RUSSIANS GRADE U.S. PRESIDENT'S STATE OF THE UNION ADDRESS...
Russian politicians and political observers on 21 January commented on U.S. President George W. Bush's State of the Union address, Russian media reported. State Duma Foreign Relations Committee Chairman Konstantin Kosachev (Unified Russia) said the speech's claim that the world is changing for the better because of U.S. leadership and resolve is "putting a brave face on a bad situation," given that terrorism has not been reduced, Interfax reported. Afghanistan, he said, remains divided among tribal leaders, including the Taliban, while Iraq remains without a legitimate government. Kosachev also said that Bush practically ignored the issue of U.S. cooperation with other states, including Russia, in coping with terrorism, the proliferation of weapons of mass destruction, poverty, and infectious diseases. In a commentary posted on politcom.ru on 21 January, Vladimir Tuchkov called Bush's address "an election-propaganda speech" that lacked "an analysis of the real situation," including "the main nuclear threat" -- North Korea. Likewise, political analyst Andrei Piontkovskii said Bush's speech "was directed entirely at the domestic audience" and "exclusively electoral in character," polit.ru reported. JB
...WHILE WORLD BANK CHIEF GIVES RUSSIAN PRESIDENT HIGH MARKS
World Bank President James Wolfensohn said on 21 January, the last day of a two-day visit to Moscow, that he believes President Vladimir Putin is committed to economic reform, Russian media reported. "Russia now, happily, has a president who does not waiver from what needs to be done," Wolfensohn said, according to Interfax on 21 January. "I personally have big confidence in him, in what he is trying to do." Wolfensohn said he does not think the situation surrounding embattled oil giant Yukos shows a change in Kremlin policy, comparing it to the situation involving Enron, a U.S. company accused of massive corporate malfeasance. "You have a legal system and you have a government," he told reporters, according to "The Moscow Times" on 22 January. "Hopefully this will be dealt with in a transparent way." Wolfensohn noted that Russia is enjoying rapid economic growth, but added that its economy has "a certain vulnerability" due to its dependence on revenues from the export of natural resources, particularly oil. He also said it would be "constructive" for Russia to restructure the $8 billion debt that Iraq owes it. JB
INTERNATIONAL WARRANTS ISSUED FOR THREE YUKOS EXECUTIVES...
Interfax reported on 21 January that the Prosecutor-General's Office has issued international arrest warrants for three major Yukos shareholders: Leonid Nevzlin; Vladimir Dubov; and Mikhail Brudno, who heads Yukos RM. While the Prosecutor-General's Office refused to comment on the report, law enforcement sources told ITAR-TASS "the relevant instruction was issued on 15 January." RIA-Novosti reported that the Prosecutor-General's Office forwarded all the documents needed for the warrants on 16 January to Interpol's Russian bureau, which passed them on to Interpol's General Secretariat in France. Nevzlin and Dubov, who are both in Israel, are accused, respectively, of tax evasion and large-scale fraud, and were put on Russia's federal wanted list earlier this month (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 16 January 2004). There was no indication of the charges against Brudno, and his lawyer told Interfax he knows nothing about the warrant for his client. Nevzlin told the Agentsvo neftyanoi informatsii that he is ready to "work with" the Prosecutor-General's Office and talk to the tax authorities by telephone, newsru.com reported on 21 January. JB
...YUKOS SUES TAX MINISTRY TO DEFEND BUSINESS REPUTATION
Yukos spokesman Aleksandr Shadrin told Prime-TASS on 21 January that the company has filed suit with the Moscow Arbitration Court against the Tax Ministry and Deputy Tax Minister Igor Golikov to defend the company's business reputation. The plaintiff wants Golikov and the ministry to retract accusations that Yukos evaded taxes. Golikov sent a letter to Prosecutor-General Vladimir Ustinov in December alleging that Yukos and its affiliates failed to pay 150 billion rubles (about $5 billion) in taxes in 1998-2002. The Tax Ministry subsequently presented Yukos with a bill for nearly 100 billion rubles in unpaid taxes from 2000 (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 3 and 30 December 2003). The head of Yukos' auditing department, Galina Antonova, said on 21 January that Yukos' tax payments to the federal budget in 2003 are estimated at 164 billion rubles, or 4.1 percent of Russia's total tax revenues. Yukos paid 126 million rubles, or 3.6 percent of the country's total tax revenues, in 2002, she said. JB
NEW OUTBREAK OF ILLNESSES AMONG CONSCRIPTS REPORTED
The Military Prosecutor's Office of the Volga-Urals Military District has launched an investigation into a reported outbreak of respiratory and other illnesses that struck soldiers of the Elansk Garrison in Sverdlovsk Oblast, newsru.com reported on 22 January. The website quoted the press service of the district's Military Prosecutor's Office as saying that 103 soldiers are currently in a military hospital in the Kurgan Oblast city of Shadrinsk. Eighty are hospitalized with respiratory illnesses, including pneumonia, while the rest are suffering from gastritis or are significantly underweight. The head of the district's medical service, however, denied the report of mass illnesses. Military prosecutors have filed charges against senior officers in connection with the death of one conscript and the hospitalization of more than 100 others in Magadan after military officers forced them to stand in the cold for hours (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 20 and 21 January 2004). JB
ANNIVERSARY OF SOVIET FOUNDER'S PASSING MARKED
Russia on 21 January marked the 80th anniversary of the death of Soviet founder Vladimir Lenin, Russian media reported. "The more time passes after the death of this great person...exactly 80 years ago, the more people across the whole planet are convinced of the rightness of his lucid, intelligent, and very conscientious cause," said Communist leader Gennadii Zyuganov, Interfax reported. Zyuganov said the politicians who urge that Lenin's mummified corpse be removed from its mausoleum on Red Square and reburied are "provocateurs." Aleksandr Yakovlev, one of the architects of former Soviet leader Mikhail Gorbachev's glasnost and perestroika policies, said Lenin's body should have been removed and reburied long ago. Yakovlev, who chairs the presidential commission on rehabilitating victims of political repression, called Lenin "the original source of the death of the Russian state." A recent poll by ROMIR Monitoring found that 65 percent of Russians think Lenin played a positive role in Russian history, while 26 percent think he played a negative role, RIA-Novosti reported on 21 January. JB
COLUMNIST HINTS THAT COMPLEX GAME GOING ON BEHIND ELECTION PREPARATIONS...
Writing in "Novaya gazeta," No.3, commentator Yuliya Latynina details rumors that have been floating around Moscow with regard to the presidential candidacy of Union of Rightist Forces co-Chairwoman Irina Khakamada. Without expressing her opinion about the veracity of any of the stories, Latynina wonders whether it is true that deputy presidential administration head Vladislav Surkov offered Yabloko party leader Grigorii Yavlinskii the post of prime minister if he agreed to run against Putin. According to the rumor, Yavlinskii declined the offer after Surkov refused to make it publicly. Latynina also wonders whether Surkov then invited Khakamada to run for the presidency, promising in part that former Yukos CEO Mikhail Khodorkovskii would be released from prison in a few months. Then, Latynina asks if Khakamada, after accepting the offer, has subsequently spun out of control, shocking the Kremlin with her sharp statements regarding the 2002 Moscow-theater hostage crisis (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 15 January 2004). JAC
...AS POLITICAL JOURNALISM HARKS BACK TO SOVIET-ERA OBSCURANTISM
In the same "Novaya gazeta" column, Latynina relates a parable about a group of dogs who appear to resemble the people discussed earlier, including Khakamada, Surkov, and Yukos shareholder Leonid Nevzlin, who is described as a Rizenschnauzer living in Israel. A dog named Surok (Surkov) complains to a prosecutor-dog called Mops (presumably Prosecutor-General Ustinov) that by issuing an arrest warrant for Rizenschnauzer one day after he announces that he supports Moska (Khakamada), he is displaying a Pavlovian "conditioned reflex." Surok explains to Mops that in free elections someone must be "barking." The Prosecutor-General's Office has issued international arrest warrants for Nevzlin and his fellow Yukos shareholders Dubov and Brudno, newsru.com reported on 21 January. Nevzlin, who is an Israeli citizen, recently declared that he will provide financial and other support to Khakamada's campaign (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 15 January 2004). Also on 21 January, Khakamada alleged that the authorities are trying to intimidate her financial supporters, including medium-sized-business owners, according to gazeta.ru. JAC
BEREZOVSKII NEWSPAPER REPORTS THAT CHUBAIS IS GATHERING SIGNATURES FOR PUTIN...
