|Wednesday, 16 June 2021|
RFE/RL Newsline, 03-01-07
From: Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty <http://www.rferl.org>
 POLITICAL ELITE MARKS ORTHODOX CHRISTMASPrime Minister Mikhail Kasyanov, presidential chief of staff Aleksandr Voloshin, presidential envoy to the Central Federal District Georgii Poltavchenko, and other Russian leaders participated in the midnight service beginning on 6 January, the eve of Orthodox Christmas, in the Christ the Savior Cathedral in Moscow, Russian news agencies reported. The three-hour service was broadcast live nationally on ORT and RTR. In his Christmas message, Russian Orthodox Church Patriarch Aleksii II rejoiced that Christmas is now an official holiday celebrated throughout the country. During the service, television coverage frequently cut away to show President Vladimir Putin praying and lighting a candle at a similar service in the Chelyabinsk Oblast village of Agapovka, not far from the resort where he is currently enjoying a skiing vacation. VY
 DEFENSE MINISTER URGES DIPLOMACY REGARDING NORTH KOREASpeaking to journalists in Moscow on 6 January, Sergei Ivanov iterated Moscow's belief that the present crisis over North Korea's nuclear program should be resolved by "quiet diplomacy" without the intervention of the United Nations (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 6 January 2003), ITAR-TASS and other Russian news agencies reported. "The existence of a nuclear program does not mean that Pyongyang has nuclear weapons on hand," Ivanov said. "To resolve this problem, one should use an approach that will guarantee the nuclear-free status of the Korean Peninsula and international control over Pyongyang's nuclear projects." He added that North Korea needs security guarantees in order to prevent an unpredictable situation from developing in the region. Russia is ready to join with South Korea, Japan, and China to help mediate, Ivanov said. VY
 EMERGENCY MINISTRY ISSUES 2002 REPORTRussia was plagued by natural and technological disasters in 2002, with fires causing the most damage and casualties, polit.ru reported on 30 December, citing the annual report of the Emergency Situations Ministry. The ministry reported that there were nearly 230,000 fires registered in 2002, in which 16,312 people died and which caused 52 billion rubles ($1.7 billion) in damages. The ministry also coped with 1,070 other emergencies, including floods, earthquakes, and airplane crashes. In these, 1,900 people were killed, 320,000 were injured, and 76,000 were rescued. The report noted the continued increase in the number of technological emergencies caused by the country's aging infrastructure. VY
 ANOTHER HAZING-RELATED MASS DESERTION REPORTEDTwenty-four soldiers from a railroad troops unit in Leningrad Oblast deserted their unit because of alleged systematic persecution and humiliation by officers and other soldiers, newsru.com reported on 5 January. The soldiers have asked the local Soldiers' Mothers Committee in St. Petersburg for assistance and told journalists that they were severely beaten by officers in their unit. One soldier said that an officer had fired a signal pistol into his face. Military Prosecutor Igor Lebedev said that a criminal investigation into the soldiers' accusations has been launched. He added that most of the soldiers have been returned to their unit. In response, officers at the unit charged that activists at the Soldiers' Mothers Committee provoked the soldiers into deserting and that they were drunk when they left. VY
 SCIENTISTS OPPOSE HUMAN CLONINGYevgenii Sverdlov, director of the Molecular Genetics Institute of the Russian Academy of Sciences, has said that the cloning of human beings is unethical, unnecessary, and dangerous, strana.ru reported on 6 January. Sverdlov added that the majority of Russian scientists share this opinion, although they believe specialists should continue investigating the possibility of cloning human organs for transplant operations. VY
 KOZAK REFORMS FACING UPHILL BATTLE?Commenting on President Putin's submission of proposed legislation to reform Russia's system of local self-government (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 6 January 2003), "Izvestiya" wrote on 5 January that the legislation marks the start of one of the Putin administration's broadest reforms of the federal system -- "if the author of the reforms, deputy head of the presidential administration Dmitrii Kozak, manages to overcome the resistance of regional elites." According to the daily, it was likely with this goal in mind that President Putin interrupted his skiing vacation in the Urals to meet with Bashkortostan President Murtaza Rakhimov on 1 January. Putin has visited Ufa four times during his presidency, regions.ru noted on 5 January. "Izvestiya" also reported that the reform of local self-government might face difficulties in the State Duma because it touches on too many interests -- particularly economic interests -- of the regions, and the deputies will soon be devoting their attention to their re-election campaigns. JAC
 NEWSPAPER MAKES PREDICTIONS FOR 2003"Komsomolskaya pravda" on 4 January made a series of predictions for 2003 and concluded that there is no chance that President Putin will not remain the country's leader this year. There is only a 10 percent chance that Prime Minister Mikhail Kasyanov will be replaced. However, the daily figures that there is a 50 percent chance that Deputy Prime Minister Valentina Matvienko will be given her walking papers. It also projects that both the Communist Party and Vladimir Zhirinovskii's Liberal Democratic Party of Russia will do better than the pro-Kremlin Unified Russia party in the State Duma elections in December. Among the governors who might be seeking re-election in 2003, it reckons that St. Petersburg Governor Vladimir Yakovlev has a 90 percent chance of being replaced. Moscow Mayor Yurii Luzhkov, who will be seeking his third term, is given a 15 percent chance of failure, and Ulyanovsk Governor Vladimir Shamanov and Sverdlovsk Governor Eduard Rossel were each given 10 percent chances. The paper is optimistic about Russia's entry into the World Trade Organization, putting that possibility at 90 percent. JAC
 KRASNOYARSK GOVERNOR NAMED PERSON OF THE YEAR...Aleksandr Khloponin, who was elected governor of Krasnoyarsk Krai in September, was named Person of the Year by "Ekspert" magazine and "Moskovskii komsomolets," nns.ru reported on 6 January. "Vedomosti" named Khloponin Politician of the Year. Commenting on his election, the daily wrote, "The class of capitalists who were raised on the privatization of state property has finally been acknowledged by those who in recent years have considered themselves robbed." "Vedomosti" named Yukos head Mikhail Khodorkovskii Businessman of the Year. "Izvestiya" named tennis star Marat Safin Athlete of the Year. RC
 ...AS POLL PICKS SPS LEADER AS WOMAN OF THE YEARIn a poll conducted by All-Russian Center for the Study of Public Opinion (VTsIOM), Irina Khakamada, deputy head of the Union of Rightist Forces (SPS) faction in the Duma, was selected by the largest number of respondents -- 18 percent -- as Woman of the Year in Russia, according to the center's website, http://www.wciom.ru. The poll of 1600 persons in 33 different regions was conducted between 16-20 December. Deputy Prime Minister Valentina Matvienko was a close second with 17 percent of respondents. Singer Alla Pugacheva was named by 11 percent of those polled, while Ella Pamfilova, chairwoman of the presidential commission on human rights, scored 5 percent. First lady Lyudmila Putina came in fifth with 4 percent. Commenting on Putina's appearance in the poll, "Komsomolskaya pravda" noted on 4 January that "the mood of the president depends on what kind of 'weather' there is at home." According to the daily, Putina once said: "The first lady is first of all the wife of the head of government. This means that she shares with him joy and sickness and, of course, the huge responsibility for the fate of the country." JAC
