CONVICTED APARTMENT-BUILDING BOMBERS GET LIFE...
The Moscow Municipal Court on 12 January sentenced two men accused of direct involvement in the September 1999 bombings of apartment buildings in Moscow and Volgodonsk that killed 243 people to life imprisonment, Interfax reported. Adam Dekkushev and Yusuf Krymshamkhalov, who were extradited from Georgia in 2002, were convicted of terrorism; murder with exceptional cruelty; membership of illegal armed formations; the illegal production, storing, and transportation of explosives; and illegally crossing the border. During the closed trial, Dekkushev admitted helping to prepare the explosive hexogen, but said the plan was to use it against "technical installations," not apartment buildings (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 16 December 2003). Krymshamkhalov claimed he thought he was mixing paint rather than explosives, "Gazeta" reported on 13 January. The convicted defendants were also ordered to pay 4 million rubles ($143,000) in damages. A lawyer representing a group of victims of the bombings, Igor Trunov, said the defendants would not able to pay and that the law on terrorism makes the government responsible for compensating terrorism victims, TV-Tsentr reported on 12 January. JB
...WHILE SOME OBSERVERS CONTINUE TO QUESTION THE VERDICT...
After the sentences were announced, Yusuf Krymshamkhalov said that many of the charges were "based on lies," "The Moscow Times" reported on 13 January. His lawyer, Shamil Arifulov, accused prosecutors of fabricating witnesses' testimony and experts' statements. Arifulov filed an appeal with the Supreme Court. Self-exiled tycoon Boris Berezovskii, who has repeatedly alleged that the Russian security organs were behind the 1999 explosions, told Ekho Moskvy that the verdicts were a "continuation of the show" begun in 1999 and that the convicted men had "made an entirely clear statement that they were used by the security services." "I have direct evidence that the security services, the Federal Security Service [FSB], were directly involved in the blasts," Berezovskii claimed. He also alleged that the 1999 bombings and the October 2002 Moscow theater siege were linked by "clearly visible" security-service "traces" and that "President [Vladimir] Putin himself stands behind these terrorist acts" or knew about them in advance. Meanwhile, five relatives of 1999 bombing victims called on Russia's presidential candidates to raise the issue of possible special-services involvement in the bombings, newsru.com reported on 12 January. JB
...AND THE FSB VOWS TO CAPTURE THE REMAINING CO-CONSPIRATORS
FSB spokesman Sergei Ignatchenko said on 12 January that the case involving the 1999 apartment-building bombings will remain open as long as their "main organizer," Achemez Gochiyaev, remains at large abroad, ITAR-TASS reported. According to the FSB, another alleged member of the group led by Gochiyaev who was involved in the bombings, Khakim Abaev, also remains at large. Citing investigators, gazeta.ru reported on 12 January that Gochiyaev's group was trained at Chechen rebel bases in the towns of Serzhen-Yurt and Urus-Martan, where the explosives were prepared. The group's "technical instructors" were two Arab field commanders, Abu Umar and Abu Djafar, and the bombings' brainchild was another Arab field commander, Khattab, the website reported. Meanwhile, Trunov, the lawyer representing a group of victims of the 1999 bombings, said a film presented during the trial shows one of those convicted on 12 January, Adam Dekkushev, helping kill wounded Russian soldiers, "The Moscow Times" reported on 13 January. JB
EX-RUSSIAN BANKER ARRESTED WHILE TRYING TO FLEE THE UNITED STATES...
Aleksandr Konanykhine, a former banker who has lived in the United States since 1993 and who is wanted in Russia on charges of embezzlement, was arrested on 18 December, "The Washington Post" reported on 10 January. Konanykhine, who in the early 1990s founded the now-defunct All-Russian Exchange Bank and worked in Mikhail Khodorkovskii's Menatep bank, was arrested together with his wife as they tried to enter Canada, where they planned to request political asylum. In November, the U.S. Justice Department ruled that Konanykhine, who in 1999 won political asylum in the United States after an FBI agent testified that the Russia mafia had a contract to kill him, faced no risk of political persecution in Russia. Konanykhine and his wife were on the verge of being deported to Russia on 22 December when the federal agents who had escorted them to the airport learned that a federal judge had ordered a stay of the deportation. Konanykhine's wife, Elena Gratcheva, told "The Washington Post" that her husband would be "tortured and killed" if deported to Russia. JB
...AND BLAMES HIS LINKS TO JAILED YUKOS CHIEF FOR HIS OWN PLIGHT
In an interview published in "Kommersant-Daily" on 12 January, Konanykhine claimed his arrest was connected to the 25 October arrest of former Yukos CEO Khodorkovskii, who briefly sat on the board of Konanykhine's bank. "I think that a big political trial is being prepared for the Khodorkovskii case in Russia, into which everyone who had any kind of business with him is being swept," Konanykhine said. "Therefore, they want to organize my show trial there." He also said that after his 18 December arrest, U.S. security officials tried to turn him and his wife over to the Russian consulate in Washington, but that consular officials would not take him because he had an expired Soviet-era passport and refused to sign certain travel documents. Konanykhine said a U.S. official insisted to the Russian officials that his deportation had been arranged at "the highest levels." Konanykhine and his wife were then put into jail in Arlington, Virginia, from where his wife was released on 24 December, "The Washington Post" reported on 10 January. JB
OFFICIALS MARK PUBLIC PROSECUTORS' DAY
President Putin on 12 January congratulated prosecutors on their professional holiday, calling on them to "guard constitutional norms and protect the legitimate interests of citizens, of the state, and of our society in the future as well," RIA-Novosti reported. Prosecutor-General Vladimir Ustinov predicted in an interview published in "Rossiiskaya gazeta" on 12 January that Russia's crime rate this year will not reach levels that threaten national security. "There is, inarguably, a crime problem, and it's not an easy one," Ustinov said. "But the prosecutor's office in its work is guided by one precept: crime must be fought. The law demands it, and the prosecutor is [the law's] conductor." JB
PUTIN TAPS PRIME MINISTER TO HEAD ANTICORRUPTION COUNCIL...
President Putin on 12 January named Prime Minister Mikhail Kasyanov the first chairman of a new Council for the Struggle Against Corruption, Russian media reported. Two commissions will function under the framework of the council -- one for the prevention of corruption will be headed by Deputy Prime Minister Boris Aleshin and another on official ethics will be headed by deputy presidential administration head Dmitrii Kozak. "Kommersant-Daily" noted on 13 January that Kasyanov's position expires as of 1 July, speculating that this might mean that Kasyanov will not be dismissed if Putin, as widely expected, wins a second term. The daily questioned, "If Putin has made the decision to dismiss Kasyanov, what would be the reason for giving him additional responsibilities?" The daily reported that unidentified sources in Kasyanov's circle greeted news of his appointment with "optimism." JAC
...AND CALLS FOR 'STRICT REGULATION' OF STATE OFFICIALS...
