|Wednesday, 3 June 2020|
RFE/RL Newsline, 03-01-08
From: Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty <http://www.rferl.org>
 MOSCOW, TOKYO SEEK CLOSER RELATIONS...Speaking in advance of the 9 January arrival in Moscow of Japanese Prime Minister Junichiro Koizumi, Deputy Foreign Minister Aleksandr Losyukov said on 8 January that the two countries have already agreed to a document outlining "the development of a creative partnership," ITAR-TASS reported. The document touches upon all aspects of bilateral relations, including political cooperation, trade and economic ties, cultural exchanges, and cooperation in law enforcement and defense. It also contains a chapter devoted to the problem of negotiating a peace treaty between the two countries, which have remained formally at war since World War II. The signing of a treaty has been blocked by a dispute over the Kurile Islands, which the Soviet Union occupied in the closing days of the war. Losyukov said that many factors are pushing Japan and Russia closer together and that the time is ripe for a businesslike discussion of a peace treaty without excessive emotional rhetoric. Speaking to reporters in Tokyo, Koizumi said on 8 January that "Japan has said in the past that a close relationship would be difficult if the islands were not returned, which was extremely unrealistic," Reuters reported. "Now both sides are taking steps that are quieter but more productive," Koizumi said. During Koizumi's visit this week, it is expected that the Kurile issue will be set aside and talks will focus on North Korea and the fight against international terrorism, Reuters reported. VY
 ...AS RUSSIA, FRANCE PREPARE FOR PARIS SUMMITDeputy Foreign Minister Aleksei Meshkov said that Russia and France have reached a higher level of the cooperation in the international political arena, moving from mere coordination to joint action, as demonstrated by their positions on Iraq, ITAR-TASS reported on 8 January. He especially noted the formation last year of a Franco-Russian security council. Meshkov also said that French Foreign Minister Dominique de Villepin was expected to stop in Moscow on 8 January on his way to Beijing to discuss with Foreign Minister Igor Ivanov preparations for President Vladimir Putin's trip to France on 10 February. He said the ministers will discuss Russia's relations with the G-8 countries since France has taken over the chairmanship of that organization this year. VY
 FORMER DEFENSE MINISTER CRITICIZES GENERALFormer Defense Minister Igor Rodionov expressed his disapproval of the behavior of Colonel General Gennadii Troshev, who was dismissed last month from his post as commander of the North Caucasus Military District for publicly discussing his refusal to accept a transfer to command the Siberian Federal District, "Nezavisimoe voennoe obozrenie," No. 52, reported (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 19 December 2002). "If I were [Troshev], I would rather resign than make a public show, and President Putin would be right to demote him," Rodionov said. He also expressed doubt that Troshev will be able to imitate former Chechen war General Lev Rokhlin, who started a political career after retiring from the military. "It is not desirable to have people such as Troshev in politics since he is an unreliable person," Rodionov said. Rodionov also criticized Defense Minister Sergei Ivanov, saying that he is not doing a good job and the Defense Ministry is not the proper place for him. Finally, he criticized Chief of Staff General Anatolii Kvashnin, saying that he is sitting back and watch the destruction of Russia's defense capabilities. VY
 MINISTER DECLARES VICTORY OVER SEPARATISMVladimir Zorin, the government minister responsible for nationalities policy, has said that during the last two years Russia has overcome its greatest threat, "separatism in the legal sphere," "Parlamentskaya gazeta" reported on 5 January. During that period, Russia has succeeded in restoring the priority of federal laws over regional ones and has brought the constitutions of the federation subjects into compliance with the federal constitution. Zorin also said that he is encouraged by the results of the national census conducted in October, which seem to indicate that Russia is emerging from the post-Soviet demographic crisis. According to the census, the mortality rate in many Russian regions has declined and the birth rate has increased. In 1992-95, more than 70 percent of the additions to the population was accounted for by migration, while in 2000, migration accounted for just 8 percent of population increase, with the rest attributable to rising birth rates. Zorin reported that the country's population of 145.1 million people comprises 120 million Russians, 5.5 million Tatars, 4.3 million Ukrainians, 1.8 million Chuvash, 1.3 million Bashkirs, 1.2 million Belarusians, and 1.2 million Mordovins. Chechens are the eight largest ethnic group, followed by Germans, Udmurts, and Mari, although Zorin did not specify the sizes of these groups. VY
 TRANSPORTATION SNAGS SEEN ALONG RUSSIAN-LITHUANIAN BORDERThe latest agreement on rail traffic between Russia and Lithuania is causing problems at the border, RosBalt reported on 7 January, citing Kaliningrad Oblast First Deputy Governor Mikhail Tsikel. According to Tsikel, part of the problem is that foreign ministries of both countries exchanged diplomatic notes on the subject as late as the end of 2002, and therefore the instructions have not been completely implemented by border and customs officials. In addition, Russian citizens do not seem to be aware that they need a Lithuanian transit visa to travel by train to Kaliningrad. However, Tsikel says that so far no Kaliningraders have been removed from their trains, and 40 citizens of CIS countries have also managed to return home across the Lithuanian-Belarus border. In November, President Putin and EU officials announced an agreement under which Russian citizens traveling by train between Kaliningrad and the rest of Russia will receive single-transit travel documents (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 12 November 2002). Last month, Lithuanian Foreign Ministry officials complained when the Russian Foreign Ministry announced on 16 December that the accord would be signed later and not on 19 December as previously agreed, Interfax reported on 18 December. JAC
 ANALYST SAYS PUTIN ADMINISTRATION ADRIFTIn a long, wide-ranging article in "Russkii zhurnal" on 31 December, Foundation for Effective Politics head Gleb Pavlovskii opines that the "main problem" of President Putin's regime is its search for "self-definition." According to Pavlovskii, the impossibility of finding a starting point for such a definition is causing the regime to spin its wheels on a number of policies because "the spot on the map labeled 'You are here' simply doesn't exist." Pavlovskii also argues that "Putin is a character from [military historian Basil] Liddell-Hart -- he [supports] completely the 'strategy of indirect action.'" He continues: "The chief task of Putin's Russia is to not let the rules be established without us. [But] there are no rules in the world." Pavlovskii has been given credit by some analysts for creating Putin's public image during the 1999 State Duma and 2000 presidential campaigns. JAC
 MOSQUE BUILDING PROCEEDS APACE IN BASHKORTOSTAN, AIRPORTSTen new mosques have been opened in Bashkortostan since the beginning of December, RFE/RL's Kazan bureau reported on 5 January, citing intertat.ru. Last month a mosque was opened at the Domodedovo airport in Moscow, islam.ru reported on 26 December. Earlier last year, a two-story mosque with room for 120 worshippers was opened at the airport in Ufa, VolgaInform reported on 8 February. JAC