 TATARSTAN PRESIDENT SUGGESTS CAUTION ON RELIGION COURSE IN SCHOOLSMintimer Shaimiev met on 5 January in Kazan with Archbishop Anastasii, head of the Russian Orthodox Church in Tatarstan, RFE/RL's Kazan bureau reported on 6 January. According to Tatar-Inform, Shaimiev traditionally meets with Orthodox clergy on the eve of Russian Orthodox Christmas, which is celebrated on 7 January. The possible introduction of a public-school course on the fundamentals of Orthodox Culture was discussed, and both Shaimiev and Anastasii agreed on the necessity of taking Tatarstan's ethnic peculiarities into consideration, the bureau reported. Shaimiev also warned that if any proposals on the matter are dictated to Tatarstan from above, they will not be carried out. Earlier the group For Human Rights filed a petition with the Meshchansk Raion Court in Moscow alleging that a textbook called "The Foundations of Orthodox Culture" by Alla Borodina incites ethnic and religious hatred and could be used as a tool by skinheads, Ekho Moskvy reported on 1 January. JAC
 DIAMOND MONOPOLY TIGHTENS GRIP ON SAKHAExecutives of the Alrosa diamond-producing company enjoyed success in the 29 December elections to the parliament of the Sakha (Yakutia) Republic, regnum.ru reported on 5 January. Of the 69 seats available, 14 employees of Alrosa and its subsidiaries were elected, including Alrosa First Vice President Aleksandr Morozkin, Alrosa Vice President Vasilii Vlasov, and Alrosa presidential assistant Mikhail Everstov. Alrosa personnel also succeeded in races for municipal legislatures and to head raion administrations. More than 10 Alrosa employees were elected to the Mirinsk city council, and the new executive-branch head of Mirinsk is the former director of an Alrosa subsidiary. Last January, Alrosa head Vyacheslav Shtyrov was elected president of the republic (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 14 January 2002). Other business leaders also did well in the 29 December election. Of the 69 deputies elected to the republic's unicameral legislature, 30 are general directors or heads of local companies, including Yakutskenergo General Director Konstantin Ilkovskii and Sakhaneftegaz CEO Kliment Ivanov (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 30 December 2002). JAC
 RACE TO REPLACE SLAIN GOVERNOR BEGINSCandidates in the 2 February gubernatorial election in Magadan Oblast started their media campaigns on 5 January, regions.ru reported. Twelve people are participating in the race, including Acting Governor Nikolai Dubov, Magadan Mayor Nikolai Karpenko, Deputy Director of the Pacific Ocean Fisheries Industrial Company Petr Golubovskii, Magadan Sea Trading Port head Andrei Zinchenko, and the director of Rosselkhozbank's Magadan branch, Tatyana Bogalova. Dubov and Karpenko are considered the top contenders to replace Valentin Tsvetkov, who was murdered in Moscow in October. JAC
 U.A.E. COURT SENTENCES RUSSIAN FOR SELLING FAKE DOLLARSAn unidentified Russian citizen was sentenced to three years' imprisonment by a court in Dubai for attempting to sell $1 million in counterfeit U.S. currency, RIA-Novosti reported on 7 January. The man was arrested last year while trying to sell the counterfeit bills for $338,000. VY
 CHECHEN ADMINISTRATION HEAD VISITS INJURED OFFICIALSAkhmed-hadji Kadyrov on 6 January visited Chechen officials who were flown to Moscow for hospital treatment of injuries they received in the 27 December car-bomb attack on the Chechen government building in Grozny, Interfax reported (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 27 and 30 December 2002). Kadyrov again said that attack was intended to thwart the planned referendum on a new draft Chechen constitution. Also on 6 January, ITAR-TASS reported that working groups are checking the authenticity of every fifth one of the 13,500 signatures collected in support of holding the referendum (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 6 January 2003). But chechenpress.com on 7 January posted a statement by the co-chairmen of the Nazran-based Independent Consultative Council of Public Organizations of the Chechen Republic claiming that reports that 13,500 signatures have been collected are untrue and that attempts to do so are illegal. LF
TRANSCAUCASUS AND CENTRAL ASIA
 INFORMAL GEORGIAN PARLIAMENTARY MAJORITY FORMEDEight parliament factions and 15 independent deputies have informally aligned to create a new pro-government parliamentary majority, Caucasus Press reported on 6 January. The factions in question are the Union of Citizens of Georgia, the Alliance for a New Georgia, Tanadgoma (Support), the Socialists, Abkhazeti, New Abkhazia-Christian Democrats, the Majoritarians, and the Industrialists. The first five factions staged a walkout on 19 December to protest the opposition's refusal to debate the 2003 draft budget (see "RFE/RL Caucasus Report," Vol. 6, No. 1, 3 January 2003), and their primary objective is to ensure passage of the budget. Alliance for a New Georgia faction leader Irakli Gogava told Caucasus Press the alignment will also promote the adoption of the planned reform of the territorial-administrative system and of a new election law. LF
 GEORGIAN DISPLACED PERSONS PROTEST RESUMPTION OF RAIL TRAFFIC TO ABKHAZIAAn unspecified number of Georgian displaced persons who fled Abkhazia during the 1992-93 war blocked traffic across the main bridge over the Inguri River that marks the internal border between Abkhazia and the rest of Georgia on the morning of 6 January, Caucasus Press reported. The displaced persons are protesting the resumption 10 days earlier of rail traffic between the Russian city of Sochi and Sukhum, the capital of Abkhazia (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 27 December 2002). Also on 6 January, Caucasus Press quoted an unnamed Georgian Transport and Communication Ministry official as saying that the United States and the UN approve the resumption of rail traffic, which they believe could help promote a settlement of the Abkhaz conflict. LF
 NORTH, SOUTH OSSETIAN BUSINESSMEN SEEK CLOSER COOPERATIONBusinessmen from Georgia's unrecognized breakaway Republic of South Ossetia and the neighboring Republic of North Ossetia in the Russian Federation met on 31 December in Tskhinvali, the South Ossetian capital, to discuss cooperation programs for the period 2003-05 not only in the economic sphere, but also in education, science, and culture, Caucasus Press reported on 6 January. Interfax on 19 December quoted South Ossetian President Eduard Kokoyty as saying he still wants his unrecognized republic to become a subject of the Russian Federation. LF
 KAZAKH JOURNALIST'S TRIAL RESUMESFollowing a two-week break, the trial of Kazakh journalist Sergei Duvanov resumed in Almaty on 6 January, Reuters reported. Duvanov is accused of raping an underage girl at his dacha in early October. He denies the charge, which human rights organizations have slammed as fabricated in retaliation for articles Duvanov published criticizing President Nursultan Nazarbaev (see "RFE/RL Central Asia Report," 7 and 15 November 2002). LF
 RELATIVES OF SLAIN KYRGYZ PROTESTERS APPEAL TO PRESIDENT, PARLIAMENTRelatives of five people killed in March 2002 when Kyrgyz police opened fire on demonstrators in the southern district of Aksy have appealed to the Prosecutor-General's Office and both chambers of parliament to overturn the verdict handed down by the Osh Military Court on 28 December against four local officials, RFE/RL's Kyrgyz Service reported on 4 January. The four men were convicted of exceeding their authority in taking measures to halt the demonstration (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 30 December 2002). The bereaved relatives argue the court hearing was conducted with procedural violations, and key witnesses were not questioned. They subsequently addressed a second appeal to the Kyrgyz people and to President Askar Akaev demanding that several senior officials suspected of having ordered police to open fire also be brought to trial, RFE/RL's Kyrgyz Service reported on 6 January. Those officials include former presidential administration head Amanbek Karypkulov, former Interior Minister Temirbek Akmataliev, former Prosecutor-General Chubak Abyshkaev, and former Security Council Secretary Misir Ashyrkulov. The signatories warned they will demand Akaev's resignation if that demand is not met by 17 March, the first anniversary of the shootings. LF