Opening a meeting of the new presidential Council for the Struggle Against Corruption on 12 January, President Putin called for "specific and realistic" measures, adding that the roots of corruption can be found in "flaws in the arrangements of economic and administrative life" and grow as the result of poor-quality legislation and the absence of "effective external control over the activities of officials and organs of power," Interfax reported on 12 January. He ordered the council to analyze the activities of organs of power at all levels, but said this will not mean interfering in the activities of local organs. Putin also called for "the strict regulation of the rights and duties of officials," adding that officials must be placed within "stringent procedural bounds" and that their work must be "open to civil society, to the people, to the taxpayers who pay from their pocket for the services of the state apparatus." JB
...AS SOME ANALYSTS SUSPECT IT'S THE SAME OLD STORY
Some observers on 12 January expressed doubts about Russia's latest anticorruption campaign, Russian media reported. Georgii Satarov, head of the INDEM research foundation, said fighting corruption requires real political competition, press freedom, and transparency of the authorities, but there is "neither the first, nor the second, nor the third in this country," Interfax reported on 12 January. Institute for Political Research Director Sergei Markov predicted Russia's corruption level will remain high for the foreseeable future given its deep roots, the bureaucracy's role, society's weakness, and that fact that businesses seek to make money "above all by buying officials in order to squeeze out competitors." Still, Markov said the fact that the president and his team want to reduce corruption by shrinking its "objective basis" rather than through repression is grounds for optimism. But he added that using the bureaucracy to fight corruption and carry out administrative reform would be a mistake. What is needed, he said, is an independent "outside force" like the commissars under the Bolsheviks or the federal Reconstruction authorities in the American South after the Civil War. JB
PRESIDENT PROMOTES ANOTHER ST. PETERSBURGER
President Putin on 12 January dismissed Yevgenii Lisov from his post as deputy head of the presidential administration and head of the main control department (GKU) of the presidential administration, gazeta.ru reported. Putin named Valerii Nazarov to head that department, a post that Putin himself held under former President Boris Yeltsin. Nazarov most recently served as chairman of the St. Petersburg City Property Committee, a post he assumed in 1999. Economic Development and Trade Minister German Gref held that St. Petersburg post in 1997. Nazarov was born in Tambov and was educated at the Leningrad Electro-Technological Institute, where he received his degree in 1985. State Duma Speaker and former Interior Minister Boris Gryzlov attended the same institution, graduating in 1968. JAC
MOTHERLAND CANDIDATE HOPING TO BECOME NO. 2 IN PUBLIC'S EYE...
Motherland leader and presidential hopeful Sergei Glazev is hoping to win the title of "Russia's second-most-important politician," according to "Vedomosti" on 12 January. The daily reported that political analysts believe that if Glazev manages to register as a candidate and if the Kremlin "does not place barriers in his path," he has a good chance of finishing second in the 14 March presidential election. National Strategy Council Director Stanislav Belkovskii told the daily that if Glazev is denied access to the mass media, then he cannot get more than 7-8 percent of the vote. An unidentified administration source told the newspaper that the Kremlin has not yet decided about Glazev, with some parties arguing for restraining him and others suggesting that his presence in the race will increase voter turnout. JAC
...AND IS SEEN AS A WEAPON AGAINST THE COMMUNISTS
"Izvestiya" on 12 January reported without reference to sources that at least one faction within the Kremlin actively supports Glazev, claiming that Kremlin strategists came up with the idea of Glazev nominating himself. According to the daily, the idea is to use Glazev to take support away from the candidate from the Communist Party, State Duma Deputy Nikolai Kharitonov, just as the Motherland-Patriotic Union bloc was used in the 7 December State Duma elections to reduce support for the Communist Party. In this way, the Communist Party candidate might finish third or fourth, which the strategists reportedly hope would trigger a split within the party. JAC
YABLOKO WILL NOT SUPPORT KHAKAMADA...
In an interview with Ekho Moskvy on 12 January, Yabloko deputy leader Sergei Mitrokhin said his party will not help gather signatures to support the candidacy of Union of Rightist Forces (SPS) co-Chairwoman Irina Khakamada in the 14 March presidential election. Mitrokhin explained that Khakamada did not consult with Yabloko before she announced her candidacy. In addition, he said that Yabloko is conducting a recount of the State Duma election results, and "we are becoming more and more convinced that the elections to the State Duma were falsified." This suspicion bolsters the party's decision to not take part in the presidential elections, he said. On 12 January, Masha Lipman of the Carnegie Moscow Center commented in an opinion article in "The Washington Post" that the "odd paradox" of Khakamada's candidacy is that "the only way she can prove her bona fides [as an opposition candidate] would be to fail to gather the 2 million signatures required to get her name on the ballot, since that would mean the Kremlin had sabotaged her efforts." But, Lipman continued, "that would also mean, of course, that she'd be out of the race, such as it is." JAC
...AS QUESTIONS RAISED ABOUT HOW SHE WAS NOMINATED
In an interview with RFE/RL's St. Petersburg bureau on 10 January, Ruslan Linkov, head of the St. Petersburg branch of the Democratic Russia party, said that a person named Pavel Petov, who earlier declared himself the initiator of the voters group to nominate Khakamada on behalf of the Democratic Russia party, has in fact no relationship to the party. According to Linkov, the use of the party's name was illegal, and the Democratic Russia party, which is headed by human rights activists Lev Ponomarev and Gleb Yakunin, does not support any candidate and does not wish to participate in the election in any way because "elections in Russia in recent times have been turned into a fiction, a profanation." Iamik.ru reported on 11 January that Kaliningrad Oblast Election Commission Chairman Vasilii Zyubanov charged publicly that participants in the voters group to nominate businessman Anzori Aksentev-Kikalishvili were paid 200 rubles ($6.67) each. However, these payments did not constitute a violation of election law, according to Zyubanov. JAC
SPIN DOCTOR HIT WITH BIG JUDGMENT
A raion-level court in Moscow has ordered political spin doctor and Foundation for Effective Politics President Gleb Pavlovskii to pay Mezhprombank head Sergei Pugachev 30 million rubles ($1 million) in libel damages, regions.ru reported on 12 January. Pugachev objected to an article by Pavlovskii that was published in early September and that argued Pugachev, together with deputy presidential administration heads Viktor Ivanov and Igor Sechin, was plotting to "restructure all levels of political power -- including the presidential" (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 4 September 2003). Pavlovskii has already filed an appeal against the verdict, seeking to have the case decided by a higher court. Pavlovskii was considered close to former presidential administration chief of staff Aleksandr Voloshin. JAC
CHECHEN DISPLACED PERSONS CAMPS TO CLOSE
The three remaining camps in Ingushetia for displaced persons who fled the fighting in Chechnya over the past four years are to be closed by 1 March, Russian media reported on 12 January, quoting Chechen officials. The population of the three camps is estimated at 4,600. Acting Chechen Prime Minister Eli Isaev told ITAR-TASS that "there are no reasons for people to remain in tent camps where living conditions are unbearable." He said there are "no obstacles" to residents of those camps returning to Chechnya. Vakha Baybatirov, who is chairman of the Chechen government committee on compensation and forced migration, said camp residents will be paid compensation for their destroyed homes. Ingushetian President Murat Zyazikov discussed the planned refugee return with Russian Interior Ministry officials on 10 January, ITAR-TASS reported. LF
