RUSSIA, INDIA SIGN CARRIER DEAL...
Russia and India on 20 January signed nearly 20 contracts involving the provision of Russian weapons and technology, Russian and Western media reported. Under the most important of the contracts -- estimated to be worth $1.5 billion -- Russia will upgrade the "Admiral Gorshkov" aircraft carrier and deliver it to India by 2008. "The Moscow Times" reported on 21 January that India will pay Russia only for the 20-year-old carrier's refurbishment, which will cost around $650 million, plus an additional $730 million for 16 MiG-29 jet fighters and eight Ka-27 and Ka-31 naval helicopters. Following the signing of the agreements, Defense Minister Sergei Ivanov, who is in India on a three-day visit, held a joint press conference in New Delhi with Indian Defense Minister George Fernandes. Ivanov said India will pay for the "Admiral Gorshkov" and its aircraft entirely with hard currency, Interfax reported. India does not have docks suitable for the carrier, and if Russia is asked to build them, it could earn an additional $1 billion, NTV reported on 20 January. JB
...AS DEFENSE MINISTERS DISCUSS THE GROWING PARTNERSHIP
During his joint press conference with Indian Defense Minister Fernandes, Defense Minister Ivanov said Russia has already provided India with more than 130 T-90S tanks, and more are being sent for assembly in India, RIA-Novosti reported on 20 January. Ivanov added that Russia has "nothing against" additional T-90S deliveries, if the Indian side shows interest in them. Ivanov also noted that Russia has been delivering Su-30MKI jet fighters to India since 1996, and said he and Fernandes discussed the possibility of supplying India with Tu-22 naval bombers, ITAR-TASS reported. Ivanov said Russia and India "have virtually identical views on Iraq, Afghanistan, and many other trouble spots," adding that the two countries "have totally identical views on the fight against international terrorism and the threat of weapons of mass destruction." Ivanov also said that Russian-Indian-Chinese cooperation is "crucial to security in the Asia-Pacific region" and that representatives of the three countries could meet this year to discuss the subject. JB
INTERIOR MINISTRY REPORTS ARRESTS OF TERROR SUSPECTS...
Yurii Demidov, first deputy chief of the Interior Ministry's main organized-crime department (GUBOP) and the head of its antiterrorism center, told a Moscow press conference on 20 January that investigators have uncovered a group allegedly involved in a series of terrorist attacks in Moscow and the North Caucasus last year, Interfax reported. Around 20 people have been arrested in connection with the attacks, Demidov said, which include a suicide bombing of a bus carrying air-force personnel on the outskirts of Mozdok last June, which killed 16 (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 5 June 2003); the terrorist bombing of a rock concert at near Moscow in July that killed 14 people (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 7 July 2003); and the suicide truck bombing of a Russian military hospital in Mozdok in August (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 4 August 2003), which killed 50 people. JB
...WHILE PROSECUTOR LINKS TERRORISM TO SOCIOECONOMIC SITUATION
Interior Minister official Demidov said that 561 terrorist acts were carried out in Russia in 2003 -- 55.8 percent more than in 2002 -- killing more than 200 people, Interfax reported on 20 January. More than 400 of these attacks occurred in southern Russia, 386 of them in Chechnya, he said. There were 1,367 kidnappings in Russia last year, 10 percent fewer than in 2002. Extremist groups are trying to provoke separatism in Russia's Muslim regions, Demidov said, adding that their aim is to establish Islamic states within a greater "caliphate." Echoing Demidov, Deputy Prosecutor-General Vladimir Kolesnikov told a Moscow conference on global crime and terrorism, which opened on 20 January, that the number of crimes of a "terrorist character" is growing and that only 30-35 percent of them are solved. Kolesnikov warned that terrorism will grow if the socioeconomic situation in the country does not improve, "Gazeta" reported on 21 January. JB
COURT ORDERS COMPENSATION FOR THEATER-SIEGE VICTIMS' RELATIVES
Moscow's Tverskoi Raion Court on 20 January ruled in favor of the plaintiffs in four suits filed by relatives of people who died in the October 2002 seizure of a Moscow theater by Chechen fighters, Interfax reported. The court ordered the Moscow authorities to pay a couple whose daughter was killed during the siege leaving them to raise a young grandchild a one-time payment of 51,000 rubles ($1,770), plus a monthly payment to each of 1,158 rubles (around $40). Another woman who lost a daughter and was left with the guardianship of a grandchild was awarded a one-time payment of 60,000 rubles ($2,000) and a monthly payment of 4,130 rubles ($143). One hundred and thirty people died and 700 were injured during the siege, the overwhelming majority of them from the effects of a sleeping gas used by Russian commandos in their effort to storm the building and release the hostages. JB
HUMAN RIGHTS COMMISSIONER TAKES UP FROZEN CONSCRIPTS' CASE
Ella Pamfilova, chairwoman of President Vladimir Putin's human rights commission, said on 20 January that an incident last month involving more than 100 conscripts who were forced by military officers to stand in the cold for hours must be thoroughly investigated, Interfax reported. Pamfilova said she plans to meet with representatives of the Union of Committees of Soldiers' Mothers to discuss the incident, which caused the death of one conscript (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 20 January 2004). "Against the backdrop of the successful reforms of...the penitentiary system, the situation here for servicemen is often worse than that for people who are imprisoned," Pamfilova said. She added that the army must be placed under an independent system of "social control." Meanwhile, Military Prosecutor Aleksandr Savinkov told RTR that charges have been filed in connection with the incident against another high-ranking military official, Major General Viktor Kozhushko, who heads the Defense Ministry's operational group for coordinating the draft, gazeta.ru reported on 20 January. JB
TALK OF LENGTHENING PRESIDENTIAL TERM TURNS TO LIFTING ALL RESTRICTIONS
Liberal Democratic Party of Russia (LDPR) leader Vladimir Zhirinovskii and pro-Moscow Chechen President Akhmed-hadji Kadyrov have both spoken out in favor of making President Putin president for life, Russian media reported. On 20 January, Zhirinovskii told Interfax he favors increasing the term in office for State Duma deputies from four to six years and lifting all limits on the term for the presidency. Kadyrov said on 19 January that he would make Putin president for life if he could because Putin "is a man of strong will and a true patriot," Ekho Moskvy reported. Commenting on these suggestions, State Duma Deputy Speaker and Motherland co-leader Dmitrii Rogozin suggested that by issuing such calls some politicians are "playing at [being] courtiers." State Duma Speaker and Unified Russia faction leader Boris Gryzlov said on 20 January his faction will not support efforts to amend the constitution, ITAR-TASS reported. JAC
CHUBAIS WILL NOT SUPPORT KHAKAMADA FOR PRESIDENT
Unified Energy Systems (EES) head and Union of Rightist Forces (SPS) co-Chairman Anatolii Chubais will not support SPS co-Chairwoman Irina Khakamada in the 14 March presidential election, RosBalt reported on 20 January, citing fellow SPS co-Chairman Boris Nemtsov. Nemtsov was addressing a meeting of the SPS branch in St. Petersburg. According to Nemtsov, Chubais was ready to support her until she issued an open letter to President Putin accusing him of covering up the truth about the October 2002 Moscow-theater hostage crisis (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 15 January 2004). According to RosBalt, people collecting signatures for Khakamada are being paid 10 times more than those who are collecting signatures for Putin. Nemtsov expressed confidence that the necessary 2 million signatures will be gathered for Khakamada by the 28 January deadline. "Nezavisimaya gazeta" reported on 16 January that all kinds of administrative levers are being deployed to support the effort to gather signatures for Putin. The daily claimed that Velikii Novgorod administration officials are collecting signatures from everyone who comes to their offices on business. JAC
ULTRA-NATIONALIST PARTY CALLS FOR BOYCOTT OF PRESIDENTIAL ELECTIONS...
