|Tuesday, 12 November 2019|
RFE/RL Newsline, 04-02-26
From: Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty <http://www.rferl.org>
 PUTIN EXPLAINS HIS REASONS FOR SACKING PREMIER...President Vladimir Putin on 25 February explained to members of the outgoing government why he dismissed former Prime Minister Mikhail Kasyanov and the cabinet the previous day, Russian media reported (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 24 and 25 February 2004). Putin said he wants to acquaint voters with the person he will bring forward to head the new government before the 14 March presidential election. He also said he hopes to reduce the amount of time that government work would be left in limbo by dismissing the cabinet before the election. He said that if he waited until after the election -- presuming, as widely expected, that he is re-elected -- the Russian Constitution requires that a new government can be formed only in June. Also on 25 February, Putin met with members of Unified Russia's State Duma faction to begin consultations on forming the new government. JAC
 ...AS NEWSPAPER SAYS DUMA SPEAKER MIGHT HEAD NEW GOVERNMENT..."Kommersant-Daily" on 26 February cited "several" unnamed sources within Unified Russia as saying that during President Putin's meeting with members of the party's Duma faction on 25 February, participants discussed the possibility of naming State Duma Speaker Boris Gryzlov as the new prime minister. In addition, participants reportedly discussed naming First Deputy Duma Speaker Aleksandr Zhukov to replace Gryzlov as Duma speaker and selecting Yurii Volkov, first deputy head of the party's Duma faction, to replace Gryzlov as faction head. "However, inasmuch as the meeting was closed, and its direct participants categorically refused to provide any details, it remains unclear whether the president was discussing a decision he has already made or whether the Unified Russia members simply made this suggestion to Vladimir Putin," the newspaper wrote. "Kommersant-Daily" speculated that Putin might nominate Gryzlov on 1 March and that the Duma could confirm him as early as 3 March. JB
 ...AND ANALYSTS CONTINUE TO PONDER PUTIN'S MOVECommenting on President Putin's surprise dismissal of the government, Politika foundation head Vyacheslav Nikonov told NTV on 24 February that he sees the move as a continuation of the Russian tradition of public-relations moves on the eve of an election. Other analysts saw the dismissal as Putin's way of saying goodbye once and for all to the era of former President Boris Yeltsin. Foundation for Effective Politics head Gleb Pavlovskii told Ekho Moskvy that he thinks Putin wants to create a more homogenous, compact, and dynamic government, which, if he is successful, will lessen the importance of the presidential administration. Citing an unnamed presidential administration source, "Vedomosti" reported that Putin lost patience with former Prime Minister Kasyanov on 20 February when Kasyanov rejected proposals to change the rate of the unified social tax and to create special VAT accounts. The proposals had been prepared by the Finance Ministry and Economic Development and Trade Ministry and had been approved by the presidential administration. JAC
 KHAKAMADA WITHDRAWS OFFER TO WITHDRAW...Presidential candidate Irina Khakamada announced on 25 February that she will see through the election to the end and not withdraw her candidacy, Russian news agencies reported on 25 February. The previous day, Khakamada called on other opposition candidates, Communist Party nominee Nikolai Kharitonov and Motherland faction leader Sergei Glazev, to withdraw from the 14 March presidential election to protest what she described as blatant disregard for election law by the state-controlled national television channels and the campaign staff of President Putin. Khakamada said they had rejected her proposal. Glazev announced on 25 February that despite a recommendation from his campaign manager that he withdraw, he will remain in the race "through to the end," ITAR-TASS reported. Kharitonov said the presidium of the Communist Party's Central Committee will decide about his participation in the race next week, RIA-Novosti reported. A factor in its decision, according to Kharitonov, will be whether the federal television stations cover his meeting with his campaign staff on 2 March. Earlier, Kharitonov and Khakamada filed complaints with the Central Election Commission (TsIK), saying that ORT and RTR violated election law by broadcasting a half-hour speech by Putin to his campaign workers. The TsIK later ruled that the coverage did not constitute illegal campaigning (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 17 and 23 February 2004). JAC
 ...AS ACTIVIST URGES BOYCOTT BY OPPOSITION CANDIDATESHuman rights activist Yelena Bonner called on Khakamada, Kharitonov, Glazev, and Ivan Rybkin to withdraw from the presidential race and "leave No.1 candidate Vladimir Putin alone with his puppets," Ekho Moskvy reported. She also called on them to urge their supporters to boycott the election. "The turnout number that [the authorities] cook up later is not important," Bonner said. "What is important is that the authorities know the actual turnout." JAC
 RUSSIA DENOUNCES QATAR'S ARREST OF INTELLIGENCE ANALYSTS...Acting Foreign Minister Igor Ivanov has denounced as a "provocation" the arrest in Qatar of three Russian special-services employees accused of involvement in the 13 February car bombing that killed former Chechen acting President Zelimkhan Yandarbiev, newsru.com reported on 26 February (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 17 and 20 February 2004). Qatar's Interior Ministry announced on 25 February that two of the three suspects detained for questioning since 19 February have been charged with murder, but he did not identify them, AP reported. "Our country has nothing to do with the indicated incident," Ivanov said in a statement posted on the Foreign Ministry's website. "Therefore the attempts by the Qatari authorities to shift responsibility for the attack on Yandarbiev to the Russian citizens they arrested is without any foundation. They were not in any way involved in the incident. The Qatari authorities' insinuations cannot be seen as anything other than a provocation." The statement demanded that Qatar "immediately free the illegally detained Russian citizens and allow them to return to their homeland unimpeded." JB
 ...SAYING THEY WERE ON A NONVIOLENT ANTITERRORISM MISSIONIvanov's statement said that the three arrested Russians, one of whom had a diplomatic passport, were employees of Russia's special services in Qatar "on a legal basis and were carrying out without violating any local laws informational-analytical tasks connected to countering international terrorism," newsru.com reported. Their actions, Ivanov added, "completely fit in with the efforts of the member states in the antiterrorism coalition to uncover sources and channels of financing, organizational mechanisms, and other means of support for terrorist organizations." According to newsru.com, the Qatari authorities released one of the arrested Russians after a special Russian Foreign Ministry representative was dispatched to Qatar for negotiations. JB
 NAVY AGAIN ACCUSES NATO OF AERIAL SURVEILLANCERussia's Baltic Fleet claimed on 25 February that a NATO E-3 AWACS surveillance aircraft had carried out reconnaissance of Russian territory from Polish airspace that day, "complementing" the activity of another NATO AWACS plane that Russia earlier said was using Baltic airspace for reconnaissance missions (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 25 February 2004), Interfax reported. The Baltic Fleet issued a statement saying that one AWACS plane flew into Lithuanian airspace from the NATO air base at Geilenkirchen, Germany, while another flew into Polish airspace from "a NATO country." Citing unnamed "specialists," the news agency said the flights confirm "active and purposeful" espionage targeting not only Baltic Fleet installations, but also "large [military] units deployed near the Russian-Latvian and Russian-Lithuanian borders, as well as in Belarusian border districts." Lithuania's Defense Ministry told Interfax on 25 February that a NATO E-3 AWACS made a two-hour demonstration flight over Lithuanian territory that day for the benefit of top Lithuanian officials, including Defense Minister Linas Linkevicius, who were on board. JB
 PRISONERS HOLD HUNGER STRIKE TO PROTEST ABUSESPrisoners in as many as 16 St. Petersburg and Leningrad Oblast correctional facilities went on a partial hunger strike on 24-25 February to protest alleged systematic mistreatment at the No. 4 strict-regime corrective colony in Leningrad Oblast, newsru.com and other Russian media reported. Some 5,000 prisoners were reportedly refusing food on 24 February, although the number dropped to about 2,200 on 25 February. Oleg Trunov, who runs the website "Arestant" (http://www.arestant.msk.ru), which is devoted to helping prisoners, told Ekho Moskvy on 25 February that "practically all" new inmates assigned to the No. 4 colony are beaten upon their arrival. Lenta.ru on 25 February quoted unnamed inmates as saying that guards at No. 4 and prisoners in league with them have been beating and extorting money from inmates for years. One inmate's father told "Gazeta" that he pays $200-$300 a month to ensure milder treatment for his son, the newspaper reported on 26 February. The St. Petersburg and Leningrad Oblast branches of the Justice Ministry and Prosecutor-General's Office are investigating the hunger strike, RIA-Novosti reported on 25 February. JB
