|Saturday, 18 January 2020|
RFE/RL Newsline, 03-11-18
From: Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty <http://www.rferl.org>
 PUTIN CALLS ON BUSINESS TO RESPECT LEGAL SYSTEM...Addressing a congress of the Russian Union of Entrepreneurs and Industrialists (RSPP) in Moscow on 14 November, President Vladimir Putin said that competition between business and the state to influence the courts must be ended, ORT, RTR, and other Russian media reported. The RSPP, which is frequently called "the oligarchs' union," claims to represent 328,000 employers, and Putin's speech was his first major appearance before the business community since the beginning of criminal investigations into senior managers at oil giant Yukos. Putin cautioned the business community to adapt to a stable legal environment and to stop calling for intervention from outside normal judicial mechanisms. VY
 ...AND SAYS RETURN TO PAST IS 'IMPOSSIBLE'In his 14 November RSPP speech, President Putin did not refer to Yukos by name, Russian media reported. However, he said that high-profile criminal cases provoke anxiety and alarm and inevitably cause people to wonder if Russia is returning to the past. "This cannot be," Putin said to wide applause. "It is impossible." He added that accusations that law enforcement organs are violating the law merely produce in response accusations from those organs of corruption within the bureaucracy and the business sector. He said that law enforcement organs must be reformed in transparent, public, and legal ways. Putin also pledged to see his program of administrative, tax, and financial reforms through to completion, and he promised to reorganize state monopolies controlling the national infrastructure. In his speech, Putin played both good cop and bad cop, NTV commented on 15 November. Ekho Moskvy commented on 15 November that although the business community initially seemed ready to protest the 25 October arrest of former Yukos CEO Mikhail Khodorkovskii, now it seems to lack the courage even to argue with Putin. RSPP President Arkadii Volskii announced on 15 November that the union has re-elected Khodorkovskii to its board, NTV reported. He said the decision is a manifestation of the principle of the presumption of innocence, because Khodorkovskii has not been convicted of any crime. VY
 PRIME MINISTER DEFIES PUTIN BY SPEAKING OUT ON YUKOSSpeaking to journalists in Nizhnevartovsk on 14 November, Mikhail Kasyanov again violated President Putin's 27 October request that government officials not comment on the Yukos investigations (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 29 October 2003), "Kommersant-Daily," "Vremya novostei," and other Russian media reported on 17 November. Kasyanov said he has forbidden the Natural Resources Ministry from intimidating Yukos through environmental-safety inspections. "I have told [Natural Resources Minister Vitalii Artyukhov] that it is impermissible to create an atmosphere of fear around Yukos and to threaten it with the revocation of its licenses," Kasyanov said. There have been numerous reports that the ministry has been examining the license compliance of Yukos subsidiaries (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 22 October 2003). Kasyanov has also reportedly endorsed a proposal to restrict the authority of the Prosecutor-General's Office and to transfer some of its functions to the Justice Ministry, "Kommersant-Daily" reported on 15 November. On 17 November, Kasyanov, on a state visit to Finland, refused to answer questions about Yukos, saying that he has already said all he has to say about the matter, utro.ru reported. VY
 ANALYST SAYS PRIME MINSTER WILL STEP DOWN...TV-Tsentr political commentator Aleksei Pushkov said on 16 November that Prime Minister Kasyanov and President Putin have agreed that Kasyanov will resign, although they have not yet decided whether he will do so following the 7 December parliamentary election or after the March 2004 presidential ballot. Last week, "Moskovskie novosti" published similar speculation (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 13 November 2003). Pushkov said that Kasyanov must leave because of his close connections with the so-called Family of the administration of former President Boris Yeltsin. After leaving the government, Kasyanov will probably become director of the Sberbank state savings bank, Pushkov said. VY
 ...AND SPECULATES ON WHO WILL COME NEXTTV-Tsentr commentator Pushkov added on 16 November that all four likely candidates to succeed Prime Minister Kasyanov come from St. Petersburg. The first candidate mentioned was Deputy Prime Minister and Finance Minster Aleksei Kudrin, who worked as deputy head of the presidential administration before becoming first deputy finance minister in 1997. Pushkov also mentioned Defense Minister Sergei Ivanov, who has a KGB background similar to Putin's and who enjoys close personal relations with the president. The third candidate is Deputy Prime Minister Boris Aleshin, who is lesser-known and, therefore, less compromised. According to the Kremlin rumor mill, Pushkov said, Putin has particular confidence in Aleshin. The fourth candidate to replace Kasyanov is Gazprom CEO and Putin loyalist Aleksei Miller, Pushkov said. VY
 LEADING YUKOS FIGURE STEPS DOWN AS UNIVERSITY OFFICIALLeading Yukos shareholder Leonid Nevzlin, who until early this year was the company's No. 2 manager, announced on 17 November that he will step down as rector of the Russian State Humanitarian University, Russian media reported. Nevzlin, who has been in Israel since the investigations into Yukos began and who on 3 November was granted Israeli citizenship (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 5 November 2003), took over as rector of the Moscow university in June after Yukos pledged to donate $100 million to the school over the next decade. Speaking by telephone with Ekho Moskvy on 17 November, Nevzlin said he is stepping down in order to protect his colleagues and the state-run university, which he said the Kremlin recently threatened with reorganization if Nevzlin remained. VY
 INTERIOR MINISTRY PROBES SIBNEFT, ROSNEFTThe Interior Ministry's Main Economic Crime Directorate has begun to analyze documents submitted by the Audit Chamber, which has urged the ministry to open criminal tax-evasion investigations of oil giants Sibneft and Rosneft, "Vremya novostei" and other Russian media reported on 17 November. The Audit Chamber found that Sibneft used offshore companies to avoid paying about 10 billion rubles ($300 million) in taxes in 2001-02. State-owned Rosneft allegedly evaded paying about 1 billion rubles in taxes during the same period. Strana.ru commented on 17 November that the target of the probes is Sibneft head Yevgenii Shvindler, who is expected to become chairman of the board of YukosSibneft after the merger of those two companies. The website speculated that the investigation will derail Shvindler's selection and undermine Yukos's efforts to continue "business as usual." A second target of the investigations is Rosneft head Sergei Bogdanchikov, who has been considered one of the initiators of the state's investigations of Yukos but who now seems to have run afoul of the law enforcement agencies, strana.ru wrote. VY
 NTV HEAD CENSORS KREMLIN BOOK SEGMENT...Leonid Parfenov, host of the "Namedni" television program, told Ekho Moskvy on 16 November that NTV General Director Nikolai Senkevich ordered him not to air a segment about "Tales of a Kremlin Digger," a best-selling book by former Kremlin correspondent Yelena Tregubova. The book details Tregubova's experiences covering the Kremlin in the latter half of the Yeltsin administration and the early part of President Putin's term. In an interview with "Kommersant-Daily" published on 17 November, Senkevich confirmed Parfenov's statement, saying that it was a personal decision based on the "vulgarity" of the segment and that he was not pressured by the Kremlin to yank the segment. The unedited version of the program did air in the Far East, which is several time zones ahead of Moscow, before it was pulled off the air. Utro.ru has posted a transcript of the segment, which primarily featured quotations from the book and criticism of it by Aleksei Volin, who was deputy head of the presidential administration's public-relations office in 1996-98, and by Mikhail Margelov, who headed that office in 1997-98. The Russian Union of Journalists has sent a letter to Prosecutor-General Vladimir Ustinov asking him to investigate Senkevich for violating the law on mass media and the constitution, korpunkt.ru reported on 17 November. JAC
 ...AS MEMOIRIST REVEALS PUTIN REACHING OUT TO THE PRESSDuring the unaired "Namedni" segment, author Tregubova said that she once interviewed President Putin, who afterward invited her to a restaurant to mark the professional holiday of the Federal Security Service (FSB). She said that initially she did not understand whether she was being invited as a journalist or as a woman. Discussing the incident, she alluded jokingly to former Soviet secret police head Lavrenti Beria, who was infamous for inviting women to restaurants, after which they were never seen again. Commenting on Putin's recent rejoinder to a French journalist who asked about the Yukos investigations that journalists who ask such questions must be on the take, Tregubova noted that this was an understandable reaction since, based on Putin's experience in the Kremlin, journalists do write articles for money. JAC
