PUTIN SAYS HE DOESN'T PLAN TO CHANGE CONSTITUTION...
President Vladimir Putin said on 9 December that changing Russia's constitution to allow him to seek a third term is not on his agenda, Russian and international media reported. "Our task is to stop any talk about the need to change the constitution and focus our attention on preserving the constitution and using all the opportunities it offers to help develop the country," Putin said during a Kremlin meeting to mark the 10th anniversary of Russia's post-Soviet constitution. Putin is widely expected easily to win a second term in March, and many analysts have speculated that he might use his strong majority in the Duma to revise the constitutional two-term limit for presidents (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 9 December 2003). Some observers argued that Putin's statement might not be his last word on the issue. "He's always said that about the constitution, but he is a politician and he can change his mind," the Carnegie Moscow Center's Nikolai Petrov said, according to "The Moscow Times" on 10 December. "However, things like that can be done only after his re-election as president." BW/JB
...AND CALLS FOR ACTION AGAINST TERRORISTS AFTER BLAST
Speaking after a 9 December bombing in downtown Moscow, President Putin called for new efforts to halt "terrorists," saying they are trying to undermine Russia's economic and democratic development, Russian and international media reported on 9 December. "The actions of criminals, terrorists which we have to confront even today are aimed against all that," Putin said. The statement came in the wake of a bombing near Moscow's National Hotel, which left six dead and caused an estimated $500,000 in damage. BW
INVESTIGATORS SAY MOSCOW EXPLOSION WAS TERRORISM...
Investigators from the Federal Security Service (FSB) and the Prosecutor-General's Office on 10 December completed their examination of the site of the previous day's bomb blast outside the National Hotel, RBK reported. Preliminary findings have shown that the explosion had a force equivalent to that of 5 kilograms of TNT, the news agency reported. Gazeta.ru, however, reported on 9 December that the explosive device used only detonated partially, producing a blast equivalent to 500 grams of TNT. Prime-TASS reported on 9 December that the explosive device used was a so-called "shahid" (martyr's) belt like the one used in a suicide bomb attack that killed 15 people at an open-air rock festival in Moscow in July (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 7 July 2003). There were also contradictory reports about the number of perpetrators involved in the bombing outside the National Hotel. RBK reported on 10 December that it was carried out by "two female suicide bombers," while Prime-TASS the previous day quoted unidentified police officials as saying that three of those killed in the blast were "the supposed female terrorists." BW
...AND ARE SEEKING A FEMALE SUSPECT...
Police and the FSB are looking for a woman who was allegedly seen leaving the scene of the 9 December explosion, RIA-Novosti reported on 9 December, citing an unidentified Moscow law enforcement source. "This is a woman of about 40-45 years old who appears to be a native of the Caucasus," the source said. BW
...BUT HAVEN'T RULED OUT THAT IT WAS CRIMINAL SCORE SETTLING
Gazeta.ru on 9 December reported that the special services are "certain" the bombing was a terrorist attack, and this version was backed up numerous media reports that one of the apparent bombers had asked for directions to the State Duma -- which is about a block away from the National Hotel -- shortly before the explosion. But the website also reported that investigators have not ruled out that the bombing was the result of score settling between criminal groups. The authorities never stated definitively whether an August 2000 bomb blast in a pedestrian underpass near Moscow's Pushkin Square, which killed 13 people, was a terrorist act or the result of a conflict between criminal groups. JB
COMMUNISTS PRESENT RESULTS FROM PARALLEL VOTE COUNT
The Communist Party on 10 December made public the preliminary results of its parallel vote count for the 7 December State Duma elections, Interfax reported. According to party Central Committee Deputy Chairman Ivan Melnikov, the parallel count, which is ongoing, suggests that Yabloko received 5.7 percent of the vote and thus should be in the Duma, while the Union of Rightist Forces (SPS) won 4.9 percent, just short of the 5 percent needed to win Duma representation. According to figures from the Central Election Commission (TsIK) based on a count of 97.87 percent of the total votes cast, Yabloko received 4.3 percent of the vote, and the SPS won 4.0 percent. Oleg Morozov of the pro-Kremlin Unified Russia party denounced Melnikov's announcement as "an attempt to replace legal procedures with political pressure." Yabloko's Sergei Ivanenko announced on 10 December that his party has initiated "very broad" talks with "those democratic parties that did not end up in the State Duma" about creating a "democratic coalition." JB
PRESIDENTIAL ENVOY HAILS REFERENDUMS ON MERGER OF TWO REGIONS...
Presidential envoy to the Volga Federal District Sergei Kirienko hailed the results of 7 December referendums on a proposal to merge Perm Oblast with neighboring Komi-Permyak Autonomous Okrug, ITAR-TASS reported on 8 December. More than 80 percent of those who voted were in favor of the proposed merger. The positive referendums were of "great importance for Russia, the Volga Federal District, and the two regions," Kirienko said. "The first attempt in the history of modern Russia to merge two regions has been made in the most multiethnic part of the country." Deputy Prime Minister Vladimir Yakovlev said the overwhelming support for the merger was prompted by "the very serious social and economic situation" in the Komi-Permyak Autonomous Okrug, ITAR-TASS reported on 9 December. JB
...WHILE DEPUTY PRIME MINISTER SAYS MORE REGIONAL CONSOLIDATION IS POSSIBLE
Deputy Prime Minister Yakovlev said about 18 Russian regions could end up merging, ITAR-TASS reported on 9 December. He mention the Koryak Autonomous Okrug and Kamchatka Oblast, the Republic of Altai and Altai Krai, and several northern regions, all of which he described as "relatively not self-sufficient." Yakovlev also said mergers of Moscow and Moscow Oblast and St. Petersburg and Leningrad Oblast are possible, but complex because they involved "very large areas." Yakovlev said mergers are aimed at creating "economic stability so that people could live and work rather than wait for subsidies from the center" and should be decided in referendums, not "administratively." Unified Russia strongly backs the idea of consolidating Russia's regions. Last month, party co-leader and Emergency Situations Minister Sergei Shoigu said the merger of Perm Oblast and Komi-Permyak Autonomous Okrug fully corresponded to Unified Russia's ideology (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 1 December 2003). JB
PUTIN, GLAZEV TAKE AIM AT NATURAL-RESOURCE EXTRACTORS
Speaking to a meeting of the Council of Legislators on 9 December, President Putin stated that forest and mineral resources are federal property, adding that the involvement of the regions in developing such resources is an issue that "should be resolved" and that legislative "unevenness" related to it should be eliminated, ITAR-TASS reported. Putin also warned against regional legislation being used "for other purposes, for instance in the interests of major companies whose economic aims often poorly match the interests of small ethnic groups living in the Far North and the Far East." Putin noted that large companies often "are simply trying to use loopholes in the legislation and want to bypass the federal center and resolve problems to the detriment of the state's interests." Meanwhile, Motherland-Patriotic Union co-leader Sergei Glazev said his bloc, which received about 10 percent of the vote in the 7 December Duma elections, will push for the introduction of "royalty taxes" on extractors of natural resources as well as for "fines for damage to the environment," "The Moscow Times" reported on 10 December. JB
MENATEP OFFICES IN MOSCOW SEARCHED BY PROSECUTORS...
