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Newsline - March 3, 2003

Appearing on an NTV political talk show on 28 February, Communist Party leader Gennadii Zyuganov said Moscow should veto the proposed UN Security Council resolution on Iraq sponsored by the United States, Great Britain, and Spain. Opposing Zyuganov on the same show, former Soviet Deputy Foreign Minister Anatolii Adamishin said Russia should not take sides or "fight for peace." Russia should follow its national interests, he said, which means that Iraqi President Saddam Hussein should be disarmed, by force if necessary. State Duma Deputy Gadzhi Makhachev (People's Deputy) argued that Russian Muslims will be enraged if Russia sides with the United States. He added that hundreds of Muslims from his native Daghestan are ready to defend Iraq. Political scientist Natalya Narotsnitskaya said the best role for Russia is to convince the United States that "it has done enough, and to help the U.S. administration to find a face-saving way out." At the end of the discussion, viewers voted against supporting a U.S.-led military action in Iraq by a margin of 82 to 18 percent. However, a majority also expressed the opinion that Russia should avoid imposing a veto in the Security Council and should instead try to build up "an antiwar majority among council members." VY

Emergency Situations Minister Sergei Shoigu said on 26 February that his ministry is ready to help refugees and displaced persons in the event of a U.S.-led military action against the regime of Iraqi President Hussein, reported. Shoigu said Russia would participate in humanitarian operations in the region under the aegis of the United Nations. "If the UN asks us and our government approves the request, we will provide humanitarian assistance to the citizens of Iraq," Shoigu said. He added that the Emergency Situations Ministry is already participating in relief operations in the former Yugoslavia and Central Africa and has offered to assist CIS countries in evacuating their citizens from Iraq. RTR on 2 March reported the arrival in Moscow from Iraq of 150 members of the families of Russian diplomats and workers. Another 700 Russian and Belarusian citizens will be evacuated through safe corridors to Jordan and Syria in the event of a military action. An agreement to this effect has been reached with the U.S. government, RTR reported. VY

Presidential chief of staff Aleksandr Voloshin's recent talks with the administration of U.S. President George W. Bush (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 26 February 2003) in Washington, D.C., have considerably enhanced his influence in Moscow, "Vremya novostei" wrote on 28 February. Since 2000, Voloshin has been primarily responsible for improving Russian-Ukrainian relations, and his successes in this sphere have led to several other important foreign-policy assignments. Voloshin was sent to Washington to assess the possible costs to Moscow of vetoing a UN Security Council resolution on Iraq and to learn the extent to which Russian companies will be able to participate in the reconstruction of Iraq following a possible U.S.-led military action there, the daily speculated. TV-Tsentr commented on 28 February that normally such a mission would fall to Russian Security Council Secretary Vladimir Rushailo, but Rushailo reportedly has not established sufficiently warm relations with U.S. national security adviser Condoleezza Rice, so President Vladimir Putin sent Voloshin instead. VY

Seventeen Russians made the "Forbes" magazine list of the world's 476 billionaires, the magazine reported in its March issue. Yukos CEO Mikhail Khodorkovskii ranked 26th with an estimated net worth of $8 billion, followed by Chukotka Autonomous Okrug Governor and Sibneft co-owner Roman Abramovich (49th with $5.7 billion); Alfa-Group President Mikhail Fridman (68th with $4.3 billion); and the chairman of the board of Tyumen Oil Company, Viktor Vekselberg (147th with $2.5 billion). Other Russians on the list include Norilsk Nickel CEO Mikhail Prokhorov, Sistema CEO Vladimir Yevtushenkov, steel giant Severstal head Aleksei Mordashov, Sibneft's Yevgenii Shvidler, Yukos's Leonid Nevzlin, and several major Yukos shareholders. "Kommersant-Daily" noted on 28 February that, although the total number of billionaires globally is declining, Russia's tally has grown. Three years ago, there were no Russians on the list, while there were seven in 2001 and six in 2002. Russia currently places fourth in terms of its number of billionaires, after the United States, Germany, and Japan, and ranks first in terms of its billionaire-club growth rate. Twelve of Russia's billionaires come from the oil sector, and "Forbes" explains the rapid growth in the country's billionaire club both in terms of rising global energy prices and of the increasing transparency of Russian companies. VY

Speaking in Moscow on 2 March at a gathering devoted to the 50th anniversary of the death of Soviet dictator Josef Stalin, Communist Party leader Zyuganov said that his party has failed to live up to Stalin's legacy and "to preserve the great Soviet power," RTR reported. "But we should raise our heads high because Russia cannot exist without socialism and Soviet power," he added. Zyuganov also attacked the U.S. position on Iraq and said that the U.S. administration wants to involve Europe in "a war against itself." Moscow's Communist Party leader, Aleksandr Kuvaev, surprised the gathering by proposing cloning Stalin, RTR reported. On 2 March, ORT and NTV broadcast documentaries about the death of Stalin. On ORT, Stalin's adopted son, Artem Sergeev, and on NTV political scientist Anatolii Sudoplatov each said that Stalin's inner circle -- including Georgii Malenkov, Lavrentii Beria, and Nikita Khrushchev -- left Stalin to die without summoning medical help. After his rise to power, Khrushchev was particularly cruel toward Stalin's son, Vasilii, who was imprisoned on charges of "betraying the motherland," according to recently declassified documents. VY

The three-day nationwide protest by state-sector workers ended on 28 February, Russian news agencies reported. According to "Vremya-MN" on 1 March, about 310,000 people participated in the action in 33 regions. The workers were protesting low wages, chronic arrears, and proposed legislation that would make local governments, rather than the federal government, responsible for paying state-sector workers such as doctors and teachers (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 27 February 2003). In Moscow, protestors were banned from marching in the streets, "The Moscow Times" reported on 27 February. However, groups of 10-15 people each gathered and collected signatures at some 50 metro stations in the city. According to "Vremya-MN," authorities in Krasnodar also tried to prevent a large gathering by digging a hole in the center of the city's main square in front of the krai administration building. However, protesters gathered around the hole and "expressed their thoughts about local authorities," according to the daily. JAC

The board of directors of Unified Energy Systems (EES) decided on 28 February to sell its almost 70 percent stake in REN-TV, Russian news agencies reported. According to Interfax, an EES spokesman said the decision is consistent with "the company's policies of pulling out of its non-core assets." EES obtained the share in REN-TV from LUKoil in 2000 for about $100 million, according to (see "RFE/RL Newline," 2 October 2000). "Gazeta" on 3 March, however, speculated that EES's decision might be part of a deal made with presidential chief of staff Voloshin in exchange for the administration's support for a package of electrical-sector reforms currently being discussed in the Duma. Citing an unnamed Kremlin source, the daily wrote that "on the eve of the elections, the Kremlin wants one way or another to take control of all the major television channels." The paper predicted that control of the channel will pass to a person more loyal to the Kremlin than EES CEO Antaolii Chubais. JAC/RC

At a Security Council session in Saratov on 28 February, council members discussed problems associated with protecting Russia's borders, "Vremya-MN" reported on 1 March. According to the daily, Russia's border with Kazakhstan is the most problematic of all Russia's borders. No crossings or demarcation lines have been constructed since 1993. The biggest reason has been cost. The construction of 1 kilometer of border in keeping with international standards costs about $1 million, the daily reported. And today, border troops are reportedly financed only at about 10 percent of their needs. According Federal Border Guard Service (FPS) First Deputy Director Nikolai Reznichenko, the government will consider three versions of a federal program for border construction this month, one of which allocates $100 million per year for the next several years, while another earmarks just $10 million. JAC

"Argumenty i fakty," No. 9, argues that large financial and industrial groupings in some regions, such as Krasnoyarsk Krai and Tyumen Oblast, oppose efforts to form larger regions and have influenced local leaders to drop such plans. According to the weekly, Krasnoyarsk Krai Governor Aleksandr Khloponin once supported the idea of merging his krai with the Evenk and Taimyr autonomous okrugs, but as soon as he was elected governor, he dropped the idea because Norilsk Nickel opposes it. Khloponin once headed that company, which is the largest employer in Taimyr Autonomous Okrug. The newspaper characterizes the recent formation of a Union of Governors of the three regions as an "imitation" form of unification (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 21 February 2003). Similarly, in Tyumen Oblast, oil-and-gas barons reportedly supported current Governor Sergei Sobyanin instead of the former Governor Leonid Roketskii, who favored a merger between the oblast and the Khanty-Mansii and Yamalo-Nenets autonomous okrugs, the weekly claims. During the 2001 gubernatorial election, however, news media reported that Sobyanin had the support of Lukoil and Gazprom, while Roketskii was backed by Tyumen Oil Company and Surgutneftegaz (see "RFE/RL Russian Federation Report," 6 December 2000). JAC

