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Newsline - November 3, 2003

In his first interview since being appointed presidential administration head on 30 October, Dmitrii Medvedev said on 2 November that he has doubts about the Prosecutor-General's Office's freezing of $12 billion in Yukos shares (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 31 October 2003), RTR reported. "The legal effectiveness of such measures is not obvious," Medvedev said. "Our colleagues should...consider the economic consequences of the measures they take. This is a dangerous thing." Medvedev, who is a lawyer, warned against the "administrative zeal" of law enforcement organs, noting that President Vladimir Putin has emphasized the importance of strict compliance with the law. Medvedev said that all citizens should be held accountable before the law, but that the laws should not be applied selectively. He noted that there are cases currently pending not only against prominent executives, but against allegedly corrupt law enforcement officers as well. VY

Prime Minister Mikhail Kasyanov on 31 October said that he would refrain from commenting on the Yukos case, but added that he is "deeply concerned" by the freezing of the assets of a publicly traded company, RTR reported. Such moves are "a new phenomenon," and it is impossible to predict their consequences, Kasyanov said. On 27 October, President Putin asked government officials to refrain from commenting on the Yukos investigation (see "RFE/RL Newsline," DATE). VY

In an apparent attempt to reduce the tension around the Yukos matter, the Prosecutor-General's Office on 31 October announced that it has released a 4.5 percent block of Yukos shares that had earlier been frozen, Russian and Western media reported. A spokesperson said it had been determined that there are no criminal charges pending against the owner of those shares. The spokesman also noted that although the owners of the shares that remain frozen cannot sell or transfer them, they retain voting and dividend rights. VY

Yukos spokesman Yurii Shchadrin on 3 November declined to comment on a 2 November report in Britain's "Sunday Times" that arrested Yukos head Mikhail Khodorkovskii transferred the voting rights of his Yukos shares to British banker Lord Jacob Rothschild, Russian media reported. "We do not comment on exotic and anecdotal rumors," Shchadrin said. "The Moscow Times" on 3 November reported that Menatep spokesman Yurii Kotler denied the "Sunday Times" story and said that Khodorkovskii's shares have been turned over to a trust controlled by Yukos shareholder Leonid Nevzlin, who is now in Israel. Shchadrin also said on 3 November that Yukos is concerned by a 30 October decision by the Natural Resources Ministry to give the license to exploit the Talakan oilfields in the Sakha (Yakutia) Republic to Yukos competitor Surgutneftegaz. Previously, the fields were being developed by two Yukos affiliates. VY

Appearing together on ORT on 1 November, Motherland-National Patriotic Union head and State Duma Deputy Sergei Glazev and Yabloko leader and Duma Deputy Grigorii Yavlinskii agreed that the Yukos cases stem from Russia's oligarchic system that emerged in the 1990s and the perverse relations that system entails between business and the state. Glazev said that those who called upon President Putin to intervene following the 25 October arrest of Yukos head Khodorkovskii were, in fact, calling for the continuation of a system characterized by corruption and a cynical attitude toward the rule of law. He said that now only a court can establish Khodorkovskii's guilt or innocence and that, in general, major privatization deals should be subjected to the scrutiny of the courts. Otherwise, he added, the legitimacy of property rights will always remain in doubt, and there could be endless arbitration. Yavlinskii said that he opposes Khodorkovskii's arrest because he is not accused of any violent crimes and therefore should be allowed to remain at liberty through the investigation phase. He added that the problem of the botched 1990s privatizations cannot be resolved through repression, but only through radical systemic reforms. VY

During the same 1 November ORT program, Yavlinskii said that he does not agree with Glazev that the courts are able to resolve privatization disputes because the courts are also part of the entire system of corrupt crony capitalism. This system, Yavlinskii said, is characterized by a lack of civilian control over the law enforcement organs and a business community that has effectively melded into the state bureaucracy, the Duma, and the mass media. The first step toward breaking this system is adopting a package of legislation that Yabloko intends to introduce in the Duma soon, Yavlinskii said. This package includes a law that would declare all privatization deals valid unless they involved violent crimes such as murder. Privatized companies would also be required to pay all tax arrears, after which the matter of privatization would be closed forever. The second part of the Yabloko package includes legislation on removing "aggressive" big business from the country's political life, including boosting transparency in lobbying; anticorruption measures to insulate the presidential administration, the government, and the legislature from bribery; and new laws on political parties and public television. Finally, the package will also contain a strict new antimonopoly law designed to prevent "hungry" new oligarchs from seeking to take away property from the current oligarchs. VY

During the same 1 November ORT program, both Yavlinskii and Glazev rejected an appeal by tycoon Boris Berezovskii urging Yabloko, the Communist Party, and the Union of Rightist Forces (SPS) to boycott the 7 December parliamentary elections and next year's presidential election. Berezovskii's appeal appeared in "Kommersant-Daily" on 30 October and urged political parties not to participate in the elections in order to deprive them of legitimacy. Commenting on the appeal, Yavlinskii said there are many elements of the political system that are already illegitimate and Berezovskii's appeal would make the system even more lawless. Yavlinskii argued that Berezovskii is one of the architects of the current system and that his appeal seeks to preserve the status quo. VY

Igor Ivanov on 1 November reacted angrily to a 2 November statement by U.S. State Department spokesman Richard Boucher in which he said the Yukos situation "raised serious questions about the rule of law in Russia, and we've noted that it sparks concerns among domestic and international investors about respect for ownership rights in Russia," RTR reported. Boucher's statement was posted on the State Department's website ( Ivanov said Boucher's remarks are an example of interference in the functioning of the legal system of a foreign country and another manifestation of U.S. double standards. In recent years in the United States, there have been a number of high-profile bankruptcies and some company CEOs have been arrested, but the State Department did not express any concern over these cases, Ivanov said. "Washington likes to teach others," he said. VY

President Putin has signed a decree appointing Deputy Prime Minister and Industry and Science Minister Ilya Klebanov as presidential envoy to the Northwest Federal District, Russian media reported on 1 November. Klebanov replaces Valentina Matvienko, a former deputy prime minister who was elected governor of St. Petersburg in September. Klebanov was born in St. Petersburg and served as first deputy St. Petersburg governor from 1998 until Putin appointed him deputy prime minister in 1999. Klebanov's departure from the government has been rumored for some months, in part because his ministry is expected to lose many positions or even to be folded into another ministry during the government's long-awaited administrative reform (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 9 and 10 October 2003). JAC

A survey conducted by VTsIOM-A of Muscovites on 28-30 October found that 65 percent of respondents believe that the arrest of Yukos head Khodorkovskii was politically motivated, reported on 1 November. Sixteen percent of those surveyed said they believe prosecutors did not have a political agenda. Forty-six percent think the arrest signifies the beginning of a redistribution of property in Russia. In a survey conducted earlier by rival polling firm VTsIOM of respondents across Russia, the number of respondents who believe the legal assault against Yukos has nothing to do with politics increased since July, when Menatep head Platon Lebedev was arrested (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 31 October 2003). Meanwhile, an Internet poll conducted of almost 13,000 users on 28 October found that more than 72 percent think Khodorkovskii's imprisonment is not connected with the criminal charges against him. About one-third think Khodorkovskii's political ambitions are the reason for his arrest, while one-third think his arrest is part of a redistribution of property. JAC

