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Newsline - October 25, 2005

The trial of eight defendants charged with the February 2004 stabbing death of a 9-year-old Tajik girl in St. Petersburg opened on 24 October, RIA-Novosti reported the same day. "One of the defendants has been charged with premeditated murder on nationalist grounds," an unidentified court official said. "He stabbed the girl with a knife seven times and she died from the inflicted wounds," the official added. The remaining seven were charged with hooliganism. At the 24 October session, four of the accused confessed and four -- including the defendant charged with murder -- pleaded not guilty. The next session in the trial is scheduled for 26 October and a verdict is expected in December. BW

Commenting on the election of the conservative Lech Kaczynski as the new Polish president, Gleb Pavlovskii, adviser to the chief of the presidential administration and the head of the Foundation for Effective Politics, said on 23 October that Russian-Polish relations will improve under Kaczynski simply because they had reached a nadir under his predecessor, Aleksander Kwasniewski, reported. "It is more simple and more predictable to talk with the conservatives. Problems are made only by the Communists, who changed their color, like Kwasniewski, who tried to be the 'face of Europe turned to the East,'" Pavlovskii said. His comments were echoed by the chairman of the Duma Foreign Affairs Committee, Konstantin Kosachev (Unified Russia), who said on 24 October that "our experience in dealing with conservative politicians in other countries proves that after an initial period of aggravated relations, it is later easier to reach agreement with them," RIA-Novosti reported. The pro-Kremlin president of the Politika Foundation, Vyacheslav Nikonov, said that Kaczynski is a right-wing, traditionalist politician, who does not need to prove that "he is being too soft on Russia." Nikonov added that the Soviet Union's greatest advances in relations with the United States were reached under the conservative presidents Richard Nixon and Ronald Reagan. VY

In his interview with on 23 October, Pavlovskii said Kaczynski's victory reflects a common election trend in Eastern Europe in favor of conservative nationalist leaders. In this sense, President Vladmir Putin is a moderate conservative nationalist, Pavlovskii said. Because the two leaders are nationalists, the risk of Russian-Polish conflicts remains, Pavlovskii noted. VY

Speaking at a government meeting on 24 October, President Putin proposed creating a Caspian regional security and peacekeeping force (CASFOR), RIA-Novosti reported. Putin asked Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov to involve all littoral states in the CASFOR project, including Iran. Later the same day, Lavrov had talks with his Iranian counterpart Manouchehr Mottaki (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 24 October 2005). Lavrov said afterward: "our common position is to continue to regulate issues concerning the Iranian nuclear program through the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA)," reported. Lavrov added that Russia will seek a solution to that issue that on one hand "provides the legal right of Iran to access the peaceful use of nuclear energy and on the other hand to eliminate any doubts as to the peaceful nature of [Iran's nuclear] program." The meeting between Lavrov and Mottaki came on the same day that U.S. national security adviser Stephen Hadley held talks in Moscow with Lavrov and Putin. The daily "Kommersant" wrote on 24 October that Moscow may propose giving Tehran more arms and greater military cooperation in exchange for making major concessions regarding its nuclear program along the lines of what the United States and the EU-3 (Germany, Britain, France) are calling for. VY

The League of United Youth (LOM), which includes the Avant-Garde of Red Youth and other radical youth organizations (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 26 August and 27 September 2005), distributed thousands of leaflets in central Moscow on 24 October against President Putin and Chukotka Governor and multibillionaire Roman Abramovich, and reported. One leaflet reads: "LOM informs you that 24 October is the birthday of Abramovich. He is the richest man in Russia, but Putin presented him with $13 billion. That is the total amount of money earned by all of Russia's teachers and doctors in five years. LOM declares: There is no place for a thief in the Kremlin." The $13 billion is a reference to the recent purchase of a 72.7 percent stake in Sibneft from its owner, Millhouse Capital, an investment company controlled by Abramovich (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 29 September 2005). LOM activists managed to post their leaflets on the headquarters of Sibneft buildings, reported. Police detained several of the activists. VY

The Norwegian coastal guard detained two Russian trawlers on 23 October near Spitzbergen for violating Norwegian fisheries laws , Russian and international mass media reported. As in the case of the Russian trawler "Elektron" last week (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 24 October 2005), the Norwegian coast guard officers and inspectors boarded the ships and demanded that the Russian trawlers dock in a Norwegian port. However, after speaking with the owners of the ships in Murmansk, the trawlers' captains refused that request and went to Medvezhii Island. Norwegian authorities then announced that the Russian trawlers were under arrest and would be released only after they guarantee payment of a penalty for violations, RTR reported. Norwegian naval ships reportedly guarded the site of the incident. In Moscow, the Foreign Ministry summoned Norwegian diplomats and informed them that the incident "is not promoting good relations between the two countries," ministry spokesman Mikhail Kamynin said, NTV reported. Kamynin added that the incident will be discussed at the joint Russian-Norwegian Fisheries Commission now meeting in Kaliningrad. Meanwhile, the Russian Navy announced it has no orders to intervene in the situation, RBR-TV reported on 24 October. VY

Communist Party leader Gennadii Zyuganov announced on 24 October in Moscow that he will participate in the 2008 presidential election, reported. "The person who is elected to head a party should be ready to fulfill such a mission and I am ready." Zyuganov also announced that at the end of this week he will convene an extraordinary meeting of his party to introduce certain electoral changes as required by law. Zyuganov received 40.3 percent of the votes for president in 1996 and 29.2 percent in 2000, but did not take part in the 2004 election, ITAR-TASS reported on 24 October. According to the Baskirova and Partners polling agency, if the presidential election had been held on 22 October, Zyuganov would have received about 4.6 percent of the votes, according to recent polling numbers, ITAR-TASS reported. VY