The owners of the "first official" gay club in Yekaterinburg announced on 27 February that they are closing the establishment because of the "interpretation by several mass media outlets that the activities of the club have a political character," reported on 28 February. The club opened at the beginning of February and soon attracted denunciations from the Russian Orthodox eparchy in Yekaterinburg (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 19 February 2003). The regional gay rights group Forum issued an open letter in which condemned the church and accused it of trying to incite hatred between groups on the basis of sexual preference through its efforts to close the club, according to Novyi region. Forum said it intends to appeal to judicial and law enforcement authorities about alleged massive violations of citizens' constitutional rights. According to the group, there are 330,000 persons with untraditional sexual orientations in Sverdlovsk Oblast, of whom more than 100,000 live in Yekaterinburg. JAC

A court in St. Petersburg cancelled on 28 February the December legislative-election results in the city's 41st district, "Kommersant-Daily" reported on 1 March. According to those results, Balteksimbank Chairman Yurii Rydnik was elected to the city's Legislative Assembly from that district on 8 December. After the election, Rydnik created a faction within the assembly called Yedinyi Gorod that supports St. Petersburg Governor Vladimir Yakovlev. The daily concluded that the court's decision is therefore a blow not only to Rydnik, but also to Yakovlev. The court canceled the election results after reviewing a lawsuit filed by two of Rydnik's competitors. They alleged that he committed numerous campaign violations, including having his bank rather than his election fund pay for one of his campaign advertisements. Rydnik will remain a deputy while his case is appealed. The outcome of the local legislative elections was considered important to determining whether Yakovlev would be allowed to seek a third term (see "RFE/RL Russian Political Weekly," 11 December 2002). JAC

Zoo workers in the Sakha (Yakutia) Republic are hoping to find financial support or a sponsor for zoo resident, Kesha, a male elk who needs a female counterpart, reported on 28 February. A female elk is available from a farm in Irkutsk, but the small zoo in the village of Orto Doinu does not have the resources to purchase her. According to zoo workers, Kesha is lonely without a female companion. JAC

In an address dated 27 February and posted on, Aslan Maskhadov criticized the planned 23 March referendum on a new Chechen constitution and election laws as an attempt by the Russian leadership to undermine the foundations of Chechnya's sovereignty, discredit its legally elected president and parliament, and divide the Chechen people. He affirmed that Russia will never succeed in forcing the Chechens to acknowledge its domination over them. He appealed to the Chechen people to "close ranks at this difficult hour and show clearly that there is no alternative" to an independent Chechen state. LF

Also on 27 February, the Chechen parliament elected in 1997 issued a parallel appeal to "voters and all those citizens of the republic to whom the honor and dignity of our people are dear" to "demonstrate political maturity" and reject attempts to undermine the foundations of Chechnya's independence, for which so many thousands have died, reported. The statement rejects what it terms a joint attempt by Russia and the West to elevate the "right of might" over human rights. It argues that neither a referendum nor elections can take place "where the blood of children, women, and elderly people is being spilled." It calls on Chechen citizens to demonstrate unity, stressing that "our objective is not enmity with [other] peoples, including the Russians, but prosperity and security for our citizens." The statement concludes that "under the current circumstances a referendum is a crime without statute of limitation." LF

Accompanied by Central Election Commission Chairman Aleksandr Veshnyakov, a group of Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE) experts traveled to Grozny on 1 March to assess preparations for the 23 March referendum, Russian news agencies reported. The previous day, Chechen Central Election Commission Chairman Abdul-Kerim Arsakhanov said in Grozny that preparations for the plebiscite are 85-90 percent complete, Interfax reported. He said that buildings that are to be used either as polling stations or as local election headquarters are already under guard. Ballot papers and equipment will be transported to polling stations within the next few days, Arsakhanov said. LF

Russian presidential administration deputy head Vladislav Surkov told members of the Chechen administration in Grozny on 28 February that the planned 23 March referendum is the first step toward formalizing Chechnya's statehood, ITAR-TASS reported. He added that under a future agreement between the federal and Chechen authorities, Chechnya could be granted "the broadest autonomy" within the Russian Federation. That agreement would also provide for the most flexible form of coexistence and cooperation. Chechen administration head Akhmed-hadji Kadyrov told Interfax on 1 March that Surkov's remarks demolish the argument that Moscow seeks to deprive the Chechen people of their statehood. He added that "broad autonomy" would accelerate the revival of the Chechen economy and help to create thousands of new jobs. Kadyrov also noted that the new Chechen constitution does not in any way contradict the constitution of the Russian Federation. LF

The Supreme Court on 28 February overturned a December ruling by the North Caucasus Military Court that Colonel Yurii Budanov was insane at the time he killed a Chechen girl in March 2000 and that court's verdict that he should undergo psychiatric treatment, Russian news agencies reported (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 3 January 2003). Lawyers for the girl's family appealed the military court's ruling. The Supreme Court ordered that Budanov be retried, and the new trial could take place as early as May, according to "The Moscow Times" on 3 March. LF

People's Party of Armenia Chairman Stepan Demirchian, who will face incumbent President Robert Kocharian in a presidential runoff on 5 March, told some 10,000 supporters at an unsanctioned campaign rally in Yerevan on 1 March that he is "destined to win," RFE/RL's Yerevan bureau reported. Demirchian warned that any officials who resort to "fraud and violence" during the runoff will be "severely punished." On 2 March, Demirchian agreed to Kocharian's proposal to participate in a televised debate, which will be aired by Armenian Public Television on the evening of 3 March, ITAR-TASS reported. LF

Following statements of concern by OSCE Chairman-in-Office Jaap de Hoop Scheffer, Human Rights Watch, and the National Democratic Institute for International Affairs, and an appeal by Armenian Catholicos Garegin II, the Armenian authorities on 1 March released 48 Demirchian campaign staffers who had been sentenced to 15 days' imprisonment for participating in unsanctioned demonstrations in his support, RFE/RL's Yerevan bureau reported (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 24 and 25 February 2003). Human Rights Watch had said the arrests "appear to be a clumsy attempt to disable the opposition" prior to the runoff. LF

Members of the OSCE Observer Mission in Armenia met on 28 February with the Central Election Commission to request clarification of discrepancies between preliminary and final first-round vote tallies for specific districts, RFE/RL's Yerevan bureau reported. Mission head Peter Eicher also noted that in some polling stations the number of voters who reportedly participated in the ballot was so much higher than the national average as to raise suspicions. LF

Armenian Defense Ministry spokesman Colonel Seyran Shahsuvarian rejected on 28 February as "total nonsense" an Azerbaijani Defense Ministry statement issued the previous day claiming that several servicemen were killed or wounded during an exchange of fire on 26 February between soldiers of the Armenian and Karabakh armed forces deployed along the Line of Contact, according to Arminfo, as cited by Groong. Shahsuvarian repeated that the exchange of fire took place as Karabakh troops repelled an attempt by Azerbaijani servicemen to penetrate their lines (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 27 February 2003). LF

Heidar Aliev met in Washington on 28 February with CIA Director George Tennet, who proposed expanding cooperation to ensure that Azerbaijan's frontiers are secure, according to Interfax and ANS-TV, as cited by Groong. The following day, Aliev checked into the Cleveland Clinic, where he has twice undergone surgery, for a medical checkup. LF

The leaders of nine Azerbaijani opposition parties have appealed to the Constitutional Court to rule on a number of questions, Turan reported on 28 February. They include why the final results of the 1998 presidential and 2000 parliamentary elections have still not been made public; whether under the constitution President Aliev may run for a third presidential term this fall; whether Aliev may retain the post of chairman of the Yeni Azerbaycan Party; and whether government officials must resign their posts if they are elected to parliament. LF

Unidentified gunmen opened fire on 28 February on a patrol of three police vehicles in the Pankisi Gorge, but did not inflict any casualties, Caucasus Press reported. Also on 28 February, Georgia's National Security Council discussed, and President Eduard Shevardnadze approved, plans to launch a new operation in the Pankisi Gorge to preclude the return of Chechen militants or suspected terrorists who used the gorge as a base camp in 2001-02 (see "RFE/RL Caucasus Report," 3 March 2003). LF

