ATHENS REFUSES TO EXTRADITE FORMER NTV OWNER...
The Athens Appeals Court on 14 October declined Moscow's request to extradite former oligarch and media tycoon Vladimir Gusinskii, who is wanted in Russia on charges of fraud and money laundering, Western and Russian media reported. Gusinskii was arrested in Athens on 21 August under a Russian-issued international arrest warrant (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 25 August 2003). The court ruled that there is insufficient evidence that Gusinskii committed a crime. It immediately lifted all movement restrictions on Gusinskii and returned his 100,000-euro bond. Gusinskii's lawyer, Aleksandr Berezin, said Gusinskii will leave Greece and divide his time between Israel and the United States, as he has business interests in both those countries. Gusinskii and his lawyers continue to insist that Moscow's charges against him are politically motivated. VY
...BUT MOSCOW STILL WANTS HIM TO STAND TRIAL
The Prosecutor-General's Office on 14 October denounced the Greek court's decision, saying that it will have no bearing on Gusinskii's status in Russia, Interfax and other Russian media reported. The case against him has not been closed, and he continues to be wanted on fraud and money-laundering charges, the prosecutors' statement said. The Audit Chamber on 14 October released the results of its probe into MOST Bank, which was formerly owned by Gusinskii, RIA-Novosti reported. According to the chamber, the bank owes creditors 18.3 billion rubles ($610 million), including 12 billion rubles that it owes to the state. The Audit Chamber has sent its report to both houses of the legislature and to law enforcement agencies. VY
RUSSIA-BELARUS UNION LOCKED IN 'STALEMATE'
President Vladimir Putin and Belarusian President Alyaksandr Lukashenka on 14 October participated in a meeting of the Higher State Council of the Russia-Belarus Union in Moscow, polit.ru and strana.ru reported. After the meeting, an unidentified presidential-administration source said that Moscow sees the situation within the union as "a stalemate." The two countries failed to reach an agreement about the introduction of the Russian ruble as the union's common currency, a move that is scheduled for 1 January 2005. Minsk continues to insist the two countries first adopt a Constitutional Act, but no draft of such a document that is acceptable for Russia has yet been produced, the source said. He said the deadlock has been produced because Lukashenka is primarily concerned with his own political role within the future union. However, the source said, since no role for Lukashenka is envisioned, all other activity has ground to a halt. VY
IN SEPARATE CASES, RUSSIAN OFFICIALS GO AFTER TWO ISRAELIS
Timur Lakhonin, head of the Russian bureau of Interpol, told journalists in Moscow on 14 October that Russia is seeking the extradition from Hungary of Israeli businessman Avraam Traub, vice president of the Israeli Diamond Stock Exchange, nns.ru and lenta.ru reported. Traub was arrested in Budapest on 13 October and is accused by Moscow of massive fraud and diamond smuggling in Russia. Also on 14 October, the Federal Security Service (FSB) detained an unidentified Israeli citizen at an airport in Novosibirsk, RIA-Novosti reported. Agents allegedly found him in possession of a computer diskette containing possibly classified research by local scientists. An FSB spokesman said a decision on the case will be made after experts in Moscow study the diskette to determine whether it contains state secrets. VY
DEPUTIES AGAIN IGNORE KREMLIN'S ADVICE
The State Duma adopted on 14 October amendments to the law on obligatory automobile insurance in their first reading, RIA-Novosti reported. Some 249 deputies voted in favor of the amendments, which were authored by the People's Deputy group. Under the bill, the law would come into effect on 1 July 2004 instead of on 1 July 2003, and fines for not carrying car insurance would not be levied until 1 January 2005, rather than 1 January 2004. The representatives of both the presidential administration and government recommended that a rival bill authored by Unified Russia be supported. Also on 14 October, 351 legislators voted passed in its second reading a bill on lotteries, RIA-Novosti reported. The government-sponsored bill would regulate the procedures for organizing and holding lotteries. The bill would ban political parties and movements from conducting lotteries to raise money. JAC
TV CHANNELS PLAN PRE-RECORDED CAMPAIGN DEBATES
Russian television channels, including state-owned RTR and state-controlled ORT, are planning to broadcast pre-recorded election debates, gazeta.ru and grani.ru reported on 14 October. Television host and Russian Television Academy President Vladimir Pozner told Ekho Moskvy that recorded debates are a "farce," arguing that viewers will lose the acuteness and spontaneity of the events. Commenting on recent legislation to regulate media coverage of elections, Pozner said: "If this is a sincere attempt to combat 'black public relations,' then one can only be amazed by its stupidity. However, I think the move [was] not that naive, and had other motivations." Yelena Dubrovina, Yabloko's representative on the Central Election Commission, said that recorded debates are simply a logical continuation of the Kremlin policy of "managed democracy," polit.ru reported. JAC
MOSCOW SACKS MORE SENIOR REGIONAL COPS
President Putin has signed a decree dismissing Ingush Interior Minister Colonel Akhmet Pogorov and the head of Rostov Oblast's main Interior Ministry directorate, Major General Vitalii Shevchenko, NTV reported on 14 October. Anatolii Belozerov, former head of the Interior Ministry in Orenburg Oblast, will replace Shevchenko, according to lenta.ru. Shevchenko is suspected of falsifying documents relating to a criminal case involving his son, "Izvestiya" reported on 14 October. According to the daily, the fate of the two senior law enforcement officials was decided a long time ago. Both were blamed not only for the ineffective work of local police, but also for their alleged connections with crime groups. The newspaper cited an unidentified Interior Ministry representative who said police in Ingushetia are organized completely along blood lines and are occupied mainly with the defense of clan interests, including criminal interests. Citing another unidentified ministry source, the newspaper said that Pogorov's replacement will come from central Russia and will not be an ethnic Ingush. JAC
TO EACH ACCORDING TO HIS NEEDS
The Central Election Commission (TsIK) on 14 October released data on the campaign funds of the political parties participating in the 7 December Duma elections, polit.ru reported. According to the figures, which were current as of 8 October, the pro-Kremlin Unified Russia party has the largest amount of money in its campaign war chest -- 141 million rubles ($4.7 million) -- while the Agrarian Party has the smallest amount -- 22,000 rubles. Unified Russia has also spent the most so far -- 70 million rubles. The commission also released data on personal incomes of party members. According to strana.ru, Sergei Muravlenko, who is on the Communist Party list, is the first ruble billionaire in the Duma race. Muravlenko was chairman of the board of directors of Yukos from 1993 until this June, and has 1.4 billion rubles in several bank accounts. Muravlenko owns three apartments, five garages, and four cars. JAC
BASHKORTOSTAN'S LEADERSHIP MAINTAINS TIGHT RULE
Writing in "Moskovskie novosti," No. 40, Merkator Group analysts Dmitrii Oreshkin and Vladimir Kozlov conclude that Bashortostan is the only region in Russia where it is possible to predict the results of the State Duma elections in the single-mandate districts. The authors noted that the United States has the term "gerrymandering" to refer to the act of creating election districts so as to benefit one party, while Russia has its own version this practice: "murtaza-ing," after Bashkir President Murtaza Rakhimov. Under this system, any candidate that the Bashkir presidential administration doesn't like can be deprived of his electoral district without legal grounds according to the arbitrary whim of regional authorities. Meanwhile, RFE/RL's Ufa correspondent reported on 13 October that republican presidential candidate Relif Safin has been banned by the city administration from campaigning. The city has refused to allow him to stage a show featuring well-known actors and performers. JAC
CHECHEN PRESIDENT-ELECT RESTATES PRIORITIES...
