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Newsline - December 5, 2003

At least 38 people were killed and more than 150 injured on 5 December by an explosion on a commuter train near the Stavropol Krai town of Yessentuki, RIA-Novosti and other Russian and Western media reported. Local police said that the explosion was caused by a bomb placed in a car on the crowded commuter train, while some reports indicated that a female suicide bomber might have been involved. Police immediately announced that they suspect Chechen militants carried out the attack. On 3 September, a similar incident aboard a commuter train in Kislovodsk killed seven and injured more than 90 (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 2 and 3 September 2003). VY

All three national television channels -- ORT, RTR, and NTV -- continue to air biased coverage of the campaign for the 7 December State Duma elections (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 4 December 2004), providing disproportionate coverage of the pro-Kremlin parties Unified Russia, Motherland-Patriotic Union, and the Liberal Democratic Party of Russia (LDPR), RFE/RL reported on 4 December. The report noted that LDPR leader Vladimir Zhirinovskii is playing an unusually high-visibility role in the campaign. VY

On 30 November, ORT screened a biographical program about him in which Zhirinovskii -- long known for his xenophobic and anti-Semitic comments -- speaks openly for the first time about his own ethnicity. He said that his Russian mother was originally married to a Russian KGB officer, with whom she had five children. After her first husband died, she married Zhirinovskii's father, a Polish Jew named Wolf Zhirinovskii, who abandoned his family when Zhirinovskii was three years old. Meanwhile, NTV announced on 5 December that it has accepted Zhirinovskii's apology for inappropriate behavior during and after a recent campaign debate (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 4 December 2003) and will lift a ban that it imposed on him following that incident. VY

Popular ORT host Vladimir Posner announced on 30 November that he has cancelled a scheduled debate between Unified Russia co-leader and Emergency Situations Minister Sergei Shoigu and Communist Party leader Gennadii Zyuganov because Shoigu has declined to participate. NTV announced on the air on 1 December that it will not air a scheduled program on SPS co-leader Anatolii Chubais "because of administrative pressure from above." VY

Self-exiled tycoon and staunch Kremlin opponent Boris Berezovskii told "Novye izvestiya" on 4 December that there is no point in forecasting the results of the 7 December State Duma elections because "there has been massive manipulations of the ratings of the political parties." He claimed that the Communist Party is actually supported by 35 percent of the electorate, while the media has been reporting figures closer to 15 percent. Conversely, Berezovskii said the pro-Kremlin Unified Russia party has 15 percent support, while the media claims 35 percent for it. He also claimed that President Vladimir Putin's approval rating is much lower than the 60-70 percent figure usually cited. He predicted that the current abuse of state informational and administrative resources will severely harm Putin's image. "I will assert that Putin will not be re-elected in the March 2004 presidential election," Berezovskii noted. He further said that he does not support Prime Minister Mikhail Kasyanov as a candidate for president, and said that he will endorse someone within 10 days. VY

Commenting on Boris Berezovskii's brief recent visit to Georgia (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 4 December 2003) and on the tycoon's opposition to the Kremlin, Deputy Duma Speaker and LDPR leader Zhirinovskii said that Berezovskii will share the fate of former Soviet leader Leon Trotsky, Ekho Moskvy reported on 3 December. Trotsky opposed Soviet dictator Josef Stalin and went into exile in 1929. Throughout the 1930s, he actively opposed Stalin, and he was assassinated in Mexico City in 1940 by a Stalinist agent, who stabbed him in the head with an ice pick. "Berezovskii is playing the role of Trotsky, and he will end up like Trotsky," Zhirinovskii said. TV-Tsentr commented on 3 December that Berezovskii considers himself a statesman and said that, with his trip to Tbilisi, the tycoon wanted to mimic U.S. President George W. Bush's surprise 28 November trip to Baghdad to celebrate Thanksgiving with U.S. troops there. In fact, however, Berezovskii is nothing more than "the coordinator of the anti-Russian line abroad," the station remarked. VY

Yabloko leader Grigorii Yavlinskii said on 4 December that the goal of a recent election-monitoring agreement between Yabloko, SPS, and the Communist Party (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 4 December 2003) is to forestall attempts to falsify the vote count in the regions, TV-Tsentr reported. He noted that there are 96,000 voting stations in the country and that no single party can monitor the entire process. But these three parties, by coordinating their efforts, can do so, Yavlinskii said. SPS Duma faction deputy head Boris Nadezhdin told TV-Tsentr the same day that the agreement is a result of "the monstrous administrative pressure [being exercised] to the benefit of one party, Unified Russia." "On the whole, we are moving toward a single-party system," Nadezhdin said. VY

The Union of Rightist Forces (SPS) and the Motherland-Patriotic Union bloc continued to exchange fire on 4 December with Deputy Duma Speaker and SPS co-leader Irina Khakamada and Motherland co-leader and State Duma Deputy Sergei Glazev getting into an argument during an election roundtable in Moscow over the sources of their organizations' financing and their goals, Russian media reported. Interfax reported that Glazev said that the previous day's "hysterics" -- a reference to a press conference by SPS leaders Khakamada, Nemtsov, and Chubais during which they called the Motherland-Patriotic Union "national-socialist" (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 4 December 2003) -- showed that the SPS has fallen into "complete ideological bankruptcy." Calling the national-socialism charge "lunacy," Glazev recalled an interview in November 1998, just several months after Russia's financial collapse, in which Alfred Kokh, who is now the SPS's campaign manager, used the third-person to describe Russians as a people who had "shot each other in firing squads" and who had thus reaped what they sowed. "So who is a fascist?" Glazev asked. "For us, Russians are those who consider Russia their homeland. Kokh, apparently, doesn't consider Russia his homeland." JB

Responding to Glazev's charges against the SPS, Khakamada accused the Motherland-Patriotic Union of espousing "an obtuse populism" that "holds its own people in absolute contempt," Interfax reported on 4 December. Citing allegations by Glazev that the SPS is connected to the oligarchs, Khakamada said that while the SPS is financed by many big businesses, none of them have a "controlling stake," while the Motherland-Patriotic Union is financed by Oleg Deripaska, head of the Base Element holding company. Glazev said he knew nothing about financing from Deripaska. Motherland's other leader, Duma Deputy Dmitrii Rogozin, called the SPS attack a "primitive public-relations move" aimed at raising the party's rating, "Gazeta" reported on 4 December. He told the newspaper that Motherland-Patriotic Union might file a criminal complaint with the Prosecutor-General's Office against the SPS leaders for slander. Meanwhile, a Motherland candidate for the State Duma, National Reserve Bank President Aleksandr Lebedev, said on 4 December that he is leaving the bloc because of "some extremist positions of individual Motherland leaders," Interfax reported. Lebedev remains a candidate in the Moscow mayoral election, also slated for 7 December. JB