Prosecutors on 9 December searched the Moscow office of the Menatep-St Petersburg Bank, gazeta.ru reported. The building had earlier been occupied by oil giant Yukos, and now it houses the bank branch and a Yukos affiliate named Yukos FSB. Gazeta.ru quoted a source at the bank as saying investigators examined computer servers, and employees were told to leave their workplaces, but were forbidden to leave the office. BW
...AS YUKOS, SIBNEFT REPORTEDLY ABORT MERGER
The Yukos and Sibneft have broken off merger talks without reaching agreement, Ekho Moskvy reported on 9 December, citing unidentified participants in the negotiations. Yukos refused the conditions offered by Sibneft (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 2 December 2003), the sources told Ekho Moskvy, and the two will remain independent companies. The terms of the reversal deal will be announced in the near future, the radio station reported. BW
PUTIN DISCUSSES DEEPENING TIES WITH ISLAMIC CONFERENCE
President Putin met with Bashkir President Murtaza Rakhimov on 9 December to discuss Russia's potential cooperation with the Organization of the Islamic Conference (OIC), Russian media reported. Rakhmirov was a member of the Russian delegation that accompanied Putin to the OIC 2003 summit in Malaysia in October (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 17 October 2003). BW
GIRL CHARGED FOR THROWING EGG AT PRIME MINISTER
A court has approved the pretrial detention of Natalya Chernova, who allegedly threw an egg at Prime Minister Mikhail Kasyanov while he was voting during the 7 December parliamentary elections, RIA-Novosti reported on 9 December. Chernova reportedly threw the egg and shouted, "Kasyanov, the election in a farce!" She and an alleged accomplice have been charged with "group hooliganism," prosecutors said. BW
UNIFIED RUSSIA CANDIDATE TO REPRESENT CHECHNYA IN DUMA
Unified Russia candidate Akhmar Zavgaev, who formerly represented Chechnya in the Federation Council, has been elected Chechnya's Duma deputy with some 65 percent of the vote, defeating six rival candidates, "Nezavisimaya gazeta" reported on 10 December. Meanwhile, defeated Chechen presidential candidate and Achkhoi-Martan Raion administration head Shamil Buraev cast doubts on official claims that voter turnout in Chechnya was more than 70 percent, saying it did not exceed 5 percent. An Ingush human rights activist similarly told "Nezavisimaya gazeta" that Chechen colleagues informed him that voter turnout for the 7 December vote was far lower than that for the 5 October presidential ballot, and that only a handful of the thousands of Chechen displaced persons still living in camps in Ingushetia participated in the ballot. Chechen President Aslan Maskhadov has estimated voter turnout on 7 December at between 2.5 and 3 percent (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 9 December 2003). LF
WORLD BANK OFFICIALS VISIT ARMENIA
A delegation of World Bank regional directors held talks in Yerevan on 8-9 December with senior officials to assess implementation of projects funded by the bank and future cooperation plans, Noyan Tapan and RFE/RL's Yerevan bureau reported. World Bank spokesman in Armenia Vigen Sargsian said the bank will probably make available a further $43 million in low-interest loans by June 2004, after which the bank is to adopt a new four-year "country assistance strategy" encompassing up to $200 million worth of credit. LF
PACE RAPPORTEUR FOCUSES ON POLITICAL PRISONERS IN AZERBAIJAN...
Malcolm Bruce, who is the Parliamentary Assembly of the Council of Europe's (PACE) rapporteur on human rights and political prisoners, met in Baku on 8 December with President Ilham Aliyev and on 9 December with Justice Minister Fikret Mamedov and presidential administration head Ramiz Mekhtiev, Turan and zerkalo.az reported on 9 and 10 December, respectively. Bruce also visited in jail several people whom the Council of Europe considers political prisoners. Bruce informed Azerbaijan's PACE delegation head Samed Saidov that the ongoing disagreement between Azerbaijan and the Council of Europe over whether those people are in fact political prisoners could easily be resolved by releasing them. Both Saidov and Aliyev assured Bruce that prior to the January 2004 PACE session, Azerbaijan will enact legislation on which the Council of Europe insists. Those laws concern the Constitutional Court and the establishment of a public television channel, according to zerkalo.az on 10 December. LF
...AS AZERBAIJANI OPPOSITION COMPLAINS TO PACE LEADERSHIP
Also on 9 December, three prominent Azerbaijani opposition figures -- Isa Qambar (Musavat), Ali Kerimli (Azerbaijan Popular Front Party progressive wing), and Nureddin Mamedli (Democratic Party of Azerbaijan) -- wrote to PACE President Peter Schieder demanding that he expel Turkish parliament deputy Movlud Cavusoglu from the PACE monitoring group for Azerbaijan, Turan reported on 9 December. Cavusoglu refused to endorse a critical report on the 15 October presidential elections prepared by Swiss parliamentarian and rapporteur for Azerbaijan Andreas Gross. LF
AZERBAIJANI OFFICIAL AGAIN CASTIGATES OPPOSITION
Presidential administration department head Ali Hasanov condemned on 9 December what he termed the inappropriate behavior of Azerbaijani opposition parties in the wake of the disputed 15 October presidential election, Turan reported. He also condemned as "a political show aimed at achieving illegal aims" the hunger strike launched on 1 December by an unspecified number of the approximately 100 people detained for their alleged participation in clashes in Baku between police and demonstrators on 15-16 October. Hasanov reiterated earlier offers by Azerbaijani leaders, including President Aliyev, for dialogue with the opposition, but stressed that that invitation does not extend to Musavat Party leader and defeated presidential challenger Qambar, Turan reported. LF
GEORGIA SLAMS RUSSIAN VISA DECISION
The Georgian Foreign Ministry released a statement on 9 December condemning as "a crude violation of Georgia's sovereignty" Moscow's decision to relax the visa requirement for residents of Georgia's Adjar Autonomous Republic, Interfax reported (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 9 December 2003). Zurab Abashidze, who is Georgia's ambassador to Russia, noted that the Russian decision was made unilaterally without informing the Georgian authorities in advance. Adjar Supreme Council Chairman Aslan Abashidze (no relation to Zurab) told journalists in Batumi on 9 December that the simplified regime, under which residents of Adjaria may obtain Russian visas at Russian airports, could be extended to the rest of Georgia provided that Georgia's new leaders "abstain from harsh criticism and insulting statements" about the Russian leadership, Interfax reported. In Moscow, U.S. Ambassador Alexander Vershbow said Washington expects Russia to explain the rationale for its visa decision, Interfax reported. Moscow imposed a visa requirement for Georgian citizens four years ago, shortly after the beginning of hostilities in Chechnya, but exempted from that requirement residents of the breakaway unrecognized republics of Abkhazia and South Ossetia (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 4 and 5 November 1999). LF
GRENADE EXPLOSION KILLS ONE IN GEORGIAN SCHOOL
A teenage boy was killed on 9 December and six others injured when a hand grenade exploded during a class on basic military training at a Tbilisi school, Caucasus Press and Russian media reported. The student was dismantling what he believed to be a dummy grenade. Police are investigating how a live grenade was substituted for the dummy. A bomb explosion in Tbilisi early on 10 December outside the offices of the Magticom company, which is owned by former President Eduard Shevardnadze's son-in-law Gia Djokhtaberidze, caused structural damage to the building but no casualties, Caucasus Press reported. Two bomb alerts at schools in Tbilisi were reported on 9 December, bringing the total for the past three days to 74, State Security Minister Vakhtang Khaburzania told journalists late on 9 December. He said his men have not been paid for two months, and that the ministry cannot cope with its duties unless it receives funding and logistical support, Caucasus Press reported. LF
KAZAKHSTAN SEEKING ACCESS TO PAKISTANI PORTS
Kazakh President Nursultan Nazarbaev ended a two-day visit to Pakistan on 9 December, gazeta.kz and khabar.kz reported. He was accompanied by a delegation of 30 Kazakh businesspeople for talks that focused on trade and economic relations. After talks with Pakistani President Pervez Musharraf on 8 December, Nazarbaev told a press conference in Islamabad that when peace is established in Afghanistan, oil and gas pipelines -- and possibly highways and railways -- will provide Kazakhstan with access to Pakistani ports. Nazarbaev added that transport links between Kazakhstan and Pakistan are being developed, with Kazakh businesspeople using the Karakorum Highway from western China and Pakistani Airlines starting flights between Almaty and Islamabad this month. BB