The trial of a couple dubbed by the media as Russia's "Bonnie and Clyde" began in a Moscow court on 24 October, RIA-Novosti reported the same day. Aleksandr Belousov, 45, an unemployed resident of the central Belgorod Oblast and his 21-year-old girlfriend, Aleksandra Aleksandrova, are being tried for attacking men and women "engaged in intimate acts in unpopulated areas," according to the Moscow Oblast Prosecutor's Office. Belousov is also charged with two counts of rape. "Belousov and Aleksandrova formed an organized criminal unit with rigid discipline and a meticulous division of tasks," an unidentified official in the prosecutor's office said. The pair allegedly used guns and knives to assault their victims and rob them of jewelry, cars, and money worth thousands of dollars in five assaults and two robberies in Moscow Oblast's Mytischi Raion in 2004 and 2005. BW

The pro-Kremlin Unified Russia faction that dominates the State Duma has not reached consensus on ratifying a European convention abolishing the death penalty, Interfax reported on 24 October citing Konstantin Kosachev, chairman of the Duma's Foreign Affairs Committee. "This issue has not been put to a vote for the simple reason that there is no unanimity within the political factions, including United Russia," Kosachev said at a press conference in Moscow the same day. Protocol No. 6 of the European Convention for the Protection of Human Rights calls for the abolition of the death penalty in all cases except in times of war. BW

Central Electoral Commission Chairman Aleksandr Veshnyakov declared valid on 24 October the results of the referendum that would create the entity Kamchatka Krai, RIA-Novosti reported the same day. Veshnyakov said final results showed that 84.87 percent and 89.04 percent voted for the unification in Kamchatka Oblast and Koryak Autonomous Okrug, respectively, making the merger legal (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 24 October 2005). Voter turnout was 52.23 percent in Kamchatka Oblast and 76.71 percent in Koryak Autonomous Okrug. The Kremlin is creating several "composite districts" in what it calls an effort to make the country more governable. Perm Krai, which unified Perm Oblast and Komi-Permyak Autonomous Okrug, will come into existence on 1 December (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 20 September and 11 October 2005). Krasnoyarsk Krai -- uniting Krasnoyarsk Krai and the Taimyr and Evenk autonomous okrugs -- will come into existence on 1 January 2007 (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 6 October 2005). Preparations are under way to unite Irkutsk Oblast with Ust-Ordynsk Buryat Autonomous Okrug in Siberia. BW

Viktor Shenderovich, a popular satirist and critic of President Putin who is running for a seat in the State Duma, has filed a complaint with police that he is receiving threats from Kremlin officials, reported on 24 October. Shenderovich said a letter from the presidential administration -- delivered to him via NTV television producer Aleksandr Levin -- threatened negative consequences if he failed to cooperate with authorities. "Those officials said they have put up with me and are ready to put up with my journalistic activity in the future but they believe that politics is 'their field' to which no one will be admitted without their permission," Shenderovich wrote in a statement published on the website of "Yezhenedelnyi zhurnal." "If I am to go into politics I have to contact those people and come to terms with them, as all others do.... My further actions before such an agreement is achieved will be regarded as a 'violation of the rules of the game,' entailing retaliatory measures." BW

The Federal Arbitration Court in Moscow rejected an appeal by "Kommersant-Daily" and ordered it to pay 21 million rubles (about $736,000) in back taxes for 2004, RIA-Novosti reported on 24 October. In July 2005, Russian tax authorities ordered "Kommersant-Daily" to pay the additional sum, saying that the paper had understated its 2004 profit by excluding payments made to Alfa Bank stemming from a libel suit. "Kommersant-Daily," which is owned by exiled tycoon Boris Berezovskii, lost a 2004 libel suit with Alfa Bank and was ordered to pay 320 million rubles ($11.4 million) in damages. In December 2004, the Federal Arbitration Court reduced the sum to 40.5 million rubles ($1.5 million). BW

Security forces in Daghestan killed three leading members of a radical militant group during a nine-hour siege and storming of an apartment building in Makhachkala during the night of 24-25 October, Russian media reported quoting Daghestan's interior minister, Lieutenant General Adilgirey Magomedtagirov. Two of the dead fighters were identified as Gadzhimagomed Ismailov and Murad Lakhiyalov, who took over command of the Shariat djamaat following the killing of its leader, Rasul Makarsharipov in July (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 7 July 2005). LF

Police in Maikop detained six men on the night of 22 October as they left the city's Cathedral Mosque after prayers, and reported on 24-25 October. The believers, who included the imam of the mosque and his deputy, were taken to Maikop police headquarters where they were stripped and beaten in an attempt to induce them to confess to being religious extremists, reported. They were taken the following morning to the city court, where the judge ruled there was no reason to charge them with any administrative offense. The police who arrested them admitted that they were "acting on orders from above" in the aftermath of the 13 October attacks by militants in Nalchik, reported. LF

Diplomats representing the current (British) and upcoming (Austrian) rotating EU presidency together with Heikki Tavitie, the EU special representative for the South Caucasus, met in Yerevan on 24 October with Armenian President Robert Kocharian, parliament speaker Artur Baghdasarian and Foreign Minister Vartan Oskanian, Noyan Tapan reported. Issues discussed included the political situation in Armenia in the run-up to next month's referendum on constitutional amendments; the Nagorno-Karabakh conflict; Armenian-Turkish relations; the prospects for regional cooperation in the South Caucasus; and Armenia's Individual Partnership Action Plan for closer cooperation with the EU within the framework of the New Neighborhood Program. Kocharian and Baghdasarian were quoted as arguing that closer Armenian cooperation with the EU should not be made contingent on resolving the tensions between the EU and Azerbaijan that have arisen as a result of Azerbaijan's commercial ties with the unrecognized Turkish Republic of Northern Cyprus (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 7 October 2005). LF