Police in Ufa discovered a large number of fake ballots for the republic's 7 December presidential elections at the World of Print publishing house, which belongs to the property-management department of Bashkortostan President Murtaza Rakhimov's administration, ITAR-TASS reported on 4 December. Local presidential candidates Sergei Veremeenko and Relif Safin and State Duma candidate Airat Dilmokhemmetov said they saw the ballots "through a window" of the publishing house on the night of 3 December, after which they called police and representatives of the Federal Security Service (FSB) and the Bashkir prosecutor's office, RFE/RL's Tatar-Bashkir Service reported on 4 December. After police and a group of politicians arrived at the publishing house, a fire broke out inside, partially destroying the ballots. TV-Tsentr reported on 4 December that at least 50,000 ballots were found inside. JB

Central Election Commission (TsIK) Chairman Aleksandr Veshnyakov called for prosecutors to investigate the reported discovery of forged ballots in Ufa, Interfax reported on 4 December. Veshnyakov said that if initial suspicions concerning the incident are confirmed, then everyone involved in the "adventure," including state officials, will be punished with "maximal severity." A source in President Rakhimov's campaign headquarters, however, said the incumbent president believes the incident might have been a provocation. Opposition challenger Veremeenko claimed on 3 December that 800,000 forged ballots have been distributed to the republic's raion administration heads -- 5,000-10,000 for each raion, RFE/RL's Tatar-Bashkir Service reported. Veremeenko also predicted that if Rakhimov wins re-election, he will move to transform Bashkortostan into a parliamentary republic and to ensure that his son, Ural, is elected the parliament's speaker. "The Moscow Times" on 5 December quoted Nikolai Petrov of the Carnegie Moscow Center as saying that the misuse of power in the Bashkortostan election has long been "starker" than anywhere else in the country. JB

Moscow Municipal Court judge Olga Kudeshkina has given up her bid to win the Duma seat representing Moscow's Serpukhov single-mandate district, "Izvestiya" reported on 4 December. Kudeshkina told potential voters on 1 December that she was removed from the case of Pavel Zaitsev, the special police investigator who headed a high-profile corruption probe into the Grand and Tri Kita furniture stores, after refusing repeated demands by Moscow Municipal Court Chairwoman Olga Yegorova and First Deputy Prosecutor-General Yurii Biryukov that she convict Zaitsev of conducting unauthorized searches and detaining suspects without cause. The Prosecutor-General's Office dismissed Kudeshkina's accusations against Yegorova and Biryukov as campaign public relations. Asked by "Izvestiya" why she withdrew from the Duma race, Kudeshkina said that after making the accusations, she began receiving calls and faxes threatening her and her daughter and that police began detaining and harassing members of her campaign staff. Kudeshkina said she decided to run for parliament in order to help reform the judicial system. "When you look around at what is going on, you're simply amazed by the lawlessness," she told the newspaper. JB

Foreign Minister Igor Ivanov met in Brussels on 4 December with U.S. Secretary of State Colin Powell to discuss international and bilateral issues, Russian media reported. Ivanov told journalists afterward that the crisis in Georgia has not affected U.S-Russian relations. Russia is interested in stability in the South Caucasus and in ensuring that no terrorist threats emanate from Georgian territory, Ivanov said. VY

Chechen Republic head Akhmed-hadji Kadyrov told journalists in Grozny on 4 December that security measures are in place to prevent Chechen fighters thwarting the voting in the 7 December Duma election, ITAR-TASS reported. On 1 December, the same agency reported that the republic's 428 polling stations are being guarded around the clock. Seven candidates -- including Moscow-based businessman Malik Saidullaev and President Aslan Maskhadov's former representative in Moscow, Salambek Maigov -- are contesting the single-mandate district in Chechnya. Three other candidates withdrew from the race. The OSCE does not plan to deploy any of its election observers in Chechnya. LF

Deputies representing the Armenian Revolutionary Federation-Dashnaktsutiun (HHD) and Orinats Yerkir (Law-Based State) voted on 3 December not to endorse a government report on the implementation in 2002 of the three-year privatization program adopted one year earlier, RFE/RL's Yerevan bureau reported on 4 December. Privatization agency head David Vartanian told RFE/RL he believes the two parties failed to endorse the report "for political reasons," as a result of new frictions between them and Prime Minister Andranik Markarian's Republican Party of Armenia (HHK), of which Vartanian is a member. He added that he suspects the HHD and OY want to replace him with one of their own loyalists. In a report released in October, the parliament's Audit Chamber criticized what it termed "significant shortcomings" in the implementation of the privatization program (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 21 October 2003). LF

The Armenian government launched a new $5 million three-year program on 4 December intended to stem the rapid rise in the incidence of tuberculosis, RFE/RL's Yerevan bureau reported. Deputy Health Minister Hayk Darpinian gave the number of TB patients in Armenia as 5,620, of whom approximately one-third are aged 18-24. He said the total number of cases is now far higher than in the 1990s. In April 2002, the Armenian Ministry of Health said up to four new cases of TB are registered each day. LF

Meeting in Baku on 4 December with visiting UN Deputy Secretary-General Antonio Maria Costa, President Ilham Aliyev expressed concern that Azerbaijani territories currently under Armenian control could be used for drug cultivation and trafficking, according to Interfax on 4 December and on 5 December. Aliyev appealed to the UN to persuade Armenia to allow an international inspection of the areas in question. Costa replied that he hopes Armenia will consent to such monitoring in order to preclude "negative incidents." LF

Freimut Duve, the OSCE's Representative on Media Freedom, has written to Azerbaijani Foreign Minister Vilayat Guliev requesting the release from pretrial detention of opposition "Yeni Musavat" newspaper editor Rauf Arifoglu, Turan reported on 4 December quoting an OSCE press release. Duve expressed concern that although Arifoglu is being held in connection with his alleged participation in the post-election disturbances in Baku on 15-16 October, he is not being questioned. Duve further noted that Arifoglu is reportedly in poor health. On 1 December, Arifoglu announced that he will stage a 45-day hunger strike with several interruptions to protest his detention, Turan reported. LF

A committee was created in Baku on 4 December to campaign for the release from detention of Muslim cleric and human rights campaigner Ilgar Ibrahimoglu, Turan reported on 4 December. Ibrahimoglu was arrested the previous day in connection with his alleged participation in the post-election clashes in Baku in October. The committee formed in his defense accused the Azerbaijani authorities of seeking to square accounts with Ibrahimoglu because of his religious and human rights activities. They noted that Ibrahimoglu supported opposition Musavat Party Chairman Isa Qambar in the 15 October presidential election. LF

National Movement Chairman Mikhail Saakashvili, who spearheaded the demonstrations in Tbilisi that culminated in the 23 November forced resignation of President Eduard Shevardnadze, kicked off his campaign for the 4 January presidential ballot on 4 December, Caucasus Press and Russian agencies reported. Saakashvili, who is widely regarded as the favorite among the 15 presidential hopefuls, said his main rivals are "time and people who want Georgia to explode," according to Interfax on 4 December. He said the interim leadership will take every possible measure to prevent destabilization. Minister of State Zurab Zhvania, who will manage Saakashvili's election campaign, said on 4 December that "our goal is not so much Saakashvili's victory as democratic and fair elections," ITAR-TASS reported. Zhvania said that government ministers and regional administrators will be prevented from interfering in the ballot. LF