 CHURCH, MOSCOW PICK DIFFERENT CANDIDATES IN FAR EAST...Russian Orthodox Church Bishop for Magadan and Sinegorsk Feofan has been unofficially lending his support to the campaign effort of acting Magadan Oblast Governor Nikolai Dubov for Magadan's 2 February gubernatorial election, RFE/RL's Murmansk correspondent reported on 26 December. According to the report, two days after the oblast administration suggested that the oblast budget's expenditure for construction of a new Russian Orthodox cathedral be more than doubled to 90 million rubles ($2.8 million), Bishop Feofan appeared on TV-Magadan speaking approvingly of the building of the century in Magadan and the continuation of projects begun under Governor Valentin Tsvetkov, who was murdered in Moscow in October. Dubov's campaign slogan is, "We will continue the [work] of Governor Tsvetkov." Meanwhile, Dubov's chief competitor, Magadan Mayor Nikolai Karpenko, met in Moscow with Audit Chamber head Sergei Stepashin and Deputy Prime Minister Aleksei Kudrin, a meeting that was shown on local television. According to the correspondent, Vladimir Pekhtin, Unity's faction leader in the State Duma, and the chief federal inspector for Magadan Oblast, Anatolii Makhankov, have expressed support for Karpenko (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 17 December 2002). JAC
 ...AS COMMUNIST PARTY HEAD CLAIMS PRESSURE TO SUPPORT INCUMBENT IN MORDOVIAThe head of Mordovia's Communist Party, Valentina Lyukzaeva, has said that several raion heads in the republic have been pressuring local communists into supporting incumbent head of the republic Nikolai Merkushkin in the 16 February presidential election, RFE/RL's Saransk correspondent reported on 26 December. According to Lyukzaeva, the heads of the Insarskii, Tengushevskii, Temnikovskii, Chamzinskii, and Kadoshkinskii raion administrations have been trying to force communists to support Merkushkin, and the local media have been reporting that all raion-level party organizations back Merkushkin, which is not true. In the meantime, the local Unified Russia party branch has joined with the Agrarian Party and veterans groups to form an election bloc called For Mordovia that will back Merkushkin. Anatolii Chebukov, one of the directors of the republic's largest enterprises, the Saransk Instrument-Making Factory, is supported by the Communist Party (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 6 January 2003). JAC
 NIZHNII KIDS GET 'HARRY POTTER' FOR CHRISTMASThe Nizhnii Novgorod Oblast administration sent more than 50 letters to local organizations asking for their help in arranging for free showings of the film "Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets" to the children of needy families and families with many children, regions.ru reported on 7 January. The children will also receive presents from Ded Moroz, or Father Frost. Some 15 enterprises responded to the letter signed by Governor Gennadii Khodyrev, and 60,000 rubles ($1,900) were raised. JAC
 ANOTHER SUSPECT APPREHENDED IN CHECHEN OFFICIAL'S MURDERIn a joint operation, Chechen and Ingushetian police arrested Visadi Shakarov, a suspect in the September 2002 murder of Nadterechnyi Raion administrator Akhmed Zavgaev, at a camp in Ingushetia for displaced persons from Chechnya, ITAR-TASS reported on 7 January (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 10 and 11 September 2002). One of Shakarov's associates, Ayub Tontoev, was reportedly killed by police while resisting arrest. Chechen police detained one suspect in the case, Visit Baigeriev, in Ingushetia's Malgobek Raion last November. LF
TRANSCAUCASUS AND CENTRAL ASIA
 ARMENIAN OPPOSITION QUESTIONS GOVERNMENT'S HANDLING OF MURDER INVESTIGATIONThe leaders of 16 opposition parties met in Yerevan on 7 January to prepare a formal statement condemning arrests of opposition politicians on suspicion of involvement in the 28 December murder of Public Television and Radio head Tigran Naghdalian, RFE/RL's Yerevan bureau reported (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 6 January 2003). Armenian Communist Party leader Vladimir Darpinian accused the authorities of using the murder for political gain. Also on 7 January, former Prime Minister Aram Sargsian urged investigators to focus on possible connections between Naghdalian's murder and the October 1999 parliament shootings in which several senior officials were killed. Naghdalian was scheduled to testify at the ongoing trial of the five gunmen who committed with those murders. LF
 TURKISH DELEGATION VISITS AZERBAIJANRecep Tayyip Erdogan, the leader of Turkey's ruling Justice and Development Party, arrived in Baku on 7 January at the head of a large delegation, Russian and Azerbaijani agencies reported. Following a two-hour meeting with Azerbaijan's President Heidar Aliev, Erdogan told journalists that his government will aim at improved economic and cultural cooperation and closer political contacts with the Turcophone states of the former USSR, Turan reported. He called for strengthening the "strategic partnership" between Turkey and Azerbaijan, according to zerkalo.az, and expressed concern at the decline over the past two years of Azerbaijani-Turkish trade volume. Erdogan said he hopes the Baku-Ceyhan export pipeline for Caspian oil can be completed before the planned date of 2005 and noted that the construction of the Baku-Tbilisi-Erzerum gas-export pipeline will offer Turkey the opportunity to buy Azerbaijani gas cheaply either for domestic consumption or reexport to Europe. Erdogan reaffirmed Ankara's support for Azerbaijan in the Karabakh conflict, expressing hope that talks between Aliev and his Armenian counterpart Robert Kocharan aimed at resolving it will be successful, Turan reported. LF
 GEORGIAN PROTESTERS DEMAND MEETING WITH MINISTER OF STATEThe Georgian displaced persons who blocked the bridge over the Inguri River on 7 January to protest the resumption of rail traffic between the Russian city of Sochi and Sukhum have demanded a meeting with Minister of State Avtandil Djorbenadze, Caucasus Press reported on 8 January. They have expanded their demands to include the withdrawal of Russian peacekeepers from the Abkhaz conflict zone and a halt to the distribution of Russian passports to residents of Abkhazia. They have threatened to stage mass demonstrations in the west Georgian town of Zugdidi if Djorbenadze refuses to meet with them. Abkhaz parliament Chairman Nugzar Ashuba has condemned the blockade as hindering the search for a settlement of the conflict, Caucasus Press reported on 8 January. LF
 KYRGYZ PREMIER HIGHLIGHTS EVENTS OF THE YEARIn an interview with "Slovo Kyrgyzstana" that was reproduced on 8 January by centrasia.ru, Nikolai Tanaev singled out as the most important event of 2002 the donors' conference in October that pledged $700 million to finance the country's poverty-reduction program (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 11 October 2002) and the "Year of Mountains" summit in December. The website akipress.org, however, on 7 January posted its own list of the most memorable events of the year in which the donors' conference figured in fifth place following the shooting by police of demonstrators in Aksy in March; the resignation in May of Tanaev's predecessor Kurmanbek Bakiev; the ratification of the controversial border agreement under which Kyrgyzstan ceded territory to China; and the restructuring of the country's foreign debt. LF