Speaking at a press conference in Moscow on 10 October, Akhmed-hadji Kadyrov again said he wants the Kremlin to bestow special economic privileges upon Chechnya, specifically allowing the republic to retain until 2010 all taxes and revenues from the sale of oil, Interfax reported. Kadyrov also reaffirmed his intention to set up a commission to determine who was responsible for the 1991 dissolution of the Supreme Soviet of the Checheno-Ingush ASSR, branding as one of the culprits then-Russian Supreme Soviet speaker Ruslan Khasbulatov, whom he referred to as "an enemy of the [Chechen] people." Kadyrov said he plans to strengthen the Chechen police force as a preliminary step to securing the withdrawal from Chechnya of all Russian forces except for one motorized division and one brigade of Russian Interior Ministry troops, which will be permanently stationed there. LF
...AFFIRMS READINESS FOR TALKS WITH MASKHADOV
In a reversal of his earlier statements, Chechen President-elect Kadyrov also said on 10 October that he is ready to establish contacts with Aslan Maskhadov, who was elected Chechen president in January 1997 in a ballot recognized by Russia and the international community as free and democratic. But Kadyrov advised Maskhadov to surrender and face trial, or to go into exile, rather than risk being hunted down and killed, Interfax reported. Kadyrov said that even if the Duma declines to renew the amnesty it declared in June for Chechen fighters who surrender their arms, he will work out a "legal procedure" for those fighters who wish to return to a peaceful life. LF
INGUSH PRESIDENT SEES NO NEED TO REUNITE WITH CHECHNYA
Murat Zyazikov told journalists in Moscow on 13 October that he sees no need to restore the Checheno-Ingush Republic, which split into its two constituent parts in the summer of 1992, Interfax reported. Chechen President-elect Kadyrov referred during his 10 October press conference to the possibility of such a merger. Zyazikov, however, argued that a merger would not be economically viable, as both republics require major subsidies from the federal center. He compared Chechnya and Ingushetia to "two brothers...each of whom should have his own house." LF
ARMENIAN DEFENSE MINISTER AGAIN POSTPONES TRIP TO IRAN
An official visit to Iran by Defense Minister Serzh Sarkisian has been postponed indefinitely as the two senior officials whom he was scheduled to meet, President Mohammad Khatami and Foreign Minister Kamal Kharrazi, are currently attending a conference in Malaysia, the Armenian Defense Ministry announced on 14 October, RFE/RL's Yerevan bureau reported. A visit by Kharrazi to Armenia scheduled for March was postponed because of the war in Iraq. The two countries have maintained close political and economic ties for the past decade. LF
VOTING BEGINS IN AZERBAIJANI PRESIDENTIAL ELECTION...
Voting is under way in Azerbaijan to elect a successor to 80-year-old President Heidar Aliev, who announced on 2 October that he would not after all seek a third presidential term and called on voters to elect his son, Prime Minister Ilham Aliev (see End Note, "RFE/RL Newsline," 14 October 2003). Government-sponsored opinion polls predict that Prime Minister Aliev will easily defeat his seven challengers and garner 60 percent-67 percent of the vote. His two main opposition rivals, Musavat Party Chairman Isa Gambar and Azerbaijan National Independence Party Chairman Etibar Mamedov, stand to win up to 10 percent of the vote, according to the same polls. Both men have said they are convinced the authorities will try to falsify the outcome of the ballot, and have called on their supporters to try to prevent such falsification, and to protest it if that is not possible. On 14 October, the Baku municipal authorities rejected an application by the Our Azerbaijan bloc, which supports Gambar, to convene a mass demonstration on 16 October near the headquarters of the Central Election Commission, Turan reported on 15 October. LF
...AS WIDESPREAD FRAUD, FALSIFICATION ALLEGED
Representatives of Azerbaijani NGOs monitoring the 15 October presidential ballot have claimed that massive violations are taking place throughout the country, Turan reported. Those violations include ballot-box stuffing, police violence against election observers, the omission of voters' names from voter lists, the distribution to teachers and military personnel of ballot papers already marked in favor of Prime Minister Aliev, and multiple voting in Gyanja by teachers who were transported by bus from one polling station to the next. Musavat Party Chairman Gambar's representatives claim to have confiscated sealed and signed protocols stipulating the percentage of voters who had cast ballots at 7 p.m. local time. Central Election Commission Secretary Azer Sariev told Turan that as of midday Baku time 14 percent of the electorate had cast their ballots. LF
FORMER AZERBAIJANI PARLIAMENT SPEAKER ANNOUNCES RETURN FROM SELF-EXILE
Democratic Party of Azerbaijan (ADP) Chairman Rasul Guliev, who left Azerbaijan seven years ago after a policy disagreement with President Aliev, will return to Baku on the evening of 15 October, according to a press release issued by the ADP the previous day and summarized by zerkalo.az. Guliev faces criminal charges in Azerbaijan, having been accused of embezzling $73 million from the state budget in 1992-93 (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 16 January and 15 July 1998). Guliev's application to register as a candidate in the 15 October presidential election was rejected on the grounds that he has permanent residency in the United States. LF
INTELLIGENCE CHIEF DENIES CHECHEN PRESENCE IN ABKHAZIA...
Givi Agrba, who heads the intelligence service of the unrecognized Republic of Abkhazia, denied on 14 October that Chechen militants and international terrorists who left Georgia's Pankisi Gorge one year ago in advance of a mass Georgian police action could have taken refuge in Abkhazia. Georgian Intelligence chief Avtandil Ioseliani, who served as a KGB official in Abkhazia prior to the 1992-93 war, made that claim in the 14 October issue of the Georgian newspaper "Tribuna." Ioseliani implied that the Chechens entered Abkhazia by sea, given that Georgia is unable to control Abkhaz territorial waters. LF
...AS GEORGIANS DENY U.S.-TRAINED SERVICE PERSONNEL ENGAGE IN SABOTAGE
Agrba also accused Georgia on 14 October of deploying commandoes trained within the framework of the U.S.-funded "Train and Equip" program to commit "sabotage" against Abkhaz officials, Caucasus Press reported. Georgian Defense Ministry official Dmitrii Lezhava and Levan Kiknadze, National Security Minister in the Tbilisi-based Abkhaz government in exile, both denied those allegations. Lezhava recalled that President Eduard Shevardnadze has repeatedly pledged that U.S.-trained Georgian service personnel will not be deployed in Abkhazia. LF
UZBEK PRESIDENT ENDS INCONCLUSIVE VISIT TO GEORGIA
Visiting Tbilisi on 9-10 October, Islam Karimov met with President Shevardnadze and with Minister of State Avtandil Djorbenadze to discuss expanding bilateral cooperation, especially in the economic and transportation spheres, Caucasus Press reported. Karimov underscored the importance to his country of the EU's TRACECA transportation network, which, he said, would enable Uzbekistan to ship cargo through the Georgian Black Sea port of Poti. But he ruled out the sale to Georgia of Uzbek wheat, and said it is premature for Uzbekistan to make any commitment to export oil via the Baku-Tbilisi-Ceyhan pipeline, which is currently under construction, ITAR-TASS reported on 10 October. LF
KAZAKH PRESIDENT SAYS DEATH PENALTY WILL GO...
