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Newsline - February 3, 2003

ISS PROGRAM NOT IN DANGER FOLLOWING SHUTTLE DISASTER...
Russia will be able to provide adequate support to the International Space Station (ISS) for at least one year without the U.S. space shuttle, Russian news agencies reported on 3 February, citing the press office of the Russian Space Agency (Rosaviakosmos). Space Agency spokesman Sergei Gorbunov said that Russia expects the space shuttles to be grounded for at least one year following the 1 February explosion of the space shuttle "Columbia," which killed seven crewmembers. "Work in orbit will be cut to a minimum," Gorbunov said, according to ITAR-TASS. Russian Mission Control Center Director Vladimir Solovev said that the "Columbia" disaster will certainly "affect both the dates of manned flights to the International Space Station and the membership of the crews," ITAR-TASS reported. A previously scheduled, unmanned Progress supply ship successfully reached the ISS on 3 February, ferrying sufficient supplies to meet the station's needs for at least three months, ITAR-TASS and other news agencies reported. Energiya Deputy General Director Valerii Ryumin was quoted as saying his company is capable of producing a sufficient number of Soyuz and Progress spacecraft to maintain the ISS program for several years "given sufficient financial resources." An unidentified NASA spokesman stressed that the current ISS crew is in no danger, and a Russian Soyuz spaceship is ready to bring them back to Earth at any moment. RC

...ALTHOUGH 'TUGBOAT' PROBLEM REMAINS TO BE SOLVED
An unidentified spokesman for the Russian Space Agency told RIA-Novosti on 3 February that in addition to bringing crews to the space station, the U.S. space shuttle performed the function of "a tugboat," periodically correcting the ISS's orbit. "Without these operations to boost the station to a higher orbit, the ISS, under the influence of the Earth's gravity, will more rapidly move into lower orbits," the spokesman was quoted as saying. He said that Russia believes the unmanned Progress supply ship is capable of performing this function and has proposed its doing so in the past, but NASA has rejected the idea for unspecified reasons. The spokesman added that the program of adding new modules and other additions to the space station is under serious threat because of the "Columbia" disaster. RC

PUTIN EXPRESSES CONDOLENCES
President Vladimir Putin on 1 February telephoned U.S. President George W. Bush to express his condolences in connection with the "Columbia" disaster, Russian news agencies reported. Putin told Bush that because the two countries are cooperating so closely in space exploration, "we are all the more sensitive to this tragedy." RC

MMM FOUNDER ARRESTED IN MOSCOW...
Police in Moscow on 31 January arrested Sergei Mavrodi, former head of the MMM pyramid scheme that allegedly bilked millions of Russians out of more than $100 million in the early 1990s, Russian news agencies reported. Mavrodi was arrested in a rented apartment in the center of Moscow, and police spokesmen indicated that he had been living in the capital for at least several years. Mavrodi has been wanted since 1998, and there have been numerous media reports in recent years that he has been living in Greece. "Kommersant-Daily" quoted an unidentified police source as saying that Mavrodi "used his money and connections to change Moscow apartments and suburban houses virtually monthly." The source told the daily that Mavrodi occasionally rented apartments using the documents of "secret-services veterans." According to ORT, Mavrodi was living under the name Yurii Zaitsev and was protected by "a formidable security apparatus, including former employees of the secret services." RC

...AFTER NEARLY A DECADE ON THE RUN...
Mavrodi was first arrested in 1994 in connection with MMM, but was quickly released, RTR reported on 31 January. While awaiting trial on fraud charges, he managed to win a seat in the State Duma. However, after less than one year, he was stripped of his mandate and his immunity from prosecution after he failed to show up at even a single Duma session. He remains the only Duma deputy to be stripped of his mandate in the post-Soviet period. In early 1996, Mavrodi disappeared without a trace, and an international arrest warrant was issued in 1998. MMM was declared bankrupt by a Moscow court in September 1997 with about $20 million in debts. Police first began to suspect that Mavrodi was in Russia more than a year ago when Mavrodi's younger brother and MMM cofounder, Vyacheslav Mavrodi, was arrested (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 12 January 2001). Police official Viktor Prokopov, who headed the operation to arrest Sergei Mavrodi, told RTR that "it appears [Mavrodi] never went anywhere, but simply hid himself very well." RC

...AS HIS YOUNGER BROTHER'S VERDICT IS POSTPONED
A Moscow court on 27 January postponed issuing a verdict in the case of Vyacheslav Mavrodi, who faces charges of conducting illegal banking operations and illegally trading in precious metals and gems, RIA-Novosti and other Russian news agencies reported. Vyacheslav Mavrodi has maintained his innocence and said the case against him is "political" and "has been ordered." Prosecutors are seeking a seven-year term. According to the report, the verdict was postponed because "of the large volume [of materials] and the complexities of the criminal case." The court is expected to announce its verdict in the case on 10 February. RC

PRESIDENT GIVES FSB ITS 2003 MARCHING ORDERS...
President Putin addressed an annual gathering of senior Federal Security Service (FSB) officials in Moscow on 31 January, Russian news agencies reported. According to ORT, Putin said the agency's priorities remain unchanged: protecting the state and society from external and internal threats, defending the rights of citizens; and ensuring national security. "In first place stands the fight against terrorism in all its forms," Putin said. He called on the FSB to do everything possible to facilitate this spring's referendum on a new constitution in Chechnya. He noted that the FSB has at its disposal "uniquely powerful tools" and said their use must "correspond to the contemporary development of political, economic, and social processes in Russia." He added that the FSB must take measures to improve the professionalism of its officers. RC

...AND MEETS WITH SECURITY CHIEFS
President Putin on 1 February held a closed-door meeting with leading security officials, Russian news agencies reported. Foreign Minister Igor Ivanov, FSB Director Nikolai Patrushev, Interior Minister Boris Gryzlov, Defense Minister Sergei Ivanov, presidential administration head Aleksandr Voloshin, and Security Council Secretary Vladimir Rushailo attended the meeting, at which "current issues of Russia's internal and external policies" were discussed, "Kommersant-Daily" reported. RC

HUT, TWO, THREE, FOUR
More than 100 Duma deputies and staffers will undergo military basic training, RTR and other Russian news agencies reported on 3 February. "The goal of training is to complete a reserve-officer's theoretical training and gain practical experience in handling firearms and driving military vehicles," Duma Defense Committee Chairman General Andrei Nikolaev (People's Deputy) told RTR. The lawmakers and their aides will attend a series of military lectures and undergo practical training at a military training center outside of Moscow. RC

DEPUTY: U.S. TO ATTACK IRAQ WITHIN A MONTH
"The United States will have to undertake a military operation against Iraq within three to four weeks," General Nikolaev told NTV on 31 January. "President Bush today is in a situation in which he can hardly -- for political, military, and other reasons -- change the decision about conducting an operation against Iraq." RC

PUTIN MAKES ANALOGY BETWEEN WWII AND WAR ON TERRORISM
In a visit to Volgograd to commemorate the 60th anniversary of the end of the Battle of Stalingrad on 2 February, President Putin laid flowers on the tomb of Marshal Vasilii Chukov and spoke at a gathering of veterans and city residents, ITAR-TASS reported. Chukov, who led the stubborn Red Army defense of the city, was a twice-decorated Hero of the Soviet Union. According to regions.ru, Putin said the unity of many different peoples that was demonstrated during WWII is especially valuable today in a world facing the threats of extremism and terrorism. That unity is also valuable for the antiterrorism coalition, of which Russia is an important member, Putin said. According to ITAR-TASS, Putin urged listeners to remember also the Germans who took part in World War II and who died by the thousands during the battle. Some 23 foreign delegations from around the world took part in the commemoration of the battle that is widely seen as the turning point of World War II (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 31 January 2003). JAC

FAR EASTERN GUBERNATORIAL RACE TO REQUIRE ANOTHER ROUND
According to preliminary results publicized on 2 February from the Magadan Oblast gubernatorial race held the same day, Magadan Mayor Nikolai Karpenko and acting Magadan Oblast head Nikolai Dudov will compete in a runoff election, ITAR-TASS reported. Karpenko, who was the favorite in the election, received 38 percent of the vote, compared with just over 26 percent for Dudov. According to "Kommersant-Daily" on 31 January, few people doubted that two rounds would be required, although Karpenko's team was confident that he would win an absolute majority of residents in the city of Magadan, where some 60 percent of the oblast's population is concentrated. The election was held to replace Governor Valentin Tsvetkov, who was gunned down in Moscow in October (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 18 October 2002). More than 5 percent voted against all candidates, according to Interfax. The agency also reported that the runoff will be held on 16 February. JAC

KEY ELEMENT OF JUDICIAL REFORMS IN PLACE...
The new Civil Procedures Code came into force on 1 February, replacing the previous code, which was adopted in 1964, ITAR-TASS reported. President Putin signed the new code into law on 15 November. One aim of the new code is to make civil trials quicker, more effective, and more easily understood by participants. Under the code, verdicts in civil cases must be passed within two months for most cases and within one month for the remainder. JAC

...AS LAWYERS TAKE 'DEFINING STEP'...
The first all-Russian Congress of Lawyers was held in Moscow on 31 January, Russian news agencies reported. According to RFE/RL's Moscow bureau, delegates decided to form a Federal Chamber of Lawyers and to adopt a professional code of ethics. The Federal Chamber of Lawyers will unite into one structure the 89 existing regional chambers, which were created following the enactment of the law on lawyers' activities. Justice Minister Yurii Chaika calling the congress a "defining step in the formation of the new legal profession in Russia." Chaika added that "with the introduction of the new Criminal Procedures Code, the Civil Procedures Code, and the Arbitration Procedures Code, the role of the legal profession in defending the rights, freedoms, and interests of citizens has radically changed and immeasurably grown." JAC

...AND ANOTHER ST. PETERSBURGER SELECTED TO LEAD
Yevgenii Semenyaka, president of the St. Petersburg Chamber of Lawyers, was elected president of the new Federal Chamber of Lawyers, RFE/RL's Moscow bureau reported on 1 February. According to the report, the congress session did not go smoothly and delegates managed to elect only 28 members of the 36-member council. Semenyaka was finally elected at 3 a.m. JAC

