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Newsline - January 23, 2004

The Central Election Commission (TsIK) decided on 22 January after a 90-minute discussion not to register former Central Bank Chairman Viktor Gerashchenko as a candidate in the 14 March presidential election because he has not presented the required 2 million signatures in support of his candidacy, Russian media reported (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 7 January 2004). Gerashchenko was nominated by the Russian Regions party, which is a member of the Motherland-Patriotic Union bloc. Because Motherland surpassed the 5 percent hurdle in party-list voting during the 7 December Duma elections, Gerashchenko argued that he should be exempt from the signature requirement, as election law says that only nonparty candidates and those from parties that did not surpass the 5 percent hurdle in the latest Duma election must submit signatures. JAC

However, the TsIK ruled on 22 January that only a candidate nominated by the entire bloc rather than by one of its constituent parts is eligible for the signature exemption, Russian media reported. The fact that Motherland's Higher Council recently selected Gerashchenko as its nominee was deemed insufficient, according to "Izvestiya." He had to have been nominated by a joint congress of the entire bloc. Gerashchenko told NTV he will appeal the TsIK decision to the Supreme Court. According to RosBalt, the court could take up the issue as soon as 23 January. JAC

The voters' initiative group collecting signatures to support the candidacy of President Vladimir Putin in the 14 March election have already gathered more than 7 million signatures, Ekho Moskvy reported on 22 January. Under election law, nonparty candidates like Putin must submit 2 million valid signatures by 28 January. The group supporting the candidacy of Union of Rightist Forces (SPS) co-Chairwoman Irina Khakamada, who is also running as a nonparty candidate, announced the same day that it has collected 2.9 million signatures. Meanwhile, more than one-fourth of respondents (27 percent) in a recent nationwide poll by the Public Opinion Foundation said they are ready to boycott the presidential election, "Novye izvestiya" reported on 22 January. One-third of those who said they are going to ignore the election are under the age of 35. Eighty-eight percent of respondents believe Putin will win the election, according to Interfax. JAC

Yabloko and the Communist Party are expected to sign an agreement at the end of this week to begin work on an appeal to the Supreme Court challenging the results of the 7 December State Duma elections, "Gazeta" reported on 22 January. The parties will contend that falsification of the election results occurred when data was entered into the Gaz-Vybory computer system at the sub-regional election precincts. According to the Communist Party's count, both Yabloko and the SPS should be in the current Duma, having gathered 5.98 percent and 5.12 percent, respectively. Yabloko and the Communist Party have counted the election protocols separately using different methods, according to the daily. Yabloko deputy leader Sergei Mitrokhin told the newspaper that annulling the election is "virtually impossible," but there is the "feasible objective of holding responsible the people who carried out the election fraud." Commenting on news of the party's plans, TsIK Chairman Aleksandr Veshnyakov said he doubts the Supreme Court will accept the case. JAC

Duma Foreign Affairs Committee Chairman Konstantin Kosachev (Unified Russia) told journalists in Moscow on 22 January that the Duma might postpone for an unspecified period, or even remove from its agenda, ratification of the amended Treaty on Conventional Forces in Europe (CFE) because some NATO states have "absolutely groundlessly" made ratification contingent on the closure of Russian military bases in Georgia and the evacuation of Russian weaponry from Transdniester, Interfax reported. Kosachev's warning is at odds with the demand expressed by other Russian officials that the Baltic states and Slovenia accede as soon as possible to the amended CFE treaty, insofar as no further states may accede to the amended treaty until all the original signatories have ratified it. Lithuania has repeatedly stressed its readiness to accede once that condition is met. LF

The Russian press on 22 January carried more commentary on U.S. President George W. Bush's 20 January State of the Union address. Echoing other observers (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 21 January 2004), "Nezavisimaya gazeta" correspondent Yevgenii Verlin wrote that Bush's speech was largely an election-season message to Americans that they "must close ranks, consolidate, and give him a new mandate to continue his policy both in the national-security sphere and with regard to continuing economic and social reforms." The U.S. president, Verlin added, reiterated the message that "if there is a 'coalition of the willing' who will join in punitive action against the latest 'rogue' state, then fine; if there is no approval for action from the U.N. Security Council, [the United States] will again unilaterally begin a war." Likewise, the Moscow Carnegie Center's Aleksei Malashenko told "Rossiiskaya gazeta" that he was mainly struck by Bush's "sharp insistence that the United States will not waver and ask permission or support from other countries where U.S. national interests are involved." JB

Several observers drew parallels between President Bush's State of the Union speech and episodes from Russia's Soviet past. Yevgenii Verlin wrote in "Nezavisimaya gazeta" on 22 January: "Drawing attention to Bush's remark about the justice of 'our cause', which he said is the cause of all mankind, one Russian observer recalled that Stalin spoke in more or less the same vein at the start of [World War II]: 'Our cause is just; the enemy will be routed; victory will be ours.'" Likewise, "Gazeta" correspondent Andrei Vetvinskii wrote on 22 January that the assembled U.S. "senators, congressmen, department secretaries, presidential advisers, and guests -- among whom the military personnel sitting in the front row stood out -- played up well to their president and commander-in-chief in the creation of an entourage that would have befitted...congresses of the [Communist Party of the Soviet Union]." JB

Deputy Kremlin chief of staff Sergei Prikhodko said on 22 January that President Putin will meet with U.S. Secretary of State Colin Powell during the latter's 26-27 January visit to Moscow, Interfax reported. They will discuss such issues as Iraq, Iran -- which, he said, "the American side generally raises in talks with Russia" -- and preparations for the next G-8 summit, Prikhodko said. Duma Foreign Relations Committee Chairman Kosachev said he hopes Powell's visit will clarify the future of the U.S. military bases in Uzbekistan and Kyrgyzstan, RosBalt reported on 22 January. "The military bases in Central Asia were justified for the world community's tasks in fighting terrorism, but...with the tasks in Afghanistan resolved, there arises the question of whether [the bases] are still needed," Kosachev told reporters. Kosachev's predecessor as committee chairman, Motherland co-leader Dmitrii Rogozin, said the United States and Russia can reach an agreement on spheres of influence and that Powell's visit might be connected to this, Interfax reported on 22 January. JB

First Deputy Foreign Minister Vyacheslav Trubnikov said on 22 January that Russia "has no basis to view Iran as a country that presents a threat...of international terrorism or extremism," Interfax reported. Iran has detained 500 alleged members of Al-Qaeda, Trubnikov said. As for Syria, its leadership "has already taken a number of important and concrete steps in the context of complaints by the United States," Trubnikov said, explaining that he meant Syria's closing of the offices of the radical Palestinian groups Hamas and Islamic Jihad. He added that Russia remains convinced that eliminating terrorism requires "coordinated and complex international measures, including efforts toward the political resolution of regional conflicts," and that Syria is one of Russia's "partners" in these tasks. Duma Foreign Relations Committee Chairman Kosachev said U.S. allegations that Russia is supplying Iran with nuclear technology are simply "an attempt to squeeze Russian enterprises out of very promising markets -- in this case, Iran." JB

