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Newsline - November 11, 2002

On the eve of the Russia-EU summit in Brussels on 11 November, the two sides reached a compromise on the Kaliningrad problem, Interfax and other Russian news agencies reported on 10 November. Nikolai Tulaev, a Federation Council member representing Kaliningrad, said Russia has dropped its demand for visa-free transit for its citizens through Lithuania after that country joins the organization. He added that Moscow has agreed to an EU proposal for simplified and expedited visas. Travel documents will be issued free at the border to Russian citizens holding valid passports and tickets. The new procedure will come into force beginning on 1 July 2003. At the end of 2003, when Lithuania is expected to join the Schengen agreement, the two sides will sign an additional accord. Russia and Lithuania continue to talk about the possibility of high-speed trains that would pass through Lithuania without stopping and on which Russian citizens could travel without visas or customs inspections. VY

Speaking to his cabinet on 10 November, President Vladimir Putin said that UN resolution No. 441 on Iraq, which was adopted on 8 November, is "an acceptable compromise for Russia and is the result of joint efforts by all the permanent members of the UN Security Council," ITAR-TASS reported. He lauded the fact that the resolution includes no provision for the automatic use of force against Baghdad. Meanwhile, "Moskovskie novosti," No. 42, and RTR on 9 November reported that Prince Turki al-Faisal, a former chief of Saudi Arabia's intelligence service, recently visited Moscow. In the 1970s and 1980s, Prince Turki coordinated a campaign by Islamist radicals in Afghanistan and elsewhere against the Soviet Union. His visit was seen as a reflection of Saudi fears that after a U.S. campaign against Iraqi President Saddam Hussein, Saudi Arabia might be listed as a sponsor of international terrorism and targeted for an attack. Prince Turki urged Moscow to continue its efforts to prevent an attack on Iraq and pledged that Saudi Arabia will use its influence to assuage Russian Muslims and will provide Russia with considerable financial assistance. VY

Speaking to journalists on 10 November following a Kremlin meeting with 19 pro-Moscow Chechen leaders headed by Chechen administration head Akhmed-hadji Kadyrov, President Putin said he had approved an initiative to "accelerate a referendum on the adoption of a new constitution" for the republic, ORT and other Russian news agencies reported. Until two months ago, Russian and Chechen officials had advocated holding the referendum before the end of 2002 or in early 2003, but Russian presidential aide Sergei Yastrzhembskii recently suggested it be held simultaneously with State Duma elections in December 2003 (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 10 September and 10 October 2002). Andrei Babushkin, chairman of the Moscow-based Civil Rights Committee, told RFE/RL's Russian Service that it is impossible to conduct any referendum in Chechnya during the military operation there. He also pointed out that about half of the republic's population is currently living outside of Chechnya. VY/LF

President Putin also said the political process for resolving the conflict in Chechnya must be detached from the ongoing campaign against "terrorism." He said he understands that the political process must be reenergized and that political power in the republic must be transferred to Chechens as soon as possible. Putin said that during the 1990s the republic became a victim of international terrorism and that he hopes "Chechens will soon take upon themselves the entire burden of combating banditry." On 10 November, Interior Minister Boris Gryzlov signed an order authorizing the creation of a republican Interior Ministry. VY

In the same comments, President Putin harshly attacked Chechen President Aslan Maskhadov. Putin said that until recently the Kremlin had maintained secret contacts with Maskhadov's administration and that the Chechen president had steadfastly evaded any political compromise with Russia. "He told us [that he agreed] to destroy the most odious terrorists and, at the same time, he appointed them as his deputies," Putin said. "He organized terrorist attacks in Russia, but after they failed, he condemned them. Finally, he adopted the path of terror instead of talks and stood behind those who took hostages in Moscow on 23 October." The president added that initially Maskhadov and other Chechen leaders had good intentions, but they later came under the influence of Wahhabism and adopted the goal of creating a radical Islamic state in the North Caucasus, Krasnodar Krai, Stavropol Krai, and the Volga region. "To those who thoughtlessly or deliberately, out of fear of bandits or following the lingering European tradition of appeasement, will continue to urge us to sit down at the negotiating table with killers, I suggest that they should enter into talks with [Osama] bin Laden or Mullah Omar," Putin said. VY

As Europe and the United States continue to press the Kremlin to stop relying exclusively on military tactics in Chechnya, Putin feels he must develop and propose a political alternative, Valerii Fedorov, director of the Moscow-based Political Conjecture Center, told on 10 November. However, this alternative cannot include talks with the "Chechen resistance" because Moscow does not see any difference between "moderate separatists and radical terrorists." Therefore, Moscow is seeking possible negotiating partners from among Chechen groups that do not insist the republic leave the Russian Federation. These groups, including the pro-Moscow administration headed by Kadyrov, are divided among themselves and lack support in Chechnya. The lack of any legitimate local authority, in the Kremlin's view, has become a major problem and that is why Moscow is now seeking to move away from military administration in the territory it controls to some form of elected government. However, Fedorov said, Moscow's efforts to expand its political base in Chechnya do not mean that the Kremlin will back away from the use of military force. VY

Speaking at a Moscow conference on political solutions to the Chechnya conflict on 10 November, Yabloko leader Grigorii Yavlinskii said he does not see anyone in authority in Chechnya with whom Moscow can negotiate, reported. Yavlinskii said the idea of peace talks is premature. He also harshly criticized President Maskhadov for "failing to condemn" the 23-26 October Moscow hostage taking. Oleg Orlov, head of the human rights organization Memorial and an organizer of the conference, said that Union of Rightist Forces co-Chairman Boris Nemtsov did not show up for his planned speech to the conference and had withdrawn his signature from an open letter in defense of Chechen Vice Premier Akhmed Zakaev, who was arrested in Denmark on 30 October and who now faces possible extradition to Russia (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 30 and 31 October and 5 November 2002). Orlov added that a majority of conference participants called for a political solution in Chechnya and for peace talks with Maskhadov. VY

Speaking to reporters in Vladivostok on 6 November, Sergei Ivanov said Russia will not reduce its military presence in Chechnya "until the leaders of the bandit formations have been destroyed or arrested," RIA-Novosti reported. It is premature to talk now about the renewal of troop withdrawals from Chechnya, Ivanov said. VY

A total of 1,492 people, including 1,014 children, were hospitalized with acute dysentery in the Southern Federal District following an outbreak of food poisoning on 6 November (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 6 November 2002), and other Russian news agencies reported on 11 November. The overwhelming majority of the victims were in Krasnodar Krai. According to experts on the scene, the outbreak was caused by contaminated dairy products produced by the Kropotkin Dairy Plant. The plant, which was closed down by health inspectors on 6 November, is expected to resume production soon, Krasnodar Krai Governor Aleksandr Tkachev said following a meeting with State Health Inspectorate Chairman Gennadii Onishchenko. Local prosecutors are investigating the incident. Interfax reported on 9 November that other local dairy plants have stepped up security in case the outbreak was the result of a terrorist act, although prosecutors have ruled out that possibility. RC

U.S. Undersecretary of State for Arms Control and International Security John Bolton and Deputy Foreign Minister Georgii Mamedov met in Moscow on 10 November to begin preparations for a U.S.-Russia summit tentatively scheduled to take place in Russia toward the end of the month, and other Russian news agencies reported. An unidentified source within the Putin administration said the summit will be held near St. Petersburg, but declined to provide other details, reported on 10 November. Mamedov told journalists the discussions will center on joint efforts to resolve the Iraq issue and to combat international terrorism, as well as cooperation in the field of antimissile defense and nuclear nonproliferation. Mamedov said that in the wake of the U.S. congressional elections, the chances are good that Congress and the Federation Council will ratify the Strategic Offensive Reductions Treaty by the end of the year. VY

The Foreign Ministry on 9 November expressed regret over a 7 November incident in which a group of Russian teens attacked and beat Ghana's Ambassador to Russia Francis Yahaya Mahamma, ITAR-TASS reported. The ministry expressed the hope that the incident will not harm the traditionally good relations between the two countries and said police have taken vigorous action to investigate the beating. According to AP on 8 November, Mahamma and his driver, Donladi Emor, were attacked by about six teens and were treated by an embassy doctor for facial bruises. Emor told NTV on 8 November that police failed to respond to calls for assistance during the attack and that the ambassador had to go to a police station to file a report on the incident. RC