Nursultan Nazarbaev, speaking to the Civic Forum on 15 October, said he is convinced that Kazakhstan will drop the death penalty, but it will be done gradually because of popular opinion, gazeta.kz reported. The Civic Forum, a gathering of government officials and more than 200 representatives of nongovernmental organizations, opened on 14 October in Astana. Its official objective is to create a social partnership to seek solutions to Kazakhstan's problems, according to a 14 October khabar.kz report, which noted that more than 300,000 Kazakh citizens are members of the country's 4,500 NGOs. At the forum's first session, Kazakh Human Rights Ombudsman Bolat Baykadamov told participants that the resolution of the country's human rights problems depends on greater cooperation between the government and NGOs, particularly in educating citizens about their rights. BB
...AND INFORMATION MINISTER SAYS NUMBER OF MEDIA OUTLETS INCREASING
Kazakh Information Minister Sautbek Abdrakhmanov told the Civic Forum on 14 October that the number of registered media outlets in Kazakhstan is rising, and currently 80 percent of them are privately owned, Interfax-Kazakhstan reported. Abdrakhmanov said there are 1,237 newspapers, 503 magazines, 162 television and radio broadcasting companies, and 13 news agencies operating in the country. He described the system of paying private media to disseminate government information as a replacement for direct state subsidies. Some independent media operators have complained that the policy discourages media from disseminating material critical of the government. Abdrakhmanov also raised the issue of equal broadcast time for both Kazakh- and Russian-language programming -- the subject of a draft law on media now before parliament -- and warned that Kazakh-language broadcasters will have to maintain the standards of their Russian-language competitors for the law to work. BB
KYRGYZ JUSTICE MINISTRY ADMITS MISTAKE IN DEMANDING RE-REGISTRATION OF HUMAN RIGHTS COMMITTEE
Deputy Justice Minister Nurlan Alymbaev told a group of NGO representatives on 14 October that the ministry made a mistake when it told the Kyrgyz Committee for Human Rights (KCHR) that it had to re-register, RFE/RL's Kyrgyz Service and akipress.org reported, quoting Tolekan Ismailova, head of the NGO Civil Society Against Corruption, who attended the meeting. The 13 August letter demanding that the KCHR re-register set off the series of events that resulted in two men claiming to head the KCHR (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 26 and 28 August and 8, 17, and 29 September 2003). The incident became a major embarrassment for Kyrgyzstan in the international human rights community. Alymbaev also admitted the ministry made a mistake when it accused the KCHR of engaging in political activities prohibited to NGOs. The activists informed him that they have appealed to three parliamentary committees to sort out the situation. BB
KYRGYZ COTTON GROWERS SAY THEY'VE BEEN CHEATED
Cotton growers in southern Kyrgyzstan consider themselves cheated over the prices they are receiving for their cotton, and rural spokesmen in Osh Oblast are warning that an "explosion" is possible, KyrgyzInfo reported on 14 October. The anger arises from an increase in the market price of cotton -- presently 19 soms (about $0.45) per kilogram and predicted to rise -- while many farmers contracted before the harvest to sell their cotton to middlemen for 8 soms a kilogram. Rural NGOs are trying to defuse the tension in the volatile region by informing farmers about their legal rights. BB
TAJIKISTAN LACKS COTTON PICKERS
So many Tajik citizens have left the country in search of work that Tajikistan is unable to mobilize sufficient labor to harvest cotton, its most important export crop, "Nezavisimaya gazeta" reported on 14 October. The article described the desperate efforts by Tajik President Imomali Rakhmonov and other leaders to find pickers. Students and schoolchildren have already been sent to the fields. To make the work more attractive, the official price for a kilogram of cotton picked was raised to the equivalent of about $0.07 on 10 October, and Rakhmonov told local officials to ensure that money earned for picking is paid promptly. As of mid-October, only 283,000 tons of cotton had been harvested in Tajikistan. If the labor can be found, the total harvest could be as much as 624,000 tons. BB
TURKMEN PRESIDENT FIRES OBLAST OFFICIAL FOR POOR COTTON HARVEST
Saparmurat Niyazov told his cabinet on 14 October that the country will probably not meet the target of 2 million tons he set for the cotton harvest this year, the Turkmen State Information Agency reported. He then fired Balkan Oblast Governor Kakageldy Kurbyshov for the oblast's poor cotton production and replaced him with Oil and Gas Industry Minister Tachberdy Tagiev. Despite Turkmenistan's large earnings from gas exports, cotton remains an important foreign-currency earner. Niyazov also fired Turkmenpagta state cotton association Chairman Ereshkul Jumaev, one of the country's most respected foreign affairs specialists. BB
UZBEKISTAN GIVES ITS VERSION OF BORDER SHOOTING INCIDENT
The Uzbek Foreign Ministry on 14 October gave its version of a 10 October border incident in which two Uzbek citizens were killed and one Uzbek and a Kyrgyz citizen were wounded (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 14 October 2003), ITAR-TASS reported. According to the Foreign Ministry, seven Uzbek citizens who were trying to smuggle cotton into Kyrgyzstan ignored an order to stop from Uzbek border guards. The guards opened fire on the group after the smugglers tried to attack them. The Kyrgyz gardener was an innocent bystander, the ministry said. BB
VANDALS DEFILE HOLOCAUST MEMORIAL IN BELARUS
Vandals smashed cans of paint against and daubed anti-Jewish slogans on a recently installed Holocaust memorial in the town of Lida in Hrodna Oblast, Reuters reported on 14 October, quoting Yakov Basin, head of a group that defends Jewish rights in Belarus. "This monument, at a site where several dozen Jews were shot during the war, was built only a month and a half ago," Basin told Reuters. Last month, Jewish leaders accused Belarus's Education Ministry of pursuing anti-Semitic policies after officials shut down the Belarusian State University's International Humanities Institute, which offered a course in Jewish studies. JM
UKRAINIAN LAWMAKERS APPEAL TO RUSSIAN PARLIAMENT OVER DAM CONSTRUCTION...
