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Newsline - November 7, 2005


HIGHER OIL PRICES SPUR INCREASED RUSSIAN GOVERNMENT SPENDING
President Vladimir Putin signed a revised 2005 budget into law on 6 November, increasing both projected revenues and spending to reflect more state income due to higher oil prices, Russia and international news agencies reported the same day. The amendments to the budget increase revenues by 50 percent to 4.98 trillion rubles ($175 billion) and expand state spending by 16 percent to 3.54 trillion rubles ($124 billion), RIA-Novosti and AP reported. Most of the additional spending will go to defense, law enforcement, education, agriculture, and roads, ITAR-TASS reported. The budget projects that inflation will be 10 to 11 percent by the end of the year, higher than the previously projected 1.5 to 8.5 percent. The budget increases were made possible by higher oil and natural gas prices, both major Russian exports. The State Duma and the Federation Council passed the amended budget on 19 and 26 October, respectively. BW

RUSSIA AGREES TO NEARLY DOUBLE OIL EXPORTS TO CHINA...
Russia has pledged to nearly double its annual oil shipments to China, AFP reported on 5 November. In a joint communique signed in Beijing by Prime Minister Mikhail Fradkov and his Chinese counterpart Wen Jiabao on 4 November, the two sides agreed to increase Russian oil exports to China to 15 million tons in 2006, up from 8 million tons this year. "The two countries believe that energy cooperation is 'significantly important'" and are supportive of Chinese and Russian companies' efforts toward constructing an oil pipeline from Russia to China, the communique read. Moscow and Beijing also agreed to study a gas-transmission project from eastern Siberia to China's far east and to strengthen cooperation on the peaceful use of nuclear energy and space exploration. BW

...AND MOSCOW-BEIJING SPACE COOPERATION PLANNED
Federal Space Agency head Anatolii Perminov said on 7 November that Moscow is prepared to help China advance its space program, RIA-Novosti reported the same day. "I think the next stages of [China's] manned space-flight program will presumably involve a crew of astronauts, a space walk, and the construction of a space station," Perminov said, adding that Russia could help train Chinese astronauts for space walks and help them develop lunar-research equipment. Russia is also willing to provide assistance for China's planned lunar mission in 2018, he said. In addition, Perminov said Russia plans to launch six spacecraft -- four Progress cargo ships and two manned Soyuz craft -- in 2006, RIA-Novosti reported on 7 November. BW

RUSSIAN POLICE BOAST MAJOR WEEKEND DRUG BUSTS
Russian police made 19 major drug busts on 5 and 6 November, confiscating a total of 1.8 kilograms of hashish, 1.6 kilograms of heroin, and 846 grams of marijuana, RIA-Novosti reported on 6 November, citing anonymous law-enforcement officials. In the largest case, police confiscated 1.5 kilograms of heroin near a train station in Khanty-Mansii Autonomous Okrug, arresting one person. "Policemen have taken an unemployed citizen into custody near the train station in the city of Pyt-Yakhe," an unidentified police official told RIA-Novosti. BW

NEARLY 200 RAILWAY PASSENGERS HOSPITALIZED WITH FOOD POISONING IN SOUTHERN RUSSIA
Prosecutors are deciding whether to open a criminal investigation after nearly 200 railway passengers in southern Russia, including at least 80 children, were hospitalized with symptoms of food poisoning, Interfax reported on 6 November. Hospitalizations were reported in the cities of Krasnodar, Tuapse, and Adler, officials from the Southern Regional Emergency Situations Center told Interfax. The food poisoning reportedly occurred on both the Adler-St. Petersburg and Adler-Moscow railway lines. Interfax quoted Aleksandr Nechesov of Krasnodar Krai's prosecutor's office as saying that prosecutors are deciding whether or not the incidents warrant a criminal investigation. It was the second mass illness to afflict southern Russia in a week. On 30 October, 121 residents of a boarding school in Volgograd were hospitalized with fever and nausea (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 31 October 2005). BW

ANTIRACISM RALLY HELD IN ST. PETERSBURG
Approximately 300 demonstrators in St. Petersburg held a "March Against Hatred" rally on 6 November, Interfax reported the same day. Marchers carried posters with slogans reading: "Shame To The City That Kills Guests!" and "Down With Fascism!" Some 30 African students also joined the rally, carrying a poster reading: "How Many More People Will Be Killed?" Organizers said the rally was held in honor of human-rights activist and ethnographer Nikolai Girenko, who was killed in June 2004 in his St. Petersburg apartment (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 21, 23, and 25 June 2004). Girenko, a leading expert on racism, often assisted criminal investigations into hate crimes. St. Petersburg has recently seen a rise in racially motivated attacks (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 19 and 25 October 2005). BW

