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Newsline - December 15, 2003

Government officials and others in Russia reacted positively on 14 December to the news that deposed Iraqi President Saddam Hussein has been captured, Russian media reported. Foreign Minister Igor Ivanov, on a working visit to Chile, expressed the hope that Hussein's capture will lead to the "strengthening of security in Iraq" and the "intensification of the process of finding a political settlement in the country with the active inclusion of the UN," Interfax reported on 14 December. Ivanov added that the Iraqi people should decide Hussein's fate. Federation Council International Relations Committee Chairman Mikhail Margelov told Ekho Moskvy on 14 December that by capturing Hussein, the U.S.-led coalition in Iraq and U.S. President George W. Bush have "achieved the success that they failed to achieve in Afghanistan, where [Al-Qaeda leader Osama] bin Laden is still at large" and thus have justified the military intervention in Iraq. Union of Rightist Forces (SPS) co-leader Irina Khakamada said Hussein's capture is a positive development, but added that terrorism will not end in Iraq until real economic reconstruction begins and "all foreign armed forces leave," Interfax reported. JB

Motherland-Patriotic Union co-leader Dmitrii Rogozin told Ekho Moskvy on 14 December that "the Americans are overdoing it" if they think Hussein's capture will improve the situation in Iraq. "The guerrilla-terrorist-sabotage war that is being waged against the Americans and other representatives of the occupation forces is already not connected to any Saddam Husseins, bin Ladens, or Al-Qaedas," Rogozin said. "It is simply a fight against occupiers, and it is being waged by scattered Iraqi opposition groups. Unfortunately, this event will not calm down the situation in Iraq." Yevgenii Primakov -- the former prime minister, foreign minister, and Foreign Intelligence (SVR) chief -- also said he doubts Hussein's capture will stabilize Iraq, Interfax reported on 14 December. "It's difficult to imagine that he ran the entire resistance from that small basement without any communications," Primakov told RTR. Primakov also discussed his trip to Iraq in February, during which he tried to convince Hussein to step down (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 15 April 2003). JB

Liberal Democratic Party of Russia (LDPR) leader Vladimir Zhirinovskii told Interfax on 14 December the man captured near Tikrit might not really be Saddam Hussein. "I do not rule out that it is a double," Zhirinovskii said. He added it is in the interests of both the Iraqi and the U.S. sides to act as if Hussein has been arrested. "It follows, when you consider that the United States today, like never before, needs at least a small victory in Iraq, given that presidential elections are impending and that weapons of mass destruction have not been discovered in Iraq," Zhirinovskii said. Hussein, he added, is probably not in Iraq. Zhirinovskii also said that if Hussein really has been captured, he cannot be tried, because he is the "legal president of his country." JB

Deputy Foreign Minister Yurii Fedotov said on 13 December that Russia has formally protested to Washington a recent U.S. decision to bar countries that opposed the Iraq war from bidding on U.S.-funded reconstruction projects in Iraq, Interfax reported. Fedotov said the U.S. decision "has serious and detrimental political consequences and casts doubt on the United States' desire to work with the entire international community in the interests of a just long-term settlement in Iraq." He added that the decision confirmed that the United States "intends to decide all issues concerning Iraq unilaterally, behind closed doors, ignoring the opinions of the international community." This, he said, "has led to nothing good and it clearly won't in the future, given that Iraq remains unstable." JB

Motherland bloc co-leader Rogozin told Ekho Moskvy on 13 December that Russia should not write off Iraq's $8 billion debt to Russia, calling U.S. suggestions that it do so "impertinent" and "rather impudent," given that the United States "started the aggression" that caused "losses and damages" in Iraq. Rogozin said there are no legal grounds for writing off Iraq's debt, since Iraq has not signed acts of "total capitulation," which can "end a state's obligations to other states." He added that while "political considerations" often play an important role in decisions about debts, "not a single cent of Russia's debt was written off [after the collapse of the Soviet Union], so there can be no question about Russia writing off Iraq's debt" (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 11 December 2003). JB

Cofer Black, the U.S. State Department's coordinator for counterterrorism, said in an interview in "Izvestiya" on 14 December that the United States and Russia are dedicated partners in fighting terrorism. Over the last several years, Black said, working groups chaired by U.S. Deputy Secretary of State Richard Armitage and First Deputy Foreign Minister Vyacheslav Trubnikov have been holding semi-annual meetings aimed at preventing terrorists from acquiring weapons of mass destruction and involving, among other things, exchanges of information on the so-called axis-of-evil countries -- Iraq, Iran, and North Korea -- and on criminal groups. Russia's special services, he said, have imparted to their U.S. counterparts "rich experience" in areas like forensic medicine, identifying explosive substances, and penetrating suspected terrorist groups. "Tell your readers: Russian citizens can be 100 percent certain that the United States and American antiterrorism agencies will do everything necessary to protect innocent Russians," Black told "Izvestiya." JB

Asked by "Izvestiya" why three Chechen groups that the United States designated as terrorist organizations in February are not among the groups currently included on the list of designated foreign terrorist organizations found on the U.S. State Department's website, Black answered that the department is continuing to "gather information" on the groups and to analyze it in order to be able to back up its charges. Asked whether there is evidence of links between terrorist groups operating in Iraq and in Chechnya, Black said the State Department cannot rule out such links, but has "too little information to draw an unequivocal conclusion." JB

President Vladimir Putin has sent condolences to Azerbaijan President Ilham Aliyev on the death of his father, former President Heidar Aliyev, Interfax reported on 14 December. Putin eulogized the elder Aliyev, the former Soviet Politburo member who died on 12 December in a U.S. hospital, as a "distinguished statesmen" whose "long years of fruitful activity" was "directly connected with the common history of our peoples." Russia's chief rabbi, Berl Lazar, also conveyed his condolences to Azerbaijan's president, saying he was especially grateful to Heidar Aliyev for having permitted the opening of a Jewish school in Azerbaijan and for "valuing friendship and good relations among peoples," Interfax reported on 14 December. JB

Deputy presidential administration head Vladislav Surkov and presidential envoy to the Volga Federal District Sergei Kirienko met with Bashkortostan President Murtaza Rakhimov on 12 December to "discuss future developments in the republic," RosBalt reported. Kirienko told the state television channel in the republic that "while the elections have come and gone, the main thing is to not let their [emotional character] harm the normal development of the region." A second round of the presidential election, in which Rakhimov will vie against former Mezhprombank executive Sergei Veremeenko, is scheduled for 21 December. JAC

About a dozen people in Ufa on 14 December declared a hunger strike to protest what the alleged falsification of the 7 December presidential-election results in the republic, reported. The hunger strikers have been provided space in the office of the election headquarters of former presidential candidate, Ralif Safin, who came in third in the first rounds and therefore did not qualify for the second round, according to RosBalt. The head of Safin's campaign said "a number of voters in Bashkortostan have declared a hunger strike, and we simply supported them with space in our office so that they do not have to sit in the freezing weather in their tents." Safin intends challenge the election results in Bashkortostan's Supreme Court. JAC