AZERBAIJANI PARLIAMENT CHAIRMAN THREATENS TO DISCIPLINE ABSENTEE DEPUTIES
Murtuz Alesqerov said on 13 January that parliament deputies who miss 30 consecutive parliament sessions will be disciplined, hinting that they might be stripped of their mandates, Turan reported. It is not clear whether that threat will be applied retroactively. Ali Kerimli, head of the progressive wing of the opposition Azerbaijan Popular Front Party (AHCP), and several other AHCP deputies have boycotted sessions since last summer to protest insults addressed at Kerimli by a deputy from the majority Yeni Azerbaycan Party (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 27 May 2003). Kerimli was quoted by Turan on 9 January as telling the opposition daily "Yeni Musavat" that he does not intend to return to parliament at present. Also on 13 January, parliament deputies voted to raise their monthly expense allowances from 500,000 manats ($101) to 800,000 manats ($161), Turan reported. Deputies receive a monthly salary of 2 million manats. The average monthly income in Azerbaijan is 380,000 manats. LF
LABOR PARTY PROTESTS GEORGIAN PRESIDENT-ELECT'S ELECTION FORECAST
Giorgi Gugava, a leading member of the opposition Labor Party, told journalists in Tbilisi on 12 January that President-elect Mikheil Saakashvili sought to influence the outcome of the 28 March parliamentary elections by predicting earlier that day that opposition parties that did not actively participate in the November "Rose Revolution" stand no chance of gaining parliamentary representation, Caucasus Press reported (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 12 January 2004). Also on 12 January, Labor Party Chairman Shalva Natelashvili flew to Moscow where he met with Vadim Gustov, chairman of the Federation Council Committee on CIS Affairs, to discuss various aspects of Russian-Georgian relations, Caucasus Press reported. Natelashvili will then travel to Paris and Brussels to explore the possibility of challenging in the European Human Rights Court the Georgian leadership's decision to hold parliamentary elections only for the 150 seats to be distributed under the party-list system. ITAR-TASS on 13 January quoted Natelashvili as emphatically denying that he plans to leave Georgia permanently. LF
GEORGIAN PRESIDENT-ELECT NOMINATES HIS FORMER DEPUTY AS PROSECUTOR-GENERAL
Saakashvili also told journalists on 12 January that he will propose Inner Kartli Governor Irakli Okruashvili for the post of prosecutor-general, Georgian media and ITAR-TASS reported. Okruashvili served as deputy justice minister when Saakashvili headed that ministry in 2000-01. Saakashvili characterized Okruashvili as a tireless campaigner against crime, corruption, and smuggling. He said acting President Nino Burdjanadze supports Okruashvili's candidacy. LF
LINK BETWEEN ABDUCTION, FORMER GEORGIAN STATE SECURITY MINISTER DENIED
Conservative-Monarchist Party Chairman Temur Zhorzholiani told journalists in Tbilisi on 12 January that former Georgian State Security Minister Igor Giorgadze did not play any role in the 5 December kidnapping of Georgian banker Tamaz Maghlakelidze, Caucasus Press and the website of the independent television station Rustavi-2 reported. President-elect Saakashvili told journalists on 10 January that General Gia Vashakidze, who was arrested on suspicion of organizing Maghlakelidze's abduction, is Giorgadze's "right-hand man" (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 12 January 2004). Giorgadze fled Georgia in September 1995 after being accused of masterminding a car-bomb attack on then-Georgian parliament chairman Eduard Shevardnadze. He was refused registration to contest the 4 January Georgian presidential election. Zhorzholiani also said his party will form a bloc with Giorgadze's Samartlianoba (Justice) party to contest the 28 March parliamentary ballot scheduled. LF
ABKHAZIA DROPS PRECONDITIONS FOR RESUMPTION OF TALKS WITH TBILISI
Abkhazia is ready to resume talks with Georgia with no preconditions, Interfax quoted Abkhaz Foreign Minister Sergei Shamba as saying on 12 January. Shamba's comment came following talks in Sukhum with Ambassador Heidi Tagliavini, who is UN Secretary General Kofi Annan's special envoy for the Abkhaz conflict. Shamba said Abkhaz and Georgian representatives will meet at least twice this month to discuss security issues. He also said it is "desirable" that Abkhazia be represented at a UN Security Council session on 31 January at which the Georgian-Abkhaz conflict will be discussed. In recent weeks, Abkhaz Vice President Valerii Arshba has repeatedly said that a resumption of talks with Georgia is contingent on the signing of a treaty on peace and the non-resumption of hostilities and on a crackdown by the Georgian authorities on Georgian guerrilla formations operating in southern Abkhazia (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 9 January 2004). Speaking in Tbilisi on 12 January, President-elect Saakashvili reaffirmed his commitment to resolving the Abkhaz conflict peacefully, but added in a reference to Arshba's pronouncements that no one can present him with an ultimatum, Caucasus Press reported. LF
TURKEY OFFERS TO HOST ABKHAZ-GEORGIAN TALKS
Turkish Ambassador to Georgia Dicle Kopuz told Caucasus Press on 13 January that Ankara is ready to host a further round of confidence-building talks between Georgia and Abkhazia. "I believe that Turkey can do a great deal to improve mutual understanding between the conflict sides," she said, noting that the unresolved conflict hinders the economic development of the region. Turkey hosted talks in Istanbul between Abkhaz and Georgian representatives in 1999 (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 10 June 1999). LF
GEORGIAN ACTING PRESIDENT MEETS WITH ABKHAZ PARLIAMENT IN EXILE
Nino Burdjanadze met in Tbilisi on 12 January with members of the Tbilisi-based Abkhaz parliament in exile, which comprises the Georgian deputies elected to the Abkhaz legislature in late 1992, Caucasus Press reported. The talks focused on the upcoming UN Security Council session on Abkhazia and Arshba's demand for a formal peace treaty. LF
KAZAKHSTAN DROPS DEATH PENALTY
Kazakh President Nursultan Nazarbaev has signed a series of amendments to existing legislation that replace the death sentence with life imprisonment, Interfax-Kazakhstan reported on 12 January. The amendments were published in the official Kazakh press on 10 January. In December, Nazarbaev extended a moratorium on the death penalty and ordered the government to draft amendments replacing capital punishment (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 19 December 2003). Parliamentary Assembly of the Council of Europe (PACE) President Peter Schieder hailed Nazarbaev's December extension of the death-penalty moratorium as providing impetus for an agreement between the PACE and the Kazakh parliament on developing political dialogue to promote parliamentary democracy, the rule of law, and respect for human rights, gazeta.kz reported on 12 January, citing the Kazakh Foreign Ministry's press service. BB
IMPRISONED KAZAKH JOURNALIST MOVED TO LOW-SECURITY FACILITY
Imprisoned Kazakh journalist Sergei Duvanov, whose case has received international attention for its political implications since he was given a 3 1/2 year sentence in January 2003 for statutory rape (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 29 January 2003), was transferred by court order to a low-security facility in late December, the weekly "Respublika Assandi Times" reported on 8 January. However, Duvanov reportedly told friends who visited him there on 6 January that there are still restrictions on whom he may meet even though inmates in low-security facilities are supposed to be allowed unlimited visits by relatives and friends. Duvanov told his 6 January visitors that the restrictions cause him to suspect that he will be sent back to prison, because the authorities have not succeeded in shutting him up. While in prison, he has written 36 articles, some of which appeared on the Internet, although none were printed. He intends to continue writing when he can obtain writing materials, according to the report. BB
RUSSIA OBJECTS TO KAZAKH PLANS FOR ANTIAIRCRAFT-DEFENSE MODERNIZATION
