|Sunday, 17 November 2019|
RFE/RL Newsline, 04-02-13
From: Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty <http://www.rferl.org>
 YUKOS SECURITY OFFICIAL KEPT IN PRETRIAL DETENTION...Moscow's Basmannyi Raion Court ruled on 12 February to keep senior Yukos security official Aleksei Pichugin in pretrial detention until 19 April, Interfax reported. The prosecutor in the case presented a medical certificate from Moscow's Lefortovo remand prison, where Pichugin is incarcerated, indicating that he is healthy enough to remain in prison for five more weeks. However, Pichugin's lawyer, Tatyana Akimtseva, said the medical certificate does not give an accurate picture of the state of her client's health, given that he has reportedly developed diabetes, is losing weight, and is "seriously ill." The court, however, ruled in favor of the prosecutor and extended Pichugin's incarceration. Pichugin, who has been in jail since the end of June, is accused of masterminding the murder of a couple in Tambov and an attempt on the life of Olga Kostina, a former aide to jailed former Yukos CEO Mikhail Khodorkovskii (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 27 January 2004). JB
 ...AS NEWSPAPER REPORTS NEW CRIMINAL CHARGES ARE IMPENDINGIn another Yukos-related case, the Interior Ministry's Central Federal District branch is investigating the alleged embezzlement of assets from the Ust-Ilimsk Forestry Complex (UILK), "Vremya novostei" reported on 13 February. In the mid-1990s, Polmit, a Menatep subsidiary, acquired nearly 75 percent of UILK, in which it was obligated to invest $182 million. According to "Vremya novostei," Polmit invested veksels, or promissory notes, in UILK rather than real money, but could not comply with a court order to return 51 percent of UILK to the government because the shares were missing, some of them having been sold to other Menatep-controlled structures. A criminal investigation was launched but went nowhere. The case has reportedly been reopened and a major Yukos shareholder, Mikhail Brudno, could face embezzlement charges. Brudno is one of three major Yukos shareholders for whom the Russian authorities have released international arrest warrants(see "RFE/RL Newsline," 22 January 2004). "Vremya novostei" reported that the other two wanted Yukos shareholders -- Leonid Nevzlin and Vasilii Shakhnovskii -- could be charged with embezzling assets from the Eastern Oil Company (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 6 February 2004). JB
 ATOMIC ENERGY MINISTER PRAISES U.S. PRESIDENT'S SPEECHAleksandr Rumyantsev told journalists on 12 February that he supports "every point" in the speech U.S. President George W. Bush gave on 11 February in which he called for tougher international action to prevent the proliferation of weapons of mass destruction, RIA-Novosti reported. Asked whether Bush's speech applied to Russia's nuclear cooperation with Iran, Rumyantsev said: "Without doubt, the United States criticizes us and thinks we shouldn't cooperate with Iran. However, in cooperating with Iran, we are not violating any international laws, and we do not agree that we have to get out of this market." Bush's speech, Rumyantsev said, was about transfers of technology that can be used to make weapons, which he called "a completely different direction." As to U.S. fears that four or five years after Iran's Bushehr reaction goes on line Iran will have enough nuclear fuel to withdraw from the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty unilaterally, Rumyantsev said, "theoretically such a possibility exists, but then the...international community will react immediately." JB
 FOREIGN MINISTER PROMISES TO SUPPORT RUSSIAN BUSINESSES IN IRAQForeign Minister Igor Ivanov said on 12 February that President Vladimir Putin has instructed his government to give "steady" support to Russian business in Iraq, RIA-Novosti reported. "Our goal is to create to the greatest extent possible the necessary conditions -- both political and from the point of view of security -- so that our companies can make a contribution to Iraq's recovery," Ivanov said. He also expressed the hope that the return of sovereignty to Iraq and a concomitant improvement in the security situation will allow Russian companies that "traditionally" worked in Iraq to return and participate in rebuilding the country. State Duma Foreign Affairs Committee Chairman Konstantin Kosachev (Unified Russia), for his part, said that a majority in the State Duma supports President Putin's policy vis-a-vis Iraq, RIA-Novosti reported on 12 February. JB
 TAJIK PRESIDENT KEPT INFORMED OF ST. PETERSBURG MURDER PROBE...Imomali Rakhmonov has asked to be kept informed about developments in the investigation into the murder of a nine-year-old Tajik girl, Khursheda Sultanova, in St. Petersburg on 9 February, RIA-Novosti reported on 12 February. No one has yet been arrested for the murder, but Russian media reported that the killers were teenagers who shouted racial epithets during the attack. According to Rakhmonov's press secretary, Abdufattokh Sharipov, the Tajik president conveyed his condolences to the murdered girl's relatives and ordered Tajikistan's diplomatic mission in Russia to give her family moral and material support. Her body was flown to Tajikistan for burial on 12 February, vesti.ru reported. JB
 ...AS MEDIA DETAIL EARLIER RACIST ATTACKS IN ST. PETERSBURGBoth "Nezavisimaya gazeta" and lenta.ru published articles on Sultanova's murder on 12 February that treated it as but the latest in a series of racially motivated attacks in St. Petersburg over the last 1 1/2 years. On 21 September, according to the newspapers, approximately 10 "skinheads" armed with chains and sticks attacked a group young Romany women and girls, beating them unconscious. A six-year-old girl died from the attack, while a seven-year-old girl and two young women were hospitalized with serious injuries. Three of the attackers were arrested and charged with murder. JB
 UPPER LEGISLATIVE CHAMBER HEAD COULD BE POSSIBLE SUCCESSOR TO PUTIN...At least four central newspapers this week have suggested that the Kremlin is grooming Federation Council Chairman and presidential candidate Sergei Mironov as a possible candidate in the 2008 presidential election. "Argumenty i fakty," No. 6, reported that rumors in Russia "indicate that the presidential campaign of 2004 may be a kind of test of Mironov's strength" for the 2008 election. "Novye izvestiya" on 12 February argued that Mironov is "campaigning harder than anybody else" because the 2008 election is getting closer. "Trud" reported on 11 February that Mironov has neither confirmed nor denied that he plans to run in 2008, to which the newspaper concluded: "In Russia, silence indicates agreement." "Russkii Kurer" the same day suggested that running as a candidate in a national election is providing Mironov with invaluable experience that will serve him well "four years from now." JAC
 ...AS OTHER NAMES SEEN AS MORE LIKELYState Duma Deputy Vladimir Ryzhkov (independent) told "Kommersant-Daily" on 13 February that he believes the most likely successor to Putin is either State Duma Speaker Boris Gryzlov or deputy presidential administration head Viktor Ivanov. "They are close to him in biography and in views," Ryzhkov said. However, National Strategy Council member Stanislav Belkovskii said he does not believe Putin will choose someone from his inner circle because that would create divisions within in it. He told RosBalt on 12 February that someone from the "patriotic camp," such as State Duma Deputy Speaker Dmitrii Rogozin or a person "in his format," would be a likely choice, because it has to be someone who is well-known. "Putin will search for a successor not from his closest circle, but it will undoubtedly be a person who is loyal to him," Belkovskii said. JAC
