|Saturday, 2 March 2024
RFE/RL Newsline, 04-03-08
From: Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty <http://www.rferl.org>
 LOCAL OFFICIALS WORK ON GETTING THE VOTE OUTIn order to assure a sufficiently high turnout for the 14 March presidential election, the health-care directorate of the Khabarovsk Krai administration has ordered local hospitals not to admit patients who do not have absentee ballots from the local election commission, gazeta.ru reported on 5 March. The krai prosecutor investigated the order, however, and found that patients have been being admitted without showing their ballots. Meanwhile, the head of the krai election commission has written to the prosecutor complaining that the heads of the municipal organizations are "systemically using pressure on the electorate to increase [voter] turnout," the website reported. "Izvestiya" on 2 March reported that regional authorities across Russia are planning to use a variety to techniques to ensure high voter turnout. In Ulyanovsk, the head of the Volga Interregional Energy Management Company admitted that apartments in the city are getting heat so that "people will come out and perform their civic duty." In Stavropol, Viktor Pisarenko, first secretary of the krai Communist Party Committee, told the daily that failure to ensure high voter turnout will "mean the loss of jobs for [local] officials." JAC
 COMMUNISTS REPORTEDLY OFFERED AIR TIME IN EXCHANGE FOR NOT WITHDRAWING FROM ELECTION...The presidium of the Communist Party's Central Committee decided on 3 March not to withdraw the party's presidential candidate, Duma Deputy Nikolai Kharitonov, "Nezavisimaya gazeta" reported on 5 March, citing party Secretary Oleg Kulikov. According to the daily, all party branches have been asked to do everything in their power to help Kharitonov. Some branches have been urging a boycott of the election. However, the newspaper reported, citing unnamed senior party sources, that Communist Party leader Gennadii Zyuganov visited the presidential administration a few weeks ago and was "strongly" advised against withdrawing Kharitonov. In return, Zyuanov was promised extensive and favorable television coverage of Kharitonov and his campaign. On 4 March, RTR and ORT carried reports about Kharitonov's speech to his campaign workers (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 5 March 2004). JAC
 ...AS PARTY'S FINANCIAL SPONSOR IS UNDER SCRUTINY FROM PROSECUTOR-GENERALParty Secretary Kulikov also told "Nezavisimaya gazeta" on 5 March that the criminal case launched against Communist State Duma Deputy and Rosagropromstroi head Viktor Vidmanov by the Prosecutor-General's Office is a form of pressure against the party (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 27 February 2003). Vidmanov is suspected of misappropriating or embezzling budgetary funds, according to gazeta.ru on 25 February. "Moskovskii komsomolets" reported on 5 March that, according to its sources, a high-level Kremlin official told Communist Party leader Zyuganov during a recent meeting that the criminal case against Vidmanov will be dropped if the Communists forget about withdrawing Kharitonov from the presidential race. JAC
 LEADING ANALYST SEES FRADKOV APPOINTMENT AS BLOW TO LIBERALS...Leading TV-Tsentr political analyst Aleksei Pushkov told viewers on 5 March that the appointment of Prime Minister Mikhail Fradkov confirms the suggestion of some analysts that President Vladimir Putin was seeking a person for that job whom he can easily dismiss in the run-up to the 2008 presidential election when it becomes necessary for him to anoint his own successor. He added that through Fradkov, the so-called siloviki will have greater influence in government, and said Fradkov's appointment is the strongest blow yet to the liberals in government, especially acting Finance Minister Aleksei Kudrin and acting Economic Development and Trade Minister German Gref. Pushkov said that both men badly wanted to the prime minister's job. Other ministers who will be dropped from the next government include liberal acting Energy Minister Igor Yusufov and Natural Resources Minister Igor Artyukhov, Pushkov said. VY
 ...AND PREDICTS THE DEMISE OF YELTSIN-ERA HOLDOVERSSome remaining holdovers from the era of former President Boris Yeltsin, including acting Culture Minister Mikhail Shvydkoi and acting Media Minister Mikhail Lesin, will also be dismissed, the usually well-informed Pushkov said on TV-Tsentr on 5 March (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 3 March 2004). Finally, he predicted that another Yeltsin-era figure, Security Council Secretary Vladimir Rushailo, will be replaced, possibly by acting Foreign Minister Igor Ivanov, who himself could be replaced by Ambassador to the United States Yurii Ushakov. VY
 HISTORIAN WARNS OF POSSIBLE CHINESE EXPANSION...Writing in "Literaturnaya gazeta," No. 8, St. Petersburg University History Deparment head Igor Froyanov, the author of several controversial books on Russia's future development, said that Russia could lose territory to China because of demographic pressure resulting from the depopulation of Siberia and the Far East. Froyanov alleged that China is "retreating from socialism" and is plotting with the West to gain control of "Russia's national territory." VY
 ...AS ANNIVERSARY OF MAJOR SINO-RUSSIAN BORDER CLASH NOTEDThis year marks the 35th anniversary of the 1969 Soviet-Chinese altercation over Damanskii Island in the Ussurii River, the first armed clash between the two communist giants, TV-Tsentr reported on 6 March. During the fighting, 58 Red Army soldiers were killed and more than 100 were wounded according to official figures, but the disputed island remained in Soviet hands. In June 1991, Damanskii Island and several other disputed islands were quietly turned over to China, and now the two countries are enjoying the benefits of a friendship and cooperation treaty. Does this mean that the blood of Soviet soldiers was shed in vain? TV-Tsentr asked rhetorically. Not at all, the station said, because the "decisive military rebuff" ended aggressive Chinese claims to more than 1.5 million square kilometers of Soviet territory. VY
 JOKE COULD COST RUSSIAN STUDENT DEARLYOfficers of the Altai Krai directorate of the Federal Security Service have interrogated an 18-year-old student who allegedly sent an e-mail message to the CIA from a Barnaul University computer classroom containing threats of terrorists acts in the subways of major U.S. cities, RTR reported on 7 March. "You will all die. Allah akhbar," the student allegedly wrote. According to the report, the student -- whose name has not been released -- admitted to sending the message, saying it was a joke. Washington complained to Moscow and the Barnaul FSB detained the suspect just a few hours later. After being interrogated, the student was released under house arrest. According to law enforcement sources, he could face up to three years' imprisonment. Barnaul State University Vice Rector Boris Semin told RTR that the student might be expelled for "his infantilism." VY
 FSB SEEKS TO EXEMPT ESPIONAGE CASES FROM JURY-TRIAL SYSTEMThe FSB plans to introduce in the State Duma amendments to the Criminal Code that would exempt terrorism and espionage cases from being heard by juries, "Vremya novostei" reported on 5 March. According to Valerii Zazhitskii, a professor at the FSB's academy, the agency believes that jury courts cannot guarantee the protection of the state secrets usually involved in such cases. "Vremya novostei," however, argued that the real reason for the FSB's proposal is because in December a jury acquitted Krasnoyarsk scientist Valentin Danilov, who stood accused of spying for China (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 30 December 2003). VY
 RUSSIA TO HOLD JOINT EXERCISES WITH NATO, FRANCEOfficers from Russia and 10 Western armies will take part in an antimissile exercise at Colorado Springs, Colorado, on 8-12 March, RIA-Novosti reported on 7 March. The exercises are being held under the framework of the Russia-NATO Council. NATO's press service told the agency that the exercises -- in which a total of 60 officers will participate -- are the first part of a program of military exercises planned for this year. Speaking to journalists in Paris on 5 March, acting Defense Minister Sergei Ivanov said that he and French Defense Minister Michele Alliot-Marie have agreed to hold joint naval exercises and to cooperate in the sale of jointly produced weapons systems to third countries, strana.ru reported on 6 March. VY
