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Newsline - November 12, 2003

President Vladimir Putin received Indian Prime Minister Atal Bihari Vajpayee in Moscow on 11 November at the start of the Indian leader's three-day visit to Russia, during which representatives are expected to sign a clutch of defense and economic agreements and accords, and other Russian news agencies reported. According to, Vajpayee should initial a $1.5 billion contract for the delivery to India of the "Admiral Gorshkov" aircraft carrier, a contract that has taken years to negotiate. Russian and Indian officials reportedly will also discuss the possible supply of a Russian antiaircraft missile system to defend New Delhi and India's nuclear arsenal. In the energy sector, India would is reportedly seeking four more nuclear reactors from Moscow in addition to two reactors already provided for the Kudankulam nuclear-power station. noted that while such a deal might contravene international nonproliferation agreements and provoke serious objections from Washington, Moscow would find it difficult to resist, particularly since India is already a nuclear power. New Delhi and Moscow are also expected to discuss India's possible participation in a Sakhalin oil project and Russian oil exploration in the Bay of Bengal. VY

In a closed hearing on 11 November, a Moscow city court rejected a request for the release from pretrial detention of former Yukos head Mikhail Khodorkovskii, Russian and international media reported. The decision confirmed a lower-court ruling and as a result, the embattled oligarch will probably remain in custody until 30 December (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 27 and 29 October 2003). Prosecutors, who were granted their request to hold the hearing behind closed doors due to state secrets, argued that Khodorkovskii could seek to influence witnesses if allowed to go free on bail. Khodorskovskii's lawyer, Anton Drel, pointed out that Khodorkovskii is charged with eight counts of economic crime, not violent offenses. Drel submitted several petitions from politicians and prominent cultural and business figures asserting their support for Khodorkovskii's release on bail, with one signed by 40 State Duma deputies, including Union of Rightist Forces leader Boris Nemtsov and Yabloko leader Grigorii Yavlinskii. Ekho Moskvy reported that several Duma deputies were among the audience forced to leave after the hearing was declared closed. State-run national television networks ORT and RTR reported the 11 November court decision near the end of their respective nightly newscasts. VY

A group calling itself "anticapitalists and antiglobalists" has sent an open letter to President Putin in which they describe Khodorkovskii's arrest as a "crude punitive measure," and reported on 11 November. The signatories include National Bolshevik Party leader Eduard Limonov and the deputy editor of the anti-Western weekly "Zavtra," Vladimir Bondarenko. "It is clear that [Khodorkovskii's] detention was required not for justice but for political authorities," they asserted. "Are we again slipping into semi-feudal Oriental despotism?" VY

Recently appointed Yukos head Semen Kukes said he sees no real need to merge that oil giant with a Western partner or partners, "The Wall Street Journal" and Russian news agencies reported on 10 and 11 November. Foreign oil companies are unable to offer Yukos any strategic advantages that it does not already possess, Kukes said. Before he stepped down amid the current criminal allegations, former CEO Khodorkovskii suggested that Yukos was in talks with ExxonMobil, ChevronTexaco, and other Western oil companies concerning a possible share swap (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 6 October 2003). Kukes's comments appear to contradict his early reassurances that he plans to stay the course at Yukos (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 5 November 2003). In an interview with "The Wall Street Journal," Kukes also suggested that another Khodorkovskii project will be dropped: a privately funded pipeline from Angarsk in eastern Siberia to Datsin in China. He said he believes the work of laying out that pipeline or another possible project -- from western Siberia to Murmansk -- should lie with the state. Khodorkovskii was a consistent advocate of privately funded pipeline projects. VY

Leonid Krasovskii, the head of foreign investor relations for petrochemical giant LUKoil, has announced that the company's management held talks with ConocoPhillips on the possible creation of a joint venture to exploit a license for drilling at the the Timan-Pechora oil field, reported on 10 November. The oil reserves of Timan-Pechora are estimated at 1 billion barrels. A deal with ConocoPhillips would clear the way for the third-largest U.S. oil company to invest $2 billion-$4 billion in the project, according to The Russian state controls the largest stake in LUKoil, of roughly 7 percent, and the government hopes to maximize revenues from those LUKoil shares through their sale to retail investors, according to VY

Speaking at a cabinet meeting on 10 November, President Putin praised the government for its drafting of a document to introduce radical new measures to fight corruption, RTR and ORT reported. According to "Izvestiya" of 11 November, the business community in Russia has paid the bureaucracy some $30 billion in bribes, twice the country's annual defense budget. A government source reportedly told "Izvestiya" that the plan's linchpin will be the introduction of increased transparency in the state bureaucracy and an anticorruption commission led by a deputy prime minister. VY

More Russian political parties met face-to-face in a series of televised debates in the 2003 State Duma campaign that was broadcast on 10 and 11 November. Participants in the debate televised on 10 November on RTR were Federation Council Chairman Sergei Mironov, representing the bloc of Party of Life and Party of Russia's Rebirth, and Nikolai Derzhavin, an aide to Patriarch of Moscow and All-Russia Aleksii II, representing the People's Party. Mironov declared that members of his bloc "believe that a real socialist state should be built and social priorities should be at the top." Derzhavin said his party stands for "the people, the motherland, and the faith." Derzhavin also said his party favors a drastic reduction in the number of legislators in the State Duma and Federation Council: "Thirty professionals, including professors, politicians, should be kept to draw up laws." Raikov, the head of the People's Party, also heads the People's Deputy group in the State Duma. JAC

During a televised debate on 11 November on RTR, Liberal Democratic Party leader Vladimir Zhirinovskii traded barbs with representatives of the Motherland bloc and New Course-Russian Motorists bloc. During the broadcast, the microphones were regularly shut off as the debaters engaged in coarse insults. Zhirinovskii called for either the death penalty or life imprisonment for former Yukos head Mikhail Khodorkovskii. Noting that the creation of the federal districts was his party's idea, Zhirinovskii also called for "scrapping gubernatorial elections because of total corruption." And when asked about assigning the number-three spot on his party list to his son, Igor Lebedev, Zhirinovskii said: "I agree with people that it is not right when a father pulls strings for his son. But look at President Bush -- he even made his son a president! It's the same here: The kid has been with me all along. So what, I should have told him to go away?" JAC

On 11 November, Union of Rightist Forces (SPS) leader Boris Nemtsov matched wits with representatives of two obscure parties, the Great Russia-Eurasian Union bloc and the Russian Constitutional Party, in a debate broadcast on ORT. Nemtsov noted that the debate was being recorded rather than being broadcast live; however, he called this an improvement over the period when "only the view of one party is presented." Nemtsov slammed the pro-Kremlin party, Unified Russia, for being the "party of bureaucrats" and for purportedly voting against the interests of millions of people in the State Duma. According to Nemtsov, Unified Russia supports low child-support payments and a freeze on doctors' and teachers' salaries. Unified Russia, which various polls predict will finish either first or second in the elections, chose not to participate in the televised debates. JAC

Addressing the Congress of Municipal Organizations on 11 November, President Putin said he is about to sign a decree on the implementation of updated principles for local government operations, Radio Rossii reported. According to the station, federal laws will be amended to remove unsecured financial commitments from regional and municipal budgets. Putin also commented on a law he signed in 2000 making it possible to remove governors who violate federal law on more than one occasion. He noted no one has been dismissed so far. However, he added, if a regional leader has put his region on the road to ruin, then it would be "better to remove him from above than to have him removed by a revolt from below." Last month, the government confirmed that it was studying the possibility of simplifying the procedure for dismissing governors (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 3 November 2003). JAC