 EXPERTS START REVIEWING PROPOSED KYRGYZ CONSTITUTIONAL AMENDMENTSA team of 17 legal specialists selected by President Akaev began on 6 January reviewing amendments to the Kyrgyz Constitution proposed last fall by the Constitutional Council, RFE/RL's Kyrgyz Service reported (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 6 January 2003). In an apparent attempt to assuage opposition concerns that parliament has been excluded from that review process, the group's chairman, Cholponkul Arabaev, told RFE/RL that the experts will only edit the draft amendments but will not make any "major changes" to them. The amendments include transferring some of the president's duties to parliament, switching from a bicameral legislature to a unicameral one, and merging the Supreme and Arbitration courts. A referendum on the amendments is to be held in late January or early February, in which the electorate will be asked to approve or reject the entire package of amendments, rather than vote on them individually. LF
 KYRGYZ, TAJIK OFFICIALS REMOVE CONTROVERSIAL BORDER POSTSIn line with an agreement reached during talks on 4-5 January, Kyrgyz and Tajik officials have removed the disputed customs and border posts recently set up on the borders of Tajikistan's Vorukh exclave in southern Kyrgyzstan, RFE/RL's Kyrgyz Service reported. Groups of irate Tajiks and Kyrgyz set about demolishing customs posts on each other's territory on 3 January (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 6 January 2003). Kyrgyz Foreign Ministry official Erkin Mamkulov said on 6 January that a government delegation headed by Deputy Prime Minister Bazarbai Mambetov will travel to Batken Oblast in the next few days to assess the situation. Asia Plus-Blitz on 7 January quoted the first deputy chairman of Tajikistan's State Border Committee, Nuralishoh Nazarov, as saying members of the committee will visit Kyrgyzstan on 12 January to discuss with their Kyrgyz counterparts how to prevent a recurrence of the incidents. He blamed the spontaneous demolition of the border posts on groups engaged in smuggling arms across the Tajik-Kyrgyz border. LF
 TAJIKISTAN SEEKS TO RAISE LEVEL OF PATRIOTISM AMONG YOUNG PEOPLEThe Tajik government intends to establish a council to promote patriotic sentiment among young people, Asia Plus-Blitz reported on 7 January. Its members have been tasked with drafting a three-year program to that end. In the 1970s and 1980s, Tajikistan had the highest birthrate of any Soviet republic. Tens of thousands of those born during that time now have only a rudimentary education and no professional skills, and they frequently travel to Russia or elsewhere in search of unskilled seasonal employment. LF
CENTRAL AND EASTERN EUROPE
 HAVE BELARUSIAN AUTHORITIES BEEN GIVEN UNDUE CONTROL OVER OSCE MISSION?The head of the OSCE Parliamentary Assembly's ad hoc Working Group on Belarus, Uta Zapf, said on 4 January that the recent agreement on opening a new OSCE office in Belarus helped ease tensions in relations between the two sides, Belapan reported, quoting Deutsche Welle. But the future OSCE mission will have to discuss most of its steps with the authorities, which will allow them inordinate control and allow interference in its activities, Zapf said. She added that the new mission's mandate lacks a whole range of human-rights issues. Belarusian President Alyaksandr Lukashenka realizes that Russia is less reliable as a partner and is seeking closer contacts with the West and the OSCE in particular, Zapf said. AM
 UKRAINIAN PARLIAMENTARIAN QUESTIONS LEGALITY OF PRESIDENTIAL NEW YEAR'S GREETINGSThe chairman of the Verkhovna Rada's Committee for Freedom of Speech and Information, Mykola Tomenko, on 5 January requested that the Ukrainian Accounting Chamber help clarify the legality of New Year's greetings distributed on behalf of President Leonid Kuchma, "Ukrayinska Pravda" website reported, quoting Deutsche Welle's Ukrainian Service. Tomenko wants to uncover the source of funding for the printing and distribution of the cards, which he claims were delivered to roughly 17 million citizens. Such spending contradicts presidential appeals for increased social-security spending. AM
 ESTONIAN COALITION PARTNERS POSTPONE DECISION ON PENSION HIKEA governing coalition committee on 6 January dismissed a proposal by Social Affairs Minister Siiri Oviir to increase the monthly pensions of 370,000 retirees by 100 kroons ($6.70) from 1 February, ETA reported. Center Party Chairman Edgar Savisaar backed the proposal, noting that such an increase -- combined with indexation on 1 April that should increase pensions by an average of 126 kroons -- would allow pensions "finally [to] start catching up with the increase in the cost of living." Finance Minister Harri Ounapuu called for postponing the pension increase until April, saying it would increase the budget deficit and clearly be regarded as a campaign move before the 2 March parliamentary elections. Prime Minister Siim Kallas also favored postponing any decision on a pension increase, arguing, "We have to understand that if we raise pensions now, as the budget revenues are good for the time being, we may discover next year that the pension fund is empty and the state's fiscal reliability is jeopardized." SG
 LATVIA'S VENTSPILS PORT POSTS RECORD DECLINE IN TURNOVERVentspils Port Deputy Administrator Guntis Tirmanis announced on 6 January that the facilities handled 28.7 million tons of cargo in 2002, or about 24.3 percent less than in 2001, LETA reported. The decline was blamed on a 7.5 million-ton decrease in exports of crude oil and a 1.1 million-ton drop in exports of oil products. The worst months for the port were November and December. Future volumes of oil transit are unclear even though Ventspils Port does not face the current danger to many other northern Baltic ports of freezing over, since Russian pipeline operator Transneft has not scheduled any crude oil exports through the port in the first quarter of the year. SG
 LITHUANIAN PRESIDENT-ELECT BRACES FOR CHANGEBefore assuming office, President-elect Rolandas Paksas will have to give up both his parliamentary seat and the leadership of the Liberal Democratic Party, "Kauno diena" reported on 7 January. The presidency requires that a person be above party matters, the paper added in the wake of Paksas's runoff victory (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 6 January 2003). Lithuania's voters will likely go to the parliamentary polls in May simultaneously with a vote on the country's accession to the European Union. Although nothing has been announced, it appears likely that Paksas will also replace State Security Department Director Mecys Laurinkus, Police Commissioner General Vytautas Grigaravicius, and Special Investigations Service Director Valentinas Junokas -- all of whom are presidential appointments -- according to "Kauno diena." SG
 POLISH PREMIER RESHUFFLES CABINET...Prime Minister Leszek Miller on 6 January dismissed Treasury Minister Wieslaw Kaczmarek ahead of his expected replacement by Slawomir Cytrycki, who has served as an undersecretary in Miller's office, PAP reported. The change is designed to insulate the privatization process from political tension, Miller told a press conference. He also announced the merging of the Labor and Economy ministries into a ministry that will be headed by current Labor Minister Jerzy Hausner. Economy Minister Jacek Piechota was dismissed. Lech Nikolski is also being granted cabinet status as he coordinates preparations for a referendum on EU accession, Miller said. At the same time, the premier announced the liquidation of the post of government commissioner for European information. The commissioner, Slawomir Wiatr, will instead work as an undersecretary to Nikolski. Also, Aleksandra Jakubowska will replace Nikolski as head of the premier's political office, a government spokesman announced. AM
