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Newsline - November 16, 2005


RUSSIAN AMBASSADOR DENIES JAPANESE MEDIA REPORTS ABOUT EMERGING DEAL ON KURILE ISLANDS...
Russian Ambassador to Japan Aleksander Losyukov on 15 November denied reports in the Japanese media that Moscow plans to propose joint economic exploitation of the South Kurile Islands during Russian President Vladimir Putin's upcoming visit to Japan, Interfax reported the same day. "I know nothing about this scheme and I don't know the source of this information," Losyukov told Interfax. The Japanese newspaper "Mainiti" quoted an unidentified Russian Foreign Ministry official as saying that Putin planned to propose the scheme to Japanese Prime Minister Junichiro Koizumi when the two meet on 21 November. The Soviet Union seized the Kurile Islands -- which Japan claims and calls the Northern Territories -- in the closing days of World War II. BW

...AS TOKYO OBJECTS TO KREMLIN'S STATEMENT
The Japanese government, meanwhile, expressed "extreme regret" over comments by Putin's foreign affairs adviser Sergei Prikhodko criticizing Tokyo's stance on the Kurile Islands issue, ITAR-TASS reported on 16 November. "The fact that a high-ranking official makes such statements to the press when the two sides are doing intensive preparation work for President Putin's visit to Japan is causing extreme regret," Japanese Chief Cabinet Secretary Shinzo Abe said at a press conference the same day. A day earlier, Prikhodko told journalists that Japan's "uncompromising" stance was making it difficult to prepare a joint statement for Putin's 20-21 November visit to Japan. BW

RUSSIAN GENERAL SAYS MOSCOW WILL PARTICIPATE IN NATO NAVAL EXERCISE...
Russia's top general said on 15 November that the country's Black Sea Fleet will participate in naval exercises in the Mediterranean Sea with NATO, RIA-Novosti reported the same day. General Yurii Baluyevskii, the chief of the Russian General Staff, told a news conference in Brussels on the sidelines of a Russia-NATO Council meeting that two Russian naval ships would participate next year in NATO antiterrorist maneuvers called Operation Active Endeavor. Baluyevskii added, however, that Russia reserves the right to withdraw from the exercises. He said the Russia-NATO Council has approved 42 events in 2006 aimed at enhancing military interoperability. NATO, however, is not interested in cooperating with the Collective Security Treaty Organization, comprising Russia, Armenia, Belarus, Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan, and Tajikistan. BW

...SAYS DEFENSE MINISTER'S PROMOTION USEFUL BUT LARGELY SYMBOLIC
Also on 15 November, Baluyevskii said Defense Minister Sergei Ivanov's promotion to deputy prime minister is a useful development, albeit largely symbolic, RIA-Novosti reported the same day. Putin announced Ivanov's promotion on 14 November as part of a government reshuffle (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 14 November 2005). "Today we need good governance to implement the ambitious plans of equipping the armed forces with new and modernized armaments," Baluyevskii said in Brussels. "Therefore, the Defense Ministry and the General Staff will shoulder the extra burden of providing the deputy prime minister with information and also good proposals on the development of the armed forces," he added. BW

RUSSIAN DEFENSE MINISTER TOUTS MILITARY EXERCISES WITH INDIA
Ivanov said on 15 November that joint Russian-Indian military exercises held in October were productive and that hopes they will continue in the future, RIA-Novosti reported the same day. Speaking at a meeting with Indian Defense Minister Pranab Mukherji ahead of the fifth Russian-Indian Intergovernmental Commission, Ivanov said the two countries share a similar approach to combating terrorism. Russia and India held joint military maneuvers called Indra-2005 in India in October (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 14, 17, and 18 October 2005), and Ivanov said at their conclusion that the two sides agreed to hold similar exercises in Russia in 2006. BW

EX-VOLGA ENVOY TO HEAD RUSSIAN ATOMIC ENERGY AGENCY
Sergei Kirienko was appointed head of Russia's Federal Agency for Atomic Energy on 15 November, Russian news agencies reported the same day. A day earlier, Kirienko was removed as the Kremlin's representative to the Volga Federal District (see End Note, below, and "RFE/RL Newsline," 14 November 2005). An unidentified official close to Kirienko, who will replace the agency's outgoing chief Aleksandr Rumyantsev, told RIA-Novosti that the former presidential envoy is "honored" by the appointment. "The nuclear sector is the core of national security and makes the country a respected power," the official said. "[President Putin's] personal confidence in him means a lot to Kirienko," the official added. BW

PUTIN CALLS FOR MEASURES TO INCREASE ROAD SAFETY
Due to a dramatic rise in road fatalities, President Putin said on 15 November that Russia needs to impose tighter controls over issuing drivers' licenses, RIA-Novosti reported the same day. "In the past year in Russia, more than 200,000 road accidents have been registered, in which about 35,000 people have been killed and 250 injured," Putin said at a meeting of the State Council Presidium. "The number of vehicles in the country grew by 9.2 percent from 1997 to 2004, while the number of road accidents in this period increased by more than 30 percent. Deliberate violations of traffic rules by drivers and pedestrians cause most traffic accidents. The country, economy, and Russian families lose hundreds of billions of rubles," Putin added. The president also called for better management in traffic safety, tougher penalties for driving while intoxicated, an educational program to increase safety awareness, and funds for road construction and improvements. BW