DEPUTY SPS LEADER SEES TWO CAUSES FOR LACK OF COORDINATION ON THE RIGHT...
Union of Rightist Forces (SPS) deputy leader and State Duma Deputy Speaker Irina Khakamada told reporters in St. Petersburg on 31 January that the creation of a common SPS-Yabloko faction in St. Petersburg's Legislative Assembly is unlikely because it would conflict with the ambitions of the federal and local leaders of those parties, RosBalt reported. According to Khakamada, the inability of the two parties to form a joint faction is partly the fault of federal party structures, which continue to disagree on a range of issues, and partly the fault of regional party leaders, who do not see the prospect of a joint faction as beneficial to their personal ambitions. JAC

...AND KHAKAMADA, SELEZNEV TO GO HEAD-TO-HEAD IN ST. PETERSBURG
Deputy Khakamada also announced that she intends to run for a seat in the Duma from the 209th single-mandate district in St. Petersburg, RosBalt reported on 31 January. This is the same district from which Duma Speaker Gennadii Seleznev plans to run. Seleznev is a former Communist who now heads a new leftist party called the Party of Russia's Rebirth. Khakamada acknowledged that the race will be a difficult one but said that she never participates in elections where she doesn't have a chance. It was unclear from the report whether Khakamada would also run on SPS's party list. JAC

PROSECUTION ASKS FOR 14-YEAR PRISON SENTENCE FOR RADICAL-PARTY LEADER
A Saratov Oblast court on 31 January found National Bolshevik Party leader Eduard Limonov guilty of forming an illegal armed formation and organizing the purchase of weapons, RFE/RL's Saratov correspondent reported. At the same proceeding, the court also convicted five other party members on similar charges. The prosecutor has asked that Limonov be sentenced to 14 years' imprisonment and that Sergei Aksenov, founder of the party's newspaper "Limonka," be given 12 years, ITAR-TASS reported. According to RFE/RL, Limonov will turn 60 on 22 February. Court proceedings will resume on 4 February. Meanwhile, in Nizhnii Novgorod, an unidentified female member of the National Bolshevik Party is facing criminal charges after allegedly throwing a cake in the face of the city's Mayor Vadim Bulavinov, Interfax reported (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 28 January 2003). If convicted, the 17-year-old faces a fine of 50 to 100 minimum wages or corrective labor for up to one year. JAC

LAND PRICES ON THE RISE IN TATARSTAN
Tatarstan Land and Property Relations Minister Valerii Vasilev has said that 7 percent of the republic's land used for industrial purposes was privatized in 2002, the first year of land privatization in the republic, RFE/RL's Kazan bureau reported on 31 January, citing an article in the Kazan-based "Vremya i dengi" the previous day. The budget took in 1.5 billion rubles ($47 million) for that land. Vasilev said the demand for the privatization of land sharply increased on the eve of 2003, as prices increased roughly fourfold on 1 January to an average of 200 rubles ($6.30) per square meter in Kazan; 100 rubles in Chally; and 80 rubles in Elmet, Tuben Kama, and other towns. He added that market prices are now much higher, reaching 6,000 rubles ($189) per square meter in Kazan. Currently, the average market price for land in Russia is 450 rubles per square meter. The minister added that more than 1 million residents are landowners in Tatarstan. JAC

RUSSIAN CO-CHAIRMAN QUITS DUMA-PACE COMMITTEE ON CHECHNYA
Duma Deputy Dmitrii Rogozin (People's Deputy) announced on 31 January his resignation as co-chairman of the Russian State Duma-Parliamentary Assembly of the Council of Europe (PACE) working group on Chechnya, Russian news agencies reported. Rogozin had said the previous day that Lord Frank Judd's resignation as PACE rapporteur for Chechnya and co-chairman of the group could lead to the group's collapse (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 31 January 2003). But Mikhail Margelov, who is Russian PACE deputy chairman, said the same day that Rogozin's resignation does not signal the end of cooperation between the Duma and the PACE on Chechnya, Interfax reported. LF

CHECHEN ADMINISTRATION HEAD MEETS WITH PREDECESSOR
Akhmed-hadji Kadyrov met in Moscow on 2 February with Doku Zavgaev to discuss the situation in Chechnya, including the planned 23 March referendum on a new constitution and election legislation, ITAR-TASS reported. Zavgaev, who served as pro-Moscow Chechen prime minister from October 1995 to late 1996, is currently Russian ambassador to Tanzania. Zavgaev said he has no intention of running for president in Chechnya and that he would endorse Kadyrov's candidacy. LF

ANOTHER KASPIISK BOMBING SUSPECT DETAINED
Magomed Abasilov was arrested in Khasavyurt on 31 January on suspicion of involvement in the May 2002 bombing of a Victory Day parade in Kaspiisk in which 43 people were killed and more than 100 injured, Interfax reported (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 9 May 2002). Abasilov has denied any connection with the blast, saying he has witnesses who can prove he was in Makhachkala at the time. Also on 31 January, Deputy Prosecutor-General Sergei Fridinskii told journalists in Rostov-na-Donu that four men have been detained in connection with the shooting down in Grozny in August 2002 of a Russian military helicopter, Interfax reported (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 21 and 22 August 2002). That incident claimed 116 lives. LF

COUNCIL OF EUROPE CRITICIZES ARMENIAN PRESIDENT
Two top Council of Europe officials have deplored Robert Kocharian's 16 January remark that the pogroms against Armenians in Azerbaijan in 1988 and 1990 testify to "ethnic incompatibility" and show that it is impossible for the Armenian population of Karabakh to live within an Azerbaijani state, RFE/RL's Armenian Service reported on 31 January (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 17 January 2003). Speaking on 30 January in Strasbourg, Council of Europe Secretary-General Walter Schwimmer said Kocharian's comment was tantamount to warmongering. Schwimmer called on all presidential candidates in both Armenia and Azerbaijan to "refrain from bellicose or hate rhetoric." Parliamentary Assembly of the Council of Europe President Peter Schieder said he hopes Kocharian's remark was incorrectly translated, adding that "since its creation, the Council of Europe has never heard the phrase 'ethnic incompatibility.'" LF

MOSCOW MAYOR CONTINUES ARMENIA VISIT
During talks with Kocharian in Yerevan on 31 January, Yurii Luzhkov offered to share with Armenia the experience Moscow has acquired in unspecified spheres of economic management, Noyan Tapan reported. Luzhkov also discussed with Armenian Prime Minister Andranik Markarian the prospects for increased Russian investment in Armenia, in particular in the Tsaghkadzor sports complex. LF

ARMENIAN SOLDIER KILLED IN CEASE-FIRE VIOLATION
An Armenian serviceman was shot dead while patrolling the Line of Contact on 28 January, hours after an Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE) mission monitored the area in question, according to AFP on 30 January, as cited by Groong. Also on 28 January, an Armenian shepherd was wounded in the border village of Voskevan by a bullet fired from the Azerbaijani side of the border, Noyan Tapan reported on 31 January. LF

INTERNATIONAL JOURNALISTS ORGANIZATION PROTESTS VIOLATIONS IN AZERBAIJAN
Reporters Without Borders Secretary-General Robert Menard has appealed to the OSCE and the Council of Europe to urge the Azerbaijani authorities to desist from harassing the independent media, Turan reported on 31 January. He noted that more than 30 formal complaints were brought against independent media outlets last year, mostly by government officials. Menard's statement was pegged to the hunger strike staged last month by journalists from the opposition newspaper "Yeni Musavat" (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 23 and 29 January 2003). LF

AZERBAIJANI NATIONAL SECURITY MINISTRY ASKS PRESS TO SUBSTANTIATE ALLEGATIONS OF PKK PRESENCE
The investigations department of the National Security Ministry has asked the editors of the opposition newspapers "Hurriyet" and "Yeni Musavat" to provide evidence to substantiate their repeated claims that the Kurdistan Workers' Party (PKK) maintains an extensive network in Azerbaijan, Turan reported on 31 January (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 23 January 2003). The statement warned that either withholding information that could contribute to preventing crime or making false allegations that result in the waste of money on fruitless investigations would constitute a criminal offense. "Yeni Musavat" Editor Rauf Arifoglu told Turan he has already provided the ministry with materials about the PKK presence in the town of Sumgait. On 1 February, zerkalo.az reported that Umid party leader Iqbal Agazade has asked Turkish intelligence to provide a copy of PKK leader Abdullah Ocalan's trial testimony, in which he gave details of the alleged PKK presence in Azerbaijan. Agazade has also asked Turkey's ruling Justice and Development Party to make available the materials that prompted its leader, Recep Tayyip Erdogan, to raise the issue of the PKK presence in Azerbaijan during talks in Baku last month (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 9 January 2003). LF

UN ENVOY REJECTS CALLS FOR PEACE ENFORCEMENT IN ABKHAZIA
Meeting in Tbilisi on 31 January with Georgian Minister for Special Assignments Malkhaz Kakabadze, UN Special Envoy for the Abkhaz Conflict Ambassador Heidi Tagliavini argued that the conflict can be solved only by political means, Caucasus Press reported. She expressed understanding for the frustration of Georgian displaced persons unable to return to their homes in Abkhazia but warned that calls by the Abkhaz parliament-in-exile for a UN peace-enforcement operation in Abkhazia will only complicate the situation and might lead to further bloodshed (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 31 January 2003). Interfax on 31 January quoted Kakabadze as saying that the 30 January UN Security Council resolution on Abkhazia will contribute little to resolving the conflict. Speaking at a press conference at the UN on 31 January, Georgian Ambassador to the UN Rezo Adamia accused Russia of providing "massive political and military support" to the Abkhaz over the past 10 years and of attempting to annex the breakaway republic, Reuters reported. On 1 February, the Georgian parliament adopted a statement similarly condemning Russia's support for Abkhazia and its "de facto annexation of part of Georgia," Caucasus Press reported. LF

ABKHAZIA ACCUSES GEORGIA OF SEEKING ITS ISOLATION
Abkhaz Prime Minister Gennadii Gagulia responded on 1 February to Adamia's allegations by accusing Georgia of seeking to isolate Abkhazia from Russia both politically and economically, Interfax reported. Gagulia warned that the withdrawal of the Russian peacekeeping force from the Abkhaz conflict zone "will certainly result in a sharp increase in tensions and [possibly] even the resumption of hostilities," Caucasus Press reported. Following talks on 31 January with Russian First Deputy Foreign Minister Valerii Loshchinin, who is Russian President Vladimir Putin's special envoy for the Abkhaz conflict, Gagulia said that Abkhazia is ready to begin talks on the repatriation of the Georgian displaced persons and the economic rehabilitation of the region. LF