A cache of arms including detonators, antitank grenades, and hand grenades has been discovered near the former Russian military base at Vaziani, Georgian State Security Minister Vakhtang Khaburzania told journalists in Tbilisi on 4 December, according to Caucasus Press and ITAR-TASS. He added that the owner of the building where the weapons were hidden has been detained on suspicion of involvement in the 3 December explosion at the State Television and Radio building in Tbilisi and of planning further such attacks. LF

Following talks in Tbilisi on 4 December with Saakashvili, Zhvania, and acting President Nino Burdjanadze, U.S. Deputy Assistant Secretary of State Lynn Pascoe told journalists Washington will allocate $5 million for "post-revolution rehabilitation" in Georgia and a further $2 million for paying winter heating bills for some 40,000 indigent families, Caucasus Press and the website of the independent television station Rustavi-2 reported. Pascoe also met on 4 December with Central Election Commission Chairman Zurab Chiaberashvili to discuss preparations for the 4 January presidential ballot, which Pascoe said he hopes will be conducted with "minimum violations," reported. LF

German Chancellor Gerhard Schroeder arrived in Kazakhstan on 4 December for a two-day visit, accompanied by 150 businessmen, officials, parliamentarians, and journalists. The main emphasis of Schroeder's visit is on expanding economic ties between the two countries: Schroeder told a news conference in Astana after his talk with Kazakh President Nursultan Nazarbaev that the two sides intend to double the volume of trade between them in the next two years, RIA-Novosti,, and other Kazakh, Russian, and German media reported on 4-5 December. Schroeder said that Germany is particularly interested in Kazakhstan's natural resources, adding that the telecommunications sphere could also be attractive for German businesses; Nazarbaev asked for German participation in developing the hydrocarbon reserves of the Caspian. "Nezavisimaya gazeta" noted on 5 December that the level of German investment in Kazakhstan has been considerably lower than that of other countries including the United States, Great Britain, and Italy, though Nazarbaev characterized Germany as one of Kazakhstan's main trading partners in Europe. Six statements of intent were signed on 4 December between the Kazakh and German sides on training of business managers, financing of technical imports, and establishment of a Kazakh-German University in Almaty. BB

During his 4 December talks with visiting German Chancellor Schroeder, Nazarbaev asked that Germany give further financial support to the ethnic Germans living in Kazakhstan, Interfax-Kazakhstan reported the same day. He mentioned particularly loans or other funding for small businesses. In the 1990s about 800,000 ethnic Germans emigrated to Germany from Kazakhstan, and the German government began providing assistance to those who wanted to remain in Kazakhstan in the hope of encouraging them not to emigrate. Kazakhstan, too, was eager for its ethnic German population to remain. Kazakh authorities estimate there are about 300,000 ethnic Germans left in Kazakhstan; about 12,000 emigrated between January and September 2003. Schroeder was scheduled to meet representatives of Kazakhstan's ethnic German communities as well as Kazakh civil society activists prior to his departure. BB

A delegation of Kyrgyz officials headed by deputy head of the president's office Temirbek Akmataliev visited China on 22-29 November to promote closer ties between the two countries, particularly in the economic sphere, KyrgyzInfo reported on 4 December. The delegation met with Chinese Foreign Minister Li Zhaoxing and other government officials responsible for agriculture and commerce. Two hundred private Chinese firms are already functioning in Kyrgyzstan; the Kyrgyz side would like to attract further Chinese investment, particularly in tourism and the agricultural sector. The Chinese interlocutors expressed interest in processing of agricultural products, fisheries and fowl raising, improvement of seeds, and fertilizer production. BB

Tajik President Imomali Rakhmonov has signed a decree entitled "Strategic Plan for the Privatization of Medium-Sized and Large Enterprises in the period 2003-07," Asia Plus-Blitz reported on 4 December, quoting presidential press secretary Zafar Saidov. The plan defines Tajik policy on privatization of larger enterprises and the restructuring of natural monopolies, and includes a list of affected enterprises, with the goal of full privatization by 2007. The authorities see this as the next step in market reform and development of the private sector. The plan is also intended to help attract domestic and foreign investment and create jobs, Saidov said. He gave the figure of 459 large enterprises that will be privatized. BB

Former head of the Tajik state gas company Mahmadruzi Iskandarov has said that his firing by President Rakhmonov on 28 November (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 4 December 2003) was politically motivated, Asia Plus-Blitz reported on 4 December. Iskandarov, who heads the Democratic Party of Tajikistan, attributes his dismissal to his party's rejection of the 22 June referendum on constitutional amendments (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 17, 23, and 24 June 2003). According to official accounts, he was fired because of his inept management of the gas firm. He admitted that he has violated government instructions and has collected some gas debts in kind rather than in cash, but argued that he was not guilty of nepotism or cronyism, and he managed to raise the level of payment of gas debts from 19 percent in 1999 to 73 percent in 2003. Iskandarov's successor, Husein Aliev, a former deputy minister of power engineering, has been given the primary task of collecting gas debts. BB

More than 400 lawyers in Tashkent have declared a strike from 3 to 13 December to protest the interference of government agencies -- the Interior Ministry, National Security Service, prosecutors, and judges -- in their work, Prime-News reported on 4 December. The Initiative Group of the Independent Human Rights Activists of Uzbekistan reported that the striking lawyers were also protesting their low pay -- the average monthly wage of a lawyer as set by the government is 8,000 soms (about $8). The strikers said they were also angered by the constant flouting of the Criminal Procedural Code by prosecutors who question accused persons in the absence of their lawyers, by the falsification of investigation and court records, and by unjust sentences handed down in the courts. BB

Belarusian President Alyaksandr Lukashenka told journalists from the Syrian-based newspaper "Al-Ba'ath" on 4 December that the main lesson of the U.S. action in Iraq is that "no superpower, however strong it might be, can crush a nation that wants to be independent and live according to its own laws and principles," Belarusian Television reported. The interview comes ahead of Lukashenka's planned visit next week to Syria. Lukashenka said the U.S. leadership would be glad to pull out of Iraq in order to save face, but he added that Washington's "monster ambitions" prevent the United States from doing so. Lukashenka said the current violence in Iraq has spilled over into Saudi Arabia, the United Arab Emirates, Turkey, and even Russia. "The longer the occupation troops of various countries stay [in Iraq], the worse it is for them," the Belarusian president opined. "The aggressors will get nothing there." JM

Anatolii Chubais, head of Russia's Unified Energy Systems (EES), said in Kyiv on 4 December that EES has reached a deal with the Ukrainian groups Energy Standard and Interpipe on buying stakes in one fully and nine partly privatized Ukrainian regional electricity distributors (oblenergos), Ukrainian and international news agencies reported. Chubais said Ukrainian Premier Viktor Yanukovych informed him that Ukraine is planning to renew privatization in the energy sector next year and provide equal conditions for all bidders. However, the Ukrainian presidential press service commented more cautiously on Chubais's visit to Kyiv, saying President Leonid Kuchma told Chubais that Ukraine is not yet ready to discuss the issue of selling further stakes in regional power companies, Interfax reported. EES reportedly owns 33.3 percent of shares in the newly created Ukrainian-Russian power holding. The financial details of the deal have not been made public. JM

