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Newsline - October 26, 2006


MIXED REACTIONS TO PUTIN'S QUESTION-AND-ANSWER MARATHON...
Many Russian critics suggested that President Vladimir Putin's October 25 live multimedia appearance, which was broadcast on Russian television and radio, was carefully orchestrated, RFE/RL reported (see "RFE/RL Newsline," October 25, 2006). The website news.ru concluded on October 26 that the event was a "mass therapy session." It was Putin's fifth such appearance of its kind since he took office at the start of 2000 and involved dozens of questions submitted via telephone, Internet, or mobile-phone text messages by ordinary citizens on a range of domestic and foreign policy issues, including his recent controversial remarks that appeared to condone rape. Many commentators noted that he spoke out on developments that go well beyond the expiration of his current term of office in 2008. Others compared his tendency to micromanage and discuss relatively minor issues like log exports to the supposed involvement of communist-era leaders in every detail of economic and political life. Some observers noted that he was not asked openly hostile questions, and that many of the entries seemed designed to show Putin and his administration in the best possible light, "Komsomolskaya pravda" noted on October 26. PM

...SUGGEST CAREFUL SCREENING OF QUESTIONS
As a correspondent from RFE/RL's Russian Service reported from Nakhodka, Primorsky Krai, on October 25, the moderators overseeing the link-up sessions in various cities for President Putin's multimedia show had screened questions from the public beforehand. The correspondent added that "those who were admitted to the city square [for the linkup] did not seem to be improvising [their questions]. One of the organizers of the event admitted that the topics had been agreed on [in advance]. The driver asked about roads, the ecologist about oil pipelines, and the representative of the intelligentsia about nuclear tests in North Korea." The correspondent noted that only a selected few residents carrying special badges were permitted to attend the question-and-answer session in the square. Local authorities reportedly blocked roads and tightly cordoned off the scene. The situation seems to have been similar in other cities participating in the link-up. In Kondopoga, which was the scene of recent unrest, many of those barred from attending the link-up were angry. One woman said that "it's an outrage. I've come from the night shift, I've earned it as a 67-year-old pensioner. I thought I'd go there and speak my mind. But they won't let us through." If none of the dozens of questions that were put to Putin in advance seemed particularly critical, it might have been because those wishing to send a question to the president were required to fill out a lengthy questionnaire that included their name, profession, and street address -- down to the apartment number. PM

EUROPEAN PARLIAMENT SLAMS RUSSIA...
EU parliamentarians passed a nonbinding resolution in Strasbourg on October 25 calling for member states to give "serious thought" to their relations with Russia, which should not be based on economic criteria alone, international media reported (see "RFE/RL Newsline," October 23, 2006). In a strongly worded resolution, the parliament called for democracy, human rights, and freedom of expression to be placed at the core of any future agreement between the EU and Russia. The parliamentarians voiced their concerns over what they called the increasing intimidation, harassment, and killing of journalists, and other people critical of the Russian government. The resolution drew attention to the recent slaying of critical journalist Anna Politkovskaya and called on the EU and Council of Europe, to which Russia belongs, to monitor the investigation of the apparent contract killing. The legislators argued that "the only way to truly honor...Politkovskaya's passionate commitment to truth, justice, and human dignity is to make common efforts to realize [her] dream of a democratic Russia that fully respects the rights and liberties of its citizens." PM

...BUT FINLAND IS CAUTIOUS
The debate over the European Parliament's October 25 resolution on Russia and democracy recalled the recent exchange in Lahti, Finland, between French President Jacques Chirac, who called for separating morality and economics in dealing with Moscow, and Estonian Prime Minister Andrus Ansip, who said that "it is totally wrong to pay attention only to [economic] interests," international media reported (see "RFE/RL Newsline," October 23, 2006). Finnish Prime Minister Matti Vanhanen, whose country holds the EU presidency and has traditionally tread very lightly in dealing with Moscow, warned EU lawmakers that "one shouldn't go too far. We shouldn't caricature Russia as some monstrous dictatorship. They want to cooperate, they want to raise their living standards, they want to work with us." In the run-up to the German EU presidency in the first half of 2007, the German Foreign Ministry, which is run by former Chancellor Gerhard Schroeder's Social Democrats, seeks to promote German and EU ties to Russia on the basis of an expanding network of interrelationships (see "RFE/RL Newsline," August 24 and October 19 and 20, 2006). Chancellor Angela Merkel's Christian Democrats were not involved in preparing the ministry's recent position paper and are drafting one of their own, which places more emphasis on trans-Atlantic ties. PM

