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Newsline - November 1, 2005


RUSSIAN FOREIGN MINISTER PRAISES SECURITY COUNCIL COMPROMISE ON SYRIA
Sergei Lavrov praised the compromise reached in the United Nations Security Council on a resolution on Syria and said Moscow will continue to monitor the situation, ITAR-TASS reported on 31 October. "The outcome of today's UN Security Council session is proof of the international community's resolve to find out the truth about the killing of prominent Arab political figure, Lebanese Prime Minister Rafiq Hariri," Lavrov said. Russia, he added, "will watch the work of the International Independent Investigation Commission led by Detlev Mehlis and contribute to it." The UN Security Council unanimously passed a resolution warning Syria of "further measures" if it fails to fully cooperate with a probe into Hariri's 14 February killing. Russia worked successfully to get an explicit reference to economic sanctions removed from the resolution (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 30 and 31 October 2005). BW

PUTIN DENIES RUSSIAN ECONOMY DEPENDENT ON OIL...
Russian President Vladimir Putin on 31 October rejected claims that the country's economy is dependent on oil and other natural resources, ITAR-TASS reported the same day. "It's not so. This is not true," Putin said in an interview with Dutch journalists prior to a visit to the Netherlands scheduled for 1 November. "We have had a serious economic growth of about 7 percent a year in the past several years. To a large extent this is connected with the favorable situation in the international markets," Putin added. "We intend to diversify our economy. In recent years there has been a considerable growth in the processing industry." Putin also said Russia is interested in the Netherlands' "positive experience...diversifying the economy and developing high-tech sectors by using revenue from the oil and gas industries." BW

...SAYS KHODORKOVSKII CASE DOESN'T HARM INVESTOR CONFIDENCE
Putin said the case of former Yukos CEO Mikhail Khodorkovskii has not harmed investor confidence in Russia, Reuters reported on 31 October. In an interview with Dutch journalists the same day, Putin cited Moody's Investors Service's decision to raise the credit rating of Russia's debt and the rising stock market as evidence of continued investor confidence. "So rumors about the undermining of confidence in the Russian economy are strongly exaggerated," Putin said, according to a transcript of the comments published on the Kremlin's website. "People who act behind the back of the state inflict damage against their own citizens, foreign partners, and investors who seek to work and are working in our economy," Putin added. "Such people, in their actions, give rise to the very corruption about which we talk so much." Khodorkovskii was transferred to a Siberian prison camp to serve his eight-year sentence for fraud and tax evasion (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 21 October 2005). Critics say the case against him is politically motivated. BW

PUTIN SAYS RUSSIANS HAVE REASON FOR DISCONTENT DESPITE RECENT PROGRESS...
In the same interview with Dutch journalists on 31 October, Putin said that despite recent progress, Russians still have cause to be dissatisfied with their government, ITAR-TASS reported the same day. "Russian citizens have many...reasons to be critical of the government at all levels," Putin said. "I think we have to do much more in the social sphere. This is why I have recently proposed several national projects in the fields of education, health care, housing construction, and support to agriculture," he added. Putin claimed, however, that significant progress has been made in recent years: inflation has fallen from 36 percent in 2000 to 10-11 percent today; wage arrears have become less of a chronic problem; household incomes have grown by about 10-12 percent a year; and unemployment has been steadily decreasing. BW

...WARNS EUROPE AGAINST APPEASING TERRORISTS
Putin warned European countries against attempts to appease terrorists or buy off terrorists, saying such moves are counterproductive, ITAR-TASS reported the same day. Putin accused Europeans of a tendency to try to pacify terrorists. "This is a very dangerous philosophy that leads to big tragedies," he told Dutch journalists, recalling the 1938 Munich Pact with Nazi Germany. "We must understand that such practice leads to problems in our own countries. One cannot buy terrorists off by giving them presents or even shelter," Putin said on Monday. "The latest terrible, tragic, and bloody events in some European countries are the best proof of what I have just said," he added. BW

TOP RUSSIAN GENERAL CALLS FOR GREATER COOPERATION WITH NATO
Yurii Baluevskii, the chief of the Russian Army's General Staff, said on 1 November that conflict between Russia and NATO is now impossible and the two sides should cooperate to solve common problems, "Rossiiskaya gazeta" and other Russian news agencies reported the same day. "Nowadays, NATO and Russia have enough problems that should be solved jointly," Baluevskii said in an interview with "Rossiiskaya gazeta." He added that even the United States is "powerless to counter terrorists alone." Moreover, Baluevskii said conflict between NATO and Russia would be catastrophic for both sides. "The NATO army has over 4.5 million people, and our army is slightly over 1 million. If these two giants get together, it will be more than enough for anyone," he said. BW