 WEDDING BELLS INSIDE THE KREMLINDmitrii Ustinov, son of Prosecutor-General Ustinov, plans to marry an unidentified daughter of deputy presidential administration head Igor Sechin on 22 November in a private ceremony at Moscow's Griboedov Wedding Palace, "Moskovskii komsomolets" reported on 17 November. Dmitrii Ustinov is a graduate of one of the FSB's institutes of higher learning. Sechin's daughter, meanwhile, reportedly studied at the St. Petersburg Mining Institute, which is headed by Vladimir Litvinenko, a long-time friend of President Putin's. The daily compared the upcoming wedding to the marriage of Soviet dictator Josef Stalin's daughter, Svetlana, to Central Committee member Yurii Zhdanov, who was the son of Politburo member Andrei Zhdanov. JAC
 PRO-KREMLIN PARTY MAKING NEW INROADS IN MOSCOWMoscow Duma Chairman Vladimir Platonov last week received his Unified Russia membership card and has already formed a Unified Russia faction within the supposedly apolitical city legislature, "Vremya novostei" reported on 18 November. One of the faction's first projects is a draft law on recalling "undisciplined" legislators. Previously, Platonov resisted efforts to politicize the city duma, but he told the daily that his earlier statements were misunderstood. "I always said that in the future the legislative assembly would be formed along party principles, but in Russia there was not yet a party that was one in the European sense," Platonov said. Platonov was previously a member of the Union of Rightist Forces (SPS). Meanwhile, most of Unified Russia's candidates in the single-mandate districts of Moscow and Moscow Oblast are favored to win in the 7 December State Duma election, RFE/RL's Moscow bureau reported on 6 November. JAC
 PARTY LISTS, SINGLE-MANDATE CANDIDATES APPROVEDCentral Election Commission (TsIK) Chairman Aleksandr Veshnyakov announced on 17 November that the process of registering candidates and electoral coalitions for the 7 December parliamentary elections has been completed, ITAR-TASS reported. According to Veshnyakov, a few hiccups were experienced during the process, but there "were not many errors on the part of the [regional] commissions." The same day, the commission registered former Mezprombank executive Sergei Veremeenko as a candidate in the 7 December presidential election in Bashkortostan. The republic-level election commission had refused to register Veremeenko on two different occasions (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 4 November 2003). Newsru.com reported on 17 November that more than 700 candidates provided incorrect information on their mandatory income and property statements, citing information received from the TsIK. On 21 November, a special issue of "Rossiiskaya gazeta" will be published listing all of the candidates in the elections, as well as information from their income and property declarations, grani.ru reported on 17 November. JAC
 PUTIN BOTH SWEET AND DEARMoscow consumers are not snapping up chocolate portraits of President Putin, which are retailing for 21,000 rubles ($705), Ekho Moskvy reported on 16 November. Customers interviewed at one shop selling the 30 centimeter by 48 centimeter chocolate Putin are apparently not being put off just by its price tag. They told the station they are reluctant to take a bite of the commander in chief. Pensioner Roziya Nikolaeva said she thinks it would be indecent to eat the portrait and would not do so "out of respect" for Putin. VTsIOM-A reported on 17 November that in a survey of 1,600 respondents conducted on 13-16 November, 82 percent said that they approve of Putin's performance as president, while 16 percent disapprove, according to wciom.ru. This represents a large jump from a similar survey conducted in the latter half of October, when the president's approval rating was 73 percent. JAC
 PRO-MOSCOW CHECHEN LEADER SETS CONDITION FOR TALKS WITH CHECHEN PRESIDENTAkhmed-hadji Kadyrov, who was named the victor in a controversial presidential ballot in Chechnya last month (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 6 October 2003), told journalists in Moscow on 14 November that he does not rule out talks with Aslan Maskhadov provided the latter admit that he was ineffective as president, "Nezavisimaya gazeta" reported on 17 November. Maskhadov, who headed the Chechen resistance forces during the 1994-96 war, was elected Chechen president in January 1997 in a ballot recognized by Moscow and the international community. Kadyrov had earlier repeatedly ruled out talks with Maskhadov. Kadyrov also met in Moscow with Chechen politician Salambek Maigov, who resigned in August as Maskhadov's representative in the Russian Federation (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 15 August 2003). Kadyrov expressed his support for Maigov, who plans to run as a candidate for the State Duma from a Chechen constituency, according to Interfax on 24 September. LF
TRANSCAUCASUS AND CENTRAL ASIA
 JUDGE FORESTALLS POSSIBLE NEW REVELATIONS BY ARMENIAN PARLIAMENT GUNMANPresiding judge Samvel Uzunian declared the end on 14 November of the trial of five men accused of the October 1999 murders of eight senior officials in the parliament chamber, RFE/RL's Yerevan bureau reported. Uzunian cut short the final speech of Nairi Hunanian, the leader of the five, just as he was about to reveal "new circumstances" relevant to the shootings. Relatives of the murdered men who are convinced that the five men did not act alone were hoping that Hunaian's promised disclosures would substantiate that hypothesis. The trial began in February 2001, and Uzunian is expected to convict the accused and to agree to the prosecutors' demand that all five be sentenced to life imprisonment. LF
 NEW WAVE OF POST-ELECTION ARRESTS REPORTED IN AZERBAIJANAzerbaijani officials' claims that all but 86 of the people detained in connection with clashes in Baku that followed last month's disputed presidential election have now been released are untrue, human rights activist Novella Djafaroglu told Turan on 17 November (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 7 November 2003). She said the number of people still in detention is over 100, and that between three and five new arrests occur each day. On 13 November, Mirmahmud Fattaev, chairman of the conservative wing of the divided Azerbaijan Popular Front Party, told Turan that a new wave of arrests of opposition activists is under way in Salyany Raion, and that three men, two of them opposition representatives on district election commissions, were detained that day. LF
 AZERBAIJANI VILLAGE ELDERS RELEASEDAzerbaijan's Supreme Court on 14 November annulled the prison terms handed down in April 2003 to two elders from the village of Nardaran near Baku and gave them four-year suspended sentences instead, zerkalo.az reported on 15 November. The two men, Islamic Party of Azerbaijan Chairman Alikram Aliyev and Union of Baku and Baku Villages Chairman Dzhebrail Alizade, were sentenced for their alleged role in the June 2002 clashes between police and inhabitants of Nardaran (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 3, 4, 5, and 6 June 2002). Aliyev was originally sentenced to nine years' imprisonment, and Alizade to eight. In April, the Court of Appeals reduced Aliyev's sentence to six years (see RFE/RL Newsline," 2 April and 9 June 2003). The prosecutor argued on 14 November that the initial sentences were justified and the guilt of both men had been proven, but that the court had failed to take into account mitigating circumstances and the fact that both men are more than 60 years old. LF
 AZERBAIJANI PRESIDENT AGAIN SAYS OSCE SHOULD RESOLVE KARABAKH CONFLICTMeeting on 17 November in Baku with visiting European Parliament rapporteur Per Garton, Azerbaijani President Ilham Aliyev said that talks between the presidents of Armenia and Azerbaijan have failed to yield a solution to the Karabakh conflict, and that the negotiating process should resume between the two presidents and the three co-chairmen of the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE) Minsk Group, Interfax reported. Visiting Baku and Yerevan last month, OSCE Chairman in Office Jaap de Hoop Scheffer urged the two presidents to resume talks on possible approaches to resolving the conflict (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 22 October 2003). LF
 GEORGIAN OPPOSITION CONVENES PROTEST DEMONSTRATION...Georgian opposition leaders Mikhail Saakashvili, Zurab Zhvania, and Nino Burdjanadze convened a mass demonstration in Tbilisi on 14 November to protest the alleged falsification of the 2 November parliamentary elections and to demand the resignation of the government and of President Eduard Shevardnadze, Georgian and Western media reported. Saakashvili estimated the number of participants at 40,000-50,000, while Western journalists gave figures ranging from 15,000 to 25,000, and the police reported 8,000-10,000. Comparatively few of the protesters heeded Saakashvili's demand to form a human chain around the heavily guarded state chancellery building, according to the "Financial Times" on 15 November. Saakashvili and a group of his supporters then forced their way into the offices of the Central Election Commission to demand the publication of the accurate election returns. The protesters dispersed peacefully, and at no point did police intervene. LF
