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Newsline - October 5, 2006


PUTIN CALLS FOR MEASURES TO CURB IMMIGRATION...
Russian President Vladimir Putin on October 4 told leaders of State Duma factions that the government must control the flow of immigrants into the country and defend Russian citizens' interests in the labor market, Interfax news agency reported. Putin said the government "should facilitate the influx into our country of capital and of the qualified workers we need. But we must regulate the flow of immigrants. Russian citizens should not feel infringed upon in the labor market and other areas." FF

...MIGRATION SERVICE TOUGHENS VISA REGIME FOR GEORGIANS...
Following Putin's remarks, Federal Migration Service Deputy Director Mikhail Tyurkin told NTV television that Russia is toughening its visa regime for Georgian citizens, Interfax reported on October 5. Tyurkin said his agency has "closely analyzed labor-market demand with due account of the population of the Russian Federation and decided that we won't grant residence or labor quotas to Georgian citizens." The previous day the Migration Service announced that it will also try to persuade Belarus to enact visa formalities for Georgia. FF

...AND GRYZLOV, DUMA, BACK MEASURES
State Duma Speaker Boris Gryzlov, speaking after the meeting of the Duma's faction leaders with President Putin, said that it is "unacceptable that a huge majority of the people who come to Russia to find work from the CIS countries, including Georgia, do not register as workers," Interfax reported. Gryzlov said migration issues should be regulated more carefully, to make sure that local workers in Russia's regions, as well as legal immigrants, have priority, including in trading at local vegetable and fruit markets. Newsru.com quoted Gryzlov as saying that "no more than 1 percent of Georgian citizens coming to Russia have a legal working visa, but some 90 percent of Georgians come here to work. Nobody is against legal immigration, but we do not want these people to take advantage at the expenses of Russian citizens, avoid paying taxes and take the money [they earn in Russia] out of the country." Meanwhile, the Duma on October 4 passed by a vote of 418-1 a resolution declaring that the measures taken by Russia so far are justified and that, if Georgia does anything to jeopardize regional stability, "other, more severe measures" will be acceptable, "The Moscow Times" reported. Galina Kozhevnikova, deputy head of the Sova Center, which monitors hate crimes, told the newspaper on October 5 that "the state is legitimizing xenophobia and discrimination." FF

RUSSIA REJECTS OSCE MEDIATION ON GEORGIA
Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov on October 4 thanked the head of the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE) for helping achieve the release of Russian military officers arrested in Georgia last week on spying charges, but he flatly rejected the idea of the OSCE brokering better relations between the two countries, RIA Novosti news agency reported. In a telephone conversation with OSCE Chairman in Office Karel De Gucht, who is also Belgium's foreign minister, Lavrov expressed "gratitude to the Belgian side for efforts for the unconditional release of the Russian officers," the Foreign Ministry said in a press release. The release also said that Lavrov "emphasized that prospects for the improvement of relations with Georgia depend totally and completely on the further conduct of the regime of Georgian President Mikheil Saakashvili, who is perfectly aware that a drastic amendment of his anti-Russian course is needed, in order to achieve progress in relations with Russia." Lavrov concluded that "this means that there is no need for mediation from the OSCE or from anyone else in order to improve relations" between Russia and Georgia. FF

DEFENSE MINISTER DISCUSSES CHINA, NORTH KOREA
Defense Minister Sergei Ivanov told the Polish newspaper "Dziennik" that Russia wants a strategic partnership with China and is not aiming at the creation of a new military-political union in Eurasia, Interfax reported on October 5. Responding to a question about a possible military alliance based on the Shanghai Cooperation Organization, Ivanov said that "Russia and China will be nothing but strategic partners on the international scene in the near future." Ivanov, who was visiting a Russian air base in Kyrgyzstan, also urged North Korea to show restraint over its plans to conduct a nuclear test, and voiced concern about the environmental consequences in neighboring Russian territory. "I very much hope that the North Korean leadership will exercise restraint, caution, and responsibility regarding this issue," Russian and Western news agencies quoted him as saying. North Korea is facing stern warnings from its neighbors against carrying out a nuclear test. China, Japan, and South Korea have announced a series of summits among their leaders, ratcheting up diplomacy over tensions caused by the North's announcement on October 3 that it intends to detonate a nuclear weapon. FF

KREMLIN ADVISER SAYS GOVERNMENT WILL NOT ACCEPT SHELL COST ESTIMATE...
A top Kremlin economic adviser says Shell broke its agreement with the government to develop the Sakhalin-2 oil and gas project when it doubled the cost estimate for the project to $20 billion, "The Moscow Times" reported on October 5. Arkady Dvorkovich, head of the Presidential Experts' Council, told an investment conference in Moscow that the government will never accept the increase. Shell announced last year that it will cost $20 billion to develop Sakhalin-2, which it operates under a production-sharing agreement (PSA) with the government. The project has recently come under fire in what observers say is a Kremlin push to sweeten the terms for state-run Gazprom to take a share. With a direct stake in the project, the state could see quicker revenue, since under the PSA it has to wait for all investments to be recouped before reaping any profits. FF

...AND DENIES KREMLIN HAS ULTERIOR MOTIVE
Speaking on the sidelines of the October 5 conference, organized by the Russo-British Chamber of Commerce, Dvorkovich denied that threats to revoke the environmental approval for the project are part of a wider strategy to corral energy projects into Kremlin control, "The Moscow Times" reported on October 5. "The PSAs are safe -- if the agreement, if legislation, is being followed." Speaking at the same conference Konstantin Panin, vice president of Shell Exploration and Production, said that "there must be clear rules, there must be confidence that once the rules of the game are established, they will be adhered to." British Ambassador Anthony Brenton said he is skeptical that a wider government push isn't under way, the newspaper reported. FF