 JAILED KYRGYZ OPPOSITION LEADER TO APPEAL TO UNToktorbek Ashyrkul-uulu, who represents jailed Ar-Namys Party leader Feliks Kulov, told RFE/RL's Kyrgyz Service on 7 January that the Bishkek City Court has still not given him the protocols of the hearings, following which it upheld on 11 October the guilty verdict handed down to Kulov by a Bishkek district court in May but reduced his 10-year sentence by one-third (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 9 May and 15 October 2002). The City Court is legally obliged to give those protocols to the defendant within five days. Ashyrkul-uulu said Kulov is considering appealing the City Court's decision to the Supreme Court. On 31 December, Ashyrkul-uulu told RFE/RL he is considering raising Kulov's case with the UN. A former vice president and national security minister before he joined the opposition, Kulov was found guilty in January 2001 of abusing his official position and, in May 2002, of embezzlement. Commenting on the current political situation in Kyrgyzstan, Kulov told akipress.org on 30 December the authorities have embarked on a "witch hunt" against the opposition and independent media. Kulov criticized unnamed opposition leaders for adopting too radical a position and thus depriving the leadership of room for maneuver to reach a consensus. LF
 TAJIKISTAN 'NOT READY' TO ABOLISH CAPITAL PUNISHMENTAsia Plus-Blitz on 8 January quoted Mahmadali Vatanov, who is first deputy chairman of Tajikistan's Supreme Court, as saying that fewer persons were sentenced to death last year and no one was sentenced to death for drug-related crimes. Deputy Prime Minister Saidamir Suhurov, who chairs the Human Rights Commission established last year (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 5 June 2002), told Asia Plus-Blitz that the number of articles of the Criminal Code that include the death penalty has been cut over the past few years from 36 to 14, which he claimed is "progress" for a country that has recently experienced a civil war. But Suhurov, like Vatanov, argued that it is premature to abolish capital punishment. He noted that a recent public-opinion poll established that 73.4 percent of respondents favor retaining the death penalty. LF
 TURKMEN PRESIDENT SETS DATE FOR NEXT PRESIDENTIAL ELECTIONS...Meeting with members of the clergy on 7 January, President Saparmurat Niyazov again said that presidential elections should take place no later than 2008-10, adding that the National Council should select from three to five potential candidates each year who would then run for that office "in the event that something happens to the president," centrasia.ru reported citing turkmenistan.ru. But Niyazov apparently did not say, as he has done on previous occasions, that he might voluntarily relinquish the presidency to make way for a younger candidate. In February 2000, Niyazov said he will step down within five to seven years; in February 2001, he said he will leave office no later than 2010; and in June 2002 he said presidential elections could be held in 2007-08 (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 21 February 2000, 19 February 2001, and 24 June 2002). LF
 ...APPOINTS NEW MUFTIAt the same 7 January meeting with senior clerics, Niyazov announced the dismissal of the country's Chief Mufti Nasrullah ibn Ibadullah, who simultaneously served as deputy chairman of the State Council for Religious Affairs, Interfax reported. The 35-year-old mufti of Mary Oblast, Kakageldy Vepaev, was named to succeed ibn Ibadullah in both posts. Ibn Ibadullah has since left Turkmenistan, centrasia.ru cited RFE/RL's Turkmen Service as reporting. LF
 TURKMENISTAN ADOPTS NEW ELECTION LAWThe Turkmen press has published the country's new election law, turkmenistan.ru reported on 7 January. Turkmen citizens who are at least 25, have not been convicted of a crime, and have lived in Turkmenistan for at least 10 years prior to the ballot may run in elections. AP reported on 3 January that elections to a new 50-seat parliament have been scheduled for 6 April. LF
CENTRAL AND EASTERN EUROPE
 BELARUSIAN PRESIDENT SAYS COMMUNIST IDEOLOGY REPLACED BY ORTHODOXYPresident Alyaksandr Lukashenka said at a solemn mass in Minsk to celebrate Orthodox Christmas on 7 January that the communist ideology in Belarus has been fully replaced by an Orthodox Christian one, RFE/RL's Belarusian Service reported. Lukashenka said he decided to make Orthodox Christianity Belarus's state ideology eight years ago when he became president. The Belarusian leader praised Orthodox Christian hierarchs in Belarus for opposing "destructive forces," fruitfully cooperating with the authorities, and contributing to political stability in the country. Lukashenka added that the state will soon sign an accord with the Russian Orthodox Church in Belarus granting the latter "numerous benefits." AM
 ESTONIA STARTS MEMBERSHIP NEGOTIATIONS WITH NATOAn Estonian delegation headed by former Defense Minister Juri Luik in Brussels on 7 January participated in the first round of negotiations on NATO accession, BNS reported. NATO Deputy Secretary-General Guenter Altenburg led the NATO delegation. "The meeting brought no big surprise, but several important matters were coordinated," Luik said. Militarily, the talks touched on Estonia's participation in NATO's collective-security system and the principles for Estonian diplomats and officers working within NATO structures along with their participation in the NATO defense-planning process. In political matters, the two sides focused on Estonia's contribution to enhancing overall security through international cooperation and participation in peacekeeping operations, as well as Estonia's full participation in the NATO consultation and decision-making mechanism. The second round of negotiations is scheduled for 16 January. SG
 LATVIA LOSES MULTIMILLION-DOLLAR APPEAL IN COPENHAGEN COURTThe Copenhagen Maritime Affairs and Commercial Court announced on 7 January its rejection of a Latvian request to overturn an international arbitration decision forcing it to pay millions of dollars in compensation, LETA reported. The International Court of Arbitration in Stockholm in 2000 ordered the country to pay more than $4 million to Sweden's SwemBalt company for dismantling the ship "Feederchif" in Riga in 1996 (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 15 November 2000). The company brought the ship to Riga in 1993 to establish a trade center on board the vessel, but the planned projects failed and the city, fearing the ship might sink and block traffic in the port, later scrapped it. Justice Minister Aivars Aksenoks expressed surprise at the court verdict and proposed that lawyers be consulted to advise whether Latvia should appeal the decision to the Danish Supreme Court. SG
 TANKER DEEMED TO HAVE RUN AGROUND OFF LITHUANIA DUE TO NEGLIGENCEA Lithuanian Navigation Safety Administration commission investigating why the Argentinean tanker "Princess Pia" ran aground after leaving Klaipeda on 11 December (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 13 December 2002), informed the Transport and Communications Ministry on 7 January that the tanker was not technically prepared to go to sea, ELTA reported. The tanker's captain did not inform the Lithuanian pilot that the ship's radar was showing inaccurate readings and the misinformed pilot turned the tanker prematurely, the commission concluded. The commission also criticized the captain for neglecting his own duties as the vessel was leaving port. The tanker had a double bottom and none of the 49,500 tons of fuel oil leaked out, although it took five days to free the ship by pumping out some of the cargo. SG