Regional subsidiaries of Unified Energy System (EES) in Tula, Sverdlovsk, and Novgorod oblasts have been collecting signatures in support of President Putin's candidacy in the 14 March presidential election since the beginning the year, "Nezavisimaya gazeta" reported on 21 January. The head of the cadre department of Novgorodenergo confirmed that 60 percent of the company's employees have given their signatures. EES board member Andrei Trapeznikov told the daily that it is possible that some EES workers have reached an agreement with the president's regional headquarters and, in their free time, have been collecting signatures. The daily argued that although it cannot prove that a directive to collect the signatures came from EES's central headquarters, if the heads of personnel departments are occupied with gathering signatures, then there is "no doubt that they are fulfilling the orders from their higher ups." EES is headed by Anatolii Chubais, who is a co-chairman of the Union of Rightist Forces (SPS). JAC
...AS MEDIA OUTLETS PREDICT SPS WILL SPLIT
"Izvestiya" concluded on 21 January that a crisis within SPS is coming to a head. According to the daily, the party's 24 January congress will be its most difficult yet, and a report recently prepared on the party's poor showing in the 7 December State Duma elections pins the blame on SPS co-Chairman Boris Nemtsov and campaign manager Alfred Kokh. The only person who isn't blamed is Chubais, according to the daily, who only began playing an active role late in the campaign. On 20 January, Nemtsov said he will again tender his resignation as a party leader, RosBalt reported, although he said he will remain a member of the party. Gazeta.ru on 21 January warned that the upcoming congress "could end in catastrophe for the party, with a split into two groups that have already formed." One group supports Nemtsov, and the other supports Chubais, the website wrote. JAC
STRUGGLE TO SUCCEED PATRIARCH SHIFTS DECISIVELY
Patriarch of Moscow and All Russia Aleksii II has abandoned his usual stance of moderating among competing groups within the Russian Orthodox Church and has initiated a "massive reshuffling," "Nezavisimaya gazeta-religii" reported on 21 January. Metropolitan Sergii Fomin, who oversaw the Voronezh pulpit, is being transferred to the Moscow Patriarchate. He has also lost his status as a permanent member of the Holy Synod. Replacing Sergii is Archbishop Kliment Kapalin, who was most recently first deputy chairman of the patriarchate's external-relations department. Kliment's promotion strengthens the position of his former boss, Metropolitan Kirill, who heads the external-relations department, according to the daily, because now both Kirill and Kliment have positions on the Holy Synod. These personnel shifts are taking place against the background of a struggle to determine who will succeed the 75-year-old patriarch, and the daily concludes that Aleksii "for some reason or other has decided to give Kirill carte blanche." JAC
COMMUNISTS CONTINUE TO AIR INTERNAL SQUABBLES
Communist Party presidential candidate and State Duma Deputy Nikolai Kharitonov told reporters in Moscow on 21 January that fellow Communist Deputy Gennadii Semigin has been trying to disrupt the party and is to blame for the party's poor performance in the 7 December Duma elections, Russian media reported (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 14 and 16 January 2004). In an interview with RFE/RL's Moscow bureau on 16 January, Panorama head Vladimir Prybylovskii suggested that Gennadii Zyuganov will "sooner or later" cease to be the party's leader, but the nomination of Kharitonov as the party's presidential candidate has slowed this process. If Zyuganov had run and gathered fewer votes than the party did during the Duma elections, he would have had to step down immediately after the elections. However, if Kharitonov gathers fewer votes, that result would be less shameful for Zyuganov personally, Prybylovskii concluded. JAC
A HAPPY ENDING FOR THE MESKHETIANS IN KUBAN?
More than 15,000 Meskhetians living in Krasnodar Krai have been registered, and 4,000 have received Russian citizenship, RIA-Novosti reported on 21 January. The Interior Ministry is currently reviewing the applications of another 2,800 Meskhetians. The Meskhetians had been refused even temporary registration since October 2001 (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 18 December 2002), making it difficult for them to register their children or to lease land. Last year, during a meeting with Cossacks and World War II veterans, President Putin said the Meskhetians have the right to return to their historic homeland in Georgia and that this question has been raised with Tbilisi more than once (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 6 October 2003). Speaking at a press conference in Moscow on 21 January, Deputy Interior Minister Aleksandr Chekalin declared, "the problem of the Meskhetian Turks is closed, and no longer exists since the new law on citizenship for the Russian Federation was passed," Interfax reported. JAC
VOLGA REGION CONTINUES REMOVING VILLAGES FROM THE MAP
The Tonshaevskii Raion in Nizhnii Novgorod Oblast plans to liquidate 13 population centers this year, gazeta.ru reported on 21 January. The villages reportedly have no residents, and all homes and buildings have been destroyed. Last year, the oblast abolished 18 villages. JAC
PUTIN DISMISSES HUMAN RIGHTS COMMISSIONER FOR CHECHNYA
President Putin issued a decree on 21 January dismissing Abdul-Khakim Sultygov as human rights commissioner for Chechnya and abolishing the position entirely, Russian media reported. That move, according to chechenpress.info, was taken at the urging of pro-Moscow Chechen administration head Akhmed-hadji Kadyrov, upon whom responsibility for protecting human rights in Chechnya now devolves. Sultygov had served in that post since July 2002 (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 15 July 2002). LF
INGUSHETIAN PRESIDENT AGAIN RULES OUT REMERGER WITH CHECHNYA
Speaking on 21 January at a press conference in Moscow, Murat Zyazikov rejected once again the idea of reuniting Chechnya and Ingushetia as a single federation subject, Interfax and chechenpress.info reported (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 10 October 2002 and 15 and 23 October, 3 November, and 30 December 2003). Zyazikov acknowledged that the Chechen and Ingush peoples are ethnically closely related, and stressed that "I grew up in Grozny and care about everything that is happening there." But he argued that reunification is inappropriate at present. Zyazikov recalled that he and his Chechen counterpart Kadyrov signed an agreement last year formalizing the administrative border between the two neighboring republics. Zyazikov added that those interest groups lobbying for reunification "should find other things to do." LF
ARMENIA REJECTS AZERBAIJAN'S CALL FOR NEW KARABAKH PEACE PLAN
Armenian Foreign Minister Vartan Oskanian rejected on 21 January Azerbaijani President Ilham Aliyev's statement the previous day that the OSCE Minsk Group is not doing enough to resolve the Karabakh conflict and should come up with a new peace proposal, RFE/RL's Yerevan bureau reported. Oskanian argued that talks should continue on the basis of agreements reached between the two sides during talks in Paris and the U.S. state of Florida in the spring of 2001. Oskanian said it would be "an unfortunate loss of time if all of a sudden the process were to be rolled back and relaunched from scratch." He added that he hopes French President Jacques Chirac, who mediated the Paris talks in 2001, will remind Aliyev when the two men meet in Paris later this week of the details of the provisional agreement arrived at during those talks. LF
ARMENIA RAISES PRICE OF ENERGY EXPORTS TO GEORGIA
Georgia could stop importing electricity from Armenia, as it cannot afford to pay the almost 300 percent price hike introduced as a result of a sixfold increase in transmission prices, RFE/RL's Yerevan bureau reported. Georgian officials will travel to Yerevan on 22 January for talks aimed at reaching a compromise that would avert any further curtailing of the already sporadic power supplies to Georgia's regions. LF
SOME AZERBAIJANI DETAINEES SENTENCED, OTHERS RELEASED
A Baku district court passed sentence on 21 January on five members of the opposition Musavat party convicted of participating in clashes with police in Baku in the wake of the 15 October presidential election, Turan reported. The five were sentenced to between 12 and 18 months' imprisonment for obstructing the work of electoral commissions. Also on 21 January, 10 other people apprehended during or after the 16 October clashes were released. A joint statement issued by the Interior Ministry and the Prosecutor-General's Office said the 10 did not participate in organizing the clashes, and had repented of their actions and petitioned President Aliyev for clemency. Some 90 people remain in custody either awaiting trial or having their alleged roles in the disorders investigated. Speaking in Washington on 21 January, U.S. State Department deputy spokesman Adam Ereli said the Azerbaijani authorities should either make public immediately the details of the investigation and ensuing charges brought against the detainees, or release them, Turan reported on 22 January. LF