 DUMA JACKS UP SPENDING ON ITSELFState Duma deputies voted on 5 March to increase spending on the Duma in 2004, RIA-Novosti reported. The vote was 359 in favor, with two against and one abstention. According to the budget, the Duma will spend 3.789 billion rubles ($133 million) in 2004, compared with 2.511 billion in 2003 -- an increase of 51 percent. Aleksandr Lotorev, head of the Duma apparatus, said the Duma's expenses will be reduced soon when 83 employees are cut, and deputies' foreign trips are reduced. Also on 5 March, deputies voted to approve in their second and third readings amendments to the law on joint-stock companies that are designed to increase minority shareholders' rights, RosBalt reported. The vote on the third reading was 315 in favor, eight against, and six abstentions. JAC
 LEGISLATOR ALLEGES BEREZOVSKII INVOLVED IN YUSHENKOV'S DEATH...State Duma Deputy Viktor Pokhmelkin (independent) told Interfax on 5 March that he believes self-exiled former oligarch Berezovskii might have been involved in the April 2003 murder of State Duma Deputy Sergei Yushenkov. Both Pokhmelkin and Yushenkov, together with Berezovskii, founded the Liberal Russia party in April 2000. Later Pokhmelkin and Yushenkov led an effort to oust Berezovskii from the party (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 24 April 2000 and 9 October 2002). Pokhmelkin said that when he met with Berezovskii in January 2002, he "saw at once that Berezovskii was out of touch with reality and was obsessed with hatred of the authorities and would stop at nothing." On 9 February, three of the six men on trial for killing Yushenkov pled guilty on all counts of complicity in the murder (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 10 February 2004). JAC
 ...AND WITHDRAWS FROM LIBERAL RUSSIA PARTYOn 6 March, Deputy Pokhmelkin did not attend a session of the Liberal Russia Political Council, sending a written message that he is resigning from the party, gazeta.ru reported. The party's other co-chairman, Boris Zolotukhin, also resigned the same day, explaining that his decision was linked to the failure of the party to enter the Duma in the 7 December elections. According to Interfax on 6 March, Arkadii Yankovskii and Aleksei Yushenkov, son of Sergei Yushenkov, were elected to head the party. JAC
 RUSSIA TO PROSECUTE TALIBAN SUSPECTSDeputy Prosecutor-General Sergei Fridinskii said on 6 March that some of the seven Russian citizens recently released from U.S. custody at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba, (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 2 March 2004) are under investigation for alleged links with extremist organizations and will face trial in Russia, RTR reported on 6 March. He added that the United States has not yet provided Russia with any evidence proving that the men participated in combat operations on the side of the deposed Taliban regime in Afghanistan. VY
 CANDIDATE DROPS OUT OF VORONEZH RACEVoronezh Oblast Duma Speaker Aleksei Nakvasin officially withdrew from the 14 March gubernatorial election in Voronezh Oblast at a press conference on 3 March, Regnum reported. Nakvasin said he has already achieved the aim of his campaign, which was to draw attention to the region's problems. However, unidentified sources at his campaign headquarters said Nakvasin withdrew because of his low rating in polls, the refusal of influential political forces in Moscow to support him despite earlier promises, and pressure from supporters of incumbent Governor Vladimir Kulakov. Local analysts believe that when he declared his candidacy, Nakvasin hoped to capitalize on the dissatisfaction with Kulakov of various forces in the Kremlin and in Unified Russia. During the 7 December Duma elections, Voronezh registered the lowest level of support for Unified Russia of all regions of Russia. According to the same news agency, Nakvasin had practically no access to the local media, which was full of advertisements for Kulakov. JAC
 TV STATION NAMES RUSSIA'S RICHEST WOMENAlthough there were no women among the 25 Russian billionaires on the recently published "Forbes" magazine list of the world's richest people (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 2 March 2004), Russia does have several women with multimillion-dollar fortunes, TV-Tsentr reported on 6 March. First among them is Tatyana Dyachenko, the daughter of former President Yeltsin who was welcomed into the world of big business and politics by former oligarch Boris Berezovskii. Dyachenko is estimated to be worth about $200 million. Second place belongs to tennis star and model Anna Kournikova, who is believed to be worth more than $100 million. Pop singer Alla Pugacheva was listed in third place, also worth about $100 million. The TV-Tsentr list included several female owners and managers of transnational companies. The channel also mentioned former Interior Ministry Lieutenant Colonel Aleksandra Marinina, who last year earned $6 million from on her best-selling detective novels. VY
 PROSECUTOR BELIEVES BUREAUCRATS SHOULD STUDY SCIENTOLOGY ON THEIR OWN DIMEThe Amur Oblast prosecutor's office has launched a criminal case against Skovorodinskii Raion head Valerii Shalimov on suspicion of misusing budgetary funds, RBK reported on 5 March. According to the agency, budget money was used to pay for raion administration workers to study Scientology. The prosecutor has assumed personal control over the case. JAC
 PUTIN PROPOSES TALKS ON PRIGORODNYI RAIONMeeting in Moscow on 4 March with North Ossetia's President Aleksandr Dzasokhov, President Putin proposed three-way talks with Ingushetia's President Murat Zyazikov on expediting the return to their homes in North Ossetia's disputed Prigorodnyi Raion of ethnic Ingush forced to flee amid interethnic violence in the fall of 1992, Interfax reported. Putin thanked Dzasokhov for what he termed his "positive steps and efforts" to improve relations with Ingushetia. LF
 DISTRICT ADMINISTRATOR ASSASSINATED IN DAGHESTANMagomedrasul Akhlyaev, the head of Daghestan's northern Buynaksk Raion, was killed in a drive-by shooting on 4 March, "Nezavisimaya gazeta" reported on 5 March. Gadji Makhachev, who represents Daghestan in the State Duma, commented that such killings have become routine because Moscow is indifferent to the fact that laws are routinely ignored in Daghestan. Daghestani Nationalities Minister Magomedsalikh Gusaev was killed by a car bomb in August (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 28 August 2003), and Kyzylyurt Raion head Abdurakhman Gadjiev was shot and seriously wounded in September. LF
Transcaucasia And Central Asia
 ARMENIAN PARLIAMENT DEPUTY SPEAKER CALLS FOR DIALOGUE WITH OPPOSITIONTigran Torosian said on 5 March that it is incorrect to characterize the ongoing opposition boycott of parliamentary proceedings as a crisis, or as heralding the imminent replacement of the country's leadership, Noyan Tapan and RFE/RL's Yerevan bureau reported. But he added that he considers the current mutual intolerance displayed by the authorities and the opposition dangerous, and called for "a frank dialogue" to defuse tensions. At the same time, Torosian rejected as misplaced opposition calls for a nationwide referendum of confidence in President Robert Kocharian. LF
 12 JAILED FOR POSTELECTION CLASHES IN AZERBAIJANIn five separate court cases that ended on 4 and 5 March, 12 people have been sentenced to prison terms of three to six years for their alleged participation in the clashes in Baku between police and opposition supporters in the wake of the disputed 15 October presidential election, Turan reported. A further 26 defendants received suspended sentences. In a statement released on 5 March, the opposition Musavat Party condemned the sentences as based on fabricated charges substantiated by false testimony and false witnesses, Turan reported. The statement said judges ignored all evidence produced by the defense. LF
 AZERBAIJANI PRESIDENT CALLS FOR REVISION OF LAW ON PUBLIC TELEVISIONIlham Aliyev has declined to sign into law a bill on public television that was adopted in its third reading in January, and has sent it back to parliament for further debate, Turan reported on 6 March. The Council of Europe and other international organizations have criticized the bill, the final version of which failed to incorporate any of their recommendations aimed at minimizing state control over the planned public broadcaster (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 30 December 2003 and 12 January 2004). LF