Analyst Kirill Rogov, writing on on 31 October, argued that recent events such as the seizure of Yukos shares show that Russia is adopting the model of "Chinese totalitarian capitalism," which entails establishing "a tight monopoly by the state bureaucratic machine over political life and a loose monopoly over public life." According to Rogov, the appointment of Igor Shuvalov as deputy head of the presidential administration in charge of elaborating an economic program undercuts Economic Development and Trade Minister German Gref, since Gref has already elaborated an economic program. According to Rogov, ownership in Russia does not have the generally accepted meaning in the West. "Ownership is now a temporary right to conduct business and make a profit that is handed to a businessperson by the state and may be withdrawn or forcibly taken away at any moment," Rogov wrote. JAC

Likewise, the 30 October appointments of Medvedev as presidential administration head and of Dmitrii Kozak as his first deputy should be seen as a strengthening of the siloviki, even though the two men are not direct representatives of that grouping, Rogov wrote on on 31 October. Medvedev and Kozak are technical managers, and neither "over the last four years or so has given any reason to believe that he could be a key figure in a political or administrative structure." JAC

The government is studying the possibility of simplifying the procedure for dismissing governors, Interfax reported on 31 October, citing the government's information department. The government is "examining the possibility of amending legislation so that it would be possible to temporarily relieve [elected] regional leaders from their posts" in such instances as when a region goes bankrupt or "when a governor's irresponsible activity leads to regions freezing during the winter." The government issued its statement following a remark from Unified Russia co-Chairman and Emergency Situations Minister Sergei Shoigu that such dismissals should be made easier. In 2000, President Putin signed a law making it possible to remove governors who violated federal laws on more than one occasion, but so far the law has not been put to use (see "RFE/RL Russian Federation Report," 24 May 2000). JAC

President Putin on 1 November met near Moscow with Czech President Vaclav Klaus for talks on bilateral relations, Russian media reported. Putin said that Russia is making progress in improving relations with the European Union and with many Central European countries, but added that Russia-Czech relations have lagged behind. Klaus, who speaks fluent Russian, said that he is ready to do everything in his power to correct this situation. He said that he regrets that because of his country's expected entry into the European Union next year, it has had to introduce visas for Russian citizens. However, he expressed the hope that as an EU member, the Czech Republic will become even more attractive to Russian business. VY

St. Petersburg police on 1 November arrested five Yabloko activists who were collecting signatures outside of the city election commission building, taking away one activist's camera and exposing the film inside, RosBalt reported. The activists were calling for the resignation of the commission's chairman in response to a 30 October commission decision to cancel the registration of State Duma Deputy Yulii Rybakov (independent) as a candidate in the city's 206th single-mandate district for the 7 December State Duma race. The commission charged that Rybakov violated campaign-spending regulations. Maksim Reznik, leader of the St. Petersburg branch of Yabloko, told RosBalt that the decision to cancel Rybakov's registration is connected with the Yukos case and "the beginning of political repression." Rybakov has represented the 206th district in the last three Dumas. He joined Liberal Russia when it was first started and was actively involved in the airing of the film "Assault on Russia," about the 1999 apartment-building bombings in Moscow and other cities. Last year, Rybakov told reporters in Moscow that unidentified men beat up three of his employees, and he has said that two criminal groups in St. Petersburg have issued orders to kill him (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 21 March 2002). JAC

Akhmad-hadji Kadyrov, who was named winner of the controversial 5 October Chechen presidential election, told Interfax on 31 October that he and Ingushetia's President Murat Zyazikov both advocate asking the people of their respective republics to vote in referendums on the restoration of a joint territorial formation. The Soviet-era Checheno-Ingush ASSR was split into two separate republics in the summer of 1992. Kadyrov said he has discussed the issue with Zyazikov, who "told me he is not against a Chechen-Ingush Republic." But RIA-Novosti on 30 October quoted Zyazikov as saying the issue is outdated and irrelevant and that he "does not support" the idea of reunification, according to (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 10 October 2002 and 15 and 23 October 2003). LF

Addressing a congress of his National Accord Party on 31 October, Artashes Geghamian accused the Artarutiun election bloc headed by People's Party of Armenia Chairman Stepan Demirchian of undermining his chances in the 19 February presidential ballot by distributing leaflets on the eve of the ballot claiming he had pulled out of the race, RFE/RL's Yerevan bureau reported. According to official returns, which he questioned, Geghamian placed third with 17 percent after incumbent President Robert Kocharian (49.8 percent) and Demirchian (28.3 percent). Geghamian also poured scorn on Artarutiun's tactic of convening mass protest rallies. He again said he considers Kocharian an illegitimate president whose second-round election victory was falsified by Defense Minister Serzh Sarkisian, Noyan Tapan reported on 31 October. LF

Andranik Markarian told a meeting of senior Armenian and diaspora clerics in Echmiadzin on 31 October that his government will continue to promote the "role and significance" of the Armenian Apostolic Church, RFE/RL's Yerevan bureau reported. Markarian called for consolidation around the church to prevent the spread of other religious groups that he described as "alien to the Armenian national character," but at the same time ruled out any state pressure on or discrimination against such groups. In September 2002, Markarian argued that preventing the spread of "dangerous sects" that threaten national security should take priority over compliance with international human rights commitments, including those Armenia has made to the Council of Europe (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 19 September 2002). LF

An unspecified number of members of the Karabakh Liberation Organization, which advocates a military campaign to restore Azerbaijani hegemony over the unrecognized Nagorno-Karabakh Republic, on 31 October tried to picket the Baku hotel where an Armenian delegation headed by Deputy Foreign Minister Ruben Shugharian was staying, but were dispersed by police, Turan reported. The Armenian delegation was attending a one-day meeting of the Black Sea Economic Cooperation, of which Azerbaijan is currently chairman. Shugharian told Azerbaijani journalists later on 31 October that Armenia and Azerbaijan could cooperate in such areas as ecology, combating organized crime and international terrorism, and the use of water resources. LF

Ilham Aliyev was inaugurated as president of Azerbaijan on 31 October, swearing on the Koran and the Constitution of the Azerbaijan Republic to protect the country's independence and territorial integrity, RFE/RL's Azerbaijani Service reported. In a 30-minute address before foreign dignitaries including Georgian President Eduard Shevardnadze, Ukrainian Prime Minister Viktor Yanukovych, and Russian Foreign Minister Igor Ivanov, Aliyev pledged to continue the policies espoused by his father, outgoing President Heidar Aliyev, which he summarized as "peace, order, progress, development, creation, and stability," Turan reported. Ilham Aliyev told journalists on 1 November that his offer of dialogue with the opposition remains in force, but that he will not reiterate it indefinitely. Turan reported on 1 November that Heidar Aliyev had issued a decree releasing his son from his post as prime minister, and that Ilham Aliyev has dismissed the government which will, however, continue in office until a new cabinet is unveiled. LF