The Verkhovna Rada adopted a statement on 14 October appealing to the Russian Federal Assembly to intervene in the construction of a dam between Russia's Taman Peninsula and Ukraine's Tuzla islet in the Kerch Strait (see "RFE/RL Poland, Belarus, and Ukraine Report," 14 October 2003) to prevent any "unilateral actions" that might contradict "the principles of good neighborliness and the spirit of strategic partnership" between Ukraine and Russia, Interfax and UNIAN reported. The Ukrainian legislature pledged "to initiate all measures envisaged by norms of the international law to protect the sovereignty of the [Ukrainian] state on its territory" if the dam project is continued. Kyiv has reportedly sent a reinforced border-guard unit to Tuzla and installed antitank defenses facing the dam construction, which has come to within 1 kilometer of the island (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 14 October 2003). JM
...AS FOREIGN MINISTRY SAYS MOSCOW PRESSURING KYIV OVER BORDER TALKS
Deputy Foreign Minister Oleksandr Motsyk told the Verkhovna Rada on 14 October that Russia's construction of the dike in Kerch Strait is apparently intended to influence Russian-Ukrainian talks on the delimitation of the border in the Azov Sea and the Kerch Strait, Interfax reported. "In our opinion, attempts by the neighboring state at exerting such influence only obstruct the further progress of the talks," Motsyk added. He said Kyiv wants to divide the Azov Sea and the Kerch Strait into areas forming national waters of each state, whereas Moscow wants to leave the Azov Sea "for joint use" by Russia and Ukraine. Russian Foreign Minister Igor Ivanov is scheduled to met with his Ukrainian counterpart Kostyantyn Hryshchenko in Kyiv on 30 October to discuss the sea-border delimitation. JM
UKRAINE, LIBYA SIGN NINE AGREEMENTS
Ukrainian President Leonid Kuchma visited Libya on 11-14 October, Ukrainian news agencies reported. The two sides signed nine accords and memorandums, including on cooperation in science and technology, geological research, banking, and oil extraction. JM
ESTONIAN PARLIAMENT BACKS SPEEDING UP NATURALIZATION PROCESS
The parliament by a vote of 60-7 rejected on 14 October a proposal by the right-of-center Pro Patria faction to suspend the second reading of a bill sponsored by the Center Party that would speed up procedures necessary for obtaining Estonian citizenship, BNS reported. The proposed bill would retain the requirement that an applicant be a legal resident of Estonia for at least five years. However it would shorten from 12 months to six the required period of residence after a citizenship application is filed. If adopted, the law will go into effect as of 1 January 2004. One of the bill's initiators, deputy Ain Seppik, said the bill does not alter the underlying principles of the citizenship law and merely shortens the waiting period for citizenship. He pointed out that there are about 170,000 stateless persons in Estonia whose predicament is frequently mentioned as a problem during EU-accession talks. SG
RUSSIAN DUMA CONDEMNS LATVIA'S HUMAN RIGHTS RECORD
The Duma on 14 October passed a nonbinding resolution on the "Blatant Violations of Human Rights and Ethnic Minorities' Rights in the Republic of Latvia," LETA reported. The statement, which passed overwhelmingly with only one abstention, was prepared by the Duma's Foreign Affairs Committee, which is headed by special envoy on Kaliningrad Dmitrii Rogozin. It expresses deep concern over what it calls Latvia's discriminatory policy toward ethnic minorities, as evidenced by the 1999 law "On State Language," under which "Russian, the mother tongue of 36 percent of Latvia's residents, became a foreign language." In addition, the statement claims that the "so-called government program Society Integration in Latvia is, in fact, intended to assimilate ethnic minorities by force." The fact that noncitizens are not allowed to participate in national elections "is a crying example of democracy being trampled on in modern Europe," according to the statement. The Latvian Foreign Ministry responded on 14 October by saying the Duma's statement is inaccurate and does not reflect reality. "It is also unfortunate that such an announcement yet again demonstrates Russia's difficulty in evaluating and overcoming the legacy of its own history," the Foreign Ministry stated. SG
LITHUANIA'S BUDGET REVENUES ABOVE TARGET
The Finance Ministry announced on 14 October that in the first nine months of the year national budget revenues totaled 8.02 billion litas ($2.67 billion), BNS reported. This is 66.8 million litas, or 0.8 percent, above the planned level. The national budget includes both state- and local-government budgets. State budget revenues were 6.9 billion litas (0.9 percent above target), while local-government revenues were 1.12 billion litas (0.3 percent higher than planned). The improved revenue-collection figures were in part due to the payment in September of corporate-profit taxes for the 2002 fiscal year. Revenues from that tax rose by 63.4 compared to the previous year. In addition, personal income-tax revenues were 1.88 billion litas (5.8 percent above planned levels) and excise-tax revenues were 1.25 billion litas (3.2 percent higher than planned). However, value-added tax (VAT) payments were 2.8 billion litas, 5.2 percent below target. SG
POLL SUGGESTS WANING SUPPORT FOR POLISH RULING PARTY
A poll conducted by the CBOS poling agency on 3-6 October found that the ruling Democratic Left Alliance (SLD) would receive 19 percent of the vote if general elections were held now, PAP reported on 14 October. That figure represents a two-point drop since a similar poll was conducted in September. The SLD was followed by the Law and Justice party with 18 percent support (the same as in September), the Civic Platform with 17 percent (down 4 percentage points), the League of Polish Families with 10 percent (up 3 percentage points), the Peasant Party with 10 percent (up 3 percentage points), and Self-Defense 10 percent (up 1 percentage point). JM
HAVEL HONORED BY CZECH PARLIAMENT
The leaders of both houses of parliament conferred the Czech state's highest honors on former President Vaclav Havel in a 14 October ceremony, local and international media reported. The Order of the White Lion and the Order of Tomas Garrigue Masaryk were awarded by the legislature. "Just as [the first Czechoslovak President (1918-35)] Masaryk's name belongs to 1918, Havel's name belongs to the year 1989," said lower-house speaker Lubomir Zaoralek. "I don't see this as appreciation of my work and personal performance, but as a sign of respect to the values I tried to serve all of my life," the communist-era playwright-cum-dissident said, according to CTK. Havel, 67, added that the award demonstrates the Czech Republic's commitment to "those seeking similar values who have not yet advanced as we have," including "the citizens of Cuba, Belarus, Burma, and other countries." Longtime political rival and current President Vaclav Klaus was conspicuously absent from the ceremony, along with Communist lawmakers. AH
CZECH COALITION PARTY PRESSES ISSUE OF CHURCH RESTITUTION
A senior member of the junior ruling Christian Democratic Union-People's Party (KDU-CSL) said on 14 October that his party wants the current government to tackle the stubborn issue of church-property restitution before its term ends, CTK reported. Deputy Chairman Jan Kasal, a potential challenger to KDU-CSL Chairman and Czech Foreign Minister Cyril Svoboda ahead of a looming party congress, rejected the suggestion that the KDU-CSL would use the church-property issue to "blackmail" its coalition partners, the Social Democratic Party and the Freedom Union-Democratic Union (US-DEU). But he vowed that his party will raise the issue before the next scheduled elections in 2006. A so-called blocking paragraph in the Czech Land Code proscribes municipalities from returning forests and other land to churches. US-DEU leader Petr Mares conceded it is time to revisit church-state relations, which he said "has been put aside for a long time," CTK reported. CSSD Chairman and Czech Prime Minister Vladimir Spidla suggested the government's agenda includes the broader topic of church-state relations, but not property restitution. AH
LIECHTENSTEIN SNUBS CZECH, SLOVAK REPUBLICS...
A lingering dispute stemming from postwar expropriations in Czechoslovakia prompted the Principality of Liechtenstein's refusal to sign an agreement on 14 October on expansion of the European Economic Area (EEA), CTK reported the same day. The move threatens EEA implementation but should have virtually no effect on EU enlargement, expected in May 2004. Representatives of 25 EU member and candidate states, including the Czech Republic and Slovakia, signed the document, while the foreign ministers of non-EU states Norway and Iceland joined Liechtenstein in rejecting it. "The clock is ticking, but we still hope that the [EEA] agreement will become valid on 1 May," CTK quoted an unnamed EU diplomat as saying. The Czech and Slovak republics and Liechtenstein have sparred in diplomatic circles as Vaduz insists that Liechtenstein family property -- including land, estates, and art -- was improperly seized under the Benes Decrees. At the heart of the dispute is the question of Liechtenstein's sovereignty and neutrality during the World Wars and the citizenship of Liechtenstein's royal family. AH
...AS CZECHS HOLD THEIR GROUND...