GEORGIAN OPPOSITION POLITICIAN CALLS FOR DIALOGUE WITH ABKHAZIA
Union of Traditionalists of Georgia Chairman Akaki Asatiani told the independent Rustavi-2 television channel on 2 February that the Abkhaz conflict can be settled only by "mutual reasonable compromises" and not by force, ITAR-TASS reported. He said Georgians and Abkhaz should reach agreement on their own on the optimum format for coexistence and the status of Abkhazia within Georgia. Asatiani participated in an OSCE-sponsored meeting between Abkhaz and Georgian representatives in London last month to discuss political approaches to resolving the conflict. LF

GEORGIAN LOCAL POLICE CHIEF SHOT DEAD IN ABKHAZIA
Zugdidi Raion Criminal Police Chief Beglar Tonia was shot dead late on 1 February in neighboring Gali Raion, Caucasus Press reported. Unidentified assailants opened fire with submachine guns, grenades, and handguns when Tonia and five colleagues approached a car that had earlier been reported stolen. LF

GEORGIA SOLICITS RUSSIA'S COOPERATION IN PREVENTING CHECHEN GUNMEN'S RETURN TO PANKISI
Speaking in Washington on 31 January, Georgian National Security Minister Valeri Khaburzania said Tbilisi is counting on help from Russia to ensure that Chechen fighters do not return to their former bases in Georgia's Pankisi Gorge, Caucasus Press reported. He said Russia must ensure that its borders with Georgia are sealed. On 1 February, U.S. Ambassador to Georgia Richard Miles said that while 90 percent of the Chechen gunmen have left Pankisi, some Chechens and "international terrorists" are still there and that Georgia must take steps to expel them, Caucasus Press reported. Georgian officials said in December and January that all but a handful of the estimated 800 Chechens left Pankisi last summer (see "RFE/RL Caucasus Report," 27 January 2003). On 2 February, ITAR-TASS quoted Georgian Defense Minister Lieutenant General David Tevzadze as saying Georgia will deploy an unspecified number of national guardsmen near its border with Ingushetia beginning in mid-February. LF

UKRAINIAN DEFENSE MINISTER VISITS GEORGIA
Volodymyr Shkydchenko held talks in Tbilisi on 31 January with his Georgian counterpart Tevzadze, Minister of State Avtandil Djorbenadze, and President Eduard Shevardnadze, Caucasus Press reported. Shkydchenko said he and Tevzadze discussed mutual cooperation, including continued help in the training of Georgian military personnel but added that they did not discuss either the possible replacement of the Russian peacekeepers in Abkhazia by a Ukrainian contingent or the purchase by Georgia of Ukrainian air-defense missiles. Shkydchenko also denied Azerbaijani press reports that Ukraine has offered to make forces available to guard the Baku-Tbilisi-Ceyhan oil-export pipeline (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 31 January 2003). On 1 February, Caucasus Press quoted Georgian National Security Council Secretary Tedo Djaparidze as saying that Tbilisi is negotiating with Ukraine and the Czech Republic the possible purchase of air-defense missiles, but that the issue was not raised during Shkydchenko's visit. LF

KAZAKHSTAN HANDS OVER TERRORISM SUSPECT TO UZBEKISTAN
On 31 January Kazakhstan extradited to Uzbekistan an Uzbek citizen, Mirzakhid Khodjaev, who is suspected of belonging to the banned Islamic Movement of Uzbekistan and of involvement in the February 1999 car bombings in Tashkent, Interfax reported. Khodjaev was detained in southern Kazakhstan in November 2002. LF

KAZAKH PRESIDENT'S DAUGHTER ENDORSES CONVICTED JOURNALIST'S RIGHT TO APPEAL
In a statement released on 31 January, President Nursultan Nazarbaev's daughter, Darigha, said in her capacity as president of the Social Defense foundation that the trial of journalist Sergei Duvanov was marred by procedural violations and that his case should therefore be reviewed by an appeals court, Reuters and Interfax reported. Duvanov was sentenced on 28 January to 3 1/2 years' imprisonment on charges, which many observers believe were politically motivated, of statutory rape. His defense protested numerous alleged procedural violations during both the pretrial investigation and the trial (see "RFE/RL Central Asia Report," 30 January 2003). LF

HIGH TURNOUT REPORTED IN KYRGYZ REFERENDUM...
Kyrgyz Central Election Commission Chairman Sulayman Imanbaev announced late on 2 February that some 83 percent of registered voters participated in the referendum on proposed changes to the country's constitution, RFE/RL's Kyrgyz Service reported. Turnout ranged from 90.75 and 90.5 percent in the Chu and Naryn oblasts in the north to 57 percent in Bishkek, akipress.org reported. The lowest reported turnout was 31.2 percent in Aksy Raion, where police opened fire on demonstrators last March, killing five people. No incidents marred the voting, according to unnamed presidential administration officials quoted by ITAR-TASS. President Askar Akaev told journalists in Bishkek on 2 February that "Kyrgyzstan is the first country of the CIS...to adopt a stable constitution for a stable epoch," RFE/RL's Bishkek bureau reported. However, Azerbaijan's voters approved similar sweeping constitutional amendments in a referendum last August (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 26 August 2003). LF

...DESPITE OPPOSITION CALLS FOR BOYCOTT
Representatives of the Public Headquarters for the Referendum, which unites 12 opposition parties, appealed to voters on 31 January not to participate in the referendum on the grounds that the constitutional amendments will not contribute to political stability, Interfax quoted the organization's head, Socialist Ata-Meken Party Chairman Omurbek Tekebaev, as saying. Members of the Erkindik, Erkin Kyrgyzstan, Asaba, Ata-Meken, and other opposition parties convened a meeting in Aksy on 31 January at which they urged local residents not to participate in the referendum, RFE/RL's Kyrgyz Service reported. Tekebaev was detained by police late on 2 February while observing the voting in Bishkek and was released only four hours later after polling stations had closed, RFE/RL's Kyrgyz Service reported. LF

INDIAN FOREIGN MINISTER VISITS KYRGYZSTAN
Jaswant Singh held talks in Bishkek on 30-31 January with his Kyrgyz counterpart Askar Aitmatov, Defense Minister Colonel General Esen Topoev, Prime Minister Nikolai Tanaev, and President Akaev, akipress.org and Russian news agencies reported. The talks focused on bilateral cooperation and aspects of the international situation that are of concern to both parties. Singh and Topoev signed two separate agreements under which India will provide training for Kyrgyz servicemen and special-forces units. India also expressed an interest in purchasing certain types of weapons produced in Kyrgyzstan, according to Interfax. LF

CLANDESTINE PRINT SHOP RAIDED IN TAJIKISTAN
Police in Khudjand in Tajikistan's northern Sughd Oblast have shut down a print shop run by the regional head of the banned Hizb ut-Tahrir Party, ITAR-TASS reported on 2 February. The man and two of his associates were arrested, and computer equipment, videocassettes, and a bookbinding machine were confiscated, together with 100 books and 1,000 leaflets calling for the establishment of an Islamic state in Central Asia. LF

U.S. PROVIDES UZBEKISTAN WITH MORE FUNDS FOR DRUG CONTROL
Under an agreement signed in Tashkent on 31 January by Uzbekistan's Foreign Minister Abdulaziz Komilov and U.S. Ambassador John Herbst, Washington will provide an additional $1.99 million to finance measures to combat heroin-trafficking networks and to facilitate the exchange of information on drug trafficking and other illegal activities financed by the profits from drug trafficking, uzreport.com reported. LF

BELARUSIAN PRESIDENT ASSERTS THAT IRAQ HAS NO NUCLEAR WEAPONS...
President Alyaksandr Lukashenka on 31 January said Belarus has "major interests" in Iraq and called for lifting the UN sanctions against Baghdad and peacefully resolving the international discord currently surrounding that country, Belarusian Television reported. He was speaking at a news conference organized for domestic and foreign journalists. "We have some possibilities of trade [with Iraq], but they are limited by the sanctions," Lukashenka said. "I know that Iraq has no nuclear weapons -- no nuclear weapons -- and it will be difficult to persuade us [otherwise]." On the other hand, Lukashenka said North Korea does have nuclear weapons. "The [North Koreans] are very resolute people. It is not necessary to provoke people who have nuclear weapons," Lukashenka warned. JM

...AND SAYS SUPPORT FOR INTEGRATION WITH RUSSIA HAS PLUMMETED...
At the same 31 January news conference, Lukashenka said he is very concerned about the results of recent "closed surveys" in Belarus, according to which just 30-32 percent of Belarusians back integration with Russia compared with 80 percent support in the past, Belarusian Television reported. He did not specify when support was at the 80 percent mark. But Lukashenka said he knows the reasons for such low support for mutual integration: "There were gas problems, an attempt at pressuring Belarus, and other issues -- including [Russian President Vladimir Putin suggesting Belarus is buzzing around Russia like] flies [around] cutlets. These issues influenced the moods of Belarusians, and Belarusians have simply taken offense." Lukashenka promised to conduct a more thorough poll in Belarus, involving some 25,000 respondents, in order to study Belarusian attitudes to integration. "[We need to] ask specific questions, without veiled slyness: Do you want Belarus to be incorporated into Russia in parts or as a whole, or do you want to have two sovereign states [in the Russia-Belarus Union]?" Lukashenka said. JM

...WHILE HE EXPECTS BLUE SKIES WITH OSCE'S NEW OFFICE
"We closed the mission of the OSCE Advisory and Monitoring Group and allowed the opening of an OSCE office here [in Minsk]," Lukashenka told the 31 January news conference. "It's only three to four people.... I hope very much that we will not have conflicts like those with the OSCE Advisory and Monitoring Group led by [Hans Georg] Wieck," Lukashenka said. "Is there any reason for us to be afraid [of the new OSCE office]? All the same, embassies provide information to their countries about what is going on here." JM

U.S. TO AID UKRAINIAN CIVIL SOCIETY RATHER THAN GOVERNMENT
The United States will divert money from the Ukrainian government to civil-society groups because the government did not cooperate sufficiently with an inquiry into allegations that it sold embargoed military equipment to Iraq, Reuters reported on 31 January, quoting a U.S. official on conditions of anonymity. The decision was the outcome of a recently completed review of U.S. policy toward Ukraine, which has tightened since evidence emerged suggesting that President Leonid Kuchma in 2000 planned to sell a Kolchuga radar system to Baghdad. "We will make a major effort to take funds that previously would have gone to the government and we will put a heavy emphasis on support for nongovernmental organizations," the source said. "The policy review reaffirms that support for a stable democratic market-oriented Ukraine -- increasingly integrated into Euro-Atlantic institutions -- remains in the U.S. interest," U.S. State Department spokesman Louis Fintour said, but he added that the Kolchuga allegations have forced Washington to adjust its assistance program "to bolster support for democratic reform in Ukraine." The United States, citing the alleged Kolchuga sale, has already suspended $55 million in aid to Ukraine, representing some 35 percent of the total under the Freedom Support Act. JM

