U.S. SECRETARY OF STATE ARRIVES IN MOSCOW...
Colin Powell arrived in Moscow from Tbilisi on 25 January, ITAR-TASS and other Russian media reported. He held talks with Foreign Minister Igor Ivanov and Defense Minister Sergei Ivanov on 25 January and was expected to meet with Russian businesspeople the following day. In an interview with ORT on the eve of his trip to Georgia and Russia that was broadcast on 25 January, Powell said he was looking forward to meetings with President Vladimir Putin and his "colleague and friend" Igor Ivanov, during which they will likely "review and appraise the whole range of relations." In addition to the "wonderful rapport" between the U.S. and Russian presidents, Powell said, "there is also a wide exchange of opinions" on such issues as terrorism, the proliferation of weapons of mass destruction, Iran, and North Korea. The United States and Russia are "friends and partners in many areas" and have "total agreement on many issues," Powell said, adding that while there are "many issues" on which they differ, that "does not mean that we should stop being friends." JB
...AFTER DENYING THAT THE U.S. WANTS RUSSIA OUT OF THE CAUCASUS
In the 25 January ORT interview, U.S. Secretary of State Powell denied that the United States is trying to "squeeze" Russia out of the Caucasus. U.S military instructors are in Georgia, he said, to help it "organize better protection of its territory" and "provide security in the Pankisi Gorge, because it is there where terrorist activities that threaten Russia are taking place." Asked about the fact that no weapons of mass destruction have been discovered in Iraq, Powell said the invasion of Iraq was justified because the country had violated United Nations resolutions, including Resolution 1441. In addition, Iraq "was trying to procure weapons of mass destruction," had used them and "had programs to develop such weapons," Powell told ORT. Interfax quoted a Russian Defense Ministry source on 25 January as saying that Powell and Defense Minister Ivanov will discuss the situations in Iraq and Afghanistan and the fight against international terrorism. JB
LEADING RUSSIAN SENATOR SAYS U.S. BOGGED DOWN IN IRAQ
Federation Council International Relations Committee Chairman Mikhail Margelov told ITAR-TASS on 25 January that a group of Russian parliamentarians will travel to Iraq in the near future. Margelov said he discussed such a trip with Iraqi Foreign Minister Hoshyar Zebari on 24 January on the sidelines of the World Economic Forum in Davos, Switzerland. Margelov said it was agreed that "it is more important than ever" for Russian companies to take part in Iraqi reconstruction projects. He also said that "it would be reasonable if Iraq's debts could to some extent be exchanged for the resumption of Russian-Iraqi contracts, first of all in oil-field exploration, which was started by LUKoil." Margelov suggested the United States is "getting bogged down" in Iraq, "which has changed the way U.S. leaders view the UN's role in settling the crisis." While deposed Iraqi President Saddam Hussein has been captured, "resistance continues and there is no end to it in sight," Margelov said. "As expected...representatives of Western democracies are perceived by Iraqis as invaders and envoys of a civilization that is totally alien to Islam." JB
CHIEF OF GENERAL STAFF SAYS IRAQI ARMY'S COLLAPSE WASN'T RUSSIA'S FAULT
Speaking to the Academy of Military Sciences on 24 January, Chief of the General Staff General Anatolii Kvashnin flatly rejected claims that the defeat last year of Iraq's Soviet-equipped military was a defeat for Russian military science, RIA-Novosti reported. "What Iraqi officers did on the battlefield does not remotely resemble what the Soviet Army did during the defense of Moscow, Stalingrad, and Leningrad," Kvashnin said. "[former President Hussein's] pampered and bloated [Republican] Guard betrayed him." Kvashnin said that in order to fight "by the standards of Russian military science, you need the moral fiber and willpower shown by our 18- and 19-year-old young men fighting terrorism in Chechnya." JB
RUSSIAN SENATOR SAYS U.S. RELEASED HIM SCOT-FREE...
Andrei Vavilov, the Federation Council member and former first deputy finance minister who was questioned by the FBI in California earlier this month (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 23 January 2004), said on 23 January that he was questioned as a witness and that the U.S. authorities have no further claims on him, Interfax reported. He also confirmed that the interrogation was connected to the embezzlement case against former Ukrainian Prime Minister Pavlo Lazarenko, denying rumors that it had anything to do either with the cases against oil giant Yukos and its jailed former CEO, Mikhail Khodorkovskii, or with last year's sale of the Severnaya neft oil company, which Vavilov owned, to the state-owned Rosneft oil company. JB
...AFTER QUESTIONING HIM ABOUT EX-UKRAINIAN PREMIER
Andrei Vavilov was questioned in Aspen, Colorado, on 13 January by Martha Boersch, chief of the Organized Crime and Racketeering Strike Force at the U.S. Attorney's Office in San Francisco, "The Moscow Times" reported on 26 January, quoting Vavilov's spokeswoman. Boersch is investigating whether former Ukrainian Prime Minister Lazarenko laundered $114 million in U.S. banks. Investigators suspect the money was part of a $450 million loan to Gazprom that went missing in 1996-97 in a scheme approved by Vavilov, who was then first deputy finance minister. Lazarenko, who was indicted in California on money-laundering charges in 2000, was released from a San Francisco jail in June 2003 pending trial, which is to begin on 17 February, "The Moscow Times" reported. In connection with the Lazarenko case, U.S. prosecutors would like to question former President Boris Yeltsin, former Prime Minister Viktor Chernomyrdin, former Gazprom CEO Rem Vyakhirev, former defense ministers Pavel Grachev and Igor Rodionov, and former Tax Service chief Vitalii Artukhov, "Nezavisimaya gazeta" reported on 26 January. JB
EDUCATION MINISTRY TO CLEANSE HISTORY BOOKS OF 'PSEUDO-LIBERALISM'...
The Education Ministry has decided to launch a review of all history textbooks, Education Minister Vladimir Filippov said on 25 January speaking at the 12th annual International Educational Christmas Readings at the Kremlin, RIA-Novosti reported. A set of history textbooks will be selected according to new standards, and among these new books there "will be no place for pseudo-liberalism, directed at the distortion of history." He also said the ministry will submit suggestions for developing a general program for raising children. JAC
...AS MINISTRY OFFICIAL ENDORSES OBLIGATORY RELIGION COURSES
Patriarch of Moscow and All Russia Aleksii II has suggested reviving the pre-revolutionary tradition of teaching schoolchildren about the lives of saints, Interfax reported on 25 January. Also on 25 January, Deputy Education Minister Leonid Grebnev spoke in favor of introducing a required school course called the basics of Russian Orthodox Culture, polit.ru reported. JAC
SPS AVOIDS A SPLIT
The four co-chairpeople of the Union of Rightist Forces (SPS) resigned their posts at the party's congress on 24-25 January, Russian media reported. Congress delegates accepted on 24 January the resignations of Boris Nemtsov, Anatolii Chubais, Yegor Gaidar, and Irina Khakamada. The next day, delegates elected all four to the party's Political Council. According to REN-TV, in the future the party will have just one leader, and his or her name will be revealed in the spring. RosBalt reported on 24 January, citing an unidentified source in the party, that the new leader might be Prime Minister Mikhail Kasyanov. Also on 25 January, delegates voted to allow SPS members to support whomever they wish in the 14 March presidential election. Khakamada, who is in the process of applying for registration as a candidate in that race, said she will remain in the party, but she would have left it if delegates had voted to support President Putin in that race, ITAR-TASS reported. In the run-up to the congress, several newspapers reported that a split between supporters of Chubais and those of Nemtsov was likely (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 22 January 2004). JAC
DUMA INCREASINGLY OFF LIMITS...