Operatives of the St. Petersburg branch of the Federal Security Service (FSB) have detained six suspects and filed charges against four of them in connection with the November 1998 murder of State Duma Deputy Galina Starovoitova, Russian news agencies reported on 6 November. However, the authorities have not released the suspects' names, so it is not clear whether those in custody include any of the men named earlier this year as suspects in the case (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 19 February 2002 and 20 September 2002 and "RFE/RL Crime and Corruption Watch," 26 September 2002). Starovoitova was fatally shot in her apartment building in an apparent contract killing on 20 November 1998. After meeting with FSB officers in St. Petersburg on 6 November, Starovoitova's sister, Olga Starovoitova, told TVS that investigators still lack proof about who ordered the murder. LB

The Central Election Commission (TsIK) will push for amendments to Russia's media law that would create a "legal basis for temporarily suspending the activities of media outlets that have violated the rules of [campaign] agitation during an election campaign," RosBalt reported on 6 November, quoting TsIK member Sergei Bolshakov. Speaking at a seminar in St. Petersburg, Bolshakov said the sanction would apply to media that continued to break the rules on campaign coverage even after a journalist, editor, or editorial collective had been fined. Bolshakov has long advocated tighter media regulation. For instance, in early 2000 he suggested that it was illegal for the media to publicize appeals to boycott the presidential election. The commission's current initiative faces uncertain prospects. In 1999, the Media Ministry rejected the commission's efforts to enforce a ban on "agitation" by journalists (see "RFE/RL Russian Election Report," 5 November 1999). LB

The campaign for the 8 December St. Petersburg legislative elections officially began on 8 November, Russian news agencies reported. Candidates may now distribute campaign materials and appeal to voters in the print or broadcast media. RTR reported that the question of a possible third term for St. Petersburg Governor Vladimir Yakovlev promises to be a leading campaign issue. The city's charter prohibits Yakovlev from running for a third term, but the new legislature could amend the charter if the candidates favored by the governor end up holding a majority in the 50-seat chamber. More than 400 candidates have been registered for the race. Continuing an election tradition that has confused many voters in the past, there are nine pairs of registered candidates with identical names. Yabloko and the Union of Rightist Forces have agreed to support a single list of candidates. LB

Although each candidate for the St. Petersburg legislature is ostensibly limited by law to 300,000 rubles ($9,700) in campaign spending, incumbents will spend far more to win the voters' approval. According to RTR on 9 November, legislators have earmarked 2 percent of city budget expenditures for deputies to spend in their own districts at their discretion. One incumbent reportedly paid for the installation of numerous steel doors at private apartments, each bearing the name of the deputy whose "reserve fund" financed the project. The use of budget funds for campaign purposes is illegal. LB

President Putin met on 5 November in the Kremlin with Colonel General Valentin Korabelnikov, chief of the Main Intelligence Directorate of the General Staff (GRU), and congratulated his agency on the occasion of its professional holiday, Military Intelligence Day, Russian news agencies reported. Although Russia's military intelligence capability has existed for more than two centuries, the GRU celebrates the anniversary of the founding of Soviet military intelligence by Leon Trotsky on 5 November 1918. VY

President Putin on 10 November congratulated the Interior Ministry on the occasion of its professional holiday, Police Day, Russian news agencies reported. Putin stressed that the Interior Ministry, which was established by Tsar Aleksandr I in 1802, is heir to both Russian and Soviet traditions. Although founded in the tsarist era, the ministry's professional holiday marks the anniversary of Vladimir Lenin's signing in 1918 of a decree creating a Workers' and Peasants' Militia. VY

Thieves on 6 November stole a rare first edition of Isaac Newton's "Philosophiae Naturalis Principia Mathematica" from the Russian National Library in St. Petersburg, Reuters reported on 10 November. The thieves reportedly posed as readers and requested the volume for use in the library's reading room, failing to return it when the library closed. For unknown reasons, the library only reported the theft to police on 8 November. "Principia" was first published in 1687 and contains Newton's explanation of the three laws of motion and the law of universal gravitation. RC

President Putin fired Vladimir Yelagin, minister responsible for Chechen reconstruction, on 7 November and named Chechen Prime Minister Stanislav Ilyasov to succeed him, Reuters reported. There have been persistent rumors of disagreements between Ilyasov and Grozny administration head Kadyrov, and Ilyasov hinted in August that he would not be averse to leaving Grozny (see "RFE/RL Caucasus Report," Vol. 5, No. 28, 26 August 2002). He will be transferred to Moscow, and his replacement as Chechen prime minister has not yet been named. LF

People's Party of Armenia Chairman Stepan Demirchian on 7 November denounced the agreement signed two days earlier whereby Armenia transferred to Russia ownership of five key enterprises in payment of its $98 million debt, RFE/RL's Yerevan bureau reported (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 6 November 2002). One of the enterprises in question is the Mars plant, of which Demirchian is director. Demirchian rejected Armenian officials' arguments that the deal will promote bilateral cooperation and complained that neither he nor the Mars workforce was consulted during the negotiations that led to the signing of the deal. Also on 7 November, Galust Sahakian, who heads the majority Miasnutiun parliament faction, predicted that most parliament factions will vote to ratify the deal, Noyan Tapan reported. LF

Leading members of the Republican Party of Armenia (HHK) on 6 November categorically rejected proposed amendments to the election law drafted by a group of 16 opposition deputies, RFE/RL's Yerevan bureau reported (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 5 November 2002). Leading HHK member Tigran Torosian argued that as all opposition parties are already represented on election commissions at all levels, the proposal to grant broader powers to candidates' proxies to supervise the voting and vote count is superfluous. The pro-government Armenian Revolutionary Federation-Dashnaktsutiun similarly indicated it is unlikely to support the amendments, but Orinats Yerkir (Law-Based State), which also supports President Robert Kocharian, said it might do so. LF

More than a dozen television and radio stations submitted bids on 8 November for nine television frequencies and one FM frequency in Yerevan and elsewhere in Armenia, RFE/RL's Yerevan bureau reported. The television stations participating in the tender include A1+, which was forced off the air in April after losing an earlier tender (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 2 and 3 April 2002). Media watchdogs, the United States, and the Council of Europe all criticized the effective silencing of A1+, which they suspected was motivated by the station's outspoken criticism of the government. A bid by the independent television station Noyan Tapan was rejected on the grounds that it failed to specify for which frequency it had been submitted. Noyan Tapan Director Tigran Harutiunian protested the ruling, which he said is illegal. The tender outcome will be made public on 19 November. LF

Four prominent Azerbaijani opposition parties -- Musavat, the Democratic Party, the Azerbaijan National Independence Party, and the reformist wing of the Azerbaijan Popular Front Party (AHCP) -- have appealed to a visiting OSCE Parliamentary Assembly delegation to ask that organization to pressure the Azerbaijani authorities to make public a new draft election law, Turan reported on 8 November. The four parties also asked the OSCE to mediate an agreement between the opposition and the authorities that would ensure the new legislation is adopted no later than 1 February 2003 and that no further changes are made to it between that time and the presidential election next fall. LF

Also on 8 November, Ali Kerimli, who heads the AHCP reformist wing, announced that a session of the Democratic Congress earlier that day selected him as its candidate for the 2003 presidential ballot, Turan reported. LF

Jean-Marie Guehenno, who is UN undersecretary-general for peacekeeping operations, met in Tbilisi on 9 November with Georgian State Minister Avtandil Djorbenadze to discuss prospects for resolving the Abkhaz conflict, Caucasus Press and Russian agencies reported. Guehenno told journalists he will make every effort to promote confidence-building measures and to persuade the Abkhaz leadership to accept as a basis for negotiations the so-called "Boden document" on the distribution of competencies between Tbilisi and Sukhumi. He noted that augmenting the existing Russian peacekeeping contingent deployed in the Abkhaz conflict zone with military contingents from other countries is possible only with the consent of both sides in the conflict. Georgia has consistently lobbied for an international peacekeeping force under the UN aegis. Guehenno also met on 9 November with the head of the Tbilisi-based Abkhaz parliament-in-exile, Tamaz Nadareishvili, who again called for the UN to launch a peace-enforcement operation in Abkhazia, Caucasus Press reported. LF

Banking consultant Peter Shaw, who was abducted by armed men in Tbilisi in mid-June, was released late on 6 November following a shootout in the Pankisi Gorge between his abductors and Georgian security officials, Georgian and Western agencies reported. A Georgian Interior Ministry employee was killed during the rescue operation. LF

Sergei Duvanov was formally charged in Almaty on 7 November with the rape of a 14-year-old girl, RFE/RL's Kazakh Service reported (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 29 October and 1 November 2002). The following day, prison personnel began force-feeding Duvanov, who began a hunger strike late last month and who was reportedly unable to stand and could barely speak. In a letter passed to his lawyers and supporters on 6 November, Duvanov protested his innocence and said he would rather die than submit to the destruction of his honor and dignity. LF