 RYBKIN FLIES TO LONDON TO SEE BEREZOVSKII...Ksenia Ponomareva, campaign manager for presidential candidate Ivan Rybkin, whose whereabouts were recently unknown as he spent time in Ukraine, said in London on 12 February that "Rybkin currently believes he will not withdraw his candidacy," "Kommersant-Daily" reported on 13 February. The previous day, Rybkin said he would take a week to think over whether or not to stay in the race (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 12 February 2004). Ponomareva said she and Rybkin traveled to London to meet with Rybkin's financial sponsor, London-based former oligarch Boris Berezovskii. She also said that there were many questions that Rybkin could not answer during his interview with Ekho Moskvy on 11 February, but now he is ready. Rybkin was scheduled to give a press conference in London on 13 February. JAC
 ...AS COMPARISON IS MADE WITH SKURATOV"Komsomolskaya pravda" on 12 February reported that, according to its sources in Kyiv law enforcement agencies, Rybkin went to Kyiv to meet with his blonde heartthrob, whom he met there three years ago. Anna Politkovskaya, writing in "Novaya gazeta," No. 10, had a different take on the Rybkin affair. She called the Rybkin incident "Skuratov-gate No. 2," in an allusion to former Prosecutor-General Yurii Skuratov, who fell from grace when a person closely resembling Skuratov was caught on video dallying naked with towel-clad prostitutes (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 6 September 1999). According to Politkovskaya, the purpose in both incidents is the same: to discredit someone who "opened their mouth." JAC
 ANOTHER CANDIDATE DROPS OUT OF PRESIDENTIAL ELECTION DEBATESPresidential candidate and Union of Rightist Forces Political Council member Irina Khakamada announced on 12 February that she will no longer take part in broadcast election debates in which representatives of the Liberal Democratic Party of Russia (LDPR) participate, Russian news agencies reported. Khakamada participated on 11 February in a taped debate with LDPR candidate Oleg Malyshkin, Communist Party candidate Nikolai Kharitonov, and Motherland faction leader Sergei Glazev. Federation Council Chairman and candidate Sergei Mironov did not participate in that debate because he said his schedule was too full, gazeta.ru reported. However, he will participate in debates scheduled for 12 and 13 February, according to his official website. President Putin announced earlier that he will not participate in the debates. Putin's official campaign website (http://www.putin2004.ru) was launched on 11 February. JAC
 BASHKIR AUTHORITIES PROMISE TO BE MORE OPEN WITH REMAINING MEDIA OUTLETSSpeaking at a press conference on 12 February, Rostislav Murzagulov, the new press secretary for Bashkir President Murtaza Rakhimov, announced that the presidential administration plans to adopt a new information policy, RosBalt reported. Murzagulov promised that relations between journalists and the republican authorities will become more open and professional, according to korpunkt.ru. Murzagulov said he did not want to reveal all of the plans, but that those who work with journalists in the republic are "expecting surprises." He added that other executive organs in the republic will introduce changes and "legal correctives" into their work with the media. Last month, city officials in Ufa shut down the Stolitsa television station, claiming that the building that houses the broadcaster interfered with electricity cables, RFE/RL's Ufa correspondent reported on 30 January. Stolitsa was established by Sergei Veremeenko, a participant in the republic's presidential election in December. The station was known for its independent coverage of republican political policies, according to the correspondent. JAC
 GOSKOMSTAT OFFERS POPULATION SNAPSHOTThe results of the 2002 census confirm that the proportion of older citizens in the overall share of Russian population continues to grow concurrently with Russia having one of the lowest life-expectancy rates in Europe, "Izvestiya" reported on 12 February, citing State Statistics Committee Chairman Vladimir Sokolin. According to the daily, Russian men on average live to be 58 years old, while women live to the age of 72. At the same time, in comparison with the 1989 census, the average age of the population has increased by 4.3 years. The daily also reported that according to recently published research, Russia occupies second place in the world in term of murders, with 29 murders for every 100 people. "The only country where the chance of dying at the hands of a murderer is higher is Colombia," "Izvestiya" added. Russia is also No. 2 among the countries of the former Soviet Union in terms of suicide, following Lithuania. The 2002 census results also showed that English is the second-most-popular language in Russia, with 4.8 percent of the population being able to converse freely in that language, according to RIA-Novosti on 12 February. Tatar is third and German fourth. JAC
 WATER SUPPLIES TO DISPLACED-PERSONS CAMPS CUTWater supplies to at least three camps in Ingushetia for displaced persons who fled the war in neighboring Chechnya have been cut off, chechenpress.com reported on 13 February. The displaced persons believe the move is intended to pressure them to leave the camps and return to Chechnya. LF
Transcaucasia And Central Asia
 ARMENIAN PEACEKEEPING DETACHMENT LEAVES FOR KOSOVA...A detachment of 33 Armenian servicemen on 12 February flew to Kosova, where they will serve in the NATO-led multinational peacekeeping force as part of a Greek peacekeeping battalion, Noyan Tapan and RFE/RL's Yerevan bureau reported. It is the first time that Armenian servicemen have participated in such a mission abroad. The Greek government has provided the Armenian servicemen with military equipment, including flak jackets and night-vision binoculars, and will pay them a daily allowance of 12 euros ($15) during their six-month tour of duty. LF
 ...WHILE GEORGIAN PEACEKEEPERS' DEPARTURE FOR IRAQ AGAIN DELAYEDA group of 217 Georgian peacekeeping troops who were originally scheduled to leave for Iraq on 2 February to augment the Georgian military experts already serving there has still not left Tbilisi, Georgian media reported. Their departure was first postponed until 9 February because no U.S. transport aircraft are available, according to Caucasus Press on 5 February. It has since been again delayed until 20 February for the same reason, Caucasus Press reported on 13 February. LF
 AZERBAIJAN WANTS TO BEGIN KARABAKH TALKS FROM SCRATCH...Azerbaijani Foreign Minister Vilayat Guliev told Baku's Trend news agency on 12 February that as there are no principles on which a solution to the Karabakh conflict could be based that are acceptable to both parties to that conflict, Azerbaijan has the right to demand that negotiations on such a settlement begin again from scratch, Turan and zerkalo.az reported. Guliev's Armenian counterpart Vartan Oskanian said last month that restarting the negotiating process from the beginning would be "an unfortunate loss of time" (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 22 January 2004). Commenting on the recent informal suggestion by Russian First Deputy Foreign Minister Vyacheslav Trubnikov that the Armenian and Azerbaijani communities of Nagorno-Karabakh be included in the negotiations on a settlement, Guliev said that would be possible only after unspecified basic agreements are reached. LF
 ...AS KARABAKH LEADER ADVOCATES DIRECT CONTACTS WITH BAKUInterfax on 12 February quoted Arkadii Ghukasian, president of the unrecognized Nagorno-Karabakh Republic, as saying at a meeting with representatives of British and U.S. NGOs that his republic wants to establish direct contacts with Baku. Ghukasian said that the absence of any such direct contacts is hindering a solution to the conflict. The Azerbaijani leadership continues to insist that it will negotiate only with Armenia. Also on 12 February, the independent Armenian daily "Azg" quoted one of Ghukasian's aides as saying that Karabakh is "isolated" from the search for a solution to the conflict, and that European organizations are currently proposing plans to resolve the conflict that favor Azerbaijan. LF
 AZERBAIJAN'S PRESS WATCHDOG TARGETS EXTORTIONAflatun Amashev, the head of the independent Press Council set up one year ago (see "RFE/RL Caucasus Report," 13 March 2003), told journalists in Baku on 12 February that he has received a number of threats since accusing journalists from four newspapers of extortion, Turan reported. On 11 February, Amashev said at a press conference that the council has received complaints about unnamed journalists from the newspapers "Inam yolu," Problemlyar," "Iki Neshtyar," and "Khronika." On 12 February, he said the council is investigating such complaints about seven newspapers. LF