Zones that are closed to visitors have now appeared in the two buildings that house the lower legislative chamber, RosBalt reported on 23 January, citing Duma Regulations Committee Chairman Oleg Kovalev (Unified Russia). Deputies can enter these parts of the building only by using an electronic identity pass. Kovalev said such measures are necessary for security reasons. Deputy Chairman of Kovalev's committee Sergei Glotov (Motherland) told reporters he is categorically against the introduction of microchips on deputies' passes, saying that such measures would allow the security services to restrict the movement of deputies in the Duma and would violate Russian legislation. According to "Kommersant-Daily" on 26 January, visitors to the Duma will receive electronic passes that will allow them to access only the area of the building where they have business. The new system will also register whether a deputy is on the premises or not, and, if not, visitors coming to see that deputy will not be allowed into the building. JAC
...AND JOURNALISTS' ACCESS IS REDUCED
Deputy Kovalev said the new security measures will not infringe upon the rights of journalists, Russian media reported on 23 January. However, "Kommersant-Daily" on 26 January commented that each "improvement" in conditions at the Duma has made journalists' access to deputies more difficult. In the second Duma, access to the Duma floor during sessions was closed to "outsiders." In the third Duma, a smoking room where deputies used to meet with journalists informally was reequipped with a pool table and closed to the press. "Gazeta" reported earlier that State Duma Speaker and former Interior Minister Boris Gryzlov has forbidden members of the Unified Russia faction to speak with members of the press without authorization, except on local matters concerning their districts (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 20 January 2004). JAC
PRO-KREMLIN PARTY EXTENDS DOMINATION OF DUMA LEADERSHIP POSTS
Duma deputies voted on 23 January to elect first deputy chairpeople and deputy chairpeople of the Duma's 29 committees, Russian media reported. Representatives of Unified Russia took 23 of the former posts, while the Communist Party took four, and Motherland and the Liberal Democratic Party of Russia (LDPR) factions took two each, ITAR-TASS reported. There are 149 deputy chairpeople positions, according to RosBalt, but the agency did not provide a breakdown of how those posts were distributed. JAC
PRESIDENTIAL ENVOY GIVES HIS ENDORSEMENT TO UDMURT INCUMBENT
Presidential envoy to the Volga Federal District Sergei Kirienko said at a press conference in Izhevsk on 24 January that "in my opinion, federal authorities properly appreciate [Udmurt President Aleksandr Volkov], and I think the voters in the republic will appreciate him the same way," "Kommersant-Daily" reported on 26 January, citing Interfax. Volkov is running for a second term in an election set for 14 March. Kirienko also noted that Udmurtia is not on the list of problem regions whose financial problems require special attention. "The republic is growing, and it has no economic problems, which is an important indicator," he said. On 12 January, the republic's Communist Party voted not to support Volkov's re-election, Regnum reported. However, he is expected to have the backing of Unified Russia. Volkov was listed first on the party's regional party list during the recent State Duma election campaign. JAC
U.S. INCREASES FINANCIAL ASSISTANCE TO ARMENIA
The omnibus budget bill passed by the U.S. Senate on 22 January allocates not less than $75 million in direct aid to Armenia and a further $5 million in humanitarian assistance to the unrecognized Nagorno-Karabakh Republic, Noyan Tapan reported on 23 January, quoting the Armenian Assembly of America. The bill calls for $2.5 million for military aid to Armenia, which is to be used to upgrade communications facilities, and $900,000 for international military training. LF
AZERBAIJANI PRESIDENT VISITS FRANCE...
Ilham Aliyev visited France on 22-23 January on his first official state visit as president of Azerbaijan, Turan and ITAR-TASS reported. Aliyev met in Paris on 23 January with French President Jacques Chirac to discuss bilateral relations and the prospects for resolving the Karabakh conflict, and also with Senate Chairman Francois Poncelet and Defense Minister Michelle Alliot-Marie. Aliyev expressed regret that the OSCE Minsk Group, of which France is one of the three co-chairs, has not succeeded in mediating a solution to the Karabakh conflict. He urged the international community to abandon what he termed its policy of double standards and to increase its efforts toward finding an acceptable solution. Aliyev also called for an increase in French investment in Azerbaijan; France is Azerbaijan's third-most-important trading partner. LF
...CALLS FOR DEMILITARIZATION OF SOUTH CAUCASUS
In an interview published on 23 January in "Le Figaro," President Aliyev said there should be no foreign military bases in the South Caucasus, and that the existing Russian bases in Armenia and Georgia should be closed, Russian media reported. He further denied that Baku is engaged in talks with the United States on creating a U.S. base in Azerbaijan. The opposition daily "Hurriyet" cited by Groong, however, reported on 24 January that construction of two U.S. air bases in Azerbaijan is already under way. LF
GEORGIAN PRESIDENT INAUGURATED...
President-elect Mikheil Saakashvili visited Kutaisi on 24 January, where he swore in the presence of thousands of supporters to restore Georgia's unity and territorial integrity and work to reduce poverty, international media reported. On 25 January, Saakashvili visited Batumi, where in the company of Adjar State Council Chairman Aslan Abashidze he reviewed a military parade. Abashidze failed to travel to Tbilisi for Saakashvili's inauguration later that day, despite statements by Saakashvili on 22 January that he was under an obligation to do so. On 25 January, Saakashvili took the oath of office in front of the parliament building in Tbilisi in the presence of numerous foreign dignitaries, including U.S. Secretary of State Colin Powell, OSCE Chairman in Office Solomon Passy, and Russian Foreign Minister Igor Ivanov. Saakashvili again pledged to unify the country and improve the economy. He also reaffirmed his desire for cordial relations with Russia. LF
...SIGNS DECLARATION OF NATIONAL ACCORD
Following a mass on 26 January at the Kashueti Church in Tbilisi, President Saakashvili signed a declaration of national accord, under which some 30 imprisoned supporters of former President Zviad Gamsakhurdia will be eligible for amnesty, Caucasus Press and the website of the independent television station Rustavi-2 reported. Saakashvili said he wants Gamsakhurdia's remains to be brought from Grozny and reburied in Tbilisi. LF
GEORGIAN LEADERSHIP URGED TO COMPLY WITH HUMAN RIGHTS COMMITMENTS