TWO KAZAKH INDEPENDENT JOURNALISM ORGANIZATIONS WITHDRAW FROM MEDIA-LAW WORKING GROUP
Two of the most prominent Kazakh journalism NGOs -- the Freedom of Speech Foundation Adil Soz (Free Word) and Internews-Kazakhstan, the Kazakh branch of the U.S.-based NGO assisting in the development of independent media in the CIS -- have withdrawn from the parliamentary working group on a new media law and have called on the lower house of parliament to reject the current draft, Interfax-Kazakhstan and gazeta.kz reported on 9 December. Internews-Kazakhstan head Oleg Katsiev told a news conference in Almaty that suggestions made by the two NGOs have been ignored, and the two groups consider the draft law to be "reactionary" because it increases the number of requirements media outlets must meet in order to be registered and expands the number of grounds on which registration can be denied. He added that the authorities could use the new law to regain control of the media and predicted that if the new law is adopted, Kazakh viewers will stop watching local television. There has already been a boom in the number of subscribers to cable television, which carries Russian and other foreign channels. BB
KYRGYZ PARLIAMENT APPROVES 2004 BUDGET
Parliament deputies on 9 December approved the budget for 2004 in its second and final reading by a vote of 40 to five, akipress.org reported. The budget sets revenues at 14.22 billion soms ($330 million) and expenditures at 14.95 billion soms, according to Interfax. The resulting 736 million som deficit is equal to 0.8 percent of GDP. GDP growth in 2004 is predicted to be 4.1 percent. During the first nine months of 2003, GDP increased by 5.1 percent, and the final figure for 2003 is expected to be 5.2 percent. In 2002, Kyrgyzstan registered GDP growth of -0.5 percent. LF
KYRGYZSTAN PROPOSES COORDINATION BETWEEN U.S., RUSSIAN BASES
Kyrgyz First Deputy Foreign Minister Talant Kushchubekov, reporting on the NATO and Partnership-for-Peace foreign ministers' meeting in Brussels on 4-5 December, said in Bishkek on 9 December that the Kyrgyz delegation proposed that the U.S. and Russian airbases near Bishkek coordinate their activities, RIA-Novosti reported. The U.S.-leased base at Bishkek's Manas Airport supports the international antiterrorism coalition's missions in Afghanistan, while the Russian base on the other side of Bishkek was recently established as part of the CIS Collective Security Treaty Organization's rapid-reaction force, which is tasked with responding to threats in the Central Asian region. Kushchubekov said that since both bases are involved in the struggle against terrorism, they ought to discard Cold War stereotypes and cooperate. He added that NATO officials showed interest in the proposal. BB
KYRGYZ PRESIDENT MEETS OSCE SECRETARY-GENERAL IN SLOVAKIA
Askar Akaev, on an official visit to Slovakia, met with Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE) Secretary-General Jan Kubis in Bratislava on 9 December, akipress.org reported. Their talks focused on the OSCE's role in promoting democratization and political reform in Kyrgyzstan. According to the report, Kubis mentioned particularly an OSCE project launched in August (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 8 August 2003) to help reform law enforcement in Kyrgyzstan. He promised that the project will be completed despite the objections of the "radical opposition." A number of Kyrgyz opposition and human rights groups have asserted that the project will provide the authorities with the technical means to repress more effectively citizens exercising their civil rights (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 9 July 2003). Akaev's press service quoted Kubis as saying that the reaction to the project indicates that the OSCE needs to increase its work with the Kyrgyz public. BB
TURKMEN PRESIDENT APPOINTS DEFENSE, TELEVISION OFFICIALS
In the course of a meeting with defense and state television officials on 9 December in Ashgabat, Saparmurat Niyazov appointed two deputy defense ministers and three state television directors, RIA-Novosti reported on 10 December. The two new deputy defense ministers are medical-service Colonel Mukhamedkuli Atabaev, who has headed the ministry's directorate for the highway police and the fire service, and Lieutenant Colonel Geldy Mukhammedov, who heads the quartermaster corps. Niyazov also continued the replacement of the leadership of state television begun earlier this month (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 4 December 2003) with the removal of the director Turkmenistan State Television and the heads of two of the three national television channels. He charged the new appointees with improving quickly the quality of television programming. Murad Orazov was appointed general director of Turkmen Television; Yazgeldy Gurbangulyev was designated to head the channel Golden Century; and Gurbangeldy Annaev will head the channel Heritage. To assist in improving programming, a technical service for television was created that will include Communications Ministry personnel and the state association that makes television films. BB
TURKMENISTAN DOUBLES ELECTRICITY SUPPLY TO AFGHANISTAN
The recent completion of a power line between the Turkmen border town of Serhetabad (Kushka) and Herat has made it possible for Turkmenistan to double the amount of electricity it supplies to Afghanistan, turkmenistan.ru reported on 9 December. The new line makes possible the delivery of up to 200 million kilowatt-hours annually to Afghanistan's northern provinces. A power line from Turkmenistan to Mazar-e Sharif was completed in 2002, with further lines planned to Kabul and Kandahar. Turkmenistan also hopes eventually to sell electricity to Pakistan and India. Turkmen President Niyazov has said that Afghanistan is being charged less for power than are Turkmenistan's other customers -- primarily Iran -- because he wants to help Afghanistan's ethnic Turkmen. BB
BELARUSIAN PRESIDENT IN SYRIAN CAPITAL
Belarusian President Alyaksandr Lukashenka met with his Syrian counterpart Bashar al-Assad and other senior officials in Damascus on 9 December, Belapan reported, quoting the Syrian news agency SANA. Talks focused on the political situations in the Middle East and Eastern Europe and bilateral relations. The meeting resulted in the signing of accords on cooperation in science and technology, health care, agriculture, tourism, and standardization. On 10 December, Lukashenka was expected to meet with Syrian Prime Minister Muhammad Naji Otri and visit several enterprises. Lukashenka was scheduled to leave the same day for Geneva to attend the World Summit on the Information Society. JM
NEW HUMAN RIGHTS ORGANIZATION EMERGES IN BELARUS
A convention of some 30 prominent opposition politicians, lawyers, and human rights activists set up the Human Rights Alliance of Belarus in Minsk on 9 December, Belapan reported. The founders include Valyantsin Holubeu, Mikalay Markevich, Alyaksey Marachkin, Pavel Mazheyka, Yuliya Chyhir, Ales Shaternik, and Vasil Shlyndzikau. Former lawmaker Lyudmila Hraznova was elected the organization's leader. Alyaksey Khadyka, Henadz Barbarych, Henadz Kesner, Syarhey Tsurko, Nina Yermalitskaya, and Alyaksandr Silich were named board members, while Andrey Klimau, Uladzimir Kudzinau, Vasil Staravoytau, former Belarusian Prime Minister Mikhail Chyhir, former Estonian Prime Minister Mart Laar, and Irina Khakamada, a leader of Russia's recently trounced Union of Rightist Forces, were elected to its supervisory council. Hraznova said the organization will seek registration in Lithuania, adding that registration would be all but impossible in Belarus. She expressed hope that the new group will manage to "sow new seeds of freedom in Belarusian society." Hraznova added that the alliance was founded in response to the government's purported effort to rid Belarus of independent human rights organizations. JM
UKRAINIAN PARLIAMENT BACKS PEACEKEEPER MISSION TO LIBERIA
The Verkhovna Rada voted 234-145 on 9 December to endorse President Leonid Kuchma's motion to send a peacekeeping contingent of 350 troops, 14 helicopters, and 20 civilian personnel to Liberia, Interfax reported. The peacekeepers are to be deployed in Liberia by May. The United Nations will reportedly pay $1.5 million a month to Kyiv to compensate for the cost of the deployment. The Communist Party, the Socialist Party, the Yuliya Tymoshenko Bloc, and a part of the Our Ukraine voted against the move. Defections from Our Ukraine reportedly helped the pro-presidential majority to approve the motion, which was rejected on two previous occasions (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 1 December 2003). JM
WORLD BANK APPROVES $250 MILLION LOAN TO SUPPORT STRUCTURAL REFORM IN UKRAINE