OSCE AMBASSADORS WARN AZERBAIJANI PRESIDENT OVER HUMAN RIGHTS
The ambassadors in Baku of OSCE member states -- together with Ambassador Peter Burkhard, who heads the OSCE's Baku office -- met with Azerbaijani President Aliyev behind closed doors on 21 January, Turan reported. No details were released, but Turan quoted an unidentified diplomatic source as saying that the meeting constituted "a confidential oral demarche." Turan construed that formulation as a warning that Azerbaijan must make good on the human rights commitments it made when accepted into membership of the Council of Europe. LF
EU REPRESENTATIVE VISITS AZERBAIJAN
Finnish diplomat Heike Talvitie, who is the EU's special representative for the South Caucasus, held talks in Baku on 21 January with President Aliyev and with Foreign Minister Vilayat Guliev, Turan reported. Topics discussed included the modalities of future cooperation between the EU and Azerbaijan, Azerbaijani-Georgian relations, and the Karabakh conflict. LF
GEORGIAN PRESIDENT-ELECT PLEADS FOR AID, INVESTMENT
Mikheil Saakashvili told journalists on 21 January at the World Economic Forum in Davos, Switzerland, that Georgia desperately needs international aid and investment to overcome the legacy of corruption bequeathed by the previous leadership, the website of the independent television station Rustavi-2 reported, quoting Reuters. Saakashvili said that a serious crackdown on corruption has been launched and several prominent officials have been arrested, but added that this evil cannot be eradicated unless the Georgian authorities are able to increase bureaucrats' salaries to reduce the incentive to take bribes. He said Georgia has a six-month window of opportunity to stabilize the domestic political situation, according to Caucasus Press. LF
RUSSIA EXTRADITES SUSPECTED KIDNAPPER TO GEORGIA
After a delay of several weeks, the Russian Federal Security Service (FSB) on 21 January delivered Shota Chichiashvili into the custody of Georgian State Security Minister Valeri Khaburzania and Prosecutor-General Irakli Okruashvili, who transported him to Tbilisi for questioning, Caucasus Press reported. Chichiashvili is suspected of masterminding several high-profile kidnappings for ransom, including those of two Spanish businessmen in December 2000 and a British financial consultant in June 2002. LF
SPOKESMAN SAYS ADJAR LEADER WILL NOT RESIGN
Adjar Interior Minister Djemal Gogitidze denied on 21 January speculation in the Georgian press that Adjar Supreme Council Chairman Aslan Abashidze will resign and leave Georgia, Caucasus Press and ITAR-TASS reported. Abashidze is currently in Strasbourg, where he plans to meet with Parliamentary Assembly of the Council of Europe Secretary-General Walter Schwimmer to discuss ways of defusing the rising tensions between himself and the central Georgian leadership in Tbilisi. Also on 21 January, members of Abashidze's Democratic Revival Union told Caucasus Press that they have been alerted by Georgian security officials to plans to launch a military operation against Adjaria either to coincide with, or immediately after, President-elect Saakashvili's inauguration on 25 January. LF
KAZAKH PRESIDENT'S DAUGHTER PROPOSES OWN PARTY AS PARLIAMENTARY LOBBY FOR JOURNALISTS
Darigha Nazarbaeva, head of the Congress of Journalists of Kazakhstan and of the state television channel and the official news agency Khabar, told a session of the congress in Karaganda on 20 January that the country's journalists need their own lobby in the lower house of parliament, Interfax reported. Further, she proposed her own political party, Asar, which was formed last year, as the basis for such a lobby following parliamentary elections later this year. Questioned about her attitude toward the controversial media law that was adopted by the Kazakh lower house in late December and has since been submitted to the Senate, Nazarbaeva told journalists that the current version is more liberal than the initial version drafted by the government, but it still has shortcomings because the changes sought by professional journalists have not been included. BB
NEW NGO ASSOCIATION FORMED IN KAZAKHSTAN
A new association of nongovernmental organizations was formed during an NGO congress in Almaty on 16-17 January, gazeta.kz reported on 21 January. The congress was attended by representatives of 170 NGOs from throughout the country, all of whom voted to set up the new association, called the NGO Forum of Kazakhstan, to bring together groups that had not previously been part of any NGO association. Among the goals of the new group is strengthening the role of NGOs in the formation of civil society and change existing legislation on public organizations. Bakhytdzhamal Bekturganova of the Women of Kazakhstan movement noted that the Kazakh government still does not see NGOs as helpful, even though such groups have taken some of the functions of government, particularly in the social sphere. Several NGO associations already exist in Kazakhstan. BB
KYRGYZ PILGRIMS REPORTED TO BE STRANDED IN TURKMENISTAN
Several hundred Muslim pilgrims from Kyrgyzstan on their way to Mecca are stranded in the Turkmen border city of Turkmenabad (Charjou) because the Turkmen authorities will not let them travel further until they paid $10 each, RFE/RL's Kyrgyz Service reported on 20 January. The Kyrgyz Muslim Spiritual Board said it has no information about the situation, but is trying to find out why the Kyrgyz pilgrims are being detained in Turkmenistan. BB
TAJIK JOURNALISTS COMPLAIN OF GOVERNMENT PRESSURE
Some Tajik journalists complained at a 20 January roundtable in Dushanbe that government pressure on free speech has been increasing recently, Asia Plus-Blitz reported on 21 January. The roundtable on the question of whether freedom of speech is under threat in Tajikistan included journalists and government officials. Journalists cited the cases of the independent weeklies "Nerui Sukhan" and "Ruz-i Nav," which were recently refused publication (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 5 January 2004). Presidential information office head Abdurrakhmon Abdumannonov denied that the authorities were involved in those cases, saying they were simply disputes with the state publishing house and not freedom-of-speech issues. Asia Plus Director Umed Babakhanov said print media cannot be considered independent until there are independent publishing houses to print them. BB
TAJIK PARLIAMENT REDUCES MILITARY SERVICE FOR THOSE WITH HIGHER EDUCATION
The lower house of the Tajik parliament has reduced the term of military service for draftees with higher education from 18 months to 12, Asia Plus-Blitz reported on 21 January. Deputies also elected a commission to count votes in the legislature when the electronic voting system is not functioning properly. A replacement was chosen for former Science, Education, Culture, and Youth Committee Chairman Abdufattoh Sharipov, who was appointed presidential press secretary in December (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 16 December 2003). Mirodasen Khudoyiev was moved from the chairmanship of the Economy, Budget, Finance, and Tax Committee to replace Sharipov. BB
UZBEKS BUILDING DAM TO CONTAIN OVERFLOW FROM KAZAKH RESERVOIR
The Uzbek daily "Pravda vostoka" reported on 21 January that a 2.4-kilometer dam is being built in Navoi Oblast to contain water that has been released from the Chardara Reservoir on the Kazakh-Uzbek border. The water was released to prevent the Syrdarya River from destroying the Chardara Dam in Kazakhstan. Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan, and Uzbekistan agreed on 4 January to undertake a series of measures to prevent the Syrdarya from flooding southern Kazakhstan (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 6 January 2004), but Uzbekistan in particular has been slow -- according to the Kazakh authorities -- to implement the promised measures. According to "Pravda vostoka," the Kazakhs have been diverting water into Navoi Oblast's Lake Aidarkul, which is overflowing into nearby pastures and threatening settlements in two raions. BB
BELARUSIAN PRESIDENT HINTS AT PAY RAISE FOR CIVIL SERVANTS
President Alyaksandr Lukashenka said on 21 January that Belarusian civil servants should have "normal pay, which should not be miserable," Belapan reported, quoting the presidential press service. Lukashenka said Belarusian bureaucrats are currently paid one-tenth or less of what their Russian or Ukrainian counterparts make. This is being done, the president added, despite the fact that Belarus "has been developing at the highest pace among the former Soviet Union countries." Lukashenka said Belarusian officials are paid the equivalent of $150 per month on the average. He said low salaries have recently prompted many administrators to leave for the private sector. JM