 AZERBAIJANI, GEORGIAN PRESIDENTS PLEDGE TO INCREASE ECONOMIC COOPERATIONDuring talks in Baku on 5 March, President Aliyev and his visiting Georgian counterpart Mikheil Saakashvili pledged to remove all barriers to expanding bilateral economic cooperation, Interfax reported. Such steps include creating a unified tariff system, synchronizing tax systems, and removing customs and legal barriers. Saakashvili suggested establishing a joint market that would evolve into a Caucasus-wide common market, encompassing also Russia and Armenia. The two presidents also pledged to cooperate in combating "aggressive separatism," and called for the restoration of the territorial integrity of both their countries and the withdrawal of foreign troops. LF
 GEORGIAN PRESIDENT WARNS OF PLANS TO THWART OIL PIPELINE CONSTRUCTIONPresident Saakashvili told journalists in Baku on 4 March that he anticipates an attempt within the next few months by foreign political forces to block or change the route of the Baku-Tbilisi-Ceyhan oil export pipeline, which is currently under construction, in order to delay its completion by up to two years, RFE/RL's Azerbaijani Service reported. The first oil is currently scheduled to reach Ceyhan during the second quarter of 2005. On 5 March, Saakashvili inspected the Sangachal terminal south of Baku, where oil from the Azeri, Chirag, and Guneshli oil fields enters the export pipeline, Turan reported. On 6 March, Azerbaijani Transport Minister Zia Mamedov told journalists that Azerbaijan and Georgia will reduce oil-transit tariffs for Kazakh and Turkmen oil exported via their countries, Caucasus Press reported. LF
 REGIONAL SECURITY OFFICIALS REPORTEDLY BEAT UP GEORGIAN JOURNALISTAdjar security officials allegedly assaulted and beat up Vakho Komakhidze, a journalist employed by the independent Georgian television station Rustavi-2, after stopping his car at a checkpoint in Khelvachauri on 5 March, Georgian media reported. Komakhidze has been hospitalized with serious injuries. On his return from Baku to Tbilisi on 5 March, President Saakashvili demanded that Adjar Supreme Council Chairman Aslan Abashidze apprehend within 10 days those responsible for assaulting Komakhidze, Caucasus Press reported. He warned that he will not tolerate "lawlessness," Interfax reported. LF
 GEORGIAN PRESIDENT INCREASES PRESSURE ON ADJARIAPresident Saakashvili further voiced the suspicion that Adjar security officials are spying on the central Georgian government, Caucasus Press reported. Saakashvili said a bill will be submitted to parliament abolishing the Adjar State Security Ministry on the grounds that Georgia needs only one such ministry. Adjar Supreme Council Chairman Abashidze responded on 7 March that the status and functions of the Adjar State Security Ministry are defined by the autonomous republic's constitution, ITAR-TASS reported. Interfax on 7 March quoted Abashidze as describing Saakashvili's statement as "bold and dangerous," while Caucasus Press the following day quoted him as commenting that "to want [to do something] does not mean to be able [to do it]." LF
 GEORGIAN AUTHORITIES UNVEIL PROPOSED TAX AMNESTYMeeting with Georgian businesspeople in Tbilisi on 6 March, President Saakashvili and Prime Minister Zurab Zhvania outlined a draft bill under which those who admit by 1 July to having withheld taxes over the past six years may have 1 million laris ($483,890) in taxes written off in return for paying the balance over 15 years, Caucasus Press reported. Businesspeople must file a tax return by 1 September, and the first installment paid must equal not less than 10 percent of the total outstanding taxes owed. If passed, the law will not extend to a number of prominent businesspeople who have already been charged with corruption and tax evasion. LF
 GEORGIAN PARLIAMENT DEPUTY ARRESTED FOR ILLEGAL ARMS POSSESSIONBondo Shalikiani, who was elected to parliament on 2 November from a constituency in the west Georgian district of Tkibuli, was arrested early on 5 March after a search of his home in Kutaisi yielded an antitank grenade, a hand grenade, and two submachine guns, Caucasus Press reported. Shalikiani was taken to Tbilisi, where the Central Election Commission complied with a request from the Prosecutor-General's Office to lift his immunity from prosecution. President Saakashvili expressed regret that television journalists impinged on Shalikiani's honor and dignity by broadcasting footage of his arrest, during which Shalikiani was dressed only in his underclothes. LF
 KAZAKH PRESIDENT ENDS OFFICIAL VISIT TO SAUDI ARABIANursultan Nazarbaev returned to Kazakhstan on 6 March, ending an official visit to Saudi Arabia that began on 2 March, Khabar Television reported on 6 March. Summing up his visit, Nazarbaev stressed the possibility of future bilateral energy-sector cooperation. "Today there exists a tremendous potential for bringing in specialists from Saudi Arabia's oil industry, and especially SABIC [Saudi Basic Industrial Corp.], which produces oil and gas equipment, builds petrochemical plants, and makes petrochemical products." Nazarbaev invited Saudi Arabia's king and crown prince to visit Kazakhstan, an offer Saudi Crown Prince Abdullah accepted. In addition to meeting with Crown Prince Abdullah, Nazarbaev held talks with ministers and visited the holy cities of Mecca and Medina, where he performed the Umra, or lesser pilgrimage, RIA-Novosti reported on 6 March. DK
 KAZAKH PENSION FUND TO BE PRIVATIZED IN 2004Kazakhstan's Economic Policy Council, which functions under the country's cabinet, decided on 5 March that the State Pension Fund will be privatized this year, Kazinform reported. According to National Bank Chairman Anvar Saidenov, the privatization will take place with the help of strategic investors and international financial institutions. Prime Minister Daniyal Akhmetov chaired the meeting, which approved the council's 2004 agenda. DK
 REPORT DETAILS KYRGYZ PRESIDENT'S INCOMEAskar Akaev's monthly salary in 2003 was 576,900 soms ($13,447), Kyrgyzinfo reported on 5 March. Akaev also earned some $16,300 in international social awards and $64,200 in book royalties, all of which went to charity and to the development of the presidential library. Alaev owns a car, six stallions, and 152 shares in Kyrgyztelecom. His wife, Mayram Akaeva, received royalties, international awards, and proceeds from the sale of her books totaling 10,005,129 soms ($233,200). DK
 KYRGYZSTAN, TAJIKISTAN SEEK TO RESOLVE DIFFERENCESAt a 5 March session in Bishkek of the Kyrgyz-Tajik intergovernmental economic-cooperation commission, the two countries reached agreement on mutual transmission of electricity, on the joint maintenance of highways linking the two countries with China and Afghanistan, and on supplies of Tajik aluminum and antimony concentrate to Kyrgyz industrial enterprises, Asia Plus-Blitz reported on 5 March. But they failed to make headway in resolving a dispute over the resettlement of Tajik citizens from Kyrgyzstan to Tajikistan and vice versa. Interfax quoted the Tajik co-chairman of the commission, Hodja Akbar Turandjonzoda, as saying the issue should be shelved pending completion of the delimitation of the two countries' shared border. Nor did Turadjonzoda show any willingness to compromise over what Kyrgyzstan considers the illegal occupation by Tajik citizens of lands in Kyrgyzstan's southern Batken Oblast (see "RFE/RL Central Asia report," 10 January 2003). LF
 UZBEK MUFTI ATTACKS 'MILITANT PSUEDO-ISLAM'Abdurashid Bakhromov, the grand mufti of Uzbekistan, lashed out at what he called "militant pseudo-Islam" in remarks to RIA-Novosti on 5 March. "Unfortunately, we see that slogans such as 'struggling for the purity of Islam,' 'eliminating intermediaries in communication with Allah,' and 'the construction of a universally just caliphate' often serve as a mask for fundamentalists, radicals, extremists, and all manner of fanatics," Bakhromov said. Bakhromov added that "any movements of a fundamentalist nature and militant pseudo-Islam profoundly contradict our traditions of religious tolerance." Uzbek Radio Youth aired a similar broadside the same day, warning that the activities of the banned Islamist group Hizb ut-Tahrir will lead to "terrible bloodshed." The program featured testimonials from former Hizb Ut-Tahrir members who have since left the organization. Muhammadbobur Yuldashev, a member of the Committee for Religious Affairs under the Uzbek cabinet of ministers told the radio station: "[Hizb ut-Tahrir's] sole aim is to topple the constitutional order and establish a caliphate. Their activities have done great harm not only to our society, but to our religion as well." DK