BULGARIAN PRESIDENT VISITS COMPATRIOTS IN UKRAINE
Bulgarian President Georgi Parvanov on 1 February visited the Bolhrad and Izmayil districts of Ukraine's Odesa Oblast, where large Bulgarian communities live, Interfax and UNIAN reported. According to the 2001 census, some 205,000 Bulgarians live in Ukraine, including 150,000 in Odesa Oblast. UNIAN reported that Odesa Governor Serhiy Hrynevetskyy on 31 January appointed Anton Kisse, a leader of the Bulgarian diaspora in Ukraine, as his deputy. JM

THREE UKRAINIAN MINERS DIE IN BLAZE
Three miners died and three were seriously injured in a fire at the Dzerzhinskyy coal mine in Donetsk Oblast on 2 February, Interfax reported. JM

ESTONIAN NEWS AGENCY CLOSES, FUTURE TO BE DECIDED SOON
The ETA news agency on 31 January officially announced its closure due to economic difficulties, BNS reported on 1 February. ETA board Chairman Tiit Lohmus told BNS that the owners of ETA Interactive, the operator of ETA, will announce their intentions on 3 February. According to unofficial sources, the agency's debts exceed 100,000 euros ($108,000) and employees have not been paid for January and half of December. The ETA news agency has operated since 1918 as a state organization but was privatized in late 1999 and declared bankrupt in mid-2000. Starting in July 2000, the agency's operations and trademark were taken over by ETA Interactive, whose owners are unknown. SG

LATVIA'S GREEN PARTY ELECTS CHAIRMEN
A congress of Latvia's Green Party (LZS), attended by 128 members, elected three co-chairmen on 1 February, LETA reported. In the competition among four candidates, LZS office head Viesturs Silenieks and parliamentary deputy Indulis Emsis were re-elected with 113 and 105 votes, respectively. Environment Minister Raimonds Vejonis garnered 86 votes to defeat Karlis Gundermanis, who won only 49 votes, for the third post. SG

LITHUANIA IMPLEMENTS NEW KALININGRAD TRANSIT RULES
More stringent Lithuanian regulations for Russian travel to the exclave of Kaliningrad Oblast (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 24 January 2003) were first felt at 3 a.m. local time on 1 February, when 400 passengers aboard a Moscow-Kaliningrad train were checked at the Kena border post and nine were not allowed to continue the trip, "Lietuvos rytas" reported on 3 February. Five of those passengers had only military IDs, which are no longer recognized as legitimate travel documents, while one had a Soviet passport without any stamp showing Russian citizenship and three were citizens of Kazakhstan and Azerbaijan without Lithuanian transit visas. SG

PROGRESS REPORTED IN SALE OF LITHUANIAN GAS TO GAZPROM
After talks in Vilnius on 31 January with Aleksandr Ryazanov, the deputy chairman of Gazprom's executive board, Lithuanian Prime Minister Algirdas Brazauskas told reporters that all outstanding issues aside from price have been resolved in the planned sale of a 34 percent stake in Lietuvos Dujos (Lithuanian Gas), ELTA reported. A separate 34 percent stake was sold in June to German energy companies Ruhrgas and E.ON Energie, which earned 116 million litas ($32.5 million) for the Lithuanian Privatization Fund and 34 million litas to an escrow account with Vereins-und Westbank AG (see "Baltic States Report," 9 July 2002). Ruhrgas Vice President Eike Benke, who is also the chairman of the Lietuvos Dujos management board, took part in the most recent negotiations, BNS reported. Gazprom previously offered 80 million litas for the 34 percent stake, but apparently will agree to pay more in light of favorable economic results in 2002. The deadline for Gazprom to submit its final bid for the shares is 28 February. SG

WARSAW DENIES REPORTS OF U.S. MOVING MILITARY BASES TO POLAND
Deputy Foreign Minister Adam Rotfeld on 31 January said there are no plans to transfer U.S. troops from Germany to Poland, PAP reported. Rotfeld was commenting on reports in the 31 January "Gazeta Wyborcza" and "Rzeczpospolita" that cited unnamed sources in the Bush administration as saying that Washington and Warsaw are secretly mulling relocation of U.S. military bases from Germany to Poland. Rotfeld said the reports were pure speculation but admitted that such a move is theoretically possible. Rotfeld also noted that NATO has long pledged not to deploy its troops on the territory of new member countries. Later the same day, Defense Minister Jerzy Szmajdzinski said the reports were untrue but promised to look into the matter during his visit with Premier Leszek Miller to Washington on 5 February. JM

HAVEL BIDS CZECHS FAREWELL AS PRESIDENT...
Outgoing President Vaclav Havel, whose mandate ended at midnight the same day, told Czechs in a televised address on 2 February: "I bid you farewell as your president," adding, "I remain with you as your fellow citizen," CTK and international news agencies reported. He then held his left hand aloft in the "peace" sign that marked his leadership during the nonviolent revolution that ousted the Communist Party in 1989. Havel said he considers his 13-year tenure as president -- first of Czechoslovakia and later of the Czech Republic -- to be "a great gift of fate for which I shall never cease to feel gratitude," according to RFE/RL. He said he was in the minority many times but always acted as his conscience dictated. He thanked those who stood by him and addressed those whom he had "disappointed," who disagreed with him, or "simply found me hateful" with the following words: "I sincerely apologize and trust you will forgive me." Havel also warned that institutions of democracy are easy to destroy but difficult to reconstruct. MS

...AND TURNS OVER PRESIDENTIAL POWERS TO PREMIER, PARLIAMENT SPEAKER...
Earlier on 2 February, Havel transferred his presidential prerogatives to Prime Minister Vladimir Spidla and Chamber of Deputies speaker Lubomir Zaoralek, both of the senior ruling Social Democratic Party (CSSD), CTK reported. Two attempts by the parliament to elect a successor to Havel since 15 January have ended in stalemate, and a possible third attempt could give way to attempts to amend the constitution to allow for direct presidential elections. Of parliament's failure so far to name a successor, Havel said, "This is unpleasant, but it is no catastrophe." He expressed confidence that his successor will face times "less turbulent than when I was entrusted with the post, but not uninteresting," and added, "Rather the opposite: only the upcoming period will truly show to what extent we have become a full-fledged part of the democratic world." MS/AH

...WHO SAY THEY'LL WIELD PREROGATIVES SPARINGLY
Spidla and Zaoralek on 2 February pledged to wield presidential powers with moderation until a new head of state is elected, CTK and "Mlada fronta Dnes" reported. As a result of the transfer, Spidla will represent the Czech Republic at the international level, command the military, and may appoint judges and grant amnesties (but not pardons). Zaoralek was empowered to appoint or dismiss members of the cabinet on the request of the prime minister, dissolve the lower house of parliament, appoint Constitutional Court judges pending Senate confirmation and members of the Czech National Bank's executive board, and call a referendum on Czech accession to the EU, expected in June. The legislature holds the exclusive power to declare war under the Czech Constitution. MS

CZECH REPUBLIC SENDS REINFORCEMENT TROOPS TO KUWAIT
Seventy members of the Czech antichemical-, antibacteriological-, and antinuclear-warfare unit left for Kuwait on 31 January, reinforcing the 250-strong unit stationed there, CTK reported. Under a resolution approved by parliament in January, the unit may participate in military operations against Iraq if the UN backs such action or if that country uses weapons of mass destruction. Additional reinforcements are to be flown to Kuwait later this month, bringing the total number of Czech soldiers stationed there to 358. The unit is also likely to be reinforced by 60 Slovak soldiers (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 30 January 2003). MS

PALESTINIAN SUSPECTED OF PLANNING TERRORIST ATTACKS DETAINED AT CZECH AIRPORT
German authorities said on 1 February that they are investigating reports that a young man suspected of planning terrorist attacks on the Israeli and U.S. embassies in Berlin was arrested in the Czech Republic on 28 January, AP reported. The German weekly "Focus" reports in its 3 February issue that a Palestinian man was detained in the transit area of Prague's international Ruzyne Airport on suspicion of traveling on forged documents. Dpa quoted a Berlin police source saying the man's name is on an international watch list. AP and dpa, citing the "Focus" story, reported on 3 February that the man admitted to investigators that he was active in the radical terrorist groups Islamic Jihad and Hamas, while CTK on 1 February reported that authorities were trying to determine whether he is a member of either organization. CTK reported that neither the Czech Interior Ministry nor police were ready to comment. The man was accompanied by six or seven Palestinians, including women and a child, who reportedly requested political asylum in the Czech Republic. According to "Focus," several of the men had razor blades concealed in their socks. MS

EUROPEAN PARLIAMENT PRESIDENT VISITS PRAGUE
European Parliament President Patrick Cox, who on 31 January inaugurated an information office in Prague, criticized a letter signed or endorsed by nine European leaders calling for unity behind U.S. efforts to bring about Iraq's forced disarmament, CTK reported (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 30 and 31 January 2003). Czech President Havel, who stepped down at midnight on 2 February, signed the document while still in office. Cox told journalists that he would prefer to see European leaders seek an EU-wide consensus rather than take personal initiatives. After meeting with Premier Spidla, Cox said both the European Parliament and the Czech government are convinced that a "unilateral approach is incorrect" and that the any military action must be based on a UN resolution. He said the European Parliament is aware that Iraqi President Saddam Hussein has violated earlier Security Council resolutions, but added that this does not yet justify military action. UN weapons inspectors should be given more time to find out whether Iraq is developing weapons of mass destruction, Cox added. MS

CZECH STATISTICAL OFFICE HEAD RESIGNS OVER MASSIVE MISCALCULATION
Marie Bohata, director of the Czech Statistical Office, resigned on 31 January under political pressure following a massive miscalculation of the country's 2002 foreign-trade figures, AP and local media reported. Bohata stepped down after an EU investigation team found the office, along with the country's Customs Directorate, guilty of serious errors that led to some 40 billion crowns ($1.36 billion) in underreported exports for the period of July-November. MS