While President Putin is the "chief father" of Unified Russia's victory in the 7 December State Duma elections because of his open support of the party just before election day (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 1 December 2003), deputy presidential administration head Surkov also deserves substantial credit, "Profil," No. 46, argues. According to the weekly, after the departure of the presidential administration head Aleksandr Voloshin, Surkov had complete responsibility for the Duma campaign. Although Surkov is a member of the so-called Yeltsin-era Family, the rival St. Petersburg clan in the Kremlin, "correctly evaluating its own possibilities, understood that it simply could not find a better electoral manager." The weekly opines that with the poor results of the People's Party, which was reportedly overseen by deputy presidential-administration heads Viktor Ivanov and Igor Sechin, Surkov will most likely be "given carte blanche in running the [March 2004] presidential campaign." JAC

In an interview with RFE/RL's Moscow bureau on 12 December, Communist Party Central Committee Secretary Oleg Kulikov denied reports that Communist Party leader Gennadii Zyuganov will be forced to resign because of the party's poor showing in the 7 December State Duma election (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 12 December 2003). Calling the reports "unfounded," Kulikov reported that at a party presidium held the previous day, the question of Zyuganov's resignation was not even discussed. Kulikov emphasized instead the large amount of "dirt, lies, slander and black public relations" that was thrown about during the campaign. JAC

Kulikov also said the party sent out 250,000-300,000 observers on election day and that polling stations in several republics in the North Caucasus, Bashkortostan, Mordovia, and Tatarstan refused to give party observers voting protocols as the law requires. "We have a solid basis for believing that the elections there were conducted dishonestly," Kulikov said. In Omsk Oblast, Vladimir Agishev, chairman of the Omsk branch of the NGO Golos, said on 11 December that the campaign there was marred by the abuse of "administrative resources" and that many violations of election procedure were committed by local election officials. According to Agishev, Omsk Governor Leonid Polezhaev appeared on local television and radio to ask citizens to support Unified Russia and certain single-mandate-district candidates. Agishev said that he believes some local election commission members directing the vote count at polling stations "simply did not know the [election] law or were not instructed about their responsibility for violating it." JAC

In separate interviews on Ekho Moskvy on 14 December, Union of Rightist Forces (SPS) co-leader Khakamada and Yabloko official Sergei Ivanenko said their parties are ready to support a joint candidate in the presidential election in March. When the idea of a single rightist presidential candidate was first raised in October 2002, the names of Russian State Humanitarian University founder Yurii Afanasev, former Russian Ambassador to France Yurii Ryzhkov, and Chuvashia President Nikolai Fedorov were mentioned as possible candidates, as were Yabloko leader Grigorii Yavlinskii and SPS co-leader Boris Nemtsov, reported. JAC

In an interview with "Argumenty i fakty," No. 50, sociologist Olga Kryshtanovskaya commented that the Motherland-Patriotic Union bloc will play the role of the "managed opposition" and will criticize the Communist Party from the left in the new Duma. According to Kryshtanovskaya, Motherland uses Communist rhetoric and its slogans resemble those of the Communist Party. She also concluded that the "Communist Party will die" unless it finds in the next four years a "strong, capable leader" like Polish President Aleksander Kwasniewski. Writing in "Moskovskie novosti," No. 46, the same week, Kryshtanovskaya reported that her sources in the business elite believe that Yabloko and the SPS "did nothing to defend the interests of their sponsors Menatep head Platon Lebedev and Yukos head Mikhail Khodorkovskii," and therefore other businesspeople have lost interest in the rightist parties. JAC

In an address pegged to the ninth anniversary of the Russian offensive against Chechnya ordered by then-President Boris Yeltsin in December 1994, Aslan Maskhadov, who was elected Chechen president in a ballot in January 1997 that was internationally recognized as valid, again accused Russia of "direct military aggression against the independent Chechen Republic," according to Chechenpress on 12 December. Maskhadov argued that "what is happening in Chechnya is not a war in the conventional sense of the word," but rather "the open destruction of the genetic pool of the Chechen nation before the eyes of the entire world." He thanked the Chechen people for their endurance, for the help that they provide to his fighters, and for not participating in the elections and referendum organized by the pro-Moscow Chechen leadership. LF

A group of 25-50 men said by police to be Chechen fighters entered Daghestan early on the morning of 15 December, killing at least three, and possibly as many as nine, Russian border guards in an exchange of fire, Western media reported. The militants seized four hostages from a hospital in the village of Shauri, which lies some 100 kilometers from the border between Georgia and Daghestan, and reportedly made off with them toward the Chechen border. Reuters quoted a Daghestan Interior Ministry official as saying the men entered Daghestan from Georgia, but Georgian State Border Protection Department Chairman Lieutenant General Valeri Chkheidze denied this, telling journalists in Tbilisi on 15 December that Russia's Federal Security Service (FSB) or Daghestan or North Caucasus border officials would have informed him immediately if militants had entered Daghestan from Georgian territory, Caucasus Press reported. LF

An Azerbaijani official confirmed late on 12 December reports circulated earlier that day by Turkish news agencies of the death of former President Heidar Aliyev. Aliyev, who was 80, was hospitalized in Ankara on 8 July and transported one month later to the United States, where he died of cardiac and kidney failure in Ohio's Cleveland Clinic. Weekly bulletins initially issued by the clinic said Aliyev was responding well to treatment, but no such bulletin has been released during the past two months. In early August, Aliyev named as prime minister his son, Ilham Aliyev, who was elected president in a controversial ballot on 15 October after Heidar Aliyev released a written statement saying he withdrew his candidacy (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 3 October 2003). The funeral is to take place in Baku on 15 December. LF

Only seven of the 15 people who announced their intention to contest the 4 January presidential election succeeded in collecting and submitting to the Central Election Commission by the 12 December deadline the 50,000 signatures in their support required for formal registration, Caucasus Press and reported. The seven are United National Movement Chairman Mikhail Saakashvili, former Imereti Governor Temur Shashiashvili, former State Security Minister Igor Giorgadze, lawyer Kartlos Gharibashvili, academician Roin Liparteliani, Mdzleveli political organization co-Chairman Zurab Kelekhsashvili, and League of the Disabled Chairman Zaza Sikharulidze. Central Election Commission Chairman Zurab Chiaberashvili told journalists on 13 December that Giorgadze was not formally registered as a candidate because he is wanted on an international arrest warrant for his presumed role in the unsuccessful attempt in August 1995 to assassinate then-parliament chairman Eduard Shevardnadze, and because he cannot demonstrate compliance with the requirement that candidates should have lived in Georgia for three years prior to the ballot. LF

On 15 December, an explosion was reported outside presidential candidate Shashiashvili's home in the west Georgian town of Kutaisi, according to Caucasus Press and Shashiashvili said a note saying "Enough politics!" was left at the site of the blast. On 14 December, the company Magticom, which is owned by ousted President Eduard Shevardnadze's son-in-law Gia Djokhtaberidze, was the target of a second explosion in four days, Reuters reported (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 10 December 2003). Windows were shattered, but no one was injured in either of those blasts. LF

Georgian border guards detained Georgian Football Federation head Merab Zhordania on the runway of Tbilisi Airport on 12 December and accused him of attempting to leave the country without undergoing the required passport and customs checks, Georgian media reported. After Zhordania protested that he was simply saying goodbye to relatives who were scheduled to fly to Paris, he was remanded for three-months pretrial custody for allegedly failing to pay 741,000 laris ($343,533) in taxes when he was president of the Tbilisi Dynamo soccer club. A Tbilisi district court is scheduled to hear on 15 December his appeal against a judge's refusal to release him on bail. LF