Well-known journalist and economist Otto Latsis was severely beaten outside his home on the evening of 10 November, Ekho Moskvy reported the next day. Latsis, 69, sustained a serious head concussion but was in satisfactory condition in a Moscow hospital late on 12 November. Latsis's cell phone and money were taken, so investigators' first theory is that Latsis was robbed. However, Igor Yakovenko, general secretary of the Union of Journalists, is not excluding the possibility that the primary rationale for the attack was Latsis's activities as a journalist. Latsis worked as a deputy chief editor at "Novye Izvestiya" and most recently as deputy chief editor at "Russkii kurer." In a commentary for "Novye Izvestiya" last year, Latsis said the era of President Putin has been characterized by a laudably liberal approach to economic policy combined with a creeping authoritarianism. He added that the "elements of fascism are already a hard fact of life [in Russia], particularly in Chechnya" (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 9 August 2002). JAC

In an interview with "Izvestiya" on 11 November, Saratov Oblast Governor Dmitrii Ayatskov commented on his meeting with former Yukos head Khodorkovskii just before the latter's arrest. According to Ayatskov, the meeting started with an unpleasant memory from 1991, when Khodorkovskii took over local chemical enterprise Nitron and then dismantled it -- everyone was either fired or quit. The current head of LUKoil, Vagit Alekperov, revived the enterprise, turning it into Saratovorgsintez. Ayatskov added that he is suspicious of people who in just 10 years managed to amass billions of rubles. During the privatization of state property, some citizens "had more access to information than others" and they "managed to take the tastiest bits of the oil, gas, and metallurgical deposits." Ayatskov added that he would like to banish the word "oligarch" from the lexicon and instead use "prosperous businessmen-patron." "Izvestiya" described Ayatskov as a political survivor -- "one of the few acting regional leaders who started their career with [former Russian President Boris] Yeltsin." JAC

Buryatia's election commission decided on 11 November once again to reject the registration of former Prosecutor-General Yurii Skuratov as a candidate in the republic's single-mandate district in the 7 December State Duma elections, ITAR-TASS reported. Last week, a working group of the Central Election Commission (TsIK) ruled that the republican election commission had no grounds for rejecting Skuratov's candidacy (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 5 November 2003). Skuratov, who is considered one of the front-runners in the district, said he will appeal the decision. Meanwhile, in Bashkortostan, the republican-level election commission again refused to register former Mezhprombank executive Sergei Veremeenko as a candidate in the Bashkir presidential elections on 7 December, ITAR-TASS reported. On 3 November, the TsIK overruled an earlier decision by the republican commission refusing to register Veremeenko. Veremeenko is considered the chief rival of incumbent President Murtaza Rakhimov, who is seeking re-election. A member of the republic election commission told journalists that "the election of the Bashkortostan president is a prerogative of the republic itself, and the decree of the TsIK has no force in this case." JAC

According to the preliminary results of the Russian census conducted last year, there are 14.5 million Muslims in the Russian Federation, which is equal to 10 percent of the total population, Nationalities Minister Vladimir Zorin told a press conference in Moscow on 10 November, Interfax reported. Recent estimates of the number of Muslims in Russia have ranged from 12 million to 20 million. Zorin said the number of Jews in Russia has fallen by over 50 percent since the last (1989) Soviet census, from 540,000 to 230,000. He said there are currently seven ethnic groups in Russia numbering over 1 million people, including the Tatars, Bashkirs, Chechens, and Armenians. The number of Mordvins has fallen below 1 million (at the time of the 1989 census, there were 1,153,516 Mordvins in the USSR). The number of Ukrainians and Belarusians in Russia has fallen by one-third since 1989, while the number of Armenians, Azerbaijanis, Tajiks, and Chechens has risen. LF

In his final court speech on 10-11 November, Nairi Hunanian said he and four accomplices charged with shooting eight senior officials in the Armenian parliament in October 1999 intended only to remove Prime Minister Vazgen Sargsian and his "brutal" cabinet, RFE/RL's Yerevan bureau reported. Hunanian said that by killing Sargsian, he helped to "restore constitutional order" and strengthened the position of President Robert Kocharian and Armenia's international reputation. Hunanian said he never intended to force Kocharian's resignation. He did not mention in his final speech the fact that he initially implicated Kocharian's then chief of staff Aleksan Harutiunian in the killings but subsequently retracted that testimony. Nor did Hunanian address the still open question of whether he acted on his own initiative or at the behest of others. LF

At an 8 November congress of the Orinats Yerkir (Law-Based State) party of which he is chairman, Artur Baghdasarian questioned the accuracy of recently released economic data and accused the government headed by Prime Minister Andranik Markarian of turning a blind eye to widespread corruption, RFE/RL's Yerevan bureau reported on 10 November. Orinats Yerkir is a junior partner in the coalition government headed by Markarian's Republican Party of Armenia (HHK), together with the Armenian Revolutionary Federation--Dashnaktsutiun. Baghdasarian said the results of the economic policy implemented over the past decade cast doubt on claims that it is reformist. Pointing to widespread poverty, he also questioned the accuracy of data showing that GDP grew by 15 percent year-on-year during the first nine months of 2003. Markarian rejected Baghdasarian's corruption allegations, noting that it was the HHK which first proposed a new program to combat corruption. On 11 November, Markarian, who is 52 and has a history of heart problems, traveled to Moscow for a medical checkup, Noyan Tapan and RFE/RL's Yerevan bureau reported. Markarian underwent medical treatment in Paris two years ago for his heart condition (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 23, 25, and 30 October 2001). LF

On a two-day visit to Armenia, International Monetary Fund (IMF) Managing Director Horst Koehler met in Yerevan on 9 and 10 November with President Kocharian, Prime Minister Markarian and Central Bank Chairman Tigran Sarkisian, Noyan Tapan reported. Kohler told journalists on 10 November that he is "very encouraged" by the vision of economic development that Armenian officials outlined during their talks with him, and that Armenia's economic growth in recent years is "impressive" although "rather narrowly based." He added, however, that there is "no room for complacency," as "too many people are in poverty." Koehler announced that the IMF's executive board will soon disburse the fifth $14 million tranche of its three-year, $95 million Poverty Reduction and Growth Facility Loan that was launched in May 2001. LF

Azerbaijani government officials denied on 10 November media reports that former President Heidar Aliyev has been transported on a specially equipped plane from Ohio's Cleveland Clinic to an unknown destination, Turan reported. The 80-year-old former president has been undergoing medical treatment in the United States since 8 July; the last medical bulletin released by the clinic was on 2 October. LF

The 106 members of the Central Council of the opposition Azerbaijan National Independence Party unanimously affirmed their support on 10 November for party Chairman Etibar Mammedov, who placed fourth among eight candidates in the 15 October presidential election, Turan reported. The council simultaneously adopted a statement rejecting the official election results as falsified. It also affirmed its readiness for dialogue with the Azerbaijani authorities, provided the latter "take the first step" toward national reconciliation, for example, by amnestying all those arrested in the wake of the presidential election and the violent unrest that ensued. LF

In a statement released on 11 November and posted on its website (, the European Bank for Reconstruction and Development (EBRD) announced that it will provide $125 million toward the cost of building the Baku-Tbilisi-Ceyhan export pipeline for Caspian oil, and it will raise a further $125 million syndicated loan from commercial banks. The EBRD money will go toward the cost of the Azerbaijani and Georgian sectors of the pipeline, as the bank does not operate in Turkey, and will enable the Azerbaijan state oil company SOCAR to meet its commitment to fund a 25 percent stake in an international consortium created to build the pipeline. The World Bank pledged a comparable funding package for the pipeline earlier this month (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 5 November 2003). LF