Ukrainian Deputy Prime Minister Ivan Kyrylenko told journalists on 4 December that Ukraine is planning to import 1 million tons of milling grain in January-July 2004, mostly from the United States and Canada, Interfax reported. Kyrylenko said Ukraine has to abandon the CIS grain markets in favor of world markets due to Russia's and Kazakhstan's intentions to limit grain exports. The government estimates Ukraine's grain shortage -- brought about by a poor harvest this year -- at 3.5 million tons. Ukraine has already imported 1.9 million tons of grain this year and expects to import 600 million tons more by the end of December. JM

The Ukrainian Constitutional Court has begun considering whether President Leonid Kuchma may run for president in 2004, Interfax reported. Kuchma was elected president in 1994 and re-elected in 1999, but under different constitutions. The constitution promulgated in 1996 forbids an individual from serving more than two terms in a row, but some argue that Kuchma is serving his first term under the new constitution and therefore is not prevented from serving another term. Kuchma has previously declared that he is not going to participate in the 2004 presidential election. JM

Arnolds Laksa, deputy chairman of the parliamentary faction Latvia's First Party (LPP), in a surprise announcement on 4 December said that he is giving up his seat in parliament, LETA reported. In an apparent reference to his dissatisfaction with Prime Minister Einars Repse's control over national-security institutions, Laksa said in a statement that "I cannot and I do not want to vote 'Yes' every time my conscience and my experience tell me to vote 'No."' Laksa, who has not worked in parliament since he was hospitalized with an intestinal infection in early November after returning from a trip to Iraq, was also the chairman of the parliament's Defense and Internal Affairs Committee. He reportedly did not discuss his decision with LPP members. Dzintars Jaundzeikars, a member of the council at the state-owned joint-stock company Latvian State Forests, who is next in line to take over Laksa's parliament seat, said that he is still considering whether to become a parliament deputy. SG

Parliament by a vote of 58 to 21 with one abstention on 4 December prolonged the participation of Latvian military personnel in their peacekeeping mission in Iraq from 31 December to 16 October 2004, BNS and LETA reported. Most of the speeches favoring the extension cited Latvia's obligations as a future NATO member. Some deputies from one of four coalition partners, the Union of Greens and Farmers, including its co-chairman Indulis Emsis, voted against the extension, noting that no weapons of mass destruction have been found in Iraq and that the United States has not ratified the Kyoto Protocol. A number of deputies from the opposition People's Party voted for the extension, although they criticized the Defense and Foreign ministries for failing to provide the Latvian troops in Iraq with proper gear and adequate living conditions. SG

The Constitutional Court on 4 December began hearings to determine whether President Rolandas Paksas's April decree granting Lithuanian citizenship to Avia Baltica owner Yurii Borisov was unconstitutional, "Kauno Diena" reported. The 12-hour proceedings, requested by parliament in early November, were broadcast live by Lithuanian State Television, with Paksas being the first of 15 witnesses called and Borisov being the last. Paksas's testimony that his decision to grant citizenship to Borisov was lawful was refuted by other witnesses, most notably State Security Department Director General Mecys Laurinkus, who said he informed Paksas in March about measures Lithuanian law enforcement agencies were taking against Borisov. A court decision ruling the citizenship illegal could serve as a basis for impeaching Paksas. SG

Premier Leszek Miller fractured two vertebrae when a helicopter carrying him and other officials crashed during an emergency landing near Warsaw on 4 December, Polish media reported. Local media reported that all of those accompanying Miller -- variously reported between 11 and 14 -- were injured in the accident as well. Other injured officials reportedly included Aleksandra Jakubowska, head of the prime minister's political office. Doctors said Miller must remain in hospital for a week. Miller told the private Radio Zet on 5 December that he is determined to attend an EU summit in Brussels on 12-13 December, "even in a body cast." The summit is expected to make a crucial decision on the EU draft constitution prepared by the European Convention, and Poland and Spain have been among the most vocal critics of the document. "The prime minister told me that he will go to Brussels even if he has to wear a corset and be in a wheelchair," government spokesman Marek Kaszuba told Polish Radio on 5 December. "Besides, he has more immediate plans because, although he is in hospital today, he is planning to meet [British Premier] Tony Blair in London on [9 December] and says that he really wants this meeting to take place," the spokesman said. JM

Prosecutors interrogated Jerzy Jaskiernia, head of the Democratic Left Alliance parliamentary caucus, on 4 December over allegations that he accepted a $10 million bribe from lobbyists to help effect the passage of amendments to a gambling law earlier this year (see "RFE/RL Poland, Belarus, and Ukraine Report," 2 December 2003), PAP reported. Jaskiernia called the allegations, which were made by former Self-Defense lawmaker Zbigniew Nowak, "absurd and idiotic." JM

The Czech Republic began the withdrawal of its military field hospital from the southern Iraqi city of Al-Basrah on 4 December, Reuters reported, citing Czech Radio. The Czech government decided in November to replace the hospital with a contingent of 80 military police, saying it lacks funding and qualified staff to rotate into the facility, and eliciting a public protest from Czech Ambassador to Kuwait Jana Hybaskova (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 1 December 2003). President Vaclav Klaus officially dismissed Hybaskova on 4 December. Reuters cited the hospital's military commander as saying that during its six-month service, the military hospital treated 10,146 people, and conducted 242 surgical operations. The military-police contingent that is to replace the hospital will be fully deployed within two months and will be stationed at the Shaiba military base, some 25 kilometers from Al-Basrah. In addition to police duty, its members will also help train local police forces. MS

Foreign Minister Cyril Svoboda told a meeting of NATO foreign ministers in Brussels on 4 December that Prague opposes any duplication of NATO and EU forces and will continue to do so, CTK reported. Svoboda thus backed the position expressed earlier at the conference by U.S. Secretary of State Colin Powell. "It is impossible to serve two masters at the same time," Svoboda said, adding that "a split kingdom sooner or later vanishes." He said EU and NATO forces should be complementary. Svoboda was reacting to a plan agreed last week by Great Britain, France, and Germany for separate EU defense-force headquarters, which Washington has criticized as a waste of resources. MS

Lawmakers on 4 December overrode President Rudolf Schuster's veto of legislation introducing a 19 percent flat tax, TASR reported (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 26 November 2003). The vote was 78 to 54 with four abstentions. The new rate will thus take effect on 1 January. MS

Parliament approved new legislation on 4 December aimed at improving the management and the supervision of public broadcasters Slovak Television and Slovak Radio, TASR reported. In addition to the current Television Council and Radio Council, the public broadcasters would each have a three-member supervisory commission. The president, the government, and parliament would appoint one commissioner each to the new bodies. The Television and Radio councils would each be expanded to 15 members, instead of the current nine. The stations' general directors would be appointed by their respective councils in a secret ballot, instead of being chosen by parliament, but the legislature would still appoint the councils' members. Slovak Television would no longer be subsidized by the state, and would have to finance its activities from license fees and sponsored programs. Slovak Radio would still be funded from the state budget. The laws will take effect on 1 January for Slovak Radio and 1 February for Slovak Television, subject to presidential approval. MS