BALTIC PIPELINE GROUP CONSIDERING POSSIBLE NEW MEMBER
The Russian-German consortium planning a gas pipeline under the Baltic Sea could bring in another member from the European Union to help defuse concerns about the controversial scheme, the "Financial Times" reported on October 4. Russian energy giant Gazprom and E.On and BASF of Germany are in talks with Gasunie of the Netherlands, the report said. The talks come ahead of a meeting this month between Russian President Putin and German Chancellor Angela Merkel, at which energy issues are expected to be discussed prominently. The $6.3 billion venture is chaired by former German Chancellor Gerhard Schroeder, who has been widely criticized for accepting the job because of his close relationship with Putin. The project has been described by its supporters as crucial for Europe's future energy needs. Broadening ownership could help to overcome misgivings among some EU states -- Sweden and Poland in particular-- about dependence on Moscow. FF

ARMENIAN, ROMANIAN PRESIDENTS MEET IN YEREVAN
Armenian President Robert Kocharian met on October 4 with visiting Romanian President Traian Basescu in Yerevan, RFE/RL's Armenian Service reported. Basescu arrived in Armenia on a two-day official visit aimed at strengthening bilateral relations and expanding trade links. The two signed a set of new bilateral agreements during their meeting, including a memorandum of understanding on "European and Euro-Atlantic cooperation." Speaking during a joint press conference following the meeting, Kocharian welcomed Romania's upcoming membership in the European Union and predicted that Armenia's participation in the EU's European Neighborhood Policy program will give a new impetus to "open new opportunities for cooperation between our countries." Basescu, the third Romanian head of state to visit Armenia during Kocharian's presidency, promised that his country will seek to facilitate Armenia's integration with the EU and said that Romanian companies are increasingly interested in investing in Armenia. Two other agreements, on transport cooperation and foreign-policy coordination, were also signed by the Romanian and Armenian transportation and foreign ministers, Arminfo reported. RG

ARMENIAN PREMIER COMMENTS ON IMPLICATIONS OF GEORGIAN-RUSSIAN CONFRONTATION...
Prime Minister Andranik Markarian said on October 4 that although Armenia has been so far unaffected by the Russian blockade of neighboring Georgia, it risks becoming "an island," effectively cut off from the outside world, if the Georgian-Russian confrontation continues to escalate, RFE/RL's Armenian Service reported. But in an address to a session of the Armenian parliament, Markarian explained that "the blockade is not affecting us yet," noting that exports are still largely being transported to the Russian market through the Georgian Black Sea port facilities at Batumi and Poti, despite the recent Russian decision to sever transport and communication links with Georgia. He further added that he raised the issue in a meeting the day before with visiting U.S. Deputy Assistant Secretary of State and OSCE Minsk Group co-chair Matthew Bryza and urged the United States to "take steps" to ease the tensions. RG

...FOLLOWING COMPLAINTS BY ARMENIAN BUSINESSMEN OF LOSSES
A number of leading Armenian businessmen have complained that they are "incurring serious losses" from a sudden drop in exports to Russia following Moscow's virtual blockade of Georgia, RFE/RL's Armenian Service reported on October 4. Accounting for a significant proportion of Armenian trade, exports to Russia are dependent on Georgian ports and land routes and Armenia is significantly vulnerable to any disruption of the Georgian trade link due to the country's closed borders with Azerbaijan and Turkey. Parliamentarian Ashot Baghdasarian, the chief executive of the Kilikia beer and soft drinks company, complained that a recent shipment of his company's products bound for Russia was left stranded at a Georgian Black Sea port following the suspension of a regular Georgian-Russian ferry service and has been unable to import Russian raw materials used in the packaging of its natural juice products. Armenian exports to Russia, which are predominantly alcohol and agricultural products, were already dealt a severe blow last June when the main Upper Lars Russian-Georgian border crossing was closed by Russia. RG

FORMER ARMENIAN SPEAKER ACCUSES GOVERNMENT OF CURRENCY MANIPULATION...
Former parliament speaker Artur Baghdasarian on October 3 accused the Armenian government of manipulating the exchange rate of the national currency for personal gain, RFE/RL's Armenian Service reported. In his first return to parliament since his resignation last May, Baghdasarian charged that the authorities have been artificially boosting the value of the dram over the past several months, adding that "elementary calculations" reveal the "direct embezzlement of $200 million." He explained that the authorities have manipulated the sharp appreciation of the dram in order "to pocket hundreds of millions of dollars" in cash remittances sent home by Armenians working abroad. The Central Bank has repeatedly denied any artificial manipulation of the currency, which has gained more than 40 percent in value against the dollar since its dramatic rise that began in December 2003. RG

...AND VOWS TO FIGHT FOR REDUCED UTILITY FEES
Addressing the Armenian parliament, former speaker Baghdasarian announced on October 3 that his Orinats Yerkir party, which was forced out of the ruling pro-government coalition last spring, will advocate a major reduction in utility fees, according to RFE/RL's Armenian Service. He argued that if the currency fluctuation was indeed market-based, basic utility and consumer prices in Armenia would have naturally decreased, and vowed that his party will seek a Constitutional Court ruling granting Armenian citizens the right to legally challenge utility prices currently set by the state Public Service Regulatory Commission, which under existing law cannot be overturned by local courts. RG