Eduard Shevardnadze traveled on 10 November to western Georgia and thence to Adjaria, where Supreme Council Chairman Aslan Abashidze condemned the opposition politicians who are demanding Shevardnadze's resignation in the wake of the disputed 2 November parliamentary election, Reuters and ITAR-TASS reported. "Political intriguers must not be allowed to plunge the country into chaos and anarchy," Abashidze said. Shevardnadze for his part appealed to the opposition to "come to your senses." On 11 November, Shevardnadze discussed the postelection tensions in Georgia in a telephone conversation with his Armenian counterpart Kocharian, who stressed the importance to Armenia of preserving political stability in Georgia and throughout the south Caucasus, RFE/RL's Yerevan bureau reported (see "RFE/RL Caucasus Report," 12 November 2003). Also on 11 November, Abashidze traveled to Yerevan, reportedly for talks with the Armenian leadership. The Armenian newspaper "Haykakan zhamanak" suggested on 12 November that Abashidze's primary purpose was to meet with Russian Defense Minister Sergei Ivanov, currently visiting the Armenian capital, or to ask Kocharian to send troops to Georgia to support Shevardnadze. LF

On 11 November, Shevardnadze met in Tbilisi with government ministers and regional administrators to discuss the political situation, Caucasus Press and Russian media reported. Also on 11 November, U.S. Ambassador Richard Miles met with Minister of State Avtandil Djorbenadze, and later with Shevardnadze. Miles urged a continuation of dialogue with the opposition. Shevardnadze said later on 11 November that he is ready to continue the dialogue begun late on 9 November with opposition leaders Mikhail Saakashvili, Nino Burdjanadze, and Zurab Zhvania (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 10 November 2003). Shevardnadze suggested that representatives of other political parties that polled the minimum 7 percent of the vote required to win parliamentary representation also attend those talks, but the Burdjanadze-Democrats bloc objected to that suggestion, Caucasus Press reported. LF

Addressing several thousand supporters congregated outside the parliament building in central Tbilisi on 11 November, Saakashvili warned that if Shevardnadze does not make unspecified concessions to the opposition, the people will paralyze the functioning of local and national government and force the president to resign, Caucasus Press reported. Several opposition parliament deputies began a hunger strike outside the parliament building late on 10 November, according to the website of the independent television station Rustavi-2, while 10 members of Saakashvili's National Movement have begun a hunger strike in the western Georgian town of Zestafoni, ITAR-TASS reported on 11 November. LF

Minister of State Djorbenadze and Industry, Economy, and Trade Minister Giorgi Gachechiladze both warned on 11 November that a continuation of the standoff between the leadership and opposition could negatively affect the economy, Caucasus Press and ITAR-TASS reported. Djorbenadze said imports have fallen since the beginning of November, resulting in a fall in state budget revenues, while Gachechiladze said some freight carriers are rerouting consignments to Russia to avoid transiting Georgia. The newspaper "Rezonansi" reported on 11 November that bread prices have risen in recent days. The exchange rate of the Georgian lari has fallen from 2.1044 to the U.S. dollar on 31 October to 2.1750 to the dollar on 12 November. LF

During a review of the work of his office in the first 11 months of its existence, Kyrgyzstan's Ombudsman Tursunbai Bakir-uulu drew particular attention to the plight of Kyrgyz job seekers in neighboring Kazakhstan, "Obshchestvennyi reiting" reported on 11 November. According to Bakir-uulu, more than 4,000 Kyrgyz citizens have officially found work in Kazakhstan, mostly on tobacco plantations, while the actual number is much higher. A recent inspection by Bakir-uulu's staff found that Kazakh employers were forcing Kyrgyz workers to live in substandard conditions. The Kyrgyz had no recourse because they had no contracts, many were in Kazakhstan illegally, and they lacked the money to return home. BB

Kyrgyz Prime Minister Nikolai Tanaev told journalists on 10 November that Kyrgyzstan's economy is finally growing after the country's long post-Soviet slump, Interfax reported the same day. Previously the economy as a whole showed only negative indicators if Kumtor, the Canadian-Kyrgyz gold-mining venture, was left out of calculations. But, Tanaev said, the Kyrgyz economy saw growth of 9.6 percent in the first nine months of 2003, 14 percent with the inclusion of Kumtor. He said the figures indicate a lessening of the country's dependence on a single firm. According to Tanaev, the most dynamic sectors of the economy are processing industries and electricity providers. BB

About 100 inhabitants of the Uzbek exclave of Sokh, located in Kyrgyzstan's Batken Oblast, gathered at the Kyrgyz border post on the road from Sokh to Uzbekistan on 11 November and demanded that the post be removed, RFE/RL's Kyrgyz Service reported the same day. The protesters were met by the deputy governors of Batken Oblast and Uzbekistan's Ferghana Oblast, who explained that the post is legal and persuaded the crowd to disperse. In recent years, Uzbekistan has tried to persuade Kyrgyzstan to cede land for the creation of corridors linking the Uzbek exclaves to Uzbekistan, but the Kyrgyz side has refused. BB

Tajikistan's Democratic and Social Democratic parties have agreed on setting up a coalition called "For Fair, Transparent, and Democratic Elections," Asia-Plus reported on 11 November, quoting Rahmatullo Valiev, the general secretary of the Democratic Party. Valiev added that other registered political parties are welcome to join the coalition, which has as its main goal encouraging the national parliament to adopt a new law on elections that will guarantee that future elections are free, fair, and democratic. Parliamentary elections are scheduled in Tajikistan for 2005. Although each party would have its own list of candidates, the coalition intends to help all member parties overcome the problems of insufficient financing that have restricted their activities in previous election campaigns. Officials of the Communist and Islamic Renaissance parties were cautious in predicting the willingness of their parties to join the coalition. BB

Two men who participated in the 1998 uprising against the Tajik government have been sentenced to 18 and 15 years in prison, respectively, by a Sughd Oblast court, reported on 11 November. The uprising, described by Tajik government authorities as a coup attempt, was led by Colonel Mahmud Khudoiberdiev, an ethnic Uzbek, who reportedly fled to Uzbekistan when the uprising was put down (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 4, 5, 6, and 9 November 1998). The two men convicted in Khujand were accused of having had connections with the Uzbek National Security Service. BB

The new head of the Russian border troops in Tajikistan, Lieutenant General Aleksandr Markin, said in an article in the 10 November issue of "Nezavisimaya gazeta" that the main destabilizing factor on the Tajik-Afghan border at present is the trafficking of contraband drugs. He added that he expects that Russian forces will have to remain in Tajikistan in order to counter the threat for a minimum of 10 to 15 years. Markin said that 7 percent of the officers and 71 percent of the contract servicemen in the Russian border troops in Tajikistan are Tajik citizens. A report of Asia-Plus Blitz on 11 November noted that of 515 recruits sworn in on 9 November for service in the Russian border troops, 34 were citizens of the Russian Federation and the rest were Tajik citizens. BB

A new, more restrictive law on religious activities went into effect in Turkmenistan on 10 November,, Russian news agencies, and the website of Forum 18 (, a Norwegian-based NGO monitoring freedom of religion in the former USSR, reported on 10 and 11 November. The new law formally criminalizes religious activities by any confession that is not registered by the Justice Ministry -- in effect, any confession other than Sunni Islam and Russian Orthodoxy. Violators may be sentenced to one year of corrective labor. Previously, unregistered religious groups were subject to administrative sanctions. The new law also requires that any religious group seeking to register must prove that it has 500 members in Turkmenistan, and only clergymen with Turkmen citizenship and a higher education in theology may lead a congregation. Formation of political parties or movements on a religious basis is prohibited, along with private teaching of religion, which is also criminalized. BB

Belarus's Supreme Court ruled on 11 November that the Association of Young Entrepreneurs must be shut down for irregularities during its registration process in 1999, RFE/RL's Belarusian Service reported. The association has focused on educational activities, published a bulletin, and provided legal counsel to young people involved in small businesses. Belarusian authorities have now banned 19 nongovernmental organizations so far this year. JM