 ...AND CALLS FOR CIVIL DISOBEDIENCEIn response to a call by Saakashvili at the 14 November demonstration for mass civil disobedience, traffic halted in Tbilisi at 11 a.m. local time on 17 November, and drivers sounded their horns, Georgian media reported. But public-sector workers across the country failed to heed Saakashvili's call for a strike, the "Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung" noted. In Kutaisi and Zugdidi, several hundred opposition supporters gathered to demand President Shevardnadze's resignation and those of the respective local governors, Temur Shashiashvili and Bondo Djikia. Some 300 Saakashvili supporters resumed their protest outside the parliament building in central Tbilisi on 18 November. LF
 GEORGIAN PRESIDENT CONSULTS WITH INTERNATIONAL POLITICIANS, REAFFIRMS READINESS FOR DIALOGUE...President Shevardnadze discussed the domestic political standoff in telephone conversations on 14 November with Russian President Vladimir Putin and OSCE Chairman in Office de Hoop Scheffer, Caucasus Press reported. In an interview on 15 November with the Tbilisi television company Mze, Shevardnadze again affirmed his readiness for talks with opposition leaders. Describing the situation in an interview with ITAR-TASS on 16 November as "difficult, but not hopeless," Shevardnadze predicted that Georgians will not jeopardize the economic achievements of recent years by launching a national strike. In his regular weekly radio interview, Shevardnadze accused the opposition on 17 November of resorting to "unacceptable measures" in a clear bid to seize power, Interfax reported. He announced that he has ordered the creation of a special commission to determine the names of thousands of eligible voters were removed for electoral rolls and pledged that those responsible will be punished. LF
 ...REJECTS RUSSIAN PROPOSAL OF FOUR-WAY TALKSPresident Shevardnadze rejected on 16 November as "premature" a proposal by Russian Foreign Minister Igor Ivanov to convene a meeting of the presidents of Russia, Georgia, Armenia, and Azerbaijan to discuss the situation in Georgia, ITAR-TASS reported. Ivanov floated that proposal during talks in Moscow on 14 November with Adjar Supreme Council Chairman Aslan Abashidze, who on 10 November unequivocally signaled his support for Shevardnadze (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 12 November 2003). Abashidze told ITAR-TASS on 15 November that the Georgian authorities should respond with force if the opposition, whom he likened to Bolsheviks, resort to violence. He also said, however, that "a lot of political mechanisms remain" for resolving the standoff, Interfax reported. LF
 RUSSIA HINTS AT SWIFTER MILITARY WITHDRAWAL FROM GEORGIAGeorgian and Russian government delegations held a further round of talks in Moscow on 13 November on the time frame for the closure of the two remaining Russian military bases in Georgia, Caucasus Press and Interfax reported. In a 14 November statement summarized by Interfax, the Russian Foreign Ministry said Moscow would consider an earlier date for doing so if "external sources" -- apparently meaning the United States -- provides additional funding to cover the costs of the relocation. Georgia wants the bases removed within three years, while Russia insists it needs a minimum of 11 years (see "RFE/RL Caucasus Report," 3 January 2003). LF
 ABKHAZ POLICE PROTEST DEPLOYMENT OF UN FORCELocal police and customs officials in Abkhazia's southernmost Gali Raion have written to the parliament of the unrecognized Republic of Abkhazia expressing concern at the planned deployment in Gali of a UN civil police force that is to work with local police to protect Georgian displaced persons wishing to return to the district, Caucasus Press reported on 17 November. The parliament will debate that appeal on 28 November; meanwhile the deployment has been suspended. Georgian and Abkhaz government delegations returned last month filled with enthusiasm after a visit to Bosnia-Herzegovina and Kosova to acquaint themselves with the work of similar forces there (see "RFE/RL Caucasus Report," 24 October 2003). On 17 November, Russian First Deputy Foreign Minister Valerii Loshchinin, who is Russian President Putin's special envoy for Abkhazia, met with Ambassador Heidi Tagliavini, UN Secretary-General Kofi Annan's special representative for Abkhazia, to discuss progress in implementing measures agreed on in March during talks between Putin and Shevardnadze to expedite the return to Abkhazia of displaced persons (see "RFE/RL Caucasus Report," 13 March 2003). LF
 KAZAKH ECOLOGY MINISTER SAYS OIL FIRMS NEGLECT ENVIRONMENTSpeaking to the lower house of the Kazakh parliament on 17 November, Environment Minister Aitkul Samakova asserted that domestic and foreign oil firms operating on Kazakhstan's Caspian Sea shelf are unwilling to provide full protection for the region's fragile environment, gazeta.kz reported the same day. She said she based this assessment on the number of accidents that have accompanied the extraction and transport of oil in the area, and warned that one of the most serious environmental problems facing Kazakhstan is the pollution of the Caspian Sea through the massive extraction of hydrocarbons. The Kazakh government's oil extraction program projects 150 million tons a year by 2015, but the level of oil extraction that can be tolerated by the marine environment has not been determined. Samakova also said that her ministry has fined Tengizchevroil the equivalent of $1 million for pollution and threatened to shut down the U.S.-owned power plant in Ust-Kamenogorsk, the administrative center of the East Kazakhstan Oblast, for the same reason, according to Interfax-Kazakhstan on 17 November. BB
 KAZAKH PRESIDENT HOSPITALIZED WITH BAD COLDPresident Nursultan Nazarbaev was hospitalized in Astana on 17 November with a bad cold, khabar.kz and other Kazakh media reported the same day. According to the reports, physicians decided the president could be more effectively treated as an in-patient than on an out-patient basis. BB
 JUST OVER 50 PERCENT TURN OUT FOR THIRD ROUND OF KAZAKH LOCAL ELECTIONSThe Kazakh Central Election Commission issued a press release on 17 November announcing a turnout of 52.7 percent of eligible voters the previous day for the third round of elections to city, raion, and oblast councils, Interfax-Kazakhstan reported on 17 November. The third round was held in electoral districts where there were no clear winners in the 20 September election. According to the election commission, 356 candidates contested 89 seats in the 16 November round, and preliminary results indicated that a fourth round will have to be held in 19 districts. Most seats were decided on 20 September -- 2,678 out of a total of 3,322 -- with another 555 decided on 12 October in the second round. BB
 STATE DEPARTMENT OFFICIALS OPEN KYRGYZSTAN'S FIRST INDEPENDENT PRINTING HOUSEElizabeth Jones, an assistant U.S. secretary of state for European and Eurasian affairs, and Lorne Craner, an assistant U.S. secretary of state for democracy, human rights, and labor, opened Kyrgyzstan's first independent printing house on 14 November in the presence of Kyrgyz Foreign Minister Askar Aitmatov, head of the presidential office's security and defense department Bolot Dzhanukov, editors of major Kyrgyz print media, and members of the diplomatic corps, akipress.org reported the same day. The printing house project, initiated by the U.S. government and the international human rights organization Freedom House, breaks the monopoly held by the state printing house Uchkun on the printing of newspapers and magazines. Kyrgyz authorities have sometimes denied the independent media access to the Uchkun facilities. According to RFE/RL's Kyrgyz Service on 17 November, the new printing house will start printing newspapers this week, having already concluded agreements with the editorial offices of several publications. BB
 INDIAN PRIME MINISTER VISITS TAJIKISTANTajik President Imomali Rakhmonov told Indian Prime Minister Atal Bihari Vajpayee in Dushanbe on 14 November that Vajpayee's long-awaited visit to Tajikistan will give a new impulse to the expansion of relations between the two countries, Asia-Plus Blitz reported on 17 November, quoting the Tajik president's press service. Recent achievements in bilateral cooperation cited by Rakhmonov included the creation of a joint antiterrorism group, direct air links between Dushanbe and New Delhi, and the opening of a Tajik mission in the Indian capital, though he noted that Tajik-Indian trade is decreasing and there is considerable room for expansion of economic ties. Rakhmonov also appealed for Indian participation in the development of Tajik hydropower, processing of agricultural produce, and other industries. BB