Central And Eastern Europe
 BELARUSIAN INTELLIGENTSIA TO COLLECT SIGNATURES FOR CHANGING ELECTION CODEDelegates to the Second All-Belarusian Congress of Intelligentsia that is scheduled to take place in Minsk on 25 April will collect signatures under a petition to the Chamber of Representatives aimed at amending the Election Code, Belapan reported on 5 March, quoting Belarusian Intelligentsia Council head Uladzimir Kolas. Kolas said he believes that if each of the delegates to the congress collects 100 signatures, this would allow the Respublika group in the Chamber of Representatives to start pushing for changes in the Election Code that could democratize the formation of election commissions, give greater powers to election observers, and abolish early voting. Belarus is due to hold legislative elections this fall. Under the Belarusian Constitution, legislation may be initiated by no fewer than 150,000 eligible voters. JM
 UKRAINIAN PARLIAMENT GIVES EARLY BACKING TO PURELY PROPORTIONAL ELECTIONS...The Verkhovna Rada voted 262 to seven on 5 March to adopt in its first reading a bill postulating a fully proportional party-list system for parliamentary elections, Ukrainian news media reported. The bill calls for the election of 450 lawmakers in 225 constituencies from the lists of those parties that win at least 3 percent of the national vote, instead of the existing 4 percent voting threshold. The adoption of a purely proportional system is a sine qua non for the Communist Party and the Socialist Party to support constitutional reforms that are being promoted by the presidential administration and the pro-government parliamentary majority (see "RFE/RL Belarus and Ukraine Report," 10 February 2004). JM
 ...TO THE CHAGRIN OF TWO OPPOSITION BLOCSThe Our Ukraine and Yuliya Tymoshenko Bloc parliamentary caucuses, which oppose presidentially backed constitutional reforms, did not take part in the 5 March vote, the "Ukrayinska pravda" website (http://www2.pravda.com.ua) reported. Our Ukraine leader Viktor Yushchenko called the electoral bill a "ticket to a coup," suggesting that the aim of the constitutional reforms currently under debate is to shift presidential prerogatives to the prime minister and allow the pro-government coalition to remain in power after the 2004 presidential election. "The law on the proportional election [system] that was adopted today is a banal bribe that was offered to opposition forces to ensure their support for the anti-constitutional mutiny," Yuliya Tymoshenko charged. " The law gives power to the [oligarchic] clans." JM
 UKRAINIAN PRESIDENT SACKS ENERGY MINISTERPresident Leonid Kuchma dismissed Energy and Fuel Minister Serhiy Yermilov on 5 March, saying an inappropriate price policy on the coal market is one of the reasons behind the sacking, Interfax reported. Yermilov was a staunch supporter of using the Odesa-Brody oil pipeline in accordance with its original design -- that is, to transport Caspian oil to Europe (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 5 and 25 February 2004). JM
 LIKELY CABINET MINISTERS FROM LATVIA'S PEOPLE'S PARTY NAMEDPeople's Party Chairman Atis Slakteris told a party conference in Riga on 5 March that the party will probably assume responsibility for the Culture, Defense, Finance, Foreign, and Justice ministries in the cabinet being formed by Prime Minister-designate Indulis Emsis (Union of Greens and Farmers), BNS reported. Slakteris said he expects to be named defense minister; while Valka Mayor Armands Krauklis would become finance minister; parliament faction head Aigars Kalvitis, foreign minister; and parliament deputies Vineta Muizniece and Helena Demakova, justice and culture ministers, respectively. Also on 5 March, New Era Chairman Einars Repse announced that his party is no longer demanding that he be named prime minister instead of Emsis, mentioning party parliament faction leader Krisjanis Karins as an alternative. Emsis said New Era's offer of cooperation probably came too late to change the makeup of the cabinet, which he intends to announce at an extraordinary parliament session on 9 March, but if New Era were to agree to join his coalition government, "we would shuffle ministerial portfolios quickly enough." SG
 LITHUANIA'S ENERGY EXPERTS DISCUSS RAISING CAPACITY OF IGNALINA NUCLEAR-POWER PLANTThe Lithuanian Energy Institute (LEI) has proposed studying the possibility of increasing the output of the second reactor at the Ignalina nuclear-power plant, "Lietuvos rytas" reported on 5 March. LEI head Jurgis Vilemas said the reactor was designed to work at a capacity of 1,500 megawatts, but its output was reduced following the 1986 disaster at Chornobyl, which had RBMK reactors similar to those at Ignalina. Vilemas said it has not yet been determined whether running the plant at full capacity would be safe, but expressed the hope that capacity can be raised to at least 1,400 megawatts from the current 1,300 megawatts. "Without major investment we could [essentially] have a new power plant," Vilemas said, noting that an increase of 100 megawatts would be equal to that of the capacity of the Kaunas power plant. State Atomic Energy Safety Inspection (VATESI) head Saulius Kutas stressed that following the Chornobyl accident, there was widespread fear that safety studies were not accurate enough. He added, however, that there would be no reason not to do so if a new study showed that increasing the reactor's capacity could be accomplished safely. SG
 POLISH RULING PARTY ELECTS NEW LEADER...Prime Minister Leszek Miller fulfilled a recent pledge by resigning as chairman of the ruling Democratic Left Alliance (SLD) at a party convention on 6 March (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 18 February 2004), Polish media reported. Deputy Chairman Krzysztof Janik, who also heads the SLD parliamentary caucus, was subsequently elected as SLD chairman. Janik received 294 votes to defeat SLD Secretary-General Marek Dyduch (174 votes) in the race for the chairmanship. Janik is widely regarded as a close ally of Miller. The convention elected Katarzyna Maria Piekarska and Grzegorz Napieralski to fill the deputy's posts of Janik and the departing Aleksandra Jakubowska. SLD Deputy Chairman Andrzej Celinski also offered his resignation, but Janik asked him to reconsider that decision. The five SLD deputy chairmen also include Jozef Oleksy and Jerzy Szmajdzinski. Janik pledged that the SLD will hold a congress in December that will be an opportunity for a "more radical generational change" in the party, according to Polish Radio. JM
 ...AS OPPOSITION SAYS NOTHING WILL CHANGELudwik Dorn, head of the opposition Law and Justice party's parliamentary caucus, said on 7 March that Janik's election will change nothing in the SLD, Polish Radio reported. "[Janik] is Leszek Miller's closest political associate. Nothing has changed here. This mountain could only have given birth to a mouse," Dorn said. "I think that nothing and nobody is capable of helping the alliance, especially when old party hard-liners take over the leadership of the alliance, because Mr. Janik is such a hard-liner," Self-Defense leader Andrzej Lepper opined. League of Polish Families leader Roman Giertych said Miller "managed to ensure that his closest ally would win." "From the point of view of the public, this means that nothing will change," Giertych added. JM