The Ukrainian mission at the United Nations on 10 November issued a declaration, cosponsored by 26 countries, to commemorate victims of the Great Famine (Holodomor) in Ukraine in 1932-33, the U.S.-Ukraine Foundation reported. The declaration is to be circulated as an official document of the 58th Session of the UN General Assembly. "The Great Famine engineered by the totalitarian Soviet regime claimed the lives of 7 [million] to 10 million of our compatriots, the figure that can be compared with the population of an average European country," Ukrainian Ambassador to the UN Valeriy Kuchynskyy said at the UN session the same day. "The dreadful famine that engulfed Ukraine in 1932-33 was the result of Josef Stalin's policy of forced collectivization." Observances of the 70th anniversary of Holodomor in New York include an international conference at Columbia University, a special exhibit at the UN headquarters, and an ecumenical memorial service at St. Patrick's Cathedral. JM

Our Ukraine leader Viktor Yushchenko on 11 November condemned an attack earlier the same day on the Otkrytoe Kafe and Russian-language bookstore in Lviv, Interfax reported. Yushchenko said the attack was a provocation, adding that it might have been organized by "the same political force that is waging an information war against Our Ukraine and wants to turn western Ukraine into a bugbear for eastern Ukraine." According to Interfax, four masked men armed with clubs broke into the store, smashed computers and windows, and destroyed books before fleeing. They left the inscription "This is for Sumy" on the floor, in an apparent reference to the attempt at preventing a forum of democratic forces organized by Our Ukraine in Sumy, northeastern Ukraine, on 9 November (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 10 November 2003). JM

The Russian Foreign Ministry told Estonian Ambassador to Russia Karin Jaani in Moscow on 11 November that Russia is seeking three concessions from Estonia, BNS reported. Aleksandr Udaltsov, the head of the Russian Foreign Ministry's Second Political Department, told Jaani that Russia wants Estonia to give up plans to deport former Russian servicemen who remained in Estonia after accepting U.S. money to move to Russia; to revoke the cancellation of its mutual-educational-diploma treaty with Russia; and to end the investigation of genocide charges against Hero of the Soviet Union Arnold Meri. The first demand was apparently prompted by the Estonian Citizenship and Migration Board's recent decision to deport former serviceman Nikolai Mikolenko, who remained in Estonia after accepting a $25,000 voucher to buy an apartment in Russia. In the mid-1990s nearly 1,000 Russian servicemen received similar vouchers from the United States, of whom about 120 remained in Estonia. The second demand refers to Education Minister Toivo Maimets's decision to unilaterally rescind the treaty to prevent the recognition of diplomas from Russian institutes of higher learning that are of dubious backgrounds. In October, the Estonian Security Police began investigating Meri's possible involvement in the 1949 deportations of Estonians from the island of Hiiumaa to Siberia. Meri was the first Estonian to be awarded the title of Hero of the Soviet Union for his role in World War II. He later headed the Estonian Komsomol and served as Estonian first deputy education minister. SG

The chairmen of the four factions forming the ruling coalition -- Krisjanis Karins (New Era), Augusts Brigmanis (Union of Greens and Farmers), Oskars Kastens (Latvia's First Party), and Maris Grinblats (For the Fatherland and Freedom/LNNK) -- signed a memorandum of understanding in Riga on 11 November, BNS reported. It is intended to lay a good foundation for the coalition's work in the coming years. Grinblats said the memorandum focuses on the equality of coalition members and requires that they substantiate their opinions. Grinblats noted that the memorandum's chapter on ethics, which was not included in the coalition agreements of previous governments, stipulates that parliament deputies must refrain from criticizing coalition partners in the media, unless they have factual evidence to support such statements. The document also requires the prime minister to personally inform faction leaders in a timely manner about his plans to remove any minister or parliamentary secretary. SG

Parliament speaker Arturas Paulauskas told a press conference in Vilnius on 11 November about the discovery during searches of the apartments of Avia Baltika head Yurii Borisov of an alleged plan, codenamed "Strekoza" (dragonfly in Russian), to destabilize Lithuania and ensure a victory for the Liberal Democratic Party in the 2004 parliamentary elections, BNS reported. Borisov was the main financial supporter of Rolandas Paksas's successful presidential-election campaign (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 4 November 2003). The text of the alleged plan, translated into Lithuanian, was printed by the dailies "Lietuvos rytas" and "Kauno diena" on 12 November. The alleged plan, which Paulauskas claimed was made by the Russian public-relations company Almax, called for discrediting the ruling Social Democrats and New Union (Social Liberals) by finding "documents" in Russia about how Yukos gained control of Mazeikiai Nafta by bribing the Social Democrats. Paksas dismissed the plan as nonsense akin to plans to invade Mars. SG

Visiting Prime Minister Leszek Miller said at the Polish military base in Babylon on 11 November that the Polish stabilization contingent will remain in Iraq until the new Iraqi authorities are able to assume "responsibility for their country and the security of their own citizens," Polish Television reported. Deputy Defense Minister Janusz Zemke, who is on a Middle East tour with Miller, said Poland wants to supply its contingent in Iraq with more armored personnel carriers and "somewhat more heavy equipment," but he did not elaborate. Last week, the Polish contingent in Iraq lost its first soldier, Major Hieronim Kupczyk, who was fatally wounded in an ambush on 6 November. Miller told Polish Radio on 12 November that the ambush was masterminded by people from Baghdad, not locals. JM

Polish President Aleksander Kwasniewski on 10 November decorated 93-year-old Irena Sendler with the Order of the White Eagle, Poland's top civilian award, in recognition of her World War II effort to save 2,500 Jewish children from Nazi-led genocide in the Warsaw Ghetto, Polish and international news agencies reported. "Every Jewish child I helped to save is a justification for my being here on Earth," dpa quoted Sendler as saying during the ceremony. Sendler, who was a member of Zegota, a clandestine Polish group that helped Jews, organized a network of Polish women who, like her, had free access to the ghetto. She spent more than a year encouraging Jewish parents in the ghetto to give up their children in order to save their lives. JM

Miroslav Kalousek, who was recently elected as new leader of the junior coalition Christian Democratic Union-People's Party (KDU-CSL), told the daily "Mlada fronta Dnes" on 10 November that he does not intend to seek a seat on the cabinet headed by Prime Minister Vladimir Spidla, Reuters reported (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 10 November 2003). Kalousek, who chairs the Chamber of Deputies' Budget Committee, said that he wants to concentrate instead on leading the KDU-CSL in a successful 2006 electoral campaign. In an interview with the daily "Hospodarske noviny" the same day, Kalousek said the ministers representing the KDU-CSL on the cabinet -- Foreign Minister Cyril Svoboda, Environment Minister Libor Ambrozek, and Transportation Minister Milan Simonovsky -- continue to enjoy the party's full trust. MS

An explosion slightly damaged on 10 November a monument erected in Prague honoring the victims of communist oppression in the 1950s, CTK and dpa reported. The police have said that the identities of the perpetrators are unknown. In Humpolec, southern Bohemia, a monument erected in honor of Alexander Dubcek -- the Czechoslovak leader at the forefront of the period of liberalization in 1967-1968, known as the Prague Spring -- was damaged by shots fired by unknown perpetrators. Also on 10 November, 15 tombstones were vandalized in a Jewish cemetery in Trutnov, eastern Bohemia, CTK reported. MS

In Prague on 11 November, visiting Danish Foreign Minister Per Stig Moeller said after talks with his Czech counterpart Svoboda that he believes an agreement on the envisaged European constitution will be reached next month, CTK and dpa reported. Moeller added that he nonetheless fears that voters might reject the proposed document in those countries where it would be submitted to a referendum. Moeller also said that Denmark intends to open its labor market to the new EU members after they join in May 2004 and would apply only a few restrictions; for example, foreign workers would not be eligible for unemployment benefits. Earlier on 11 November, Moeller held talks in Bratislava with his Slovak counterpart Eduard Kukan, CTK and TASR reported. The leaders said their countries both support the principle of "one state, one commissioner" on the European Commission, but there are differences in the envisaged representation, the news agencies reported. Copenhagen supports a mechanism whereby there would be 18 commissioners and nine deputy commissioners with voting rights, while Bratislava is in favor of 25 commissioners. MS