In a 23 January press release, Amnesty International called on President Saakashvili "to put human rights at the heart of his policies." Amnesty International specifically urged "decisive steps" to prevent the further harassment of religious minorities; measures to prevent the use of torture or ill treatment by police, and an investigation of previous allegations of such abuses; respect for freedom of the media; and the abrogation of the impunity agreement signed in May 2003 with the United States, under which Georgia undertook not to surrender to the International Criminal Court any U.S. nationals accused of genocide or war crimes. Amnesty International noted the agreement "runs counter to Georgia's obligations under the Rome Statute of the International Criminal Court, as well as international law." LF
WORLD BANK OFFICIAL VISITS GEORGIA
During a visit to Tbilisi on 20-24 January, World Bank Country Director for the South Caucasus Donna Dowsett-Coirolo met with acting President Nino Burdjanadze, Minister of State Zurab Zhvania, Finance Minister Zurab Nogaideli, and National Bank Chairman Irakli Managadze, Caucasus Press reported. Interfax on 23 January quoted Dowsett-Coirolo as welcoming the measures taken by the new Georgian leadership to end the country's ongoing financial crisis and praising the monetary policy pursued by the National Bank. She said that provided the Georgian government and the IMF reach agreement on a renewal of loans, there are good prospects for the World Bank making available this year the first of three annual $20 million loan tranches to help finance structural reforms, Caucasus Press reported. LF
INDEPENDENT GEORGIAN TELEVISION STATION WINS FREQUENCY TENDER
The independent television station Rustavi-2 won a tender on 23 January for the broadcast frequency formerly used in Georgia by Russia's ORT television, Caucasus Press reported. The only other bidder, Technomedia, withdrew its application earlier that day. LF
GROUP FORMED IN KAZAKHSTAN TO DEFEND PROSECUTED JOURNALIST
A group of prominent defenders of journalists' rights has been formed in Kazakhstan to defend Gennadii Benditskiy, a correspondent for the weekly "Vremya," who is being sued for criminal libel in connection with his investigation into the alleged disappearance of $1.5 million that had been earmarked by the Kazakh Defense Ministry for the purchase of military equipment from Russian and Ukrainian factories, centrasia.ru reported on 25 January, citing "Vremya," No. 3. The centrist Ak Zhol party provided the initiative for the committee, citing the necessity to defend freedom of speech and democratic values, as well as to support the struggle against corruption. Among the committee members are National Library Director Murat Auezov, Journalists in Need Foundation head Rozlana Taukina, International Bureau for Human Rights Director Yevgenii Zhovtis, parliamentarians, and journalists. The committee is calling on parliament remove libel from the Criminal Code. Ak Zhol co-Chairman Bulat Abilov announced that two prominent Kazakh lawyers have been hired to defend Benditskiy. BB
KYRGYZ PRESIDENT PROMISES ETHNIC UZBEKS MORE ATTENTION TO LANGUAGE, CULTURE
Meeting with representatives of the ethnic Uzbek communities of southern Kyrgyzstan on 23 January, Askar Akaev promised that Uzbek language and culture will be given great significance in the future, as will the languages and cultures of all the country's other nationalities, kabar.kg reported. Akaev was promoting the Assembly of the Peoples of Kyrgyzstan and touted the importance of interethnic harmony for the country's economic development. In an apparent reference to frictions between Kyrgyzstan and Uzbekistan in 2003 over border issues, Akaev noted that one of the tasks of the current Year of Social Mobilization is to promote good relations with all neighboring countries through public diplomacy. On 26 January, Akaev met with representatives of the ethnic Tajiks of Batken Oblast to bring a similar message and to discuss the functioning of the Tajik cultural center, kabar.kg reported. BB
NEW OIL AND GAS MINISTER APPOINTED IN TURKMENISTAN
Turkmen President Saparmurat Niyazov signed a decree during a 24 January cabinet meeting on 24 January appointing Amangeldy Pudakov as oil, gas, and natural resources minister, RIA-Novosti and turkmenistan.ru reported. Previously, Pudakov was first deputy chairman of the state oil concern Turkmenneft. His predecessor, Tachberdy Tagiev, was appointed governor of western Turkmenistan's hydrocarbon-rich Balkan Oblast in October 2003. Niyazov told the cabinet meeting that the minister's job is not to interfere forcefully in the work of the oil-and-gas industry, but to ensure that government policy is carried out. Niyazov also instructed the new appointee to keep a close eye on the foreign oil-and-gas firms working in the Caspian Sea region. BB
EU-TURKMENISTAN COMMITTEE MEETS ON COOPERATION
The European Union's joint committee with Turkmenistan met on 23 January in Brussels to discuss cooperation, Interfax reported, quoting the Turkmen Foreign Ministry. The meeting, which was attended by a Turkmen government delegation and representatives of the European Commission and EU member states, was part of a push by President Niyazov to develop cooperation with the EU. In November, Niyazov sent a letter to Italian Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi, whose country then held the rotating EU Presidency, and European Commission President Romano Prodi asserting Turkmenistan's interest in a constructive dialogue. Earlier in the year, the EU repeatedly criticized Turkmenistan's human rights record. The 23 January meeting concentrated on investment policies and business ties, with some attention being given to energy, transport and communications, agriculture, environmental protection, education, and combating international terrorism. There was no indication whether human rights were addressed. BB
TURKMENISTAN SIGNS COOPERATION AGREEMENT WITH WHO
The Turkmen government has signed an agreement with the European Bureau of the World Health Organization (WHO) on cooperation in 2004-05, RIA-Novosti reported on 25 January. According to the Turkmen Health Ministry, the agreement focuses on maternal and children's health, reproductive health, monitoring infectious diseases such as tuberculosis and malaria, the manufacture of pharmaceuticals, financing of health systems, and environmental influences on health. The project budget is set at $190,000. Turkmenistan is in the process of dismissing some 15,000 health-care professionals, mostly lower-level health workers who provide most basic health services throughout the country. BB
UZBEKISTAN PERMITS MORE FOREIGNERS TO VISIT PRISONS
In 2003, the Uzbek government allowed delegations from the International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC) to make 30 visits to penal establishments in the country, in some cases visiting the same facility more than once, tribune.uz.info reported on 26 January. In 2002, the ICRC was allowed five prison visits, and in 2001 four. In the late 1990s the Uzbek authorities rejected all requests for prison visits. The report further noted that in 2003 the European Union's Cooperation Commission with Uzbekistan was allowed to visit a prison in Tashkent Oblast, and a number of European Union ambassadors in Tashkent were allowed in October to visit Jaslyk Prison, which is notorious for the high number of deaths among inmates. BB
BELARUS CONTRACTS ADDITIONAL GAS SUPPLIES FROM ITERA, TRANSNAFTA...