Speaking at a press conference on 24 October, Yervand Zakharian encouraged residents of Yerevan to approve the constitutional amendments to be put to a nationwide referendum on 27 November, RFE/RL's Armenian Service reported. Zakharian reasoned that it is in residents' collective interest to do so, insofar as those amendments would pave the way for introducing direct elections for the post of Yerevan mayor, which many Yerevan residents favor. Also on 24 October, Mher Shahgeldian, chairman of a national council to coordinate preparations for the referendum, told journalists that analogous regional councils have also been created to encourage the hoped-for "yes" vote, Noyan Tapan reported. A minimum of one-third of Armenia's registered 2.4 million voters must approve the amendments for them to pass. LF

President Ilham Aliyev issued a decree on 24 October dismissing Fikret Sadykhov, head of the state petrochemical complex Azerkhimiya, Azerbaijani media reported. No reason was cited for the decision. Rumors of Sadykhov's dismissal and subsequent arrest first surfaced on 21 October, one day after he withdrew his candidacy for the 6 November parliamentary elections. Meanwhile, Baku district deputy police chief Ilgar Ragimzade was fired and arrested on 22 October, reportedly for having passed to the opposition plans for the massive deployment of police in Baku on 17 October, the date of former Parliament Speaker Rasul Guliev's anticipated return from exile to Azerbaijan, according to on 25 October. National Security Ministry personnel have also arrested Health Ministry Department head Vekil Abbasov following a thorough search of his office, reported on 25 October. LF

Presidential administration official Fuad Akhundov has accused the opposition of preparing to seize power during the night of 6-7 November in the wake of the 6 November parliamentary elections, reported on 25 October quoting Interfax-Azerbaijan. Ahundov alleged that the series of abortive opposition rallies in Baku in recent weeks, including that on 23 October, were intended as "dress rehearsals" for seizing power. Also on 25 October, the "Financial Times" quoted U.S. Assistant Secretary of State Daniel Fried, who visited Baku during a tour of the South Caucasus last week, as rejecting complaints by some Azerbaijani oppositionists that Washington is not pressuring the Azerbaijani authorities to ensure that the 6 November ballot is free, fair, and democratic. At the same time, Fried rejected comparisons between Azerbaijan today and Ukraine during last year's presidential ballot, saying that the regime of former Ukrainian President Leonid Kuchma "had exhausted and discredited itself." LF

Georgian Minister for Conflict Resolution Giorgi Khaindrava said in Moscow on 24 October that at a meeting beginning that day of the Joint Control Commission tasked with monitoring the situation in the South Ossetian conflict zone, he will call for expanding the format of those talks to give a greater role to the OSCE and the EU, Russian and Georgian media reported. But both Russian First Deputy Foreign Minister Valerii Loschinin and Ambassador Valerii Kanyaikin, who heads Russia's delegation to the talks, argued against any such changes, Interfax reported. Both Kenyaikin and South Ossetian delegation head Boris Chochiev termed the JCC and the Russian-Georgian-Ossetian peacekeeping force currently deployed in the conflict zone "the only effective and promising mechanisms" for resolving the conflict, ITAR-TASS reported. LF

Seventeen parliament deputies, including two defectors from the majority United National Movement faction, have aligned to form a new opposition parliament faction named the Democratic Front, Caucasus Press and RFE/RL's Georgian Service reported on 24 October. The faction also comprises eight Conservative Party deputies and six members of the Republican Party. Faction head David Zurabishvili told RFE/RL that the faction aims to promote and defend the ideals espoused by opposition politicians who were in the forefront of the November 2003 Rose Revolution that culminated in the peaceful ouster of President Eduard Shevardnadze. He accused the current Georgian leadership of having lost sight of those ideals. The faction plans to increase its membership with the aim of forming a formal parliament minority and then a "strong alternative" that could eventually come to power. It will cooperate with the New Rightists both within parliament and outside, and may also work together with the more radical Labor Party. LF

At a 24 October session, Kazakhstan's Central Election Commission (CEC) refused to register seven candidates who had hoped to participate in the country's 4 December presidential election, Kazinform reported. The report said that the seven unsuccessful presidential hopefuls failed to present the CEC with the necessary documents. It listed them as Asan-Ata Karishal, Amantai Asylbek, Zhaksybai Bazilbaev, Maksut Orazai, Salim Oten, Baltabai Rakhimzhanov, and Mekemtas Tleusov. CEC Chairman Onalsyn Zhumabekov said that the CEC is still considering the candidacy of Ualikhan Kaisarov. The CEC has already registered five candidates, Interfax reported on 23 October; they include President Nursultan Nazarbaev; Zharmakhan Tuyakbai, leader of the opposition bloc For a Just Kazakhstan; and Alikhan Baimenov, head of the opposition party Ak Zhol. DK

President Kurmanbek Bakiev chaired a cabinet meeting on 24 October to discuss the tense situation in Bishkek, where several hundred demonstrators protested for a third day demanding the removal of Prime Minister Feliks Kulov, RFE/RL's Kyrgyz Service and reported. Led by Ryspek Akmatbaev, the brother of recently murdered legislator Tynychbek Akmatbaev (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 21 October 2005), the protestors have charged Kulov with complicity in the lawmaker's death (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 24 October 2005). Bakiev called on cabinet members to stabilize the situation in penal institutions and tasked acting Prosecutor-General Kambaraly Kongantiev with conducting a thorough investigation of Akmatbaev's murder, reported. DK

Parliament failed to gain a quorum for a scheduled 24 October session to discuss Akmatbaev's murder, RFE/RL's Kyrgyz Service reported. Parliament will instead convene on 25 October. Speaker Omurbek Tekebaev, whom protesters have also accused of complicity in Akmatbaev's death, met with Ryspek Akmatbaev on 24 October to express his condolences. After the meeting, Tekebaev said that on 21 October Tynychbek Akmatbaev was supposed to travel to Prague for a conference instead of visiting the penal colony where he was killed. Tekebaev also said that the 25 October session of parliament will be broadcast live so that protestors can watch the proceedings. DK

