|Tuesday, 20 November 2018|
RFE/RL Newsline, 03-10-31
From: Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty <http://www.rferl.org>
 PUTIN'S CHIEF OF STAFF RESIGNS...President Vladimir Putin on 30 October signed a decree dismissing Aleksandr Voloshin as head of the presidential administration, Russian news agencies reported. Putin named first deputy administration head Dmitrii Medvedev to succeed Voloshin, and appointed Dmitrii Kozak, a deputy presidential administration head, as Medvedev's first deputy. Also on 30 October, Unified Energy System (EES) head Anatolii Chubais issued a public invitation to Voloshin to become chairman of EES's board, according to Interfax. JAC
 ...AND IS REPLACED BY COMPROMISE FIGUREMedvedev and Kozak worked with Putin in the administration of former St. Petersburg Mayor Anatolii Sobchak (see "RFE/RL Russian Political Weekly," 19 November 2001). According to utro.ru on 31 October, although Medvedev hails from St. Petersburg, he has been more closely associated with Voloshin's team within the Kremlin than with the siloviki. According to the website, he does not enjoy particularly good relations with two other deputy presidential administration heads from St. Petersburg -- Viktor Ivanov and Igor Sechin, who are considered leading siloviki. Also on 30 October, Putin moved Igor Shuvalov from the position of presidential aide to deputy head of the presidential administration. Shuvalov held the position of presidential aide for only four months, most importantly heading a working group on developing strategies for meeting Putin's declared goal of doubling Russia's GDP in 10 years. Prior to that, Shuvalov headed the government apparatus. JAC
 NEW ADMINISTRATION HEAD IS AN EXPERIENCED MANAGER...Dmitrii Medvedev, 38, has been a close associate of President Putin since 1990 when he joined Putin's staff in the St. Petersburg city administration as a legal adviser, RTR and other Russian media reported on 30 October. Like Putin, Medvedev is a graduate of the law department of Leningrad State University. He followed Putin to Moscow in 1999, when he was appointed deputy presidential administration head in charge of personnel and the president's schedule. In 2000, he headed Putin's presidential election campaign. Also in 2000, Putin named him deputy chairman of the board of directors of the state firm Gazprom, and in 2002, he became its chairman. According to Gazprom board member and former Finance Minister Boris Fedorov, Gazprom's capitalization has increased and its management improved under Medvedev's stewardship, TV-Tsentr reported on 30 October. VY
 ...WHO LED CHARGE FOR CIVIL-SERVICE REFORMIn 2000, President Putin tapped Medvedev to head an administration commission on civil-service reform, RTR reported on 30 October. Medvedev made headlines in that capacity by declaring in 2002 that "civil servants must be held accountable for any harm they cause the state by issuing incompetent directives or divulging state secrets." VY
 EXPERT SEES THE END OF A POLITICAL ERA...Strategic Studies Center Director Andrei Piontkovskii said that the Yukos investigation and Voloshin's resignation will end the long internal struggle within the executive branch and move Russia into a new political era, Ekho Moskvy reported on 29 October. He noted that President Putin was brought to power in 1999 by a combination of the so-called Family of the era of President Boris Yeltsin who were seeking to prevent former Prime Minister Yevgenii Primakov and his allies from coming to power, the so-called liberals who viewed Putin as the Russian equivalent of Chile's General Augusto Pinochet -- someone who will use an iron hand to bring about market reforms -- and the "siloviki," who were primarily interested in restoring the former dominant role of the country's security organs. The relative equilibrium among these three groups can be called "Putin's first republic," Piontkovskii said. The breakdown of that equilibrium and the apparent ascendancy of the siloviki will usher in a new, "second republic" with its attendant political consequences. VY
 ...AS WEBSITE ENUMERATES THE CONSEQUENCESThe exit of chief of staff Voloshin and the appointment of a St. Petersburg team to head President Putin's administration will have several important political consequences, strana.ru predicted on 31 October. First, it will consolidate the formerly divided presidential administration into a single team of Putin loyalists. This could make the administration more open than it was under Voloshin. Second, it could herald a purge of people linked with Voloshin from throughout the executive branch. Third, it could signal the decline of political parties linked with the policies of former President Yeltsin, including the Union of Rightist Forces (SPS) and Yabloko. This could deepen the current crisis of reformist ideology and lead to the exodus from the country of capital and of oligarchs who have been backing these parties. Fourth, Voloshin's departure could signal the transition to a more ambitious political course by the Kremlin, one characterized by increased administrative control and a further strengthening of the role of the siloviki, the website concluded. VY
 PROSECUTORS FREEZE YUKOS SHARES...The Prosecutor-General's Office on 30 October announced it has frozen a 44 percent block of Yukos shares, Reuters reported. Prosecutors said they took the step in order to prevent Yukos head Mikhail Khodorkovskii, who was arrested on 25 October on suspicion of embezzlement and tax evasion, from selling his assets. Yukos lawyer Andrei Tarasov said the court order to freeze the stake could be followed by an order for its confiscation, according to RIA-Novosti. However, Prosecutor-General's Office spokeswoman Nataliya Vishnyakova said the shares "have only been sequestered. They have not been confiscated," according to ITAR-TASS. "They remain in the accounts of the Trast bank," she continued, "and only the shares of those people against whom criminal proceedings have been launched were seized." JAC
 ...AND MARKETS REACTThe RTS stock-market index tumbled 8.14 percent on 30 October in reaction to news that prosecutors had frozen a 44 percent stake in oil giant Yukos, newsru.com and other Russian media reported. Yukos shares fell by 18 percent. Renaissance Capital Chairman Aleksandr Shokhin, who held several key economics posts under President Yeltsin, told gazeta.ru on 30 October that the market's condition is approaching "collapse." However, former Finance Minister Fedorov, who served as Russia's IMF representative in 1991-93, said there are no conditions in Russia today that could lead to a financial catastrophe or default comparable to what happened in August 1998. By the middle of the trading day on 31 October, the stock market seemed to have absorbed the shock and stabilized. The prices of most blue-chip stocks, including Yukos, rose by 4-7 percent, RTR reported. VY
 PRESIDENT TRIES TO CALM JITTERY INVESTORSPresident Putin on 30 October met behind closed doors in the Kremlin with a group of leading Russian and foreign investment bankers just hours after the Prosecutor-General's Office announced the freezing of a 44 percent stake in oil giant Yukos, newsru.com and other Russian media reported. Putin said that his administration is paying special attention to attracting foreign investment by guaranteeing investors' rights. He stressed that Russian law protects minority shareholders through the arbitration-court system. He said the country continues to make the transition to international-standard accounting and that progress is being made in the areas of corporate transparency and the accountability of financial-market players. Renaissance Capital President Igor Sagiryan said the meeting with Putin clarified the situation with regard to Yukos. He added that Putin promised to consider reducing the profit tax on securities investments. Representatives of Goldman Sachs, Morgan Stanley, Citigroup, Templeton Asset Management, Deutsche Bank, and UBS, as well as representatives of leading Russian financial groups, attended the meeting. VY
 IS THE PUBLIC TAKING PROSECUTOR'S SIDE IN YUKOS AFFAIR?In a survey conducted on 24-28 October, VTsIOM-A found that the number of respondents who believe the legal assault against Yukos has nothing to do with politics has increased since July, when Menatep head Platon Lebedev was arrested, "Izvestiya" reported on 30 October. The number of people who believe the case will lead to an improvement in the political situation in Russia increased by 6 percent. The percentage of respondents who think the case reflects a struggle for power among various Kremlin clans remained at 18 percent. VTsIOM-A Director Yurii Levada said the more-educated people among respondents spoke more about possible damage to Russia's international image, and they were relatively more likely to believe that the case originated within the president's administration rather than with the Prosecutor-General's Office. JAC