 ...AND SAYS EU INTEGRATION IS GOVERNMENT'S TOP PRIORITYMiller said on 6 January that integration with the EU, this year's membership referendum, and preparing Poland to take full advantage of EU membership are his government's top priorities, PAP reported. Additional priorities include a return to rapid economic growth and infrastructure development, including the construction of roads and highways, culture and science, and education and prospects for Polish youth, Miller added. AM
 CZECH DAILY CALLS BLUFF OF RULING PARTY'S PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE...The official candidate of the ruling Social Democratic Party in presidential elections slated for 15 January, former Justice Minister Jaroslav Bures, on 6 January denied that he lied in a recent interview about helping a communist-era dissident despite evidence to the contrary, CTK reported. Bures in mid-December claimed to have helped a signatory of the Charter 77 human-rights appeal while serving as a judge under the communist regime. The daily "Mlada fronta Dnes" reported on 6 January that Bures probably lied when he claimed that he helped an engineer named "Heger," who was accused by an employer of violating his contract after signing the charter. The paper reported that there is no evidence of any "Heger" ever signing the document, which appealed to Czechoslovak authorities to observe international commitments to human rights. Bures, who initially said the man worked at Czech state radio but later said he was an employee of the Orbis publishing house, said he based his affirmation on the fact that Orbis had itself called Heger a charter signatory. He admitted, however, that he had not verified whether that was the case. MS
 ...WHILE CHRISTIAN DEMOCRATS' CANDIDATE VOWS TO SUSPEND PARTY MEMBERSHIP IF ELECTEDSenate President Petr Pithart, who is the official candidate of the Christian Democratic Union-People's Party (KDU-CSL) in the forthcoming presidential elections, on 6 January said he will suspend his party membership if elected Czech president, CTK reported. The KDU-CSL's national committee said it supports Pithart's decision, adding that the head of state should be above party politics. MS
 AUSTRIANS 'INTERRUPT' HUNGER STRIKE AGAINST CONTROVERSIAL CZECH NUCLEAR PLANTMembers of the Austrian Stop Temelin environmental organization who launched a hunger strike in the border town of Freistadt on 2 January announced on 6 January that they were interrupting, but not ending, their protest, CTK reported. The protesters said they intend to resume the strike after eating some vegetable soup. They also said 200 people registered to join their strike in what they called a "chain reaction" (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 3 January 2003). MS
 CZECH FIGHTERS ESCORT BELARUSIAN JET TO SAFETYTwo Czech fighter planes escorted a Belarusian passenger jet to a safe landing at Prague airport after a cockpit window shattered during a scheduled flight to the Czech capital on 6 January, CTK and dpa reported. The Czech Defense Ministry said the two MiG-21 fighters guided the Belavia Airlines Yak-40 aircraft to a runway and the plane, carrying 21 passengers, landed at Ruzyne Airport some 35 minutes after issuing a distress signal. The cockpit window broke when the jet was about 60 kilometers from Prague on a regular Minsk-Prague flight. MS
 SLOVAK PRESIDENT IN CHINA...Visiting Slovak President Rudolf Schuster and his Chinese counterpart Jiang Zemin signed a declaration on future relations between their countries in Beijing on 6 January, TASR reported. The declaration, which replaces the Agreement on Friendship and Cooperation signed between communist Czechoslovakia and China in 1957, does not have the status of an international treaty. It stipulates that political differences must not obstruct the development of bilateral relations. The document says China respects Slovakia's efforts to join the EU and NATO and hopes accession to those organizations will positively impact cooperation between Beijing and Bratislava. Slovakia in turn reiterates its support for "one China" and pledges not to maintain official political relations with Taiwan, with which ties will be limited to economic relations in the private sector. The declaration also mentions the two countries' interest in intensifying economic cooperation and trade. The signatories said they will cooperate in the struggle against international terrorism, religious extremism, organized crime, arms smuggling, and drug trafficking. MS
 ...WHERE HE DISCUSSES SLOVAK DEFENSE PRODUCTS, MUTUAL TRADESchuster said after his talks with Jiang on 6 January that the Chinese president expressed a particular interest in the latest products from the Slovak defense industry, TASR reported. According to CTK, Chinese pilots might train at an air base in Kosice, eastern Slovakia. The two presidents also discussed possible Slovak participation in the construction of a thermal power plant near the Chinese capital. Jiang also invited Slovak companies to participate in tenders for the construction of facilities for the 2008 Olympic Games in Beijing and for the Expo 2010 world-trade fair in Shanghai. TASR cited Jiang as saying that major companies around the world are attracted by China's expanding economy and are "not lecturing [us] on human rights." He also said it is necessary to "be realistic." Schuster did not raise the issue of human rights during the talks, TASR reported. MS
 SLOVAKIA TO GET ADDITIONAL EUROPEAN PARLIAMENT SEATSlovakia will be entitled to 14 European Parliament members in 2004-09 -- one more than stipulated in the EU's Treaty of Nice -- Slovakia's chief negotiator with the EU, Jan Figel, told TASR on 6 January. Figel said the EU recently decided to redistribute seats originally allocated for Romania and Bulgaria, as those two countries will not join the organization in 2004. He said the 10 countries joining the EU in 2004 will have a total of 726 lawmakers in the European Parliament, rather than the 732 earmarked for 12 new members in the Nice Treaty. The distribution of mandates will be reconsidered after Romania and Bulgaria's accession, but only with the parliamentary term beginning in 2009. MS
 HUNGARIAN PREMIER STILL DRAWING FIRE OVER CUBAN VACATIONThe Anti-Dictatorship Action Group of Fidelitas, the youth wing of the opposition FIDESZ party, on 6 January charged that Prime Minister Peter Medgyessy overstepped the bounds of good taste with his recent holiday in Cuba (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 3 and 6 January 2003), Budapest dailies reported. Fidelitas Chairman Andras Gyurk said, "In a country where people are imprisoned and tortured for their political views, one does not drink cocktails if one's occupation is prime minister." At a press briefing staged outside Medgyessy's office, Gyurk called the trip a diplomatic blunder, adding that the decision "shows his total insensitivity toward human rights." Fidelitas Deputy Chairman Zsolt Nyitrai wondered aloud whether Medgyessy is aware that Amnesty International claims hundreds of people are kept in Cuban jails for their political activities. MSZ
 OPPOSITION POLITICIAN TAKES CHURCH-FINANCE ISSUE TO CONSTITUTIONAL COURTFIDESZ deputy Zsolt Semjen on 6 January filed a petition to the Constitutional Court objecting to parliament's passage of a law under which churches will be paid state subsidies based on whether taxpayers choose to offer 1 percent of their income taxes due rather than census data, Hungarian media reported. President Ferenc Madl on 28 December returned the bill to parliament for reconsideration. Semjen claims the provision would be discriminatory because it only takes income taxpayers into consideration and thus excludes the majority of society from the distribution of public funds. MSZ
 OPPOSITION GROUPING ESTABLISHES CHRISTIAN DEMOCRATIC NGOOpposition Democratic Forum politicians on 6 January announced the formation of an independent nonprofit group called the Christian Democratic Forum, "Nepszabadsag" reported on 6 January. Acting Chairman Laszlo Szaszfalvi said the movement will work "for the renewal and strengthening of European Christian Democracy" within the community of the Democratic Forum and draw public attention to the current government's policy toward religious groups. MSZ