THOUSANDS MARK DEFUNCT REVOLUTION DAY HOLIDAY ON RED SQUARE
Led by the Communist Party head Gennadii Zyuganov, approximately 2,000 people descended on Red Square on the evening of 6 November to mark the 88th anniversary of the 1917 Bolshevik revolution, AP reported the same day. Hundreds also placed carnations at Soviet founder Vladimir Lenin's mausoleum. "Many achievements of the Soviet epoch laid the foundation for modern society. All this should be remembered," Zyuganov said in a statement posted on his party's website. "The repeal of the 7 November holiday will bring nobody the laurels of a hero." This year marks the first time in decades that 7 November is an ordinary working day for Russians. Late last year, Putin signed a law canceling the 7 November holiday marking the 1917 Bolshevik revolution and replacing it with the 4 November People's Unity Day (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 4 November 2005). BW

MOTHERLAND LEADER URGES PREVENTIVE MEASURES AGAINST IMMIGRANTS
Dmitrii Rogozin, leader of the nationalist Motherland party, is urging Russia to take preemptive measures to prevent rioting similar to that in France, Interfax reported on 6 November (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 4 November 2005). "I have addressed Interior Minister Rashid Nurgaliev and demanded preventive work with communities of immigrants from the Caucasus and Central Asia to prevent violent rioting in Moscow and other Russian cities," Rogozin told Interfax the same day. Rogozin also said he told Nurgaliev to do everything in his power "to discover possible ringleaders" of potential disturbances in advance. BW

ISLAMIC INSTITUTE HEAD VANISHES IN NALCHIK
Ruslan Nakhushev, director of the Institute for Islamic Research in Nalchik, disappeared on the evening of 4 November shortly after leaving the local Federal Security Services (FSB) headquarters, where he had been summoned for questioning in connection with the 13 October attacks by Islamic militants on police and FSB facilities, regnum.ru reported on 5 November. Nakhushev called his colleagues to say he was on his way back to the institute, but never arrived there. His family have appealed to the government of the Kabardino-Balkaria Republic (KBR) for help in tracing him on the assumption that he has been abducted, regnum.ru reported on 6 November. In an interview published on 3 November in "Novaya gazeta," KBR President Arsen Kanokov identified Nakhushev as someone "who has offered help and assistance," and who could serve as a mediator between the KBR authorities and alienated young Muslims. Russian journalist Anna Politkovskaya, who conducted that interview with Kanokov, told regnum.ru on 5 November that Kanokov planned to meet with Nakhushev "in the next few days." LF

MONITORS SAY AZERBAIJANI BALLOT DID NOT MEET ALL INTERNATIONAL STANDARDS
In a 7 November press release (http://www.osce.org/odihr/item_1_16887.html?print=1), the International Election Observation Mission (IEOM) made up of observers from the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe's (OSCE) Office for Democratic Institutions and Human Rights, the OSCE Parliamentary Assembly, the NATO Parliamentary Assembly and the Council of Europe, said that despite some improvements, including the use of ink to mark voters' fingers, the 6 November parliamentary election in Azerbaijan "did not meet a number of OSCE commitments and Council of Europe standards for democratic elections." It noted "continued restrictions on the freedom of assembly during the election campaign," and also "interference from executive authorities and media bias favoring incumbents [that] resulted in a failure to provide equitable conditions for all candidates during the campaign period." The IEOM deployed a total of 665 observers who visited more than half of the more than 4,000 polling stations, and registered violations -- including cases of ballot-stuffing -- in 13 percent of the polling stations visited. LF

RULING PARTY CLAIMS VICTORY IN AZERBAIJANI PARLIAMENTARY BALLOT...
Preliminary returns released on 7 November by Azerbaijan's Central Election Commission (MSK) indicated that with 95.7 percent of the votes counted, the ruling Yeni Azerbaycan Party (YAP) won 63 of the 125 mandates in the previous day's parliamentary ballot, international media reported. Independent candidates, some of them aligned with the authorities, garnered 44 seats; the opposition Musavat party won four, Civic Solidarity three, Ana Veten and the progressive wing of the divided Azerbaijan Popular Front Party (AHCP) -- two each, and the Umid party, Civic Unity, Civic Welfare, the Democratic Reforms Party, the Unified National Front Party, and the Great Creation party -- one each. MSK Chairman Mazahir Panahov told journalists on 6 November that "in general, the elections were held in a democratic atmosphere," RFE/RL's Azerbaijani Service reported. Earlier that day, President Ilham Aliyev described the election process as "positive, smooth, and peaceful," and claimed that electoral law was fully implemented. MSK estimated voter turnout at 46.8 percent, the lowest at any national ballot in the past 10 years, and almost one-third lower than the 68 percent recorded during the parliamentary elections of November 2000. YAP Executive Secretary Ali Akhmedov similarly told journalists on 6 November the ballot was free and fair except for isolated violations on the part of opposition supporters, Turan reported on 6 November. LF