IS RUSSIA PLAYING CHICKEN OVER WTO?
The daily "Kommersant" wrote on October 26 that Russia might pull out of talks aimed at securing its membership in the World Trade Organization (WTO) unless an agreement with the United States is reached soon. The paper added that President Putin made this point to U.S. Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice on October 21 in Moscow. Georgia recently held up talks between Russia and the WTO (see "RFE/RL Newsline," October 13, 2006). On October 24, Russian Prime Minister Mikhail Fradkov told Ukrainian leaders that they should "synchronize" their efforts at joining the WTO with Russia's, London's the "Financial Times" reported on October 25. He added that "Ukraine should have more talks with Russia over joining" that body. The Kremlin has repeatedly blamed the United States for holding up its accession to WTO membership and stressed that Russia will accept only terms that meet its interests. Moscow Mayor Yury Luzhkov opposes membership outright (see "RFE/RL Newsline," July 17 and 31, and August 18, 2006, and "Russia: WTO Becomes Long-Term Issue For Relations With U.S.," rferl.org, July 24, 2006). But on October 13, German Gref, who is minister of economic development and trade, said in Moscow that Russia and the United States "should reach final agreements in the next two weeks" regarding Russian WTO accession. Deputy Prime Minister Aleksandr Zhukov has also predicted a deal by the end of October. Chief Russian trade negotiator Maksim Medvedkov told "Izvestia" of October 26 that "October isn't over yet" but added that "realistically, I think we can complete this whole process by the middle of next year." PM

STATE OF EMERGENCY DECLARED AFTER ALCOHOL 'MASS POISONING'
Officials in Pskov Oblast declared a state of emergency on October 25 following a "mass poisoning" of local people from drinking bootleg alcohol, RIA Novosti reported. Since early October, at least 15 people have died there and over 140 people have been hospitalized for toxic hepatitis as a result of consuming the illicit hooch. Russian Interior Minister Rashid Nurgaliyev has called poisoning from consuming illegal alcohol a "national tragedy." A recent poll of Russian citizens suggested that alcohol abuse is their second most important concern, after housing (see "RFE/RL Newsline," October 25, 2006). PM

ADYGEYA PARLIAMENT ENDORSES PRESIDENTIAL NOMINEE
The parliament of the Republic of Adygeya endorsed on October 25 by 46 votes to six with two abstentions the nomination of Maykop Technical University Rector Aslancheryy Tkhakushinov to succeed Khazret Sovmen as president, regnum.ru and RIA Novosti reported. It was the first time that the head of a federation subject has been selected under the December 2005 amendments to existing legislation that empower the party that garners the most votes in elections to nominate a presidential candidate. President Putin must now endorse Tkhakushinov's candidacy. According to the daily "Kommersant" on October 26, Sovmen harshly criticized Tkhakushinov during the October 25 parliament session, appealing to parliament deputies to "think what you are doing" before he walked out of the parliament chamber. Sovmen earlier said he has nothing against Tkhakushinov's candidacy (see "RFE/RL Newsline," October 4, 16 and 20, 2006). LF.

DID ARMS FOR NALCHIK RAID COME FROM GEORGIA?
Anatoly Dzagoyev, who is acting deputy head of the Kabardino-Balkaria Interior Ministry Department for the Struggle with Organized Crime, told a press conference in Nalchik on October 25 that his ministry has uncovered two episodes in which some 10 members of illegal armed formations imported weapons and ammunition from neighboring Georgia, kavkazweb.net reported on October 25 quoting RIA Novosti. The weapons were allegedly used in last October's multiple attacks on police and security facilities in Nalchik (see "RFE/RL Newsline," October 13, 2005). LF

ARMENIA QUERIES RUSSIAN RULING ON PLANE CRASH
The Armenian Civil Aviation Department has queried the conclusions of its Russian counterpart's investigation into the crash of an Armenian airliner while trying to land at Sochi airport in May, RFE/RL's Armenian Service reported. Those findings attributed the crash to "human error." In a six-page document, the Armenian agency highlighted the Russian investigators' failure to note the alleged failure by air traffic controllers at Sochi airport to detect "dangerous weather conditions." The document also rejected allegations that the Armenian pilots were not adequately trained (see "RFE/RL Newsline," July 28 and 31, 2006). LF

ARMENIAN PRESIDENT TOURS LINE OF CONTACT
Robert Kocharian, accompanied by Defense Minister Serzh Sarkisian; Arkady Ghukasian, president of the unrecognized Nagorno-Karabakh Republic (NKR); and NKR army commander Lieutenant General Seyran Ohanian, visited on October 23-24 Armenian Army units at unspecified locations on the Line of Contact that separates Armenian and Azerbaijani forces east of the NKR, RFE/RL's Armenian Service reported. The inspection coincided with the beginning of routine maneuvers by the NKR armed forces. LF