RYZHKOV TO LEAD RUSSIA'S CHOICE
Independent State Duma Deputy Vladimir Ryzhkov was elected head of the Russia's Choice movement, Russian news agencies reported on 15 November. Ryzhkov, leader of the Russian Republican Party (RPR) and a former Duma deputy speaker, said the central council of Russia's Choice and several regional organizations of the movement asked him to take the post. "I accepted the proposal," he told RIA-Novosti. Ryzhkov's RPR decided on 13 November to join forces with Russia's Choice in an effort to unite the country's fractious democratic parties. The Russia's Choice movement is a successor to the political party of the same name, which was founded in 1993. BW

U.S. HOUSE SUBCOMMITTEE ASSAILS RUSSIA ON RELIGIOUS FREEDOM
The U.S. House of Representatives' Subcommittee on Africa, Global Human Rights, and International Relations passed a resolution on 15 November calling on Russia to protect religious freedom, according to a statement by the committee's chairman Representative Chris Smith. "Russia's religious minorities continue to suffer from harassment and violence," Smith said. Human rights and religious groups have consistently criticized Russia for favoring the Russian Orthodox Church over other denominations. Russian law requires religious organizations to be registered with local and federal authorities, and unregistered groups are often subject to discrimination and harassment. "The types of distinctions between registered and unregistered religious communities are not viable under international standards," Smith said. "Russia's obligations are clear and unequivocal, and the resolution passed today demonstrates to Moscow and the international community that these actions will not go unnoticed. Russia, as a participating state in the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe, has committed to meeting an international standard of religious freedom. The resolution passed today should help to remind Moscow of that fact," Smith said. BW

CONSTITUTIONAL COURT CONSIDERS ABOLITION OF DIRECT GUBERNATORIAL ELECTIONS
Russia's Constitutional Court decided on 15 November not to ask President Putin to suspend the 2004 law that abolished direct gubernatorial elections until the court reaches a final decision on the constitutionality of the law, ITAR-TASS reported. The court began considering complaints against the law that were filed separately by several local divisions of the Union of Rightist Forces (SPS) and a resident of Tyumen Oblast, Interfax and lenta.ru reported (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 22 July 2005). They argue that the annulment of direct elections for governors -- as well as the president's right to dismiss governors, nominate candidates to governors' posts, and to disband regional legislatures if they twice fail to back his candidate -- violates the constitution. Also on 15 November, police detained about 10 activists from the SPS and the Yabloko party who were picketing the Constitutional Court building in Moscow to demand the restoration of direct elections for regional governors. A decision by the court is expected before the end of the year, according to RFE/RL's Russian Service. JG/JAC

HUMAN RIGHTS GROUPS CRITICIZE NEW LAW RESTRICTING NGOS
Russian human rights activists released a statement on 15 November criticizing a new draft law tightening control over NGOs, Interfax reported. In the statement, human rights activists said the law provides for the "unjustified tightening of control over all Russian nongovernmental organizations, regardless of the area they are working in." The statement also says severe restrictions on foreign NGOs will make their activities in Russia virtually impossible. The statement was signed by a number of leading human rights activists, including representatives of the Moscow Helsinki Group, the Memorial group, and the Union of Soldiers' Mothers Committees. A group of deputies representing all factions in parliament submitted the bill to the Duma earlier this month. In August, President Putin spoke out strongly against foreign funding for NGOs, prompting fears at the time that the sector would come under increased scrutiny (see "RFE/RL (Un)Civil Societies," 10 August 2005). JG/JAC

ST. PETERSBURG LANDS BIG FISH
After meeting with St. Petersburg Governor Valentina Matvienko on 15 November, Gazprom head Aleksei Miller told reporters that Sibneft, which Gazprom recently acquired, will move to St. Petersburg, RIA-Novosti and ITAR-TASS reported. The precise conditions under which the move will be accomplished was not disclosed; however, Miller revealed that the company will register itself in St. Petersburg. Matvienko said that the city is ready to offer the company favorable tax conditions for establishing its headquarters there. Sibneft is currently registered in Omsk. According to "Delovoi Peterburg," Gazprom is also promising something even more likely to delight city residents: a new stadium for the Zenit soccer team. The 50,000-seat "Gazprom Arena" is scheduled to be ready for the 2009 soccer season. JAC

SIBERIAN CITY BANS CONCERT BY GAY SINGER
The public movement, In Defense of Russian Orthodox Morals, has persuaded Tyumen city authorities to ban a concert by the openly gay singer Boris Moiseev, "Izvestiya" reported on 15 November. The concert, which was scheduled for 19 November, would, according to the organization, have a "damaging influence on [the city's] youth." According to the daily, another group, the Russian Orthodox Brotherhood, is currently waging a public campaign in Yekaterinburg to convince residents not to attend Moiseev's 21 November concert there. Moiseev commented: "In our country, no one takes into consideration the interests of consumers.... The authorities think for some reason not about the rights of the people who bought tickets and paid their money but about the anarchists who think they have the right to decide what is good and what is bad." Last month, a deputy mayor in Perm established a policy that artists who openly declare themselves to be gay will have to pay a higher fee to rent out the city's main concert venue (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 8 October 2005). JAC