 OIL-RICH REGIONS CONTEMPLATE MERGERTyumen Oblast Governor Sergei Sobyanin and Yamalo-Nenets Autonomous Okrug Governor Yurii Neelov have announced the beginning of the process of merging their two regions, "Kommersant-Daily" reported on 25 February. In the near term, the two leaders plan to form a commission that will present to federal and regional authorities a plan for the merger with its stages and time frame delineated. According to the daily, authorities in Khanty-Mansiisk Autonomous Okrug -- which is also a constituent part of Tyumen Oblast and like Yamalo-Nenets has the status of a separate federation subject -- have so far declined to comment on the governors' joint declaration. JAC
 SUPREME COURT ASKED TO WEIGH IN ON SVERDLOVSK ELECTION COMMISSION ACTIVITIESA local election bloc formed by the Union of Rightist Forces (SPS) and Yabloko has filed an appeal with the Supreme Court challenging the Sverdlovsk Oblast Election Commission's refusal to register the bloc for the 14 March oblast-legislature elections, RosBalt reported on 25 February. The local chapters of SPS and Yabloko form part of the political opposition to the administration of Sverdlovsk Oblast Governor Eduard Rossel, and their leaders charged that the oblast election commission's refusal to register them was part of a broader effort to cleanse the region's political arena of dissent (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 11 February 2004). Also on 25 February, oblast election commission Chairman Vladimir Mostovshchikov said a 20 February decision of the TsIK to register two parties and one bloc after the oblast had denied the groups registration was "incorrect," RosBalt reported. The groups registered were the Pensioners Party, the Party of Russia's Renewal, and the Union of State-Sector Workers of the Urals. JAC
Transcaucasia And Central Asia
 DETAINED ARMENIAN OPPOSITIONISTS RELEASEDPolice released on 25 February three members of the opposition Hanrapetutiun Party who were detained the previous day following searches of their homes, but a fourth Hanrapetutiun activist, Romik Mkhitarian, has gone into hiding, RFE/RL's Yerevan bureau reported (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 25 February 2004). Albert Bazeyan, a leading member of Hanrapetutiun, said the men's homes were searched a second time after their release. LF
 ARMENIAN STUDENTS WALK OUT OF MEETING WITH DEFENSE MINISTERStudents walked out of a 25 February meeting at Yerevan State University with Defense Minister Serzh Sarkisian to protest his refusal to amend proposed legislation that would abolish the possibility for graduate students to postpone their compulsory military service until after they have completed their course of study, RFE/RL's Yerevan bureau reported. Students launched a boycott of classes last week to protest the proposed changes (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 6 and 23 February 2004). Sarkisian, however, dismissed arguments against abolishing the existing exemptions and deferments as "just a pretext to dodge the draft." While the rationale officially cited for abolishing deferments is to target corruption within the higher-education system, observers point out that demographic constraints -- the need to maintain the numerical strength of the armed forces despite the dwindling pool of eligible draftees -- are also a factor behind the proposed legislation. LF
 IRANIAN INTELLIGENCE HEAD MEETS WITH ARMENIAN OFFICIALSVisiting Yerevan on 23-25 February, Iranian Intelligence and Security Minister Ali Yunesi met with Foreign Minister Vartan Oskanian, Prime Minister Andranik Markarian, and President Robert Kocharian, RFE/RL's Yerevan bureau and Armenian media reported. Topics discussed included bilateral relations; regional conflicts, including the Karabakh conflict; and expanding economic cooperation. Armenian statements issued following Yunesi's talks with Oskanian and Markarian stressed the need to move ahead on construction of the planned pipeline to export Iranian natural gas to Armenia. On 5 February, Interfax quoted Energy Minister Armen Movsisian as saying a formal agreement on that project will be signed during a visit to Yerevan in late February or March by Iran's oil and gas minister. Official communiques failed to say whether a date was discussed for Iranian President Mohammad Khatami's planned visit to Armenia, which was originally scheduled for late 2003. LF
 AZERBAIJANI OPPOSITION BLOC CALLS FOR NEW KARABAKH WARThe Union of Pro-Azerbaijani Forces issued a statement on 25 February calling on the people of Azerbaijan to launch a new Great Fatherland War (echoing the official Soviet-era designation for World War II) to liberate Nagorno-Karabakh, according to the online daily zerkalo.az on 26 February. The statement also called on the Azerbaijani leadership to curtail contacts with Armenian President Kocharian, and condemned the approach adopted by the United States and the Council of Europe to resolving the Karabakh conflict. It claimed that policy, and the cease-fire in effect since 1994, work in Armenia's favor. LF
 ADJAR OFFICIALS ANTICIPATE GEORGIAN AGGRESSION...Adjar Supreme Council Chairman Aslan Abashidze said in Batumi on 25 February that the central Georgian government is planning "armed aggression" against his autonomous republic, Caucasus Press reported on 26 February. Abashidze claimed that 500 Georgian service personnel who graduated from the U.S.-funded Train and Equip Program are on standby to be deployed to Adjaria, together with nine tanks and 23 armored personnel carriers. Adjaria's permanent representative in Tbilisi, Hamlet Chipashvili, said on 25 February that sending troops to Adjaria would be "a great mistake," Caucasus Press reported. Chipashvili said the tensions between Abashidze and the central government must be resolved peacefully. Georgian National Security Council Secretary Vano Merabishvili denied that troops will be sent to Adjaria, while Deputy State Security Minister Amiran Meskheli told the independent television station Rustavi-2 that while no such deployment is planned at present, "we can send troops to any part of the country if necessary." LF
 ...DEPLORE STUDENTS' ARREST...Chipashvili also denounced on 25 February the arrest in Tbilisi the previous day on charges of illegal weapons possession of two students from Adjaria, Merab Mikeladze and Lasha Chakvadze, Georgian media reported. A group of Georgian parliament deputies has similarly dismissed the charges against the two as absurd and called on the president, parliament speaker, interior minister, and prosecutor-general to secure the immediate release of the two men, Caucasus Press reported. But members of the Georgian student movement Kmara! (Enough!), which is campaigning for Abashidze's ouster, claim that Mikeladze and Chakvadze participated in dispersing opposition meetings in Batumi organized by Kmara!. Mikeladze has declared a hunger strike, according to Caucasus Press on 26 February. LF
 ...AS COUNCIL OF EUROPE OFFICIAL SEEKS TO DEFUSE TENSIONSAlso on 25 February, Plamen Nikolaev, who is a special representative of Parliamentary Assembly of the Council of Europe (PACE) Secretary-General Walter Schwimmer, traveled to Batumi for talks with Abashidze, Caucasus Press reported. Schwimmer met with Abashidze in Batumi on 20 February (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 23 February 2004). Abashidze reportedly explained to Nikolaev his proposals for transforming Georgia into a federation. Nikolaev suggested that the constitution of the Adjar Autonomous Republic be amended to clarify relations between Adjaria and the Georgian central authorities. Meanwhile, Abashidze's son, Giorgi, who is mayor of Batumi, visited the headquarters of the opposition movement Our Adjaria and assured its members that additional security measures will be implemented to preclude further attacks on the premises, Georgian media reported (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 24 February 2004). Our Adjaria co-founder Tamaz Diasamidze told the independent Georgian television station Rustavi-2 on 25 February that 500 members of his organization had scrawled "Get out, Aslan!" on the walls of some 3,000 buildings in Batumi the previous night. LF
 GEORGIAN PARLIAMENT FAILS TO AMEND ELECTION LAWThe Georgian parliament elected in November 1999 held its final session on 25 February, Georgian media reported, but for lack of a quorum failed to adopt proposed amendments to the election law. On 24 February, deputies voted by 119 in favor and two against to suspend for three months a resolution adopted last year denying Georgian support for Russia's bid to join the World Trade Organization, Caucasus Press reported (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 5 December 2002 and 21 August 2003).