AZERBAIJANI ELECTION RESULTS ANNULLED IN THREE DISTRICTS
Azerbaijan's Central Election Commission (MSK) reviewed on October 25 the final results of the repeat and first municipal elections on October 6, echo-az.com reported on October 26. The outcome was annulled in six electoral districts due to procedural violations, and one local and one district election commission whose members MSK Chairman Mazahir Panahov claimed either condoned or actively engaged in malpractice have been disbanded. The final results are to be released within 10 days. LF

GEORGIA ACCUSES ABKHAZIA OF ROCKET ATTACK IN KODORI GORGE
Three GRAD missiles were fired on October 25 from Abkhazia's Tkvarcheli Raion on the village of Azhara in the Kodori Gorge during a visit there by Georgian Interior Minister Vano Merabishvili, Georgian State Minister for Conflict Resolution Merab Antadze told journalists later that day, Caucasus Press reported. The Defense Ministry of the unrecognized Republic of Abkhazia and its president, Sergei Bagapsh, have issued separate denials that any such attack took place, according to RIA Novosti and Interfax as cited by Caucasus Press. Bagapsh denounced the Georgian allegations as a "provocation." LF

KAZAKH PRESIDENT WANTS GUILTY PUNISHED IN HIV-INFECTIONS CASE
President Nursultan Nazarbaev said on October 25 that the individuals responsible for the recent infection of children with the HIV virus in South Kazakhstan province (see "RFE/RL Newsline," October 11, 2006) must face justice, Interfax-Kazakhstan reported. The comments came at a meeting with the region's governor in Shymkent. "The investigation into the infection of children with the HIV virus must be seen through to the end," "Kazakhstan Today" quoted Nazarbaev as saying. "Every guilty individual should face the punishment he deserves." DK

KYRGYZ PRESIDENT HINTS AT DISSOLUTION OF PARLIAMENT...
President Kurmanbek Bakiev told Jalal-Abad residents on October 25 that if the Kyrgyz parliament fails to reach a consensus on constitutional reform by the end of November, he will put the issues of reform and parliament itself to a referendum in December, akipress.org reported the next day. Three constitutional reform drafts -- featuring presidential, parliamentary, and parliamentary-presidential forms of government -- have been submitted to parliament. Under the current constitution, the president can dissolve parliament after a referendum or in the event of an irreconcilable crisis with other branches of government. While noting that parliament is "capable of performing its work," Bakiev stressed that "if relations between parliament and the government do not improve before the end of the year, I can resolve the issue of dissolving parliament," ferghana.ru reported. DK

...AND SAYS SATISFIED WITH CABINET
At the same meeting with Jalal-Abad residents on October 25, President Bakiev pronounced himself satisfied with the government's performance and said he sees no reason to dismiss the cabinet, akipress.org reported. Bakiev said that international financial institutions, including the International Monetary Fund, have positively evaluated the government's performance. "We are determinedly implementing such aspects of social and economic policy as the revival and development of domestic production and the provision of social support to the population," Bakiev said. DK

TAJIK POLICE FIND EXTREMIST BUNKERS IN NORTH
Tajik police have arrested six suspected members of the extremist organization Bayat and discovered two underground bunkers in the Isfara district of Soghd province, Regnum reported on October 25. An Interior Ministry source told the news agency that Bayat members used the bunkers for military training. The report noted that 20 members of Bayat, which initially came to light in statements by Tajik officials in 2004, are currently being sought, including the group's alleged leader, Anvar Qayumov. DK

TURKMEN TO ENJOY FREE GAS, POWER, WATER, AND SALT UNTIL 2030...
Turkmenistan's Halk Maslahaty (People's Council) has decided to prolong government subsidies for gas, electricity, water, and salt until 2030, turkmenistan.ru reported on October 25. Turkmen citizens currently receive these products for free. "Known hydrocarbon reserves will last Turkmenistan for 250 years," President Saparmurat Niyazov told the council. "This means huge revenues, and the state has the opportunity to help its citizens." Niyazov also proposed doubling salaries, pensions, and welfare payments in 2008. DK