In his 22 January interview with Interfax, First Deputy Foreign Minister Trubnikov also deplored the alleged inability of the Georgian authorities to rid the country of "terrorists." Trubnikov claimed that Chechen militants continue to maintain camps and ammunition depots in the Pankisi Gorge and to cross the border freely. He expressed the hope that once the political situation in Georgia stabilizes, the authorities will take resolute measures to curb such activities. Also on 22 January, Foreign Ministry spokesman Aleksandr Yakovenko similarly said Moscow expects Tbilisi to strengthen its border with Russia to minimize the danger that terrorists could enter Russia from Georgian territory, Interfax reported. LF

Rafail Zainullin, chairman of the board of the Kuibyshev Oil Refinery (KNPZ), a subsidiary of oil giant Yukos, has been arrested, the Agentsvo neftyanoi informatsii reported on 22 January. He is charged with evading payment of 67 million rubles ($2.3 million) in oil excises in 1999, when he was the refinery's general director. The Oktyabrskii Raion Court in Samara ruled on 21 January that he may be kept in pretrial detention for two months. Yukos spokesman Aleksandr Shadrin confirmed Zainullin's arrest, calling it "another step in the unprecedented campaign directed against Yukos, its shareholders, and employees" and denouncing it as illegal. The charges against Zainullin are false, Shadrin said. The Prosecutor-General's Office recently issued international arrest warrants for three major Yukos shareholders - Leonid Nevzlin, Vladimir Dubov, and Mikhail Brudno (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 22 January 2004). JB

The FBI on 5 January briefly detained and questioned Federation Council member and former First Deputy Finance Minister Andrei Vavilov after forcing his private plane to land at an airport in northern California, RBK reported on 22 January. Vavilov and his wife were in on their way to Aspen, Colorado, for a vacation when they were forced to land at the request of federal prosecutors. They were released after Vavilov was questioned for four hours, and the couple returned to Russia on 20 January, the news agency reported. According to RBK, the interrogation concerned documents dating back to 1995-97 that might be connected with the case of former Ukrainian Prime Minister Pavlo Lazarenko, who was arrested in the United States on money-laundering charges in 1999. The following year, he was indicted in California on charges he used U.S. banks to launder $114 million he either stole or extorted during the 1990s. JB

In 1996-97, when Andrei Vavilov was first deputy finance minister, he pushed for a deal with top Ukrainian officials in which Ukraine was to pay debts for Russian natural gas by sending construction materials to Russia's Defense Ministry, Russian media reported. Russian prosecutors say the construction materials vanished. Charges were filed against Vavilov in connection with the case in June 2001, but were dropped shortly thereafter, "The Moscow Times" reported on 23 January. According to RBK, $700 million was embezzled from Gazprom under the scheme. U.S. investigators would like former President Boris Yeltsin, former Prime Minister Viktor Chernomyrdin, and former Gazprom CEO Rem Vyakhirev to give evidence in the case, and they will be forced to do so should they enter the United States, RBK reported. JB

A commission of the Antimonopoly Ministry on 22 January ordered the polling group VTsIOM-A, which is led by sociologist Yurii Levada, to change its name, Russian media reported. Levada was the long-time director of the All-Russia Center for the Study of Public Opinion (VTsIOM), but in August the Property Ministry decided to reorganize VTsIOM and install a new leadership. Levada, together with a group of former VTsIOM employees, started a new research agency called VTsIOM-A. The new head of VTsIOM, Valerii Fedorov, charged that the former staff was trying to privatize a "brand" belonging to the government, "Izvestiya" reported on 22 January. VTsIOM-A spokeswoman Irina Palilova told the daily that her colleagues decided to change the company's name long ago because the media are constantly confusing the two organizations. Currently, VTsIOM-A is operating its website at the same address that the old VTsIOM formerly used ( JAC

President Putin has dismissed State Duma Deputy Speaker Dmitrii Rogozin (Motherland) as his envoy for issues relating to Kaliningrad, "Izvestiya" reported on 22 January. According to the daily, presidential press secretary Aleksei Gromov said the basic set of tasks relating to EU expansion and Kaliningrad have been resolved and the presidential administration found Rogozin's work satisfactory. In the future all issues relating to Kaliningrad will be handled by the Foreign Ministry or other governmental agencies. According to "Izvestiya," Putin also relieved Duma Deputy Boris Pastukhov (Unified Russia) of his position as chairman of the state commission preparing a friendship and cooperation treaty between Russia and Georgia. Pastukhov was recently re-elected to the State Duma. The Foreign Ministry will now oversee work on the treaty. JAC

The Appeals Court turned down on 22 January appeals by three men against sentences handed down last month in the trial of the gunmen convicted of killing eight senior officials in the parliament chamber in October 1999 and their accomplices, RFE/RL's Yerevan bureau reported (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 3 December 2003). Lawyers for Eduard Grigorian -- a pediatrician who claims the gunmen's leader, Nairi Hunanian, assured him the purpose of the assault was to remove the Armenian leadership in a bloodless coup and who was not responsible for any of the eight killings -- and for Ashot Knyazian, who allegedly provided the weapons used in the attack, argued without success that Grigorian and Knyazian should not have been sentenced to life imprisonment together with the four men who committed the murders. Hamlet Stepanian, whose role in the conspiracy remains unclear, likewise unsuccessfully appealed his 14-year prison sentence. LF

Addressing supporters in Yerevan on 22 January, National Accord Party (AMK) Chairman Artashes Geghamian argued that other opposition parties are acting rashly in planning mass street protests in a bid to force President Robert Kocharian to resign, RFE/RL's Yerevan bureau reported. Geghamian argued that "the Armenian opposition must initiate regime change prudently so that our conscience remains at peace tomorrow and the day after." Geghamian predicted the imminent downfall of both Kocharian and powerful Defense Minister Serzh Sarkisian, accusing the latter of planning to kill him, but did not divulge the anticipated circumstances that would force them to leave office. Nor did Geghamian mention the ongoing confidential contacts between the AMK and Stepan Demirchian's Artarutiun bloc over the possibility of forming a broad-based opposition alliance (see "RFE/RL Caucasus Report," 9 January 2004). LF

Prosecutor-General Zakir Garalov has appealed to the Appeals Court to reopen the cases of 11 former special police officers sentenced in November 1997 on charges of plotting a coup d'etat, Turan reported on 22 January. The Council of Europe has designated two of the 11 men -- special police commander Elchin Amiraslanov and Arif Kazimov -- political prisoners. They were initially sentenced to death, and that sentence was subsequently commuted to life imprisonment LF