Liechtenstein on 11 November joined Norway and Iceland in signing the European Economic Area (EEA) enlargement agreement, which includes all future 10 EU members, AFP reported. The enlargement treaty was signed at a ceremony in Vaduz, Liechtenstein. Ernst Walch, Liechtenstein's foreign minister, said the signing of the agreement "shows that the spirit of consensus reigns at the heart of the EEA." On 14 October, the tiny principality refused to sign the agreement because of historical disputes with the Czech Republic and Slovakia over the expropriation of assets and deportation of members of the principality's ruling family after World War II as a result of the Benes Decrees (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 15 October and 4 and 6 November 2003). MS

Speaking after talks with visiting Slovak Prime Minister Mikulas Dzurinda in Jerusalem on 11 November, Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon said he hopes that Slovakia's entry into the EU next year along with nine other countries will help change what he called the EU's "unbalanced approach" toward the Middle Eastern conflict, AP reported. Sharon said that if such a change were to occur, the EU could become more involved in resolving the long-standing conflict. Sharon also commended Dzurinda for his fight against anti-Semitism in Slovakia and said the number of anti-Semitic incidents in that country is small, according to TASR, CTK, and AFP. Sharon did not mention the recent allegations that the Slovak Information Service (SIS) employs anti-Semitic criteria in its work (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 30 October, 3 November 2003). Both prime ministers pledged to fight international terrorism and Dzurinda said the EU must "fight all forms of intolerance." MS

SIS Director Ladislav Pittner on 10 November lifted a secrecy oath from his predecessor Vladimir Mitro, TASR reported. The move would enable Mitro to testify in the scandal involving the illegal wiretapping of Alliance for a New Citizen Chairman Pavol Rusko and an employee of the daily "Sme." Three former SIS officers have been charged in connection with the affair, but Prosecutor-General Milan Hanzel said charges could be brought against eight other SIS staff (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 6 November 2003). MS

President Ferenc Madl on 11 November vetoed a bill on Hungarian elections to the European Parliament that was recently approved by the legislature, Hungarian media reported the next day. The ruling coalition and the opposition had failed to agree on the bill's provisions concerning the supervision of balloting at Hungarian embassies abroad, and the bill did not specify how absentee balloting would be supervised. Madl said he is returning the bill to parliament to offer it the opportunity to reach a compromise acceptable to all parties. Such a compromise is apparently emerging. According to media reports, the four parliamentary parties agreed not to send representatives abroad at the state's expense, but further consultations are necessary to hammer out a procedure for electing the members of vote-counting commissions to insure that they remain impartial. MS

A Vienna court on 11 November approved the extradition to Hungary of broker Attila Kulcsar, Hungarian media reported the next day. Kulcsar is reportedly the chief suspect in an embezzlement case involving K&H Equities. Kulcsar faces charges of money laundering, misuse of funds, forgery, and mismanagement of clients' investment portfolios. The daily "Nepszabadsag" wrote that the extradition procedure could still drag on for as long as a year, due to appeals and counterappeals. MS

A public storm broke in Hungary on 11 November after local media reported that a court in Szeged judged two Romany brothers to be "primitive" and awarded them reduced compensation as a result, dpa reported. The two brothers were acquitted last week of murder but were awarded just 1.2 million forint ($5,366) each in compensation, instead of the 2 million forints demanded by their lawyer for their 15-month incarceration. Romany representatives and human rights institution castigated the court's decision as discriminatory. Supreme Court President Zoltan Lomnici said on Hungarian television that it is customary to set compensation levels on the basis of a medical assessment, and that the Szeged court ruled on the basis of an assessment establishing that the brothers were "more primitive than average" and had consequently suffered less as a result of their imprisonment. MS

The Hungarian Television (MTV) board of trustees unanimously voted on 11 November to initiate the dismissal of the state broadcaster's president, Imre Ragats, Hungarian media reported the next day. The decision must still be approved by a meeting of the entire MTV board, which includes also representatives of nongovernmental organizations. Ragats was elected president in May. His dismissal was initiated after it was discovered that in April, while he was still acting president, Ragats concluded a secret agreement for selling MTV advertising time to the private rival network RTL Klub. MS

Contradicting earlier reports (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 10 November 2003), a spokesman for Frits Bolkestein, European commissioner for the internal market, told MTI on 11 November that he has no intention of taking a stand on the Hungarian government's plan to replace the financial supervision watchdog PSZAF with another institution, "Vilaggazdasag" reported. MS

Dragoljub Micunovic, who is the candidate of the governing Democratic Opposition of Serbia (DOS) coalition in the 16 November Serbian presidential elections, said in Belgrade on 10 November that opposition leaders Vojislav Kostunica of the Democratic Party of Serbia (DSS) and Miroljub Labus of the G-17 Plus political party should drop their call for a boycott of the ballot, RFE/RL's South Slavic and Albanian Languages Service reported. Acting Serbian President Natasa Micic made a similar statement the following day, suggesting that parliamentary elections could soon follow if the presidential vote is a success. The presidential ballot will not be valid if the turnout is below 50 percent of registered voters. The opposition says the presidential vote is a trick to delay holding early parliamentary elections. Dpa reported on 11 November that the DOS has lost its majority in the legislature, making parliamentary elections almost a certainty. G-17 Plus Vice President Mladjan Dinkic said those elections should take place on 28 December (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 27 and 29 October and 10 November 2003). Polls suggest that the DSS is likely to finish first in a parliamentary ballot. PM

U.S. Admiral Gregory Johnson, who commands NATO forces in Southeastern Europe, said in Skopje on 11 November that Macedonia's crack military unit known as the Wolves has been "spectacular" in working with U.S.-led coalition forces in Iraq, dpa reported (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 25 September 2003 and "RFE/RL Balkan Report," 28 March and 27 June 2003). Johnson noted that the Wolves helped capture three of the 55 individuals on the coalition's list of most-wanted former Iraqi leaders, as well as a band of Iraqi outlaws near Baghdad. PM

According to the government body coordinating the disarmament of the civilian population, just over 300 of an estimated 110,000 illegal weapons have been collected, "Dnevnik" reported on 12 November. Apart from a large amount of ammunition and explosives, citizens also handed over a damaged T-55 tank captured by ethnic Albanian rebels in the 2001 conflict. Colonel Blagoja Markovski, who heads the coordinating body, said on 11 November that compared to similar operations in Albania and Croatia, this is a good result for the first week. The no-questions-asked operation began on 1 November and will end on 15 December (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 30 October and 3 November, and "RFE/RL Balkan Report," 29 August 2003). UB

SFOR peacekeepers began an operation on 11 November to help Bosnian Serb forces destroy up to 1,000 tons of arms and ammunition, including 5,000 surface-to-air missiles, Reuters reported from Sarajevo. The move is part of NATO-led efforts to help downsize Bosnia's two armies and reduce the amount of military equipment posing a potential hazard to the civilian population. PM

Tirana's Mayor Edi Rama, who only recently joined the Socialist Party, said on 11 November that he intends to challenge Prime Minister Fatos Nano for the party leadership at its 12 December congress, dpa reported. Rama stressed that the feud between Nano and former Foreign Minister Ilir Meta is "disastrous" for the party. Those tensions have prevented the prime minister from finding enough support among Socialist legislators to appoint new foreign and interior ministers (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 31 July and 21 October and "RFE/RL Balkan Report," 25 July 2003). Rama has made a name for himself over the past three years by revamping the appearance of Tirana's often run-down apartments and boulevards. He also carried out a controversial project to pull down dozens of illegally built shops and restaurants in the city center. Former President Rexhep Meidani is also expected to challenge Nano at the party congress. PM