 CHECHENS ARRESTED ON GEORGIAN-RUSSIAN BORDERTwo Chechen men whom the Georgian authorities previously declined to extradite to Russia were detained on the Georgian-Russian border on 19 February, three days after disappearing in Tbilisi, Caucasus Press reported on 25 February (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 18 February 2004). The agency quoted an official from the North Caucasus Department of the Russian Prosecutor-General's Office as saying the two men -- Beqkhan Mulkoev and Husein Alkhanov -- are wanted by Interpol. LF
 GEORGIAN, U.S. PRESIDENTS MEETDuring a 45-minute meeting at the White House on 25 February with his Georgian counterpart Mikheil Saakashvili, U.S. President George W. Bush praised the so-called Rose Revolution that led to the November ouster of former President Eduard Shevardnadze, and Saakashvili's subsequent efforts to ease tensions between Georgia and Russia, Western media reported. Saakashvili expressed gratitude for Washington's support and affirmed his hope that his country will become not only a close ally, but a strong ally of the United States. LF
 U.S. DEFENSE SECRETARY DISCUSSES TERRORISM STRUGGLE IN KAZAKHSTANU.S. Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld spent 25 February meeting with Kazakh Prime Minister Daniyal Akhmetov, Foreign Minister Qasymzhomart Toqaev, and Defense Minister Mukhtar Altynbaev in Astana, RIA-Novosti and Deutsche Welle reported. The talks focused on Kazakhstan's contribution to peacekeeping in Iraq, the fight against drug trafficking, and the security of the Caspian Sea region. Akhmetov told Rumsfeld that Kazakhstan is prepared to help in Iraqi reconstruction by supplying food and construction materials. Rumsfeld told Altynbaev that Caspian security is the top priority in U.S.-Kazakh military relations. BB
 KAZAKHSTAN AND INTERNATIONAL OIL GIANTS SIGN AGREEMENT ON KASHAGAN FIELDKazakhstan's state oil-and-gas company KazMunaiGaz signed an agreement in Astana on 25 February with the members of the international consortium that is developing northwest Kazakhstan's Kashagan oil field, RIA-Novosti reported. The field was scheduled to start producing in 2005, but the consortium will be unable to meet the deadline. Kazakh Prime Minister Akhmetov told journalists on 25 February that according to the revised schedule, oil will start flowing from Kashagan in 2007 or 2008. It is estimated that the field will produce 56 million tons of oil per year by 2015. It has 4.8 billion tons of proven reserves, making it one of the largest oilfields in the world. The development consortium is led by Italy's AGIP, and includes British Gas, ExxonMobil, Shell, Total, ConocoPhillips, and Inpeks. BB
 SOUTH KOREAN TROOPS LEAVE ANTITERRORISM COALITION BASE IN KYRGYZSTANThe approximately 200-person South Korean medical contingent at the international antiterrorism coalition's base at Bishkek's Manas Airport is being withdrawn, the Kyrgyz Foreign Ministry announced on 25 February. According to ITAR-TASS, the South Korean unit was set up soon after the coalition began operating at Manas, but there has been little need for its services since cases of serious injury are evacuated to Germany. After the departure of the South Koreans, only U.S. troops will remain at Manas. The base is now being used exclusively for logistical support to coalition troops in Afghanistan. The South Korean troops have announced plans to donate their medical equipment, worth some $5 million, to the Kyrgyz armed forces. BB
 HIZB UT-TAHRIR SPREADING IN SOUTHERN TAJIKISTANSome 20 suspected activists of the illegal Islamist extremist organization Hizb ut-Tahrir have been detained in the vicinity of the southern Tajik city of Kulob, Asia Plus-Blitz reported on 25 February, citing local law enforcement officers. Security Ministry officers reportedly uncovered a three-cell network of Hizb-ut Tahrir activists in the area. Previously, Hizb ut-Tahrir activity was concentrated in the northern part of the country, but in the last year there have been an increasing number of arrests in the south. In the northern and central parts of the country, most Hizb ut-Tahrir sympathizers are ethnic Uzbeks. Those in the south are mostly ethnic Tajiks. BB
 U.S. AMBASSADOR TO TAJIKISTAN: NO LARGE U.S. MILITARY BASES IN CENTRAL ASIAEchoing remarks made by U.S. Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld in Uzbekistan on 24 February (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 25 February 2004), U.S. Ambassador to Tajikistan Richard Hoagland announced on 25 February in Dushanbe that the United States does not intend to set up large, permanent military bases in Central Asia, RIA-Novosti reported. The United States does intend to maintain a military presence in Central Asia as long as the fight against international terrorism continues, Hoagland said. Hoagland added that the United States would like to conduct joint exercises with the Tajik military and has offered to train Tajik military personnel. BB
 INTERNATIONAL HUMANITARIAN AID GROUPS SEE NEW UZBEK RULES AS DANGER TO WORKA resolution issued by Uzbekistan's government on 4 February that allows the Uzbek authorities to tax foreign humanitarian assistance at a rate of 40 percent of its value could endanger the work of such organizations in Uzbekistan, RIA-Novosti reported on 25 February. The report cited remarks made at a press conference at the German Embassy in Tashkent that day by Wolfgang Schreiber, who was the representative of the Adenauer Foundation in Uzbekistan for many years and who is now the coordinator of a foundation providing information to entrepreneurs. In Schreiber's view, the German taxpayer is unlikely to tolerate 40 percent of the country's humanitarian aid going directly to the Uzbek government. Schreiber said that the Uzbek government's argument that the new system will prevent money laundering is insulting to foreign donors. BB
Central And Eastern Europe
 EUROPEAN COMMISSION PRESIDENT CRITICIZES RESTRICTIONS ON FREE MOVEMENT OF LABOREuropean Commission President Romano Prodi on 25 February criticized restrictions EU members have imposed on acceding states regarding welfare benefits and access to labor markets, AP reported. "This is not a generous attitude, this is not the spirit" in which the 10 new countries joined the EU, Prodi said. Ireland on 25 February followed the example Great Britain set earlier this week and toughened access to its labor market by introducing a registration program for citizens of the acceding states. As in Britain, citizens of acceding states will not be eligible for welfare benefits in Ireland until they have worked there for two years (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 24 February 2004). MS
 MOSCOW DENIES PUTIN'S COMPLICITY IN GAS CUTOFF TO BELARUSAleksei Gromov, spokesman for Russian President Vladimir Putin, told ITAR-TASS on 25 February that Belarusian presidential spokeswoman Natallya Pyatkevich was "grossly mistaken" when she alleged earlier the same day that Putin was behind last week's halt of gas supplies to Belarus (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 25 February 2004). "I believe it's very clear who is freezing the Belarusian people," Gromov said, noting that Minsk and Moscow are negotiating gas supplies at the level of companies. JM
 FORMER BELARUSIAN PRISONER OF CONSCIENCE ANNOUNCES 2006 PRESIDENTIAL BIDAndrey Klimau, a former legislator of the Supreme Soviet and an outspoken critic of Belarusian President Alyaksandr Lukashenka, has announced his intention to run in Belarus's presidential election in 2006, Belapan reported on 24 February. Klimau, born in 1965, was arrested in 1998 and sentenced in 2000 to six years in prison on charges of large-scale embezzlement and forgery. Domestic and international human rights groups considered the sentence politically motivated, linking it to Klimau's active role in the Supreme Soviet's impeachment motion against Lukashenka in 1996. Amnesty International declared him a prisoner of conscience. He was released in 2002 following a district court ruling that commuted his prison sentence to "corrective labor." JM
 UKRAINIAN PRESIDENT ANNOUNCES PROBE INTO ALLEGED ASSASSINATION PLOT...President Leonid Kuchma told journalists on 25 February that an investigation has been launched after the detection of a plot to kill him during his stay in the German spa town Baden-Baden from 26 December to 17 January, Interfax and RFE/RL's Ukrainian Service reported. Kuchma said the Ukrainian Embassy in Germany received a "quite well-founded" letter warning against the plot, with the names of plotters and the organization to which they belong. According to Kuchma, General Valeriy Kravchenko, who recently defected from the Ukrainian Security Service (SBU) (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 19 February 2004), was assigned a task in investigating the plot but refused to perform it. "He said that it was not his business," Kuchma said of Kravchenko. Kuchma added that Kravchenko's recent revelations that the president ordered the SBU to spy on the opposition are a lie. JM