 POLISH RULING PARTY WANTS INQUIRY INTO ALLEGED MEDIA-BILL BRIBERYThe Democratic Left Alliance (SLD) caucus in the Sejm on 7 January called for an inquiry committee to probe reports of bribery in connection with a planned bill on radio and television broadcasting and implying improprieties by media mogul Lew Rywin (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 30 December 2002 and 3 January 2003), PAP reported. "The committee will be investigating attempts at securing bribe money in exchange for guarantees that the briber's interests will be favorably represented in a new radio and television law. It will have to find out who initiated the whole affair and how it was done," the SLD parliamentary caucus said in a statement. Motions for launching probes into the Rywin affair have already been filed by the Law and Justice and the Civic Platform caucuses. AM
 POLAND NOTES NO PROTEST AGAINST SELECTION OF U.S. FIGHTERSDefense Minister Jerzy Szmajdzinski on 7 January said his ministry received no protests from bidders against the choice of F-16 jet fighters in a tender to supply Polish air forces (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 27 December 2002), PAP reported. "This opens the way for starting negotiations, especially concerning offset [deals], and also for formulating the contract on the supply of jets and payments for it," the minister added. AM
 POLISH GOVERNMENT WANTS FINNS TO IMPROVE OFFSET OFFER IN MILITARY DEALLeszek Miller's cabinet on 7 January rejected an offset offer from Finland's Patria Vehicles Oy company, which won a tender to supply the Polish Army with armored-personnel carriers, PAP reported. "The Finns have until 20 January to present a new offer," Deputy Economy Minister Andrzej Szarawarski commented. The delivery of 690 Finnish carriers, worth some $1.3 billion, is to start in 2004. AM
 CZECH PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE'S CLAIMS BACKED BY FORMER DEFENDANT...Jiri Heger, whom former Justice Minister and presidential candidate Jaroslav Bures says he assisted while acting as a judge under the communist regime, on 7 January confirmed to Czech Television that Bures rendered two decisions in his favor in the early 1980s, CTK reported. Bures claimed in mid-December that he aided a Charter 77 signatory named Heger, though local media have since confirmed that Heger was a Communist Party member who did not sign the politically charged document, which highlighted human rights abuses in then-Czechoslovakia (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 7 January 2003). The statement appeared aimed at boosting public support ahead of the presidential vote amid reports noting Bures's entry to the Communist Party in the mid-1980s. Bures is the ruling Social Democratic Party's (CSSD) candidate for president. MS
 ...AS CANDIDATE SAYS HE DID NOT 'CONSCIOUSLY TELL UNTRUTH'Heger on 7 January said Bures in April 1981 ruled that his dismissal from the Orbis publishing house was invalid and in June 1982 ordered Orbis to strike out a reference in Heger's records to a "breach of contract." Heger added that he had not signed the charter, but Bures might well have believed he did because Orbis was spreading that information. Bures denied accusations that he lied for political gain, saying on Czech Television the same day: "A lie is a lie when one consciously tells untrue things. I told the truth on the basis of information available to me." MS
 FORMER PRAGUE MAYOR CHARGED WITH SLANDERA police spokeswoman on 7 January told TV Nova that former Lord Mayor Jan Kasl has been charged with slander for accusing Prague ambulance-service Director Pavel Getlik of "squandering" money and of fraud, CTK reported. Getlik told the station that Kasl later apologized to him in private, but he added that the only adequate apology should come before the City Council, where Kasl made his allegations in September. In June, police dismissed criminal corruption charges Kasl brought against the City Hall's trade commission after investigators concluded that no crime was committed. Kasl resigned as mayor on 28 May, citing widespread corruption on the City Council and within his former party, the Civic Democratic Party (ODS). He subsequently formed his own party, the European Democrats. MS
 BRITAIN RESUMES IMMIGRATION CHECKS AT PRAGUE AIRPORTBritish immigration officials on 7 January resumed checks at Prague's Ruzyne Airport of travelers heading to destinations in the U.K., CTK reported. The controls are aimed at preventing alleged abuses of the British asylum system, particularly by Czech Roma. MS
 PROMINENT SLOVAK PERSONALITIES BACK NATO REFERENDUMThirty-eight prominent Slovaks on 7 January signed an initiative in support of holding a referendum on NATO accession, TASR and CTK reported. Apart from former Justice Minister Jan Carnogursky (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 6 January 2003), the plebiscite initiative is also backed by writers Ladislav Tazky, Peter Jaros, Albert Marencin and Jan Tuzinsky, by philosopher Egon Bondy, poet Vojtech Kondrot, and Trade Unions Confederation Chairman Ivan Saktor. Other signatories include retired General Emil Vestenicky, sociologist Zuzana Kusa, and environmentalist Pavol Fabian. Slovak observers cited by CTK said the initiative has little chance of gathering the 350,000 signatures that would oblige President Rudolf Schuster to call a plebiscite. The Communist Party of Slovakia asked that parliament debate the possibility of holding a referendum on NATO accession, but all other political parties, including the opposition Movement for a Democratic Slovakia, said they oppose a plebiscite. Slovakia received an invitation in November to join the Atlantic alliance in 2004. MS
 SLOVAK DEFENSE MINISTER SAYS ARMY PREPARING FOR IRAQI CONFLICT...Defense Minister Ivan Simko on 7 January told journalists that if Iraq fails to implement the UN Security Council resolution urging it to disarm, Slovakia will cooperate in enforcing its fulfillment, TASR and CTK reported. He refused to elaborate beyond specifying that the Slovak Army is already making preparations for that possibility. Simko said that thus far Slovakia has not received any official request to participate in a military operation against Iraq, but it will not neglect its duty to participate alongside other democratic states in the struggle against international terrorism. Simko said the Iraqi regime is waging war on its own citizens and that the danger it poses due to its potential use of weapons of mass destruction is greater than generally believed. MS
 ...AND INTERIOR MINISTER ANNOUNCES ANTITERRORISM MEASURESInterior Minister Vladimir Palko on 7 January announced that Slovakia is strengthening security checks on its borders and has placed its civil-defense system on alert, TASR and CTK reported. Palko, who is also chairman of the Slovak Crisis Management Headquarters (UKS), said that although a terrorist attack on Slovakia is unlikely, the country must take all possible measures to eliminate any risk. He was speaking after a meeting of the UKS. Palko also said the UKS has set up a system for rapidly informing the public in the event of a terrorist threat. MS
 SLOVAK NATIONALIST LEADERS STEPPING DOWN TO FACILITATE REUNIFICATIONSlovak National Party (SNS) Chairwoman Anna Malikova and Real Slovak National Party (PSNS) Chairman Jan Slota on 7 January agreed to step down as their parties' leaders in order to facilitate the reunification of the two formations, TASR reported. Slota said he intends to nominate a candidate for the reunited party's chair but declined to reveal whom he has in mind. Slota and Malikova, once bitter rivals, agreed on 17 December to reunite their parties, which split in 2001 (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 20 December 2002).