Voting in the 2 November Georgian parliamentary elections was marred by chaos and numerous reported violations, Georgian and international media reported. Up to 10 percent of voters, including opposition National Movement (EM) Chairman Mikhail Saakashvili, found their names were omitted from electoral rolls, but they were nonetheless permitted to cast ballots upon producing reliable identification in line with a ruling the previous day by Central Election Commission Chairwoman Nana Devdariani. Some polling stations in Kutaisi opened late, and remained open for an additional two hours after polls closed elsewhere so that all those waiting in line would be able to vote. Observers from the NGO Fair Elections were reportedly assaulted at polling stations in Tkibuli and Ninotsminda, Caucasus Press reported. Ballot-box stuffing was reported in Akhmeta, unidentified people smashed ballot boxes in Rustavi, and a ballot box was stolen in Mtskheta. Interior Minister Koba Narchemashvili characterized the atmosphere as tense and said additional police had been deployed and several persons arrested for election-related infringements. LF

In a letter to President Shevardnadze summarized by Caucasus Press on 2 November, U.S. President George W. Bush stressed that Georgia's friends in the United States and the Euro-Atlantic community are convinced that "the people of Georgia are capable of holding elections in a free, fair, peaceful, and transparent atmosphere." He wrote that while one election "cannot settle all problems,, fair, and democratic elections can give an impulse to democratic reforms...that will lead the country to prosperity." Meeting in Strasbourg with Georgian Deputy Foreign Minister Kakha Sikharulidze, Council of Europe Secretary-General Walter Schwimmer similarly urged the Georgian government to ensure that the 2 November poll meets the council's standards, Interfax reported. LF

With some 12 percent of the vote counted, the pro-presidential For a New Georgia (AS) bloc had polled 27.8 percent of the vote, followed by Saakashvili's EM (23.1 percent), the Labor Party (16.1 percent), the Burdjanadze-Democrats bloc (9.5 percent), and the New Rightists (8 percent), Caucasus Press and ITAR-TASS reported on 3 November. Gogi Topadze of the Industry Will Save Georgia bloc told Caucasus Press on 2 November that his party polled at least 10 percent. The minimum required for parliamentary representation is 7 percent of the proportional vote. Voter turnout was estimated at 50 percent, the minimum requirement for the election to be valid being 30 percent. That turnout also validated the simultaneous referendum, in which voters were required to approve or reject a proposed reduction in the number of parliament deputies from 235 to 150, effective in 2007. LF

According to exit polls conducted at the request of the independent television station Rustavi-2, Saakashvili's EM won the election with 20.8 percent of the vote, followed by AS with 12.9 percent, Labor (12.8 percent), the Burdjanadze-Democrats bloc (7.6 percent), Adjar Supreme Council Chairman Aslan Abashidze's Revival Union (6.2 percent), the New Rightists (6 percent), and Industry Will Save Georgia (2 percent). After the exit-poll findings were announced, Saakashvili threatened to convene nationwide protests if the government attempts to falsify the election outcome, Caucasus Press reported on 3 November. Another leading member of EM, David Berdzenishvili, appealed to other opposition parties to join forces to fight what he called falsification by the government of the outcome of the ballot. He said if President Shevardnadze refuses to acknowledge the true election results, he will meet the same fate as did former Yugoslav President Slobodan Milosevic. Djumber Patiashvili of the opposition Ertoba bloc described the ballot to Caucasus Press on 2 November as "an insult to the Georgian people." LF

Georgian State Security Minister Valeri Khaburzania told a press briefing on 2 November that his men discovered a cache of weapons, including hand grenades, antitank shells, and 22 kilograms of explosives, near the town of Mtskheta, Georgian media reported. Khaburzania said the arms, which he claimed were hidden a month ago, were intended for mining the territory adjacent to President Shevardnadze's official residence, and the hand grenades were to be thrown into crowds at polling stations. It is not clear whether he explained to journalists how his men reached that conclusion. LF

Nursultan Nazarbaev has signed a decree doubling the annual immigration quota for ethnic Kazakhs wanting to move to their historic homeland, reported on 1 November. Next year, the quota will be raised to 10,000 families per year. Officials have suggested raising the number of ethnic Kazakhs allowed to move to Kazakhstan as a means to counter the country's population decline since independence. The population has fallen from about 16 million to under 15 million in 2002. Nazarbaev and others have warned that Kazakhstan does not have the manpower to carry out the country's modernization plans (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 22 August 2003). According to the Kazakh Agency for Migration and Demography, the country has accepted 270,000 ethnic Kazakh immigrants since independence, many more than the official quota, but those who came in beyond the quota did not receive government benefits. BB

Kazakhstan and NATO will continue to cooperate on existing projects, but at present do not intend to launch any new ones, representatives of the Kazakh Foreign Ministry and the alliance said at a conference in Almaty on 30 October, reported. The conference, entitled "NATO and Central Asia: Regional and National Security and Strategic Partnership," was sponsored by the Foreign Ministry, the international affairs faculty of al-Farabi National University in Almaty, and the NATO public-affairs department, and was attended by academics and international-affairs specialists from Central Asian and some Western countries. According to a report on the conference in the weekly "Panorama," No. 42, a number of Kazakh experts expressed doubts that the increasing presence of NATO in Central Asia is as beneficial as its proponents assert. However, Kyrgyz political scientist Nur Omarov noted that Central Asian relations with NATO are still in process of formation. The alliance's antiterrorism efforts, he said, are having a positive effect on the region's perceptions of it. BB

Askar Akaev met with former Finnish President Marti Ahtisaari, who is the personal representative of the OSCE's chairman in office, on 1 November in Bishkek to assess the current state of cooperation between the OSCE and Kyrgyzstan, "Obshchestvennyi reiting" reported. This was Ahtisaari's second trip to Kyrgyzstan since his appointment earlier this year. Akaev told Ahtisaari that Kyrgyzstan is one of the most active of the OSCE member states in terms of working with the organization, and he called particular attention to two of his favorite OSCE projects: the creation of an OSCE Academy in Kyrgyzstan to provide higher education in law, human rights, and other OSCE-relevant subjects and a project to help modernize the Kyrgyz Interior Ministry (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 8, 12, and 14 August 2003). The latter has drawn severe criticism from the Kyrgyz opposition, which fears it will provide the basis for the more-effective repression of citizens seeking to assert their rights. BB

Several suspects have recently been arrested for the September 2002 attempted murder of National Security Council Secretary Misir Ashyrkulov, Bishkek police chief Keneshbek Duishebaev told the newspaper "Aalam" on 31 October, Interfax reported the same day (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 9 September 2002). Duishebaev said the "main suspect" has undergone a psychiatric examination and is currently undergoing treatment. He said investigation of the case was delayed because unspecified material evidence had to be sent to Moscow for examination by forensic experts there, as Kyrgyzstan lacks the requisite facilities. LF

The case of Jamal and Co., a Dushanbe firm that allegedly cheated thousands of Tajik citizens out of thousands of dollars through a pyramid scheme based on bead stringing, has been referred by the Prosecutor-General's Office directly to the Supreme Court on 30 October, Asia Plus-Blitz reported on 1 November, quoting Deputy Prosecutor-General Azizmat Imomov. The firm's top managers were arrested on 15 August (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 18 August 2003), and the firm has been forced by the authorities to return sums up to $1,000 to investors in the scheme. However, some individuals reportedly invested up to $10,000 in the scheme (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 27 August 2003). According to Asia Plus-Blitz, the firm's officials could be sentenced to five to 10 years in prison for illegal banking activities. BB

