the Yugoslav authorities in regard to the accused [outgoing Serbian President Milan] Milutinovic to ensure his surrender to the custody of the [tribunal] and his transfer to The Hague immediately upon the expiry of his term of office" on 5 January, RFE/RL reported. She added, however, that Goran Svilanovic, who is the "Yugoslav foreign minister and president of the National Council for Cooperation [with the tribunal],... refused to speak to me yesterday [precisely] on the issue of cooperation" (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 19 December 2002). PM

INTERNATIONAL FINANCIAL INSTITUTIONS WANT TO DEAL WITH ONLY ONE BANK FOR SERBIA AND MONTENEGRO
RFE/RL reported from Belgrade on 20 December that unnamed officials of the World Bank and International Monetary Fund (IMF) said those bodies want to deal with only one institution acting as the "fiscal agent" for external financial dealings of the future state of Serbia and Montenegro. The officials added that they want to deal with just one currency for that country. Montenegro has rejected Serbian demands that Serbia's National Bank of Yugoslavia act as the new country's sole representative in financial dealings abroad (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 20 December 2002). Serbia has the dinar as its currency, while Montenegro uses the euro. The EU and Germany allowed Montenegro to use the German mark as its currency, while Podgorica was defying Belgrade prior to the fall of former President Slobodan Milosevic in October 2000. Montenegro automatically switched to the euro in January 2002, but some voices in Brussels have suggested that Serbia and Montenegro now need their own common currency. Montenegro firmly rejects giving up the euro, saying such a move would be a step backward. PM

YUGOSLAVIA TO ALLOW NATO TO USE ITS AIRSPACE
The Foreign Ministry said in a statement on 20 December that Svilanovic and NATO Secretary-General Lord George Robertson have reached an agreement allowing the Atlantic alliance to use air routes over Yugoslav territory, AP reported from Belgrade but did not elaborate. The ministry called the agreement "another important step in the rapprochement between Yugoslavia and Euro-Atlantic structures." Yugoslavia and Bosnia are the only countries in the region that have not yet met the requirements to join NATO's Partnership for Peace (PfP) program. Some of their representatives have recently expressed concern lest those two countries be left even further behind in the regional process of Euro-Atlantic integration (see "RFE/RL Balkan Report," 8, 22, and 29 November and 6 December 2002). Bosnia lacks a unified Defense Ministry, which is a requirement for PfP, while Yugoslavia has yet to demonstrate cooperation with The Hague, establish civilian control over its military, and provide a final account about its illegal arms dealings with Iraq and some other states under a UN embargo. PM

NETHERLANDS SHELVES EU TREATY WITH CROATIA
Dutch Foreign Minister Jaap de Hoop Scheffer told the parliament in a letter on 20 December that the government is suspending ratification of Croatia's stabilization and association agreement with the EU because of the affair involving former General Janko Bobetko (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 16 October and 2 December 2002). The war crimes tribunal in The Hague has demanded Bobetko's extradition to face charges stemming from the killings of at least 100 ethnic Serb civilians in the Medak Pocket in 1993. The Croatian government argues that it is cooperating with the tribunal, but that the 83-year-old former general is too ill to travel. Britain has also suspended ratification of the EU's agreement with Croatia over the Bobetko affair. PM

BOSNIA GETS A NEW PRIME MINISTER
The Bosnian joint Presidency named Adnan Terzic of the Muslim Party of Democratic Action (SDA) prime minister on 20 December, international and regional media reported. His nomination was the result of prolonged negotiations between the SDA and the other two nationalist parties that won the 5 October parliamentary elections, the Serbian Democratic Party (SDS) and the Croatian Democratic Community (HDZ) (see "RFE/RL Newsline" 21 October 2002). Sulejman Tihic, who is the Muslim member of the Presidency, said he expects Terzic will be able to put together a cabinet "in the next several weeks," Reuters reported. Neither the Muslim-Croat federation nor the Republika Srpska has a new government, although Dragan Mikerevic is prime minister-designate of the Bosnian Serb entity (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 9 December 2002). PM

CROATIAN VETERANS END PROTEST IN BOSNIA
Suada Hadzovic, who is in charge of veterans' issues for the Muslim-Croat federation, said in Sarajevo on 20 December that back pensions will be paid to ethnic Croat war invalids and the families of soldiers killed in action, RFE/RL's South Slavic and Albanian Languages Service reported. The veterans then ended their protest after blocking roads and highways along the border with Croatia and within Bosnia for several days (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 18 December 2002). PM