In a statement released on 7 November, the OSCE expressed concern over the circumstances of Duvanov's detention and urged Kazakh authorities to "conduct promptly a full, fair and transparent investigation" with the participation of "independent foreign experts to handle possible DNA evidence," Reuters reported. The EU issued a similar statement on 7 November calling for "a full, transparent and objective investigation" to "dispel all doubts" surrounding Duvanov's arrest. Addressing the OSCE's Permanent Council in Vienna the same day, the deputy head of the U.S. delegation to the OSCE said the United States shares the EU's concern over the Duvanov case. He said Washington hopes that "any legal process of Mr. Duvanov will be both transparent and in accordance with international standards." LF

Meeting with foreign diplomats on 6 November, Nursultan Nazarbaev rejected as misplaced Western criticism of recent moves and legislation perceived as undemocratic, including the law imposing stricter criteria for the registration of political parties, RFE/RL's Kazakh Service reported. He argued the process of democratization should not be artificially accelerated. At a 9 November congress of the Otan party, which was formed in 1999 to support him, Nazarbaev called for the close monitoring of domestic political processes in order to preclude an upsurge of extremism, Interfax reported. He also suggested creating a permanent consultative body, on which political parties would be represented and which would develop proposals on strengthening civil society. Nazarbaev also argued that Otan should assume the role of the ruling party that would make -- and take responsibility for implementing -- key decisions affecting the lives of the population. LF

Kazakhstan's Foreign Minister Qasymzhomart Toqaev on 8 November handed a formal protest note to Uzbekistan's ambassador in Almaty, Turdykul Butyarov, following an incident on 7 November in which Uzbek border guards shot a Kazakh shepherd searching for a stray sheep some 200 meters from the border, RFE/RL's Kazakh Service reported. The shepherd died of his wounds. Interfax, however, claimed the incident took place on 6 November when Uzbek guards tried to prevent smuggling across the border. Toqaev condemned as inadmissible the use of firearms on a stretch of the border that has not yet been clearly demarcated. LF

Opposition parliament deputy Azimbek Beknazarov on 9 November denied that the opposition has violated the terms of an agreement signed with the government two months ago, RFE/RL's Bishkek bureau reported. Under the so-called Karakul agreement, participants in a protest march in southern Kyrgyzstan agreed to drop their demand for the resignation of President Askar Akaev and the annulment of a recent agreement ceding territory to China (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 13 September 2002). First Deputy Prime Minister Kurmanbek Osmonov recently accused Beknazarov of reneging on that agreement and participants in a protest march in support of former Deputy Prime Minister Usen Sydykov of engaging in "dirty tricks" to win electoral support. On 10 November, Beknazarov made public the entire text of the four-point protocol, under which the government undertook to make public by 15 November the results of its inquiry into who issued orders to police to open fire on demonstrators in the southern district of Aksy on 17-18 March. At least five people died in clashes between police and protesters during that incident. LF

Beknazarov also warned on 9 November that the protesters will resume their march if the government fails to comply with its self-imposed deadline of 15 November and make public the findings of the Aksy shootings investigation, RFE/RL's Kyrgyz Service reported. Speaking at a briefing in Bishkek three days earlier, National Security Committee head Kalyk Imankulov said his committee has not discovered any evidence of wrongdoing on the part of six regional officials charged with exceeding their authority in connection with the shootings, reported. LF

Participants in a protest march in support of former Deputy Prime Minister Sydykov decided on 8 November to suspend their march after talks with a special parliamentary commission created to investigate the events that led to the protest, RFE/RL's Kyrgyz Service reported. Sydykov polled 46 percent of the vote in a by-election in Kara-Kuldja on 20 October, but an Osh court barred him from contesting the runoff on the grounds of alleged irregularities (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 30 and 31 October 2002). Sydykov told RFE/RL on 8 November the accusations against him are politically motivated. LF

Moldovan President Vladimir Voronin paid a two-day official visit to Kyrgyzstan on 7-8 November, during which he met with President Akaev and the speakers of both parliament chambers, RFE/RL's Kyrgyz Service and reported. The talks focused on combating international terrorism, overcoming the obstacles to expanding economic cooperation, and Moldova's observer status within the Eurasian Economic Community. In addition, Akaev expressed support for the Moldovan leadership's approach to resolving the Transdniester conflict. The two sides signed agreements on cooperation in agriculture and tourism and on the mutual protection of investments. LF

Kyrgyzstan is considering signing over to Russia state-owned stakes in four large industrial enterprises, including the Elektrotekhnika and Elektrovakuum plants, in payment of its debts, ITAR-TASS quoted Prime Minister Nikolai Tanaev as saying in Bishkek on 6 November, following a meeting of the Kyrgyz-Russian intergovernmental commission on trade and economic cooperation. Those debts exceed $150 million. Armenia finalized such an "assets-for-debts" deal with Russia last week (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 6 November 2002). LF

A two-day session of the Turkmen-Uzbek intergovernmental commission on economic cooperation took place in Ashgabat on 6-7 November, and reported. The session focused on Turkmenistan's grievances over Uzbekistan's alleged failure to implement earlier agreements on the maintenance of the Karshi canal, as a result of which some 75,000 hectares of land in Turkmenistan is no longer fit for cultivation. The Turkmen delegation proposed that Uzbekistan fund repairs to the Turkmen sector of the canal. Also discussed were cooperation in the oil and natural gas sector, transportation and cross-border trade, Interfax reported. Agreement was reached on settling mutual debts between Uzbek and Turkmen firms. The two sides reviewed a draft treaty of economic cooperation, which Ashgabat hopes the two countries' presidents will sign no later than 1 December. LF

Following talks in Tashkent on 7-8 November with Prime Minister Utkir Sultanov, Foreign Minister Abdulaziz Komilov and other government officials and with Uzbek human rights activists and NGOs, U.S. Assistant Secretary of State Lorne Cramer told journalists that the further expansion of bilateral relations is contingent on improvements in Uzbekistan's human rights record, an RFE/RL correspondent in Tashkent reported. Cramer characterized as unsatisfactory the Uzbek government's reaction to three recent deaths in custody and noted complaints of persecution from Christian groups. Cramer also said he believes that Uzbek authorities should "open up the system of religious education," rather than systematically imprisoning members of the banned Islamic organization Hizb ut-Tahrir. AP quoted First Deputy Foreign Minister Sadyk Safaev as saying on 6 November that Uzbekistan wants Western governments to brand Hizb ut-Tahrir a terrorist organization. Its members seek to establish an Islamic state in Central Asia by exclusively peaceful means. LF

Visiting Uzbekistan on 5-7 November, Renaud Muselier, who is French state secretary for foreign affairs, met with First Deputy Foreign Minister Safaev, Deputy Premier and Macroeconomics Minister Rustam Azimov, and President Islam Karimov, reported. Muselier told journalists following his meeting with Karimov on 6 November that their talks focused on the fight against international terrorism and drug trafficking and on political and economic cooperation. Interfax quoted Karimov as saying a propos the situation in Afghanistan that having won the war, the international community "must not lose the peace." ITAR-TASS quoted Safaev on 7 November as noting that France ranks fourth among Uzbekistan's foreign-trade partners. LF

President Alyaksandr Lukashenka on 6 November said the Kremlin resorted to "incredible" and "unprecedented" political pressure on Minsk to force the sale of Belarus's Beltranshaz gas-transport company to Russia's Gazprom, Belarusian Television reported. Lukashenka was referring to Gazprom's recent decision to cut Russian gas supplies to Belarus by half as of 1 November (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 4 and 5 November 2002). "I want people to understand me, so I will say straightforwardly: This [cut] is a political decision by the Kremlin," the Belarusian president said, adding that Gazprom wants shares in Beltranshaz as repayment for the gas debt. Lukashenka ruled out such a deal. At the same time, he ordered the government to look for other ways of supplying Belarus with "alternate" energy resources. "We cannot suffer such dependence on and humiliation at the hands of [a] single state," the Belarusian leader noted. JM

Lukashenka said Belarus is capable of repaying $200 million or "even $300 million" in gas debt to Russia within the next year and ordered his cabinet to do so. Apparently to underscore Russian intransigence in demanding repayment, he suggested that Belarus reduce pensions to war veterans and spending on those affected by the Chornobyl disaster in order to pay its gas debt. "We will take the money from those people who were rotting [together with Russians] in the trenches of World War II," Belarusian Television quoted Lukashenka as saying. Lukashenka also instructed his ministers to use energy resources sparingly and cut gas supplies to all consumers who do not pay in a timely manner. "And don't borrow from them [Russia] any more, better [to] ask for [money] from Arabs, from the West, from America. They will help us irrespective of the relations we have with them," Lukashenka added. Premier Henadz Navitski left for Moscow on 11 November to seek a solution to the gas-supply row. JM