Control Chamber Chairman Sulkhan Molashvili, who is a close associate of former President Shevardnadze, told journalists in Tbilisi on 12 December that he is being subjected to "political harassment," Interfax and Georgian media reported. Molashvili said he is being shadowed and his telephone conversations are being monitored. Molashvili rejected as politically motivated statements on 5 and 8 December by senior officials from the Prosecutor-General's Office who accused him of failing to investigate reports of corruption in the energy sector. Molashvili recalled that acting President Nino Burdjanadze positively assessed the work of the Control Chamber in her previous post of parliament speaker. LF

Retail market director Tamaz Supatashvili suffered a heart attack and was hospitalized after a Tbilisi court judge ruled he should be remanded in pretrial custody for three months on charges of illegal weapons possession, Caucasus Press reported on 15 December. Police detained Supatashvili, one of the co-founders of the Union of Citizens of Georgia, on 12 December after allegedly discovering a machine gun in his car. Supatashvili has accused Interior Minister Giorgi Baramidze of seeking to "square political accounts" with him. LF

Georgian State Security Minister Valerii Khaburzania met in Moscow on 13 December with Russian Federal Security Service (FSB) Director Nikolai Patrushev and with Russian presidential chief of staff Dmitrii Medvedev, Caucasus Press and Interfax reported. Topics discussed included Russian-Georgian relations and cooperation in the war on terrorism. Khaburzania told journalists on 14 December that Russia has agreed to a Georgian request to extradite to Tbilisi Shota Chichiashvili, who was detained several months ago by Russian police on suspicion of involvement in terrorist bombings. Georgian security officials suspect Chichiashvili was behind several high-profile abductions, including those of two Spanish businessmen in December 2000 and of British consultant Peter Shaw in June 2002. LF

World Bank Vice President for Europe and Central Asia Shigeo Katsu told journalists in Tbilisi on 12 December that the bank looks forward to cooperating with the new Georgian leadership and hopes it will succeed in improving tax collection; drafting "a sound budget" for 2004; and taking "solid, tangible steps" toward fighting corruption, Caucasus Press reported. Katsu met while in Tbilisi with acting President Burdjanadze, Minister of State Zurab Zhvania, and Finance Minister Zurab Nogaideli. Nogaideli told Caucasus Press on 12 December that the draft budget for 2004 that was submitted to parliament last month will be withdrawn and reworked, and that the revised version will be submitted to the IMF and World Bank before it goes to parliament, which will not happen before February 2004. He also said Georgia will have to negotiate with the Paris Club the rescheduling of some $155.5 million in debt repayments that fall due in 2004. LF

Speaking on 13 December at a meeting in Astana commemorating the 12th anniversary of Kazakhstan's declaration of independence from the Soviet Union, Nursultan Nazarbaev promised that the country will continue its policies of predictability and political stability, and RIA-Novosti reported. He said that Kazakhstan's development over the last 12 years has shown the correctness of the decision to emphasize structural economic reform before political reform. In that time, Kazakhstan has become one of the economic leaders of the former USSR, with annual budget revenues equivalent to about $6.8 billion, and it leads the CIS in foreign investment. Now the country needs to diversify its economy, using its mineral resources to finance the development of a mixed economy and to raise living standards, Nazarbaev said. BB

The press service of the Kyrgyz Ombudsman's Office has announced that the office received 9,749 requests for help from citizens since the office opened in early 2003, reported on 12 December. Ombudsman Tursunbai Bakir-uulu personally met with 868 of the complainants, the press service reported. According to the press announcement, the largest number of requests for help involved criminal-law matters and civil and economic rights. The report did not say how many cases were resolved to the satisfaction of those requesting help. In addition to dealing with citizens' complaints, the office initiated investigations of military units, prisons, and psychiatric facilities. It also drew up proposals for changes in the Criminal Code and for a law on domestic violence. BB

Although Djalal-Abad Oblast authorities said they are satisfied with an apology they received from Uzbek law enforcement officials after Uzbek police illegally entered Kyrgyzstan on 10 December in pursuit of a Kyrgyz citizen (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 12 December 2003), the Kyrgyz Foreign Ministry has sent a diplomatic note about the incident to the Uzbek Foreign Ministry, Kyrgyzinfo reported on 15 December. The report identified the Kyrgyz citizen whom the Uzbeks tried to arrest as Alymbek Batyraliev, a resident of the village of Kerben in the Aksy Raion of Djalal-Abad Oblast. The Kyrgyz Foreign Ministry's note informed the Uzbek side that illegal actions such as were undertaken by the Uzbek police in this case violate the 1996 friendship treaty between the two countries. BB

Two Kyrgyz opposition parties -- Ar-Namys and Ata-Meken -- have decided jointly to nominate imprisoned Ar-Namys leader and former Vice President Feliks Kulov for the 2005 presidential election, reported on 12 December, quoting the RFE/RL Kyrgyz Service, citing parliamentarian and Ata-Meken leader Omurbek Tekebaev. Tekebaev described Kulov as the most important opposition candidate. Kulov is currently serving a 10-year sentence for alleged abuse of office during his government service as head of the National Security Service, vice president, and mayor of Bishkek. Akaev has said repeatedly that he will not run again. Although Kyrgyz law bars convicts from taking part in elections, the constitution contains no such restriction, Tekebaev noted. BB

French Defense Minister Michele Alliot-Marie met with Tajik President Imomali Rakhmonov in Dushanbe on 14 December during a two-day visit to Tajikistan, ITAR-TASS reported. Much of the discussion focused on the political and military situation in Afghanistan, but general regional security and the fight against drug trafficking and terrorism were also discussed. Alliot-Marie told journalists that she and Rakhmonov agreed that joint Tajik-French military exercises should be conducted in Tajikistan next year. She also commended the state of bilateral military relations, which have been intensified this year, and called for greater economic cooperation between the two countries, particularly in hydropower development. BB

President Rakhmonov has replaced the head of his administration, RIA-Novosti reported on 13 December, quoting presidential press secretary Zafar Saidov. The new appointee is Makhmadnazar Salikhov, formerly chairman of Tajikistan's Justice Council. He served as head of the presidential administration in 1998-2000. Shukhrat Sultanov, who has headed the presidential administration since 2001, has been appointed ambassador to Turkey. BB

The Tajik Communist, Democratic, Social Democratic, and Socialist parties have issued a joint statement protesting the refusal of the presidential printing house to publish the independent weekly "Ruz-i nav" (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 1 and 12 December 2003) and demanding that the government identify the people responsible and make their names known to the public, Asia Plus-Blitz reported on 12 December. The four parties accused the government of obstructing freedom of speech and the democratization process, saying that only the independent media provides a variety of views. The same day, "Ruz-i nav" Deputy Editor in Chief Fakhriddin Kholbek told Asia Plus-Blitz that the latest issue of the weekly has since been printed by a private printing facility. BB

A congress of the pro-presidential Communist Party of Belarus (KPB) re-elected Chamber of Representatives member Valery Zakharchanka as KPB chairman on 13 December, Belapan reported. The KPB's platform adopted at the congress says the party's priorities are "fighting for the establishment of power for working people, countering the country's capitalization, preventing the bourgeoisie from taking power, strengthening and developing the Russia-Belarus Union State, and gradually reestablishing a modified union of Soviet peoples on the voluntary basis." The KPB pledges to work toward developing Belarus's "socially oriented economy" and enhancing the role of the state in the industrial, agricultural, and financial sectors. The KPB's 55-strong Central Committee includes 16 members of the Chamber of Representatives. JM