...BUT NOT PRESIDENTAL ELECTION
Turkmen election head Murat Gariyev told the People's Council on October 25 that "there can be no talk" of a presidential election, Turkmen television reported. The remark came in response to a query from Niyazov, who asked, "What about presidential elections?" The televised report noted that Gariyev's response generated applause, prompting Gariyev to comment, "That is the best answer to the great leader's question." Niyazov, who currently enjoys virtually unlimited power and the status of president for life, has periodically raised the issue of a presidential election in 2009. DK

BELARUSIAN PROTESTANTS HOLD HUNGER STRIKE IN DEFENSE OF PRAYER HOUSE IN MINSK
Some 100 members of New Life Church, a Minsk-based Protestant community, continued on October 25 their hunger strike that started on October 5, Belapan reported. The community is protesting a court order to transfer their prayer house in Minsk to the city authorities (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 10 October 2006). The condition of 42-year-old striker Tatsyana Varantsova deteriorated on October 25 resulting in her hospitalization. Varantsova became the third protester hospitalized. The Minsk Economic Court issued on October 23 an official warning to the New Life Church that it will impose a fine of around $2,900 if the community does not leave the contentious building. AM

FRIENDS OF DISAPPEARED BELARUSIAN CAMERAMAN LAUNCH WEBSITE
Relatives and friends of cameraman Dzmitry Zavadski, who disappeared in 2000 and is widely believed to have been abducted, have launched a website (http://www.zavadsky.org) detailing the circumstances of journalist's disappearance. "This will be the webpage of the Dzmitry Zavadski foundation, which will attract the attention of its visitors not only to the problem of Dzmitry's disappearance but also to problems of the independent media and Belarus in general," Svyatlana Zavadskaya, the wife of the journalist, told Belapan on October 25. The site is expected to carry articles by both Belarusian and foreign journalists. "We are already reaching agreement on this with Lithuanian, Polish, and Russian colleagues," Zavadskaya added. AM

BELARUSIAN, UKRAINIAN NGOS RECEIVE GRANTS FROM POLAND'S BATORY FOUNDATION
Four Belarusian and 18 Ukrainian nongovernmental organizations (NGOs) have received grants over $420,000 in total from Poland's Stefan Batory Foundation, Belapan reported on October 25. The foundation, implementing since 2003 its program of support of democratic changes and the development of civil society, intends to support NGOs' operation and activities aimed at establishing partner relations between NGOs and authorities. The foundation also noted that due to the political situation in Belarus it will not disclose the Belarusian recipients of grants. AM

UKRAINIAN MINISTER HAILS GAS DEAL WITH RUSSIA AS 'BIG VICTORY'
Ukrainian Transportation Minister Mykola Rudkovskyy has said that the agreement with Russia on gas supplies at $130 per 1,000 cubic meters in 2007 is a big victory of Ukrainian diplomacy, Interfax reported on October 25. "We should acknowledge that the price of $130 is a big victory of Ukraine and Ukrainian diplomacy", Rudkovskyy said. He also mentioned that Russia offers gas for Belarus at $200 per 1,000 cubic meters and for Poland at $280, adding that the Ukrainian price opens the way for Ukraine's economy to grow by 7 percent or higher. Poland, the Czech Republic, and Hungary welcomed the Ukrainian-Russian agreement. However, Pawel Zalewski, a politician in the ruling party, noted that gas again "appears to be a political instrument." AM

UKRAINIAN PRESIDENT SEES NO REASON FOR SIMULTANEOUS WTO ACCESSION WITH RUSSIA
Oleksandr Chalyy, deputy head of the presidential secretariat, said on October 25 that the question of Ukraine's simultaneous accession to the WTO with Russia is illogical, Interfax reported. "The position of the Ukrainian president is clear on that [question]," Chalyy said. During a meeting between Ukrainian President Viktor Yushchenko and Russian Prime Minister Mikhail Fradkov on October 24, the latter reportedly brought up some possible negative consequences of Ukraine joining the WTO ahead of Russia. According to Chalyy, Yushchenko assured Fradkov that Ukraine's "accession will not pose any danger to the Russian Federation." The same day, Ukrainian Finance Minister Mykola Azarov said that the Russian side meant the terms of the accession rather than its date. AM

PRESIDENT SAYS SERBIA HAS RIGHT TO PROTECT ITS BORDERS
In remarks published on October 25, Boris Tadic said that while Serbia has no interest in ruling over ethnic Albanians in Kosova, it still has the right to defend its borders, B92 and Beta reported the same day. In an interview with the German daily "Maerkische Allgemeine," Tadic said Kosova is linked to Serbia's national identity and history. "Serbia does not wish to determine the destiny of the Kosovo Albanians, but we do have the legitimate right to defend our borders," he said. "It is too simplistic to claim that Serbs are guilty for the war, just as you can't say Albanians alone are guilty. The responsibility lies with individuals with a name and a surname." BW