Radical writer and National Bolshevik Party (NBP) head Eduard Limonov on 20 March called on all Russians to boycott the 14 March presidential election, newsru.com reported. Limonov called a press conference to announce the creation of a new public movement called Russia Without Putin and invite other political groups to join the new movement, "Kommersant-Daily" reported on 21 January. Limonov expressed a willingness to cooperate with the activities of Committee 2008, which was founded recently by SPS co-Chairman Nemtsov and world chess champion Garri Kasparov (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 20 January 2004). JAC
...AS COMMITTEE 2008 LEADERS EXPLAIN THEIR GOALS
The founders of Committee 2008 also held a press conference in Moscow on 20 January, Russian media reported. Kasparov told reporters that the committee's goal is not to nominate a specific candidate for 2004 or 2008 or to create a political party, but simply to create a broad democratic front made up of people who wish to defend democracy, newsru.com reported. Kasparov added that he thinks it is possible that the new pro-Kremlin constitutional majority in the Duma will try to amend the constitution to extend the president's term in office. JAC
STATE TV HIGHLIGHTS PROBLEMS OF RURAL HEALTH-CARE SYSTEM
Both ORT and RTR covered the national congress of rural doctors that opened in Moscow on 20 January. According to RTR, only 44,000 medical establishments provide service to the country's almost 40 million rural residents. The majority of these establishments are staffed by medical assistants rather than fully qualified doctors. Rural doctors face many difficulties, including a lack of modern equipment and shortages of medicine. Village doctor Irina Busheva, who treats patients in seven villages in Samara Oblast, told RTR that she can see as many as 30 patients a day and, for the majority of residents, she is their "only hope." She said she has received offers to work in cities, but she doesn't know how her patients would get by without her. In its report, ORT noted that a lack of transportation also complicates the provision of health care in rural areas. Olga Matveeva, a medical assistant in Leningrad Oblast, told ORT that her hospital only received an ambulance a couple of years ago. JAC
LAW ON AUTO INSURANCE CONTINUES TO ANNOY DRIVERS
About 40-45 percent of car owners in Sverdlovsk Oblast have complied with new federal legislation requiring them to purchase automobile insurance by 1 January 2004 or be liable for fines, RFE/RL's Yekaterinburg bureau reported on 20 January. Since its adoption, the law has provoked demonstrations in a number of cities (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 3 and 16 July 2003). Statistical data show that for almost two-thirds of Russian automobile owners, the purchase of insurance represents a difficult burden on the family budget. Yekaterinburg resident Yevgenii Fetisov told the bureau he paid 1,800 rubles ($63) for his insurance policy, about one-third of his monthly salary. The report did not specify the term of Fetisov's policy. JAC
ALMOST TWO DOZEN CANDIDATES VIE FOR DUMA SEAT FROM ST. PETERSBURG
Twenty-one candidates have declared their intention to register for a 14 March by-election for a vacant seat in the State Duma from a single-mandate district in St. Petersburg, fontanka.ru reported on 20 January, the last day for candidates to declare such intentions. Voters in the district selected "against all" as their top choice in the 7 December State Duma poll. The best-known candidates are former St. Petersburg Deputy Governor Anna Markova, who ran and lost in the September St. Petersburg gubernatorial election, and former SPS State Duma Deputy Grigorii Tomchin, who came in third in the 7 December race in the district. On 19 January, the Oktyabrskii federal court in St. Petersburg threw out a criminal charge against Markova for allegedly "insulting" current St. Petersburg Governor Valentina Matvienko during a campaign debate. JAC
TWO DEPUTY MINISTERS RETIRE
Deputy Economic Development and Trade Minister Roald Piskoppel has retired from government service, utro.ru reported on 20 January. Piskoppel oversaw the ministry's departments dealing with Europe and the United States. A ministry spokesman said the post will remain vacant while the ministry looks for a suitable replacement. Deputy Transport Minister Nikolai Smirnov is also retiring, "Kommersant-Daily" reported on 20 January. JAC
ARMENIAN COURT QUASHES MURDER-CONVICTION APPEAL
Armenia's Appeals Court upheld on 20 January the 15-year prison sentence handed down two months ago to businessman Armen Sargsian on charges of masterminding the December 2002 contract murder of Public Television and Radio head Tigran Naghdalian, RFE/RL's Yerevan bureau reported (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 19 November 2003). Sargsian has consistently denied any connection with the killing, and several other suspects have retracted pretrial testimony incriminating him (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 29 December 2003). Sargsian's brother Aram, a former prime minister who now heads the opposition Hanrapetutiun party, told RFE/RL on 19 January that even though Armen Sargsian's innocence has been proven, the Appeals Court would refuse to overturn the verdict in the light of what Aram Sargsian termed "the political vendetta" being waged against the Sargsian family by the present Armenian leadership. LF
ARMENIAN POLITICAL PARTY JOINS OPPOSITION
The Ramkavar-Azatakan Party of Armenia (HRAK) is joining the political opposition to protest government economic policies, in the first instance the recent steep increase in the prices of basic commodities, HRAK republican board Chairman Haroutiun Arakelian told a press conference in Yerevan on 20 January, Noyan Tapan reported. The HRAK, which is not represented in parliament, signed a cooperation agreement last year with the Armenian Revolutionary Federation-Dashnaktsutiun, one of the two junior partners in the present coalition government (see "RFE/RL Caucasus Report," 1 August 2003). LF
U.S. 'DISAPPOINTED' BY ARMENIAN ABSENCE FROM BAKU NATO PLANNING CONFERENCE
In a statement released on 20 January by the U.S. Embassy in Yerevan, the State Department expressed "disappointment" that an Armenian Defense Ministry delegation was unable to travel last week to Azerbaijan to attend a planning conference for military exercises to be held in Azerbaijan later this year within the framework of NATO's Partnership for Peace program, Noyan Tapan and RFE/RL's Yerevan bureau reported. The statement noted that Washington does not yet have full information about why the Armenian officers were prevented from flying from Istanbul to Baku (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 9, 12, 14, and 15 January 2004). LF
AZERBAIJANI PRESIDENT PLEDGES TO ENCOURAGE INVESTMENT, RAISE SALARIES...