Ukrainian Foreign Minister Anatoliy Zlenko has asked the UN Security Council to look into U.S. allegations that Ukraine might have sold a Kolchuga radar system to Iraq, UNIAN reported on 11 November, quoting Foreign Ministry spokesman Serhiy Borodenkov. Zlenko said in a letter to the Security Council that Kyiv disagrees with the claim by U.S. and British experts that Ukrainian officials failed to provide them with sufficient information when they investigated the Kolchuga issue in Ukraine last month (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 6 November 2002). "We should not leave this situation in an ambiguous position. We need to appeal to the higher authority also, because Iraqi issues are not only the American security and our bilateral relations but are issues of world peace and security," Zlenko said on 10 November, in an apparent reference to an earlier statement by U.S. State Department spokesman Richard Boucher that there is no need for a UN probe. "If the Ukrainian government had wanted to clarify matters fully, they could have done so with the U.S. and the U.K. team," Boucher said on 6 November. JM

Some 6,000 members of the Communist Party and other Ukrainian leftist parties and organizations held a rally on European Square in Kyiv on 7 November to commemorate the 85th anniversary of the October Revolution in Russia, UNIAN reported. "Down with the hated regime and those who betrayed the Ukrainian people," AP quoted Communist Party leader Petro Symonenko as saying to the crowd. Participants in the rally laid flowers at a monument to Lenin and sang a song called "Lenin Lives." Similar, albeit less well-attended leftist rallies, took place in Dnipropetrovsk, Luhansk, Sumy, Kharkiv, Donetsk, Lviv, Ivano-Frankivsk, Chernivtsi, and other cities. JM

Austrian President Tomas Klestil told Ukrainian President Leonid Kuchma in Vienna on 6 November that he is ready to be a "political advocate" of Ukraine on its path toward EU membership, according to UNIAN. Kuchma paid an official visit to Austria on 6-7 November. "The future Europe, democratic and independent, cannot exist without Russia and its nearest neighbor, Ukraine," Klestil reportedly told Kuchma. JM

During her two-day visit to Estonia on 4-5 November, Russian Deputy Prime Minister Valentina Matvienko said her country expects EU support in pressuring Estonia to address seven points connected with minorities, languages, and communist-era crimes, ETA reported on 8 November. Matvienko reiterated those demands in separate meetings with Prime Minister Siim Kallas, President Arnold Ruutel, and Foreign Minister Kristiina Ojuland. They are: granting citizenship to more ethnic Russians, improving the position of the Russian language in Estonia, continuing Russian-language education in schools, ending the prosecution of former NKVD/KGB agents and officers accused of crimes against the Estonian people, abolishing restrictions made by the Estonian parliament in ratifying the convention on the protection of ethnic minorities, granting residence and work permits to former KGB officials, and allowing the Russian Embassy to expand its staff. SG

By a vote of 55 to 43 with one abstention, parliament on 7 November approved the center-right coalition government headed by New Era Chairman Einars Repse, LETA reported. New Era-backed candidates will head six ministries -- Culture (Inguna Ribena), Education and Research (Karlis Sadurskis), Finance (Valdis Dombrovskis), Foreign Affairs (Sandra Kalniete), Interior (Maris Gulbis), Justice (Aivars Aksenoks) -- and two special-task portfolios that will later be transformed into ministries: Health Care (Aris Auders) and Regional Development (Ivars Gaters). Latvia's First Party will hold a deputy prime minister's post (Ainars Slesers) along with the Economy Ministry (Juris Lujans) and two special-task ministers: Children's and Family Affairs and Social Integration. (Ainars Bastiks will temporarily hold both the positions until a social integration minister is chosen.) Union of Greens and Farmers nominees will lead three ministries: Agriculture (Martins Roze), Environment (Raimonds Vejonis), and Welfare (not yet selected). For the Fatherland and Freedom/LNNK will control two ministries: Defense (Girts Valdis Kristovskis) and Transportation (Roberts Zile). SG

Yurii Luzhkov began a two-day visit to Latvia on 8 November with discussions with his Riga counterpart Gundars Bojars on greater cooperation between the two capitals, LETA reported. When asked at a press conference about his comments several years ago comparing the situation of Russian-speakers in Latvia with the situation in Cambodia, Luzhkov said the situation has improved, but he expressed dissatisfaction with the slow pace of naturalization and called for the continuation of Russian-language secondary education in Latvia. The mayors placed flowers at the Freedom Monument and visited the railcar manufacturer Rigas Vagonu Rupnica and the Lido recreation complex. On 9 November, Luzhkov played tennis with former President Guntis Ulmanis in Jurmala but did not meet senior state officials. At a meeting with an association of Latvia's major cities, Luzhkov stressed the usefulness of greater cooperation between Moscow and Latvian cities, whose representatives are scheduled to visit Moscow in January to continue discussions. SG

The Foreign Ministry released a statement on 8 November stating that further negotiations on transit through Lithuanian territory to and from Russia's Kaliningrad Oblast will be guided by respect for Lithuanian sovereignty, effective border control, and parity with the travels of Lithuanian nationals to Russia and Kaliningrad, ELTA reported. The statement was made in reaction to reports that EU and Russian officials have agreed to transit rules that are favorable to Moscow. According to the reports, Russians would not have to visit Lithuanian consulates to obtain transit visas, as booking offices in Russian railway stations would mediate in issuing simplified Lithuanian transit documents to passengers. Information regarding the passengers would be sent to Lithuania to either accept or reject an application within an established period of time. Lithuania is primarily concerned that such rules might hinder its efforts for full integration within the Schengen zone. SG

Poles on 10 November voted in the second round of local elections to choose some 1,200 communal heads (wojt) and town and city mayors, Polish media reported. Approximately the same number of local administrators were elected in first-round voting on 27 October. According to preliminary second-round results, Lech Kaczynski (Law and Justice) was elected mayor of Warsaw (70 percent), Jerzy Kropiwnicki won the mayor's seat in Lodz (53 percent), and Marian Jurczyk will become mayor of Szczecin (53 percent). While the victory of Kaczynski over Democratic Left Alliance candidate Marek Balicki in Warsaw was widely expected, the triumph of the right-wing Kropiwnicki in Lodz, a traditional left-wing stronghold, came as a big surprise. JM

On 7 November, the State Election Commission, plagued for nearly two weeks by a failure of the computer system handling the vote count, announced official results of the 27 October first round of voting to communal, district, and provincial councils. The ruling Democratic Left Alliance-Labor Union (SLD-UP) bloc won the polls at all three levels, obtaining 4,816 seats on communal councils, 1,639 seats on district councils, and 189 seats on provincial councils. Turnout in the first round was 44.23 percent. JM

. The Chamber of Deputies on 7 November approved by a vote of 159 to 39 a government bill granting U.S. aircraft the right to protect Czech airspace during the 21-22 November NATO summit and freeing the United States of liability in the event that those jets are forced into action, CTK and international news agencies reported. The U.S. forces will start operating on 15 November. Two hundred fifty U.S. troops and four to six F-15 or F-16 fighters are to participate in the operation alongside Czech troops and aircraft. Deputies representing the Communist Party of Bohemia and Moravia (KSCM) opposed the bill, arguing that it violates the Czech Constitution and international law. The U.S. forces will remain under U.S. command, but the Czech defense minister would have to approve any use of force. The Senate must still approve the bill, and President Vaclav Havel must promulgate it in order for the bill to be enforced. MS

The lower house on 8 November approved the first reading of the 2003 budget that includes a record-high 111.3 billion crown ($3.6 billion) deficit, CTK and international news agencies reported. Two more readings are necessary before the bill goes to the Senate for approval. It was supported by 100 deputies representing the ruling coalition. Hana Marvanova -- the Freedom Union-Democratic Union (US-DEU) deputy who nearly triggered a government crisis by voting against a tax bill in September -- left the chamber to allow passage and to avert a new crisis. Ninety-nine opposition deputies opposed the draft. MS

