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Newsline - September 19, 2003

Russia will only cease its work at Iran's Bushehr nuclear-power plant if the UN Security Council adopts a resolution imposing the appropriate sanctions on Tehran, Russian media reported on 19 September, citing an unidentified Atomic Energy Ministry official. The official was commenting on earlier media reports that Russia might cancel the project if the United States produces evidence that Iran is trying to develop nuclear weapons. The official said that any such evidence must be submitted to the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) and, after the IAEA evaluates it, submitted for discussion to the Security Council. RIA-Novosti reported on 19 September that U.S. Ambassador to Russia Alexander Vershbow called on Russia to suspend the project until Iran signs the Additional Protocol to the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty. The ministry source also said the first block at Bushehr is 80 percent completed and work is proceeding according to schedule. RC

Atomic Energy Minister Aleksandr Rumyantsev told journalists on 19 September that it could take "a long time" to resolve a dispute with Tehran over the return to Russia of spent nuclear fuel from Bushehr. Tehran has insisted that Moscow pay for the return of the fuel. Rumyantsev met in Moscow on 19 September with U.S. Energy Secretary Spencer Abraham. RC

A Tu-160 strategic bomber crashed in Saratov Oblast on 18 September, killing all four crewmembers, Russian and international media reported. The cause of the crash has not been determined, but investigators have recovered two of the plane's three flight-data recorders, reported on 19 September. No weapons were aboard the bomber at the time. ITAR-TASS reported that Air Force Chief of Staff Colonel General Vladimir Mikhailov has arrived at the crash site to oversee the investigation. An Air Force spokesman confirmed that the crew unsuccessfully attempted to eject from the plane immediately prior to the crash, reported. According to "Nezavisimaya gazeta" on 19 September, one of the plane's four engines caught fire, causing the accident. The crash was the first for the Tu-160 since the supersonic jet entered service 17 years ago, and all 14 remaining Tu-160s have been grounded pending results of the investigation, Russian media reported on 19 September. RC

The 110-ton Tu-160 long-range bomber -- classified by NATO as Blackjack -- is one of the prides of the Russian military, "Nezavisimaya gazeta" commented on 19 September. The Saratov crash is a "symbolic tragedy" on a par with the August 2000 sinking of the "Kursk" nuclear submarine during a training exercise, the paper wrote. The plane that crashed was 12 years old, according to the daily, but had an expected service life of at least another decade. It cost more than $300 million and is capable of carrying 12 cruise missiles with nuclear warheads. The daily reported that over the last decade, the Air Force has only received 30 percent of the funding it requires for maintenance, and that pilots now spend fewer than 20 hours a year flying, as opposed to 150-200 hours in the Soviet era. Defense Minister Sergei Ivanov last month flew to the Russian Far East aboard an identical Tu-160 to observe a military exercise, boasting to reporters that the plane would soon resume flying missions above the Far East and the Pacific Ocean (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 25 August 2003). RC

Two candidates in the 21 September gubernatorial election in St. Petersburg have withdrawn from the race, Russian media reported on 19 September. State Duma Deputy Petr Shelishch (Fatherland-Unified Russia) and Pulkovo Airlines steward Oleg Titov announced their withdrawal and were removed from the race by the City Election Commission, reported. Shelishch urged his supporters to vote for presidential envoy to the Northwest Federal District Valentina Matvienko, who is widely considered to be the favorite in the race. Reuters reported on 19 September that Matvienko is currently supported by about 40 percent of voters, with her nearest rival -- St. Petersburg Deputy Governor Anna Markova -- polling about 10 percent. There are now eight candidates in the race, RIA-Novosti reported. Central Election Commission (TsIK) Chairman Aleksandr Veshnyakov told journalists on 19 September that the TsIK will send approximately 30 observers to monitor the St. Petersburg election and the election for governor of Leningrad Oblast, which is to be held on the same day. RC

Unidentified thieves broke into the St. Petersburg campaign headquarters of Deputy Governor Markova on the night of 18-19 September and stole a safe containing documents and a list of campaign workers, Interfax and other Russian media reported on 19 September. Police are investigating the incident, in which one security guard was beaten. RC

A methane engine for spacecraft will be ready for use within a few years, ITAR-TASS reported on 18 September, citing Boris Katorgin, chief engineer for Energomash. The engine is being developed jointly with France, Katorgin said, with Energomash, the Keldysh Center, and the Khimavtomatika design bureau in Voronezh working together with France's Snecma aircraft-engine firm. Katorgin said the methane engine should significantly reduce the cost of space flight and improve safety. He also told the news agency that Energomash is working on a liquid-fuel, multiple-use spacecraft engine in cooperation with Germany's Astirum. RC

The Central Election Commission on 18 September approved candidate lists for the Communist Party of the Russian Federation (KPRF) and several marginal parties, RIA-Novosti reported. The KPRF has nominated 257 candidates on its party list as well as candidates in 187 of Russia's 225 single-mandate districts. The party may now begin collecting signatures to qualify for the State Duma elections in December. Also on 18 September, RTR reported that an unidentified court has ordered KPRF leader Gennadii Zyuganov to apologize to the Pensioners' Party. Speaking to journalists in Chelyabinsk in June, Zyuganov claimed that the leaders of that party had been trained in the United States, and alleged that the party had been created solely to draw votes away from the KPRF (see "RFE/RL Russian Election Report," 7 January 2000). The Pensioners' Party sued, and the court gave Zyuganov one month to return to Chelyabinsk and call a press conference to recant his statements. LB

The Taganskii District Court in Moscow on 17 September affirmed the Justice Ministry's decision to revoke the registration of the National Power Party of Russia (NDPR), "Novye izvestiya" reported on 18 September. One of the NDPR's co-chairmen, Boris Mironov, caused a stir last year when he argued that citizens with "non-native" ethnicities, including Jews, are "genetically disloyal" to Russia and should not be allowed to vote. However, the official justification for the Justice Ministry's action was the NDPR's failure to register branches in at least 45 regions of the Russian Federation, as required by the law on political parties (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 13 December 2002 and 21 May 2003). Representatives of the NDPR sought unsuccessfully to persuade the court that the party had 54 regional branches, 10 of which were suing regional branches of the Justice Ministry for denying them registration. "Novye izvestiya" reported that the NDPR co-chairmen plan to run for the Duma in single-mandate districts and form a new party next year. LB

Federation Council Chairman Sergei Mironov on 17 September vehemently denied reports that the upper house of parliament is broke because of its members' excessive spending on domestic and foreign travel, "Rossiiskaya gazeta" reported on 18 September. Speaking to the legislature of Agin-Buryat Autonomous Okrug, Mironov said that during the first half of this year the Federation Council spent 55 percent of is annual budget, leaving plenty of money for salaries and other needs (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 11 September 2003). Mironov agreed that Federation Council deputies should not engage in "parliamentary tourism" (trips not related to official business) at the government's expense, and said he has no plans to curtail his own travel. His remarks came the same day that a leading Unified Russia official accused Mironov of using his official position to promote his Party of Life (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 18 September 2003). LB

The Moscow Municipal Court on 18 September sentenced Major General Sergei Platonov, formerly of the Federal Tax Police Service, to two years' imprisonment for attempted bribery, reported, citing RIA-Novosti. Platonov's former subordinate Mikhail Petrovskii was sentenced to 1 1/2 years in prison. Petrovskii was accused of taking $30,000 from a television company seeking to close a tax audit of its activities. He allegedly kept $5,000 and gave the remainder to Platonov, who also kept $5,000 and sought to use the remainder to bribe Aleksei Filatov, an investigator for the tax police. The court was not persuaded by Platonov's claim that the money was a loan. However, REN-TV noted that both Platonov and Petrovskii were acquitted of taking bribes from the television company in question. LB