...WHILE EXIT POLL SUGGESTS SLIGHTLY DIFFERENT PICTURE
Exit polls conducted in 65 constituencies by the U.S. company PA Consulting showed YAP the victor in 18 and members of the Azadlyq bloc, which comprises Musavat, the AHCP, and the Democratic Party of Azerbaijan (ADP), in 12, turaninfo.com reported on 7 November. According to the poll, which was commissioned by the U.S. State Department via USAID, independent candidates won 10 mandates, while the Ana Vatan, Civic Solidarity, Civic Unity, Modern Musavat, Public Leaders, and Yeni Siyaset (YeS) took one each, according to the website. A second exit poll conducted jointly by the little-known Mitofsky International and Edison Media Research and summarized by ITAR-TASS gave YAP 56 seats countrywide compared to 13 for Azadlyq. LF

AZERBAIJANI OPPOSITION ALLEGES MASSIVE ELECTION FRAUD
Opposition activists alleged late on 6 November that the voting and vote count were marred by an unprecedentedly high level of fraud and falsification. Panakh Huseinov, head of Azadlyq's campaign staff, said observers noted thousands of violations, including widespread problems with the use of indelible ink to mark voters' fingers to preclude multiple voting, Turan reported. He noted that the indelible ink sent from Georgia by President Mikheil Saakashvili at President Aliyev's request proved unusable. Police expelled observers from the polling station in a Baku constituency where votes cast for AHCP Chairman Ali Kerimli were being counted and tallied after the initial count showed him in the lead, "The New York Times" reported on 7 November. Kerimli told journalists that the opposition will not accept the official results and will convene peaceful protests beginning in the afternoon of 8 November to demand the ballot be annulled. The five opposition representatives on the 15-person MSK demanded on 6 November that that body meet in emergency session to discuss the reported procedural violations, Turan reported. LF

GEORGIA PROTESTS DEATH OF CONSCRIPT IN ABKHAZIA
The Georgian Foreign Ministry issued a formal protest on 6 November in connection with the death of Daniel Tsurtsumia, a Georgian resident of Abkhazia's Gali Raion who was forcibly inducted into the Abkhaz army on 2 November, Caucasus Press reported on 7 November. Tsurtsumia reportedly refused to swear an oath of loyalty, whereupon he was beaten, and died on 4 November of his injuries. The Georgian Foreign Ministry statement characterized the incident as further evidence of the inability or unwillingness of the Russian peacekeepers deployed in the Abkhaz conflict zone to prevent human-rights violations, and of the need to open a UN Human Rights office in Gali and make the UN Civilian Police contingent in that district fully operational. Meeting five months ago with Ambassador Heidi Tagliavini, UN Secretary-General Kofi Annan's special representative for Abkhazia, Abkhaz President Sergei Bagapsh argued there is no need for the UN Civilian Police to patrol the whole of Gali, according to rustavi2.com on 7 June (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 9 June 2005). LF

GEORGIAN OPPOSITION PARTY ELECTS NEW LEADER
Some 750 delegates from across Georgia attended the third congress of the opposition party Industry Will Save Georgia, which took place in Tbilisi on 5 November, Georgian media reported. Chairman Gogi Topadze said the opposition, in contrast to the country's leadership, knows precisely what political and economic measures need to be taken to extract Georgia from the current crisis, Caucasus Press reported. Delegates elected Zurab Tkemaladze to succeed Topadze as chairman, and Topadze to the newly created post of party leader. Topadze resigned his parliament mandate in April 2004 to devote himself to his business activities. The party claims some 72,000 members and has nine parliament seats. LF

KAZAKH CANDIDATES AGREE TO ABIDE BY ELECTION LAW
Campaign officials representing three of the five Kazakh presidential candidates signed an agreement in Almaty on 4 November pledging to abide by national laws and abstain from "dirty election" tactics and bribery of voters that "discredit the election process and damage the image of Kazakhstan," Khabar news agency and ITAR-TASS reported. The pledge for a fair election was signed by representatives from the campaigns of incumbent President Nursultan Nazarbaev, parliament deputy Yerasyl Abylkasymov, and Tabighat (Nature) environmental group head Mels Eleusizov. Representatives of For a Just Kazakhstan opposition bloc leader Zharmakhan Tuyakbai and Ak Zhol party head Alikhan Baimenov refused to sign the document. The signatories explained that the pledge will ensure that "compliance with political and legal norms will guarantee genuinely fair, transparent, and competitive elections." RG

KAZAKH OFFICIALS DRAFT NEW AMNESTY LAW
Kazakh Justice Minister Zagipa Balieva announced on 4 November that the Justice Ministry is preparing a new amnesty law, Interfax reported. In an announcement following a meeting in Astana with British Ambassador to Kazakhstan James Sharp, Balieva said the new amnesty will apply to some 5,000 prisoners and will seek to reduce the overall number of prisoners over a two-three-year period as part of a broader penal-reform effort. Balieva added that the government is studying the possible abolishment of the death penalty but noted that it "has not set a strict deadline," and that currently "a moratorium on the death sentence is in force." RG