Prime Minister Kulov on 24 October removed Deputy Interior Minister Alymbai Sultanov, replacing him with Moldomus Kongantev, RFE/RL's Kyrgyz Service reported. Kongantev, a former chief of police in Bishkek, was replaced by Omurbek Suvanaliev, a Kulov ally who had held the position until July before resigning for unspecified political reasons (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 20 July 2005). Kulov also signed a resolution on 24 October outlining measures intended to stabilize the situation in Bishkek, including document checks and weapons searches. At a meeting with Jan Kubis, EU special envoy to Central Asia, Kulov said that he is "not inclined to dramatize the situation," RFE/RL's Kyrgyz Service reported. Kulov said that President Bakiev told him to "continue to work calmly in the government," reported. DK

In an interview with Avesta on 24 October, Naser Sarmadi-Parsa, Iran's ambassador to Tajikistan, said that Iran is considering full-fledged membership in the Shanghai Cooperation Organization (SCO members are China, Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan, Russia, Tajikistan, Uzbekistan). Calling the SCO an organization with "its own definite fundamental goals proceeding from the interests of member states," Sarmadi-Parsa stated: "Iran has a positive and strong view with regard to joining the SCO as a full-fledged member." India, Iran, and Pakistan gained observer status in the organization at a July SCO summit in Kazakhstan (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 7 July 2005). DK

Deputy Energy Minister Akram Sulaymonov told a news conference in Dushanbe on 24 October that Uzbekistan intends to raise the price of natural gas for Tajikistan from $42 to $55 per 1,000 cubic meters starting on 1 January, Avesta reported. Sulaymonov said that the Uzbek gas-transit company Uztransgaz informed the Tajik side of its decision in a letter. Huseyn Aliev, the head of Tajik state-owned gas company Tojikgaz, said that Uzbekistan justified the decision as based on world market trends, RIA-Novosti reported. DK

The People's Council (Halk Maslahaty) of Turkmenistan voted on 24 October to remove the issue of a possible presidential election in 2009 from the agenda of its 16th session, reported. President Saparmurat Niyazov had introduced the idea, but it was rejected by a vote of 2,500 to one, with the president casting the lone vote in favor of an election, Reuters reported. DK

In the course of the council session, Niyazov signed a decree amnestying 8,145 prisoners by the end of Ramadan on 29 October, reported on 24 October. The amnesty is an annual event. Last year's end-of-Ramadan amnesty saw the release of some 9,000 prisoners, the report said. DK

UZBEK OPPOSITION LEADER FACES THEFT CHARGE, REPORTS SAY reported on 24 October that Sanjar Umarov, the jailed leader of the Uzbek opposition group Sunshine Coalition, faces a charge of theft under Article 167 part 3 of Uzbekistan's Criminal Code. Sunshine Coalition coordinator Nigora Hidoyatova provided the same information on the charges, RFE/RL's Uzbek Service reported. Umarov's supporters said that he was arrested on 23 October (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 24 October 2005); no official statement has yet appeared on Umarov's arrest or the charges he faces. DK

A poll conducted by the Vilnius-based Independent Institute of Socioeconomic and Political Studies (NISEPI) among 1,504 Belarusians in September found that 47.3 percent of respondents would vote for President Alyaksandr Lukashenka if a presidential election were held now, Belapan reported on 24 October. NISEPI also determined that 25.5 percent of respondents said they would vote for an opposition candidate, while 12.8 percent said that they would vote for neither the incumbent nor an opposition candidate. Nearly 14 percent were undecided. JM

President Viktor Yushchenko has vetoed a bill obliging the government to compensate Ukrainian citizens for devalued or lost savings that were deposited in the former Soviet Union's Savings Bank, Interfax-Ukraine reported on 24 October. Finance Minister Viktor Pynzenyk said the government would have to pay 12 billion hryvnyas ($2.4 billion) annually beginning next year if the bill were enacted. "We understand the problem, but the figure [we would have to pay] reaches 12 billion hryvnyas per year. It is an issue of capabilities and wishful thinking," Pynzenyk said. According to him, a 2006 budget draft provides for the payment of 600 million hryvnyas in compensation for the savings Ukrainians held in the Soviet-era Savings Bank. JM

Valentyna Semenyuk, chairwoman of the State Property Fund, has tendered her resignation to the president, Ukrainian media reported on 24 October. The previous day the Socialist Party, of which she is a member, asked her to step down in connection with the planned sale of the Kryvorizhstal steel mill (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 24 October 2005). The Socialist Party sought to have Kryvorizhstal turned over to the state. "A member of the Socialist Party cannot be involved in a deal that contravenes the party's program," ITAR-TASS quoted Yosyp Vinskyy of the Socialist Party as saying. JM

The UN Security Council gave its approval on 24 October for talks on Kosova's final status to begin, international news agencies reported the same day. "The council offers its full support to this political process, which would determine Kosova's future status, and further reaffirms its commitment to the objective of a multiethnic and democratic Kosova which must reinforce regional stability," said a statement unanimously adopted by the 15-member Security Council. UN Secretary-General Kofi Annan announced that he will name a special envoy this week to lead the talks. Annan added that the envoy will most likely be former Finnish President Martti Ahtisaari. BW

Serbian Prime Minister Vojislav Kostunica warned the Security Council prior to the vote that Belgrade is strongly opposed to a process that could result in Kosova winning full independence, Reuters reported on 24 October. "I am convinced that the international community, embodied in the United Nations, will not succumb to threats of violence and permit a dismemberment of a democratic state and the undermining of the most basic principles of the international order," Kostunica said. "I am convinced...that no democratic and free state could accept this under any circumstances," he added. In a letter to the Security Council, Kosovar Prime Minister Bajram Kosumi said Kosova's final status "should be that of an independent state with the borders of [Kosova] as they currently stand with neither partition nor cantonization." But in an apparent shift, Kosumi added that Kosova will welcome "the continued presence and involvement of the international community in our development." BW