ARMENIAN OPPOSITION BLOC CALLS FOR REFERENDUM BOYCOTT
Former Prime Minister Aram Sargsian and leaders of other parties aligned in the opposition Artarutiun bloc called on voters on 15 November to boycott the 27 November referendum on a package of draft constitutional amendments, Noyan Tapan and RFE/RL's Armenian Service reported. Speaking at a gathering in Yerevan attended by up to 2,000 people, Sargsian urged residents of the capital to congregate instead on 27 November on Freedom Square. Vazgen Manukian of the National Democratic Union similarly argued that a boycott would "disrupt [the authorities'] game" by reducing the likelihood that the amendments would receive the minimum number of votes needed to pass. It is still unclear whether the opposition National Accord Party headed by Artashes Geghamian will support the calls for a boycott or urge the population to vote "no" (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 15 November 2005). LF

MORE AZERBAIJANI ELECTION RESULTS ANNULLED...
Azerbaijan's Central Election Commission announced on 15 November its decision to annul the results of the 6 November parliamentary elections in Constituency No. 38 (Gyanja) in light of irregularities registered at 10 of the 25 polling stations, Azerbaijani media reported. A candidate for the ruling Yeni Azerbaycan Party (YAP) led the poll, closely followed by an independent candidate. It is the fourth constituency in which the results have been overturned; as a result, YAP now has 58 seats in the 125-seat legislature. The online daily echo-az.com reported on 16 November that opposition candidates in the other three constituencies who believe the results were annulled to prevent their victory may decline to compete in a repeat vote. LF

...AS PROTESTS CONTINUE
Several thousand people attended a protest rally on 16 November in Saatly, 150 kilometers southwest of Baku, Turan reported. They demanded the annulment of the election results in two local constituencies (Nos. 62 and 65) and the holding of repeat elections. LF

GEORGIAN, RUSSIAN PRESIDENTS AGREE TO FORMALIZE BASES CLOSURE AGREEMENT
During a telephone conversation on 15 November, Russian President Vladimir Putin and Georgian President Mikheil Saakashvili agreed that they need to sign a formal agreement on the terms for the closure of the two remaining Russian military bases in Georgia, Georgian media reported. The two countries' foreign ministers reached agreement on the closure six months ago (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 31 May 2005). On 18 October, the Russian State Duma's Committee on Defense, Security, and CIS Affairs called for an official investigation into the status of the withdrawal agreement, claiming it was illegal, Caucasus Press reported. Kote Gabashvili, who heads the Georgian parliament's Foreign Relations Committee, dismissed that argument on 19 October as an attempt to intimidate Georgia, Caucasus Press reported. LF

OSCE CHAIRMAN IN OFFICE URGES TOP-LEVEL DIALOGUE ON SOUTH OSSETIA...
Slovenian Foreign Minister and OSCE Chairman in Office Dmitrij Rupel hosted a meeting near Ljubljana on 15 November of members of the Joint Control Commission (JCC) tasked with monitoring developments in the South Ossetian conflict zone, according to a press release posted on the OSCE's official website (http://www.osce.org/item/16966.html). Rupel called on the representatives from Georgia, Russia, North Ossetia, and the unrecognized Republic of South Ossetia to "demonstrate the will and ability to enforce the demilitarization commitments" the conflict sides have signed, noting that it is "unfortunate" that agreements reached at recent JCC meetings have not been implemented. LF

...WHICH SLAMS WESTERN ARMS SUPPLIES TO GEORGIA
South Ossetian Minister for Special Assignments Boris Chochiev, who represents South Ossetia on the JCC, accused unnamed OSCE member states at the Ljubljana talks on 15 November of supplying Georgia over the past year with huge quantities of weaponry, including 40 fighter aircraft, 120,000 machine guns, and over 1 million rounds of ammunition, Caucasus Press reported. Chochiev suggested that those armaments are intended not for use against Russia or Turkey, but against South Ossetia and the breakaway Republic of Abkhazia. Chochiev also said that the situation in the conflict zone has deteriorated markedly since Saakashvili was elected Georgian president. He accused Georgia of imposing an economic blockade on South Ossetia and of seeking the withdrawal of the Russian peacekeepers currently deployed in the conflict zone. Also on 15 November, the Russian peacekeeping force in South Ossetia shot and wounded an ethnic Azerbaijani citizen of Georgia who, they claimed, failed to heed their demand that he halt his car at a checkpoint, Caucasus Press reported. LF

OSCE OFFICIAL MEETS WITH ABKHAZ PREMIER
Abkhaz Prime Minister Aleksandr Ankvab met in Sukhum on 15 November with OSCE High Commissioner on National Minorities Rolf Ekeus to discuss the situation in Abkhazia's predominantly Georgian-populated Gali Raion, Caucasus Press and apsny.ru reported. The Georgian authorities have repeatedly criticized the Abkhaz authorities' imputed inability to protect the Gali Georgians from reprisals, and their reluctance to open schools in which the language of instruction is Georgian. Ankvab said that the problems in Gali are an internal political issue, and that the Abkhaz leadership has ordered the local police to combat criminality in Gali more resolutely. He also said that school curriculums throughout Abkhazia are determined by the republic's Education Ministry. In his most recent (19 October) report to the UN Security Council, UN Secretary-General Kofi Annan expressed concern at the Abkhaz leadership's refusal to condone the opening in Gali of a human rights sub-office, and at the closure of some schools in Gali where Georgian teachers were unable to comply with the requirement that teaching be conducted in Russian (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 27 October 2005). LF