 TURKMEN PRESIDENT RESHUFFLES CABINETTurkmen President Saparmurat Niyazov appointed two new deputy prime ministers at a cabinet meeting on 15 November, RIA-Novosti and centrasia.ru reported the following day. Agriculture Minister Begench Atamuradov was appointed deputy prime minister for agriculture while retaining his ministerial post; poet Gozel Nuralieva, chief editor of the daily "Neitralnyi Turkmenistan," was appointed deputy prime minister and will head the newly created Culture and Information Ministry. Former Culture Minister Orazgeldy Aidogdyev, who had held the post since 1995, was fired for failing to discover new cultural stars, while Muhammednazar Khudaikuliev, the long-serving minister of construction and building-materials production, was reportedly fired for incompetence. Deputy Prime Minister Rejepdurdy Ataev was given Khudaikuliev's post. Water Resources Minister Kurbangeldy Volmuradov, who was accused of abuse of office, was replaced by Byashimklych Kalandarov, head of the cabinet's agriculture department. BB
CENTRAL AND EASTERN EUROPE
 BELARUSIAN RECTOR SACKED, QUESTIONED ABOUT GOLD THEFTPresident Alyaksandr Lukashenka has dismissed Alyaksandr Kazulin as rector of Belarusian State University and appointed former Education Minister Vasil Strazhau to replace him, Belapan reported on 17 November, quoting the presidential press service. The same day, investigators questioned Kazulin in connection with a case involving the suspected theft of 35 kilograms of gold by two executives of Unidrahmet BDU, a research and production company affiliated with the university. Kazulin signed a pledge not to leave Belarus. "It is absolutely evident that I am not guilty of anything. Being a law-abiding citizen, I have always tried and advised others to respect our country's laws," Kazulin told journalists. JM
 BELARUSIAN INDEPENDENT NEWSPAPER TO PAY HEAVY LIBEL DAMAGESThe Minsk City Court on 17 November ordered the private "Narodnaya volya" to pay 50 million Belarusian rubles ($23,500) in damages for libeling Yahor Rybakou, chairman of the Belarusian State Television and Radio Company (BDT), Belapan reported. The court also ordered "Narodnaya volya" journalist Maryna Koktysh and former television host Eleanora Yazerskaya to pay 3 million Belarusian rubles each to Rybakou. The city court was hearing appeals of a decision three weeks earlier, when a district court ordered the newspaper to pay 10 million rubles in damages and the journalists 1 million rubles each. Rybakou sued "Narodnaya volya" over an article written by Koktysh in which Yazerskaya claimed that Rybakou contributed to Belarusian Television's "ruin" and cited rumors that he was to blame for the deaths of some of his employees. "Narodnaya volya" reportedly plans to appeal the verdict with the Supreme Court. JM
 UKRAINIAN PRESIDENT UNDERGOES EMERGENCY SURGERY AFTER YELTSIN VISITUkrainian President Leonid Kuchma was hospitalized on 17 November and later the same day underwent surgery to remove what was described as an "acute lower-intestinal obstruction," Ukrainian news agencies reported on 18 November, quoting presidential spokeswoman Olena Hromnytska. Kuchma's condition is reportedly "satisfactory." At his residence in Ivano-Frankivsk Oblast on 15 November, Kuchma met with former Russian President Boris Yeltsin, who was vacationing in Ukraine. "This was a meeting of old friends," ITAR-TASS quoted Yeltsin's protocol chief, Vladimir Shevchenko, as saying. JM
 UKRAINIAN PARLIAMENT APPOINTS PROSECUTOR-GENERAL, DEPUTY SPEAKERThe Verkhovna Rada on 18 November approved the nomination of former deputy speaker Hennadiy Vasilyev as the country's new prosecutor-general, Ukrainian news agencies reported. The nomination was supported by deputies from the pro-presidential majority and the Communist Party, with 284 of the 409 lawmakers registered for the session backing the appointment. Deputies from Our Ukraine, the Socialist Party, and the Yuliya Tymoshenko Bloc did not take part in the vote. In what appeared to be a deal between the pro-presidential majority and the Communists, 291 lawmakers subsequently voted to appoint Communist deputy Adam Martyniuk as deputy speaker, a post recently vacated by Vasilyev. Prior to the votes, lawmakers from the pro-presidential majority blocked access to the parliamentary rostrum, thus preventing the opposition -- Our Ukraine, the Socialist Party, and the Yuliya Tymoshenko Bloc -- from doing the same and disrupting the session, as the latter has done during several recent sittings (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 14 November 2003). JM
 PEOPLE'S UNION WANTS CHANGES IN ESTONIAN RULING-COALITION AGREEMENTThe People's Union sent a letter to its coalition partners on 17 November calling for a revision of the coalition agreement by postponing planned income-tax cuts and reducing the maximum amount of parents' benefits, BNS reported. It urged against reducing the income-tax rate from 26 percent to 24 percent next year and for lowering the maximum parents' benefit to 6,600 kroons, or three times the minimum level, instead of the current maximum of 15,700 kroons a month minus income tax. The union wants to use the savings to increase child support, subsistence minimum, wages of education and culture workers, the number of state-financed student placements in universities, and raise the pension average by 100 kroons a month as of January. Although Prime Minister and Res Publica Chairman Juhan Parts and Reform Party Chairman Siim Kallas said the letter means that the union wants to quit the coalition, People's Union Chairman Villu Reiljan told a press conference that the letter was merely intended to initiate discussion. Parts met with Pro Patria Union Chairman Tunne Kelam in the evening of 17 November. Without the People's Union the coalition would have only 47 votes in the 101-member parliament. SG
 LATVIAN PRIME MINISTER VISITS GERMANYEinars Repse traveled to Berlin on 14 November for a meeting with German Chancellor Gerhard Schroeder, BNS reported. Repse said that he reiterated his position that every EU member state should have a European commissioner and his state's opposition to EU tax harmonization. Repse dismissed rumors that Latvia will pull its troops out of Iraq, saying they will remain as long as necessary. He also denied that ethnic Russians in Latvia are disadvantaged, arguing that many of them have not acquired Latvian citizenship because they never felt the need to do so. Repse also held talks with Berlin Mayor Klaus Wowereit and participated in an official reception held by the Latvian Embassy in Germany in honor of Latvia's Independence Day (18 November). On 15 November, Repse told the 9th European Forum, organized annually by the Herbert Quandt Forum and the "Financial Times," that 50 years of Soviet occupation did not suppress Latvia's desire to return to Europe, as evidenced by the strong support for EU membership in the September referendum. SG
 FURTHER RESIGNATIONS IN LITHUANIAN PRESIDENT'S STAFFDalia Kutraite-Giedraitiene on 15 November announced her resignation as Lithuanian President Rolandas Paksas's adviser on domestic policy, BNS reported. Kutraite-Giedraitiene, who had worked for Paksas since his election as Vilnius Mayor in 1997, cited fatigue as the reason for her decision. Also on 15 November, two other advisers from the foreign-policy group, Eitvydas Bajarunas and Ricardas Slepavicius, submitted their resignations. As regards the six senior advisers who submitted their resignations on 12 November (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 13 November 2003), presidential press spokesman Rosvaldas Gorbaciovas will be temporarily replaced by Sigutis Jacenas, a former television-program host who was in charge of public relations for the president. In addition, Paksas on 17 November chose not to approve the resignation of legal-issues adviser Ona Buisiene. SG
 LITHUANIA'S PRESIDENT TESTIFIES ON SCANDALProsecutor Mindaugas Duda told reporters on 17 November that in a 3 1/2 hour session, President Paksas answered all the questions that he and Judge Valdas Petraitis of the Second District Court of Vilnius had submitted regarding alleged attempts by entrepreneur Yurii Borisov to influence the presidency, ELTA reported. Borisov and his lawyer Adomas Liutvinskas did not ask any questions at the session. Following his testimony, Paksas said only that "it went smoothly" and that Borisov had never tried to blackmail him. The parliamentary ad hoc commission formed to investigate the allegations and their potential threat to national security plans to question Paksas later in the week (see "RFE/RL Newsline, " 4 November 2003). SG
 POLISH MINERS PROTEST CLOSURESCoal miners in the Silesia region on 17 Novembers staged a 24-hour warning strike to protest government plans to close down four state-owned mines, Polish media reported. According to the Solidarity trade union, the strikes involved 27 coal mines, while the state-run holding Kompania Weglowa said miners at just 13 mines joined the protest. According to "Rzeczpospolita," work was halted at 16 mines. Trade unionists vowed to give the government three weeks to begin talks aimed at dropping a plan to liquidate the four mines or face a Solidarity-led general strike. Meanwhile, Prime Minister Leszek Miller said the same day that the government will not change its plan to restructure the mining sector. "Those who are protesting today should bear in mind that if the measures that are included in the [restructuring] program are not implemented, the situation in Silesia will only get worse in few years' time," PAP quoted him as saying. Employment in Poland's coal-mining sector fell from 388,000 to 146,000 jobs in 1990-2001. JM