 ...SAYS UKRAINE NOT ON MONEY-LAUNDERING BLACKLIST ANY LONGER...The Financial Action Task Force on Money Laundering (FATF) has taken Ukraine off its blacklist of non-cooperating countries and territories, President Kuchma told journalists on 25 February, according to Interfax. "I've received a note that FATF members unanimously decided to remove Ukraine from the blacklist," Kuchma said. Ukraine was placed on FAFT's blacklist in December 2002 (see "RFE/RL Poland, Belarus, and Ukraine Report," 11 February 2003). At that time, the organization advised its members to check all financial transactions conducted with Ukrainian partners. In February 2003, FAFT canceled these sanctions against Ukraine, but left the country on its blacklist. JM
 ...AND REJECTS POSSIBILITY OF PREMIERSHIP AFTER 2004 ELECTIONPresident Kuchma also said on 25 February that he is not planning to accept a potential offer to head a cabinet following the presidential election in 2004, Interfax reported. He said he is not interested in serving as a prime minister for a period of "1 1/2 years or even less." "I have practically organized a foundation of my own," Kuchma said. "I will deal quietly with politics and I will say what I think about everybody." Kuchma disclosed earlier this month that after leaving office he will set up a nongovernmental research institute dealing with Ukraine's economic policy (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 5 February 2004). JM
 ESTONIA, RUSSIA HOLD TALKS ON EU-RUSSIA PCA EXTENSIONForeign Ministry Deputy Chancellor Tiina Intelmann met with Russian Deputy Foreign Minister Vladimir Chizhov in Tallinn on 25 February to discuss Russia's concerns about the extension of the EU-Russian Partnership and Cooperation Agreement (PCA) to the 10 new EU states, BNS reported. Chizhov stressed that the 14 points Russia sent to the EU pertaining to the extension are not demands, but rather concerns that must be resolved. Intelmann said the EU has not decided which of the issues it will negotiate with Russia, and noted that economic issues are in the competence of the European Commission. She also mentioned that Russia has not responded to Estonian comments regarding the ratification of a border treaty and the return of the Estonian presidential insignia that was taken by Soviet forces in 1941. However, she said she believes progress will be made in the joint fight against drugs, crime, and AIDS, as well as the opening of boat traffic on Lake Peipus. Both officials expressed satisfaction with the meeting. SG
 OSCE COMMISSIONER CALLS FOR MORE DIALOGUE ON LATVIAN EDUCATION REFORMOrganization for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE) High Commissioner on National Minorities Rolf Ekeus told Latvian Education and Research Minister Karlis Sadurskis in Riga on 25 February that constructive dialogue is needed to allay concerns among Latvia's Russian-speaking youth regarding the country's ongoing education reform, BNS reported. Ekeus said the aim of his visit was not to judge the reform, but familiarize himself with the situation. He said the observations he and his team make will be included in a future report about the status of minority languages in EU member states. Sadurskis claimed the campaign against the education reform is being financed "from Moscow." Ekeus met the same day with Justice Minister and acting Society Integration Affairs Minister Aivars Aksenoks to discuss integration issues, and was scheduled to meet with President Vaira Vike-Freiberga and Naturalization Board head Eizenija Aldermane on 26 February. SG
 LITHUANIA, UKRAINE SIGN TRAVEL AGREEMENTLithuanian Foreign Minister Antanas Valionis and his Ukrainian counterpart Kostyantyn Hryshchenko signed a bilateral travel agreement on 25 February in Vilnius, ELTA and BNS reported. Under the agreement, Ukrainian citizens will be issued visas free of charge and without the previous requirement of an invitation. Lithuanians will be allowed to enter Ukraine without visas. At a press conference following the signing, Hryshchenko noted that similar agreements have been signed with Poland and Hungary and said that "Ukraine will not suffer any negative consequences from the European Union's enlargement." Valionis said they also discussed issues concerning greater Ukrainian integration with Europe. Hryshchenko is was scheduled to meet with on 26 February with parliament Chairman Arturas Paulauskas and President Rolandas Paksas, as well as give a report at the Institute of International Relations and Political Science of Vilnius University. SG
 POLISH PREMIER ACCUSED OF BULLYING LAWMAKERS TO PASS AUSTERITY PLANAndrzej Lepper, leader of the opposition populist Self-Defense, said on 25 February that Prime Minister Leszek Miller and his cabinet are resorting to blackmail to force smaller groups in parliament to back the austerity package of bills prepared by Deputy Prime Minister and Economy Minister Jerzy Hausner (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 25 February 2004), PAP reported. According to Lepper, Miller intimidates independent and minor-party deputies in the Sejm by hinting that rejecting the Hausner plan would result in the loss of their parliamentary seats. "What's really being said here is: With an early election you'll lose your jobs, your pay, and you won't get into parliament a second time," Lepper said. JM
 CZECH LOWER HOUSE APPROVES DEPLOYMENT OF TROOPS TO AFGHANISTANThe Chamber of Deputies on 25 February approved the government's request to deploy 150 Czech soldiers to Afghanistan, CTK and AFP reported. The resolution was supported by 127 deputies, with 46 voting against and 13 abstentions. The resolution stipulates that 120 of the troops will serve with the U.S.-led coalition and 30 will be assigned to the NATO-led International Security Assistance Force (ISAF) in Kabul. The Senate has already approved the request. MS
 EUROPEAN COMMISSION PRESIDENT APPROVES CZECH APPOINTMENTRomano Prodi on 25 February approved the appointment of Pavel Telicka as the Czech Republic's new representative on the European Commission, CTK reported, citing commission spokesman Reijo Kemppinen. During a telephone conversation with Prime Minister Vladimir Spidla, Prodi reportedly praised the Czech government for acting quickly after Milos Kuzvart resigned last week as European commissioner, thus leaving the Czech Republic's good reputation unscathed. EU Enlargement Commissioner Guenter Verheugen said the same day that Telicka is "a competent partner, a tough negotiator, and...a very good friend." MS
 SLOVAK GOVERNMENT INCREASES COMMUNITY-SERVICE WAGES IN ATTEMPT TO CALM ROMANY UNREST...The cabinet decided on 25 February to increase community-service wages and funding for some social programs to soften the impact of impending welfare cuts that have prompted rioting and looting by members of Slovakia's Romany minority, CTK and TASR reported. While refusing to rescind the cuts, the cabinet decided to increase wages paid for 10 hours of community service a week from 1,000 crowns ($31.24) to 1,500 crowns. Labor and Social Affairs Minister Ludovit Kanik, who announced the measures, said the bonus is intended to encourage those who rely solely on welfare to return to the workforce. He said some 30,000 people working for municipalities, churches, and in the health sector will benefit from the wage hike as of April. The cabinet also decided that funding will be increased for some social programs involving needy children, and job training for school dropouts and long-unemployed people. MS
 ROMA DEMONSTRATE PEACEFULLY IN BOTH EASTERN AND WESTERN SLOVAKIA...Thousands of Roma demonstrated peacefully on 25 February in eastern and western Slovakia, international news agencies reported. No new reports of rioting or looting have been reported since the afternoon of 24 February, according to CTK and TASR on 26 February. Demonstrators carried banners expressing their willingness to work. Interior Minister Vladimir Palko said police have thus far charged 95 Roma with looting during the recent civil unrest. MS
 ...AS THEIR ISSUES ARE ADDRESSED IN EUROPEAN PARLIAMENTAustrian People's Party Europarliamentarian Marialiese Flemming told a session of that forum on 25 February that the Slovak Roma are forced to raid stores to avoid starvation, TASR and CTK reported. She asked Europarliament President Patrick Cox to urgently collect information on the situation of Slovakia's Romany minority and to ensure that clarification of the situation is placed on the forum's priorities agenda. Austrian Socialist Party deputy Hannes Swoboda told the house that after Bulgaria and Romania accede to the EU in 2007 the union will have a population of 8 million Roma, and it is justifiable to question whether the EU can afford to support the poverty-stricken minority. MS
 HUNGARIAN FARMERS END PROTESTHungarian farmers groups reached an agreement late on 25 February with the Agriculture Ministry and dairy companies, effectively ending their weeklong protest, the MTI news agency reported (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 17 and 24 February 2004). Ministry spokesman Andras Dekany said that under the agreement, dairy, poultry, and hog farmers will be eligible for compensation and special loans. Dekany said the agreement was reached after dairy processors accepted farmers' demands for stable milk prices. MSZ