 DEPUTY MINISTERS IGNORE PUTIN'S BAN ON COMMENTS ON YUKOSDespite President Putin's 27 October command to cabinet ministers not to become engaged in the discussion about Yukos, two deputy economic development and trade ministers on 30 October condemned the legal assault on the oil giant, polit.ru reported, citing Ekho Moskvy. Deputy Economic Development and Trade Minister Arkadii Dvorkovich told a business conference that the dialogue between business and the government should take place at a round table, not through prison bars. First Deputy Economic Development and Trade Minister Mikhail Dmitriev said that the government is the basic threat to future economic growth. He called for immediate administrative reform of the federal government. "Vremya novostei" reported on 31 October, citing unidentified sources, that Prime Minister Mikhail Kasyanov shares the views of Dvorkovich and Dmitriev and in next few days might openly declare his position. JAC
 YUKOS PROBE EXTENDS ACROSS RUSSIA...Ekho Moskvy on 30 October followed up on an earlier report by REN-TV that the Natural Resources Ministry is checking the license compliance of Yukos's operations in Khanty-Mansii Autonomous Okrug (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 29 October 2003). In addition, the ministry is checking the company's compliance with environmental regulations in seven other regions, including Yamalo-Nenets and Evenk autonomous okrugs, Krasnoyarsk Krai, and Samara, Saratov, Orenburg, and Tomsk oblasts. The station quoted the ministry as saying law enforcement agents will be involved in carrying out the checks because sometimes the security personnel hired by developers of mineral deposits prevent ministry officials from performing their duties. JAC
 ...AS REGIONAL LEADERS SCRAMBLE TO DISASSOCIATE THEMSELVES FROM OIL GIANTRegional leaders are maintaining a stony silence on the arrest of Yukos head Khodorkovskii, "Nezavisimaya gazeta" reported on 30 October. Not a single governor contacted by the daily would comment on the situation. The daily suggested that a number of regional leaders -- including Evenk Autonomous Okrug Governor Boris Zolotarev, Tomsk Oblast Governor Viktor Kress, Samara Oblast Governor Konstantin Titov, and Omsk Oblast Governor Leonid Polezhaev -- are now vulnerable because the prosperity of these regions "depends upon Yukos subsidiaries and branches." According to the daily, unofficial sources say that law enforcement agencies are paying new attention to Zolotarev, who is a former Yukos executive. Meanwhile, the former Federation Council representative for Evenk Autonomous Okrug, Nikolai Anisimov, has lodged an appeal with prosecutors protesting his dismissal from that post two weeks ago. He was later replaced by Vasilii Shakhnovskii, former head of Yukos-Moscow (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 30 October 2003), but prosecutors are looking into the legality of Shakhnovskii's election. JAC
 FSB LOOKS INTO EES SUBSIDIARY IN SIBERIAFederal Security Service (FSB) officers in Novosibirsk searched the offices of Novosibirskenergo and Energosbyt on 30 October, RBK reported. Oblast prosecutors have launched a criminal case into suspicions of embezzlement by Novosibirskenergo managers. According to RBK, the Prosecutor-General's Office became interested in July in how Novosibirskenergo shares were transferred to commercial structures controlled by Unified Energy Systems (EES) around the same time that the legal assault against Yukos began. However, the prosecutor's office at the time denied reports that it was planning to investigate the privatization of Novosibirskenergo (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 21 July 2003). "Vremya novostei" reported on 31 October that many experts believe the inquiry into Novosibirskenergo is meant as a warning to EES head Anatolii Chubais to put a lid on his protests on behalf of Yukos. JAC
 FINANCE MINISTER RULES OUT TAX PRIVILEGES FOR CHECHNYAAleksei Kudrin told journalists in Moscow on 30 October that all federal taxes collected in Chechnya must be transferred to the central budget, whence they will be channeled back to Grozny to finance reconstruction, ITAR-TASS reported "We cannot afford the luxury of making any legal exceptions" to Russia's unified tax system, Kudrin explained. Akhmad-hadji Kadyrov, who was named the winner of the controversial 5 October Chechen presidential ballot, argued earlier this month that Chechnya should retain all taxes collected on its territory until 2010 (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 15 October 2003). Also on 30 October, Stanislav Ilyasov, who is Russian minister for Chechen affairs, told Interfax that 3.5 billion rubles ($116.9 million) has been earmarked for reconstruction in Chechnya in 2004, and that 20,000 new jobs will be created next year. He said that more than 50 percent of Chechnya's adult population is unemployed. "Novye izvestiya" on 31 October gave the number of unemployed in Chechnya as 200,000. LF
TRANSCAUCASUS AND CENTRAL ASIA
 ARMENIAN GOVERNMENT APPROVES 2004 DRAFT BUDGETThe Armenian government approved on 30 October a draft budget for 2004 that envisages a 12 percent increase in expenditures, which are projected at 372.7 billion drams ($662 million), RFE/RL's Yerevan bureau reported. That increase is predicated on an anticipated 16 percent increase in revenues, according to Deputy Finance and Economy Minister Pavel Safarian. Total revenues are projected at 330.3 billion drams, resulting in a record low deficit equivalent to 2.5 percent of GDP, which the government hopes will be financed by Western donor organizations, including a $60 million low-interest loan from the World Bank. Spending on education and health care will be increased. The draft projects continued GDP growth of at least 7 percent in 2004. LF
 EU SOUTH CAUCASUS ENVOY VISITS AZERBAIJANHeikki Talvitie held talks in Baku on 30 October with President-elect Ilham Aliyev and Foreign Minister Vilayat Guliev, Turan reported. Talvitie also met with unnamed opposition politicians. He told journalists on 30 October that the EU considers that in certain respects, such as the transparency of the work of election commissions, the 15 October presidential election was an improvement on previous ballots, according to zerkalo.az on 31 October. But at the same time, Talvitie said that while "it is clear that Ilham Aliyev won the election...we do not know how accurate the officially declared results" were. He said the ballot did not meet international standards, pointing to such violations of the election law as the omission of thousands of would-be voters from voter lists. LF
 GERMANY CONDEMNS ELECTION PROCESS IN AZERBAIJANIn a press release posted on 30 October on the German Foreign Ministry's website (http://www.auswaertiges-amt.de), Federal Human Rights Commissioner Claudia Roth criticized the "massive intimidation" of opposition candidates during the Azerbaijani presidential-election campaign; the "numerous attempts" to falsify the outcome of the ballot; the arrests of election officials who refused to ratify allegedly falsified protocols; police violence against demonstrators who protested the election outcome; and the arrests of "numerous demonstrators and opposition supporters." She said criticism of those actions is justified even though the election of Prime Minister Aliyev as president might have reflected the preference of a majority of voters. LF
 FORMER AZERBAIJANI PARLIAMENT SPEAKER DENIES ROLE IN POST-ELECTION CLASHESDemocratic Party of Azerbaijan (ADP) Chairman Rasul Guliev, who left Azerbaijan seven years ago after a policy disagreement with President Heidar Aliyev, has denied allegations by Prosecutor-General Zakir Garalov that he issued instructions to ADP members to fuel tensions by ensuring that at least 15 people died in the clashes in Baku between police and opposition supporters in the wake of the 15 October presidential election, zerkalo.az reported on 31 October. Guliev told Baku's ANS television station that he has consistently opposed political unrest and advocated stability. LF