AZERBAIJANI MEDIA WATCHDOG ORDERS HALT TO REBROADCAST OF SELECT FOREIGN PROGRAMS
The head of the Azerbaijani National Television and Radio Council, Nushiravan Maharramli, announced on October 4 that he has instructed representatives from ANS-TV, the Antenn radio station, and Azerbaijani state radio to stop broadcasting the programs of the BBC and Voice of America, according to Turan. Maharramli argued that the local Azerbaijani stations "do not have a right to broadcast the programs of foreign radio stations" and added that foreign radio stations must broadcast their programs through their own transmitters, and not through local radio stations. He also warned that unless the three media outlets halt the broadcasts, "severe sanctions" will be applied against them. Criticizing the move, the director of the Baku-based Institute of Media Rights, Rashid Hacili, stressed that current Azerbaijani media legislation "does not prohibit local stations from rebroadcasting foreign TV and radio channels." He further argued that the council does not have the right to issue licenses for "broadcasting programs that have been prepared abroad" and noted that the overall "purpose of the [councl] is unclear and illogical because Azerbaijan's TV and radio stations broadcasts many other foreign channels." RG

AZERBAIJANI COURT SENTENCES OPPOSITION JOURNALIST TO THREE-YEAR PRISON TERM
An Azerbaijani court imposed on October 4 a three-year prison sentence for an opposition journalist after his conviction on drug-possession charges, according to Turan and ANS-TV. Mirza Sakit Zahidov, a columnist for the opposition daily "Azadliq" and an outspoken critic of President Ilham Aliyev, was arrested in June and reportedly was found to be in possession of heroin, although Zahidov and his supporters contend that the police planted the drugs on him in order to justify his arrest and subsequent jailing, pointing to the court's failure to even conduct a medical examination to determine if he had used drugs (see "RFE/RL Newsline," June 26 and August 7, 2006). His colleagues also noted that his arrest came just three days after Ali Akhmedov, the executive secretary of the ruling Yeni Azerbaycan Party, publicly stated that "someone should put an end to" the journalist's "slanders" of government officials and deputies. RG

GEORGIAN PRESIDENT VOWS THAT GEORGIA 'CANNOT BE BROKEN' BY RUSSIAN SANCTIONS
In a speech broadcast live on the eve of local elections, Georgian President Mikheil Saakashvili announced on October 4 that Georgia "cannot be broken" by Russian sanctions and vowed that "no one can destroy Georgia's freedom," Rustavi-2 television reported. Referring to the recent confrontation with Russia that was triggered by the arrest of several Russian military officers for alleged espionage, Saakashvili added that unnamed foes of Georgia are "choking on their own anger" and vowed that Georgia will never "roll over," and will respond "calmly" to Russian sanctions by developing economically. RG

GEORGIAN OFFICIAL CRITICIZES RUSSIAN CLOSURE OF BORDER WITH GEORGIA AS 'ILLEGAL'
Deputy Foreign Minister Nikoloz Natbiladze criticized on October 3 the Russian decision to close its land border with Georgia as an "illegal violation" of the terms of a 1994 bilateral trade and transport accord, Caucasus Press reported. In a statement posted on the Foreign Ministry website, Natbiladze added that "the application of economic levers for political ends is not the first precedent from the Russian side," pointing to the Russian ban on Georgian wine and mineral-water products imposed earlier this year. Natbiladze also dismissed Russian claims that Moscow closed its airspace to Georgian civil aviation because Georgian air carriers owe more than $3.6 million for the use of Russia's airspace, and highlighted that Georgian "airspace remains open for all Russian airfreight companies." RG

KAZAKH MINERS GAIN PAY RAISE, END STRIKE
Mittal Steel Temirtau has agreed to raise wages for striking miners in Kazakhstan, Khabar reported on October 4. Average monthly wages will double to 90,000 ($700) tenges from current levels of 45,000 tenges, ferghana.ru reported, citing Reuters. Bonuses could increase wages an additional 30 percent. The wage increases will be effective as of October 1. A spokesperson for Qaraghanda Governor Nurlan Nigmatullin said that miners, who went on strike after an accident killed 41 of their colleagues on September 20 (see "RFE/RL Newsline," September 21, 2006), have agreed to return to work. Steelworkers at Mittal Steel Temirtau, who had demonstrated for a 40 percent wage hike, will get a 20 percent raise from October 1, AP reported. DK

KAZAKH FOREIGN MINISTER REACHES OUT TO EU...
Foreign Minister Qasymzhomart Toqaev told the European Parliament's Foreign Affairs Committee on October 3 that Kazakhstan "appears to be one of the very few countries capable of boosting its oil production and thus becoming an important alternative energy supplier to global and European markets," RFE/RL reported. Noting that Kazakhstan is seeking up to $80 billion in investments over the next 15 years, Toqaev called on Europe to become "engaged." At the same time, Toqaev said that a trans-Caspian pipeline to Azerbaijan would be "controversial" for the Caspian littoral states that would have to approve it. Toqaev also said his country does not aspire to EU membership, although Kazakhstan would like to join the EU's Neighborhood Policy. DK

...AS EUROPEAN COMMISSION LINKS KAZAKH OSCE BID TO REFORMS
EU External Relations Commissioner Benita Ferrero-Waldner's spokeswoman Emma Udwin told euobserver.com on October 3 that while Ferrero-Waldner has "made positive remarks" about Kazakhstan's bid to chair the OSCE in 2009, "Kazakhstan must convince people it is serious about implementing reforms." Udwin denied that energy cooperation with Kazakhstan was influencing the EU position. "We see the two things as separate. Just because we are talking about closer cooperation on energy in the region doesn't mean that we change our principles," she said. DK