Tajik law enforcement officials reported on 2 November that they have arrested a couple in northern Tajikistan's Sughd Oblast who were allegedly attempting to traffic local young women to the United Arab Emirates, ITAR-TASS reported. The pair promised the women jobs as cleaning women or waitresses, but the women they recruited were actually intended for UAE brothels, according to the police. The Dushanbe office of the International Organization for Migration reported that, since the beginning of the year, more than 100 young women are known to have been trafficked from Tajikistan to various Arab countries and Russia, and about 10 recruitment firms such as the one in Sughd have been discovered. BB

An unusual picket took place in front of the British Embassy in Tashkent on 31 October, reported. About 20 members of several Uzbek human rights groups and the unregistered Erk and Birlik parties held signs supporting British Ambassador Craig Murray. Since his appointment in 2002, Murray has become a favorite with the Uzbek human rights community for irritating the government with his sharp criticism of Uzbekistan's human rights record. Murray was recalled to Great Britain earlier this year, officially for medical treatment. However, Uzbek activists insist Murray's recall was demanded by the Uzbek government. The 31 October picket was organized in response to a picket of the embassy on 29 October by the former head of the Independent Human Rights Society of Uzbekistan, Mikhail Ardzinov, who attacked Murray for his criticism of U.S. actions in Iraq. BB

President Alyaksandr Lukashenka said on 31 October that acting Prime Minister Syarhey Sidorski's cabinet -- some three months after the replacement of the prime minister and top agriculture officials -- has failed to become a team, Belapan reported. Sidorski was reporting to Lukashenka on the cabinet's January-September performance. Lukashenka blamed the cabinet for failing to curb food prices and fees for communications and transport services, noting that prices have outpaced real incomes. JM

President Lukashenka said in a prerecorded television program broadcast by Russia's NTV on 31 October that the Kremlin's purported proposal that Belarus accede to the Russian Federation as its 90th subject is unacceptable, Belapan reported. According to Lukashenka, Russian President Vladimir Putin made such a proposal during their last meeting, in Sochi in mid-September (see "RFE/RL Poland, Belarus, and Ukraine Report," 16 and 23 September 2003). "I told Vladimir Vladimirovich [Putin]: Do you want to get another Chechnya in the west of the country, our former Fatherland?" Lukashenka said. JM

A forum of democratic forces planned by Viktor Yushchenko's Our Ukraine in Donetsk for 31 October did not take place due to an apparently coordinated attempt to prevent the gathering and fan anti-Yushchenko sentiments in the city (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 31 October 2003), Ukrainian media reported. The planned venue was filled by some 2,000 people shouting anti-Yushchenko slogans, while many groups staged anti-Yushchenko rallies in the city and the city itself was adorned with billboards carrying an image of Yushchenko extending his hand in a Nazi salute and calling for the "purity of the nation." "What is going on now is a pathological situation [provoked by] the authorities," Interfax quoted Yushchenko as saying in Donetsk. A rally of several hundred Yushchenko supporters in Donetsk passed a resolution proposing him as a candidate in the 2004 presidential election. JM

Some 15,000 people took part in a forum of supporters of democracy that was organized by Our Ukraine in Lviv on 1 November, Interfax reported. Yushchenko told the crowd, which was gathered in front of the regional-administration building, that he believes it is possible for democratic forces to field a single candidate in the 2003 presidential ballot. Yushchenko assured participants that draft bills aimed at amending the constitution in order to empower the Verkhovna Rada to elect a president will not be accepted. JM

President Leonid Kuchma has proposed deputy parliamentary speaker Hennadiy Vasilyev to the Verkhovna Rada for approval as the country's new prosecutor-general, Interfax reported on 3 November, quoting presidential spokeswoman Olena Hromnytska. Kuchma sacked the previous prosecutor-general, Svyatoslav Piskun, last week (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 30 October 2003). "Changing the loyal prosecutor-general for a more loyal one testifies to the fact that the authorities intend to transform the Prosecutor-General's Office into a 'punishing sword of the party,' as it was in 1937," Our Ukraine leader Yushchenko alleged on 1 November. Yushchenko did not rule out that Piskun's sacking might have been linked to "new circumstances" in the case of slain journalist Heorhiy Gongadze. Vasilyev, born in 1953, was elected to the legislature in a single-seat constituency in Donetsk Oblast in 2002. He had served in two previous parliaments. He was chief prosecutor in Donetsk Oblast in 1991-96 and again in 1997-98. JM

Approximately 85 percent of the population favors the direct election of the president, with 11 percent opposed and 4 percent undecided, BNS reported on 31 October, citing a poll conducted in early October by the EMOR research company. Most of those polled also said they believe the president should have greater powers. Nearly half of the poll's respondents were unable to name a suitable presidential candidate, but the leading choices were President Arnold Ruutel (16 percent), Reform Party Chairman Siim Kallas (8 percent), parliament speaker Toomas Savi (5 percent), and Center Party Chairman Edgar Savisaar (4 percent). A bill calling for direct presidential elections passed its first reading in September with 71 of the 101 parliament deputies voting in favor. The second reading is scheduled for January. The ruling coalition has also suggested that a referendum on amending the constitution to allow direct presidential elections in 2006 should be held on 13 June 2004 simultaneously with the Europarliament elections. SG

President Vaira Vike-Freiberga, Defense Minister Girts Valdis Kristovskis, National Armed Forces commander Gaidis Andrejs Zeibots, and other officials participated in ceremonies in eastern Latvia to inaugurate a new long-range 3D radar system, BNS reported. The NATO-standard radar will be stationed in Rezekne in the district of Audrini. "Today we are launching a facility that is very important to guaranteeing Latvia's security," Vike-Freiberga said. The radar system is part of the BALTNET airspace surveillance system, which in Latvia also includes radars at the Ventspils airport and in Lielvarde, some 100 kilometers southeast of Riga. The TPS-117 radar system, which cost Latvia more than 12 million euros ($13.9 million), monitors a radius of 450 kilometers. SG

Algirdas Brazauskas said on Lithuanian television on 1 November that those officials named in a classified State Security Department document as having ties with international criminal organizations should resign, BNS reported on 3 November. The authenticity of the document, which was published in a special issue of the daily "Respublika" on 1 November, has not been confirmed or denied. The officials named include presidential National Security Adviser Remigijus Acas, State Border Guard Service head Algimantas Songaila, and Liberal Democrat parliament deputy Egidijus Skarbalius. The published report alleges that the three officials have visited apartments in Vilnius owned by alleged Russian crime boss Anzor Aksentev. The board of the parliament decided on 31 October to call a special closed parliamentary session on 3 November to form a parliamentary commission to investigate possible threats to national security. SG

Warsaw hopes that Polish companies will be admitted to contracts for the rebuilding of Iraq, PAP reported 31 October, quoting Boguslaw Zalewski, undersecretary of state in the Foreign Ministry. Zalewski said that among 90 companies that applied for such contracts, 15 have a good chance of being accepted. Meanwhile, a poll conducted by the CBOS polling center on 3-6 October found that support among Poles for the presence of Polish troops in Iraq is falling, with 37 percent of respondents backing the mission and 57 percent against it. JM