MURDERER OF CZECH ROMANY GIRL HANDED RECORD SENTENCE
A court in Hradec Kralove, Northern Bohemia, on 31 January sentenced Jozef Sivak to 23 years and 10 months in prison for the murder in May of a seven-year-old Romany girl, CTK reported. Sivak was on probation for having committed property crimes at the time of the slaying, and thus could spend as long as 25 years in jail. The court called Sivak's act a revenge killing aimed at her family. MS

SLOVAK DEFENSE MINISTER RULES OUT IRAQ PARTICIPATION WITHOUT PRIOR UN RESOLUTION
Defense Minister Ivan Simko said on Slovak Radio on 1 February that any participation of Slovak forces in military action against Iraq is strictly conditioned on the UN Security Council confirming that Iraq is in violation of Resolution 1441, TASR reported. Simko said Slovakia and the Czech Republic are closely coordinating their positions on the issue. The Slovak government recently agreed to dispatch forces to join a Czech unit stationed in Kuwait (see item above and "RFE/RL Newsline," 30 January 2003). Speaking on the same program, Movement for a Democratic Slovakia Deputy Chairman Rudolf Ziak praised the center-right government's position and said, "If the cabinet continues this way, it will probably get our support." Parliament must debate the government's decision on 6 February. Meanwhile, Opposition Smer (Direction) Chairman Robert Fico told journalists on 31 January that his party will not support the government's proposal, calling it "non-European and irresponsible," according to TASR. MS

SLOVAK INTERIOR MINISTRY FILES SUIT AGAINST SENIOR STAFF...
Interior Minister Vladimir Palko on 31 January lodged a criminal suit against the director of the Operative Technology Department within his ministry and other members of that department's staff, TASR reported. Palko is charging them with abuse of authority and "possible sabotage" for withholding information from an investigation into the alleged bugging of Alliance for a New Citizen Chairman Pavol Rusko's telephone. Palko also dismissed the director and another senior official in the same department. Rusko said on 2 February that he continues to consider Palko responsible for the alleged tapping of his telephone (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 22, 24, 27, and 31 January 2003). MS

...WHILE NEW SCANDAL IS IN THE OFFING
Slovakia's National Security Office (NBU) spokesman Juraj Puchy said on 2 February that the office has uncovered plans to launch a smear campaign against NBU Director Jan Mojzis, TASR reported. Puchy said four former members of the communist-era secret police (Stb) who are still on the NBU staff were probably involved in the campaign, in which Mojzis's telephone conversations were monitored and the tapes "manipulated" in order to discredit him and "cast doubt on his suitability for his post." Puchy said the campaign was connected with the screening of NBU staff ahead of Slovakia's expected accession to NATO, and suggested those involved fear they will be forced to leave the NBU as a result of the screening. He also said the affair strongly resembles that of ANO Chairman Rusko's telephone tapping. "The misuse of phone tapping to discredit, criminalize, and blackmail [are] methods typical of the StB," he said. MS

SLOVAK RAILWAYS PARALYZED BY STRIKE
A strike called by Slovak Railways workers to protest government plans to abolish unprofitable regional rail links and dismiss personnel (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 30 January 2003) has paralyzed traffic in Slovakia since 31 January, TASR reported. International services have been canceled and trains stranded, while reports say the strike might have serious impact on the economy as enterprises run up against shortages. A meeting on 1 February between Transportation Minister Pavol Prokopovic and unions representing the striking workers failed to settle the labor dispute. Prime Minister Mikulas Dzurinda told journalists the same day that he is willing to negotiate only if and when the strike is ended. He added that he will only negotiate with Ivan Saktor, the president of the Slovak Trade Union Confederation. Dzurinda accused the responsible union leaders of harboring political ambitions. MS

HUNGARIAN OPPOSITION LEADER SLAMS 'GROUP OF EIGHT' LETTER
Former Prime Minister Viktor Orban on 31 January said in his speech at a charity concert in Nyiregyhaza that the country's leaders should maintain their sobriety, clearly understand and follow Hungarian interests, and act in a level-headed manner in the interest of peace instead of writing harmful letters, Hungarian media reported. Referring to the controversial letter expressing solidarity with the United States over Iraqi disarmament signed by Prime Minister Peter Medgyessy and a handful of other European leaders (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 30 and 31 January 2003), Orban told "Nepszabadsag" of 31 January that both he and the Hungarian public expect an explanation of the need for the statement on Iraq. Medgyessy was quoted in the same issue of the daily as saying that "now is the moment for us to realize that America and Europe will both lose out if they are unable to forge a united stance regarding Iraq." He added that Europe will be even worse off if it "gets out" of the dispute, because it will be left out of settling the problem and finding a peaceful solution. MSZ

TRAINING STARTS AT HUNGARY'S TASZAR AIR BASE
U.S. Army Major General David W. Barno announced on 31 January that the training of Iraqi volunteers, recruited worldwide by Iraqi opposition groups and the U.S. Defense Department, has begun at the Taszar military air base, Hungarian and international media reported. Barno told Reuters that the Iraqis will be trained "in a variety of important and necessary skills in support of coalition forces." He said the training will take place in two phases: In the first, the volunteers will be taught self-defense skills; in the second, they will learn to direct civilian and military missions. MSZ

HUNGARIAN POLICE AGAIN NIX NEO-NAZI DEMONSTRATION
Budapest police on 31 January refused to issue a permit for a gathering by the Blood and Honor Cultural Society in Budapest's Heroes Square on 9 February, explaining that the planned demonstration would disrupt traffic, local dailies reported the next day. Society spokesman Janos Endre Domokos countered that the group will seek a new venue and a new date for the demonstration, as they do not intend to stage a public function without a permit. The authorities have already banned the society, regarded by critics as a front for neo-Nazi groups, from honoring at another venue the German and Hungarian fascist troops who defended Buda Castle against Soviet forces in February 1945. MSZ

UN AND NATO SAY 'NO' TO SERBIAN SECURITY FORCES IN KOSOVA...
Michael Steiner, who heads the UN civilian administration in Kosova (UNMIK), said in a statement in Prishtina on 2 February that there is no reason for the UN and NATO to change their position that it is too early for any return of Serbian forces to Kosova, dpa and RFE/RL's South Slavic and Albanian Languages Service reported (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 27 January 2003). In Brussels, a NATO spokesman said the UN and NATO will make any decisions regarding security issues in Kosova. The spokesman added that the 1999 Kumanovo agreement with Belgrade does not provide for the return of uniformed and armed Serbian forces but only of Serbian security personnel at an unspecified point in the future. UN Security Council Resolution 1244 of 1999 makes a similar point. PM

...AMID DEMANDS FROM BELGRADE
On 1 February, Serbian Prime Minister Zoran Djindjic said in a letter to NATO's regional commander, Admiral Gregory Johnson, that Serbian forces should return to Kosova because NATO plans to reduce its presence there and local Albanian authorities are likely to take charge of security matters in such a situation, Reuters reported. Djindjic stressed that "we are not going to allow that to happen" and that NATO should involve Serbia in making any decisions about security issues in Kosova, RFE/RL's South Slavic and Albanian Languages Service reported. In Prishtina, several ethnic Albanian leaders suggested that Djindjic seeks to partition Kosova along ethnic lines, Hina reported (see "RFE/RL Balkan Report," 31 January 2003). Djindjic has increasingly appealed to Serbian nationalist sentiments in recent weeks, perhaps with an eye toward possible early general elections in Serbia later in 2003 (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 30 January 2003 and "RFE/RL Balkan Report," 23 August 2002). PM

SERBIAN GOVERNMENT TO CHARGE NATIONALIST POLITICIAN?
Nenad Milic, who is Serbian deputy interior minister, said in Belgrade on 1 February that Serbian Radical Party (SRS) leader Vojislav Seselj was lying when he claimed recently that police tried to arrest him on 31 January and send him to the war crimes tribunal in The Hague, Reuters reported. Milic added that the authorities "will bring criminal charges against him for spreading false information and disturbing the public." Yugoslav Foreign Minister Goran Svilanovic, who also heads the official commission for cooperation with the tribunal, said no arrest warrant for Seselj has arrived from The Hague, RFE/RL's South Slavic and Albanian Languages Service reported on 1 February. There has been widespread speculation in the regional media for years that the tribunal has secretly indicted Seselj for his activities as a paramilitary leader in the 1991-95 conflicts in Croatia and Bosnia. PM

EU LAUNCHES NEGOTIATIONS WITH ALBANIA
European Commission President Romano Prodi said in Tirana on 31 January that Albania has taken its "first official step" toward EU membership by beginning talks on its Stabilization and Association Agreement, RFE/RL reported (see "RFE/RL Balkan Report," 6 December 2002 and 17 January 2003). Prodi stressed that Albania began the process of European integration "from a lower ground" than did its neighbors but "climbed faster" than the others to achieve its goals. "I have great confidence in Albania. The vitality you see here, you don't see in many other countries," Prodi added. In response to Prodi's call for Albania to work hard to "fight corruption and organized crime," Prime Minister Fatos Nano said: "I am especially committed to getting rid of the lack of regulation, the corruption, the trafficking, the opportunities for criminal networks to penetrate [society]. We shall strengthen our institutions.... We shall become Europeans in our behavior and our political and civil [activities]." PM

HAGUE DOCTORS RULE CROATIAN GENERAL UNFIT FOR TRIAL
A team of doctors sent by the war crimes tribunal has completed a report concluding that Croatian General Janko Bobetko is too ill to stand trial, "Vjesnik" reported on 1 February (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 13 January 2003). The tribunal will make the final decision. Meanwhile in Sinj, some 10,000 people attended a concert in support of General Mirko Norac, who has also been charged with war crimes, RFE/RL's South Slavic and Albanian Languages Service reported. The audience included local- and regional-government personnel, veterans of the 1991-95 war of independence, and individuals from the army, police, and Roman Catholic Church. Both Norac and Bobetko are regarded as heroes by many Croats, especially by war veterans. PM

U.S. OFFICIAL CALLS ON BOSNIA TO DO MORE AGAINST TERRORISM
Secretary of State Colin Powell said in a letter to Mladen Ivanic, who is Bosnia's new foreign minister, that Bosnia should make combating terrorism one of its top priorities, RFE/RL's South Slavic and Albanian Languages Service reported from Sarajevo on 31 January. Powell added that Bosnia should strengthen legislation aimed at finding and prosecuting terrorists. PM