BELARUSIAN JEWISH LEADER'S MESSAGE PROMPTS ARREST
Police arrested Yakov Goodman, head of the World Association of Belarusian Jewry, for the second time in a week on 21 January for his attempt to stage an unauthorized protest in front of the presidential administration building in Minsk, Belapan and RFE/RL's Belarusian Service reported. Goodman turned up in front of the building in a coat bearing the inscription: "Alyaksandr Ryhoravich [Lukashenka]! You are personally responsible for the destruction of Jewish shrines. Yakov Goodman." Goodman, weakened by a hunger strike that he launched after his first arrest (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 15 January 2004), was taken from the police station to a hospital. JM
OUR UKRAINE LEADER DISCUSSES POLITICAL REFORM WITH PRESIDENT
Ukrainian President Leonid Kuchma met with Our Ukraine leader Viktor Yushchenko on 21 January to discuss the ongoing constitutional reform in the country, Interfax reported. According to the presidential press service, the meeting took place at opposition leader Yushchenko's initiative. "The meeting proceeded in a constructive spirit," the Our Ukraine press service quoted Yushchenko as saying. "The next presidential election will be held in October 2004. It will be direct and nationwide. The president said this during our meeting." Yushchenko also said he thinks that Kuchma will not run for a third term in 2004. JM
UKRAINIAN PRESIDENT BLASTS COUNCIL OF EUROPE FOR 'INTERFERENCE'
President Kuchma told Interfax that he rejects Yushchenko's initiative to create a special commission in Ukraine to assist the Monitoring Committee of the Parliamentary Assembly of the Council of Europe (PACE) in studying the country's hotly debated constitutional reform, the agency reported on 22 January. Two PACE monitors recently visited Ukraine, warning Kyiv against pushing the constitutional reform at any cost and calling for a compromise between the pro-presidential forces and the opposition (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 21 January 2004). "We don't need sermons on the benefits of democracy," Kuchma said. "We are grateful for advice from more experienced democracies; however, we also know very well the difference between advice and interference in our internal affairs. I am not so sure that those who visit us with mandates from the Council of Europe know the difference between the two." JM
FORMER LOCAL UKRAINIAN OFFICIALS REPORTEDLY SEEKING POLITICAL ASYLUM IN U.S.
Two former deputy mayors of the town of Mukachevo in Transcarpathian Oblast are reportedly complaining of political persecution and asking U.S. authorities to give them political asylum, Interfax reported on 21 January. According to the Our Ukraine press service, Zoltan Lendel and Oleksandr Halay handed their requests for asylum, addressed to U.S. President George W. Bush, to a U.S. Embassy officer in Mukachevo on 21 January. The town is currently witnessing a standoff between supporters of Our Ukraine and the Social Democratic Party-united (SDPU-o) over a June local election (see "RFE/RL Poland, Belarus, and Ukraine Report," 13 January 2004). Our Ukraine candidate Vasyl Petyovka won a disputed mayoral election in Mukachevo in June. His closest rival, Ernest Nuser, who was supported by the SDPU-o, demanded that the ballot be annulled. President Kuchma appointed Myroslav Opachko acting mayor in Mukachevo in December. The town's electoral commission has scheduled a new vote for 18 April. JM
ESTONIAN PARLIAMENT RATIFIES EU-ACCESSION TREATY
Parliament on 21 January ratified the EU's Treaty of Accession by a unanimous vote of 77 deputies, BNS reported. President Arnold Ruutel and Foreign Minister Kristiina Ojuland signed the treaty in Athens last April. All current EU members and the 10 candidate countries must ratify the treaty by 30 April. Prime Minister Juhan Parts told a 21 January meeting of ministers and parliamentary deputies from coalition parties that parliament must still pass some 20 laws before the country can join the EU on 1 May, LETA reported on 22 January. SG
LATVIAN FOREIGN MINISTER PRESENTS NEW POLICY PRIORITIES
Sandra Kalniete on 21 January presented the draft of Latvia's new foreign-policy concept to the parliament Foreign Affairs Committee, BNS reported. The draft identifies the values on which Latvia's foreign policy will be based and defines the country's foreign-policy priorities until 2009. The new priorities, which were drawn up by the Foreign Ministry, parliamentary deputies, and leading foreign-policy experts, include pursuing Latvia's national interests in the European Union, economic development, strengthening national security as part of NATO, increasing cooperation in the Baltic Sea region, and strengthening ties with Latvians residing abroad. SG
LITHUANIAN PRESIDENT GETS THE COLD SHOULDER IN KAUNAS
President Rolandas Paksas was essentially ignored by Kaunas's city leaders upon his 21 January arrival in Lithuania's second-largest city, "Kauno diena" reported the next day. He traveled there to spend a day working in the presidential office that was based there during the interwar period. Paksas expected to be greeted by Kaunas Mayor Arvydas Garbaravicius at the city's Unity Square, but was met by only a city department head and a group of youths holding candles and posters requesting him to step down. Mayor Garbaravicius and his three deputy mayors, who later failed to show up for a meeting to discuss the city's development plans with Paksas, explained that their work schedules were determined six days in advance and the president had informed them about his visit only on 19 January. Garbaravicius was in Vilnius on 21 January for a meeting with Mayor Arturas Zuokas. SG
POLISH PREMIER DISMISSES TREASURY MINISTER
Premier Leszek Miller sacked Treasury Minister Piotr Czyzewski on 21 January, saying he will need to consult the Democratic Left Alliance (SLD) parliamentary caucus before deciding on a replacement, Polish media reported. Economy Minister Jerzy Hausner will temporarily take over Czyzewski's job. Czyzewski's departure follows other changes in the government that Miller made this week in an apparent bid to prop up the SLD's waning popularity. Jerzy Jaskiernia was replaced by Interior Minister Krzysztof Janik as head of the SLD parliamentary caucus, while Janik's job was taken over by SLD Deputy Chairman Jerzy Oleksy (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 20 and 21 January 2004). JM
MINISTER PRESENTS POLAND'S 2004 FOREIGN-POLICY PRIORITIES
Foreign Minister Wlodzimierz Cimoszewicz told the Sejm on 21 January that Poland's foreign policy in 2004 will be determined by the country's membership of the European Union and military involvement in the stabilization process in Iraq, PAP reported. Speaking about efforts to agree on an EU constitution, Cimoszewicz said Poland favors inclusion of a reference to Christian traditions in the preamble, introducing a group model for the EU Presidency, elimination of elements that would weaken the role of NATO, and preservation of the Treaty of Nice's voting system within the European Council. Cimoszewicz said Poland expects that its alliance with the United States will favor development of mutual economic cooperation and U.S. investment into Poland. He assured lawmakers that Poland will continue to advocate Ukraine's integration with NATO and the EU. Cimoszewicz stressed that in its policy vis-a-vis Belarus, Poland will strive to consolidate Belarus's sovereignty and position in international relations and support structures of civil society in that country. JM
FIRST PRESIDENTIAL HOPEFULS ENTER SLOVAK RACE
On 21 January, Foreign Minister Eduard Kukan became the first presidential aspirant to enter the race officially when 24 deputies submitted his candidacy to legislative speaker Pavel Hrusovsky, TASR reported. All 21 lawmakers from the main ruling Slovak democratic and Christian Union (SDKU), along with three independents, backed Kukan's application. Under Slovak law, presidential candidacies must be backed by at least 15 deputies or 15,000 signatures from eligible voters. Alliance for a New Citizen (ANO) candidate Lubo Roman, who is Bratislava regional governor, submitted a petition containing nearly 23,000 signatures the same day. Three deputies recently defected from ANO, a junior coalition party, leaving the party with fewer than 15 legislators. The first round of Slovakia's direct presidential election is slated for 3 April. Incumbent Rudolf Schuster has not announced whether he will seek a second term. MS
EXPLOSION DAMAGES SLOVAK NATIONALIST LEADER'S CAR