The World Bank's board of executive directors on 9 December endorsed a $250 million loan to Ukraine to support specific achievements in the government's structural-reform program, Interfax reported, quoting a World Bank press release. The World Bank said the facility, called the Second Programmatic Adjustment Loan, "is focused on five thematic areas: financial discipline, regulation, property rights, public sector accountability, and management of social and environmental risks," according to the press release, available on the group's website (http://www.worldbank.org). Its specific aims include improving tax collection; eliminating favorable electricity tariffs to businesses and business sectors; legislating a solution to debt that accrues in the energy sector and launching a tender for the sale of state-owned electricity distributors; enacting a law to unify procedures regarding land and real-estate ownership; and reducing the number of tax exemptions. The first such targeted loan was issued by the World Bank in September 2001. JM
ESTONIA'S CENTER PARTY GETS NEW CHIEF ADMINISTRATOR
The governing board of the opposition Center Party on 9 December appointed Kadri Must as the party's new general secretary replacing Kullo Arjakas, BNS reported. Arjakas, who held the post for 12 years, resigned recently, explaining that he felt exhausted and thought it was time to make room for the younger generation. He will continue to work as the party's political secretary. Must called Arjakas the most professional general secretary of Estonia's political parties in recent years. She said that her first task as general secretary will be to complete the reforms of the party's regional organizations, as they will be the basis for achieving the best results in the European Parliament elections in June 2004 and local elections in 2005. Must was one of the 16 leading Center Party members who signed a pro-EU platform at the last party congress in August. She worked at the NATO Parliamentary Assembly in Brussels until November. SG
LITHUANIAN PREMIER LAMENTS POLITICAL ISOLATION
In an interview with Lithuanian State Radio on 9 December, Algirdas Brazauskas said he has noticed some signs of Lithuania's diplomatic isolation due to the recent scandal in the president's office, "Lietuvos rytas" reported on 10 December. He noted that in the current situation, "there are no contacts, no visits to Lithuania, and the president does not go abroad." Brazauskas said the scandal has already severely damaged Lithuania's image. "The harm is that we became known not for good reasons," he said. "The talks about ties with Russia's mafia, with international terrorism are terrible words, terrible accusations against Lithuania. Especially when Lithuania does not deserve them, as they are not true." He said that he will not avoid giving direct answers about the scandal during his upcoming visit to Brussels for the EU summit on 12-13 December. Brazauskas repeated his suggestions that President Rolandas Paksas should resign, if possible before the Brussels visit. SG
POLAND SEEKS COMPROMISE ON EU CONSTITUTION, BUT NOT 'AT ANY COST'
Foreign Minister Wlodzimierz Cimoszewicz told lawmakers in the Sejm on 10 December that the adoption of an EU constitution is an important issue for Poland, but at the same time he suggested that there are limits to Warsaw's room for compromise at the EU summit in Brussels on 12-13 December, the "Gazeta Wyborcza" website (http://www1.gazeta.pl/wyborcza) reported. "A compromise yes, but not at any cost," Cimoszewicz said. Cimoszewicz opined that Poland's three proposals for the draft European constitution -- introducing an EU group presidency, granting all EU members a right to a commissioner on the European Commission, and forbidding the creation of EU military alliances that might rival NATO -- stand a chance of being approved. He added, however, that there has so far been no "acceptable" solution regarding Poland's postulates to maintain the system of voting in the EU Council of Ministers stipulated by the 2000 Treaty of Nice and to include a reference to Europe's Christian roots in the preamble. Meanwhile, President Aleksander Kwasniewski said on 9 December that he is ready to replace Prime Minister Leszek Miller at the head of the Polish delegation to the Brussels summit if Miller, injured in a recent helicopter crash (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 5 December 2003), is unable to attend. JM
'PIRATE OF PRAGUE' VOWS TO LAUNCH POLITICAL PARTY
Fugitive investment tycoon Viktor Kozeny announced from his Bahamian exile that he is founding a new political party, to be called Viktor Kozeny-Civic Federal Democracy (OFD), CTK reported. Kozeny, who is facing criminal charges in the Czech Republic and the United States for allegedly cheating individual and institutional investors of hundreds of millions of dollars, has said he intends to run in the 2004 elections for the European Parliament. Kozeny previously said he would run as an independent (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 3 December 2003). MS
NATO OFFICIAL SAYS SLOVAKIA ON TRACK TO JOIN ALLIANCE
Visiting NATO Military Committee Chairman General Harald Kujat said in Bratislava after talks with Slovak Chief of Staff General Milan Cerovsky that Slovakia's military reforms are well on track, just months ahead of the country's scheduled entry into the alliance, CTK and AP reported. Kujat said future NATO members should allocate at least 2 percent of GDP in defense spending. The Slovak government has allocated less than that amount for the Defense Ministry in its draft 2004 budget, but ministry officials said the spending target will be met with help from other sources. Kujat also said it is important that the Slovak Air Force be modernized and capable of participating in joint NATO missions. Due to budgetary constraints, the government has opted to refit as many as 10 MIG-29 fighters and thus postponed a decision on purchasing Western aircraft to at least 2004. MS
SLOVAK DAILY PRINTS PREMIER'S CLASSIFIED TESTIMONY
The daily "Sme" published on 9 December what it described as the 18 August testimony to prosecutors by Prime Minister Mikulas Dzurinda regarding a group that was purportedly attempting to undermine the Slovak Intelligence Service (SIS), the ruling Slovak Democratic and Christian Union (SDKU), and the government, TASR reported (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 19 August 2003). The daily sourced the text of the testimony to the Internet, without providing details. Both the Slovak Interior Ministry and the Prosecutor-General's Office denied any leak by their employees. The Prosecutor-General's Office confirmed that, apart from "minor grammatical differences," the text is identical with Dzurinda's testimony and said it is launching criminal proceedings for the mishandling of official documents, according to "Sme." Dzurinda spokesman Martin Maruska said it is alarming that journalists resort to illegal practices such as publishing classified testimony, but he declined to confirm the authenticity of the published document. MS
HUNGARIAN PROSECUTOR ORDERS PROBE OF INVESTIGATOR IN K&H SCANDAL
The Budapest Prosecutor's Office ordered an investigation on 9 December of Lieutenant Colonel Csaba Molnar, the head of the anti-money-laundering unit in the state police department, for suspected abuse of authority, "Nepszabadsag" reported. Molnar was investigating suspected embezzlement at K&H Equities when he allegedly met with a man who was under National Security Office surveillance. The daily noted that it was Molnar who lured former K&H Equities broker Attila Kulcsar into the trap in Vienna, resulting in his detention and a request for his extradition (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 12 November 2003). MSZ
EUROPEAN PEOPLE'S PARTY CONCERNED OVER HUNGARIAN CABINET'S INTENT TO REVAMP PSZAF
The leadership of the European People's Party (EPP) issued a statement in Brussels on 9 December expressing concern over the Hungarian government's campaign to overhaul the PSZAF financial supervisory authority, the MTI news agency reported. The EPP leadership called on the Hungarian cabinet to refrain from infringing on the independence of institutions not directly under its supervision or removing its leaders for political reasons. The EPP released its statement after consultations with Hungarian opposition party FIDESZ's chairman, Viktor Orban. Orban, who is deputy chairman of the EPP, did not take part in drafting the statement, according to MTI. MSZ
U.S. EXPERT WARNS AGAINST POLARIZATION OF HUNGARIAN POLITICS
Janusz Bugajski, director of the Eastern Europe Project at the Washington-based Center for Strategic and International Studies (CSIS), warned in a 9 December interview with "Nepszabadsag" that the current tone of Hungarian political dialogue goes beyond political rivalry and could damage Hungary's international reputation. Bugajski said political enmity can undermine national interests, citing Hungary's difficulty in meeting its NATO obligations. He also said anti-Semitism and territorial revisionism have been evident in political discourse since the 2002 election campaign. MSZ
MACEDONIA WILL APPLY SOON FOR EU MEMBERSHIP...