Belarus's state-controlled gas-transport company signed contracts on 24 January with two independent suppliers of Russian gas to provide a temporary solution to a disagreement that arose after Belarus purportedly exceeded its contracted supply, Belapan reported on 25 January. Beltranshaz signed temporary supply contracts with Itera and Transnafta for additional gas deliveries in January, thus lifting a cutoff imposed last week (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 23 January 2004). The new contracts will reportedly allow Belarus to receive sufficient amounts of natural gas until 29 January, but Beltranshaz will then have to negotiate new deals for additional gas supplies. JM
...AFTER BELARUSIAN, RUSSIAN LEADERS CONFER
Belarusian President Alyaksandr Lukashenka telephoned his Russian counterpart Vladimir Putin on 23 January to discuss the resumption of Russian gas supplies to Belarus, Belapan reported. "An understanding was reached that natural gas would be delivered continuously and in the full amount that our country needs," Natallya Pyatkevich, Lukashenka's press secretary, said of that conversation. Putin's press service, however, did not confirm Pyatkevich's statement, saying only that both leaders discussed bilateral relations in the gas sector. Gazprom has refused to supply gas to Belarus at Russian domestic prices in 2004, following Minsk's failure to fulfill a promise to sell a controlling stake in Beltranshaz. JM
BELARUSIAN POLICE ARREST SEVEN DEMONSTRATORS
Police arrested seven activists from the youth opposition movement Zubr who were staging a demonstration in front of the Prosecutor-General's Office in Minsk on 24 January, Belapan reported. The demonstration was intended to commemorate four opponents of the Lukashenka government -- Yury Zakharanka, Viktar Hanchar, Anatol Krasouski, and Dzmitry Zavadski -- all of whom disappeared under mysterious circumstances in 1999 and 2000. Some in the anti-Lukashenka opposition consider Prosecutor-General Viktar Sheyman to be among those responsible for the disappearances (see "RFE/RL Poland, Belarus, and Ukraine Report," 12 June and 28 August 2001). JM
KUCHMA, PUTIN CLOSE 'YEAR OF RUSSIA IN UKRAINE'
Russian President Vladimir Putin visited Kyiv on 23-24 January for the official close of the "Year of Russia in Ukraine" -- a series of cultural events promoting Russia in Ukraine -- with his Ukrainian counterpart Leonid Kuchma, Ukrainian and international media reported. "Russia needs a strong Ukraine, while Ukraine, I am confident, needs a strong Russia," Putin said at a gala ceremony in Kyiv on 23 January. "We reaffirmed the Ukrainian-Russian partnership and good-neighborliness," Kuchma commented on his meeting with Putin. The same day, the two sides signed agreements on cooperation between steelmakers and nuclear-energy companies. The following day, Kuchma and Putin visited the Kyivo-Pecherska Lavra (Monastery) in Kyiv, which remains under the administration of the Ukrainian Orthodox Church (Moscow Patriarchate). "The Ukrainian Orthodox Church is now totally independent, including from the Russian Orthodox Church. The only link that remains between the churches is the canonical and spiritual link," Putin said at the monastery. "In my view, this is a very important factor in the unity of our peoples." JM
NEWS AGENCY PROTESTS EXCLUSION FROM KUCHMA-PUTIN NEWS CONFERENCE
French news agency AFP on 24 January disseminated a statement protesting the refusal by the Ukrainian presidential administration to accredit AFP journalist Anna Tsukanova for a Kuchma-Putin news conference the previous day, Interfax reported. The statement charged that Tsukanova was deprived media accreditation for asking Putin upon his arrival at Borispil airport near Kyiv an "unsanctioned" question concerning a possible third presidential term for Kuchma. "This is Ukraine's internal matter. We have come here for a different reason," Putin replied. JM
ESTONIA'S REFORM PARTY CALLS FOR NEW CONSTITUTION
The extended board of the Reform Party decided at its meeting in the southwestern city of Parnu on 24 January to urge its parliament deputies to initiate a bill on establishing a national body for drafting a new constitution, BNS reported. Mart Rask, the head of the constitutional working group in the party-program commission, noted that Estonia's entry into the EU will require some changes to the constitution. For example, the constitution states that the Bank of Estonia is the issuer of the national currency, the kroon, but Estonia is planning to adopt the common currency of the European Union, the euro. Rask said it would take several years to prepare a new constitution, which would have to be approved in a referendum. Parliament Constitutional Committee Deputy Chairwoman Siiri Oviir of the opposition Center Party said there is no need for a new constitution, adding that the Reform Party is only making such a proposal to attract attention. SG
LATVIAN PRESIDENT URGES LARGE CORPORATIONS TO ACT RESPONSIBLY
Vaira Vike-Freiberga was an active participant in the World Economic Forum in Davos, Switzerland, on 21-25 January, LETA reported. During the discussion "Riding the Next Democratic Wave" on 23 January, she urged the world's largest corporations to act responsibly, to not endanger democracy in countries where they operate by offering bribes, and not to support countries ruled by totalitarian or occupation regimes. On 22 January, Vike-Freiberga held talks with NATO Secretary-General Jaap de Hoop Scheffer on NATO-Latvian cooperation and discussed with Canadian Prime Minister Paul Martin an exchange of visits by top officials. She also met the same day with Council of Women World Leaders President Mary Robinson. On 25 January, Vike-Freiberga spoke at the plenary session "Why the Advancement of Women is Strategically -- Not Politically -- Correct." SG
LITHUANIAN FOREIGN MINISTER MEETS WITH U.S. SECRETARY OF STATE
U.S. Secretary of State Colin Powell told Antanas Valionis in Washington on 23 January that the United States is keeping a close watch on the impeachment process involving President Rolandas Paksas, ELTA reported. Powell said he hopes Lithuania's current political crisis will be settled in keeping with democratic principles. The same day, Valionis met with Senator John McCain (Republican, Arizona), and high-ranking officials of the State and Defense Departments. On 21 January he held talks with Representative John Shimkus (Republican, Illinois), a co-chairman of the Baltic Caucus comprising representatives interested in Baltic affairs. Valionis also met at the Lithuanian Embassy with Senator Carl Levin (Democrat, Michigan) at the opening of an exhibition by Lithuanian painter Solomon Titelbaum. On 22 January, Valionis spoke with Senator Richard Durbin (Democrat, Illinois) about U.S.-Lithuanian relations upon Lithuania's accession to the EU and NATO, and met with the ambassadors in Washington of the Vilnius 10. SG
POLISH RULING COALITION FACES TOUGH VOTE ON AUSTERITY PLAN
The ruling Democratic Left Alliance-Labor Union (SLD-UP) bloc on 24 January unanimously pledged support for the so-called Hausner plan, a set of budgetary cutbacks prepared by Economy Minister Jerzy Hausner (see "RFE/RL Poland, Belarus, and Ukraine Report," 20 January 2004), Polish media reported. However, the upcoming parliamentary vote on the Hausner plan is expected to be contentious, since the SLD-UP minority government led by Premier Leszek Miller controls just 206 votes in the 460-seat Sejm, which is 25 votes shy of the required majority. The SLD-UP has so far won key votes with the backing of minor parties and independent deputies. But on 23 January, the Peasant-Democratic Party led by Roman Jagielinski refused to support an SLD-UP budget amendment intended to cut railway subsidies, and the ruling coalition lost the related vote. "Yesterday gave us a taste of what may come when we put cutback bills before parliament," Miller said on 24 January. "But this government will not bow to political blackmail, and we will remain open to cooperation in parliament." Some Polish media reported last week that Jagielinski demanded posts in the government for his party in exchange for supporting the 2004 budget. Jagielinski has dismissed those reports. JM
CZECH COMMUNISTS SELECT EUROPARLIAMENT CANDIDATES