An explosion damaged the car belonging to Slovak National Party (SNS) Chairman Peter Sulovsky in Bratislava on 20 January, apparently as a result of a time bomb planted in the vehicle, TASR and "Sme" reported. No one was injured in the incident, which occurred at about 6:00 p.m. in a crowded downtown area. Party rival Anna Malikova called it a "cabaret" and suggested Sulovsky had orchestrated the blast "in an attempt to attract attention to a politician who is largely unknown to the public," according to "Sme." Members of Sulovsky's wing of the SNS recently forced their way into the Bratislava offices of their intraparty rivals, with Malikova claiming she was physically assaulted in that incident and requiring hospitalization (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 12 January 2004). MS
HUNGARIAN RIGHTWING JOURNALIST IMPRISONED FOR LIBEL
Andras Bencsik, editor in chief of the Hungarian Justice and Life party's weekly "Magyar Demokrata," was sentenced to 10 months in prison on 21 January for libeling Free Democrat parliamentary deputy Imre Mecs, AP reported. Bencsik reportedly vowed to appeal the verdict. The case marks the first time in postcommunist history that a Hungarian court has ordered imprisonment, rather than a fine or compensation, for a journalist found guilty of libel. The court also gave an eight-month suspended sentence to journalist Laszlo Attila Bertok, who wrote the article on Mecs about which Bencsik was commenting in the offending piece. Commenting on an article by Bertok in the same issue of "Magyar Demokrata" in November 2001, Bencsik wrote that four revolutionaries were hanged in the wake of the 1956 anticommunist uprising due to information given to the communist police by Mecs after his arrest. Mecs was himself sentenced to death in 1957 for his role in the uprising; his sentence was later commuted to life in prison and he was amnestied in 1963. MS
HUNGARIAN BROADCASTING WATCHDOG SUSPENDS TILOS RADIO
The National Radio and Television Authority (ORTT) on 21 January suspended Tilos Radio's right to broadcast for 30 days for having aired anti-Christian remarks on 24 December, AP reported. The ORTT said the station contravened regulations prohibiting broadcasts that might offend or ostracize any social group. It also banned Tilos Radio from applying for state funding for six months. The remarks, made live by one of Tilos's on-air personalities, triggered claims that while anti-Semitic and anti-Romany remarks are swiftly condemned in the media, anti-Christian speech is tolerated. Widespread protests followed as largely rightwing groups complained of double standards regarding the punishment of hate speech. The burning of an Israeli flag at one of these protest meetings led the Israeli Embassy to lodge a protest with the Hungarian authorities (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 5, 8, 12, 13, 14, and 15 January 2004). MS
IS SERBIA HEADED FOR NEW ELECTIONS...
Serbia might soon face new general elections following the decisions by the Democratic Party of Serbia (DSS) and the Democratic Party to reject each other's coalition proposals, RFE/RL's South Slavic and Albanian Languages Service reported on 22 January (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 15 and 20 January 2004 and "RFE/RL Balkan Report," 21 December 2003 and 9 January 2004). The DSS proposed to form a four-party minority government with Democratic Party support, while the Democrats insist on full participation in the cabinet. DSS Vice President Dragan Marsicanin said that "there will be new elections" if the Democrats do not agree to support a minority government. The DSS, which polled second in the 28 December parliamentary elections, has shied away from an offer from the ultranationalist Serbian Radical Party (SRS), which placed first, to form a two-party coalition. The international community, on which Serbia depends for financial and diplomatic support, has made it clear that participation in the cabinet by the SRS or former Yugoslav President Slobodan Milosevic's Socialists is unacceptable. PM
...OR ARE THE SERBIAN DEMOCRATS STALLING?
Democratic Party leaders Dragoljub Micunovic and Boris Tadic did not turn up for a Belgrade meeting scheduled for 21 January with representatives of the DSS and its coalition partners, Serbian media reported. Tadic instead spoke to reporters, saying his party insists on full participation in any cabinet, adding that the Democrats' steering committee will reach a "final decision" on 25 January. PM
EU SHOWS IMPATIENCE WITH SERBIAN POLITICAL LEADERS
In Brussels on 21 January, EU foreign- and security-policy chief Javier Solana called off a meeting between the EU and officials of Serbia and Montenegro scheduled for 23 January, saying the meeting will take place only after Serbia forms a government, RFE/RL's South Slavic and Albanian Languages Service reported. In Doha, Qatar, Serbia and Montenegro's Foreign Minister Goran Svilanovic said Brussels has made a mistake in canceling the meeting. PM
MACEDONIAN PARLIAMENT ADOPTS LAW ON TETOVO UNIVERSITY
On 21 January, after what media described as a "marathon session," the Macedonian parliament passed a controversial law transforming the underground Albanian-language university in Tetovo into a state university, Macedonian media reported. During the vote, the opposition ethnic Macedonian Internal Macedonian Revolutionary Organization (VMRO-DPMNE) and the Liberal Party staged a walkout after failing to block passage of the law. The VMRO-DPMNE and the Liberals argue that legalizing the Albanian-language university runs counter to existing laws and the constitution and encourages ethnically based segregation. Zamir Dika of the opposition Democratic Party of the Albanians (PDSH), which prefers the OSCE-sponsored private and multilingual South East European University in Tetovo, said much remains to be done to achieve equal representation of the Albanian minority in the educational system (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 18 July 2003 and "RFE/RL Balkan Report," 11 and 18 July and 26 September 2003). UB
CROATIAN AIDE CONFIRMS PLANS TO PARTITION BOSNIA
Hrvoje Sarinic, who was a top aide to the late Croatian President Franjo Tudjman, told the war crimes trial of former Yugoslav President Slobodan Milosevic in The Hague on 21 January that Tudjman and Milosevic both sought to partition Bosnia between them, RFE/RL's South Slavic and Albanian Languages Service reported. Referring to a meeting of the two leaders in the early 1990s, Sarinic said that Tudjman argued that Bosnia is a "historical absurdity" created by 15th-century Ottoman conquests and that Croatia's borders must be moved farther south. Milosevic emphasized the alleged threat posed to Europe by Islam, saying that it is necessary to oppose formation of a "green axis" linking Turkey and Bosnia via western Macedonia, Kosova, and Sandzak, Sarinic added (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 16 July 2003). PM
ROMANIAN SUPREME DEFENSE COUNCIL SAYS SZEKLER AUTONOMY PROPOSAL IS UNCONSTITUTIONAL
A statement issued on 21 January by Romania's Supreme Council for National Defense (CSAT) said a proposed law on autonomy for lands inhabited by the Hungarian-minority Szeklers is "unconstitutional," Mediafax reported. The statement said administrative autonomy and the safeguarding of national minorities' rights must not be mistakenly interpreted as tantamount to territorial autonomy based on ethnicity. President Ion Iliescu said the CSAT has taken a principled stand on the issue, but noted that deeper analysis of the draft project approved by the Szekler National Council (CNS in Romanian, SZNT in Hungarian) is parliament's task. Iliescu said any group of citizens is entitled to propose legislation, but the constitution entitles parliament alone to approve or reject law proposals. CNS Chairman Jozef Csapo said the council has taken note of the CSAT's position, but intends to continue pushing the proposal in parliament. Csapo added that the CNS also intends to submit the proposal to the European Parliament and to the Parliamentary Assembly of the Council of Europe. MS
ROMANIAN RULING PARTY SPOKESMAN REJECTS EU AMBASSADOR'S CRITICISM
Social Democratic Party (PSD) spokesman Bogdan Niculescu-Duvaz said on 21 January that the PSD "does not share the skepticism" of EU Ambassador to Romania Jonathan Scheele regarding Romania's ability to pursue reforms, Mediafax reported. Niculescu-Duvaz said the PSD is not concerned by Scheele's recent statement that issues related to public-administration reform are unlikely to be resolved before 2007, when Romania plans to join the EU. "It is not Mr. Scheele who decides whether Romania is to accede to the EU or not," Niculescu-Duvaz said. He added that the PSD intends to continue the reforms even though this is an election year. Ambassador Scheele said on 20 January that many members of Romania's political elite "never saw in their life how a genuine public administration should function," and that the prerogatives of Romanian public administration are not clearly defined. MS
MOLDOVAN GOVERNMENT APPROVES AGREEMENT WITH UN...