 CZECH PREMIER REJECTS TALK OF MINORITY CABINET...Prime Minister Vladimir Spidla denied on 6 March that the leadership of the senior ruling Social Democratic Party (CSSD) is preparing for a minority government that relies on parliamentary backing from opposition deputies, CTK reported. "At this point, this is not on the agenda," Spidla said. Commentators have suggested the CSSD might turn to the Communist Party of Bohemia and Moravia for silent support. Spidla added that much will depend on how deputies representing the junior coalition Freedom Union-Democratic Union (US-DEU) vote in parliament. The issue assumed increased urgency after US-DEU lawmaker Marian Bielesz on 5 March became the second US-DEU deputy to quit the party but remain a member of its parliamentary group (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 5 March 2004). The ruling coalition, which also includes the Christian Democratic Union-People's Party (KDU-CSL), has a majority of just 101 deputies in the 200-seat lower house. CSSD Deputy Chairman and Labor and Social Affairs Minister Zdenek Skromach said on 6 March that the CSSD is ready for "quick and radical solutions" and that "certainly more than one solution is possible" if the current coalition falls apart. He did not elaborate. MS
 ...AS JUNIOR COALITION PARTNER HOLDS EMERGENCY MEETINGIn view of the recent departures of Vrbik and Bielesz from the US-DEU, the party's national committee held an emergency meeting on 7 March at which it expressed confidence in party Chairman and Deputy Prime Minister Petr Mares, CTK reported. Mares pledged after the meeting that the US-DEU will strive to fulfill all its obligations to the ruling coalition and to block a possible Communist rise to power. The US-DEU leadership will seek to persuade Vrbik and Bielesz to support the coalition on individual bills, he said, adding that it will quit the center-left coalition if it fails. Mares's deputy, Jan Hadrava, said the US-DEU would prefer to leave the coalition honorably rather than "let itself be kicked out." The US-DEU's national committee also voted to convene an extraordinary meeting for 26-27 June -- after elections to the European Parliament -- when the current leadership will face a new vote of confidence. MS
 CZECH YOUTHS IN EYE OF RACIAL STORM SUSPECTED OF NEW ASSAULTPolice in the northern Moravian city of Jesenik detained two young Czechs on 7 March on suspicion that they assaulted a 23-year-old Romany man two days earlier, CTK reported. The two youths were convicted in January for a racially motivated attack on a Romany family, but received probation terms in a verdict that infuriated local Romany groups and state prosecutors for its leniency (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 9 and 21 January 2004). MS
 BODY OF MISSING ROMA FOUND IN EASTERN SLOVAKIA, FAMILY LAST SAW HIM IN POLICE CUSTODYAuthorities have discovered the body of Radoslav Puky, a Romany man missing since riots erupted in the eastern Slovak city of Trebisov in late February, in a canal in that city, according to a police spokeswoman quoted by CTK on 7 March. An autopsy is pending, but the spokeswoman said the 29-year-old appears to have drowned. Puky's family said they last saw him being chased by police before being led away after his capture. Puky's girlfriend claimed police broke into her house and beat Puky before he attempted to flee. Police deny that version and say Puky was not among those arrested during the rioting (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 24 and 25 February 2004). MS
 HUNGARIAN PREMIER EXPLAINS DRIVE FOR CONSTITUTIONAL CHANGESPrime Minister Peter Medgyessy said in a 6 March interview with "Nepszabadsag" that his recent proposal to amend the constitution to allow for direct presidential elections stems from the need to ensure that the president is not beholden to the parties that elected him. Medgyessy added that a proposal to reduce the number of parliamentary seats from 386 to 250 and his suggestion that the country's parliamentary parties field a single list in June's elections to the European Parliament were generated by the need for Hungarian parties to learn to cooperate with each other ahead of EU accession. Alluding to recent criticism of his performance from within the senior ruling Hungarian Socialist Party (MSZP), the politically independent Medgyessy said he considers himself a liberal, leftwing politician. He added that his personal values are more important to him than power considerations. Medgyessy said his job is to energize the government, adding, "If the Hungarian left wants to achieve success, they must follow me." MS
 HUNGARIAN FREE DEMOCRATS LASH OUT AT PREMIERSeveral members of the junior coalition Alliance of Free Democrats (SZDSZ) have criticized Medgyessy's proposed constitutional amendments, Hungarian media reported on 8 March. SZDSZ lawmaker Matyas Eorsi told a Budapest forum that Medgyessy invokes the "will of the people" so often that he should ask the people whether they consider him fit to be premier. SZDS parliamentary deputy Tamas Bauer said the Free Democrats must make it clear that if Medgyessy does not renounce his "adventurous ideas," the MSZP might have to look for another coalition partner. If the Socialists wish to continue cooperation with the SZDSZ, Bauer added, they might have to find another prime minister. SZDSZ Chairman Gabor Kuncze meanwhile rejected as "unconstitutional" a new proposal announced by government spokesman Zoltan Gal that would establish a Socioeconomic Advisory Council comprising the prime minister, employers, unionists, and NGO representatives. Under the plan, the council's recommendations to the cabinet would be binding, Gal said. Medgyessy's chief of staff, Peter Kiss, described the proposed council as a sort of second chamber of parliament. MS
 HUNGARIAN TELEVISION BOARD ELECTS NEW MTV PRESIDENTThe extended supervisory board of Hungarian Television (MTV) elected Zoltan Rudi on 5 March to be the new president of the state-run broadcaster, Hungarian media reported. The extended board --which includes representatives of parliamentary parties and of nongovernmental organizations -- approved Rudi in a 19 to four vote with one abstention. Rudi previously directed the station's current-affairs programming. In an earlier vote of the six-member Board of Trustees, Socialist Party and opposition Hungarian Democratic Forum representatives voted in favor of Rudi, while the junior coalition Free Democrats backed MTV's cultural-programming director, Gyorgy Balo, "Magyar Hirlap" reported on 6 March. Rudi replaces Imre Ragats, who resigned in December following reports of nepotism (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 18 and 19 December 2003 and 6 January 2004). Rudi has said he wants the station to be neither an elitist nor a populist channel. MSZ
 MACEDONIAN CONSTITUTIONAL COURT PAVES WAY FOR PRESIDENTIAL ELECTIONSOn 6 March, Macedonia's Constitutional Court officially declared the term of late President Boris Trajkovski officially over, thus paving the way for early presidential elections, MIA reported (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 2, 3, and 4 March 2004 and "RFE/RL Balkan Report," 27 February and 5 March 2004). The court's decision will come into effect with its publication in the government's "Sluzben vesnik," which was expected on 8 or 9 March. Parliamentary speaker Ljupco Jordanovski, who acts as president, will then announce the date of the elections. Parliament met for an extraordinary session on 7 March to discuss the government's draft amendments to the law on presidential elections aimed at speeding up preparations for the vote. UB
 FORMER MACEDONIAN PRESIDENT BURIED IN STATE FUNERALThousands of Macedonian citizens along with officials from about 50 countries turned out on 5 March for the state funeral of President Trajkovski at Skopje's Butel cemetery, regional and international media reported. Prime Minister Branko Crvenkovski said at the simple Methodist ceremony that "Macedonia is standing still today, united in pain, tragedy, and grief." European Commission President Romano Prodi said that "26 February [the date Trajkovski was killed in a plane crash] should be remembered as a sad day for all of us, but also as a memorial day for Trajkovski's vision of a modern Macedonia integrated into a peaceful Europe." Prodi told Crvenkovski that he "looks forward" to receiving Macedonia's application to join the EU. Numerous regional heads of state and government attended the funeral, as did NATO Secretary-General Jaap de Hoop Scheffer and his predecessor, Lord George Robertson. PM