Macedonian Foreign Minister Ilinka Mitreva said in Brussels on 9 December that her country will apply by the end of February for EU membership, Reuters reported (see "RFE/RL Balkan Report," 27 June and 21 November 2003). "Macedonia has the critical quantum of accomplishments in institutional stability, in respect [for] human rights -- including the rights of minorities -- in the rule of law, and in [developing a] market economy," Mitreva told a press conference. Although the EU has been cool to previous statements by Macedonian leaders that they intend to apply for membership, Mitreva stressed that "Macedonia does not ask for concessions or shortcuts. We are committed to a [tough journey], and we will [meet] the necessary criteria." PM
...BUT WON'T FIND THE WELCOME MAT OUT
In Brussels on 9 December, EU External Affairs Commissioner Chris Patten did not give a direct answer to reporters' questions on possible Macedonian membership of the EU, Reuters reported. He said, however, that if he were "a Macedonian politician, what I would be most keen to focus and concentrate on is the continuation of the reform program, continuing to strengthen the institutions of the judiciary and the police,... continuing to fight corruption and...above all to implement the Lake Ohrid agreement" of 2001 that ended the ethnic conflict. PM
MACEDONIAN STUDENTS PROTEST ALBANIAN-LANGUAGE UNIVERSITY
Up to 4,000 students gathered outside the parliament in Skopje on 9 December to protest the Macedonian government's plans to legalize the Tetovo-based Albanian-language university, "Utrinski vesnik" reported. The parliament was scheduled to pass the draft amendments to a law on higher education necessary to legalize the private university on their second reading. Supported by the opposition Internal Macedonian Revolutionary Organization (VMRO-DPMNE), the students demanded the resignation of Education Minister Azis Pollozhani (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 18 July 2003 and "RFE/RL Balkan Report," 11 and 18 July 2003). UB
CROATIA'S NEW LEADER GETS TO WORK...
Following his designation by Croatian President Stipe Mesic as prime minister on 9 December, Ivo Sanader of the Croatian Democratic Community (HDZ) said his "priorities are raising living standards at home, gaining membership in NATO and the European Union, and resolving open issues with our neighbors," Reuters reported. Sanader stressed that he intends to form his cabinet by 22 December. It is not clear whether he will have a minority government including the small Democratic Center (DC) and the Social Liberal Party (HSLS) and backed by the legislative support of the Croatian Peasants' Party (HSS), or whether he will succeed in enticing the HSS into joining the cabinet. Sanader has said he wants a smaller government than the outgoing one and that nominees will be chosen on the basis of their professional qualifications. Most observers predict a tough time for a minority government from the outset, starting with the presentation of the 2004 budget in March (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 9 December 2003 and "RFE/RL Balkan Report," 5 December 2003). PM
...BUT IS VAGUE ON THE HAGUE
In a television interview in Zagreb on 9 December, Croatian Prime Minister-designate Sanader said he will honor any new indictments issued by the Hague-based war crimes tribunal against Croatian citizens, Reuters reported. "I do not expect any drama. We will act in line with our constitutional law on cooperation [with the tribunal]," he added. Sanader nonetheless avoided directly answering questions as to whether he will extradite indicted war criminals, saying that "it is all hypothetical" and "we want to respect the full legal procedure." He noted that his government might conduct a "legal battle" with the tribunal to persuade it to change its indictment of former General Ante Gotovina, who has refused to surrender to Croatian authorities or the tribunal. It is difficult to see how Sanader can gain acceptance by the EU and NATO, however, unless he cooperates fully with the tribunal. The HDZ made great efforts in the recent electoral campaign to convince the international community that it has broken with the nationalism associated with the late President Franjo Tudjman. The EU in particular has stressed that it will judge Sanader by his deeds alone. PM
SERBIAN NATIONALIST LEADERS INJURED IN CAR CRASH
Serbian Radical Party (SRS) leaders Tomislav Nikolic and Dragan Todorovic were injured on 10 December when the car in which they were traveling crashed head-on with another vehicle en route to a campaign meeting in Valjevo in connection with the 28 December parliamentary elections, dpa reported. The two SRS leaders are being treated for injuries in a hospital but are not in critical condition. Two people in the second vehicle were also injured. As of midday on 10 December, there was no suggestion of foul play. PM
FORMER YUGOSLAV PRESIDENT HAS 'NO PROBLEM' WITH INDICTED WAR CRIMINALS ON THE BALLOT
Former Yugoslav President Vojislav Kostunica said in Valjevo on 8 December that has heard no complaints from the Hague-based war crimes tribunal regarding the presence of indicted war criminals on the ballot for the 28 December Serbian parliamentary elections, adding that he therefore has no objections, Deutsche Welle's "Monitor" reported (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 9 December 2003). Kostunica stressed, however, that he does have a problem with the legal basis on which the present government cooperates with the tribunal. The former president frequently uses legalistic arguments to underpin his nationalist agenda, which includes only minimal cooperation with the tribunal, at best. PM
MONTENEGRO REFUSES TO BE 'HOSTAGE' TO KOSOVA QUESTION
Responding to recent statements by Serbian Deputy Prime Minister Nebojsa Covic that the state union of Serbia and Montenegro must be maintained lest its dissolution provide the impetus for the independence of Kosova, Montenegrin President Filip Vujanovic said in Podgorica on 9 December that Montenegro must not be the "hostage of the Kosovo problem," RFE/RL's South Slavic and Albanian Languages Service reported. He stressed that the international community and not Montenegro must be involved in relations between Belgrade and Prishtina (see "RFE/RL Balkan Report," 15 February 2002). PM
ROMANIAN RULING PARTY, OPPOSITION CLASH OVER ELECTORAL-COMMISSION PROCEDURES
The ruling Social Democratic Party (PSD) proposed on 9 December that a simple majority be required in decisions by a proposed parliamentary commission tasked with amending election laws ahead of the local, national, and presidential elections in 2004, RFE/RL's Bucharest bureau reported. Opposition parties reportedly oppose the proposal, saying it would ensure the PSD and its parliamentary ally, the Hungarian Democratic Federation of Romania (UDMR), unchecked decision-making power on the commission. Democratic Party Executive Chairman Emil Boc said the opposition wants decisions to require 10 votes from among 17 commission members. Also on 9 December, the PSD unveiled its proposed draft legislation for the 2004 parliamentary elections. The PSD proposes an upper house of 126 members elected in single mandate-districts. The number of constituencies in each county is to be determined by population size, from a minimum of one constituency in Salaj County to a maximum of 11 constituencies in Bucharest. The lower house would have 294 members elected by a system of proportional representation, with each of the 42 counties representing a single constituency. Up to 18 national minority representatives would also be elected to the lower house, or Chamber of Deputies. MS
PSD SAYS ROMANIAN PRESIDENT WILL RUN ON ITS TICKET