Mikhail Saakashvili, leader of Georgia's National Movement and a candidate in the 4 January presidential election in Georgia, signed a cooperation accord between his organization and Viktor Yushchenko's Our Ukraine in Kyiv on 13 December, Interfax reported. Saakashvili, who was on a private visit, pledged that if he is elected president, Ukraine will be a priority in Georgia's foreign policy. "I cannot come up with a prescription [presumably to oust President Leonid Kuchma]," Reuters quoted Saakashvili as saying in Kyiv. "There are a few of our frightened friends who think we will export something. I do not have a model for this," he added. JM

Communist Party leader Petro Symonenko was quoted in the 13 December issue of "Kievskie vedomosti" as saying it is "absolutely unrealistic" to name a single candidate from the opposition in the 2004 presidential election," Interfax reported. Symonenko opined, however, that the opposition four -- the Communist Party, the Socialist Party, the Yuliya Tymoshenko Block, and Our Ukraine -- could nevertheless cooperate in "two directions" in the upcoming election campaign. "The first is to ensure together the transparency of elections and control at polling stations. The second is to try not to allow the authorities' candidate to qualify for the runoff," he said. Symonenko added that the Communist Party will select its candidate for the presidential race at a congress scheduled tentatively for May. JM

Defense Ministers Linas Linkevicius of Lithuania, Girts Valdis Kristovskis of Latvia, and Margus Hanson of Estonia signed a cooperation memorandum in Tallinn on 12 December according to which the Baltic Defense College in Tartu will be financed by all three Baltic states beginning next year, BNS reported. At their regular biannual meeting, the ministers agreed that each country will allocate 187,000 euros ($225,000) to finance the college, with Estonia contributing another 224,000 euros to pay for the maintenance of the college campus. Brigadier General Michael H. Clemmesen of Denmark now heads the college, but that post will be taken over by an officer from one of the Baltic states. The ministers agreed that the joint air-space surveillance system Baltnet and the joint Baltic naval squadron Baltron are functioning well and have helped the Baltic states' integration into NATO. The ministers talked about the possible joint participation of their troops in international peacekeeping operations and also signed a joint communique and a 2004 defense-cooperation plan. SG

The Moderates party's governing council met in Tallinn on 13 December and voted 32-0 with two abstentions to approve changing the party's name to the Social Democratic Party, BNS reported. The name change still needs the approval of a party congress, which is scheduled for 7 February. Any amendment of the party's statutes has to be endorsed by two-thirds of the congress delegates. Party Chairman Ivari Padar told the meeting that the Moderates have been a social-democratic party in terms of program since May 2001 and will soon have the appropriate name. Other Estonian political parties welcomed the intentions of the Moderates to change their name but expressed doubts about whether the move will attract more votes. The chairman of the Reform Party's policy-making council, Rain Rosimannus, said that for the sake of clarity, the Moderates should also change their chairman, noting that Padar is "a fine Estonian peasant farmer" and "a fine Estonian peasant farmer has never been a social democrat." SG

Algirdas Brazauskas told reporters at Vilnius's international airport after arriving from Brussels on 14 December that if the signatures of 85 parliament deputies for the impeachment of President Rolandas Paksas are needed for Paksas to resign, they will be collected, ELTA reported the next day. Brazauskas presumably was referring to an article in "Lietuvos rytas" on 13 December in which Paksas was quoted as saying in Svencionys the previous day that he will resign if 85 signatures for impeachment are collected. The president's public-relations adviser, Aurelijus Katkevicius, however, said those remarks were incorrectly interpreted. A total of 56 parliament deputies had signed the impeachment text by 12 December; signatures will be collected until 16 December. Brazauskas said he told leaders in Brussels that the major cause of the impeachment procedure against Paksas is his unfortunate choice of advisers. SG

Polish politicians from both the ruling Democratic Left Alliance and opposition parties have praised Premier Leszek Miller for not bending to pressure from EU heavyweights during the EU summit in Brussels on 12-13 December, Polish and international media reported. Miller defended the voting system in the EU Council stipulated by the 2000 Treaty of Nice. "We simply want to show that we will not blindly follow orders from bigger countries. It's a question of respect for our point of view to build a Europe comfortable for all," SLD politician Jozef Oleksy said. Opposition centrist Civic Platform leader Jan Rokita said: "This was a fairly good debut of Poland in the EU. It is clear for Europeans after the Brussels summit that a group of the EU's strongest and richest is unable to dictate their conditions 100 percent." Peasant Party leader Jaroslaw Kalinowski said: "Premier Miller and his government scored a success [during the EU summit in Brussels]." JM

Some politicians and analysts predict that Poland's opposition to the voting system proposed in the draft constitution prepared by the European Convention could make some EU states, particularly Germany, less generous in distributing EU money to Poland in the EU's 2007-13 budget, which is to be debated next month. "The summit's failure [to adopt the draft document] bodes really ill for the debate on the EU's next financial perspective," Lena Kolarska-Bobinska, head of the Warsaw-based Public Affairs Institute think tank, told Reuters. Roman Giertych, leader of the far-right opposition League of Polish Families, was quoted by Reuters as saying: "Poland should now brace itself for serious political and economic repercussions because of its stance over the constitution." JM

President Vaclav Klaus said on 14 December -- in the wake of the failure by a meeting of leaders from current and future EU members to reach an agreement on an EU constitution -- that the proposed document amounts to an attempt to impose the forging of a European superstate. In a statement released to CTK, Klaus, who has been a persistent critic of the document, said, "He who did not know that, knew nothing." Klaus also said the failed talks in Brussels demonstrated that more leaders are realizing the danger inherent in the project. Klaus did not attend the negotiations. Czech delegation leader Premier Vladimir Spidla told reporters in Prague on 14 December that, along with other countries, the Czech Republic considers it more important to agree on a good document than to act under time constraints. Spidla also said negotiations will continue and "nothing has changed" with regard to the Czech Republic's planned accession to the EU on 1 May. Foreign Minister Cyril Svoboda said, "Europe has scored an own-goal, but the game is not over yet." MS

Prime Minister Mikulas Dzurinda told TASR in Brussels on 13 December that if a "two-speed" bloc is formed within the EU, Slovakia wishes to join those countries promoting faster EU integration. Dzurinda was speaking after the failure of the two-day EU summit aimed at forging a compromise over the envisaged EU constitution, and he was presumably referring to German Chancellor Gerhard Schroeder's declaration that if a consensus is not reached "in the foreseeable future, then a two-speed Europe will emerge." Reuters also cited French President Jacques Chirac as saying that a smaller group of countries working more closely for faster EU integration would "provide an engine [and] set an example that would allow Europe to grow faster, further, and better." According to TASR, apart from Germany and France, the group would also include Italy and the Benelux countries. Dzurinda said there is no contradiction between Slovakia's advocacy of a national veto on sensitive matters and cooperation on other projects on which decisions are taken by a qualified majority. MS