Five countries responded by the 31 October deadline to the Czech government's invitation to submit bids for its proposed purchase of 14 used supersonic jet fighters, dpa and CTK reported, citing Defense Ministry spokeswoman Jana Jelinkova. The five bidders are Belgium, Canada, the Netherlands, Sweden, and the United States. France, Germany, Great Britain, and Turkey turned down invitations to bid. The jets are to be used for air defense until a new fleet can be procured in five to 10 years. Defense Minister Miroslav Kostelka said the government wants to spend at least 4.5 billion crowns ($166 million) over the contract's first three years, starting in 2005, and 3 billion to 4 billion crowns annually in subsequent years. According to dpa, Belgium, the Netherlands, and the United States, have each offered to sell their older F-16 Fighting Falcon jets, while Canada is interested in selling FA-18 Hornets and Sweden is offering JAS-39 Gripen jets. Citing the daily "Pravo," CTK reported on 1 November that the Swedish offer is for new fighter jets at the price of used jets. Last year, Prague cancelled a deal for the purchase of 24 British-Swedish made Gripens due to budgetary shortages. MS

President Vaclav Klaus, in an interview with the daily "Mlada fronta Dnes" on 1 November, said that if a referendum on the envisaged European constitution is called, he would not hesitate to recommend how people should vote, CTK reported. Although Klaus stopped short of indicating what his recommendation would be, he reiterated criticism of the envisaged constitution, saying he doubts whether it would be right to create in Europe "an artificial transnational entity aiming at sharply cutting the role played by nation states." He added: "My reply [to these questions] is radical and absolute: no." Prime Minister Vladimir Spidla has promised to hold a referendum on the European constitution after its approval by politicians, but this would require that parties reach an agreement on the way the plebiscite should be worded, which CTK said was doubtful. MS

Foreign Minister Cyril Svoboda, speaking on TV Prima on 2 November, ruled out any political negotiations with Germany on the expulsion from Czechoslovakia of the Sudeten Germans at the end of World War II, AP reported. Svoboda said the government stands by the joint 1997 German-Czech declaration aimed at the reconciliation of the two neighboring countries. That declaration "says we will not burden our [current] relations by issues of the past. It is possible to debate what happened, but in no way to negotiate," he said. MS

Visiting Norwegian Prime Minister Kjell Magne Bondevik said on 31 October that his country is interested in having the agreement on the enlargement of the European Economic Area (EEA) signed as soon as possible and is using its diplomatic contacts for this purpose, CTK reported. Bondevik spoke after talks with his Czech counterpart Spidla. For his part, Spidla said that reaching an agreement is a matter of days or weeks at the most. The main obstacle to the agreement is the Czech and Slovak republics' dispute with Liechtenstein over the expropriation of property and the deportation of members of Liechtenstein's royal family in the wake of the 1946 Benes Decrees (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 15 October 2003). The EEA includes the EU countries plus Norway, Iceland, and Liechtenstein, which are part of both the common market and the Schengen agreements. TASR reported on 2 November that the foreign ministers of the Czech Republic, Slovakia, Norway, and Iceland met in Prague on the same day to seek a solution to Liechtenstein's recent veto on the enlargement of the EEA. MS

Alliance for a New Citizen (ANO) Chairman Pavol Rusko said on 2 November that a fifth parliamentary-deputy-speaker position should be created as a means of getting out of the current deadlock, TASR reported (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 30 and 31 October 2003). Rusko, whose deputy Lubomir Lintner twice failed last week to get enough votes to be elected to the post because coalition members did not back him, said the fifth post should go to the opposition Smer party. A day earlier, Rusko said he would propose a solution in which both opposition and the ruling coalition would back each other's candidates for the post. Hungarian Coalition Party (SMK) Chairman Bela Bugar called Rusko's proposal "unconsidered," while Tomas Galbavy, who represents the Slovak Democratic and Christian Union (SDKU) in parliament, said the proposal was "premature." MS

The Central Association of Jewish Religious Communities in Slovakia released a statement on 2 November calling on Prime Minister Mikulas Dzurinda to take "a clear stand" on the allegation that the Slovak Information Service (SIS) is employing anti-Semitic criteria in its work, TASR reported (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 30 October 2003). In the press release, the association said that there is "no reason for people [placed] under surveillance to be categorized according to their ethnic origin or religious affiliation." The association also expressed concern that Ladislav Pittner, who heads the SIS and is a former interior minister, was allegedly "known for using anti-Semitic expressions and [expressing] sympathy for the [Nazi-allied] World War II Slovak state." MS

FIDESZ candidate Laszlone Faky on 2 November announced her withdrawal from the mayor's race in the northeastern Hungarian town of Demecser, claiming she has recently received a number of death threats, the MTI news agency reported. A local court had ordered that new elections be held on 16 November after ruling that the Socialist Party broke the law in connection with the 19 October balloting. Faky is the widow of the town's former mayor, whose death prompted the by-election. Faky lost the October poll to Gyula Kiss, a joint candidate of the Socialists, the Free Democrats, and the Alliance for Demecser. Socialist parliamentary group leader Ildiko Lendvai called Faky's withdrawal "a farce, as FIDESZ did not dare launch its candidate again, as she clearly does not have a chance to win," "Nepszabadsag" reported. MSZ

A six-week operation aimed at rounding up illegally possessed weapons began under the slogan "Amnesty for Weapons" on 1 November, MIA news agency reported. Citizens may hand over their illegal arms at 123 collection points throughout the country, with no questions asked. Individuals found to be in possession of illegal arms will face harsh punishment after the operation concludes on 15 December. Various estimates put the number of privately owned arms at 100,000-500,000 in a country with a population of 2 million, RFE/RL's Macedonian broadcasters reported (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 22, 23, and 30 October 2003 and "RFE/RL Balkan Report," 29 August 2003). UB

Prime Minister Branko Crvenkovski announced on 1 November that four ministers will be replaced, adding that mistakes were made in filling the current cabinet, "Dnevnik" reported. "[Our] priority was not to achieve results, but to avoid mistakes," Crvenkovski said. He added that little has been achieved to attract foreign investment or to curb unemployment. Finance Minister Petar Gosev of the Liberal Democrats (LDP) will be replaced by parliamentary speaker Nikola Popovski of the Social Democratic Union (SDSM). Stevco Jakimovski (LDP) will take over the Economy Ministry from Ilija Filipovski (SDSM). Deputy parliamentary speaker Agron Buxhaku of the Democratic Union for Integration (BDI) is to head the Transport and Communications Ministry instead of incumbent Milaim Ajdini (BDI). Finally, Constitutional Judge and former Justice Minister Hixhet Mehmeti will take over the Justice Ministry from Ismail Darlishta (BDI). UB

Serbia and Montenegro's Foreign Minister Goran Svilanovic told Tanjug on 2 November that prosecutors from the Hague-based international war crimes tribunal are investigating former Croatian Serb leader Milan Babic and the former Yugoslav Army chief of General Staff, retired General Blagoje Adzic. Svilanovic said he does not know whether the tribunal plans to issue indictments against Adzic and Babic. In February, a Croatian court indicted Adzic in conjunction with the destruction of Vukovar (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 24 February 2003). Babic testified in The Hague against Slobodan Milosevic in December 2002 (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 2 October and 9 December 2002). UB