PIPELINE LINKS KAZAKHSTAN, CHINA
Chinese and Kazakh officials and representatives of the two countries' state-run oil and gas companies, China National Petroleum Corporation (CNPC) and KazMunaiGaz, attended a ceremony on 14 November to mark the completion of the 1,000-kilometer Atasu-Alashankou pipeline linking the two countries, Xinhua and "Oil & Gas Journal" reported. The ceremony took place at the Alataw pass on the Chinese-Kazakh border, where the final link was made. Xinhua reported that the project required $700 million in investment and will have a capacity of 20 million tons a year. The pipeline, which will transport oil from Kazakhstan, comes on line on 1 January. Russia's state-owned Rosneft plans to use the pipeline to ship 1.2 million tons of oil to China in 2006, "Oil & Gas Journal" reported. DK

KYRGYZ PARTY HEAD SAYS SIGNATURES READY FOR REFERENDUM TO DISMISS PARLIAMENT
Topchubek Turgunaliev, head of the Erkindik Party, told RFE/RL's Kyrgyz Service on 15 November that his party has gathered the 300,000 signatures needed to trigger a referendum on the dissolution of parliament. Turgunaliev said the signatures will be recounted by 5 December and subsequently given to the Central Election Commission. DK

KYRGYZSTAN, U.S. IN PAYMENTS TIFF OVER BASE
Kyrgyzstan is attempting to collect $80 million from the United States in what it says are back payments for the use of the U.S. base in Kyrgyzstan, the "Financial Times" reported on 14 November. Kyrgyz Ambassador to the United States Zamira Sydykova wrote in a 15 November letter to the newspaper that while the United States paid "little in the way of rent" for the base over the past four years, it paid "inflated fuel prices to companies stolen by the family of the former president." Sydykova noted that despite high-level U.S. assurances to negotiate the payments, "the Pentagon has refused to honor these commitments and refuses to meet with our legal advisors." But Pentagon deputy spokesman Bryan Whitman told the "Financial Times" that "any possible misappropriation of funds is an internal Kyrgyz matter." He continued, "The bilateral agreement between the U.S. and Kyrgyzstan governing use of Manas is one by which the U.S. reimburses for services rendered, not a rental or access-fee agreement." Meanwhile, "The New York Times" reported on 15 November that the FBI is investigating two Kyrgyz companies, Manas International Services Ltd. and Aalam Services Ltd., to determine whether relatives of then President Askar Akaev siphoned off a portion of over $200 million in fuel contracts the companies received from the Pentagon. DK

UN RIGHTS COMMISSIONER, U.S. STATE DEPARTMENT CRITICIZE UZBEK TRIAL...
UN High Commissioner for Human Rights Louise Arbour expressed doubts about the recent conviction of 15 men for involvement in violence in Andijon (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 15 November 2005) in a 14 November press release on her organization's website (http://www.unhchr.ch). "There are doubts about the adequacy of the defense, and it appears that little evidence was presented during the trial, apart from confessions," Arbour said, adding, "This is particularly worrisome as information from independent sources is greatly at odds with those confessions." Arbour noted that the Uzbek government refused a UN request to send a monitor to determine the trial's "conformity with international fair-trial standards." U.S. State Department spokesman Adam Ereli told journalists at a 14 November briefing that "we believe that these convictions are based on evidence that isn't credible and a trial that isn't fair," according to a transcript on the State Department website (http://www.state.gov). "We've expressed those concerns about this case from the very beginning," Ereli continued, "And I would just reiterate the fact that there has never been an independent investigation into the Andijon incidents." DK

...AS EU VISA BAN PROMPTS QUESTIONS OVER UZBEK MINISTER'S PRESENCE IN GERMANY
The EU's adoption of a travel ban for 12 Uzbek officials suspected of involvement in the government's suppression of unrest in Andijon on 13 May (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 15 November 2005) has raised questions about reports that Uzbek Interior Minister Zokir Almatov is currently undergoing medical treatment in Germany, RFE/RL's Uzbek Service reported. Germany's "Der Spiegel" reported on 14 November that Almatov is being treated for spinal cancer at the International Neuroscience Institute, a private clinic in Hannover. German Foreign Ministry spokesman Michael Iber told RFE/RL's Uzbek Service on 15 November, "The EU has introduced an entry ban and there is one exception -- humanitarian reasons. Health treatment in a special clinic can be such a humanitarian reason." But "Der Spiegel" reported that Almatov was granted a visa because the Uzbek authorities had indicated that a refusal could have consequences for the German base in Termez, Uzbekistan. Eurasianet reported on 7 September that Germany currently has 300 troops in Termez, along with seven C-160 transport planes and five CH-53 helicopters, to bolster military operations in Afghanistan. DK

MORE BELARUSIAN PRIVATE NEWSPAPERS REMOVED FROM STATE SUBSCRIPTION LIST
Belposhta, Belarus's state postal service, has not included the Belarusian-language weekly "Nasha Niva" in the state subscription catalogue for 2006, RFE/RL's Belarus Service reported on 15 November. Belposhta, which holds a monopoly in disseminating the country's press through subscription, also barred a number of regional nonstate newspapers from its subscription list, including "Hazeta Slonimskaya," "Volnaye Hlybokaye," "Vitebskii kurer," "Brestskii kurer," "IntexPress," and "Rehiyanalnaya hazeta." "This shows that there are no rules in the country and that there cannot be free elections in Belarus any longer," "Nasha Niva" Editor in Chief Andrey Dynko told RFE/RL. "This is also a crime against culture. The Belarusian-language periodicals account for some 10 percent of all periodicals [in Belarus], but they also account for 70 percent of all banned publications. This is the destruction of Belarusian culture." Last week, Belposhta excluded from its 2006 subscription catalogue three nonstate nationwide newspapers -- "Narodnaya volya," "Salidarnasts," and "Zhoda" (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 9 and 10 November 2005). JM