Speaking to journalists in Baku on 20 January during a ceremony to commemorate the 14th anniversary of the Soviet military intervention in that city, Ilham Aliyev said he will expedite implementation of his November 2003 decree streamlining procedures for foreign investors, Turan reported. He stressed that economic development will make it possible to raise public-sector salaries and welfare payments. Aliyev singled out the Karabakh conflict as the most important problem facing Azerbaijan, stressing that the OSCE Minsk Group should draft new proposals to resolve it. He said that if a negotiated solution proves elusive, Azerbaijan has the right to use force to bring the region back under its control. He said he has no plans for a sweeping government reshuffle. LF
...DENIES HE WILL ATTEND GEORGIAN PRESIDENT-ELECT'S INAUGURATION
President Aliyev also told journalists on 20 January that reports that he will travel to Tbilisi to attend the 25 January inauguration of Georgian President-elect Mikheil Saakashvili are incorrect, Turan reported. He said no such visit is planned. On 13 January, Turan quoted "informed diplomatic sources" as saying that Aliyev would travel to Tbilisi for the inauguration ceremony and would meet on the sidelines with U.S. Secretary of State Colin Powell (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 15 January 2004). On 20 January, the opposition daily "Azadlyg" reported that Georgia has incurred the displeasure of the Azerbaijani leadership by cracking down on illegal exports of oil via Georgia, Turan reported. LF
GEORGIAN DISPLACED PERSONS STAGE PROTESTS IN ZUGDIDI...
Some 1,000 Georgian displaced persons from Abkhazia surrounded the Zugdidi office of the local governor on 20 January to protest the nonpayment for eight months of their monthly 14 lari ($6.50) allowances, Caucasus Press and the website of the independent television station Rustavi-2 reported (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 14 January 2004). Armed police were forced to intervene to evacuate Urban Affairs Minister Elena Astemirova from the building after she angered the protesters by telling them that they will initially be paid only one month's allowance. The protests resumed on 21 January despite the distribution of 30,000 laris to the displaced persons the previous day. LF
...AND IN TBILISI
Displaced persons in Tbilisi staged a similar protest on 20 January, blocking one of the city's main streets to demand payment of back allowances since October 2003, Caucasus Press reported. Minister of State Zurab Zhvania said late on 20 January that the government "is not ready" to start paying the arrears, and that a schedule for doing so will be ready only in mid-February. The Georgian government decided on 20 January to transfer responsibility for distributing the allowances from the Post Bank, which has repeatedly been accused of misappropriating some of the funds, to the People's Bank, Caucasus Press reported. LF
RUSSIA DECRIES RISE IN INTRA-GEORGIAN TENSIONS
The Russian Foreign Ministry released a statement on 20 January expressing concern at the escalation of tensions between the central Georgian authorities and the leadership of the Adjar Republic, Russian media reported. The statement specifically condemned "extremist-minded forces" such as the youth movement Kmara (Enough!), whose "dangerous" activities the ministry claimed pose a threat to stability throughout Georgia. It called for a "political dialogue" to resolve outstanding problems between Tbilisi and Batumi. Also on 20 January, several thousand supporters of Adjar leader Aslan Abashidze staged a march from Kobuleti to Batumi. The creation was announced the same day of a new moderate movement named Our Adjaria, whose unidentified founders listed their aims as preserving peace and stability, Caucasus Press reported. At the same time, they condemned the activities of Kmara activists, arguing that "children of this age should not engage in politics." LF
ARMENIAN COMMUNITY ASKS GEORGIAN PRESIDENT-ELECT FOR FORMAL AUTONOMY
Representatives of the predominantly Armenian population of Georgia's southern region of Djavakheti have written to President-elect Saakashvili congratulating him on his victory in the 4 January presidential election, according to Arminfo, as cited by Groong and A-Info. They also asked Saakashvili to support amending the Georgian Constitution to provide for granting the region autonomy within a federative or confederative system. They argued that doing so would contribute to the solution of the social and economic problems that have plagued the region for decades. LF
COST OF GEORGIAN PARLIAMENTARY ELECTION ESTIMATED
Georgian Central Election Commission (CEC) Chairman Zurab Chiaberashvili told journalists in Tbilisi on 19 January that his agency needs 7 million laris ($3.25 million) to cover the anticipated costs of the parliamentary ballot scheduled for 28 March, Caucasus Press reported. He said that sum includes the estimated cost of his lunches with officials and of mineral water, soft drinks, coffee, and tea for guests, as well as for stationery and other articles. CEC Secretary Dmitri Kitoshvili said the same day that the state budget is unlikely to allocate more than 1 million laris, and the remainder must come from foreign donors. The total cost of the 2 November parliamentary ballot and simultaneous referendum was 5.4 million laris, according to Caucasus Press. On 15 January, Chiaberashvili proposed reducing the threshold for parliamentary representation under the proportional system from 7 percent to 5 percent of the vote, Caucasus Press reported. LF
KYRGYZ PREMIER SEEKING MORE TRADE WITH RUSSIA
During a meeting with Russian State Duma Speaker Boris Gryzlov in Moscow on 20 January, Kyrgyz Prime Minister Nikolai Tanaev said that the level of trade between Kyrgyzstan and Russia is too low, and he urged the Duma to take steps to remedy the situation, akipress.org reported. Tanaev, on a two-day working visit to Moscow, also met on 20 January with Russian Atomic Energy Minister Aleksandr Rumyantsev to discuss a Russian project to reclaim Kyrgyz land polluted by Soviet-era uranium mining, ITAR-TASS reported. According to a Atomic Energy Ministry spokesman, Kyrgyz experts have already approved the Russian clean-up plan. Also on 20 January, the labor ministers of Kyrgyzstan and Russia -- Roza Aknazarova and Aleksandr Pochinok -- signed a memorandum on cooperation between their ministries, particularly in the field of social security. Pochinok said that one of the first projects under the agreement will be the construction of a home for the elderly in a Kyrgyz city. He added that Russia is eager to set up a legal system for importing labor from Kyrgyzstan, because Russia needs such workers. BB
UZBEK OFFICIALS STOP COLLECTING HIGH TRANSIT FEES FROM KYRGYZ VEHICLES
Uzbek border officials have stopped collecting transit fees of $300 from Kyrgyz vehicles transiting Uzbekistan from one part of Kyrgyzstan to another, "Obshchestvennyi reiting" reported on 20 January. The fees went into effect earlier this month (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 16 January 2004). The authorities and residents of southern Kyrgyzstan's Batken Oblast, which is dependent on transit through Uzbekistan, demanded that Bishkek take measures. Apparently, the Uzbek border officials collected the fees only on 19 January. BB
KYRGYZ PARLIAMENTARIAN SEES BUGGING SCANDAL AS EFFORT TO SET SOUTH AGAINST NORTH
General Ismail Isakov, chairman of the Kyrgyz lower house's State Security Committee, has told his parliamentary colleagues that, with one exception, the parliamentarians who discovered listening devices in their offices (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 15 and 16 January 2004) were all oppositionists from southern Kyrgyzstan, Deutsche Welle reported on 19 January. In Isakov's interpretation, the devices were planted on the instruction of President Aksar Akaev's closest supporters -- all northerners -- in order to destroy their political opponents from the south. Isakov, a former deputy defense minister, also called on parliament to cut the National Security Service's budget by half on the grounds that taxpayers' money should not be used to spy on their elected representatives. Anti-Akaev forces in parliament are calling on the president to resign for failing in his duty as protector of the constitution. Prominent opposition parliamentarian Azimbek Beknazarov noted that a similar bugging scandal occurred in 2000 and was used by the authorities to discredit former National Security Service chief Feliks Kulov, who had joined the opposition. BB
KYRGYZ OMBUDSMAN CRITICIZES DETENTION FACILITIES