The opposition Communist Party of Bohemia and Moravia (KSCM) on 23 January selected Deputy Chairman Miloslav Ransdorf to head the KSCM slate in elections to the European Parliament scheduled for June, CTK reported. The second spot on the KSCM list went to former Czechoslovak cosmonaut Vladimir Remek, who said he hopes to use his experience in working with Russian colleagues in the European Parliament (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 23 January 2004). All five parties in the Czech parliament have approved their slates for the Europarliamentary elections, CTK reported on 25 January. The senior ruling Social Democratic Party (CSSD) ticket is led by parliamentary deputy Libor Roucek; the junior coalition Christian Democratic Union-People's Party (KDU-CSL) ticket by Senator Zuzana Roithova; the junior coalition Freedom Union-Democratic Union (US-DEU) ticket by Senator Helena Rognerova, who is not a member of US-DEU; and the senior opposition Civic Democratic Party (ODS) slate is led by party Deputy Chairman Jan Zahradil. MS
CZECH YOUTH ATTEMPTS SUICIDE IN WAKE OF SENTENCE FOR ATTACK ON ROMANY FAMILY
One of three young men sentenced recently to probation for having assaulted a Romany family in Jesenik apparently attempted to kill himself by swallowing poison, CTK reported on 23 January, citing the daily "Olomoucky den." Eighteen-year-old Martin Stiskala was hospitalized after his mother found him unconscious, but he has since been discharged. Regional prosecutors recently announced their intention to appeal what they see as lenient sentences for the three young men, who were convicted of brutally attacking a Romany family after entering that family's home (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 9 and 21 January 2004). CTK reported that Stiskala's fellow attackers were involved in another racially charged incident last week. MS
BSE CONFIRMED IN CZECH REPUBLIC
State veterinary officials confirmed on 23 January that an animal from a farm near Litomysl was infected with BSE (mad-cow disease), dpa reported. Some 200 cattle from the same herd will be destroyed as a preventive measure. This case marks the ninth confirmed instance of BSE in the Czech Republic since mid-2001, with 1,300 animals slaughtered as a result. MS
SLOVAK PREMIER VISITS CONTINGENT IN AFGHANISTAN
Prime Minister Mikulas Dzurinda and Defense Minister Juraj Liska visited the 40-member Slovak engineering contingent serving at Bagram Air Base near the Afghan capital on 23 January, TASR and CTK reported. Dzurinda also met in Kabul with Afghan Transitional Administration Chairman Hamid Karzai and with former king Muhammad Zaher Shah, with whom he discussed bilateral relations. Dzurinda said the service of the Slovak contingent in that country is proof that Slovakia is capable of meeting its international responsibilities. "We can be proud that we have such men," he added, according to CTK. The Slovak premier and defense minister also met in Kabul with the commander of U.S.-led coalition forces in Afghanistan, Brigadier General Lloyd Austin, who praised the Slovak troops as "skilled and disciplined soldiers who do a lot of work," TASR reported. MS
FORMER SLOVAK PARLIAMENTARY SPEAKER LAUNCHES PRESIDENTIAL BID
A former speaker of the Slovak parliament who now heads the extraparliamentary Movement for Democracy (HZD) said on 24 January that 15 lawmakers have agreed to support his candidacy for president, TASR reported. HZD Chairman Ivan Gasparovic said he is also backed by 24,000 eligible voters who signed a petition to support his presidential bid. Slovak legislation stipulates that presidential candidates must enlist the support of 15 parliamentary deputies or at least 15,000 voters. Gasparovic hinted that he would back the candidacy of Movement for a Democratic Slovakia (HZDS) Chairman and former Prime Minister Vladimir Meciar if he himself failed to reach the second round of the April ballot. Gasparovic and his supporters left the HZDS ahead of the 2002 general elections. Meciar has yet to announce whether he intends to run for the post. MS
SLOVAKIA TO RAISE LEVEL OF REPRESENTATION IN BELARUS
Foreign Minister Eduard Kukan said on 25 January that Slovakia intends to strengthen its diplomatic missions in countries of the former Soviet Union in 2004, TASR reported. Kukan said the Slovak diplomatic presence in Belarus will be raised from the level of consulate to embassy, and an ambassador will represent Slovakia in Minsk from June. Kukan said that "regardless of the political situation in Belarus," it is necessary to talk its leadership. "We should not push them into a corner, but instead include them in the [international] dialogue," Kukan said. MS
HUNGARIAN DEMOCRATIC FORUM, ALLIES SIGN AGREEMENT FOR EUROPARLIAMENT ELECTIONS
Democratic Forum Chairwoman Ibolya David and leaders of three extraparliamentary parties, the Independent Smallholders Party, the Entrepreneurs Party, and the Hungarian Democratic People's Party, signed a cooperation agreement on 24 January for the June European parliamentary elections, Hungarian media reported. The four center-right parties will field joint candidates but cooperate as equals to preserve their independence, "Nepszabadsag" reported. According to the cooperation agreement, the four parties hope to represent "the silent Hungarian majority" in the European elections, "Magyar Nemzet" reported. MSZ
SERBIA REMAINS WITHOUT A NEW GOVERNMENT...
Democratic Party leaders Boris Tadic and Zoran Zivkovic said on 25 January in Belgrade that their party is committed to a Serbian governing coalition of all parliamentary parties that did not support the rule of former Yugoslav President Slobodan Milosevic, RFE/RL's South Slavic and Albanian Languages Service reported (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 23 January 2004 and "RFE/RL Balkan Report," 12 December 2003 and 9 January 2004). Zivkovic stressed that it would be pointless to hold new elections, which would most likely produce the same results as the 28 December vote. Democratic Party of Serbia (DSS) leader Vojislav Kostunica meanwhile repeated his desire for a minority government supported by the Democrats in the parliament, but said he will not include them in the cabinet. He said he does not want what he regards as a party tainted by corruption in his government. On 24 January, the G-17 Plus political party called for a serious dialogue between the DSS and the Democrats lest unnamed powerful businessmen take advantage of the current political deadlock to further their own agendas (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 14 and 21 January 2004). PM
...BUT ARE ELECTIONS A SERIOUS POSSIBILITY?
DSS Vice President Dragan Marsicanin said in Belgrade on 24 January that the DSS, G-17 Plus, and their two probable coalition partners -- the Serbian Renewal Movement (SPO) and the New Serbia party -- might field a joint slate if new elections are held as a result of the current political deadlock, RFE/RL's South Slavic and Albanian Languages Service reported. Elsewhere, Tomislav Nikolic, who heads the ultranationalist Serbian Radical Party (SRS), which won the most votes in the 28 December poll, said that time is on his side, the "Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung" reported on 26 January. He predicted that the SRS will do even better in any new elections, adding that, in any event, the SRS will form a government within three months. PM
MONTENEGRIN LEADER SAYS 'ENOUGH IS ENOUGH'
Montenegrin parliamentary speaker Ranko Krivokapic said in Podgorica on 24 January that the continuing political deadlock in Belgrade demonstrates that it is unwise and impractical to expect Serbia and Montenegro to join European institutions as a joint state rather than as two separate republics, RFE/RL's South Slavic and Albanian Languages Service reported. He added that it will not bode well for the future of either Serbia or Montenegro if Kostunica returns to power. PM
ALBANIAN PARLIAMENTARY SPEAKER HAILS MACEDONIAN MINORITY POLICY
Visiting Albanian parliamentary speaker Servet Pellumbi said in Skopje on 24 January that Macedonia could serve as a model for creating a multiethnic state with democratic means, MIA news agency reported. Pellumbi cited the implementation of the Ohrid peace agreement, which ended the 2001 interethnic conflict, the recent passing of a law establishing a state-run Albanian-language university in Tetovo, as well as the government's decentralization efforts (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 7, 8, and 22 January 2004 and "RFE/RL Balkan Report," 11 and 18 July and 26 September 2003). Pellumbi asked the Macedonian government to help resolve the educational problems of the Macedonian minority in Albania. Pellumbi's Macedonian counterpart Ljubco Jordanovski said the Ohrid peace accord and the subsequent constitutional amendments could serve as a model for the creation of multiethnic societies in the whole region. UB
MACEDONIAN TEACHERS TO GO ON STRIKE