U.S. AMBASSADOR EXPRESSES CONCERN ABOUT ANTI-AMERICAN CAMPAIGN IN BELARUSIAN STATE MEDIA...
U.S. Ambassador to Belarus George Krol told journalists in Minsk on 15 November that Belarus's state media alleges on a daily basis that the United States desires to destabilize the situation in the country, stir up a revolution, and subject the Belarusians to America's "imperial" will, Belapan reported. Krol noted that government-controlled media outlets portray U.S. diplomats as spies whose only aim is to destabilize Belarus. The ambassador also said the state media does not inform the public but seeks to turn the Belarusian public against the United States as well as the values of democracy and free choice. "We would like to see an independent, sovereign, democratic, and economically prosperous Belarus, as an equal partner addressing common challenges," Krol said. "What's so destabilizing about that?" JM

...AND VOICES SKEPTICISM ABOUT FAIRNESS OF 2006 PRESIDENTIAL VOTE
Ambassador Krol also told journalists in Minsk on 15 November that he doubts that Belarus's 2006 presidential election will be free and democratic, Belapan reported. Krol said the state media currently does not provide the Belarusian public with comments and news on events in the political sphere. He went on to say that the state media does not cover the activities of Alyaksandr Milinkevich, the opposition's single presidential candidate, and other opposition leaders. "This information blockade is disturbing," Krol added. JM

UKRAINIAN PARLIAMENT STRUGGLES WITH WTO LEGISLATION...
The Verkhovna Rada on 15 November passed in the first reading three bills that are essential for Ukraine's accession to the World Trade Organization (WTO), Ukrainian media reported. The debate over other WTO-oriented bills was interrupted by Communist Party lawmakers who sounded sirens and provoked a scuffle with pro-government legislators as Economy Minister Arseniy Yatsenyuk was speaking in support of WTO membership from the parliamentary rostrum. President Viktor Yushchenko, who is currently on a two-day visit to France, commented that political forces that block the adoption of laws essential for Ukraine's accession to the WTO are acting against the country's strategic course. JM

...AS OFFICIAL CASTS DOUBT ON UKRAINE'S WTO ENTRY THIS YEAR
Deputy Economy Minister Volodymyr Ihnashchenko told journalists in Kyiv on 15 November that Ukraine, in order to secure WTO membership, has still to sign protocols on bilateral access to commodity and service markets with 10 countries, Ukrinform reported. Ihnashchenko said Ukraine will sign the protocols with seven countries within two to three weeks but added that problems remain with China, Australia, and the United States. According to Ihnashchenko, procedural issues have remained in signing the protocol with China, while Australia is demanding a big quota and low import duties on raw sugar from Ukraine. "It's difficult for us to find a compromise [with Australia]. Maybe some additional legislative alterations are needed," he added. Prime Minister Yuriy Yekhanurov suggested in Washington earlier this month that the United States abstains from giving a go-ahead to Ukraine's WTO membership because of a controversy over Ukrainian scrap-metal exports (see "RFE/RL Belarus, Ukraine, and Moldova Report," 10 November 2005). Kyiv earlier hoped to be accepted to the WTO during the organization's summit in Hong Kong on 13-18 December. JM

HAGUE TRIBUNAL ACQUITS MUSLIM EX-COMMANDER OF WAR CRIMES...
The UN war crimes tribunal in The Hague ruled on 16 November that Sefer Halilovic, who was a commander of Bosnia-Herzegovina's Muslim forces during the 1992-95 conflict, is not guilty of "murder [and] violations of the laws or customs of war" in connection with the "Neretva '93" operation aimed at breaking a Croatian siege of part of Mostar, Reuters and dpa reported. Presiding Judge Liu Daqun said that "the prosecution failed to prove beyond a reasonable doubt that Halilovic was commander" of the operation and hence responsible for a massacre of 61 Croatian civilians in Grabovica and Uzdol. Halilovic was chief of the Muslim General Staff at the time and is the highest-ranking Muslim military figure to be tried in The Hague. Shortly after the massacres, Bosnian President Alija Izetbegovic removed Halilovic from the army's command and retired him. Halilovic has argued that Izetbegovic deliberately used the Grabovica issue against him because the two men had become political rivals. PM

...AND AGAIN CALLS BREAK IN THE TRIAL OF ITS BEST-KNOWN INDICTEE
The Hague-based war crimes tribunal agreed on 16 November to an indefinite break in the war crimes trial of former Serbian and Yugoslav President Slobodan Milosevic, who complained of medical problems regarding his eyes and ears, news agencies reported. Milosevic had requested an adjournment of six weeks, saying that he needs rest. The Serbian authorities arrested him in Belgrade on 1 April 2001 and extradited him to The Hague on 28 June of that year. Milosevic's trial began in January 2002, with him acting as his own lawyer. The proceedings have been frequently interrupted for medical reasons, primarily because of his reported heart problems and high blood pressure. In other news, the tribunal announced that Mladjo Radic, a former Bosnian Serb prison camp guard, will be transferred to a French jail to serve out the remainder of a 20-year sentence he received in 2001 for crimes committed against Muslim prisoners in 1992. PM