 ELECTRICITY SUPPLY CUT TO INDEPENDENT AZERBAIJANI PRINTING HOUSEThe cables supplying power to the Chap Evi publishing house in Baku were permanently severed on 11 February, Turan reported. The company operating the city's electricity distribution supply has offered to lay a new cable at a cost of $12,000, which the printing house cannot afford. LF
 NEW GEORGIAN DEFENSE, EDUCATION MINISTERS NAMEDDeputy Defense Minister Gela Bezhuashvili told journalists in Tbilisi on 12 February he has accepted an offer from Minister of State Zurab Zhvania to head the Defense Ministry, Georgian media reported. Bezhuashvili has abandoned a one-year course of study at Harvard to take up his new post. Also on 12 February, Zhvania named Kakha Lomaya to head the Education Ministry, Caucasus Press reported. Some parliament deputies objected to that proposal on the grounds that Lomaya previously headed the Soros Fund Office in Tbilisi for several years, according to ITAR-TASS on 12 February. Zhvania dismissed those objections as "not convincing," and said he is confident Lomaya will discharge his new duties efficiently. LF
 GEORGIANS DEMAND ARREST OF ABKHAZ CRIMINAL KINGPINAt the weekly meeting between Georgian and Abkhaz authorities and representatives of the UN Observer Mission and the Russian peacekeeping force deployed in the Abkhaz conflict zone, the Georgian representative demanded on 12 February that the Abkhaz take measures against reputed criminal kingpin Volmer Butba, who operates in Abkhazia's southernmost Gali Raion, Caucasus Press reported. Butba allegedly dispatched hired killers to western Georgia last month to murder guerrilla leader Dato Shengelia. Meanwhile, the Abkhaz representative at the 12 February meeting said their investigations have ruled out the possibility that Georgian NGO head David Badzagua, who as kidnapped in western Georgia late last month, is being held captive in Abkhazia (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 29 January 2004). LF
 HEAD OF KAZAKH HUMAN RIGHTS COMMISSION SAYS MANY CITIZENS' COMPLAINTS GROUNDLESSThe Human Rights Commission on 12 February celebrated its 10th anniversary with its chairman, veteran politician Zhabaikhan Abdildin, telling a press conference in Astana that many citizens' complaints received by the commission are groundless, Interfax-Kazakhstan and khabar.kz reported. Abdildin admitted that of the approximately 700 complaints received by the commission each year, only about 15 percent are resolved in favor of the complainant. He said about one-third of the complaints are against court judgments, while many others concern violations of social and labor rights and inappropriate actions by law enforcement officials. According to Deputy General Prosecutor Abdrashit Zhukenov, in 2003 the Human Rights Commission, which is attached to the president's office, assisted the Prosecutor-General's Office in pursuing 39 criminal cases of illegal use of force against convicts. BB
 KAZAKH OFFICIALS TRAVEL TO GUANTANAMO TO 'PROTECT CITIZENS' RIGHTS'A group of Kazakh government officials has set out for Guantanamo Bay to "protect the rights of Kazakh citizens," Foreign Ministry Consular Department Director Valikhan Konurbaev told a news conference in Astana on 12 February, gazeta.kz reported. Four Kazakh citizens have been incarcerated at Guantanamo since their capture by U.S. troops during military operations in Afghanistan in 2001. The Kazakh Foreign Ministry has repeatedly attempted to raise the issue of the Kazakh prisoners, but Kazakhstan and the U.S. military disagree on the status of the detainees. BB
 KAZAKH, UZBEK OFFICIALS REVIEW WATER PROTOCOLAfter the four-country meeting in Bishkek on 11 February that discussed water-use issues pertaining to the lower Syrdarya River (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 12 February 2004), Kazakh Agriculture Minister and Deputy Prime Minister Akhmetzhan Yesimov traveled to Tashkent on 12 February to discuss on a bilateral basis the outcome of the Bishkek talks, KazInform and khabar.kz reported. After meeting with Uzbek Prime Minister Shavkat Mirzayoev, Yesimov told journalists that he sought to enlist the help of the Uzbek government in ensuring the agreements reached in Bishkek will be implemented. Yesimov said the two sides did not reach a full understanding, although Uzbekistan promised to meet its obligations included in the Bishkek protocol, so Kazakhstan is giving serious consideration to constructing an additional reservoir on the lower Syrdarya to absorb excess water. He said Kazakhstan's neighbors objected when notified of its intention to build the new reservoir. BB
 KYRGYZ PARLIAMENT ADOPTS LANGUAGE LAWThe Legislative Assembly on 12 February adopted a controversial law on use of the state language (Kyrgyz) that was originally proposed by State Secretary Osmonakun Ibraimov, kabar.kg, Interfax and RIA-Novosti reported. The law requires that all state employees be competent enough in the Kyrgyz language to be able to use it to conduct daily business. It also gives Kyrgyz the status of a language of interethnic communication, a status previously reserved only for Russian. Parliamentarian Kabai Karabekov promptly announced that the law is unconstitutional and violates citizens' human rights, and has a clearly discriminatory character in that it divides the citizens into those who may rule and those who may not. BB
 TURKMENISTAN PLANS SATELLITE CHANNEL TO TOUT ACHIEVEMENTSTurkmen President Saparmurat Niyazov announced on 12 February that he has instructed the State Radio and Television concern to begin the process of setting up equipment for a fourth national television channel that is intended to propagandize Turkmenistan's economic achievements, turkmenistan.ru reported on 13 February. Unlike the three existing channels that currently broadcast only in Turkmen, the new satellite channel will also broadcast in Russian, English, Chinese, French, and Persian. The new channel will be supervised jointly by the Information and Foreign Affairs ministries. BB
 UZBEK WOMAN SENTENCED TO SIX YEARS AFTER PROTESTING SON'S DEATHThe court of Tashkent's Shaikhontokhur Raion on 12 February sentenced a 62-year-old Uzbek woman, Fatima Mukadirova, to six years in a strict-regime labor colony, Prima news agency reported. She was officially sentenced on charges that she attempted to overthrow the constitutional system, but domestic and foreign human rights activists claim those charges came in response to her appeals to international organizations after her son, Muzaffar Avazov, died in the notorious Jaslyk prison in 2002. Mukadirova reportedly supplied photographs to those organizations to support her claims that Avazov had been tortured. The Initiative Group of Independent Human Rights Activists of Uzbekistan reported that Mukadirova's trial was closed, with police turning away human rights activists, representatives of international organizations working in Uzbekistan, foreign diplomats and journalists, and relatives of the accused. Mukadirova's lawyer said he intends to appeal the sentence. BB
Central And Eastern Europe
 RUSSIAN SUPPLIERS CONTINUE GAS WAR WITH BELARUSThe supply of Russian gas to Belarus was fully halted for several hours on 12 February after gas traders Itera and Transnafta said Belarus exhausted its contracted gas volume for February, RFE/RL's Belarusian Service reported. The same day, Belarusian national gas-pipeline operator Beltranshaz reportedly signed a contract for the supply of 360 million cubic meters of gas from Transnafta, which is expected to satisfy Belarus's demand for gas for five to six days. Russian state-controlled Gazprom halted gas supplies to Belarus this year in an attempt to extract a higher price for gas deliveries and favorable terms in a bid to buy a stake in Beltranshaz (see "RFE/RL Poland, Belarus, and Ukraine Report," 13 and 27 January 2004). "Belarus continues to insist on a price that is below the market price, and even below cost. We cannot understand why Gazprom should operate at a loss," Belapan quoted Gazprom deputy head Aleksandr Ryazanov as saying the same day. JM