MACEDONIAN GOVERNMENT AND UNIONS SIGN PACT
Prime Minister Branko Crvenkovski and Vanco Muratovski, who heads the Federation of Trade Unions in Macedonia (SSM), signed a "Social Agreement" on 20 December, MIA news agency reported from Skopje. The deal sets the framework for government policy in a number of areas such as the state-pension scheme, the reform of the health system, and economic-development policy. Crvenkovski said that by signing the pact, the union will have more influence but also more responsibility in overall social and economic policy. Muratovski stressed that the SSM will make sure that the government respects the timetable set down in the agreement. The SSM had repeatedly threatened to call a general strike should the government fail to sign the agreement (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 18 October 2002 and "RFE/RL Balkan Report," 6 December 2002). UB

ROMANIAN PRESIDENT REITERATES OWN VERSION OF 1989 REVOLUTION
Speaking from the same television studio from which broadcasts were televised on 22 December 1989 after communist dictator Nicolae Ceausescu attempted to flee Bucharest, President Ion Iliescu said on 22 December that "the grand truth of the Romanian revolution is that it was the Romanian people who overthrew the dictatorship," Mediafax reported. Iliescu once more rejected the existence of any plot in which he allegedly took part. He said that had such a plot existed, the lives of hundreds killed during the uprising could have been spared. However, he said, a plot was not possible because Romania had plunged into " a regime of total dictatorship and total control of society, based on the North Korean model." Under the conditions prevailing at the time, Iliescu said, only a popular uprising aided by "the favorable international environment" had a chance of overthrowing the dictatorship. He said those who formed the National Salvation Front after Ceausescu's overthrow were themselves the target of repeated attempts to liquidate them and added, "we would also like to know who those were who shot at us." Romania on 22 December marked the 13th anniversary of the overthrow of the communist dictatorship. MS

ROMANIAN PREMIER: NEITHER EARLY ELECTIONS, NOR RESHUFFLE...
In a speech to a joint session of Romania's bicameral parliament that marked the anniversary of the Romanian revolution of 1989, Premier Adrian Nastase said on 20 December that there will be neither early elections nor a reshuffle of the cabinet in early 2003, RFE/RL's Bucharest bureau reported. Nastase said that after consultations with members of the cabinet, "we reached the conclusion that the best thing is to refuel the same plane while it is airborne." He added that "we will not have a reshuffle and we will not change the government structure for now, in order to avoid the risk of political games at a time when we must concentrate our attentions on concrete measures and action" to ensure Romania's accession to NATO and its admittance to the EU in 2007. Nastase also announced that sociologist Alin Teodorescu has been appointed coordinator of public-administration reform. MS

...BUT PRESIDENT IS UNCONVINCED
Speaking on 21 December, President Iliescu told journalists that he maintains his opinion that a reshuffle of the cabinet is necessary, RFE/RL's Bucharest bureau reported. In an obviously patronizing and critical tone, Iliescu said Premier Nastase "is 20 years younger than I am, and while youth entails many virtues, it has its weaknesses as well." He then added that he believes that "after reflection" the premier will draw the right conclusions on how to proceed on the matter. MS

ROMANIA OPENS ALL CHAPTERS IN EU NEGOTIATIONS
Chief negotiator with the EU Vasile Puscas announced in Brussels on 20 December that Romania has opened the last two chapters in its negotiations over the union's acquis communautaire. Puscas said that so far Romania has closed 16 out of the 31 chapters and that Bucharest continues to pursue the target of closing negotiations on all remaining chapters by the end of 2003, or early 2004 at the latest, Romanian Radio reported. MS

MOLDOVAN PRESIDENT SAYS RELATIONS WITH U.S. DO NOT COME AT EXPENSE OF TIES WITH 'TRADITIONAL' ALLIES
Summing up his recent visit to the United States, Vladimir Voronin told ITAR-TASS on 21 December that his country hopes to further develop its relations with the United States, but has no intention to reorient its policy toward the West. "Traditionally, we have had [close] ties with Russia, Ukraine, [and] other countries in the Commonwealth of Independent States, and we plan to further develop these decades-old ties in the future as well, although some forces [in Moldova] might entertain different hopes," he said. Voronin also said the United States has no interest in changing Chisinau's foreign-policy priorities. He said his visit to the United States should not be perceived as "a display of opposition to anyone," as it was intended to demonstrate that Moldova is an independent state and to clarify its foreign policy. Voronin said he is content with the results of the visit, but that it is now important to ensure that the agreements he reached with U.S. President George W. Bush are implemented in practice. MS