KYRGYZ PRESIDENT PROPOSES ELIMINATING POST OF PRIME MINISTER
Kyrgyz President Kurmanbek Bakiev proposed on 5 November that the position of prime minister should be abolished and the president made the head of the government, RFE/RL's Kyrgyz Service reported. The proposal was made during a meeting of the constitutional council, an advisory body empowered to prepare a set of constitutional amendments. Bakiev explained that the position of prime minister should be abolished in 2010, once the current presidential term expires, and he called for the establishment of a new vice-presidential position. He added that the ban on the party-list system imposed in the February 2003 constitutional referendum should be overturned, and a number of parliamentary seats should be elected from party lists. The council is set to reconvene on 10 November and is expected to publish its draft amendments in preparation for a national debate scheduled to begin on 25 December. RG

REGIONAL ECONOMIC FORUM OPENS IN KYRGYZ CAPITAL
The fourth ministerial conference of member states of the Central Asia Regional Economic Cooperation organization opened on 5 November in Bishkek, ITAR-TASS reported. The meeting comprised officials from Afghanistan, Azerbaijan, China, Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan, Mongolia, Russia, Tajikistan, Uzbekistan, and representatives from the Asian Development Bank, the World Bank, and the International Monetary Fund. Conference participants adopted a resolution urging greater economic cooperation and a concerted effort to ease trade barriers. RG

KYRGYZ PREMIER MEETS WITH VISITING IMF OFFICIALS
Kyrgyz Prime Minister Feliks Kulov met in Bishkek on 5 November with visiting International Monetary Fund (IMF) official David Owen, the Kabar news agency reported. Owen reviewed the Kyrgyz government's poverty-reduction program and recommended reforms for the energy sector and mining industry. He also noted that the IMF "noticed some decline in real [gross domestic product]," but stressed that the overall "performance figures are good." RG

BELARUSIAN PRESIDENT SAYS HE DOES NOT WANT DRUNKARDS TO VOTE FOR HIM
President Alyaksandr Lukashenka said in the town of Hlusk, Mahilyou Oblast, on 4 November that the government should resolutely fight hard drinking and alcoholism in the country, Belapan and ITAR-TASS reported. Lukashenka said Belarus has 35,000 children who were abandoned mostly because of their parents' drinking problems. "Someone gets drunk, accidentally gives birth to a child, and Lukashenka has to raise this child, and there are 35,000 such children in the country," he said. Lukashenka also suggested that alcoholism in the country is widespread among those who are trying to challenge his staying in power. "Those who strive for power now, drank away everything then [following the collapse of the USSR]," Lukashenka said. "Those who drink every day, don't vote for me, I will not make friends with such people," the president added. "It is exactly in the past 10 years that drinking and alcoholism reached their acme in Belarus," opposition leader Anatol Lyabedzka said of Lukashenka's pronouncements. "I think he cannot win [the 2006 presidential election] either with a drunk or sober electorate. He can win only thanks to the machinery of falsification [he created]." JM

UKRAINIAN MINISTER SAYS 'TRADE WAR' WITH WASHINGTON BLOCKS WTO MEMBERSHIP...
Economy Minister Arseniy Yatsenyuk said on the ICTV channel on 4 November that Ukraine is engaged in a "trade war" with the United States and this is holding up its accession to the World Trade Organization (WTO). "I would like to reject the accusation that the government is in a rush to join the WTO," Yatsenyuk said. "If we really were in a rush, we would have signed a protocol [on mutual access to commodity and service markets] with the U.S. long ago. We are engaged in an extremely tough trade war with the U.S. -- in defense of our own economic interests, while the U.S. is defending its interests." Yatsenyuk said Ukraine has refused to eliminate customs duties on scrap metal and has rejected proposed conditions for agricultural support. "We are in a deadlock today, and that's why we have not joined the WTO," he added. JM

...AS PRESIDENT POINTS FINGER AT 'PARTNERS' AND 'BUREAUCRATIC PROCEDURES'
Ukrainian President Viktor Yushchenko said in a radio address on 5 November that he remains optimistic about Ukraine's chances of joining the WTO this year, but added that Ukrainians "should be frank" on this issue. "The answer to the question of whether Ukraine will be a WTO member in 2005 depends much on our partners and bureaucratic procedures," Yushchenko said. According to Yushchenko, Ukraine's WTO membership would result in many benefits to the country's economy. These benefits, Yushchenko went on, include the prevention of up to $8 billion worth of annual losses in trade because of antidumping investigations against Ukraine in various countries as well as a 10 percent increase in trade and a 1.9 percent increase in gross domestic product (GDP) annually after WTO accession. "If we join the WTO, we will retain existing jobs and will create thousands of new ones," Yushchenko said. JM