 BELARUSIAN VENDORS STAGE WALKOUTShopkeepers of kiosks at many of Belarus's nonfood markets joined a daylong walkout on 12 February to protest government policy regarding small businesses and show solidarity with hunger-striking colleagues in Vitsebsk (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 6 February 2004), Belapan reported, quoting the leader of the Perspektyva association of small traders, Anatol Shumchanka. Shumchanka claimed that all or nearly all such booths were closed at markets in Minsk, Vitsebsk, Orsha, Rechytsa, Homel, Maladzechna, Barysau, and Polatsk. JM
 UKRAINE'S PRESIDENT SLAMS OPPOSITION, DEFENDS CONSTITUTIONAL REFORMSpeaking at a news conference following talks with Polish President Aleksander Kwasniewski in Warsaw on 12 February, Ukrainian President Leonid Kuchma accused the Our Ukraine opposition bloc of obstructing the Polish-Ukrainian commemoration of the so-called 1943-44 Volhynia massacres (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 14 July 2003), Inter Television reported. Kuchma also said Our Ukraine, which controls the Lviv City Council, prevented a visit by Kwasniewski to Lviv in 2002 to unveil a monument to Polish soldiers killed in combat with Ukrainian troops in 1918. Turning to the ongoing constitutional reform in Ukraine, Kuchma said its main objective is to install a political mechanism that could form parliamentary coalitions responsible for the activities of cabinets. Kuchma assured journalists that after the constitutional reform is implemented, the Ukrainian president will still have more powers than his Polish counterpart. JM
 UKRAINIAN OPPOSITION CONDEMNS 'POLITICAL' DECISION TO DROP RFE/RL BROADCASTSUkrainian opposition leaders responded angrily to an 11 February decision by radio broadcaster Dovira to terminate the FM retransmission of RFE/RL's Ukrainian Service programs on 17 February, charging that the move is intended to limit the influence of free media in Ukraine, Ukrainian news agencies reported. "It is undoubtedly a political decision of the Ukrainian authorities, made at the highest level," Interfax quoted Our Ukraine leader Viktor Yushchenko as saying. The Yuliya Tymoshenko Bloc said in a statement that Dovira's decision is an "ill-disguised government order" and "another brutal attack on the freedom of speech," according to the "Ukrayinska pravda" website (http://www2.pravda.com.ua). "Persecutions against the free media, manipulation of the pro-government media by the presidential administration, the decision to end Radio Liberty broadcasts, and the court ruling to close [daily newspaper] 'Silski visti' are part of the government's efforts to 'cleanse' the media ahead of the presidential election," the Yuliya Tymoshenko Bloc added. Dovira Director Serhiy Kyrchihin explained the decision by saying that Radio Liberty programs clash with Dovira's pop-music format and put off younger listeners. JM
 OUR UKRAINE REPORTEDLY TRAINING 100,000 MONITORS FOR PRESIDENTIAL ELECTIONThe Our Ukraine opposition bloc has no confidence in the Central Election Commission and is training 100,000 monitors for an independent vote count in the 2004 presidential election, Interfax reported on 12 February, quoting Our Ukraine lawmaker Oleh Rybachuk. Rybachuk said Our Ukraine is planning to have two monitors at each polling station. He added that Our Ukraine wants to set up a vote-reporting center where invited journalists, diplomats, and international observers will be able to watch election returns on a "real-time histogram." JM
 ESTONIA REJECTS BILL TO BAN JOINT REFERENDUM AND ELECTIONSEstonian lawmakers on 12 February rejected a proposed amendment to the country's referendum law, submitted by the opposition Pro Patria Union, that sought to prohibit the holding of referendums on constitutional amendments simultaneously with elections, BNS reported. Supporters of the ban argued that it is necessary to prevent divergent political issues from being put to voters simultaneously, suggesting that a referendum on a constitutional amendment could have a direct effect on the campaign and outcome of an election. Noting that a referendum costs about 20 million kroons ($1.6 million) to hold, opponents of the ban cited financial concerns. The largest opposition party, the Center Party, did not participate in the 12 February vote. The bill was also supported by the ruling coalition People's Union and the opposition Social Democratic Party (formerly the Moderates), with the other two coalition members, Res Publica and the Reform Party, voting against. SG
 LATVIAN LEGISLATORS ADOPT POLITICAL-FINANCE REFORMSIn a unanimous vote on 12 February, parliament approved amendments to Latvia's party-funding law that set tough restrictions on political contributions, BNS reported. The amendments forbid corporate donations to politicians, limit private donations to funds acquired during the past three years, and set a tight limit on election campaigns. The bill, which was part of the electoral platform of former Prime Minister Einars Repse's New Era party, had been discussed for more than a year. Repse claimed that the vote on the amendments would indicate which parties are truly interested in fighting corruption. He also said negotiations on establishing a new government coalition would depend on the vote. The unanimous vote hinted at a possibility that New Era might form a coalition with its former bitter rival, the People's Party, particularly since New Era accepted the offer of People's Party parliamentary-faction head Aigars Kalvitis to discuss the matter on 13 February. Those two parties, together with For the Fatherland and Freedom/LNNK, wield a combined 53 seats in the 100-seat parliament. SG
 LITHUANIA'S RULING MAJORITY AGREES ON ELECTORAL COOPERATIONThe chairmen of the Social Democratic Party and New Union (Social Liberals) -- Prime Minister Algirdas Brazauskas and parliamentary Chairman Arturas Paulauskas, respectively -- signed an agreement on 12 February on cooperation between their parties in the run-up to and following the European Parliament and Lithuanian elections, "Kauno diena" reported the next day. The agreement calls for maintaining the ruling coalition in parliament until the end of its October session and coordinating the selection of candidates in single-mandate districts, among other things. It does not forbid negotiations with other political parties, but requires informing the other partner of such talks. The agreement makes no mention of the possible impeachment of President Rolandas Paksas or the selection of candidates for presidential elections that would have to be held if Paksas is ousted. Earlier in the week, Paulauskas said Brazauskas would be an excellent candidate for president. SG
 POLISH, UKRAINIAN PRESIDENTS DISCUSS IRAQ, EU, AND OIL PIPELINEUkrainian President Kuchma made a short visit to Warsaw on 12 February, where he discussed mutual cooperation in the Polish-led multinational division in Iraq, the power-generating and customs systems after Poland's accession to the EU, and joint projects related to the extension of the Odesa-Brody oil pipeline with Polish President Kwasniewski, Polish and Ukrainian media reported. Kwasniewski said Poland and Ukraine will seek the creation of a "serious international consortium" with the participation of EU countries to complete the Odesa-Brody-Gdansk project for transporting Caspian oil to Europe. JM
 OPPOSITION INVITES POLISH PREMIER TO RESIGNThe opposition Civic Platform has renewed its calls on Premier Leszek Miller to resign after a poll released on 12 February showed that the popularity of the Democratic Left Alliance-Labor Union (SLD-UP) ruling coalition slumped to a new low, Polish media reported. The poll, published in "Rzeczpospolita," showed that the SLD-UP could count on support of 13 percent of voters. The support for the Civic Platform was 28 percent, for Self-Defense 17 percent, for the League of Polish Families and the Law and Justice party 13 percent each, and for the Peasant Party 6 percent. "A good scenario for Poland would be to have the cabinet make tough and bold decisions and then call early elections," Civic Platform leader Donald Tusk commented. Before calling early parliamentary elections, the Civic Platform wants the SLD-UP coalition to adopt a fiscal austerity plan proposed by Economy Minister Jerzy Hausner (see "RFE/RL Poland, Belarus, and Ukraine Report," 27 January 2004). JM