Slovak lawmakers approved the 2004 budget bill with the backing of 78 of 149 deputies present for the 12 December vote, TASR reported. The budget envisages revenues of 232 billion crowns ($6.9 billion) and expenditures of 310 billion crowns, translating into a deficit of 3.9 percent of GDP. Legislators rejected proposals to earmark privatization revenues for the state budget, instead channeling those expected revenues toward reducing the deficit in the health sector. Premier Dzurinda welcomed the vote but said he is troubled by the increase of the deficit as a result of that decision. MS

Dobroslav Trnka, who headed Slovakia's military prosecutor's office, was elected by parliament as the country's new prosecutor-general on 12 December, TASR reported. Trnka will thus replace Milan Hanzel, whose mandate ends on 1 January. Also on 12 December, deputies ratified the appointment of Lubomir Dobrik to be a judge on the Constitutional Court. MS

The trial for alleged illegal weapons sales of former Slovak Information Service (SIS) Director Ivan Lexa began in Bratislava on 12 December, TASR and CTK reported. Lexa is charged along with several of his subordinates, and he maintains his innocence. Lexa was extradited from South Africa last year after two years evading Slovak law. Lexa is expected to stand trial separately for alleged complicity in the slaying in 1996 of a former police officer who was cooperating in an investigation of the 1995 abduction of former President Michal Kovac's son. The abduction-related case against Lexa was dropped, along with other charges, after the Supreme Court upheld an amnesty granted to Lexa and his associates by former Prime Minister Vladimir Meciar, who exercised some presidential powers after the end of President Kovac's mandate in 1998. MS

Investigators believe that two Syrian foreign-currency dealers detained by Hungarian police on 10 December have laundered some 50 billion-60 billion forints ($230 million-280 million) in a case that might involve Lieutenant Colonel Csaba Molnar, the head of the anti-money-laundering unit in the Hungarian police department (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 10 and 11 December 2003), "Nepszabadsag" reported on 15 December, citing a leak to reporters. The daily alleged that in several illegal operations, the two Syrian nationals were aided by senior executives at unspecified commercial banks in Budapest. One telephone conservation that was monitored by police allegedly established that the official in charge of preventing money laundering at one bank provided advice to the Syrians on how to avoid guidelines that require banks to report suspicious transactions to police. MSZ

On 14 December in Tirana, delegates to a two-day congress of the Albanian Socialist Party re-elected Prime Minister Fatos Nano party leader with 465 votes to 65 for former President Rexhep Meidani, and 41 for Tirana's Mayor Edi Rama, Reuters and dpa reported. The congress approved a change to the party statutes, according to which Socialist members of the parliament must vote according to the decisions reached by the party's legislative caucus on important matters, or give up their mandates. Nano's supporters introduced the change to discipline a rival faction led by former Prime Minister Ilir Meta, which has joined with the opposition in recent months to block Nano's attempts to appoint a foreign minister and an interior minister (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 12 November 2003). Meta's supporters said Nano packed the congress with his backers and government employees, who were pressured into supporting him. In November, the EU warned Albania that it should stop wasting time on internal political rivalries and concentrate energies on implementing reforms (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 3 February and 10 November 2003, and "RFE/RL Balkan Report," 27 June 2003). PM

On 15 December, a 200-strong, EU-led police mission called Proxima will officially replace the EU's current Concordia military mission, thus ending a period of foreign military presence in Macedonia, Macedonian media reported. The new mission includes police advisers and civilian staff from the 15 EU member countries, several candidate states, and the United States. Its main aims are to make the Macedonian police more professional, support the fight against organized crime, improve border police management, build confidence between the police and the population, and encourage regional cooperation, Proxima head Bart D'Hooge from the Netherlands pointed out in a 14 December interview with RFE/RL's Macedonian broadcasters (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 25 and 29 September and 27 October 2003, and "RFE/RL Balkan Report," 5 September 2003). UB

On 13 December, the UN Security Council endorsed the "Standards for Kosovo" program recently put forward by Harri Holkeri, who heads the UN civilian administration in Kosova, RFE/RL's South Slavic and Albanian Languages Service reported. The document lists targets that must be met in key areas such as democracy, the rule of law, the economy, and the return of Serbian refugees before talks can begin on the final status of Kosova, perhaps in mid-2005. Kosovar leaders hailed the program, having long asked for a clear road map for status talks, arguing that delays promote insecurity and impede progress (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 11 December 2003, and "RFE/RL Balkan Report," 1 August and 17 October 2003). All Kosovar political parties agree that independence is the only option and that they want no political links to Belgrade. Serbian officials and leaders of the local Serbian minority rejected the program, having generally opposed moves that could lead to a resolution of the status issue in the foreseeable future. PM

Kosova's government agreed on 12 December to support the parliament's recent decision to repeal about 50 laws enacted between 1989 and 2000 during former Serbian and Yugoslav President Slobodan Milosevic's rule, RFE/RL's South Slavic and Albanian Languages Service reported. A majority of ethnic Albanian and Serbian legislators agreed that the Milosevic-era laws were holding up the privatization process (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 12 December 2003). PM

Former Yugoslav Army General Pavle Strugar returned from Montenegro to The Hague on 12 December, where his trial for war crimes in connection with the 1991 shelling of Dubrovnik is slated to resume on 16 December, RFE/RL's South Slavic and Albanian Languages Service reported (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 8 December 2003). Strugar had delayed his return to The Hague, which was scheduled to have taken place on 2 December, for "medical reasons." PM

In the run-up to the 28 December Serbian parliamentary elections, Interior Minster Dusan Mihajlovic, of the small Liberal Party (LS), said in Ovcar Banja near Cacak on 13 December that he will not extradite former army General Vladimir Lazarevic and police General Sreten Lukic to the Hague-based war crimes tribunal, which has indicted them for war crimes in connection with the 1998-99 crackdown in Kosova, RFE/RL's South Slavic and Albanian Languages Service reported (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 27 October 2003, and "RFE/RL Balkan Report," 12 December 2003). Mihajlovic charged that the tribunal treats the generals like "black sheep...because they served their country." "On this basis and with the same indictment, every army and police officer could find himself on the list of Hague indictees," he added. PM

On 12 December in Belgrade, Serbia and Montenegro's Defense Minister Boris Tadic, of the Democratic Party (DS), called on former Yugoslav President Vojislav Kostunica's Democratic Party of Serbia (DSS) to end its polemics with its former allies so as not to pit pro-reform parties against each other and thereby play into the hands of the extreme nationalist Serbian Radical Party (SRS), RFE/RL's South Slavic and Albanian Languages Service reported (see "RFE/RL Balkan Report," 12 December 2003). The DSS rejected the appeal as an effort in self-promotion by Tadic, who heads his party's slate in the 28 December Serbian parliamentary elections. PM

Several hundred farmers from the Republika Srpska blocked the Bosanska Gradiska border crossing to Croatia for one hour on 13 December to protest a free-trade agreement with Slovenia, Croatia, and Serbia and Montenegro, which is scheduled to take effect on 1 January, RFE/RL's South Slavic and Albanian Languages Service reported. The farmers fear Bosnia will be "flooded" with imports, while Bosnian farmers have few possibilities of marketing their products abroad. PM