NEW MINISTER OF ECONOMICS AND BUDGET PLANNING APPOINTED IN KAZAKHSTAN
Aslan Musin, former governor of Kazakhstan's Atyrau province, has been appointed minister of economy and budget planning, zona.kz reported on October 4. President Nursultan Nazarbaev the same day presented the candidacy of Bergei Ryskaliev to replace Musin as Atyrau governor. DK

RUSSIAN DEFENSE MINISTER VISITS KYRGYZSTAN...
Russian Deputy Prime Minister and Defense Minister Sergei Ivanov met with Kyrgyz Prime Minister Feliks Kulov in Bishkek on October 4, RFE/RL's Kyrgyz Service reported. During the meeting, Kulov explained to journalists the difference between the Russian military base in Kant and the U.S. base at Manas, akipress.org reported: "Coalition forces are carrying out tasks to support stability in Afghanistan, while the Russian air base is part of the Collective Treaty Security Organization and a component part of Kyrgyzstan's armed forces, as well as serving to defend our borders." For his part, Ivanov said Russia has no plans to increase its deployment of 500 servicemen at Kant, ITAR-TASS reported. DK

...AS RUSSIA GIVES KYRGYZSTAN $2.5 MILLION IN EQUIPMENT
Ivanov took part in a ceremony on October 4 at which Russia formally gave Kyrgyzstan's Defense Ministry $2.5 million in military and technical assistance, RFE/RL's Kyrgyz Service reported. A spokesman for the Russian delegation told ITAR-TASS that the aid comes "as payment for leasing for military facilities on the territory of Kyrgyzstan, including the Kant air base." He continued, "The annual rental is $4.5 million. Under mutual offsets between the two countries, the Kyrgyz side spends $2 million to train its servicemen in Russian military colleges. The difference is covered by giving Kyrgyzstan Russian goods worth $2.5 million." DK

KYRGYZ PROSECUTOR-GENERAL SAYS NO CRIMINAL CASES AGAINST EX-PRESIDENT
Kyrgyz Deputy Prosecutor-General Aleksandr Neforosnykh told news agency 24.kg on October 4 that the Prosecutor-General's Office has no open criminal cases against former President Askar Akaev. The report noted that President Kurmanbek Bakiev had said that 106 criminal cases were opened against members of the Akaev family. Neforosnykh noted that many of the cases were opened "hastily" and subsequently closed. Neforosnykh said two criminal cases remain open against Aidar Akaev, the former president's son (see story below), and a number of cases remain open the charitable foundation Meerim, which was run by Mairam Akaeva, the former president's wife. DK

KYRGYZ ELECTION COMMISSION STRIPS AIDAR AKAEV, ANOTHER DEPUTY OF PARLIAMENTARY SEATS
Kyrgyzstan's Central Election Commission on October 5 stripped former President Akaev's son Aidar and fellow legislator Muratbek Malabaev of their parliamentary mandates based on their residency abroad and failure to participate in legislative sessions in the past year, RFE/RL's Kyrgyz Service reported. "It is written in the constitution that if a deputy leaves the country, or does not regularly attend parliamentary sessions, then his or her mandate should be terminated," commission Chairman Tuigunaly Abdyraimov announced. "We acted in accordance with Kyrgyzstan's fundamental law." Both Aidar Akaev and Malabaev, who is reportedly close to the ex-president's family, won parliamentary seats in the disputed 2005 elections that ultimately led to Akaev's ouster and escape to Russia with his family. AH

TAJIK PARTIES GATHER SIGNATURES FOR PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATES
Ahliddin Tohir, a spokesman for Tajikistan's Central Election Commission, told RFE/RL's Tajik Service on October 4 that the ruling People's Democratic Party and the Economic Reform Party have both submitted enough signatures to register their respective candidates for the November 6 presidential election. The People's Democratic Party, which has nominated incumbent Imomali Rakhmonov as its candidate, has submitted 510,427 signatures, while the Economic Reform Party, which has nominated Olim Boboyev as its candidate, has submitted 176,132 signatures. The Socialist Party has submitted 77,356 signatures and the Communist Party has submitted 59,729 signatures. DK

RIGHTS GROUP WELCOMES EU REJECTION OF TRADE PACT WITH TURKMENISTAN
Human Rights Watch (HRW) issued a statement on October 4 calling the European Parliament's October 3 decision to halt consideration of an interim trade agreement with Turkmenistan a "principled stand against grossly abusive governments." The statement noted that the European Parliament's International Trade Committee resolved to approve the agreement only if "clear, tangible, and sustained progress on the human rights situation is achieved." HRW Europe and Central Asia Director Holly Cartner commented, "This is a landmark decision against tyranny." DK

WILL BELARUS INTRODUCE VISAS FOR GEORGIANS?
Belarusian Foreign Ministry spokesman Andrey Papou told Belapan on October 4 that Moscow has not yet asked Minsk officially to introduce entry visas for Georgians. Papou was commenting on the previous day's call on Belarus by Mikhail Tyurkin, deputy head of Russia's Federal Migration Service, to introduce such visas. Tyurkin said many Georgian nationals use visa-free travel between Georgia and Belarus to illegally travel to Russia, which has no border checkpoints with Belarus. Meanwhile, Alyaksey Byahun from the Belarusian Interior Ministry told journalists that before introducing entry visas for Georgians, Belarus needs to withdraw from the 1992 agreement on visa-free travel within the Commonwealth of Independent States (CIS). According to Byahun, such a move presents no problem for Minsk since Belarus has bilateral agreements on visa-free travel with all CIS countries except Georgia. He noted that the introduction of visas between the two countries would hardly affect Belarusians. "Our citizens travel to Georgia very rarely, but the move would cause trouble to Georgians, particularly ordinary people," Byahun added. President Alyaksandr Lukashenka reportedly decided to introduce visas for Georgian citizens in mid-2005, but Foreign Minister Syarhey Martynau denied the report after the Georgian parliament announced plans to consider a travel ban on Lukashenka. JM