MOLDOVAN 'INITIATIVE GROUP' APPROVES QUESTIONS FOR NATO, EU PLEBISCITES
On 21 December, the initiative group for holding a plebiscite on Moldova joining the EU and NATO approved the questions the group wants asked in a referendum, RFE/RL's Chisinau bureau reported. The group wants the plebiscite to ask: "Are you in favor of the Republic of Moldova joining EU?" and "Are you in favor of the Republic of Moldova joining NATO?" Popular Party Christian Democratic Chairman Iurie Rosca said the group's initiative is aimed not only at changing the attitude of the country's current rulers regarding these matters, but also at improving the West's image of Moldova and to demonstrate that the country has the "political will" to ensure that it is not left out of the "European circuit." MS

MOLDOVAN PARLIAMENT DEPRIVES CONSTITUTIONAL COURT CHAIRMAN OF 'DECISIVE VOTE'
Parliament on 20 December passed an amendment to the Constitutional Court Law, depriving its chairperson of the "decisive vote" in the event of a voting deadlock, Infotag reported. Party of Moldovan Communists (PCM) parliamentary group leader Victor Stepaniuk said the amendment is in line with the decision the legislature made several years ago to deprive the chamber's speaker of a similar right, since all deputies must have equal voting power. Observers cited by Infotag said the amendment to the Constitutional Court Law would make it possible for the PCM to restore its control of the court, as three of the six judges on the Constitutional Court's bench are PCM appointees. MS

BULGARIAN GOVERNMENT FACES NEW BUGGING SCANDAL
Opposition lawmaker Yordan Bakalov of the conservative Union of Democratic Forces (SDS) on 19 December accused the Interior Ministry of wiretapping the telephone lines of former President Petar Stoyanov, judges, opposition legislators, and journalists, mediapool.bg reported. Bakalov is a member of a parliamentary working group that is investigating the wiretapping of telephone calls between Justice Minister Anton Stankov and a policeman charged with corruption (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 9 December 2002). According to Bakalov, documents suggest that the Interior Ministry carried out an investigation against a person dubbed "Gnom," who he claimed is former National Security Service head General Atanas Atanasov. Interior Minister Georgi Petkanov confirmed that an investigation is under way, but declined on legal grounds to comment on the eavesdropping allegations. He dismissed allegations that journalists' and politicians' telephones were wiretapped. UB

BULGARIA REACHES AGREEMENT WITH IMF
At a joint news conference in Sofia on 20 December, Finance Minister Milen Velchev and Jerald Schiff, a division chief who represents the Bulgarian team at International Monetary Fund (IMF) headquarters, announced that the second review of Bulgaria's performance under its standby arrangement was completed successfully, BTA reported. If the IMF approves the report about the review, it will issue a tranche of $32 million. Schiff said Bulgaria has made progress during the last year by reducing unemployment, maintaining a low inflation rate, and significantly increasing GDP growth. However, he also expressed the IMF's concern over the slow pace of educational and health reform as well the government's plans to set up an emergency investment fund using money from the fiscal reserve. UB

BULGARIAN PARLIAMENT ADOPTS CONTROVERSIAL LAW ON RELIGIOUS COMMUNITIES
Parliament on 20 December adopted on second reading a controversial draft law on religious communities, BTA reported. The new law would replace a Stalinist law of 1949 that mainly aimed at securing the state's influence on religious communities. "We waited for this law, which is to end the church split, with impatience," said Bulgarian Orthodox Church head Patriarch Maksim. Conservative politicians and clerics have accused Maksim of being elected patriarch with the support of the Communist Party in 1972. Parts of the Orthodox clergy and believers left the church and elected an alternative Holy Synod headed by Bishop Inokenti (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 20 December 2002). The conservative opposition United Democratic Forces (ODS) announced that it will challenge the draft law before the Constitutional Court and plans to ask the Council of Europe and the OSCE for their opinions of the bill. UB

There is no end note today.