Evzen Tosenovsky, commissioner of Moravia and Silesia, on 8 November announced that he is withdrawing his candidacy for the post of chairman of the opposition Civic Democratic Party (ODS), CTK reported. He said current ODS Chairman Vaclav Klaus and the ODS leadership in general do not wish to see him at the head of the party. Tosenovsky called the current leadership "autocratic," and he said that after its recent success in Senate and local elections, the ODS has become euphoric and believes that anyone could lead it with no consequences for the party. "The ODS forgets that it remains an opposition party, and the Senate elections have not changed that," he said. Klaus reiterated that he will not seek re-election as ODS chairman in December, adding that Tosenovsky's decision was to be expected. Klaus has said he wants to see the ODS headed by either ODS parliamentary leader Vlastimil Tlusty, former Transportation Minister Martin Riman, or ODS Deputy Chairman Petr Necas. In October, Klaus suggested he will seek the post of Czech president. MS

A reactor at the controversial Temelin nuclear power plant's second unit was shut down again on 10 November, only four days after resuming testing following a two-month hiatus due to a malfunctioning turbine, AP reported. MS

Premier Mikulas Dzurinda announced on 10 November that Slovakia's new team for final negotiations with NATO will be headed by Foreign Ministry State Secretary Ivan Korcok and will also include Defense Ministry State Secretary Ratislav Kacer, TASR reported. Dzurinda was speaking after a meeting with Foreign Minister Eduard Kukan and Defense Minister Ivan Simko. The new team is to coordinate the implementation of the last stage of the NATO Membership Action Plan and ensure that Slovakia becomes a NATO member in 2004, Dzurinda said. Simko said after the meeting that Slovakia is willing to revise some of its strategic plans and military reforms in view of the new global-security situation. The three politicians also discussed the possible contribution of Slovakia to the envisaged NATO rapid-deployment forces. Dzurinda stressed: "The world is currently confronted with a number of threats" and it is "expected from the new members of the alliance" that they will make a contribution to confronting those threats. He said the Visegrad Four countries -- Slovakia, Poland, Czech Republic, and Hungary -- would be well-advised to coordinate their military forces and their military industries. MS

Foreign Minister Kukan said on 9 November that the conditions set by the EU to candidate countries for joining the organization are not advantageous for Slovakia and that Bratislava will continue striving to improve them, TASR reported. Kukan said Slovakia cannot agree to conditions that put its farmers at a disadvantage vis-a-vis farmers in current member states. He said preparations for a referendum on joining the EU will start in early 2003 and will take five months, with the plebiscite to be held in June. Kukan said the government will tell the Slovak people the truth about the costs of EU membership, including the expected hike in food prices and tougher competition for businesses. MS

A Slovak pilot died after his Russian-made MiG-29 collided in midair with a similar attack jet on 7 November, Reuters and TASR reported. The planes crashed near the eastern town of Spisska Nova Ves. The second pilot ejected successfully from his aircraft and was not seriously injured. The Defense Ministry opened an investigation into the causes of the collision. On 8 November, Defense Minister Simko said the incident will not accelerate the issuance of a tender for Western-made fighter planes for the Slovak air force. Simko said that, following Slovakia's expected invitation to join NATO, the government will determine the needs of the air force "within two to three months" and then make the appropriate decision on a possible tender, CTK reported. MS

Klara Orgovanova, government commissioner for Romany affairs, on 6 November told CTK she is considering resigning her position. Orgovanova said she is disappointed that time and EU funds are being wasted while ministries discuss dividing responsibility for different aspects of Romany affairs among themselves. She also said the proposed creation of a Romany Affairs Office in the eastern city of Kosice is "an expensive, unnecessary, and quite illogical" idea that would strip that office of any influence in Bratislava. Orgovanova said no one is dealing with the issue of allocations from the 2003 budget for Romany affairs issues; and if the office is set up in Kosice, it will take another year to have someone start doing so. Of the funds allocated by the EU for this purpose in 2002, "not a single crown has been spent," she said. MS

Peter Medgyessy on 8 November told U.S. President Bush in Washington that Hungary offers its airspace, airfields, and intelligence cooperation to the United States if military action in Iraq becomes unavoidable, Hungarian media reported. He said Hungary is taking part in cooperation against terrorism on the basis of shared values and interests. Bush said he is pleased by Hungary's support for the U.S. position on Iraq but noted that the commitment to antiterrorism must extend to deeds and not just words. Medgyessy also congratulated Bush on the recently passed UN Security Council resolution aimed at disarming Iraq, but he expressed hope that the resolution will open the way to a peaceful solution. Medgyessy on 8 November also met U.S. Secretary of State Colin Powell and asked him for assistance in selecting an area of specialization in the course of the reform of the Hungarian armed forces, "Nepszabadsag" reported. MSZ

Former Prime Minister Viktor Orban on 8 November said attacks on the previous government, particularly the charge of anti-Semitism, damage Hungary's international reputation, Budapest dailies reported. He added that such serious charges have never been leveled against a freely elected government anywhere in the world. In addition, Orban said, it is absurd that cabinet ministers are "canvassing throughout the world" and claiming that the former government was anti-Semitic. Orban, prime minister from 1998 to 2002, was speaking after a meeting with his former ministers that he convened in response to the verbal attacks on his government. Orban encouraged his former ministers to seek justice through the courts if they are accused unjustly. MSZ

Orban told Hungarian radio on 10 November that he will sue Defense Minister Ferenc Juhasz for libel and defamation of character because the minister openly stigmatized him as an anti-Semite and nationalist. Juhasz, who joined Prime Minister Medgyessy on his visit to the United States, reportedly claimed in a recent interview that President Bush met with Medgyessy because the U.S. leader hoped to encounter a prime minister whom he can treat as a partner, rather than as a politician who is anti-Semitic, incomprehensibly nationalistic in many ways, and untrustworthy. Juhasz denied that he called Orban anti-Semitic, adding that Orban is protesting a statement expressed not by him but by a contributor to "Foreign Affairs" magazine (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 1 November 2002). MSZ

The national leadership of the Independent Smallholders Party on 9 November expelled former Chairman Jozsef Torgyan from the party, Hungarian media reported. Party Chairman Miklos Reti said Torgyan did not appear at a disciplinary meeting but has "damaged the party financially and morally to such an extent that no extenuating circumstances could be found." Torgyan was leader of the party from 1991 until this spring. MSZ

On 10 November, none of the nine candidates won more than 50 percent of the votes cast in the first round of the elections for a successor to President Milan Kucan, prompting a second round to be held on 1 December, regional and international media reported (see "RFE/RL Balkan Report," 20 September, 25 October, and 8 November 2002). According to unofficial preliminary totals, Prime Minister Janez Drnovsek led all candidates with nearly 45 percent of the vote, while public prosecutor Barbara Brezigar won about 31 percent of votes. Zmago Jelincic took 8.5 percent of the total, followed by the remaining six candidates. Many observers expected Drnovsek to win outright in the first round, and few thought Brezigar would win as much support as she did. She made her reputation as a corruption fighter and has criticized Drnovsek for not instituting market-oriented reforms quickly enough. Many voters regard Drnovsek and Kucan as the two men who led Slovenia to independence in 1991 and prepared it for membership in the EU and NATO. The turnout was about 70 percent of 1.6 million eligible voters. Final returns are expected shortly. PM

President Boris Trajkovski wants closer cooperation with the presidents of Croatia and Albania, which all hope to enter NATO but are unlikely to be invited to join at the 21-22 November Prague summit, RFE/RL's Macedonian broadcasters reported on 10 November. Trajkovski wants a trilateral meeting with Croatian President Stipe Mesic and his Albanian counterpart Alfred Moisiu to promote "regional stability [and] intensify the accession process of these countries to the Euro-Atlantic structures," presidential spokesman Brogan Jovanovski said. Jovanovski neither confirmed nor ruled out a meeting of the three men with U.S. President Bush at the Prague summit. UB

On 10 November, prosecutors in Bijeljina in the Republika Srpska asked a criminal court to investigate four officials of the Orao aircraft manufacturer on charges of violating a UN weapons embargo by selling airplane parts to Iraq, Reuters reported, quoting SRNA news agency (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 5 November 2002). Two days earlier, police arrested three of the four men on charges of involvement in illegal production of and trade in arms and explosives, in addition to forging and destroying documents. The three are former Orao Director Milan Prica, technical department head Teodosije Kecman, and marketing chief Gordan Santrac. The fourth individual, who has not been named, is still at large. PM

The Kosovar parliament passed a resolution on 7 November stating that the inclusion of Kosova as a province of Serbia in the preamble to the draft Constitutional Charter between Serbia and Montenegro is unacceptable to Kosova's ethnic Albanian majority, RFE/RL's South Slavic and Albanian Languages Service reported (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 5 and 6 November 2002). Ethnic Serbian members of the legislature walked out prior to the vote. In Brussels, Serbian Prime Minister Zoran Djindjic said the offending passage could be removed but only with "great difficulty." He did not elaborate but noted that Belgrade could clarify the matter by stating that Kosova's status will be determined in keeping with UN Security Council resolution No. 1244. In Prishtina, Michael Steiner, who heads the UN civilian administration in Kosova (UNMIK), said the Security Council will decide on the future status of Kosova and no one else. He noted that the status question is an open one. In Moscow on 11 November, a Foreign Ministry spokesman accused the Kosovar parliament of "challenging" the international community, ITAR-TASS reported. PM