 HEAD OF HUNGARIAN ROMAN CATHOLIC CHURCH STEPS DOWNCardinal Laszlo Paskai on 6 January executed his last public duty at a thanksgiving mass at Budapest's Matthias Church before retiring as archbishop of the Esztergom-Budapest diocese, Hungarian radio reported. Pope John Paul II on 7 December accepted the 75-year-old Paskai's resignation and appointed Peter Erdo, bishop of Szekesfehervar and rector of Pazmany Peter Catholic University, to replace him. At 50 years of age, the new appointee will be one of the youngest archbishops of Esztergom ever. He will be instated on 11 January at the Esztergom Basilica. MSZ
 HUNGARIAN NEO-NAZIS FILE POLICE COMPLAINTJanos Endre Domokos, leader of the Blood and Honor Cultural Society, denied on 6 January that the society organized a "White Christmas" concert at Szodliget on 21 December, MTI reported. Domokos meanwhile filed a police complaint against an unidentified perpetrator for alleged defamation of character. The National Security Office reported last week that the group intends to organize an international neo-Nazi youth demonstration in the capital in early February (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 3 and 6 January 2003). Domokos also denied press reports that the society is the Hungarian arm of the Blood and Honor group that is banned in Germany. He confirmed, however, that the society on 27 October announced to Budapest police that in February they intend to commemorate those German and Hungarian soldiers who were killed when Soviet troops took Buda Castle in February 1945. MSZ
 WILL THE TRIAL OF A FORMER SERBIAN PRESIDENT HIGHLIGHT 'GREEK CONNECTION'?London's "The Observer" reported on 5 January that any upcoming trial of former Serbian President Milan Milutinovic in The Hague for war crimes could reveal the role that Greece played in the conflicts in the former Yugoslavia between 1991 and 1995 (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 6 January 2003). The British weekly referred to the possible role of a Greek volunteer unit during the 1995 Srebrenica massacre as well as various "other secrets that Athens would prefer buried." Milutinovic was ambassador to Greece from early in the conflicts until 1994. The weekly notes that Greek journalist Takis Michas has documented Greece's role on the Serbian side in his book "Unholy Alliance: Greece and [President Slobodan] Milosevic's Serbia" (College Station: Texas A & M Press, 2002). The paper added, however, that the book has not appeared in Greek and that "no [Greek] government or party has ever sought an inquiry into [the] activities" of the Greek volunteers. PM
 PRESEVO ALBANIAN POLITICAL LEADERS CALL FOR BOYCOTT OF THE DRAFTOfficials of the political parties representing ethnic Albanians in Serbia's Presevo Valley have called on young men in that region to continue to ignore call-up notices for the Yugoslav Army, Deutsche Welle's "Monitor" reported on 6 January. Ethnic Albanian youths began the boycott over a decade ago, fearing that Milosevic's officers deliberately put ethnic Albanian troops in harm's way during the wars of 1991-95. Januz Musliu, who heads the Movement for Democratic Progress (LPD), said the boycott should remain in force until the Albanians' political demands have been met and as long as the Yugoslav Army includes people who have committed war crimes in Kosova and the Presevo Valley. Behlul Nasufi of the Party for Democratic Activity (PVD) noted that there is not much trust between Serbs and Albanians and that the army has no Albanian officers. PM
 SERBIAN CENSUS REVEALS SHARP DROP IN ETHNIC HUNGARIAN POPULATIONResults of the 2002 Serbian census show that the number of ethnic Hungarians has dropped from 339,500 to 293,299 since the previous population survey in 1991, Deutsche Welle's "Monitor" reported on 6 January. Hungarian Duna Television in Budapest reported that emigration is the most likely principal cause for the drop. PM
 YUGOSLAV GERMAN MINORITY ASSOCIATIONS TO UNITEAndreas Buergermayer, who chairs the Danube Association of ethnic Germans in Novi Sad, said the five groups representing the German minority in Yugoslavia will soon form a single organization to represent their interests at home and abroad, Deutsche Welle's "Monitor" reported on 6 January (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 18 December 2002). The ethnic Germans were once one of the largest ethnic groups in Serbia and owned some of the country's best land, but hundreds of thousands of them were killed or deported in the wake of World War II. Those who remained found their property confiscated and now want at least a "moral and legal" recognition of the injustice done to them. The communist government of Marshal Josip Broz Tito regarded virtually all members of Yugoslavia's German minority as Nazi collaborators. PM
 MACEDONIAN ARMY CUTS TIME OF SERVICESoldiers in the Macedonian Army will serve for six instead of nine months under a reform announced in Skopje on 6 January, dpa reported. The parliament is expected to approve the change by the end of January as part of a series of moves aimed at bringing the Macedonian military into line with NATO standards. PM
 EU PLEDGES FINANCIAL AID TO BOSNIA...Officials of the EU and Bosnia signed an agreement in Sarajevo on 6 January providing for an EU grant of about $42 million and a loan of about $21 million to help promote reforms in Bosnia to bring that country into line with EU standards, dpa reported. The planned reforms affect public finance and administration as well as the private sector. PM
 ...WHILE OTHER INTERNATIONAL OFFICIALS DECRY CORRUPTIONA working group on customs reform consisting of representatives of the international community in Bosnia said in a statement that foreign countries will not provide any more of their taxpayers' money for assistance that will wind up in the hands of criminals, RFE/RL's South Slavic and Albanian Languages Service reported from Sarajevo on 7 January. The statement noted that customs fraud amounts to about $250 million in lost revenues annually, and that much of this money goes to finance criminal networks, including those of war criminals. The working group called for setting up a unified Bosnian state customs service with a single pay scale. PM
 SLOVENIAN PARLIAMENT APPROVES REFERENDUM ON EU AND NATO MEMBERSHIPThe parliament voted on 6 January to hold a nonbinding referendum on 9 February on whether to join the EU and NATO, RFE/RL's South Slavic and Albanian Languages Service reported (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 22 November 2002). Membership of both organizations is supported by parties across the political spectrum, but many voters are concerned that NATO membership in particular is unnecessary and too costly (see "RFE/RL Balkan Report," 18 October and 29 November 2002). PM
 MAYOR CHALLENGES BILINGUAL CLUJ REFERENCESCluj Mayor Gheorghe Funar on 6 January challenged in court the legality of a government decision stipulating that official references to the town's name -- for example, road signs and letterheads -- must be bilingual, Mediafax reported. On 6 December, the government issued an ordinance stipulating that the name of the Transylvanian capital must be displayed in both Romanian (Cluj-Napoca) and Hungarian (Kolozsvar). The extreme nationalist mayor stated in his complaint that the ordinance is invalid, since it transgresses the stipulations of the Local Administration Law, which makes the display of names in the languages of national minorities conditional upon them constituting at least 20 percent of the population. Funar claimed the results of the 2002 census show that the town's Hungarian minority is below this threshold and that the ordinance is aimed at "stirring up [interethnic] conflict" in Cluj. MS