SEVEN SOLDIERS KILLED IN HELICOPTER CRASH IN AFGHANISTAN
Seven German soldiers belonging to the International Security Assistance Force (ISAF) died on 21 December when their transport helicopter crashed near the ISAF base on the outskirts of Kabul, ddp reported the same day. The cause of the crash was unclear and flight-security specialists from the German Defense Ministry were heading to the crash site to investigate the incident "immediately and completely," ddp reported. German Chancellor Gerhard Schroeder said that all indications are that the crash was a "serious accident," and it "highlighted in a particularly tragic way that the Bundeswehr mission in Afghanistan is a serious and dangerous operation." It is believed that the helicopter had not come under fire and one solider in Kabul witnessed smoke coming out of the aircraft's engine before it crashed, ddp reported. Investigators announced on 22 December that, contrary to original reports, no civilians on the ground were killed in the accident, Deutschlandfunk radio reported. Germany currently has about 1,100 troops in Afghanistan (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 18 November 2002), but additional German troops are expected to join the ISAF. AT

AFGHAN MILITARY VEHICLE ATTACKED IN KANDAHAR...
One Afghan solider died and three were wounded on 22 December when the vehicle they were traveling in exploded in Kandahar, the BBC reported. Early reports indicated that the explosion was caused either by a remote-controlled bomb or from a bomb planted in the car, but later reports said the vehicle was struck by a missile, the BBC reported. No group has claimed responsibility for carrying out the attack, but Kandahar police said they suspect the Taliban and Al-Qaeda, according to the BBC. The attack coincided with the first anniversary of President Hamid Karzai's inauguration. AT

...AS U.S. SOLDIERS COME UNDER ATTACK IN PROVINCES
A U.S. solider attached to the 82nd Airborne Division died in a gun battle on 22 December in the town of Shkin, Paktika Province, and a U.S. Special Forces soldier was wounded in an attack the same day in Asadabad, Kunar Province, AP reported the same day. U.S. Joint Chiefs of Staff Chairman General Richard Myers said during his visit to Bagram airbase that while overall security is improving in the country, eastern parts of Afghanistan are likely to remain a problem "for some time to come." The attacks on U.S. forces occurred in areas that were identified by 17 December UN report as housing newly established terrorist camps in Afghanistan (see "RFE/RL Afghanistan Report," 20 December 2002). "The Independent" on 22 December cited an unidentified U.S. intelligence officer as saying that "middle-ranking Pakistani army officers are tipping off members" of Al-Qaeda about U.S. operations in Afghanistan. Moreover, suicide bombers are "being recruited and trained in eastern Pakistan," and offered $50,000 for their families if "they carry out suicide attacks in Afghanistan, "The Independent" reported. AT

AFGHANISTAN'S NEIGHBORS SIGN NONINTERFERENCE PACT
Coinciding with President Karzai's first year in power, Afghanistan's six neighbors (China, Iran, Pakistan, Tajikistan, Turkmenistan, and Uzbekistan) on 22 December signed a pact to respect Afghanistan's sovereignty and not interfere in its internal affairs (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 17 December 2002), "Dawn" reported the next day. "Foreign interference has been behind more than 20 years of devastating conflict in Afghanistan that has wrecked the country, left more than 2 million people dead and sent millions into exile abroad," the Karachi daily added. Representatives of the G-8, India, Saudi Arabia, Turkey, the European Union, and the Organization of the Islamic Conference also attended the meeting, but the foreign ministers of Iran (see Iran item below) and Uzbekistan were not present. Foreign Minister Abdullah Abdullah said their absence was due to "technical reasons" and that the two states fully supported the declaration, "Dawn," reported. The Soviet Union invaded neighboring Afghanistan on 27 December 1979, ushering in more than two decades of war in that country. During that time most of Afghanistan's neighbors, especially Pakistan, directly interfered in Afghanistan's internal affairs. AT

IRANIAN FOREIGN MINISTER MISSES AFGHAN NONINTERFERENCE EVENT...
Kamal Kharrazi was not in Kabul for the 22 December signing of a noninterference pact by Afghanistan's neighbors. The Pashtu-language broadcast of the Voice of the Islamic Republic of Iran's External Service cited the Afghan Foreign Ministry's press office as explaining that the Iranian foreign minister did not come because of technical problems with his flight. BS