The Duma's Rules Committee on 18 September recommended that the Duma fire Leonid Kravchenko as editor in chief of the official parliamentary newspaper "Parlamentskaya gazeta," Interfax reported. Kravchenko has headed the editorial staff of that publication since its inception in May 1998. An audit conducted in March and April of this year revealed inefficient use of budget funds at the newspaper in 2002. However, Kravchenko told on 18 September that the effort to sack him is politically motivated and originated with "the comrades in Unified Russia" who want to take control of the media during the upcoming election campaign. Kravchenko also questioned the legality of the audit, since the Duma spent $50,000 in state funds to have it conducted by a private firm rather than by the Audit Chamber. noted that firing Kravchenko will require a vote in both the Federation Council and the Duma. LB

Akhmed Zakaev, Chechen President Aslan Maskhadov's official spokesman, told on 18 September that reports that Maskhadov has given the go-ahead to the fighters under his command to launch military attacks on targets across the Russian Federation are untrue, according to Zakaev admitted that the possibility of extending the war beyond the borders of Chechnya has been discussed several times at sessions of the Chechen Defense Committee, which Maskhadov chairs, but that no decision on doing so has yet been adopted. Deutsche Welle had quoted Zakaev as saying Chechen resistance fighters have been ordered to launch attacks elsewhere in Russia, but Interfax on 18 September quoted Zavaev as telling Ekho Moskvy the German radio station misrepresented what he said. LF

In a report unveiled on 18 September marking the first 100 days of Armenia's coalition government, the junior coalition partner Armenian Revolutionary Federation-Dashnaktsutiun (HHD) criticized as a waste of time and money the anticorruption program that a government task force spent two years drafting, Noyan Tapan and RFE/RL's Yerevan bureau reported. Leading HHD member Armen Rustamian told journalists that his party will not hesitate to demand the prosecution of government ministers from the HHD's coalition partners, the Republican Party of Armenia and Orinats Yerkir (Law-Based State), which are implicated in corruption. He also admitted that tensions exist between the three coalition members, but added that the HHD is ready to make unspecified "concessions to preserve the coalition." At the same time, Rustamian said the HHD is ready to cooperate with extraparliamentary forces and with the opposition. He did not elaborate. LF

Ilham Aliev, who is heading the Azerbaijani delegation to the 18-19 September CIS summit due to the illness of his father, President Heidar Aliev, met on 18 September in Yalta with Russian President Vladimir Putin for what described as "an exchange of diplomatic compliments." Putin said he considers Aliev's appointment opportune, and expressed the hope that President Aliev will make a swift recovery, Interfax reported. Putin also said he hopes the outcome of the 15 October Azerbaijani presidential election will not negatively affect bilateral cooperation. Aliev for his part noted that since Putin's visit to Baku in January 2001, Azerbaijani-Russian relations have become closer, and that bilateral trade is expanding rapidly. Aliev also met with Ukrainian President Leonid Kuchma to discuss bilateral cooperation, especially in the energy sector, ITAR-TASS reported on 19 September. Aliev expressed his support for the longstanding proposal to create a CIS free-trade zone. LF

Musavat party Chairman Isa Gambar held his first presidential-campaign rally on 18 September in Ismailly Raion, 180 kilometers west of Baku, Turan and reported. The online newspaper estimated attendance at 1,500-2,000 people, while Turan gave a figure of 3,000, which is far fewer than the estimated 10,000 who turned out in Yevlakh in support of Gambar's opposition rival Etibar Mamedov of the Azerbaijan National Independence Party (AMIP) on 14 September (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 16 September 2003). Police initially failed to intervene when two elderly people attempted to disrupt the proceedings. Gambar expressed confidence that he will be elected president on 15 October. Noting that none of the raion's 12 factories is currently functioning, he pledged to create thousands of new jobs. He also promised to raise salaries by 300 percent and create a strong economy and a strong army. LF

The Political Council of the opposition Yurddash party decided on 17 September to join the Azerbaijan Popular Front Party-AMIP coalition that supports AMIP Chairman Mamedov's candidacy in the 15 October presidential election, Turan reported on 18 September. LF

The head of security at the Inguri hydroelectric power station in Abkhazia, who was abducted on 16 September, was released unharmed two days later, Caucasus Press reported (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 18 September 2003). Garri Kupalba, who is the unrecognized Republic of Abkhazia's defense minister, told Interfax on 18 September that the abduction highlights the need for members of the Russian peacekeeping force deployed under the CIS aegis in the Abkhaz conflict zone to guard the Inguri facility. Also on 18 September, Abkhaz security chief Givi Agrba told Interfax his men are hunting for two separate bands of Georgian guerrillas who, Agrba said, entered Abkhazia from neighboring Georgia in early September. Agrba said one band of 60 men is currently in Gali Raion and one of 12-13 men in Gulripsh, and that they plan to stage terrorist attacks on 30 September, when Abkhazia will celebrate the 10th anniversary of its independence in the wake of the Georgian withdrawal of Sukhum, according to "Akhali taoba" on 19 September, as cited by Caucasus Press. LF

Abkhaz President Vladislav Ardzinba, who traveled to Moscow in late June for further medical treatment (see "RFE/RL Caucasus Report," 31 January 2002), has still not returned to Sukhum. Vice President Valerii Arshba told journalists in the Abkhaz capital on 22 August that Ardzinba's health had improved and that he would return by the end of August. On 12 September, Ardzinba's aide Astamur Tania was quoted by the Georgian paper "Tribuna" as saying that Ardzinba will return to Sukhum "soon" and will participate in the 30 September celebrations, Caucasus Press reported. Meanwhile, Caucasus Press reported on 16 September that Abkhaz Prime Minister Raul Khadjimba is vacationing in Moscow. On 19 September, "Tribuna," as quoted by Caucasus Press, reported without disclosing its sources that Ardzinba will step down at the end of this month in return for an opposition pledge to support the presidential candidacy of Abkhaz Foreign Minister Sergei Shamba. LF

Georgian Catholicos Ilia II has written to President Eduard Shevardnadze advising against the signing of an interstate agreement between Georgia and the Vatican, Reuters and Caucasus Press reported on 18 September. The patriarch argued that such an agreement is "inexpedient" and will exacerbate relations between the Georgian Orthodox Church and the Vatican. The agreement is scheduled to be signed on 20 September by visiting Monsignor Jean-Louis Tauran, secretary for the Holy See's relations with foreign states, who arrived in Tbilisi on 18 September. On 18 and 19 September, several hundred students staged protest demonstrations against the planned pact. Georgian Deputy Foreign Minister Kakha Sikharulidze and Minister of State Avtandil Djorbenadze denied on 17 and 19 September, respectively, that the agreement bestows privileged status on the Roman Catholic Church in Georgia, according to the website of the independent television station Rustavi-2 and Caucasus Press. LF