 AZERBAIJANI OPPOSITION PARTY STILL WITHOUT ALTERNATIVE HEADQUARTERSMunicipal authorities in Baku still have not made alternative premises available to the opposition Musavat Party, which Mayor Hadjibala Abutalibov ordered on 24 October to vacate its current headquarters by 1 November (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 24 October 2003), Musavat Deputy Chairman Vurgun Eyyub told Turan on 30 October. Eyyub said the Economic Development Ministry still has not granted written permission for Musavat to use the only suitable offices among the seven alternatives offered, and those offices are currently occupied by municipal workers who are in no hurry to vacate them. Abutalibov has threatened court action if Musavat does not leave its present premises by the 1 November deadline. Electricity and telephone communications to those offices were cut days ago. LF
 AZERBAIJAN, GEORGIA SIGN GAS AGREEMENTIn the presence of Georgian President Eduard Shevardnadze; British Petroleum-Azerbaijan President David Woodward; and Natik Aliyev, president of Azerbaijan's state oil company SOCAR, a package of agreements was signed in Tbilisi on 30 October under which Georgia will receive in transit fees 5 percent of the gas from Azerbaijan's Shah Deniz deposit exported via the Baku-Tbilisi-Erzerum pipeline, ITAR-TASS and Caucasus Press reported. Georgia will also have the option of purchasing between 200 million-500 million cubic meters of gas annually at a price of $50 per cubic meter. The export of gas from Shah Deniz is scheduled to begin in the third quarter of 2006. LF
 DEADLINE EXPIRES FOR CORRECTING GEORGIAN ELECTORAL ROLLS...The deadline expired at 6 p.m. local time on 30 October for submitting amendments to the lists of voters eligible to cast ballots in the 2 November parliamentary elections, according to Caucasus Press. Opposition parties have for months alleged that the Georgian government deliberately compiled inaccurate lists to facilitate election fraud and a victory for the pro-presidential For a New Georgia (AS) bloc. On 30 October, the opposition New Rightists claimed that the electoral rolls are still "in a terrible state." That party estimates the number of eligible voters at 1.58 million, whereas Central Election Commission Chairwoman Nana Devdariani said on 30 October it is in the region of 2.7 million, Caucasus Press reported. LF
 ...AS PRO-PRESIDENTIAL BLOC CONFIDENT OF ELECTION VICTORYThe latest opinion polls suggest that the two main opposition parties are running neck and neck. Caucasus Press on 30 October cited a poll of 1,300 people conducted on 25-28 October that gave the opposition Burdjanadze-Democrats bloc 19.4 percent support, followed by the National Movement (19.2 percent), Labor (10 percent), and AS (9 percent). A second poll cited by Eurasia View on 29 October showed the National Movement leading with 22.8 percent, ahead of Burdjanadze-Democrats (19.8 percent), Labor (17.6 percent) and AS (8.7 percent). But in an interview with "Nezavisimaya gazeta" on 29 October, Vazha Lortkipanidze, who heads the AS party list, said he "has no doubt" that his bloc will win a majority in the new parliament. "The fact that the government is unpopular does not mean that the opposition is popular," Lortkipanidze reasoned (see "End Note" below). LF
 KAZAKH PARLIAMENT CONTINUES DISCUSSION OF DRAFT MEDIA LAWThe lower house of the Kazakh parliament's Committee on International Affairs and Defense held a hearing on 30 October on a controversial draft law on the media, khabar.kz reported. As was the case at a hearing by the Committee on Social and Cultural Development (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 22 October 2003), Information Minister Sautbek Abdrakhmanov sought to defend the government draft, saying it was designed primarily for the consumers of information. Khabar noted that critics of the media law adopted in 2000 have said that law was designed for officials. Parliamentarian Tatyana Kvyatkovskaya, a long-time defender of media freedom, retorted that the law should take into account the interests of all sides -- the government, consumers of information, journalists, and media owners. She called for the law to protect the author's rights of reporters and asserted that the section of the draft dealing with responsibility for accuracy violates existing legislation. Committee members proposed about 10 changes to the draft. BB
 KAZAKH PRESIDENT CRITICIZES STATE AGENCIES FOR INTERFERING WITH PRIVATE BUSINESSSpeaking to the 11th forum of Kazakhstan's entrepreneurs in Astana on 31 October, Nursultan Nazarbaev criticized government agencies with control functions for exerting pressure on private business and entrepreneurship, Interfax-Kazakhstan reported. Nazarbaev added that such agencies will have to change their attitude to entrepreneurs and to private property, describing the latter as a "sacred cow, not a milk cow." He also said that there are too many inspection and auditing agencies in the country, and told the government to reduce their number. BB
 KAZAKH SECURITY SERVICE STOPS HIZB UT-TAHRIR GROUP IN BAIKONUR TOWNThe Kyzylorda Oblast office of the Kazakh National Security Committee announced on 30 October that it had put a stop to the illegal activities of a group of adherents of the Islamist movement Hizb ut-Tahrir in the town of Baikonur, gazeta.kz reported. The head the group and its members were charged with engaging in illegal religious activities and fined by the Baikonur city court. The leader was expelled from the oblast because he was not registered in Baikonur. Three men from Kyzylorda recently were prosecuted in Shymkent for allegedly running a clandestine Hizb ut-Tahrir print shop (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 16 October 2003), but since the movement's appearance in Kazakhstan in 2000, most Hizb ut-Tahrir activity has been reported in South Kazakhstan and Zhambyl oblasts. BB
 KYRGYZ LOWER-HOUSE CHAIRMAN CONDUCTS FIRST SESSION OF CONSULTATIVE COUNCILLegislative Assembly (lower house of parliament) Chairman Abdygany Erkebaev on 30 October conducted the first session of a consultative council made up of 20 businessmen, academics, journalists, and members of NGOs and the creative intelligentsia, RFE/RL's Kyrgyz Service, KyrgyzInfo, and akipress.org reported the same day. The idea for the council was first proposed in 2001 as a means of strengthening relations between the parliament and civil society, Erkebaev said, as well as providing the parliament with expert public opinion on legislation. The 30 October council session assessed a draft statement on the council itself; at its next session Erkebaev wants it to assess draft laws on the state language, the government, and the budget for 2004. BB
 SECURITY OFFICIALS CONCERNED ABOUT SPREAD OF HIZB UT-TAHRIR INFLUENCE IN KYRGYZ SCHOOLSThe Djalal-Abad Oblast office of Kyrgyzstan's National Security Service is concerned over evidence that the ideas of the Islamist movement Hizb ut-Tahrir are spreading to schoolchildren and university students in the oblast, and an increasing number of women are becoming adherents as well, akipress.org reported on 30 October. The issue was raised at a meeting of the top security officials in the oblast the previous day. Hizb ut-Tahrir is banned in Kyrgyzstan and some other Central Asian states. Reportedly movement adherents distributed booklets in the Suzak and Bazar-Kurgan raions of Djalal-Abad Oblast as well as in the town of Djalal-Abad prior to the beginning of Ramadan on 27 October, calling on believers to rise up against the authorities. The security officials complained that the Islamic clergy is not making enough of an effort to counter Hizb ut-Tahrir influence and "preserve the purity of Islam." BB
 TURKMEN PRESIDENT SIGNS ANNUAL PARDON DECREEAt a Cabinet of Ministers meeting on 29 October, Turkmen President Saparmurat Niyazov signed his annual decree granting amnesty to 7,093 convicts in honor of the Muslim holy night that marks the end of Ramadan, the Turkmen State News Agency reported. This year, the holy night falls on 21 November. The amnesty does not cover those people convicted of involvement in the November 2002 purported coup attempt against Niyazov, who were excluded from the possibility of amnesty as part of their sentences. BB
CENTRAL AND EASTERN EUROPE
 BELARUS URGES POLAND TO EXPEDITE VISASThe Belarusian Foreign Ministry presented Polish Ambassador Tadeusz Pawlak with a note on 29 October urging his country's consular offices in Belarus to speed up the visa process, Belapan reported on 30 October, quoting Foreign Ministry spokesman Andrey Savinykh. Savinykh said visa applicants in Brest in mid-October had to wait for their appointment at the consulate for about one month, while the waiting time has since been reduced to 10 days. He added that there are currently 2,500 visa applicants on the waiting list in Minsk. Savinykh said the Belarusian government believes Poland has turned out to be unprepared to meet its commitments under a recently enacted visa agreement with Belarus. JM