 ROMANIANS KILLED IN TERRORIST BLAST IN ISRAELTwo Romanians were killed and eight were wounded in Tel Aviv on 5 January in a suicide bombing that left 23 dead and more than 100 injured, an RFE/RL correspondent in Israel reported. The attack was reportedly carried out by two individuals in the vicinity of the city's former central bus station in a neighborhood colloquially known as "Little Romania," since many of its inhabitants are "guest workers" from that country, according to Mediafax. The two Romanian nationals killed had been working in Israel for several years. According to AFP, some 230,000 Romanians work in Israel, of whom 100,000 do so without legal working permits. In March 1996, seven Romanians died in a terrorist attack in Jerusalem and in August of that year two Romanians were shot dead in the West Bank. Another Romanian citizen died as a result of a terrorist attack in Eilat in 1997 and in 2001 two other Romanians died in an attack in Gaza. Three Romanians were killed in terrorist attacks in Israel in 2002, according to Mediafax, and many more were wounded. The Romanian Foreign Ministry expressed condolences to the families of the two citizens killed on 5 January, Romanian Radio reported. MS
 ROMANIA TOUGHENS ENTRY VISA CONDITIONSAs of 27 January, foreign citizens visiting Romania as tourists or for business purposes will have to prove at the border that they have at least 100 euros ($104.24) for every day they intend to spend in the country, Mediafax reported on 6 January. The agency said an emergency ordinance stipulating these conditions was approved by the government at the end of last month. However, citizens of some countries -- among them EU citizens and those with permanent residence permits in EU countries -- are to be exempted from these requirements. The Foreign Ministry is to make public the list of countries whose citizens will be required to meet the new conditions. MS
 RFE/RL'S BULGARIAN SERVICE AND PRIVATE TV STATION LAUNCH JOINT PROGRAMRFE/RL's Bulgarian Service and the private Bulgarian television station bTV launched their joint daily news program "Blitz" on 6 January. The 20-minute program features interviews and news reports and will be broadcast simultaneously by the radio and the television station every morning Monday through Friday. With "Blitz," the Bulgarian Service becomes the third RFE/RL language service to develop a regularly scheduled television program in its target country, following successful television ventures by the South Slavic and Albanian Languages Service (which is involved in TV Liberty, originating in Sarajevo) and the Russian Service (which is participating in a joint venture with Peterburg state television in St. Petersburg). UB
 BULGARIAN PRESIDENT SAYS CONSTITUTION MIGHT BE AMENDED BY YEARS' ENDPresident Georgi Parvanov told journalists on 6 January that the constitution might be amended by the end of this year, mediapool.bg reported. He said that consultations are currently being held, adding that the changes should be carried out in packages, not in little steps, in order to avoid destabilizing the country. Parvanov said he does not have the authority to announce which parts of the constitution might be amended. Prime Minister Simeon Saxecoburggotski also stated that the public should debate the constitutional changes, while parliamentary speaker Ognyan Gerdzhikov said he does not expect parliament to debate the amendments before 2004. UB
 BULGARIAN PARLIAMENTARY SPEAKER ACCEPTS RUSSIAN APOLOGIESRussia's Ambassador to Bulgaria Vladimir Titov conveyed official apologies on behalf of Russian State Duma Speaker Gennadii Seleznev to parliamentary speaker Ognyan Gerdzhikov on 6 January, BTA reported. The apology stemmed from an incident in which Russian authorities denied overflight rights to the government aircraft Gerdzhikov was traveling in while returning to Bulgaria from Mongolia on 21 December. Titov called the incident "a regrettable misunderstanding," for which the Russian side takes full responsibility. Gerdzhikov earlier refused to accept a separate apology from the Russian government, saying he was awaiting a formal apology from Seleznev. Following the incident, Gerdzhikov threatened to cancel an official visit to Russia scheduled for April. UB
SOUTHWESTERN ASIA AND THE MIDDLE EAST
 ISAF CHIEF DISCUSSES AFGHAN SECURITYThe head of the International Security Assistance Force (ISAF), Turkish General Hilmi Akin Zorlu, said on 6 January that a U.S. war against Iraq might increase the risk of attacks on Westerners in Afghanistan, Reuters reported. "If there is war in Iraq, there might be many sympathizers with Iraq in Afghanistan," Zorlu said. "It may cause to increase terrorist actions or activities against all foreigners including ISAF forces, UN personnel, NGO's, coalition forces, and all civilian businessmen also coming to Afghanistan," he added. Zorlu said ISAF intelligence-gathering efforts have already increased. BS
 DANES TAKE OVER AFGHAN AIR PATROLSDenmark has assumed control of the European Participating Air Forces (EPAF), which provides air protection for ground forces in Afghanistan, for the next three months, the Danish daily "Jyllands-Posten" reported on 2 January. The 18 F-16 aircraft are provided by Denmark, Norway, and the Netherlands. The aircraft are based at the Manas air base, which is near Bishkek, Kyrgyzstan. The Manas base, which is under U.S. leadership, also serves Italian and Spanish transport aircraft. BS
 MULES DELAY ITALIAN CONTINGENT'S ARRIVALThe participation of an Italian Alpine Regiment in the ISAF has been delayed as it tries to secure 40 mules, Rome's "La Repubblica" reported on 5 January. The Italian General Defense Staff replaced the "stocky quadrupeds" with mechanical variants about 10 years ago but is now looking in Italy and Slovenia to recruit the original. Military sources deny the reports of a mule quest, according to "La Repubblica." BS
 HEKMATYAR DENIES AL-QAEDA, TALIBAN LINKS...Hizb-e Islami leader Gulbuddin Hekmatyar denied in a statement quoted by the Pakistan-based private Afghan Islamic Press (AIP) on 6 January that he is allied with Al-Qaeda or the Taliban, Reuters reported. Hekmatyar announced in leaflets distributed in Pakistan at the end of December that he has formed an alliance with Al-Qaeda and the Taliban to resist "foreign occupation" (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 27 December 2002). However, Hekmatyar said in his more recent statement that he does not want to fight President Hamid Karzai's government. "I want to make it clear that until America rules our country and forces of others occupy our country, we do not intend to wage war against the interim administration or any Afghan group," he said. Nevertheless, Hekmatyar reiterated his anti-Americanism, saying, "The Afghan mujahedin have pledged to themselves that that they will force America out of their country like the Soviet Union and will not lay down their arms until they drive the occupying forces out of their country." BS
 ...AND MEETS WITH MULLAH OMARNassir Ahmad Rohi, formerly of the Taliban embassy in the United Arab Emirates, was quoted in the 7 January "Financial Times" as saying that Hekmatyar has recently met with Mullah Mohammad Omar, the Taliban leader believed to be living in the southern Afghan border region. The two agreed to work together to free Afghanistan and to punish individuals working with the United States, Rohi said. "They were in full agreement on the liberation of Afghanistan, holding of free elections in accordance with the Islamic principles as and when the mujahedin liberate the country, and punishment for those who are collaborating with the Americans," the "Financial Times" quoted him as saying. BS
 AFGHAN FARMERS NOT COMPENSATED FOR DESTROYING OPIUM-POPPY CROPSHelmand Province Deputy Governor Haji Hayatollah complained on 5 January about the failure of the central government to help farmers who have destroyed their opium-poppy crops, Voice of the Islamic Republic of Iran's Mashhad-based Dari-language service reported. Hayatollah described crop destruction in seven provincial districts, noting that the central government has promised to compensate or otherwise help the farmers, but this has not happened. "High-ranking officials have made many promises," Hayatollah said, "but they have not carried any of them out." To stop poppy cultivation, Hayatollah said, the farmers should receive food assistance, financial compensation, and seeds, and irrigation systems should be repaired. BS