The Slovak Parliament also approved a new bill regulating copyright and related issues in line with current international agreements, TASR reported. The legislation will also apply to works by foreign authors, and institutes stricter controls over the Slovak Performing and Mechanical Rights Society (SOZA). MS

Viktor Orban, the chairman of Hungary's strongest opposition party, FIDESZ, told reporters in Paris on 4 December that it is important to refer to the Christian foundations of Europe in the preamble of the EU constitution, "Nepszabadsag" reported. "A continent should dare to accept its own heritage," he said. Speaking after a meeting of conservative politicians, Orban said an Italian proposal to incorporate the protection of minority rights into the future European constitution is a "first step in the right direction." MSZ

A Budapest city court ruled in Orban's favor on 4 December in a lawsuit against journalist Laszlo Juszt, who wrote in the 28 October 2002 issue of "Nepszava" that Orban used pejorative terms to refer to Jews, the MTI news agency reported. The Budapest Metropolitan Court concluded that Juszt invaded Orban's privacy in the article, in which he analyzed the public speeches of leading politicians during commemorations of the 1956 Hungarian Uprising. Orban filed a lawsuit against Juszt on 26 March (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 27 March 2003), one week after a court admonished the journalist for damaging the reputation of FIDESZ Deputy Chairman Laszlo Kover in the same article by alleging that Kover used anti-Semitic language in public (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 19 March 2003). MSZ

Speaking at a NATO foreign ministers' meeting in Brussels on 4 December, U.S. Secretary of State Colin Powell said Bosnia is "one of NATO's greatest successes," adding that the alliance's SFOR mission will be largely completed by the end of 2004, RFE/RL's South Slavic and Albanian Languages Service reported (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 29 October and 18, 19, and 24 November 2003 and "RFE/RL Balkan Report," 19 September 2003). Powell called on Bosnian authorities to arrest indicted war criminal Radovan Karadzic, adding that bringing such individuals to justice is a key precondition for Bosnia's admission to NATO's Partnership for Peace program. PM

Powell stated in Brussels on 4 December that he expects Kosova to have met the democratic standards set down by the international community by mid-2005, noting that KFOR's mission will continue there while the people of Kosova implement those standards, RFE/RL's South Slavic and Albanian Languages Service reported. Powell stressed that the NATO countries went into Kosova together and will leave together, as he has said often in the past. Several U.S. officials previously said that it is too early to discuss NATO's complete exit from the Balkans, where many Muslims and ethnic Albanians trust the United States but not the EU, which is anxious to show that it can deal with the region's problems alone. Several top-ranking Kosovar leaders recently told "RFE/RL Newsline" in Prishtina that armed conflict could resume in Kosova if all U.S. forces left, because such a move would have a highly unsettling effect on the ethnic Albanian majority (see "RFE/RL Balkan Report," 1 August and 19 September 2003). PM

Powell also said in Brussels on 4 December that Macedonia is well past the crisis stage, RFE/RL's South Slavic and Albanian Languages Service reported. "Now that we are on the move in Macedonia [and have] gotten past the crisis of the past few years, we have to focus on improving the economy, making sure the institutions of democracy are firmly rooted and are thriving in order to give hope to the people in Macedonia," he argued (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 25 and 29 September 2003 and "RFE/RL Balkan Report," 20 June and 5 September 2003). PM

Powell noted in Brussels on 4 December that Serbia and Montenegro has a good chance of being admitted to NATO's Partnership for Peace program at the alliance's June 2005 Istanbul summit if it arrests former General Ratko Mladic and sends him to the war crimes tribunal in The Hague, RFE/RL's South Slavic and Albanian Languages Service reported. Belgrade must also drop a lawsuit against NATO dating back to the rule of former Yugoslav President Slobodan Milosevic (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 2 and 3 December 2003 and "RFE/RL Balkan Report," 27 June and 8 August 2003). Powell said he appreciates Serbia and Montenegro's offer of troops to Afghanistan, adding that he will urge NATO to accept the offer soon. PM

The presidents of Croatia, Macedonia, and Serbia and Montenegro, along with the prime minister of Bosnia, said in a statement in Cavtat, Croatia, on 4 December that regional cooperation has become a priority for them in their efforts to join the EU, dpa reported (see "RFE/RL Balkan Report," 22 November 2002 and 27 June 2003). Croatian President Stipe Mesic called for cooperation on a "Scandinavian model." Serbia and Montenegro's President Svetozar Marovic said, "It is our duty to be partners in free trade, in an open society without visa regimes, in cooperation with international organizations, as well as in the promotion of democratic values." PM

Vladimir Vukcevic, who is Serbia's war crimes prosecutor, issued his first indictments in Belgrade on 4 December, charging eight men in connection with their alleged roles in "war crimes against prisoners" in Ovcara, near Vukovar, on 20 and 21 November 1991, "The New York Times" reported. All eight men are in police custody, but their names have not been made public. PM

On 4 December, Macedonian Colonel Blagoja Markovski of the body coordinating voluntary civilian disarmament warned of the draconian sentences awaiting those found in possession of illegal arms after the end of the no-questions-asked operation on 15 December, MIA news agency reported. The "Financial Times" of 4 December quoted Interior Minister Hari Kostov as saying that Macedonia could look like a "police state" once the amnesty ends and the authorities start seizing weapons that were not handed in. Those found in possession of illegal arms after 15 December face fines up to $10,000 or prison terms up to 10 years. The government will soon distribute about 500,000 leaflets with additional information (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 12 November and 1 December 2003 and "RFE/RL Balkan Report," 29 August 2003). UB

The Slovenian government decided on 5 December to send up to 20 peacekeepers to join ISAF forces in Afghanistan for a mission to last from February to August 2004, dpa reported. PM

Foreign Minister Mircea Geoana said on 4 December that the accession of NATO's new seven members might take place earlier than the 28 June 2004 NATO summit in Istanbul, Mediafax reported. Geoana spoke after attending a meeting in Brussels of foreign ministers of NATO member states. Romania was invited for the first time to attend the ministerial meeting. He said the accession date might be advanced to 5 April 2004, when NATO will celebrate its 55th anniversary. Geoana noted that the first wave of enlargement was also marked in a symbolic manner, when the Czech Republic, Hungary, and Poland officially joined NATO on the organization's 50th anniversary. MS

President Ion Iliescu, on a two-day visit to Turkey, said on 4 December after talks with his counterpart Ahmet Necdet Sezer that relations between the two states are excellent and an important contribution to Balkan regional stability, Romanian Radio reported. Iliescu said cooperation between the two states will intensify even further once Romania joins Turkey in NATO. He said Balkan states must create an antiterrorism alliance that should extend throughout the entire Black Sea zone. Iliescu also met with Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan, parliamentary speaker Bulent Arinc, and former President Suleyman Demirel. On 5 December, Iliescu was to travel from Ankara to Istanbul to inaugurate a park named after 18th century Romanian Prince Dimitrie Cantemir and meet with professors and students at the Galatasaray University, according to AFP. MS