 BELARUSIAN TRADE-UNION LEADER JAILED FOR UNAUTHORIZED PROTESTA district court in Minsk on 30 October sentenced Alyaksandr Bukhvostau, leader of the Belarusian Union of Automobile and Agricultural Implement Workers, to 10 days in jail for his attempt to demonstrate in downtown Minsk in defiance of an official ban, Belapan reported. City authorities designated a remote park for his protest. Bukhvostau was arrested earlier the same day immediately after he unfolded two placards and began distributing an appeal accusing the government of pressuring members into leaving his union and joining one that is controlled by the authorities. JM
 CLAMPDOWN ON BELARUSIAN NGOS ELICITS CONDEMNATIONAmnesty International on 29 October called the recent closure of the Vyasna human rights center by Belarusian authorities a "further attempt to suppress what remains of the country's human rights community" (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 29 October 2003). "It would be impossible to conceive of more trivial reasons to justify the suppression of Belarus's human rights community than those used by the Belarusian authorities. In light of these repeated attacks, any claims that Belarus is committed to human rights and the rule of law is farcical," Amnesty International stated. "We urge Belarus to cease its attacks on nongovernmental organizations and the media, and to permit the reopening of those organizations that have been closed on spurious grounds," U.S. State Department spokesman Richard Boucher said on 30 October. JM
 UKRAINE, RUSSIA TO MAKE TUZLA PART OF BROADER TALKSRussian Foreign Minister Igor Ivanov discussed the recent Russian-Ukrainian spat over Tuzla Island (see "RFE/RL Poland, Belarus, and Ukraine Report," 29 October 2003) with his Ukrainian counterpart Kostyantyn Hryshchenko in Kyiv on 30 October, Interfax reported. The two politicians reportedly agreed that the Tuzla problem will be resolved along with other issues pertaining to the status and the use by both countries of the Azov Sea and the Kerch Strait. A number of bilateral working groups will be set up to tackle these issues. "On behalf of our side, it was clearly said that we consider the island of Tuzla an inalienable part of Ukrainian territory," Hryshchenko told journalists. Asked about whether he considers Tuzla to be Ukrainian, Ivanov said this is an object of negotiation. "There are different documents that offer different interpretations of the issue," Ivanov said. Premier Viktor Yanukovych, who also met with Ivanov, said Ukraine understands now that the decision to build a contentious dam between Russia's Krasnodar Krai and Tuzla was taken at a regional level and that the dam is intended to protect Russia's coastline. JM
 WILL OUR UKRAINE MANAGE TO HOLD CONVENTION IN DONETSK?The Our Ukraine bloc led by Viktor Yushchenko, which was scheduled to hold a congress in Donetsk on 31 October, has canceled the gathering due to "security considerations," Interfax reported on 31 October, quoting Our Ukraine lawmaker Mykola Tomenko. The building where the congress was to take place has reportedly been filled by people shouting anti-Yushchenko slogans. Many are allegedly drunk. More than 100 buses brought market vendors, students, and budget-sector employees to the vicinity of the building in what appears to be city authorities' attempt at organizing an anti-Our Ukraine rally. Meanwhile, Yushchenko told journalists at a Kyiv airport that he was nevertheless flying to Donetsk. Yushchenko added that he cannot abandon a group of Our Ukraine lawmakers and supporters who have already gathered in Donetsk for the congress. Yushchenko warned that Our Ukraine cannot guarantee security for journalists and diplomats who have planned to attend the congress. JM
 ESTONIA AUTHORIZES FIRST ARREST FOR DEPORTATION OF FORMER RUSSIAN MILITARY PERSONNELThe Estonian Migration Board authorized the first arrest of a retired Russian military officer who has ignored orders of the Estonian state to leave the country, BNS and LETA reported citing the daily "Eesti Paevaleht." The police arrested Nikolai Mikolenko, 49, at his home in Tallinn and brought him to jail to await a court hearing. The court may fine him or imprison him for one month as punishment for ignoring the expulsion order. The Migration Board has issued orders to 12 former Russian military officers to leave Estonia in connection with violations of the law. Mikolenko in the mid-1990s received funding from a U.S. aid program to buy an apartment in Russia, but he remained in Estonia without a residence permit. He has already appealed his case in the European Court of Human Rights. AB
 LATVIAN PARLIAMENT REMOVES OBSERVER FROM EUROPARLIAMENTAfter a protracted debate, the Latvian parliament voted to recall Socialist Party lawmaker Martijans Bekasovs from Latvia's observer delegation to the European Parliament on grounds of antistate activity, LETA and BNS reported 30 October. The vote was 64 to 22 with three abstentions in the 100-seat Saeima. Conservative parties such as For Fatherland and Freedom/LNNK brought the issue to the parliament, accusing Bekasovs of having violated his oath of office and "telling sheer lies [and] discrediting the Latvian state" when he circulated a statement in the European Parliament on discrimination against ethnic minorities in Latvia. After the vote, Bekasovs told the press that he will protest the decision by filing a case with the Latvian Constitutional Court on grounds that his rights to freedom of speech are being violated. AB
 PRIVATIZATION VOUCHERS EXTENDED IN LATVIAThe Latvian parliament passed an amendment to the law on privatization extending the validity of state-issued vouchers by one year, LETA reported on 30 October. The new expiration date is 31 December 2004. The new amendment also changes the end dates for Latvia's privatization program. The Latvian Privatization Agency will continue accepting bids for the privatization of state-owned properties until the end of 2003, municipal properties until the end of 2004, and applications for the privatization of state-built apartments until the end of 2005. AB
 LITHUANIAN SECURITY DEPARTMENT ALLEGES PRESIDENTIAL LINKS TO RUSSIAN CRIME GROUPSLithuania's State Security Department has submitted evidence to parliamentary speaker Arturas Paulauskas allegedly linking President Rolandas Paksas and his defense and national security adviser, Remigijus Acas, to Russian crime groups, specifically the 21 Century Corporation and its leader, Anzor Aksentyev, BNS and ELTA reported on 30 October. The commercial LNK-TV reported that Paulauskas has suspended parliament's recent vote recalling Mecys Laurinkus from the post of director-general of the State Security Department. The daily "Lietuvos rytas" reported on 31 October that there are tapes of conversations between Acas and a major Paksas campaign contributor, Jurij Borisovas, as well as Aksentyev allegedly demanding favors from the president based on pre-election promises, as well as alleged threats against the life of Laurinkus. AB
 FIRST LITHUANIAN TROOPS RETURN FROM IRAQLithuanian troops who participated in the coalition peacekeeping mission in Iraq have returned to their home base in Rukla and were awarded medals "For International Missions" by Defense Minister Linas Linkevicius, ELTA and BNS reported on 29 October. The 43 members of the Grand Duke Algirdas Mechanized Infantry Battalion served with Danish forces in the British-controlled sector northeast of the port city Al-Basrah. Eight military cargo specialists from the National Defense Volunteer Forces had worked at the Talil Air Base in Iraq, distributing humanitarian-aid shipments. Head of the defense forces Major General Jonas Kronkaitis praised the "volunteer peacemakers," saying that "in Iraq they were equal partners to the servicemen from larger democracies." The Lithuanian platoon LITCON 1 has already been replaced in Iraq by their colleagues in LITCON 2, also from the Grand Duke Algirdas battalion. Two Lithuanian military physicians, Captain Laimute Krisciuniene and Captain Gintautas Skurdenis, left on 29 October for Afghanistan to join the coalition effort in that country, replacing two Lithuanian physicians who have just left Afghanistan. They will work for six months in the German field hospital in Kabul, ELTA reported. AB