 CZECH BUSINESSMAN PROPOSES LAUNCH OF PRIVATE TV STATION IN IRAQA Czech businessman who does not want his name made public says he is preparing the possible launch of a private television station in Iraq, the daily "Lidove noviny" reported on 14 November. The businessman reportedly told the daily he has found an Iraqi partner and that their "Voice of the South" television station would be based in Al-Basrah. He said broadcasts might start as early as February, with three hours a day of programming in the beginning. The station would focus mainly on news, but would also include cartoons for children, he said. MS
 PRODIGAL SON RETURNS TO CZECH RULING PARTYParliamentary deputy Josef Hojdar resumed his membership of the senior coalition Social Democratic Party's parliamentary group on 15 November, CTK reported, citing the daily "Lidove noviny." Hojdar left the CSSD caucus in July, citing reservations concerning the government's public-finance-reform plans. He did not side with the opposition to vote down those plans, however, instead abstaining from the crucial vote. Hojdar's return means the center-left ruling coalition has regained its one-seat majority in the lower house. However, in Brno, a by-election for the Czech Senate on 15 November brought victory for opposition Civic Democratic Party (ODS) candidate Karel Jarusek, who defeated Christian Democrat (KDU-CSL) Rostislav Slavotinek in a runoff. Turnout was just 10.27 percent. Jarusek replaces ODS Senator Dagmar Lastovecka, who was appointed a Constitutional Court judge earlier this year. MS
 CZECH, SLOVAK PRESIDENTS MARK ANNIVERSARY OF FALL OF COMMUNIST REGIMEIn an article published in the daily "Mlada fronta Dnes" on 14 November, ahead of the 17 November anniversary of the police crackdown that accelerated the fall of the Czechoslovak communist regime in 1989, President Vaclav Klaus said he disagrees with those who accuse the majority of people of passivity in face of, or collaboration with, the totalitarian regime, CTK reported. Klaus wrote that there was passive resistance under communism, and most people ignored the regime's propaganda and led their own private lives while at the same time showing their contempt for the regime through inefficient work. It was these people, he wrote, who created the preconditions for the collapse of the regime once the international situation created favorable circumstances. In Bratislava, Slovak President Rudolf Schuster said on Slovak Radio that 17 November 1989 was the day when people in the former Czechoslovakia again began to take an interest in politics; but the absence of privatization and "enrichment by theft" drove many back toward contempt for politics, he added. Schuster called on his countrymen to "take an interest again in public affairs, in moral and Christian values -- that is, in one another," CTK reported. MS
 SLOVAKS SUSPECTED OF TRAFFICKING IN RADIOACTIVE MATERIAL DETAINED IN CZECH REPUBLICA Brno court on 16 November ordered the pretrial detention of two Slovak nationals caught by police one day earlier in an alleged attempt to trade in radioactive materials, CTK and international news agencies reported. The two were arrested in a Brno hotel after allegedly trying to sell 3 kilograms of the radioactive material to undercover police agents for 600,000 euros ($706,700). MS
 SLOVAK TRADE UNIONS LAUNCH PETITION DRIVE FOR REFERENDUM ON EARLY ELECTIONSThe Slovak Trade Unions Confederation (KOZ) on 15 November launched a petition drive to force a referendum on early parliamentary elections, TASR reported. KOZ has blamed the four-party, center-right coalition for a perceived steady slide in the standard of living. The opposition Smer (Direction) party and the Communist Party of Slovakia (KSS), as well as the extraparliamentary Party of the Democratic Left (SDL), are supporting the petition drive and have pledged financial support for the KOZ initiative. In order to force a plebiscite, the organizers of the drive must gather 350,000 signatures. MS
 FORMER SLOVAK DEFENSE MINISTER ESTABLISHES FACTION WITHIN SDKUIvan Simko, whose dismissal as defense minister in September was engineered by Prime Minister Mikulas Dzurinda, announced on 16 November that he is establishing a faction of opponents to Dzurinda's policies within the ruling Slovak Democratic and Christian Union (SDKU), CTK reported. The new group, which calls itself the SDKU Free Forum, has been joined by SDKU Deputy Chairwoman Zuzana Martinakova and by several other SDKU deputies. Simko said the group's members will continue supporting Dzurinda's cabinet in the parliament while promoting what they perceive to be the SDKU's real program. The faction members will vote as their consciences dictate, Simko said. Branislav Opaterny, an independent deputy who left the junior coalition Alliance for a New Citizen (ANO) after a conflict with ANO Chairman Pavol Rusko, reportedly also joined the SDKU Free Forum. MS
 SLOVAKIA DELAYS PURCHASE OF SUPERSONIC JETSDefense Minister Juraj Liska told journalists on 16 November that Slovakia's air force will continue using its aging, Russian-made MiG-29 fighter jets for a few more years, CTK reported. Liska said the government will take a decision on whether to purchase Western-made fighter jets at an unspecified later date. MS
 HUNGARIAN SOCIALIST CANDIDATE WINS REPEAT BY-ELECTIONGoverning coalition candidate Gyula Kiss won the repeat of a mayoral by-election in the northeastern Hungarian town of Demecser on 16 November, Hungarian media reported. Kiss ran unopposed for the post, as FIDESZ candidate Laszlone Faky, the widow of the deceased former mayor of Demecser, withdrew from the race after she reported having received a death threat (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 3 November 2003). After the first contest, a local court sustained objections from FIDESZ regarding irregularities and voided the results. In that first ballot, Kiss defeated Faky by a vote of 1,547 to 1,024, while in the repeated elections Kiss garnered 1,617 votes. MSZ
 SWEDISH HERO POSTHUMOUSLY AWARDED HONORARY CITIZENSHIP OF BUDAPESTThe Budapest City Council on 17 November voted to award honorary citizenship to the late Swedish diplomat Raoul Wallenberg, who saved thousands of Hungarian Jews from Nazi gas chambers during World War II, "Nepszabadsag" reported. Wallenberg is credited with having saved some 20,000 Hungarian Jews in 1944-45 by issuing them Swedish passports. He was captured by Soviet troops in January 1945 and presumably died in a Soviet prison. "Without Wallenberg's efforts, Budapest would not be the city it is today," Mayor Gabor Demszky said at the awarding ceremony, according to MTI news agency. Demszky also announced that a school will be named after Wallenberg in Budapest next year. Prime Minister Peter Medgyessy also attended the ceremony, saying, "I bow my head to a person who showed us how to behave in times of danger," AP reported. MSZ
 SERBIA'S PRESIDENTIAL ELECTION FAILS...Just under 40 percent of registered voters cast ballots in the Serbian presidential elections on 16 November, which required at least a 50 percent turnout to be valid, RFE/RL's South Slavic and Albanian Languages Service reported (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 14 November 2003 and "RFE/RL Balkan Report," 11 October 2002). Of those who voted, about 46 percent chose Tomislav Nikolic of Vojislav Seselj's ultranationalist Serbian Radical Party (SRS), while approximately 35 percent opted for Dragoljub Micunovic of the governing Democratic Opposition of Serbia (DOS) coalition. The election had been widely expected to fail because of voter apathy and a boycott by the two largest opposition parties, former Yugoslav President Vojislav Kostunica's Democratic Party of Serbia (DSS) and the G-17 Plus political party. It is unclear when a new round of voting will take place or who is legally entitled to call a new election. The Serbian presidency is largely ceremonial and has not been effectively filled for several years. It would be easy to elect a president by removing the 50 percent requirement, as was recently done in Montenegro. PM
 ...BUT IS THERE A CRISIS?On 17 November, international and regional media concentrated their attention not on the failure of the Serbian presidential vote but on the unexpectedly strong showing by Nikolic, which some observers compared to that of far-right candidate Jean-Marie Le Pen in the first round of French presidential voting in 2002. Observers noted that the Western governments that did much to support the leaders of the DOS, DSS, and G-17 Plus in recent years are likely to urge those politicians to sink their differences and ensure that the SRS and its allies do not make a strong showing in the 28 December parliamentary elections, which are expected to reshape the political landscape. In Brussels, the EU expressed disappointment and concern at the results of the elections, as did the governments of France, Austria, and Croatia. In Washington, State Department spokesman Richard Boucher stressed that democracy nonetheless continues to function in Serbia, RFE/RL's South Slavic and Albanian Languages Service reported. PM