New York-based Human Rights Watch (HRW) released a 55-page report on 23 January detailing human rights abuses undertaken by the Azerbaijani authorities in the wake of the disputed 15 October presidential election, according to a HRW press release. That crackdown encompassed the arrest of some 1,000 people, and more than 300 protesters were reportedly injured in clashes with police. The press release quoted Rachel Denber, acting executive director of HRW's Europe and Central Asia Division, as saying that "Azerbaijan is experiencing its gravest human rights crisis of the past 10 years." LF

Police in Baku detained on 23 January members of the opposition Democratic Party of Azerbaijan (DPA) who tried to stage an unauthorized protest outside the Prosecutor-General's Office, Turan reported. The demonstrators were demanding the immediate release of persons detained during the 15-16 October clashes in Baku between police and opposition, including DPA Secretary-General Sardar Djalaloglu. They also demanded that criminal charges be brought against those who falsified the election outcome. LF

Adjar Finance Minister Yasha Chavleishvili traveled to Tbilisi on 22 January for talks with his Georgian counterpart Zurab Nogaideli about outstanding and future taxes and customs dues transfers to the central Georgian budget, Caucasus Press and the website of the independent television station Rustavi-2 reported. Chavleishvili said the Adjar Republic will make such payments in future, but no agreement was reached concerning outstanding payments of some 140 million laris ($64.9 million). The Adjar government transferred the first tax payments in two years to the Tbilisi government earlier this month (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 7 January 2004). Meanwhile, on 21 January the Batumi municipality started flying the new Georgian national flag at the orders of Mayor Giorgi Abashidze, the son of Adjar Supreme Council Chairman Aslan Abashidze, Georgian media reported. LF

Mikheil Saakashvili met on 23 January on the sidelines of the World Economic Forum at Davos, Switzerland, with NATO Secretary-General Jaap de Hoop Scheffer, the website of the independent television station Rustavi-2 reported. Saakashvili told journalists after the meeting that the NATO-Russia Council will discuss at its next session on 26 January the issue of the withdrawal from Georgia of Russia's two remaining military bases there. He also reaffirmed his desire for friendly relations with Russia and Georgia's readiness to prevent terrorists from entering Russia from Georgian territory. Saakashvili said he has been invited to attend a NATO Council summit next month, even though Georgia is not a member of the alliance. De Hoop Scheffer was quoted as saying that he relies on Saakashvili to promote stability in Georgia, which, he continued, is crucial to stability throughout the South Caucasus. LF

Kazakh Prime Minister Daniyal Akhmetov told a conference in Astana on 22 January that the country should set up a space complex to launch mini-satellites for countries that lack their own launch facilities, Kazinform and reported. Akhmetov referred specifically to communications and navigation satellites, as well as to satellites that study the earth and its atmosphere. He noted that providing launch facilities for small satellites would be a good market niche for Kazakhstan's fledgling space program. Kazakhstan's first center to monitor satellite transmissions opened in Astana on 22 January, reported. BB

Two Russian-made Mi-8 MTV helicopters were presented to Kyrgyzstan by the United States on 22 January at a ceremony at the Frunze-1 military airfield outside Bishkek, reported. The helicopters are to be used to combat smuggling. The Mi-8s and their accompanying spare-parts packages were described by U.S. Ambassador to Kyrgyzstan Stephen Young and Kyrgyz National Security Council Secretary Misir Ashirkulov as the largest single aid package given to Kyrgyzstan by the United States to date. Young said a decision has been made to buy and refurbish Soviet-type helicopters rather than U.S. machines, because Kyrgyz pilots are familiar with them and will not have to be retrained. In addition, the Mi-8 is well adapted to Kyrgyzstan's mountainous conditions. BB

Sulton Quvvatov, head of Tajikistan's new Taraqqiyot (Progress) Party, has accused the Justice Ministry of delaying a decision on registering the party beyond the legally admissible period, Asia Plus-Blitz reported on 22 January. By law, the ministry has one month after registration documents have been submitted to accept or reject them. In the case of Taraqqiyot, the deadline was 18 January. Quvvatov attributed the government's reluctance to register Taraqqiyot to concerns about the emergence of yet another political force before the elections scheduled for later this year. BB

Tajik Deputy Prime Minister responsible for security issues Saidamir Zuhurov said on 22 January that there is no evidence that any terrorist group, including the Islamic Party of Turkestan (formerly, the Islamic Movement of Uzbekistan), has intensified its activities in Tajikistan, Asia Plus-Blitz reported on 22 January. He was reacting to a statement by the U.S. State Department warning U.S. citizens of the continuing danger of anti-American terrorist activities in Tajikistan and cautioning against travel outside of Dushanbe. Zuhurov said the situation in the country is calm. BB

The office of Uzbekistan's prosecutor-general announced on 22 January that an amnesty decreed in December by President Islam Karimov to commemorate the 11th anniversary of the country's constitution has freed about 3,500 convicts, Interfax and reported. Of the 3,381 people covered by the amnesty, 391 were sentenced for crimes against the constitutional order and public safety, charges often filed against alleged Islamist extremists. BB

A preliminary investigation of the 13 January crash of an Uzbek Airlines plane on its approach to Tashkent Airport has ruled out a terrorist attack as the cause of the crash, reported on 22 January, quoting Reuters. The crash killed all 37 people aboard the flight from Termez. Malik Kadyrov, the Uzbek prime minister's spokesman, told journalists that an examination of the plane's black boxes has also ruled out poor weather and air-traffic-control errors as the cause of the crash. Nor did the crew mention any problems in the landing procedure. The plane apparently caught fire after striking a radio mast and a concrete wall. BB

Independent gas suppliers Itera and Transnafta have announced that they will halt Russian gas deliveries to Belarus on 24 January, Belapan reported on 22 January, quoting RIA-Novosti. The companies said Belarus had consumed the contractual volume of 1.05 billion cubic meters of gas by 16 January and exceeded it by 316 million cubic meters on 21 January. Russia's Gazprom has reportedly recommended that the Belarusian government promptly sign new contracts with the independent suppliers. "We do not understand why Russia should be a milk cow for our partners, even very good ones. Gazprom has subsidized the Belarusian economy and budget for several years, supplying gas at a loss and having nothing in return," Gazprom deputy head Aleksandr Ryazanov said. Ryazanov accused the Belarusian government of "sabotaging" a proposed gas-supply contract with Gazprom. "We must start working in accordance with the common market rules applied in the civilized world," Ryazanov added. Gazprom suspended gas supplies to Belarus on 1 January following its failure last year to create a joint company with Minsk to run Beltranshaz, Belarus's gas-transport network (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 12 January 2004). JM