SERBIAN JUSTICE MINISTER ATTACKS CALLS FOR BOYCOTTING CONSTITUTION VOTE
Zoran Stojkovic on October 25 criticized parties threatening to boycott Serbia's upcoming constitutional referendum, B92 reported the same day. Responding to threats from some parties in Vojvodina to boycott the October 28-29 vote, Stojkovic said participation is an essential part of the democratic process. He also dismissed claims that Vojvodina was not given sufficient autonomy. "We found a model for a decentralization of the government, but we avoided all forms of secessionism," he said. "Vojvodina received more jurisdiction and more funds, but does not have para-state rights." BW

KOSOVAR ALBANIANS PREPARING FOR POSSIBILITY OF DELAY IN STATUS DECISION
Skender Hiseni, a spokesman for the ethnic Albanian negotiating team in Kosova's final-status talks, said on October 25 that Prishtina is preparing for the contingency that a decision will be postponed until next year, B92 reported the same day. "We do not wish to determine things ahead of time, nor do we want to give any signals that might show that we agree with the changing of the deadline," Hiseni said. "However, it is certain that the discussion team has back-up plans for the development of this situation, but now is not the time to deal with predictions." Serbia has been pushing for a status decision to be delayed until after it holds general elections, most likely in December. EU officials have also suggested postponing the decision (see "RFE/RL Newsline," October 16 and 19, 2006). Hiseni made his comments as Frank Wisner, the U.S. envoy to the status talks, met in Kosova with Serbian and ethnic Albanian officials amid media speculation that a decision could be postponed. BW

KOSOVAR PREMIER REPORTEDLY MET CROATIAN PRESIDENT TO APPEAL FOR HELP IN INDEPENDENCE BID
In an unannounced meeting in Skopje, Macedonia, on October 24, Kosovar Prime Minister Agim Ceku appealed to Croatian President Stipe Mesic for help in Kosova's bid for independence, B92 and Beta reported the next day. Ceku also asked Mesic to open a direct air link between Zagreb and Prishtina. According to the Skopje television station Kanal 5, Mesic was in Macedonia for a two-day visit to open a new Croatian embassy. Ceku traveled to Skopje to meet with Mesic and had dinner with Macedonian President Branko Crvenkovski, according to Kanal 5. BW

BOSNIA REQUESTS BETTER PRISON FOR FORMER REPUBLIKA SRPSKA PRESIDENT
Bosnia-Herzegovina's UN Ambassador Milos Prica has asked Sweden to move convicted Bosnian Serb war criminal Biljana Plavsic to a better prison facility or release her, Reuters reported on October 24. Plavsic, a former Bosnian Serb president, was convicted in 2003 of war crimes by the International Criminal Tribunal for the former Yugoslavia for her part in the persecution of Bosnian Muslims during the 1992-95 war (see "RFE/RL Newsline," February 27 and 28, 2003). Prica sent a letter to Sweden's justice department saying that Hinseberg Prison, west of Stockholm, where Plavsic is serving an 11-year sentence, is worse than the jail she stayed in during her trial at The Hague, Sweden's TT news agency reported. Prica cited Plavsic's age and poor health as reasons why she should be moved to a better facility. BW

IS KOSOVA A PRECEDENT FOR FROZEN CONFLICTS?
EU High Representative for Common Foreign and Security Policy Javier Solana acknowledged recently that Kosova's campaign for independence could set a precedent for Georgia's breakaway regions of South Ossetia and Abkhazia.

President Vladimir Putin and other Kremlin officials have been saying for months that independence for Kosova would have an impact on the frozen conflicts in the former Soviet Union and calling for a definition of "universal principles" applicable in all such cases. There have also been hints from Moscow that Russia would not agree in the UN Security Council to independence for Kosova without receiving concessions on territorial disputes closer to home. Is there indeed a link?

The idea of connecting the succession issue in former Yugoslavia and the former Soviet Union is scarcely new. Throughout 1991, one reason many Western policymakers were unwilling to face up to the reality of the breakup of Yugoslavia and recognize the independence of Slovenia and Croatia was that they were afraid of the impact such developments might have on the USSR.

The fear was that the Soviet Union could implode into a host of warring mini-states that would generate chaos across a large chunk of the Eurasian land mass. It was for that reason that George H.W. Bush, who was then U.S. president, made his famous "chicken Kiev" speech in the Ukrainian capital in 1991, in which he warned lawmakers against embracing "suicidal nationalism."