Croatia announced on 24 October that it will cull more birds after finding two dead swans in an eastern part of the country where bird flu was detected last week, Reuters reported on 24 October. The swans were found at a fish farm outside Nasice, 200 kilometers east of Zagreb, Hina reported the same day. Croatia confirmed its first bird flu case on 21 October when six dead swans in the village of Zdenci near Nasice were determined to have H5-type avian flu. Zagreb is awaiting tests being conducted in Great Britain that will determine if the virus is the lethal H5N1 strain that has killed more than 60 people in Asia since 2003. The two dead swans discovered on 24 October in Nasice were from the same flock as those discovered on 21 October in Zdenci, according to Mate Brstilo, head of the national committee for bird-flu prevention. BW

New details are emerging in the case of three individuals arrested in Bosnia-Herzegovina on suspicion of plotting to carry out a suicide attack, the BBC reported on 24 October. The three -- one Swedish, one Turkish, and one Bosnian citizen -- were arrested on 19 and 20 October on suspicion of planning an attack on an unspecified embassy of an EU member state (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 21 October 2005). Citing sources close to the investigation, the BBC reported that the Swedish and Turkish citizens are believed to be natives of the former Yugoslavia. The individuals were reportedly carrying explosives when they were arrested, and weapons and other military equipment were found at their homes. One of the suspects also allegedly made a video reciting Islamic prayers. BW

Forensic experts on 24 October began the excavation of a mass grave in eastern Bosnia-Herzegovina believed to hold victims of the 1995 Srebrenica massacre, dpa reported the same day. The grave, located in Snagovo near the town of Zvornik in Republika Srpska, is believed to contain several dozen victims, according to Murat Hurtic of Bosnia's Commission on Missing Persons. Hurtic added that the grave at Snagovo is a "secondary grave," meaning that the victims were originally buried in another location and later moved. More than 2,000 victims from the July 2005 Srebrenica massacre have been identified so far. More than 7,000 bags with an unknown number of victims have been exhumed from 44 mass graves in eastern Bosnia. BW

A group of 30 members of Our Moldova Alliance (AMN) have withdrawn from the opposition party's Central Political Council, charging that leader Serafim Urechean resorts to "dictatorial" practices in running the party, Moldovan news agencies reported on 24 October. The group of dissenters, led by former Prime Minister Dumitru Braghis, includes seven lawmakers. In the parliamentary elections on 6 March, Urechean led the Democratic Moldova Bloc, which won 34 mandates in the 101-seat legislature. JM