The Kyrgyz Ombudsman's office has carried out an inspection of a range of detention facilities, including labor colonies for women and juveniles and a pretrial-detention facility in Bishkek, and has found that many inmates are being kept in inhumane conditions, kabar.kg and Deutsche Welle reported on 20 January. Ombudsman Tursunbai Bakir-uulu personally inspected all the cells in the Bishkek pretrial-detention facility and said he found many cases of human rights violations, including overcrowding, failure to comply with deadlines for completing investigations into alleged crimes, and evidence that law enforcement officers have beaten inmates to extract confessions. Bakir-uulu said he found a number of inmates who are ill with AIDS, tuberculosis, and syphilis. In the death-row section of the facility, nine inmates died in 2003: three committed suicide and six died of diseases. BB
UZBEK PRESIDENT WANTS TO EXPAND TIES WITH KUWAIT
Islam Karimov announced during his 19-20 January visit to Kuwait that he wants to expand trade ties between the two countries, Interfax reported on 20 January and uzreport.com reported on 21 January. Karimov held talks with Kuwaiti Prime Minister Sabah al-Ahmad al-Jabir Sabah on broadening political, economic, and cultural ties. After those talks, the two leaders signed agreements on cooperation in trade and encouraging investment. Karimov also met with Kuwaiti business leaders to promote business ties between the two countries. BB
FAMILIES OF MISSING BELARUSIAN POLITICIANS TO APPEAL TO KGB
The families and relatives of missing Belarusian opposition politicians Yury Zakharanka, Viktar Hanchar, and Anatol Krasouski have prepared an appeal to the State Security Committee (KGB) requesting that it open criminal investigations into those disappearances, RFE/RL's Belarusian Service reported on 20 January. Investigations conducted by the Prosecutor-General's Office have yielded no apparent results. "The Prosecutor-General's Office does not want and cannot investigate [the disappearances], because the main suspect is the prosecutor-general himself [Viktar Sheyman]," Iryna Krasouskaya, the wife of Anatol Krasouski, told RFE/RL. Some have suggested that Viktor Sheyman and other high-ranking government officials might have been behind the organization of a purported death squad that killed Zakharanka, Hanchar, and Krasouski in 1999, as well as journalist Dzmitry Zavadski in 2000 (see "RFE/RL Poland, Belarus, and Ukraine Report," 12 June and 28 August 2001). JM
PACE MONITOR WARNS UKRAINE OVER CONSTITUTIONAL REFORM
Hanne Severinsen, a member of the Monitoring Committee of the Parliamentary Assembly of the Council of Europe (PACE), told journalists in Kyiv on 20 January that current attempts by the pro-presidential parliamentary majority to change the constitution in the presidential election year are not "acceptable," Ukrainian news agencies reported. Severinsen appealed to the parliamentary majority and the opposition to find a compromise, stressing that the constitutional-reform bill preliminarily approved on 24 December (see "RFE/RL Poland, Belarus, and Ukraine Report," 20 January 2004) should be resubmitted to parliament and debated "paragraph by paragraph," rather than being pushed through by presidential allies. Severinsen and her colleague, Renate Wohlwand, met with a number of Ukrainian officials and opposition leaders in Kyiv to gather information about Ukraine's constitutional reform for a PACE meeting scheduled for February. JM
RUSSIA ANNOUNCES TEMPORARY CLOSURE OF BORDER CROSSING TO ESTONIA
A Russian border representative on 20 January informed the Estonian Border Guard that the border checkpoint on the Ivangorod side of the Narva-Ivangorod pedestrian bridge will temporarily be closed as of 23 January, BNS reported. The Russian Military Prosecutor's Office ordered the checkpoint closed because its lack of customs checks does not conform to Russian law. Estonian border officials called for a postponement of the decision, arguing that it will place an extra burden on its checkpoint on the Narva highway, resulting in delays for the thousands of inhabitants who travel between the two cities every day. SG
LATVIAN PARLIAMENTARY COMMITTEE OPPOSES BAN ON FORMER KGB, COMMUNISTS
Parliament's Legal Affairs Committee voted on 21 January to strike from the European Parliament bill a provision banning former KGB agents and persons who continued to be members of the Communist Party after January 1991 from running for the European Parliament, LETA reported. The bill containing the ban, which is in effect for parliamentary and local elections, has passed two of the required three readings. Committee head Solvita Aboltina of the ruling New Era party argued that passage of the bill with the provision will open Latvia up to criticism abroad for denying democratic rights to some of its citizens. Because Latvia's First Party (LPP) has also expressed opposition to the ban, it appears certain that it will be removed from the bill, which faces its final reading on 22 January. SG
IMPEACHMENT COMMITTEE OFFICIAL SAYS ACCUSATIONS AGAINST LITHUANIAN PRESIDENT MIGHT BE CHANGED
Julius Sabatauskas, deputy chairman of the parliamentary commission formed to investigate the possibility of impeaching President Rolandas Paksas (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 23 December 2003), told journalists on 20 January that the formulations of the accusations against the president might be changed, BNS reported. Sabatauskas said that parliament's Law Department had advised the commission that this can be done legally, but he is awaiting other legal opinions. Sabatauskas said the commission hopes to complete the questioning of witnesses this week, as it still has a large amount of written material to study before presenting its conclusions to parliament by the 13 February deadline. Without mentioning sources, the daily "Lietuvos zinios" wrote on 21 January that the number of accusations against Paksas will be reduced to two: violating his presidential oath and illegally using his power to influence the decisions of private companies. SG
POLISH PREMIER APPOINTS NEW INTERIOR MINISTER...
Prime Minister Leszek Miller appointed Jozef Oleksy as his government's new interior minister and a deputy prime minister on 20 January, Polish media reported. The appointment is widely regarded in Poland as Miller's move to prevent a rebellion against him in the ruling Democratic Left Alliance (SLD) after support for the SLD fell below 20 percent. Oleksy, who was prime minister in 1995-96 and is currently an SLD deputy chairman, is considered Miller's main rival within the party. Oleksy will replace former Interior Minister Krzysztof Janik, who was elected leader of the SLD parliamentary caucus the previous day. JM
...AND A CANDIDATE FOR EU COMMISSIONER
Premier Miller also nominated Danuta Huebner on 20 January to be Poland's first EU commissioner, Polish media reported. Huebner, 53, Poland's European affairs minister since June, has occupied several government posts and headed the Polish president's chancellery (1997-98) before taking charge of Poland's enlargement efforts in November 2001 as secretary of the European Integration Committee. Euro-skeptics among the Polish opposition criticize Huebner for being too conciliatory in Warsaw's dealings with Brussels. Huebner's nomination is expected to be approved by the president and parliament. JM
MEDIA WATCHDOG URGES CZECH AUTHORITIES TO APPREHEND JOURNALIST'S ASSAILANTS
Paris-based media watchdog Reporters Without Borders on 20 January called on Czech authorities to apprehend and punish the assailants who recently attacked the editor in chief of the investigative weekly "Respekt," CTK reported (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 20 January 2004). In a statement sent to Interior Minister Stanislav Gross, the organization said Czech authorities "must react with the greatest resolve in this case, which may directly threaten the freedom of the press." Tomas Nemecek remained hospitalized on 20 January as a result of the attack. Also on 20 January, the Association of Public Relations Agencies pledged 100,000 crowns ($3,839) for information leading to the arrest of those responsible, according to CTK. MS
CZECH PROSECUTORS TO APPEAL SENTENCE FOR ATTACK ON ROMANY FAMILY
Ostrava regional prosecutors will appeal the sentences handed down by a northern Moravian court to three youths who attacked a Romany family in June, CTK reported. A Jesenik court sentenced the attackers to probation terms, sparking protests by the local Romany community, which argued that that the sentences are too lenient (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 9 January 2004). The regional prosecutor thus overruled local prosecutors, who decided against an appeal. MS
SLOVAK PARLIAMENT OVERRIDES PRESIDENTIAL VETO OF PENSION REFORM...