 CZECH PARTY DISPUTE THREATENS COALITION'S PARLIAMENTARY MAJORITYThe leadership of the ruling Social Democratic Party (CSSD) will meet on 13-14 February to discuss the implications of a letter signed by 23 CSSD lawmakers who recently accused the party's leadership of a failure to abide by the party's electoral promises and of poor communication with the CSSD parliamentary group, CTK reported. The letter was apparently triggered by government efforts to raise tax revenues. Prime Minister Vladimir Spidla and Finance Minister Bohuslav Svoboda both rejected speculation of a party split. Sobotka said a discussion in "sharper tones" is taking place within the CSSD, but he added that this "is normal in a situation in which sweeping reforms are being proposed." The daily "Pravo" wrote on 12 February that a purported crisis within the CSSD might lead to the collapse of the ruling coalition and the CSSD's demise as a major political party. MS
 CZECH REPUBLIC TO GET NEW FINANCIAL-POLICE SQUADCabinet ministers approved a joint proposal on 12 February from Finance Minister Sobotka and Interior Minister Stanislav Gross to set up a new 250-member financial-police squad, CTK reported. The group would operate under the Interior Ministry's jurisdiction and focus on detecting serious tax and customs offenses. CTK reported that the cabinet considers fighting the "gray economy" an important element in the second stage of public-finance reform. Sobotka is also preparing a draft law that would rescind the privileged confidentiality that tax advisers now enjoy. MS
 CZECH MOSQUE PROJECT STIRS PUBLIC DEBATEMayor Vladimir Farna said on 11 February that the town hall in the northern Moravian town of Orlova has received letters from all over the country opposing a privately funded proposal to build a mosque in the locality, according to CTK. Farna claimed that most of the letters cite a fear of terrorism or a threat to the Czech Republic's Christian character as grounds for opposing the project. The local assembly voted earlier this month to commission an opinion poll to gauge public support for the project. On 8 February, the dailies "Mlada fronta Dnes" and "Pravo" reported that the project was initiated by Muhamed Gutiqi, a Kosovar Albanian who has lived in the Czech Republic for 13 years. The 200 million-crown ($7.6 million) project would reportedly be financed by the Islamic Union, and would include a library, a short-term hostel, and other facilities. Gutiqi said the mosque would serve Muslims visiting the nearby spas in Karvina and Klimkovice. A spokesman for the Islamic Foundation, a Czech-registered nongovernmental organization that financed the construction of a mosque in Brno, is quoted as saying that he has never heard of the Islamic Union and that the Muslim community in Orlova is too small to need such a large facility. MS
 SLOVAK PREMIER WANTS EURO INTRODUCED BY 2006Prime Minister Mikulas Dzurinda said during an official visit to Berlin on 11 February that Slovakia wants to meet the criteria for joining the eurozone by 2006, CTK reported. Dzurinda also said the EU's draft budget for 2007-2013, which has been criticized by wealthier EU members as excessive, should maintain the "solidarity principle" and that contributions to the budget by current EU members should be "at least maintained at the current level." Under the EU's "economic and social cohesion" principles, countries whose per capita GDPs are less than 90 percent of the EU average are entitled to receive aid for transport and environmental projects. MS
 SLOVAK PREMIER ELECTED TO LEADERSHIP OF CHRISTIAN DEMOCRATIC INTERNATIONALPrime Minister Dzurinda was elected as a deputy chairman of the Christian Democratic International in Madrid on 12 February, TASR reported. The group comprises conservative political parties and organizations. Dzurinda also met with Spanish Prime Minister Jose Maria Aznar. MS
 HUNGARIAN POLICE SAY RADIO INQUIRY HAS NOT BEEN TOSSED OUTA Budapest police spokesman said on 12 February that media reports suggesting that police have terminated an inquiry into the scandal at Tilos Radio prompted by purported anti-Christian remarks aired in December are wrong, "Magyar Hirlap" reported the next day. Meanwhile, the same daily reported that the National Radio and Television Authority (ORTT) ruled on 12 February that it will not initiate disciplinary proceedings against the station for reading a message over the air that described opposition FIDESZ Chairman Viktor Orban as a "fascist" (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 5 and 12 February 2004). MSZ
 HUNGARIAN COURT DISMISSES SLANDER CASE AGAIN FOREIGN MINISTERThe Budapest Metropolitan Court on 12 February rejected a slander case brought against Foreign Minister Laszlo Kovacs by the Prosecutor-General's Office, "Nepszabadsag" and "Nepszava" reported. The case was launched after Kovacs said in September that "instead of engaging in crime-fighting, the Prosecutor-General's Office takes positions that appear to be aiding and abetting crime" (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 16 September 2003). Ruling Socialist politicians have on several occasions requested that Prosecutor-General Peter Polt explain why criminal investigations into alleged financial abuses under the previous FIDESZ administration were halted. The court ruled that Kovacs's statement does not amount to slander, since it entails no more than an expression of an opinion. The verdict can be appealed. MS
 FORMER HUNGARIAN PREMIER WINS DEFAMATION SUIT AGAINST DEFENSE MINISTERThe Budapest Metropolitan Court on 12 February ruled that a statement made by Defense Minister Ferenc Juhasz on Info Radio on 6 November 2002 was injurious to FIDESZ Chairman Viktor Orban's reputation and created the false impression that Orban is an anti-Semite, "Magyar Nemzet" and "Nepszabadsag" reported. The court ordered Juhasz to ensure a broadcast announcement of the verdict on Info Radio at his own expense. The verdict is final. MS
 SERBIAN PARLIAMENTARY SPEAKER SETS DEADLINE FOR FORMING NEW GOVERNMENTDragan Marsicanin, who was recently elected speaker of the Serbian parliament, said in Belgrade on 12 February that he will call spring elections if a new government is not formed by 15 February, RFE/RL's South Slavic and Albanian Languages Service reported (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 12 February 2004 and "RFE/RL Balkan Report," 12 December 2003 and 9 January 2004). Elsewhere, leaders of the Democratic Party, G-17 Plus party, the Serbian Renewal Movement (SPO), and Socialist Party of Serbia (SPS) said there is no need for new elections. G-17 Plus Vice President Predrag Markovic stressed that his party is doing all it can to see that a new government is formed. However, Serbian Radical Party (SRS) leader Tomislav Nikolic said the SRS wants new elections "at all levels." PM
 TWO SERBIAN PARTIES AGREE TO MEET MINORITIES' DEMANDS ON ELECTORAL REFORMLeaders of the Democratic Party of Serbia (DSS) and Democratic Party agreed in Belgrade on 12 February that the 5 percent electoral hurdle should be dropped for parties representing ethnic minorities, RFE/RL's South Slavic and Albanian Languages Service reported. The SPS, however, said electoral legislation should not be changed in an election year. Parties representing Bosnian Muslims and Vojvodina Hungarians fielded a joint slate in the 28 December parliamentary elections but failed to meet the threshold. The Presevo Valley Albanians' parties boycotted the vote to protest the hurdle. Unlike Slovenia and Croatia, Serbia does not have legislative seats reserved for members of ethnic minorities (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 15 January 2004). PM