Kyrgyzstan's Foreign Minister Askar Aitmatov told journalists on 18 September at a pre-summit meeting of CIS foreign ministers in Yalta that his country supports the establishment of the common economic space embracing Russia, Belarus, Kazakhstan, and Ukraine, Interfax reported. Aitmatov added that Kyrgyzstan is prepared to join the structure. The final steps in setting up the association, which is intended to expand economic integration among its member states, are high on the agenda of the 18-19 September CIS Yalta summit (see Ukrainian item, "Newsline II"). Although creation of the common economic space was formally agreed upon by the four founding countries only in February 2003, the idea for such a structure was originally proposed by Kazakh President Nursultan Nazarbaev in the early 1990s. BB

The fifth regional conference of Central Asian media sponsored by the OSCE's Office of the Representative for Freedom of the Media ended in Bishkek on 18 September with the adoption of a declaration that called for the media to be able to "exercise their corrective function toward the economic interests and activities of politicians and their families without any legal or other consequences," reported on 19 September. The declaration, signed by the 120 participants in the conference, added that the corrective function of the media is essential for the future success of Central Asia's economic development. The conference, which was titled "Media in Multicultural and Multilingual Societies," was attended by journalists from Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan, Tajikistan, and Uzbekistan, government officials, parliamentarians, and civil-society activists. According to the report, the Turkmen authorities refused exit visas to potential participants from Turkmenistan. BB

The media in Kyrgyzstan are refusing to publish a document approved at the opposition kurultai (congress) on 23 August that comments on political and socioeconomic conditions in the country (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 25 August 2003), the Kyrgyz Committee for Human Rights (KCHR) reported on 18 September. Parliamentarian Azimbek Beknazarov -- head of the opposition coalition For the Resignation of (President Askar) Akaev, For Reforms for the People, the group that had organized the opposition kurultai -- was quoted as saying that even independent publications such as "Res Publica," "Aalam," and "MSN," which are known to be highly critical of the government, are afraid to publish the document. This is the first time the Kyrgyz opposition has been unable to use the media to disseminate such a document to the population, according to the KCHR, and it does not have the money to have the document printed as a brochure. BB

The Asian Development Bank (ADB) is providing Tajikistan with a loan of $110 million during the period 2004-06, to be used for social and economic programs designed to create jobs and reduce poverty, Asia Plus-Blitz and reported on 18 September. Special attention is to be given to the development of the transportation and energy sectors. The loan agreement was signed by Tajik Prime Minister Oqil Oqilov and the head of an ADB delegation, Adrian Rutenberg, in Dushanbe on 17 September. Rutenberg said the ADB is ready to consider further assistance to Tajikistan for development projects proposed by the Tajik government. BB

Ambassador Stephen Minikes, U.S. envoy to the OSCE, told journalists at a briefing during his trip to Ashgabat on 17-18 September that he reminded the Turkmen authorities about the importance of human rights, ITAR-TASS reported on 18 September. He was quoted as saying that his visit is connected with the issues being discussed by the OSCE membership regarding Turkmenistan: the reintroduction of exit visas, specific cases of human rights violations, and freedom of the media. He added, according to a report of 18 September, that the United States is interested in developing overall relations with Turkmenistan, but prefers to see doors open for cooperation, and Washington considers that further development of political dialog and economic partnership with Turkmenistan is connected with the resolution of issues of democracy and freedom. While in Ashgabat, Minikes met with officials of the Turkmen Foreign Ministry and the presidential National Institute for Democracy and Human Rights, as well as members of NGOs and religious groups. BB

The Uzbek government's departments of social relations and information analysis has organized special seminars for journalists to "teach" them how to report correctly on reforms taking place in the country, reported on 18 September. The lecturers are government ministers and President Islam Karimov, who have been telling the journalists invited to the seminars the significance of the reforms and what Uzbekistan has achieved in the last year. According to the government organizers, the seminars are supposed not only to help journalists report more fully on the processes taking place in the country, but also to ensure that they "do not remove individual events from their context." BB

Leaders of the countries of the Commonwealth of Independent States gathered for a two-day summit in Yalta, Crimea, on 18 September, Ukrainian and Russian news agencies reported. The Council of CIS Foreign Ministers and the Council of CIS Prime Ministers held one session each at Yalta's Livadiya Palace. Ukrainian Foreign Minister Kostyantyn Hryshchenko told journalists that CIS foreign ministers agreed on a number of issues of "principal importance" in economic cooperation and the international fight against terrorism. In particular, Hryshchenko said they approved a package of draft documents on a CIS free-trade zone and economic cooperation. He did not elaborate. The session of the Council of CIS Prime Ministers was to consider 37 issues, but no details regarding the meeting were immediately available. JM

Meanwhile, CIS presidents on 18 September were holding informal bilateral and multilateral meetings in Yalta. In particular, the presidents of Russia, Ukraine, Belarus, and Kazakhstan -- Vladimir Putin, Leonid Kuchma, Alyaksandr Lukashenka, and Nursultan Nazarbaev, respectively -- met to discuss the planned signing on 19 September of an accord on the creation of a single economic zone by those four countries. According to Interfax, the four leaders expressed their readiness to sign the accord, which caused controversy especially in Ukraine (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 16 and 18 September 2003). "We do not see any obstacles [to signing the accord]," Nazarbaev told journalists. Putin and Lukashenka reportedly were also in favor of signing the prepared accord. But Kuchma failed to say unambiguously whether he will sign the document without reservations. The Verkhovna Rada on 17 September recommended him to sign the accord on a CIS single economic zone provided that it does not contradict the Ukrainian Constitution, laws, or international commitments. JM

The presidents of Russia, Ukraine, Belarus, and Kazakhstan signed an accord in Yalta on 19 September on the creation of a single economic zone by those four countries, Interfax and UNIAN reported. "This is a very serious step toward real integration in the 12-year history [of the CIS]," Nazarbaev commented. "I did not doubt for a moment while signing the document that I'm doing this in Ukraine's national interests," Kuchma told journalists. Details of the accord were to be released later in the day. JM

The Lenin District Court in Minsk sentenced Alyaksandr Yarashuk, head of the Belarusian Congress of Democratic Trade Unions, to 10 days in jail on 18 September for "contempt of court," RFE/RL's Belarusian Service reported. Yarashuk published an article in the independent newspaper "Nasha volya" last month criticizing a Supreme Court decision to shut down Belarus's air-traffic controllers' union. Yarashuk formerly headed a trade union of agricultural-complex workers, which was a constituent of the Federation of Trade Unions of Belarus (FPB). Yarashuk tried to register as a candidate for the 2001 presidential election but failed to collect the required 100,000 signatures. He subsequently backed FTB head Uladzimir Hancharyk, who was the democratic opposition's candidate. Following the victory of incumbent President Lukashenka, Hancharyk and Yarashuk were forced to quit the FPB. JM

On 18 September, the Lenin District Court in Minsk also fined opposition activist Alena Novikava 2.1 million Belarusian rubles ($1,000) for an unauthorized picket she staged in front of President Lukashenka's office earlier the same day, RFE/RL's Belarusian Service and Belapan reported. Novikava displayed a placard reading, "Why did you give $360 million to Gazprom?" She explained to journalists that her demonstration was connected with Lukashenka's news conference on 15 September, at which he revealed that Belarus's preferences to Gazprom amounted to $360 million in 2003. "Given the fact that Belarus gets just $120 for Russian gas transit, one may question the soundness of economic management [in Belarus]," she added. Novikava was fined $1,300 earlier this month for another demonstration in front of the presidential office (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 10 September 2003). According to official data, the average monthly pay in Belarus is around $110. JM