Georgian officials on 28 February and 1 March failed to clarify whether a U.S. spy plane overflew Georgia on 27 February, as Interfax reported on 28 February. The original Interfax report quoted a Georgian Defense Ministry source as saying that Georgia gave its permission for such flights two months ago. On 1 March, Georgian Civil Aviation Administration official Zurab Chankotadze told Caucasus Press that several U.S. aircraft overfly Georgia each day en route to Afghanistan. But on 28 February, Georgian National Security Council official Tedo Djaparidze declined either to confirm or deny the original Interfax report, while Defense Minister Lieutenant General David Tevzadze and an unnamed Frontier Department official both denied that any U.S. aircraft had violated Georgian airspace, Caucasus Press reported. LF

Ninety parliament deputies voted on 28 February in favor of a proposal by the opposition United Democrats faction to raise the minimum wage from 20 laris ($9.20) to 115 laris ($52.90), effective 1 July, Caucasus Press reported. Deputies had rejected a debate on that issue late last year (see "RFE/RL Caucasus Report," 3 January 2003). But Economy, Industry, and Trade Minister Giorgi Gachechiladze dismissed the vote on 1 March as "economically illiterate" and a threat to economic stability, pointing out that there are no budget resources available to fund such an increase. In his regular Monday radio interview, President Shevardnadze similarly said on 3 March that such an increase is not feasible at present, but that it should be possible to raise the minimum wage incrementally, to 35 laris this year, 60 laris in 2004, and possibly to 115 laris by 2006. LF

The Permanent Conference on Further Democratization and Civil-Society Development on 28 February discussed drafting a Land Code that would permit private land ownership in Kazakhstan, Interfax-Kazakhstan reported. In late 2002, the government proposed to the legislature that private landownership be permitted. Now the mechanism for doing so must be worked out and a new Land Code must be prepared despite continued disagreement over privatization. At the 28 February meeting, Agrarian Party leader Romin Madinov called for the creation of a middle class of private farmers, while Communist Party leader Serikbolsyn Abdildin asserted that privatization would violate the constitution. Abdildin said the state should remain the owner of all land and the current leasing system should continue. The draft Land Code includes two ways of acquiring land: either by outright purchase or through an installment system. Land could be obtained in perpetuity or on a right-of-use basis for 49 years. The meeting participants undertook to draw up recommendations on the draft Land Code for parliament. BB

Kyrgyzstan's Constitutional Court on 28 February rejected a request by opposition parliamentary deputies that the May 2002 transfer of Kyrgyz territory to China be declared unconstitutional, Interfax and reported that day. In the opinion of court Chairwoman Cholpon Baekova, the agreements between Kyrgyzstan and China delimiting the border between the two countries were adopted and ratified by the president, the government, and parliament in accordance with the constitution. Kyrgyz Foreign Minister Askar Aitmatov expressed satisfaction with the court's ruling. The border agreements included the transfer of some 96,000 hectares of Kyrgyz territory. In 2002, public outcry against the transfer contributed significantly to public unrest in the country (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 16 and 20 May 2002). BB

Edil Baysalov, president of the opposition Coalition for Democracy and Civil Society, was forcibly taken on 28 February to a military hospital, an act that he described as illegal deprivation of liberty because there are no grounds for his hospitalization, reported on 3 March. Baysalov was declared unfit for military service in 1994 because of vision problems, a decision reaffirmed in January. Baysalov himself and other human rights activists believe his detention was politically motivated. BB

Kyrgyz human rights ombudsman Tursunbai Bakir uulu told RFE/RL's Kyrgyz Service on 1 March that adherents of the banned Hizb ut-Tahrir movement should not be harassed by the authorities merely because they want to restructure society radically. In Bakir uulu's view, the group has not actually broken the law, and other parties -- he mentioned specifically the Socialists and Communists -- also would like to restructure society. He noted that the Kyrgyz government and the Kyrgyz Muftiyat are working together to counter illegal Hizb ut-Tahrir propaganda. The following day, Communist parliament deputy Orozbek Duisheev told RFE/RL's Kyrgyz Service that he rejected the comparison between Hizb ut-Tahrir and his party, pointing out that the Kyrgyz Constitution prohibits the establishment of political parties based on religion. BB

Tajik citizens seeking work in the Russian Federation will need foreign passports in order to cross Uzbekistan beginning this spring, reported on 2 March, citing the Institute for War and Peace Reporting. All land routes from Tajikistan to other CIS states except Kyrgyzstan cross Uzbekistan. Train crews will also be affected by the new requirement. Previously, under a 2000 agreement, a Tajik domestic passport was adequate for travel by Tajik citizens across Uzbekistan, but such passports have no room for exit and entry stamps, Tajikistan's ambassador in Tashkent pointed out. According to the article, about 1 million Tajik citizens leave the country each spring in search of seasonal work and return in November. Because the mountain pass linking northern and southern Tajikistan is closed by snow in winter, citizens traveling between these two regions by ground must pass through Uzbekistan, meaning that they will now be required to hold foreign passports. The Uzbek Foreign Ministry reportedly has not informed its Tajik counterpart of the new requirement. The information came from Uzbek railway officials. BB

According to figures cited at a recent meeting at the Tashkent Institute of Irrigation Engineering and Agriculture Mechanization that focused on Uzbekistan's drinking-water deficit, more than 2,000 rural settlements have no supply of potable water, the UzA news agency reported on 28 February. Only 8.3 percent of the country's homes are equipped with water meters. The need to conserve Uzbekistan's available water was recognized, as was the need to reconstruct the irrigation system and to introduce more efficient technologies such as drip irrigation. The report noted that water consumption per capita in Central Asia averages twice the amount consumed in many developed countries. No mention was made at the meeting of revising tariffs for water. BB

Nearly 73 percent of voters took part in Belarus's local elections on 2 March, Belapan reported on 3 March, quoting preliminary results announced by Central Election Commission (TsVK) Secretary Mikalay Lazavik. "We did not expect that during the local elections Belarusian voters would be as active as during the presidential poll," TsVK Chairwoman Lidziya Yarmoshyna commented the previous day on the ballot, in which some 93 percent of local councilors ran unopposed (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 28 February 2003). Official results are expected within several days. JM

United Civic Party leader Anatol Lyabedzka said on 2 March that the local elections fell short of democratic standards, Belapan reported. "There was a brutal election campaign but no [fair] elections," Lyabedzka said. "The electoral legislation has not improved in terms of becoming more democratic and transparent," Belarusian Popular Front leader Vintsuk Vyachorka said. "The election practice of setting up electoral commissions, filtering candidates, and [restricting] the possibility of monitoring does not leave any 'loopholes' for democracy," Vyachorka added. According to Youth Front leader Pavel Sevyarynets, the local elections were a "failure" for the opposition. "The elections were held under a scenario [written by] the regime. This can be said judging by both a great number of those who participated in early voting and the ballots with no alternative [candidates] in a majority of constituencies," Sevyarynets added. JM

A congress of opposition legislators of all levels in Kyiv on 2 March called on Ukrainians to take part in protests to depose the current ruling regime, UNIAN reported. The congress, which attracted some 2,000 people (including 1,405 opposition deputies as delegates), was organized by the Communist Party, the Socialist Party, and the Yuliya Tymoshenko Bloc. Deputies from Our Ukraine, including its leader Viktor Yushchenko, attended the congress as guests. The three opposition parties are planning on 9 March to renew their "Rise Up, Ukraine!" campaign intended to force President Leonid Kuchma to resign from his post and to bring about early presidential elections in the country. Addressing the congress, Yushchenko -- whose Our Ukraine avoids identifying too closely with the radical slogans of the Communists, the Socialists, and Tymoshenko's followers -- called on opposition forces to unite "at any price." Tymoshenko told journalists that the problem of fielding a joint presidential candidate from the opposition will be tackled only after the official announcement of a presidential race. JM

Oleksandr Bondar, chairman of the State Property Fund (FDM), has tendered his resignation, Interfax reported on 1 March, quoting First Deputy Prime Minister and Finance Minister Mykola Azarov. Azarov said the government deems the activities of the FDM to have been unsatisfactory, adding that the privatization process supervised by the fund "has failed to become an instrument for speeding up the economy and meeting fiscal objectives." Azarov added that the privatization process in Ukraine has yielded "only" 6 billion hryvnyas ($1.12 billion) to date. Bondar has headed the FDM since October 1998. JM