 BOSNIAN LEADERS STRESS NEED FOR U.S. PRESENCESulejman Tihic, who is the Muslim member of the Bosnian Presidency, told Sarajevo's "Dnevni avaz" of 17 November that it is in his country's interest to keep a U.S. military presence there, adding that Bosnia should send peacekeepers to Iraq to help convince the United States to stay in Bosnia, Reuters reported (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 29 October and 10 November 2003 and "RFE/RL Balkan Report," 19 September 2003). Enes Becirbasic, who is secretary-general of Bosnia's Standing Committee for Military Matters, noted that his country has a 60-member transportation unit that is trained for peacekeeping missions and could be sent to Iraq. PM
 BOSNIAN SERB LEADER CALLS ON OTHERS TO APOLOGIZERepublika Srpska President Dragan Cavic said in Banja Luka on 14 November that all three sides in the 1992-95 Bosnian conflict should apologize to each other in the spirit of "three Willy Brandts," a reference to the former West German chancellor who launched a reconciliation with Germany's eastern neighbors more than 30 years ago, RFE/RL's South Slavic and Albanian Languages Service reported (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 14 November 2003). Cavic stressed that following the recent apology to Bosnians by Serbia and Montenegro's President Svetozar Marovic, "the other side" should now apologize to the Serbs. PM
 FORMER CROATIAN SERB LEADER INDICTED FOR WAR CRIMESOn 18 November, the Hague-based war crimes tribunal indicted former Croatian Serb leader Milan Babic on four counts of war crimes and one count of crimes against humanity, including persecution, cruel treatment of individuals, and murder, Reuters reported. The indictment noted that he "participated in a joint criminal enterprise that came into existence no later than 1 August 1991 and continued until at least June 1992." In related news, "The New York Times" reported that the tribunal has been encouraging plea bargaining by indicted war criminals in order to reduce its case backlog and complete its work by 2008. PM
 FORMER PRESIDENT WITHDRAWS FROM ALBANIAN SOCIALIST RACEFormer President Rexhep Meidani said in Tirana on 17 November that he is withdrawing from the race for the Socialist Party leadership in the interest of party unity, Reuters reported (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 12 November 2003). He accused Prime Minister Fatos Nano, who heads one of the two main factions in the party, of seeking to intimidate Meidani's supporters. Former Foreign Minister Ilir Meta heads the other main faction, while Tirana Mayor Edi Rama is also in the race for the party leadership. PM
 MACEDONIAN PRESIDENT STRESSES ECONOMIC PROBLEMSMacedonian President Boris Trajkovski said in Berlin on 14 November that his country's economic situation worries him most, dpa reported. He noted that high unemployment, particularly among young people, remains especially serious, because many young people turn to crime out of desperation. Trajkovski stressed that his government intends to apply for EU membership in 2004 or 2005 (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 21 and 29 October and 14 November 2003). On 17 November, the United Nations Development Program published a report saying that 50 percent of Macedonian's population lives on about $2.50 per day and that one-quarter of its citizens live in "total poverty." PM
 ROMANIAN PREMIER SAYS PSD PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE TO BE SELECTED NEXT SPRING...Prime Minister Adrian Nastase said on 14 November that his Social Democratic Party (PSD) will not decide on its candidate for the 2004 presidential election before next spring, Mediafax reported. Nastase, who is widely considered the main contender for the post, said the PSD currently has "other priorities." In response to a journalist's question whether the PSD intends to name Foreign Minister Mircea Geoana as its presidential candidate, Nastase said that Geoana is "an outstanding valuable colleague...who will be running for the position the party decides he should run for." Nastase also said that "some segments" of the judiciary are negatively affecting its credibility as a whole. Numerous complaints about the Romanian justice system have been received from foreign investors, Nastase said, adding that it must undergo further reform. MS
 ...AS PSD SECRETARY-GENERAL AUCTIONS PARTY POSITIONSPSD Secretary-General Dan Matei Agathon said on 15 November in Botosani that the party has just 20 percent of the funds it needs to finance its electoral campaigns next year, the dailies "Adevarul," "Evenimentul zilei," and "Romania libera" reported on 17 November. Agathon said that party officials who wish to retain their current posts should immediately embark on securing the needed funds, keeping in mind that they will be judged by their performance. He said prospective candidates must contribute to the PSD's electoral funds. Agathon also said that those candidates must raise campaign funds from private companies, to whom it should be made clear that they cannot finance other political parties at the same time. Meanwhile, the PSD on 16 November demanded that Democratic Party Chairman Traian Basescu resign for having allegedly failed to declare some of his assets. Basescu responded that Prime Minister Nastase heads the list of the most corrupt politicians in Romania, according to Mediafax. MS
 ROMANIAN TRIBUNAL RULES LIBERTY STATUE CANNOT BE REERECTED ON ORIGINAL SITE...An Arad tribunal recently ruled that the controversial Liberty Statue cannot be reerected on the square where it originally stood and that the proposal to reerect the statue in a park is not a viable compromise solution to the dispute (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 23 May, 22 August, and 29 October 2003), the dailies "Curentul" and "Cronica romana" reported on 17 November. The tribunal based its ruling on the Oradea Territorial Construction Inspectorate's recent decision to halt the reerection of the monument on the grounds that the Culture Ministry has not authorized the project. The inspectorate's decision has been appealed by the Hungarian Democratic Federation of Romania (UDMR). UDMR parliamentary deputy Laszlo Borbely described the tribunal's ruling as "obviously political" and said the UDMR has canceled a meeting with the ruling PSD at which the two parties were to discuss the future of their cooperation agreement. MS
 ...WHILE UDMR ANNOUNCES LEGISLATIVE INITIATIVE ON MINORITIES' STATUTEUDMR Senator Peter Eckstein-Kovacs announced on 16 November that his formation will launch an "electoral initiative" to gather signatures in favor of having parliament legislate a Minority Status in Romania, Mediafax reported. Eckstein-Kovacs said the status should include all pertinent legislation already approved by parliament, as well as new provisions including a definition of the term "national minority" and the requirements for obtaining that status. Meanwhile, Hungarian Prime Minister Peter Medgyessy announced in Budapest on 14 November after meeting with UDMR Chairman Bela Marko that a Hungarian-language television channel might begin broadcasting in Transylvania from mid-2004, the daily "Magyar Nemzet" and Romanian Radio reported. Medgyessy said working groups of the Hungarian government and the UDMR will examine ways to abide by legislation in force in Romania and Hungary and to find a formula under which the planned station could be financed by Budapest. MS
 RUSSIAN PRESIDENT PRESENTS PLAN FOR MOLDOVA'S FEDERALIZATIONRussian President Vladimir Putin told journalists on 17 November that at his initiative the Russian Foreign Ministry has drafted its own plan for setting up a federal state in Moldova, ITAR-TASS and Infotag reported. Putin said the plan was prepared under the guidance of deputy presidential administration head Dmitrii Kozak, who has been in contact with Moldovan President Vladimir Voronin and the OSCE. The plan has been given to the authorities in Transdniester and the other two outside mediators, the OSCE and Ukraine, for examination. It envisages the setting up of a Federal Republic of Moldova as an "asymmetrical federation" whose two subjects would be Moldova and Transdniester. The federation would have a have unified defense, customs, and finance systems and a single currency. Under the plan -- which makes no mention of the withdrawal of Russian troops -- the federation would be a neutral and demilitarized state. Its president would be elected by popular vote. The plan envisages a bicameral parliament, composed of a 71-seat chamber of deputies and a 26-seat senate. The upper house would include 13 Moldovan, nine Transdniester, and four Gagauz-Yeri representatives. Transdniester and Gagauz-Yeri representatives would also be included in the federal government at the deputy-premier level. The country's state language would be Moldovan, but Russian would have official-language status throughout the federation. MS
 MOLDOVAN PRESIDENT PROPOSES AMNESTY FOR TRANSDNIESTER WAR PARTICIPANTSPresident Voronin on 17 November sent parliament a draft law that would amnesty those who participated in the 1992 armed conflict, ITAR-TASS reported. Voronin said in his proposal that the amnesty would "create the necessary prerequisites for a speedy and full settlement" of the conflict with the separatist authorities. MS