Russian Premier Mikhail Kasyanov and Belarusian acting Premier Syarhey Sidorski met in Yalta on 18 September to discuss recent moves by Belarusian authorities to freeze some of Russian companies Slavneft's and Transneftprodukt's assets in Belarus (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 15 September 2003). Kasyanov told journalists that Russia will defend its interests in a dispute over the ownership rights of the Transnefteprodukt company to its pipelines located in Belarus. "These are not just technicalities. We are dealing with the Belarusian side's doubts over Russia's property rights to the transportation pipelines running through the territory of Belarus," Interfax quoted him as saying. In July, Belarus's Supreme Economic Court invalidated the registration of the Zapad-Transnefteprodukt company, a Transnefteprodukt constituent, which owns oil pipelines in Belarus. Kasyanov also said he agreed with Sidorski that Gazprom will resume talks with Minsk on the creation of a joint venture for gas transport. JM

Lawmakers from the pro-presidential majority in the Verkhovna Rada have prepared a new version of a recently submitted constitutional-reform bill (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 8 September 2003), Interfax reported on 18 September. According to the new version, the president should be elected by the current parliament in 2004, and not by a new parliament in 2006 as stipulated by the former draft bill. The new version also proposes that the next parliamentary elections be held under a fully proportional election law in 2007, not in 2006 as prescribed in the former bill. Pro-presidential majority leader Stepan Havrysh said the new proposals were communicated to President Kuchma, who has not rejected them. "The concept [of these proposals] is to prevent honest elections in this country," Our Ukraine leader Viktor Yushchenko commented. Communist Party leader Petro Symonenko said he is against extending the powers of the current Verkhovna Rada until 2007 but added that he has not yet decided whether to support the idea to elect the president by parliament as soon as 2004. JM

The government approved and submitted to the parliament on 18 September a bill which would end the free-trade agreements with Ukraine, Turkey, and European Free Trade Association (EFTA) countries Iceland, Liechtenstein, Norway, and Switzerland, BNS reported. The agreements have to be terminated to fulfill the obligation set in the EU accession treaty to terminate all free trade agreements before joining the EU. Upon becoming an EU member, Estonia is obliged to join all EU foreign agreements and implement them even before the corresponding agreements are concluded. This is to ensure a constant legal relationship with the six countries and avoid problems in trade that may result from its disruption. SG

The parliament rejected the appointment of Security Police officer Juta Strike as the new chief of the Corruption Prevention Bureau by a secret vote of 41-48 on 18 September, LETA reported. The vote was surprising, for Strike had been selected unanimously as the best of 58 candidates by a special commission earlier in the month (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 5 September 2003) and received the backing of the leaders of the four factions in the ruling coalition with 55 deputies, and the opposition National Harmony Party. At the request of the faction heads, a second vote was held and Strike's nomination was rejected 42-51. Aigars Kalvitis, the head of the opposition People's Party faction, which declared its opposition to Strike's candidacy, said the votes were a protest against Prime Minister Einars Repse. SG

A parliamentary delegation headed by Chairman Arturas Paulauskas flew to Beijing on 15 September, ELTA and BNS reported. Chinese People's Congress Chairman Wu Bangguo told Paulauskas that Lithuania's membership in the EU would provide more stimuli for their countries to cooperate. The next day in talks with Foreign Minister Li Zhaoxing, Paulauskas asked for China's backing for Lithuania's candidacy for the UN Economic and Social Council for the term 2005-2007, and the UNESCO World Heritage Committee. On 18 September, the delegation visited the port city of Qingdao where Lithuanian Ambassador to China Arturas Zurauskas and city officials signed a draft cooperation memorandum between Qingdao and Lithuania's port of Klaipeda in the fields of business, culture, sports, and tourism. The delegation also toured the Shanghai region and will return to Lithuania on 20 September. SG

Representatives of the Polish and Russian Foreign ministries signed an agreement in Warsaw on 18 September introducing a visa requirement for travel to both countries as of 1 October, Polish media reported. A single-entry visa will cost 10 euros ($11.30), a double-entry one 16 euros, and a multientry one 50 euros. Russians from the Kaliningrad Oblast visiting Poland and Poles visiting this Russian exclave will be issued visas free of charge. JM

The leadership of the centrist, liberal Civic Platform on 18 September suspended seven party members, including parliamentarians Marta Fogler and Jerzy Hertel, on corruption charges, PAP reported. The move follows reports in the "Rzeczpospolita" daily claiming that Civic Platform members were guilty of nepotism and forbidden business activities involving the Warsaw local government. A poll conducted by the CBOS polling center in August found that the Civic Platform has caught up with the ruling Democratic Left Alliance, with both parties enjoying 21 percent support. JM

President Vaclav Klaus will attend the Intergovernmental Conference on the European Constitution that is slated to begin in Rome on 4 October, CTK reported. Prime Minister Vladimir Spidla confirmed that he and Klaus will travel to Rome together. A presidential spokesman said Klaus wishes to attend the forum in view of its importance and added that it remains to be established who will head the Czech delegation. A spokesman for the premier's office, however, said Spidla will "under all circumstances" head the delegation. According to the daily "Pravo," members of the cabinet are not enthusiastic about Klaus's decision, fearing a repeat of the Athens EU summit in April, when Klaus and members of the cabinet -- Foreign Minister Cyril Svoboda in particular -- expressed positions at odds with one another. At the summit, Klaus said that by signing the EU Treaty of Accession, the Czech Republic risks losing a measure of sovereignty (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 17 and 18 April 2003). Klaus is considered by observers to be a "Euro-skeptic," although he describes himself as a "Euro-realist." MS

The senior opposition Civic Democratic Party (ODS) said on 18 September that it is opposed to the proposal of junior coalition Freedom Union-Democratic Union (US-DEU) to compensate ethnic German residents of the Czech Republic whose properties were confiscated under the Benes Decrees, CTK reported. US-DEU Chairman Petr Mares made the proposal, and the cabinet is to discuss it by the end of October. The ODS also said it opposes the proposal of the Association of German Expellees to set up a Center Against Expulsions, "regardless of its location." Politicians from the ruling Social Democratic Party, including Premier Spidla, also criticized the proposal (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 3 September 2003). MS

Parliamentary speaker Pavol Hrusovsky, who is also chairman of the junior coalition Christian Democratic Movement (KDH), on 18 September criticized Premier Mikulas Dzurinda over his attempts to dismiss National Security Office (NBU) head Jan Mojzis and over Dzurinda's decision to fire Defense Minister Ivan Simko, TASR reported (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 11 September 2003). Hrusovsky said Dzurinda's moves are creating tension inside the ruling coalition, and in Slovak society at large. Hrusovsky added that the premier has acted on the basis of intelligence reports that "carry little weight" and that the moves are also "causing trouble with [Slovakia's] foreign partners." He said Dzurinda apparently intends to concentrate more power in the hands of his own Slovak Democratic and Christian Union (SDKU) and to exploit the premier's position to solve internal party problems. The KDH, he said, "strongly rejects and will always reject such a style" of leadership. President Rudolf Schuster refused to comment on Hrusovsky's statements, calling them "party matters" in which the head of state is not supposed to interfere. MS