The left-of-center Center Party took 25.4 percent of the vote and 28 seats in the 101-member parliament in the elections on 2 March, BNS reported the next day. The newcomer Res Publica party was a close second with 24.6 percent, but also took 28 seats. The Reform Party garnered 17.7 percent of the vote and 19 seats, the People's Union 13 percent and 13 seats, Pro Patria Union 7.3 percent and seven seats, and the Moderates 7 percent and six seats. The remaining parties did not obtain the required 5 percent for parliamentary representation. It is not clear which party President Arnold Ruutel will invite to form the new government. Res Publica Chairman Juhan Parts has ruled out cooperation with the Center Party. Some 499,000 voters cast ballots, representing 58.2 percent of eligible voters. SG

Parliament on 28 February approved the 2003 national budget by a vote of 55 to 44, LETA reported. The budget forecasts revenues of 1.67 billion lats ($2.9 billion), expenditures of 1.85 billion lats, and a resulting deficit of 177.5 million lats, which is about 3 percent of gross domestic product. Although numerous amendments to the budget were proposed, the parliament only passed those that had been approved earlier by the Budget and Finance Commission. Prime Minister Einars Repse said after the vote that preparing amendments to the budget will be among the government's key tasks. He expressed the hope that more revenue will be collected than planned, but stressed that additional allocations will be made only after the money is actually in the treasury. Repse said the government's priorities will be health care and social affairs. SG

Rolandas Paksas, accompanied by Defense Minister Linas Linkevicius, Field Forces Commander Brigade General Valdas Tutkus, parliament's National Security and Defense Committee Chairman Alvydas Sadeckas, and presidential adviser for foreign-policy issues Alvydas Medalinskas, traveled on 28 February to Bagram Air Base, some 50 kilometers from Kabul, to visit Lithuanian troops serving in Afghanistan. Some 40 soldiers have been serving in Operation Enduring Freedom in Afghanistan since last November. The Lithuanians did not meet with any Afghan officials, but heard praise about the performance of the troops from Combined Joint Task Force commander Lieutenant General Dan McNeill. Paksas said at a press conference at Vilnius airport after returning on 2 March that the service of the coalition troops is totally different from that of the Soviet troops 20 years earlier and that he supports the current Lithuanian missions abroad, BNS reported. SG

Premier and Democratic Left Alliance (SLD) leader Leszek Miller threw the Peasant Party (PSL) out of the 16-month-old ruling coalition on 1 March, two days after the PSL sided with the opposition to vote down a bill on highway tolls (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 28 February 2003), Polish media reported. Miller simultaneously sacked Deputy Premier and Agriculture Minister Jaroslaw Kalinowski and Environment Minister Stanislaw Zelichowski, both of whom are from the PSL, from his cabinet. "By refusing support for government bills in the last few days, the Peasant Party has placed itself outside the coalition," Miller said in a televised address to the nation. "You cannot at the same time be in government and in opposition to the government. As prime minister, I do not accept this and can no longer tolerate this." It is unclear whether Miller will run a minority government or seek new coalition partners in the parliament. The SLD, together with the allied Labor Union, controls 216 votes in the Sejm, 19 votes short of an outright majority. JM

Finance Minister Grzegorz Kolodko on 28 February unveiled his plan to revamp the country's public finances, Polish media reported. Kolodko proposed three variants for changes to personal income tax by introducing additional, lower tax rates to the current system of 19 percent, 30 percent, and 40 percent rates, along with a no-tax policy for the lowest income groups. He also proposed eliminating most tax exemptions and reducing the 27 percent corporate tax by 3 percentage points. According to Kolodko's plan, savings will come through the elimination of a number of government agencies and funds, as well as through the abolition of the indexation of wages, pensions, and social payments stipulated by current legislation. JM

Former Premier Vaclav Klaus was narrowly elected president in the third round of the 28 February vote by Czech lawmakers, CTK and international news agencies reported. Klaus, running as the candidate of the conservative opposition Civic Democratic Party (ODS), garnered 142 votes, a razor-thin majority of the combined 200-seats in the lower house and 81 Senate seats. He appeared to win the support of the other parliamentary opposition party, the Communist Party of Bohemia and Moravia, but also was supported by some lawmakers from the ruling, center-left coalition. Klaus is expected to be sworn in as president on 7 March, more than one month after his predecessor, Vaclav Havel, stepped down on 2 February. Klaus's opponent in the vote, philosopher and academic Jan Sokol, won 124 votes in the final round. Klaus is a former finance minister (1990-92), prime minister (1992-97) and parliamentary speaker (1998-2002). MS

Thanking lawmakers who endorsed his candidacy, Klaus said in a first reaction after his election on 28 February that he wants "to assure the Czech government that I am prepared for fruitful and efficient work with it, for the good of this country," RFE/RL reported. The outcome is seen by some as a crushing blow for Social Democratic Party (CSSD) Chairman and Prime Minister Vladimir Spidla, whose tenuous grip on power was highlighted by party defections in the balloting and who will face a strong ideological opponent in Klaus. Spidla said he will be "capable of cooperating very well" with Klaus as president, conceding the vote was "a defeat" but adding that Klaus was democratically elected, according to CTK. In an apparent allusion to his predecessor, Klaus said he wishes to "assure everyone that I will stand with both my feet firm on the ground." He said he believes his votes "came from [across] the political spectrum in our parliament," according to Reuters. MS

President-elect Klaus said on TV Nova on 2 March that war is a last resort not only in the specific case of Saddam Hussein's regime in Iraq, but in human society in general, CTK reported. "Nobody will hear from me strong words in support of a war," he said, adding that he believes the international community will ultimately opt for a nonviolent solution to the Iraq crisis. He also said he would not have signed the so-called group of eight letter in support of U.S. policies and unity toward Iraq (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 30 January 2003), as his predecessor Havel did, noting that Havel was the only head of state among the signatories and calling this "inadequate." He also criticized Havel for not having consulted with Premier Spidla and his government before signing the letter. MS

Klaus told the same television audience on 2 March that he resents having been labeled by journalists and some political opponents a "Euroskeptic," CTK reported. He added that he intends to stick to what he believes are his realistic views of the EU and to continue rejecting a federalist model for EU integration. He said such a model translates into more power in Brussels and less power in Prague. Klaus also said the debates ahead of the EU-accession referendum must be serious and extensive, adding that he considers Czech membership a "fait-accompli." Referring to relations with Germany and the expulsion of ethnic Germans under the 1946 Benes Decrees, Klaus said he will not go beyond what he did when as premier he signed a Czech-German declaration of reconciliation in 1997. He emphasized that the expulsion of Sudeten Germans was a reaction to the events of World War II. MS

Premier Spidla told CTK on 28 February that despite the coalition's defeat in the presidential vote the same day, he will seek re-election as CSSD chairman in March and preserve the current center-left coalition, CTK reported. Deputy Premier Pavel Rychetsky, on the other hand, said the outcome of the presidential ballot will necessarily have a negative impact on the party. On 1 March, however, Rychetsky told journalists that Spidla is likely to run unopposed for a new term as CSSD chairman later this month, but that the presidential vote means the party conference "will not be an easy one." Most observers blame supporters of former Premier and party Chairman Milos Zeman for the rift that led to Klaus's victory. Also on 1 March, Zeman said if he attends the conference, he will support Spidla's replacement by CSSD Deputy Chairman and Labor Minister Zdenek Skromach, CTK reported. Zeman added that he does not intend to return to politics and might not attend the event at all to avoid influencing delegates. He said Klaus should thank Spidla and CSSD Deputy Chairman and Interior Minister Stanislav Gross for his election as head of state. The daily "Pravo" on 3 March cited both Skromach and Gross as saying they will not challenge Spidla for the party chairmanship. MS

The ODS on 1 March set up a shadow cabinet headed by party Chairman Miroslav Topolanek, CTK reported. The cabinet was approved by the party's Executive Council and includes, among others, Petr Necas as shadow defense minister, Vlastimil Tlusty as shadow finance minister, Ivan Langer as shadow interior minister, and Jan Zahradil as shadow foreign minister. MS

The deployment in Kuwait of the Slovak anti-nuclear-, -biological, and -chemical (NBC) unit was completed on 2 March, when the last members of the group reached their destination, TASR reported (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 27 February 2003). The unit will operate jointly with the Czech NBC contingent already stationed in that country. MS

Donald Evans, on a tour of several Central and Eastern European countries, met in Bratislava on 28 February with Slovak Prime Minister Mikulas Dzurinda, RFE/RL's local bureau reported. In a reference to the Iraq crisis and Slovakia's support for Washington's position, Evans thanked the premier for his "unwavering support through this difficult period in our fight against terrorism around the world." He said this "courageous commitment to providing peace and stability in the world" has strengthened U.S. perceptions of Slovakia "as a friend and as an ally." After the talks with Dzurinda, Evans was quoted by TASR as saying that investment conditions in Slovakia are good and he is "optimistic" that "more American companies will soon come to Slovakia to do business." MS