Authorities in Montenegro began a formal census on 1 November, RFE/RL's South Slavic and Albanian languages service reported. Census takers will collect data on the number of citizens, households, migration processes, and the population's ethnic composition. In August, the pro-Belgrade People's Party vowed to attempt to persuade Montenegrins to declare themselves Serbs in the census. The census is likely to revive a century-old dispute among Montenegrins as to whether they are a distinct nation or a branch of the Serbian people. Preliminary results on the population's ethnic, religious, and linguistic composition are expected at the end of November (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 26 August 2003 and "RFE/RL Balkan Report," 19 January 2001). UB

At their meeting in Podgorica on 31 October, the interior ministers of Albania, Macedonia, and Montenegro joined representatives of the UN civilian administration in Kosova (UNMIK) in signing a regional agreement on combating organized crime, the "Southeast European Times" reported. UB

Speaking with Romanian journalists in Dakar, Senegal, President Ion Iliescu denied that U.S. President George W. Bush demanded during their recent meeting in Washington that he dismiss some members of the government, Romanian Radio reported on 2 November. Iliescu described the allegations, which were reported in a Romanian weekly, as "a lie" and said the U.S. administration would never "dare" make such a suggestion regarding an "internal Romanian governmental affair." In Bucharest on 31 October, Social Democratic Party Secretary-General Octav Cozmanca said ministers whose public image negatively reflects on the cabinet as a whole should leave the government, the private Antena 1 reported. Media have recently reported that the European Commission's country-evaluation report due to be released this week is critical of Romania's judiciary and internal-affairs system, spurring speculation that Justice Minister Rodica Stanoiu's and Internal Affairs Minister Ioan Rus's days in office are numbered. Cozmanca said Prime Minister Adrian Nastase will discuss the ministers' futures upon his return from Brazil. MS

Visiting Romanian Foreign Minister Mircea Geoana and his Portuguese counterpart Teresa Patricio Gouveia signed an agreement in Lisbon on 1 November stipulating the setting up of the Romanian-Portuguese Forum on European Integration, Mediafax reported. According to the agreement, Portugal is to share with Romania its expertise on European integration. Geoana, who accompanied President Iliescu on his recent visit to Lisbon (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 31 October 2003), said Romania intends to sign similar agreements with Greece, Ireland, and Spain, as well as with countries awaiting EU membership. MS

The Greater Romania Party (PRM) on 31 October initiated a judicial complaint against all members of the recently established Szekler National Council, Mediafax and Romanian Radio reported (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 29 October 2003). The PRM is also demanding that Hungarian Democratic Federation of Romania (UDMR) parliamentary deputy Zsolt Szilagy, a member of the council, be expelled from the legislature for "undermining nationhood" and that UDMR Targu-Mures Deputy Mayor Imre Fodor be investigated for having allegedly called for "Romania's territorial dismemberment" on posters displayed in that town. On 1 November, the National Liberal Party's (PNL) leadership said it is firmly opposed to any attempt to bring about "regionalization based on ethnic criteria." PNL Chairman Theodor Stolojan said the attempt to establish an autonomous Szekler region "will never be backed by the PNL" and is "an attack on Romania's constitution." MS

William Hill, OSCE mission chief to Moldova, confirmed on 31 October that a compromise proposal aimed at bridging differences between Chisinau and Tiraspol has been worked out by the three mediators of the conflict (Russia, Ukraine, and the OSCE) and handed to the two sides, RFE/RL's Chisinau bureau reported. AFP cited Hill as saying the mediators were asked by both Moldova and Transdniester to work out the proposal and that the recommendations they made pertain to the envisaged federal constitution, the division of authority within the federal structure, and "guarantees for the conflict's resolution." According to ITAR-TASS, Hill also said it is not possible for the Russian troops and armament to be withdrawn from Transdniester before the end of 2004, but that the withdrawal could be completed by the first half of 2005. MS

Claus Neukirch, OSCE mission spokesman, said on 31 October that Gagauz-Yeri could also become a subject of the envisaged federation, Flux reported. Neukirch said that under the compromise worked out by the mediators, the federation would have an "asymmetrical structure with a very clear delineation of jurisdiction" between Chisinau and Tiraspol. He also said the envisaged compromise stipulates that the federation's state language would be "Moldovan written with Latin characters," but that its "official languages" will be "established during negotiations." Neukirch denied that the proposed compromise is based on a "secret plan" allegedly worked out between OSCE mission chief Hill and Russian presidential deputy chief of staff Dmitrii Kozak, as claimed by the opposition Popular Party Christian Democratic (PPCD). He said that Kozak did not represent Russia on the team of mediators, and declined to comment on Kozak's recent visits to Chisinau and Tiraspol. Neukirch described as "demagogic" statements by PPCD leaders Iurie Rosca and Vlad Cubreacov suggesting that the compromise would turn Moldova into "a Russian protectorate under OSCE mandate." MS

Parliament on 31 October canceled legislation approved earlier this year under which pre-shipment inspection (PSI) of goods imported into Moldova would have been resumed within one month after the publication of the law in parliament's official gazette, Infotag reported. The resumption of PSI was one of the conditions imposed by the International Monetary Fund (IMF) and was included in an agreement signed between the Moldovan government and the fund. Economy Minister Marian Lupu said the IMF has not resumed lending to Moldova and that the enforcement of the law on PSI is merely being postponed. PPCD parliamentary deputy Eugen Garla called the decision "an attempt to blackmail the IMF" and "a disgrace to parliament." Lupu responded that Moldova is merely defending its dignity. MS

Parliament on 31 October approved the first reading of a draft law that would circumvent the requirement that only the "state language" be used in legislation, allowing six economic acts to be written in "Moldovan or Russian," RFE/RL's Chisinau bureau reported. The legislation affected pertains to the registration of trademarks and licenses. The opposition voted against the draft, saying it places the Russian language at an advantage over other minority languages. MS

Incumbent Sofia Mayor Stefan Sofiyanski (Union of Liberal Democrats) was re-elected on 2 November in the city's second-round mayoral election, reported. According to preliminary results, Sofiyanski, who was supported by all major conservative forces, garnered about 54 percent of the votes, while his opponent, Stoyan Aleksandrov (nominated by the Bulgarian Socialist Party, or BSP), received some 46 percent. In the country's second-largest city, Plovdiv, incumbent Mayor Ivan Chomakov of the conservative Union of Democratic Forces (SDS) prevailed over his competitor, Zahari Georgiev (BSP). SDS candidates also won in the cities of Montana, Pleven, Pernik, Shumen, Veliko Tarnovo, Vidin, and Yambol. BSP candidates will become mayors of Gabrovo, Lovech, Pazardzhik, Razgrad, and Smolyan. The governing National Movement Simeon II (NDSV) won the mayoral race in Dobrich and Kyustendil, while independent candidates prevailed in Blagoevgrad, Haskovo, and Vratsa (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 27, 29, and 30 October 2003, and End Note, "RFE/RL Newsline," 30 October 2003). UB