 HUNGARY REMEMBERS VICTIMS OF COMMUNISMPrime Minister Peter Medgyessy said in a 25 February message issued to mark the country's official day of remembering victims of communism that fascist and communist dictatorships made the 20th century a "particularly long century of suffering," "Nepszabadsag" reported the next day. The parliamentary group of the opposition FIDESZ party lit candles outside the House of Terror Museum in downtown Budapest, while FIDESZ Chairman and former Prime Minister Viktor Orban attended an ecumenical service at a Calvinist church, the daily reported. Opposition Democratic Forum Chairwoman Ibolya David and the party's former Prime Minister Peter Boross paid tribute to victims at a memorial in a former communist prison in Budapest. MSZ
 HUNGARIAN HOLOCAUST COMMISSION ENDS FIRST SESSIONA commission of scholars, church dignitaries, and politicians set up by the government to examine and evaluate evidence on the Holocaust in Hungary held its first session in Budapest on 25 February, Hungarian media reported. The meeting, chaired by Prime Minister Medgyessy, heard a report on the progress of a Holocaust Documentation Center that is set to open on 15 April and on commemorations planned at Auschwitz, Washington, D.C., and in Jerusalem. Roman Catholic Cardinal Laszlo Paskai and Professor Randolph Braham, the world's most prominent scholar on the Holocaust in Hungary, attended the session. Also on 25 February, a team of Hungarian historians who examined the "Jaross lists" said in a report that there is only fragmentary evidence to support the theory that the lists were used to round up and deport Hungarian Jews, AP and Hungarian media reported. The lists are named after wartime Interior Minister Andor Jaross, who in 1944 ordered the compilation of the names of all Hungarian Jews. Jaross was executed as a war criminal in 1946. The commission said the lists cannot be used as basis for compensation claims by victims of the Holocaust or their heirs (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 5 January 2004). MS
 MACEDONIAN PRESIDENT KILLED IN PLANE CRASH...Macedonian President Boris Trajkovski was killed on 26 February in a plane crash in Herzegovina while en route to an economic-development conference in Mostar, Reuters reported. "At about 9:00 this morning, [our] radar lost control of an aircraft," a Bosnian Serb Interior Ministry spokesman in Herzegovina was quoted as saying. "Local police said a blast was heard in the mountainous region between the southwestern town of Stolac and the village of Ljubinje. The weather conditions were very bad, with heavy fog and rain." Officials of the Croat-Muslim federation's Interior Ministry later confirmed that the plane crashed on Mount Hrgut, killing all nine people on board. The others who died with the 47-year-old Trajkovski were his staffers Dimka Ilkova Boskovic, Risto Blazevski, Anita Krista Lozanska, and Mile Krstevski, as well as two bodyguards and two crewmembers, dpa reported. Trajkovski was widely regarded as a strong advocate of Euro-Atlantic integration and of the 2001 Ohrid agreement that ended a conflict between the security forces of the ethnic Macedonian majority and the insurgents of the ethnic Albanian minority, which makes up about one-fourth of the population. PM
 ...AS EU-MEMBERSHIP DELEGATION RETURNS HOME...At the time of President Trajkovski's death, Macedonian Prime Minister Branko Crvenkovski and other members of an official delegation were in Dublin to present the Irish EU Presidency with Macedonia's application for EU membership, Reuters reported. Upon receiving news of Trajkovski's death, the Macedonian delegation returned home immediately, without presenting the application. PM
 ...AND EU LEADERS LAMENT HIS PASSINGSpeaking in Brussels on 26 February, European Commission President Romano Prodi said: "[It is] a very sad day for the Balkan region, for whose integration [Trajkovski] had spent so much effort, and a very sad day for Europe that loses a friend and a supporter of the values of tolerance on which our union is based," RFE/RL reported. "We all owe very much to Boris Trajkovski, and my sincere hope is that his vision [of European integration] will be a legacy for all Macedonians." Prodi also noted that "today was meant to be a day of joy for Macedonia and for Boris Trajkovski -- the day when Macedonia was submitting its candidacy to become a member of the European Union -- and there are few men in Macedonia who have done more than President Trajkovski to achieve this objective." EU foreign- and security-policy chief Javier Solana said that "it is going to be very difficult for the people of Macedonia to fill that gap, but the people in Macedonia can be sure that the Europeans will continue to support them, to help them in order to get, as much as possible, the dream that President Trajkovski had, to get his country close to the structures of the European Union." PM
 MACEDONIAN PREMIER WAS OPTIMISTIC ON EU APPLICATIONSpeaking on 25 February, one day before the ill-fated delegation was scheduled to hand over Macedonia's application for EU membership in Dublin, Prime Minister Crvenkovski called that application a "huge and significant step," which will largely define the country's and its citizens' future, MIA reported. "The application by itself is not the end, but the beginning of a long and hard process," Crvenkovski said, adding that the reforms following the application must be supported by all political parties and ethnic groups to be successful. In response to the skepticism of politicians in Brussels, Strasbourg, and Skopje that the application might not be accepted, Crvenkovski said: "If the application [is not accepted for review by the EU]...the government got it wrong. If, on the other hand, the answer is positive, it will be to the credit of the entire state" (see "RFE/RL Balkan Report," 13 February 2004). UB
 SERBIAN PARLIAMENT PAVES WAY FOR PRESIDENTIAL VOTE...On 25 February, the Serbian parliament voted 182-58 to scrap the requirement that at least 50 percent of all registered voters must cast their ballots for a presidential election to be valid, Serbian media reported (see "RFE/RL Balkan Report," 21 November 2003). Under the new rules, a simple majority of those voting is sufficient to elect a president. The speaker of the parliament is obliged to call presidential elections within 60 days of the speaker's own election. Speaker Dragan Marsicanin was elected on 4 February. Since late 2002, there have been three unsuccessful attempts to elect a successor to President Milan Milutinovic, who left office in early 2003. Since then, the speaker of the parliament has performed the president's functions, which are mainly symbolic. PM
 ...AS HORSE TRADING CONTINUESDemocratic Party leader Boris Tadic is said to be negotiating with Democratic Party of Serbia (DSS) chief and Prime Minister-designate Vojislav Kostunica for the Democrats to join the government after 100 days and for the two parties to field a joint presidential candidate, Reuters reported from Belgrade on 25 February. Polls suggest that Serbian Radical Party (SRS) leader Tomislav Nikolic might easily win the expected upcoming presidential vote. In related news, the parliament recently elected Radovan Jelasic governor of the National Bank. Other changes the legislature is widely expected to act upon soon involve granting voting rights to the diaspora and guaranteeing ethnic minorities representation in the parliament even if their parties cannot meet the 5 percent electoral threshold. PM
 HEAD OF SERBIA AND MONTENEGRO'S GENERAL STAFF TO QUIT?General Branko Krga, who is chief of the army's General Staff, will soon retire, "Vesti" reported on 26 February, citing unnamed sources close to the General Staff. The daily added that his departure is not the result of international or domestic political pressure. PM
 SERBIA'S FORMER SECURITY CHIEF WITHDRAWS A CONFESSIONRade Markovic, who was former Yugoslav President Slobodan Milosevic's security chief, told a Belgrade court on 25 February that he previously confessed to a link between himself and Milosevic, on the one hand, and the August 2000 murder of former Serbian President Ivan Stambolic, on the other, in return for protection for himself and his elderly parents, Reuters reported (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 7, 18, and 25 April 2003). Markovic said he confessed to special prosecutor Jovan Prijic, who wanted to implicate Milosevic in the case. Markovic did not say why he retracted his confession. Reuters described Markovic as having to interrupt his presentation repeatedly "to collect himself." Pleading not guilty to all charges against him, the former security chief told the court that "no one talked with me about Ivan Stambolic while I was state security chief. Slobodan Milosevic never talked to me about Stambolic." PM