 MOLDOVA'S PARLIAMENTARIANS JOIN RANKS IN RARE DISPLAY OF UNITYAll three political parties represented in Moldova's parliament on 14 November signed a joint declaration stating that Moldova's European integration is the country's "fundamental strategic objective," RFE/RL's Chisinau bureau reported. The Party of Moldovan Communists (PCM), the Our Moldova Alliance, and the Popular Party Christian Democratic called on the European Parliament to name Moldova as an EU-associated country as a first step toward future membership. MS
 MOLDOVAN LEGISLATURE NULLIFIES CONTROVERSIAL PARTY-REGISTRATION REQUIREMENTParliament on 14 November canceled the stipulation in the Parties Law that required that all political formations reregister every calendar year after proving they have a minimum of 5,000 members, Infotag reported. No explanation was provided for the reversal on part of the ruling PCM, which proposed the stipulation when the law was voted on last year, eliciting criticism from the opposition. MS
 GAGAUZ-YERI ELECTS NEW PARLIAMENTFourteen out of 35 members of the Gagauz-Yeri Popular Assembly were elected on 16 November, Infotag reported, citing the PCM representative on the autonomous republic's Central Election Commission. Of the 14, nine are PCM deputies and five are independents. A runoff is to be held on 30 November in 18 constituencies in which no candidate received the 50 percent-plus-one-vote necessary to win in the first round, and in three constituencies the ballot is to be repeated due to a turnout of less than 33 percent. MS
 BULGARIAN PREMIER CONFIRMS CHANGE OF PARTY'S NAMEPrime Minister Simeon Saxecoburggotski confirmed on 14 November that he plans to change the name of his party, the National Movement Simeon II (NDSV), bnn reported (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 12 November 2003). "This name was necessary at the time, but now that the party has been admitted into the Liberal International it might sound a little bit like a sort of personality cult," the former monarch said. "That is why, as a reformer, I would like to change this." Saxecoburggotski did not indicate what alternative name he envisages for the NDSV. MS
 BULGARIAN, ROMANIAN PREMIERS AGREE ON JOINT EU-ACCESSION EFFORTVisiting Romanian Prime Minister Adrian Nastase and his Bulgarian counterpart Saxecoburggotski agreed during an "informal meeting" at the former monarch's palace of Vranya, near Sofia, on 16 November that their countries will make a joint effort to conclude accession talks with the EU before October 2004 and to sign the accession accord in the first quarter of 2005, bnn and international news agencies reported. Bulgaria has thus far closed 26 out of 31 chapters in the negotiations with the EU, while Romania has completed negotiations on only 20 chapters. This prompted concerns in Sofia that Bulgaria's EU membership might be delayed, after the European Commission said in its report earlier this month that the two countries should sign the accession agreement together. The premiers said that they want the commission to provide the two countries by December with a "road map" for concluding the negotiations. MS
SOUTHWESTERN ASIA AND THE MIDDLE EAST
 UN SUSPENDS OPERATIONS IN AFGHANISTAN'S SOUTH AND EASTThe United Nations halted operations across southern and eastern Afghanistan on 17 November following the killing of a French official with the UN High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR), AFP reported. UN spokeswoman Marie Okabe announced the shutdown, saying in New York, "We hope it's a temporary suspension." UNHCR worker Bettina Goislard, 29, was shot while in her car at a bazaar in the town of Ghazni on 16 November. The shooting, at point-blank range by two gunmen, was the second killing this year of a foreign aid worker at the hands of suspected neo-Taliban insurgents. Goislard's death marked the first killing of a UN official since the world body renewed work in Afghanistan after forces led by the United States overthrew the Taliban. Including Afghan nationals, 12 humanitarian workers have been killed in Afghanistan since March in a rash of attacks blamed on neo-Taliban guerrilla forces. MK
 600 GARDAYZ FIGHTERS DISARMNearly 600 Afghan fighters have traded their arms for food, clothes, and cash in the eastern Afghan town of Gardayz, a UN official quoted by AP in a 17 November report said. The weapons, ranging from rifles to tanks, were given up by 595 fighters during the past week, said UN spokesman Jim Ocitti. The weapons swap was part of an ongoing $41 million program, funded mostly by Japan, aimed at disarming 100,000 Afghan fighters. Fighters who hand over their weapons to the newly created Afghan Defense Ministry earn a voucher for $100, clothing, 200 kilograms of food, and identification papers. The disarmament in Gardayz came after another swap in October in the northern province of Konduz, where some 1,000 soldiers gave up their weapons. Afghan Defense Minister Mohammed Qasim Fahim said, "Implementation of this program will take Afghanistan out of its problems." Many Pashtun tribesmen remain reluctant to disarm, however, because ethnic Tajiks dominate the Afghan Defense Ministry. MK
 AFGHAN GOVERNOR CLAIMS U.S.-LED AIR STRIKES KILL SIX CIVILIANS...Air strikes launched by U.S. forces in Afghanistan killed six civilians in the eastern Paktika Province, Governor Mohammad Ali Jalali said on 17 November, according to a Reuters report. The bombings came as U.S.-led forces undertook operations against militants in Paktika 15 November, Jalali said. "Six civilians lost their lives," Jalali said. "I don't know if they were all members of the same family or from different families." Jalali said the bombs fell in the Barmal District of Paktika, close to the Pakistani border, near a U.S. base in Shkin. Forces led by the United States have come under frequent attacks from forces loyal to the former Taliban regime or and Al-Qaeda militants in the area, Jalali said. U.S. military spokesman Major Bryan Hilferty, speaking to AP, acknowledged fighting in the area but denied U.S. involvement in civilian deaths, saying the dead were insurgents. MK
 ...BUT U.S. DENIES THE CLAIMAn unidentified spokesman for the U.S.-led forces in Afghanistan denied the report that six civilians were killed in operations that took place in Barmal District of Paktika Province on 14 November, the BBC reported on 17 November. The spokesman said five suspected members of Al-Qaeda were killed in the operations. AT
 EU WELCOMES AFGHAN CONSTITUTION, WORRIES OVER OPIUM-POPPY FARMSThe European Union on 17 November hailed Afghanistan's efforts to adopt a constitution but voiced concern over a resurgence of opium-poppy farming in the country, AFP reported. An EU foreign ministers' statement said they hope to see a final constitution for Afghanistan "based on the primacy of international law, democratic principles, respect for human rights including gender equality and social justice." A Constitutional Loya Jirga of 500 delegates is to meet beginning on 10 December for a constitutional debate in a further step toward presidential elections slated for June 2004. EU ministers said they have "serious" concerns about poppy farming and opium production in Afghanistan nonetheless. The ministers cited "little effective law enforcement" while praising a new antidrug strategy announced by the government of Afghan Transitional Administration Chairman Hamid Karzai. The ministers also welcomed initiatives to broaden Afghanistan's NATO-led International Security Assistance Force (ISAF) beyond Kabul, as well as plans by several EU countries to field Provincial Reconstruction Teams (PRTs) (see "RFE/RL Afghanistan Report," 30 October and 6 and 13 November 2003). MK
 CPA, IRAQI GOVERNING COUNCIL AGREE ON POLITICAL PROCESSThe Coalition Provisional Authority (CPA) in Iraq and the Iraqi Governing Council signed an agreement on 15 November detailing the political process for the transfer of power to a new Iraqi government, the CPA's website (http://www.cpa-iraq.org) announced the same day. The agreement calls for the drafting of a "fundamental law" that would "set forth the scope and structure of the sovereign Iraqi transitional administration," joint security arrangements, the selection of a transitional national assembly through caucuses in each of the 18 Iraqi governorates by 31 May, and the election by the national assembly of an executive branch by 30 June, at which time the CPA would be dissolved. Iraqis would also adopt a permanent constitution through a constitutional convention to be held by 15 March 2005. The fundamental law would expire on 31 December 2005, when national elections would be held to establish a new Iraqi government. KR