Visiting Egyptian Prime Minister Atef Abeid met on 4 December with his Romanian counterpart Adrian Nastase and attended a Romanian-Egyptian economic forum, Romanian Radio reported. Nastase told Abeid that Romania is interested in participating in the construction of an undersea pipeline for the export of Egyptian gas to the Balkans, dpa reported. Romanian radio cited Nastase as telling the forum that negotiations for an agreement for a Romanian-Egyptian free-trade zone are nearly completed and might be signed by March 2004. On 3 December, Abeid was received by President Iliescu, who expressed appreciation for the efforts made by Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak to promote peace and stability in the Middle East, AFP reported. MS

A Bucharest court fined Prosecutor-General Ilie Botos on 4 December for refusing to disclose how many people his office has allowed to be wiretapped, Mediafax and Reuters reported. The Association for the Defense of Human Rights in Romania-Helsinki Committee (APADOR-CH) filed a complaint on the basis of a law approved in 2001 that grants access to public information after Botos's office refused to comply with a previous court decision ordering that the information be made available to the APADOR-CH. The court on 4 December ruled that Botos must pay a fine of 500 lei ($.015) per day until the information is released, but Botos's office said it will appeal the sentence. MS

Timisoara journalist Ivo Ardelean, the author of several articles published in the local edition of the daily "Evenimentul zilei" that were highly critical of local leaders of the ruling Social Democratic Party (PSD) and alleged improper links to illegal business, was beaten unconscious on 3 December, Mediafax and Reuters reported. He underwent surgery for a broken jaw and other head injuries and will be unable to talk to investigators for at least 20 days, according to the reports. The Timisoara PSD branch said it "regretted the incident" and called on the authorities to investigate the case. Mircea Toma, who heads the Agency for Monitoring Press Freedoms, said Ardelean was the 14th journalist to be physically assaulted in Romania this year. "Attacks on journalists have grown. We are now seeing that people are hiring paid aggressors to beat journalists," Reuters quoted Toma as saying. MS

Several dozens gathered on 4 December in front of the Teleradio Moldova offices in Chisinau to protest censorship and subordination to government orders at the public broadcasting company, RFE/RL's bureau in the Moldovan capital reported. The protest was organized by the Committee for the Defense of Moldovan Independence and Constitution (CAIC). Demonstrators denounced the recent decision by Teleradio Moldova's management to ban news director Valentina Ursu from presenting a popular radio program and rejected an offer by President Vladimir Voronin to grant opposition parties one hour of airtime weekly to express their views. The demonstrators said Teleradio Moldova should be a public company that depicts events as they occur, and that it is not up to the president to decide what goes on air. They also claimed the communist government intends to eliminate the opposition by inventing legal violations committed by its members. MS

Parliament voted on 4 December to accept the resignation of Prosecutor-General Vasile Rusu and appointed Valeriu Balaban to replace him, RFE/RL's Chisinau bureau and Infotag reported. No reason was given for Rusu's alleged resignation and, according to CAIC sources, the move amounts to a virtual dismissal. Last week, deputies representing the ruling Party of Moldovan Communists (PCM) criticized Rusu and the heads of security services for failing to put an end to recent demonstrations organized by the Popular Party Christian Democratic in front of the Russian Embassy. Balaban had been serving as a senior officer in the Information and Security Service. The decision to dismiss Rusu was made in the absence of opposition deputies, who are boycotting parliament to protest the PCM majority's intention to dismiss Our Moldova Deputy Lidia Gutu as chairwoman of the Social Protection and Family Affairs Committee. The PCM majority claims Gutu encouraged pupils to participate in the recent protest demonstrations in Chisinau. MS

Vladimir Filipov, the Council of Europe secretary-general's special representative to Moldova, said on 4 December in Chisinau that the council disapproves of the polarization in Moldova triggered by federalization plans, Infotag reported. Filipov said Moldova will not be able to join the EU before resolving its internal political differences in a peaceful and democratic manner. He spoke at the Permanent Roundtable of representatives of the ruling PCM and opposition parties. "The EU is not only an organization of states with well-developed economies. It is also an institution that strictly respects human rights, with democracy being its most important principle," he said. "We therefore call on all [Moldovan] political parties to cooperate in a democratic and peaceful manner in order to reach a solution of the Transdniester conflict acceptable to all." MS

The Prosecutor-General's Office on 4 December summoned General Boyko Borisov, the Interior Ministry's chief secretary in charge of the country's police services, bnn reported. Borisov was questioned in connection with a statement he made in Washington on 2 December. "Many thugs in Bulgaria are at large because of the prosecutor's office," the BBC quoted Borisov as saying at the time. "Judges and -- most of all -- prosecutors, are guilty for letting criminals remain at large," he added. The Association of Prosecutors has claimed that Borisov's comments were intended to incite a conflict between the Interior Ministry and the judiciary. Borisov subsequently tried to downplay his Washington statement in an interview with bTV. He said his comments were misinterpreted by journalists, and that responsibility for shortcomings in the country's crime-fighting efforts should be shared by the Interior Ministry and the judiciary. UB

President Georgi Parvanov said on 4 December that Bulgaria is prepared to allow the United States to open new military bases in Bulgaria, but should first assess the military and economic implications of such a move, bnn reported. "Whether these [bases] will be military practice grounds or bases, and what the economic implications would be, a matter for further discussion," Parvanov said. UB

Among the many polls taken over the course of the current Russian State Duma election campaign, the one that might turn out to have had the most significance was a mid-November poll by VTsIOM-A. The agency found that 70 percent of respondents had little or no interest in the election campaign. Should this finding be validated by a low turnout on 7 December -- and many analysts are predicting that turnout will indeed be low -- it will be a strong signal that most Russians no longer believe their country's elections offer a meaningful choice.

Indeed, the idea that the results of the Duma contest are essentially already in -- with the winner's circle, of course, occupied by the pro-Kremlin blocs and parties, above all Unified Russia -- has been expressed during the campaign by politicians and observers from across the political spectrum. One of them, Communist Party of Russia (KPRF) leader Gennadii Zyuganov, sent a letter to President Vladimir Putin accusing the presidential administration of suppressing its political opponents in the Duma election campaign through "lies and intimidation." The Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE), while more diplomatic, voiced similar concerns on 1 December, citing "verified instances of the use of administrative resources" by Unified Russia's cohort of candidates from officialdom and accusing state-controlled national television of giving the pro-Kremlin party favorable coverage while attacking its opponents.

For Leonid Radzikhovskii, the liberal political analyst and columnist, the parliamentary election campaign has revealed the "chasm" that separates the "enormous mass of poverty-stricken voters" and the "millionaire deputies." "It is clear that the voters and their chosen ones are antagonists; they simply do not understand one another, live in different countries that have partially intersecting territories and the common name 'Russia,'" Radzikhovskii wrote in "Rossiiskaya gazeta" on 2 December. "It is clear that they do not have and cannot have common interests, that the deputies try to contact the voters only with a thin thread of demagogy that is torn precisely on election day."