Prior to the weekend summit of the Kazakh and Russian heads of state (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 12 January 2004), Kazakhstan announced plans to modernize its antiaircraft-defense system with help from the United States, Great Britain, and Germany, "Kommersant-Daily" reported on 12 January. However, Russian Defense Ministry officials asserted this would violate a 1995 CIS agreement on a common antiaircraft system. After President Nursultan Nazarbaev's talks with Russian President Vladimir Putin during the recent summit, the Kazakh plan for an international tender was dropped. "Kommersant-Daily" asserted that by announcing it was seeking international help in modernizing its antiaircraft defenses, Kazakhstan succeeded in getting Moscow to reduce significantly the price it would charge for such modernization. BB
TWO PRO-GOVERNMENT KYRGYZ PARTIES MERGE
The eighth congress of the Unity Party of Kyrgyzstan, which is headed by former Prime Minister Amangeldy Muraliev, has announced that party's merger with another pro-government party, Alga, Kyrgyzstan (Forward, Kyrgyzstan), kabar.kg reported on 12 January. Alga, Kyrgyzstan was formed in September 2003 when four parties -- New Times, Manas El, Party of Cooperators, and the New Movement -- united in preparation for the parliamentary and presidential elections scheduled for 2005 (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 9 September 2003). The Unity Party congress explained the merger by citing the parties' common goals of developing Kyrgyz society and their unity of views on how to achieve those goals. BB
KYRGYZSTAN GETS 90,000 TEXTBOOKS FROM RUSSIA
The Russian Embassy in Bishkek announced on 12 January that the Russian Federation has shipped 90,000 textbooks to Kyrgyzstan for use in schools throughout the country that use Russian as a language of instruction, Interfax reported. The textbooks were paid for from Russian government funds. According to the embassy, more than 100,000 textbooks were given to Kyrgyzstan in 2003. The Kyrgyz Education Ministry said that more then one-quarter of the secondary schools in Kyrgyzstan use Russian as the language of instruction. At present, a debate is raging in the Kyrgyz parliament over a draft language law that some see as undermining the status of the Russian language in Kyrgyzstan. BB
DEPUTY HEAD OF TAJIK ISLAMIC PARTY SENTENCED TO 16 YEARS IN PRISON
Tajik Islamic Renaissance Party Deputy Chairman Shamsuddin Shamsuddinov was sentenced to 16 years' imprisonment by the Tajik Supreme Court's military collegium on 12 January, Interfax reported. Shamsuddinov was charged with organizing an armed criminal group during the Tajik civil war (1992-97), illegally crossing the border, and polygamy (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 4 June 2003). The Islamic Renaissance Party denied that Shamsuddinov was involved in military activities during the civil war (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 1 June 2003). Three others arrested with Shamsuddinov were given sentences ranging from 16 to 25 years. BB
NEW BELARUSIAN OPPOSITION BLOC WANTS TO PARTICIPATE IN PARLIAMENTARY ELECTIONS
A new opposition youth bloc calling itself Young Belarus (Maladaya Belarus) plans to field candidates in half of the country's 110 electoral districts in parliamentary elections slated for fall 2004, Belapan reported on 12 January, quoting Pavel Sevyarynets, one of the bloc's founders. Sevyarynets said the group has already been joined by about 30 activists representing the Youth Front, the Belarusian Social Democratic Assembly, the Belarusian Popular Front, local-soviet deputies, small-business owners, and environmentalists. Two other opposition alliances -- the Popular Coalition Five Plus and the European Coalition Free Belarus -- have already declared their intentions to participate in the 2004 parliamentary elections. Meanwhile, Zyanon Paznyak, exiled leader of the opposition Conservative Christian Party, has urged his party to boycott the upcoming parliamentary ballot. Paznyak believes participation is senseless, since the public has little opportunity to influence the electoral process or to monitor the vote count. JM
UKRAINIAN OPPOSITION PROPOSES REFERENDUM ON PRESIDENTIAL-ELECTION PROCESS
Three parliamentary opposition groups -- Our Ukraine, the Socialist Party, and the Yuliya Tymoshenko Bloc -- have proposed a nationwide referendum to resolve the ongoing dispute in Ukraine over direct versus indirect election of the president, Interfax reported on 12 October, quoting Our Ukraine leader Viktor Yushchenko. On 23 December, lawmakers from the pro-government majority and the Communist Party preliminarily approved a constitutional-reform bill calling for the election of president in 2006 by the Verkhovna Rada (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 23 and 29 December 2003). The proposal to hold the referendum was voiced during a 12 January meeting of parliamentary-caucus leaders devoted to the current parliamentary controversy over a related constitutional-reform bill. According to Yushchenko, under the Ukrainian Constitution, any curbs on the rights of voters may be introduced only via referendums. JM
UKRAINIAN INTERNET JOURNALIST SHOT WITH RUBBER BULLETS
Oleh Yeltsov, editor of the "Ukraina Kriminalnaya" website (http://www.cripo.com.ua), which reports on crime and corruption in government and the private sector in Ukraine, was attacked in Kyiv on 12 January by an unknown assailant who fired rubber bullets at him, Interfax reported. Yeltsov was slightly injured in the attack, but his injuries did not require hospitalization. Yeltsov was attacked in July by two unidentified men who ambushed him with a stun gun and a metal pipe. JM
THE NETHERLANDS SUPPORTS ESTONIA IN PROTECTION OF BALTIC SEA
Melanie Schultz van Haegen, the Netherlands' vice minister of transport, public works, and water management, told Environment Minister Villu Reiljan on 12 January that her country supports designating the Baltic Sea as a particularly sensitive marine area, BNS reported. Estonia has at various levels called for establishing such a designation, including in the Council of Baltic Sea States, and has received support from many international organizations, including the World Wildlife Fund (WWF), which regards the Baltic Sea as one of the world's most valuable ecosystems. The officials also spoke about flood prevention, with van Heugen stressing Dutch efforts to initiate common EU action for anticipating floods while Reiljan inquired about the Netherlands' experience in providing compensation to flood victims. SG
RIGA MAKES GAINS ON FELLOW BALTIC PORTS
The port of Riga handled 21.73 million tons of goods in 2003, a 20 percent gain on the 18.11 million tons it handled in 2002, BNS reported on 12 January. Meanwhile, the amount of freight passing through Estonia's main port of Tallinn fell 0.5 percent to 37.7 million tons while Latvia's Ventspils handled 27.4 million tons of goods, down 4.5 percent from 2002. Freight traffic through the Lithuanian port of Klaipeda rose 7.4 percent, from 19.73 to 21.29 million tons. The export of oil played a very important role in Baltic Sea trade, accounting for 63 percent of cargos in Tallinn, 39 percent in Ventspils, 31 percent in Klaipeda, and 23 percent in Riga. SG
LITHUANIAN PRESIDENT VOWS NOT TO RESIGN
Rolandas Paksas told a press conference on 12 January that he will not resign under any circumstances, "Lietuvos zinios" reported the next day. "My stance is unambiguous and final," Paksas said. "I will not [resign] for many reasons. The main reason is that I do not feel guilty. Any kind of resignation would stress my guilt." The Constitutional Court recently ruled that Paksas violated the constitution when he granted Lithuanian citizenship to Russian national Yurii Borisov, who contributed to Paksas's election campaign. A special commission of parliament is currently examining the possibility of impeaching Paksas. Meanwhile, Paksas said on 12 January he was unaware of the whereabouts of former Ambassador to Latvia Petras Vaitiekunas, whom the president had tapped to serve as his foreign-policy adviser. Vaitienkunas announced last week that "I do not want to and cannot work as a politician in the president's office," and said he was taking leave but would be willing to return early if asked by the Foreign Ministry to serve on the foreign policy group, Baltic News Service reported on 9 January. LNK television on 12 January quoted unidentified sources as saying Vaitienkunas's decision came as the result of the Constitutional Court's ruling against the president. SG/MES