Parliament overrode a veto on 20 January by President Rudolf Schuster of a bill providing for a 4 percent increase in state pension payments from 1 February, TASR reported. Schuster wanted lawmakers to raise the benefit by 6-8 percent (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 5 January 2004). Seventy-eight deputies, including those who recently broke away from the main ruling Slovak Democratic and Christian Union (SDKU) and formed the new Free Forum party, backed the override. An absolute majority of 76 of the chamber's 150 legislators is needed to override a presidential veto. MS
...AND APPROVES AGREEMENT WITH VATICAN
The Slovak parliament approved an agreement on 20 January between Slovakia and the Vatican stipulating that religion will be taught in Slovak schools beginning at the elementary-school level, TASR and CTK reported. Students whose parents oppose religion classes may alternatively opt for ethics classes for their children. Religion was previously taught beginning at the secondary-school level. Ninety-five of 143 deputies present backed the agreement, but the opposition Smer (Direction) and Communist Party of Slovakia suggested they might appeal to the Constitutional Court. Opponents say the treaty infringes on human rights and the separation of church and state. Deputies from the junior coalition Alliance for a New Citizen (ANO) also voted against the treaty. MS
HUNGARY WANTS DAM DISPUTE SETTLED AT NEGOTIATING TABLE
A spokesman for the Hungarian Foreign Ministry told TASR on 20 January that Budapest wants its long-standing dispute with Slovakia over the Gabcikovo-Nagymaros Dam settled amicably around a negotiating table. The spokesman was responding to a threat issued in December by Slovak Foreign Minister Eduard Kukan, who said his country is considering a new appeal to the International Court of Justice in The Hague because Hungary is showing no willingness to settle the matter (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 29 December 2003). The spokesman said that Hungary recently appointed diplomat Gyorgy Erdely as its representative in the negotiations (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 25 September 1997). MS
RED ARMY MONUMENT 'DESECRATED' IN DOWNTOWN BUDAPEST
The Russian Foreign Ministry on 20 January denounced the vandalization of a monument to Red Army soldiers in central Budapest, describing it as a "desecration of the memory of those who died for the liberation of Hungary from the Nazis," ITAR-TASS reported. The monument was returned to its original site in late 2002 after being temporarily removed to accommodate the construction of an underground parking garage (see "RFE/RL Newsline, 18 December 2002). "The vandals are damaging Russian-Hungarian relations and Hungary's reputation as a democratic and civilized country," said a ministry spokesman. He added that Russia hopes the Hungarian authorities "will quickly restore the monument and punish those responsible for the barbarous act." MS
HUNGARY'S RULING SOCIALISTS UNVEIL EUROPARLIAMENT CANDIDATES
The senior coalition Socialist Party's (MSZP) list of candidates for the June elections to the European Parliament will be headed by party Chairman and Hungarian Foreign Minister Laszlo Kovacs, the MTI news agency reported on 20 January. Socialist Deputy Chairman Imre Szekeres told reporters that the party's leadership placed former Prime Minister Gyula Horn second on the list, followed by Equal Opportunities Minister Katalin Levai. Levai is the only one of the top three candidates who would be transferred to Strasbourg if elected, while Kovacs and Horn will remain active in Hungarian domestic politics, Szekeres said. He added that the Socialists expect to win at least 13 of the 24 seats available to Hungary in the European Parliament. The party leadership's decision to place Kovacs and Horn at the top of the list was influenced by an opinion poll privately commissioned by the party, MTI quoted Kovacs and Szekeres as saying. MSZ
DO THE SERBIAN DEMOCRATS WANT FULL PARTICIPATION IN A NEW GOVERNMENT?
On 19 January, the parties represented in the Serbian parliament that are not linked to the regime of former Yugoslav President Slobodan Milosevic agreed to form a coalition in a minority government, RFE/RL's South Slavic and Albanian Languages Service reported. The Democratic Party of Serbia (DSS), the G-17 Plus party, the Serbian Renewal Movement (SPO), and the New Serbia party will soon offer the Democratic Party unspecified posts in the government and parliament of Serbia and Montenegro in return for its support in the Serbian legislature (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 20 January 2004 and "RFE/RL Balkan Report," 12 December 2003 and 9 January 2004). Democratic Party leader Boris Tadic said, however, that his party wants to participate fully in the Serbian government and will not accept his keeping the post of Serbia and Montenegro's defense minister as a sufficient price for its support. It is not clear whether Tadic was speaking for the entire Democratic Party or only for himself. Some other Democrats are known to favor supporting a minority government or going into the opposition. PM
WILL CONTROVERSIAL BUSINESSMAN PLAY A ROLE IN THE NEW SERBIAN GOVERNMENT?
An RFE/RL correspondent reported from Belgrade on 19 January that prominent and controversial businessman Bogoljub Karic was among those seen at the DSS party offices during the coalition talks. The "Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung" wrote on 24 December that Karic was among those well-heeled individuals who allegedly bought influence in the previous Serbian legislature, which ultimately led to the downfall of the last government. Karic financially supports numerous conservative or nationalist causes but is believed to be primarily motivated by a desire to create the best climate for his extensive business interests rather than by any specific ideology, the German daily reported. PM
BOSNIAN MUSLIM PARTY WANTS GOVERNMENT SHAKEUP
The presidency of the Muslim Party of Democratic Action (SDA) passed a no-confidence resolution on 19 January regarding the government of Bosnia's Muslim-Croat federation, RFE/RL's South Slavic and Albanian Languages Service reported. The government consists of three parties, of which the SDA is the most powerful. The SDA plans to launch talks soon with its partners on forming a new cabinet. In recent weeks, several SDA leaders have criticized Prime Minister Ahmet Hadzipasic, saying that he has better relations with the international community than with his own party, the SDA. Hadzipasic has nonetheless reportedly refused to submit his resignation. PM
BOSNIA'S HIGH REPRESENTATIVE HAILS CROATIAN GOVERNMENT
High Representative to Bosnia Paddy Ashdown said on a visit to Zagreb on 19 January that the new Croatian government has shown a highly constructive attitude toward contributing to the stability and integrity of Bosnia, RFE/RL's South Slavic and Albanian Languages Service reported. Croatian Prime Minister Ivo Sanader stressed that his country is interested in the full equality of Muslims, Serbs, and Croats within Bosnia and in a solution to the political future of divided Mostar that is acceptable to all concerned. PM
ROMANIAN PREMIER READY TO RUN FOR PRESIDENT...