First Deputy Premier and Finance Minister Mykola Azarov announced on 22 January that Ukraine's economy expanded by 9 percent in 2003, outpacing the government's 8.5 percent forecast, Interfax reported. Azarov also cited a 28 percent growth in exports, a decline in official unemployment to 3.6 percent, an increase in the average wage (500 hryvnyas [$94]) over the subsistence level (342 hryvnyas), and a significant increase in foreign investment. JM

Azarov also said on 22 January that recent restrictions imposed by Russia and Kazakhstan on wheat exports will not influence the grain market in Ukraine, Interfax reported. "I don't think that the tense situation with grain reserves in Russia and Kazakhstan will lead to some serious increase in bread prices in Ukraine," Azarov said on Ukrainian Television. Russia imposed a tax on its wheat and rye exports amounting to 25 euros per ton on 15 January. Interfax, quoting unspecified sources in Astana, reported that Kazakhstan has introduced an unofficial ban on wheat exports to Russia and Ukraine. Ukraine's State Statistics Committee reported earlier this month that the country harvested 20 tons of grain in 2003, or roughly half the harvest of the previous year. JM

Narva Union of Russian Citizens Chairman Yurii Mishin said on 22 January that he has delivered a letter to the office of Russian President Vladimir Putin requesting his assistance in opening more polling stations in Estonia for the Russian presidential elections in March, BNS reported. Mishin criticized the Estonian authorities for not providing alternative premises for Russian polling stations for the Duma elections in December, thus limiting them to the Russian Embassy and consulates. The letter, signed by 300 residents of the northeastern cities of Narva and Sillamae, claimed that hundreds of Russian citizens were forced to stand in line in freezing temperatures while waiting to vote in the elections. The turnout in Estonia for the Russian Duma elections was low, with only 15.5 percent of the 105,000 eligible voters participating (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 9 December 2003). SG

Parliament on 22 January approved the second reading of amendments to the Education Law despite ethnic Russian students' protests, LETA reported. The amendments stipulate that as of 1 September, secondary students in minority schools must take at least five classes in Latvian a year, in addition to Latvian language and literature classes. The current law requires that 60 percent of subjects be taught in the Latvian language as of September. The new amendments, which face a third reading, will allow schools to teach in minority-languages on subjects pertaining to minority identities, culture, and language. Ethnic Russian students would be most affected by the reforms. Prior to the reading, For Human Rights in a United Latvia (PCTVL) staged a rally in front of the parliament building, in which about 200 protesters, most of them students, demanded the resignation of Education and Science Minister Karlis Sadurskis. On the morning of 23 January, about 800 students from Russian-language schools refused to attend school and began an unauthorized protest in front of the Education and Science Ministry building. SG

The parliamentary commission formed to investigate the possibility of impeaching President Rolandas Paksas (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 23 December 2003) sent a letter to the president on 22 January asking what would be an appropriate time for him to answer their questions and expressing their willingness to meet at the president's office if he did not wish to come to parliament, BNS reported. Paksas responded in a press release that he will "give his answer on participation in the commission's meeting" upon his reception of the complete "results of [the] investigation" and after his "lawyers are granted access to classified information." The commission has stated several times that it is sending all its material to the president and that the access to classified information Paksas seeks for his legal team is an issue to be decided by the State Security Department. Department officials said the process of granting access to requested classified material usually takes two to three months and the president's lawyers asked for it only recently. Paksas told News Radio on 22 January that he sent a letter to parliament that day "inviting them -- be they factions, committees, or individual members of parliament -- to come to talk about the current situation and in what way it might be changed." SG

Jerzy Urban, editor in chief of the popular tabloid weekly "Nie," testified in the trial of film producer Lew Rywin on 22 January that it was Polish Television boss Robert Kwiatkowski who in July 2002 sent Rywin to Agora, the publisher of "Gazeta Wyborcza," Polish media reported. Urban said he was informed of that purported fact by Rywin on 24 July 2002. Rywin is on trial over an alleged attempt to solicit a $17.5 million bribe from Agora in exchange for lobbying a media law that could prove favorable to the publisher. Earlier this month, Kwiatkowski withdrew from the contest for a new term as chairman of the management board at Polish Television (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 12 January 2004). JM

Foreign Minister Cyril Svoboda said on 22 January that partisan wrangling over a Czech candidate for the European Commission is harming the country's image in the EU and is likely to tarnish any eventual nominee, CTK reported. Svoboda noted that some EU candidate countries have already selected candidates who enjoy the support of the entire domestic political spectrum. Meanwhile, the senior ruling Social Democratic Party's (CSSD) contentious choice for the post, former Environment Minister Milos Kuzvart, said on 22 January that he has no intention of renouncing his candidacy due to opposition from the two junior coalition parties, the Christian Democratic Union-People's Party and the Freedom Union-Democratic Union (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 15 January 2004). MS

The senior opposition Civic Democratic Party's (ODS) shadow defense minister, Petr Necas, said on 22 January that his party's legislators will not support a government plan to dispatch 150 soldiers to Afghanistan unless preliminary conditions are met, CTK reported (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 15 January 2004). Necas said the ODS demands to know how the mission would be funded, it wants a reduction in the number of Czech soldiers serving in NATO's KFOR mission in Kosova, and it wants proof that enough soldiers are available for three rotations of the contingent. It is unclear whether the coalition, which has a single-seat majority in parliament, could approve the deployment without ODS backing. Some CSSD members have signaled opposition to such a mission, and the opposition Communist Party of Bohemia and Moravia (KSCM) is virtually certain to vote against it. MS

Former Czechoslovak cosmonaut Vladimir Remek said on 22 January that he is likely to run on the KSCM list in Czech elections to the European Parliament in June, CTK reported. Remek, who in March 1978 became the only Czech to have visited outer space, was speaking after a meeting with KSCM Chairman Miroslav Grebenicek. Grebenicek said he and Remek discussed the domestic and international situation and "we reached agreement on all essential issues." The KSCM's central committee will name its candidates for the Europarliament on 25 January. MS

The New-York based Committee to Protect Journalists (CPJ) in a 21 January press release condemned the recent physical attack on the editor in chief of the Czech investigative weekly "Respekt" (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 20 January 2004). "The Czech government cannot allow journalists to be intimidated," CPJ Executive Director Ann Cooper said through the release, adding that such attacks "must be promptly investigated and those responsible must be punished." Noting the weekly's record reporting on corruption, the press release mentioned that three days prior to the attack, a Prague court ordered "Respekt" to apologize to Interior Minister Stanislav Gross for writing about his alleged phone calls to a brothel owner. MS

Lawmakers approved a government proposal to reinforce the Slovak engineering unit currently serving in Iraq on 22 January, CTK reported. Twenty additional soldiers will be sent to Iraq to provide security for the 82 troops engaged in mine and ammunition clearing, while five officers will take part in command operations. During the legislative debate, Communist Party of Slovakia parliamentary deputy Ivan Hopta accused the government of "collaboration" with the United States, which he called a "superpower that has millions of innocent victims on its conscience" and that "humiliates Slovakia" with stringent new visa procedures, TASR reported. MS