 U.S. OFFICIAL UPBEAT ON KOSOVAWriting in "The Wall Street Journal Europe" on 13 February, U.S. Undersecretary of State for Political Affairs Marc Grossman argued that Kosova is able to meet the "clear standards" that the international community recently set as a precondition to starting talks on the province's final status (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 5 and 13 November 2003 and "RFE/RL Balkan Report," 17 October and 19 December 2003 and 13 February 2004). "Belgrade has no veto, but success for the initiative requires the broadest support, including from political leaders in Belgrade," he noted. Grossman's article cites several areas in which the international community has achieved success in the Balkans in recent years, including NATO's successes in Bosnia, Kosova, and, together with the EU, in Macedonia. He wrote that, across the region, "political and economic reform must continue. Reconciliation is key. And nothing would advance the Euro-Atlantic integration of Balkan states faster than the transfer of [indicted war criminals] Radovan Karadzic, Ratko Mladic, and Ante Gotovina to The Hague. The [United States] and Europe, working with the people of the Balkans, will stick to our mission until we complete it." PM
 BOSNIAN SERB PARTY TO RECONSIDER GOVERNMENT ROLEMirko Sarovic, who is one of the seven-member presidium of the Serbian Democratic Party (SDS) that recently resigned en masse, told a Sarajevo television interviewer on 12 February that the presidium's decision is final, adding that the SDS will soon elect a replacement. Sarovic noted that the party's steering committee will soon discuss whether the SDS should continue to participate in the governments of the Republika Srpska and Bosnia-Herzegovina. The presidium resigned to protest the decision of High Representative Paddy Ashdown to sack Sarovic from his SDS post for allegedly helping indicted war criminal Radovan Karadzic to evade capture (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 9 and 11 February 2004 and "RFE/RL Balkan Report," 23 January 2004). PM
 MACEDONIAN UNIONS ANNOUNCE MASS PROTESTSOn 12 February, Vanco Muratovski, who heads the Federation of Trade Unions in Macedonia (SSM), announced large antigovernment protests for 16 February, "Dnevnik" reported. Muratovski said it is unacceptable that the government refuses to begin talks with the union representing the employees in the educational sector to end a three-week general strike for higher pay. Meanwhile, Finance Minister Nikola Popovski told a press conference that the government is willing to discuss lunch allowances for teachers, but he added that the state cannot afford to meet the demand for vacation bonuses (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 26 and 29 January and 4 February 2004). UB
 CROATIA SAYS IT IS LOOKING FOR INDICTED WAR CRIMINALCroatian Justice Minister Vesna Skare-Ozbolt told Reuters in Zagreb on 12 February that the authorities are "actively" looking for former General Gotovina, who is that country's most-wanted indicted war criminal. She stressed that the government's information indicates that he is not in Croatia. Carla Del Ponte, who is the Hague-based war crimes tribunal's chief prosecutor, said recently that she believes that Gotovina is still in Croatia, discounting media reports that he is in France. Croatia's failure to find and arrest Gotovina, whom the tribunal has charged with war crimes against Serbs in 1995, has been a major obstacle in Zagreb's bid to join the EU by 2007 (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 4 February 2004, and "RFE/RL Balkan Report," 5 December 2003 and 16 January 2004). PM
 EUROPE'S 'LAST WALL' FALLS IN SLOVENIAOn 12 February, the mayors of Gorizia in Italy and Nova Gorica in Slovenia met to begin the demolition of the wall that has divided their communities since the height of Cold War tensions in the region in 1947, when Yugoslavia was still a loyal ally of Moscow, London's "The Independent" reported. The final step will come on 30 April, when European Commission President Romano Prodi will symbolically complete the demolition with the tap of a hammer. Slovenia joins the EU on 1 May. PM
 USEUCOM DELEGATION ENDS INSPECTION OF POSSIBLE BASES IN ROMANIAA six-man delegation from the United States European Command (USEUCOM) on 12 February wrapped up a five-day visit to Romania during which they inspected possible sites for U.S. forward operating bases, Mediafax reported. The inspection team visited military bases in Dobrogea province, in the vicinity of the Black Sea. The visit is part of ongoing planning for the redeployment of some U.S. military bases from Western to Eastern Europe. MS
 POPULAR ACTION PARTY PETITIONS FOR GOVERNMENT'S RESIGNATIONFormer President Emil Constantinescu announced on 12 February that his Popular Action party is launching a petition drive calling on the government to resign in view of perceived failures in Romania's accession negotiations with the EU, Mediafax reported. Constantinescu said the cabinet headed by Prime Minister Adrian Nastase should be replaced by one comprising politically independent experts. He said that if a significant number of signatures are gathered, the petition will be forwarded to parliament, President Ion Iliescu, and the European Parliament. The Romanian Constitution makes no provision for such an initiative. MS
 MOLDOVAN OPPOSITION PARTIES CONCERNED ABOUT RUSSIAN DEFENSE MINISTER'S STATEMENTOpposition Our Moldova co-Chairman Vyacheslav Untila on 12 February described as "unacceptable" a statement Russian Defense Minister Sergei Ivanov reportedly made recently regarding the presence of Russian troops in Transdniester, Infotag reported. According to Untila, Ivanov said during last week's Munich Security Conference that when Moscow pledged at the 1999 Istanbul OSCE summit to withdraw its troops from Moldova and Georgia, political conditions were different than they are today. Ivanov reportedly said that Russia made that pledge after having received assurances from NATO that no considerable forces would be deployed in the East European countries about to join NATO. However, Ivanov said, the likely deployment of U.S. forces in the area changes the situation, and Russia should therefore feel at liberty to preserve its military presence in the two countries. Untila said the statement was "a slap to Moldova's face" and a reflection of "Moscow's imperial power ambitions." Popular Party Christian Democratic (PPCD) Deputy Chairman Vlad Cubreacov said in parliament on 12 February that President Vladimir Voronin, the government, and the Foreign Ministry must "adequately react" to Ivanov's statement, Flux reported. MS
 MOLDOVAN PARLIAMENTARY COMMITTEE AGREES TO LIFT PPCD LEADERS' IMMUNITYThe parliament's Judicial Committee on 12 February recommended to the plenum that the parliamentary immunity of PPCD Chairman Iurie Rosca, his deputies Cubreacov and Stefan Secareanu, and PPCD lawmaker Valentin Chilat be lifted, Flux reported. The request to lift the lawmakers' immunity was made by Prosecutor-General Valeriu Balaban, who intends to charge the four with organizing unauthorized demonstrations and with the illegal picketing of the Russian Embassy in late 2003 and early 2004 (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 6 and 12 February 2004). The decision was made in the absence of the PPCD lawmakers. MS
 TOP BRASS SEEKS REVISION OF BULGARIAN CONTINGENT'S DUTIES IN IRAQChief of General Staff General Nikola Kolev said on 12 February that he is seeking a reduction in the duties of the Bulgarian contingent stationed in Karbala, Iraq, BTA reported. Kolev suggested that a Polish battalion could take over the Bulgarian's contingent's civilian-administration duties in the city. Meanwhile, Kolev said that Bulgaria's annual contribution to NATO will be about $8 million, an amount that Foreign Minister Solomon Pasi said should be considered an investment rather than an expenditure. UB
 NEW PUBLICATION BEING LAUNCHED FOR BULGARIAN MILITARY MISSIONS ABROADBTA Director Maksim Minchev has announced that as of 16 February the news agency will begin publishing a weekly digest for Bulgarian military personnel stationed abroad, "Monitor" reported on 12 February. Minchev said "Misiya" (Mission) "will not engage in politics or commentaries, because we do not want to fish in the waters of the newspapers." The weekly publication, he said, will concentrate on providing Bulgarian soldiers with information on domestic and international issues and will be "a bridge between the soldiers and their relatives." Its circulation will be 5,000 copies. Some 800 Bulgarian soldiers are currently stationed in Iraq, Afghanistan, Kosova, and Bosnia. UB