Prime Minister Adrian Nastase said on 19 January that he is prepared to run for president in the fall elections if his Social Democratic Party asks him to do so, Mediafax reported. In an interview with the private Antena 1 television, Nastase said: "I am well aware of the fact that many of my colleagues believe I should be the party's candidate. I know it, I appreciate it very much, [and] without any doubt, if the party makes that decision as a team, its decision will be mine." MS
...AND CONSIDERS APPOINTING TWO DEPUTY PREMIERS
Nastase said in his 19 January interview with Antena 1 that he might soon appoint two deputy premiers, Mediafax reported. He said the two deputy premiers would be in charge of coordinating in the cabinet economic and social policy, respectively. Nastase announced in late December his intention to reshuffle the government in February (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 29 December 2003). MS
ROMANIAN PRESIDENT LASHES OUT AT SZEKLERS' COUNCIL
President Ion Iliescu said on 20 January that "the idea of [local] administrative autonomy based on ethnic criteria is antidemocratic and anti-European," Mediafax reported. Iliescu said the Supreme Council for National Defense (CNSAS) planned to debate on 21 January a draft law proposal approved last weekend by the Szekler National Council (CNS in Romanian, SZNT in Hungarian) and the significance of this initiative (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 20 January 2004). He said the CNSAS would discuss what measures are necessary in reaction, adding that "brutal means" are not an appropriate response. Ultranationalist Cluj Mayor Gheorghe Funar, who is executive secretary of the Greater Romania Party, demanded in a letter addressed to Iliescu on 20 January that the CNS and the National Council of Transylvanian Hungarians both be outlawed. Meanwhile, Mediafax reported on 20 January that 423,000 ethnic Hungarians in Romania have thus far applied for benefits to which they are entitled under the Hungarian Status Law. MS
CHISINAU MAYORALTY REFUSES PERMISSION FOR PPCD PROTEST DEMONSTRATION
The Chisinau mayoralty on 20 January refused to grant authorization for a protest demonstration planned by the opposition Popular Party Christian Democratic (PPCD) for 25 January, Flux reported. Communist Deputy Mayor Ala Mironic said in her response to the PPCD's authorization requests that "the mayoralty has convincing proof" that the event organizers intended to call for "a war of aggression, interethnic hatred, and public violence." The PPCD requested permission for the demonstration to protest what it believes are violations of democratic and human rights, the country's political and social crisis, and the planned referendum on Moldova's federalization. PPCD Deputy Chairman Vlad Cubreacov requested that the Chisinau Court of Appeals overrule Deputy Mayor Mironic. Cubreacov said that Mironic's decision is illegal, as it was not made by the local council as stipulated by the relevant legislation. Cubreacov said Mironic's decision was based on "inventions that have no basis in reality." MS
BULGARIAN CONSERVATIVES AGREE ON NATIONAL CONGRESS
The National Council of the conservative opposition Union of Democratic Forces (SDS) on 20 January decided to hold a national congress on 21-22 February, BTA reported. The congress is intended to put an end to the ongoing leadership crisis between former Prime Minister and party Chairman Ivan Kostov and incumbent Chairwoman Nadezhda Mihailova. Kostov, however, remained skeptical as to whether the differences can be overcome at a national party congress. "The crisis can only be overcome when the National Council adopts decisions unanimously," vsekiden.com quoted Kostov as saying. Kostov's followers, who wanted the conference to be held one month later, were outvoted 74-43 at the council session (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 13, 14, and 16 January 2004). UB
BULGARIA REPORTEDLY TO INTRODUCE 'MIGRATION TAX'
Foreign Ministry official Georgi Peychinov, who heads the consular relations department, told the daily "Sega" of 20 January that by 2005 a new tax will be introduced that all Bulgarian citizens exiting the country will be required to pay. According to Peychinov, the tax revenues will be used to establish an insurance fund that will be used to help the state cover costs that could be incurred by Bulgarian citizens traveling abroad, including cases of injury or death, financial difficulty, or criminal activity that results in extradition. The tax amount will depend on the risk posed by the traveler. In an apparent suggestion that the tax would run counter to human rights legislation, the daily published provisions of the Protocol No. 4 of the European Convention on the Protection of Human Rights and Fundamental Freedoms pertaining to the freedom of movement. UB
KUCHMA SHUFFLES CARDS FOR 2004 PRESIDENTIAL-ELECTION GAME
When Ukrainian President Leonid Kuchma meets with his Russian counterpart Vladimir Putin in Kyiv later this week, they will surely discuss the upcoming major political events in their countries: presidential elections in Russia in March and in Ukraine in November. While in the case of Russia nobody doubts that Putin will be easily re-elected, it is anybody's guess what might happen in Ukraine. In fact, it is not even certain how the Ukrainian president will be elected -- by a universal ballot or by parliament. Both options, according to Ukrainian observers, are possible. It is also not certain who will be the main presidential contender from the party of power in Ukraine -- the incumbent president or someone selected by Kuchma to be his successor.
However, everybody seems to agree that the 2004 presidential ballot in Ukraine will be a momentous event that could define the country's geopolitical orientation for more than just one presidential term. It is because the Ukrainian party of power -- which traditionally opts for Ukraine staying within the "Eurasian fold" -- is being challenged for the first time by a politically potent, pro-Western alternative embodied by Viktor Yushchenko and his Our Ukraine bloc.
On 24 December, the Verkhovna Rada preliminarily approved with 276 votes a constitutional-reform plan known as the Medvedchuk-Symonenko bill (No. 4105). The bill stipulates a redistribution of prerogatives among the parliament, the president, and the government and provides for the election of the president in 2006 by the parliament. The bill was passed by a controversial show-of-hands vote, since opposition deputies from Our Ukraine, the Socialist Party, and the Yuliya Tymoshenko Bloc broke the legislature's electronic voting system, primarily to protest the change in the method of electing the president.
To become a law, the bill must receive at least 300 votes during the parliamentary session that is expected to begin on 3 February. The opposition has called upon the Constitutional Court to invalidate the 24 December vote, arguing that voting by a show of hands is against parliamentary regulations. But in the general opinion of Ukrainian analysts, the court is unlikely to heed this call.
Moreover, on 30 December, the Constitutional Court ruled that President Kuchma, who was first elected president in July 1994 and then re-elected in November 1999, is formally serving his first full presidential term, since in 1996 the Verkhovna Rada promulgated a new constitution that redefined presidential prerogatives. Thus, according to the Constitutional Court, the constitutional provision limiting the presidential tenure to two consecutive terms for one person did not apply to Kuchma until his 1999 election, and he therefore may choose to seek another presidential term in 2004.
The ruling of the Constitutional Court is much more controversial than the tumultuous vote on constitutional amendments on 24 December 2003. U.S. Federal Judge Bohdan Futey, who served as an adviser to the Working Group on the Ukrainian Constitution adopted in 1996, concluded earlier this month that the ruling is unsupportable and logically inconsistent with a 1997 court ruling that said that parliamentarians elected after 8 June 1995 may not simultaneously hold a position in the government, since a the Constitutional Agreement banning that practice came into effect on that date.