Foreign Minister Svoboda said on 14 October that Prague remains hopeful that Liechtenstein will sign on to the EEA agreement, adding that he will make no concessions regarding addendums to the deal, CTK reported. Svoboda also downplayed the significance of the EEA for EU enlargement. He added that the Czech Republic -- which along with Slovakia does not maintain diplomatic relations with Liechtenstein in part due to the property spat -- is "ready to establish diplomatic relations with Liechtenstein, but without any conditions," according to CTK. Svoboda described the dispute not as a bilateral problem but as a challenge for the entire European Union. The Czech daily "Mlada fronta Dnes" stressed on 15 October that the only real effect of the snub will be to complicate economic relations with Liechtenstein, Norway, and Iceland. AH
...AND SLOVAKS CRY FOUL
A Slovak Foreign Ministry spokesman suggested on 14 October that Liechtenstein's refusal to sign the EEA accord is a bilateral matter "that has no connection with the agreement on participation in the European Economic Area," CTK reported. Juraj Tomaga said Prague and Bratislava are in agreement that their recognition of Liechtenstein cannot be based on preconditions. AH
HUNGARIAN RADIO CHAIRWOMAN DENIES COUNTERESPIONAGE LINKS
Hungarian Radio Chairwoman Katalin Kondor on 14 October told reporters after she examined documents related to her past at the State Security Historical Archives that she "was never in contact with the III/II counterintelligence department" of the communist-era secret services, Hungarian media reported. Kondor told origo.hu that there is only one file containing information about an attempt at recruitment, which is identical to the one published by the "Nepszava" daily on 25 September, but there is no hint of whether she actually filed any intelligence report. Kondor argued that she was unaware of being registered into the counterespionage division. MSZ
HUNGARY TO CLOSE MILITARY AIRFIELD
Defense Ministry Political State Secretary Imre Ivancsik said on 14 October that the military airfield in Szentkiralyszabadja, near the city of Veszprem, will be closed and the airfield's Combat Helicopter Regiment will be disbanded by the end of 2004, "Nepszabadsag" reported. Ivancsik said the government will decide about the future of the regiment's 1,200 staff members in January. Meanwhile, Defense Minister Ferenc Juhasz announced the same day that nearly 300 people will be dismissed from the Military Intelligence Office as part of Hungary's ongoing military reform, "Magyar Nemzet" reported. MSZ
KOSOVA AND SERBIA CONDUCT DIALOGUE OF THE DEAF...
Several top-ranking Kosovar and Serbian officials read prepared statements in the presence of international officials in Vienna on 14 October but did not engage in a real dialogue, RFE/RL reported (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 14 October 2003). London's "Financial Times" noted that "[Serbian Prime Minister Zoran] Zivkovic accused [Kosovar President Ibrahim] Rugova of refusing to open real dialogue. 'When [Yugoslav President Slobodan] Milosevic was in power, Rugova spoke to him, but today he will not speak to the authorities in Belgrade.' Rugova laughed off the barb and spat back that he saw 'no difference between the previous regime [under Milosevic] and the current government of Serbia.'" Serbian Deputy Prime Minister Nebojsa Covic stressed that "talks on the [province's] status are premature, so one should not be in a rush. Kosovo is a part of Serbia and Montenegro. So, let us first deal with [creating] a normal life in Kosovo." Rugova argued that "our aim is an...independent, democratic Kosova, integrated in the European Union, in NATO, and always in friendship with the United States." Kosova's parliamentary speaker Nexhat Daci stressed that Kosova is independent in practice and that independence "is an irreversible process." PM
...AMID MIXED REACTIONS
Most of the comments from top international officials who had pressured both sides into attending the 14 October talks in Vienna were positive, RFE/RL reported. EU foreign- and security-policy chief Javier Solana called the meeting "a very important step." Harri Holkeri, who heads the UN civilian administration in Kosova (UNMIK), argued that "we have launched the work of the dialogue between Belgrade and Prishtina and now, in November, the working groups -- which [deal with] cooperation in the field of energy, cooperation [regarding] missing persons, cooperation on [refugee] returns, and cooperation in the field of transport and communication -- will start." EU External Affairs Commissioner Chris Patten stressed that "people got into the same room, they began addressing one another, and in my experience, having worked for years in Northern Ireland, the most difficult step is always the first one." Patten nonetheless scolded those who were invited but did not attend: "I'd like to say to those who weren't here that, frankly, I think it was lamentable that they weren't here, and they should be here next time." In Prishtina, some 1,500 people demonstrated against the talks and for independence. PM
ROW IN SERBIAN PARLIAMENT OVER NO-CONFIDENCE MEASURES
On 14 October, members of the governing Democratic Opposition of Serbia (DOS) coalition delayed holding a parliamentary debate on two no-confidence motions against the government and one against speaker Natasa Micic, who is also acting president of Serbia, Serbian and international media reported (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 30 September 2003). The DOS deputies postponed the discussion until 16 October. Tempers were short in the daylong legislative session, which was packed with deputies and reporters. Dragan Marsicanin, who heads the opposition Democratic Party of Serbia (DSS) faction, called the proceedings "scandalous." Other opposition deputies said the government effectively brought itself down with its delaying tactics. The opposition wants early parliamentary elections, which DOS rejects. DOS has a narrow majority in the parliament, but "Vesti" reported on 11 October that deputies are being offered up to $35,000 by rival political parties to change sides. On 15 October, most Serbian media devoted more attention to the row in the parliament than to the Vienna talks on Kosova. PM
MACEDONIAN GOVERNMENT STRESSES NEED FOR KOSOVA'S STABILITY
Commenting on the 14 October meeting between representatives from Kosova and Belgrade, Macedonian President Boris Trajkovski welcomed the dialogue on practical problems, RFE/RL's Macedonian broadcasters reported. Although the government supports in principle any solution reached by dialogue, Defense Minister Vlado Buckovski warned: "For Macedonia, stability is the most important thing right now -- and the status [of Kosova] is a secondary issue -- because the stability of Kosovo directly affects the stability of Macedonia." Ali Ahmeti of the junior coalition partner in the government, the ethnic Albanian Democratic Union for Integration (BDI), also stressed the need for a stable Kosova with functioning institutions, adding that Kosovar independence will not have a negative impact on the region (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 6 and 8 October 2003). UB
MONITORS GIVE MIXED REPORT CARD TO ALBANIAN LOCAL VOTE
The OSCE's Office for Democratic Institutions and Human Rights (ODIHR) and the Council of Europe's Congress of Local and Regional Authorities of Europe (CLRAE) said in a statement in Tirana on 14 October that the 12 October Albanian local elections showed progress over previous efforts but still beg improvement (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 14 October 2003). "Political parties treated each other as legitimate opponents, without the heated rhetoric that marred previous campaigns," the statement noted. It added, however, that the Central Election Commission still lacks "effective rules of procedure." Additional problems that the monitors cited are high incidences of "family voting" -- in which the head of the household casts the ballots of all family members -- and the decreasing number of women as candidates and members of election commissions. PM
PEACEKEEPERS RAID BOSNIAN INTELLIGENCE OFFICES
SFOR peacekeepers conducted raids on numerous police and intelligence-service offices throughout Bosnia on 14 and 15 October, dpa reported. An SFOR spokesman said in Sarajevo that the peacekeepers are looking for evidence to help the Hague-based war crimes tribunal. The sweep began in the Croat-Muslim federation and continued into the Republika Srpska. The spokesman said that SFOR will determine if the activities of the police and intelligence services are in keeping with the 1995 Dayton peace accords. PM
ROMANIAN GOVERNMENT APPROVES DRAFT 2004 BUDGET
The Romanian cabinet on 14 October approved the draft 2004 budget that was expected to be presented to parliament on 15 October, Romanian Radio reported. Finance Minister Mihai Tanasescu said the budget forecasts 5.5 percent economic growth and a 9 percent inflation rate. The draft also forecasts a 3 percent budget deficit and a current account deficit under 5.5 percent in relation to GDP. VAT taxes would be cut from 19 percent to 9 percent for medicines and hotel services. Tanasescu said the draft budget has a very strong social protection component, with sums allocated for doubling farmers' pensions, quarterly indexing of all pensions, and allowances for large families. ZsM
MOLDOVAN PRESIDENT PUSHES FOR EU ACCESSION
President Vladimir Voronin told a meeting of government and Foreign Ministry officials on 13 October that the country's European integration "is a national priority" and called on all institutions to focus on this task, Flux reported on 14 October, citing a presidential press release. Voronin insisted on the urgent development of an EU-accession strategy containing precise deadlines and tasks. He said Foreign Ministry officials should strongly promote the country's concept of EU integration, stressing the need for "determined actions" that would prove Moldova's capability of meeting EU standards. Voronin also announced that EU Enlargement Commissioner Guenter Verheugen is to visit Moldova in early December. ZsM
COUNCIL OF EUROPE REFUSES TO MEDIATE BETWEEN ROMANIA, MOLDOVA
Vladimir Filipov, who is the Council of Europe secretary-general's special representative to Chisinau, said after his 14 October meeting with Moldovan Prime Minister Vasile Tarlev that the council can facilitate Romania and Moldova's political dialogue, but only if both countries choose to cooperate, an RFE/RL correspondent in Chisinau reported. He added that the council cannot assume the role of mediator between the two countries. Chisinau recently complained before the council about "problems in bilateral relations" (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 13 October 2003). Romanian Foreign Minister Mircea Geoana said at a press conference in Bucharest that relations with Moldova remain a priority for Bucharest, regardless of periodical tensions. He added that Romania's "fundamental interest" is to see an independent Moldova join the family of European countries. ZsM
BULGARIA RENEWS BAN ON RUSSIAN BUSINESSMAN...