Some 15 years later, both Yugoslavia and the Soviet Union have become historical memories. There is some nostalgia for both in some quarters. Putin has openly lamented the demise of the USSR and sought to revive some of its symbols and elements of its political culture. But the reality of the successor states is undeniable, and secondary schools throughout those regions are filled with young people who have lived in or remember only the successor states.

Nonetheless, Kosova continues to wait for international recognition of its independence from Serbia, which has been a reality since the Serbian forces left there in mid-1999. Following the independence of Montenegro in 2006, a final international ruling establishing Kosova as a full-fledged independent state seems to many to be the last stage in the dissolution of Yugoslavia.

In Georgia, Russian-backed separatist movements thrive in Abkhazia and South Ossetia, where 90 percent of the population hold Russian passports and where Russian "peacekeepers" are present. Russia maintains that it is a mediator in the conflicts between Georgia and its two would-be breakaway regions, something Georgia vehemently denies. The Transdniester region continues to claim that it is not part of Moldova and exists as a law unto itself. And there remain the long-standing issues dividing Armenia and Azerbaijan.

But Kosova appears headed for independence on the principles of self-determination and majority rule, probably by the end of 2006 or shortly thereafter, if a delay is imposed pending the holding of elections in Serbia. Much of Kosova's claim to independence is based on the genocidal behavior of Serbian forces there in 1998-99, which eventually led to the successful intervention of NATO forces.

Kosova's ultimate legal claim to independence is rooted, however, in the 1974 Serbian and Yugoslav constitutions, which gave it and Vojvodina rights virtually equal to those of the six federal Yugoslav republics, even though they were nominally part of Serbia. All six federal republics have now gone separate ways, starting with Slovenia and Croatia in 1991 and ending with Montenegro in 2006. Thus it seems that Kosova is simply the final chapter in an ongoing story. (There is no serious movement in Vojvodina for independence from Serbia, only for autonomy.)

The analogy between this situation with the post-Soviet "frozen conflicts" is a false one, because none of the regions involved in the latter disputes had a status under Soviet law similar to Kosova's. Kosovar representatives sat at the tables of the Yugoslav collective presidency and of the highest echelons of the League of Communists of Yugoslavia on an equal footing with those of Serbia, Croatia, and the other republics. But neither South Ossetia nor Abkhazia had rights comparable to those of union republics like the Georgian SSR or Ukrainian SSR.

Putin's suggestion that he might veto Kosovar independence in the UN Security Council unless Western countries agree to South Ossetia and Abkhazia breaking away from Georgia is thus based more on considerations of power politics than of law.

Recent Russian moves against Georgia and Georgians living in Russia, the controversies around the unsolved killing of critical journalist Anna Politkovskaya, questionable Kremlin behavior over the Sakhalin-2 gas production-sharing agreement (PSA) and other PSAs, and remarks by Putin that appeared to make light of serial rape indicate, however, that he will do as he pleases and not be troubled by legal niceties. As some Russian commentators have pointed out, he makes up the rules as he goes along. But as the daily "Kommersant" wrote on October 23, the bulldozer tactics that have served Putin so well at home seem to be his undoing abroad.

NATO REPORTS KILLING 48 MILITANTS, BUT ALSO INJURING NONCOMBATANTS, IN AFGHANISTAN
NATO spokesman Major Luke Knittig claimed that International Security Assistant Force (ISAF) troops killed 48 suspected militants in three confrontations in the Zhari and Panjwayi districts of Afghanistan's Kandahar Province on October 24, AP reported the next day. ISAF troops used mortar, artillery, and air strikes in the clashes with guerrillas who were attacking NATO's development efforts in the area, Knittig said. "ISAF has received credible reports that there were a number of civilian casualties -- including women and children -- arising from one or more of these incidents," Reuters quoted Knittig as saying on October 25. One villager said about 20 members of her family were buried under the rubble when their homes collapsed from the bombing, while other residents said up to 60 people were killed in the attacks. NATO forces launched a major military operation in the Panjwayi area in September, during which the alliance said it killed more than 500 suspected militants. JC

NATO, AFGHAN POLICE SEIZE 10 TONS OF MARIJUANA
NATO forces together with Afghan police seized 10 tons of marijuana from a truck that was stopped in the southern Zabul Province on October 24, Reuters reported on October 25. NATO spokesman Knittig said officials discovered the drugs after the driver was stopped at a checkpoint on a road linking the southern city of Kandahar with Kabul, a major smuggling route. Four people in the truck, including the driver, were detained. JC