POLISH PROSECUTOR SUSPENDED OVER NEW YEAR'S PHOTOS
Warsaw-based prosecutor Katarzyna Sawicka was suspended from her duties on 12 January following the publication of photographs from a New Year's party in which she appears to be accompanied by two men whom police are monitoring in connection with suspected criminal behavior, PAP reported. The pictures, taken at the Sobieski Hotel in Warsaw, were aired by the "Wprost" weekly and commercial-television station TVN24. Sawicka is seen with a former deputy director of a coal mine implicated in a bribery scandal, and a reputed organized-crime figure known as "Sproket." The head of the Appellate Prosecution Service in Warsaw, Zygmunt Kapusta, told journalists on 12 January that four men "who are under the observation of the forces of law and order" were seen near Sawicka at the party. Kapusta said Sawicka has not led investigations into cases involving any of the four. "We are considering the possibility that this was a provocation, and that the prosecutor was intentionally maneuvered into this situation," Kapusta added. JM
CZECH PRESIDENT VETOES AMENDMENT TO LAW ON CONSTITUTIONAL COURT
President Vaclav Klaus vetoed an amendment on 12 January to the law that governs the Czech Constitutional Court and other judiciary processes, CTK and other media reported. Klaus said the amendment considerably alters the division of state powers, undermining the power of the legislature in favor of the Constitutional Court and the executive. The president objects to a provision that would allow appeals to the Constitutional Court before all other judiciary procedures are exhausted. He also rejected another provision that would force a Czech court to review criminal cases that are accepted by the European Court of Justice in The Hague, saying it discriminates against noncriminal cases. MS
SLOVAK ROMA PROTEST PLANNED 'SPECIAL POLICE FORCE'
Activist Alexander Patkolo told CTK on 12 January that the Romany community considers the Interior Ministry's plan to set up special police forces to deal with members of that community to be an "undemocratic step backward." Patkolo said that only fascist authorities during World War II and communist authorities used to keep special police records on the Roma. He said that instead of focusing on petty crime in Romany settlements, police should concentrate on attacks and discrimination against the Roma and their leaders. An Interior Ministry spokesman countered that there are no grounds for Roma to fear possible abuse by the special forces. "We want to improve communication between police and Roma, especially in Romany settlements. [Under the plan,] a police expert would deal with minor disputes and offenses in such settlements and prevent illegal acts among members of the community," the spokesman said. The special police forces are to start working in 2007, and Romany nongovernmental organizations are expected to participate in the implementation of the plans for combating petty crime. MS
HUNGARY SETS UP NEW NATIONAL BUREAU OF INVESTIGATION
Interior Minister Monika Lamperth told reporters on 12 January that the National Police's ORFK directorate to combat organized crime will be replaced by a new central investigative body that will also include the Financial Investigations Directorate, "Magyar Nemzet" reported. The new investigative office will be called the National Bureau of Investigations. The number of senior police commanders will be halved as part of the ORFK restructuring, Lamperth said. She told reporters that ORFK chief Laszlo Salgo and crime-directorate head Laszlo Ferenczi will remain in their posts. Lamperth tasked the ORFK leadership with working out a concrete restructuring plan by 15 February. MSZ
ETHNIC HUNGARIAN LEADER INSISTS ON AUTONOMY AHEAD OF ROMANIA'S EU ACCESSION
Jozsef Csapo, chairman of the ethnic Hungarian Szekler National Council (SZNT in Hungarian, CNS in Romanian), announced in Budapest on 12 January that the SZNT considers the granting by Romania of autonomy to Szeklers to be a precondition of Romania's EU accession, "Magyar Nemzet" and "Nepszabadsag" reported. The SZNT was set up in October (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 29 October 2003). Csapo met with Zsolt Nemeth, the FIDESZ chairman of the Hungarian parliament's Foreign Affairs Committee. Csapo later told journalists that although the SZNT has asked all Hungarian political parties to support its demands, only FIDESZ has done so. Nemeth said autonomy can guarantee the survival of ethnic Hungarians abroad, adding that he supports the idea of inviting Bishop Laszlo Toekes's recently established Transylvanian Hungarian National Council to the next session of the Hungarian Standing Conference. The ruling Social Democratic Party has resisted inviting Toekes's group into that forum of Hungarian government and ethnic organizations representing Hungarians abroad. MS
HUNGARIAN POLICE INVESTIGATE ALLEGED FLAG-BURNING EPISODE
Budapest police commander Peter Gergenyi ordered an investigation on 12 January into possible charges related to the alleged burning of an Israeli flag during a demonstration in front of the Tilos Radio studios in Budapest the previous day (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 12 January 2004), "Nepszabadsag" reported. The Israeli Embassy released a statement in which it said "it is unacceptable [for] the flag of an independent, democratic country to be burned publicly in 21st-century Hungary, which will soon join the EU as a full member," according to the daily. Organizers and all four of the country's parliamentary parties have reportedly dissociated themselves from the group that is said to have burned the flag. MSZ
NATO CONTINUES HUNT FOR FORMER BOSNIAN SERB LEADER...
An unspecified number of SFOR peacekeepers searched a house in Krivace, near Pale, in the early hours of 13 January in a continuing operation aimed at finding and arresting indicted war criminal and former Bosnian Serb leader Radovan Karadzic, RFE/RL's South Slavic and Albanian Languages Service reported (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 12 January 2004). A NATO spokesman said the decision to examine the abandoned house was made on the basis of materials recently obtained during a search of Karadzic's home in Pale. In Bijeljina, an unspecified number of posters appeared overnight with a picture of Karadzic and the caption: "Why is defending one's own people a war crime?" PM
...TO THE CHAGRIN OF A CURRENT BOSNIAN SERB LEADER
In Banja Luka on 12 January, Bosnian Serb parliamentary speaker Dragan Kalinic said that unnamed representatives of the international community have made it clear that arresting Karadzic and former General Ratko Mladic is a priority, adding that the Republika Srpska authorities have been warned of possible sanctions if they do not cooperate, RFE/RL's South Slavic and Albanian Languages Service reported. Kalinic argued that NATO's search operation probably is not completely legal, adding that he feels "contempt" for the search, which took place during the Serbian Orthodox Christmas season. Kalinic represents Pale in the parliament and is a leader of the Serbian Democratic Party (SDS), which was founded by Karadzic. PM
COALITION POSTURING CONTINUES IN SERBIA
Dragan Marsicanin, who is vice president of former Yugoslav President Vojislav Kostunica's Democratic Party of Serbia (DSS), said in Belgrade on 12 January that his party believes that a minority government with a one-year mandate is the best solution for Serbia, RFE/RL's South Slavic and Albanian Languages Service reported. He added that his party remains open to other options, including a coalition with the Serbian Radical Party (SRS) as well as with the parties not linked to the regime of former Yugoslav President Slobodan Milosevic (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 12 January 2004 and "RFE/RL Balkan Report," 12 December 2003). Elsewhere, Velimir Ilic of the New Serbia party said his party and its coalition partner, the Serbian Renewal Movement (SPO), will support a DSS minority government. SPO leader Vuk Draskovic said a time limit to the government's mandate is not necessary. PM
MACEDONIA STARTS SCRAPPING TANKS