National Security Service head General Ivan Chobanov on 14 October issued an order barring controversial Russian businessman Mikhail Chernyi from entering the country on the grounds that he poses a threat to national security, mediapool.bg reported. Chobanov's decision came only days after the Supreme Administrative Court (VAS) lifted a similar ban issued in 2000 by the previous government headed by Ivan Kostov of the now-opposition Union of Democratic Forces (SDS) (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 10 June 2003). Chernyi is the former owner of Bulgarian cell-phone operator MobilTel and is owner of the Levski Sofia soccer club. He was expelled from Bulgaria on money-laundering charges in 2000 (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 21 August 2000). UB
...WHO ACCUSES FORMER BULGARIAN PREMIER OF BLACKMAIL
In an interview with Radio Net on 14 October, Chernyi reiterated his claims that former Prime Minister Kostov blackmailed him when he was trying to sell MobilTel in 2001, vsekiden.com reported. Chernyi claims Kostov's middlemen contacted him on two occasions and demanded payment to avoid state interference in the sale. Once they demanded that he pay $5 million, which he refused, and another time $200,000, which he paid. According to Chernyi, one of his Cyprus-based companies transferred the money to the Demokratsiya Foundation in May 2001. At that time, Kostov headed the foundation, which is closely linked to the SDS. Speaking on "Blitz," the joint radio and TV program of RFE/RL's Bulgarian Service and bTV, foundation Executive Director Grozdan Karadzhov confirmed the transfer of the money, but added that he cannot say whether Chernyi is behind the company in question. SDS Chairwoman Nadezhda Mihailova, who is running for mayor of Sofia in the 26 October local elections, said a commission has been formed to investigate Chernyi's claims. Kostov has blamed the former communist secret services for the scandal, vsekiden.com reported on 15 October. UB
EU, UKRAINE HOLD ANNUAL SUMMIT
The EU and Ukraine held their seventh annual summit on 7-8 October in Yalta. The EU is expected to accept 10 new members next year and a further two to three countries -- Romania, Bulgaria, Croatia -- in 2007. The EU's new neighbors in the western Balkans and Turkey are also on a medium-term membership track if they implement deeper reforms.
In contrast, the EU has not offered future membership to the four western CIS countries -- Russia, Belarus, Moldova, Ukraine -- which also lie geographically in Europe and are therefore theoretically eligible to seek EU membership themselves under Article 49 of the EU Treaty, which allows any European state to join. Of the four western CIS states, only Ukraine and Moldova seek EU membership, with Ukraine also additionally seeking NATO membership.
The summit issued a 26-point joint statement that covered a wide range of issues, including next year's expected EU enlargement; EU assistance to Ukraine; implementation of the Partnership and Cooperation Agreement; and regional conflicts in Bosnia, Moldova, Iraq, and Israel-Palestine.
The statement also focused upon concrete policies that Ukraine should be working upon. These areas include reform of the judiciary and "strengthening and ensuring stability of democratic institutions, the rule of law, and respect for human rights." These political areas are precisely where Ukraine has regressed during Leonid Kuchma's second term in office since 1999. Jan Virsma, head of the EU's delegation to Ukraine, Belarus, and Moldova, said in an interview in "Zerkalo Nedeli" on the eve of the summit that Ukraine's current leaders are not interested in pursuing reforms or rule of law.
In contrast to these political areas where Ukraine has fared badly, the statement recognized "progress" in the implementation of economic reform and Ukraine's stable economic growth. Nevertheless, the statement continued to point to the need for further tax and banking reform, and the strengthening of the independence of the National Bank.
Ukraine's ruling elite has fewer problems in pursuing economic reform, as they are the winners in the transition from communism. As for the National Bank, its independence is in jeopardy under its new chairman, Serhiy Tyhipko, who is also head of one of the three main oligarch parties, Labor Ukraine.
The statement also stressed the need for reform of the energy sector. This was most vigorously pursued under the Viktor Yushchenko government in 1999-2001, a factor that led to growing oligarch criticism and the government's dismissal in April 2001. Former head of Naftohaz Ukrayiny Ihor Bakay has admitted that most Ukrainian oligarchs made their capital in the 1990s from the resale of Russian energy. Energy reform is not likely to be seriously pursued while the head of the presidential administration is Viktor Medvedchuk, whose Social Democratic Party-united party is widely believed to financially gain the most from corrupt energy deals.
The statement raised the importance of the further development of the Eurasian oil transportation corridor, which would bring Azerbaijani Caspian oil to Poland and Western Europe. Ukraine has completed the construction of the Odesa-Brody pipeline, which links the Black Sea to the former "Druzhba" pipeline. But Russia is intensively lobbying for the new pipeline to work in reverse by bringing Russian oil from Brody to Odesa, a step the EU (and the United States) have warned against.
President Kuchma's exasperation over the EU's reluctance to offer Ukraine the prospect of future membership is one factor behind his promotion of the CIS Single Economic Space (EEP) just prior to the summit. As Kuchma bemoaned, "How much longer can we be kept on the doorstep [of the EU]? None of the [EU] officials have said Ukraine is wanted in the EU." The EEP was only briefly mentioned in one sentence in the 12th point of the post-summit statement. The EU believes that as long as the EEP does not evolve from the level of a free-trade zone it will not create a barrier to Ukraine's integration into the EU, whereas the EU would view an EEP Customs Union more negatively.
In May, Kuchma optimistically predicted that Ukraine would be offered EU associate membership at the October summit, presumably because he would like to claim credit for obtaining associate member EU status in his second term in office. On the eve of the summit, Deputy Foreign Minister Oleksandr Chalyi repeated the claim that associate membership is being discussed by the EU.
However, this statement proved to be premature, as European Commission President Romano Prodi and current EU President and Italian Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi expressed at the summit the hope that Ukraine could join the EU in the future, without mentioning a specific time frame.
But Dr. Dov Lynch, a Research Fellow at the EU's Institute for Security Studies, warned: "The EU must follow political developments very closely over the next few months until the elections. 2004 is a turning point in Ukrainian politics and the EU must ensure that it is the right turning point, one that moves Ukraine closer to realizing its European ambitions than it has until now. " Dr. Lynch continued: "Political declarations of support for free and fair elections, technical assistance to ensure that these are fulfilled, tacit warnings of what might happen to the relationship are required from Brussels. EU attention on Ukraine must be firm and steady. Ukraine must ensure that the elections are free and fair and that their results are respected to the highest degree."