Still, the Duma campaign has provided an opportunity to gauge the country's broad political sentiments (to the extent that they exist). And what has come out of the political platforms, the campaign advertisements, and the debates is a sense that the country -- or at least its politically active segment -- has moved distinctly leftward, with active state involvement in the economy back in vogue and the 1990s-style oligarch an increasingly endangered species. This was vividly underscored during a debate, broadcast on TV-Tsentr on 28 November, between the Motherland bloc and the Democratic Party of Russia (DPR). The former is headed by leftwing economist Sergei Glazev; the latter by Mikhail Prusak, the Novgorod Oblast governor widely viewed as a market reformer. Yet Motherland's representative in the debate, Nikolai Leonov, and the DPR's representative, Vladimir Podoprigora, were in virtual agreement that oligarchs had robbed the country and that the state should redistribute revenues from the sale of natural resources for social-welfare purposes. Indeed, the parties and blocs that have called during the campaign for either redistributing natural-resource wealth and/or revising 1990s privatizations include Motherland, the DPR, Yabloko, the KPRF, the Agrarian Party, the People's Party, the People's Republican Party, the Great Russia-Eurasian Union bloc, the Liberal Democratic Party of Russia (LDPR), the Russia's Rebirth-Party of Life bloc and the Russian Party of Pensioners-Party of Social Justice bloc.

The fact that LDPR chief Vladimir Zhirinovskii has veered sharply to the left in this campaign is worth examining. During debates he has stressed, among other things, the need to nationalize "heavy industry." He also has repeatedly called for punishing the oligarchs and businessmen more generally (in a 2 December debate aired on RTR, he declared that "60 percent of businessmen are swindlers" guilty of crimes including "selling fake vodka, selling fake medicine, and producing fake food") and for forcing them to repatriate the money they took out of Russia. In an LDPR television ad, its leader listed four ways of dealing with oligarchs who resist repatriating their wealth: forced emigration; prison ("Many of them have already been to prison and we can send them back there," he said.); the mental hospital; or "the grave."

While many observers believe Zhirinovskii is a Kremlin stalking horse, he is also a canny politician. And regardless of whether the LDPR does well in the 7 December election or is eclipsed by newer groups espousing a mix of nationalism and leftist economic policies (above all, Motherland), his tycoon-bashing, like the polls showing strong public support for the jailing of oil baron Mikhail Khodorkovskii, is probably a reliable indicator of the public mood. Indeed, if the KPRF performs poorly on 7 December, it will, ironically, be in no small measure due to the perception that it has been too cozy with leading oligarchs like Khodorkovskii and Boris Berezovskii.

The increase in anti-oligarch and anti-liberal public sentiment is also reflected in the increasing unease of leading liberal politicians. This was evident on 3 December, when Union of Rightist Forces (SPS) leaders Boris Nemtsov, Irina Khakamada, and Anatolii Chubais warned, as Chubais put it, that "national-socialism has raised its head in the country in its most disgusting and most dangerous form." They referred specifically to the Motherland bloc and its two leaders, Sergei Glazev and State Duma Foreign Affairs Committee Chairman Dmitrii Rogozin. Khakamada warned that both the SPS and Yabloko are close to dipping below the 5 percent barrier required for representation in the Duma, calling the situation "catastrophic" and fraught with "colossal" risk.

The SPS leaders' warnings might have been an attempt to mobilize their supporters or simply to stick it to Yabloko one more time before election day for refusing their calls to unite. Still, Khakamada's fears that the two liberal parties might not make it into the Duma echoed forecasts made just days earlier by several leading polling agencies.

Jonas Bernstein, who edits the American Foreign Policy Council's "Russia Reform Monitor," worked in Russia as a journalist from 1992 to 2000.

U.S. Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld met with Afghan Transitional Administration Chairman Hamid Karzai in Kabul on 4 December, Hindukosh news agency reported. Rumsfeld discussed his meeting earlier the same day in Mazar-e Sharif with rival northern Afghan warlords Abdul Rashid Dostum and Ata Mohammad (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 4 December 2003), welcoming their pledge to disarm. According to an unidentified senior U.S. Defense Department official present at the meeting in Mazar-e Sharif and quoted by "The New York Times" on 5 December, while Ata Mohammad hailed his side's rapid compliance with the disarmament deal, Dostum said his "side is a little slower, but" will cooperate. The Afghan Defense Ministry has expressed its appreciation to Ata Mohammad for his side's handover of heavy weaponry in northern Afghanistan and urged Dostum's forces to follow suit, Afghanistan Television reported on 4 December. AT

While in Kabul on 4 December, Rumsfeld met with Afghan Defense Minister Marshall Mohammad Qasim Fahim, Afghanistan Television reported. Fahim said that he intends to bring the heavy weapons under his personal command in Panjsher Valley to Kabul in order to "nationalize" the Afghan Defense Ministry. Fahim also vowed that once all of the heavy weapons under his command are brought to Kabul, they will be withdrawn outside the capital. The commander of the NATO-led International Security Assistance Force (ISAF) in Afghanistan, Germany's Lieutenant General Goetz Gliemeroth, in October recommended the removal of heavy weapons from Kabul without specifying to which faction those weapons belong. All of the heavy weapons in Kabul are under the command of Fahim's own Shura-ye Nizar faction (see, "RFE/RL Afghanistan Report," 23 and 30 October 2003). AT

General Abdul Majid Rozi, an aide to Junbish-e Melli party leader and warlord General Dostum, said his side is reluctant to hand over its heavy weapons to the central government, the BBC Dari service reported on 2 December. General Rozi said that since the Taliban and Al-Qaeda are still active, "there is no guarantee" that they will not again massacre people in northern Afghanistan, implying that his side should therefore retain its weapons. According to Rozi, Dostum is still standing behind his promise to hand over his party's heavy weapons. But he asked why when "there are more than 10 military corps across the country, [and] there are more than 20 or 30 divisions,... the [disarmament] program [is being] implemented just in the northern zone's five divisions?" Karzai has been unable to extend the authority of the central government to northern Afghanistan or bring an end to factional fighting between Generals Dostum and Ata Mohammad (see "RFE/RL Afghanistan Report," 23 May, 5 June, 13 November, and 4 December 2003). AT

Suspected neo-Taliban militants ambushed a UN convoy carrying census workers in Farah Province on 4 December, killing one Afghan UN worker and wounding 11 others, Reuter reported. AT

International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) Director-General Mohammad el-Baradei on 4 December rejected criticism of the nuclear watchdog's failure to detect clandestine Iranian nuclear activities, Reuters reported. "Yes, Iran has been successful in doing research and laboratory activities and this we were not able to detect, and I don't think we will be able to detect in the future," el-Baradei said. However, he added, "if a country moves from an industrial scale to develop weapons, I think the system, with all the technology that we have, makes it highly unlikely that this kind of program would go on undetected." On 3 December, Iranian Foreign Ministry spokesman Hamid Reza Assefi described recent comments made by U.S. Undersecretary of State John Bolton regarding Iranian nuclear activities as "rude, undiplomatic, and due to numerous defeats of the U.S. unilateral policies," IRNA reported. Assefi also accused the United States of arrogance and bullying. In a 2 December speech, Bolton said the United States is concerned about Iranian nuclear activities and might act to counter them (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 3 December 2003). BS