PSD Deputy Chairman Viorel Hrebenciuc announced on 9 December that President Ion Iliescu "has agreed" to run for the Senate in 2004 as an independent on the PSD ticket, RFE/RL's Bucharest bureau reported. As president, Iliescu is barred from membership of any political party. Current electoral legislation prohibits independent candidacies on party tickets, but Hrebenciuc predicted that the relevant legislation will be amended. He also said the Romanian Constitutional Court set a precedent when it ruled ahead of the 2000 elections that Iliescu was entitled to run on the lists of the Party of Social Democracy in Romania (as the PSD was then called). Democratic Party Executive Chairman Boc said the announcement amounts to an obvious "self-contradiction," as one cannot possibly be an independent and a politician at the same time. The draft proposed by the PSD on the 2004 elections (see above) also stipulates that the head of state may campaign for the political party on whose ticket he is running for parliament. MS
ROMANIAN PRESIDENT PROPOSES BALKAN ANTITERRORISM ALLIANCE
Addressing the opening session of the Parliamentary Assembly of the Black Sea Economic Cooperation Organization in Bucharest, President Iliescu proposed that Balkan and Black Sea states form an international antiterrorism alliance, Romanian Radio Reported. Iliescu was reiterating a proposal first made during a recent visit to Turkey (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 5 December 2003). Russia was expected to assume the rotating chairmanship of the organization from Romania at the close of the assembly session on 10 December. MS
ROMANIA CLOSES MORE CHAPTERS IN EU ACCESSION NEGOTIATIONS
Romania closed three further chapters in accession negotiations with the EU on 9 December, Romanian Radio reported, citing European Integration Minister Alexandru Farcas. Farcas and chief Romanian negotiator with the EU Vasile Puscas met the same day in Brussels with EU Commissioner for Enlargement Guenter Verheugen, who praised the progress made by Bucharest in meeting accession conditions but warned that "a lot of work lies ahead in 2004" if Romania is to successfully conclude negotiations next year and join the EU in 2007. Romania has so far closed 22 of the 31 chapters of the acquis communautaire. MS
ROMANIAN PREMIER REASSERTS SUPPORT FOR MOLDOVAN INDEPENDENCE, TERRITORIAL INTEGRITY
Romanian Prime Minister Adrian Nastase said on 9 December that his country takes a close interest in Moldova's political- and security-related matters "for historical reasons, as well as on regional grounds," Mediafax reported. Speaking at the George C. Marshall Center for Political and Regional Security Studies in Garmisch-Partenkirchen, Germany, Nastase said Romania will continue to support the search for a political solution of the Transdniester conflict. He emphasized that such a solution must be based on respect for the principle of Moldovan full sovereignty and territorial integrity. MS
BULGARIAN PARLIAMENTARY SPEAKER HURT BY U.S. DIPLOMAT'S CRITICISM
Reacting to a critical 8 December statement by U.S. Ambassador to Bulgaria James Pardew (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 9 December 2003), parliamentary speaker Ognyan Gerdzhikov on 9 December accepted the remarks as a "benevolent signal from a partner," "Sega" reported. In his statement, Pardew said that organized crime and corruption in Bulgaria are major obstacles for foreign investors and that the authorities are not doing enough to combat them. Gerdzhikov said, however, that "Pardew could have found a more delicate form for his statement so that we could feel like a sovereign state." UB
BULGARIAN SOCIALISTS SPECULATE ABOUT EARLY ELECTIONS
Kristian Vigenin, a member of the Executive Bureau of the Socialist Party's (BSP) Supreme Council, told a press conference on 9 December that early parliamentary elections could be held before the end of 2004 without affecting the country's accession negotiations with the EU, BTA reported. Vigenin expressed doubt that the government will be able to finalize the EU talks in 2004 and warned the government not to use the negotiations as a pretext to complete its full term, which ends in mid-2005. UB
RUSSIA'S COMMUNISTS: RAPPING AGAINST THE BOURGEOISIE
Leaders of the Communist Party (KPRF) rarely have a chance to shape what is said about their party on national television networks and radio stations. Their activities receive little attention from news and analysis programs, and stories that do mention Communists often portray them in an unflattering light. Free airtime during election campaigns therefore provides a rare opportunity to see the KPRF as its leaders want the party to be seen.
This year, the party's campaign advertisements employed a range of strategies in an unsuccessful attempt to broaden the KPRF's base and undermine its main rival, Unified Russia.
Party leader Gennadii Zyuganov has traditionally not dominated the airwaves during parliamentary campaigns. This year, as in previous campaigns, many candidates on the KPRF list spoke on the party's behalf during national television and radio debates. They included Communist Duma faction deputy head Sergei Reshulskii and former Duma Security Committee Chairman Viktor Ilyukhin.
The KPRF did use some of its free airtime for monologues from Zyuganov. However, continuing a trend from the 1999 campaign, Zyuganov's monologues did not take up whole blocs of airtime. Instead, short, scripted commercials featuring actors often appeared before and after Zyuganov's remarks.
Because those short spots would not come across well over the radio, Zyuganov's radio monologues were longer than the versions broadcast on major television networks. The full text of a Zyuganov monologue aired on Radio Mayak on 11 November follows. The passages in square brackets were omitted from a videotape of the same monologue, which aired on ORT on 12 and 13 November.
Zyuganov: Compatriots, I know how hard life is for you. I'm sure you understand that what's being taken from us today is not only plants and factories, but also the land and our country.
[We are losing the powerful state (derzhava) that our ancestors created over 1,000 years of labor and torment. And if the current policies continue, soon there will be only about 100 million left living in our space, and less than one-third of those will be ethnic Russians. It will no longer be Russia.]
[Therefore, the current elections are elections over the fate of your children and grandchildren, and what we will leave them as an inheritance.]
By supporting the people's bloc KPRF again, you are voting to have the land, forests, and natural resources belong to you, to the whole people, so that everyone will be guaranteed free education and medical care, decent salaries and pensions, [so that budget-funded workers, doctors and teachers, qualified workers and specialists, and soldiers will receive no less than 7,000-9,000 rubles ($212-$272 per month), so that minimum wages and pensions would be no less than 2,000-3,000,] so that rent will not exceed 10 percent of a family's income, and so that the natural monopolies and main sectors of the economy will remain in state hands.
[We believe in the wisdom and dignity of our people. We communists realize that we are the party of the people's hope.] Be sure that in Russia there is such a party, which will raise up the country and revive a great power. Vote for the KPRF.
In the radio version, a voiceover ends the spot: For the power of the working people! The Communist Party of the Russian Federation."
If Zyuganov's monologue used traditional Communist campaign rhetoric in a traditional format, the other commercials shown during the KPRF's free-airtime blocs raised similar themes in a more innovative way.
One short clip slamming the privatization of natural resources aired during many KPRF slots. It shows three older men carrying fishing rods, walking past buildings with signs that say "Private property" and "Beware of the dog." They reach the stream, only find a sign that says: "Private property. No trespassing."
"So now they've sold off the stream?" says one man.
A large guard dog then barks, and a voiceover pretending to be the dog's voice says: "Sold, sold. If you'd voted for the KPRF, I wouldn't be stuck in this dog's life."
A voiceover ends the spot with the line: "No buying and selling of farmland, forests, and rivers! The Communist Party of the Russian Federation."