Union officials said in Skopje that up to 35,000 teachers in 550 state-run educational institutions were expected to take part in a strike for higher pay beginning on 26 January, dpa reported. The government recently rejected union demands for increases, saying that it cannot afford pay raises amounting to about $3 million. PM
'KOSOVA'S MANDELA' TO RETURN TO POLITICS
Adem Demaci, who was Kosova's leading dissident in communist times and is widely known as "Kosova's Mandela," plans to form a new political party soon, RFE/RL's South Slavic and Albanian Languages Service reported from Prishtina on 24 January. It is not clear what Demaci's party might be called or what its place might be on the political spectrum. Speculation about his possible return to politics surfaced after his recent resignation as head of Radio-Television Kosova (RTK), which is the province's largest public broadcaster. He is known to be unhappy with the fractious nature of Kosovar politics, blaming what he called a lack of leadership on the communist or guerrilla origins of many prominent politicians. PM
ROMANIA PURSUES 'DAMAGE LIMITATION' WITH EUROPEAN COMMISSION, PARLIAMENT
Foreign Minister Mircea Geoana, who is to participate this week in a new round of the Intergovernmental Conference on the planned EU constitution in Brussels, told Mediafax on 25 January that he plans to use the opportunity to meet with EU Enlargement Commissioner Guenter Verheugen, Baroness Emma Nicholson, and Dutch European Parliament member Arie Oostlander. Nicholson, who is European Parliament rapporteur for Romania, last week criticized Bucharest for allowing the adoption of 105 Romanian children by Italian citizens last year. Oostlander subsequently proposed the suspension of accession talks with Bucharest for lack of progress in promoting a state based on the rule of law (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 23 January 2004). Jean-Christophe Filori, the European Commission's spokesman on expansion, said on 23 January said that the commission has no intention of going so far as to freeze accession talks with Romania, but intends to "seriously analyze" the adoption issue, Romanian Television reported. A 23 January Mediafax report quoted Filori as saying that Verheugen "closely follows" the adoption issue and expects Bucharest to respect the obligations to the EU that Romania assumed when it implemented a moratorium on international adoptions in June 2001. MS
ROMANIA'S HUNGARIAN MINORITY MARCHES CLOSER TO SPLIT
The Hungarian Civic Union (UCM) on 23 January selected Adel Donath as its candidate for Targu-Mures mayor in the June 2004 local elections, Mediafax reported. The Hungarian Democratic Federation of Romania (UDMR) earlier designated Attila Kelemen as its candidate for the post. The UCM meeting was attended by leaders of the Szekler National Council (CNS in Romanian, SZNT in Hungarian). The UDMR earlier said that UDMR members running against designated UDMR candidates will be expelled from the party (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 16 January 2004). Meanwhile, the Democratic Party on 23 January demanded that the CNS be outlawed for its intention to present a draft law on the autonomy of the Szekler lands, and ruling Social Democratic Party parliamentary deputy Antonie Iorgovan -- nicknamed "the father of the Romanian Constitution" -- said he would resign from parliament if the council is not outlawed. Finally, some 150 members of the Vatra Romaneasca (Romanian Cradle) anti-Hungarian organization protested in Arad on 24 January against a plan to reerect the Hungarian Liberty Monument in a "reconciliation park" in the city. A similar demonstration by Vatra members took place on 10 January. MS
MOLDOVAN PRESIDENT SAYS DAMAGED RELATIONS WITH ROMANIA ARE A 'PASSING EPISODE'
Addressing a forum of foreign diplomats serving in Moldova, President Vladimir Voronin on 23 January said relations between his country and Romania are currently "quite destructive," RFE/RL's Chisinau bureau reported. Voronin said he is nonetheless confident that "the current mutual mistrust is a passing episode and the signing of the Russian-Romanian basic treaty will provide the foundation on which Moldova and Romania will be able to construct relations between them in the 21st century." Meanwhile, the Russian State Duma on 23 January ratified the treaty signed by Presidents Vladimir Putin and Ion Iliescu on 4 July, Mediafax reported. MS
CHISINAU COURT REJECTS PPCD'S APPEAL
The Chisinau Court of Appeals on 23 January rejected the Popular Party Christian Democratic's (PPCD) appeal of Communist Deputy Mayor Alla Mironic's decision not to grant the PPCD permission to hold a protest demonstration on 25 January, RFE/RL's Chisinau bureau reported (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 21 and 22 January 2004). PPCD Deputy Chairman Vlad Cubreacov said his party intends to take the issue to the Supreme Court. MS
TIRASPOL PRISONER'S WIFE SAYS HIS HEALTH IS DETERIORATING
Eudochia Ivantoc said after being allowed by the separatist authorities to visit her husband, Tiraspol prisoner Andrei Ivantoc, that his health is deteriorating, Flux reported on 23 January. She said after her 21 January visit that his health situation results from prison authorities having kept him in isolation without food or water. Eudochia Ivantoc also said the authorities told her she may visit her husband for two hours once every two months and for three days once every six months (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 7, 8, 14, and 20 January 2004). MS
RUSSIAN AMBASSADOR CRITICIZES BULGARIAN MEDIA OVER INTERVIEW
Russian Ambassador to Bulgaria Vladimir Titov has called on Bulgaria's Council on Electronic Media (SEM) to take unspecified measures in connection with an interview broadcast on "Blitz," the joint program of RFE/RL's Bulgarian Service and bTV, mediapool.bg reported on 23 January. Aleksandr Litvinenko -- a former Russian Federal Security Service (FSB) officer and associate of self-exiled Russian tycoon Boris Berezovskii who currently resides in London -- claimed in the 22 January interview that the Russian security services are shielding organized-crime structures with President Vladimir Putin's knowledge (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 28 August 2001, 28 March 2002, and 17 December 2003). Titov responded in an open letter that Litvinenko's accusations are "absurd fabrications" and that the interview ran counter to journalistic ethics. Litvinenko also claimed in the interview that controversial Russian businessman Mikhail Chernoi, whose ban from entering Bulgaria was recently lifted by the Supreme Court, organizes money laundering for a drug-trafficking scheme from Afghanistan (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 17 June and 22 October 2003). UB
BULGARIAN FOREIGN MINISTER SCOLDS PRESIDENT OVER EU-REFERENDUM PROPOSAL
In response to President Georgi Parvanov's recent suggestion that Bulgaria hold a referendum on its possible EU membership, Foreign Minister Solomon Pasi on 23 January accused the president of using the issue to ensure his re-election, mediapool.bg reported (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 23 January 2004). Noting that such a referendum would likely be held in 2006, Pasi said: "You know very well that there will be presidential elections in 2006, so these two questions will be closely connected.... It is rather useless to politicize our EU membership to such a degree." Bulgaria has been given a target date of 2007 for accession to the union. Deputy Prime Minister Plamen Panayotov said Bulgaria will become an EU member whether or not referendum is held. UB
HAS MOSCOW PUT POWER-SHARING TREATY WITH CHECHNYA ON HOLD?
Pro-Moscow Chechen leader Akhmed-hadji Kadyrov raised eyebrows on 19 January when he told a press conference that if it lay within his power to do so, he would designate Vladimir Putin as Russian president for life. But "Izvestiya" on 22 January attributed Kadyrov's proposal not so much to his admiration for the Russian president but to desire to secure the most favorable terms possible for Chechnya in the proposed power-sharing treaty between Chechnya and the federal center.
Speaking the day after the March referendum on a new Chechen Constitution, Putin singled out drafting that power-sharing treaty as one of the three most important tasks facing the Chechen leadership. But while the remaining two -- passing a law granting amnesty to Chechen fighters who lay down their arms, and preparing and holding elections for the office of Chechen president under the new constitution -- have long been accomplished, the status of the draft treaty remains unclear.