 GERMAN FOREIGN MINISTER SAYS EU TO REPLACE NATO IN BOSNIASpeaking in Sarajevo on 26 February, German Foreign Minister Joschka Fischer said that Bosnia's relations with the EU and NATO are dependent on that country's cooperation with the Hague-based war crimes tribunal, Deutsche Welle's Bosnian Service reported (http://www2.dw-world.de/bosnian/tagesthema/1.62087.1.html). He added that he expects that a smaller EU contingent will replace the approximately 7,000 NATO-led SFOR peacekeepers by the end of 2004 (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 5 December 2003, and "RFE/RL Balkan Report," 19 September 2003). Fischer noted that Germany, which currently has about 1,300 peacekeepers in Bosnia, will take part in the new mission. In response, Bosnian Foreign Minister Mladen Ivanic said that "Bosnia-Herzegovina counts on German support on its way toward European integration." PM
 ROMANIAN PARLIAMENT RATIFIES NATO-ACCESSION TREATYParliament on 26 February unanimously ratified the NATO Accession Treaty, Mediafax reported. Addressing the forum, Prime Minister Adrian Nastase said that for Bucharest, NATO accession should also be considered a milestone on Romania's road to the EU and that the government is neither oblivious nor indifferent to the "unequal position" Romania has vis-a-vis NATO and the EU, respectively. Nastase also lauded the contribution Romanian soldiers serving abroad made to the country's NATO-accession efforts. President Ion Iliescu said Romanians should take the ratification with a sense of "dignity and duty fulfilled." Iliescu expressed his thanks to all who contributed to the accession effort. Opposition deputies welcomed the accession, but warned of lingering problems in efforts to join the EU. MS
 ROMANIAN 'COUNTEROFFENSIVE' AT EU FALLS FLATAn intended "counteroffensive" that was to be led by Prime Minister Nastase in Brussels (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 24 February 2004) fell well short of its target, international news agencies reported on 25 February. European parliament President Patrick Cox told journalists after meeting with Nastase that Bucharest's target of joining the EU in 2007 could be jeopardized if Romania does not intensify and speed up domestic reforms. "This is a serious wake-up call," dpa quoted Cox as telling Nastase in front of the media. Cox also said that if Romania is unprepared for accession, Bulgaria might join the EU alone in 2007. European Commission President Romano Prodi said the commission shares many of the criticisms expressed by the European Parliament's Foreign Affairs Committee in its evaluation of Romania's performance. "I urged the prime minister to tackle with energy the problem of administrative and judicial reform and the problem of corruption," Prodi said, as well as to "work harder to increase the speed" of reforms. Nastase presented Prodi and Enlargement Commissioner Guenter Verheugen with a four-page "list of priority actions" his government pledged to complete by end June. MS
 ROMANIAN DEFENSE MINISTER VISITS SOLDIERS IN AFGHANISTANA Romanian delegation headed by Defense Minister Ioan Mircea Pascu visited Romanian units deployed in Kandahar and Kabul on 25 February and held talks with U.S. Colonel William Garret, under whose command the 405-strong Romanian contingent is serving, Mediafax reported. Garret praised the performance of the Romanian soldiers, saying the contingent has adjusted quickly to its mission. The Romanian delegation, including Chief of Staff General Mihail Popescu and the two chairmen of the defense committees of Romania's bicameral parliament -- Razvan Ionescu and Sergiu Nicolaescu -- later visited the U.S. military base Phoenix in Kabul and held talks with its commander Brigadier General Mancino Thomas and with Multinational Brigade commander Brigadier General Jocelyn Lacroix. MS
 ROMANIAN COURT RULES MINERS STRIKE ILLEGALA Targu-Jiu court on 25 February ruled that the strike by miners at the National Lignite Company Oltenia is illegal and must end, Mediafax reported. The court ruled upon a complaint filed by the management of the company (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 24 February 2004). Union leader Ioan Ruset said the verdict will be appealed. MS
 EU WILLING TO UPGRADE POLITICAL, ECONOMIC TIES WITH MOLDOVAEuropean Union officials said on 24 February that the union is willing to significantly upgrade its political and economic ties with Moldova, an RFE/RL correspondent in Brussels reported. After meeting with Prime Minister Vasile Tarlev, the officials said most of Moldova's problems stem from the Transdniester conflict, the resolution of which is regarded by the EU as an urgent priority. Enlargement Commissioner Guenter Verheugen, who is in charge of the EU's "New Neighbors" policy, said Moldova is Europe's poorest country and that people there "suffer as a result of political circumstances they did not create." Verheugen said the EU does not agree with Moldova's request to be included in its Balkan Stability Pact, but that Chisinau could become a "pioneer" in implementing the Action Plan for the "New Neighbors." Unlike the Balkan Stability Pact, he said, the Action Plan will be an "open-ended process" that neither offers nor rules out eventual EU membership. MS
 MOLDOVAN CAIC REJECTS MEDIATORS' NEW FEDERALIZATION PLANThe parties and organizations forming the Committee for the Defense of Independence and the Constitution (CAIC) approved on 25 February a resolution rejecting the latest plan for the country's federalization proposed by the three mediators in the conflict -- Russia, Ukraine, and the OSCE, Flux reported. The resolution was approved after considerable bargaining between the Our Moldova alliance and the Popular Party Christian Democratic (PPCD). The PPCD intended to include in it a considerably stronger attack on Russia and its presence in Transdniester, but the alliance said the proposed wording might alienate its electorate. The resolution describes the latest plan as a minor variation of the "Kozak Memorandum" proposed by Russia and rejected by Moldova. The resolution says the proposed document ignores the "fundamental aspect of the Transdniester conflict," which it said stems from the existence of a regime set up by an "anti-constitutional rebellion" and owes its continuation to "mafia interests in several countries" and the exploitation of Russia's geopolitical objectives. MS
 CONSERVATIVE OPPOSITION PARTIES REGROUP IN BULGARIAN PARLIAMENTFollowing the decision of former Prime Minister Ivan Kostov and 26 other legislators to leave the conservative opposition Union of Democratic Forces (SDS), the party's remaining 13 lawmakers headed by party Chairwoman Nadezhda Mihailova decided on 25 February to quit the opposition coalition United Democratic Forces (ODS) and to form their own parliamentary group, mediapool.bg reported. Kostov and his followers will remain in the ODS, which also includes the Bulgarian Agrarian National Union-National Union (BZNS-NS), the Democratic Party, and the Social Democrats. Talks are under way between the ODS and defectors of the governing National Movement Simeon II (NDSV) to form a new parliamentary group (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 25 February 2004). UB
 BULGARIAN TOP BRASS CRITICIZES DELAY IN EQUIPPING IRAQ CONTINGENTBulgarian armed forces Chief of Staff General Nikola Kolev on 25 February complained that a replacement contingent sent to Iraq more than a month ago has yet to receive equipment upgrades it was promised by the Defense Ministry, mediapool.bg reported. Kolev said the contingent is still waiting for modern night-vision and communications equipment. Members of the first Bulgarian contingent sent to Iraq complained upon their return that they had to purchase modern equipment at their own expense. In spite of these problems, Defense Minister Nikolay Svinarov said in Karlovo on 25 February that the Bulgarian military has proven in Iraq that it is combat-ready and interoperable with NATO forces. UB
Southwestern Asia And The Middle East
 AFGHAN LEADER CONSIDERS MEETING WITH FORMER TALIBAN FOREIGN MINISTER...Afghan Transitional Administration Chairman Hamid Karzai is considering meeting the ousted Taliban regime's foreign minister, Wakil Ahmad Muttawakil, AP reported on 25 February. Karzai said in an interview with a Pakistani television station that he received a "nice letter" from Muttawakil and might meet with him. Karzai's spokesman, Jawed Ludin, on 25 February confirmed Karzai's statement. According to Ludin, no meeting between Karzai and Muttawakil has been scheduled, nor is there a "definite plan" for the two to meet, AP reported. AT
 ...IN EFFORT TO HALT NEO-TALIBAN VIOLENCEFormer Taliban Foreign Minister Muttawakil was released from U.S. detention in October and has reportedly been living in Kandahar. However, while some Afghan administration officials at the time confirmed his release, others denied it, and the entire episode remained shrouded in controversy (see "RFE/RL Afghanistan Report," 9, 16, 23, and 30 October 2003). Muttawakil was considered a moderate member of the Taliban regime who reportedly opposed the presence in Afghanistan of Osama bin Laden and his Al-Qaeda terrorist network. Karzai has sought to gain the support of some elements of the former Taliban regime in an effort to limit the destructive activities of the neo-Taliban and to bolster his own political standing among Pashtuns (see "RFE/RL Afghanistan Report," 3 July and 18 September 2003 and "RFE/RL Newsline," 2, 3, and 15 September and 2 October 2003. AT