In Skopje on 12 January, the Macedonian Army began scrapping 30 aging T-55 tanks, which it received as a gift from Bulgaria in 1999, "Utrinski vesnik" reported. The operation is to end by 31 January; a further 31 T-55 tanks will be scrapped by the end of July. The decommissioning of the tanks is part of Macedonia's efforts to bring its army closer to NATO standards (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 5 December 2002 and 17 December 2003). UB
CROATIAN LEADER HOPES TO REALIZE EU AIMS
Croatian Prime Minister Ivo Sanader told Croatian reporters in Brussels on 12 January that he is pleased with his talks with European Commission President Romano Prodi about Croatia's hopes to join the EU by 2007, Hina reported (see "RFE/RL Balkan Report," 22 November 2002, and 27 June and 5 December 2003). Sanader said he also met with Agricultural and Fisheries Commissioner Fritz Fischler, but denied that the talks touched on Croatia's self-declared fishing and ecological zone in the Adriatic, which has overshadowed Croatia's relations with Slovenia in recent months (see "RFE/RL Balkan Report," 17 October 2003). The United Kingdom and the Netherlands have long held up ratification of Croatia's Stabilization and Association Agreement with the Brussels-based bloc because of Croatia's alleged lack of full cooperation with the Hague-based war crimes tribunal (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 23 December 2002). The Croatian delegation also includes Foreign Minister Miomir Zuzul, European Integration Minister Kolinda Grabar-Kitarovic, and Defense Minister Berislav Roncevic. PM
ROMANIAN PREMIER PASSES ELECTORAL BUCK TO PARLIAMENT
Prime Minister Adrian Nastase said after meeting with President Ion Iliescu on 12 January that his ruling Social Democratic Party (PSD) is prepared to accept any date for the parliamentary and the first round of presidential elections on which all parliamentary parties agree, Mediafax reported. Nastase said the PSD proposed that the ballot be held on 12 December to meet constitutional provisions, but conceded that if all parliamentary formations agree to an alternative date it would likely be futile to contest their decision in the Constitutional Court. Nastase said that although it is the prerogative of the cabinet to set election dates, if an agreement is reached the PSD is willing to let parliament make the decision. The opposition Greater Romania Party, National Liberal Party (PNL), and Democratic Party have all suggested that the parliamentary and the first round of the presidential ballot take place on 28 November. Nastase also said the PNL-Democratic Party Alliance should "meet the PSD halfway" on changing the voting system to single-constituency representation. The alliance wants the change to apply to both chambers of parliament, while the PSD favors introducing single-constituency representation only in the Senate. MS
DEMOCRATIC PARTY LEADER IN ROMANIA STILL UNDECIDED FOR WHICH OFFICE TO RUN
Democratic Party Chairman Traian Basescu said on 12 January that he will decide which office to seek in this year's elections after consulting with PNL Chairman Theodor Stolojan, Mediafax reported. Basescu previously said he would seek a second mandate as Bucharest mayor, but media reports at the end of December and earlier this month said Basescu intends to seek the office of prime minister under a Stolojan presidency. Basescu said the accord between his party and the PNL stipulates that decisions on running for office are to be taken jointly by the co-chairmen of the alliance. Meanwhile, the Truth and Justice-1989 association, made up of participants of the 1989 uprising, announced on 12 January that it will challenge in court the registration of the PNL-Democratic Party alliance under the name Justice and Truth Alliance, since it lays claim to that denomination. Basescu said such a challenge is unjustified, as the order of words is different in the two denominations. MS
NEWS AGENCY REVEALS SECRET 1998 CHERNOMYRDIN- SMIRNOV AGREEMENT
According to documents obtained by AP, former Russian Prime Minister Viktor Chernomyrdin and separatist Transdniester leader Igor Smirnov concluded a confidential agreement in 1998 to share profits from the sale of "surplus" arms and ammunition from the 40,000 tons of military equipment and ammunition that was stored at the Kolbasna arms depot near Tiraspol. Moscow and Tiraspol were to split the profits, according to the agreement. The accord was superseded a year later by the OSCE Istanbul summit resolution providing for the full withdrawal to Russia of all military equipment and the subsequent 2002 Porto summit resolution, both of which Russia failed to carry out. A Russian official speaking on condition of anonymity said he believes the Chernomyrdin-Smirnov deal was never enacted. However, the news agency cited some Western diplomats as saying that nobody will ever know how much materiel was sold, to whom, and at what price, nor is it possible to determine what criteria were used to determine what fell into the category of "surplus" equipment. The agency quoted former Moldovan government official Oazu Nantoi -- who now runs the Chisinau-based Institute for Policy Studies -- as saying that at one point rocket-mounted "dirty bombs" carrying warheads capable of scattering radioactive materials disappeared from the breakaway region. MS
BULGARIAN CONSERVATIVES ENGAGE IN POWER STRUGGLE
Union of Democratic Forces (SDS) Chairwoman Nadezhda Mihailova told the radio/television program "Blitz" on 12 January that she does not consider her competitors for leadership to be her enemies. The conservative opposition SDS's National Council is scheduled to hold a crucial meeting on 13 January during which Mihailova's predecessor as the party's chairman, former Prime Minister Ivan Kostov, and his allies are expected to demand her resignation. "If I am presented arguments that the policy I follow is destructive to the SDS, I am ready to step down," bnn quoted Mihailova as saying. Kostov has argued that a series of election defeats has rendered Mihailova incapable of providing leadership to the SDS and consolidating the party. UB
BULGARIA'S GOVERNING PARTIES OPPOSE PARLIAMENTARY INQUIRY INTO KARBALA ATTACKS
Legislators of the governing National Movement Simeon II (NDSV) and its coalition partner, the Movement for Rights and Freedoms (DPS), said on 12 January they oppose the formation of a special commission to investigate the 27 December suicide attacks in the central Iraqi city of Karbala, "Sega" reported. Parliamentary speaker Ognyan Gerdzhikov (NDSV) questioned the necessity of forming the expert-level commission, while DPS Deputy Chairman Kasim Dal noted that there are no parliamentarians who are qualified to assess the suicide attacks, in which five Bulgarian soldiers were killed (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 29 December 2003). UB
MIXED RESULTS IN 2003, MIXED OUTLOOK FOR BULGARIA
Each year as the new year approaches, many people look back at the outgoing year and, at the same time, they ask themselves what the coming year might bring. Bulgaria is no exception.
As might be expected, politicians from the governing parties stressed different aspects of the past year's political life than did their opponents. This year, BTA -- the state-owned news agency -- left it to the various parties' deputies to give their assessments and to provide an outlook for 2004.
On 31 December, BTA approached Konstantin Penchev, deputy chairman of the parliamentary group of the ruling National Movement Simeon II (NDSV). Penchev mentioned one outstanding event in the work of the parliament-- the successful passage of constitutional changes that set the foundation for major judicial reforms. For Penchev, it was also important to mention that the parliament adopted a number of amendments to the Penal Code.
Both measures aim to improve the state's ability to combat organized crime. Conservative opposition Union of Democratic Forces (SDS) Deputy Chairman Emanuil Yordanov called the judiciary-related constitutional amendments the only positive aspect of the Bulgarian parliament's work in 2003. Yordanov added that despite their limited and insufficient range, such amendments demonstrate that the Bulgarian Constitution can be improved and adapted to the realities of life. He said the parliament should concentrate on anticrime legislation in 2004, given that a war among organized-crime groups that began in mid-2002 continued in 2003.