TRIAL OF SCIENTIST OPENS IN BASHKORTOSTAN
The Supreme Court of Bashkortostan began preliminary hearings in the trial of Oskar Kaibyshev, a scientist charged with the illegal export of technology, "Kommersant" reported on 1 November. The trial is examining contracts between Kaibyshev, the head of the Ufa Institute of Metal Superplasticity, and the South Korean-based ASA to supply titanium-alloy cylinders. According to the contracts, the cylinders were to be used to manufacture disc brakes, but the Federal Security Service (FSB) suspects that their real destination would have been the South Korean space program. Kaibyshev told "Kommersant" that the contracts were concluded under the supervision of the FSB. BW

PROSECUTORS OPEN CRIMINAL CASE AGAINST TRAWLER CAPTAIN
Prosecutors in the Murmansk Oblast have opened a criminal case against Valerii Yarantsev, the captain of the trawler "Elektron," ITAR-TASS reported on 1 November. Yarantsev is under investigation for "illegal fishing" and "illegal deprivation of freedom." Prosecutors in Murmansk opened the case based on materials passed to Russia by Norway. Norwegian authorities stopped the trawler on 15 October on suspicion of illegal fishing. Norwegian authorities accused the crew of using illegal nets and began escorting the trawler to a port, but the "Elektron" abruptly broke away from its escort on 17 October and headed for Russian waters with two Norwegian Coast Guard inspectors on board. It reached Russian territorial waters on 19 October (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 19 October 2005). Russia and Norway have been involved in periodic disputes over fishing rights. BW

TATARSTAN LEGISLATORS APPROVE NEW POWER-SHARING AGREEMENT
Tatarstan's legislature approved on 28 October a new draft power-sharing treaty between Kazan and Moscow, "Kommersant-Daily" reported on 31 October. According to the daily, the new treaty was drafted in line with the 2003 law on the general principles for organizing legislative and executive organs in the state bodies of the Russian Federation subjects. The 2003 law nullified previous such agreements, and provided for a two-year period to amend existing agreements. In contrast to the previous power-sharing treaty, which defined the different competences of Russia and Tatarstan, the new agreement limits only the powers of the republic. According to "Izvestiya," work on drafting the new agreement was conducted in great secrecy. A source close to the working group that prepared the treaty told the daily that Tatar officials wanted recognition that the republic is a "sovereign state," although the language it sought would have reflected limited sovereignty within the Russian Federation. However, the presidential administration, according to the anonymous source, opposed this. JAC

PRIME MINISTER NAMES OBSCURE MINISTRY OFFICIAL AS ACTING HEAD OF PUBLIC CHAMBER...
Prime Minister Mikhail Fradkov on 29 October named Igor Fedorov acting head of the new Public Chamber, "Izvestiya" reported on 31 October. Fedorov heads the territorial administration for the Central Federal District's Federal Service for the Monitoring of Legislation in the Sphere of the Mass Media and Russia's Cultural Heritage. He is also a former member of the presidential administration staff. According to "Kommersant-Daily" on 29 October, a survey of some of the 42 members of the chamber that have already been appointed revealed that none of them was consulted about Fedorov's appointment. According to the law, the chamber's members, once they are all selected, confirm the head of the body. JAC

...AS REGIONAL OFFICIALS CLAIM CHAMBER IS BEING PUT TOGETHER WITHOUT THEIR PARTICIPATION
Meanwhile, regional officials and members of NGOs told "Izvestiya" that they are not getting a say about who is selected to represent them in the new government organ. Andrei Klepanov of the Tula branch of the Union of Architects of Russia said members of that union were told by Public Chamber member and Russian Union of Industrialists and Entrepreneurs President Aleksandr Shokhin that the Union of Architects is nominating sculptor Zurab Tsereteli. Klepanov said that the union did not want to nominate Tsereteli and already has its own candidate in mind. Inessa Chizhova, Civil Solidarity executive secretary for Tula Oblast, told the daily that "the Public Chamber is the authorities' latest Potemkin village." She noted that the list of representatives the authorities favor has already been put together and confirmed, and the only task now is to give their decisions "a democratic decoration." According to a recent survey conducted by the All-Russian Center for the Study of Public Opinion (VTsIOM), 49 percent of respondents know nothing about the Public Chamber, while only 10 percent are well informed about it, gazeta.ru reported on 28 October. JAC

SURVEY SHOWS SLIGHT INCREASE IN BELIEF IN GOD
On the occasion of Halloween, VTsIOM on 31 October published the results of a survey on beliefs in God, astrology, and resurrection of the dead. In comparison to a similar survey conducted in November 2004, the percentage of respondents who believe in God rose from 52 percent to 58 percent, according to wciom.ru. The percentage of people who believe in horoscopes remains steady at 8 percent in October versus 9 percent in 2004. The percentage of people who do not believe in any kind of higher power dipped slightly -- from 15 percent to 14 percent. Eight percent of respondents in the recent survey believe that it is possible to resurrect the dead. JAC