Another short spot conveys what the KPRF would do if it gained power. Images of the election date, 7 December 2003, and Zyuganov casting a ballot fill the screen. "From the people's patriotic information bureau," a voice says.
The image changes to a newsreader in a gray suit. He reads: "The government of the national interests of the Russian Federation decrees: first, the return of the country's natural resources to the service of the people. Second, to limit rent payments to 10 percent of a family's total income."
As the image shifts to a scene of many people on the street, a voiceover ends the commercial: "Be with us! The Communist Party of the Russian Federation."
Another commercial indirectly targets Unified Russia by highlighting the ways in which Russian governments have allegedly deceived ordinary people since the collapse of the USSR. The date 1992 appears on the screen, along with a picture of a privatization voucher, while a voiceover says, "You got two Volgas for your voucher."
The date 1993 appears, along with footage of the Supreme Soviet being shelled. "You obtained freedom," the voice intones.The date 1998 appears, along with a graphic of a U.S. dollar being worth a rapidly growing stack of rubles. "You got richer," the voice comments.
The image shifts to footage of a bear limping into the water, an allusion to the symbol of Unified Russia and the image of a healthy bear running into a river, which appeared in some advertisements for the pro-government party. The voiceover says: "Today they promise you a great Russia. Don't let yourself be fooled! Be with us! The Communist Party of the Russian Federation."
Another clip shows the hand of a man turning on the radio in the morning to hear the news. He turns on the faucet, only to find no water. He tries to light the stove, but there is no gas. The light then goes out as the radio goes dead -- no electricity either. He mutters, "Chubais!" (a reference to Unified Energy Systems head and Union of Rightist Forces co-leader Anatolii Chubais, a much-hated figure).
The man strikes a match, and as we see the hand holding the burning match the voiceover says: "And for this we have to pay the majority of our salary? No to thieving reform of the housing-communal services! The Communist Party of the Russian Federation."
The most unusual Communist commercials to air during this year's free airtime targeted young people, traditionally not a rich source of votes for the KPRF.
Filmed in the style of a music video, the clip featured a rap with colloquial language not ordinarily used in political communication. Some of the phrases flash briefly on screen, presumably to help Communist voters who might otherwise not understand the rap singer. The rap, performed with a strong percussion line, goes as follows:
"You live in Russia, you have something to be proud of, but time dictates that it's time to make a choice. Understand that your vote is worth a lot -- it's time to destroy the bourgeois foundation. The rich bastards, they got to me. I want to return what was taken from me. Free education is not a handout. Free hospitals are our right. What's worth more to you? What side are you on? Do you want to help your country? It's our choice. It's our rap. We're voting for the KPRF."
The varied styles of Communist advertising during this year's campaign demonstrate that party leaders were trying to reach beyond the disciplined, aging electorate that helped the KPRF win more Duma seats than any other party in the last two parliamentary elections.
Unfortunately for KPRF leaders, tweaking their campaign message was not enough to prevent the further erosion of the KPRF's popular support nationwide and especially in Russia's so-called "red belt." But even the best-designed pro-Communist advertising imaginable would have been hard-pressed to overcome the advantages Unified Russia enjoyed in everyday media coverage, not to mention administrative resources, during this campaign.
Laura Belin has written extensively on Russian politics and media issues since 1995.
COMMANDER SAYS NEO-TALIBAN KILLED PAKISTANI...
A neo-Taliban commander has said neo-Taliban militants killed a Pakistani engineer in southern Afghanistan this week, adding that they will also execute two recently abducted Indian workers, Reuters reporter on 9 December. The neo-Taliban commander for southern Afghanistan, Mullah Sabir Momin, said his fighters gunned down engineer Anwar Shah in an ambush on Shah's car on 8 December that also wounded another Pakistani national. "We have repeatedly said that no work should be done in Afghanistan in the presence of Americans," Momin said, speaking to Reuters by phone on 8 December. "It does not matter whether those involved in such works are engineers, drivers, doctors, or others," the commander added. "Anyone who assists America or the Afghan government is liable to [be killed]. American agents will not be spared even if they are Muslims. They will be killed at an appropriate time." MR
...AND VOWS TO EXECUTE INDIAN CAPTIVES
Momin also warned that two Indian nationals kidnapped on 6 December while working on an Afghan road project will likely be killed, according to Reuters. He accused them of being intelligence agents spying on neo-Taliban forces. "I think there is a great possibility that they will be killed," Momin told the news agency, adding that a final decision will be made by neo-Taliban leaders. MR
WEST SAID TO BE NEGOTIATING WITH AFGHAN WARLORDS
Senior U.S. and other Western officials have been meeting with leaders of an Afghan faction that has been waging guerrilla attacks on U.S.-led forces in Afghanistan, trying to persuade them to disarm and join political talks, the "Los Angeles Times" reported on 9 December. The most recent talks involved four senior commanders under renegade warlord Gulbuddin Hekmatyar and took place in Western embassies and the presidential palace in Kabul during the last week of November, the paper reported. The latest talks marked the fourth time that Hekmatyar's fighters have met with Western diplomats, it added. Officials of Chairman Hamid Karzai's Afghan Transitional Administration have engaged in discussion with some Taliban and other militant leaders whom Karzai views as moderate enough for involvement in the fledgling political process in Afghanistan. Many remain skeptical that Hekmatyar or his forces would ever abandon guerrilla warfare for political participation, however. "There are no moderates in Hekmatyar's party," said Major General Sher Karimi, chief of military operations in the Afghan Defense Ministry. MR
U.S. ASSAULT AIMED AT PROTECTING AFGHAN CONSTITUTIONAL LOYA JIRGA
U.S. officials in Afghanistan said a new assault on neo-Taliban and Al-Qaeda forces in the country is meant to prevent guerrillas from disrupting the upcoming Constitutional Loya Jirga scheduled for Kabul, AP reported on 9 December. In the biggest U.S. offensive in Afghanistan in two years, hundreds of U.S. troops swept into areas of eastern Afghanistan via helicopter on 9 December. U.S. officials said they had specific intelligence on insurgents' plans to attack the watershed constitutional gathering, scheduled to begin on 13 December. "We have intelligence of specific threats against the Constitutional Loya Jirga," U.S. military spokesman Lieutenant Colonel Bryan Hilferty said. "We think we have a pretty good security plan." "We anticipate that they will try to be more active," the new U.S. ambassador to Afghanistan, Zalmay Khalilzad, said, "to go after loya jirga-related activities and the loya jirga itself." Khalilzad said the U.S.-led assault, dubbed Operation Avalanche, is aimed at bogging down guerrilla forces "to keep them busy protecting and defending themselves." MR
PENTAGON DEFENDS TARGETING INDIVIDUALS IN AFGHANISTAN
U.S. Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld said in Washington on 9 December that targeting individuals in military attacks is justified despite the death of nine children in a recent air strike in Afghanistan's Ghazni Province (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 8 December 2003), AFP reported the same day. Rumsfeld, who recently made a one-day visit to Afghanistan (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 5 December 2003), said the view that military strikes on individuals are "targeted killings" is "a misunderstanding of the fact that we're in a war." "Obviously, the people who don't surrender, who are terrorists trying to kill innocent Iraqis and coalition forces, are people we want to stop," Rumsfeld said. "We would be happy to capture them. We'd be happy to have them surrender. And if they don't, we'd be happy to kill them. And that's what's going on." General Richard Myers, the chairman of the U.S. Joint Chiefs of Staff, said it is still unclear whether the U.S. air strike on the Afghan village of Petaw that killed nine children and one adult in fact killed the target of the attack, suspected neo-Taliban Mullah Wazir. MR