RFE/RL's South Slavic and Albanian Languages Service reported on 7 November that it is unclear why Serbian leaders chose to include the reference to Kosova in the preamble, since they must have known it would lead to loud protests from the province's ethnic Albanian majority. Some observers suggested that Serbian nationalist hard-liners might have insisted on the passage while the document was being drafted. The Kosova Crisis Center news agency quoted Bajram Kosumi, who belongs to the Presidency of the Kosovar parliament, as saying, "Belgrade is playing the role of the devil, ruining what is being achieved in Kosova. We work one day, one year, three years -- and there comes a moment when Belgrade comes and tries to [destroy everything]. It is too bad that...Belgrade is being helped by someone else.... [The] European Union and [its security policy chief] Javier Solana should be clearly aware that Kosova is on its way to independence and [that] it does not have anything more in common with Serbia, Montenegro, and Yugoslavia [other than] neighborly relations." PM

In three separate actions, UN police took possession of about 230,000 rounds of ammunition, ostensibly for hunting rifles, "Vesti" reported on 11 November. No one was arrested because the papers were in order and the truck drivers made no attempt to hide the goods. The ammunition came from Valjevo in Serbia and was apparently destined for ethnic Albanian purchasers in Gjilan and Ferizaj. A UN police spokesman said hunting weapons have become increasingly used for killings in the province and the ammunition will be destroyed at Camp Bondsteel, the large U.S. base. On 8 November, a different police spokesman announced, "The hunting season is closed...until further notice," AP reported. PM

Kosovar President Ibrahim Rugova announced on 8 November the appointment of former U.S. Senator Robert Dole as "Kosova's high representative to the United States," Hina news agency reported. Rugova added, "Dole is a great friend of Kosova who has been supporting its fight for freedom, independence, and democracy for more than a decade." The next day, however, an UNMIK spokeswoman said the appointment does not have UNMIK's approval because only UNMIK head Michael Steiner has the authority to conduct foreign relations for the province. PM

The trial opened in Prishtina on 8 November of five ethnic Albanians accused of abducting and beating four ethnic Albanian political rivals who subsequently disappeared and are presumed to have been murdered, Reuters reported. The incident allegedly took place in western Kosova in June 1999, shortly after the arrival of NATO forces. One of the defendants is Daut Haradinaj, the brother of prominent Kosovar politician and former guerrilla leader Ramush Haradinaj, RFE/RL's South Slavic and Albanian Languages Service reported. Prosecutors say the case is open-and-shut, while the defendants claim it is an attempt to discredit the former Kosova Liberation Army (UCK) and them personally. PM

Several hundred protesters demonstrated in Zagreb on 9 November to mark the International Day of the Fight Against Fascism, RFE/RL's South Slavic and Albanian Languages Service reported. In other political news, representatives of the three parties representing the regional interests of Istria, Slavonia, and Primorje, respectively, met in Bizovac to demand better efforts to develop the economies and resources of Croatia's regions. PM

Prime Minister Adrian Nastase presented the 2003 draft budget at a joint session of Romania's bicameral parliament on 7 November, RFE/RL's Bucharest bureau reported. The same day, President Ion Iliescu said the draft would provide insufficient funding for social-welfare programs. Nastase responded, "If Mr. Iliescu has suggestions for the draft budget bill, I am confident he will directly convey them [to the government]." MS

Police are continuing their investigation into a 6 November grenade blast at a Bucharest high school near the private residence of President Iliescu and expect to catch the perpetrators in a "matter of hours or days," RFE/RL's Bucharest bureau reported. Two students were hospitalized after a grenade was thrown from a passing car into the courtyard of the school and one -- the 13-year-old daughter of a local businessman -- remains in serious condition following surgery, RFE/RL and AP reported. Police have questioned the girl's father and are investigating whether the bombing was gang-related. Prime Minister Nastase's son attends the high school, and Nastase's wife Dana was in the building when the explosion occurred, according to RFE/RL. President Iliescu was in Macedonia at the time of the explosion, but his wife Nina was evacuated from the president's residence. MS

Mircea Dinescu, a member of the dissenting group in the leadership of the National Council for the Study of the Securitate Archives (CNSAS), has criticized a 7 November decision by the Chamber of Deputies' and the Senate's judicial commissions to set up a joint subcommission to study the recent conflict in the CNSAS, saying it only serves to delay a solution, RFE/RL's Bucharest bureau reported. The subcommission is to issue a report to the two commissions, which, in turn, are to report to a joint session of the bicameral parliament. The subcommission, comprising three senators and four deputies, will interview each member of the CNSAS's 11-member leadership college. In related news, the National Liberal Party on 10 November demanded that Social Democratic Party deputy Ristea Priboi resign from parliament, Mediafax reported. The demand comes after a Brasov worker who participated in the 1981 revolt in Brasov said he was tortured by Priboi, who was a member of the Securitate at the time. Priboi has denied the allegation. MS

The government on 7 November extended to 1 February the ban on adoptions of Romanian children by foreigners, Mediafax reported. The cabinet said the extension of the ban, which was to have expired on 15 November, was necessary to complete legislation on adoption. MS

In an interview with RFE/RL's Romania-Moldova Service on 8 November, OSCE Moldovan mission head David Schwartz said Russia will not be able to withdraw all of its troops and arsenal from Moldovan territory by the end of 2002, as was decided at an OSCE summit in November 1999. Schwartz said the organization will discuss this situation at the annual meeting of its foreign ministers on 6-7 December in Porto, Portugal. Schwartz said there are three possibilities for dealing with this situation: Russia would restitute funds provided by donor countries for fulfilling the obligations it assumed; the terms of the withdrawal would be extended; or the Istanbul summit's agreement would be amended. He said the withdrawal of the Russian arsenal cannot be completed earlier than June 2003, and to achieve that target a trainload of armaments would have to leave the separatist Transdniester region every four days. MS

On 9 November, Schwartz urged Transdniester to abide by the obligations it initially assumed when the current negotiation process regarding the OSCE's proposals for settling the conflict began, ITAR-TASS reported. Schwartz said that, following the initial progress made during the expert-level negotiations, Tiraspol has "returned to the extremist position of demanding a confederation, whereas Chisinau is doing much to find a reasonable compromise." The OSCE's proposals envisage the settling of the conflict through Moldova's federalization. Chisinau has renounced its earlier demand for a "unitary state" and has accepted the OSCE's proposals. MS

In Brussels on 8 November, NATO Secretary-General Lord George Robertson told Mihai Popov, Moldova's ambassador to Belgium and to NATO, that NATO is "concerned" over the "intransigent position" displayed by the separatist authorities in Tiraspol, Flux reported, citing a Moldovan Foreign Ministry press release. Robertson said the tense situation in the region is a matter of "concern" for the international community and that Russia must respect the decisions of the Istanbul summit. He accepted an invitation to visit Moldova. In related news, Moldova's Defense Minister Victor Gaiciuc said on 7 November that following NATO's expansion to Moldova's borders upon Romania's expected admission, his country will continue to safeguard its neutrality and will not seek to integrate itself militarily in either NATO or CIS military structures. Gaiciuc said Moldova intends to continue cooperation with NATO within Partnership for Peace. MS

Prime Minister Vasile Tarlev said on 6 November that separatist leader Igor Smirnov's recent decree introducing a 20 percent tax on imports into Transdniester from Moldova is a "provocation" aimed at further harming relations between Chisinau and Tiraspol, RFE/RL's Chisinau bureau reported. Tarlev said the primary victims of Smirnov's decree will be companies operating in the separatist region. He also accused Transdniester Customs, Interior Ministry, and other authorities in the separatist region of being involved in smuggling. On 7 November, the Foreign Ministry appealed to diplomatic missions and to international organizations accredited in Moldova to use their influence to prevent the escalation of the conflict with Transdniester, pointing out that Smirnov's decision hampers the free movement of individuals and goods on both sides of the Dniester River and is part and parcel of a long series of actions that "undermine the prestige and the confidence in the mediators [in the conflict], discredit the peace process, and thwart a political dialogue." According to AP, the ministry also said in its letter that Tiraspol's "obstructive position" in the current negotiations seeks "nothing [short of] international recognition and full independence from Moldova." MS