OUR UKRAINE SWITCHES TO OPPOSITION...
The pro-presidential Our Ukraine bloc has announced that it is switching to the opposition and withdrawing its ministers from the cabinet of Prime Minister Viktor Yanukovych, Ukrainian media reported on October 4. "We have made a clear-cut decision. There is a government coalition and there is Our Ukraine, which is in opposition to the ruling coalition," Our Ukraine parliamentary caucus head Roman Bezsmertnyy told journalists on October 4, after the failure of the latest round of coalition talks with the Party of Regions, the Socialist Party, and the Communist Party. The three ruling parties reportedly did not agree to Our Ukraine's demand to make the declaration of national unity signed by President Viktor Yushchenko and major political parties in early August an integral part of an expanded coalition deal. Our Ukraine currently has four ministers in the government: Justice Minister Roman Zvarych, Family and Sports Minister Yuriy Pavlenko, Culture Minister Ihor Likhovyy, and Health Minister Yuriy Polyachenko. The ruling coalition led by the Party of Regions controls 240 votes in the 450-seat Verkhovna Rada, which is sufficient to pass most legislation. JM

...AND SLAMS RUSSIA'S 'IMPERIAL' POLICY TOWARD GEORGIA
The Our Ukraine parliamentary caucus on October 4 released a statement condemning Russia's "imperial foreign policy" aimed at "weakening the sovereignty of territorial integrity of the Georgian state," Ukrainian media reported. Our Ukraine criticized Russia for bans on Georgian imports and "an entire range of economic sanctions" against Georgia as well as for the holding of military exercises close to Georgia's maritime borders. "We express our solidarity with Georgia and its people at a time when Russia is taking a provocative, impulsive, and emotional style in interstate relations and returning to imperial rhetoric," the statement read. JM

UKRAINIAN PARLIAMENT CANCELS ITS OWN MORATORIUM ON UTILITIES-PAYMENT HIKES
The Verkhovna Rada on October 5 revoked the moratorium on utilities-payment hikes it endorsed last month with 340 votes (see "RFE/RL Newsline," September 22, 2006), Ukrainian media reported. The motion to cancel the moratorium -- backed on October 5 by 249 deputies -- was submitted by the Cabinet of Ministers, which argued that the implementation of the moratorium would place an onerous burden on the state budget (see "RFE/RL Newsline," October 2, 2006). The opposition Yuliya Tymoshenko Bloc announced that it will question the legality of the October 5 vote in the Constitutional Court. JM

UN ENVOY SAYS SERBIAN ELECTIONS COULD DELAY KOSOVA STATUS PROPOSAL
Martti Ahtisaari said on October 3 that the possibility of Serbian parliamentary elections in December could delay a decision on Kosova's final status, Reuters reported the same day. Ahtisaari is expected to submit a proposal to the UN Security Council on Kosova's future status by November. But he said his plan might have to wait until after elections in Serbia, if they are called for December. Two recent developments have made a December election more likely: the G17 Plus party resigned from Prime Minister Vojislav Kostunica's government on October 1, and parliament passed a new constitution in a special session on September 31 and scheduled a referendum on it for October 28-29 (see "RFE/RL Newsline," October 2, 2006). If the constitution passes, new elections will take place in December. BW

PEACEKEEPERS FIND LARGE WEAPONS CACHE IN KOSOVA
NATO-led peacekeepers in Kosovo announced on October 4 that they have seized approximately 400 kilograms of explosives, AP reported the same day. The stockpile, which was discovered in the woodlands of central Kosova by peacekeepers during a routine patrol, contained 90 mines, ammunition, and hand grenades, KFOR spokesman Colonel Reiner Senger said. He said it was unclear whether the cache was left over from the 1999 war or more recent. "Some mines are older, some are very dangerous," he said, adding that the explosives and the ammunition have been transported to KFOR premises and will be destroyed. The discovery was the second large weapons cache uncovered in two weeks. Last week, Kosova's police discovered six cases containing a total of 72 rocket-propelled grenades. BW

ICTY PROSECUTOR REPORTEDLY BLAMES SERBIAN SECURITY CHIEFS FOR FAILURE ON MLADIC
International Criminal Tribunal for former Yugoslavia's (ICTY) chief prosecutor Carla Del Ponte told two top Serbian security chiefs that she holds them directly responsible for the failure to capture war crimes fugitive Ratko Mladic, B92 reported on October 4, citing a report the same day in the daily "Blic." According to "Blic," Del Ponte made her comments during a five-hour meeting with Serbian war crimes prosecutor Vladimir Vukcevic on October 2, also attended by Svetko Kovac, the head of Serbia's military security service and Security Information Agency chief Rade Bulatovic. In the meeting, Del Ponte accused Kovac and Bulatovic of giving Vukcevic marginal information while withholding the most important facts. Kovac and Bulatovic responded that they are working to apprehend Mladic, but that their agencies do not have any information on his current whereabouts. BW