KYIV SAYS MEDIA DISTORTED PREMIER'S REMARKS ABOUT LUKASHENKA
Ukrainian Foreign Minister Borys Tarasyuk said on 4 November that some media incorrectly interpreted the recent remarks of Ukrainian Prime Minister Yuriy Yekhanurov about Belarusian President Alyaksandr Lukashenka, Interfax-Ukraine and UNIAN reported. According to media reports, Yekhanurov said in Washington on 1 November: "Two weeks ago I was in Belarus and met with Mr. Lukashenka. He made a good impression on me, he is a good propagandist. Now I understand why German women in the 1930s shouted, 'I want to have a baby with the Fuehrer.' You know, he is a man of great talent and he knows how to work with large masses of people." Minsk subsequently asked Kyiv for clarification of these words. "This is an arbitrary interpretation by the media," Tarasyuk said on 4 November, without elaborating. Tarasyuk said Kyiv is not going to respond officially to Minsk about Yekhanurov's statement in Washington. JM

EU REPORTEDLY SET TO START TALKS WITH BOSNIA
EU High Representative for Common Foreign and Security Policy Javier Solana told Ivo Jovic, who heads Bosnia-Herzegovina's three-member presidency, in Brussels on 6 November that EU foreign ministers will probably agree soon to start Stabilization and Association Agreement (SAA) talks with his country, dpa reported (see "RFE/RL Balkan Report," 14 October 2005). Solana noted that 7 November marks the 10th anniversary of the Dayton peace agreements that ended the 1992-95 conflict. He encouraged Bosnians to make the SAA negotiations and ongoing reform efforts a "top priority." Solana singled out the fight against crime and corruption, as well as need to cooperate with the Hague-based war crimes tribunal. PM

BOSNIA IDENTIFIES TERROR SUSPECTS
Bosnia-Herzegovina's State Prosecutor's Office announced on 4 November the identities of two people arrested on 19 October on suspicion of planning attacks on unspecified Western diplomatic missions in that country, dpa reported (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 21 and 25 October 2005). Mirsad Bektasevic is a Swedish citizen whose family comes from the Sandzak region of Serbia. The second man held on suspicion of involvement in "terrorism and illegal possession of weapons or explosives" is Cesur Abdulkadir, a Turkish citizen. Police reportedly found weapons, explosives, and vests packed with explosives in the Sarajevo flat shared by the two men. The Prosecutor's Office declined to release more details regarding the case "due to the sensitivity of this investigation." In Denmark, police recently arrested six men and one woman believed to be linked to Bektasevic and Abdulkadir. PM

SERBIA AND MONTENEGRO RATIFIES NATO AGREEMENT
The parliament of Serbia and Montenegro voted on 4 November to ratify an agreement with NATO enabling the Atlantic alliance to transit the Balkan state's territory to support its peacekeeping missions, RFE/RL's South Slavic and Albanian Languages Service reported. Supporters of the treaty said that it is a necessary part of Belgrade's Euro-Atlantic integration (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 27 July 2005). The agreement has nonetheless been the subject of much debate in Serbia and Montenegro, where many still associate NATO with the 1999 bombing campaign, even though the military wants to join the Partnership for Peace program. PM

NEW PRO-REFORM PARTY SET UP IN SERBIA
Cedomir Jovanovic and several other former members of the Democratic Party with links to the late Prime Minister Zoran Djindjic founded the Liberal Democratic Party (LDP) in Belgrade on 5 November, RFE/RL's South Slavic and Albanian Languages Service reported. Jovanovic, who was elected chairman, called for a "radical break" with unspecified current political practices and for an "open confrontation with the past." Supporters of the LDP include Natasa Micic of the Citizens' Alliance of Serbia, Zarko Korac of the Social Democratic Union, Nenad Canak of the League of Social Democrats of Vojvodina, and some smaller parties and NGOs. About 30 foreign diplomats also attended the gathering. The LDP is represented in the parliament of Serbia and Montenegro because one deputy belonging to the Democratic Party has already shifted his allegiance to the new group. PM

VOJVODINA HUNGARIAN LEADER PRAISES TALKS WITH PREMIER
Jozef Kasza, who heads the League of Vojvodina Hungarians, said in Subotica on 4 November that he is pleasantly surprised regarding the degree of agreement between him and Serbian Prime Minister Vojislav Kostunica in their recent talks aimed at identifying concrete measures to improve the lot of the Hungarian minority in the northern Serbian province, RFE/RL's South Slavic and Albanian Languages Service reported (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 31 August 2005). PM

SERBIAN ORTHODOX CHURCH SLAMS BAD PRESS
The Serbian Orthodox Church announced in a statement in Belgrade on 5 November, following a meeting of its bishops, that it is concerned about unspecified "frequent slanderous attacks" against it in conjunction with its alleged activities aimed at hiding war crimes indictees, RFE/RL's South Slavic and Albanian Languages Service reported (see "RFE/RL Balkan Report," 29 July and 12 August 2005). PM