Arab League Secretary-General Amr Musa wrapped up a five-day visit to Iraq on 24 October claiming to have won the support of Kurds and Shi'ite and Sunni Arabs for the convening of a national reconciliation conference in Cairo next month. It appears that Musa's trip received the blessings of the United Nations and the United States. But little can be expected from the Arab League, which has long been viewed as an ineffective body that works more to support the stability of authoritarian regimes in the Arab world than it does to effect genuine change on the ground. For many Iraqis, the intervention by the Arab League comes two years too late. The league, always a bastion of support for Sunni Arabs, stayed away from Iraq following the fall of the Hussein regime -- not out of any love for Saddam Hussein, but rather out of shock over the U.S.-led occupation and a recognition that, like Iraq, any of the backward regimes of the region could be next on the U.S. democratization agenda. The league now appears to regard itself as the voice of Iraq's disenfranchised Sunni Arabs, whether all Sunni Arabs like it or not. No Arab head of state has visited Iraq since the fall of the Hussein regime. Kurdish and Shi'ite Arab groups in Iraq generally hold the Arab League in disdain because the league has historically done little to support either group. Shi'ite Arabs are a minority in the Arab world, which is dominated by Sunni Arabs. Sunni Arab regimes have traditionally viewed Shi'ite Arabs as a fifth column -- closer to Iran than to the Arab world. The Syrian regime has been accused of not doing enough to stop the flow of Islamic insurgents into Iraq in support Abu Mus'ab al-Zarqawi's movement, which has made the targeting of Shi'ite Arabs one of its main goals. Kurds are not Arabs and as such, hold little worth to the Arab states. Like Iraq under the Hussein regime, the Syrian government persecutes its Kurdish minority. Tension between Iraq's Shi'ite and Kurdish leadership and the Arab League escalated in August when Amr Musa assailed the text of the Iraqi draft constitution for failing to recognize Iraq's "Arab identity." The accusation led Prime Minister Ibrahim al-Ja'fari (a Shi'ite) to accuse the league of interfering in a purely Iraqi affair (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 30 August 2005). But in the end, the drafters acquiesced to the league's demand and amended the text of the draft constitution to say that Iraq's "Arab people are part of the Arab nation." Sunni leaders were divided in their support for Musa's proposed conference. Iraqi Nation Party Secretary-General Mithal al-Alusi objected to Musa's visit, telling "Al-Sabah al-Jadid" in an interview published on 19 October that the real intention of the Arab League was to kindle sectarian strife in Iraq. The league's member states, facing strife at home, "have found in Iraq a new way to retain their worn-out existence," al-Alusi claimed, adding: "So they are planning to cause the political process in Iraq to fail.... Amr Musa's aim is to accomplish this through a destructive scheme." Iraqi Islamic Party Secretary-General Tariq al-Hashimi told Al-Jazeera television in a 20 October interview that his party supported the proposed conference, but he maintained that two issues would need to be addressed before the party signed on: setting a timetable for the withdrawal of multinational forces from Iraq, and the inclusion of members of the "national resistance" in the conference. Like most members of the government, National Assembly speaker Hajim al-Hasani (a Sunni) hailed the proposed conference as a "positive step" toward reconciliation. Vice President Ghazi Ajil al-Yawir also welcomed the proposal for a conference, telling reporters on 20 October that Sunnis approved of the Arab League initiative. Musa met with members of the Muslim Scholars Association on 21 October, telling reporters afterward that he expected the association would take part in the conference. Association spokesman Muhammad Bashir al-Faydi later said the association had laid down requirements for its participation in the conference. While he did not say what those requirements were, it appears the association pushed for the participation of the "national resistance" in the conference. "All of us are against terrorism and consider it a crime regardless of its forms," al-Faydi told Al-Jazeera on 21 October. "However, we must differentiate between the legitimate Iraqi resistance and terrorism." Iraqi National Dialogue Council spokesman Salih al-Mutlaq also met with Musa, and soon after declared those talks "fruitful," MENA reported on 23 October. Meanwhile, remnants of the defunct Ba'ath Party issued a statement denying Musa's claims to have met with Ba'ath Party representatives in Iraq, London's "Al-Quds al-Arabi" reported on 25 October. "When Musa deals with [the new Iraqi leadership] and deals with the occupation and its plans as a fait accompli, he places himself, his institution, and the Arab regional order in the ranks opposite the Ba'ath [Party] and the armed Iraqi resistance," the statement said. "The Ba'ath expected this, warned against it, and prepared for it." While for the most part receptive to the proposed conference, Kurdish and Shi'ite leaders laid down conditions, saying they would not attend a conference with former Ba'athists and terrorist groups. While Musa stopped short of acknowledging that demand in his comments to the media, he told reporters at a 22 October press briefing with Iraqi Foreign Minister Hoshyar al-Zebari: "We will invite all parties to participate except those who do not want to be part of the political process, which is their own decision." And then, in a statement that appeared geared more toward Sunni Arabs than all Iraqis, he said: "The Arab world and the Arab League are your safety net. By talking about safety, I do not mean security in its narrow meaning, rather I mean the political, strategic, physiological, and intellectual safety." Despite the underlying tension, Musa worked hard to convey goodwill toward Shi'ite and Kurdish leaders by noting on several occasions that the league acknowledged that the old Iraq is gone. Such acknowledgement went far with the once-oppressed Shi'ites and Kurds, but probably not far enough to placate the memory of the league's unbridled support for Iraq's Sunni Arab minority. The Iraqi Hizballah Party attacked the Arab League initiative in an editorial published in the party's weekly, "Al-Bayyinah," on 19 October. The weekly claimed that "anti-constitution" forces (presumably Sunni Arabs), supported by Musa, reject political progress in Iraq. "Their rejection [of progress] is not based on national principles to maintain the unity of Iraq's territories and people, and its national security and social structure. It is based on their psychological backgrounds and culture of tyranny," it said, referring to the deposed Hussein regime. "Musa and the anti-constitution forces should realize a fact that fading things rarely appear. Saddam [Hussein] and his totalitarian regime and the single sect and village's rule have gone for good. Today, Iraq is for all Iraqis." Abd al-Aziz al-Hakim, head of the Shi'ite group Supreme Council for the Islamic Revolution in Iraq (SCIRI), told reporters at a 20 October press briefing with Musa that while SCIRI was open to the conference, it would not engage in any discussions with terrorist groups. Al-Hakim said Musa "showed deep understanding that it is inconceivable to conduct a dialogue or seek reconciliation with such groups as they are the true enemies of the Iraqis," adding, "Of course, we openly blame the Arab League and Arab states for taking belated stands regarding Iraq and Iraqis." Musa also met with Shi'ite Grand Ayatollah Ali al-Sistani on 22 October in Al-Najaf, who reportedly endorsed the proposed conference. Meanwhile, Shi'ite parliamentarian Jalal al-Din al-Saghir told Tehran's Al-Alam television in a 23 October interview that Musa's trip to Iraq only served those Sunni Arab groups that hid behind the Arab League for the past 2 1/2 years and claimed the need for reconciliation. "The Iraqi political parties and organizations have always been in contact with each other, even before the overthrow of the [Hussein] regime. Those who speak about the need for the Arab League to intervene are the ones who have problems with the Iraqi street, the ones who failed in the Iraqi street," al-Saghir said. On 22 October, the day that Musa traveled to Kurdistan, "Al-Ta'akhi," the newspaper of Kurdistan President Mas'ud Barzani's political party Kurdistan Democratic Party (KDP), outlined the Kurdish position on the Arab League. The daily said there is no other nation that loves its Arab brothers more than the Kurdish nation, despite the "inhumane treatment" of some Arab regimes toward the Kurds, and the behavior of other Arab regimes that turned a blind eye to atrocities being carried out against Kurds by their Arab neighbors. Nevertheless, the Kurds "still consider the Arab League an institution of paramount importance, in addition to it being the symbol of the Arab nation's unity," the daily said. Saying that Kurds did not agree "with all the views of the Arab League towards the ethnic groups that are living in close proximity to the Arab nation," the daily cautioned that Kurds would never consider themselves part of the Arab nation. However, Kurds would recognize the connection between Iraq's Arab population and the Arab world, the daily noted. Musa addressed the Kurdistan parliament on 22 October, saying the league "realizes that the old era is over and that Iraq is preparing for a new era." He added that Iraq needed to "overcome several that it will achieve an agreement of opinions among all members of society and so that [Iraq] will be built on clear bases, harmony, and a comprehensive national accord." Saying a free, independent, federal Iraq would "represent a quantitative leap" in the region's politics, he told Kurdish parliamentarians, "I would like to say that Iraqi Kurdistan is an important part of not only Iraq, but also the Arab world and the Middle East region." "Al-Ta'akhi" criticized the remark in a 25 October editorial, as did Irbil's "Jamawar," which asked by Kurdish parliamentarians did not take Musa to task for implying Kurds were part of the Arab world. In the end, both Barzani and Talabani were diplomatic and praised the Arab League initiative. Barzani told reporters at a 22 October press briefing that Musa's mission was difficult, but not impossible, adding that Kurds would work to make the upcoming conference a success.