U.S. SAYS SERBIA AMONG COUNTRIES NOW ELIGIBLE FOR MILITARY TRAINING PROGRAMS
The United States announced on October 2 that 21 countries, including Serbia, that had been denied participation in U.S. military training programs are now eligible to take part again under a presidential waiver, AP reported the same day. All 21 were excluded due to their refusal to sign an agreement with the Washington exempting Americans from prosecution by the International Criminal Court. In addition to Serbia, waivers were granted to Barbados, Bolivia, Brazil, Costa Rica, Croatia, Ecuador, Kenya, Mali, Malta, Mexico, Namibia, Niger, Paraguay, Peru, Samoa, South Africa, St. Vincent and the Grenadines, Tanzania, Trinidad, and Uruguay. B92 on October 4 quoted military analyst Zoran Dragisic as saying that Serbia's inclusion on the list is the result of negotiations during President Boris Tadic's recent trip to Washington (see "RFE/RL Newsline," September 17 and 21, 2006). "I think that in this way, they are realizing an even wider perspective of cooperation with our armed forces and the US military," Dragisic said. BW

MONTENEGRIN PREMIER RESIGNS
Milo Djukanovic has decided to step down as prime minister, international news agencies reported on October 3. President Filip Vujanovic told state-run Montenegro Radio on October 3 that Djukanovic decided not to seek a second term, the Serbian news agency Beta reported. Vujanovic said Djukanovic will stay on as leader of the ruling Democratic Party of Socialists (DPS). Djukanovic, who has served as either Montenegro's prime minister or president since 1991, said on September 11 -- after leading the DPS to an election victory the previous day -- that he was considering resigning (see "RFE/RL Newsline," September 13, 2006). Vujanovic seemed to be trying to get Djukanovic to reconsider on September 18 when he said he wanted to nominate him for another four-year term (see "RFE/RL Newsline," September 19, 2006). The DPS is expected to name a new candidate on October 5. BW

MOLDOVA SEEKS TO CONTROL IMPORT OF GENETICALLY MODIFIED PRODUCTS
Ecology and Natural Resources Minister Constantin Mihailescu announced on October 4 that Moldova will open a laboratory to control and test imported genetically modified products, Moldpres reported the same day. Mihailescu made his announcement at a seminar launching a government project on developing a national bio-safety framework. The project seeks to protect Moldovan consumers by strengthening legislation governing the import of genetically modified products and educating the public about the potentially negative health consequences of using them. BW

IMMEDIATE CHANGES IN PRO-MOSCOW CHECHEN LEADERSHIP UNLIKELY
Ever since May 2004, when Ramzan Kadyrov was named deputy prime minister of the pro-Moscow Chechen government following the death of his father, Akhmed-hadji Kadyrov, in a terrorist bombing, many observers have assumed that Ramzan would be named Chechen leader upon reaching the minimum age of 30.

Alu Alkhanov, a former interior minister who was elected to succeed the elder Kadyrov in October 2004 as the republic's leader, is widely regarded as a weak, ineffective, and transitional figure. But it could also be argued that in contrast to Kadyrov, Alkhanov is a stabilizing, not a potentially destabilizing factor, and would in the long term prove more loyal to Moscow.

Ramzan Kadyrov began his political career as commander of a force of former resistance fighters co-opted to serve as his father's bodyguards. That force, known as the Kadyrovtsy, has become a byword for widespread human rights abuses, including the abduction, torture, and killing or ransom of Chechen civilians suspected of colluding, or even sympathizing with, the resistance.

Those abuses, in which Kadyrov is rumored to have participated personally, have angered and alienated the Chechen population. That alienation has been compounded by resentment at the requirement that all state-sector employees contribute a sizeable percentage of their monthly salary to a charitable fund name after Akhmed-hadji Kadyrov.

It is that fund, insiders claim, that Ramzan Kadyrov draws on to finance the much-publicized reconstruction of strategic buildings in Grozny and his home town of Gudermes.

Russian President Vladimir Putin, however, seems convinced that Kadyrov is the only man capable of neutralizing the remaining Chechen resistance fighters and bringing some semblance of order and calm to the war-shattered republic. (Visiting Grozny in May 2004 immediately after the death of the elder Kadyrov, Putin was clearly shocked by the extent of the destruction.)

In December 2004, Putin bestowed upon Ramzan Kadyrov the prestigious Hero of Russia award and, in early March 2006, Kadyrov was promoted to the post of prime minister. Since then, he has sought assiduously, reportedly with the help of a sophisticated team of spin doctors, to transform his image and win the hearts and minds of the population.

To that end, he has launched a charm offensive, tirelessly visiting schools, building sites, and hospitals, and establishing a kind of moral discipline in keeping with traditional Chechen values. Some observers, however, have construed his espousal of those values as reflecting a long-term plan to promote the cause of Chechen independence from Russia.

Meanwhile, Moscow continues to turn a blind eye to the lawless activities of the various security forces loyal to Kadyrov. In late April, those forces engaged in a shoot-out with Alkhanov's bodyguards in which at least one man died.

Then, last month, a group of Chechen special police traveled to Ingushetia to apprehend a suspect and opened fire on Ingushetian traffic police who sought to prevent them from taking that suspect back to Chechnya.

At least eight men died in that incident, but days later, at a meeting attended by Kadyrov, Alkhanov, Ingushetian President Murat Zyazikov, and presidential envoy to the Southern Federal District Dmitry Kozak, the Ingushetian authorities were ordered not to obstruct any future such cross-border operations by Kadyrov's men.

Kadyrov's power base is not, however, confined to the Kadyrovtsy. The parliament elected in November 2005 is also loyal to him, and its chairman, Dukvakha Abdurakhmanov, frequently floats proposals on Kadyrov's behalf -- such as amending the constitution of the Russian Federation to permit President Putin to run for a third term in 2008.

The parliament has also called for changes to the Chechen Constitution that would strengthen even further Kadyrov's position vis-a-vis Alkhanov. And in a clearly stage-managed demonstration of apparent support for Kadyrov, Chechens took to the streets across the republic last week to protest Kadyrov's orders to remove the ubiquitous posters depicting him.