PREPARATIONS FOR ARMENIAN REFERENDUM CONTINUE
Mher Shahgeldian, chairman of the Coordinating Council set up to oversee preparations for the 27 November referendum on a package of draft constitutional amendments, said on 31 October that the government will do its best to ensure that every household receives a copy of the proposed changes, Noyan Tapan reported. He added that the number of political parties that advocate approval of the draft has risen to 24, including the Union for National Self-Determination, which is headed by Soviet-era dissident Paruyr Hairikian. Meanwhile, representatives of the opposition Hanrapetutiun bloc complained on 31 October to RFE/RL's Armenian Service that they are consistently denied airtime on government-controlled media to explain why they believe voters should reject the proposed changes. The rationale cited for that refusal, according to Hanrapetutiun, is that no decision has yet been reached on charges for such campaign advertising, but the channels in question are reportedly already airing free of charge advertising by the parties that advocate approving the amendments. Also on 31 October, Alvina Zarkarian, who heads the Interior Ministry's division for passports and visas, confirmed that the names of some 162,000 people who failed to exchange their Soviet-era passports, which expired in 2000, for Republic of Armenia passports have been removed from voter lists, and they will not therefore be able to participate in the referendum, RFE/RL's Armenian Service reported. Zarkarian said that it is impossible to clarify "immediately" whether those persons are citizens of Armenia or refugees from Azerbaijan who have not yet acquired Armenian citizenship. She added that it is still possible to apply for new passports before 25 November. LF

ARMENIA CONCLUDES DEBATE ON 2006 DRAFT BUDGET
A three-day debate on the government's draft budget for 2006, which began on 26 October, ended on 31 October, RFE/RL's Armenian Service reported. Deputies now have 24 hours to submit further proposals to the government for incorporation into the final version. The draft envisages revenues of 381 billion drams ($853 million) and expenditures of 451.9 billion drams (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 29 September 2005). Projected GDP growth is set at 7.5 percent and annual inflation at 3 percent, according to Noyan Tapan on 25 October. The anticipated exchange rate is 420 drams to the U.S. dollar. LF

HUMAN RIGHTS WATCHDOG EXCLUDES FAIR ELECTION IN AZERBAIJAN...
In a 30-page report released on 31 October (http://hrw.org/backgrounder/eca/azerbaijan1005/), Human Rights Watch concluded that the Azerbaijani authorities have "extinguished" the possibility that the 6 November parliamentary ballot will be free and fair. The report detailed arrests of and reprisals against opposition candidates and activists during the election campaign and the authorities' overt support for candidates from the ruling Yeni Azerbaycan Party. It deplored the authorities' failure to implement recommendations for improving election legislation made by the OSCE and Council of Europe shortly after the October 2003 presidential ballot. On 1 November, the online daily zerkalo.az reported that 2,500 ultraviolet lightbulbs and 8,000 containers of indelible ink have been imported from Denmark to mark voters' fingers in order to prevent multiple voting. Georgian President Mikheil Saakashvili promised his Azerbaijani counterpart Ilham Aliyev in a telephone conversation last week that Georgia will loan Azerbaijan the necessary equipment, Caucasus Press reported. LF

...AS PROSECUTOR-GENERAL'S OFFICE PROBES CAMPAIGN VIOLATIONS
Since the election campaign began in early September, the Prosecutor-General's Office has investigated 35 alleged violations of the electoral law, according to a report summarized on 1 November by day.az. The Prosecutor-General's Office confirmed four instances of violence against and two cases in which candidates either distributed gifts to voters or financed infrastructure projects. LF

COMMITTEE FORMED IN DEFENSE OF ARRESTED AZERBAIJANI ACADEMIC
Numerous prominent Azerbaijani opposition figures, including Azerbaijan Popular Front Party Chairman Ali Kerimli, Musavat party Chairman Isa Gambar, and National Unity Movement head Lala-Shovket Gadjieva have set up a campaign to defend the rights of Eldar Salaev, 72, the former head of the National Academy of Sciences, zerkalo.az reported on 1 November. Salaev was taken into custody on 29 October and subsequently remanded in pretrial custody for three months on charges of involvement in an alleged coup d'etat planned by former parliament speaker Rasul Guliev, to whom Salaev is related by marriage (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 31 October 2005). LF