...BUT IRAN BACKS PACT
Iranian Ambassador to Afghanistan Mohammad Ebrahim Taherian expressed his country's satisfaction with the noninterference pact during a press conference in Kabul on 23 December. "Iran welcomes any developments that help strengthen peace and stability in the region," Taherian was quoted as saying by Iranian state radio's Mashhad-based Dari-language service. BS

U.S PRESIDENT SPEAKS ON RADIO FARDA...
President George W. Bush addressed the Iranian people in remarks broadcast on 20 December by Radio Farda, which began its broadcasts just a few days earlier. He said the Iranian people want more news and cultural broadcasts, because "the unelected few who control the Iranian government continue to place severe restrictions on access to uncensored information." That is why news, music, and cultural programs will be transmitted to Iran "nearly 24 hours a day" and Voice of America television broadcasts to Iran will continue. "The people of Iran want to build a freer, more prosperous country for their children, and live in a country that is a full partner in the international community," Bush said. "Iranians also deserve a free press to express themselves to help build an open, democratic, and free society." BS

...AND EXPRESSES FRIENDSHIP TOWARD IRANIAN PEOPLE
President Bush expressed U.S. friendship toward the people of Iran. "If Iran respects its international obligations and embraces freedom and tolerance, it will have no better friend than the United States of America," he said. Bush expressed similar sentiments in a 12 July statement that followed student demonstrations in Iran. He said at that time, "As Iran's people move towards a future defined by greater freedom, greater tolerance, they will have no better friend than the United States of America" (see "RFE/RL Iran Report," 15 July 2002). BS

SAVAK CONTINUES ITS DOMESTIC-SECURITY ACTIVITIES
Expediency Council Chairman Ayatollah Ali-Akbar Hashemi-Rafsanjani said on 21 December that the sons of SAVAK personnel are active in Iranian universities, "Iran Daily" reported the next day. SAVAK (Sazeman-i Ettelaat va Amniyat-i Keshvar) was the National Organization for Intelligence and Security under the Iranian monarchy and existed from 1957-79. "We don't expect the sons of SAVAKis to remain idle. Some who themselves are against freedoms cannot deceive the people with their slogans," Rafsanjani said. According to "Iran Daily," the hard-line press has reported recently that SAVAK elements have penetrated the Office for Strengthening Unity student organization. BS

ISFAHAN OPINION POLL FINDS LITTLE SUPPORT FOR REVOLUTION, SYSTEM
Guardians Council member Ayatollah Ahmadi Jannati during the 20 December Friday Prayers in Tehran discussed the current trial of individuals associated with the Ayandeh Research Institute and described the conduct of a poll in the city of Isfahan. Jannati said the pollsters claimed to have interviewed the families of individuals who died in the Iran-Iraq War (who presumably would be supporters of the system), and 85 percent of the families said they regretted the war. Jannati interpreted this to mean that "some 85 percent of the families of the martyrs are against our revolution." The pollsters asked about the nuclear-power plant being built in Bushehr and the majority of respondents said it is unnecessary. In addition, when asked about causes of the revolution, Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini was not mentioned. Another question, according to Jannati, was "Would you welcome a fundamental change in the [Iranian] ruling system?" In explaining what he believes is happening, Jannati said, "Acting under the pretext of serving the people and conducting public-opinion polls, they are betraying the people." BS

CREATION OF A 'WOMEN'S PARTY' IN IRAN UNDER WAY
Anonymous "informed sources" at the Interior Ministry have said that a pro-reform "Women's Party" is being created, the "Entekhab" daily newspaper reported on 22 December. The party's founders are former hostage taker and current Vice President Masumeh Ebtekar and parliamentarian Fariba Davudi Mohajer. Other founders are the wives of pro-reform political activists such as Mustafa Tajzadeh of the Mujahedin of the Islamic Revolution Organization (MIRO) and Islamic Iran Participation Party (IIPP), Mohsen Armin of the MIRO, Mohammad Reza Khatami of the IIPP, and Mohsen Mirdamadi of the IIPP. "Entekhab" reported that some "political activists" believe the party would serve as the women's branch of IIPP. Former members of the Executives of Construction Party created the IIPP in 1998 (see "RFE/RL Iran Report," 23 November 1998), but there currently is speculation that the IIPP will disband. BS