Alkhanov for his part is fighting back, most recently by creating in August, without first informing Kadyrov, a new Council for Economic and Social Security that will focus on human rights abuses among other things.

And several Russian experts on the North Caucasus are increasingly inclined to believe that there is a faction within the Russian leadership that considers Kadyrov a liability and is therefore shoring up Alkhanov's position. That faction used the July appeal by Federal Security Service Director Nikolai Patrushev to Chechen fighters to lay down their arms and surrender as a means of embarrassing and discrediting Kadyrov.

Russian media announced on August 18 that Chechen Ichkeria President and resistance commander Doku Umarov himself had showed up at Kadyrov's home base in Gudermes, near Grozny, to surrender to him in person. Within the hour, however, those reports were retracted and the man who surrendered identified as Umarov's brother Akhmed, who was captured two years ago.

While it is difficult to estimate with any degree of accuracy the relative strength of the anti-Kadyrov faction, its very existence makes any immediate move to sideline Alkhanov and promote Kadyrov as his successor unlikely, although not totally unthinkable.

AFGHAN PARLIAMENT DEBATES 'DURAND LINE'
During a closed-door meeting on security issues, the Afghan National Assembly's Wolesi Jirga (People's Council) on October 4 debated the thorny issue of the Afghanistan-Pakistan border, referred to by Kabul as the "Durand Line," Kabul-based Tolu Television reported. A number of Wolesi Jirga members said discussion is needed prior to finalizing a draft proposal by the defense and security committees. An unidentified parliamentary secretary told Tolu that Afghanistan "should launch a comprehensive discussion on the Durand Line at the regional and international levels," adding that "if all the problems [relating to security exist] because of the Durand Line, then we would like to resolve it as the first step." The border between Afghanistan and Pakistan takes it name from Sir Henry Mortimer Durand, foreign secretary of British India, who concluded an agreement with Afghanistan in 1893. Since the formation of Pakistan in 1947, no Afghan government has officially recognized the boundary (see "RFE/RL Afghanistan Report, "August 7, 2003 and July 14, 2006). In a recent press conference in Kabul, Afghan President Hamid Karzai again dodged a question on whether his administration was prepared to resolve the dispute with Pakistan. AT

KABUL NOT READY TO NEGOTIATE WITH TALIBAN
Karim Rahimi, President Karzai's spokesman, said on October 3 in Kabul that the Afghan government will never negotiate with the Taliban who are still fighting as insurgents, Ariana television reported. Rahimi said the reconciliation process is under way with those members of the Taliban regime "whose hands were not stained with the blood of the people." Rahimi was reacting to an October 2 report by AP quoting U.S. Senate Majority Leader Bill Frist (Republican, Tennessee) who, during a visit to Afghanistan, reportedly said that to be successful in the counterinsurgency campaign, Kabul should "assimilate people who call themselves Taliban into a larger, more representative government." However, in a press release on October 2, Frist's office said that while touring Afghanistan the senator "made the observation that Afghan tribesmen should be brought into the government or [there is a] risk of losing them to the Taliban." However, Frist "does not believe Taliban fighters -- often foreign fighters who come to Afghanistan -- should be brought into the reconciliation process," the press release added. AT

OFFICIAL ARRESTED IN WESTERN AFGHANISTAN ON EMBEZZLEMENT CHARGES
Herat Province prosecutors have arrested Ahmad Jan Kakar, the head of the Herat Oil Department, on charges of stealing, the Herat News Center reported on October 4. The arrest was made in connection with the arrival from Kabul of a delegation charged with fighting administrative corruption in Herat. Kakar has been charged with embezzling more than $5 million. In addition to Kakar, his predecessor -- identified as Nikbin -- has also been arrested in connection with the same case. AT

MADRASAH SET ABLAZE IN NORTHERN AFGHANISTAN
Unknown culprits set a religious school on fire in Balkh Province on October 4, the Peshawar-based Afghan Islamic Press reported. According to the report, although there has been an increasing number of attacks against schools across Afghanistan, the case of Balkh is the first attack against a madrasah. No one has claimed responsibility for the arson. AT

WASHINGTON, EU RUNNING OUT OF PATIENCE WITH IRAN
U.S. Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice said on October 4 at a news conference in Ramallah, the West Bank, that Iran has not suspended its uranium-enrichment activities despite "months of negotiations," and she noted that the "patience beyond the August 31 deadline that was set by the UN Security Council Resolution [1696]" is running out, Radio Farda reported. She added that this patience can be traced to the Paris agreement of almost three years ago, and she urged Iran to act. Rice said, "I think we have come to a time when the Iranians have to make their choice and the international system has to act accordingly." On the same day, EU High Representative for Common Foreign and Security Policy Javier Solana, who has held numerous meetings with Iranian officials since June, sounded a similar note of frustration, Radio Farda reported. "I'd like to tell you the dialogue [with Iran], this dialogue that I am maintaining, cannot last forever, and it is up to the Iranians now to decide whether the time has come to an end and, if that is the case, we will have to begin to follow the second track by the five [permanent] members of the [UN] Security Council," he said. BS

MOSCOW REITERATES OFFER TO ENRICH URANIUM FOR IRAN
Russia's Atomic Energy Agency head Sergei Kiriyenko said on October 4 in Moscow that his country's offer to establish a joint uranium-enrichment project with Iran remains in effect, RIA Novosti reported. "If Iran is not ready to enrich uranium at home, Russia is ready to provide its territory and set up this joint venture," Kiriyenko said. He stressed that the Russian proposal should be seen in the context of international efforts to defuse the crisis over Iran's nuclear ambitions. "This proposal does not work individually, it works only as a package," he said. "It should not be snapped out of the package like raisins teased out of a muffin." Kiriyenko appeared to be reacting to a proposal by Tehran the previous day, in which an Iranian official suggested a uranium-enrichment partnership with France (see "RFE/RL Newsline," October 4, 2006). BS