POLITICAL PREPARATIONS CONTINUE FOR KOSOVA STATUS TALKS
The international Contact Group on the Balkans -- which comprises the United States, United Kingdom, Germany, France, Italy, and Russia -- warned the Kosova parliament not to pass a resolution unilaterally declaring independence, Prishtina dailies reported on 15 November. In Belgrade, the Serbian parliament passed a resolution demanding that the upcoming talks on Kosova's final status recognize that Kosova is legally part of Serbia and do nothing to change frontiers in the region, RFE/RL's South Slavic and Albanian Languages Service reported. Serbian Prime Minister Vojislav Kostunica obtained a broad consensus for the vote and spoke first of all with leaders of the opposition Serbian Radical Party and Socialist Party of Serbia about the 10-point measure. In Prishtina, Kosova's Prime Minister Bajram Kosumi said that he is happy that Kosovars no longer need to pay attention to any resolutions coming from the Serbian government or parliament (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 9 November 2005). PM

VOJVODINA PARLIAMENT DEMANDS ACTION AGAINST FASCISTS
Members of the Vojvodina parliament on 15 November demanded tough action by the police and courts against the young fascists who recently used violence to disrupt a university discussion in Novi Sad on extremism, and against others who have been responsible for a series of racist and chauvinist incidents in the province, RFE/RL's South Slavic and Albanian Languages Service reported (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 10, 14, and 15 November 2005). Parliamentary speaker Bojan Kostres told RFE/RL that a list of extremist organizations is being drawn up and that the provincial legislature will send it to the Serbian parliament with the demand that the activities of such groups be banned. PM

ROMANIA OFFERS TO HELP MOLDOVA WITH ELECTRICITY DELIVERIES
Romanian Economic Minister Codrut Ceres said on 15 November that Bucharest is looking into delivering electricity to Moldova to head off a potential energy crisis there, dpa reported the same day. "Romania is participating in talks about delivering electricity to Moldova," Ceres told a news conference in Chisinau. "Nothing has been decided yet, and no contracts have been signed,... but Romania is prepared to send electricity to prevent a crisis." Ceres's announcement came less than a week after a major power plant located in the breakaway Transdniester cut off energy supplies to the rest of Moldova (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 10 November 2005). Russia's electricity monopoly Unified Energy Systems (EES) has been locked in a lengthy dispute with Moldova's monopoly electricity distributor, Spanish Union Fenosa. EES demanded a rate hike in March, citing increased production costs, but Union Fenosa said delivery prices were already contractually fixed. BW

ARE RUSSIA'S PRESIDENTIAL ENVOYS FADING AWAY?
President Vladimir Putin on 14 November dismissed two of the seven men whom he originally named as presidential envoys to the newly created federal districts in May 2000: Sergei Kirienko and Konstantin Pulikovskii. Their replacements are two men with little professional experience at the federal level or outside their hometowns.

The move suggests that the presidential administration is not expecting the envoys in these two districts to be tackling any difficult issues or to do so without substantial Kremlin supervision.

What's more, the nomination of these two political lightweights may signal that the Kremlin no longer wants to risk the appointment of envoys who are capable of building independent power bases in the regions.

Kamil Iskhakov, the long-time mayor of Kazan, has no experience above the municipal level and no professional experience outside his hometown. In his new position, he will oversee the Far Eastern Federal District, a large territory that includes 10 different regions.

According to RFE/RL's Tatar-Bashkir Service, Iskhakov's name has been widely discussed as a possible replacement for Tatar President Mintimer Shaimiev. In a comment to "Novye izvestiya" on 15 November, Aleksei Makarkin of the Center for Political Technology suggested that with his appointment as envoy, Iskhakov is being prepared for the position of Tatar president.

Iskhakov's predecessor, Konstantin Pulikovskii, not only had no experience with the federal government, he lacked any experience in government at all. He served as a Russian military commander in the first Chechen war. Lieutenant General Pulikovskii did not practice the quiet self-restraint in his public statements that usually characterizes Russian officialdom.

He earned the nickname, "The Tank" -- supposedly for the subtlety with which he engaged in politicking. During the 2001 gubernatorial election in Primorskii Krai, Pulikovskii challenged two Vladivostok officials to duels.

At times, Pulikovskii seemed to take positions that were at odds with those of certain factions of the Kremlin and even within the Foreign Ministry. He became friends with the reclusive North Korean leader Kim Jong-Il and declared publicly in August 2001 that Kim is "more progressive than the people around him" and is "really trying to open up North Korea to the world...as Peter the Great did for Russia."

Iskhakov, if he is indeed to follow in Shaimiev's footsteps, will have to be adept at political rhetoric. That means offering Moscow the appearance of full support and cooperation, while suggesting that only he is capable of preventing a tidal wave of public unrest directed at the federal authorities.

Kirienko had fewer problems with public relations than Pulikovskii and more success at intervening in local political battles. When appointed envoy, Kirienko was already an experienced politician, having served as acting prime minister and the head of a political party, the Union of Rightist Forces.

Kirienko focused on regional management and used this position to shape a loyal team. He progressively demonstrated that good politicians are those who act, unlike those who merely comment.

For the most part, he avoided comment on Kremlin decisions and maintained a relatively low profile on federal news. But he didn't mind calling TV channels to film him wearing various costumes: he opened a Moscow martial-arts center in a kimono and, on Environment Day, he decided to clean the Volga wearing a wet suit.