 POLAND'S FIRST LADY DOES NOT EXCLUDE RUN FOR PRESIDENCYJolanta Kwasniewska, the wife of Polish President Aleksander Kwasniewski, said in Krakow on 30 October that she does not rule out her own bid for the post of president in 2005, PAP reported. She listed a number of issues that she would have to resolve if she decided to run, including the lack of a supporting party infrastructure, the need to find an occupation for her husband, and the necessity of giving up the charity work that is her passion. "If I do take such a decision, you can rest assured, ladies and gentlemen, that I will be one of the best prepared candidates," Kwasniewska said at a meeting organized by the weekly "Polityka." A poll by the OBOP polling center commissioned by "Polityka" found that Kwasniewska would have won with 34 percent of the vote if a presidential election had been held in August (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 10 September 2003). JM
 EU ENLARGEMENT COMMISSIONER WARY OF REFERENDUMS ON EUROPEAN CONSTITUTION...Guenter Verheugen told CTK on 30 October that he is apprehensive over the possibility that the future draft European constitution will be submitted to referendums in Central European countries, particularly in the Czech Republic. Verheugen said new EU entrants can expect some disappointments in their first years of membership, as some of their expectations will not immediately be realized. This, he said, could negatively affect the outcome of possible referendums on the European constitution, which would have to be finalized by that time, and possibly submitted to plebiscites. Verheugen said: "I follow the situation in the Czech Republic closely. I have nothing against debate and nothing against hearing different views. But it is important that the country maintain its pro-Europe direction, because no other state in Europe is as European as the Czech Republic, due to its nature, vocation, and history." Verheugen added that the danger of a plebiscite rejecting the European constitution cannot be underestimated, especially in the Czech Republic, Hungary, and Poland. MS
 ...AND SAYS EU IS WELL PREPARED FOR EXPANSIONEU Enlargement Commissioner Verheugen also said in his 30 October interview with CTK that the upcoming expansion of the EU is "the best prepared in the history of the European Union." He said a European Commission report that will be released next week on candidate countries' progress toward membership will show that these countries are sufficiently prepared to join the organization. He said that, as can be expected, the report mentions some areas in which "new member states have to make immediate and decisive efforts to guarantee that everything is in place before 1 May ," which is the expected date of accession. However, he added that "I can tell you that the areas where we identified serious problems cover no more than some 3 percent of the whole acquis communautaire." MS
 CZECH COURT REJECTS APPEAL OF FORMER FOREIGN MINISTRY OFFICIALThe Prague High Court on 30 October rejected former Foreign Ministry chief of staff Karel Srba's appeal of his eight-year sentence for conspiring to murder a Czech journalist, CTK reported (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 30 October 2003). The High Court's verdict is final, but Srba can challenge the decision before the Supreme Court. MS
 BIG CZECH FIRMS EXPECT TO SHED TENS OF THOUSANDS OF JOBSThe daily "Lidove noviny" has reported that large Czech companies are expected to cut approximately 35,000 jobs by the end of January 2004, further aggravating the country's weak job market, dpa reported on 30 October. A Labor Ministry official told the daily that the country's unemployment rate could climb to nearly 11 percent in early 2004 if the cuts are made. The unemployment rate has exceeded 10 percent in five months of 2003, including September. In some regions, unemployment is as high as 20 percent. The state-controlled telephone company Cesky Telecom and the power utility CEZ plan to slash a combined 2,500 jobs, while other large layoffs are scheduled at Skoda Auto and the aircraft manufacturers Aero Vodochody and Letecke zavody Kunovice, all of which are private firms. The country's top gun producer, Ceska zbrojovka, also reportedly plans staff cuts. MS
 IMBROGLIO IN SLOVAK RULING COALITION CONTINUES...Alliance for a New Citizen (ANO) Chairman and Economy Minister Pavol Rusko said on 30 October that his party "has been slapped in the face" by the twice-failed attempt to have ANO Deputy Chairman Lubomir Lintner elected as deputy parliament speaker, TASR reported (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 30 October 2003). Rusko said ANO has "no intention of retaliating" against those members of the ruling four-party, center-right coalition who failed to support Lintner. "It is their responsibility, their shame, their failure to keep their promise," Rusko said. He added that ANO will not propose an alternative candidate and that if Lintner is not elected in a third attempt, "the post will remain vacant." However, TASR reported that Lintner has announced he will not run for the position a third time. ANO is entitled to one of the four deputy-speaker posts under the coalition agreement. Rusko vacated his position as deputy speaker when he became economy minister. MS
 ...WHILE OPPOSITION PARTY SEEKS TO CAPITALIZE ON SITUATIONMeanwhile, the opposition Smer (Direction) party confirmed on 30 October that it will nominate a candidate of its own for the third round of voting for the vacant deputy speaker seat, TASR reported. Smer says that it has 25 deputies, double ANO's 12, and is therefore entitled to the vacant position. Smer and other opposition parties boycotted the vote on 29 and 30 October to demonstrate that the ruling coalition as a whole does not consider Lintner an acceptable deputy-speaker candidate. MS
 HUNGARIAN NATIONAL BANK WARNS AGAINST DISMANTLING FINANCIAL WATCHDOGThe Hungarian National Bank on 30 October opposed the government's plans to dismantle the supervisory authority PSZAF, warning that such a move "constitutes an unnecessary risk to the security of the country's financial system," "Nepszabadsag" reported the next day. The bank said in its statement that PSZAF has fulfilled its obligations and has assured the safety of the banking, insurance, and capital-market systems. The statement came as a reaction to the government's announcement one day earlier that the PSZAF will be dismantled and reestablished under a different structure and name (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 30 October 2003). MSZ
 HUNGARIAN OPPOSITION LEADER DEFENDS CONTROVERSIAL TV PROGRAMOpposition FIDESZ Chairman Viktor Orban on 30 October called on right-wing groups to defend Beatrix Siklosi, editor of Hungarian State Television's "Ejjeli Menedek" (Night Shelter) show, which was taken off the air after comments by right-wing British author David Irving (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 30 October 2003). The FIDESZ statement condemned the cancellation of the program, "Magyar Nemzet" reported. MSZ
 STORMY PROTESTS IN SERBIAN CAPITALRiot police on 30 October dispersed up to 1,000 angry workers in front of the Serbian parliament building, Reuters reported. The protesters demanded the government's resignation on the first day of a long-delayed legislative debate on a series of no-confidence proposals regarding Prime Minister Zoran Zivkovic's shaky government and parliamentary speaker Natasa Micic, who is also acting president (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 17 and 20 October 2003). Zivkovic told the parliament that "it is normal for workers to protest, but it is not normal for trade unions to have political demands." Among the demonstrators' demands is an end to privatization, which the workers blame for job losses. Union leaders criticized what they called heavy-handed police tactics during the demonstration, RFE/RL's South Slavic and Albanian Languages Service reported. Opposition legislators from the Democratic Party of Serbia (DSS) and Party of Serbian Unity (SSJ) left the parliamentary session to protest the large police presence outside. PM
 MACEDONIAN DEFENSE MINISTER, KFOR COMMANDER DISCUSS BORDER SECURITYMacedonian Defense Minister Vlado Buckovski and German Lieutenant General Holger Kammerhoff, the new KFOR commander, met in Skopje on 30 October to discuss the security situation on the Macedonian-Kosovar border, MIA news agency reported. They agreed that the situation remains stable despite a number of illegal border crossings, which they said are of an "economic nature," "Utrinski vesnik" reported. Buckovski stressed that democratic standards and stability must be achieved in Kosova, and that the province's future status will be decided in internationally brokered talks between Prishtina and Belgrade (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 6, 8, and 15 October 2003). UB