 AFGHAN, IRANIAN OFFICIALS DISCUSS DRUG CONTROLInterior Minister Taj Mohammad Wardak met on 6 January in Kabul with Iranian Drug Control Headquarters chief Ali Hashemi, Radio Afghanistan reported. Wardak asked for help in training the police, and he asked the Iranians to share their experience, IRNA reported the next day. Hashemi called on the Afghans to get serious about battling narcotics, according to IRNA. He also warned against victimizing already impoverished farmers, saying it would be more effective to train Afghan police, formulate effective laws, and develop alternatives for farmers. Hashemi said the two countries should strengthen border-control cooperation, and he described the need for a "security belt" around Afghanistan to stem the flow of smuggled drugs. The Iranian desire for a "security belt" around Afghanistan dates to at least March 2000, when Law Enforcement Forces deputy commander Mohsen Ansari called for one, IRNA reported on 2 March 2000. BS
 IRANIANS SUDDENLY SHOW GREAT INTEREST IN COUNCIL ELECTIONSMohammad Ali Moshfeq, the director-general of the Interior Ministry's Office of Election Affairs, announced on 6 January that more than 210,000 people have signed up as candidates for the late-February municipal-council elections, IRNA reported. This would mark a very impressive increase in public interest, since on 3 January, just two days before the deadline for candidates' registration, Moshfeq said only about 51,000 people had signed up. In addition, Mashhad parliamentarian Ali Tajernia, one of the election supervisors, said that by the evening of 3 January fewer than 49,000 people had signed up (see "RFE/RL Iran Report," 6 January 2003). Screening bodies will now consider the candidates' eligibility. Some 170,000 council members are to be elected in Iran's second council elections, which are scheduled for 28 February. BS
 ZAHEDAN BOMBS WERE JUST FIREWORKSSistan va Baluchistan Province Deputy Governor-General for Political and Security Affairs Gholam-Reza Javidan said on 6 January that the previous day's bomb blasts in the city of Zahedan were not politically related, and he speculated that they were the work of hooligans using homemade fireworks, IRNA reported on 7 January. Initial reports indicated there had been four blasts, but Javidan clarified this by saying there were six explosions in five locations. Meanwhile, provincial Governor-General Heidar-Ali Nurai said police are investigating the incidents and will soon identify the perpetrators. BS
 POLICE VOW TO IMPROVE SECURITY IN EASTERN IRANIAN PROVINCESLaw Enforcement Forces chief Mohammad Baqer Qalibaf said during a visit to Zahedan on 6 January that special patrols will soon be established to contend with what IRNA referred to as "the criminals and rascals who are increasingly threatening the social order." Qalibaf said the rising number of rapscallions has become a major problem in the country's large cities. Qalibaf said the creation of special border-security units has helped reduce the crime rate the border provinces and police place a high priority on equipping these battalions. BS
 HIZBALLAH PERSONNEL TRAIN IN IRANThe Lebanese Hizballah is making military preparations with Iranian help in reaction to hostile rhetoric from Israel, Beirut's English-language "The Daily Star" reported on 7 January. Hizballah Secretary-General Hassan Nasrallah said on 5 January that there is a 50 percent chance that Israel would attack Lebanon during or after a U.S. invasion of Iraq. In preparation, Hizballah is sending part-time personnel to Iran to visit the holy Shia shrines and also to receive military training from the Islamic Revolution Guards Corps (IRGC). Up to six or seven people from each southern Lebanese Shia village are undergoing what "The Daily Star" calls "refresher courses." BS
 PALESTINIANS ALLEGEDLY GET TERROR TRAINING IN IRANThe press director of the Palestinian Authority's Information Ministry, Mr. Al-Khatib, on 27 December rejected allegations that Palestinians who go to Iran for medical treatment subsequently receive military training, Ramallah's "Al-Hayah al-Jadidah" reported on 28 December. Al-Khatib said this is part of Israel's previous allegations about the presence in the Gaza Strip of Al-Qaeda personnel. According to Shin Bet, the Israeli domestic-security service, the Palestinians receive military training after their treatment and are then sent back to Israel with instructions to conduct attacks and recruit more terrorists, Tel Aviv's "Haaretz" newspaper reported on 26 December. Hundreds of wounded Palestinians have traveled to Iran since the beginning of the current uprising 2 1/2 years ago, and while there many of them met senior terrorists, such as Hizballah Secretary-General Hassan Nasrallah, Hamas's Khalid Mashaal, and Palestinian Islamic Jihad's Ramadan Abdallah Shallah, according to "Haaretz." BS
 'VOICE OF SOUTH AZERBAIJAN' BEGINNING BROADCASTSThe Southern Azerbaijan National Awakening Movement, which presumably is linked to the irredentist National Liberation Movement of Southern Azerbaijan, has announced that the Voice of South Azerbaijan will commence radio broadcasts to Iran on 8 January, Turan news agency reported on 6 January and Radio Netherlands' "Media Network" website on 31 December quoted "Baku Today" newspaper as reporting. There will be two broadcasts a week initially, at 9570 megahertz at 8 p.m. Tabriz time on Wednesdays and Thursdays, and daily broadcasts will begin in February. A "Voice of Southern Azerbaijan" was previously operated by the "National and Independent Front of Southern Azerbaijan" and transmitted short-wave broadcasts from 1996-98, according to Radio Netherlands. BS
 MORE IRANIAN TRANSMITTERS GO UPAn opening ceremony for six new television transmitters and four new radio transmitters was held in central Iran on 2 January, the official Voice of the Islamic Republic of Iran reported. The broadcasts will reach residents of the towns of Golpayegan and Khonsar and will enable them to watch provincial programming and the national news network on the UHF and VHF bands. On FM they will receive Radio Maaref, Radio Farhang, Radio Payam, and Radio Javan. BS
 TURKISH FOREIGN MINISTER COMMENTS ON IRAQ, TURKOMANS, AND OIL...Turkish Foreign Minister Yasar Yakis reasserted Turkey's "legitimate and strategic interests" in the northern Iraq areas of Mosul and Kirkuk in an interview published by the Istanbul-based "Hurriyet" on 6 January. Yakis said that while Turkey supports preserving the territorial integrity of Iraq, he added that Turkey will take "certain measures" if Baghdad authorities "cannot control the developments in their country" as a result of a possible war. Yakis called for equal rights for Turkomans in Iraq, and he said the oil in Turkoman-populated Mosul and Kirkuk belong to Iraq. He then hinted that Turkey was pressured into accepting in 1926 the borders determined by the League of Nations at the 1922-23 Lausanne Conference. KR
 ...AND SAYS TURKEY IS LOOKING INTO RIGHTS OVER IRAQI REGIONS...When asked whether Turkey has rights stemming from past agreements over Mosul and Kirkuk, he added, "We are currently...trying to find out whether or not we have lost our rights over this region," "Hurriyet" reported on 6 January. "After finding out...we will have to explain the basis for these rights to the international community as well as to our interlocutors," he said. Yakis went on to say that Turkey does not want to wage war against Iraq, saying, "We should explain to the people in northern Iraq that the measures that are being taken by Turkey in the region also serve their interests." Yakis also said Turkey would prefer that any potential action against Iraq be handled within the framework of NATO, because it would give his country "legitimate grounds" to support such an operation. KR
 ...AS TURKISH PRIME MINISTER EXPOUNDS...Elaborating on Turkish Foreign Minister Yakis' statements on the Turkomans, Abdullah Gul said on 6 January that "Turkey's policy is extremely open," the Ankara-based daily "Anatolia" reported. "We attribute importance to the preservation of Iraq's territorial integrity," he said, adding that "Iraq's resources should be spent for the benefit of [the] Iraqi people. Of course, commercial relations and mutual efforts would be further improved after peace and stability are provided in the region," he said. He went on to say that "there will be joint ventures [in Mosul and Kirkuk]. Many companies will be established, and all the countries of the region will benefit from the blessings of the region." KR