RUSSIA, SOUTH OSSETIA DISMISSIVE OF NEW GEORGIAN PEACE INITIATIVE
Dmitrii Medoev, the unrecognized Republic of South Ossetia's representative in Moscow, said on 31 October that the revised proposal for resolving the South Ossetian conflict that Prime Minister Zurab Noghaideli unveiled in Vienna last week contains "nothing new" and reflects the Georgian authorities' hope that the West will intervene to impose a solution to the conflict on Georgia's terms, Caucasus Press reported. "There is no acceptable form of integrating South Ossetia into Georgia," the agency quoted him as saying. Russian Ambassador to Georgia Vladimir Chkhikvishvili similarly told journalists on 31 October that Moscow considers the new Georgian initiative, which envisages resolving the conflict by 2007, less realistic than the original proposal President Saakashvili outlined to the UN General Assembly last year (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 22 September 2004). Meanwhile in Tskhinvali, South Ossetian President Eduard Kokoity told the Georgian television station Rustavi-2 that he is not prepared to meet with Noghaideli until the Georgian government apologizes for the 20 September mortar attack on Tskhinvali, Caucasus Press reported on 1 November. Georgian Minister for Conflict Resolution Giorgi Khaindrava announced last week that the long-planned meeting between Kokoity and Noghaideli has been scheduled for 15 November. LF

GEORGIAN PRESIDENT URGES MINISTERS, GOVERNORS TO MONITOR POPULAR MOOD
President Saakashvili ordered ministers and regional governors to spend more time, beginning immediately, with members of the population at large to determine their concerns, Caucasus Press and Interfax reported. Saakashvili specifically stressed the need to find out to what extent peoples' hopes of change in the wake of the November 2003 peaceful revolution that brought him to power have remained unfulfilled. LF

KAZAKH PRESIDENT SEES INCOMES DOUBLING BY 2012
Speaking to the Kazakh Trade Union Federation in Astana on 31 October, President Nursultan Nazarbaev predicted that the country's rapid economic growth will make it possible to double incomes by 2012, "Kazakhstan Today" reported. "By 2012, per capita GDP should increase to $8,000-$9,000," said Nazarbaev, who is running for a third term in the December presidential election. "By that time, we should double personal incomes." Nazarbaev laid out other ambitious plans as well, RFE/RL's Kazakh Service reported. "By 2012, Kazakhstan should become one of the world's top 10 exporters of oil and gas," he said. "Overall industrial production should double, and the oil and gas sector and the entire extractive industry will be the main contributor to the accomplishment of this task." DK

KAZAKH FOREIGN MINISTER OUTLINES POLICY PRIORITIES
In an address to the Mazhilis (lower chamber of parliament) on 31 October, Foreign Minister Qasymzhomart Toqaev laid out the core priorities of Kazakhstan's multidirectional foreign policy, Interfax-Kazakhstan reported. While stressing that Kazakhstan has no plans to unite or merge with Russia, Toqaev noted, "It is not for nothing that Russia's political elite describes Kazakhstan as the closest ally of their country." But Toqaev underscored the importance of cooperation with China and the United States as well. He made it clear that Kazakhstan will continue to cultivate ties with a number of countries, describing a unidirectional orientation in foreign policy as "shortsighted, impracticable, and politically and economically damaging." Addressing the mission of his ministry, Toqaev said that "creating favorable conditions for continuing reforms remains our main task." DK

KYRGYZ PRESIDENT ASKS NEW HEAD OF PENAL SYSTEM TO ESTABLISH ORDER
At a meeting with newly appointed prison-system head Kapar Mukeev in Bishkek on 31 October, President Kurmanbek Bakiev charged him with restoring order in the penal system, RFE/RL's Kyrgyz Service reported. The murder of parliamentary deputy Tynychbek Akmatbaev at a penal colony outside Bishkek on 20 September sparked demonstrations recently in the capital (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 21 and 24-28 September); the former head of the prison system, Ikmatullo Polotov, later died from wounds sustained during the incident that resulted in Akmatbaev's death. Mukeev told the president that work is under way to stabilize the situation. Bakiev warned Mukeev that he will hold him personally responsible for ensuring that funds budgeted to maintain the prison system are properly spent. Also on 31 October, prison-system deputy director Batyr Saparbaev announced that 5 million soms ($122,000) have been allocated to corrective-labor colonies to improve conditions, RFE/RL reported. According to official data, 56 soms ($1.37) per inmate are supposed to be spent on food each day, but the actual sum allotted is only 17 soms. DK

KYRGYZSTAN WANTS U.S. BASE TO PAY FOR FUTURE FUEL DUMPS
The Emergency Situations Agency announced on 31 October that a new draft agreement on the presence of foreign military forces in Kyrgyzstan will contain provisions for the U.S. air base in Kyrgyzstan to provide compensation in the event of fuel dumps, akipress.org reported. "The draft agreement includes a number of aspects, and especially the issues of defining the damage from dumping fuel [over Kyrgyz territory by U.S. plans] under emergency circumstances and rectifying the damage," Deputy Emergency Situations Minister Bakur Jolchuev told RFE/RL's Kyrgyz Service. Akipress.org reported that the draft envisages payment of 6,600-7,700 soms ($162-$188) for each ton of jet fuel dumped. The news agency noted that in two separate incidents in late September, U.S. planes dumped 80 tons of jet fuel in the course of in-flight emergencies. At the time, spokespeople for the U.S. base stated that the fuel was dumped at an altitude and speed that ensured its evaporation with no damage to the environment. DK