ANOTHER IRANIAN PARLIAMENTARIAN IS ATTACKED
Unidentified individuals attacked Izeh parliamentary representative Issa Qoli Ahmadi-Nia on 8 December in Masjid-i Suleiman as he delivered a speech at a meeting on "the role of the Bakhtiari tribe in the growth of democracy in Iran," IRNA reported the next day. "The people who attacked me are beset with two fundamental deficiencies; that is, poverty and lack of education," Ahmadi-Nia said after the attack. "In addition, their religious knowledge is very weak." Ahmadi-Nia suggested that provocateurs took advantage of the locals' ignorance, saying, "The attackers were, however, directed by other persons outside to insult me and undermine my honor by shouting obscenities." Police intervened to save Ahmadi-Nia. Hard-liners' attacks on reformist speakers and disruption of public gatherings have increased recently. BS
TEHRAN ASCRIBES TOURIST KIDNAPPING TO COUNTERNARCOTICS SUCCESS
Deputy Interior Minister for Security Affairs Ali-Asqar Ahmadi said on 9 December that the recent kidnapping of three Europeans is the price Iran must pay for waging a war against narcotics smugglers, IRNA and ISNA reported (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 9 December 2003). He said that the amount of the ransom demand -- 5 million euros ($6.1 million) -- equals the value of a narcotics shipment that was seized recently. "Therefore, the strongest possibility is that they [the kidnappers] are trying to extort money because the consignment was impounded," Ahmadi said. "They are trying to recoup their lost profits." According to Iran Travel and Tourism Organization chief Mohammad Abd-Khodai on 9 December, "Iran is a safe place for all tourists," IRNA reported. He said the government is working hard to secure the release of the three Europeans. Abd-Khodai added that the incident marks just the third time foreign tourists have been kidnapped in Iran. Ten Europeans were kidnapped in three separate incidents in 1999. BS
IRAN GETS NEW TECHNOCRATIC PARTY
Khosrow Nassiri-Zad, secretary-general of a new political group called the Association of Technocrats, announced that organization's creation on 9 December, IRNA reported. Nassiri-Rad expressed the belief that the group will secure at least 110 seats in the February parliamentary election, and he said the association will develop alliances with other groups. Iran's main technocratic party is the Executives of Construction, which was created in 1996 by associates of then-President Ali Akbar Hashemi-Rafsanjani. The Executives of Construction subsequently supported Hojatoleslam Mohammad Khatami's 1997 presidential bid. Its continuing commitment to the reformist 2nd of Khordad movement has come into question because of tactical and ideological disputes (see "RFE/RL Iran Report," 3 November 2003), and the creation of the Association of Technocrats might reflect this situation. BS
BAGHDAD TO EXPEL MKO TERRORISTS...
The Iraqi Governing Council (IGC) decided on 9 December that all members of the Mujahedin Khalq Organization (MKO) will be expelled from Iraq by 31 December, Al-Arabiyah television and Iranian state television reported. A statement from the IGC labeled the MKO a "terrorist organization" and ascribed the decision to the MKO's "dark history," according to AFP. MKO offices will be closed, its funds and arms will be confiscated, and the money will be placed in a fund to compensate victims of former Iraqi President Saddam Hussein's regime, the IGC added. The United States began disarming MKO rebels in May and is reportedly holding nearly 4,000 MKO fighters in eastern Iraq (see "RFE/RL Iraq Report," 16 May and 15 September 2003). The group is listed as a foreign terrorist organization by the U.S. State Department. It is unclear where the MKO fighters will go. Iraqi National Congress (INC) official Entifadh Qanbar said, "They can seek refuge in other places," "The Washington Post" reported on 10 December. "We don't care where they're going to go." IGC member and INC head Ahmad Chalabi proposed the anti-MKO resolution, and during his early-December trip to Tehran the officials he met with, including Supreme National Security Council Secretary Hassan Rohani, called for action to counter the MKO (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 2 December 2003). BS/KR
...AS TEHRAN DENIES MKO/AL-QAEDA LINK
Iranian presidential adviser Mohammad Shariati denied in a 9 December interview with Al-Jazeera television that there is a link between the Iraqi expulsion of MKO members and Washington's desire to gain access to Al-Qaeda personnel in Iran. He also rejected a connection between that development and Tehran-Washington relations. "The Washington Post" reported on 10 December that the IGC decision coincides with efforts by Jordan's King Abdullah II to negotiate with Tehran and Washington on these very topics. BS
U.S. FORCES FOIL SUICIDE ATTACK IN BAGHDAD
U.S. forces on 9 December identified a suspicious man outside a military base in Husayniyah, some 24 kilometers north of Baghdad, seconds before he detonated a bomb strapped to his body, AP reported. The man approached the gates of the base and apparently refused to stop, prompting military police to open fire on him. He then detonated the bomb, Major Josslyn Aberle said. A U.S. base in Tal Afar was attacked by a suicide car bomber earlier in the day (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 9 December 2003). The U.S. military also reported that militants hit a Kiowa helicopter with a rocket-propelled grenade on 9 December, prompting a hard landing. The two crewmembers were not injured in that incident. KR
U.S. LISTS COUNTRIES ELIGIBLE TO BID ON IRAQ CONTRACTS
U.S. Deputy Defense Secretary Paul Wolfowitz's office has released a 5 December document detailing "findings" on countries eligible to bid on $18.6 billion in reconstruction contracts in Iraq. The document notes that 63 countries will be eligible to bid on contracts awarded by the U.S.-run Coalition Provisional Authority (CPA) and by the U.S. Department of Defense using funds from the Iraq Relief and Reconstruction Fund (IRRF) in the sectors of electricity, public works and water, military courts and borders, building, housing and health, transportation, communications, and oil infrastructure. Eligibility to bid on contracts is limited, however, to Operation Iraqi Freedom allies. All countries are eligible to bid on subcontracts, Wolfowitz said, while still calling for international cooperation in rebuilding Iraq. "It is necessary for the protection of the essential security interests of the United States to limit competition for the prime contracts of these procurements to companies from the United States, Iraq, coalition partners, and force contribution nations. Thus, it is clearly in the public interest to limit prime contracts to companies from these countries," Wolfowitz added. Under the plan Germany, France, and Russia are barred from bidding on prime reconstruction contracts. KR
GALLUP SURVEYS BAGHDAD RESIDENTS ON HUSSEIN'S EXECUTIONS
A poll conducted by the Gallup organization (http://www.gallup.com) in late August and early September has found that 6.6 percent of Baghdad residents said a member of their household had been executed by the deposed Hussein regime, according to a 9 December announcement on the organization's website. "Assuming one execution per victimized household, the reported execution incidence of 6.6 percent projects to roughly 61,000 executions over the course of Hussein's 24-year rule," in Baghdad alone, Gallup said. The number, if accurate, would equate to nearly 1 percent of Baghdad's current population, and is double the number of bodies found in mass graves in Bosnia, according to Gallup. The website quotes the director of the Coalition Provisional Authority's Office of Human Rights and Transitional Justice Sandra Hodgkinson as saying the CPA estimates some 300,000 Iraqis were killed by the Hussein regime. Some Iraqis put the figure at around 500,000 deaths. KR
RUSSIAN DEPUTY FOREIGN MINISTER CALLS FOR IRAQ STRATEGY REVIEW
Russian Deputy Foreign Minister Yurii Fedotov said on 9 December that the security situation in Iraq is inhibiting the ability of Russian companies to do business there, ITAR-TASS reported. "Russia insists that the whole strategy of the postwar rebuilding of this country be reviewed," Fedotov said, suggesting that an international postwar conference be held to work on the issue. "It is important that the formula for a settlement is given sufficient legitimacy inside Iraq and has broad international recognition," he added. KR