Both before and after the March 2003 referendum, Kadyrov said repeatedly that he envisages the proposed power-sharing treaty as bestowing economic advantages and privileges on Chechnya rather than a greater degree of political autonomy than enjoyed by other federation subjects. "The Chechen Republic and its population do not need any broad political powers beyond those that other regions have," Interfax quoted him as saying on 28 April.
But subsequent reports suggest Kadyrov is asking far more in terms of purely economic concessions than Moscow is prepared to grant. Specifically, he argues that Chechnya should retain all the taxes collected on its territory, and that the Chechen leadership should have total control over the exploitation and sale of all Chechnya's natural resources, meaning in the first instance oil, but also timber.
On 21 June, the Chechen press published a draft of the treaty which included both those provisions, "Nezavisimaya gazeta" reported, commenting that the draft virtually declares the priority of Chechen over federal law. (The draft described the Chechen Republic as a democratic, law-based, sovereign state within the composition of the Russian Federation.) Gazeta.ru on 23 June quoted Kadyrov as saying he authored the draft himself.
The first session of the working group set up at Putin's instigation to prepare the draft treaty took place on 30 June, according to "Izvestiya" on 1 July; at that session a deadline of 31 October was agreed on to submit the final draft to Putin. Also on 30 June, "Vremya novostei" published an interview with Kadyrov in which he affirmed that "not a single item in the draft [agreement he authored] contravenes the Constitution of the Russian Federation." Kadyrov further claimed in that interview that the constitutions of other, unnamed federation subjects similarly designate those republics as sovereign states.
On 4 July, just days after the first session of the working group, Putin named 5 October as the date for the Chechen presidential ballot. That election, as anticipated, consolidated Kadyrov's position as head of the republic. Speaking at a press conference in Moscow on 10 October, Kadyrov again said he wants the Kremlin to bestow special economic privileges on Chechnya, specifically allowing the republic to retain until 2010 all taxes and proceeds from the sale of oil.
But Russian Finance Minister Aleksei Kudrin told journalists in Moscow on 30 October that all federal taxes collected in Chechnya must be transferred to the central budget, whence the appropriate amount will be channeled back to Grozny to finance reconstruction, ITAR-TASS reported. "We cannot afford the luxury of making any legal exceptions" to Russia's unified tax system, Kudrin explained.
On 6 October, Russian Minister for Chechen Affairs Stanislav Ilyasov told ITAR-TASS that work on the draft power-sharing treaty "has reached the final stage," and that it would be signed before the end of the year. But on 9 December, ITAR-TASS quoted Russian presidential aide Aslanbek Aslakhanov, a member of the working group who formerly represented Chechnya in the State Duma, as arguing that it would be preferable to postpone the signing until after the 14 March Russian presidential election.
Kadyrov, however, took the opposite view, telling Interfax on 17 December that he is certain the agreement will be signed before the Russian presidential ballot. Kadyrov claimed that "the draft treaty has, in fact, been completed and is now lying on my desk. But this issue is so important that we are examining it over and over, comparing positions and working to defend Chechnya's interests...without harming those of the federal center."
It is not clear whether the delay in signing the treaty is in any way connected with Kadyrov's proposal that Chechnya and Ingushetia should be reunited as a single federation subject -- a proposal that Ingush President Marat Zyazikov steadfastly rejects. A merger of the two regions would render the agreement currently being negotiated obsolete.
AFGHAN LEADER SAYS POLITICAL PARTIES CANNOT HAVE MILITARY WINGS...
Afghan Transitional Administration Chairman Hamid Karzai said on 24 January that the country's law on political parties clearly forbids the formation of political parties with military wings, Afghanistan Television reported (see "RFE/RL Afghanistan Report," 18 September 2003). Karzai added that if there are political parties that have military wings, they should either dissolve their military forces or transfer such forces to the Afghan National Army. If a political party cannot follow the law, then it cannot register itself, Karzai added. If Karzai's plan to enforce legislation on political parties is successful, warlords who yield considerable political power may face the tough choice of either abandoning their military might in favor of joining the political arena or becoming an armed opposition to the central authority. Some warlords who also lead political parties hold official posts within the Afghan Transitional Administration. AT
...AND FAVORS NEW BONN-STYLE CONFERENCE
Karzai said on 24 January that he would like to see a second international conference on Afghanistan, Afghanistan Television reported. Karzai said increased international support is required in Afghanistan. The 2001 Bonn conference laid the groundwork for the Afghan Transitional Administration. The UN and some national leaders have called for another Bonn-style conference to address financial and political shortcomings and contribute to Afghanistan's long-term rehabilitation. AT
EASTERN AFGHAN WARLORD LAUNCHES HUNGER STRIKE IN PAKISTANI PRISON
A rogue military commander in eastern Paktiya Province, Pacha Khan Zadran, launched a hunger strike on 23 January to protest the conditions of his detention at a prison in Pakistan, Hindukosh news agency reported on 25 January. Zadran was detained in the Pakistani town of Miran Shah while he traveling there to visit his family, the agency said. Zadran reportedly has not been informed of the reason for his arrest and has been denied any visits while in custody. Zadran was a signatory of the 2001 Bonn agreement and an ally of both Afghan Transitional Administration Chairman Karzai and the United States before he went into armed opposition to the government in Kabul the following year. Zadran recently pledged full cooperation with the Transitional Administration (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 14 January 2004). AT
NORTHERN AFGHAN WARLORD REFUSES TO RELEASE FORMER TALIBAN PRISONERS
Afghan warlord and leader of Junbish-e Melli party General Abdul Rashid Dostum has refused to obey an order from Transitional Administration Chairman Karzai to release some former Taliban prisoners from detention in the northern Afghan town of Sheberghan, Voice of the Islamic Republic of Iran reported on 25 January. A judicial commission investigating detentions in Sheberghan by Dostum forces recently said it expected many former Taliban to be released (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 22 January 2004). Dostum, who is nominally Karzai's adviser on security matters in northern Afghanistan, is stubbornly resisting efforts by Kabul to impose central authority. AT
IRANIAN FOREIGN MINISTER BERATES U.S. SENATOR
Kamal Kharrazi had a 90-minute meeting with Senator Joseph Biden (Democrat, Delaware) on 23 January during the World Economic Forum in Davos, Switzerland, IRNA reported the next day. Kharrazi, according to the Iranian Foreign Ministry press bureau, said during the meeting that "the Iranian nation has suffered gravely from the antagonistic steps of the American government and so long as these wrong policies continue, there will be no ground for dialogue." He said that "American statesmen are required first to change their existing approach and prove their good will in order to pave the way for dialogue and diplomatic relations according to mutual respect." Biden, according to the Iranian Foreign Ministry press bureau, "stressed the importance of Iran and the role that it can play in the sensitive and volatile region," and he also hoped for the removal of factors hindering relations between the two countries. President Mohammad Khatami said on 25 January in Tehran that it is up to the United States to improve the situation, IRNA reported. "If we observe a fundamental change in American policies, a new situation will prevail," he told reporters. BS