WOULD-BE BELARUSIAN ELECTION OBSERVERS JAILED, FINED
A district court in Minsk on 31 October sentenced Alyaksandr Bondarau, Enira Branitskaya, and Mikalay Astreyka to 15 days in jail and fined Svyatlana Konava the equivalent of $350 after finding them guilty of organizing an unsanctioned meeting on 29 October, Belapan reported. The meeting was intended to found an association of independent election observers for the 2006 parliamentary election. Police arrived shortly after the meeting began and reportedly detained, photographed, fingerprinted, and obtained written explanations from all 70 participants. All were released except Bondarau, Branitskaya, and Astreyka. Konava did not receive a jail sentence due to her need to care for her child. AM

EU PRAISES UKRAINE AS EXEMPLARY NEIGHBOR
EU External Relations Commissioner Benita Ferrero-Waldner described Ukraine on 31 October as a positive example of the European Neighborhood Policy, Interfax reported the same day. Ferrero-Waldner also said the EU will uphold its commitments and grant Ukraine market-economy status on 1 December in response to, and to improve economic reforms in the country. Ferrero-Waldner also said she believes the 2006 parliamentary elections in Ukraine will be of key importance for further reforms. AM

UKRAINIAN PRESIDENT CHOOSES ANOTHER NOMINEE FOR PROSECUTOR-GENERAL...
President Viktor Yushchenko on 31 October nominated Oleksandr Medvedko to serve as the next prosecutor-general, Interfax reported the same day, citing presidential spokeswoman Iryna Herashchenko. Yushchenko withdrew his previous nominee, Vasyl Prysyazhnyuk (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 30 October 2005), with no explanation. Medvedko currently serves as a deputy prosecutor-general. Verkhovna Rada speaker Volodymyr Lytvyn said on 31 October that he does not exclude the possibility that Ukraine might face a situation in which two people jointly fill the position. Svyatoslav Piskun, who was dismissed from the post on 14 October, is contesting his dismissal in court. AM

...AND HAILS START OF COOPERATION BETWEEN CABINET AND PARLIAMENT
President Yushchenko during a 31 October Political Council meeting praised the start of cooperation between the Cabinet of Ministers and the Verkhovna Rada, Interfax reported, citing presidential spokeswoman Herashchenko. Herashchenko described the discussions at the meeting as "extremely constructive," adding that the president envisions the 2006 budget as one of development. Yushchenko created the Political Council as a means of facilitating dialogue between the president and political groupings in the Verkhovna Rada (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 13 October 2005). AM

IMF BREAKS OFF DEBT-RELIEF TALKS WITH SERBIA
Piritta Sorsa, who heads the International Monetary Fund (IMF) mission in Belgrade, said on 31 October that her group has suspended high-level talks on debt write-offs with the Serbian authorities following disagreements over Serbia's monetary and spending policies, dpa reported. The negotiations aimed at hammering out a nearly $1 billion stand-by arrangement will continue at an unspecified "necessary level." The IMF is also concerned at Serbia's 17 percent inflation rate, especially considering that the planned level was under 10 percent. The IMF agreement is particularly important for Serbia because it is linked to a $65 million debt write-off by the Paris Club of creditors, who have already canceled $2.3 billion in Serbian debt. PM

SERBIAN PRESIDENT SEEKS TO INVOLVE MONTENEGRO IN KOSOVA TALKS
Serbian President Boris Tadic said on 31 October in Presevo that he wants representatives of the joint state of Serbia and Montenegro included in Belgrade's delegation to the upcoming Kosova status talks, RFE/RL's South Slavic and Albanian Languages Service reported. He stressed that Kosova is not simply a matter between Serbs and Albanians but is also an issue of regional importance. Montenegrin officials have generally resisted Serbian efforts to involve the small mountainous republic in the Kosova question, suspecting that Belgrade wants to use that issue to hamper Montenegrin aspirations for independence (see "RFE/RL Balkan Report," 11 February 2005). PM

KOSOVAR POLITICIAN STILL BANNED FROM POLITICS
The Hague-based war crimes tribunal extended on 31 October a ban on political activities by Kosova's former Prime Minister Ramush Haradinaj until 21 November, RFE/RL's South Slavic and Albanian Languages Service reported. He returned to Prishtina in June pending his trial and had permission to take part in politics, but this permission was subsequently suspended following objections by Carla Del Ponte, who is the tribunal's chief prosecutor (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 7 June and 14 October 2005). PM