The summit statement also raised the question of the EU's deeper involvement in supporting Ukrainian reforms through its "Wider Europe" initiative launched in March. Progress in justice and home affairs is already evident in areas such as controlling illegal migration, strengthening border controls, and the struggle against organized crime and corruption.
Dr. Lynch emphasized: "The Wider Europe initiative is a pledge of greater EU attention, energy, money, and time devoted to Ukraine. The methodology of the initiative, namely the Action Plans, as part of the Wider Europe initiative, will require Brussels to become far more deeply engaged in Ukrainian affairs, and to work far more closely with the Ukrainian authorities themselves." If Ukraine treats these Action Plans seriously, as it has with its Action Plan with NATO, then this could open "a new horizon for cooperation with the EU," which "is a pledge that with work and effort the door for far greater ties will be open." Poland and Hungary assuaged Ukraine's fears about the Schengen agreement blocking access to the EU when both countries agreed to introduce visa-free travel from 1 October.
Despite this progress, membership of the EU is still not on the horizon for Ukraine. Nevertheless, EU enlargement commissioner Guenter Verheugen told the "Financial Times" of 10 October that "Wider Europe is not about putting EU membership on the agenda for these countries."
Dr. Taras Kuzio is a resident fellow at the Centre for Russian and East European Studies and adjunct professor at the University of Toronto's Department of Political Science.
NEO-TALIBAN SUSPECTED IN DEATHS OF FOUR SOLDIERS IN CENTRAL AFGHANISTAN...
Suspected neo-Taliban militants killed four soldiers loyal to the Afghan central government in the village of Darwan in Oruzgan Province on 13 October, Radio Afghanistan reported the next day. Abdul Rahman, district chief in Karaj, claimed that members of Al-Qaeda carried out the attack, according to a report by Pakistan-based Afghan Islamic Press on 14 October. The attacks destroyed the vehicle in which the soldiers were traveling. Attacks against forces loyal to the Afghan Transitional Administration or the international antiterrorism coalition are often carried out in the name of the Taliban by neo-Taliban (forces loyal to the former regime, members of Al-Qaeda, newly disenchanted segments of the population, or, more recently, drug dealers). AT
...PROMPTING RESPONSE FROM AFGHAN AND COALITION FORCES
Afghan troops, backed by U.S. forces, began an operation on 14 October to flush out suspected neo-Taliban forces that were responsible for killing four soldiers loyal to the Afghan government the previous day, Radio Afghanistan reported. The joint operations managed to dislodge the neo-Taliban forces from Darwan, Reuters reported on 15 October. "The Taliban forces overnight escaped from Darwan because they could not resist the fighting, and now American soldiers are conducting house-to-house searches to find out if any Taliban members are hidden among ordinary people," U.S. military spokesman Colonel Rodney Davis said. Davis said there were no U.S. casualties. One local Afghan official, Dur Mohammad, said two Afghan soldiers and three members of the neo-Taliban were killed in the fighting, dpa reported on 15 October. Reuters reported that 10 militants were killed. AT
AFGHAN FORCES REPORTEDLY SHELL PAKISTANI BORDER CHECKPOINT
Afghan militia forces fired mortar rounds at a Pakistani checkpoint in the Mohmand tribal region on 13 October, the Karachi daily "Dawn" reported on 15 October. According to the report, Afghans fired at Spina Bara checkpoint for one hour "without any provocation." "Dawn" reported that the attack was the third in the past week, adding that Pakistani forces did not return fire in the attacks. Skirmishes along the disputed border between Afghanistan and Pakistan brought the two countries to the brink of a larger conflict in July. The border with Pakistan has never been officially recognized by Afghanistan and parts of it remain in dispute (see "RFE/RL Afghanistan Report," 11, 17, and 24 July and 7 August 2003). AT
AFGHAN OFFICIALS EMBRACE DECISION TO EXPAND ISAF...
In a statement released on 14 October, the Afghan Transitional Administration's Foreign Ministry welcomed the 13 October decision by the UN Security Council to expand the International Security Assistance Force (ISAF) beyond Kabul (see "REF/RL Newsline," 14 October 2003). The ISAF's expansion would provide "an additional international security blanket over parts of the country with security-related concerns, [and] would assist in the political and reconstruction processes under way in the country, especially with the upcoming implementation of the disarmament program, the holding of a Constitutional Loya Jirga [in December] and elections" scheduled for June 2004, the statement said. AT
...WHILE UN CAUTIONS AGAINST TOO MUCH OPTIMISM
Manoel de Almeida e Silva, the spokesman for the UN Assistance Mission for Afghanistan (UNAMA), said on 14 October that while UNAMA welcomes the Security Council's decision to expand ISAF, it has also warned that without actual expansion of the force, Afghans might be disappointed, IRIN reported. De Almeida e Silva said "it is very important that member states [of the UN] provide ISAF with the necessary means to expand beyond Kabul" in order to meet the aspirations of the Afghans. Only Germany has confirmed that it will contribute forces to an expanded ISAF (see "REF/RL Newsline," 14 October 2003) and some believe the Security Council vote was aimed at allowing Berlin to send troops outside Kabul, since Germany had insisted on a UN authorization as prerequisite for such a move. AT
IRANIAN MINISTER VISITS KABUL BEARING GIFTS
Agricultural Jihad Minister Mahmud Hojjati arrived in the Afghan capital on 14 October for a two-day visit, IRNA reported, and state television reported the next day that he signed some 38 agreements before his departure. On arriving at the Kabul airport, Hojjati announced that Iran will extend $9 million in aid to Afghanistan for agricultural development, consisting of 200 tractors, agricultural equipment, fertilizer, and genetically modified seeds. "Part of the funds to be extended to the Afghan government will be allocated to supplying water and restoring aqueducts," Hojjati added. He went on to say that Afghans are being trained in Iran, adding that Iran has helped in the areas of plant protection and pest control. Hojjati said during his meeting with Afghan leader Hamid Karzai that while the amount of water flowing from Afghanistan's Helmand River into Iran has increased, it is still insufficient. Karzai, in turn, remarked on the rise in the number of Afghan drug addicts and called for international support in the counternarcotics campaign, and he discussed mutual cooperation in drug control. BS
IRAN REJECTS ACCUSATIONS OF SECRET NUCLEAR SITE
Iran's ambassador to the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA), Ali Akbar Salehi, told Reuters on 14 October that his country has "certainly not" hidden any facilities from the IAEA. "This piece of information is absolutely baseless." Salehi was reacting to accusations by the National Council of Resistance of Iran (NCRI), which is a front for the terrorist Mujahedin Khalq Organization, that a site called Isfahan's Fuel Research and Production Center has been built for the testing of centrifuges used for uranium enrichment. The facility allegedly is 15 kilometers east of Isfahan in central Iran. The NCRI spokesman claimed that Iran is "very likely" to have a nuclear weapon by 2005 if the international community does not stop Iran's clandestine nuclear program. A Western diplomat told Reuters that the NCRI has a mixed record of accuracy: "The IAEA has visited some sites the NCRI reported on this year," he said. "Some have turned out to be nuclear facilities and some have not. They do not have...100 percent accuracy." The IAEA did not comment on the NCRI claim, Reuters reported. BS
TEHRAN REJECTS REPORT THAT IT SUPPORTS AL-QAEDA