RUSSIAN ATOMIC ENERGY MINISTER VISITS IRAN
Russia's Atomic Energy Minister Aleksandr Rumyantsev arrived in Tehran on 22 December to discuss the construction of the nuclear-power plant in Bushehr and to visit the facility, according to ITAR-TASS. Rumyantsev met with his Iranian counterpart Qolam-Reza Aqazadeh-Khoi, who said afterward that they emphasized the need to complete the project by the next Iranian year (which starts on 21 March 2003), according to the official Voice of the Islamic Republic of Iran. Rumyantsev added that they discussed the recycling and storage of spent fuel and nuclear waste. BS

KUWAITI MILITARY PERSONNEL VISIT IRAN
Kuwait Army Chief of Staff General Ali al-Mumin arrived in Tehran on 22 December for a five-day visit, Kuwait's KUNA news agency reported. The Kuwaiti delegation's visit is the result of memorandum of understanding signed by Kuwait's Deputy Prime Minister and Defense Minister Sheikh Jabir Mubarak al-Hamad al-Sabah and Iranian Defense and Armed Forces Logistics Minister Admiral Ali Shamkhani in October (see "RFE/RL Iran Report," 7 October 2002). The visitors are scheduled to learn about Iranian military systems and defense industries and to visit the Officers College. BS

SCIRI CHAIRMAN REPEATS OPPOSITION TO U.S. MILITARY ACTION
Supreme Council for the Islamic Revolution in Iraq (SCIRI) Chairman Ayatollah Mohammad Baqir al-Hakim announced in a 22 December interview that Iraqi dissident groups prefer democratic means to warfare to bring about regime change in their country, IRNA reported. Al-Hakim said U.S. military action against Iraq would be disastrous for the Iraqi people. America is determined to attack Iraq, al-Hakim said, and Islamic states should work through the UN to reduce the casualties that might result from U.S. strikes against Iraq. According to Tehran radio the same day, "Ayatollah Hakim rejected the idea of a puppet government coming to power in Iraq through direct American support." BS

IRAQ PROTESTS SEIZURE OF TUGBOAT AND CREW
Foreign Minister Naji Sabri has sent a letter to UN Secretary-General Kofi Annan protesting the seizure of an Iraqi tugboat, the Iraq News Agency (INA) reported on 21 December. The tugboat and the pontoon it was towing, along with four crewmembers, were seized by Kuwaiti authorities in early December while sailing in Iraq's territorial waters from the port of Al-Faw to the port of Khawr al-Zubayr. In his letter, Sabri exhorted the secretary-general "to intercede to ensure the safety of the detained Iraqi crew and to urge the State of Kuwait authorities to release them and immediately to return the tugboat and the pontoon," according to INA. The seizure of the boat and detention of its crew violates international law, the UN charter, and the agreement reached by Kuwait and Iraq at the Beirut Arab Summit, according to the foreign minister. SH

'HUMAN SHIELDS' TO ARRIVE IN BAGHDAD
Saad Qasim Hammudi, a member of Iraq's ruling Ba'ath Party, said on 22 December that Iraq is preparing for the arrival of volunteers to form "human shields" against possible U.S. attacks, AFP reported. The participants of two pan-Arab conferences for solidarity with Iraq, held recently in Cairo and Damascus, are sending volunteers to Baghdad to act as human shields at sensitive sites that would likely be targeted in such attacks. "Preparations are under way to house the volunteers and deploy them at sensitive sites," Hammudi confirmed. The number of volunteers anticipated in Baghdad was not stated. In 1990 the Iraqi government detained Westerners for use as human shields but they were released before the Gulf War began in 1991. During the British and U.S. air strikes in December 1998, many Iraqis moved into President Saddam Hussein's palaces in an attempt to protect them from attack. SH

IRAQI VICE PRESIDENT ACCUSES U.S. OF PRESSURING INSPECTORS...
In an interview with Egyptian Cairo Dream2 Television on 21 December, Vice President Taha Yasin Ramadan accused the United States of exerting pressure on UNMOVIC Executive Chairman Hans Blix and International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) Director-General Mohammad el-Baradei to provoke Iraq. Ramadan denied the presence of 22,000 nuclear scientists in Iraq and accused the United States "of bribing and corrupting people and trying to make Iraqi nuclear scientists turn against their country." He stated that the UN inspections "will succeed if the Americans do not interfere in [inspectors'] work" and warned the United States that Iraqis will fight if attacked, regardless of any discrepancies in military power. Reiterating Foreign Minister Sabri's accusation that the British government lies (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 20 December 2002), Ramadan accused British Prime Minister Tony Blair of lying when he stated that Iraq manufactures weapons of mass destruction. SH