Southwestern Asia And The Middle East
 ISLAMABAD CONCEDES POSSIBLE CROSS-BORDER RAIDS INTO AFGHANISTANPakistani President General Pervez Musharraf acknowledged on 12 February that Al-Qaeda and neo-Taliban elements might be using Pakistani territory to launch attacks inside Afghanistan, the Karachi-based daily "Dawn" reported the next day. "On the western border [with Afghanistan], certainly everything is not happening from Pakistan, but certainly something is happening from Pakistan," Musharraf said. "Let us not bluff ourselves.... Whatever is happening from Pakistan must be stopped. That is what we are trying to do." "Dawn" called Musharraf's de facto acknowledgment that militants and terrorists have been crossing his country's border into Afghanistan "Pakistan's most explicit admission" to date in the ongoing diplomatic feud over Islamabad's efforts to help curb cross-border insurgency. Western diplomats based in Islamabad have noted that Pakistan appears more willing to rein in the neo-Taliban since the new Afghan Constitution enshrined the rights of Pashtuns, Pakistan's recent allies in Afghanistan, the Karachi daily concluded. Afghan authorities have long asked Islamabad to do more to stop cross-border activities by militants. AT
 PAKISTAN ARRESTS TWO SUSPECTED TERRORISTS NEAR AFGHAN BORDERIn a raid on a village near the Afghan border, Pakistani paramilitary troops arrested two suspected members of Al-Qaeda on 12 February, AP reported. The raid took place in the village of Mir Khankhel in Jamrud, 25 kilometers northwest of Peshawar, an area dominated by Afridi Pashtun tribesmen. The suspects are reportedly a Moroccan national, Abdul Rahman, and Adnan Khan Afridi, a local resident who is believed to have been sheltering Abdul Rahman, an unidentified Pakistani intelligence official was quoted as saying. The operation in Jamrud, which lies on a main road connecting Pakistan to eastern Afghanistan, is believed to be the first in the area, AP commented. AT
 KABUL PAPER LAMENTS LACK OF SECURITYThe Kabul-based publication "Mosharekat-e Melli" wrote in a commentary on 10 February that insecurity is spreading in Afghanistan. The commentary claimed that while Afghanistan has been an insecure place in which to work and live for the last 25 years, last year marked the first time that international social workers were killed or attacked. "Mosharekat-e Melli" added that UN and other aid agencies have scaled back their activities in Afghanistan because of the surge in terrorist attacks. There are many domestic and foreign factors that "have increased barbarism and insecurity" in the country, the paper added. External factors include the insufficiency of financial contributions, a lack of policy coordination by Western countries, and "unsatisfactory cooperation of the neighboring countries like Pakistan in the eradication of terrorism," the paper said. The commentary listed several domestic problems, including a lack of progress in the disarmament process, the inability of the central government to extend its authority throughout the country, and unemployment. "Mosharekat-e Melli" warned that both Afghanistan and the world "will have to pay a great and heavy compensation" if extremists prevail. AT
 TEHRAN REJECTS U.S. NUCLEAR CONCERNSIranian Foreign Minister Kamal Kharrazi during a 12 January visit to Rome rejected recent comments by U.S. Undersecretary of State John Bolton about Tehran's nuclear activities, IRNA and RFE/RL reported. "We have decided to develop nuclear technologies for peaceful purposes and we insist on that," Kharrazi said, according to RFE/RL. "This is our right, this is our legitimate right to have access to nuclear technology for peaceful purposes." Kharrazi added that Iran does not believe nuclear weapons would contribute to its security, and he said Tehran is ready to respond to IAEA inspectors' questions. Referring to reports claiming the discovery of undeclared Iranian nuclear activities (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 12 February 2004), Bolton said the same day, according to RFE/RL, "The information that the IAEA [International Atomic Energy Agency] has learned is certainly consistent with the information that we had, and it's not surprising." BS
 TEHRAN ACKNOWLEDGES NUCLEAR-CENTRIFUGE 'SUCCESS'Iranian Foreign Ministry spokesman Hamid Reza Assefi said on 13 February that his country "has achieved major success in the technology of nuclear-fuel centrifuge," ISNA reported. International media reports the same day added details to a story about undeclared Iranian nuclear activities -- including a new centrifuge design -- that was broken by the "Financial Times" on 12 February (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 12 February 2004). "The Washington Post," the "Los Angeles Times," and "The New York Times" reported that UN inspectors discovered documents for a sophisticated uranium-enrichment machine referred to as P2 or G2, depending on the source. Tehran had not declared its possession of the technology previously, although it claimed to have been completely forthcoming in an October report to the IAEA (see "RFE/RL Iran Report," 27 October 2003). Henry Sokolski of the Nonproliferation Policy Education Center said of the discovery: "This is like saying, 'I prohibited you from having any motorized vehicles, and you declared your motor scooter, and I discovered you had a Ferrari,'" the "Los Angeles Times" reported. BS
 COALITION FOR IRAN ANNOUNCES CANDIDATE LISTCampaigning for Iran's 20 February parliamentary elections began on 12 February, and the Coalition for Iran (Etelaf Bara-yi Iran) announced the same day a list of candidates it backs for Tehran's constituencies, ILNA reported. Coalition members include reformist groups like the Executives of Construction, the Militant Clerics Association (Majma-ye Ruhaniyun-e Mubarez), the Islamic Iran Solidarity Party, and the Shiraz wing of the Office for Strengthening Unity student organization. Normally the list of candidates for Tehran would contain 30 names, but the Guardians Council barred four of the coalition's choices. The better-known names on the list include the speaker of parliament, Hojatoleslam Mehdi Karrubi, as well as other members of the legislature, such as Hojatoleslam Majid Ansari, Elias Hazrati, Mahmud Doai, Ali Hashemi-Bahramani, Jamileh Kadivar, and Soheila Jelodarzadeh. BS
 PROMINENT IRANIAN REFORMIST WITHDRAWS FROM PARLIAMENTARY RACETehran parliamentary representative Hojatoleslam Ali Akbar Mohtashami-Pur told ISNA on 13 February that he has withdrawn from this month's parliamentary elections. In addition to being a prominent reformist, Mohtashami-Pur is a member of the Militant Clerics Association (Majma-ye Ruhaniyun-e Mubarez). Seyyed Hadi Pazhuheshi-Jahromi, the Khorasan Province Election Headquarters chief, said on 12 February that 30 candidates for the parliamentary elections pulled out of the race on the first day of campaigning, ISNA reported. He did not explain the withdrawals. Before the withdrawals, the Guardians Council listed 577 candidates in Khorasan Province. BS
 UN ADVISER SAYS IRAQIS CLOSE TO CONSENSUS ON ELECTIONS...A spokesman for UN Secretary-General Kofi Annan said on 12 February that Annan's adviser on Iraq, Lakhdar Brahimi, has told the secretary-general that Iraqis are closer to reaching a consensus on a timetable for elections following his weeklong trip there, AP reported. "There is wide agreement that elections must be carefully prepared and that they must be organized in technical, security, and political conditions that give the best chance of producing a result that reflects the wishes of the Iraqi electorate and thus contributes to long-term peace and security," Annan's spokesman Fred Eckhard said. "Everyone expects elections in 2005," Reuters quoted Eckhard as saying. "The question is what can be done before June 30 and, if it can't be elections, what other way can you find to establish a legitimate government." Meanwhile, Brahimi told CNN on 12 February that "what is encouraging is that I think [Iraqis] want to go toward the rule of law, they want to go toward a government that is representative and they all agree that this can best be done through elections. The question is, when are these elections possible?" KR