CHIEF INTERNATIONAL OFFICIAL IN BOSNIA SLAMS NATO
High Representative Paddy Ashdown told "The Independent" of 1 February that NATO has not taken sufficient action to capture former Bosnian Serb leader Radovan Karadzic. Ashdown added that NATO has limited itself to waiting for a " lucky break" that will lead to Karadzic's capture. An unnamed NATO official told the London daily, "We spoke to...Ashdown this week, and it was a friendly conversation. His high degree of activity is what is needed in Bosnia. We are not going to react to a single phrase and put ourselves in a position of having a row with someone we support." PM

SLOVENIA TO PERMIT EU CITIZENS TO BUY PROPERTY
Citizens of EU member states are allowed to buy property in Slovenia as of 1 February, dpa reported from Ljubljana. The change is in keeping with Annex 13 of Slovenia's Association Agreement with the EU. Many Slovenians are opposed to the move, fearing that many Italians, Austrians, and Germans will buy property and drive up prices (see "RFE/RL Balkan Report," 10 January 2003). PM

ROMANIAN PRESIDENT TELLS BUSH TO COUNT ON HIS COUNTRY'S SUPPORT
In a telegram addressed to U.S. President George W. Bush on 31 January, President Ion Iliescu pledged that his country will stand by the United States as an ally in the fight against international terrorism and stopping the proliferation of weapons of mass destruction, RFE/RL's Bucharest bureau reported. Iliescu said Bush can "count on Romania," emphasizing that "Romania understands that dictators cannot be tolerated or ignored" and "have to be opposed." Iliescu wrote that Romanians truly cherish liberty because "they have seen the face of evil, which communism personified." On 1 February, Iliescu told journalists in Bucharest that Romania might grant the United States overflight rights and use of military airfields in the event that Washington decides to strike Iraq. If asked to grant other forms of aid, Iliescu said, "We will take the necessary steps while at the same time abiding by our constitutional provisions," Mediafax reported. MS

ROMANIANS SCORE HIGHEST IN EUROPE IN FAVOR OF INTERVENTION AGAINST IRAQ
Forty-nine percent of Romanians support a military intervention against Iraq, Mediafax reported on 1 February, citing the results of a poll carried out by Gallup International. This marks the highest support for military intervention registered by European respondents, and is second only to the support registered in the United States, which reaches 67 percent. Forty-two percent of Romanians are against such a strike "under any circumstances." Among European respondents, the highest opposition is registered among Estonians (64 percent), followed by the French (60), Russians (59), Bulgarians (58.8), and Germans (50 percent). Opposition in the United Kingdom to the strike is approximately 41 percent, while in the United States only 21 percent are opposed to a strike. MS

BISHOP TOEKES LOSES POSITION AS HONORARY CHAIRMAN OF ROMANIA'S UDMR...
The congress of the Hungarian Democratic Federation of Romania (UDMR), held in Satu-Mare on 31 January-2 February, decided to abolish the function of UDMR honorary chairman, thus depriving Bishop Laszlo Toekes of his position in the organization, Rompres reported. Toekes has long been the actual head of the "radical" factions within the UDMR. The congress reelected Bela Marko to the position of UDMR chairman and approved new party statutes. Toekes, who was not present at the gathering, vowed not to leave the organization and said he gained the honorary chairmanship after being "elected by the people" who backed him during the 1989 Timisoara uprising. The congress also decided that elections for the Council of Representatives (UDMR's internal parliament) should be held by the end of May. MS

...AS ROMANIAN AND HUNGARIAN PREMIERS MEET ON SIDELINES
Prime Minister Adrian Nastase and his Hungarian counterpart Peter Medgyessy met on the sidelines of the UDMR congress, which they both attended as guests, Rompres reported. Medgyessy asked Nastase to reexamine recent legislation according to which foreign investors have to invest at least 100,000 euros to receive long-term residence permits in Romania, saying the legislation is discriminatory to Hungarian investors. Nastase promised that the government will reexamine the legislation. Both premiers said they want to enlist EU help in constructing a highway linking Budapest with Bucharest. Foreign Minister and Hungarian Socialist Party (MSZP) Chairman Laszlo Kovacs, who also attended the gathering, signed with Nastase a cooperation treaty between the MSZP and the Romanian Social Democratic Party (PSD). The two formations pledged to consult each other on international issues, as well as on decisions affecting minorities in the two countries, dpa reported. The MSZP also pledged to back the PSD in its quest for full membership of the Socialist International. MS

ROMANIAN ANTICORRUPTION CHIEF TAKES WORDS BACK
National Anticorruption Prosecution (PNA) head Ioan Amarie on 31 January claimed that a statement he made one day earlier was "distorted" by the media, RFE/RL's Bucharest bureau reported. According to a PNA press release, Amarie did not state, as he was allegedly misquoted as saying, that both current and former ministers and state secretaries are suspected of being involved in corruption and that investigations have been launched (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 31 January 2003). According to the "corrected" version, only one current state secretary is under suspicion, the rest being all former ministers and state secretaries. The "correction" came after Premier Nastase called on Amarie to "clarify" his earlier statement. MS

ROMANIA, MOLDOVA AGREE TO MEETING AT PARLIAMENTARY-COMMITTEE LEVEL
Romanian Senate Foreign Policy Committee Chairman Gheorghi Prisacaru and the Moldovan parliament's Foreign Policy Committee Chairman Andrei Neguta agreed on 31 January to convoke a meeting of members of the two committees in Chisinau in April, Romanian Radio reported. The two met on the sidelines of the current Parliamentary Assembly of the Council of Europe session in Strasbourg. The April meeting is to discuss bilateral relations and cooperation between the two committees. MS

CHISINAU, TIRASPOL AGREE TO RESUME NEGOTIATIONS
William Hill, the OSCE's mission head in Moldova, on 31 January announced that Chisinau and Tiraspol have agreed to resume the negotiations on a settlement based on the OSCE proposals for Moldova's federalization, Infotag reported. Hill said negotiators representing the two sides will meet weekly, and that once a month negotiations will take place in the presence of representatives of the three mediators -- the OSCE, Russia, and Ukraine. Hill said the OSCE regards the settlement of the Transdniester conflict as one of its chief tasks in 2003. For this purpose, he added, the OSCE chairman in office has appointed Adriaan Jacobovitz as his permanent representative for the Transdniester settlement, and Jacobovitz will work on a permanent basis with the OSCE mission. Jacobovitz himself said the negotiations have been dragging on far too long and the conflict requires priority attention. MS

MOLDOVAN COURTS DECLINE COMPETENCE TO RULE ON PPCD APPEAL...
The Chisinau Court of Appeals on 30 January declined to rule on an appeal launched by the Popular Party Christian Democratic (PPCD) against the Central Election Commission's refusal to register a drive on a referendum on joining NATO and the EU, Flux reported on 31 January. The court said jurisdiction over the matter is the prerogative of the Supreme Court. The Supreme Court, however, said the matter is not within its competence. The lawyer representing the PPCD said he will launch a further appeal, adding that the Moldova courts of justice "play ball and run away from ruling on the appeal" but "will have no choice and will be forced to do so soon." MS

...AND PROTEST DEMONSTRATION IS STAGED AGAIN IN CHISINAU
Some 2,000 members and sympathizers of the PPCD on 2 February protested again in Chisinau against the Central Election Commission's refusal to register the referendum drive (see above), calling on the government to resign, ITAR-TASS and Romanian Radio reported. The demonstrators accused the government of infringing on the independence of the judiciary and of imposing its line on Teleradio Moldova's reporting. For the first time since demonstrations were resumed on 19 January, the protesters marched on Chisinau's main boulevard. They were joined by members of the extraparliamentary opposition. MS

BULGARIA SETS CONDITIONS FOR SUPPORT FOR POSSIBLE MILITARY OPERATION AGAINST IRAQ
Foreign Minister Solomon Pasi said on 31 January that foreign news agencies have distorted Bulgaria's position on a possible military operation against Iraq, "Sega" reported. Pasi said Bulgaria's position is that, after 13 years of waiting for Iraqi President Saddam Hussein to abide by UN resolutions, one could wait another 13 weeks. He said that Bulgaria will remain an ally of the United States and NATO in the fight against international terrorism, but will not send combat troops to support a possible attack on Iraq. He added that Bulgaria's allies have been informed about its national interests regarding Iraq, including guarantees for Bulgaria's security in the event of an attack and the repayment of Iraq's debt to Bulgaria, which amounts about $1.7 billion. Another precondition for the country's support for a possible military operation against Iraq is that Bulgarian companies be allowed to participate in the reconstruction of postwar Iraq. UB

BULGARIAN POLICE OFFICIAL SAYS DRUG TRAFFICKING ON THE RISE AHEAD OF IRAQI OPERATION
National Service for Combating Organized Crime (NSBOP) Director Rumen Milanov said on 1 February that police have observed a rise in international drug trafficking in the Balkans over the past few weeks, bnn reported. Milanov did not provide data on the increase, but said it is quite likely that smugglers are building up their supplies because of the looming military operation against Iraq. Milanov said that Bulgaria's border controls will be tightened if a war breaks out. UB

BULGARIAN FOREIGN MINISTER WRAPS UP OFFICIAL VISIT TO LIBYA
Foreign Minister Pasi wrapped up his two-day visit to Lybia on 2 February, BTA reported. During his visit, Pasi discussed the Iraq situation with Abd Al-Rahman Shalgam, Libya's secretary of the General People's Committee for Foreign Liaison and International Cooperation. Pasi also held talks with Justice and Interior Minister Ali Al-Masirati to discuss the case of the six Bulgarian medical workers charged with deliberately infecting nearly 400 Libyan children with HIV. The workers, with whom Pasi met twice during his visit, have been under arrest since February 1999. Ambassadors of NATO and EU member states reassured Pasi that they will closely monitor the developments in the case. Before he left for Libya, Pasi expressed his confidence that the controversial Libyan chairmanship of the UN Human Rights Committee could have positive effects on the medical workers' case. UB

STRIKING QUESTIONS IN RUSSIA
Yegor Gaidar, who stood at the tumultuous center of Russian economic reform in 1992-94, recently noted a curious feature of the economy he helped to create: "We've hardly had any strikes since 2000. The number of striking workers isn't in the millions or the thousands, but in the hundreds. That's why everyone thought the air-traffic controllers were a sensation. They went on strike! But it's the elite that went on strike. They understand that the airlines earn good money on their work. It was ordinary bargaining," he said, according to "Konservator" of 24 January.