President Hamid Karzai traveled to Islamabad on 24 October to offer condolences on behalf of the Afghan people over the lives lost as a result of the 8 October earthquake that affected areas of Pakistan-administered Kashmir and North-West Frontier Province, Islamabad's PTV reported (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 11 October 2005). During his short stay in Pakistan, Karzai met with his Pakistani counterpart President Pervez Musharraf and with Prime Minister Shaukat Aziz. Aziz told Karzai during a news conference that the "people of Pakistan will always remember your visit at a time like this," and Afghanistan's efforts to help in the aftermath of the earthquake. "My brother, do count on us. In whatever way we can, the Afghan nation will be there to give you assistance," Karzai told Aziz. A 30-member Afghan medical contingent that accompanied Karzai to Pakistan will set up camp in Muzaffarabad, the capital of Pakistan-administered Kashmir, the Associated Press of Pakistan reported on 24 October. The unit plans to stay in Kashmir for 15 days. AT

Of the six former Taliban officials who ran in Afghanistan's September parliamentary and provincial-council elections, two have won seats in the People's Council (Wolesi Jirga) of the National Assembly, Peshawar-based Afghan Islamic Press reported on 24 October. Mullah Abdul Salam Racketi, who was commander of Military Unit No. 1 in Nangarhar Province in eastern Afghanistan during the Taliban period, won the plurality of the votes in Zabul Province in the south. Mawlawi Mohammad Nabi Mohammadi, who was served the governor of central Bamiyan Province during in the Taliban regime, secured the second highest number of votes in Samangan Province, north of Bamiyan (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 20 October 2005). The most prominent member of the ousted regime, former Foreign Minister Mawlawi Wakil Ahmad Mutawakkil, fared very poorly in Kandahar Province, the birthplace of the Taliban movement. AT

A radio journalist working for the Voice of Peace radio station was killed in a blast on 22 October in Khost Province, Pajhwak Afghan News reported on 24 October. The journalist, identified only as Maywand, was accompanying Afghan National Army soldiers when a land mine exploded, killing him and injuring three others. AT

Interior Minister Hojatoleslam Mustafa Purmohammadi said on 24 October in the city of Shiraz that Iran is willing to consider discussions with the United States if they take place on an equal footing and are based on mutual respect, IRNA reported. He said the current atmosphere is not conducive to such talks. "We find no reason to talk with the U.S.," he said. "We doubt Washington's integrity and it is not clear what its goals are for wanting to talk to us as revealed in recent offers made through intermediaries." Purmohammadi accused the United States of having a "hostile attitude." U.S. Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice told "USA Today" of 17 October that direct Tehran-Washington discussions would not be productive "at this point." "The Iranians know what they need to do," she said. "They are on the wrong side of so many issues in the Middle East." The Iranian ambassador to France, Sadegh Kharrazi, did not rule out talks with the United States. He told "USA Today" that "Iran would be open to talks, but the condition is mutual respect." BS

President Mahmud Ahmadinejad told his cabinet in Tehran on 24 October that Israel wants to normalize its relations with Muslim countries, state radio reported. Ahmadinejad referred to this effort at normalization as a "new Zionist plot." Ahmadinejad said that "Muslim nations will not let it do so on International Qods Day [Jerusalem Day]," in reference to the holiday commemorated on the last Friday of the holy month of Ramadan that symbolizes solidarity with the Palestinian people. BS

The director of the security department at the Science, Research, and Technology Ministry, identified only as Zerai, announced on 23 October that he has submitted to the judiciary an initial and partial list of imprisoned students who should be pardoned, Radio Farda and ILNA reported. "We are preparing a list of all students detained across the country and intend to identify all imprisoned students, even those from the Islamic Open University, and submit their names to the judiciary," Zerai said. He explained that his ministry is preparing a comprehensive list because the judiciary says it does not keep one. Judiciary head Ayatollah Mahmud Hashemi-Shahrudi met with Science, Research, and Technology Minister Mohammad Mehdi Zahedi on 26 September, asked for a list of imprisoned students, and issued a directive calling for their release, IRNA reported. BS

Judiciary head Hashemi-Shahrudi said on 24 October that the names of individuals involved with financial crimes cannot be made public until they are found guilty or the appeals process has been exhausted, IRNA reported. He added that the judiciary will not allow the country's investment climate to be undermined by unnecessary summonses, false arrests, or unwarranted imprisonments. National media and commentators have recently criticized a government report on corruption that did not identify any of the individuals who allegedly embezzled money and received illegal loans worth millions of rials. Hashemi-Shahrudi described the biggest financial crime as harming the investment climate and contributing to capital flight. Hashemi-Shahrudi announced that an investment security office has been established by the judiciary and the presidential office. BS

The Iranian government's unconfirmed ban on imports from countries that voted against it in the recent International Atomic Energy Agency governing board meeting has produced mixed reactions in Tehran. "National interest" should be the priority, said Tehran representative Parviz Soruri, according to the 24 October "Etemad." He advocated using economic tools in political relations, but cautioned: "It is an immature and wrong reaction that, whenever we are faced with a political problem, we make use of the economic lever." Arak representative Hussein Moradi said that "reducing the level of economic exchanges does not mean that we are cutting off our political relations with those countries." He said the government should have alternatives if it cuts off economic relations with one country. Bandar Anzali's reformist representative, Hadi Haqshenas, said the government should have a "long-term strategy" to deal with such eventualities and it should not resort to "hostile decisions." "It should not act on the spur of the moment," "Etemad" quoted him as saying. BS