The cabinet on 21 January approved an agreement between Moldova and the UN, under which Chisinau pledges to participate in UN peacekeeping operations, RFE/RL's Chisinau bureau reported. The government said Moldova is ready to allocate for such operations a contingent of 73 soldiers, five of whom would be General Staff officers. Defense Minister Victor Gaiciuc said the agreement is a "framework memorandum" and the precise number of troops and equipment and their eventual location in peacekeeping operations under the aegis of the UN are subject to negotiations with the UN in each specific case. MS
...AND TRANSFORMATION OF STATE-OWNED COMPANIES INTO 'PEOPLE'S ENTERPRISES'
The cabinet on 21 January approved a draft law under which joint-stock companies in which the state owns more than a 50 percent stake are to become "people's enterprises," Infotag reported. The draft law stipulates that inefficient companies and those in danger of bankruptcy are not to be subject to the status change. The stock of "people's enterprises" is to become the property of employees, who would own at least 75 percent of a company's shares. The selling of shares to individuals not employed in such a company would be prohibited and shareholders would not be allowed to acquire a majority stake in the "people's enterprise," according to the draft. Five years after the establishment of a "people's enterprise," employees would be allowed to purchase additional shares from the remaining 25 percent stake owned by individuals and companies. MS
CHISINAU MAYOR WISHES PPCD 'GOOD LUCK' IN COURT
Serafim Urechean said on 21 January that Communist Deputy Mayor Alla Mironic never consulted him before rejecting the opposition Popular Party Christian Democratic's (PPCD) request to organize a protest rally on 25 January, Flux reported. Urechean said the mayoralty has effectively ceased to function due to conflicts between the Party of Moldovan Communists and other formations represented on the City Council, and the council's work has consequently been divided among the four deputy mayors, of whom Mironic is one. He said he hopes the PPCD wins its appeal of the decision (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 21 January 2004). Meanwhile, Flux reported that PPCD youth-organization member Victor Popov was briefly detained on 21 January by two policemen as he was attending university classes in Chisinau. Popov was escorted to a police station and reportedly asked whether he took part in the burning of a portrait of Russian President Vladimir Putin during a 1 January protest meeting organized by the PPCD. Popov refused to answer the question, demanding that a lawyer be present during his interrogation, and was later released, Flux reported. MS
BULGARIAN JUSTICE MINISTER FEARS MEDICS' FATE IN LIBYAN TRIAL
Anton Stankov told lawmakers on 21 January that six Bulgarian medics on trial in Libya could be sentenced to death even if the main charges against them -- that they deliberately infected more than 400 children in a Benghazi hospital with HIV/AIDS -- are dropped, "Sega" reported. Following a meeting with the medics' lawyer, Plamen Yalnazov, Stankov reminded lawmakers that the medics are also charged with adultery, illegal currency trading, and the production, distribution, and consumption of alcohol. Bulgarian scientists of the National AIDS Laboratory are currently preparing a new expert opinion for the trial (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 6 and 14 January 2004). UB
BULGARIAN OPPOSITION URGES GOVERNMENT TO CURB CRIME OR GO...
Rumen Ovcharov, deputy chairman of the Socialist-dominated opposition Coalition for Bulgaria, has called on the government to either accept his party's crime-fighting proposals, or resign, mediapool.bg reported. The move came after four people were killed in a 19 January bomb blast in Sofia, which is believed to be the latest in a string of underworld slayings (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 20 January 2004). Socialist Party (BSP) Chairman Sergey Stanishev on 20 January said Bulgaria faces the question of "who is stronger -- the state or organized crime?" BTA reported. Stanishev said his party considers a recently adopted anticrime strategy to be insufficient and will therefore discuss moving a no confidence vote (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 22 December 2003). The conservative opposition Union of Democratic Forces (SDS) also hinted that they might initiate such a vote. Sofia Mayor Stefan Sofiyanski, the leader of the opposition Union of Liberal Democrats, countered that organized crime cannot be fought with no-confidence votes. UB
...AS BULGARIAN GOVERNMENT STRIKES BACK
In response to the opposition's charges that Prime Minister Simeon Saxecoburggotski's cabinet is incapable of coping with organized crime, government spokesman Dimitar Tsonev said on 21 January that the criminal structures that now pose problems started to develop 10-12 years ago -- when the now-opposition BSP and SDS were in power, "Sega" reported. "The coalition government of the [National Movement Simeon II] and the [Movement for Rights and Freedoms] is the first one that does not have a favorite 'grupirovka' [organized crime group]," Tsonev said, in an apparent allusion to allegations that the BSP and the SDS governments had links to "friendship-circles" that were difficult to differentiate from organized-crime groups. UB
TEHRAN REFOCUSES COUNTERNARCOTICS APPROACH
Ali Hashemi, secretary-general of Iran's Drug Control Headquarters, said at a ceremony in Kerman Province on 19 January marking the recent seizure of four tons of narcotics that Iran's counternarcotics approach over the last 24 years has been one-dimensional and impractical, the Islamic Republic News Agency (IRNA) reported. Iran has directed its efforts at interdiction, but Hashemi said Iran should learn from the international approach, which focuses more on treatment and the reduction of vulnerability. The lowest proportion of drug-control spending went to treatment and prevention, he said, and "over 90 percent of expenditures by the government in its antidrug campaign has been ineffective."
Hashemi went on to say that, for the first time in Iran's history, only 40 percent of the counternarcotics budget will go to interdiction while 60 percent of the budget will go to "cultural, educational, and precautionary measures."