 FIDESZ SAYS HUNGARIAN CABINET IS 'HANGMAN OF STATUS LAW'Opposition FIDESZ deputy Zsolt Nemeth, chairman of parliament's Foreign Affairs Committee, on 7 January urged an immediate convening of the Hungarian Standing Conference in response to reports that a draft amendment to the controversial Status Law has been finalized (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 19 December 2002), "Nepszabadsag" reported. Nemeth said he was informed of that fact by a "high-ranking foreign affairs official, and claims the latest draft was not drawn up according to the agreement reached by consensus at an autumn meeting of the conference but rather on the basis of the viewpoints of Foreign Minister Laszlo Kovacs and EU Enlargement Commissioner Guenter Verheugen. Nemeth said the current cabinet will go down in history as the "hangman of the Status Law" if it is implemented on the basis of the provisions drawn up by Kovacs. He said it is unacceptable that the Status Law will not apply to ethnic Hungarians in Slovakia and Slovenia once those countries join the EU in 2004, nor to those in Romania after that country's expected accession in 2007. Foreign Ministry political State Secretary Andras Barsony denied that any new draft amendment has been finalized. MSZ
 IRAQI REFUGEES IN HUNGARY REPORTEDLY UNDER SURVEILLANCEThe Hungarian intelligence community is attempting to step up screening for potential terrorists among Iraqi refugees arriving in Hungary, "Magyar Hirlap" reported on 8 January. The authorities are monitoring some individuals and their activities and checking their contacts within refugee centers -- as some Iraqis in Hungary allegedly are there to gather information about the Taszar military air base, where Iraqi opposition personnel are to be trained by the U.S. military. The daily speculates that personnel commissioned by the Iraqi regime have mixed with refugees who are otherwise fleeing induction into Saddam Hussein's army. More than 1,000 Iraqi refugees are currently being held at refugee centers in Hungary. MSZ
 FIRST POSTWAR ORTHODOX RABBI INAUGURATED IN HUNGARYReviving prewar Jewish traditions, former Israeli Chief Rabbi Eliyahu Mordechai on 7 January officially inaugurated 24-year-old Slomo Koves as orthodox rabbi at a synagogue in Budapest's former ghetto area, Hungarian media reported. Born in Budapest, Koves graduated from high school in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, before studying to be a rabbi in Paris, New York, and Israel. Budapest Orthodox Rabbi Baruch Oberlander said after the ceremony, "Here we have a Hungarian-born young man who has studied to a level where the chief rabbi of Israel attends his ordination." The ceremony was attended by President Ferenc Madl, Budapest Mayor Gabor Demszky, political State Secretary for church relations Istvan Szalay, and leaders of the Federation of Jewish Religious Communities in Hungary. MSZ
 BOSNIA REBUKES SERBIAN PRIME MINISTERThe Bosnian Foreign Ministry in a 7 January statement protested Serbian Prime Minister Zoran Djindjic's recent remarks to the German weekly "Der Spiegel" about the need for a "new Dayton conference" to redraw borders in the Balkans if Kosovar Albanians continue to demand independence, RFE/RL's South Slavic and Albanian Languages Service reported. The ministry stressed that it is wrong to link the status of Bosnia, which is an internationally recognized country, with that of Kosova. The ministry also condemned what it called a revival of "old projects" to make deals regarding the future of territories and the fate of human beings. On 30 December, the "International Herald Tribune" quoted an unnamed European diplomat in Prishtina as saying: "The Serbs want to be rid of [Kosova]. They know full well it's lost, but they are holding out for something in return. Partition is a very convenient quick fix, but history suggests [that] it just generates more suffering." The Belgrade daily "Danas" on 8 January hailed Djindjic for being forthright but added that Serbia has enough problems to face without raising the issue of Kosova's final status. PM
 ORTHODOX CHRISTMAS MARKED IN FORMER YUGOSLAVIASerbian Orthodox Patriarch Pavle read the liturgy at Christmas services in Belgrade's St. Sava Cathedral on 7 January in the presence of Crown Prince Aleksandar Karadjordjevic, members of the royal family, several government ministers, and many ordinary citizens, "Vesti" reported. The paper added that a larger number of young people attended services in Belgrade than in previous years. In Croatia, Pavle's greetings were read out at numerous churches, RFE/RL's South Slavic and Albanian Languages Service reported. In Montenegro, the rival Serbian Orthodox Church and Montenegrin Orthodox Church held their respective Christmas Eve Yule log ceremonies without incident, unlike in some previous years. In Kosova, the Christmas liturgy was read in the Gracanica monastery and in churches across the province. Orthodox Christmas was observed as both a state and religious holiday in Macedonia. Bishop Jefrem read the liturgy in the Holy Trinity Church in Banja Luka, with Republika Srpska President Dragan Cavic in attendance. In Kozarac, Serbian Orthodox believers filled the new Sts. Peter and Paul Church. There were no incidents between them and the town's 20,000 Muslim returnees. PM
 MACEDONIAN GOVERNMENT SEEKS MILITARY SAVINGSAs part of the recent reform of military tours of duty (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 7 January 2003), nonmilitary service for conscientious objectors will be nine months instead of 14 months, "Utrinski vesnik" reported on 8 January. Defense Minister Vlado Buckovski announced that the new regulations will apply immediately, even though the parliament has yet to pass the necessary legislation. The government wants a smaller, professional army in keeping with NATO standards. The changes will help the government save some $5 million by 2006, which will be used to implement other reforms in the military (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 5 December 2002). UB
 WAR CRIMES TRIBUNAL WANTS A MEDICAL EXAMINATION OF FORMER CROATIAN GENERALFlorence Hartmann, who is the spokeswoman for Hague war crimes tribunal chief prosecutor Carla Del Ponte, said in Zagreb on 7 January that the tribunal has set up a medical team to examine former General Janko Bobetko and wants it to do so before the end of January, Hina reported (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 16 October and 2 December 2002). The tribunal has demanded Bobetko's extradition to face charges stemming from the killing of at least 100 ethnic Serb civilians in the Medak Pocket in 1993. The Croatian government argues that it is cooperating with the tribunal, but that the 83-year-old former general is being hospitalized and is too ill to travel. Zagreb's refusal to extradite Bobetko is widely seen as stemming from domestic political pressures and has been criticized by several Western governments. The tribunal has said that it will not insist on Bobetko's extradition if its own doctors determine that he is too ill to travel, dpa reported. PM
 SLOVENIAN REFERENDUM IN LIMBO?Parliamentary parties failed to reach an agreement on a proposal by the government to hold a nonbinding referendum on 9 February on joining NATO and the EU, RFE/RL's South Slavic and Albanian Languages Service reported (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 7 January 2003). Vienna's "Die Presse" reported on 8 January that it was nonetheless expected that the parliament would approve the proposal later that day. If the measure passes, Slovenia will become the first EU candidate country in the current round of expansion to hold a referendum on membership. PM
 ROMANIAN OFFICIAL ANNOUNCES INTENSIFICATION OF STRUGGLE AGAINST CORRUPTIONVasile Ponta, head of the Control Department in the prime minister's office, said on Romanian Radio on 7 January that the cabinet's strategy for combating corruption was finalized in December and that no fewer than 67 "precise measures, with clear-cut targets" will be implemented in the future. Ponta said the measures focus particularly on financing, public administration, the judicial system, and the business environment. He said the government intends to "assume responsibility" in parliament for a set of legislative measures that have been under debate for a long time but have failed to be approved by the legislature. "Assuming responsibility" is a constitutional procedure under which legislation is assumed to be approved by parliament unless a no-confidence motion is submitted within three days after that assumption. Ponta said Premier Adrian Nastase has "opted for shock therapy" in the effort to combat corruption. MS