 SERBIAN GOVERNMENT NAMES NEW INTELLIGENCE CHIEFThe Serbian government voted on 6 March to sack the top officials of the intelligence service (BIA) and appoint Rade Bulatovic, who is Prime Minister Vojislav Kostunica's security adviser, to head that body, RFE/RL's South Slavic and Albanian Languages Service reported (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 5 March 2004 and "RFE/RL Balkan Report," 12 December 2003 and 9 January and 20 February 2004). Zarko Korac, who heads the Social Democratic Union, criticized the appointment, arguing that being an adviser does not automatically qualify someone to head an agency. In related news, Nebojsa Covic, whose small Democratic Alternative party did not meet the 5 percent electoral threshold in the 28 December parliamentary elections, is likely to keep his post as the government's point man for Kosova and southern Serbia, the "Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung" reported on 5 March. Kosovar ethnic Albanian political leaders regard him as a populist nationalist and reject him as a negotiating partner. PM
 IS BOSNIA STILL LOOKING FOR A DEFENSE MINISTER?Nikola Spiric, who is speaker of the lower house of the Republika Srpska's parliament, said in Banja Luka on 7 March that unnamed representatives of the international community have rejected the Bosnian Serbs' latest nominee for Bosnian defense minister, Dragomir Dumic, for unspecified reasons, RFE/RL's South Slavic and Albanian Languages Service reported (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 12, 19, and 25 February and 2 March 2004). Dumic said he has received no official word that his nomination has been rejected, adding, however, that he hopes whoever is finally selected is up to the "complex tasks" that the office brings with it. PM
 U.S. AND ALBANIA LAUNCH JOINT EXERCISESA spokeswoman for the Albanian Defense Ministry said in Tirana on 8 March that her country and the United States have begun this year's installment of annual joint air, sea, and land exercises that will run until 12 March, RFE/RL reported. PM
 ROMANIAN GOVERNMENT APPROVES REERECTION OF LIBERTY MONUMENTThe cabinet on 5 March approved plans to reerect the controversial Liberty Monument in Arad, Mediafax reported. The monument, which honors the Hungarian generals who were executed by the Habsburgs in 1849, is to be placed in a "reconciliation park." The park will also contain a triumphal arch depicting important Romanian historic figures killed during the 1848 revolution. Hungarian Democratic Federation of Romania (UDMR) Chairman Bela Marko welcomed the decision and said he believes it will lead to a one-year extension of the cooperation agreement between the UDMR and the ruling Social Democratic Party. MS
 HIGH-RANKING ROMANIAN OFFICIAL DETAINED ON SUSPICION OF CORRUPTIONRetired Brigadier General Lazar Iliescu was detained on 5 March under the suspicion he solicited and accepted bribes and was involved in illegal deals, Romanian television reported. After his retirement from the Romanian Army in 2002, Iliescu became deputy director of the Defense Ministry's internal auditing directorate. He will be under investigation by the National Anticorruption Prosecution (PNA) for a period of 29 days. According to the PNA, some of Iliescu's alleged offenses date back to 1996-98, when he was serving as chief of the Defense Ministry's internal financial-control department, while other alleged crimes were committed between 2002-03 in his new civilian position. Mediafax reported that Iliescu solicited and received some 5-10 percent of the value of contracts he approved. MS
 ROMANIAN JEWISH COMMUNITY LEADER DIESProfessor Nicolae Cajal, president of the Federation of Jewish Communities in Romania (FCER), died on 7 March following a long illness, Mediafax reported. Cajal, 84, was a member of the Romanian Academy and was elected FCER president in June 1994. MS
 ROMANIAN FOREIGN MINISTER SAYS COUNTRY MUST PLAY 'FUNDAMENTAL ROLE' IN MOLDOVAForeign Minister Mircea Geoana said on 5 March in an interview with dpa that Romania must play a "fundamental role" in Moldova. "We have a historical obligation to this country, which has great difficulties in becoming more democratic, more European, and now would like to join us in Europe," Geoana said. "This is an issue we will never abandon and will always defend." Asked if a reunification between Romania and Moldova is feasible, Geoana said he believes "the time for us to change borders in Europe in gone" and that the two states can "continue only as independent countries in Europe." MS
 ROMANIAN OFFICIAL SAYS TRANSDNIESTER-MADE WEAPONRY SOLD TO CHECHENSRomanian Defense Ministry State Secretary George Maior told a 5 March conference in Chisinau on small-arms trading in the Black Sea area that weapons produced in the Transdniester separatist region have reached armed Chechen groups, Mediafax and Flux reported. Maior cited an article published in "Jane's Intelligence Review" to support his claim. Separatist leader Igor Smirnov on 4 March said that Transdniester does not export any of the weapons it produces (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 5 March 2004). MS
 U.S. OFFICIAL SAYS NO CFE TREATY RATIFICATION BEFORE RUSSIA WITHDRAWS FORCES FROM MOLDOVA, GEORGIAStephen Rademaker, U.S. assistant secretary of state for arms control, told Moldovan leaders in Chisinau on 5 March that Russia must withdraw its troops and forces from Moldova and Georgia before Washington will agree to ratify the amended Treaty on Conventional Forces in Europe (CFE), dpa reported. Rademaker met in Chisinau with President Vladimir Voronin and with Foreign Minister Andrei Stratan, Infotag reported. He said the United States and NATO insist that Russia abide by its commitments made at the 1999 Istanbul and the 2003 Porto OSCE summits to withdraw its troops and ammunition from Moldova. Russian First Deputy Chief of the General Staff Colonel General Yurii Baluevskii said last week that NATO expansion will likely prove to be a "fatal blow to the current CFE treaty" (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 3 March 2003). MS
 MOLDOVAN PRESIDENTIAL ADVISER PROTESTS OSCE MISSION HEAD'S 'INTERFERENCE IN INTERNAL AFFAIRS'Presidential Counselor Mark Tkachuk on 5 March characterized an interview OSCE mission head to Moldova William Hill gave to RFE/RL as "beyond doubt, interference in Moldova's internal affairs," Infotag and Flux reported. In the 4 March interview with RFE/RL's Romania-Moldova Service, Hill said that if Moldovan right-of-center parties run jointly or on one or two lists in the 2005 parliamentary elections, they stand a chance of gaining as much as 40 percent of the vote. Tkachuk said the OSCE mission head "is free to...sympathize with one political party or another," but it is not within his authority to "turn the OSCE mission into the electoral headquarters of any [Moldovan] political party," according to Flux. Tkachuk also said that it is "symptomatic" that Hill's recommendations are addressed to those political organizations that "consistently work against Moldova's federalization, against the OSCE recommendations, and...cooperate with the Transdniestrian authorities to torpedo the conflict-resolution process." Tkachuk added that if Hill "is no longer interested in Moldova's reintegration process, the Moldovan authorities reserve the right to request that the OSCE replace him with someone who is." MS
 YET ANOTHER CONSERVATIVE PARLIAMENTARY GROUP FORMED IN BULGARIAThe conservative opposition Bulgarian Agrarian National Union-National Union (BZNS-NS) and the Democratic Party registered a new parliamentary group on 6 March, mediapool.bg reported. The new group split from the opposition coalition United Democratic Forces (ODS), which is now dominated by former Prime Minister Ivan Kostov and his followers. The latest split leaves six parliamentary groups in the 240-seat parliament: the governing National Movement Simeon II, with 107 members; its coalition partner, the Movement of Rights and Freedoms, 20 members; the opposition Coalition for Bulgaria (48 members), which is dominated by the Socialist Party; Kostov's conservative coalition ODS (28 members); the Union of Democratic Forces headed by former Foreign Minister Nadezhda Mihailova (13 members); the BZNS-NS/DP group (11 members); and a group of independent lawmakers (12 members) (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 25 and 26 February 2004). UB
 FIRE DAMAGES GOVERNMENT BUILDING IN BULGARIAA fire damaged the ground floor of the Bulgarian government's central building in downtown Sofia late on 7 March, mediapool.bg reported. Firefighters were able to extinguish the fire quickly, thus limiting damage. Two firefighters and two guards were injured, the "Sofia Morning News" reported. Preliminary investigations indicated that the fire resulted from an electrical problem. UB