Ordinary as the bargaining might have been, the strike tended more toward the original. After failing to reach a compromise on a pay rise with their employer -- the State Corporation for the Organization of Air Traffic -- the Federation of Air-Traffic Controllers Unions (FPAD) opted to strike on 30 November. Their employers promptly obtained a court ruling forbidding the strike on the basis of Russia's Aviation Code. Undeterred, air-traffic controllers switched tactics -- they stopped eating. By 1 January, the union had inked an agreement that included provisions for gradual pay increases.

Despite a clause in the agreement intended to protect protestors from sanctions, local prosecutors are still pressing for disciplinary measures, "Kommersant" reported on 18 January. With air-traffic controllers alleging that reprisal firings have taken place in Omsk and Novosibirsk, more strife could be in the offing.

Air-traffic controllers are not the only restive members of the Russian "elite." Aeroflot employees reached a collective-bargaining agreement with management on 29 November that left the hot-button issues of salary increases and overtime pay to a conciliation commission, gazeta.ru reported on 21 January. The conciliation commission ended its work on 28 December amid charges from some union representatives that management had aborted the process. By late January, the dispute had bogged down, with technicians' and flight attendants' unions holding out the possibility of a strike, "The Moscow Times" reported on 22 January. For its part, management claimed a strike would be illegal. Article 410 of the Russian Labor Code requires that, for a strike to be legal, two-thirds of an enterprise's employees must meet, and half of those present must vote in favor of a strike. Viktor Kleshchenkov, who heads an association of three Aeroflot unions representing 5,000 of the airline's staff of 15,000, gave management until the end of January to come up with new proposals to avert a strike, RIA-Novosti reported on 22 January.

The mere threat of a strike at Norilsk Nickel's arctic division, which accounts for 20 percent of world nickel production, was enough to affect world markets. The conflict began in late December when unions asked to have workers' monthly pay raised from 24,000 ($755) to 28,000 rubles. With the conflict still unresolved on 24 January, nickel prices surged to a two-year high of $8,550 per ton, "Kommersant" reported on 25 January. A conciliation commission began meeting on 27 Monday, RIA-Novosti reported the same day, for what could be a week's worth of talks to keep the division's 60,000 workers on the job.

These recent flare-ups garner attention against a backdrop of startlingly placid labor relations. The picture that emerges is richer in irony than protest: Despite pervasive dissatisfaction over low wages among Russian workers and frequent wage arrears throughout much of the 1990s, the country was remarkably calm. Oberlin College's Stephen Crowley examines this baffling quiescence in a spring 2002 article in "Demokratizatsiya" titled "Comprehending the Weakness of Russia's Unions." For the period from 1992 to 1999, he writes, "Even by generous estimates the number of strikers and protestors represents only 1 or 2 percent of all Russian workers, and also an extraordinarily small percentage of workers owed wages." A common joke in the 1990s had a presidential adviser rushing in to ask the chief executive about a group of unpaid workers: "What should we do? They haven't been paid in months and they keep coming to work." The president shakes his head and muses aloud, "Maybe we should charge them admission."

Strikes broke out, of course. The most famous protests of the 1990s featured teachers and miners trying desperately to collect unpaid back wages. Crowley notes, however, that both groups are part of the so-called "budget" sector -- workers who receive their salaries from the state budget. Since strikes involving "budget" workers represent an attempt to wrest extra resources from Moscow, they often enjoyed the support and encouragement of management and the local authorities. The privatized sector has seen far less activity.

The dominance of the Federation of Independent Trade Unions (FNPR), Russia's largest labor federation, is one reason for the eerie quiet. While the FNPR claims 38 million members on its website (http://www.fnpr.org.ru), making it the largest nongovernmental organization in Russia, it remains beholden to the legacy of the Soviet unions from which it emerged. Under the Soviet system, unions functioned as a division of management and acted primarily to organize the distribution of such social benefits as vacation tours and children's summer camps. Strikes were for the decadent West -- when workers had the bourgeois effrontery to strike in the city of Novocherkassk in 1962 over wage cuts and price increases, the state moved brutally to suppress them with soldiers and tanks, killing at least 20 people.

The FNPR is today deeply enmeshed in power politics at the highest level. For example, FNPR Deputy Chairman Andrei Isaev is also the head of pro-government party Unity's General Council, as well as a deputy in the State Duma. The result is timidity. "The FNPR is pathologically afraid of nationwide strikes, as this would mean a clash not only with employers, but with the authorities," a 19 January article in "Novoe vremya" remarked. At enterprises where independent unions have arisen to challenge the FNPR, representational quotas in the Labor Code make it even more difficult to conduct a legal strike.

The ongoing disputes noted here confirm that strikes are still a weapon, no matter how rarely used, when management and labor lock horns. With wages drifting upward in a period of relative stability, air-traffic controllers, Aeroflot, and Norilsk Nickel might provide some indication of whether a whiff of prosperity in the air serves more to whet workers' appetite for conflict or to stimulate their desire for conciliation.

AFGHAN PAPER CALLS FOR CAUTION IN DRAFTING NEW CONSTITUTION...
The central administration's lack of influence beyond Kabul coupled with the power of warlords means that the people of Afghanistan are unable to exercise their right to determine the shape of the new Afghan constitution (see "RFE/RL Afghanistan Report," 16 and 30 January 2003), "Takhasos" commented on 31 January. The Herat daily added that the representatives who are to participate in the Constitutional Loya Jirga and approve the draft constitution will be selected in the provinces by local warlords and that any elections would be marred by the use of force and intimidation. Therefore, the paper opined that conditions are not ripe for Afghanistan's people to determine the shape of their new constitution. The daily suggested that the 1964 Afghan Constitution, which under the Bonn Agreement is currently being used as the country's basic law, should remain in force for the next two years to allow the central government to establish its control throughout the country and to improve social conditions. After that, when people are safe and are not starving, the process of developing a new constitution can begin, "Takhasos" added. Otherwise, it said, "the irreversible outcome" of the current process will be so negative that "people will not be able to recover from it for many years." AT

...AS UN ELABORATES ON TIMELINES AND PROCESSES
During a briefing on Afghanistan to the UN Security Council, Secretary-General Kofi Annan's Special Representative for Afghanistan Lakdhar Brahimi said on 31 January that the Constitutional Drafting Commission (CDC) plans to submit in March the final draft of the new Afghan Constitution to a larger commission "whose 30 members [are] currently being selected," the UN Security Council said in its report on the meeting. Brahimi said the CDC has consulted with the United Nations Assistance Mission in Afghanistan (UNAMA) and the United Nations Development Program on the drafting of the new constitution. He said that from April to June the commission will conduct "countrywide public consultations to discern the public's views on key constitutional issues" and will "finalize a draft by late August." "The final step would be the convening of a Constitutional Loya Jirga in October to review and adopt the constitution," he said. UN officials have not addressed the concerns of many Afghans who believe that no mechanism or political will on the part of the warlords exists to allow the public to participate in the drafting of the new constitution. AT

UN REPRESENTATIVE LISTS PROGRESS, COMPLAINTS IN AFGHANISTAN
UN Special Representative for Afghanistan Brahimi told the UN Security Council on 31 January that the Afghan Independent Human Rights Commission (AIHRC) has "steadily been implementing its work program" covering "capacity-building in the fields of investigations and monitoring, human rights education, promotion of the rights of women, and transitional justice." He also said in the Security Council report on the meeting that the AIHRC has begun the process of establishing seven provincial offices and has been working to "identify human rights concepts and principles that should be reflected in the new constitution." Brahimi added that the AIHRC has received 600 complaints from individuals and groups, most of which involve "cases of intimidation and violence against political-party and civil-society activists by regional local commanders." Brahimi did not specify where the seven new AIHRC offices are being established or what steps are being taken to stop cases of intimidation in light of the initiative to give Afghans a voice in determining the form of their new constitution. AT

AFGHAN PAPER SUPPORTS CABLE-TV BAN
Commenting on the Afghan Supreme Court's 21 January decision to ban cable television (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 22 January 2003), the Herat paper "Etefaq-e Islam" wrote on 1 February that the Supreme Court is the body responsible for "preserving the country's religious and Islamic values" and should resist any opposition to its rulings. The paper added that international organizations that claim to be friends of Afghanistan "should not anticipate that Afghans [will] abandon their religious and valuable beliefs and disregard" the Supreme Court's decision. "Etefaq-e Islam" said that while Afghanistan's "Islamic scholars as well as intellectuals abhor the petrifying viewpoints of the Taliban about Islam more than does the international community," this should not be interpreted to mean that Afghans will abandon their religion and customs. "Etefaq-e Islam" supports the views of Herat Province Governor Mohammad Ismail Khan, who in January banned coeducation (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 13 January 2003). AT

DIRECT AIR LINK TO BE ESTABLISHED BETWEEN IRAN AND AFGHANISTAN
Iran Aseman Airlines manager Ardeshir Rezai said on 2 February that the airline has signed a memorandum of understanding with Afghanistan's Civil Aviation Organization to begin flights soon from the eastern Iranian city of Mashhad to Herat and Kabul, IRNA reported. AT

IRAN TO HELP AFGHANS HELP THEMSELVES
Iran's Ministry of Sciences, Research, and Technology has offered 1,750 scholarships to Afghan students majoring in agriculture, animal husbandry, and botany, IRNA reported on 2 February, citing Bakhtar News Agency. The ministry's project was developed in coordination with the UN Food and Agriculture Organization to provide training to Afghans in fields directly related to food provision. Selected Afghan students are to begin enrolling at participating Iranian educational institutions when the academic year begins in September. MES

IRANIAN OPINION POLLSTERS RECEIVE HARSH SENTENCES...
Two Iranian researchers were handed severe prison sentences on 2 February for conducting a poll that showed that approximately three-fourths of Iranians favor reopening official relations with the United States, Iranian Press Service and IRNA reported. Abbas Abdi, an Ayandeh Research Institute board member who as a revolutionary took part in the 1979 hostage taking of 55 U.S. diplomats, received a seven-year prison sentence. The institute's managing director, Hussein Qazian, was sentenced to eight years' imprisonment. The poll was commissioned by parliament's Foreign and Security Affairs Committee and was conducted by the National Institute for Research and Opinion Polls in coordination with the U.S.-based Gallup Organization. The defendants were accused by Iran's judiciary of receiving money from Gallup to fabricate a poll that would show Iranians' disfavor with clerical leaders' policies, according to Iran Press Service. Abdi and Qazian were found guilty on three of the four charges filed by prosecutors, with a sentence still pending on the charge that they possessed confidential documents, IRNA reported, citing "Seday-e Edalat." MES