PHOTOS OF GERMAN TROOPS WITH SKULL IN AFGHANISTAN IGNITE OUTRAGE
German Defense Minister Franz Josef Jung expressed horror and ordered an investigation into photos showing German troops in Afghanistan posing with a human skull, AP reported on October 25. Under the headline "German Soldiers Desecrate Dead Person," Germany's top-selling daily magazine, "Bild," published photos the same day of uniformed men holding up a skull and posing with it on a jeep in early 2003. In one picture, a soldier is seen exposing himself with the skull. "It is completely clear and unambiguous that such behavior by German soldiers...can in no way by tolerated," Jung told reporters. "These pictures arouse repugnance and horror." "Bild" did not say how it obtained the photographs nor provided proof of their authenticity. The photos came a week after German officials began investigating unrelated allegations that German special forces abused a Turkish citizen at a camp near Kandahar in 2002. JC

WAR AGAINST WEST SAID TO BE SHIFTING FROM IRAQ TO AFGHANISTAN
Muslim extremists aspiring to battle the West are flocking to Afghanistan as insurgency leaders in Iraq focus on recruiting suicide bombers, the "Los Angeles Times" reported on October 25. Pierre de Bousquet de Florian, director of the French counterterrorism agency, DST, said the movement of foreign fighters to Iraq has "significantly declined in recent months" as Iraqis gain control of the insurgency. "There is less need for [guerrillas] in Iraq because there's a need above all for kamikazes...those who want to fight, but not necessarily to die as martyrs, go elsewhere." Counterterrorism officials fear that Afghanistan's historical attractiveness to Islamic militants, increased lawlessness in southern Afghanistan, and neo-Taliban aggressiveness might encourage Al-Qaeda to return to Afghanistan to train terrorists for attacks in the West. According to Louis Caprioli, a former DST official, "We have not reached that point yet. But people are beginning to get worried." JC

EUROPEAN ENVOYS SUMMONED TO IRAN'S FOREIGN MINISTRY OVER MEETINGS WITH EXILES
The Iranian Foreign Ministry summoned the ambassadors of Finland and Belgium on October 25 to express its displeasure at meetings held in Belgium between parliamentarians and Iranian exiles, including prominent opponent Mariam Rajavi, ISNA reported. Finland currently holds the rotating EU Presidency. Rajavi is a self-styled Iranian president-in-waiting and a leader of the National Council of Resistance and the Mujahedin Khalq Organization (commonly known as the MKO or MEK, and which uses a variety of cover names including People's Mujahedin of Iran), both part of a left-wing militant grouping considered terrorists by Iran, the United States, and the European Union. She met with Belgian Senate leader Anne-Marie Lizin on October 24, while a 20-member delegation with her later met other senators, AFP reported the same day. The visit was unofficial, but Tehran had already summoned the Belgian envoy on October 22 to protest it, AFP reported. On October 25, Ibrahim Heidarpur, the director-general for Western European affairs at the Foreign Ministry, said the Senate's invitation was unfriendly toward Iran and a gesture of support for terrorism, ISNA reported. Heidarpur told the envoys that the EU is applying a "double standard" in its response to terrorism and that "political games" like this could be "dangerous" for Iran-EU relations, ISNA reported. VS

TEHRAN STUDENTS DISCIPLINED, CAMPUS JOURNAL SHUT DOWN
Three students from Tehran's Amir Kabir University were summoned to the university's disciplinary committee on October 21, while another was temporarily banned from studying, on charges a university official said are confidential, ISNA reported on October 23. Mohammad Salmanpur told ISNA that he, Ibrahim Rahmani, and Saman Khosravi were summoned to the disciplinary committee, adding that his own charges related to allegedly disruptive behavior. The same university confirmed a previous order to ban another student, Abbas Hakimzadeh, from entering the campus, Hakimzadeh told ISNA. He said the university also shut down his journal "Vaje-i No" (New Word). The head of the student-affairs department at the university, identified as Ataipur, told ISNA on October 23 that student dossiers are "entirely confidential" and any disciplinary rulings are for presumed political or campus-related misconduct. "If any student has been prevented from entering the university, it must have been in line with regulations, and if the disciplinary committee has issued an order, we are not allowed to divulge its contents," he said. He added the university does its best to respect students' rights. VS