Southwestern Asia And The Middle East
 RIGHTS GROUP ALLEGES ABUSES BY U.S. FORCES IN AFGHANISTAN...U.S. forces operating in Afghanistan have arbitrarily detained civilians, used excessive force during arrests of noncombatants, and mistreated detainees, Human Rights Watch (HRW) claimed in a report released on 8 March. "The United States is setting a terrible example in Afghanistan on detention practices," HRW Asia division Executive Director Brad Adam said. "Civilians are being held in a legal black hole -- with no tribunals, no legal counsel, no family visits, and no basic legal protections." The 59-page report, "Enduring Freedom: Abuses by U.S. Forces in Afghanistan," (http://hrw.org/english/docs/2004/03/08/afghan8073.htm), is based on research conducted by HRW in Afghanistan and Pakistan in 2003 and early 2004. "There is compelling evidence suggesting that U.S. personnel have committed acts against detainees amounting to torture or cruel, inhumane, or degrading treatment," Adams added. HRW said Taliban and other anti-U.S. forces operating in Afghanistan have themselves violated international humanitarian law by carrying out armed attacks and abductions targeting civilians and humanitarian-aid workers. But HRW pointed out that under international law, those violations do not excuse alleged U.S. violations. AT
 ...BUT IS CHALLENGED BY U.S. MILITARY SPOKESMANThe spokesman for U.S. military forces in Afghanistan, Lieutenant Colonel Bryan Hilferty, responded to the 8 March HRW report by saying the U.S. military has reviewed the HRW report and is "taking the allegations [of abuse by U.S. troops contained in that report] seriously," the BBC reported the same day. But Hilferty added that the U.S. military feels the report "shows a lack of understanding of the laws of war and of the environment" in which the forces are operating in Afghanistan, the BBC reported. The HRW report does not take into account that combat is continuing in Afghanistan, where the use of civilian law enforcement methods are not appropriate, Hilferty said, according to "The New York Times" on 8 March. Hilferty said that actions by U.S. forces "are in complete compliance with the laws of combat," adding that "it's a war" in Afghanistan. AT
 TURKISH ENGINEER, AFGHAN GUARD KILLEDA Turkish engineer and his Afghan guard were killed on 5 March in the Shah Joy District of the southern Afghan Zabul Province, Radio Afghanistan reported on 6 March. Armed men riding on motorcycles reportedly ambushed the vehicle that was carrying the Turkish national, identified as Salim, and his colleagues on the Kabul-Kandahar highway. The attackers abducted another Turkish national along with the Afghan driver of the vehicle. While no one has claimed responsibility for the incident, Afghan Interior Ministry officials have accused supporters of Mullah Ruzi, a former Taliban commander, for carrying out the attack, according to Radio Afghanistan. Another Turkish engineer also working on the Kabul-Kandahar highway was kidnapped in late October and released a month later, after Mullah Ruzi claimed that two neo-Taliban members were released from a prison in Ghazni Province (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 3 November and 1 December 2003). AT
 LOCAL RED CRESCENT DIRECTOR KILLED IN SOUTHERN AFGHANISTANMohammad Isa, the local director of the Red Crescent Society of Zabul Province, was killed on 6 March near the provincial capital of Qalat, Peshawar-based Afghan Islamic Press reported on 7 March. Zabul's chief of security, Gholam Jailani, said he has no information about the killers or their motive, adding that an investigation is under way. AT
 ANOTHER IRANIAN LEGISLATOR'S RESIGNATION ACCEPTEDThe Iranian parliament accepted the resignation on 7 March of Urumiyeh representative Mahmud Yeganli, IRNA reported, and on 23 February the chamber accepted Tehran representative Fatemeh Haqiqatju's resignation. They are among more than 100 legislators who tendered their resignations to protest the Guardians Council's disqualification of incumbents ahead of the February elections (see "RFE/RL Iran Report," 16 February 2004). Iran's constitution decrees that there must be a sufficient number of parliamentarians present to form a quorum, so not all of the resignations can be accepted. BS
 BROUHAHA IN IRANIAN LEGISLATUREWhen Tehran representative Ali-Akbar Musavi-Khoeni read portions of Iran's constitution on 7 March that call for the Assembly of Experts to review the supreme leader's performance, conservative parliamentarians reacted by shouting insults and storming the podium, ILNA and Reuters reported. The microphone was stolen in the ensuing excitement, and conservative and reformist parliamentarians exchanged blows. Legislators' criticism of the supreme leader has reached unprecedented levels in recent months due to controversy over the parliamentary elections, with some 100 members of parliament sending an unsigned letter to Khamenei on 17 February in which they ask if he was actually behind the Guardians Council's rejection of thousands of prospective candidates (see "RFE/RL Iran Report," 23 February 2004). BS
 NOT A PEEP FROM ELECTED IRANIAN INSTITUTIONThe Assembly of Experts began its semiannual meeting on 7 March, and one of its members, Ayatollah Mohammad Ali Movahedi-Kermani, told ISNA that the committee that investigates the supreme leader's performance has worked diligently. Movahedi-Kermani, who also serves as the supreme leader's representative to the Islamic Revolution Guards Corps (IRGC), said, "Fortunately the leader has not committed any transgression so far. The committee has discussed its concerns and has received satisfactory answers from the leader." Movahedi-Kermani refused to provide more details, saying, "There is no need to tell the people about the findings of the probes [into the supreme leader's performance]." Representatives to the Assembly of Experts are elected by the public, but their meetings are shrouded in secrecy. "In my opinion, there is no need to provide people with a report," Movahedi-Kermani explained. "Because we have numerous domestic and foreign enemies and to openly provide people with reports will not have good consequences. They [enemies] will not be fair in their judgment and look for ways to achieve their own objectives." BS
 ELECTION RESULTS CHANGED IN IRANThe Guardians Council has overturned election results in the constituencies of Iranshahr and Sarbaz, state television reported on 7 March. Guardians Council Secretary Ayatollah Ahmad Jannati said in a letter to Interior Minister Hojatoleslam Abdolvahed Musavi-Lari that the decision is the result of research that discovered "rampant" vote buying and intimidation. Tehran Governor Ali-Awsat Hashemi said on 7 March that Ali Abbaspur-Tehrani has been added to the list of candidates who won in the first round of voting in the capital, according to the Interior Ministry website (http://www.moi.ir). Tehran is represented by 30 parliamentarians, and eight candidates will vie for the four as-yet-unfilled seats. BS
 IRAN READIES EMPLOYMENT PLANRahim Ebadi, who heads Iran's National Youth Organization, told a 6 March seminar in Shiraz that 31 percent of Iranians aged 15-29 are either unemployed or have unsuitable jobs, IRNA reported. The unemployment rate for this age cohort grows at about 13.2 percent annually, Ebadi said. At this rate, he added, 52 percent of the group will be unemployed within three years. Ebadi attributed the phenomenon to the growing population. Sixteen percent of Iranians aged 25-29 are unemployed, Ebadi said, and 34 percent of Iranians aged 15-19 are unemployed. Earlier, Ebadi told a conference at Amir Kabir University that 3 million Iranians are unemployed, IranMania reported on 22 January, citing ISNA. He said a national human-resources development project will be launched in three years. The National Youth Organization, the Management and Planning Organization, the Science, Research, and Technology Ministry, and the Labor and Social Affairs Ministry will be involved in that project, but it will be implemented by the private sector. BS