Hashemi said 160 metric tons of narcotics were seized in the first three quarters of the Iranian year (which began on 21 March 2003), and this is 40 percent more than in the same period one year earlier. He attributed the higher figure to increased trafficking and to improved policing. Iran leads the world in seizures of opiates, and Afghanistan is the world's leading opium producer (http://www.unodc.org/unodc/global_illicit_drug_trends.html; and http://www.unodc.org/pdf/afg/afghanistan_opium_survey_2003.pdf).
Interdiction, nevertheless, continues to be an important aspect of the counternarcotics campaign. Iranian police chief Brigadier General Mohammad Baqer Qalibaf said at a 19 January security seminar in Tehran that Iran has land and sea borders with some 15 countries, "but, in many areas only one side of the borders are under control," IRNA reported. The chief of the border patrol, Colonel Behnam Shariati-Far, added that security along the frontiers has deteriorated since the liberations of Afghanistan and Iraq, and he said that smuggling and illegal border crossings are the main problems.
In Zaranj, a city in southwestern Afghanistan's Nimruz Province, Iranian Ambassador Mohammad Reza Bahrami said on 19 January that Iran plans to build five checkpoints along the shared border there, Iranian state radio's Pashto service reported. Radio Afghanistan reported from Kabul on 17 December that Iran is paying for the 25 checkpoints that will be built along the shared border. There will be three checkpoints in Farah Province, seven in Nimruz Province, and the 12 in Herat Province are 90 percent complete. Hafizullah Khan (aka Hafizullah Hashemi), the governor of Afghanistan's Zabul Province, said during a 3 December visit to Iran's Sistan va Baluchistan Province that Iran has provided 2.5 billion rials ($316,000) for the construction of seven checkpoints along the border of Nimruz Province, and it will provide 50 billion rials for social, health, and security projects, Iranian state radio's Pashto service reported.
Securing Iran's eastern border, which is more than 1,800 kilometers long (936 kilometers with Afghanistan and 909 kilometers with Pakistan), is incredibly difficult. "The borders of Iran, Pakistan, and Afghanistan converge just a few kilometers from here," Sistan va Baluchistan Province Governor Hussein Amini explained in the 1 January issue of Milan's "Panorama." "They are virtual lines of demarcation, drawn on maps but ignored by the nomadic peoples who have roamed to and fro across them for centuries in search of pasture."
Geography is not the only problem facing the security forces. Frontier police commander Mohammad Fadai Mollashahi told "Panorama" that the smugglers "travel by night, at top speed, in convoys of 50 or 60 four-wheel drives, half of them loaded with weapons and narcotics and the other half as protection, with machine guns, grenades, rocket launchers, and SAM-7 surface-to-air missiles capable of shooting our helicopters down. We join full-fledged pitched battles against them."
Antonio Maria Costa, executive director of the UN Office on Drugs and Crime, visited Iran in November-December 2003, and in a 5 December interview with irinnews.org he noted that the Iranian authorities are deeply committed to reducing and controlling the flow of narcotics from Afghanistan. He said that Iran is effectively under attack by traffickers of opium, heroin, and hashish from Afghanistan, as well as hashish from Africa. Costa added that Drug Control Headquarters chief Ali Hashemi expressed concern about the influx of synthetic drugs from Europe.
"It is not clear to me as yet, though, why the percentage of the population abusing substances is so high -- it is unusually high," Costa said. Iranian officials say that some 1.2 million citizens are addicts and another 800,000 abuse drugs. Some 2.7 million addicts have been arrested in the last 20 years, according to Anti-Narcotics Committee deputy head Hamid Qalibaf on 29 November, IRNA reported.
Twenty-year-old Amir from Tehran told RFE/RL's Golnaz Esfandiari that many of his friends turn to drugs as a means of escape. "We don't have entertainment here, and drugs are very cheap and easy to get. Whatever you get from the supermarket, for the same price you can buy drugs in your neighborhood," Amir said. "Because of this lack of entertainment, whenever young people get together, the only thing they think about is getting and using drugs because it makes them happy. And also because of the problems they have, they want to get rid of these problems for some time. They have no hope in the future. They think there is no future for them in Iran."
HUNDREDS OF FORMER TALIBAN FIGHTERS LIKELY TO BE FREED IN AFGHANISTAN
Hundreds of prisoners who have been held for two years by Afghan warlord General Abdul Rashid Dostum will probably be released next week if it is determined that they were "forced to fight for Al-Qaeda," a senior Afghan official said on 21 January. Inayetullah Kamel, who heads a judicial commission investigating Dostum's detentions in the northern Afghan town of Sheberghan, expects to release that commission's findings next week and subsequently free prisoners, AFP reported. "We came here to survey the Taliban prisoners to find out who are the real Al-Qaeda and who were forced to work with Al-Qaeda," said Kamel, who visited a Sheberghan jail that holds 900 suspected militants. "During the inquiry, we found prisoners that were forced to fight for Al-Qaeda. They are ignorant and illiterate people that know nothing and are from the villages of Afghanistan," Kamel said. "Now we are checking. When we finish our inquiry, we will give the report to the Afghan High Court and [Transitional Administration Chairman] Hamid Karzai; then maybe we will release more than 400 Afghan prisoners next week." MR
AIDES TO AFGHAN WARLORD HEKMATYAR REPORTEDLY ARRESTED
Afghan police and international peacekeeping forces in Kabul have arrested a group of men thought to be top aides to renegade warlord and former Afghan Prime Minister Gulbuddin Hekmatyar, AP reported on 21 January. Germany's Lieutenant General Goetz Gliemeroth, the commander of the NATO-led International Security Assistance Force (ISAF) in Kabul, said at least three "main actors" in Hekmatyar's group were among those detained. Gliemeroth said at least one of the men arrested is believed to have been involved in a mine attack that killed two Canadian soldiers in October. Gliemeroth said all the men who were arrested have been handed over to U.S. military officials at Bagram, the main U.S. military base north of Kabul. Authorities in Kabul arrested a man identified as Abu Bakr five days after the mine killed the Canadians, and Gliemeroth said "very strong evidence" linked Bakr to the attack. Gliemeroth offered no other details about who was arrested or when, saying an investigation is continuing. MR
NATO WANTS MORE PROVINCIAL RECONSTRUCTION TEAMS DEPLOYED IN AFGHANISTAN
NATO hopes to organize up to five more Provincial Reconstruction Teams (PRTs) for northern and western Afghanistan, DPA reported 21 January. The United States launched the so-called PRT program, which involves deploying small civil-affairs teams from the NATO-led peacekeeping force to far-flung areas in Afghanistan in an effort to help reconstruction projects. NATO commander Gliemeroth said many Afghan communities still need help that PRTs can provide. Eight PRTs are presently at work in Bamiyan, Gardayz, Herat, Jalalabad, Kandahar, Khost, Kunduz, and Mazar-e Sharif. Coalition forces expect 12 PRTs to be at work in the country by the end of February. Gliemeroth also said more PRTs will improve stability and extend government influence. UN officials and Afghan leader Karzai have urged coalition forces to increase their presence in remote areas of the country to enhance the authority of the central government in Kabul. MR
UNHCR HEARS ASYLUM APPEALS IN AFGHANISTAN
More than two dozen people, most of them nationals of Persian Gulf countries, have sought refugee status in Afghanistan, the UN High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) said on 21 January. "Right now there are about 30 asylum seekers who are living in two houses in Kabul," said Daniel Endres, deputy chief of the UNHCR's mission in Afghanistan, who was quoted in a Xinhua news agency report. "These people want to be recognized as refugees and live in peace and security either here or abroad." UNHCR officials in Afghanistan have received fewer than 50 political-asylum applications in the two years since the Taliban lost power in Afghanistan. Endres said 20 of the applications have been rejected. Endres declined to disclose the nationality of the asylum seekers living in Kabul, but Afghan sources cited by Xinhua said the refugees include individuals from Iran, Iraq, and Pakistan who fled their home countries for political reasons. MR
IRANIAN INTERIOR MINISTER URGES VETTING BODY TO APPROVE CANDIDACIES...