 SLOVENIA TO HELP TRAIN IRAQI POLICEThe Slovenian government announced on 30 October a decision to send five police experts to Jordan in early 2004 to help train some 32,000 Iraqi police, dpa reported. Slovenian personnel will also help train Iraqi managerial staff at the Ljubljana-based International Center for Promotion of Enterprises (ICPE). In related news, the government also decided to send 11 peacekeepers to Kosova as part of the KFOR mission under German and Italian command in the south of the province. PM
 CROATIA PAYS ITS DEBT TO THE UNOn 31 October, Croatia became one of a small group of 15 countries to have paid its debt to the UN, Hina reported. The payment of $600,000 covered membership fees and other, unspecified expenses. PM
 GERMAN LEADER HAILS CROATIA'S PROGRESS TOWARD EU MEMBERSHIPGerman Chancellor Gerhard Schroeder said in Zagreb on 30 October that Croatia's progress toward EU membership is comparable to that of Romania and Bulgaria, which expect to join the Brussels-based bloc in 2007, the "Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung" reported. Schroeder called Croatia a "bastion of stability" in the region, stressing that Zagreb should accordingly be given a clear indication of its prospects for membership. The Croatian government, which faces general elections on 23 November, attaches great importance to joining the EU in 2007, although it has been repeatedly told by Brussels that it is too early to set a date (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 10 and 30 October 2003 and "RFE/RL Balkan Report," 27 June 2003). PM
 BOSNIAN WAR CRIMES COURT DONORS' CONFERENCE YIELDS PLEDGESMeeting in The Hague on 30 October, participants in the international donors' conference for the proposed war crimes chamber of the Bosnian State Court pledged $22 million for the chamber's first two years of work, RFE/RL's South Slavic and Albanian Languages Service reported. The United States pledged $11 million for the two-year period, which is expected to begin on 1 January 2004 (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 30 October 2003). PM
 ROMANIAN PRESIDENT IN PORTUGAL...Visiting President Ion Iliescu said on 30 October after talks with his Portuguese counterpart Jorge Sampaio in Lisbon that Portugal's experience in negotiations for EU accession and success following accession are examples for Romania to follow, Mediafax reported. The two presidents said bilateral relations are excellent and entrenched in a long tradition of common cultural and linguistic ties. Iliescu said that 30 years ago Portugal made the transition from dictatorship to democracy while at the same time creating an efficient economy -- which is an example Romania can follow. From an exporter of cheap labor, Iliescu said, Portugal has become an importer of foreign workers, including Romanian workers. Sampaio reiterated his country's support for Romania's efforts to complete its negotiations with the EU in 2004 and to join the organization in 2007. MS
 ...AND SAYS MANY EU CITIZENS HAVE NO EMPATHY FOR HIS COUNTRYMENIn an interview with the Portuguese daily "Diario de Noticias" on 30 October, President Iliescu said that many EU citizens do not understand the sacrifice Romanians made following the 1989 regime change, Mediafax reported. He said the country's continuing transition from a centralized to a market economy entails huge social costs and can trigger unemployment, inflation, and a curtailment of social services. Iliescu also said that if the EU exhibits the same understanding and solidarity toward Romania that it did toward Portugal when it joined the union, Romania will be able to successfully overcome "accession shock" and achieve rapid economic development. "We are ready to face the challenge of accession," Iliescu said. "We are aware of its costs, but those costs would be far larger had we remained outside the European integration process." MS
 ROMANIAN SENATE REJECTS PRM MOTIONThe Senate on 30 October rejected a motion submitted by the Greater Romania Party (PRM) to debate the alleged misuse of EU funds by members of former European Integration Minister Hildegard Puwak's family and the government's inability to secure EU funds, RFE/RL's Bucharest bureau reported. Seventy-two senators voted against the motion, 42 in favor, and one abstained. The PRM motion was supported by senators representing the opposition National Liberal Party and Democratic Party. MS
 MOLDOVAN POLITICIAN SUSPECTS BESSARABIAN CHURCH OF BEING FINANCED BY BUCHAREST...Victor Stepaniuc, leader of the Party of Moldovan Communists' parliamentary group, on 30 October demanded that the government and the Security and Information Service (SIS) open an investigation on the financing of the Bessarabian Metropolitan Church, Mediafax reported. Stepaniuc said he wants the investigation to disclose whether the church, which is subordinate to the Bucharest patriarchy, is financed by Romania. He also said the SIS should compile a list of individuals and nongovernmental organizations in Moldova that have been funded by the Romanian government. In response, Popular Party Christian Democratic (PPCD) Deputy Chairman Vlad Cubreacov said the Bessarabian Metropolitan Church is not financed in any way by the Romanian government but does receive financial support from the Romanian Orthodox Church. Cubreacov said this is "natural and a demonstration of inter-Romanian solidarity." The Romanian government announced earlier this week that it has canceled government funding of projects in Moldova. MS
 ...WHILE PPCD WANTS AUTHORITIES TO REVEAL LIST OF KGB AGENTS IN RELIGIOUS STRUCTURESPPCD Deputy Chairman Cubreacov demanded in parliament on 30 October that SIS director Ion Ursu make public a list of former KGB agents who were active in religious structures during the communist era, Flux reported. MS
 COUNCIL OF EUROPE FOREIGN MINISTERS TO MEET IN CHISINAUThe foreign ministers of the 45 states belonging to the Council of Europe will meet in Chisinau on 5-6 November, Infotag and Flux reported on 30 October. The meeting is to be held at the invitation of the rotating chairman of the council's Committee of Ministers -- Moldovan Foreign Minister Nicolae Dudau. The Netherlands is to take over the rotating chairmanship on 6 November for a six-month period. MS
 BULGARIAN MINISTER RECEIVES UN AWARDDeputy Prime Minister and Economy Minister Lidia Shuleva on 29 October received the United Nations Poverty Eradication Award, the "Sofia Morning News" reported. The United Nations Development Program (UNDP) selected Shuleva as one of five laureates from different regions for her innovative social-policy approach while she was minister for social affairs from 2001-03. According to the UNDP's official website (http://www.undp.org), Shuleva's development program "has put more than 80,000 unemployed people to work on public projects and includes wider literacy and vocational training, social insurance, and labor-rights guarantees for workers, and tax breaks for companies investing in low-income regions" (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 19 June and 9 August 2002). UB
 BULGARIA TO REFORM ROAD-TAX SYSTEMThe government decided during its 30 October session to eliminate the current road tax and replace it with a system in which automobile owners will be required to purchase stickers authorizing them to operate their vehicles on Bulgaria's road network, mediapool.bg reported. The new system will go into effect on 1 January 2004. Stickers for heavy trucks will cost $300 for the year, smaller trucks $150, and passenger cars about $30. Foreign vehicles will be charged higher taxes: $413 for heavy trucks, $211 for light-duty trucks, and $41 for passenger cars. Vehicle owners will have the option of purchasing stickers that will be good for one week, one month, or the whole year. The money generated from the stickers will be channeled into a road-maintenance fund. UB
SOUTHWESTERN ASIA AND THE MIDDLE EAST
 NATO COMMANDER CAUTIOUS ON EXPANSION OF ISAFSupreme Allied Commander General James Jones said on 30 October that the political enthusiasm to expand the NATO-led International Security Assistance Force (ISAF) in Afghanistan is not matched by available resources, Reuters reported. The political will to expand ISAF "is fine," he said, but added that NATO does not have complete resources for ISAF in Kabul. Jones suggested that the enthusiasm to expand ISAF should be tempered "a little bit." NATO is capable of expanding ISAF, he added, but currently the alliance is "on a more measured pace." Afghanistan represents NATO's first direct involvement in the Greater Middle East and, while there has been political agreement on allowing the alliance to take command of ISAF, members of NATO are less unanimous in their political will to contribute increased forces and equipment for expanding rapidly throughout the country (see "RFE/RL Afghanistan Report," 30 October 2003). AT