BANNED IRANIAN WEBSITE BACK ONLINE
The Advar News website resumed operations under a new name on October 4. The site, which is connected with the Office for Strengthening Unity student group, was shut down by the Iranian government in late September. The new website is advarnews.us. Meanwhile, Iranian state television's plans to broadcast an all-day English-language news program are progressing, with state broadcasting's deputy head for external services, Mohammad Sarfaraz, saying on October 4 that the service will be launched within months, ISNA reported. Sarfaraz said the 24-hour news channel -- called Press -- will use presenters trained by the BBC and whose skills "surpass" those of BBC or CNN presenters. He said the reason for creating the channel is to present a different perspective on regional news. BS

U.S. MILITARY DENIES AL-QAEDA IN IRAQ HEAD KILLED
The U.S. military has denied a report by Al-Arabiyah television on October 4 that Abu Hamzah al-Muhajir (aka Abu Ayyub al-Masri), head of the Al-Qaeda-affiliated Mujahedin Shura Council, was killed in an overnight raid, Reuters reported. "There was a raid where we thought he may have been among those killed. We are still doing DNA tests but we do not believe coalition forces have killed al-Masri," U.S. military spokesman Lieutenant Colonel Barry Johnson said. Al-Arabiyah quoted Iraqi government sources as saying al-Muhajir was among those killed in the raid, carried out in the western Iraqi town of Al-Hadithah. KR

IRAQI GOVERNMENT SUSPENDS POLICE BRIGADE AMID ALLEGATIONS OF MISCONDUCT
The Iraqi government has suspended the 8th Brigade of the 2nd Division of the national police, also known as the Falcon Brigade, and ordered it to undergo retraining amid allegations that some members are linked to death squads, U.S. military spokesman Major General William Caldwell told reporters at an October 4 press briefing in Baghdad. Interior Ministry spokesman Brigadier General Abd al-Karim Khalaf confirmed the move, saying that suspicions arose after the brigade, which was based in northwest Baghdad, failed to respond to a mass kidnapping in Baghdad's Al-Amal neighborhood on October 1. Interior Minister Jawad al-Bulani reacted by removing the brigade and battalion commanders from duty. The brigade "will report to a forward operating base to reorganize and begin, specifically, antimilitia, antisectarian-violence, and national-unity training both at the unit level and at the individual level. This brigade's past performance has not demonstrated the level of professionalism sought by the [Interior Ministry]," Caldwell told reporters. He said it is unclear how much commanders knew, "but there is clear evidence that there was some complicity [by police] in allowing death-squad elements to move freely when in fact they were supposed to have been impeding their movement." KR

IRAQI ARMY ARRESTS 250 IN DIYALA OPERATION
The Iraqi Army has arrested 251 people in a weeklong operation dubbed Swift Response in the Diyala Governorate, northeast of Baghdad, Al-Sharqiyah television reported on October 4. Defense Minister Abd al-Qadir al-Ubaydi and army Chief of Staff Babakr Zebari reportedly oversaw the operation. Iraqi parliamentarian Muhammad al-Dayini told Al-Jazeera television that the operation was launched after complaints from local residents over the conduct of the army's 5th Battalion and its commander, Brigadier General Shakir al-Ka'bi. "Unfortunately, since he assumed his duties, the security situation has been getting worse," al-Dayini said of al-Ka'bi. Al-Dayini claimed the battalion arrested "400 innocent civilians" in the governorate. "The arrest campaign was coupled by the systematic theft of money, properties, and gold, not to mention that those arrested were exposed...to torture, beatings, and humiliation," he added. U.S. forces have arrested three of the commander's guards on allegations they belonged to death squads active in the governorate. KR

U.S. FORCES ANNOUNCE ARREST OF AL-QAEDA MEMBER...
In an October 5 press release, U.S. forces announced the arrest of a former driver and personal assistant of Al-Qaeda leader in Iraq Abu Hamzah al-Muhajir (aka Abu Ayyub al-Masri) in a September 28 Baghdad raid. Thirty-one others were arrested in some 11 raids carried out on that day. The arrest and confession of another al-Muhajir associate on September 12 led to the September 28 arrest of the second associate; neither associate was identified by name. KR

...AS AL-QAEDA SAYS CLAIMS OF ITS DEMISE UNTRUE
The Al-Qaeda-affiliated Mujahedin Shura Council, which al-Muhajir leads, denied in an October 4 Internet posting claims by Iraqi National Security Adviser Muwaffaq al-Rubay'i that Al-Qaeda is dying. The statement claimed that Al-Qaeda is increasing in strength every day, adding that al-Muhajir "is very fine and healthy; he strategizes for the battles, he leads the groups, and he stays with his family in Iraq among his brothers and the children he raised and taught." The statement further claimed that the U.S. and Iraqi governments give contradictory media statements, claiming that recent weeks posed a challenge security-wise while claiming victory at the same time. It claimed that the United States and Iraq are carrying out a deceptive media campaign. "Where is the media coverage of the heroic operations in Mosul, Al-Anbar, Diyala, and south of Baghdad? The truth is that we can get to [U.S. and Iraqi forces] and they can't get to us. We attack them and they cannot attack us." In an apparent reference to al-Muhajir, it added: "The Al-Qaeda Organization in Iraq is not one single man, rather it is a multitude of men; some have died, others are waiting their turn." KR

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