The Party of Civic Understanding (SOP), which was cofounded and briefly headed by President Rudolf Schuster, on 1 March ended its five-year political existence, merging into the opposition Smer (Direction) party headed by Robert Fico, AP and TASR reported. The merger agreement was signed on 26 February by Fico and SOP Chairman Pavol Hamzik. The SOP won 8.1 percent of the vote in the 1998 elections that cast Vladimir Meciar from power and became part of the coalition that emerged in the wake of the ballot, but the party garnered just 1.36 percent in the 2002 elections, thus failing to gain parliamentary representation. An SOP extraordinary congress in Nitra on 1 March approved the merger with near-unanimity. MS

Four special regional conventions of the Movement for a Democratic Slovakia (HZDS) on 1 and 2 March reconfirmed the authority of party Chairman Vladimir Meciar and his followers, TASR reported. The regional conventions were held following the recent departure of Deputy Chairman Vojtech Tkac and 10 other parliamentary deputies, replacing regional leaders who joined the newly formed independent parliamentary group (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 18 and 24 February 2003). The Bratislava regional branch elected as its new head Jan Cuper, a lawyer currently defending former Slovak Intelligence Service Director Ivan Lexa against charges of fraud and abuse of power. New regional heads were also elected by the Trnava, Kosice, and Presov regional HZDS conventions. MS

Defense Minister Ferenc Juhasz on 1 March accused the United States of violating Hungarian airspace on 20 February as U.S. aircraft flew to Romania rather than to the approved destination of Afghanistan, Hungarian and international media reported. He characterized it as a violation of Hungarian sovereignty, according to MTI news agency. Juhasz told parliament's Defense Committee during an extraordinary session that Washington has issued a written apology for the incident, in which six U.S. Army helicopters and a tanker aircraft flew to the Constanta military base in Romania to assist in ongoing U.S. maneuvers there. Hungary allowed the helicopters and the tanker plane to use its airspace and refuel in Budapest under authorization granted for Operation Enduring Freedom. "The [Hungarian] government responded with a harshly worded verbal note in which it asked the U.S. to refrain from similar cases in the future," the agency quoted Juhasz as saying. MSZ

Representatives of Hungary's left-wing Democratic Roma Coalition, led by Aladar Horvath, won 49 of the 53 seats in the National Roma Self-Government in a repeat ballot held on 1 March, routing the right-wing Lungo Drom federation that held power in the Romany Authority for eight years, Hungarian media reported the next day. The Hungarian Supreme Court last month ordered a new vote, reasoning that the 12 January Romany assembly had no quorum after Lungo Drom representatives walked out of the election hall to protest voting procedures (see "RFE/RL Newsline, " 14 and 17 January 2003). The new vote "proved that Hungary's gypsy community is capable of electing its leaders democratically, observing legal standards," Lajos Ficzere, head of the National Election Committee, told Hungarian television on 2 March. The winning Democratic Roma Coalition has pledged to strengthen local Romany government and fight poverty, Horvath told reporters. MSZ

Gabor Kuncze was re-elected chairman of the junior coalition Alliance of Free Democrats (SZDSZ) at a party conference on 1 March, Budapest dailies reported the next day. Kuncze came out well ahead of his only rival, former SZDSZ parliamentary deputy Tamas Bauer, who received 25 percent of the vote. Bauer is a vocal critic of the party's current leadership and of the SZDSZ's role in the Socialist-led ruling coalition. Kuncze had said he wants to pare down the party's executive board and the National Council, and he plans to introduce the new post of executive deputy chairman. According to "Magyar Hirlap," Ivan Peto, deputy leader of the SZDSZ's parliamentary group, is said to be favored for that post. MSZ

Former Prime Minister Viktor Orban on 1 March announced at the first national conference of right-wing groups from small communities that his opposition FIDESZ party intends to submit a draft resolution to parliament in which the government would be obliged to ensure that the real value of pensions does not decrease upon Hungary's accession to the European Union, "Magyar Hirlap" reported on 3 March. Orban, who has pledged to make FIDESZ a more broad-based party, said the party did not lose last year's parliamentary elections on the basis of voting in the capital alone, but also in small villages. He said that while the FIDESZ-led government did much, it did not solve problems faced by villages, the daily reported. MSZ

The Yugoslav federal parliament on 28 February approved a Charter on Human and Minority Rights, thus fulfilling the final condition for the creation of a new state union between Serbia and Montenegro, the "Southeast European Times" reported. The first session of the new parliament was expected to begin on 3 March. UB

The Hague-based international war crimes tribunal on 28 February released an ethnic Albanian man after prosecutors were unable to establish that he is the suspect they indicted for war crimes, the "Southeast European Times" reported. Agim Murtezi was recently arrested along with two war crimes indictees for related offenses by KFOR troops in Kosova and subsequently extradited to The Hague (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 18 and 21 February 2003). Murtezi insisted it was a case of mistaken identity and said he did not even know the two other suspects. The tribunal the same day decided to grant early release to Bosnian Serb Damir Dosen, who served a five-year prison term in an Austrian jail for atrocities against Croats and Muslims in the Keraterm concentration camp (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 14 November 2001). UB

Kosovar Prime Minister Bajram Rexhepi has rejected an informal proposal by his Serbian counterpart Zoran Djindjic to transform Kosova into a federation, RFE/RL's South Slavic and Albanian Languages Service reported on 1 March. Rexhepi slammed Djindjic's proposal as a "political provocation" aimed ultimately at the division of the province along ethnic lines. Djindjic, in an interview with the Frankfurt-based Serbian daily "Vesti," proposed transforming Kosova into a two-part federation similar to the Muslim-Croat federation of Bosnia-Herzegovina (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 27 February 2003). UB

Defense Minister Vlado Buckovski and his French counterpart Michele Alliot-Marie met in Paris on 28 February, MIA news agency reported. The bilateral talks focused on EU plans to take over the military mission in Macedonia from NATO. The ministers agreed to limit the EU mandate to six months, after which Macedonian forces will assume full responsibility for the security situation in the country (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 31 January and 5 February 2003). In separate talks, Buckovski, who was accompanied by Major General Sokol Mitrovski, and Chief of Staff for the French Forces General Henri Bentegeat agreed to improve military and technical cooperation between the two countries. UB

Parliamentary speaker Nikola Popovski on 28 February reminded the government and the president that, according to the country's constitution, the legislature has the final word on foreign military missions on Macedonian territory, MIA news agency reported. "The mission which is being discussed between the government and the European Union on replacing [the] NATO-led mission with EU forces cannot be realized with an agreement between the EU and the government or the president, but must be approved with an agreement that would be ratified by the parliament," Popovski said. UB

Foreign Minister Dimitrij Rupel cautioned that Slovenia's international rating could fall dramatically if citizens reject NATO membership in a referendum slated for 23 March, Hina reported on 28 February, quoting an interview in the Maribor daily "Vecer." Rupel ruled out resigning in the event that voters spurn NATO membership. Recent opinion polls suggest a close result in the referendum (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 28 Febuary 2003 and "RFE/RL Balkan Report," 28 February 2003). UB

The leaders of the governing Social Democratic Party (SDP) and the Croatian Peasants' Party (HSS), Prime Minister Ivica Racan and parliamentary speaker Zlatko Tomcic, met on 28 February to assess privatization procedures amid criticism that state sell-offs have come to a halt, Hina reported. After the meeting, Tomcic rejected talk of a dead end and told a joint press conference that the parties are on the way to resolving problems that are delaying privatization. He said the two did not discuss personnel issues, including possible candidates to head the Croatian Privatization Fund, according to Hina. "Privatization has [so far] developed according to a model with no prospect for full transparency and [speedy procedures], and we are set to resolve both shortcomings," Tomcic added. Racan and Tomcic agreed that the parties' leaders will meet on a regular basis to overcome their differences. UB

Mediafax reported on 1 March that the U.S. Embassy in Bucharest informed President Ion Iliescu that the number of U.S. troops and military equipment stationed at the Mihail Kogalniceanu base near Constanta was to "rise substantially" over the weekend. Presidential spokeswoman Corina Cretu, who accompanied Iliescu on a visit to Greece (see below), told journalists that the U.S. Embassy does not "publicly discuss" aspects related to the number of U.S. troops and the equipment used by them, but added that according to the embassy "media speculations" are "grossly exaggerated." The number of troops stationed at the base, Cretu added, will fluctuate in correlation to "changing circumstances" related to possible military action against Iraq. However, the U.S. Embassy has clarified that "their number will not be greater than several thousand," Cretu added. MS