Louis Freeh, former director of the U.S. Federal Bureau of Investigation, testified briefly on 2 December in a trial related to the 25 June 1996 bombing of U.S. military housing in Saudi Arabia, AP reported. The bombing of the Khobar Towers killed 19 U.S. Air Force personnel and wounded hundreds of other people. The victims' families are seeking compensation for their losses. Iran is referred to almost 40 times in relation to the bombing in the June 2001 indictment. U.S. Attorney General John Ashcroft said in announcing the indictment that "the charged defendants reported their surveillance activities to Iranian officials and were supported and directed in those activities by Iranian officials" (see "RFE/RL Iran Report," 25 June 2001). BS

Student Day ceremonies are scheduled for 7 December (16 Azar on the Persian calendar), and the Iranian government has acted to limit related unrest by confining any gatherings to university campuses. Mehdi Aminzadeh of the Office for Strengthening Unity's Allameh faction said on 30 November that the Tehran Governor-General's Office was refusing to issue a permit for a demonstration at the Husseinieh Irshad meeting hall in Tehran, ISNA reported. Ali Talai, an official from the Tehran Governorate-General's Political-Security Affairs Directorate, said on 24 November that any rallies should be confined to university campuses, ISNA reported. Mehdi Shojai, an Office for Strengthening Unity leader at Amir Kabir University, questioned this decision and asked when there has been adequate security for previous rallies that did have permits, according to ILNA. Shojai noted that several other rallies that did have permits were nevertheless attacked by plainclothes thugs. He suggested that hardliners do not have to secure permits for their rallies, whereas reformists must obtain them. BS

The Islamic Revolution Court on 4 December sentenced reformist activist and journalist Emadedin Baqi to a year in jail for propagandizing against the system and for activities in favor of opposition groups, ISNA reported. Baqi refused to defend himself because he saw the court as illegitimate, and he said on 9 November that "the court, however, ignored my protest, telling me that the proceedings were legal," ILNA reported. Baqi was imprisoned from May 2000 until February 2003 for "undermining national security" and "putting out false news" after he editorialized about the death penalty and Islam (see "RFE/RL Iran Report," 17 February 2003). Reporters Without Borders has described Iran as the biggest prison for journalists in the Middle East. BS

Parliamentary presidium member Ebrahim Amini said on 4 December that the legislature's leadership is against putting the election of Guardians Council jurists on its agenda, Mehr News Agency reported. The council is made up of six clerics appointed by the supreme leader, along with six jurists selected by the judiciary chief who must be confirmed by the legislature. One of the council jurists resigned recently, and on 12 November the legislature rejected two possible replacements -- Fazlollah Musavi and Gholamhussein Elham (see "RFE/RL Iran Report," 17 November 2003). In a 30 November letter, IRNA reported, judiciary chief Ayatollah Mahmud Hashemi-Shahrudi again proposed Musavi, as well as Mohammad Hadi Sadeqi. Deputy Speaker of Parliament Mohammad Reza Khatami described the proposal of a rejected candidate as an insult to the legislature and added that, according to parliamentary standing orders, something that has been rejected by the legislature cannot be discussed again for another six months. Amini said on 4 December that the speaker of parliament, Hojatoleslam Mehdi Karrubi, will urge Shahrudi to nominate somebody other than Musavi. BS

Iraqi Foreign Minister Hoshyar Zebari said on 4 December that U.S. and Iraqi investigations into the 29 November killing of two Japanese diplomats (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 1 December 2003) show that the assassins were likely former agents of the Iraqi Mukhabarat, or secret service, Kyodo World Service reported on 5 December. The style of the attack matched methods prescribed in the Mukhabarat's handbook, Zebari said. He also said that the Mukhabarat was behind the weekend killing of two South Korean technicians and seven Spanish intelligence agents (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 1 December 2003). Japanese Prime Minister Junichiro Koizumi reacted to Zebari's remarks by saying, "Various people are targeted, not only Japanese. It was a cruel and unforgivable act." KR

Four Iraqis and a U.S. soldier were killed when a roadside bomb detonated in Baghdad on 5 December, international media reported. Iraqi police Captain Sami Hadi told Reuters that some 16 Iraqis were injured when the bomb, planted in the middle of a heavily trafficked road, detonated as a minibus and a U.S. convoy passed traveling in opposite directions, Reuters reported. KR

The Iraqi Governing Council began talks with Syrian officials this week to extradite former officials of the deposed Hussein regime believed to have taken refuge there, Baghdad's "Al-Da'wah" reported on 3 December. Governing Council spokesman Hamid al-Kifa'i said that Iraqis holding administrative and party positions in the former regime's Ba'ath Party have taken refuge in Damascus over the past several months. The individuals in question also smuggled large amounts of Iraqi funds to Syria, which they are reportedly using to finance terrorist operations against coalition troops in Iraq, he added. According to al-Kifa'i, the Hussein loyalists are seeking to reorganize the Iraqi Ba'ath Party from Syria. Meanwhile, "Al-Da'wah" reported on 3 December that Syria has told the Iraqi Foreign Ministry that it wishes to reopen its embassy in Baghdad, which has been closed since 1980. Syria has appointed Dib Abu Latif, the director of Syrian Foreign Minister Faruq al-Shara's office, as head of its mission in Baghdad. KR

U.K. Special Representative to Iraq Sir Jeremy Greenstock said on 4 December that there is "evidence of motivation and the beginning of some activity" among Iraqi Ba'athists, reported the same day. Iraqi officials and political parties told that former Ba'athist leaders who were on bad terms with the Hussein regime are seeking to establish a new political party that would not have any relations with the deposed president. "The Sunnis have been feeling marginalized and they're feeling that the Sunni question is linked to de-Ba'athification," an Iraqi official told "The Ba'athists are feeling cornered, so they're fighting," he added. Coalition officials have said that they will not change their policy concerning de-Ba'athification, which bans former party members from serving in government positions. KR

The U.S. Army's 101st Airborne Division and Kurdish Peshmerga Special Forces have completed a four-month renovation project to restore the Hawler International Airport in Irbil, reported on 2 December. "This is a joint triumph," U.S. Major General David Petraeus, commander of the 101st Airborne Division, said at a ceremony marking the occasion. The project included construction of a 3-kilometer ring road connecting the airport to high-traffic roads; the construction of an 18-kilometer perimeter road around the airport; and the expansion of a cargo parking apron accessed by two taxiways, Major Benjamin Bigelow said. Airport Commissioner Sardar Barzani expressed his appreciation for the help of U.S. forces in completing the project, saying, "It's a great way to get tourists to Kurdistan." An air-traffic-control tower needs to be built, as well as fencing around the ring road and airfield, before the airport opens for business. Soldiers from four engineering units attached to the 101st participated in the project. KR