The Iraqi Independent Electoral Commission announced in Baghdad on 25 October that the final results of the 15 October referendum on the draft constitution indicate that the referendum has passed, RFE/RL's Radio Free Iraq (RFI) reported. The commission said that 55 percent of voters in the Ninawah Governorate voted against the draft, short of the two-thirds threshold for rejection. Voters in the Salah Al-Din and Al-Anbar governorates rejected the constitution but, according to the Transitional Administrative Law, two-thirds of the voters in three or more governorates needed to reject the draft for it to fail (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 24 October 2005). Voters in Iraq's other 15 governorates overwhelmingly supported the draft, according to commission officials. KR

Two staff members of the Moroccan Embassy in Baghdad have been missing since 20 October, according to a statement by Morocco's Foreign Affairs Ministry, Al-Sharqiyah television reported on 24 October. Abd Al-Rahim bu Allam, a driver, and Abd al-Karim al-Muhafizi, an embassy staffer, disappeared after crossing the Jordanian-Iraqi border en route to Baghdad on 20 October. The pair had driven to Jordan to receive their salaries. The Iraqi government is reportedly looking into the disappearance. KR

Ibrahim al-Ja'fari traveled to Al-Basrah on 24 October to meet with local officials three days after local police clashed with Tha'r Allah Party members in the city, Iraqi and Iranian media reported the same day. The 22 October clashes took place when police attempted to storm the headquarters of Tha'r Allah (God's Revenge) Party, which some officials have said is supported by Iran. Tha'r Allah security personnel engaged police, and a gun battle ensued. Police also raided the home of Tha'r Allah Secretary-General Yousif al-Musawi on 22 October and detained him. Police sources told Al-Zaman that the party is suspected of carrying out "non-politically motivated murders" and other crimes, the daily reported on 22 October. Tha'r Allah member Mawla al-Musawi claimed that the Al-Fadilah Al-Islamiyah (Islamic Virtue) Party -- the party of Governor Muhammad al-Wa'ili -- is behind the false accusations against Tha'r Allah, reported on 25 October. Al-Wa'ili's party clashed with al-Ja'fari and other Shi'ite parties in July over his demands for more oil revenues for the south. Al-Ja'fari continues to deny reports of Iranian interference in Al-Basrah, telling Tehran's Al-Alam television on 24 October that "no documents have been put in my hand regarding border violations by Iran." KR

The Kurdistan Islamic Union announced on 22 October that it is withdrawing from the Kurdistan Coalition List ahead of December elections, "Jamawar" reported on 24 October. The move appears to come in protest to the influence of the two leading parties -- the Kurdistan Democratic Party (KDP) and the Patriotic Union of Kurdistan (PUK) -- after the Kurdistan Islamic Union disputed those parties' claims of high turnout and support for the referendum on the constitution in Kurdistan. The union's weekly newspaper, "Yekgirtu," reported on 18 October that few Kurds went to the polls, and speculated that Kurds are fed up with the Kurdish administrations and their empty promises to improve the quality of life in Kurdistan. The union called on the Kurdistan Regional Government and the Kurdish political parties to "ponder the coldness of those polling stations in which the number of the officials, employees and representatives at the ballot boxes were more than the number of voters [on referendum day]; assess meticulously the nonchalance and despair of the people towards this process." KDP Politburo Secretary Fadil Mirani commented on the party's withdrawal, telling "Jamawar" on 24 October: "The parties are free to join the coalition or leave it. This is the core of democracy." KR

Al-Qaeda-affiliated Tanzim Qa'idat Al-Jihad fi Bilad Al-Rafidayn, led by fugitive Jordanian terrorist Abu Mus'ab al-Zarqawi, claimed in a video posted on the Internet ( on 22 October that it beheaded a member of the Badr Organization, a Shi'ite group connected to the Supreme Council for the Islamic Revolution in Iraq (SCIRI). The victim, who identified himself as Abbas Dahir Majid, "confessed" in the video to being a member of the Badr Organization, which he described as funded by Iran and the United States. He said the organization's agenda is to drive Sunni Arabs from southern Iraq and establish a Shi'a state there. He also told his captors that Shi'ite Grand Ayatollah Ali al-Sistani has permitted through fatwas the rape of Sunni women and the stealing of Sunni property. Majid also said that his captors did not force him into making false statements in the video. Majid is then beheaded on camera. KR

Suicide car bombers targeted a senior Kurdish official in Al-Sulaymaniyah on 25 October, international media reported. Police said two car bombs targeted a convoy carrying Mullah Bakhtiyar, a member of the Patriotic Union of Kurdistan (PUK) political bureau, dpa reported. Bakhtiyar escaped with injuries, and one of his bodyguards was killed in the attack. Minutes later, a third car bomb detonated outside the Ministry of Peshmerga Affairs. Reuters reported that nine people were killed in that attack. KR

Three suicide car bombers targeted the Palestine Hotel in central Baghdad on 24 October, killing 16 and wounding 22, international media reported on 25 October. The hotel is frequented by Arab and foreign journalists. The first vehicle blasted through a concrete wall, creating an opening in the security barrier. Minutes later a cement truck laden with explosives drove through the opening and advanced toward the hotel and detonated. No one inside the hotel was injured, apparently because the vehicle was unable to penetrate barbed wire surrounding the building. Insurgents then opened fire, attacking with rockets and small arms fire. A third bomber detonated his vehicle nearby, outside a local ministry. National Security Adviser Muwaffaq al-Rubay'i told Al-Arabiyah television on 24 October that the insurgents intended to seize control of the hotel and hold the journalists captive. "The defenses and concrete barriers at the hotel and the preparedness of the Iraqi Army and police [as well as] hotel guards foiled the terrorists' plans," Al-Rubay'i said. KR