On 6 November, Tarlev denied press reports and accusations made by the opposition Popular Party Christian Democratic that the government has been distributing "History of Moldova" textbooks to school libraries, RFE/RL's Chisinau bureau reported. Tarlev said the allegation amounts to "a new invention [on the part of the opposition] aimed at stirring unrest through the creation of political conflict." Meanwhile, ITAR-TASS on 7 November cited Mikhail Sidorov, chairman of the parliament's Human Rights and National Minorities Commission, as saying the Russian language will be granted official status in Moldova in the foreseeable future. MS

The Supreme Court ruled on 6 November that the 2000 sale of three Moldovan electricity-distribution companies to the Spanish energy group Union Fenosa had legal flaws, AP reported the next day. The ruling opens the way for the Moldovan authorities to cancel the deal signed by the previous government, under which Union Fenosa bought the three networks for $25 million and pledged to invest a further $67 million over five years to improve the networks. The World Bank on 6 November condemned recent moves by Moldovan authorities to cancel the sales of some state companies to foreign investors. In related news, RFE/RL's Chisinau bureau reported that parliament on 7 November canceled a $5 million debt Gazprom owed Moldova. The parliament's decision was made despite an earlier Moldovan court ruling that Gazprom must pay the debt, which was the result of a fine imposed on the Russian energy giant for illegal imports of natural gas. MS

Finance Minister Milen Velchev said on 8 November that he has received information regarding cases of corruption within the Regional Planning and Infrastructure Ministry, reported. Velchev was responding to former Regional Development Minister Kostadin Paskalev's announcement that he resigned because of the high level of corruption within the government. UB

President Georgi Parvanov said on National Police Day on 9 November that police need more funding to overcome staff shortages, BTA reported. Parvanov added that all branches of power must realize that a situation in which many criminals are at large cannot be tolerated. He also reiterated his demands to amend the Penal Code and lauded the positive results of the Consultative Council for National Security, which he chairs. UB

After meeting with her Bulgarian counterpart Meglena Kuneva, French Minister for European Affairs Noelle Lenoir said in Paris on 8 November that any security check of the Kozloduy nuclear-power plant carried out by EU experts will not change the European Commission's stance that blocks No. 3 and No. 4 of the plant must be shut down by 2006, reported. In related news, Nadezhda Mihailova, who heads the conservative opposition Union of Democratic Forces, renewed her threat to move a vote of no confidence if the government fails prior to the European Council meeting in Copenhagen in December to implement the parliament's decision over the closure of the power-plant. The legislators decided in early October that the government should ask the European Commission for a security review and then reopen negotiations based on the results. However, the government agreed to the date set by the European Commission. Meanwhile, Bulgarian Atomic Regulation Agency Director Emil Vapirev said that the plant will be granted a license to operate the blocks in question until 2013. UB

The growing scandal regarding Serbian arms sales to Iraq and other unsavory clients has raised more questions than answers. But one thing seems clear: Belgrade is a long way from achieving or deserving its return to full membership in the international community.

Scarcely a day goes by without a new revelation or other development in the scandal over illegal Yugoslav and Bosnian Serb arms sales (see "RFE/RL Balkan Report," 25 October 2002). For several reasons, the Council of Europe has made it clear it is unwilling to talk about Belgrade's membership in that body until May 2003 at the earliest. Yugoslav Foreign Minister Goran Svilanovic noted that his country's international standing is lower than it was one year ago and that worse things might be yet to come.

Others are more blunt. London's "The Times" wrote on 2 November, "The revelations have enraged London and Washington,... [which] consider Yugoslavia's breaches [of sanctions] so serious that [Belgrade] risks regaining the pariah status that it endured before" the fall of President Slobodan Milosevic in October 2000. In Bosnia, High Representative Paddy Ashdown warned the Bosnian Serbs that they must choose between "Brussels and Baghdad."

There are, of course, reasons for giving the Serbs the benefit of the doubt. Serbia and the Republika Srpska are geographically located at the center of the Balkans and any attempt at creating regional stability and integration is bound to fail without bringing the Serbs on board at some point.

Some observers accordingly argue it is better to start integrating the Serbs into Euro-Atlantic structures sooner rather than later so that Western governments can engage Belgrade and Banja Luka and open their dealings to greater transparency. In short, advocates of this view stress that it is better to have the Serbs inside than out.

There are, however, some problems with this. Two years of Western engagement with the current Belgrade leadership has yielded few concrete results except for the extradition of former President Milosevic -- by the decision of Serbian Prime Minister Zoran Djindjic and over the objections of Yugoslav President Vojislav Kostunica -- and an end to open warfare. Carla Del Ponte, chief prosecutor at the war crimes tribunal in The Hague, has stressed repeatedly that she receives little or no cooperation from Belgrade and that General Ratko Mladic enjoys official protection from the Yugoslav military.

Even well-intentioned attempts to placate both Serbia and the Kosovar Serbs by giving Belgrade a limited role in Kosova's affairs seem to have backfired (see "RFE/RL Balkan Report," 23 August 2002). Serbian nationalists on both sides of the border remain stubborn, as was indicated by the boycott of the 26 October local elections by the Serbs of northern Mitrovica, despite some encouragement from Belgrade for them to take part. Michael Steiner, who heads the UN's civilian administration in Kosova (UNMIK), said the Serbs who boycotted the vote "shot themselves in the foot" politically.

But the arms-sales scandal has raised questions going beyond the wisdom and efficacy of engaging Belgrade in Kosova. Should one believe the official Belgrade line that the arms sales were made out of ignorance of sanctions or by rogue companies? Even if one accepts that October 2000 led to evolutionary rather than revolutionary change, is it too much for the international community to ask that the civilian authorities have their military-industrial complex under control? And regarding the arms sales, what did the civilian authorities know and when did they know it?

Several prominent Western commentators have argued that the scandal is just beginning and that many surprises are in store. "Jane's Defence Weekly" pointed out on 6 November that it was efforts from within the "anti-terror coalition" that led to the Croatian seizure of the Montenegrin-owned, former Yugoslav Navy ammunition supply ship, the "Boka Star." It carried more than 200 tons of what appears to be solid rocket fuel, probably destined for Saddam Hussein's Scud missiles.

It seems clear that Serbian arms merchants have been dealing with Libya, Burma, and Liberia as well as with Iraq and that a variety of services as well as equipment have been provided. Yugoslavia has been "helping Baghdad upgrade aircraft, supplying rocket fuel for Iraqi Scud missiles, and transferring technology for guidance systems," "The Times" reported on 2 November. Belgrade might also have helped Iraq improve its air-defense systems and provided the skills of specialists.

The motives underlying this risky business are certainly money and probably anti-NATO solidarity. If this is the case, might not Serbian arms merchants have found some additional customers willing to pay good money and seeking to harm Western interests, other than those clients already publicly identified?

If the Belgrade and Banja Luka political leaderships wish to distance themselves from the illegal arms trading in a convincing manner, they will need to get their military-industrial complex under control and make sure its international dealings meet European standards of legality and transparency. If the political leaders fail to do so, they can expect some much tougher questions from the international community.

Calling the dismissal of 20 government officials by Afghan President Hamid Karzai on 3 November (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 4 November 2002) an "unprecedented measure," the Dari-language newspaper "Kabul Weekly" commented on 7 November that since the June Loya Jirga that established the Transitional Islamic Administration of Afghanistan, Karzai has been under pressure on two issues: "first, the lawlessness and disobedience of those who have considered themselves the masters of everything for so long and, second, the process of enforcing law and order and ending the fighting." According to the weekly, Afghans did not expect Karzai to "wait and negotiate forever, and finally those 20 people have paid for the balance of power." The paper added that Karzai recently "warned the regional commanders, called 'warlords' nowadays, to avoid lawlessness and obey the central government." However, they did not heed this advice. "[Karzai] took steps to clean up his administration in practice. The heads of the provincial administrations have welcomed the cleanup, but this move is a warning to the heads of the provincial administrations. If all the dismissals in the provinces are put into force, it will prove the start of an expansion of central government into the provinces. No one has so far reacted to it, but we can expect reactions, which might be in the form of measures by the commanders to strengthen themselves and stop the expansion of central government," concluded the paper. AT

Afghanistan's police force will become a full member of Interpol in the near future, according to Kabul security commander Basir Salangi, AFP reported on 7 November. While no date has been agreed upon between the international crime-fighting organization and the Afghan police, "it is clear that Afghanistan will become part of Interpol," Salangi said. He added that joining Interpol would allow Afghanistan to pursue "thousands" of criminals who are among the Afghan diaspora, saying, "People who have committed crimes in Afghanistan and gone to countries such as Britain, France, and the Netherlands will no longer be safe." While Salangi did not provide AFP with the names of specific criminals currently sought by Afghan authorities, the countries he named hosted former high-ranking Afghan communists who ruled the country from 1978-92. AT