 ROMANIAN PRIVATIZATION MINISTER SAYS STEELMAKER WILL RETURN TO STATE OWNERSHIPPrivatization Minister Ovidiu Musatescu announced on 7 January that the CSR Resita steelmaker will be returned to state ownership, Romanian Radio reported. The U.S.-based Noble Ventures company purchased a 94.4 percent stake in CSR Resita in June 2000, but has been accused of repeatedly failing to meet the obligations it assumed under the deal. Musatescu said the ministry will search for alternative investors and hopes to find them by early April. He said CSR Resita's 3,000 employees, who have not received their wages for months, are in a difficult situation and that a meeting with trade union leaders is to take place on 8 January in order to determine immediate ways to help them out. Musatescu also said that 23 state-owned enterprises will be privatized in the first three months of 2003. Two of these enterprises, the Brasov-based Roman truck manufacturer and the Sidelurgica steelmaker from Hunedoara, have long been "black holes" of the state budget, surviving on huge state subsidies, according to Musatescu. MS
 ROMANIAN EU INTEGRATION COMMITTEE HOLDS FIRST MEETINGThe recently established Executive Committee for EU Integration held its first meeting in Bucharest on 7 January, Romanian Radio reported. Prime Minister Nastase chaired the meeting, which reviewed Romania's main objectives during the Greek Presidency of the EU. It was decided that during Greece's six-month term, Romania will strive to close as many chapters as possible in negotiations on the EU's acquis communautaire, particularly those chapters that would facilitate Romania's transformation into a "state with a functional market economy." The committee, which was set up last month, pledged to monitor the implementation of the obligations already assumed in negotiations. It also said it intends to grant particular attention to informing the country's population of the mechanisms of implementing the acquis and its effects. Nastase said civil society must participate in the process of EU integration. MS
 BULGARIA'S CONSERVATIVE OPPOSITION PROPOSES AMENDMENTS TO FACILITATE NATO ACCESSIONOn 7 January, the conservative opposition Union of Democratic Forces (SDS) presented a package of draft laws aimed at facilitating the country's NATO accession, bnn reported. The proposals include draft amendments to the country's arms-export-control regulations and the laws regulating access to classified information. The drafts are also intended to strengthen civil control over the secret services, speed up army reform, and combat organized crime. The SDS proposes amending the constitution to harmonize it with the legal systems of current NATO member states. UB
 BULGARIAN CONSTITUTIONAL COURT HEAD SAYS ONLY GRAND NATIONAL ASSEMBLY CAN MAKE CONSTITUTIONAL AMENDMENTS...Constitutional Court Chairman Hristo Danov said on 7 January on "Blitz," the joint television and radio program of RFE/RL's Bulgarian Service and the private TV station bTV, that he believes certain constitutional provisions connected with judicial reform can only be amended by a constituent Grand National Assembly. Danov said he believes such amendments could affect the state system, including the distribution of power within the state, which cannot be revised by parliament. He underscored, however, that he does not want to influence the decisions of the Constitutional Court, which Prosecutor-General Nikola Filchev has tasked to interpret parliament's powers to change the structure of the judiciary and to interpret the authority of the Supreme Judicial Council. The election of a constituent Grand National Assembly may be called if constitutional amendments are deemed necessary. The constituent assembly would have 400 instead of the 240 members who make up the conventional parliament and would pass constitutional amendments by a two-thirds majority. UB
 ...WHICH RAISES THE IRE OF PARLIAMENTARY SPEAKER, OPPOSITION LAWMAKERIn reaction to Danov's statement, parliamentary speaker Ognyan Gerdzhikov of the ruling National Movement Simeon II (NDSV) said the election of a constituent parliament would delay the Bulgaria's EU- and NATO-accession processes rather than facilitate them, mediapool.bg reported on 7 January. Tatyana Doncheva of the opposition Socialist Party (BSP) accused Danov of serving the interests of a small circle within the conservative opposition Union of Democratic Forces (SDS). According to Doncheva, this circle aims at calling early parliamentary elections, which are inevitable even without such "artificial stimulation." Doncheva called on the parliamentarians of all political parties to reach agreement over the framework of the necessary judicial reform, an achievement she believes would speed up the process. UB
 BULGARIAN DEPUTY MINISTER RESIGNS IN PROTEST AGAINST GOVERNMENT POLICYDeputy Regional Development Minister Georgi Georgiev has resigned, BTA reported on 7 January. Georgiev cited the "inconsistence" of the implementation of important projects such as the Burgas-Alexandroupoli oil pipeline and the Gorna Arda hydroelectric-power plant as reasons for his decision. UB
SOUTHWESTERN ASIA AND THE MIDDLE EAST
 FEARED HIJACKING OF AFGHAN AIRLINERS PROVES FALSEAn Ariana Airlines passenger plan carrying pilgrims en route to Mecca, Saudi Arabia, was forced by coalition aircraft on 7 January to land in the United Arab Emirates (U.A.E.) because of a bomb threat, the "Financial Times" reported the same day. However, the Afghan government announced that a search of the plane uncovered no bomb and that the report of a hijacking was incorrect, international media reported. A second Ariana passenger jet also carrying Afghan pilgrims was forced down in Sharjah, U.A.E., and searched as a precautionary measure, the "Financial Times" reported. Both jets were allowed to continue their flights after the searches of the planes and passengers revealed no danger. The false reports of bombs on Afghan planes en route to Mecca could have been a deliberate attempt by some to discredit the antiterrorism coalition among the Afghans. AT
 IRANIANS ATTEND KABUL COUNTERNARCOTICS CONFERENCEIranian Drug Control Headquarters (DCHQ) Secretary-General Ali Hashemi on 7 January participated in a counternarcotics conference in Kabul, Voice of the Islamic Republic of Iran's Pashtu-language service reported. Also in attendance were Zalmay Rasul, who is Afghan President Hamid Karzai's national security adviser, Karzai himself, UN Special Envoy Lakhdar Brahimi, a delegation from the United Nations, and a British delegation. A 7 January IRNA report said American and German delegates were expected to attend the meeting, but it did not say whether they did so. BS
 TEHRAN TRIES TO UNDERMINE U.S.-PAKISTAN RELATIONSThe official Vision of the Islamic Republic of Iran reported on 7 January that personnel from the U.S. Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) on 6 January crossed the Afghan border into Pakistan, arrested two Pakistanis for allegedly cooperating with Al-Qaeda, and took them back to Afghanistan. However, Pakistani officials said they have no knowledge of the incident, according to Iranian Radio. There is sensitivity in Pakistan over a late-December incident in which a supposed Pakistani border guard shot a U.S. soldier and American aircraft subsequently bombed a religious school inside Pakistan in retaliation. There also is resentment over U.S. efforts to eliminate the Islamabad-backed Taliban. BS
 IRAN CALLED BIGGEST JAIL FOR JOURNALISTS IN MIDDLE EAST...Reporters Without Borders said in its annual press-freedom survey, released on 7 January, that "with 18 journalists behind bars, Iran is the biggest jail for journalists in the Middle East." BS
 ...AS PARLIAMENT ATTEMPTS TO AMEND PRESS LAWIran's parliament approved its first proposed amendment to the harsh Press Law on 1 January, according to the 2 January "Hayat-i No." The amendment would remove limitations on the geographical distribution of a publication, and it also would eliminate restrictions on subjects that could be covered by a publication. This is the legislature's first attempt to change the Press Law since late-2000. Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei in an August 2000 letter forbade amending the Press Law because it prevents infiltration of the press by Iran's enemies. The Guardians Council must approve the current amendment's compatibility with Islam and the constitution. BS