Neil Kinnock said in Bratislava on 22 January that Slovakia has only minor shortcomings to mend before joining the EU on 1 May, CTK reported. Kinnock said the EU is interested in seeing these remaining issues corrected and legislation passed to comply with the acquis communautaire prior to accession. Kinnock, who is on a tour of countries expected to accede on 1 May, was speaking after a meeting with Slovak Deputy Premier Pal Csaky and Foreign Minister Eduard Kukan. Kinnock also met with Slovak President Rudolf Schuster, who told him that Bratislava is interested in seeing negotiations on a European constitution completed as soon as possible, TASR reported. Schuster said Slovakia wants the enlarged EU built on the basis of equality among members and a balance between national and European institutions. MS

Fitch Ratings agency upgraded Slovakia's long-term risk ratings on 22 January for both foreign- and local-denominated debt to BBB+ and A, respectively, TASR reported. The company also raised the short-term foreign-debt rating to F2. It said the decision was prompted by Slovakia's success in reducing its twin deficits, as the center-right cabinet headed by Mikulas Dzurinda has made considerable progress in implementing public-finance reforms and cutting the budget deficit, while exports are thriving and the current-account deficit has been slashed. MS

A report drafted for the European Parliament by Elmar Brok, chairman of the EU legislature's foreign-affairs committee, criticizes Hungary for its slowing economic growth, and high current-account and foreign-trade deficits, "Magyar Hirlap" wrote on 23 January. The report also charges that corruption remains a major problem in Hungary's public sector and warns that a comprehensive social-welfare program is needed to complement recently adopted EU equal-opportunity legislation, the daily added. The report acknowledges the government's efforts to implement tax reforms and reduce the budget deficit, and it welcomes the fact that Hungary has tried to improve relations with its neighbors by amending the Status Law. "Magyar Hirlap" commented that the report is likely the last document to criticize the 10 acceding countries before they join the EU in May. MSZ

The leadership of the opposition Democratic Forum nominated Chairwoman Ibolya David on 22 January to head the party's list of candidates for the June elections to the European Parliament, "Nepszabadsag" reported. David expressed fears that the negative campaigns of Hungary's last elections and the lack of legislation governing the EU ballot might make the campaign for the June 2004 EU elections a rough affair. She told the daily that it is unclear what funds may be spent on the EU campaign, and how state-run media outlets should provide equal space and time for all of the parties that field candidates. MSZ

SFOR troops and police of the Bosnian Muslim and Croat federation arrested Ante Jelavic, a former leader of the Croatian Democratic Community (HDZ), in his apartment in Mostar in the early morning of 23 January, Hina reported. His lawyer told the Croatian news agency that he spoke by telephone with Jelavic, who is being held in Sarajevo. Former Bosnian Defense Minister Miroslav Prce and businessman Miroslav Rupcic, who is a former director of the insurance company Hercegovina Osiguranje, were also arrested. The federation's Interior Ministry said in a statement that the three are charged with embezzling funds from the Hercegovacka Banka, which was once closely linked to hard-line Croatian nationalists, dpa reported. On 7 March 2001, High Representative Wolfgang Petritsch sacked Jelavic as the Croatian member of the Bosnian Presidency because of his allegedly separatist agenda, which Petritsch said violates the 1995 Dayton peace agreement. Almost one month later, SFOR troops took control of the Hercegovacka Banka's offices to cut off the Croatian nationalists' sources of financial support (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 8 March, 6 and 18 April, and 16 and 18 May 2001). PM

Following Croatian Prime Minister Ivo Sanader's recent visit to the EU and NATO in Brussels, Foreign Minister Miomir Zuzul has taken Croatia's case for closer Euro-Atlantic integration to Washington and Brussels, Croatian media reported on 22 January (see "RFE/RL Balkan Report," 16 January 2003). Zuzul and the speaker of the Croatian parliament, Vladimir Seks, met with U.S. Secretary of State Colin Powell in Washington on 21 January at the end of a five-day visit to the United States. Zuzul noted that Washington and Zagreb "share the same position on almost all important issues." Seks stressed that Croatia could better participate in the "global antiterrorist coalition" if it were a member of NATO, adding that his and Zuzul's visit was "very successful." Hina reported that Sanader will travel to the United States soon. Among the topics on his agenda is a possible bilateral extradition-immunity agreement with the United States that would prohibit the handover of each other's citizens to the International Criminal Court (ICC). The previous center-left Croatian government refused to conclude such an agreement out of deference to the EU's wishes. PM

On 22 January in Brussels, Zuzul addressed the European Parliament's Committee on Foreign Affairs, Human Rights, Common Security and Defense Policy, Hina reported. He stressed that Croatia is serious about cooperating with the Hague-based war crimes tribunal, promoting refugee return and minority rights, instituting reforms in the media and judiciary, and developing good relations in the Balkans. Earlier in Washington, however, he noted in reference to the strength of the Serbian Radical Party (SRS) in neighboring Serbia that "you have to have concerns when you have a major party in a neighboring country claiming half of your territory," "The Washington Times" reported on 21 January. Zuzul also said that "we want to join Europe, but we are also very comfortable with the United States. We have never accepted the idea that you have to choose between the two." PM

Hrvoje Sarinic, who was a top aide to the late Croatian President Franjo Tudjman, told former Yugoslav President Slobodan Milosevic at Milosevic's war crimes trial in The Hague on 22 January that in the 1991-95 conflict, "you were involved up to your neck," RFE/RL's South Slavic and Albanian Languages Service reported (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 22 January 2003). Sarinic stressed to Milosevic that the Serbian rebels in Croatia "were unable to do anything without getting the green light from you." The two men argued at length about the war and the breakup of former Yugoslavia. PM

Serbian Radical Party (SRS) leader Tomislav Nikolic told a Belgrade press conference on 22 January that his party wants Vojislav Kostunica's Democratic Party of Serbia (DSS) to form an interim coalition government with the SRS in order to organize new presidential, parliamentary, and local elections, Serbian media reported. Nikolic stressed that it is intolerable that those who lost the 28 December parliamentary vote continue to govern because a new cabinet has not been formed. The SRS and DSS were the largest vote getters in December, but the DSS has so far shunned the coalition offers of the ultranationalist SRS (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 22 January 2004 and "RFE/RL Balkan Report," 12 December 2003 and 9 January 2004). The DSS has previously not been opposed to holding new elections but only after a new constitution has been drafted and approved. PM