IRAN INVOLVED WITH ISRAEL-HIZBALLAH PRISONER SWAP
Germany and Israel confirmed on 24 January that Hizballah will exchange a kidnapped Israeli businessman and the remains of three Israeli soldiers for 400 Palestinians and dozens of other Arabs who have been in Israeli detention, international news agencies reported. Germany's Ernst Uhrlau, the mediator in this issue, addressed the Iranian aspect of the deal when he said he and the German government will create a committee to investigate the cases of missing Israeli aviator Ron Arad and four missing Iranian diplomats, Jerusalem's Channel 2 television reported. He added that Iran was helpful. A 25 January analysis in "Haaretz" cited anonymous German sources as saying that when the talks were at an impasse in November, Iranian Supreme National Security Council Secretary Hojatoleslam Hassan Rohani "encouraged" Hizballah to conclude the deal. In exchange, Germany may have agreed to release individuals imprisoned for murdering Kurdish dissidents in Germany in 1992. Hizballah Secretary-General Hassan Nasrallah at a 25 January press conference thanked Iran for not blocking the deal, al-Manar television reported. BS
TEHRAN CLAIMS IT WILL TRY A DOZEN AL-QAEDA SUSPECTS
Foreign Minister Kharrazi said on 23 January that Iran will try 12 of the alleged Al-Qaeda members it has in custody, Tehran television reported on 24 January. "Their trial will start once the investigations have been completed," he said. Kharrazi was adamant that the suspects will not be turned over to another country because they acted against Iranian national security. White House spokesman Scott McClellan responded to a 23 January question on this issue by saying that Iran should turn these people over to their countries of origin, according to the White House website (http://www.whitehouse.gov). A number of countries have asked Tehran to turn over Al-Qaeda suspects it has detained, McClellan said, "And the Iranians have continued to ignore those requests." McClellan pointed out that Tehran has made the claim about trying Al-Qaeda suspects before. "We want to see action, and the action we want to see is that they turn over those Al-Qaeda members in their custody to their country of origin," he said. BS
IRANIAN LEADERS CONCEDE THAT TALKS WITH GUARDIANS WERE WASTE OF TIME
President Hojatoleslam Mohammad Khatami and Speaker of Parliament Hojatoleslam Mehdi Karrubi conceded in a 24 January statement that their meeting with the Guardians Council one week earlier about the disqualification of some 45 percent of the prospective candidates for the February parliamentary elections failed to yield results and the council's explanations did not clarify the situation, IRNA reported. They urged the council to publish a record of the meeting in order to enlighten the public, the Iranian Labor News Agency reported. "We insist on holding free, competitive, and healthy elections," the statement read. "We hope that in view of the current psychological and propaganda atmosphere, the esteemed Guardians Council will conduct a speedy and thorough review of the decisions by the supervisory boards and pave the way for such elections." Karrubi noted on 25 January that 1,319 people were rejected just because the council could not find sufficient evidence in favor of them, the parliamentary newsletter reported (http://mellat.majles.ir). BS
GUARDIANS REJECT EMERGENCY-ELECTION LEGISLATION
The Guardians Council, which is tasked with approving all legislation on Islamic and constitutional grounds, on 25 January rejected a bill that would force it to reinstate most of the prospective candidates for the February parliamentary elections it has rejected, AP reported. Tehran parliamentary representative Hojatoleslam Majid Ansari described the bill on 24 January, according to the Interior Ministry website (http://www.moi.ir/), saying that one part of it stipulates that anybody whose candidacy for a previous election has been approved will have his or her candidacy approved for this election, barring provision of valid documentation to the contrary. Another part of the bill, he said, stipulates that a person's commitment to Islam, the constitution, and vilayat-i faqih (rule of the supreme jurisconsult), as well as that person's reputation, will be judged by a board of local worthies. BS
IRANIAN SECURITY FORCES KILL STRIKING WORKERS
Mansur Suleimani-Meimandi, the parliamentary representative from Shahr-i Babak, Kerman Province, said on 25 January that security forces killed four residents of Qasemabad village and injured many others when they attacked copper-factory workers who were striking, Fars News Agency reported. The protest started in Qasemabad and then spread to Shahr-i Babak, the legislator said, adding that the workers were demonstrating for permanent contracts. BS
IRAQ SURVEY GROUP HEAD DOUBTS HUSSEIN HAD WMD
David Kay, the outgoing head of the U.S.-run Iraq Survey Group, has said that former Iraqi President Saddam Hussein had largely given up on attempting to produce large quantities of chemical or biological weapons after the 1991 Gulf War, nytimes.com reported on 25 January. Kay, who resigned from his position on 23 January, said that evidence suggests that Hussein attempted to revive Iraq's nuclear capabilities in 2000 and 2001, but did not come as close to making an atomic bomb as Iran and Libya. Kay said Iraq was working on producing a biological weapon using poison ricin during the run-up to Operation Iraqi Freedom, but contended that U.S. intelligence services failed to recognize that Iraq had all but abandoned its other efforts in the field of weapons of mass destruction (WMD). Kay added that interviews conducted by the Iraq Survey Group suggest that the U.S. administration was almost certainly wrong in its prewar contention that Iraq had any significant stockpiles of illicit weapons, the website reported. KR
IRAQI CLERIC SAYS UN NOT NEEDED FOR ELECTIONS
Iraqi Shi'ite cleric Muqtada al-Sadr said during a Friday-prayer sermon on 23 January that the United Nations is no more qualified than Iraqi religious authorities when it comes to running elections in Iraq, Al-Manar television reported the same day. Al-Sadr called on Iraqis to "stand together" in the call for Iraqis to run their own national direct elections. "Are our religious authorities less competent than the United Nations? No, they are much loftier and more competent," al-Sadr said. "If the United Nations can oversee the elections, then you -- our [religious] authorities -- can definitely do that." KR
U.S. FORCES RELEASE 300 IRAQI PRISONERS
The U.S. military released some 300 Iraqi prisoners from detention in the Abu Ghurayb prison in Baghdad on 25 January, Al-Jazeera reported the following day. A number of prisoners who spoke to the satellite channel claimed they were falsely arrested and held by coalition forces. One prisoner claimed he was arrested after a traffic accident and held for nearly one month. Another prisoner interviewed asserted that he was falsely arrested for supplying weapons to Iraqis, and held for five months. KR
THREE U.S. SOLDIERS MISSING AFTER ACCIDENTS
Three soldiers from the U.S. 101st Airborne Division are missing in Iraq after two apparent accidents, according to a 25 January press release posted on the Coalition Joint Task Force 7 website (http://www.cjtf7.army.mil). The first incident occurred when four U.S. soldiers fell into the Tigris River during a river patrol. One soldier could not be located after the accident. Later, one of two OH-58 Kiowa Warrior helicopters searching for the missing soldier crashed into the river, and two helicopter pilots are missing. Iraqi police and fire units are aiding U.S. forces in the recovery operation, according to the press release. Both accidents are not considered hostile incidents, but nonetheless remain under investigation. KR
JAPANESE TRUCK ATTACKED, DRIVER KILLED
A Jordanian truck driver working for Japanese forces in Iraq was attacked and killed on 25 January while hauling a mobile home in the Iraqi capital of Baghdad, Kyodo World Service reported on 26 January. Chief government spokesman Yasuo Fukuda told a press conference in Tokyo that nothing explicitly indicated that Japanese troops were specifically targeted in the incident. Meanwhile, Japanese Prime Minister Junichiro Koizumi on 26 January approved the deployment of more than 500 ground troops to Iraq. Those troops are expected to depart for Al-Samawah on 3 February. KR