President Iliescu on 28 February-1 March met with his Greek counterpart Konstantinos Stephanopoulos, Premier Kostas Simitis, and parliamentary speaker Apostolos Kaklamanis, to discuss the Iraq crisis and ways to intensify the Greek EU Presidency's support for Bucharest's efforts to join the EU in 2007, Romanian Radio reported. Upon his return to Romania, Iliescu said in commenting on the Iraq issue that "Romania does not believe in war and cannot rejoice at the fact that it will be the Iraqi people who will have to pay for the sins of the regime in their country, just as the Romanians have had to pay the price for the arbitrary, abusive, and undemocratic behavior of their leaders during communist totalitarianism." MS

Prime Minister Adrian Nastase on 28 February said President Iliescu's proposals to raise taxes for those with very high incomes "are not based on an economic analysis, would chase away investors," and have "put the government in a delicate situation," RFE/RL's Bucharest bureau reported (see RFE/RL Newsline," 27 February 2003). Nastase said Romania finds itself in a "very tough competition" with neighboring countries for attracting foreign investors and its future economic development depends on being successful in that endeavor. He said Iliescu's statements have "created nervousness, and not only in Romania." Nastase also said that while differences of opinion between the government and the president are "democratic and legitimate," Iliescu has chosen to publicly attack the government's policies on several occasions, despite the fact that he has received explanations in private as to why his proposals are not viable. Referring to Iliescu's statement of 27 February in which the president said that "the premier seems to be tired," Nastase said Iliescu is not his personal physician, whose opinion is that "I am perfectly fit." MS

The Romanian Ecologist Party, the Green Alternative Party-Ecologists, and the Ecologist Convention merged into one formation on 1 March, Romanian Radio reported. Corneliu Protopopescu was elected chairman of the new formation, which will be called the Romanian Ecologist Party. The Romanian Ecologist Federation did not join the merged formation. MS

Some 5,000 workers from Hunedoara's Siderurgica steel mill marched through the streets of the town on 1 March, protesting the government's plan to lay off workers at the plant, AP and Mediafax reported (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 28 February 2003). Romanian Radio on 28 February cited Privatization Minister Ovidiu Musatescu as saying that Siderurgica's debts to the state budget are 20 times higher than the value of the company's total assets. MS

OSCE mission chief to Moldova William Hill announced after the renewed two-day round of negotiations held in Chisinau on 27-28 February that the sides have agreed "in principle" to jointly elaborate a new constitution for a federal Moldovan state, as proposed by President Vladimir Voronin in early February, RFE/RL's Chisinau bureau reported. Hill said the agreement is "preliminary" and its framework is yet to be agreed upon. Experts representing Chisinau and Tiraspol are expected to meet again on 18-19 March to work out details. MS

Russian Foreign Ministry official Aleksandr Yakovlev said on 1 March that the restrictions imposed one day earlier by the United States and the European Union on travel by the separatist region's leaders are an instrument that should be exercised "with prudence," RFE/RL's Chisinau bureau reported (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 28 February 2003). Yakovlev said the issue is "sensitive" and that the travel ban should be applied in a manner aimed at strengthening "positive influences" among the Transdniester separatists. Separatist leader Igor Smirnov and many of his supporters have Russian citizenship and carry Russian passports. MS

The Party of Moldovan Communists (PCM) majority in parliament on 28 February approved a significantly amended version of a bill on transforming Teleradio Moldova into a public company, RFE/RL's Chisinau bureau reported. The Braghis Alliance, whose draft bill was approved by the government on 12 February (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 13 February 2003), walked out in protest after a parliamentary committee restored provisions to the bill that would ensure governmental control of Teleradio Moldova. As approved by parliament, the bill stipulates that the 15-member Board of Observers, whose mandate runs for five years, will have two members appointed by the parliament (of whom one will be appointed by the opposition), two by the president, two by the government, two by organizations representing national minorities, and one each by the Supreme Magistracy Council, Teleradio Moldova, the National Federation of Trade Unions, the Solidarity Trade Union Confederation, the unions of creative artists, the mass media, and the government-dominated Veterans Organization. PCM majority leader Victor Stepaniuc said the new bill will probably "not satisfy everybody on the [Parliamentary Assembly of the] Council of Europe, but formally fulfills the council's recommendations." MS

Visiting Moldovan President Voronin and his Vietnamese counterpart Tran Duc Luong on 28 February said in a joint declaration that the two countries will seek to develop and consolidate their friendship and multilateral cooperation based on respect for the principles of national sovereignty, independence, territorial integrity, equality of rights, and mutually beneficial ties, Infotag reported. They agreed to cooperate bilaterally and at the level of international organizations. The joint declaration states Vietnam's support for Moldova's efforts to resolve the Transdniester dispute on the basis of respect for Moldovan sovereignty and territorial integrity. MS

Russian President Vladimir Putin arrived in Sofia on 1 March for a three-day official visit to Bulgaria, Bulgarian and international media reported. During the first days of his visit, Putin met with President Georgi Parvanov for talks that focused on the Iraq crisis and on bilateral economic relations. The visit was the first visit by a Russian head of state in 10 years and coincided with celebrations marking the 125th anniversary of the liberation of Bulgaria from Ottoman rule by Russian troops. On 3 March 1878, a peace treaty was signed between Russia and the Ottoman Empire in San Stefano, which created a Greater Bulgaria including territories in present-day Macedonia and Greece. The peace treaty was revised at the Berlin Congress later the same year, dividing Bulgaria into a small principality and a province that remained under Ottoman rule. UB

President Putin said after his meeting with President Parvanov on 2 March that the two countries' positions on Iraq do not fully coincide, but he underscored that every country has the right to formulate its own foreign policies, BTA reported. Putin and Parvanov agreed that EU candidate countries were placed in a difficult position by the EU's delay in establishing a unified position on Iraq. The two presidents stressed in a joint declaration the need for cooperation within the framework of the United Nations in taking on global challenges such as international terrorism and organized crime. They lauded improved Russian-Bulgarian relations, which were strained over the past few years by strong anti-Russian sentiments within the previously governing conservative Union of Democratic Forces. "Today, Russia and Bulgaria understand that our relations must be free from ideological layers and stereotypes from the past," quoted Putin as saying during a meeting with leading parliamentarians. UB

Putin told a joint news conference with President Parvanov on 2 March that investment in the Bulgarian energy sector is of key interest to the Russian economy, BTA reported. The transit of Russian gas via Bulgaria to neighboring countries is to be increased by one-third, according to Putin. The Russian president also spoke about Russian gas giant Gazprom's interest in the privatization of the state-owned Bulgargaz company and in the expansion of the Bulgarian pipeline network. Parvanov added that Russia is also interested in participating in the proposed modernization of the Kozloduy nuclear-power plant as well as in the construction of a planned second nuclear-power plant near Belene. Finance Minister Milen Velchev said after meeting with his visiting Russian counterpart Aleksei Kudrin that Russia is ready repay in cash those debts to Bulgaria that cannot be settled in kind because of price differences. UB

Outside the region itself, the Balkans have largely slipped to the fringes of public attention in the post-11 September 2001 world. Some German experts warn that ignoring the Balkans could inadvertently pave the way for trouble in the future.

Germany's Suedosteuropa-Gesellschaft (SOG), which is that country's primary organization for Balkan studies, held its annual meeting in Leipzig on 21 and 22 February. In addition to several hundred of the society's 750 members, diplomats from many Balkan states, the United States, and France attended the meeting.

But why Leipzig? The SOG has long been based in Munich, which is understandable given Bavaria's traditional links to the Balkans. In recent years, Bavarian investments in Southeastern Europe exceed those from all other German states combined.

But Leipzig also has an impressive history of ties to the Balkans through its traditional trade fairs, its university, and its publishing business. In fact, the first Romanian and Bulgarian newspapers were published in Leipzig, not in their home countries, according to Leipzig University Professor Frank-Dieter Grimm, who helped organize the conference. It is thus not surprising that the first chapter of the SOG to be set up in the former East Germany after the fall of the Berlin Wall was in Leipzig.

On the first day of the conference, a panel of German experts discussed the evolution of Balkan studies in Germany in recent years. The panelists generally agreed that interest in the region on the part of the academic and policy communities has declined since the Balkans disappeared from the headlines. The continuation of academic programs has often been dependent on the efforts of individual professors rather than broader criteria, and the prospects for employment for young specialists have declined.