A Romanian soldier was killed and another wounded in southern Afghanistan on 11 November, Romanian Radio and international news agencies reported. It was the first death of a Romanian soldier in Afghanistan since it committed more than 500 soldiers to serve in the country in 2001. A Defense Ministry press release said the 33-year-old sergeant was killed when a convoy of armored vehicles came under attack near Kandahar. President Ion Iliescu and Prime Minister Adrian Nastase have offered their condolences to the soldier's family. MS

The leadership of the ruling Social Democratic Party (PSD) proposed at a meeting with President Iliescu on 10 November that the next parliamentary and presidential elections be held simultaneously on 12 December 2004, RFE/RL's Bucharest bureau reported. The PSD, whose delegation was headed by Prime Minister Nastase, proposed that should the presidential election require a runoff, it should take place on 19 December. In addition, the party suggested that elections for the upper house be conducted under a single-constituency system as opposed to the current proportional system. The PSD also proposed that local elections be held on 6 June 2004 and the abolishment of current legislation that requires mayors to be elected by 50 percent-plus-one vote. This would do away with the need for mayoral runoffs. President Iliescu is to discuss the proposals with the representatives of other political parties. MS

National Liberal Party (PNL) Chairman Theodor Stolojan said on 11 November that the PNL is opposed to the election dates proposed by the PSD. Stolojan said a two-week break is necessary between the first and second rounds of the presidential election, and that 19 December is not an acceptable date for a possible runoff for the 2004 ballot because the date's proximity to Christmas would lower voter turnout, Mediafax reported. He proposed that the simultaneous elections be held on 5 December 2004. He also said the PNL wants half of the seats in both chambers to be elected by a single-constituency system. Stolojan also opposed the suggestion to elect mayors in one electoral round only. An identical position on the dates and the local election was expressed by Greater Romania Party (PRM) Deputy Chairman Corneliu Ciontu. However, the PRM is opposed to changing the electoral system for the Senate elections. Democratic Party Deputy Chairman Emil Boc likewise opposed the PSD's proposals regarding local elections, as did Humanist Party Chairman Dan Voiculescu. The Democrats propose that simultaneous elections be held on 28 November 2004 and the presidential runoff on 12 December. Hungarian Democratic Federation of Romania (UDMR) Chairman Bela Marko said his party agrees with the PSD proposal on local elections but is opposed to having the Senate elected by a single-constituency system. That change would likely negatively affect the UDMR's representation in the upper house. MS

Justice Minister Vasile Dolghieru on 10 November sent a letter to Popular Party Christian Democratic (PPCD) Chairman Iurie Rosca warning against violating international treaties to which Moldova is a signatory and against encroaching on domestic legislation, Flux reported. According to ITAR-TASS, Dolghieru demanded in his letter that the PPCD immediately stop its picketing of the Russian Embassy in Chisinau, claiming that the action "violates the Moldovan Constitution and the European Convention on Human Rights." The Russian news agency said the Moldovan authorities intend to charge Rosca and his deputies Stefan Secareanu and Vlad Cubreacov over their role in the picket. Flux reported that in his letter, Dolghieru wrote that the picketing of the Russian Embassy and the slogans shouted by the protesters condemning the continuation of Russian troops' presence in Transdniester "insult the honor and dignity of the Russian people." The PPCD on 11 November responded that the letter is aimed at "suspending the activity of the most important opposition party in Moldova and at its elimination from political life." MS

PPCD Chairman Rosca and Social Democratic Party Chairman Oazu Nantoi met with U.S. officials in Washington last week to brief them on internal developments in Moldova and regarding the Transdniester conflict, Flux reported on 10 November. The two opposition-party leaders expressed their concern over recent Russian statements that indicate that Moscow does not intend to abide by obligations it assumed at the OSCE December 2002 Porto summit. Thy also claimed that the plan to federalize Moldova is geared toward maintaining Russia's influence in the region. MS

Andrei Popov, director of the Foreign Ministry's department of international security, was detained on 7 November on suspicion of trafficking in children, Infotag and Flux reported on 11 November. According to Infotag, Popov is suspected of being involved in smuggling a 9-year-old Moldovan girl into the United States in 1999, when he served as first secretary at the Moldovan Embassy in Washington. The girl reportedly came to Washington to take part in a children's contest and never returned home. The agency reported that the girl was subsequently adopted by a U.S. family. Andrei Popov is the son of Mihai Popov, who was Moldovan foreign minister from 1997-2002 and is currently serving as ambassador to Belgium. MS

A government spokesman on 11 November confirmed that Prime Minister Simeon Saxecoburggotski has agreed to change the name of his National Movement Simeon II (NDSV), reported. The name change was initiated by NDSV lawmaker Miroslav Sevlievski, who proposed that the party be named National Movement for Liberty and Progress, thus removing the reference to Saxecoburggotski from the party's name but maintaining its acronym. The party was formed in 2001, when Saxecoburggotski -- the country's former King Simeon II -- decided to run for prime minister. According to NDSV legislator Hristo Mehandov, deleting this reference from the name is a first step toward transforming the NDSV into a political party based on ideological principles, rather than focusing on expectations closely connected to its leader. However, leading party members suggested that only a national party congress can decide on the name change. UB

Reacting to a statement by Defense Minister and NDSV Deputy Chairman Nikolay Svinarov that the coalition Movement for Rights and Freedoms (DPS) will not get more senior positions in the government even in the case of a reshuffle, DPS Chairman Ahmed Dogan said on 11 November that Svinarov "will have to correct his pattern of thinking," "Sega" reported (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 5 and 10 November 2003). Dogan added that the government needs a refreshment of its program, ideas, and behavior, as it lacks a vision for the country until 2007 (when it hopes to join the EU) and beyond. Government spokesman Dimitar Tsonev said on 10 November that Prime Minister Saxecoburggotski at present does not plan to change the government. UB

As the debate about the envisaged European constitution rumbles on, there has been talk about the possibility of holding yet more referendums in Central and Eastern Europe. On 30 October, EU Enlargement Commissioner Guenter Verheugen told CTK that he is worried about the prospect of the constitution being subjected to national referendums. Disappointment with the early results of union membership, he said, could negatively affect the outcome of such referendums.

First, however, delegates to the intergovernmental conference (IGC) in Rome must agree on the draft document. Little progress has been made so far. The Italians, who hold the rotating EU Presidency, are hoping the discussions will be over by Christmas. At the latest, the conference must be over by spring 2004.

The fault lines that run between the smaller and larger countries stem mainly from two issues: the makeup of the European Commission and voting rights within the Council of Ministers.

In the draft constitution, the European Commission would be made up of 15 voting and 10 non-voting members. The soon-to-be members, mainly from Central and Eastern Europe, are unhappy with that and are pushing for "one country, one vote" with 25 voting commissioners.

Those countries are also nonplussed about the distribution of votes in the Council of Ministers, the EU's main decision-making institution. According to the draft constitution, decisions would be reached by a double majority of member states representing 60 percent of the EU population.

That is a particular problem for Poland and Spain, which want to stick to the voting distribution established in Nice in 2000. There have also been disagreements over defense and whether or not to specifically mention Christianity in the constitution's preamble.

It is more than likely that those fault lines will be bridged. Jan Hrich, an analyst at the Czech Institute of International Relations, told on 1 October that the EU has a very strong instinct toward compromise and its traditional "make-up-and-look-happy" approach has evolved to prevent negative circumstances. Last-minute horse trading, mutual concessions, and a good deal of papering over normally precede the smiles and the ceremonial glass of champagne. This IGC probably won't be much different.

A potential stumbling block could come with national referendums. Among the current EU members, some, like Denmark and Ireland, are committed to holding referendums; others are considering it; others, like the United Kingdom and Germany, will vote on ratifying the constitution in their parliaments.

Among the candidate countries, the question is still open. At a 10 October meeting of the Visegrad Four -- Poland, the Czech Republic, Hungary, and Slovakia -- delegates agreed that ratification is important but, for now, the countries will concentrate on the content of the constitution.