 COALITION INTENSIFIES SEARCH FOR AL-DURICoalition forces in Iraq have stepped up their search for former Iraqi Revolutionary Command Council (RCC) Vice Chairman Izzat Ibrahim al-Duri, who is suspected of organizing attacks against coalition soldiers in Iraq, AP reported on 17 November. Al-Duri, who served as Saddam Hussein's number two, is sixth on the U.S. list of the 55-most wanted Iraqis from the deposed Hussein regime. Iraqi Governing Council member and President for the month of November Jalal Talabani told Al-Jazeera television on 5 November that he tried to negotiate al-Duri's surrender to coalition forces "shortly after the fall" of the Hussein regime. According to Talabani, Al-Duri set three conditions: first, that he not be extradited to Kuwait, where a death sentence has reportedly been issued against him for his role in the 1991 Gulf War; second, that he be given medical treatment for his ailing health; and third, that he be granted a pardon. Talabani said that the United States agreed to the first two conditions but refused the third, saying al-Duri must be held accountable for his role in crimes against the Iraqi people. KR
 ITALIAN DIPLOMAT RESIGNS FROM CPAAn Italian diplomat has reportedly resigned from his position with Iraq's Coalition Provisional Authority due to frustration with the CPA's administration of Iraq, Rome's RAI Uno television reported on 17 November. "The settling up of a provisional government is suffering from the general situation of uncertainty and failure surrounding the wider coalition-sponsored Iraq process. I believe this is a situation of complete paralysis," Marco Calamai, the CPA's representative in Al-Nasiriyah, told the news channel one day before his 17 November resignation. British administrators based in the southern Iraqi city of Al-Basrah have likewise voiced concerns in recent days that Washington has focused coalition resources on Baghdad and northern Iraq to the detriment of the southern areas (see "RFE/RL Iraq Report," 14 November 2003). KR
 CIA UNABLE TO DETERMINE AUTHENTICITY OF PURPORTED HUSSEIN TAPEThe U.S. Central Intelligence Agency (CIA) said on 17 November that its technical analysis of an audiotape purportedly of deposed Iraqi President Hussein is "inconclusive" as to whether or not the former leader recorded the tape, Reuters reported the same day. The speaker on the audiotape, dated the middle of the month of Ramadan and broadcast by Al-Arabiyah television on 16 November, claims that Iraqis will not be deceived by "new agents" of the United States and Britain, "even if some used to assume ranking positions" in the former Iraqi government. The speaker calls on Iraqis to "keep pressure" on the coalition, saying, "If the tyrants find [Iraq] difficult, let them try more months and a longer period of time. They will only claim the lives of more people, destroy, and loot, but they will never gain anything other than failure." KR
 WHO IS IN CHARGE OF UKRAINE?By Taras Kuzio
Recent contradictory events in Ukraine force us to choose between two conclusions. The first is that President Leonid Kuchma is no longer in control of political life in Ukraine and has become a puppet of presidential administration head Viktor Medvedchuk, who is chairman of the oligarchic Social Democratic Party-united (SDPU-u). Medvedchuk reportedly relishes playing the same behind-the-scenes role that former Russian oligarch Boris Berezovskii did in that country in the last years of Boris Yeltsin's presidency.
The second option is to conclude that Kuchma remains in charge of daily political life in Ukraine, but is simply playing a game of deception in league with Medvedchuk. Under this scenario, Kuchma is saying one thing to the EU, NATO, and foreign diplomats while simultaneously ordering Medvedchuk to do the opposite. Analysts believe this conclusion is more likely to be true.
In February, then-National Security and Defense Council Secretary Yevhen Marchuk said at a Kyiv conference that "the time for declarations and the elaboration of intentions has passed" with regard to Ukraine's Euro-Atlantic integration. Marchuk became defense minister in June and is known to be a strong supporter of cooperation with, and integration into, NATO. Kuchma also complained on the eve of the annual EU-Ukraine summit in October that he is tired of waiting for the EU to offer Ukraine a timetable for membership.
Marchuk's problem is that the left opposition -- the Communists and Socialists -- are hostile to NATO membership, which has strong support only from the opposition National Democrats. There is broader political support for joining the EU, but membership of that organization is seen as far more unrealistic than of NATO.
The pro-presidential center is either ambivalent or -- in the case of Medvedchuk -- even hostile to NATO membership, something that gives him added incentive to undermine Ukraine's drive toward NATO. Support for NATO membership is low within the pro-presidential oligarchic parties.
The shared preoccupation of Kuchma and the pro-presidential center with blocking a victory by Our Ukraine leader Viktor Yushchenko in the 2004 presidential election could present another obstacle to Ukraine's NATO aspirations. A repeat of Ukraine's democratic 1994 election process, which resulted in a smooth transfer of power from Leonid Kravchuk to Kuchma, seems unlikely. The crucial difference between 1994 and 2004, however, is that the issue of presidential immunity and the fate of the oligarchs and their assets has only recently become an issue. In 1994 there were no oligarchs, as economic reform had yet to begin. The issue of immunity from prosecution for Kravchuk simply never came up.
On 10 November, a joint meeting of three parliamentary committees was held to discuss alleged violations of the law by the security forces and the Interior Ministry in Donetsk on 31 October, when Yushchenko's party was prevented from holding a regional congress. At that meeting, leading SDPU-u member Nestor Shufrych told opposition deputies, "You are struggling for power, but nobody will transfer this to you."
It is widely believed that Medvedchuk and the SDP-u have the most to lose from a Yushchenko victory -- as they did during the 1999-2001 Yushchenko government. Medvedchuk therefore sees his role as twofold. First, he must maintain Kuchma in office beyond next year's elections, either through a third term or by amending the constitution. Medvedchuk is opposed to either Yushchenko or Prime Minister Viktor Yanukovych becoming president. Secondly, he must block the emergence of any alliances between the pro-presidential clans and Yushchenko's Our Ukraine.
Yushchenko took with him to Donetsk a large group of EU ambassadors so that they could witness firsthand the tactics employed against the opposition by the presidential administration. After Donetsk, he met with 11 Western ambassadors and showed them a 15-minute film about the Donetsk events. German Ambassador to Ukraine Dietmar Studemann was aghast at the Donetsk events, and he told the online newspaper "Glavred," that they were "completely inadmissible...from the point of view of civilized European countries." Studemann said the Donetsk events showed a "well-thought-out action developing in line with someone's scenario."
Hanne Severinsen, head of the Parliamentary Assembly of the Council of Europe's monitoring committee on Ukraine, said last week that "if there is no possibility of enjoying freedom of assembly, then we cannot expect there to be fair and free elections" in Ukraine. The EU troika issued a "demarche" to the Ukrainian Foreign Ministry on 7 November, the same day that the largest faction in the European parliament, the center-right European Peoples Party, condemned the Donetsk events. Visiting Kyiv on 10 November, EU External Affairs Commissioner Chris Patten also warned Kuchma that the EU will closely monitor the election campaign.
The United States and other NATO countries repeated these condemnations. U.S. Ambassador John Herbst said that after Donetsk he understood that a "normal election campaign" is impossible in Ukraine. Such presidential tactics would harm Ukraine's bilateral relations with the United States and Ukraine's efforts at integration into NATO, he said. At a Kyiv conference on Euro-Atlantic integration, ambassadors from NATO member states made clear that Ukraine's chances of joining the alliance are contingent on its holding democratic elections.
If Medvedchuk's tactics against the opposition continue unchanged in the year preceding the 2004 election, their impact on Ukraine's efforts toward Euro-Atlantic integration will be disastrous. After Donetsk, Our Ukraine continued to face similar problems that prevented the holding of regional congresses in Sumy, Lutsk, and the Crimea.
On 11 November, Kuchma issued a secret decree calling upon the security forces to investigate the blocking of Our Ukraine congresses around Ukraine. This is ironic as leaked internal documents signed by the deputy head of the presidential administration prove that the executive branch is actually behind these very tactics against the opposition, tactics that the EU, Council of Europe and NATO have condemned.
At the same time, Kuchma reportedly assured Herbst in a recent private conversation that next year's elections in Ukraine will be free and fair. A November poll by the Ukrainian Democratic Circle on behalf of the Institute of Politics revealed public doubts, with a staggering 72 percent of Ukrainians not believing that next year's elections will be free and fair and only 6 percent thinking otherwise.
Taras Kuzio is a resident fellow at the Centre for Russian and East European studies of the University of Toronto.