 ...AS IRAQI GOVERNING COUNCIL MEMBERS SCRAPPING CAUCUS IDEAA number of Iraqi Governing Council members are reportedly moving away from a proposed U.S. plan to hold caucuses in Iraq to elect an interim Iraqi leadership, AP reported on 13 February. Several council members from different factions are now supporting a plan that would expand the Governing Council, which would assume power on the 30 June handover date. Nationwide direct elections would then be scheduled for later this year. The plan has the strongest support among the council's 13 Shi'ite representatives, according to AP. However, Sunni council member Samir Shakir Mahmud told the news agency that the proposal has not been finalized or discussed at length with UN adviser Brahimi. Meanwhile, Shi'ite Governing Council member Muwaffaq al-Rubay'i told AP that Shi'ite Grand Ayatollah Ali al-Sistani, who has pushed for early national direct elections, would support an expanded-council formula. Al-Sistani previously objected to the idea of an expanded council. KR
 U.S. DEFENSE SECRETARY SAYS ARAB TELEVISION NETWORKS DAMAGED U.S. INTERESTS IN IRAQAl-Jazeera on 13 February quoted U.S. Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld as saying that Arab television networks have damaged U.S. interests in Iraq by continuously broadcasting inaccurate information. "Undoubtedly, Al-Jazeera and Al-Arabiyah caused us great damage and harm in Iraq by continuously broadcasting wrong and inaccurate information, impairing what the coalition forces are trying to achieve in Iraq," Rumsfeld was quoted as saying. "Attempts to compete with them in that part of the world is very difficult." Al-Jazeera did not report when or where the defense secretary made the comments. KR
 U.S. COMMANDER'S CONVOY ATTACKED IN IRAQA convoy carrying U.S. Central Command (CENTCOM) commander General John Abizaid was attacked on 12 February as it approached the headquarters of the Iraqi Civil Defense Corps (ICDC) in Al-Fallujah, the Coalition Provisional Authority's website (http://www.cpa-iraq.org) announced the same day. Brigadier General Mark Kimmitt told reporters during a weekly press briefing in Baghdad that militants fired three rocket-propelled grenades at Abizaid's convoy from nearby rooftops as the convoy approached the ICDC compound. "A local mosque was thought to be harboring the attackers, and [ICDC] soldiers conducted a search of the mosque without result," he said. Asked whether he believed the attackers had any prior knowledge that General Abizaid would be at the compound, Kimmitt said: "Whether we can directly link this attack to any foreknowledge...is a bit of a leap that we're not prepared to make at this time." KR
 COULD LJUBLJANA MOSQUE BECOME A TERRORIST CENTER?By Donald F. Reindl
Plans to construct Ljubljana's first mosque in a southwest neighborhood of the city are facing a potential legal move with the submission of a petition to hold a local referendum challenging the building plans (see "RFE/RL Balkan Report," 5 December 2003). At noon on 6 February, Mayor Danica Simsic was handed a list of 11,896 voter signatures endorsing a referendum -- well over the required minimum of 5 percent of the local electorate, "Delo" reported.
Mayor Simsic has stated several times that she believes the proposed referendum is unconstitutional, a position that she repeated on 6 February: "The initiative is not in line with the constitution because it encroaches on the fundamental right to freedom of expression of faith and religious belief, the principle of equality of religious groups, and equality before the law." Simsic scheduled a city council session to formally call the referendum -- as required by law -- but she is likely to freeze the initiative pending a decision on it by the Constitutional Court.
The initiator of the referendum, city councilor Mihael Jarc, organized a press conference in late January that included architect Fedja Kosir and the head of the right-wing Slovenian National Party (SNS), Zmago Jelincic, the weekly "Mladina" reported on 26 January. From the views offered by the participants, several underlying themes converged to explain the apprehension some Slovenes feel about the mosque project: terrorism, foreign involvement, and Muslim intolerance.
In his comments, Jelincic referred to what he called the "terrible problems with Muslims" elsewhere in Europe, citing controversy over head scarves in French schools and police access to Islamic centers in England. "Finally," he noted, "they are also shutting down Islamic centers in Italy, because they have clearly been functioning as Al-Qaeda cells."
The wave of popular suspicion triggered by the September 2001 attacks in the United States regarding Muslim links to international terrorism largely remained a topic of private conversation in Slovenia until early December, when Zvone Penko of the SNS characterized the construction of a mosque as "creating the infrastructure for terrorism."
Commentators may have dismissed Penko's remarks as right-wing rhetoric from a marginal party, but on 6 January, Andrej Umek and Jozef Jeraj of the conservative Slovenian People's Party (SLS), which belongs to the governing center-left coalition, added their voices. Umek repeated Penko's assertions that a mosque would establish Al-Qaeda infrastructure, and Jeraj added that it would promote narcotics trafficking as a source of funds, STA reported. The president of the SLS, Janez Podobnik, distanced himself from his party members' remarks on 12 January.
Opponents of the mosque also object to what they view as external manipulation of the issue -- the mosque will be funded by donors from Islamic states and will be significantly larger than what Slovenia's Muslim community originally requested, Kosir noted. Instead of a single centralized mosque, opponents argue, up to 14 separate "prayer centers" would better meet the needs of Slovenia's Muslims.
Still others point to the "intolerance" of certain Islamic governments as justification for limiting the rights of Muslims in Slovenia. At a recent dinner, a member of the diplomatic corps asserted, "When we can build a church in Mecca, then they can build a mosque in Ljubljana!" Jelincic painted Muslims with the same broad brush by rhetorically asking what the women at the press conference would say if they were publicly stoned to death for violating Islamic dress codes in Saudi Arabia.
Slovenian Mufti Osman Djogic addressed some of these concerns in a 26 January interview in "Mladina." Regarding foreign funds, he acknowledged that he was in contact with investors from Qatar, Turkey, and Malaysia. However, he insisted, no foreign investor will be allowed to influence the center's operations. Multiple prayer centers would be an inappropriate solution, Djogic stated, because they would defeat the purpose of having a common spiritual center where Muslims could "develop their identity."
When asked to identify the most troubling argument used against the mosque, Djogic singled out generalization. "It is not possible to equate Muslims in Afghanistan with Muslims in Slovenia. We have nothing in common with Afghan Muslims except that we are members of the same faith."
Djogic doubts that the referendum will be allowed to take place, but has called for a voter boycott should it go ahead. Such a referendum, he says, would put Slovenia in a bad light not only for the 51 Muslim-majority countries and 1.6 billion Muslims around the world, but all democratic states.
In an apparent effort to discredit the initiative, "Delo" noted on 8 February that Ljubljana's skinhead community assisted in the effort to collect signatures.
In addition, several events of a different sort marred the signature drive, Jarc noted in comments in "Dnevnik" on 5 February. Some passersby simply walked off with partial lists of signatures rather than returning them, and in one case a young man snatched a bundle of the signed forms and fled -- but dropped the forms as he did so. Police are investigating the incident.
Donald F. Reindl is a freelance writer and Indiana University doctoral candidate based in Ljubljana.