DISSIDENT CRITICIZES EU INDIFFERENCE TO IRANIAN ABUSES
Iranian government critic Akbar Ganji was in Strasburg on October 24, where he met with EU parliamentarians and criticized what he called EU tolerance of rights abuses in Iran so as not to jeopardize commercial interests, Radio Farda reported. He told the broadcaster that he met with German Liberal and Greens parliamentarians the same day, and with Angelika Beir, head of the European Parliament's Human Rights Committee, with whom "we discussed the extensive violation of human rights in Iran." Ganji also addressed the legislative body and answered members' questions, reportedly criticizing the EU for "shutting their eyes to rights abuses" for the sake of economic interests, Radio Farda reported. VS

RIGHTS GROUP GATHERS SIGNATURES TO BAN STONING IN IRAN
Amnesty International has gathered some 160,000 signatures to pressure Iran's government to ban the practice of stoning, a lethal penalty imposed on people -- more often women -- convicted of adultery or extramarital sex, "El Pais" reported on October 25. The rights group said seven women are now waiting to be stoned to death in Iran, while a man and a woman were stoned in May, reportedly for the first time since December 2002, according to elpais.es. Iran's Islamic laws forbid extramarital sex. Articles 102 and 104 of its Penal Code explain the modalities of this punishment, whereby men and women are buried to the waist or chest respectively, before being stoned by mid-sized stones to ensure pain before death, the daily reported. Rights activist Mehrangiz Kar told Radio Farda on October 24 that the time has come for legal reformers to call for the elimination of stoning from Iran's laws. She said a recent letter written by jurists to judiciary chief Ayatollah Mahmud Hashemi-Shahrudi observed that even existing legal stipulations on stoning are not properly implemented and there is "inconsistency" and "subjectivity" in sentences issued by judges, Radio Farda reported. VS

IRAQI SECURITY OFFICIAL SAYS U.S. PULLOUT WOULD MEAN DEFEAT
Presidential national security adviser Wafiq al-Samarra'i told Al-Jazeera television in an October 25 interview that descriptions by the media and opposition groups that Iraq is in "utter chaos" are false. "The situation is not so. We have a difficult and complicated security situation," he said. "Regrettably, there are some differences between some political blocs. There are some people who place their selfish interests before those of the homeland and the people," al-Samarra'i added. "All this is true, but it does not reach the level of utter chaos." Asked about the possibility of an early U.S. withdrawal, he said: "If the United States finds justifications for its withdrawal, this will be a defeat that is far worse than that if the United States had lost World War II. Therefore, I do not expect a U.S. withdrawal at all, but expect substantial changes in operational and mobilization methods." KR

IRAQI PREMIER DETAILS ACHIEVEMENTS, GOALS...
Prime Minister Nuri al-Maliki discussed the achievements and goals of his administration at an October 25 press briefing in Baghdad, RFE/RL's Radio Free Iraq reported the same day. Al-Maliki said that the post-Hussein administrations have succeeded in creating hundreds of thousands of jobs for unemployed Iraqis, improved human rights conditions, and made strides in returning the university system to its former status. Next year's budget will "come close to $40 billion after it was $19 billion in the first year," he said. The new investment law will provide for greater economic growth, including construction of a new state-of-the-art port system, he added. Al-Maliki said his administration has committed to allocate "a piece of land to every citizen who loses his land and needs to build a house." Banks have been instructed to provide loans to citizens accordingly, he added. KR

...AS WELL AS SECURITY PLAN
Prime Minister al-Maliki also addressed the security situation in Iraq, telling reporters, "The general atmosphere in the country is prompting [Iraqis] to move toward reconciliation and rejection of violence and bloody killings." He said the government stands ready to "strongly react and use force against those who rebel against" the government, and that terrorist organizations, including the defunct Ba'ath Party, "are primarily responsible for all that is taking place" in Iraq. He reiterated his call for the disarming of militias and said Iraq's neighbors should reconsider their interference in his country before his administration is forced to take action against them. Asked by Radio Free Iraq if and when the antiterrorism law will be activated, al-Maliki said: "I have postponed activating and implementing it pending the exhaustion of all opportunities and political avenues. We do not want to resort to force and violence before exhausting all efforts to find a solution through national dialogue and agreement." KR

DEPUTY PREMIER HAILS NEW STRATEGY IN IRAQ
Deputy Prime Minister Salam al-Zawba'i told Al-Arabiyah television in an October 25 interview that recent statements by U.S. officials in Iraq are "positive developments." "The latest meetings have dotted i's and we must work seriously and engage in daily discussions to...handle matters in a professional and scientific way that is relevant to reality on the ground," he said. Al-Zawba'i said he believes the situation in Iraq is complicated, but not impossible to resolve. "What we need is seriousness and we need all parties to deal with the situation in a clear and effective way, and all things can then be controlled," he added. KR

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