 REINFORCEMENTS DEPLOYED TO SOUTHERN AFGHAN PROVINCEPro-Afghan Transitional Administration forces have arrived in Zabul Province from neighboring Kandahar Province, Peshawar-based Afghan Islamic Press reported on 25 February. According to an unidentified official in Zabul, the reinforcements are currently in Mizan District and "have carried out a series of operations," but no major fighting has taken place "because the Taliban fled their positions." Zabul Province Deputy Governor Mawlawi Mohammad Omar said on 18 February that around 400 militia loyal to the ousted Taliban regime had gathered in his province for a possible attack on Mizan and Ata Ghar (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 19 February 2004). AT
 FIVE AFGHAN AID WORKERS KILLEDFive Afghan nationals working for an aid agency were killed on 25 February in the village of Ozbin in Kapisa Province, 50 kilometers from Kabul, AFP reported on 26 February. Interior Minister Ali Ahmad Jalali said that one aid worker is missing and two others sustained injuries when their vehicle was ambushed, the BBC reported on 26 February. The victims were working for the Swedish Development Fund, which is supporting the Rural Development Ministry in implementing a National Solidarity Program, AFP reported. No one has taken responsibility for the attack. Four staff members of the Organization for Mine Clearance and Afghan Rehabilitation were killed in an ambush in the western Afghanistan's Farah Province on 14 February (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 17 February 2004). AT
 AFGHAN PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE SPEAKS OUTAfghan Planning Minister Haji Mohammad Mohaqeq told the "Kabul Weekly" on 25 February that he is running for president as an independent candidate. Mohaqeq, who is the leader of one of the factions of Hizb-e Wahdat, a party representing the Shi'ites of Afghanistan, said that he is "not a candidate of Hizb-e Wahdat or any other group." Factionalism does not appeal to the Afghan people and, therefore, he has chosen to run as an independent candidate, Mohaqeq said. The former mujahedin said he has "been on the frontlines against the Soviet Union and the [Afghan] communists...[and he] defended the people in the resistance against the Taliban." Since it was not just one tribe or group of Afghans that fought against communism and terrorism, he hopes to secure votes from all strata of population, Mohaqeq said. Mohaqeq said he hopes the Information and Culture Ministry will provide all candidates equal access to the media. AT
 CZECH LOWER HOUSE APPROVES DEPLOYMENT OF TROOPS TO AFGHANISTANThe Chamber of Deputies on 25 February approved the government's request to deploy 150 Czech soldiers to Afghanistan, CTK and AFP reported. The resolution was supported by 127 deputies, with 46 voting against and 13 abstentions. The resolution stipulates that 120 of the troops will serve with the U.S.-led coalition and 30 will be assigned to the NATO-led International Security Assistance Force (ISAF) in Kabul. The Senate has already approved the request. MS
 TEHRAN ANNOUNCES FINAL ELECTION RESULTSThe Iranian Interior Ministry announced on 25 February that the counting of votes in the capital is complete, according to the ministry's website. A total of 1,965,666 votes were cast in the Tehran, Rey, Shemiranat, and Islamshahr constituencies, and 27 candidates received sufficient votes to take their seats in the 290-member legislature. The remaining three seats will be determined in by-elections that have not yet been scheduled. A slightly earlier report from ILNA cited the Guardians Council as reporting that 29 of the Tehran seats had been decided in the first round. Overall, 156 conservative candidates were elected in the first round, Reuters reported on 25 February, citing IRNA. Fifty-five seats will be determined in by-elections. BS
 PARLIAMENT SPEAKER WITHDRAWS FROM SECOND ROUNDOne of the Tehran candidates who did not receive enough votes in the first round to win a mandate is parliament speaker Hojatoleslam Mehdi Karrubi, IRNA and ISNA reported. He announced on 25 February that he will not run in the by-election. The front-runner in Tehran, Gholamali Haddad-Adel, said only that "We all respect Mr. Karrubi" when he was asked on 22 February who the next speaker will be, ISNA reported. Asked if a non-cleric could be the next speaker, Haddad-Adel responded only that this would be legally permissible. BS
 NEGLIGENCE LIKELY CAUSE OF IRANIAN TRAIN WRECKRoads and Transport Minister Ahmad Khorram said on 24 February that negligence, rather than sabotage, is the most likely cause of the 18 February train wreck in northeastern Iran that resulted in some 300 deaths, ISNA reported. "After the examination of different hypotheses by the Supreme Committee on Railway Accidents, the likelihood of sabotage or external factors, such as an earthquake or a strong wind, have been rejected," he said. Nevertheless, Khorram added, the possibilities of a deliberate act by a disgruntled employee or a mistake by personnel are being investigated. He said the direct cause of the accident was poor oversight at the Abu Moslem station, where the railway cars started rolling before derailing and exploding at Nishabur. BS
 IAEA REPORT DECRIES IRAN'S DISCLOSURE FAILURES...International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) Director-General Mohammed el-Baradei on 24 February circulated the agency's report on Iran among member states, according to the agency's website (http://www.iaea.org/NewsCenter/Focus/IaeaIran/index.shtml). He told reporters that he would like Iran to respond to requests for information more rapidly. He described Iran's failure to disclose work on the P2 centrifuge, which can used to enrich uranium, as a "setback." "I hope this will be the last time any aspect of the program has not been declared to us," he said. The IAEA report also regretted Tehran's failure to disclose production of polonium-210, which can be used in initiating a chain reaction in a nuclear weapon, "The Wall Street Journal" reported on 25 February. The U.S. daily obtained a copy of the IAEA report and reported that it states that "most of the workshops" producing centrifuges are "owned by military-industrial organizations," which is a new revelation. BS
 ...AS TEHRAN SAYS IT IS NOT OBLIGED TO MAKE NUCLEAR DECLARATIONSIranian Atomic Energy Organization chief Gholamreza Aqazadeh-Khoi said on 25 February that Tehran is not obliged to inform the IAEA about its research programs before 21 March, state television reported. Therefore, he said, not declaring the P2 centrifuges is not tantamount to concealment. Supreme National Security Council Secretary Hojatoleslam Hassan Rohani said on 25 February that most of the criticisms in the IAEA report can be explained, state television reported. He said Iran did not explain the centrifuges because it does not have any. "We are at the stage of making sample equipment parts in order to move toward the testing stage.... We have other research projects which we have not declared to the agency," he added. BS
 UN ENVOY TRAVELS TO IRAQ FOR TALKS ON HUMANITARIAN ISSUESRoss Mountain, UN Secretary-General Kofi Annan's acting special representative for Iraq, arrived in Baghdad on 25 February for meetings on relief and reconstruction needs, the UN News Service announced, citing UN spokesman Fred Eckhard. Mountain will assess reconstruction and humanitarian issues during his stay in Iraq, Eckhard said. The envoy is scheduled to meet with representatives of the Coalition Provisional Authority (CPA), the Iraqi Governing Council, and UN staffers. This visit comes a few days ahead of a planned conference in Abu Dhabi, where the International Reconstruction Facility for Iraq will be launched. The forum aims to allow governments to contribute to the rebuilding of Iraq's economy and infrastructure through projects administered by UN agencies and the World Bank. MH
 ANSAR AL-ISLAM LINKED TO AL-QAEDA, CLAIMS RESPONSIBILITY FOR KIRKUK BOMBINGHoshyar Salih Hama Arif, a member of Ansar Al-Islam, has made statements that link his radical Iraqi Kurdish group to Al-Qaeda, Al-Jazeera reported on 25 February. Kurdish militias and the United States have accused Ansar al-Islam of having ties to Al-Qaeda. Arif, who was arrested recently and is currently being held by Iraqi authorities in Al-Sulaymaniyah, said in a statement: "At the beginning, we tried to obscure our relationship with Al-Qaeda to dissociate ourselves from the U.S. list of wanted persons. However, when the Americans attacked us, we became no [longer] fearful of showing our association with Al-Qaeda." Kurdishmedia.com reported on 25 February that Ansar Al-Sunnah (previously known as Ansar Al-Islam) has taken responsibility for the 23 February suicide bombing at the Rahimawa police station in Kirkuk, southern Kurdistan (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 23 February 2004). The Military Association of Ansar Al-Sunnah has published the report on its website (http://www.ayobi.com). MH