Jobs are still to be had, but students must plan carefully, the experts agreed. Those wanting to join the policy community should have not only solid historical and linguistic backgrounds but should also be versed in writing succinct political analyses. Resumes focusing on culture or religion are less marketable now than once was the case.

There was less agreement as to what students should do to prepare for a career in business centered on Southeastern Europe. Some speakers felt that it is best to study a specialized field such as banking or engineering and to learn a regional language along the way. Other experts argued that business professionals still require a thorough grounding in the history and culture of the region lest they make mistakes out of ignorance of their surroundings. Grimm mentioned that such a lack of regional expertise was a reason why many of the former East Germany's aid projects in developing countries did not succeed.

Still other speakers suggested that Western businesses operating in the Balkans are unlikely to need personnel from their home countries and will find excellent candidates locally. Some German businesses in the region now have few, if any, German employees there.

Finally, several speakers also pointed out that flexibility and adaptability are important in planning one's future. It would be wise for anyone contemplating a career in regional affairs to broaden their options and develop several areas of expertise, and not just in Balkan matters. Again, the abilities to express oneself clearly and concisely and to display solid analytical skills is always in demand.

Gernot Erler, who is a member of the Bundestag for the governing Social Democrats (SPD) and chairman of the SOG, urged his German public not to neglect the Balkans but to persevere with programs already in place. He reminded his listeners that Germany's commitment to peace and security in the region is still underscored by the presence of 17,000 German NATO troops in the Balkans, even though Bosnia, Kosova, and Macedonia no longer dominate the evening newscasts. He suggested that it would be wrong to think the dangers have disappeared from the region or could not reemerge.

Erler stressed the importance of the international community remaining engaged in the Balkans. He warned against what he called a caravan mentality, by which he meant the moving of public interest from one region of the world to another, with previous areas of concern being largely forgotten as attention shifts elsewhere. He pledged that the SOG will continue to pursue programs designed to foster links to the region and across the Atlantic in a variety of fields (see

The guest speaker on the second day of the conference was Michael Steiner, who heads the UN's civilian administration in Kosova (UNMIK). Steiner stressed that his contacts with ordinary people of all ethnic backgrounds there have convinced him that they are more concerned about jobs, security, corruption, and crime than they are with issues involving the political status of the province, which is primarily the interest of politicians. He dismissed recent demands by Serbian Prime Minister Zoran Djindjic for talks on the status of Kosova as being motivated by the minister's domestic political considerations.

In discussing what he considers the often-negative lessons of Bosnia and the more positive ones of Kosova, Steiner made several points. He cited the need for the international community to have a clear mandate, the means and authority to execute it, and the ability to adapt to changing circumstances, such as shifting attention from enforcing a cease-fire to pursuing the fight against organized crime.

The international community must also be able to set its priorities wisely and follow through on what it has started, Steiner added. He also stressed that while the foreigners should not attempt to "clone" Western institutions in a place like Kosova, the international community should work to uproot what he called local "bad habits," such as corruption and discrimination against women.

UN High Commissioner for Refugees Ruud Lubbers on 2 March told Deputy Defense Minister and Junbish-e Melli party head General Abdul Rashid Dostum and his rival General Mohammad Ata, who represents the Jamiat-e Islami party in northern Afghanistan, that UN "assistance to returnees will stop" if the two groups do not stop fighting and find ways to peacefully resolve their issues, Radio Afghanistan reported. Lubbers met with Dostum and Mohammad Ata to discuss the expected return in the next year of 1.5 million Afghan refugees from Iran, Pakistan, and Central Asian states, adding that "most of the returnees will settle in the country's northern region," Radio Afghanistan reported. The meeting was held "just a week after clashes took place between the officials of these two commanders in Faryab Province, in which a few people were killed," the report added (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 24 and 26 February 2003). AT

The Khost-Gardayz highway, which has been blocked by the Zadran tribe since the weekend of 22-23 February (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 26 February 2003), remained blocked as newly appointed Afghan Deputy Defense Minister General Gul Zarak Zadran arrived in the region on 2 March, the Pakistan-based Afghan Islamic Press (AIP) reported on 2 March. Haji Mohammad Ali, a leader of the Zadran tribe, said the authorities in Khost have seized 35 vehicles belonging to them and have detained the drivers, adding that the participants in the blockade have "no links with Pacha Khan Zadran," AIP reported. Pacha Khan Zadran was alleged to have initiated the blockade. Mohammad Ali said the blockade will continue until all of the seized vehicles are released, authorities promise not to repeat such actions, and all checkpoints on the highway are removed, AIP reported. Mohammad Ali said he has informed General Gul Zarak Zadran of these demands. The government authorities and Pacha Khan Zadran, a major Zadran tribal leader, have been in a long-running dispute that culminated in his dismissal as the governor of Paktiya Province (see "RFE/RL Newsline,"18 November and 19 December 2002). AT

U.S. forces on 2 March arrested a commander of the Hizb-e Islami named Ezatullah in the Sorobi District of Kabul Province, Hindukosh news agency reported. Hindukosh cited reports that Hizb-e Islami leader Gulbuddin Hekmatyar has been trying to block the Kabul-Jalalabad highway in order to carry out attacks against U.S.-led coalition forces in Afghanistan. The news agency added that during the Afghan civil war in the 1990s the same man was assigned to block this highway. Hekmatyar, who has declared a jihad against U.S. forces in Afghanistan, was designated by the United States on 19 February as a terrorist (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 20 February 2003). AT

Twelve police officers were injured on 1 March in clashes that erupted after a group of 300 Kabul residents stormed police station No. 14 in the Dasht-e Barchi area of Kabul, Radio Afghanistan reported. The crowd was protesting "a misunderstanding regarding an action taken by" officers at the police station, according to Afghan state radio, which did not elaborate on what the "misunderstanding" was. The report added that the demonstrators threw a hand grenade into the police station. The rioters were dispersed after Planning Minister Haji Mohammad Mohaqeq addressed the crowd, the report added. According to residents of Dasht-e Barchi cited by AP on 1 March, the clash resulted from "rumors that [police] officers raped two women." The police allegedly fired on the crowd, injuring two civilians, AP reported. Dasht-e Barchi is populated primarily by the Hazara ethnic group, to which Planning Minister Mohaqeq belongs. AT

The Endowment and Islamic Affairs Department of Herat Province announced on 1 March that, as the people of Herat are Muslims, their "behavior and actions should be in line with Islamic regulations as well." Therefore, the sale of "films that are contrary to the tenets of Islam is prohibited," and the showing of such films in shops and hotels should be avoided, Herat Television reported the same day. The announcement also banned the use of loudspeakers in shops and hotels, the report added. Shops and restaurants often play music for their customers through loudspeakers. Supreme Court Chief Justice Mulla Fazl Hadi Shinwari on 21 January ordered a ban on cable-television broadcasts in Afghanistan, and in February northern Afghanistan's Konduz Province issued a decree banning the distribution and showing of videotapes (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 22 January and 20 February 2003). AT

The local private Itehad Internet Company on 1 March launched Kandahar Province's first Internet service, the Kabul daily "Erada" reported the next day. The service is capable of handling 1,000 connections at a cost of $3 per hour, an amount that is to be halved once better lines are set up, the report added. AT

Herat Province Governor Mohammad Ismail Khan flew to Iran on the morning of 1 March, Herat television reported. He arrived in Mashhad and praised Iranian construction of schools and medical centers in Herat city, IRNA reported. Ismail Khan said international organizations have not done anything specific to help the reconstruction of Afghanistan. It is noteworthy that Ismail Khan was accompanied by his security chief, General Seyyed Nasir Ahmad Alawi; Military Corps No. 4 political-ideological commander Qari Qolam Mohammad Masum; Frontier Brigade No. 5 commander Qazi Mohammad; and Security Command political commander Mustafa Haqju. The heads of Herat's accounting department and education department also accompanied Ismail Khan. BS

Executive board official Parvaneh Mafi said on 1 March that 15 to 20 percent of the Tehran electorate voted, IRNA reported, while Tehran Governor Ali-Awsat Hashemi said the turnout in the capital averaged 25 percent. Reuters reported a 10 percent turnout in Tehran. Iranian state television on 1 March reported the following figures on voter participation in 11 of the country's 28 provinces: 55 percent in Bushehr Province, 63 percent in Chaharmahal va Bakhtiari Province, 67.5 percent in Gilan Province, 72 percent in Gulistan Province, 73 percent in Ilam Province, 51 percent in Luristan Province, 49 percent in Markazi (Central) Province, 67 percent in Mazandaran Province, 55 percent in Qazvin Province, 29 percent in Qom Province, and 56 percent in Semnan Province. From 56.9 percent to 63.4 percent of the electorate voted in the February 1999 municipal-council elections (see "RFE/RL Iran Report," 15 March 1999). BS