THREE BOSNIAN WAR CRIMES SUSPECTS REPORTEDLY ARRESTED
On 31 October in Bijeljina, Republika Srpska police arrested Kosta Kostic, Milos Milosevic, and Raco Simic, whom the prosecutor of the UN-run Brcko district suspects of carrying out war crimes in the Brcko area in 1992, RFE/RL's South Slavic and Albanian Languages Service reported, citing local media. PM

EU OFFICIAL SAYS BORDER PLAN COULD HELP END TRANSDNIESTER CONFLICT
EU External Relations Commissioner Benita Ferrero-Waldner has said an initiative to help secure the breakaway Transdneister region's border with Ukraine could lead to an end to the conflict there, euro-reporters.com reported on 31 October. "It is an important step towards facilitating the end of the frozen conflict in [Transdniester]," Ferrero-Waldner said. The Border Assistance Mission is scheduled to begin on 1 December and last two years. Teams of EU border and customs officials will work along the entire Moldova-Ukraine border, including the Transdniester section, with authorization to visit police and customs posts in both countries. The European Commission has allocated 7 million euros ($8.4 million) for the project. "The mission will help prevent trafficking in people, smuggling of goods, the proliferation of weapons, and customs fraud," Ferrero-Waldner said, "[as well as] ensuring that money previously diverted from Moldova's customs revenues ends up in the right place." BW

UZBEK AUTHORITIES PREFER THEIR CHALLENGERS BEHIND BARS
Observers say the government of Uzbekistan has taken steps to curtail the activities of many of the country's rights workers and opposition leaders since the bloody suppression of the Andijon uprising in mid-May. One, activist Yelena Urlaeva, was committed to a psychiatric hospital for nearly three months before being released recently. Others are in police custody, including opposition leader Sanjar Umarov and activist Mutabar Tojiboeva.

The government's perceived campaign by authorities to crack down on the opposition appeared to gain strength following its violent suppression of the Andijon uprising. Urlaeva, a well-known human rights activist who has now been committed on three occasions to psychiatric care, was arrested in August for publishing a cartoon of the national emblem of Uzbekistan and for being in possession of material that criticized the regime of Uzbek President Islam Karimov. Some rights activists suggested that authorities detained Urlaeva ahead of Uzbekistan's Independence Day on 1 September to prevent her from organizing public demonstrations.

Local activists welcomed Urlaeva's release but expressed concern about many others still remaining in custody -- including Sanjar Umarov, the leader of the Sunshine Uzbekistan opposition group, who was detained on 22 October. Umarov, an oligarch with business interests in Uzbekistan and the West, formed his group in April in the wake of the so-called Tulip Revolution in neighboring Kyrgyzstan. Since then, he has regularly called for the dismissal of the Uzbek government and openly criticized Karimov for the military crackdown on the Andijon protesters. Umarov was arrested soon after calling on Uzbek authorities to start a political dialogue. He had also written a letter to Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov, calling for stronger ties with Russia and declaring his intention to seek a solution to the current political crisis in Uzbekistan. The Uzbek Prosecutor-General's Office subsequently announced that Umarov had been charged with embezzlement and fraud. Sunshine Uzbekistan said the arrest was politically motivated.

Umarov's lawyer, Vitalii Krasilovskii, visited his client in prison last week and expressed concern about Umarov's declining physical and mental health. Krasilovskii also told RFE/RL that he has yet to see documents related to Umarov's arrest and the charges against him. He has also been refused further access to his client, leading him to accuse authorities of acting "irresponsibly" and seeking to prevent him from "knowing anything about" Umarov.

Mutabar Tojiboeva, another well-known rights activist, was detained on 7 October and prevented from attending a human rights conference in Dublin, Ireland. Tojiboeva's lawyer has also been refused access to his client, despite what he called her "very bad" health and a hunger strike that she has launched.

The fergana.ru website on 31 October published a list of 19 Uzbek political and rights activists detained since the 13 May uprising in Andijon, according to the independent Human Rights Society of Uzbekistan. Topping the list is Saidjahon Zaynabiddinov, head of the Andijon-based Appelyatsiya rights group. Zaynabiddinov monitored the trial of the 23 Andijon businessmen that led to the May uprising and was arrested on 23 May after giving interviews to foreign media outlets.

The most recent arrest is that of Human Rights Society member Nasim Isakov, who was detained along with seven other members on 27 October in the central Uzbek city of Jizzakh, according to Tolib Yoqubov, the Tashkent-based head of the society. Yoqubov protested their innocence and said that while "most people understand who the real criminals are behind the Andijon events...[it is] normal that those criminals intended to hide their wrongdoings and accuse others."