In response to Hrusovsky's 18 September criticism, the SDKU rejected his allegation that the senior ruling party is attempting to concentrate power in its hands, TASR reported. It said Premier Dzurinda has acted in line with his constitutional responsibilities and his actions were initiated in the service of Slovakia's strategic interests. The SDKU also said it is inappropriate to escalate tension in the coalition via the media and there is sufficient opportunity to discuss differences within the Coalition Council. Pavol Rusko, chairman of the Alliance for a New Citizen (ANO), also criticized Hrusovsky for having said the SDKU and ANO are allying themselves against the other coalition partners. Rusko said it is the KDH that is trying to concentrate power in its own hands. Hungarian Coalition Party (SMK) Chairman Bela Bugar said his party is unhappy about the recent developments in the ruling coalition and that tensions will mount unless a solution is found quickly. But Bugar rejected speculation in the media that the SMK no longer has confidence in Dzurinda and wants early elections. MS

U.S. Ambassador to Slovakia Ronald Weiser said on 18 September in Kosice that "the American Embassy has made it public that it is satisfied with the work of the NBU and with its achievements related to the NATO and EU accession processes," TASR reported. Weiser, in Kosice to open a new branch of the American Chamber of Commerce, said the United States would be interested in learning the name of Mojzis's would-be replacement. Slovakia is a sovereign country and the selection of personnel is its own affair, he added; but the Unites States takes a particular interest in the manning of the NBU, since the office clears accession to classified information regarding NATO and the EU. In an interview with the daily "Sme" earlier on 18 September, Weiser said that matters such as the dismissal of the NBU head could be critical in next year's NATO enlargement. He said he has made his position clear at a recent meeting with Dzurinda. MS

Premier Dzurinda told a meeting of the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD) Council in Tatranska Lomnica on 18 September that his country's accession to that organization in September 2000 was a prelude to its successful quest to join NATO and the EU, TASR reported. This is the first time the OECD Council has met in Slovakia and only the fourth time it has convened outside its Paris headquarters. The meeting marks 40 years since the establishment of the organization. OECD Secretary-General Donald Johnson told journalists that Slovakia has managed to outdistance several long-standing OECD members in its economic performance. Johnson said that Slovakia's foreign direct investment has risen from $2 billion to $8 billion since that country joined the OECD and said ongoing economic reforms have attracted international companies such as US Steel. He said Slovakia's high unemployment rate has dropped by 5 percent in 2003 and this "is a good signal." MS

One day after his government approved tax changes for 2004 (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 18 September 2003), Prime Minister Peter Medgyessy said on 18 September that "it was a big mistake for the cabinet not to inform the people about the economic situation inherited from its predecessor, so now it is hard to explain why a change is necessary," "Magyar Hirlap" reported. Speaking at an economic forum in Budapest, Medgyessy said foreign investment is needed in order to have sustainable growth in Hungary. He promised that the government will gradually reduce the corporate-tax rate further, and suggested that local taxes might be deductible from corporate taxes, the daily said. The minimum fixed-capital investment entitling firms to tax breaks will be reduced from 10 billion forints ($43 million) to 3 billion forints, Finance Minister Csaba Laszlo announced on 18 September, "Vilaggazdasag" reported. For less-developed regions, the present minimum investment of 3 billion forints will be reduced to 1 billion forints, Laszlo said. MSZ

According to the government's plan to reduce by 10 percent the number of employees working in public administration (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 18 September 2003), the staff of the Tax Authority (APEH) will be cut by 1,000, while the Tariff and Excise Tax Office will dismiss 800 employees, "Nepszabadsag" reported. The final list of some 8,000 job cuts will be completed by December. In addition, the 1,000-strong government car fleet used by ministries and related institutions will be cut by 270, and unlimited mobile-phone use by mid-level officials also will be canceled. MSZ

No decision has been made by the United States on future use of a military air base in Taszar, U.S. Armed Forces Joint Chiefs of Staff Chairman General Richard B. Myers told reporters in Budapest on 18 September. Myers said the United States has not asked Hungary to send any extra troops to Iraq, and no decision has been made on whether to train Iraqi policemen at Taszar air base, the MTI news agency reported. MSZ

Foreign Ministry political state secretary Andras Barsony held talks in Kabul on 18 September with Afghan Transitional Administration Chairman Hamid Karzai, Foreign Minister Abdullah Abdullah, and Defense Minister Mohammad Qasim Fahim, "Nepszabadsag" reported. At the meeting, Barsony reportedly made a pledge to the Afghan leaders that Hungary will send experts to help that country combat terrorism, once the Hungarian medical contingent returns from there in December. MSZ

Doctors at a Sarajevo hospital said on 18 September that Alija Izetbegovic, who led Bosnian Muslims during the 1992-95 conflict, is in critical condition and may undergo surgery, Reuters reported. He entered the hospital the previous week with several broken ribs and head and neck concussions following a fall. Izetbegovic also suffers from complications including internal bleeding that arose as a result of those injuries, as well as a long-standing heart condition that made doctors reluctant to operate. Meanwhile in Stockholm, former Republika Srpska President Biljana Plavsic, who is serving a sentence in a Swedish prison for war crimes, was recently admitted to a hospital, RFE/RL's South Slavic and Albanian Languages Service reported. Doctors described her condition as not serious. PM

On 19 September, Bosnian police prevented 350 Serbian ex-prisoners from mounting a plaque on the Sarajevo building that was their prison during the 1992-95 conflict, dpa and RFE/RL's South Slavic and Albanian Languages Service reported. Police said the building is not available for private ceremonies or protests because it now houses the Bosnian State Court, which refused permission for the mounting of the plaque. Members of the Bosnian Serb Association of War Prisoners charge that Muslim troops killed an unspecified number of Serbian prisoners there during the war. Refik Hodzic, who is the local spokesman for the Hague-based war crimes tribunal, said there is no evidence of any wartime execution of Serbian prisoners in the former Viktor Bubanj Barracks. Dragan Kalinic, who is speaker of the Bosnian Serb parliament, said in Banja Luka the previous day that he supports the former prisoners' action. Borislav Paravac, who is the Serbian member of the Bosnian Presidency, said the Sarajevo authorities needlessly spoiled the atmosphere for the memorial ceremony. PM

Teodor Meron, who chairs the Hague-based war crimes tribunal, began talks in Belgrade with leading officials there in the first visit by a chairman of the tribunal since that body was set up in 1993, dpa reported. "I expect progress, particularly regarding issues that remain on the cooperation agenda. But I want this visit to be in a spirit of encouragement, not bitterness and hostility," he said. Meron specifically asked his hosts to do more to arrest former Bosnian Serb leader Radovan Karadzic and General Ratko Mladic. Serbia and Montenegro's Foreign Minister Goran Svilanovic told the BBC that he welcomes the opportunity to talk to a top official from the tribunal other than Carla Del Ponte, who is chief prosecutor. Svilanovic stressed that Karadzic and Mladic are not the only indicted war criminals, and that Belgrade has already sent two former presidents -- Slobodan Milosevic and Milan Milutinovic -- to The Hague. Meanwhile, the tribunal granted Milosevic a three-month break in his trial to prepare his defense (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 3 and 4 September 2003). PM

Officials of the District Court in Kragujevac, Serbia, said on 18 September that they recently ordered the arrest of Montenegrin opposition newspaper editor Dusko Jovanovic because he failed to answer a summons in conjunction with an embezzlement case stemming from the sale of steel worth $434,000, RFE/RL's South Slavic and Albanian Languages Service reported (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 18 September 2003). In Podgorica, opposition leaders said they consider the arrest politically motivated. Meanwhile, Prime Minister Milo Djukanovic filed slander charges against Jovanovic and his daily "Dan" because of a recent article charging that Djukanovic is blocking investigations into a well-publicized human trafficking case (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 11 June 2003). Jovanovic was once previously convicted of slandering Djukanovic. PM