Futey argued that if similar reasoning was applied by the Constitutional Court to Kuchma, he would not have been allowed to seek a third term. The applicable constitutional norms and prior legislation addressing presidential term limits, Futey noted, consistently limited the president to two terms both when Kuchma was elected in 1994 and when he was re-elected in 1999. "The court applied a 'different standard' to national deputies in 1997 than it is now applying to President Kuchma," Futey said in a commentary published by "Ukraine Report-2004" (http://www.ArtUkraine.com).
Critics of the ruling in Ukraine say that the court's decision actually allows a person to seek the presidency for an unlimited number of terms. To achieve this, they argue, it is enough for the parliament to amend the constitution in its part referring to presidential prerogatives, thus making the current presidential term "incomplete" and allowing the incumbent legitimately to seek another term, which may also be made "incomplete" by further constitutional amendments.
However, decisions of the Constitutional Court are final and not subject to appeal. Therefore, it is now up only to Kuchma -- who has stressed on several occasions that he will not run in 2004 -- to decide whether he will make yet another presidential bid. Likewise, he seems to be in control of the constitutional-reform drive in the parliament and could, at his discretion, stop it or give it an extra impetus. Kuchma, who returned last week from a month-long stay at a German spa, has not yet disclosed his plans regarding the 2004 presidential ballot and the constitutional reform. It is not unlikely that he wants to consult with Putin first.
Theoretically, several scenarios are possible. The Verkhovna Rada might pass bill No. 4105 just as it was preliminarily approved in December 2003. This would mean that Ukraine would hold a nationwide presidential election in 2004, but in 2006 a new president would be elected by a new legislature. However, the Verkhovna Rada might also choose to vote on the Medvedchuk-Symonenko bill "article by article" and drop its final part, which stipulates the election of an "interim president" in 2004 for some 18 months. Then, as many supporters of Our Ukraine fear, the Verkhovna Rada would be entitled to elect a new president in 2004, and Viktor Yushchenko -- who is currently supported by some 25 percent of Ukrainians and is the country's most-popular politician -- would stand no chance of being elected. A third possibility is that the Verkhovna Rada might fail to muster the 300 votes needed to amend the constitution, and everything would remain as it is now.
In each of these three scenarios, two "sub-scenarios" should be taken into account -- one with Kuchma running himself and another with Kuchma backing a successor. Some argue that Kuchma will not risk the West's ire, which would predictably follow if he chooses to seek a third term. Others say he might eventually decide on this, if the party of power fails to agree on an acceptable successor and play as one team in the election campaign.
"Politics in Russia has ended for a long time...[along with political journalism]," Interfax-Ukraine Editor in Chief Oleksandr Martynenko said in a recent press interview. "But we [in Ukraine] still have them [politics and political journalism]. We are living in interesting times." This might incidentally be true, even if a closer look at Ukrainian affairs reveals that real politics, as well as real political journalism, in Ukraine are practiced by very few. The others simply appear to respond to the strings pulled by these very few.
AFGHAN, U.S. OFFICIALS DISPUTE ACCOUNT OF BOMBING RAID
Afghan and U.S. sources have provided contradictory accounts of a bombing raid by U.S. warplanes in the Chahar Chino district of the central Afghan province of Oruzgan on 18 January (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 20 January 2004), Radio Afghanistan reported on 20 January. Radio Afghanistan quoted Oruzgan Governor Jan Mohammad Khan as saying that 11 civilians, including women and children, were killed as a result of the bombing, while it quoted a spokesman for the U.S. forces in Afghanistan reporting only the death of five combatants. At a news conference on 20 January, U.S. forces spokesman Lieutenant Colonel Bryan Hilferty said coalition forces engaged "five armed males fleeing from a known terrorist compound," "The New York Times" reported the next day. "There is no indication that any civilians were involved," Hilferty added. Abdul Rahman, the district chief in Chahar Chino, where the incident took place, claimed he "collected the bodies with people" in the area and "participated in their funeral ceremony." The reports of civilian casualties in coalition bombing raids, whether correct or not, are increasing the pressure on the Afghan Transitional Administration (ATA) to take a more active role in military affairs around the country. AT
GOVERNOR REPLACED IN SOUTHERN AFGHAN PROVINCE
The governor of the troubled Zabul Province in southern Afghanistan has been recalled to Kabul by the ATA and replaced with a new appointee, Pakistan-based Afghan Islamic Press (AIP) reported on 19 January. Governor Hafizullah Hashemi reportedly left the provincial capital of Qalat on 19 January with a number of his colleagues bound for Kabul. Khial Mohammad Hosayni has been appointed acting governor in Zabul, but he is still in Kabul, according to the news agency. AIP reported that Zabul's deputy governor, Mawlawi Mohammad Omar, has been pointing to Hashemi's administration as the source of many problems in the province. However, after the killing of Major General Shah Alam by forces believed to be loyal to Hashemi on 5 January (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 6 January 2004), attitudes toward the governor "took a sharp turn," according to AIP. Zabul Province has been the scene of a number of attacks blamed on neo-Taliban insurgents in recent months, and some of the province's districts have been controlled for short periods by the opposition. The continued fighting has prompted the mobilization of a number of disparate forces in the area. AT
HERAT GOVERNOR OPPOSES FEMALE SINGING APPEARANCES ON AFGHAN TV
Mohammad Ismail Khan has expressed strong opposition to the broadcasting of songs performed by female Afghan singers, the Kabul daily "Erada" reported on 19 January. The governor of the western Afghan province of Herat, Ismail Khan reportedly ordered the banning of such audio and video recordings from his province following the approval of a new Afghan Constitution that refers to the country as the "Islamic Republic of Afghanistan," signaling a strict interpretation of Islam. State-owned Kabul-based Afghanistan Television recently broke with a decade of restrictive policy by broadcasting performances by female Afghan singers (see "RFE/RL Afghanistan Report," 15 January 2004 and "RFE/RL Newsline," 15 January 2004). The move prompted a dispute between Afghanistan's Information and Culture Ministry and the conservative religious establishment, led by the Afghan Supreme Court, which regarded the act un-Islamic and thus unconstitutional. Information and Culture Minister Sayyed Makhdum Rahin has said Afghanistan Television will continue to broadcast songs by female Afghan singers. "According to the new constitution of Afghanistan, men and women have equal rights in all areas, including the arts," Rahin said, according to "Erada," which cited the BBC. AT
INDEPENDENT TV ESTABLISHED IN NORTHERN AFGHAN PROVINCE
An independent television station called Aina was inaugurated by Information and Culture Minister Rahin in Shebarghan in the northern Afghan province of Jowzjan on 19 January, Afghanistan Television reported. Aina is the brainchild of entrepreneur Sayyed Fahim Maimanagi, who is reportedly financing the project and imported much of the necessary equipment from Turkey. Aina representatives say the new station's broadcast range includes the Jowzjan, Sar-e Pol, and Balkh provinces and bordering areas of Turkmenistan and Uzbekistan. AT
IRANIAN NUCLEAR ACTIVITIES, PERSIAN BROADCASTING MENTIONED IN STATE OF THE UNION ADDRESS