Jahongir Mamatov, an Uzbek opposition activist living in the United States and the chairman of the Congress of Democratic Uzbekistan, said that after the Andijon uprising, Uzbek authorities resorted to the same method of "terrible repressions" that they have used "after every big event." Mamatov accused President Karimov of a "policy" of staging demonstrations or uprisings "in order to suppress growing opposition" and "eliminate the society's leading opposition forces." But he added that these tactics have not been enough to counteract the effect of the Andijon uprising, adding that people are increasingly aware of the repressive nature of the Karimov regime.

The Andijon events prompted the United States and the European Union to call for an independent international inquiry. The EU last month also introduced sanctions against Uzbekistan similar to those imposed on China following the Tiananmen Square massacre in 1989.

(The author is a Prague-based RFE/RL correspondent. RFE/RL's Uzbek Service contributed to this report.)

AFGHAN PRESIDENT URGES 'DRASTIC' ACTION AGAINST POPPY FARMING
Afghan President Hamid Karzai on 31 October called for "drastic" action by local authorities to counter opium production, dpa reported. "Our country's national interests require us to refrain from poppy cultivation," Karzai said in a statement. "The fight against poppy cultivation is a top priority for the government of Afghanistan, and no excuse will be accepted for the continuation of poppy cultivation. Afghanistan will not become self-reliant unless we completely stop this menace with strong determination." Karzai's statement represents another government appeal to rein in Afghanistan's rampant drug trade. Afghanistan produces more opium than any other country in the world. MR

BOMB KILLS ONE IN EASTERN AFGHANISTAN, WHILE ANOTHER ATTACK IS THWARTED
A bomb attached to a bicycle exploded seconds after a U.S. military convoy had passed outside Jalalabad in Nangarhar Province on 31 October, killing one passerby and wounding five others, local police spokesman Ghafor Khan told AFP. Ghafor Khan blamed the attack on "enemies of peace and stability," a term that is generally understood to mean neo-Taliban militants and their allies. In nearby Khost Province, authorities said they thwarted a suicide attack on coalition forces by arresting two men in a car filled with explosives on 31 October, according to AFP. "They were planning a suicide attack on coalition forces," local intelligence chief Sadeq Tarakhil was quoted as saying. "The type of the explosives and the way it was fixed into the vehicle clearly showed that they were planning a suicide attack." MR

TWO AFGHAN DE-MINERS KILLED
A land-mine blast killed two Afghan de-miners and injured three others at Kabul international airport on 31 October, dpa reported, quoting a spokesman for the Afghan Interior Ministry. The explosion reportedly occurred while the de-miners were trying to clear the airport of land mines. Gibson Sexton, a spokesman for NATO-led forces in Afghanistan, said a de-mining organization called S3AG was involved in the incident but that the group was not a NATO contractor. Afghanistan is a signatory to the International Antipersonnel Mine Ban Treaty, known as the Ottawa Treaty, which calls for Afghanistan to clear all of its minefields by 2013. Since signing on to the treaty in 2003, Afghanistan, one of the most heavily mined countries in the world with millions of such devices believed to have been laid, has destroyed about 30,000 stockpiled land mines. MR

IRANIAN PRESIDENT AGAIN CONDEMNS ISRAEL, CALLS FOR ELECTIONS IN PALESTINE
Iranian state television broadcast on 31 October a speech by President Mahmud Ahmadinejad at a meeting of government officials in Tehran the previous day in which Ahmadinejad described Israel as "a usurping, illegitimate, and occupying government in the Palestinian land, which should be replaced by a popular and democratic government." Ahmadinejad went on to call for elections as a way to secure peace in the Middle East. "The final and definite solution to the Palestinian problem is to allow the Palestinians who live in the occupied lands and elsewhere, as well as others who have become refugees because of the aggression of the Zionists, to hold a free election and decide about their desired government," Ahmadinejad said. Ahmadinejad's 26 October call for Israel's elimination met with widespread international condemnation (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 27 and 31 October 2005). BS

IRANIAN POLITICIANS CRITICIZE PRESIDENT'S ANTI-ISRAELI REMARKS
Political figures in Iran have spoken out against Ahmadinejad's condemnation of Israel on 26 October, including his suggestion that Israel should be "wiped off the map," Radio Farda reported on 31 October. Without identifying his successor specifically, former President Hojatoleslam Mohammad Khatami said, "We are not on a global mission," adding that Iran should not try to change other countries. Khatami criticized statements that create political and economic trouble for Iran. Ayatollah Ali-Akbar Hashemi-Rafsanjani, who preceded Khatami as president and lost to Ahmadinejad in a runoff in June, said the time for such slogans has passed, Radio Farda reported. According to the 31 October "Etemad," parliamentarian Ismail Gerami-Moghaddam said the government should be working to improve Iran's relations with other countries. BS