Government spokesman Abdullah Ramezanzadeh on 14 October rejected a report in a U.S. newspaper that Iranian government agencies are harboring Al-Qaeda personnel, AFP reported. "We have announced time and again that we will not allow these activities to take place in Iran. This is a decision taken by the highest officials in the country. The report is an absolute lie," he said. Ramezanzadeh accused Israel of disseminating this information, saying, "All the world's security services know that this report is not true, and it is very obvious that the newspaper has got its information from the Israeli lobbies." "The Washington Post" reported on 14 October that the Qods Force, which is the special-operations unit of the Islamic Revolution Guards Corps, is protecting about 25 Al-Qaeda leaders, including Saad bin Laden. Citing anonymous "U.S. and European intelligence officials," the daily asserted that Qods Force/Al-Qaeda ties can be traced to Sudan in the early 1990s, when the Iranians were establishing terrorist training camps there and Osama bin Laden was establishing his organization's infrastructure. BS
THOUSANDS WELCOME IRANIAN NOBEL LAUREATE
Nobel Peace Prize winner Shirin Ebadi returned to Tehran on 14 April and was greeted at the airport by relatives and "a number of Ms. Ebadi's friends," state radio initially reported. State radio added on 15 October that "tens" of Iranian and international correspondents were on hand, as were government spokesman Ramezanzadeh and parliamentarians. ISNA reported on 14 October that Vice President for Legal and Parliamentary Affairs Mohammad Ali Abtahi was there, too. Ebadi told a crowd at the airport: "The prize does not belong to me. It belongs to the Iranian nation. The significance of this prize lies in the fact that the world has heard the Iranian people's demand for human rights, democracy, and peace." Most significantly, perhaps, she said, "I would like to request the release of political prisoners." People at the airport chanted pro-Ebadi slogans, but there were protestors, too, with one bearing a placard that read, "When you see that the enemy is clapping for you, you should know that you have scored an own goal." DPA reported that "tens of thousands of jubilant fellow Iranians...rushed to the airport to welcome her." Reuters reported that 3,000 Iranians welcomed Ebadi. BS
IRANIAN PRESIDENT DISMISSIVE OF SIGNIFICANCE OF NOBEL PRIZE
President Hojatoleslam Mohammad Khatami on 14 October dismissed the significance of the first-ever awarding of a Nobel Peace Prize to a compatriot and derided the award as a political token, ILNA reported. "Do we have to issue an official message about whatever happens in the country?" he asked. "In my opinion, the Nobel Peace Prize is not very important. Of course, the prize for literature is important, but the one for peace is not." Scientific criteria are important for the other Nobel prizes, Khatami said, but, "in awarding the Nobel Peace Prize, political motives and criteria are involved." Khatami criticized the prize's import because it was previously awarded to Israeli Prime Ministers Menachem Begin and Shimon Peres, Egyptian President Anwar Sadat, and U.S. President Jimmy Carter. He added that the United States is the main threat to world peace. Rather than providing the full details of the president's comments, IRNA reported selectively, "Khatami expresses pleasure over Ebadi's Nobel Peace Prize success." "There is no one who does not delight in the success of his compatriot," Khatami said, adding, "I am also pleased that a compatriot has achieved such a success." BS
KURDISH LEADER, IN TEHRAN, CRITICIZES TURKEY
Patriotic Union of Kurdistan leader Jalal Talabani arrived in Iran on 13 October, news agencies reported, and he subsequently met with Expediency Council Chairman Ayatollah Ali Akbar Hashemi-Rafsanjani, President Khatami, and Foreign Minister Kamal Kharrazi. "Contrary to American claims, we have not witnessed any attempts by Iran to interfere in Iraqi affairs," Talabani said on his arrival at Tehran's Mehrabad Airport, Fars News Agency reported. "We have opened our doors to Iranian companies and we wish to have excellent relations with them." He added that the Iraqi Governing Council opposes the dispatch of Turkish troops to Iraq. Rafsanjani told Talabani that U.S. pressure on Turkey to provide troops is a sign that Washington is looking for a way out of the Iraqi "quagmire," IRNA reported on 14 October. Talabani responded that the United States wants to send more troops but this will not establish security in Iraq. Talabani said the money would be better spent on reconstruction. Kharrazi said the withdrawal of occupation forces is the only solution to problems in Iraq, IRNA reported on 14 October. BS
U.S. PRESENTS DRAFT IRAQ RESOLUTION TO UN...
The United States formally presented a draft resolution on Iraq to the UN Security Council on 14 October, international media reported (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 14 October 2003). "The draft outlines the process of returning as soon as possible full authority and responsibility to the people of Iraq," State Department spokesman Richard Boucher told a press conference in Washington on 14 October (http://www.usinfo.state.gov). According to washingtonpost.com on 15 October, Russia, France, and Germany have dropped their demand that the United States transfer power to a provisional Iraqi government in the near future. According to the website, they have also dropped their demand calling for the UN to play a central role in rebuilding Iraq. But the three states have called for a definitive timetable for the end of the U.S. occupation, and for a Security Council role in monitoring Iraq's political transition, the website reported. The draft was cosponsored by Cameroon, Spain, and the United Kingdom. KR
...AS SECRETARY-GENERAL SAYS NEW RESOLUTION NOT A 'MAJOR SHIFT'
UN Secretary-General Kofi Annan told reporters at the UN in a 14 October press conference that the new U.S. draft resolution on Iraq does not represent a "major shift" from the previous version floated by the United States, international media reported. The draft that was formally presented on 14 October was the third revision. "Obviously, the current resolution does not represent a major shift in the thinking of the coalition...of course I will implement any resolution that the council might adopt, bearing in mind the constraints that we are all aware of," Annan said. Asked about a phrase in the resolution that says that the Iraqi Governing Council will embody the sovereignty of Iraq, Annan said: "Well, it is a nice phrase, but the resolution also says that the occupying power is the authority, and is the government. So in my judgment, the occupying power is the government, will remain the government, whether this resolution is passed or not, until such time that power is fully handed over to the Iraqis. And I think the resolution recognizes that." KR
SUICIDE CAR BOMBER ATTACKS TURKISH EMBASSY IN BAGHDAD
A suicide car bomber detonated his vehicle outside the Turkish Embassy in Baghdad on 14 October, killing himself and injuring two embassy workers, international media reported. AP reported that hospital officials said as many as 13 were wounded in the incident. Preventive security measures implemented in recent days at the embassy likely protected embassy employees from sustaining serious injury or death, U.S. officials in Baghdad said. In Ankara, Deputy Prime Minister Mehmet Ali Sahin told reporters on 14 October, "I think that this attack is not an attack specially staged against Turkey and [the] Turkish Embassy," Anatolia news agency reported. Meanwhile, the news agency quoted Turkish Foreign Minister Abdullah Gul as telling reporters outside the Organization of the Islamic Conference's annual summit in Malaysia on 14 October, "This incident has once more showed the need for contributions of everybody to the settlement of stability and security in Iraq." The Turkish National Assembly voted last week to contribute up to 10,000 troops to peacekeeping efforts in Iraq. KR
SHI'ITE CLERIC SPEAKS TO PRESS ABOUT HIS SHADOW GOVERNMENT
Iraqi Shi'ite cleric Muqtada al-Sadr gave a press conference in Al-Najaf on 14 October regarding his newly formed shadow government in Iraq (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 14 October 2003), Al-Jazeera reported. Al-Sadr said that his government has found "credibility and support" abroad. Asked why he considers his shadow government more legitimate than the Iraqi Governing Council, since neither are elected governments, al-Sadr replied, "The Governing Council is subject to [a] U.S. veto. But, in our new government, there will be no submission to or veto by the occupation." Asked whether his formation of a shadow government should be considered an uprising, al-Sadr replied: "This could be an uprising, but it would be a peaceful uprising in which the Iraqi people would express their opinion, nothing more and nothing less." He added that his government will operate from Baghdad and Al-Najaf, but said he hoped the new Iraqi capital will someday be in Al-Najaf. KR