 U.S. AND IRAQI SOLDIERS STORM AL-FALLUJAH MOSQUEA group of U.S. troops supported by helicopters stormed the Sa'd bin Abi-Waqqas Mosque and the home of Shaykh Abdallah al-Janabi, prayer leader and preacher of the mosque, in Al-Fallujah, reported Al-Jazeera on 25 February. Al-Janabi's sermons have called for jihad and resisting occupation troops, according to local residents. Meanwhile, in a large operation near the Health Ministry in Baghdad, U.S. and Iraqi soldiers detained about 20 people suspected of posing a "security threat," Captain Buckley O'Day said on 25 February, Al-Jazeera reported. O'Day said about 20 people "suspected of being a security threat in Iraq" were detained for questioning. Two policemen said they witnessed troops arresting the main cleric of a local mosque along with 20 other worshippers. U.S. soldiers and Iraqi civil-defense officers sealed off an area of the city between the Russafa Bridge and the Health Ministry with tanks and barbed wire, AFP reported on 25 February. MH
 IRAQI SENIOR POLICEMAN, FORMER BA'ATH PARTY OFFICIAL KILLED IN SEPARATE SHOOTINGSUnknown attackers have shot dead a top police officer and a former member of ousted President Saddam Hussein's ruling Ba'ath Party in separate incidents in northern Iraq, Al-Jazeera reported on 25 February. Police General Hikmat Mahmud Muhammad was shot dead by three men in a car as he left his home early on 25 February in Mosul, said Lieutenant Colonel Abd al-Azil Hazim Khafudi. Meanwhile, Anfal Ilah al-Anaz, a general in Hussein's army, was assassinated and his son badly wounded in Mosul on 24 February, according to police Major Makram Zakaria. Anaz was hit in the chest and back, while his son, a former intelligence officer, was hospitalized, Zakaria added. MH
 AL-SISTANI ISSUES FATWA FOR RETURN OF STOLEN GOVERNMENT DOCUMENTSAli al-Sistani, the highest religious authority in Al-Najaf, has issued a new fatwa, the Islamic Al-Da'wah Party website announced on 25 February. Al-Sistani called on those persons who are in possession of government files, namely those belonging to some security departments, to return them to a government agency. Al-Sistani confirmed that it is impermissible to continue keeping these documents; that they cannot be sold; and that they must be returned to an authoritative government agency. According to the CPA, the documents of the Iraqi state were exposed to looting, plundering, and burning due to the anarchy that followed the fall of the former regime. In some cases, these documents were used for commercial and publicity purposes. In Baghdad, trading in official documents and files that contain personal information on the former state's employees and on civil and property rights of citizens, as well as military and retirement records, has flourished, according to the CPA. In addition, the authority has said security and intelligence files are missing containing the names of Arab and international politicians, journalists, merchants, and companies that cooperated with the former regime. MH
 BALKAN MESSAGES FROM MARBURGBy Patrick Moore
Germany's leading Balkan-studies professional association, the Suedosteuropa-Gesellschaft (SOG), held its annual meeting in the historical university town of Marburg on 20-21 February. At the center of attention were several issues relating to the roles of regional specialists in passing their knowledge on to elected officials, as well as to Southeastern Europe's future ties to the EU.
The SOG differs from similar associations in many other countries in that it receives most of its funding from the Foreign Ministry and is led by an elected member of the parliament, who currently is Gernot Erler, a prominent foreign-policy spokesman for Chancellor Gerhard Schroeder's Social Democratic Party (SPD). His predecessor at the head of the SOG for more than 30 years was Walter Althammer of Bavaria's conservative Christian Social Union (CSU).
The idea behind having politicians chair a professional association is that they are best able to ensure government funding as well as provide good contacts between regional specialists and elected officials. Under Schroeder in particular, German government-funded think tanks and professional associations have been strongly called upon to make their work available and relevant to policy makers.
In Marburg, several speakers noted that many German Balkan experts spent relatively quiet years before 1989 conducting academic research. When communism collapsed, their focus shifted to providing analysis of ongoing trends. Now, the emphasis is on participating in the transformation process itself.
The SOG has been actively involved in such efforts, which until recently concentrated on the western Balkans and on Cyprus. Current projects are centered primarily on the EU's "partnership" with Turkey and on "providing European perspectives" for Moldova, all of which is done "in close cooperation with the Foreign Ministry," as several speakers noted (www.suedosteuropa-gesellschaft.com).
All this is, of course, easier said than done. Several participants in the Marburg talks complained bitterly that many politicians ignore or show no interest in the findings and opinions of trained professionals.
This is particularly the case where possible Turkish membership in the EU is concerned. Several speakers noted the widespread ignorance regarding and prejudice toward Turks and Turkey at all levels of German society, including among government officials.
Conference participants appeared unanimous in the opinion that there is ample knowledge available to help policy makers take wise decisions if the politicians would only bother to consult with experts and act on their findings. At the same time, some speakers warned their academic colleagues that the days of generous public funding for ivory-tower projects are long over, and the professionals must prove their worth as members of an integrated policy community.
In general, the speakers (and SOG members in general) tended to be sympathetic to Turkish hopes for EU membership and toward the desires of the Balkan peoples in general for European integration. This theme came through particularly clearly in the main speech of the conference, which was delivered by Christian Schwarz-Schilling, the outgoing international mediator in Bosnia-Herzegovina.
He stressed that it is "laughable" for the established EU members to treat the new and would-be EU members in Eastern and Southeastern Europe as second-class partners, to be kept at arm's length. Schwarz-Schilling called for open borders and exchange programs, particularly involving young people. He stressed that courage as well as perseverance are necessary in promoting European integration in the region, and that constant effort is essential to overcome complacency.
Much of Schwarz-Schilling's message to the SOG was, in a sense, preaching to the converted. But he alone of the major speakers stressed the importance of the Euro-Atlantic community and the trans-Atlantic alliance. Most other speakers stressed only "Europe" -- which in German usage generally means the EU -- as though it were an island cut off in space and time.
It was thus left to Schwarz-Schilling to point out that the EU countries developed and prospered over long decades thanks to U.S. protection, and that they by and large did not object to letting Washington take the responsibility and foot the bill.
He also argued that if it were not for the United States, Western Europe would have become "an extension of the Asian continent" during the Cold War. This is a point that few German public figures have cared to recall ever since Schroeder came from behind to win re-election in 2002 with anti-American rhetoric. His campaign was accompanied and followed by a fiesta of America-bashing in much of the German media.
Schwarz-Schilling continued his blunt talk by recalling that European efforts to restore peace to former Yugoslavia in the 1990s failed without U.S. intervention. He nonetheless criticized Washington for creating what he called an unworkably complex system for Bosnia through the Dayton peace agreements in 1995.
Schwarz-Schilling argued that only experts from an established democracy outside the Balkans could have produced Dayton, but perhaps he overlooked the former Yugoslavs' own talents for devising elaborate networks of checks and balances to ensure an appropriate balance between various ethnic groups.
Schwarz-Schilling hailed the Allies' efficiency in cleaning out much of the old Nazi order in Germany at the end of World War II, but regretted that the foreigners did not make similar efforts against the nationalists in Dayton-era Bosnia, which is now left to sort things out for itself.
Yet another sort of criticism of foreigners' behavior surfaced at the conference. One of the SOG's two student prizes went to the writer of a dissertation from the American-studies department of Munich University. She criticized U.S. efforts to promote democracy in postcommunist Bulgaria by analyzing the work of the U.S. government, NGOs, financier George Soros, and the American University in Blagoevgrad.
It is interesting to note that such a thesis was written and took a prestigious award. One wonders when it might occur to a U.S. graduate student in a German-studies program to write a dissertation on, for example, German sex- and beer-tourism in the Czech Republic, and then go on to win a prize for it.