LONDON CALLS ON TEHRAN TO RESUME NUCLEAR DISCUSSIONS
British Foreign Secretary Jack Straw criticized President Ahmadinejad's comments in a 31 October statement before Parliament, according to the Foreign and Commonwealth Office website. Straw described Ahmadinejad's words as "completely unacceptable," adding that London is "profoundly concerned" by Iran's support for violent Middle East groups, including the Palestinian Islamic Jihad. Straw called on Iran to address global concern about its nuclear program, comply with the International Atomic Energy Agency's (IAEA) demands, suspend uranium-enrichment activities, and resume its discussions with the EU-3 (France, Germany, and the United Kingdom). BS

TEHRAN KEEN TO CONTINUE NUCLEAR COOPERATION
Supreme National Security Council Secretary Ali Larijani said on 31 October in Tehran that Iran is intent on continuing its cooperation with the IAEA and Europe, state television reported. An IAEA governing board resolution on 24 September demanded greater Iranian cooperation and transparency. Speaking at a conference on nuclear energy at Amir Kabir University, Larijani added that some countries have voiced concern about the Iranian nuclear program in an effort to dissuade other countries from backing Iran. He said Iranians will not forsake their effort to master the nuclear fuel cycle. "If we yield to their demands now, one day they will probably call for the cancellation of classes at Amir Kabir University, since they are related to the nuclear issue," Larijani added, according to Mehr News Agency. BS

MORE IRANIANS COMPLETE RUSSIAN NUCLEAR TRAINING
Aleksandr Ivchenko, head of the Novovoronezh training center of the Rosenergoatom Federal Agency for Atomic Energy, said on 30 October that another group of Iranian nuclear specialists has completed its training, ITAR-TASS reported. Ivchenko added that the specialists will return to Iran to work at the Bushehr nuclear plant. Ivchenko said four more Iranians will complete their training by the end of the year, bringing the total to 700 Iranians. Most of the training was done on simulators, Ivchenko said, and some practice took place at the Balakovskaya nuclear power plant. The Bushehr reactor is slightly different, he added, so Russian specialists will provide on-site guidance. BS

IRAQI PRIME MINISTER ADDRESSES OUT-OF-COUNTRY VOTING, MEDICAL CARE FOR HUSSEIN'S BROTHER
Ibrahim al-Ja'fari used a press briefing in Baghdad on 31 October to urge all Iraqis to participate in the 15 December parliamentary elections, RFE/RL's Radio Free Iraq (RFI) reported the same day. Al-Ja'fari also discussed preparations for out-of-country voting, saying his government will form a committee to address potential obstacles facing voters outside Iraq. He said the initial estimate is that out-of-country voting will cost Iraq $100 million. Al-Ja'fari also discussed a request by President Jalal Talabani that Saddam Hussein's half-brother Barzan al-Tikriti be admitted to hospital for cancer treatment. "I draw a clear distinction between the personal and health aspect and the judicial one," al-Ja'fari told reporters, adding, "Regardless of the nature of the verdict that will be passed against [al-Tikriti] or any of the defendants [from the former regime], it is his human right to receive health care." KR

IRAQI PRESIDENT, DEFENSE MINISTER DISCUSS SECURITY FOR ELECTIONS
President Talabani and Defense Minister Sa'dun al-Dulaymi met in Baghdad on 31 October to discuss preparations for security during the mid-December parliamentary elections, Al-Sharqiyah television reported the same day. Al-Dulaymi told reporters following the meeting that maintaining security during elections is a priority of the Defense And Interior ministries. "We, as the Defense Ministry and Interior Ministry, are responsible for the security process in providing protection to the candidates and voters at the same time," al-Dulaymi said. "Therefore, let me say that there are two parties responsible for the election process. The first is the Independent Electoral Commission of Iraq [IECI] supervising the elections; the role of the IECI is to offer procedural and legal support. The second party [entails] the Defense and Interior ministries, which are directly responsible for providing the needed protection to the polling stations and to the voters. The impact of security on the elections might be more significant than the other procedures." KR

CAR BOMB KILLS DOZENS OF IRAQIS IN AL-BASRAH
Some 24 Iraqis, mostly civilians, were killed and more than 50 others wounded in a car-bomb explosion in the southern Iraqi city of Al-Basrah on 31 October, international media reported the next day. The explosion took place in a neighborhood crowded with shoppers after "iftar" -- the evening meal that marks the breaking of the daily fast during Ramadan. The blast destroyed or damaged at least eight shops and cut off electricity in the neighborhood, latimes.com reported. That website quoted police officials as saying that the explosives were packed in a parked vehicle. Al-Sharqiyah television reported that police found and defused two other booby-trapped cars in Al-Basrah on 31 October. KR

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