Macedonian and Greek officials signed a memorandum in Skopje on 22 January on the opening of new consulates in Bitola and Thessaloniki, MIA news agency reported. Macedonian Foreign Ministry spokesman Dusko Uzunovski said that "the signing of the memorandum will give a new impulse to [bilateral] political relations and will improve cooperation between the two countries." Greece still refuses to recognize Macedonia under its constitutional name Republic of Macedonia, and insists on using the term Former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia (FYROM). Talks under the auspices of the UN in New York aimed at resolving the name dispute are deadlocked (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 3 July 2003 and "RFE/RL Balkan Report," 20 June 2003). UB

Addressing Kosova's parliament on 22 January, President Ibrahim Rugova noted that the province has made great progress in a variety of areas since NATO defeated Serbian forces in June 1999, RFE/RL's South Slavic and Albanian Languages Service reported. He stressed that priorities now include integrating ethnic minorities and laying the foundations for internationally recognized independence, which, he argued, will contribute greatly to regional stability (see "RFE/RL Balkan Report," 17 October and 19 December 2003). Harri Holkeri, who heads the UN civilian administration in Kosova (UNMIK), recently warned the parliament against trying to exercise authority in spheres of confidence reserved for UNMIK. PM

Russian President Vladimir Putin told several foreign ambassadors in Moscow on 22 January that Russia maintains an active interest in the Balkans and wants to help promote regional development, Interfax reported. "Russia will continue taking a most active part in [seeking] a just settlement of regional problems, including that [involving] Kosovo," Putin said. He added that Moscow wants "the soonest possible establishment and development of a union between Serbia and Montenegro. We are ready to assist in this process." He also noted that Croatia has been a partner to Russia "in solving many problems in Southeast Europe." Croatia is Russia's largest trading partner in the former Yugoslavia. Moscow has also shown a keen interest in investing in the Serbian economy in recent years (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 5 June, 24 July, and 11 and 24 September 2003 and "RFE/RL Balkan Report," 31 July 2001). PM

Baroness Emma Nicholson, European Parliament rapporteur on Romania, on 22 January presented to the Europarliament's Foreign Affairs Committee a relatively favorable report on Romania's progress on reforms, Mediafax reported. However, shortly afterward her office issued a statement harshly criticizing Romania for a "flagrant breach" of the moratorium on international adoptions of Romanian children. The statement said that last year, following a visit to Romania by Italian Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi, the Romanian authorities agreed to send 105 Romanian children to Italy for adoption. Thus, Romania violated its moratorium on adoptions imposed in June 2001, following EU criticism of illegalities in the adoption process that resulted in the suffering of adopted children. The statement said Nicholson "demands an immediate explanation" from both the Romanian cabinet and from Prime Minister Berlusconi. MS

Prime Minister Adrian Nastase said on 22 January in Bucharest that the adoption of the 105 children by Italian parents was an exception approved by the cabinet that resulted from "strong pressure" from "presidents, premiers, and adopting families," Mediafax reported. Nastase said through governmental spokeswoman Despina Neagoe that Romania has been waiting in vain for EU experts to produce recommendations in agreement with the United States and nongovernmental organizations on legislation his country should pass to allow the resumption of adoptions. He said Romania is "fed up" with being pressured to resume adoptions on the one hand, and criticism for allowing adoptions on the other. Nastase urged the international experts to agree on suitable legislation that can quickly be approved by Romania's parliament. MS

Dutch European Parliament member Arie Oostlander said on 22 January in Brussels that "if Romania does not profoundly change and begin respecting the principles of a state based on the rule of law, it can forget about EU accession," Mediafax reported. Speaking before the European Parliament's Foreign Affairs Committee, Oostlander said the situation in Romania has deteriorated, and announced his intention to propose an amendment to the report presented by Baroness Nicholson (see above). He said the amendment would call for the accession negotiations with Bucharest to be suspended "to make it possible for us to focus on these problems." Prime Minister Nastase responded from Bucharest that Oostlander is a member of the Christian Democratic Popular Party group and "has a problem" because the National Party Christian Democratic (PNTCD) failed to gain representation in Romania's parliament in the 2000 elections. Nastase added that he would personally help the PNTCD reenter parliament in 2004, "If only Oostlander would explain how I could do that." MS

Bucharest Mayor Traian Basescu said on Romanian television on 22 January that he has decided to run in June for a second mayoral term, Mediafax reported. Basescu was earlier considering whether to run for prime minister on the ticket of the National Liberal Party-Democratic Party alliance, which he co-chairs. Basescu said his decision was prompted by his earlier promise to seek a second term, and followed consultations with alliance co-chairman Theodor Stolojan and within the Democratic Party leadership. He said he is pledging not to take over the post of prime minister even if National Liberal Party (PNL) Chairman Stolojan wins the fall presidential elections. In that event, he added, the Democrats will designate a prime-ministerial candidate "other than Traian Basescu." The president designates a prime minister from members of the larges parliamentary party, and there is no guarantee the alliance will have that majority even if Stolojan wins the presidential election. MS

The management of Teleradio Moldova on 22 January launched a lawsuit alleging that the Teleradio Moldova Trade Union, the Anti-Censorship Committee formed last year by Teleradio Moldova employees, and the Federation of Radio and Television Workers disseminated false information that could inflict damage on the company and destabilize its working relations, Infotag reported. The three organizations issued a statement on 21 January saying that Teleradio Moldova has not been transformed into a politically independent public broadcaster that serves listeners' interests. They said company Chairman Artur Yeferemov is an "authoritarian manager who ignores the viewpoints of the staff and acts in a nontransparent manner." The three organizations appealed to the Parliamentary Assembly of the Council of Europe to send rapporteurs to Moldova to monitor how the legislation on public radio and television is implemented in actual practice. The company's management said the allegations are groundless and its efforts to transform the company into an independent public-broadcasting organization are continuing. MS

Georgi Parvanov on 22 January addressed a number of domestic issues he wishes to see resolved in the coming months and years, according to the text of a speech posted on the official presidential website ( Parvanov called for a number of legal changes, including the introduction of a modern Penal Code to help curb organized crime and constitutional amendments to strengthen the country's democracy. Parvanov suggested the president be granted the right to initiate referendums. In a somewhat unexpected move, Parvanov proposed that a referendum be held on Bulgaria's EU membership, and called on the country's politicians to better inform the citizenry about how Bulgaria's membership in the EU could affect them. UB

President Parvanov also discussed in his 22 January speech issues related to Bulgaria's military engagement abroad, especially in Iraq. In his capacity as the country's supreme military commander, Parvanov stressed that it is not only necessary to review the legislation pertaining to military deployments abroad, but also to improve the financing and equipment of the military. In connection with the 27 December suicide attacks in Karbala, Iraq, in which five Bulgarian soldiers were killed, Parvanov said the coalition forces in Iraq should be asked to deploy more troops to that city to improve the security situation (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 29 December 2003 and End Note, "RFE/RL Newsline," 20 January 2004). He suggested that Bulgaria, as a future NATO member, should be actively involved in decision making regarding possible NATO involvement in Iraq. He said efforts should be made to bring the UN back to Iraq. "It is necessary to conduct a more active policy toward the Arab countries and the Islamic world as a whole," Parvanov said, adding that this will be one of the priorities of his office in 2004. UB


Officials of The Hague-based International Criminal Tribunal for the Former Yugoslavia announced on 21 January that Momcilo Krajisnik, a former top-level Bosnian Serb official, will go on trial on 3 February for war crimes and crimes against humanity, including genocide.