The Chamber of Deputies and the Senate, meeting in separate sessions, approved on 18 September the final version of the envisaged constitutional amendments, RFE/RL's Bucharest bureau reported. A mediation commission of the two chambers earlier reached agreement on a total of 79 amendments. The vote in the Senate was 100 in favor and 37 against, while in the Chamber of Deputies 265 supported the amendments and 62 voted against them. The opposition Greater Romania Party voted against in both chambers. Senator George Pruteanu from the ruling Social Democratic Party (PSD) was the only member of that formation to cast a ballot against the amendments, saying that the article granting national minorities the right to use their native language in courts of justice under certain conditions is too ambiguous. The amendments are to be submitted to approval in a referendum on 19 October. Among other things, the amendments prohibit nationalization of private property; make it possible for authorities to annul compulsory military service; limit parliamentary immunity from prosecution; limit the cabinet's use of emergency ordinances; and grant children from poor families the right to free tuition at all levels of learning. MS

Visiting NATO Military Committee Chairman General Harald Kujat said in Bucharest on 18 September that NATO generally encourages a professional army but "personally" he prefers the system of compulsory service, RFE/RL's Bucharest bureau reported. Kujat said there is no "single formula" and every country has to make its own decision, taking into consideration budget restraints, the structure of the army and national security objects. What is important for Romania, Kujat said, is to continue its good progress on the way to making its Army compatible with the NATO forces. Romanian Chief of Staff General Mihail Popescu said that in October his country will begin negotiating with NATO positions that Romanian commanders are to occupy within the organization's structures. Kujat was received by President Ion Iliescu, Premier Adrian Nastase, and Chamber of Deputies speaker Valer Dorneanu. MS

Gheorghe Onisoru, chairman of the National Council for the Study of Securitate Archives (CNSAS) said on 18 September that beginning next month, the CNSAS will begin making public the names of people who served as 'political police" in the former Securitate, RFE/RL's Bucharest bureau reported. He said the CNSAS College has approved earlier this month publishing in "Monitorul official," the country's official gazette, the name of 22 such former members of the "political police." Romanian legislation stipulates no other sanction. Onisoru said that this would be followed by "weekly publication" of other names, but some of those to be revealed are now dead. MS

Direct foreign investments in Romania in the first half of 2003 were more than $540 million, considerably larger than the $425 million registered in the same period last year, Romanian Radio reported on 18 September, citing the Economist Intelligence Unit. MS

Meeting on the sidelines of the Yalta summit of the Commonwealth of Independent States, Moldovan President Vladimir Voronin and his Russian counterpart Vladimir Putin discussed problems linked to efforts to achieve a settlement of the Transdniester conflict, ITAR-TASS reported. Putin said: "We are trying to give a new breath to the Transdniester settlement," while Voronin noted that the negotiations with Transdniester on drafting the joint constitution are entering their final stage. Voronin also met with Ukrainian President Leonid Kuchma, discussing bilateral relations and ways to remove trade barriers between their countries. They agreed that their respective ministers of economy should further discuss the issue. MS

Dimitrina Petrova, executive director of the Budapest-based European Roma Rights Center (ERRC), in a press release has lauded an antidiscrimination law that parliament passed on 16 September. The new law bans discrimination on a number of grounds, including: race, gender, religion, disability, age, and sexual orientation. It is now up to the defendant to prove discrimination did not occur. Following its adoption, an antidiscrimination commission with specialized subcommittees for racial and gender discrimination will be formed. "This law is of particular significance for Roma," Petrova said. "It opens the door for the provision of real and significant remedies to Romany victims of the very serious harm of racial discrimination, and moves Roma rights issues to a new level in Bulgaria." Petrova added that the new anti-discrimination law could also provide a positive example for other central and eastern European countries to follow. UB

A working group of social scientists and military experts on 18 September presented the results of a study on the integration of minority members into the Bulgarian Army, "Sega" reported. According to the experts, high-school graduates from the ethnic minorities should be granted access to military academies without special admission exams. At present, there are only one Romany and four ethnic Turkish officers in the Bulgarian army, the study says. UB

On the occasion of the 100th anniversary of the establishment of diplomatic relations between Bulgaria and the United States, President Georgi Parvanov on 18 September awarded jubilee medals to six former U.S. ambassadors, BTA reported. Former Ambassadors Jack Richard Perry, Robert Louis Barry, Melvyn Levitsky, Hugh Kenneth Hill, Avis Bohlen, and Richard Monroe Miles were honored. Other former U.S. ambassadors could not attend the ceremony, but will receive medals from Bulgarian Ambassador to the United States Elena Poptodorova. UB


Kazakhs go to the polls on 20 September to vote for candidates to Kazakhstan's district, city, and regional maslihats, or councils. The powers of the maslihats are limited, and their main job to date has been to rubber-stamp decisions made by non-elected officials. This is true even for the regional (oblast) maslihats. Although they are the highest tier of elected local government in the land, in practice they are dominated by the regional governors appointed personally by President Nursultan Nazarbaev.

The government, seemingly motivated by three considerations, appears nevertheless to have made significant efforts to hamper candidates representing the opposition. First, however little power is vested in the maslihats, election victories could give the opposition a sense of momentum, or even an appearance of legitimacy. Second, seats on the maslihats could also give government opponents soapboxes from which to sound off, while local officials would prefer that councils continued to rubber-stamp decisions without generating objections or independent thought. Third, each of the oblast maslihats has the right to appoint two representatives to the Senate, and Nazarbaev surely wants a pliable Senate free of interventions and challenges by oppositionists.

Meanwhile, Senate speaker Oralbay Abdykarimov told Kazakh TV on 14 September that one of the current parliamentary session's priorities is to adopt a new election law that, among other things, would provide for the election of regional governors. He brusquely rejected the implication that a draft bill is stalled because the government prefers that this month's maslihat elections be conducted under the current law, and expressed confidence that a new election law will be in place in time for elections to the Mazhlis (lower house of parliament) scheduled for 2004.

A press conference held at the Almaty offices of the opposition Democratic Choice of Kazakhstan (DVK) movement drew national attention to dirty tricks in the maslihat elections, alleging provocation by a "powerful and influential body," Interfax-Kazakhstan reported on 11 September.

The opposition's high-profile allegations pushed the authorities to respond. The chief of public relations for the Almaty city police, Colonel Alikhan Bektasov, acknowledged that counterfeit handouts were circulating, Interfax reported on 11 September. But he suggested that the opposition was exaggerating their numbers and effect, and denied that the authorities were involved. Police found only a handful of forged leaflets on the streets, and at least as many of them slandered pro-governmental candidates as oppositionists, he claimed. At the same time, he conceded that such dirty tricks were increasing as the election approached and said police set up special groups in every district to deal with them. Thus, the opposition scored a minor political victory insofar as it got the authorities to admit to some troubling irregularities in the election process. Even Kazakhstan's Central Election Commission issued a statement the same day acknowledging that the number of complaints it was receiving about fraudulent campaign practices was growing.

A deputy from the Agrarian Party, Serikbay Alibaev, detected signs of government pressure on the opposition back in July, when he told journalists in the city of Pavlodar that municipal officials and other pro-government groups were conspiring to block opposition candidates from running in the maslihat elections. Alibaev claimed that fake flyers for the opposition had started appearing -- in breach of the law, since the campaign had not officially started -- thus compromising the government's opponents. The Institute of War and Peace Reporting (IWPR) also reported that would-be opposition candidates in Pavlodar received threats, or found themselves suddenly under pressure at their workplace to quit. As the birthplace of the DVK and a potential hotbed of dissent, Pavlodar is an especially sensitive region where the regime seems determined not to let its opponents get any more political footholds.