Prime Minister Nastase said on 14 December that his delegation has returned from Brussels with "a full bag," Mediafax reported. Nastase, who headed the Romanian delegation at the failed EU constitution talks, was referring to the EU statement released on 12 December, saying, "Welcoming Bulgaria and Romania in January 2007 as members of the Union, if they are ready, is the common objective of the Union of 25 [countries]," Reuters reported. Nastase said the failure of the talks on the EU constitution highlights the success obtained by Romania and Bulgaria, as their joining of the EU in 2007 is among the few things on which agreement could be reached. MS

National Liberal Party (PNL) Chairman Theodor Stolojan was named on 12 December as the joint presidential candidate of the PNL-Democratic Party alliance in the 2004 elections, RFE/RL's Bucharest bureau reported. The choice of Stolojan, a former premier, was based on the results of a public opinion survey that indicated he has the best chance to attract the most votes. Democratic Party Chairman Traian Basescu said his party accepts the results and added he does not intend to be the alliance's candidate for the post of premier. Basescu said he intends to run for a second mandate as Bucharest Mayor in the local elections slated for summer 2004 and would not leave that post if re-elected to it. The survey used to select Stolojan also showed that the gap between the ruling Social Democratic Party (PSD) and the Truth and Justice Alliance formed by the PNL and the Democrats has been reduced to some 14 percent. The PSD is leading in preferences with 42.1 percent, followed by the Liberal-Democratic Alliance with 28.2 percent, and the Greater Romania Party (PRM) with 18.3 percent. Nastase leads in presidential preferences with 35.5 percent; followed by Stolojan, 20.2 percent; and PRM Chairman Corneliu Vadim Tudor, 16.8 percent. MS

Former miners' leader Miron Cozma was sentenced on 12 December to an additional term of 10 years in prison for his "attempt to undermine state authority," RFE/RL's Bucharest Bureau and AP reported. The sentence was passed on Cozma in connection with the protest march on Bucharest that he led in January 1999, in which more than 200 people were injured and one police officer was killed. Five other miners' leaders were sentenced to prison terms of five years on the same charges. Cozma is already serving an 18-year sentence for the 1991 attempt to topple the government that was headed by Petre Roman. MS

A meeting of radical Hungarian national minority leaders held in Cluj on 13 December officially established the National Council of Hungarians of Transylvania (CNMT), electing Reformed Bishop Laszlo Toekes as chairman of the council, Mediafax and Romanian Radio reported. The CNMT is to strive for "personal autonomy" for the Hungarian minority in general and for the territorial autonomy of the Szekler lands in particular. In his speech, Toekes harshly criticized the incumbent leadership of the Hungarian Democratic Federation of Romania (UDMR), saying its politics promote the transformation of Transylvania's Hungarian minority into a population living on "reservations." He said the autonomy target must be attained by 2007. At a meeting of the UDMR's Council of Union Representatives (CRU) held in parallel in Targu-Mures on 12-13 December, several members of this council severely criticized the establishment of the CNMT as encouraging division among the ranks of the Hungarian minority ahead of the 2004 elections. UDMR Chairman Bela Marko accused the members of the CNMT of "demagogy." The CRU decided to sanction Toekes with a "warning" for his criticism of the UDMR leadership when he was still the organization's honorary chairman. This is the second warning the CRU has issued to Toekes. MS

The communist majority in the Moldovan parliament approved on 12 December in first reading the draft Concept of the State's Nationalities Policy that President Vladimir Voronin submitted to the legislature, RFE/RL's Chisinau bureau reported. The document designates as a "national priority" the promotion of Russian as a language of inter-ethnic communication in Moldova, alongside "Moldovan," which continues to be the state's "official" language. The draft also states that the "state-forming" nationality in the country are the Moldovans, but adds that the crystallization of statehood was also made possible by the contribution of other nationalities living in the country and lists among those the Ukrainian, Russian, Gagauz, Bulgarian, Jewish, Romanian, Belarusian, Romany and Polish minorities. The draft also calls for "the judicial and political neutralization of attempts to deny the existence of a Moldovan nationality and of ignoring the concept of Moldovan language." On the same day, Popular Party Christian Democratic (PPCD) Deputy Chairman Stefan Secareanu called on Moldovan citizens to protest the draft, describing it as "a new attempt to de-nationalize the Romanians," Infotag reported. He said that although Romanians make up two-thirds of the country's population, the presidential "concept" puts them on the same footing with Jews or Belarusians. MS

Boris Akulov, a member of the Transdniester team of experts who participated in the negotiations on the federal constitution, said on 12 December in Tiraspol that the separatist authorities might again halt the evacuation of Russian military ammunition from Transdniester, RFE/RL's Chisinau bureau reported. Akulov said Moldovan President Voronin's last-minute refusal to sign the Russian plan for federalization has created an "emergency situation" that extends to the withdrawal process as well. According to Akulov, the federalization and the withdrawal processes had been "synchronized" and, by upsetting the former, Voronin has also upset the latter and has thus "violated the process of conflict resolution." MS

On 13 December, delegates from the country's Muslim communities elected Fikri Sali, a former regional Mufti of Kardzhali, as the new chief mufti, BTA reported. The conference was overshadowed by protests on the part of Muslim clerics from Plovdiv, Gotse Delchev, and Smolyan, who walked out to protest Sali's election as being "manipulated." They also disagreed with the adoption of the Muslim community's new statutes, as a provision was deleted that would have stipulated that only clerics with a higher education can be elected regional or chief mufti. The conference also elected Ridvan Kadiov as new chairman of the Supreme Muslim Council. Prior to the election, outgoing Chief Mufti Selim Mehmed was accused of supporting radical Islamist groups (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 25 and 26 November 2003). UB

Interior Minister Georgi Petkanov said on 13 December that his ministry is unable to cope with organized crime as it has problems dismantling the higher levels of the criminal structures, "Sega" reported. Petkanov repeated his demand that crime bosses be deprived of their illegally acquired property, adding that he hopes such a law will be passed by February. Petkanov also agreed with recent criticism by the interior ministry's chief secretary, General Boyko Borisov, and the international community that many criminals remain at large due to shortcomings in the country's judiciary. According to Petkanov, some 500 convicted criminals are still free, as the judiciary has failed to order them to report to prison to serve their sentences (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 5, 9, 10 and 12 December 2003). UB


Deposed Iraqi President Saddam Hussein, who has eluded coalition forces for nearly nine months, was captured on 13 December in a massive operation in Al-Dawr, some 15 kilometers south of his hometown Tikrit.

U.S.-appointed Coalition Provisional Authority (CPA) head L. Paul Bremer made the announcement at a 14 December press conference in Baghdad, saying, "Ladies and gentlemen, we got him." Addressing the Iraqi people, he added: "For decades, hundreds of thousands of you suffered at the hands of this cruel man. For decades, Saddam Hussein divided you citizens against each other. For decades, he threatened and attacked your neighbors. Those days are over forever."

U.S. commander Lieutenant General Ricardo Sanchez told the same press conference that 600 soldiers from the U.S. 4th Infantry Division, along with Special Forces, engineers, and air support, launched Operation Red Dawn in the early evening hours, having identified two possible locations where Hussein might be hiding, codenamed Wolverine One and Wolverine Two.

Soldiers were acting on "actionable intelligence" that came earlier in the day, Sanchez said. He also told reporters that "a combination of human-intelligence tips, exceptional intelligence, analytical efforts, and detainee interrogations" in recent weeks helped locate the whereabouts of Hussein. U.S. forces did not initially find Hussein at the two suspected locations, but later found him after cordoning off the area and conducting an intensive search, Sanchez said.