Over the past four years, the Volga district became an important place to visit if one wanted to be seen as a genuine political manager and an intellectual. Following the lead of the St. Petersburg seminars, which served as a political incubator for the St Petersburg clan, Kirienko sponsored a number of seminars, mainly focused on political and regional management. In doing so, he was shaping a new team that potentially could have been a threat in the 2008 presidential election.

His replacement Aleksandr Konovalov, Bashkortostan's prosecutor, has little professional experience outside of his hometown. Konovalov, a St. Petersburg native, served in Ufa, Bashkortostan for only the past nine months. He will assume control of the Volga Federal District, a populous, ethnically heterogeneous district with 15 regions, including Tatarstan and Bashkortostan.

Kirienko, the former envoy, previously said in more than one interview that he sees the office as a "temporary" one. He said the envoy positions will fade away as soon as the tasks that they were formed to perform, such as the harmonization of laws, are completed.

LAND MINE KILLS FIVE AFGHAN POLICEMEN IN SOUTHEASTERN AFGHANISTAN
Five police officers were killed in Paktika Province on 15 November when their vehicle hit a land mine, Xinhua news agency reported. Mohammad Malik Tanai, chief of intelligence in Paktika, told Xinhua that neo-Taliban elements were responsible for having laid the mine. No one has claimed responsibility for the incident. AT

EXPLOSION IN SOUTHEASTERN AFGHANISTAN KILLS U.S. SOLDIER
A U.S. soldier was killed and two Afghan security officers and another U.S. serviceman sustained injuries when an improvised explosive device detonated in Paktika Province on 15 November, international news agencies reported. According to a statement issued by the U.S. military in Afghanistan, the team was traveling in an armored vehicle when the explosion occurred, Xinhua news agency reported on 15 November. No one has claimed responsibility for the attack. AT

DEATH TOLL FROM SUICIDE ATTACKS IN KABUL RISES, AS AL-QAEDA IS SEEN AS CULPRIT
The dead toll from the double suicide attack in Kabul on 14 November has risen to nine, AFP reported on 15 November. Officials initially reported that three Afghans and a German soldier were killed in the incidents (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 14 November 2005). Kabul police chief General Mohammad Akbar told AFP that "it is al-Qaeda who is behind such attacks," adding that the terrorist organization is working with neo-Taliban insurgents. Neo-Taliban have claimed responsibility for those attacks. AT

GERMANY CLOSES CONSULATE IN WESTERN AFGHANISTAN
German Ambassador to Afghanistan Reinald Steck told reporters in Kabul on 15 November that his country has closed its consulate in the city of Herat, Pajhwak Afghan News reported. Steck said that since Italy, another EU member state, took command of the provincial reconstruction team (PRT) in Herat, Berlin saw no need to have a diplomatic presence in the city. "Germans are still interested in helping the people of Afghanistan, especially in Herat," Steck added. He denied any link between the 14 November closure and the suicide attack the same day that seemingly targeted German troops in Kabul. AT

IRAN READY FOR BIRD FLU
A 15 November announcement from Iran's state Veterinary Organization stated that no cases of the H5 subtype of avian flu have been identified in the country, IRNA reported. The announcement attributed the death of ducks in Aras recently to botulism. The Veterinary Organization said it is cooperating with the World Health Organization (WHO) and the Food and Agriculture Organization, as well as the World Bank, and it is ready to counter the H5N1 strain of the virus. BS

IRANIAN PRESIDENT NOMINATES ANOTHER PROSPECTIVE OIL MINISTER
President Mahmud Ahmadinejad on 15 November submitted a letter to parliamentary speaker Gholam-Ali Haddad-Adel nominating Seyyed Mohsen Tasaloti as petroleum minister, news agencies reported. Born in Kashan in 1954 and educated as an architect, Tasaloti is director of the engineering design, construction, and building foundation of the National Petrochemical Industrial Company. He also serves as general manager for the Mahshahr Special Economic Energy Zone in Khuzestan Province, which, according to Fars News Agency, is home to several petrochemical units. Tasaloti is the third nominee; legislators disapproved of earlier nominees mainly because of their limited experience in the oil and gas sector. The legislature is scheduled to debate the nomination on 23 November. BS

IRANIAN PRESIDENT CANCELS TUNISIAN TRIP
President Mahmud Ahmadinejad has canceled a planned trip to Tunis to address the World Summit on the Information Society conference, Kuwait News Agency reported on 15 November, citing the Iranian "Kayhan" newspaper. Iran will be represented by Communication and Information Technology Minister Mohammad Suliemani. The Iranian newspaper attributed the change in travel plans to the deteriorating health of the president's father. It is also possible that Ahmadinejad chose to remain in Iran in order to lobby for his newly nominated oil minister (see item above), as the legislature rejected the first nominee and the second one withdrew his name in the face of vocal opposition. BS

TEHRAN PROFESSES INTEREST IN TALKS WITH EU-3
Supreme National Security Council Secretary Ali Larijani told Iranian state television on 15 November that Iran is determined to "acquire peaceful nuclear technology" and is open to negotiations on this subject. He said he is convinced that this is an open avenue, but he said Europe has yet to respond to his letter calling for a resumption of negotiations. The EU-3 (France, Germany, and the United Kingdom) dropped the negotiations after Iran resumed uranium-conversion activities in August, and Larijani wrote to them on 6 November calling for a resumption of talks. BS