He will be the second leading Bosnian Serb official from the 1992-95 conflict to stand trial in The Hague, following former Republika Srpska President Biljana Plavsic, who was sentenced in February 2003 to 11 years in prison. Unlike Krajisnik and former Serbian leaders Slobodan Milosevic and Vojislav Seselj, Plavsic showed remorse and pleaded guilty to one of the charges against her.

But the two biggest Bosnian Serb indicted war criminals, Radovan Karadzic and General Ratko Mladic, remain at large. The fact that the troops of the most powerful military alliance in history have been unable to catch either or both of them in the eight years since the conclusion of the Dayton agreement provokes cynicism among many Bosnian Muslims and Croats and fuels the conspiracy theories that are no stranger to that part of the world.

In fact, the skepticism seems to grow with each unsuccessful SFOR attempt to apprehend one or both of the indicted men, such as a recent effort by NATO-led troops in the Pale area. It does not help matters in Bosnian eyes when SFOR officials claim that they "are getting closer than ever" to catching Karadzic -- as Captain David Sullivan told "The New York Times" of 15 January -- or when NATO Secretary-General Jaap de Hoop Scheffer said in Sarajevo on 15 January that catching Karadzic is "the first responsibility of the authorities in this country."

But as "The Wall Street Journal Europe" noted on 16 January, "many excuses are made [for not catching Karadzic], none credible. The U.S. once feared upsetting Serbs, and the French protected them. As a dysfunctional Bosnia strained patience, NATO tried harder in the late 1990s, nabbing some smaller fish."

The daily went on to argue that "now some Western officials despair about a lack of interest. 'The level of effort just isn't where it used to be,' says a NATO military official. 'It's going to be pure luck if we get him.'

Certainly, America's special forces are busy in Afghanistan and Iraq, and Europeans should do more. Realistically, though, only the U.S. has the right assets on the ground to get Karadzic," the commentary continued.

The article concluded with the argument that "the U.S. used to claim its troops won't leave Bosnia until Karadzic sits safely in war crimes tribunal jail in The Hague. As NATO gets ready to hand over the peacekeeping mission to the EU probably at the end of the year, the U.S. risks breaking this promise unless NATO gets serious about catching the butcher of Sarajevo."

Nor was this commentary by the Brussels-based daily the only pessimistic report on this subject in recent days. London's "The Times" of 20 January quoted unnamed British officials as saying that they fear that Karadzic may never be brought to justice unless NATO carries out a "serious intelligence-led effort" to catch him before the Atlantic alliance's mandate in Bosnia runs out later in 2004.

The officials dismissed SFOR's recent attempts to find Karadzic in the Pale area as a "public relations show." One unnamed source said that "at the moment, it is really only the Americans and the British taking part in the hunt.... The French, who in the past were accused of tipping off the Serbs about NATO operations, are still regarded with suspicion by other allies, and key intelligence on the manhunt is withheld from them."

Referring to the case of Mladic, an unnamed "Whitehall source" told the daily that "whatever government emerges in Belgrade, it is clear that it will be even harder than before to get them to co-operate in catching war criminals, like Mladic," whom officials of The Hague-based war crimes tribunal say is living in Serbia under official protection.

It is nonetheless important that key indicted individuals be arrested and brought to justice in order to take away the stigma of collective guilt and put the blame squarely on those individuals responsible for war crimes. This was the principle that served as the basis for the war crimes trials after World War II and remains equally valid for the conflicts in former Yugoslavia in the 1990s.

Afghan officials and UN aid workers plan to visit Iran in an effort to encourage Afghan refugees to return home, a UN official is quoted by Xinhua news agency as saying in Kabul on 22 January. The governor of the Afghan province of Bamyan, Mohammad Rahim Aliyar, will lead a delegation bound for Iran on 23 January, the agency reported. Manoel de Almeida e Silva of the UN Assistance Mission in Afghanistan (UNAMA) said the delegation "will hold talks with Afghan refugee communities as well as Iranian officials during its weeklong stay there." Roughly half of the 3 million Afghan refugees remaining outside the country are thought to be living in Iran. Most other refugees are in either Pakistan or Tajikistan. Some 2 million Afghan refugees came back to the country in 2002 with UN aid. Afghanistan's lagging economy and persistent security problems have left many Afghan refugees reluctant to return. MR

More than half a million Afghans have registered to vote in June's general election, UN officials said on 22 January. According to a DPA report, UN spokesman Silva said that more than 112,515 women are among the 507,513 Afghans who have registered. Afghan officials say some 10 million Afghans will be eligible to register. But just half that number of people are expected to enter their names into the official voter registrar, the Joint Electoral Management Body (JEMB) said. So far, only Afghanistan's major cities offer voter registration, which is available to all Afghan citizens over the age of 18. Further registration centers will open throughout the provinces, according to the JEMB, with sites chosen for their accessibility during winter and security situations, among other considerations such as projected attendance. Double registration remains a concern, Silva said. "It is considered as a very serious matter by the JEMB," said Silva, adding that the organization is talking with the government about imposing a fine or jail time for people caught registering more than once. MR

Afghan authorities banned the carrying of unauthorized weapons in Mazar-e Sharif, AFP reported on 22 January. The ban goes into effect on 24 January, according to Mohammad Akram, the police chief of Mazar-e Sharif. Any person found with an unauthorized weapon after that will face arrest and be disarmed, Akram said. The Afghan government has sought since December to increase its authority in northern Afghanistan, where rival warlords control large swaths of territory. "After 24 January, anyone we find in the city carrying arms without authorization will be arrested by the police and disarmed," Akram said. "They must carry an individual permit, which includes a photo, produced by the police. If they don't have this, police will confiscate their arms as well as their vehicle." A UN spokesman said the ban is a move by the security commission for northern Afghanistan, a group made up of the area's main militias, British peacekeeping forces, the United Nations, and the central government. Only police, some businesspeople, and bodyguards of select political figures will have authority to carry weapons in the city. MR