BSP Chairman Sergey Stanishev on 2 November described the results of the recent mayoral and local elections as a success for his party, noting that the BSP, the New Left, and the BSP-dominated Coalition for Bulgaria took more seats on local councils than the governing NDSV, its coalition partner Movement for Rights and Freedoms (DPS), and the opposition SDS combined, reported. Stanishev singled out the BSP's performances in Sofia and Plovdiv, traditionally conservative strongholds in which the BSP candidates reached the second round before falling to incumbent mayors, as particularly encouraging for his party. Meanwhile, SDS Chairwoman Nadezhda Mihailova commented that the country's conservative forces prevented the BSP from gaining power. She said the SDS leadership will assess the election results at the end of November and subsequently decide on what future course the party will take. Leading members of the ruling NDSV said a critical in-depth analysis of the results must be made. DPS Chairman Ahmed Dogan said the results show that neither the SDS nor the BSP will be able to form a majority in any future parliament. UB


After almost a week of speculation, Russian President Vladimir Putin on 30 October accepted the resignation of presidential-administration head Aleksander Voloshin. Voloshin tendered his resignation as a direct result of the arrest of Yukos CEO Mikhail Khodorkovskii. While the Khodorkovskii-Yukos story has drawn international attention and commentary, Voloshin's departure from the Kremlin -- from Russian politics in general, at this point -- is an event of enormous significance for Russia's continuing reforms. With Voloshin's exit, Russia has started to move in a direction that many believe casts doubt on Putin's commitment to the creation of a meaningful market economy and a strengthened democracy.

Voloshin, 47, was considered the Kremlin's "gray eminence" by many, mediating the interests of the Russian state and the country's oligarchs. Officially, Voloshin ranked third in the Russian power hierarchy, after the president and prime minister. However, Voloshin is believed to have decided many sensitive political issues on Putin's behalf, effectively making him the second most powerful political figure in the country.

Voloshin became head of then-President Boris Yeltsin's administration in March 1999 on the strength of heavy lobbying from now-exiled Boris Berezovskii, with whom he worked during the 1990s to build that oligarch's vast business interests. After Putin's election as president in 2000, Voloshin opted to support his new boss and helped ease Berezovskii into exile instead of a likely prison term.

Voloshin was also the key player behind the creation of the Kremlin-friendly party bloc called Unity, which won nearly as many seats as the Communists in the 1999 parliamentary elections. Unity went on to back former Prime Minister Putin during his presidential campaign of 2000. Voloshin was slated to be the key strategist for United Russia, an enlarged version of Unity, during this year's State Duma election campaign. At present, the Kremlin has no replacement who could come close to matching Voloshin's political skills. How this will impact United Russia's campaign efforts for the early December elections is unclear.

Voloshin was reviled by many at home and abroad during most of his tenure. His name was equated with smoke-filled rooms, intrigue, and protection, as well as advancement of the oligarchs. The perception might ring true, but it is probably also a reasonable reflection of Russia's political culture since 1991.

Irrespective of such opinions, it is clear that Voloshin succeeded for a time in upholding the "social contract" that Putin proposed to the oligarchs in the spring of 2000: There would be no revisiting past privatizations as long as the oligarchs refrained from active involvement in politics, observed and respected the law, and paid their taxes. Voloshin reportedly tendered his resignation for the first time after the Kremlin arrested Yukos shareholder Platon Lebedev on 2 July on charges of tax evasion and fraud. Voloshin might well have believed that he failed in his mission to enforce peace between the increasingly influential security forces surrounding Putin and the oligarchs who felt empowered to make significant independent business decisions concerning the country's future without first consulting the Kremlin (i.e., the construction of new private pipelines, the sale of large stakes in privately owned Russian businesses to foreign investors, and heavy lobbying to amend laws to benefit large companies).

It is ironic that it should have been the Yukos affair that triggered Voloshin's resignation, insofar as Voloshin attained his position at the same time that a little-known businessman named Khodorkovskii gained a reputation as the quintessential beneficiary of Russia's lunge into capitalism. Voloshin and Khodorkovskii were seen by some critics as exemplifying different aspects of what was wrong with Russia's reform program. Since then, perceptions have changed. Voloshin and Khodorkovskii have been portrayed as examples of what is right and forward thinking about Russia's economic reforms and recent engagement to integrate into the world economy. Their simultaneous departures are a matter of concern for investors and politicians alike, foreign and domestic.

Khodorkovskii's arrest and the seizure of Yukos shares have made domestic and foreign investors unsure of how the Kremlin views publicly traded companies, in particular, and a market economy, in general. Voloshin's resignation is of even graver concern. No other individual in Russia knows more about how business and politics are interconnected in the country. It was Voloshin who brokered deals between bureaucrats and the business world and applied the necessary influence to enforce agreements. An additional important feather in Voloshin's hat is represented by his enormous and positive contacts with the country's idiosyncratic and unpredictable regions. With his departure, nothing short of panic has set in among some politicians and business leaders who are wondering whether past agreements remain in force.

Voloshin's deputy, Dmitrii Medvedev, whose credentials as a Putin loyalist are beyond question, has been named to replace Voloshin. Medvedev comes to his new job with a credible reputation as a reformer. As chairman of Gazprom's board of directors, Medvedev is credited with ousting former CEO Rem Vyakhirev, who was seen by his strongest critics as a dubious and impervious force. Medvedev's legal background, his proximity to Putin (they worked together during the latter's St. Petersburg days) and the fact that he is not a member of the security forces have allayed concerns among some businesspeople that the political terrain is being transformed to the overwhelming advantage of the security forces.

Many observers of Russian politics will find it difficult to adjust to a world without Aleksander Voloshin's considerable reach and influence. Some admired him. Although he was certainly the object of great animosity during his stint as head of the presidential administration, there is little doubt that he is highly respected. He will be missed by some because he projected a sense of stability in a political system that remains unstable. Meanwhile, many questions have arisen in the wake of Voloshin's departure: Will Medvedev maintain support for the behind-the-scenes mechanisms that Voloshin pursued to create a market economy? Will he encourage the ideas supported by Russia's liberal-conservative parties to develop a more democratic Russia? If Voloshin was Putin's right-hand man for four years, was Medvedev Voloshin's right-hand man? No one in Russia can replace Voloshin; but even succeeding him will be hard.

Peter Lavelle is an independent Moscow-based analyst and author of the weekly electronic newsletter "Untimely Thoughts" (

The Afghan Constitutional Commission presented its long-awaited draft constitution to Afghan Transitional Administration Chairman Hamid Karzai on 3 November, international news agencies reported. Former Afghan monarch Mohammad Zaher, who was present at the ceremony at which the draft was handed over, said he hopes the "new constitution in Afghanistan will be accepted by all people in Afghanistan and [that] it will bring peace and democracy," dpa reported on 3 November. The draft reportedly contains 12 chapters and 160 articles. The head of the Secretariat of the Constitutional Commission said on 2 November that the draft constitution "will be presented to the public" on 3 November, Hindukosh news agency reported. The draft was originally supposed to be made public on 1 September (see "RFE/RL Afghanistan Report," 18 September 2003). AT

A delegation comprising representatives of all 15 member states of the UN Security Council, headed by German Ambassador to the UN Guenter Pleuger, met with Chairman Karzai and other senior Afghan officials on 2 November, Afghanistan Television reported. During its weeklong stay in Afghanistan, the delegation will visit Mazar-e Sharif, Herat, and Kandahar to invite the local commanders in those cities to work with the Transitional Administration in Kabul, dpa reported on 2 November. Karzai told the UN delegation that his country has been demanding the expansion of the International Security Assistance Force (ISAF) beyond Kabul "for a long time" and the Security Council's recent vote for expansion "will improve security and accelerate the process of reconstruction in Afghanistan," Afghanistan Television reported. Karzai acknowledged that "some problems" exist on the path to Afghan recovery, citing "terrorism, internal wars that break out from time to time, and the cultivation and trafficking of narcotics." Karzai said that overcoming such problems is possible through the efforts of the Afghan people and the assistance of the international community (see "RFE/RL Afghanistan Report," 16 and 30 October 2003). AT