Many analysts, feeling that the election results are mostly predetermined by President Nazarbaev's coterie anyway, expect that only one or two opposition candidates will be allowed to win per regional maslihat, in order to provide the elections with spurious cover as a democratic exercise. A similar assessment led the Republic People's Party of Kazakhstan (RPPK), headed by former Prime Minister Akezhan Kazhegeldin, who now lives in exile in the West, to decide early on to boycott the ballot. The strategy opened a public rift between the RPPK and the DVK when RPPK Executive Committee Chairman Amirzhan Kosanov published an Internet article at the beginning of September lambasting the DVK for playing into Nazarbaev's hands by participating in rigged elections. The DVK's position, however, has been that the struggle for political power should be conducted within the system. By contrast, Kazhegeldin's approach has been more defiant, confrontational, and openly scornful of the idea that Nazarbaev will ever share power willingly. The DVK's softer political position contributes to some analysts' suspicions that the movement's prime movers are not democratic activists at heart, nor the president's committed enemies at all. Rather, it was founded by entrepreneurs and industrialists who are primarily interested in protecting their business interests from encroachments by the regime and would be willing to come to an accommodation with Nazarbaev. On that reading of the Kazakh situation, many of the key fights in Kazakhstan are about economics and self-interest cloaked as politics and principle.

One of the DVK's natural allies would seem to be the Independent Association of Entrepreneurs of Kazakhstan (IAEK), an organization founded in 2001 that claims to represent tens of thousands of businesses and lobbies for the business community. Although the association to date has professed no formal political affiliation with any side, it might be driven closer to the DVK thanks to Nazarbaev himself. IAEK's determination to muscle in on the maslihat elections has been matched by the regime's apparently equal and opposite determination to keep it out. The association chose to compete only in the former capital Almaty, the country's finance and business center, where it fielded 31 candidates. But as described by IWPR on 15 September, IAEK leader Talgat Akuov complained last month in an open letter to Nazarbaev that 25 of the 31 names were turned down for registration by election officials.

Akuov suggested that the authorities were actually scared of the IAEK. In its maiden political outing it had managed to nominate more candidates that the major pro-government party, Otan, which fielded only 26. In short, this powerful, politically unaffiliated group of businessmen found itself joining the opposition in complaining about being shut out of the political process in Kazakhstan.

If a community of political and commercial interest was forged between the DVK, stung by dirty tricks and rigged ballots, and an aggrieved IAEK, which got slammed the moment it tried to put its foot in the door, that would be a more significant outcome of the maslihat elections than the election results themselves.

More than four days of armed clashes in the Kohbandha District of Kapisa Province have resulted in the deaths of 13 people and the wounding of 15 others, Radio Free Afghanistan reported on 18 September. According to one eyewitness, the continuing fighting is between the forces of rival local commanders Asadullah and Gul Nasir. A representative from Kapisa said locals have urged the government to intervene. General Abdul Aziz Safi, the security commander of Kapisa, confirmed the number of causalities and said the fighting is due to "personal animosity between two commanders." Safi claimed that a cease-fire is in effect. There are reportedly about 6,000 armed men in the Kohbandha area, which is about 100 kilometers north of Kabul. AT

Ousted police chief General Abdul Basir Salangi said his recent dismissal was organized three months ago and had nothing to do with the so-called Shayr Pur incident, the Voice of the Islamic Republic of Iran reported on 18 September. Salangi was sacked on 17 September after allegedly ordering the destruction of more than 30 homes in the Shayr Pur District of Kabul to make room for luxury houses for government officials (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 5, 16, and 18 September 2003). "The issue of demolishing the houses is different" and unrelated to his dismissal, Salangi said. "Everything regarding the housing scandals is untrue." Salangi said the houses in Shayr Pur were illegally constructed and their owners were to move to the 12th District of Kabul, where land had been provided for them. In response to a question regarding the communist past of his replacement, General Abdul Wahid Baba Jan, Salangi said, "I do not know about that, but he is a good and active military officer." AT

Afghanistan's Constitutional Commission has replaced the entire staff of its satellite office in Mashhad in neighboring Iran, Radio Free Afghanistan reported on 19 September. Employees were not available for comment, but sources familiar with the work of the office claimed the office proved unable to collect the views of more than 1 million Afghan refugees in Iran regarding a future Afghan constitution. The sources added that the staff in Iran was not representative of all Afghan ethnic groups. In order to collect the views of the public on the new Afghan constitution, the commission established eight regional offices inside Afghanistan and offices in neighboring Iran and Pakistan, where many Afghan refugees live (see "RFE/RL Afghanistan Report," 10 April 2003). AT

Afghan Chief Justice Mawlawi Fazl Hadi Shinwari said Afghan Transitional Administration Chairman Hamid Karzai has approved the establishment of a 2,600-member Council of Ulama of Afghanistan (CUA) to contest enemy propaganda and preach Islam, the Jalalabad-based newspaper "Nan" reported on 17 September. According to Shinwari, the CUA will soon begin its work in all Afghan provinces to counter enemy propaganda labeling the current Afghan government as infidels. He said each province will have 80 ulama (religious scholars) in the CUA. Shinwari said the Karzai administration is "an Islamic and legal state" and war against it "is not jihad but insurgency and immorality." The chief justice said the CUA will be "perfectly independent and permanent." AT

NATO asked its military experts on 18 September to begin a feasibility study on extending the International Security Assistance Force (ISAF) beyond the Afghan capital Kabul, RFE/RL reported. The military planners are set to report back on 26 September with an assessment of the security risks in Afghanistan and options and requirements for expanding the mission. The United Nations and Afghan Transitional Administration Chairman Karzai have called for the ISAF to be expanded to help restore stability to Afghanistan's provinces. The United States and Germany last week called on NATO to examine the possibility of boosting the UN-mandated force. NATO took over leadership of the 5,500-strong international force in August (see "RFE/RL Afghanistan Report," 20 December 2002 and 14 August 2003). AT

Germany will reopen its Goethe Institute cultural center in Kabul on 22 September, some 12 years after its closure, dpa reported on 18 September. The Goethe Institute will be the only foreign institution promoting cultural activities in Kabul, dpa reported. AT

Foreign Ministry political state secretary Andras Barsony held talks in Kabul on 18 September with Afghan Transitional Administration Chairman Karzai, Foreign Minister Abdullah Abdullah, and Defense Minister Mohammad Qasim Fahim, the Hungarian daily "Nepszabadsag" reported. At the meeting, Barsony reportedly made a pledge to the Afghan leaders that Hungary will send experts to help that country combat terrorism once the Hungarian medical contingent returns from there in December. MSZ

Japan's "The Daily Yomiuri" reported on 18 September that Iran has invited European and Chinese firms to participate in development of the Azadegan oil field but has "unofficially notified Tokyo that it will not be invited to take part in the bidding." The Japanese consortium that had acquired preferential bidding rights effectively pulled out of the deal in July due to Tokyo's concern over Iranian nuclear pursuits (see "RFE/RL Iran Report," 7, 14, and 21 July, 4 and 11 August, and 1 September 2003). According to the Japanese daily's anonymous sources, separate talks with the Japanese side will continue but it will be excluded from the bidding. Among the other companies are France's Total, China's Sinopec, and Royal Dutch/Shell. BS