Afghan Transitional Administration Chairman Hamid Karzai has approved a $160 million reconstruction project aimed at developing infrastructure throughout the country, AFP reported on 22 January. "The president signed the stability-strengthening project in which the centers of every district throughout the country will emerge as small cities," Interior Minister Ali Ahmad Jalali said. "This project will cover the construction of public institutions -- district buildings, banking systems, postal offices, telephones, telegraphs, mosques, libraries, and conference halls in every district." The two-year initiative was billed as the second-largest development project in Afghanistan since the fall of the Taliban. The largest project remains reconstruction of the road linking Kabul and Kandahar. Several government agencies, led by the Interior Ministry, will be involved in the project, including the departments of Urban Development, Rural Development, Telecommunications, Public Works, and Finance. "Reconstruction projects which help widen the strengthening of stability are going to be implemented with the support of the international community, Provincial Reconstruction Teams (PRTs), and government development programs," Jalali said. MR

Mohammad Jahromi, who is in charge of election affairs at the Guardians Council, has said that the candidacy of a total of 350 prospective parliamentary candidates has been reinstated, Iranian state radio reported on 23 January. The vetting body's failure to qualify about 45 percent of the nearly 8,200 prospective candidates for the parliamentary elections has set off a wave of criticism, with provincial governors and cabinet-level officials threatening to resign and with legislators staging a sit-in (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 12 and 22 January 2004). Jahromi went on to say that investigation of the disqualified individuals' complaints is continuing. The deadline for announcing the qualified candidates is 30 January. The election headquarters, which is affiliated with the Interior Ministry, faxed a statement to IRNA on 21 January in which it complained about such announcements. It said that the Guardians Council must first apprise the headquarters of the list of qualified candidates, then the headquarters informs the constituencies. The headquarters statement continued: "Therefore, announcement of such news: particularly orally, by a [Guardians Council] member prior to informing the Interior Ministry is an illegal move and has made thousands of hopefuls refer to us -- asking whether they are among the 200 approved so far, or not." BS

About 200 members of the hard-line Ansar-i Hizbullah vigilante group attacked a 21 January political meeting at the Teacher's Hall in Hamedan, IRNA and AFP reported the next day. The meeting of disqualified prospective parliamentary candidates and their supporters, which was organized by associates of the reformist 2nd of Khordad coalition, was in support of the sit-in at the legislature in Tehran. The Hizbullah members entered the hall, heckled the speakers, chanted slogans such as "the blood in our veins will be submitted as a gift to our leader," and then rushed the speakers platform. The speakers included parliamentary representative Hussein Loqmanian, student leaders Said Razavi-Faqih and Reza Kakavand, national-religious activist Hadi Ehtezazi, and local Islamic Iran Participation Party leader Hussein Mujahid. Mujahid reportedly suffered a broken arm and nose and was taken to the city's Mobasher Hospital. The police stopped the brawl. BS

An Iranian's testimony on 21 January has added a strange twist to the trial of Abdleghani Mzoudi, a Moroccan who allegedly assisted the Hamburg-based terrorist cell suspected of hijacking the aircraft that were flown into the World Trade Center and the Pentagon on 11 September 2001, according to reports in "Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung," "Sueddeutsche Zeitung," "Die Welt," "Der Tagesspiegel," and "The Los Angeles Times." Hamid Reza Zakeri, who has claimed to be a former official in the Islamic Revolution Guards Corps, Ministry of Intelligence and Security, and the supreme leader's office (see "RFE/RL Iran Report," 24 February 2003), told the Hamburg Regional Appeals Court that Iran has been Al-Qaeda's main operational base since the 1990s, and Iran deliberately placed the Hamburg cell. He said that Osama Bin Laden's son, Saad bin Laden, visited Iran twice prior to 11 September 2001, and the defendant, Mzoudi, met in Iran with Al-Qaeda military leader Saif al-Adel. Mzoudi's attorney noted that Zakeri has openly stated that his claims are linked with his desire to secure a livelihood, and a German security expert dismissed him as "extremely adventurous," "Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung" reported. BS

The Finance Ministry on 23 January announced that all public-sector pensioners will receive higher payments effective retroactively from 1 January this year, the Coalition Provisional Authority said in a press release the same day ( Under the new plan, pensioners will no longer be paid a flat rate. Iraqis with more years of service and higher pay scales upon retirement will be awarded higher pension payments. According to the press release, first-quarter pension payments for the lowest-paid pensioners will increase from 90,000 Iraqi dinars (approximately $65) to a minimum of 95,000 dinars; and those receiving full pensions with more than 25 years of service will see their pensions increase from 90,000 dinars to a minimum of 125,000 dinars for the first quarter. Pensioners received as little as 15,000 dinars per quarter under the regime of deposed President Saddam Hussein. The press release added that it will take some time to compile information on length of service and pay scales of pensioners at the time of their retirement. In the meantime, pensioners will receive the minimum increase of 5,000 dinars per quarter. KR

U.S. troops have reportedly detained a father and son suspected of participating in the 21 January attack on a forward military base near Baquba, AP reported on 23 January. The two men were arrested on 22 January at their home in the nearby village of Hadid, Major Josslyn Aberle said. Two U.S. soldiers were killed and one wounded in the 21 January attack. KR

Soldiers from the 382nd Military Police Detachment are training Iraqi security officers to work in several foreign embassies in the Iraqi capital to ensure the safety of diplomats working and visiting Iraq, according to a 22 January press release posted on the U.S. Central Command's (CENTCOM) website ( The five-day training course for Iraqi diplomatic protective-services officers addresses everything from marksmanship to first aid, the press release states. "We are teaching how to search baggage, personnel, and vehicles, and how to spot [improvised explosive devices] on vehicles and around buildings," U.S. Military Police investigator Sergeant Reggie Ceehorne said. Some 100 Iraqi officers are participating in the training course. KR

The Japanese government is planning to resuscitate the marshes at the confluence of the Tigris and Euphrates rivers -- the heart of ancient Mesopotamia -- in Iraq, Japanese media reported on 22 January. The marshlands were virtually wiped out by Hussein's policies, which incorporated a system of drainage works and upstream damming projects that largely restricted the flow of rivers and sought to displace Shi'ites living in the area. In 2000, the United Nations said that 90 percent of the marshlands had disappeared, and satellite images in 2003 showed that less than 7 percent remained intact, BBC news reported last year. Japanese officials are considering financial assistance and projects in forestation, desalination, aqueduct construction, and anti-drought measures to help save the marshes, "Asahi Shimbum" reported on 22 January. The UN Environmental Program has said the marshes could completely dry up within five years if preventative measures are not taken. KR

UN special adviser on Iraq Lakhdar Brahimi traveled to Washington on 22 January to meet with White House officials and discuss the future UN role in Iraq, reported on 23 January. Brahimi met with U.S. Secretary of State Colin Powell and national-security adviser Condoleezza Rice, as well as National Security Council Senior Director Robert Blackwell. "The issue for discussion is an outgrowth of what we have been discussing with the UN in New York, the way forward on the political process in Iraq and how the UN can contribute to that," a U.S. official said. UN Secretary-General Kofi Annan is currently considering an Iraqi Governing Council request that the UN examine the feasibility of early nationwide direct elections in Iraq (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 20 January 2003). KR