Rumen Ovcharov, deputy chairman of the supreme council of the opposition Socialist Party (BSP), focused his criticism on Bulgarian casualties in Iraq in the 27 December suicide attacks in Karbala and the ongoing trial of six Bulgarian medics in Libya, who are charged with deliberately infecting more than 400 Libyan children with HIV, the virus that causes AIDS, in a Benghazi hospital. Ovcharov also decried continued gangland-style shootouts and killings in Sofia.
He further claimed that no substantial progress had been made in the country's economic and social development. Both Ovcharov and Yordanov agreed with Penchev that the country made important steps toward NATO and EU membership, although Ovcharov said that progress was made despite the government, not because of it.
However, most media comments and reviews of the past year disagree with Ovcharov's statement that no substantial progress was made in the economic sphere. Summing up 2003's positive aspects, the weekly "Kapital" (No. 51, December 2003) noted that there was very good economic news -- stable economic growth of about 4.8 percent and no budget deficit; a record year for Bulgaria's extremely important tourism industry; and the government's successes in curbing the deeply rooted shadow economy. "Kapital" also stated that the country has achieved such a degree of stability that -- unlike in previous years -- the instability of the governing coalition did not reflect negatively upon the economy.
Some analysts, including Ognyan Minchev, believe that the instability of the ruling NDSV, which not only suffers from a loss of public support, but also from internal splits and defections, will not result in early elections in 2004. Minchev said in an interview with the daily "Sega" of 5 January that there are two reasons for this assumption. The first is that the NDSV and its coalition partner, the Movement for Rights and Freedoms, are well aware that the coalition would lose such elections, and they will therefore do anything to avoid a vote. The second reason is that the BSP, which is the strongest opposition party, will not press for early elections because it can rely only on a stable electorate that cannot be expanded. Thus, the BSP is unlikely to win a parliamentary majority.
Most Bulgarian citizens, for their part, do not feel comfortable with the present situation. Pavel Valchev of the Alpha Research polling institute wrote in "Kapital" that 48 percent of respondents answered that 2003 was worse than 2002, while some 39 percent said there was no substantial difference between 2002 and 2003. Only 13 percent considered 2003 better than 2002. Valchev noted that this was the fifth consecutive year that polls have suggested Bulgarians believe the situation has deteriorated over the preceeding 12 months.
As might be expected, people at the lower end of the social hierarchy -- villagers, the elderly, the unemployed, and those in low-paid jobs -- tend to have more pessimistic views of their lives. These groups also hold the most pessimistic views of the year to come. This does not, however, overshadow the fact that, compared to 2002, the overall number of optimists grew by 5 percent, whereas the overall number of pessimists fell by some 7 percent.
As in previous years, optimists prevail among younger people, including high school and university students. Unlike Minchev, who is more pessimistic about the political situation in Bulgaria, Valchev is of the opinion that Bulgarians' negative perception of the present, combined with their more positive view of the future and the past, could lead to serious changes in the political sphere, which might result in the formation of a new political force as it did in 2001.
Back then, the newly formed NDSV under the country's former king, Simeon Saxecoburggotski, won the elections. Valchev added, however, that one must not overlook the possibility that the Bulgarians' optimism might have grown despite political developments rather than because of them.
DEAL SIGNED TO RID AFGHAN CAPITAL OF HEAVY WEAPONS
The International Security Assistance Force (ISAF) and the Afghan Defense Ministry signed a protocol on 12 January on the transfer of heavy weapons out of Kabul, the official Afghan Bakhtar Information Agency reported. Afghan Army Chief of Staff General Besmellah, who signed the protocol with ISAF's Canadian acting head Major General Andrew Leslie, said the Afghan National Army will move the weapons from Kabul to cantonments outside of the capital under ISAF supervision. General Besmellah also indicated that heavy weapons from Panjsher Valley will be delivered to the same collection centers. ISAF has repeatedly called for the demilitarization of Kabul (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 22 October 2003). Afghan Defense Minister Mohammad Qasim Fahim controls his own heavily armed militia in Kabul and his base in Panjsher Valley. Signatories pledged to "withdraw all military units from Kabul" under the internationally backed Bonn agreement in 2001. AT
PAKISTANI LEADER VOWS TO WORK WITH KABUL TO STOP TERRORISM...
Mir Zafarullah Khan Jamali said at the end of a one-day official visit to Afghanistan on 12 January that Pakistan and Afghanistan have agreed to fight terrorism "hand-in-hand," the Karachi-based daily "Dawn" reported the next day. Jamali said that "there is no looking back" in the "fight against extremism and terrorism," adding that Kabul and Islamabad must work together to "try to eradicate it." The Pakistani prime minister also said Islamabad wants to ensure "that there is no crisscross from Afghanistan into Pakistan, or from Pakistan into Afghanistan." Pakistan has already deployed some 65,000 troops at 800 posts along its border with Afghanistan, Jamali said. Afghan Transitional Administration Chairman Hamid Karzai said Afghanistan and Pakistan are engaged in a "joint fight for the future of both countries, the future of this region, and eventually the future of the international community," the BBC reported on 12 January. Upon returning to Pakistan, Jamali said he witnessed a positive change of attitude in the Afghan Transitional Administration toward Pakistan during the visit, "Dawn" reported. Throughout 2003, Kabul repeatedly accused Islamabad of not doing enough to stop cross-border infiltrations and of encroachment into Afghan territory. AT
...AND OFFERS AID TO AFGHANISTAN
Also during his 12 January visit to Kabul, Pakistani Prime Minister Jamali announced a donation of 100 buses and 200 trucks to Afghanistan, "Dawn" reported the next day. Jamali said a contract for the reconstruction of a road between Jalalabad and the Pakistani border town of Torkham has already been awarded, adding that he hopes the road will be rebuilt by mid-2005. Islamabad has also offered to build a railway linking the Pakistani border town of Chaman to Kandahar in southern Afghanistan, Jamali said. The Kabul-Jalalabad-Torkham road is a vital commercial and passenger artery linking the Afghan capital to Pakistan. Afghanistan has no rail lines and is landlocked, so a link with the Pakistani rail network might allow it to use Pakistani ports more efficiently -- and in time could make the country a major link between landlocked Central Asia and the Arabian Sea. AT
FOUR AFGHAN SECURITY OFFICERS KILLED IN NIMROZ PROVINCE
A group of suspected neo-Taliban militants attacked a checkpoint in Nimroz Province on 12 January, killing four security officers, international news agencies reported. (AP reports that the victims were police officers, while the BBC identifies them as military personnel.) Nimroz Governor Mohammad Karim Barawi said the incident occurred in the district of Khashrow, without offering more details, AP reported on 12 January. AT
IRAN'S SUPREME LEADER URGES STRICT LEGALITY FOR ELECTIONS
Ayatollah Ali Khamenei has urged election officials and supervisors "to act completely legally" in the run-up to parliamentary elections set for 20 February, as reformers denounced the Guardians Council's refusal to allow thousands of mainly liberal and reformist applicants to register as candidates for the elections, international news agencies reported on 12 January. "We must respect the law even when we do not like it, for bad laws are better than lawlessness or breaking the law," ISNA quoted Khamenei as saying to a gathering of provincial governors and Interior Minister Hojatoleslam Abdulvahid Musavi-Lari, who oppose many of the disqualifications as biased and illegal. Khamenei said he will intervene if the deadlock cannot be resolved, ISNA reported. "If the matter goes beyond legal stages, reaching a sensitive situation that requires a decision by the leader, I shall act in keeping with my duty," he said. More than 44 percent of all hopefuls are barred from standing as candidates, mainly by Guardians Council supervisory teams, the Mehr news agency reported on 12 January, citing the Interior Ministry. VS