Hussein was found hiding in a "spider hole," nearly 2 meters below ground, just outside a mud hut that is located inside a walled compound. The hole had its own ventilation system. U.S. forces captured two individuals along with Hussein, identified by Iraqi Governing Council members as bodyguards, along with $750,000 in $100 bills, two assault rifles, one handgun, and a taxi. Sanchez told reporters that no shots were fired during the operation, and Hussein "has been talkative and is being cooperative." He added that Hussein appeared "a tired man" and "a man resigned to his fate."

U.S. Major General Ray Odierno gave a press conference in Tikrit on 14 December, telling reporters that coalition forces had checked the same location in earlier searches. He said he suspects that Hussein had hidden in several similar locations across Iraq, and had probably changed his location every three hours. Odierno said Hussein was very disoriented when he was initially captured, adding that the two individuals captured with Hussein tried to flee when U.S. forces arrived on the scene but were apprehended. He said Hussein had new clothes still in wrappers when he was apprehended.

Odierno also told reporters that no telecommunications equipment or telephones were found with Hussein, adding that he never believed Hussein was directing nationwide attacks against Iraqis and coalition forces in Iraq. He also said the hut was located alongside the Tigris River, and that small boats were docked nearby, which might have been used by individuals to visit Hussein or transport goods to him. He added that tribes and family members of Hussein's provided coalition forces with information on the possible location of the deposed leader over several weeks.

Iraqi Governing Council members Adnan Pachachi, Ahmad Chalabi, Muwaffaq al-Rubay'i, and Adil Abd al-Mahdi also gave a press conference to reporters in Baghdad on 14 December, saying they saw and spoke to Hussein following his capture. Pachachi, a former Iraqi foreign minister and now head of the Iraqi Independent Democrats Movement, said Hussein looked tired and haggard, and that the former leader was unrepentant and defiant, telling the Governing Council members that he had been a firm but just ruler. "Our answer was that he was an unjust ruler responsible for the death of thousands of Iraqis," Pachachi told reporters, adding that Hussein did not "express any remorse." Adil Abd al-Mahdi told reporters that Hussein sounded "cynical" when speaking to the council members.

Chalabi of the Iraqi National Congress said Hussein did not feel the need to apologize for his despotic rule over Iraq. Chalabi also confirmed to reporters that the Patriotic Union of Kurdistan had a role in locating Hussein. "Kosrat Rasul [the head of the PUK's Political Bureau] had a role in uncovering the hideout of Saddam yesterday," Chalabi said on 14 December. Muwaffaq al-Rubay'i said that Hussein will be tried for crimes against the Iraqi people. Asked whether the presumed trial will be public, Pachachi said, "Yes, definitely, the trial will be public."

Current Iraqi Foreign Minister Hoshyar Zebari told Al-Jazeera satellite television from Paris that the news of Hussein's capture was "the happiest news in the life of the Iraqis." "We have always said that dictators are cowardly rulers," Zebari added. "Saddam has proven this fact in the way he was arrested." Meanwhile, Iraqi Governing Council member and President for the month of December Abd al-Aziz al-Hakim gave a press conference with Spanish Foreign Minister Ana Palacio from Madrid, telling reporters that DNA testing has confirmed that Hussein was definitely captured. "This is a great day for humanity, not just for the Iraqi people. This is a great day for all of us who are lovers of peace, because this criminal has committed atrocities against humanity and not just against the Iraqi people," Abd al-Aziz said.

"We want Saddam to get what he deserves. I believe he will be sentenced to hundreds of death sentences at a fair trial because he's responsible for all the massacres and crimes in Iraq," said Amar al-Hakim, a senior member of the Shi'ite Supreme Council for the Islamic Revolution in Iraq (SCIRI), Reuters reported.

Delegates to Afghanistan's Constitutional Loya Jirga opened the long-awaited assembly on 14 December with prayers, songs by children, and a speech from the country's onetime king, AP reported. "The people are relying on you and you should not forget them," former monarch Mohammad Zaher Shah told some 500 constitutional delegates gathered in Kabul for the constitutional assembly. "I hope you will try your best to maintain peace, stability, and the unity of the Afghan people." Meeting under a huge tent in the capital, the delegates began debate of the draft constitution that was presented by a Constitutional Commission in early November and that should pave the way for national elections in June. "This constitution will determine the political, social, and economic future of Afghanistan," Afghan Transitional Administration (ATA) Chairman Hamid Karzai told the group. "For the first time in the history of Afghanistan, the people of Afghanistan have the opportunity to appoint the representatives of their choice.... This constitution will guarantee the rights of all Afghan people...and put an end to anarchy." MR

Afghan and U.S. officials hailed the capture of ousted Iraqi dictator Saddam Hussein, suggesting the catch could help bring in Al-Qaeda leader Osama bin Laden and other fugitives thought to be in Afghanistan or Pakistan, AP reported on 14 December. Afghan Foreign Ministry spokesman Omar Samad said Hussein's capture "is obviously good news for the people of Iraq, who suffered for so long under Saddam's tyrannical regime, and it is a warning to all the other outlaws who are at large like bin Laden, [Taliban spiritual leader] Mullah [Mohammad] Omar, and [former Afghan Prime Minister and armed ATA opponent] Gulbuddin Hekmatyar, who hopefully sooner or later will be brought to justice." Interior Minister Ali Ahmad Jalali said he thinks bin Laden, Omar, and Hekmatyar will eventually be caught, but he stressed that tracking the fugitives through Pakistan and Afghanistan remains more difficult than tracking Hussein in Iraq. "It's totally different terrain, a different situation, and a different social structure," Jalali said, adding, "In the tribal areas [outside Kabul], control is very weak." MR

ATA leader Karzai defended his efforts to shore up presidential power in the proposed Afghan constitution, telling delegates to the Constitutional Loya Jirga on 14 December that centralized government authority is the only way to stabilize the factitious country, Reuters reported. Karzai said a strong president must be able to wield authority in Afghanistan in the absence of political parties lacking nationwide support. "Because we don't have such organizations, small political groups come to these sort of national assemblies to try and create governments by force," Karzai said. "Experience shows that these organizations just want power and don't think of the national interest." "This is very dangerous for Afghanistan.... Right now, Afghanistan needs one source of power in government." Former Afghan President Burhanuddin Rabbani, head of the Jamiat-e Islami party and delegate to the loya jirga, countered that a president needs a strong parliament for effective rule. "Parliament can serve as a bridge between the government and the people." MR

Pakistan Railways has developed plans for a rail line through Central Asia that would link key cities in Afghanistan, Xinhua news agency reported on 14 December, citing a report in the Pakistani newspaper "The Nation." In the first of three development stages for the project, a 150-kilometer rail line would link Pakistan's western border city Chamman with the southeastern Afghan city of Kandahar. Phase two of the plan calls for a rail link connecting Kandahar with Herat, in western Afghanistan, and the last phase would extend the rail route into Turkmenistan. Pakistan Railways General Manager Aurangzeb Khan said a team from his company is on its second visit to Afghanistan to discuss plans for the Chamman-to-Kandahar rail line. "The team will hold preliminary meetings with Afghan officials to discuss provision of laborers for track, security of Pakistani engineers and the route of track in Afghanistan," Aurangzeb said. Aurangzeb said work on the project is expected to begin next year, after a final feasibility study is concluded in May. MR