Parliamentarian Mohammad Kianush-Rad said on 1 March that the generally low national level of participation in the election is indicative of the popular belief that voting has little impact on politics, ISNA reported. He ascribed greater public participation in smaller towns to "the existence of ethnic and local considerations." BS

It was fairly clear that Tehran's 15 council seats had gone to conservative candidates with almost 550,000 of the ballots counted by the afternoon of 2 March, according to IRNA. Parliamentarian Ali Tajernia, who heads the Central Supervisory Board, said that in Tehran the conservative candidates were identified with the Developers (Abadgaran) coalition and in Isfahan they were identified with the Sun (Aftab) coalition, ISNA reported. BS

A commentary in the conservative "Kayhan" daily on 1 March asked what the reformist 2nd of Khordad coalition would do now after being trounced in the council elections. "Kayhan" ascribed the reformists' loss in the big cities to factionalism and political bickering, as well as occasional financial skullduggery. "Kayhan" also wrote that the voters were turned off by some candidates' campaigns. "There are candidates who give free lunches and dinners at their campaign headquarters. There are candidates who give clothes, rice, and cooking oil and so forth as gifts -- in order to get votes. There are candidates that buy identity cards in exchange for cash -- thereby buying votes." BS

Islamic Iran Participation Party (IIPP) member Ali Shakuri-Rad said, "We accept that we have lost the elections and we consider it our duty to take lessons from this defeat," Reuters reported on 2 March, citing IRNA. Interviewees in the 1 March "Hambastegi" said the reformists must work on coalition building, although it appears that they were being prematurely optimistic. IIPP Central Council member Said Hajjarian said the IIPP intends to create a coalition with other 2nd of Khordad members in the Tehran council "as soon as the results of the elections are announced." Fayyaz Zahed of the Solidarity Party also called for building a reformist coalition. "If a more detailed and realistic picture is not drawn before the seventh parliamentary elections, the [2nd of Khordad] front will lose the seventh parliament," he warned. BS

The main official student organization, the Office for Strengthening Unity (Daftar-i Tahkim-i Vahdat), on 2 March announced its departure from the pro-Khatami 2nd of Khordad front, dpa reported, citing IRNA. A statement from the student group announced that it had renamed itself the "Democratic Movement" and parted company with the 2nd of Khordad movement because the latter organization "gradually distanced itself from society and turned into another power apparatus." The Office for Strengthening Unity split into minority (the conservative "Neshast-i Shiraz") and majority (the more radical "Neshast-i Allameh") wings in 2002 (see "RFE/RL Iran Report," 7 October 2002), and it is not clear which wing has recreated itself as the Democratic Movement. It is presumably the majority wing, which has expressed its frustration with the slow pace of reform and has said that student groups should be independent critics of the system. BS

Foreign Ministry spokesman Hamid Reza Asefi on 2 March said that neither Iraqi nor U.S. aircraft would be allowed to use its airspace if there is a war in Iraq, IRNA reported. Asefi rejected a report that had appeared in a Kuwaiti newspaper in which Kuwaiti Information Minister Shaykh Ahmad Fahd al-Ahmad al-Sabah said Tehran has provided the United States with such permission. Assefi added that Tehran has asked Kuwait City for an explanation. BS

An Arab League emergency summit in the Egyptian resort town of Sharm Al-Shaykh ended on 1 March with an agreement by Arab leaders to send delegations to convey the Arab antiwar position to the UN and possibly Washington and Baghdad, AP reported on 2 March. Arab League Secretary-General Amr Musa said the delegations will be dispatched "within days." Meanwhile, Iraqi Foreign Minister Naji Sabri referred to the summit's rejection of foreign interference in the domestic affairs of Arab states as "progress." Speaking to reporters at the conclusion of talks on 1 March, Sabri said, "We hope that Arab countries will use the potential they have at their disposal to deprive the greedy and treacherous of the opportunity to encroach on their peoples, honor, dignity, and land," Iraq Television reported the same day. KR

The United Arab Emirates (U.A.E.) has submitted an initiative calling on Iraqi President Saddam Hussein to step down, AP reported on 2 March. The initiative was first proposed on 1 March at the Arab League emergency summit meeting, but Arab leaders refused to discuss the idea. The U.A.E. raised the issue again on 2 March when members of the Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC) met for an evening session in Doha, Qatar. Asked whether the proposal amounts to interference in Iraq's internal affairs, U.A.E. Foreign Minister Rashid Abdullah al-Nu'aymi told reporters, "We do not think it means interference. This is an initiative to avoid a catastrophe, which will materialize if the aggression takes place, if Iraq is destroyed, and if the region is harmed," Al-Jazeera television reported on 2 March. Bahraini monarch Shaykh Hamad bin Isa al-Khalifa praised the initiative, saying it "is the only Arab way out to protect Iraq and spare its people and the whole region the threats" of war, AP reported on 2 March. The Kuwaiti cabinet also backed the initiative, noting in a 2 March statement that the proposal would "spare the region a destructive war that would destabilize peace and security," Kuwait News Agency (KUNA) reported. KR

The Iraqi newspaper "Babil," run by the Iraqi president's son, Uday Hussein, published an editorial on its website ( on 2 March criticizing the U.A.E. proposal calling for President Hussein to step down. The editorial refers to U.S. allies as "agents by proxy," stating that they have "chosen to side with the devil." "This is the case of the one [U.A.E.] who called on the Iraqi president to step down.... He [U.A.E.] is a proxy agent with the face of an Arab and the heart of a devil," the editorial stated. "He has an American tongue; he utters what the Americans and the enemies of the nation want him to say," it added, noting that such measures are aimed at fracturing Arab solidarity. "Is this agent a solitary snake lost in the desert, or does it have sisters and brothers that will come to the surface...?" the editorial asked. KR

Al-Jazeera television carried live coverage of Iraqi presidential adviser Lieutenant General Amr al-Sa'di's 1 March briefing on the destruction process of the Al-Sumud 2 missile. Al-Sa'di told reporters that 10 missiles were destroyed on 1-2 March, as well as the casting chambers and a vessel for making rocket propellants. Al-Sa'di added that Iraq is still debating whether or not to publish photos of the destruction process, since it would be "painful" for the Iraqi people to see. KR

As for remaining Al-Sumud 2 missiles, Al-Sa'di told reporters that they are not near Baghdad (the destruction is taking place in Al-Taji, some 15 kilometers north of the capital), but rather are deployed to "various military sectors" and are filled with fuel. "It would take some time to bring them here and empty the fuel," he added, noting that it takes three hours per missile to empty fuel, and that fuel can be emptied from only two missiles at a time. "Also, do not forget that before the missile is destroyed, the load should be removed [igniter and elementary engine], which consists of explosive material. Also, the explosive warhead must be separated from the missile's body and treated independently," Al-Sa'di said, concluding that it is a "complicated process" that will take some time. KR

The final statement of the Iraqi opposition's Coordination and Follow-Up Committee in Salah Al-Din was posted on the Kurdistan Democratic Party's (KDP) website ( on 2 March. In an apparent attempt to prevent a total destruction of the Iraqi infrastructure in the event of war and spare as many lives as possible, the statement calls on the United States and the international community "to distinguish between Saddam Hussein's regime and the Iraqi people; and between weapons of mass destruction and the infrastructure of Iraq." It also states that once the Hussein regime is overthrown, "Power should be transferred to the Iraqi people and their true representatives as soon as possible," adding, "The Iraqi people would have the first and last word in deciding and managing the affairs of their country." The opposition previously announced the election of an interim panel to lead any post-Hussein Iraq (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 28 February 2003). The statement also comments on reported Turkish plans to enter northern Iraq during a war, stating that it hopes that would not happen. KR

The 2 March statement adds that the Iraqi opposition intends to contribute to the restoration of stability after any war. "The opposition will enlist the assistance of the Iraqi army and people, including religious and tribal personalities, to enhance law and order, social peace, and tolerance among all sections of society," the statement reads. The opposition also plans on "rehabilitating militia organizations," including "those forces operating under the command of the leadership council of the Iraqi opposition." The militias would then be reintegrated into a national army, according to the statement. KR