Supporters of referendums can be found in both the integrationist and Euroskeptic camps. The former hope that by rubber-stamping a constitution, a new social contract will be forged between the elected and the electorate. The latter, like the Conservative Party in the United Kingdom, hope that the people will vote a resounding "no" and stop what they perceive as the federalist juggernaut in its tracks. What both sides agree on is that Europeans have a right to -- and should -- decide their own destinies. Denying referendums, they say, would be the death knell for democracy and put the decisions that will affect many in the hands of the few.

But the problem with referendums is that people do not always vote on the issues they are supposed to. Most observers were agreed that, in the September referendum in Sweden, the vote was less about the single currency and instead provided an opportunity for people to express their feelings more broadly on European integration. In the United Kingdom, popular discussion on whether or not to adopt the euro usually turns into a discussion on the loss of sovereignty and those ubiquitous Brussels bureaucrats trying to get their hands on the Buckingham Palace silver.

Many analysts, including CNN's Robin Oakley, saw the Irish referendums in 2001 and 2002 as an opportunity for voters to express their displeasure with Irish Prime Minister Bertie Ahern, rather than a direct vote on the Treaty of Nice. Angus Roxburgh, a correspondent in Brussels, wrote for BBC online, "When the Irish first voted on the Nice Treaty, billed as paving the way for enlargement of the EU, the campaign concentrated on issues such as neutrality, defense and abortion. The 'No' vote reflected those distinct Irish concerns, certainly not a desire by the Irish to prevent new members joining the EU."

In this regard, Central and Eastern Europe is no different. Populist media, point-scoring politicians, and insufficient public-information campaigns leave voters largely in the dark as to what exactly they are voting on.

Moreover, deciding how questions should be phrased in referendums is a tricky science. Czech Prime Minister Vladimir Spidla has promised to hold a referendum on the constitution after its approval by politicians, but that would require agreement by the parties on how the question(s) should be worded. Finding a middle ground could prove difficult and result in a political stalemate.

And perhaps even calling it a constitution is a bit of a stretch. In the September/October issue of the U.S.-based "Foreign Policy" journal, Jack Rakove argued that the proposed constitution isn't really much of a constitution. "By American standards and those of contemporary constitutionalism, the nature of the current European project remains ambiguous and arguably deficient," Rakove wrote. He added, "A constitutional treaty, as the new charter is sometimes called, is still more a treaty among nation-states than a constitution for a common people."

States will still be allowed to decide their own foreign policies and tax rates -- two of the issues Euroskeptics get most hot under the collar about. Despite the thunderings of Euroskeptics, like Czech President Vaclav Klaus, the constitution will have very little impact on most people's lives, as the proposed changes are largely institutional. Giving people the right to "approve" what is essentially just a treaty among states (if you follow Rakove's argument) could set a dangerous precedent, meaning governments would feel obliged to call for referendums every time they negotiate with Brussels.

After voting against the Maastricht Treaty in 1992, the next year, after the treaty was modified slightly, the Danes made the "right" decision. When voting on the Treaty of Nice, it took the Irish two votes to get it right. The recent Swedish referendum on the euro was a rarity in that it was actually binding.

There is a palpable sense of futility about being a Euroskeptic in Central and Eastern Europe these days. Many Euroskeptics would concede that there is little they can do now, or ever, to stop their countries joining the EU. To most people, Brussels is as inevitable as it is faceless.

If, hypothetically, the Czechs did vote against the constitution, what would happen next? It is unlikely that the EU would go back to the drawing board or the Czechs would extract any further concessions from Brussels. The only real option available to the Czechs, apart from deciding to leave the union, would be to hold a referendum again. And again, until the result is the right one. That could be damaging not only for governments in this region but for the EU's already shaky reputation.

Such blatant disregard for the will of the people would only serve to undermine the social contract between the elected and the electorate. It is one thing not to ask the people, it is another to ask them and then ignore what they say.

U.S. forces killed one enemy fighter on 10 November while participating in a major operation in Nuristan and Konar provinces that was launched on 7 November, Reuters reported on 11 November. According to the coalition forces' military spokesman, U.S. Colonel Rodney Davis, the aim of operation Mountain Resolve is to "to clear the area of anticoalition and antigovernment fighters," "The New York Times," reported on 11 November. While most international media have indicated that the operation is being conducted by U.S. forces, Radio Afghanistan reported on 10 November that "coalition forces together with the Afghan forces have launched" the military campaign. Forces loyal to the former Afghan Prime Minister Gulbuddin Hekmatyar are concentrated in areas of Konar and Nuristan provinces, the New York daily reported. In December 2002, Hekmatyar declared a holy war against U.S. forces in Afghanistan, which led the United States' decision in February to designate him as a terrorist (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 27 December 2002 and 7 January 2003). AT

Coalition spokesman Colonel Davis said on 11 November that operation Mountain Resolve is "one of the most challenging" undertaken by U.S. forces in Afghanistan in two years, Reuters reported. Davis said the operation is intended to "destroy and disrupt anticoalition forces and deny sanctuary to them by taking control of the major weapons caches and terrorist bases." Hekmatyar was out of the spotlight for a few months until he resurfaced in July urging Afghans to "cut off the hands of the foreign meddlers" and to drive all foreign forces out of Afghanistan (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 2 July 2003). AT

A Romanian soldier was killed and another wounded in southern Afghanistan on 11 November, Romanian Radio and international news agencies reported. It was the first death of a Romanian soldier in Afghanistan since it committed more than 500 soldiers to serve in the country in 2001. A Defense Ministry press release said the 33-year-old sergeant was killed when a convoy of armored vehicles came under attack near Kandahar. President Ion Iliescu and Prime Minister Adrian Nastase have offered their condolences to the soldier's family. MS

A car bomb exploded on 11 November near the United Nations office in the southern city of Kandahar, international news agencies reported. No UN personnel were injured in the blast, but a bystander sustained injuries, Reuters reported on 11 November. Hindukosh news agency on 11 November claimed that a bystander was killed, but this has not been confirmed by any other source. No one has claimed responsibility for the blast. AT

Commenting on the new draft constitution for Afghanistan that was released on 3 November, "Sirat," a publication devoted to women's issues, wrote on 9 November that the new draft "is a victory" for Afghan women. Referring to the period 1992-2001, "Sirat" wrote that "during the years of the rule of men...lawlessness and injustice" prevailed in Afghanistan and "women were kept at home as property and objects." However, with the publication of the new draft constitution, "it seems like the [Afghan] society is breathing anew and humans of the society, particularly women -- the semi-paralyzed creatures -- are revived." A semi-official women's rights group in Afghanistan, however, has recommended several amendments to the draft constitution to strengthen the position of women, (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 10 November 2003 and "RFE/RL Afghanistan Report," 6 November 2003) AT

Islamic scholars (ulama) in Panjsher and Ghorband districts of Parwan Province on 9 November prevented women from participating in the election process for the Constitutional Loya Jirga, Voice of the Islamic Republic of Iran reported on 11 November, citing Bakhtar, the official Afghan news agency. An unidentified member of the Constitutional Commission reportedly asked the news agency not to publicize the report, the Iranian radio station added. The Constitutional Loya Jirga is scheduled to assemble on 10 December to adopt the new Afghan constitution (for more on the draft Afghan constitution and the rights it allots women, see upcoming "RFE/RL Afghanistan Report," 13 November 2003). AT