IRANIAN OFFICIALS CRITICAL OF DIPLOMATIC PROCESS
Expediency Council Secretary Mohsen Rezai said in a 15 November interview with ISNA that Iranian diplomats are not making full use of the tools at their disposal. He said the UN Security Council is preoccupied with events in Syria and Lebanon, so now is the best time to gain concessions from the West. Rezai also criticized Tehran's making a counteroffer after rejecting a European proposal in August. Rezai said Tehran should have waited for the Europeans to make a better offer. A member of the parliamentary national security and foreign policy committee, Javad Jahangirzadeh of Urumiyeh, said the Iranian nuclear issue becomes more complicated with time, "Aftab-i Yazd" reported on 15 November. Jahangirzadeh said Iran is on a path from which there is no turning back, and added that Iran must do all it can to prevent referral to the Security Council. BS

IRANIAN OFFICIAL QUESTIONS TIMING OF STOLEN LAPTOP CLAIMS
Supreme National Security Council official Javad Vaidi on 15 November dismissed a recent report that the United States acquired a stolen Iranian laptop computer that contains what Washington claims is compelling evidence of an Iranian nuclear-weapons program, IRNA reported (see "RFE/RL Iran Report," 14 November 2005). Vaidi said reports like this appear before every International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) governing board meeting -- the next one is scheduled for 24 November. BS

U.S. ADMITS USING PHOSPHORUS IN IRAQI COMBAT OPERATIONS
Pentagon officials acknowledged using white phosphorus during combat operations against insurgents in Al-Fallujah last year but denied that the incendiary agent was used against citizens, AP reported on 16 November. Pentagon spokesman Lieutenant Colonel Barry Venable said the United States military considers white phosphorous a standard weapon to mark targets or obscure a position. White phosphorous and other incendiary weapons are banned in a protocol to the Geneva Convention to which the United States reportedly is not a signatory. A U.S. military spokesman previously denied any knowledge of white phosphorous being used in operations. "I do not recall the use of white phosphorus during the offensive operations in Fallujah in the fall of 2004," Lieutenant Colonel Steven Boylan was quoted by Reuters as saying on 8 November. Italy's RAI television aired a documentary in early November in which a U.S. soldier claimed white phosphorous was used in operations that led to civilian deaths. The documentary showed the bodies of men, women, and children who were burned to the bone, Reuters reported. The documentary also claimed to have a copy of a letter from British Minister of State for the Armed Forces Adam Ingram, claiming that 30 MK 77 weapons -- a new generation of napalm -- were used on military targets in Iraq in 2003. KR

IRAQI GOVERNMENT LAUNCHES PROBE INTO PRISON TORTURE
Prime Minister al-Ja'fari announced on 15 November that his government will launch an investigation into the discovery of 173 unregistered detainees found in the basement of an Interior Ministry building in Baghdad who appeared to have been tortured, RFE/RL's Radio Free Iraq (RFI) reported on 16 November. The detainees, almost all Sunni Arabs, "exhibited signs of malnutrition and there is talk that they were tortured," al-Ja'fari said. An Interior Ministry statement acknowledged that instruments of torture were found in the building. Interior Ministry forces largely comprise Shi'ite Arabs belonging to the Supreme Council for the Islamic Revolution in Iraq's (SCIRI) Badr Organization. Deputy Prime Minister Rowsch Nuri Shaways will lead the investigation; his first report is due in two weeks' time. Deputy Interior Minister Major General Hussein Ali Kamal told reporters outside the facility on 15 November that prisoners should never have been held in the basement, adding: "This place is not suitable for holding people. It was a shelter," latimes.com reported on 16 November. KR

IRAQI OFFICIALS COMMENT ON UPCOMING ARAB LEAGUE CONFERENCE
Hamid Majid Musa, secretary-general of the Iraqi Communist Party, told Al-Sharqiyah television on 16 November that he will participate in the 19 November Arab League-sponsored Iraqi reconciliation conference. Calling the conference "a good initiative," Musa said he hopes the conference will "bring Iraqis together and arrive at the right common language and dialogue away from violence, terrorism, marginalization, and exclusion." Iraqi Prime Minister Ibrahim al-Ja'fari told reporters on 15 November that has not decided whether or not he will attend the conference. "After telephone conversations [with Arab League officials], I was given assurances over the matters we tackled with [Arab League Secretary-General] Amr Musa and [Deputy Secretary-General] Ahmad bin Hilli. I hope that there will be no surprises," al-Ja'fari said, alluding to his insistence in those meetings that no terrorist groups be allowed to participate in the conference. Sunni Arab leaders and league officials have called for the participation of Iraqi "resistance" groups at the talks. KR

COALITION FORCES ARREST IRAQI BA'ATH PARTY LEADER
U.S. troops arrested the New Ba'ath Party leader for Diyala Governorate, Hamid Sharki Shadid, on 9 November, U.S. Central Command reported on 15 November. Shadid is suspected of being responsible for all Ba'ath Party activities in the governorate, and U.S. forces believe his arrest could lead them to former Staff General Jamal Karki and former Ba'ath Party Regional Chairman of Diyala Governorate, as well as to southern Iraq regional chairman Abd al-Baqi al-Sa'dun. Al-Sa'dun is suspected of funding insurgent activities in the Al-Nasiriyah, Al-Basrah, and Diyala governorates, with Shadid as his accomplice. KR

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