 POLLING INSTITUTE HEARINGS CONTINUEThe second session in the trial relating to the National Institute for Research and Opinion Polls was held on 6 January, state television and IRNA reported. Ramazan Haji-Mashhadi, who is the attorney for institute Director Behruz Geranpayeh, rejected charges that Geranpayeh had contacts with foreign nationals, saying his client received approval from the Foreign Ministry beforehand. Haji-Mashhadi also said Geranpayeh was not responsible for hiring members of the terrorist opposition Mujahedin Khalq Organization. Another defendant, current parliamentarian and former Deputy Islamic Culture and Guidance Minister Ahmad Burqani, said he received approval from Ataollah Mohajerani, his boss at the ministry, to provide funds to the National Institute for Research and Opinion Polls. BS
 DOCTORS GIVEN ACCESS TO DISSIDENT CLERICGovernment security personnel initially denied access to physicians and an unidentified deputy health minister who were trying to visit Ayatollah Hussein Ali Montazeri-Najafabadi at his home in Qom, ISNA reported on 6 January. Montazeri was the designated successor to the founder of the Iranian revolution, Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini, until 1989. Montazeri's criticism of current Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei resulted in his being placed under house arrest in 1997. Montazeri's son, Ahmad, said his father has heart problems, high blood pressure, diabetes, and has been suffering from a sleeping disorder for the past three months, Radio Farda reported. Ahmad told Radio Farda the doctors were allowed access the next day, attributed the ayatollah's sleeping problems to being cooped up in the house for five years, and prescribed some medicine. BS
 IRANIAN GOVERNMENT TO TACKLE HOUSING DEMANDParliament Speaker Hojatoleslam Mehdi Karrubi told a 6 January meeting of the Tehran administrative council that the construction of poor-quality housing in the capital is a significant problem, state television reported. "The building of slums in the outskirts of Tehran could lead to extensive social, cultural, and political problems," Karrubi warned. Housing and Urban Development Minister Ali Abdol-Alizadeh said in a 14 December interview with IRNA that by the year 2021, 73 percent of the Iranian population will live in cities, and a 20-year urban-development plan is to be launched in the Fourth Five-Year Development Plan to meet the demand for housing. BS
 IRAQI FOREIGN MINISTER'S VISIT TO IRAN NOT SCHEDULED...An anonymous "informed source" at the Foreign Ministry said on 7 January that Iraqi Foreign Minister Naji Sabri's visit to Iran is neither cancelled nor postponed because such an event was never scheduled in the first place, the daily "Entekhab" reported on 8 January. The source added that Tehran and Baghdad are considering a possible visit by Sabri. Ardabil parliamentarian Nureddin Pirmoazen said on 7 January that a planned visit by Sabri was cancelled because some 100 parliamentarians threatened to initiate a no-confidence vote in Foreign Minister Kamal Kharrazi if Sabri turned up in Tehran, ISNA reported. BS
 ...AND THERE ARE PRECONDITIONS FOR A VISITPirmoazen also said his colleagues believe Iraq must fulfill four conditions before Foreign Minister Sabri could visit Iran, ISNA reported on 7 January. Those conditions are that Iraqi President Saddam Hussein must declare the 1975 Algiers Accord valid, which would confirm the land border and eliminate disputes regarding the Shatt al-Arab waterway; apologize to Iran for attacking it in 1980; implement fully UN Security Council Resolution 598, which effectively ended the war, and pay compensation; and release all Iranian POWs in Iraq. BS
 PUK LEADER MEETS WITH IRANIAN OFFICIALS...Patriotic Union of Kurdistan (PUK) leader Jalal Talabani and a delegation of PUK officials arrived in Iran late on 6 January, and Talabani met with Parliament Speaker Karrubi on 7 January, IRNA reported. The visitors are expected to remain in Tehran until 10 January, and during that time they are to meet with President Mohammad Khatami, Expediency Council chief Ayatollah Ali-Akbar Hashemi-Rafsanjani, Foreign Minister Kamal Kharrazi, and other officials, Suleimanieh's "Kurdistani Nuwe" newspaper reported on 7 January. The major topics of discussion are to be the December Iraqi opposition conference in London and the upcoming one in northern Iraq. BS
 ...AND DATE FOR NEXT OPPOSITION MEETING IS SETPUK leader Talabani was expected to meet with Supreme Council for the Islamic Revolution in Iraq (SCIRI) leader Ayatollah Mohammad Baqir al-Hakim to set a date for the next opposition meeting, "Entekhab" reported on 7 January. But, in fact, he had what IRNA called an "unplanned and unexpected meeting" with al-Hakim on the way to Tehran from the western city of Kermanshah. Talibani later met with the SCIRI's Abdelaziz Hakim, Mohammad Heidari, Mahmud Asadi, and Adel Abdelmahdi, SCIRI member Mohsen al-Hakim told IRNA. Al-Hakim said they decided to hold the next meeting of the Iraqi opposition's coordination committee in Arbil on 15 January. BS
 IRAQI PRESIDENT MEETS WITH ADVISERS, SONS...Saddam Hussein held a meeting with his advisers and sons Uday and Qusay in which he said Iraq will make the United States "despair" over time, Iraq News Agency reported on 7 January. "The enemy thinks it will make us despair with time. In fact, we will make [the enemy] despair with the passage of time. We will prove to it that it can attack us but it will never be able to conquer the will of the people.... This is the crux of the confrontation," Hussein said. "There is no other alternative or decisive element in battle except frustrating the enemy and forcing it to admit that it is incapable of confronting free men," he added. Addressing the work of UN weapons inspectors, the Iraqi president said, "I call this reconnaissance and not a search for chemical, nuclear, and biological weapons, because they know that these weapons do not exist." KR
 ...AND CRITICIZES U.S. BEHAVIORPresident Hussein went on to criticize U.S. policy throughout the world by saying that "there is no reckless power like that of those who lead in the United States now." "Despite their great technology and science, they arouse the world's anger at and hatred toward them. As a result, their interests will diminish," he added. "How many states in the world can compete with the United States in the fields of trade and economic interests within a normal framework?" he asked, answering, "Not a single state." Hussein concluded that the United States can secure its interests through economic and technological enterprises, so it is "reckless" for it to "resort to aggression, evil, invasion, and harm." KR
 IRAQI FOREIGN MINISTER REQUESTS UN FACT-FINDING MISSIONIraqi Foreign Minister Naji Sabri has sent a letter to UN Secretary General Kofi Annan requesting a fact-finding mission to investigate U.S. "violations of international law" along the Iraq-Kuwait border, Iraq Radio reported on 7 January. The letter charges that the United States has escalated "aggressive and provocative acts" against Iraq and the UN peacekeeping forces that monitor the demilitarized zone along the Iraqi-Kuwaiti border. The Iraq Radio report did not specify what the foreign minister deems "violations," but Reuters reported on 7 January that Sabri's letter complained that "heavy armor estimated at 60 tanks and different military vehicles held on January 5 a military exercise near the demilitarized zone, which was monitored by the UN's Iraq-Kuwait Observation Mission (UNIKOM)." Sabri added, "The practice is another act [by the United States] to be added to the acts of terrorism and aggression, which include daily raids on Iraqi cities and villages in cooperation with Britain and financing and arming mercenaries and traitors to launch terrorist operations inside Iraq," Reuters reported. KR
 BRITISH LEADERS SAY 27 JANUARY DEADLINE 'NOT CRITICAL'...British Foreign Secretary Jack Straw has said that the 27 January will not be a critical date in determining whether Iraq has violated UN Security Council resolutions regarding disarmament, London's "Financial Times" reported on 8 January. UN weapons inspectors are due to submit a status report on inspection work in Iraq on that date. Straw reportedly told the "Financial Times" that he does not believe any deadlines could be attached to the work of UN inspectors. "As long as there is no further material breach under Paragraph 4 [of Security Council Resolution 1441] and the inspectors are able to do their work unimpeded under the resolution, then that's what carries and what happens," he said. Meanwhile, AFP reported on 8 January that British Defense Secretary Geoffrey Hoon told the BBC that 27 January "is not a make-or-break date," adding that "clearly the inspection could carry on after January 27 providing there was a reason for it to do so." "What is important is that we continue to go through the process set out in Security Council Resolution 1441, and January 27 is part of that process," he said. KR