The Guardians Council, which must confirm the compatibility of all legislation with Islam and Iran's constitution, has rejected an article of the amended Press Law that would allow jury trials in an open court for journalists, "Aftab-i Yazd" reported on 10 November. The council noted that the article is in contradiction of constitutional Article 57 -- which calls for the separation of powers between the legislature, the judiciary, and the executive branch, functioning under the supervision of the supreme leader -- and also in contradiction of Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei's August 2000 letter to the legislature. Khamenei said in his letter that the Press Law protects the system from infiltration by "the enemies of Islam, the revolution, and the Islamic system" (see "RFE/RL Iran Report," 7 August 2000). An unattributed commentary in the reformist daily "Yas-i No" on 10 November criticized the council's ruling as contradicting Article 168, which states that "political and press offenses will be tried openly and in the presence of a jury." The commentary warned that if the establishment cannot allow the free flow of information and protect journalists, then information will be secured from abroad and foreign media will make up for the domestic media's weaknesses. BS

Foreign Ministry spokesman Hamid Reza Assefi on 11 November criticized recent statements about Iran by U.S. Secretary of State Colin Powell, IRNA reported. Powell said in a 10 November speech at City College of New York that the Iranian people want to be free but that this freedom will not be at the expense of Islam. "They do not want to banish Islam from their lives. Far from it," Powell said, according to AP. "They want to be free of those who have dragged the sacred garments of Islam into the political gutter." Powell noted that thousands greeted Nobel Peace Prize winner Shirin Ebadi when she returned to Iran, and he judged that Iran's rulers should take this as a warning. "We all know what this means.... The hidebound clerics of Iran know what it means, too. Should they be worried? Does morning follow night? They should be." Assefi retorted, "The interpretations of the U.S. officials about Islam and the Muslims clearly prove that they have the least knowledge about Islam, such as the situation in the Middle East, Iraq, and democracy." BS

The Iran Coroner's Office announced in a 10 November statement that Iran has the most traffic fatalities in the world, IRNA reported. Some 7,933 people died on Iranian roads over the summer, a 20.5 percent increase on the same period last year; injuries increased by 34.1 percent. Meanwhile, Traffic Council official Mohammad Raufi told provincial traffic administrators that 21,870 Iranians died in traffic accidents in the last Iranian year (21 March 2002-20 March 2003). Most accidents are due to reckless driving and bad roads, and the government is campaigning for people to wear seat belts. BS

Qom Province police commander Alireza Taheri told Fars News Agency on 11 November that rumors have circulated in Qom's Nirugah district for a week that "a woman had been spotted in one of the villages around Arak whose upper half resembled a tigress." Some photography shops fabricated photos of this creature and distributed them, Taheri said. Then it was rumored that the police had arrested the tigress lady, and people gathered at the police station and demanded to see her. The police dispersed the crowd, Taheri said, but on 7 October another rumor emerged that the woman would be executed. A crowd of 2,000 gathered at Nabovat Square and called for the tigress woman to be executed, and this time police could not get them to go home. Subsequently, Taheri said, "opportunists" provoked the crowd and threw stones. A special police unit arrived and "cordially led the people to the adjacent streets." Taheri said that 40 people -- including the three people who made the photograph of the purported half-woman, half-tiger -- have been arrested and their motives are being investigated. BS

Coalition Provisional Authority (CPA) head L. Paul Bremer reportedly arrived in Washington on 11 November for talks with U.S. administration officials on the possibility of restructuring the Iraqi leadership, international media reported. reported on 9 November that the United States is considering establishing an alternative governing body based on the Afghan model (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 10 November 2003). It's unclear, however, if this is really the case. Responding to rumors about the United States' alleged dissatisfaction with the Iraqi Governing Council's performance, State Department spokesman Richard Boucher on 10 November said: "That's not the U.S. government view. The U.S. government view is the Iraqi Governing Council is a representative body. We work with them on all aspects of Iraq's reconstruction.... They already have a significant number of accomplishments under their belt in terms of...appointing the ministers who are getting Iraqi systems, Iraqi education, Iraqi medical/healthcare, Iraqi transportation, [and] Iraqi police up and running. There's already considerable progress in those areas, thanks in part to the ministers that they've appointed." KR

Lieutenant General Ricardo Sanchez told reporters at a 11 November press briefing in Baghdad that there are 30-35 attacks against coalition forces in Iraq every day, twice the number of daily attacks two months ago, AP reported. "On the near term, given the focus we have on our offensive operations, and given the level of engagements that the enemy has chosen to move to, ...we are going to have more attacks here in the next 30 to 60 days," he added. Sanchez said that a "blanket of fear" that deposed Iraqi President Saddam Hussein might return is preventing more citizens from providing U.S. forces with intelligence information on Iraqi militants. He dismissed the notion that the insurgency has worsened, telling reporters that "the enemy has evolved its tactics" by using mortars and rockets rather than engaging U.S. forces in battle. He estimated that some 200 foreign fighters are on the ground in Iraq. Sanchez said that although some suspects in coalition custody are suspected of having links to Al-Qaeda, the coalition has "not been able to establish definitively that they [are] Al-Qaeda members." KR

Iraqi Governing Council President for the month of November Jalal Talabani told Al-Arabiyah television on 11 November that members of Al-Qaeda, Ansar al-Islam, and Ba'athists from the deposed Hussein regime are behind recent terrorist attacks in Iraq. "The evidence is clear," Talabani said. "Bin Laden clearly stated that he sent forces to Iraq, and the Ansar al-Islam group leader also clearly stated that he sent his fighters to Iraq to fight the U.S. Army and the Iraqi people." Talabani added that while he believes that militants are infiltrating Iraq from neighboring countries, he does not believe that those militants are state-sponsored. Rather, they are individuals acting on their own accord, he claimed. KR

The Turkish-Kurdish resistance group Kurdistan Freedom and Democracy Congress (KADEK) announced on 11 November that it has dissolved itself and is reorganizing into a new, democratic, broad-based, and lawful organization, according to the group's website ( KADEK was formed in April 2002 after the Kurdistan Workers' Party (PKK), which was listed by the U.S. State Department as a foreign terrorist organization, dissolved itself. Critics of KADEK have said that the group's formation equated only to a name change, rather than a new political outlook, as the group claimed. KADEK addressed this in its 11 November press release, stating: "Residues of the Leninist party model, as well as patterns of traditional, dogmatic Middle Eastern thought, rendered [KADEK] a narrow and hierarchical formation that failed to incorporate new social groups and democratic elements. These shortcomings had an adverse effect on KADEK's principal objective to establish a dialogue among the key players in the Kurdish issue in the Middle East." The group's new name will be the Kurdistan People's Congress (KHK), CNN Turk reported on 11 November. PKK/KADEK's armed wing, the People's Defense Forces, will operate independently from the new group, according to CNN Turk. KR

Abbas al-Bayati, a Turkoman who sits on the committee overseeing the drafting of the Iraqi constitution, told Istanbul's NTV on 11 November that the future Iraqi government will "neither be a 100 percent sharia state, nor will it be a 100 percent secular state." He said it will likely resemble the governments of Jordan and Egypt, except "that there will be more democracy." Al-Bayati is one of two Turkoman members of the 25-person committee in charge of drafting the constitution, NTV reported. He also said that "Turkomans want the constitution to stipulate that this [Iraqi] state is composed of Arabs, Turkomans, Christians, and Muslims. We are not a minority." Al-Bayati did not mention the Kurds, with whom the Turkomans have long had tense relations in northern Iraq. He added that there are four models currently under review for the structure of a federal state in Iraq. KR

Visiting Prime Minister Leszek Miller said at the Polish military encampment in Babylon on 11 November that the Polish stabilization contingent will remain in Iraq until the new Iraqi authorities are able to assume "responsibility for their country and the security of their own citizens," Polish Television reported. Deputy Defense Minister Janusz Zemke, who is on a Middle East tour with Miller, said Poland wants to supply its contingent in Iraq with more armored personnel carriers and "somewhat more heavy equipment," but he did not elaborate. Last week, the Polish contingent in Iraq lost its first soldier, Major Hieronim Kupczyk, who was fatally wounded in an ambush on 6 November. Miller told Polish Radio on 12 November that the ambush was masterminded by people from Baghdad, not locals. JM