MONTENEGRO PREPARES FUNDING FOR INDEPENDENCE VOTE
Milan Dabovic, who is a top official of Montenegro's Finance Ministry, announced in Podgorica on 4 November that the government has appropriated about $6 million to fund the referendum on independence expected to be held in April 2006 and the local elections slated for the following October, RFE/RL's South Slavic and Albanian Languages Service reported (see "RFE/RL Balkan Report," 11 February 2005). But in Brussels on 7 November, unnamed diplomatic sources told RFE/RL that the EU will soon warn the Montenegrin govenment against preparing a referendum for the time being. The Podgorica daily "Vijesti" reported recently that Britain, which currently holds the rotating EU presidency, has undertaken the initiative aimed at dissuading the Montenegrin authorities from holding a referendum. PM

RUSSIA'S MUSLIMS MOVE TOWARD GREATER UNITY
The Muslims of the Russian Federation moved cautiously toward greater unity during two meetings in Nizhnii Novgorod on 4-5 November. At the "All-Russian Forum of Muslims of Russia on the Threshold of the Third Millennium," they declined to accede to either the bureaucratic demands of the Kremlin or to the autonomist aspirations of some of the more independent-minded Muslim groups.

At an academic session devoted to the centenary of the first all-Russia Muslim conference and a forum in which some of the country's leading Muslims took part, the Islamic community committed itself to building on the unity it had prior to 1917 and to acquiring greater influence on the Russian state. But the gathering did not meet either the expectations of the Kremlin -- which had wanted a single Muslim leader to be chosen, equivalent in status to the Orthodox patriarch -- or the desires of those Muslims who had hoped for the formation of autonomous Muslim institutions and even for a concordat with the Kremlin.

Many senior Muslim clerics who had earlier committed themselves to attending the forum were represented instead by their deputies or other lower-ranking officials. (Some of those who stayed away -- including Mufti Ravil Gainutdin, the head of the Union of Muftis of Russia, and Aslambek Aslakhanov, who serves as an aide to President Vladimir Putin -- may have done so at the insistence of the Kremlin, which did not want this session to detract from the celebration of People's Unity Day on 4 November.) And the resolution adopted by the forum committed the Muslim community to a series of steps unlikely to satisfy either the Kremlin or many Muslims.

Nonetheless, the forum did take several important steps. It called for the creation of a country-wide Council of the Learned (Ulema), similar to the one that existed in Russia up until the 1920s; for more scholarly attention to be paid to the history of the Muslim social movement of Russia a century ago; and for an agreement on Muslim education in the Russian Federation today. It further advocated convening conferences in Nizhnii Novgorod and Kazan to address those questions.

In many ways, the earlier expectations of both the Kremlin and the more independent-minded Muslim leaders for the Nizhnii Novgorod meetings were unrealistic. On the one hand, neither the academic conference nor the forum were attended by Muslim leaders who could make the decisions either side wanted. On the other hand, Russia's Muslims remain deeply divided on the selection of a single leader -- either at a national or even a regional level.

But while neither the Kremlin nor the more independent-minded Muslims got their way, it would be a mistake to see these sessions as simply a standoff between the two sides. Instead, the two meetings, both the academic and the political, highlighted the growing sense of unity among the Muslims of the Russian Federation.

The creation of the country-wide Council of the Learned (Ulema), called for by the meeting participants, will only accelerate this process, thereby putting those in Moscow who continue to try to block the rise of Islam within the Russian Federation in an ever more difficult position.

And because an increasing number of Muslims in Russia understand that political dynamic, they appear convinced that what the Islamic community was not able to push through now, the Muslims of Russia will probably be able to achieve at some point in the not so distant future, regardless of what the Russian leadership may do.

(Paul Goble, former publisher of "RFE/RL Newsline" and a longtime Soviet nationalities expert with the U.S. government, is currently a research associate at the EuroCollege of the University of Tartu in Estonia.)

AFGHAN PRESIDENT TALKS TO IRANIAN COUNTERPART
In a telephone conversation, President Hamid Karzai and Iranian President Mahmud Ahmadinejad congratulated each other on the end of Ramadan on 4 November, IRNA reported the next day. According to IRNA, Ahmadinejad expressed hope that after security and peace is established in Afghanistan, the necessary grounds "for manifestation of Islamic traditions" will be created there. Kabul and Tehran, while officially on friendly terms, have been at odds on a number of issues, especially since Ahmadinejad's election in June. Close U.S.-Afghan ties have been one point of contention and, more recently, while Karzai said establishing diplomatic relations with Israel was possible, his Iranian counterpart called for Israel's destruction (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 19 October and 2 November 2005). Karzai's foreign-policy adviser, Rangin Dadfar Spanta, told the Voice of the Islamic Republic of Iran on 6 November that "Afghanistan's friendly relations with other countries will never restrict or change Afghanistan's policy toward Iran," and he praised Iran for helping Afghanistan in the past three decades and in post-Taliban reconstruction projects. AT