...AS ANOTHER AWAITS HIS FATE
National Institute for Research and Opinion Polls Director Behruz Geranpayeh, who was arrested on 16 October in connection with the poll's publication for allegedly "publishing false and poisonous information" as well as "selling information to foreigners," according to IRNA, still awaits a judgment on his case. Iran Press Service reported on 2 February that Abdi and Geranpayeh read statements during the trial admitting to "mistakes" they made in conducting the poll that "served the interests" of foreign powers and reportedly acknowledged their mistakes and apologized to Khamenei. Geranpayeh met with Parliamentary Speaker Hojatoleslam Mehdi Karrubi on 2 February to discuss the case, IRNA reported. "Seday-e Edalat" has reported that Geranpayeh, who was recently released on bail, plans to go on a pilgrimage to Mecca in February. MES

FREED DISSIDENT CLERIC CONTINUES CRITICISM OF IRAN'S JUDICIARY
Ayatollah Hussein-Ali Montazeri-Najafabadi on 31 January said political trials in Iran are against Sharia law and called for a revision of the country's judiciary, the "Financial Times" reported (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 31 January 2002). "The so-called political trials and verdicts have no basis in Sharia. The revolutionary court and special clerical court are misused as a scarecrow. These courts are against the constitution," he said on just his second day of freedom after being under house arrest for five years. "For five years, my time was spoiled.... This was the biggest injustice to me," the "Financial Times" quoted Montazeri as saying. "I was sad at being away from people. I was deprived of consulting ulema [religious scholars] and using people's knowledge." MES

PARLIAMENTARY SPEAKER CALLS FOR INQUIRY INTO ACTIVIST'S CLAIM...
Parliament Speaker Karrubi has called for an inquiry into complaints of harassment lodged by national-religious activist Ezatollah Sahabi, IRNA reported on 2 February. Sahabi, who is free on bail after serving several years in prison for his activities, voiced his complaints in a letter to President Mohammad Khatami, Karrubi, and judiciary chief Ayatollah Mahmud Hashemi-Shahrudi. "I prefer to be put to death if I've really posed a threat to the government system by expressing my political views. If not, why am I being subject to various kinds of harassment by the security agents ever since I've been freed?" Sahabi said in his letter, according to IRNA. MES

...SAYS IRAN'S POLITICAL DIFFERENCES ENCOURAGING TO UNITED STATES
Parliament Speaker Karrubi said on 1 February that dissent in Iranian politics is encouraging the United States to attempt to weaken Iran's government, IRNA reported. He said that although U.S. officials welcome Iran's political differences as a positive sign, the country's political parties are united in upholding Iran's constitution and safeguarding the government system. MES

IRAN DENIES IT USES BUSHEHR TO ADVANCE NUCLEAR-ARMS PROGRAM
Foreign Ministry spokesman Hamid Reza Assefi has dismissed claims made by U.S. State Department spokesman Richard Boucher on 1 February that Iran uses its construction of the Bushehr nuclear-power plant as a "a cover and a pretext for obtaining sensitive technologies to advance its nuclear-weapons program," IRNA reported. "All of Iran's nuclear activities are under the supervision of the International Atomic Energy Agency, which has repeatedly confirmed the peaceful nature of Iran's nuclear activities," Assefi said on 2 February. "No country can deny Iran access to the peaceful use of nuclear technology," he added. The Bushehr nuclear-power plant is being constructed with Russia's assistance and is expected to be completed in June 2004. "If the Russians end their sensitive cooperation with Iran" the United States is prepared to grant its approval of the transfer of spent nuclear fuel from third countries to Russia, Boucher said in his written response to questions posed at a 31 January press conference, AFP reported. He added that such an arrangement is "potentially worth several billion U.S. dollars in revenue to Moscow." Viktor Kozlov, who heads Atomstroieksport, the construction department of Russia's Atomic Energy Ministry, said on 31 January that Russia will pursue more contracts with Iran in the nuclear sphere. "Russia is convinced that the plants it builds in neighboring countries are used only for civilian purposes," Reuters reported. "You shouldn't think Russian leaders are stupid." MES

EU COMMISSIONER SAYS IRAN MUST HAVE ROLE IN SHAPING WORLD'S FUTURE
EU Commissioner for External Relations Chris Patten, who was expected to arrive in Tehran on 3 February for Iran-EU negotiations, said on 2 February that "we have a huge interest in Europe in what is happening in Iran in the debate of modernization and reform," IRNA reported. "We don't seek to intervene or interfere in this debate," he said. "But everyone must recognize, I am sure, that reform opens the way for Iran playing a much more significant role in international stage, regionally and globally." He added that "much of history began in Iran and for Iran not to be involved globally in shaping our future would be in my judgment a terrible mistake, a terrible lack for the rest of the world.'' MES

GERMAN INTELLIGENCE SAYS IRAQ HAS MOBILE CHEMICAL, BIOLOGICAL LABS
AFP reported on 1 February that Germany's Bundesnachrichtendienst (BND) intelligence service has evidence that Iraq's mobile laboratories are capable of producing chemical and biological weapons, citing a 3 February report in the German weekly magazine "Focus." The weekly says the laboratories are hidden in trucks that appear completely normal from the outside, and that the Iraqi government purchased equipment for the labs in Germany, AFP added. Germany took over the presidency of the UN Security Council from France on 1 February. Meanwhile, an official from the Russian Atomic Energy Ministry stated on 31 January that Iraq has no nuclear weapons. Speaking at a conference in St. Petersburg, Aleksandr Agapov, director of the ministry's Department for Safety, Emergency Situations, and the Environment, said available information indicates that Iraq does not have the technological potential for producing weapons-grade plutonium and other key components of an atomic bomb, ITAR-TASS reported on 31 January. KR

INSPECTION CHIEFS ACCEPT INVITATION TO RETURN TO BAGHDAD
UN Monitoring, Verification and Inspection Commission (UNMOVIC) Executive Chairman Hans Blix and International Atomic Energy Agency Director-General Mohammad el-Baradei have accepted an Iraqi invitation to meet with officials again in Baghdad, according to a statement by an IAEA spokesperson, AFP reported on 1 February. The meeting reportedly is scheduled for 8-9 February. Meanwhile, London's Sky News reported on 2 February that Iraq will not meet any preconditions for the meeting set by Blix, who reportedly has demanded that Iraq cooperate on interviews with scientists and U-2 overflights. The Iraqis have said they will allow for U-2 overflights only if the United States and United Kingdom halt their flights in the northern and southern no-fly zones while the U-2s are in the air to prevent Iraqi antiaircraft batteries from mistaking them for warplanes and firing on them, AP reported on 2 February. AP also reported that Iraqi National Monitoring Directorate head Major General Husam Muhammad Amin told reporters in Baghdad on 2 February that U.S. Secretary of State Colin Powell's upcoming presentation at the UN Security Council will most likely consist of "fabricated space photos or aerial photos" that Iraq can easily refute. "It is a political game," Amin added. KR

IRAQ TO RETURN KUWAITI MUSEUM ARCHIVES
Iraq announced through a Foreign Ministry statement on 1 February that it will hand over the archives of the Kuwaiti National Museum and other properties to Kuwait on 3 February. The return of goods will be made through the UN Iraq-Kuwait Observation Mission (UNIKOM) and will include recently discovered Kuwaiti property that was confiscated by Iraqi authorities during the 1990-91 invasion, including five swords, paintings, and other articles belonging to the Kuwaiti royal family. The announcement can be viewed at (http://www.uruklink.net/mofa). KR

ARAB INTELLECTUALS PETITION IRAQI PRESIDENT TO STEP DOWN
A group of more than 30 Arab intellectuals signed a petition on 31 January urging Iraqi President Saddam Hussein to step down and avoid war in Iraq, the Beirut-based "Daily Star" reported on 1 February. "We call upon public opinion in the Arab world to exercise pressure for the dismissal from power of Saddam Hussein and his close aides in Iraq in order to avoid a war that threatens with catastrophe the peoples of the region," the petition states. Signatories include personalities from Lebanon, Egypt, Kuwait, Syria, Tunisia, and the Israeli-occupied West Bank and Gaza Strip. KR

GALLUP INTERNATIONAL POLL RELEASED ON IRAQ
Gallup International Association has released its latest poll on Iraq, in which 30,000 citizens of 41 countries were interviewed, according to the organization's website (http://www.gallup-international.com). Respondents were asked, "Generally, do you think American foreign policy has a positive effect on your country, a negative effect, or does American foreign policy have no effect on your country?" European Union respondents overwhelmingly answered "a negative effect" -- including in France (71 percent), Germany (67 percent), Spain (57 percent), Denmark (58 percent), and the Netherlands (55 percent). Meanwhile, 42 percent of respondents in the United Kingdom (excluding Northern Ireland) answered "a negative effect." Respondents were also asked, "If military action goes ahead against Iraq, do you think you country should or should not support this action?" Again, EU respondents were more likely to choose "should not support" -- France (61 percent), Germany (71 percent), Spain (73 percent), Denmark (51 percent), and the Netherlands (52 percent) -- while 41 percent of U.K. respondents answered "should not support." Asked "Are you in favor of military action against Iraq?" the portions of respondents who chose "under no circumstances" were: France (60 percent), Germany (50 percent), Spain (74 percent), Denmark (45 percent), the Netherlands (38 percent), and the United Kingdom (41 percent). The poll questioned individuals across the EU and Eastern Europe, as well as the Americas, the Pacific, and Africa. KR

BELARUSIAN PRESIDENT ASSERTS THAT IRAQ HAS NO NUCLEAR WEAPONS
Belarusian President Alyaksandr Lukashenka on 31 January said Belarus has "major interests" in Iraq and called for lifting the UN sanctions against Baghdad and peacefully resolving the current international discord around that country, Belarusian Television reported. He was speaking at a news conference organized for domestic and foreign journalists. "We have some possibilities of trade [with Iraq], but they are limited by the sanctions," Lukashenka said. "I know that Iraq has no nuclear weapons -- no nuclear weapons -- and it will be difficult to persuade us [otherwise]." On the other hand, Lukashenka said North Korea does have nuclear weapons. "The [North Koreans] are very resolute people. It is not necessary to provoke people who have nuclear weapons," Lukashenka warned. JM

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