 AFGHANISTAN SAYS IT WILL ERADICATE POPPY CULTIVATION WITHIN A DECADEMirwais Yasini, the director of Afghanistan's Counternarcotics Directorate, said on 30 October that his country wants "to eliminate all drugs and narcotics around the country in 10 years," AP reported. Yasini's comments came in response to a report by the UN Office on Drugs and Crime that asserts that opium-poppy cultivation in Afghanistan has increased by 8 percent since 2002, and that 77 percent of the global opium supply comes from Afghanistan (see "RFE/RL Afghanistan Report," 30 October 2003 and http://www.unodc.org/pdf/afg/afghanistanopiumsurvey2003.pdf). Yasini acknowledged the drug problem in Afghanistan, calling it not only an Afghan problem but also "an international problem." He called for a "holy war [on drugs] that all sectors of the human community are agreed upon." He warned that "statistics may get worse before they get better." The increase in opium-poppy production in Afghanistan is generally viewed as being linked to the spread of lawlessness and warlordism in the country. Until the central government in Kabul is able to extend its control over the entire country, talk of reducing Afghan drug production is arguably premature. AT
 CHAIRMAN OF AFGHAN TEACHERS UNION REPORTS THREATS ON HIS LIFEAbdul Jabar Paikar, chairman of the Teachers Union in Afghanistan, claimed that his life has been threatened several times in recent days, "The Kabul Times," reported on 29 October. Paikar said unidentified callers have told him to terminate the activities of his union and stop the publication of the union's paper, "Amuzgar," or be killed. Paikar said he legally established the union and registered it with the Justice Ministry. The Education Ministry has set up an official government union in an apparent effort to neutralize the influence of Paikar's union. AT
 U.S. SOLDIER KILLED IN CENTRAL AFGHAN PROVINCEA U.S. soldier was killed in the Deh Rawud area of Oruzgan Province in a clash with suspected neo-Taliban forces, the BBC reported on 31 October. The unidentified solider was part of a joint patrol of U.S. forces and Afghan militia that is based in the neighboring Helmand Province. One enemy fighter also died in the clash, while an Afghan militiaman and another U.S. soldier sustained injuries. AT
 IAEA ASSESSING DOCUMENTS ON IRANIAN NUCLEAR ACTIVITIESThe International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) spokeswoman Melissa Fleming said on 30 October that the agency is still verifying documents that Tehran provided ahead of a 31 October deadline for Iran to come clean on its nuclear activities, AP reported (see "RFE/RL Iran Report," 15 September 2003). Fleming said the UN's nuclear watchdog must wait to judge whether Iran has fulfilled its requirements until it completely analyzes the documents and that process will "not necessarily" be completed by 20 November, when the IAEA Board of Governors next meets. "There are a number of very complicated technical issues that require complicated technical processes to fill in the blanks and connect the dots," Fleming said. "We will not be in a position to evaluate the fullness and completeness of that declaration until we have had the chance to fully verify it." Even the report that will be issued before the Board of Governors meeting might not contain "the final information," she said. BS
 IAEA HEAD NOTES 'GOOD PROGRESS' ON IRANIAN DECLARATIONIAEA Director-General Mohammad el-Baradei said on 30 October that the declaration Iran provided to the agency appears to be comprehensive, Reuters reported. "I think we are making good progress. Iran has submitted what [it] assured me to be a comprehensive and accurate declaration," el-Baradei said in Ottawa. "I think I could say that at first glance the report is comprehensive; but we still have to do a lot of fine-tuning, we still have to do a lot of questioning, and that is why we are there right now and we will continue to be there doing an inspection for quite a few months, in fact." El-Baradei went on to say that next week he expects an Iranian request to be a signatory of the Additional Protocol of the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty. BS
 GERMAN ENVOY TO VISIT IRAN FOR INFORMATION ON ISRAELI AVIATORA German emissary will travel to Iran for information on the whereabouts of Ron Arad, an Israeli Air Force officer whose aircraft went down over Lebanon in 1986 and who reportedly was sold to Iran by his Hizballah captors, Israel's Channel 10 TV reported on 30 October. Germany has been mediating Israel-Hizballah negotiations on prisoner swaps for several months (see "RFE/RL Iran Report," 29 September and 13 October 2003). Iran, meanwhile, has sent a message to Israel saying that it would like to begin talks, Israel's "Ha'aretz" daily reported on 30 October. Prime Minister Ariel Sharon is skeptical and believes that Tehran is feigning flexibility because of other unspecified problems it is facing, according to "Ha'aretz." The Israelis have reportedly asked a third party to make inquiries in Tehran regarding the seriousness of the message. BS
 EXILE CLAIMS IRAN INVOLVED IN AL-HAKIM ASSASSINATIONAn Iranian exile claims that he is in contact with an Islamic Revolution Guards Corps (IRGC) defector who was involved in the late-August assassination of Supreme Council for the Islamic Revolution in Iraq (SCIRI) leader Ayatollah Muhammad Baqir al-Hakim, "Al-Sharq al-Awsat" reported from London on 30 October. Former Ansar-i Hizbullah member Amir Farshad Ibrahimi said he recently received an e-mail from a member of the IRGC's special operations unit -- the Qods Force -- requesting help escaping from Iran; this individual is reportedly in an Eastern European country bordering Turkey. The IRGC member claims he and the 10-man Qods Corps hit squad were told that al-Hakim had backed away from calls for an Iraqi Islamic republic. The assassins had cover as radio and television correspondents and filmed al-Hakim for several days before killing him in Al-Najaf with a car bomb, according to the source. In exchange for asylum in Iraq or another Arab state, the exile said, the IRGC member claimed that he would provide information about al-Hakim's murder, the 19 September bombing of the UN headquarters in Baghdad, and the 26 October attack on the Rashid Hotel in Baghdad. BS
 U.S. FORCES SEAL OFF FORMER PRESIDENT'S VILLAGE IN IRAQU.S. soldiers sealed off deposed President Hussein's native village on 31 October and ordered all adults living there to register for identification cards, AP reported. Soldiers entered the village of Uja, located some 16 kilometers from Tikrit, in the early morning hours, established checkpoints, and strung concertina wire around the perimeter of the village. "This is an effort to protect the majority of the population, the people who want to get on with their lives," U.S. Lieutenant Colonel Steve Russell said. U.S. military officials have said they believe the deposed president is encouraging attacks against coalition troops, nytimes.com reported on 31 October. Russell said he does not know if Hussein is directing such attacks, but added that "there are ties leading to this village, to the funding and planning of attacks against U.S. soldiers," AP reported. KR
 AIDE TO IRAQI GRAND AYATOLLAH ATTACKED IN KARBALAAn aide to Iraqi Grand Ayatollah Ali al-Sistani was attacked in Karbala on 30 October, Al-Jazeera television reported the same day. Shaykh Abd al-Mahdi al-Karbala'i sustained head wounds when militants launched a grenade attack against him and five of his guards near the Imam al-Husayn Shrine in Karbala. Al-Karbala'i declined to accuse any person or group for the attack, but said that those bent on destabilizing the holy Shi'ite city are responsible. A power struggle has reportedly emerged in Karbala in recent weeks between al-Sistani and anti-U.S. cleric Muqtada al-Sadr. Al-Sistani has also blamed recent violence on the lack of "a successful central power" in Iraq, AP reported on 30 October. KR