Clashes between rival warlords in the Koshestanat District of Sar-e Pol Province on 2 November claimed seven lives, Radio Afghanistan reported. The fighting pitted forces loyal to Junbish-e Melli party head General Abdul Rashid Dostum, a special adviser to Chairman Karzai on security and military affairs, against Jamiat-e Islami forces under the command of 7th Army Corps commander General Ata Mohammad. General Abdul Sabur, a spokesman for Jamiat-e Islami, said two civilians were among those killed, Voice of the Islamic Republic of Iran reported on 3 November. General Sabur said the British Provincial Reconstruction Team based in Mazar-e Sharif mediated an end to the clashes. The UN delegation is planning to meet with Dostum and Ata Mohammad in an effort to persuade them to stop the violence in northern Afghanistan, the BBC reported on 2 November. Those two warlords' forces have clashed intermittently since the Taliban forces were defeated in Afghanistan in late 2001 (see "RFE/RL Afghanistan Report," 23 May and 16 October 2003). AT

Militants with presumed ties to the former Taliban regime kidnapped a Turkish engineer and his driver on a road in Ghazni Province on 30 October, the Hindukosh news agency reported on 2 November. Turkish national Hasan Onal has been participating in the reconstruction of the Kabul-to-Kandahar highway. The militants, presumably neo-Taliban forces, have threatened to kill Onal if the Afghan Transitional Administration fails to release six "high-ranking" former Taliban members. The Turkish Embassy in Kabul has called on Pakistan to "play an effective role" in helping resolve the kidnapping case "through the border tribes," Turkish NTV television reported on 2 November. According to NTV, however, the group has demanded the release of 18 jailed comrades in exchange for handing over Onal. AT

Prime Minister Tony's Blair's comment about Iran in a 30 October interview with BBC Radio has upset the Iranian government. Blair referred to the war in Iraq as a "test case" that shows the world's seriousness in stopping aggression and that has a positive impact on global security. "Why do you think Iran is now willing to cooperate with the [International] Atomic Energy Agency for the first time in years? Precisely because people now know we are serious about these issues," Blair said. The Iranian Foreign Ministry subsequently summoned Ambassador Richard Dalton to hear a protest from Director-General of West European Affairs Ebrahim Rahimpur, IRNA reported on 1 November. Rahimpur described Blair's observation as "irrational" and a means of sidestepping British public opinion. Speaker of parliament Hojatoleslam Mehdi Karrubi on 2 November described Blair's remarks as "careless," ILNA reported. "The Iranian people have a negative perception of Britain," Karrubi said, according to state television. "In recent years, British statesmen have been trying to rectify this perception. However, Blair's recent performance was contrary to the underlying trend." BS

Sixteen U.S. soldiers were killed and 20 injured when their helicopter was shot down southwest of Al-Fallujah on 2 November, international media reported. The troops were enroute to Baghdad International Airport, where they were to pick up another flight for leave outside Iraq. reported that the Chinook helicopter was struck near its rear rotor blade and exploded in midair, crashing in a nearby field, some 48 kilometers west of Baghdad. The crash reportedly set off a larger explosion that shattered the helicopter, witnesses said. Other witnesses reported seeing surface-to-air missiles hit the helicopter. The incident remains under investigation. Also on 2 November, two American contractors working for the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers were killed and a third wounded in Al-Fallujah when the vehicle they were traveling in struck a roadside bomb. Al-Fallujah is located within the so-called Sunni triangle where coalition forces have seen the most resistance since the downfall of former Iraqi President Saddam Hussein. KR

The foreign ministers of Iraq's six neighboring states and Egypt met on 1-2 November in Damascus to address developments in Iraq, international media reported. Syrian Foreign Minister Faruq al-Shar'a on 2 November read the ministers' final eight-point statement, which stressed solidarity and support for the territorial integrity of Iraq, Al-Jazeera reported. The ministers also called on the United Nations to enhance its role in Iraq, and lent their support to the Iraqi Governing Council. The ministers rejected accusations that their countries are interfering in internal Iraqi affairs and called on the Iraqi authorities to secure Iraq's borders. Iraq's Foreign Minister Hoshyar Zebari declined to attend the meeting, citing Syria's late and ambiguous invitation, which reportedly arrived late in the evening of 31 October and requested that Zebari travel to Damascus and not attend the first day of meetings, but rather wait for the ministers to decide whether to meet with him on 2 November. KR

Speaking after a 2 November meeting in Damascus of foreign ministers from Iraq's neighboring countries (Egypt, Iran, Jordan, Kuwait, Saudi Arabia, Syria, and Turkey), Iranian Foreign Minister Kamal Kharrazi denied that Iran is interfering in Iraq's internal affairs, IRNA reported. Kharrazi added that those who make such allegations are trying to cover up their own failures in Iraq. "We are confident they can produce no proof for their claims," he said. "Tehran wants nothing but good for the Iraqi nation, and I hope that a representative and democratically elected government will be established soon in Iraq." In Tehran, Foreign Ministry spokesman Hamid Reza Assefi denied that people are crossing the border into Iraq illegally, according to IRNA. "Our borders are under control, and we confront anyone who illegally crosses the border," Assefi said. The Iranian government and security forces in Iraq frequently complain about people making illegal pilgrimages into Iraq (see "RFE/RL Iran Report," 8 September and 6 October 2003). BS

The Iraqi Municipalities and Public Works Ministry has expanded its job-creation program to the northern governorates of Al-Sulaymaniyah, Irbil, and Dahuk, according to a press release posted on the Coalition Provisional Authority (CPA) website on 25 October. The "Towards a Cleaner and Brighter Iraq" program reportedly employs "tens of thousands" of Iraqis to clear their neighborhoods of trash, rubble, and sewage. The program is now operating in 14 of Iraq's 18 governorates. Workers earn 4,000 Iraqi dinars (approximately $2.60) per day and are paid every other week. Supervisors manage 10 to 15 workers and receive 5,000 dinars per day in salary. The program will be operative in the remaining governorates by the end of November. KR

Deposed Iraqi President Saddam Hussein reportedly believed that the United States would not invade Iraq, according to former Iraqi Deputy Prime Minister Tariq Aziz, reported on 3 November. Aziz, now in coalition custody, told U.S. interrogators that French and Russian intermediaries assured Hussein that he could avoid a war with the United States. Aziz said Hussein did not order a counterattack when U.S. ground forces entered Iraq because he believed the ground attack was a ruse. Aziz's account has not been corroborated by other detained members of the regime, but Aziz and regime officials in custody all claim that Hussein did not possess weapons of mass destruction (WMD) at the time of the U.S. invasion. Detained regime members reportedly also said Hussein chose not to defend against U.S. accusations of possessing WMD prior to the war because he was afraid of losing face with Iraq's neighbors, which they said deferred to Hussein because they feared he possessed such weapons. KR