AFGHANISTAN, SCO SET UP CONTACT GROUP
Afghanistan on 5 November signed a protocol in Beijing setting up a contact group with the Shanghai Cooperation Organization (SCO), the official Radio Afghanistan reported. The agreement was signed by Afghan Ambassador to China Qiamuddin Rahi Barlas and SCO Executive Secretary Zhang Deguang. In accordance with the protocol, the contact group will hold regular working consultations aimed at working out proposals and recommendations on cooperation on issues of mutual concern, the SCO announced on its website. The six-member SCO (China, Kyrgyzstan, Kazakhstan, Russia, Tajikistan, and Uzbekistan) was established in 2001. AT

NEO-TALIBAN KILL POLICEMAN IN SOUTH-CENTRAL AFGHANISTAN
In an attack on a police station in Ghazni Province on 4 November, neo-Taliban militants killed an Afghan police officer, Xinhua news agency reported on 5 November. Afghan Interior Ministry spokesman Yusof Stanikzai confirmed the report, saying that a dozen militants attacked the police post and fled after a firefight. Yusof Ahmadi, purporting to speak for the neo-Taliban, has claimed responsibility for the attack, the report added. AT

FEMALE POET BEATEN TO DEATH IN WESTERN AFGHANISTAN
Nadia Anjuman, a 24-year-old poet and journalist, was found dead on 5 November in her home in the city of Herat, Pajhwak Afghan News reported on 6 November. Colonel Nesar Ahmad Paikar, a spokesman for the Herat Province police, told Pajhwak that Anjuman's husband and mother-in-law were missing from the house where her body was discovered along with her newborn baby. According to the police, Anjuman's husband, Farid Majid Naia, later confessed to beating his wife but denied killing her. Anjuman's family has not allowed an autopsy, but an investigation into the case has begun. AT

EU REPORTEDLY REBUFFS IRAN'S CALL FOR NUCLEAR TALKS
Iranian Supreme National Security Council Secretary Ali Larijani has written a letter to Berlin, London, and Paris requesting a resumption of nuclear negotiations, the "Tehran Times," IRNA, and Mehr News Agency reported on 6 November. Talks between Tehran and the so-called EU-3 fell apart in August, after Iran resumed uranium-enrichment activities. Larijani's letter was submitted to the ambassadors of France, Germany, and the United Kingdom in Tehran. "No, absolutely not," an anonymous European diplomat said in response to the Iranian request, AFP reported on 6 August. The diplomat said the talks cannot resume because Iran has not suspended its nuclear activities. BS

TEHRAN RECOMMENDS POSTPONEMENT OF ANNAN VISIT
UN Secretary-General Kofi Annan has cancelled a planned trip to Tehran because of President Mahmud Ahmadinejad's call at a 26 October conference for Israel's destruction, RFE/RL reported. Stephane Dujarric, Annan's spokesperson, told RFE/RL on 4 November that the two sides would have discussed stabilization activities in Afghanistan and Iraq, as well as UN reform. Dujarric said this was a mutual agreement by the two sides. Iranian Foreign Ministry spokesman Hamid Reza Assefi said on 6 November that Tehran recommended postponement of the trip, state radio reported. "The visit by Kofi Annan is not cancelled but the postponement of his visit was based on a mutual agreement. In order to reduce pressure on him and to carry out the negotiations in a more convenient atmosphere and to be able to gain more favorable results from the negotiations, we decided to postpone the trip to a better time," Assefi said. "Otherwise, Mr. Annan had not changed his mind and was eager to pay this visit to Iran." BS

PARLIAMENTARY MAJORITY TO BACK IRANIAN CABINET NOMINEES
Deputy parliamentary speaker Mohammad Reza Bahonar said on 6 November that the legislature's conservative majority has decided to vote in favor of the ministerial nominees submitted by President Ahmadinejad four days earlier, Mehr and Fars news agencies reported. A 6 November commentary in the "Etemad" daily noted that the president has chosen people he can trust, and they all have connections with the Tehran municipality, the Islamic Revolution Guards Corps, or the university where Ahmadinejad taught, or they are close to Bahonar. The commentary said many legislators question this selection process, and it is far from certain if they will give the nominees votes of confidence. The reformist stance on the nominees is unclear, the commentary continued, but the more traditional hard-liners, such as the Islamic Coalition Party, are unhappy that the president did not consult with them. BS

IRANIAN PRESIDENT SAYS DRUG ADDICTION RATE FALLING
President Ahmadinejad confirmed on 6 November that the executive branch is committed to the war on drugs, IRNA reported. Ahmadinejad told a meeting of the country's Drug Control Headquarters that addiction rates are falling -- though this contradicts earlier statements by Iranian counternarcotics and health officials. BS

IRAN-IRAQ AIR TRAVEL RESUMES
A passenger aircraft from Baghdad landed in Tehran on 6 November, the first such flight in 25 years, ITAR-TASS reported. Passengers included an Iraqi Transport Ministry delegation and roughly 40 journalists. An unnamed Iranian Civil Aviation Organization official said regular flights -- on Wednesdays and Fridays -- will begin soon, but Iranian aircraft will not make the trip due to insufficient security in Iraq. BS