Russia will only cease its work at Iran's Bushehr nuclear-power plant if the UN Security Council adopts a resolution imposing the appropriate sanctions on Tehran, Russian media reported on 19 September, citing an unidentified Atomic Energy Ministry official. The official was commenting on earlier media reports that Russia might cancel the project if the United States produces evidence that Iran is trying to develop nuclear weapons. The official said that any such evidence must be submitted to the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) and, after the IAEA evaluates it, submitted for discussion to the Security Council. RIA-Novosti reported on 19 September that U.S. Ambassador to Russia Alexander Vershbow has expressed the hope that Russia would suspend the project until Iran signs the Additional Protocol to the Nuclear Nonproliferation Treaty. The ministry source also said that the first block at Bushehr is 80 percent completed and work is proceeding according to schedule. RC

Atomic Energy Minister Aleksandr Rumyantsev told journalists on 19 September that it could take "a long time" to resolve a dispute with Tehran over the return to Russia of spent nuclear fuel from Bushehr. Tehran has insisted that Moscow pay for the return of the fuel. Rumyantsev met in Moscow on 19 September with U.S. Energy Secretary Spencer Abraham. RC

The manager of the Agricultural Crusade of the Yazdanabad section of Kerman said that by the end of this month about 12,000 metric tons of first-quality pistachios will have been harvested, "Ettelaat" reported on 18 September. He added that because of a late frost and swings in temperature during the summer, 55 percent of the crop has been damaged. Pistachios account for one-third of Yazdanabad's cultivated land. JLH

"Ettelaat," reporting from Rasht on 18 September, said the farmers of Gilan Province have made their first shipments of dried peanuts. Gilan's peanut production, which is now over 21,000 metric tons, has been increasing annually to satisfy the growing demand for this product in candy and desserts. Another boon to peanut farmers is a growing market for peanut oil and powdered nuts. Gilan currently has about 3,000 hectares under cultivation, 80 percent of which is irrigated by diversions from the Sefid Rud River. The yield is high, about four metric tons per hectare. About 4,500 farming families are involved in the growing of peanuts. JLH

The business section of "Kayhan" on 18 September reported on the new tax rates announced by the Office of National Financial Affairs for owners of rental properties. To apply the new taxes, every rental space must be measured. For Tehran, the income on any residential property, including balconies and parking and storage areas, is taxable if the size is 150 square meters or greater. Atriums and uninhabited cellars are not taxable. The same specifications apply to the rest of the country, except that only holdings of 200 square meters are taxable. If a landlord has a single property of 200 square meters, only 150 meters are subject to taxation. JLH

Housing and Urban Development Minister Ali Abdol-Alizadeh was on hand on 17 September to inaugurate construction of the biggest library in Khorramabad, "Ettelaat" reported on 18 September. The library, which will be located in the Mosali Abdul Qadir section of the city, will be three stories high and comprise 6,000 square meters of floor space. The Ministry of Housing and Urban Development has earmarked 4 billion rials ($1.7 million) for the project. Nargis Nejad, chief for the Housing and Urban Development Ministry in Luristan Province, said the plan calls for an initial expenditure of 2.1 million rials for construction. In addition to providing the usual library services, large areas have been allocated for Internet use and for classrooms, as well as space for other functions. JLH

Sultan Hashim Ahmad, 27th on the U.S. list of 55 most-wanted Iraqis from the deposed regime of Saddam Hussein, surrendered to U.S. forces in Mosul on 18 September, international media reported. Ahmad had been negotiating his surrender through a mediator, Kurdish human rights activist Dawud Bagistani, for several days. Bagistani told AP that the U.S. military promised to remove Ahmad's name from the most-wanted list so that he would not face indefinite confinement and possible prosecution, the news agency reported on 19 September. AP exposed the nearly three-week negotiations this week when it reported on a 28 August letter from U.S. Major General David Petraeus to Ahmad appealing to the man to surrender. Ahmad had led the Iraqi delegation to cease-fire talks with the United States after the 1991 Gulf War. It is widely believed that he fell out of favor with former President Hussein and was under house arrest in March this year when Operation Iraqi Freedom began. KR

Three U.S. soldiers were killed and two wounded in an ambush near Tikrit on 18 September, international media reported. A U.S. military spokesman, Lieutenant-Colonel William MacDonald, said that the incident occurred when soldiers from the 4th Infantry Division were attacked by small-arms fire as they attempted to inspect a suspected rocket-propelled-grenade (RPG) weapons site, Reuters reported on 18 September. Two other soldiers were wounded in the same area earlier that day when unknown assailants ambushed a convoy they were traveling in. Meanwhile, Iraqi police launched what was dubbed as their biggest crackdown on crime in the Iraqi capital since the war, using more than 100 police cars to hit 70 locations in the city, as the officers worked to locate stolen cars. The operation also targeted 10 key criminal gangs or individuals, Reuters quoted U.S. officials as saying. KR

The UN Compensation Commission on 18 September awarded $315 million to victims of the 1990 Iraqi invasion of Kuwait and subsequent Gulf War, the UN News Center reported the same day. The commission was established in 1991 through UN Security Council Resolutions 692 and 705 and funded by up to 30 percent of the proceeds from the Iraqi export of petroleum and petroleum products through the oil-for-food program. UN Security Council Resolution 1483 (2003) decided to phase out that program this coming November but has mandated that 5 percent of Iraq's oil proceeds should still go to the compensation fund. To date, the commission has paid out some $17.8 billion to individuals, corporations, and governments with claims stemming from the Iraqi occupation and war. According to the UN News Center, over 2.6 million claims with a total asserted value of $350 billion have been filed with the commission. The commission's last payout totaled $190 million (see "RFE/RL Iraq Report," 17 July 2003). The commission will reconvene in December. KR

Secretary-General Kofi Annan is calling for a well-defined role for the United Nations in Iraq before he allows staff levels in the country to return to full capacity, Reuters reported on 18 September. One UN envoy spoke on Annan's ongoing discussions with Security Council ambassadors, saying Annan "wants more than a cosmetic fig leaf, which some UN people think has been the case so far." Another envoy claimed that Iraqis believe the UN is seen as a partner of the U.S. occupying power in Iraq, saying, Annan wants "a role distinct from the coalition." Annan has clearly said that he will not seek a military role for his organization, telling reporters on 15 September, "We are not going to go in and run Iraq.... Obviously the UN can play a role, but as I have indicated that role has to be clearly defined by the Security Council. It is to be achievable." Previous press reports on the ongoing Security Council discussions on Iraq indicated that the UN might seek a role by helping Iraqis prepare for national elections. KR

The United States is reportedly offering immunity from prosecution to mid-level Iraqi scientists who provide information about weapons-of-mass-destruction (WMD) programs, reported on 18 September. U.S. weapons inspectors working for the Iraq Survey Group have reportedly not uncovered any actual weapons, but administration officials say that former UN weapons inspector David Kay, who heads the group, will note in an upcoming report to the U.S. administration that Saddam Hussein's regime had the capability and the intention to develop WMD, the website reported. Kay was authorized to offer the immunity to mid-level scientists to encourage them to come forward with inside information on the Iraqi programs. One U.S. official told, however, that inspectors "won't find weapons [because] that was never the issue," adding, "It's the ability to produce it once [Hussein] was free of constraints," a reference to the UN's strict sanctions placed on Iraq that were credited with hampering Hussein's ability to procure materials needed to sustain WMD programs. KR