Candidates began registering for the Islamic Republic of Iran's seventh parliamentary elections on 13 December, and the process will continue through 19 December, IRNA reported. The State Elections Headquarters reported that 486 candidates registered on the first day, state radio reported. According to IRNA, candidates must believe in and be committed to Islam and the principle of Islamic leadership, must be in good physical health, and must have at least a two-year university degree or its equivalent. Moreover, candidates must not have a criminal record and must be between the ages of 30 and 75. BS

Ahmad Qasemi, director of the export divisions of the Ministry of Industry and Mines, told the Mehr News Agency on 11 December that for the first seven months of the current Iranian year, handicraft exports increased 75 percent over the same period last year. With a value of $26 million, handicrafts represented 1.3 percent of the country's industrial and mineral exports. He added that there were decreases in some handicrafts due to poor planning, marketing, and advertising. Leather and non-leather arts and crafts exports stood at $53 million. Qasemi said the textile industry exported $158 million in fabrics, yarns, and broadloom carpeting, an increase of 24 percent; the auto industry, with exports at $47 million, realized an increase of 15 percent. JLH

Iran's Minister of Energy Habibullah Bitaraf met with Kuwaiti Minister of Oil Sheikh Ahmad Fahd al-Sabah during the latter's one-day visit to Tehran on 13 December, IRNA reported. The two officials signed a 30-year agreement on the provision of Iranian water to Kuwait, KUNA and IRNA reported. "Kar va Kargar" reported from Tehran on 11 December that Iran will supply Kuwait with 210 million imperial gallons of fresh water daily . Sheikh Ahmad said the project, estimated to be worth $1.5 billion, is of vital importance to Kuwait and will begin as soon as formalities are completed. The agreement had been in the works since January. To transport the water, Iranian, Kuwaiti, and British companies will build a pipeline from the Karkheh Dam in the province of Khuzestan to the far bank of the Alvand River in Abadan, a distance of 330 kilometers. From Abadan, the pipeline will extend under the Persian Gulf for another 210 kilometers to its destination in Kuwait. Sheikh Ahmad also met with Iranian First Vice President Mohammad Reza Aref-Yazdi, KUNA and IRNA reported. JLH/BS

Iranian Foreign Ministry spokesman Hamid Reza Assefi said of the capture on 13 December of ousted Iraqi leader Saddam Hussein, "We also share the Iraqi people's joy," Iranian state radio reported on 14 December. Alluding to the ruinous eight-year war against Iran that the Iraqi dictator initiated on 22 September 1980, Assefi added, "The history of Saddam's atrocities, especially the crimes against the Iranian people and the regional nations, are clear and unforgettable." Minister of Defense and Armed Forces Logistics Ali Shamkhani said, " We are happy about Saddam's capture and we, in turn, express our thanks to God," ISNA reported. Shamkhani said Saddam Hussein suffered the fate of "people who confront Islam." BS

After eight months of searching, U.S. forces captured deposed Iraqi President Saddam Hussein in an early evening raid on 13 December in the Iraqi town of Al-Dawr, approximately 15 kilometers south of Tikrit, according to international media (see End Note below). Coalition Provisional Authority head L. Paul Bremer began a 14 December press conference in Baghdad with the words, "Ladies and gentlemen, we got him." In a statement he addressed to the Iraqi people, Bremer said, "This is a great day in your history." he added: "For decades, hundreds of thousands of you suffered at the hands of this cruel man. For decades, Saddam Hussein divided you citizens against each other. For decades, he threatened and attacked your neighbors. Those days are over forever." His full statement can be viewed on the CPA website ( Coalition images followed of a disheveled and bearded Hussein apparently undergoing an examination of his head and teeth. KR

U.S. Commander Lieutenant General Ricardo Sanchez told reporters at the televised press conference on 14 December that 600 soldiers from the U.S. 4th Infantry Division, along with Special Forces, engineers, and air support launched the operation, working on "actionable intelligence." The operation, codenamed Operation Red Dawn, sent soldiers to two possible locations, codenamed Wolverine One and Wolverine Two. When Hussein was not found at the two locations, soldiers cordoned off the area and carried out a broader search, finally locating him inside a "spider hole" near a mud hut alongside the Tigris River. The hole was covered with bricks and dirt, and had its own ventilation system. Two individuals were reportedly captured with Hussein, believed to be bodyguards, as well as $750,000 in $100 bills, two rifles, one handgun, and a taxicab. Sanchez said Hussein was in good health and was "talkative and is being cooperative." U.S. military officials were quoted by on 15 December as saying Hussein was "giving [interrogators] rote answers to the questions, or answering with nationalist and patriotic rhetoric," in CNN's words. CNN reported on 15 December that officials said Hussein is being kept at a U.S. military base in Qatar. KR

Speaking to reporters in Tikrit on 14 December, U.S. Major General Ray Odierno of the 4th Infantry Division said coalition forces spent several months tracking Hussein in the area of his hometown Tikrit ahead of his capture on 13 December, RFE/RL reported. "What we realized early on in the summer is that we believed that people we had to get to were the midlevel individuals: his bodyguards and other people that we knew were closely associated with him. In addition, we knew it was always family and tribal ties, and so we tried to work through family and tribal ties that might have been close to Saddam Hussein," Odierno said. "As we continued to conduct raids and capture people, we got more and more information on the families that were somewhat close to Saddam Hussein. Over the last 10 days or so, we brought in about five to 10 members of these families who then were able to give us even more information and finally we got the ultimate information from one of these individuals," he added. Odierno and other officials said no shots were fired during the operation the previous evening. "He was in the bottom of a hole with no way to fight back," said Odierno. "He was caught like a rat." KR

Before the announcement on 14 December of Hussein's capture the night before, a suicide car bomber struck in front of the Al-Khaldiya police department, international media reported. Reuters reported that 17 were killed and 33 wounded in the blast, mostly policemen. Some 200 Iraqi demonstrators on the scene chanted, "Yes, yes to Saddam," after the bombing, Reuters reported. Unknown assailants gunned down the Al-Khaldiya police chief near Al-Fallujah on 15 September (see "RFE/RL Iraq Report," 21 September 2003). Meanwhile, two car bombs were detonated and a third defused in or near Baghdad on 15 December, Reuters reported. The first bomb exploded at the Zuhur police station 30 kilometers north of Baghdad in the village of Hussayniyah, killing at least nine people. A second car bomb was detonated outside the Al-Amiriyah criminal investigation department in Baghdad, injuring at least seven people. A third bomb was found but defused in the same area, Reuters reported. KR

U.S. officials have cautioned that they expect more attacks against coalition and Iraqi targets despite the 13 December capture of Saddam Hussein. In an address from Washington on 14 December, U.S. President George W. Bush said Hussein "will face the justice he denied to millions," but he also warned: "The capture of Saddam Hussein does not mean the end of violence in Iraq. We still face terrorists who would rather go on killing the innocent than accept the rise of liberty in the heart of the Middle East. Such men are a direct threat to the American people, and they will be defeated." Major General Odierno meanwhile told the 14 December press conference, "There is still a lot of work that we have to do, and we're still focused on our task of defeating any regime elements that might be remaining, who want to conduct attacks against coalition forces and, more importantly, try to stop most Iraqis from moving forward." KR