The groundbreaking ceremony for an internationally funded project to repair the badly damaged 500-kilometer highway between Kabul and Kandahar began on 10 November in Durrani, Wardak Province, Kyodo News Service (KNS) reported. The project, which will also repair the highway between Kandahar and Herat, is part of a three-year plan financed by Japan, the United States, and Saudi Arabia. According to an unidentified official of the Japanese Embassy in Kabul, the highway-reconstruction project will improve the Afghan economy and "help bring stability to Afghanistan by demonstrating that the international community is providing strong support to the Karzai government when warlords still maintain strength in some regions," KNS reported. The Herat-Kandahar highway is considered an essential part of the Trans-Afghan gas-pipeline project signed by Afghanistan, Pakistan, and Turkmenistan. AT

Herat Province Governor Muhammad Ismail Khan has strongly criticized the findings of a recent Human Rights Watch report (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 5 November 2002), saying the report's claim that human rights are being abused under his rule are "totally unrealistic," Kabul's Dari-language "Payam-i Mujahid" reported in its 7 November issue. The governor invited international observers to visit Herat and said, "There are no political opposition detainees in Herat city and, in fact, all the prisoners in Herat city are criminals involved in robberies and murders." He continued, "The people of Herat are enjoying freedom more than the people of any other province." Ismail Khan attributed the allegations to his opposition to the deployment of international peacekeepers to Herat. He stated that "only Afghans can play an effective role in the enforcement of law and order" and said he favors the deployment of international peacekeepers to those Afghan cities "where there is no security." The presence of such forces where there is peace is pointless, he said, according to "Payam-i Mujahid." The International Security Assistance Force (ISAF) is currently only deployed in Kabul, but President Karzai's administration has asked that the ISAF's presence be expanded to other Afghan cities. AT

The Iranian parliament on 10 November approved the outline of a bill that would increase the executive branch's powers by giving the president the right to warn and punish officials in the executive, legislative, or judicial branches, according to AFP. It would also empower a committee of experts chosen by the legislature, the executive, and the judiciary to overrule court verdicts. This legislation is likely to encounter opposition from the Guardians Council. Seyyed Reza Zavarei, one of the jurists on the council, said in the 26 October "Hambastegi" that the legislation is unnecessary because the executive branch has accomplished little with the powers it already has. Zavarei also dismissed the reformists' threat to resign from the government if the legislation is not passed, saying that this is just a political trick and an attempt to divert the public from real problems. "They want to keep the public mind busy with deviations and diversions and keep them away from essential issues," he said. BS

About 500 students staged a rally outside the gates of Tehran University on 9 November and into the early hours of 10 November to protest the death sentence passed by a Hamedan court against Hashem Aghajari in early November for a speech he made in June, the Iranian Students News Agency and Reuters reported. Police cordoned off the area and Ansar-i Hizballah vigilantes watched the demonstration, at which at least one tear-gas canister was fired. The police also forced some motorcyclists, who were trying to provoke the students, to leave the area. ISNA and Iranian state radio tried to downplay the demonstration by saying the students were protesting the poor quality of campus food, while "about 60 or 70 others" tried to provoke them. ISNA added, "Here and there, some of the students are shouting slogans in support of Hashem Aghajari and freedom of thought." ISNA said in an earlier dispatch that about half of the 500 demonstrators sang "My Old School Comrade" and "Oh, Iran," and chanted on Aghajari's behalf. The students also chanted "Khatami resign!" according to Reuters. BS

Hadi Kahhalzadeh of the Office for Strengthening Unity's Allameh Tabatabai University branch was quoted by ISNA on 10 November as saying a sit-in would be held at the university on 11 November. During a 10 November sit-in, students at Tarbiat Mudariss (Tehran Teachers Training College) called for the release of Aghajari, and about 1,000 students participated in a rally there on 11 November. Another protest took place at the main corridor of Hamedan's Abu Ali Sina University, according to ISNA, where a film of Aghajari's speech was shown. All the 11 November lectures at the university were canceled as a protest against the sentence and a gathering was to be held at the university's main gate. BS

Hamedan parliamentary representatives Hussein Loqmanian and Mohammad-Reza Ali-Husseini submitted their resignations to the legislature's presiding board to protest Aghajari's death sentence, IRNA reported on 10 November, but the next day IRNA reported that they had withdrawn their resignations in response to a request from Parliamentary Speaker Mehdi Karrubi. Karrubi spoke out against the sentence during the legislature's 10 November session, saying, "I, as a cleric and the spokesman of religious dignitaries with whom I have contacted, announce my hatred and disgust at this shameful verdict," according to IRNA. Karrubi also called for calm and indicated that the issue has been resolved, according to a radio broadcast cited by AFP. Karrubi criticized the judge who passed the verdict and suggested that the decision against Aghajari was political. Government spokesman Abdullah Ramezanzadeh on 9 November also criticized the death sentence and said the president and his cabinet are monitoring the case, IRNA reported. BS

About 156 members of parliament sent a letter to President Mohammad Khatami on 10 November in which they urged him to stop recent actions against national research institutions, IRNA reported. The Ayandeh Research Institute was closed on 31 October, the director of the Islamic Culture and Guidance Ministry's National Plan for Assessing Iranians' Opinion and Values was arrested on 30 October, and the head of the same ministry's National Institute for Research Studies and Opinion Polls was detained on 16 October. These arrests and the closure are connected to the September publication of a poll in which a majority of Tehran respondents favored a resumption of Iran-U.S. relations. Iran's press court accused Ayandeh of taking money from the Washington-based Gallup Organization to fabricate the poll. Richard Burkholder, director of international polling at Gallup, told RFE/RL's Persian Service that Gallup is a private company and is not connected with the U.S. government, and when Gallup pays foreign companies to conduct polls they use questions and methodology developed by Gallup. BS

During an address to the Arab League on 10 November, Iraqi Foreign Minister Naji Sabri called on Arab League members to activate the Collective Arab Defense Pact to ward off "colonialist aggression," Iraq News Agency reported. Sabri appealed for solidarity among Arab member states, saying, "This call is based on Iraq's realization that the entire Arab nation is in the same boat going in the same direction and that no one will survive without the survival of all." Sabri reminded Arab leaders to maintain their commitment to the resolutions of the Beirut summit and called on the Arab states to "threaten" to take measures against "colonial and foreign aggression against Iraq or any other Arab country," including the use of Arab land or airspace for foreign militaries, downgrading relations with the United States and Britain, boycotting the U.S. dollar, and halting oil exports to "countries involved in the aggression." KR

In an interview with Iraq Satellite TV on 10 November, Sabri discussed the Arab League's reaction to UN Security Council resolution No. 1441 of 8 November. The emergency meeting of Arab foreign ministers in Cairo over the weekend discussed the resolution and issued a final statement welcoming it, while reiterating that the resolution does not constitute a basis for the use of military force against Iraq. The Arab League also called for Arab nationals to accompany weapons inspectors from the United Nations Monitoring, Verification, and Inspection Commission (UNMOVIC) throughout Iraq. Commenting on the Arab League's decision, Sabri said, "We asked that the inspectors who were chosen to perform the tasks of the UN Monitoring, Verification, and Inspection Commission include, out of 245 inspectors, a handful of Arab nationals. The Arab nationals would not work as inspectors, but rather as support personnel." Iraqi President Saddam Hussein was to begin reviewing the UN resolution on 11 November. Meanwhile, Egyptian Foreign Minister Ahmad Maher told reporters, "Indications imply that Iraq will likely accept the resolution." His comments came at the conclusion of the meeting on 10 November, MENA news agency reported. KR

UNMOVIC chief Hans Blix discussed the provisions of UN Security Council resolution No. 1441 in an interview with the London-based "Al-Sharq al-Awsat" on 10 November. Blix said that although the resolution gave much responsibility to UN weapons inspectors, the decision to go to war ultimately remains in the hands of the UN Security Council. Asked to define what would constitute a "material breach" of the resolution, Blix cited a denial of access to any site or failure to provide for inspectors' safety. He added that inspectors would submit regular reports on "the facts and events" and the Security Council would decide whether a violation had occurred. Blix told "Al-Sharq al-Awsat" that he and Muhammad al-Baradi'i, head of the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA), would arrive in Baghdad ahead of an advance team due on 18 November. Blix added that a small number of inspectors would reach Iraq around 20 November, and that the total number of inspectors would eventually reach 100. KR