U.S. President George W. Bush in his 20 January State of the Union address called on Iran to "meet its commitments and refrain from developing nuclear weapons" and mentioned the expansion of U.S. programming in Arabic and Persian, according to a copy of the speech posted on the U.S. presidential website (http://www.whitehouse.gov). "America is committed to keeping the world's most dangerous weapons out of the hands of the most dangerous regimes," he said. Meanwhile, anonymous "Western diplomats and nuclear experts" said on 20 January that Iran has not fully suspended uranium enrichment-related activities, AP reported. Iran has stopped putting uranium into enrichment equipment, but it reportedly continues to make the centrifuges that can enrich uranium for use as reactor fuel or as weapons material. The International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) is negotiating with Iran on this issue, but IAEA Director-General Mohammad el-Baradei believes the manufacturing of the centrifuges should stop, according to AP. Bush also described in his address the United States' strategy in the Middle East, saying: "To cut through the barriers of hateful propaganda, the Voice of America and other broadcast services are expanding their programming in Arabic and Persian." BS
IRANIAN PRESIDENT MEETS WITH SWISS POLITICAL AND RELIGIOUS LEADERS
Iranian President Hojatoleslam Mohammad Khatami, who arrived in Switzerland on 19 January, was officially welcomed in Bern by his counterpart, Joseph Deiss, on 20 January, IRNA reported. During their meeting, Deiss expressed concern about the status of democracy in Iran. Khatami responded that because democracy is new to Iran, it is encountering difficulties. "We are intent on holding a free election and providing chances for competitive campaign," Khatami said. "What is under way in the country is a domestic concern and taken to be acceptable to the democratic community." Turning to the nuclear issue, Khatami said that "access to peaceful nuclear technology is our undeniable right and we would continue to get it through the International Atomic Energy Agency [IAEA]." Deiss hosted Khatami at a luncheon, and they later held a press conference. Khatami said the February parliamentary election in his country will be democratic, Swiss Info reported, and he thanked Switzerland for the relief it provided for victims of the December earthquake in Bam. According to Tehran television, Khatami demanded an end to the occupation of Iraq and called for free elections there. Khatami later met with Swiss Protestant and Catholic leaders. BS
IRANIAN PRESIDENT PUTS FOOT DOWN IN ELECTION DISPUTE
President Khatami said he will do his utmost to ensure that Iran has a free and fair parliamentary election and that all candidates have equal opportunities, IRNA reported, citing a letter released by the presidential office on 20 January. Khatami expressed the hope that the Guardians Council will yield to the supreme leader's instructions to review the disqualification of prospective candidates. Abbas Kadkhodai, a jurist member of the Guardians Council, said on 20 January that the files of people whose candidacy was rejected are being reviewed, and so far the candidacies of 200 people have been endorsed. BS
IRANIAN FACTORY WORKERS DEMAND BACK WAGES
Some of the 300 employees of the Samico Industrial Company on 20 January staged a protest in front of the Hamedan's Amir al-Momenin Mosque to demand their unpaid wages, ILNA reported. "The workers are facing immense economic pressure because they have not received wages for several months," said Labor Council head Changiz Aslani. "In fact, some of them are peddling their household articles and some are ready to sell their body parts to supplement their income." The company's managing director, identified only as Mr. Ibrahimi, denied that he has not paid the workers and complained that the Mines and Industries Organization has not supplied the raw materials the company needs. Ibrahimi went on to say that if a proposed restructuring of the company takes place he will have to lay off all but 59 workers, and if the workers agree to this all of the factory's problems will be resolved by spring. The report did not say what Samico Industrial Company actually produces. BS
U.S. PRESIDENT LAUDS IRAQI GOVERNING COUNCIL HEAD
U.S. President George W. Bush recognized Iraqi Governing Council President for the month of January Adnan Pachachi in his annual State of the Union address before the U.S. Congress and other dignitaries on 20 January. Bush called Pachachi, a former Iraqi foreign minister, "one of Iraq's most respected leaders," according to a copy of the speech posted on the U.S. presidential website (http://www.whitehouse.gov) "Sir, America stands with you and the Iraqi people as you build a free and peaceful nation," he added. Bush also defended the war in Iraq, saying, "Already, the Kay Report identified dozens of weapons-of-mass-destruction-related program activities and significant amounts of equipment that Iraq concealed from the United Nations.... Had we failed to act, Security Council resolutions on Iraq would have been revealed as empty threats, weakening the United Nations and encouraging defiance by dictators around the world." Bush added, "For all who love freedom and peace, the world without Saddam Hussein's regime is a better and safer place." Bush called for a broader international effort in the rebuilding of Iraq and thanked the 34 coalition member states already involved in the effort. KR
COALITION HELPING IRAQIS CROSS BORDER FOR HAJJ
Soldiers from the U.S. Task Force "All American" have quietly been assisting Iraqi security forces in facilitating the safe travel of Iraqis participating in the Hajj, or pilgrimage to Mecca, Saudi Arabia, according to a 20 January press release posted on the U.S. Central Command (CENTCOM) website (http://www.centcom.mil). The Hajj is one of the five pillars of Islam, and all Muslims who are able should make the ritual journey once in their lifetimes. CENTCOM reported that over 2,400 pilgrims crossed the Ar'ar border crossing into Saudi Arabia this week. Iraqi border guards and customs agents are running the border crossing, including traffic control into Saudi Arabia, while Iraqi Civil Defense Corps troops and Red Crescent volunteers have worked to secure the travel routes and rest areas. KR
THOUSANDS OF IRAQIS DEMONSTRATE FOR ELECTIONS
Thousands of Iraqis took to the streets of Baghdad for a second consecutive day on 20 January to demonstrate in favor of direct national elections and to demand that deposed President Hussein not be granted "prisoner of war" status, international media reported the same day. Many of the demonstrators were supporters of radical Shi'ite cleric Muqtada al-Sadr, who has voiced support for Iraqi Shi'ite Grand Ayatollah Ali al-Sistani in the latter's call for direct elections instead of a Governing Council plan for regional caucuses to elect Iraq's interim leadership. KR
BA'ATH PARTY RENUNCIATIONS SAID TO BE CONTINUING...
Former high-ranking Ba'ath Party members in two towns renounced affiliation with the Ba'ath Party formerly headed by Saddam Hussein in meetings on 20 January, U.S. CENTCOM announced on its website. The renunciation is part of an ongoing program by coalition forces (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 13 January 2004). According to CENTCOM, 120 Ba'athists took an oath renouncing the party in front of an unspecified local mayor and Lieutenant Colonel Buddy Carman in Rabiah, located on the Syrian border. "The pledge is voluntary, there will be no payment, no promise of jobs," Carmen told the men, according to CENTCOM. An unspecified number of Ba'athists also were reported to have renounced allegiance to that party in the town of Tal Abtah, located south of Mosul. According to CENTCOM, four northern Iraqi cities have now held mass denunciations of the Ba'ath Party in cooperation with coalition forces. KR
...AS TWO REGIME LOYALISTS ARE REPORTED CAPTURED
Coalition forces have captured two former Ba'ath Party members in recent days, AP reported on 20 January, citing a U.S. military statement. General Matlub Muslat Sayyir, a member of the Saddam Fedayeen militia, reportedly surrendered on 19 January to coalition forces in the west-central Iraqi Al-Anbar Governorate. Former Iraqi intelligence-service officer Colonel Abd al-Hadi was reportedly captured on 16 January in the town of Ramadi, also located in the Al-Anbar Governorate. The military did not release further details on the arrests. KR