 IRAQI POLICE, COALITION FORCES INTERCEPT SMUGGLERSIraqi police and coalition forces in southern Iraq have intercepted 47 ships that were smuggling oil, KUNA reported on 30 October. Coalition spokesman Lieutenant Colonel George Krivo said the same day that coalition forces and Iraqi police arrested more than 80 individuals aboard the 47 ships. Iraqi police announced that they have intercepted smugglers attempting to transport 5 tons of gas outside the country. The activities of police and coalition forces reportedly took place in the Al-Faw Peninsula area. KR
 TURKISH DAILY REPORTS THAT U.S. WILL ASK FOR TURKISH WITHDRAWAL FROM IRAQThe Turkish daily newspaper "Yeni Safak" reported on 29 October that the United States intends to request the withdrawal of Turkish forces from northern Iraq, kurdishmedia.com reported. U.S. sources reportedly told "Yeni Safak" that the United States will seek to strengthen the Iraqi Governing Council in the coming months and will point to the council as the point of reference for any negotiations. Turkey has maintained a troop presence in northern Iraq since the 1991 Gulf War under the pretense that it is fighting Turkish-Kurdish resistance groups based along the Iraq-Turkey border. KR
 TURKISH PRESIDENT SAYS TROOP-DEPLOYMENT ISSUE 'CLOSED'Turkish President Ahmet Necdet Sezer said on 29 October that he considers the issue of deploying Turkish troops to Iraq a "closed" matter, AFP reported, citing Anatolia news agency. "For me, this question is closed," Sezer was quoted as saying. "It is very difficult to reconcile the necessary conditions." Turkish officials this week expressed frustration with the United States (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 29 October 2003) over its hesitancy to accept Turkey's offer to deploy some 10,000 troops to Iraq. The Governing Council, leading Kurdish political parties, and Iraqi tribes have all rejected the presence of Turkish troops on Iraqi soil. KR
 MILITANTS ATTACK FREIGHT TRAIN IN IRAQAn improvised explosive device placed on railroad tracks west of Al-Fallujah exploded as a freight train that was reportedly transporting supplies for U.S. troops passed over it, setting fire to four shipping containers, international media reported on 30 October. The attack occurred on a rail line 6.5 kilometers west of Al-Fallujah that stretches to the city to Hadithah, located about 135 kilometers to the northwest. Looters subsequently took computers, bottled water, tents, and other supplies from the stranded train, AP reported. KR
 FALSIFICATION FEARS OVERSHADOW GEORGIAN PARLIAMENTARY ELECTIONBy Liz Fuller
Georgia's voters will go to the polls on 2 November to elect a parliament that will preside over the transition in April 2005, after 13 years, to the post-Eduard Shevardnadze era. The incumbent president, who served for three years as nominal head of state before being elected president in November 1995, has repeatedly ruled out amending the Georgian Constitution to allow him to seek a third term.
Since his re-election as president in April 2000, Shevardnadze has failed to resolve any of the most pressing problems Georgia faces. Although on paper GDP grew by 4.5 percent in 2001 and 5.4 percent in 2002, and by 8.3 percent in the first nine months of 2003, living standards have not improved. Ten percent of the population earns less than 40 laris ($19) per month, compared with a subsistence minimum of 115 laris.
The minimum monthly pension is 14 laris, but as of 1 October, the state owed a total of 90 million laris in pensions arrears dating back to 2000. The IMF suspended cooperation with Georgia several months ago because of the government's failure to implement structural reforms and crack down on tax evasion. The population is subjected to periodic power outages. Relations with Russia are strained as a result of repeated accusations that Chechen militants maintain base camps on Georgian territory. And little progress has been made in reaching a solution to the Abkhaz and South Ossetian conflicts that would restore Tbilisi's hegemony over those two unrecognized breakaway republics.
The government's dismal record contributed to the disintegration in the late summer of 2001 of the majority Union of Citizens of Georgia (SMK) parliamentary faction. The popularity of the SMK, which Shevardnadze created in 1993 as his personal power base, has since plummeted, and according to polls conducted over the past 15 months, does not exceed single digits. The SMK failed to win a single seat on the Tbilisi City Council in the June 2002 municipal elections.
In a clear effort to preserve its dwindling influence, the SMK aligned in March 2003 with Vakhtang Rcheulishvili's Socialist Party, which won 11 seats in the parliament elected in 1999 as part of the opposition Revival Union bloc, to form the pro-presidential For a New Georgia bloc (AS). Seven other parties and groups have since joined the bloc, including the National Democratic Party of Georgia and the Christian Democratic Union headed by former Minister of State Vazha Lortkipanidze.
Rival opposition parties have repeatedly accused the government of plotting to falsify the outcome of the ballot in favor of AS. In an attempt to allay those fears, the United States sent former Secretary of State James Baker to Tbilisi in early July to persuade the Georgian leadership to yield overall control of election commissions at all levels. The OSCE has provided transparent-plastic ballot boxes to deter ballot-box stuffing and equipment for stamping an indelible mark on voters' thumbnails to preclude multiple voting.
Fears that the authorities will rig the election outcome have been fuelled by widespread irregularities discovered in the updated, and supposedly accurate, voter lists. The new lists were compiled by the Interior Ministry and then submitted in June to the Central Election Commission, which was reconstituted in late August, to be computerized.
But the computerized lists yielded numerous inaccuracies. The names of thousands of nonexistent or deceased voters were included -- including one whose date of birth was given as 1800 -- while many genuine voters were omitted. Interior Minister Koba Narchemashvili denied any responsibility for the errors, which he blamed on the outgoing CEC. But CEC Chairwoman Nana Devdariani told Caucasus Press on 27 October that the lists the CEC received from the Interior Ministry were incorrect. She said a criminal investigation will be opened to determine why those inaccuracies were not corrected.
The deadline for completing and publicly displaying the lists was put back from 19 October to 22 October, then to 26 October, and later to 30 October. Voters whose names have been omitted will have until 1 November to appeal to a local court to be reinstated. Shevardnadze, in his weekly radio interview on 20 October, suggested that all voters should check at their local polling station to determine whether their names figure on the updated lists. But the results of a poll of 600 people in Tbilisi summarized on 21 October by the weekly newspaper "Kviris palitra" found that 25 percent of respondents would not protest if they found they had been left off the lists as they are convinced the outcome of the ballot has been predetermined.
Nor are the Georgian authorities the sole target of opposition allegations: Opposition parties are also accusing one another of malpractice. In numerous cases, candidates contesting one of the 75 single-mandate constituencies have appealed to local courts to annul the registration of rivals from another party. And at a 27 October meeting with U.S. Ambassador Richard Miles, Labor Party leader Shalva Natelashvili claimed that the alternative voter lists currently being compiled by the Burdjanadze-Democrats bloc and the National Movement contain even more errors that those prepared by the CEC.
A total of nine blocs and 12 political parties have registered to contest the ballot. Parties and blocs contesting the 150 seats to be allocated under the party-list system must poll a minimum of 7 percent of the vote to win representation.
During the spring and summer, polls consistently identified Natelashvili's Labor Party as the most popular party with approximately 30 percent backing. But more recent surveys suggest an increase in support for the Burdjanadze-Democrats bloc and the National Movement at the expense of Labor.
Most observers predict a hung parliament, in which those three parties have more or less equal representation, with AS, the New Rightists, Adjar Supreme Council Chairman Aslan Abashidze's Revival Union, and possibly former Communist Party of Georgia first secretary Djumber Patiashvili's Ertoba Bloc also surpassing the 7 percent minimum. If as appears likely no party or bloc wins a clear majority, a protracted period of horse-trading could be required before a new government emerges.