 ...AND WRAPS UP TALKS IN JORDANTurkish Prime Minister Gul wrapped up talks in Jordan on 6 January, saying that Iraq should prove "without hesitation" that it does not possess weapons of mass destruction, "Anatolia" reported. Gul has met in recent days with Syrian President Bashar Asad, Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak, and King Abdullah II of Jordan. He is expected to travel to Saudi Arabia on 11 January. "There is a common view about concerted efforts that can be exerted and common steps [by regional leaders] that can be taken," Gul said while commenting on talks in the region. "I would like to once more remind [you] that Iraq has the biggest responsibility when I am saying that everyone has a responsibility. This is our common view." Gul said it is not too late for Iraq to avert war. KR
 IRAQIS, KUWAITIS MEET IN JORDAN TO DISCUSS POWSThe Jordanian headquarters of the International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC) will play host to a meeting of Kuwaiti and Iraqi delegates beginning on 7 January to discuss the fate of Kuwaiti prisoners of war missing since the 1991 Gulf War, KUNA reported on 6 January. The Technical POWs Committee will meet in the Jordanian capital of Amman through April. Iraq's attendance marks its first participation in committee meetings since 1998, when it abruptly stopped attending meetings, KUNA reported. UN POW coordinator Yulii Vorontsov, as well as representatives from Saudi Arabia, the United States, Britain, and France will attend the meetings. KR
 IRAQI FOREIGN MINISTER SAYS U.S. WANTS TO DOMINATE WORLDNaji Sabri said in a statement reported by Iraq Satellite TV on 6 January that U.S. charges that Iraq possesses weapons of mass destruction are lies, adding that the United States intends to "dominate the world." He said: "The dreams and illusions of the aggressors and colonialists belong in the dustbin of history. Their illusions and dreams are impossible. The masses will dump these illusions and dreams into the dustbin of history. We are fulfilling our duties and facilitating the work of the inspectors in a manner that would lead to revealing the truth; that is, Iraq has no weapons of mass destruction and that all that which is said against it by warmongers and the evil ones in the evil U.S. administration is nothing but lies and prevarication. They try to justify their colonialist campaign against the Arabs and Muslims in their effort to try to dominate the world." KR
 A TROUBLING TREND IN ARMENIABy Richard Giragosian
The 28 December murder of Tigran Naghdalian, chairman of the state-run Armenian Public Television and Radio, has given rise to renewed concerns over political stability in the run-up to the country's 19 February presidential election. That killing was the latest in a series of high-profile professional assassinations, coming in the wake of a failed attack on the life of independent journalist Mark Grigorian in October 2002 and preceded by the still unsolved assassinations of Prosecutor-General Henrik Khachatrian in 1998 and prime-ministerial aide Gagik Poghosian in 2001.
Decried by President Robert Kocharian as a "manifestation of terrorism" and roundly condemned by the entire political spectrum, Naghdalian's murder highlights a troubling trend of underlying political instability and discord. Although both the motives and the identity of the perpetrator remain unclear, the murder was an inherently political act.
The targeting of Naghdalian, who was a staunch and articulate supporter of the president, might have been intended as a strong message to Kocharian that his anticipated re-election next month is not a foregone conclusion. There are two factors that suggest the murder was intended to undermine the president and his ruling circle rather than to intimidate the state media.
Both factors are related to the nature of the president's power. The first concerns the support base that Kocharian relies on for both his rule and his re-election. With no party structure or organization to back him, Kocharian rules from a powerful, yet narrow, power base comprising oligarchs and influential power brokers. This reliance on a powerful elite, headed by resilient Defense Minister Serzh Sarkisian, only fosters a dangerous degree of vulnerability.
Based on a shared interest in exercising and perpetuating power, this tactical alliance has done little to strengthen democratic institutions or the rule of law. Moreover, Kocharian's support from political parties not his own only compounds this vulnerability. Additionally, his reliance on the backing of the country's oligarchs has hindered any real crackdown on corruption, a long-overdue move essential to Armenia's stability and security.
The second factor stems from an undercurrent of political intimidation and immaturity now infecting much of Armenian politics. The government's clumsy attack on the independent and opposition media, its questionable handling of several high-stakes privatization deals, and its shortsighted and financially unsound "debt-for-assets" barter agreement that handed over strategic firms to Russia have combined to foster a national mood of political discontent.
The Kocharian administration's political immaturity in governance has also been encouraged, however, by a divided and equally shortsighted opposition. Although not overtly complicit in these policies, the opposition remains hamstrung by a lack of any true alternative to Kocharian's policies and offers little more than a change in personnel.
The great divide in the Armenian polity now runs not between the government and the opposition, but between a small, but powerful, elite and a much larger, but powerless and less economically secure, segment of civil society. The apathy and discontent of the latter group now threatens to fuel a much more dangerous and volatile period of instability.
These two factors have combined in recent years to reach a new level of festering discontent that could prove as threatening to Armenian democracy and civil society as the policies and misrule that have fostered its rise. In one sense, the October 1999 attack on the parliament and the killings of senior political leaders were early warnings of this looming discontent. The sheer madness of the motives cited by the perpetrators of that attack -- whose two-year trial is nowhere near completion -- suggests a seething and dangerous discontent that has only been exacerbated by widespread political corruption and widening economic disparity.
The argument that Naghdalian's murder was not just another assault on the Armenian media, but rather a warning to the country's leadership, is all the more convincing when viewed in the broader context of a series of unsolved political assassinations in recent years. A blow to Armenia's fragile civil society as much as to the state, the Naghdalian murder might be the crest of a wave of conflict. In that respect, what is important is not simply that the killer be apprehended, but that the Armenian leadership rise to the challenge the murder represents by abandoning unaccountable and immature governance and formulating public policy in accordance with, and not in violation of, Armenia's national interest.
Nor should the Armenian leadership be allowed to plead in self-defense that the country compares favorably in terms of political stability with its neighbors. Georgia is tainted by an increasingly distressing record as a failing state, with kidnappings and lawlessness threatening to become the norm. Azerbaijan, with its clan-based rule reinforced by an extensive and powerful security apparatus, has not hesitated to move to contain the dissent of a marginalized political opposition and to stifle protest by impoverished villagers in Nardaran and elsewhere.
Yerevan's response to the warning sent by Naghdalian's murderer might very well be pivotal to stability in Armenia -- and perhaps in the South Caucasus as a whole -- for the next several years.