 ...WHILE SAUDI FOREIGN MINISTER SAYS HE IS WAITING FOR 'PROOF'...Saudi Foreign Minister Saud al-Faisal said on 7 January that his country will decide whether to support a possible war in Iraq if and when UN weapons inspectors provide "proof" of Iraq's possession of weapons of mass destruction, the Jedda-based arabnews.com reported. "If the United Nations asks Saudi Arabia to join, depending on the material breach that they show, and depending on the proof that they show, Saudi Arabia will decide," al-Faisal said. The foreign minister reiterated that Saudi Arabia favors a political solution to the crisis in Iraq. KR
 ...AND FRENCH PRESIDENT SAYS 'COLLECTIVE ACTION' IS THE ONLY SOLUTIONFrench President Jacques Chirac has said the disarming of Iraq is the "duty" of the Middle East states and the world, and that the current crisis is "a problem that concerns peace and collective security, and we must therefore resolve it collectively." His comments were made during a holiday gathering with diplomats on 7 January, LCI TV reported. "The framework envisaged to this end is that of the United Nations, and it is the only legitimate one," Chirac said. "The action of the international community risks discredit if it side-steps the principles upon which it is based." He added that war in Iraq should be a "last resort." Regarding Iraq's responsibilities, Chirac said: "A last chance to disarm peacefully is being offered to them. They must understand that there is no other possible outcome than to cooperate actively in every respect with the UN inspection mission, which must be accorded all the facilities and information it needs to carry out its task.... The Iraqis know that otherwise they would be exposing themselves to a war with incalculable consequences for them, for the region, and for the world." KR
 THE PEACE CORPS IN RUSSIA: WHO'S HELPING WHOM?By Vladimir Kovalev
The Kremlin's decision late last month to end a 1991 agreement with the United States on the work of Peace Corps volunteers in Russia seems to be the latest manifestation of "spy mania" among high-ranking officials in the Federal Security Service (FSB). The announcement came just days after presidential envoy to the Southern Federal District General Viktor Kazantsev declared that representatives of the Red Cross assisting displaced persons from Chechnya are also engaging in espionage.
Throughout 2002, the Kremlin waged a campaign aimed at chasing out the Peace Corps that combined numerous public statements complaining about the professional capabilities of volunteers with both general and specific allegations of spying. During a meeting with journalists on 15 December, FSB Director Nikolai Patrushev foreshadowed the abrogation of the Peace Corps agreement by saying that two volunteers were accused of espionage in 2002 and that 30 volunteers were denied visa extensions in August for the same reason. When the visa decision was announced, officials had declined to specify the reason for the measure.
Judging from Patrushev's statements, though, it would seem that the volunteers would have had to ignore everything going on around them in order to avoid spying charges. "[They] were collecting information about the sociopolitical and economic situation of the regions," Patrushev said, "about members of official bodies, about the course of elections, etcetera."
Valerie Eban, the former head of the Peace Corps Far Eastern office, was one of the two volunteers specifically charged with spying. Patrushev said she violated the country's border regime "by penetrating a closed area along the border with China." In other words, Eban fell victim to the Soviet-era institution of a so-called pre-border zone, a 50-100-kilometer-wide territory along all of Russia's borders that even Russian citizens are theoretically allowed to visit only with special permission.
Likewise, Eban's colleague in Samara was expelled for meeting with the wrong people. According to Patrushev, this volunteer -- who was identified only by the last name Brown -- was a former CIA agent "who in the 1970s recruited military servicemen in Berlin [and who] was establishing contacts in Samara with local officials and managers of major defense enterprises."
Both cases illustrate an alarming trend in FSB practice in recent years. Under the guise of being proactive or preventing harm to Russia's national security, security officials have been focusing largely on tracking down those they think intend to commit a crime, rather than those who have actually done so. The Brown case is reminiscent of the charges on which military journalist Grigorii Pasko was convicted in December 2001. In Pasko's case, the indictment read that he "had the intention" of handing over classified information to a Japanese journalist.
The FSB has apparently had considerably more success in determining the intentions of Peace Corps activists and journalists than in divining those of the terrorists who seized more than 700 hostages in Moscow in October or who exploded two car bombs on 27 December at the administration building in Grozny, killing at least 80 people.
Unfortunately, the psychological conditions necessary for the spread of spy mania in Russia are still widely prevalent. Most people still remember the days when every foreigner entering the country was viewed first of all as a potential spy.
"I'm sure that xenophobia also had a role to play, as we were often asked if we were spies and were known to be watched closely by the FSB. Several volunteers served in areas where foreigners (especially from the West) were still almost unknown and not trusted," wrote Matthew Lister, a former Peace Corps volunteer in Ryazan, in a letter to Johnson's Russia list on 15 August.
Lister's letter was prompted by a seemingly well-organized media campaign in August charging that Peace Corps volunteers are incompetent. The Education Ministry released to the media letters from provincial officials and residents claiming, among other things, that the volunteers are "former cooks, bicyclists, and Mormon priests."
"The authors of the complaints argued that representatives of the Peace Corps who gave English-language lessons to secondary-school students had no teaching experience and spoke very little Russian, or did not speak Russian at all," Nikolai Dmitriev, head of the Education Ministry's international cooperation department, told AP at the time.
"My daughter cheerfully announced that they are going to have a real American working as their new English teacher," wrote Yekaterina Zolotova from Voronezh in a letter quoted by utro.ru. "A couple of weeks later, she was not that excited. It turned out that Kevin Ebert, the so-called Peace Corps volunteer, is not a linguist, but a guitarist. The students are bored and not interested in his lectures. My daughter found out...that the American was dating one of his students."
Other letters released by the ministry charged that volunteers were researching UFOs, smoking marijuana, and drinking with their students. While releasing these letters, the ministry did not say a word about the roughly 1,000 Peace Corps volunteers who have worked in often-difficult conditions in Russia since 1992, teaching English in villages in the middle of nowhere or trying to instill the rudiments of management in a country where the word "biznes" has its own meaning.
The culmination of the anti-Peace Corps drive came on 27 December when the Foreign Ministry announced the annulment of the 1991 agreement. "Russia is grateful for the assistance provided by the U.S. Peace Corps and values the experience of cooperation that we worked out," Yakovenko was quoted by Ekho Moskvy as saying. "Now, though, because our economic and social goals have changed, we are engaged in consultation with America to find new forms of cooperation that would be more up-to-date in the current situation."
In 1961, President John F. Kennedy called on Americans to join Peace Corps to help other people improve their lives. "To those people in the huts and villages across the globe struggling to break the bonds of mass misery, we pledge our best efforts to help them help themselves," Kennedy said. Now, in Russia those efforts to escape "mass misery" have been stymied because the FSB claims a volunteer wandered somewhere within 100 kilometers of the Chinese border.
Vladimir Kovalev is a reporter for "The St. Petersburg Times" in St. Petersburg, Russia.