 IRAQI GOVERNING COUNCIL SIGNS INTERIM CONSTITUTIONThe Iraqi Governing Council signed the Transitional Administrative Law in Baghdad on 8 March, international media reported. The law will serve as Iraq's interim constitution until a permanent constitution is ratified by 31 December 2005. A number of Governing Council members addressed the Iraqi people at the signing ceremony, including Adnan Pachachi, who called the bill of rights outlined in the document one of Iraq's greatest achievements. The document calls for freedom of expression, equality, and movement not afforded under any previous regime in Iraq. The signing of the law was originally slated for 5 March, but was delayed at the last minute after Shi'ite members of the council refused to sign the document due to Shi'ite Grand Ayatollah Ali al-Sistani's objection to key clauses. Shi'ite members met with al-Sistani on 5-7 March and announced that they would sign the law without changes. KR
 HUMAN RIGHTS WATCH SAYS INTERIM CONSTITUTION 'SHORTCHANGES' WOMENHuman Rights Watch (HRW) said in a 5 March press release that the Iraqi Transitional Administrative Law shortchanges women in Iraq (see http://www.hrw.org). "Equal rights for Iraqi women in marriage, inheritance, and their children's citizenship should not be left in jeopardy," said LaShawn Jefferson, executive director of the organization's Women's Rights Division. "The interim constitution should explicitly guarantee these rights." The press release added that the law does not specifically guarantee equality between men and women in at least three critical areas: it does not explicitly guarantee equal rights for women "to marry, within marriage, and at its dissolution"; it does not explicitly guarantee women inheritance rights equal to those of men; and it fails to guarantee Iraqi women married to non-Iraqis the right to confer citizenship to their children. "If a goal is to ensure that women's rights are given equal stature and protection, the constitutional process in Iraqi has gotten off to a weak start," Jefferson said. KR
 NEW LAW GOVERNING CENTRAL BANK ANNOUNCEDCoalition Provisional Authority (CPA) head L. Paul Bremer on 7 March announced a new law governing the Central Bank of Iraq, according to the CPA's official website (http://www.cpa-iraq.org). The law calls for an independent Central Bank "whose objectives are to achieve and maintain domestic price stability and to foster and maintain a market-based financial system" that is in line with international practices, the announcement stated. The bank will also work to promote sustainable growth, employment, and prosperity in Iraq. Under the new law the Central Bank may not lend directly or indirectly to the government, but may lend to government-owned commercial banks on the same terms it would extend to privately owned commercial banks, the CPA website reported. The former law governing the Iraqi Central Bank under the Hussein regime permitted lending to the government. KR
 KUWAITI, IRAQI INTERIOR MINISTRY OFFICIALS WORK TO SECURE BORDERSKuwait's assistant interior undersecretary for border-security affairs, Brigadier Sulayman al-Fahad, met in Kuwait on 6 March with Iraq's Interior Ministry Senior Undersecretary Lieutenant General Ahmad Ibrahim to discuss security relations, KUNA reported. The talks focused on preventing infiltrators and smugglers from crossing the Iraq-Kuwait border. The Kuwaiti Interior Ministry is reportedly sharing its expertise in border security with Iraqi police. KR
 SLOVENIA: MAKING WAY FOR WOMENBy Donald Reindl
Slovenia's National Assembly adopted legislation on 26 February requiring a 40 percent female quota on election lists for the 13 June European Parliament elections, including at least one female candidate in the top half of the list. The move came despite objections by some that it imposes restrictions on electoral freedoms, "Delo" reported on 29 February.
In a related development, Miha Brejc of the conservative opposition Slovenian Democratic Party (SDS) resigned from his position as a substitute member of the Slovenian delegation to the Parliamentary Assembly of the Council of Europe (PACE). New PACE rules require that each delegation contain at least one female member, and Brejc has suggested that a female member of parliament be appointed in his place.
The timing of the events is appropriate, with the 8 March International Women's Day just around the corner. Although observance of the holiday is now waning, for decades the day held a special place on socialist calendars. Ironically, like the May Day labor holiday -- another socialist mainstay -- Women's Day also had its roots in the United States, where both holidays are now largely forgotten.
Slovenian professional women enjoy relatively good social benefits. A one-year paid maternity leave is guaranteed -- although critics note that employers sometimes resist hiring women of childbearing age because of this. Among the countries joining the EU on 1 May, Slovenia has the highest proportion of women in the labor force (59.8 percent). Among current EU members, women's employment ranges from 72.6 percent (Denmark) to 41.9 percent (Italy).
Slovenia also has a smaller gender gap in salaries than anywhere else in the region, including neighboring EU countries. A 29 February commentary in "Delo" summarized the shortcomings in women's rights enumerated in the U.S. State Department's 2003 human rights report (available at: http://www.state.gov/g/drl/rls/hrrpt/2003) -- including violence against women and human trafficking -- but noted with satisfaction that Slovenian women receive 89 percent of the pay that men do (in comparison, Austria, Croatia, and Italy stand at 79 percent, 74 percent, and 73 percent, respectively).
Like almost everywhere else, working Slovenian women are also disproportionately burdened by handling most household tasks in addition to responsibilities outside the home.
How do women themselves feel about their acceptance as equals? On 28 February, the semiweekly Maribor paper "Dobro jutro" published profiles of women in traditionally male professions in Slovenia and asked if they encounter discrimination in their lines of work.
Ljudmila Podlesnik has driven one of Ljubljana's city busses for eight years. Although her fellow drivers quickly grew used to her company, she says that she encounters some problems with passengers -- from those who are visibly shocked to see a women behind the wheel to some who decide to wait for the next bus.
Majda Potrata is a parliamentary deputy for the United List of Social Democrats (ZLSD). She says that some male members of the parliament completely ignore or patronize her, while others accept her an equal.
The Slovenian Armed Forces (SV) are also open to women, who currently comprise 14.5 percent of military professionals -- including 6 percent of noncommissioned officers and 3 percent of officers. The highest rank held by a woman is brigadier general.
However, practical considerations sometimes make it impossible to ensure women's equality at all levels. On 12 January, 98 volunteers began basic training for the SV's new professional army. Even though one-third of applicants for the first group of volunteer trainees were female, all of those selected were men, "Delo" reported on 10 January. Apparently no separate facilities were available to accommodate female volunteers.
In this regard one might recall Defense Minister Anton Grizold's "threat" before the referendum on NATO membership in February 2003, when he suggested that a "no" vote would mean introducing a draft for both men and women. The otherwise liberal weekly "Mladina" lampooned the idea on its back page, suggesting that women might be useful for sex, but not for soldiering.
Slovenian women have a strong presence in many fields that are elsewhere male domains, including chemistry, medicine, and pharmaceuticals. But with certain notable exceptions -- including the last two mayors of Ljubljana -- women remain underrepresented in Slovenian political life. Although women account for 51 percent of the population, countrywide they comprise only 13 percent of town-council members, 12 percent of members of the parliament, and just under 6 percent of mayors, "Delo" noted on 18 February. The new legislation can be seen as a step toward correcting this imbalance.
Nonetheless, not all politicians enthusiastically welcome the likely increased proportion of women in their ranks. In comments in "Delo" on 27 February, Alojz Sok -- a member of the conservative New Slovenia (NSi) party -- observed that "it doesn't seem right to me to force women into politics. That's emancipation Russian-style, where they made women work on the railroads and in the mines."
Donald Reindl is a freelance writer and Indiana University doctoral candidate based in Ljubljana.