Interior Minister Abdolvahed Musavi-Lari said after the 21 January cabinet meeting that the Guardians Council is expected to end the current government crisis (see "RFE/RL Iran Report," 12 January 2004) and restore conditions under which everyone who wants to can compete in the February parliamentary elections, IRNA reported. Musavi-Lari pointed out that Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei has issued guidelines on approving candidacies, and President Hojatoleslam Mohammad Khatami and Speaker of Parliament Hojatoleslam Mehdi Karrubi met with the Guardians Council, but "we have not seen any move from the Guardians Council in keeping with the eminent leader's remarks." Khamenei has instructed the council to reinstate the candidacies of incumbent parliamentarians, some 80 of whom it rejected (see "RFE/RL Iran Report," 19 January 2004). Musavi-Lari went on to say that his ministry has prepared a list of 618 people whose candidacies for office were approved in previous elections. "We will put this list of 618 names at the Guardians Council's disposal and the Guardians Council, in order to show its goodwill, can announce this list [approve their qualifications], and this will not take much time." BS
...BUT VETTING BODY DOES NOT GET INTO THE SPIRIT
The Guardians Council reinstated the candidacies of about 100 people from Khorasan Province, provincial supervisory board spokesman Gholamhossein Ismaili said on 21 January, IRNA reported. However, none of the disqualified incumbents' candidacies were reinstated, according to Ismaili. BS
MORE IRANIAN OFFICIALS SUBMIT RESIGNATIONS
Cooperatives Minister Ali Sufi said after the 21 January cabinet session that a number of ministers and vice presidents have submitted their resignations as a protest against the massive rejection of prospective parliamentary candidates, "but the president has not agreed to any of the resignations," Fars News Agency reported. Sufi said he submitted a his resignation. Vice President for Legal and Parliamentary Affairs Hojatoleslam Mohammad Ali Abtahi also spoke to reporters after the 21 January meeting. When asked about the possible reaction to a failure to resolve the current crisis, he said: "In such a case, we shall proceed with mass resignation. A number of ministers and vice presidents who have submitted their resignations are obviously awaiting the response to their move," IRNA reported. An anonymous member of the legislature's National Security and Foreign Policy committee said that 100 cabinet staffers have submitted their resignations, ILNA reported. "These resignations will become definite, should the Guardians Council refuse to reconsider its assessment by the end of January," the legislator added. BS
ANTIREFORM HEADQUARTERS AT WORK IN IRAN
Iranian government spokesman Abdullah Ramezanzadeh was quoted in the 18 January issue of "Mardom Salari" as saying, "There is evidence that proves the presence of [the antireform] headquarters is not a figment of the imagination." Ramezanzadeh said this headquarters is waging psychological warfare against the government, and added that the Ministry of Intelligence and Security (MOIS) has conducted a survey that found some hard-line websites are fed from one source. Reformist parliamentarian Behzad Nabavi mentioned an antireformist "headquarters" during the 9 December session of parliament and said this headquarters circulates "rumors and calumnies through the websites affiliated with the parallel intelligence organizations," and legislators urged the president to reveal the MOIS findings (see "RFE/RL Iran Report," 19 January 2004). BS
TEACHERS PROTEST NONPAYMENT OF WAGES
A group of Iranian teachers protested from 17-19 January by being present in the schools but not teaching, "Sharq" reported on 18 January. They previously protested in front of the Management and Planning Organization, which has yet to fulfill the promises it made to the teachers at the time. Shahabeddin Etedali, the Education Ministry's deputy for logistics, reportedly said the teachers are owed about 4 billion rials (about $506,000) in back wages, but if everything goes according to plan the teachers should be paid by the end of the month. The "Sharq" report commented that the coincidence of the teachers' protest with the current sit-in at the legislature might motivate the government to act swiftly to reduce tensions. BS
JAPANESE AIR UNIT DEPARTS FOR IRAQ
The first 100-member unit of the Japanese Air Self-Defense Force contingent left Japan on 22 January bound for Kuwait, where it will be based until an advance team already in Al-Samawah adequately prepares for its arrival, Kyodo News Service reported the same day. Three C-130 cargo planes will depart Japan for Kuwait next week and will transport food, medicine, and other supplies into Iraq beginning in February. Japanese Prime Minister Junichiro Koizumi is expected to give the final go-ahead on 26 January for the deployment of 550 Japanese ground troops to Iraq. KR
KURDISH WOMEN DEMONSTRATE FOR RIGHTS IN IRAQ
Thousands of Kurdish women in northern Iraq demonstrated on 21 January against an Iraqi Governing Council decision to replace civil law with Islamic sharia law with regard to family issues, AFP reported on 21 January. Some 5,000 women attended the demonstration in Al-Sulaymaniyah, organized by the Kurdistan Women's Union, which is affiliated with the Patriotic Union of Kurdistan (PUK). PUK head Jalal Talabani voiced opposition to the Governing Council decision last week (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 15 and 16 January 2004). "It's a heavy blow for women of Iraq and Kurdistan," Kafia Sulayman, the union's chairwoman, said. "This decision is unacceptable for an overwhelming majority of Iraqi people," said Takhsahan Zangala, head of the Kurdistan Women's League, an affiliate of the Iraqi Communist Party. "It violates not only the rights of women of Iraq and Kurdistan, but also international conventions." Meanwhile, Shi'ite women's groups demonstrated in the holy city of Al-Najaf on 22 January, pledging "full support" for the Governing Council decision. KR
FORMER UNSCOM INSPECTOR TO HEAD IRAQ SURVEY GROUP
Former UN Special Commission (UNSCOM) weapons inspector Charles Duelfer is set to be named as the new head of the Iraq Survey Group, washingtonpost.com reported on 22 January. Duelfer would replace current inspector David Kay. Kay said he will resign from his post in February, before the U.S.-led Iraq Survey Group issues its final report -- expected this fall -- on postwar weapons inspections in Iraq. Duelfer is well known in his field but has been critical of U.S. claims that Iraq possessed weapons of mass destruction in the run-up to the U.S.-led military campaign that began in March. "I think it's pretty clear right now that they're not going to find existing weapons in Iraq of either a biological or chemical nature," Duelfer told NBC in an interview broadcast on 9 January. KR
IRAQIS TAKING PART IN DEMOCRACY EDUCATION FORUMS
More than 1,500 Iraqis attended a democracy discussion led by a representative of the U.S.-based National Endowment for Democracy in the city of Al-Hillah on 21 January, according to a press release posted on the Coalition Provisional Authority (CPA) website (http://www.cpa-iraq.org). Larry Diamond, co-director of the International Forum for Democratic Studies and a Hoover Institution senior fellow, addressed four elements of democracy: choosing leaders, participation in a democracy, rights in a democracy, and rule of law. Tribal leaders, shaykhs, women, and community leaders attended the session, according to the CPA. The lecture was hosted by Farqat al-Husayni al-Qizwini, director of the Al-Hillah University for Humanitarian, Scientific, and Religious Studies. "There is a little Saddam Hussein inside every one of us," al-Qizwini told AP. "We must get rid of that little dictator living in our hearts." Al-Qizwini facilitated a month-long democracy series for shaykhs and tribal leaders from across Iraq in November. The series was reportedly funded and taught by the United States Agency for International Development. It focused on the freedom of the press, freedom to gather, respect for minority beliefs and freedom of religion, voting systems, courts, and democratic models of government. KR