U.S. MARINES, IRAQI FORCES LAUNCH NEW OPERATION IN WESTERN IRAQ
Thirty-five hundred U.S. and Iraqi troops launched Operation Steel Curtain on 5 November, aimed at rooting out insurgents in the western Al-Anbar Governorate, international media reported. The operation comes just six weeks ahead of the December parliamentary elections. In Husaybah, troops attempted to round up insurgents through house-to-house searches, according to a U.S. Central Command press release on 5 November that said nine air strikes were conducted on the operation's first day. "The Iraqi and U.S. forces have encountered sporadic resistance -- mostly small-arms fire and improvised explosive devices -- from Al-Qaeda in Iraq-led terrorists throughout the city," the statement said, and embedded Iraqi scout platoons, formed from specially recruited soldiers hailing from the Al-Qa'im region, "are helping to identify terrorist strong points and areas known to contain...homemade bombs." The operation succeeded in securing 11 neighborhoods in Al-Qa'im by 6 November, washigntonpost.com cited witnesses as saying on 7 November. An Iraqi Army captain told the newspaper that only small pockets of fighters remained in the city. Seventeen suspected insurgents have been confirmed dead, and multinational forces expect the number to rise, AFP reported on 7 November. KR

IRAQI PRESIDENT MEETS MEMBERS OF FORMER IRAQI ARMY
President Jalal Talabani met with former Iraqi commanders, army chiefs, and officers dismissed after the fall of the Saddam Hussein regime in Baghdad on 6 November and encouraged them to return to work, RFE/RL's Radio Free Iraq reported. Talabani told reporters that the men can contribute to Iraqi security by leading effective army units, instructing recruits at military academies, and working in the Defense Ministry's strategic planning departments. He said that the men should not be punished for serving under the Hussein regime, and noted that many "were forced to take part in wars because they had to carry out orders or else they would be executed." Other officers were jailed, expelled, or left homeless by the Hussein regime. "Therefore, I believe that our officers...are not guilty of, or responsible for, what they were forced to do. I believe that those officers deserve all respect and appreciation," the president noted, adding that he hopes to build a model army whose first loyalty is to the nation and not a particular party or person. National Security Adviser Wafiq al-Samarra'i told Al-Jazeera television on 10 November that those holding the rank of major or lower have been asked to rejoin the army. KR

ARAB LEAGUE OFFICIAL, IRAQI FOREIGN MINISTER, DISCUSS UPCOMING CONFERENCE ON IRAQ
Arab League Deputy Secretary-General Ahmad bin Hilli arrived in Baghdad on 5 November for meetings with Iraqi leaders in preparation for an upcoming league-sponsored "Iraqi Accord and Dialogue Conference" in Cairo on Iraqi reconciliation, Radio Free Iraq reported on 6 November. Iraqi Foreign Minister Hoshyar al-Zebari told reporters at a 5 November joint press briefing in Baghdad that the Cairo meeting will be a preparatory conference to lay the groundwork for a larger reconciliation conference to be held in Baghdad following December's elections. "We agreed that everybody should attend this meeting, except for the Ba'athist leaders who committed crimes and violations, or those wanted by the Iraqi government...in addition to the takfiri, Salafist, extremist, and terrorist groups that want to destroy this country," al-Zebari said. Meanwhile, Arab League Secretary-General Amr Musa told Al-Arabiyah television on 5 November that the representatives of all political forces "should be invited" to the conference, adding: "There are no impossible conditions set [by Iraqi opposition forces] on the issues that can be discussed and resolved. All political stances must be put forward on the table of negotiations." KR

IRAQI ELECTION COMMISSION TO REISSUE BAN ON USE OF RELIGIOUS SYMBOLS IN ELECTION
The Iraqi Independent Election Commission spokesman Farid Ayar reminded political parties taking part in the December parliamentary elections that they are not to make use of religious symbols in their campaigns, Al-Sharqiyah television reported on 5 November. "Political entities and alliances can start immediately and say whatever they want -- within ethical and media limits," Ayar told Al-Sharqiyah in a statement. "The bylaw on election campaigns bans the use of things that might slander others or affect other parties. Using religious symbols is implicitly noted in the bylaw on election campaigns," he added. "We will reissue this bylaw within the next two days." The commission's code of conduct for political entities and coalitions can be found on its website (http://www.ieciraq.org). KR

NEW OIL RESERVES DISCOVERED SOUTH OF IRAQI CAPITAL
Oil Minister Ibrahim Bahr al-Ulum announced that "large quantities" of oil have been discovered in Al-Hillah, south of Baghdad, Al-Sharqiyah television reported on 6 November. The news channel quoted Bahr al-Ulum as saying that the city has been declared an "oil-rich city." He added that plans are under way to open a new refinery in the Saddat Al-Hindiyah district of Al-Hillah. KR

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