...AS MORE INSPECTORS ARRIVE IN IRAQ
The total number of inspectors in Iraq increased as two new UNMOVIC inspectors arrived in Baghdad on 19 December, the UN reported. There are now 96 UNMOVIC inspectors and 19 IAEA inspectors in Iraq. On 20 December, a 10-member UNMOVIC chemical-inspection team visited the Chemical Department of the Atomic Energy Organization and met with the department head and the liaison officer to tour the department's facilities and discuss its research, the Foreign Ministry announced. The UN reported that an IAEA team inspected the Al-Tuwaitha Industrial Chemical Research Center, a former nuclear complex that now conducts non-nuclear research. The Al-Shaykhali warehouses were also visited by an IAEA team that conducted "environmental gamma radiation surveys" both at the warehouse for dual-use equipment from the decommissioned nuclear program and in the surrounding area. SH

UNMOVIC MISSILE INSPECTORS VISIT SCIENTIFIC GROUP...
On 22 December, an UNMOVIC missile-inspection team inspected the Al-Battanee Center, which was described by the IAEA as "a scientific group, which does space technology, space optics, atmospheric studies, and remote sensing...[and] provides the telemetry systems for the Al-Samoud missile system." A second missile team visited the Taji Technical Battalion, a former Scud missile-dump site and storage area. A chemical team inspected the Al-Nahrawan site, which is affiliated with the Al-Basil Company and is a declared plant using dual-use chemicals, while a biological team inspected the Al-Kindi Company for the Production of Veterinary Vaccines. Al Kindi produces "a variety of viral and bacterial veterinary vaccines." Meanwhile, IAEA teams inspected the Mansour State Company, an electronics factory that produces components and electrical goods for military and civilian use as well as industrial gases. The IAEA team also visited the Farabi Computer Center and the Tahrir Institute of Welding Technology. SH

...AS CHEMICAL INSPECTORS FOCUS ON ENGINEERING COMPANY...
An UNMOVIC chemical-inspections team met with specialists at a site owned by the Al-Faw Engineering State Company in Baghdad on 21 December. The company specializes "in engineering works, such as the building of bridges, paving roads, and construction," according to the Foreign Ministry. Another group of chemical inspectors visited the Al-Furat Chemical Industries Company, owned by the Industry Ministry and previously inspected by an IAEA team on 10 December. The group toured the facilities, including a plastics factory, and visited the information center, where they examined three computers. A 22-member UNMOVIC biological team inspected the Samirra' Pharmaceuticals Plant, which is affiliated with the Industry Ministry. The inspectors asked questions about changes made to the plant since 1998 and its relationship with other research facilities. An 11-member team of missile inspectors revisited the Al-Fida State Company, which is affiliated with the Military Industrialization Organization (MIO) and specializes in hydroelectric operations (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 19 December 2002). A second missile-inspection group toured facilities at the Al-Qaqa State Company as the UNMOVIC Joint Inspection Team visited the Al-Sumud State Company site north of Baghdad, where they examined a foundry and some discarded iron remnants. SH

...AND IAEA INSPECTORS BECOME LOST
A group of 11 IAEA inspectors visited two sites in the Al-Taji area, 20 kilometers north of Baghdad, on 22 December, the Foreign Ministry announced. Inspectors visited the Al-Rayah Company, "a research company in the field of materials and metals," and the Al-Zahf al-Kabir Company, both of which are part of the MIO. At Al-Zahf al-Kabir, inspectors conducted a radiological survey of the site using portable devices and took three samples of aluminum powder. A second group of IAEA inspectors arrived at the Al-Nasr Al-Azim State Company in Al-Dawrah, but realizing they were at the wrong site the group quickly decamped for the Abu-Gharib area, where the Ibn-al-Walid Company is located. Once at the correct site, inspectors met with specialists at the company and toured the facilities, examining machinery. The IAEA inspectors then visited the 14 Ramadan Factory, part of the State Company for Wool Industries, located in Baghdad's Al-Kazimiyah district. The inspectors spoke with specialists, toured workshops, and examined machines. SH

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