EUROPEAN ENVOY CALLS FOR TRANSPARENT IRANIAN ELECTIONS
Javier Solana, the European Union's top foreign-policy official, has called for "clear and transparent" parliamentary elections in Iran, following the controversial rejection of many candidacies by supervisors, AP reported on 12 January. The elections "are very important for democracy and very important to us," AP quoted Solana as saying in Tehran. Solana has met with officials, including parliament speaker Hojatoleslam Mehdi Karrubi and parliamentary Foreign Affairs Committee head Muhsin Mirdamadi, IRNA reported. President Hojatoleslam Mohammad Khatami told Solana that Iran is unhappy with the European Union's support for human rights resolutions against Iran, Fars News Agency reported on 12 January. Khatami said there are "differences in norms and standards relating to human rights" around the world, adding that the human rights situation in Iran cannot be compared to those in many other countries. VS
IRAN'S INTERIOR MINISTRY, VETTING BODY DISAGREE OVER VOTE-COUNTING SOFTWARE
The Interior Ministry rejected the Guardians Council's claim that it has repeatedly missed deadlines to present the council, which is tasked with supervising elections, with vote-counting software for use in the February polls, ISNA reported on 12 January. The Interior Ministry argued that it sent the software on 12 January, the agreed deadline, "and there is a receipt for it," ISNA reported. The Guardians Council, which has in the past cancelled polls with disputed counts, said that "no software whatsoever has been handed in," ILNA reported on 12 January. Its spokesman, Masud Hashemi, accused the ministry of "breaking its promise and paving the way for public and official mistrust," ILNA reported. The Guardians Council has said it has its own software the ministry can use to count votes (see "RFE/RL Iran Report," 12 January 2004). The Interior Ministry has already expressed "regret" over the Guardian Council's disqualifications of thousands of potential candidates, saying many of the disqualifications were "outside the framework of the law," "Aftab-i Yazd" reported on 12 January. Those disqualifications, the ministry added in a statement, are "invalid," according to the daily. VS
IRANIAN LAWMAKERS CONTINUE SIT-IN TO PROTEST BANS
Reformist legislators continued their sit-in in parliament on 12 January, and denounced the reasons the Guardians Council has given for the disqualification of mostly reformist hopefuls as "utterly false and a publicity stunt," ISNA reported. The council declared it rejected "drug dealers, addicts, thieves, persons who were morally or financially corrupt, and the like," along with other hopefuls supervisors could not ascertain were eligible to run. Reformers have said the latter reason is not legal. The electoral process so far is "sending the country to oblivion," IRNA quoted Mohammad Reza Khatami, a deputy speaker of parliament and rejected hopeful, as saying on 12 January. The disqualifications, he said, are intended to create a "rubber stamp parliament" and "have never been this blatant." The reformist Islamic Iran Participation Party has also denounced the disqualifications, ISNA reported, while provincial governors who were appointed by the Interior Ministry have threatened to quit in reaction. If matters do not return to their "legal channels," the governors told parliamentary speaker Karrubi on 12 January, "there is no reason why we should return to work," Mehr news agency reported. VS
IRAQI OIL MINISTER DISCUSSES OIL DISTRIBUTION, SHORTAGES
Iraqi Oil Minister Ibrahim Bahr al-Ulum told London's "Al-Sharq al-Awsat" in an interview published on 12 January that the Oil Ministry's new Control Commission began work on 25 December to ensure the smooth delivery of fuel from storage depots to gasoline stations. "For every tanker truck there is a security inspector who ensures that the tanker truck arrives at the station," al-Ulum said of the new process. "At the station, there are also those from the Control Commission watching to verify the product's arrival at the station. And at the station itself, there is an inspection staff to ensure that the product gets from the station to the citizen." The new system is aimed at helping thwart attempts by tanker drivers to smuggle fuel across Iraq's borders and alleviate long lines at the gas pumps. The control mechanism has also been implemented in Karbala, Al-Hillah, and Al-Najaf, and a similar system will be set up to monitor the distribution of kerosene. Al-Ulum said acts of sabotage and dilapidated infrastructure at refineries have caused setbacks for oil production, but productivity is on the rise in terms of barrels per day. KR
U.S. REPORTS BA'ATH PARTY RENUNCIATIONS, WEAPONS HANDOVERS IN IRAQ
An unspecified number of high-ranking members of the Ba'ath Party that formerly ruled Iraq renounced their affiliation to the party in front of "fellow Iraqis and leaders of the 101st Airborne Division" in the northwestern Iraqi town of Tal Afar on 12 January, U.S. Central Command (CENTCOM) announced in a press release posted on its website (http://www.centcom.mil) the same day. CENTCOM reported that the same officials turned over more than 120 AK-47 assault rifles and three machine guns. The 3rd Brigade Combat team has so far collected 719 AK-47s and various other weapons in Iraq, which it will turn over to Iraqi police and military. The Iraqi Governing Council took control of implementation of a new policy on 11 December whereby the council's so-called de-Ba'athification committee will determine whether former party members dismissed under a new policy may appeal for reinstatement to their former government posts. KR
IRAQI GOVERNING COUNCIL MEMBER SAYS TENTATIVE AGREEMENT REACHED ON KIRKUK
Iraqi Governing Council member Nasir Kamil Chadirchi told Beirut's "Al-Mustaqbal" newspaper that a Governing Council delegation has reached an agreement with the Kurdish parties in northern Iraq regarding Kurdish autonomy and the status of the highly contested city of Kirkuk. The agreement calls for the postponement of Kirkuk's inclusion within any Kurdish federation until a population census can be held to determine the composition of the city's inhabitants. Iraqi Kurds, Arabs, and Turkomans all claim rights in the city, and the two latter groups have fought recent attempts by Kurds to claim the city as part of a possible future autonomous Kurdish territory. "The Kurds are prepared to have the population census act as the decisive arbiter whether the city of Kirkuk should join the Kurdish federation or not," Chadirchi said. "If the population census showed that the Kurds constitute a majority in Kirkuk, then it should be merged. The opposite is also true." KR
FRENCH CALL FOR INTERNATIONAL CONFERENCE ON IRAQ
French Foreign Minister Dominique de Villepin called on 12 January for an international conference on Iraq to aid the country's transition to sovereignty, AFP reported the same day. "A conference on Iraq would help to legitimize the transition and establish full reintegration of Iraq in its regional and international environment," Villepin said at a press conference in Abu Dhabi, where he is in the middle of a tour of Persian Gulf states. "Helping Iraq to reintegrate its regional environment implies in particular thinking about a new security structure in this region of the world," Villepin added. KR
ROYAL JORDANIAN RESUMES FLIGHTS TO BAGHDAD
Jordan's Royal Jordanian Airlines resumed operations of its charter flights to Baghdad on 11 January after a nearly two-month suspension due to security risks in the capital, jordantimes.com reported on 13 January. The coalition suspended all civilian flights into Baghdad after a DHL cargo plane was hit by a surface-to-air missile on 22 November (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 24 November 2003). Royal Jordanian Deputy President Ghassan Ali told the website that the "nonscheduled" chartered services were restarted "to facilitate travel for businesspeople and humanitarian staff." The flights are now operating according to passenger demand. The chartered flights have a 40-seat passenger capacity, jordantimes.com reported. KR