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Newsline - November 7, 2006

Many Russian dailies concluded on November 7 that the November 4 ultranationalist "Russian March" should not be written off as a defeat for the extremists, even though the turnout in many cities was low and the authorities kept the protests under tight control, reported (see "RFE/RL Newsline," November 6, 2006). Emil Pain, who heads the Russian Center for Ethnopolitical Studies in Moscow, was quoted in the daily "Vremya novostei" as saying that a nationwide nationalist network managed to mobilize hundreds of protesters in many regions across the country despite the efforts of the authorities to thwart the gatherings. In St. Petersburg, 1,500 people attended a meeting and directed chants and taunts at the security forces massed outside, including special OMON troops, reported. The protesters' slogans stressed the ideas that Russians have become victims in their own country and that ethnic minorities need to be put "in their place." In Vladivostok, 200 people marched in the city center with nationalist banners despite an official ban. The slogans were similar to those elsewhere, except that some banners also hailed the "glorious Pacific Fleet" (see "RFE/RL Newsline," August 18 and 23, 2006). Hundreds of protesters turned out in other cities and towns, including Chita, Irkutsk, Nizhny Novgorod, Krasnoyarsk, and elsewhere. But only 30 demonstrators marched in Kaliningrad, Interfax reported. PM

Nikolai Patrushev, who heads the Federal Security Service (FSB) and the new National Antiterrorist Committee, told a meeting of that committee in Moscow on November 7 that the possibility of terrorist attacks against hydroelectric plants in southern Russia "is very real," reported (see "RFE/RL Newsline," July 18, 2006). He added that the committee "has intelligence suggesting that hydropower facilities" in Volgograd, Saratov, and Rostov oblasts and in Daghestan "are being targeted." He stressed that such attacks could "involve catastrophic consequences, paralyze the region [involved], lead to mass casualties, and cause serious economic losses." The Chechen resistance Volga Front claimed responsibility in late September for an explosion that damaged a gas pipeline in Volgograd Oblast and vowed to strike again at Russia's energy system (see "RFE/RL Newsline," October 2, 2006). PM/LF

Aleksandr Buksman, who is federal first deputy prosecutor-general, was quoted in the state-run daily "Rossiiskaya gazeta" on November 7 as saying that an offensive against corruption is in full swing. He said that corruption has reached a level comparable to the size of the federal budget and "is estimated at over $240 billion." He added that "bribes have become so large that an 'average' corrupt bureaucrat can buy a 200-square-meter apartment in one year." Buksman nonetheless argued that the anticorruption campaign launched in July by his boss, Prosecutor-General Yury Chaika, has begun to bear fruit (see "RFE/RL Newsline," July 7, 2006). Buksman implied that 600 criminal cases have been opened since then, including some involving 16 prosecutors. He noted that a particular problem in the regions is that many officials combine their jobs with private business activities in a clear conflict of interest. The World Bank said in a report released on September 15 that Russia ranks 151st among 208 countries in terms of accountability, political stability, effectiveness of the government, the quality of regulatory bodies, the rule of law, and control over corruption, which places it on a level between Swaziland and Niger (see "RFE/RL Newsline," September 18, 2006). PM

Aleksandr Berdnikov, who heads the regional administration of the Altai Republic and has just returned from a 10-day trip to Moscow, said in Gorno-Altaisk on November 3 that the presidential administration has shelved plans to merge the republic and neighboring Altai Krai, the daily "Kommersant" reported on November 7 (see "RFE/RL Newsline," November 2, 2006). He added that the protests against the merger made at a recent mass demonstration in Gorno-Altaisk "have been heard" in Moscow. The daily suggested that the merger plans now seem to be on hold until at least the 2008 presidential election. The plans are part of a broader Kremlin-sponsored initiative to create larger administrative regions, which could presumably be more easily controlled. There has been speculation in the media recently that merger plans in general might have been delayed until after the 2008 vote lest too many vested local interests be offended in the meantime. The sparsely populated Altai Republic has less than one-10th of the population of Altai Krai. Ethnic Russians make up the majority of the population in both regions. The indigenous Altai people form over 30 percent of the population in the Altai Republic, but their numbers are negligible in Altai Krai. PM

The Armenian parliament standing committees continued in closed session on November 6 discussion of the draft budget for 2007, Noyan Tapan and RFE/RL's Armenian Service reported. First Deputy Economy and Finance Minister Pavel Safarian described the budget to RFE/RL as a socially oriented one, noting the planned 20 percent increase in social spending. He denied that proposed increase was motivated by the timing of next year's parliamentary elections. Defense spending is to rise in 2007 by some 39 percent to the dram equivalent of $300 million, according to Defense Minister Serzh Sarkisian. He admitted that that sum cannot be compared with the $1 billion that Azerbaijan plans to spend on defense in 2007, but added that "if [the money] is spent sparingly and to good purpose, I think it will prove sufficient." The draft budget earmarks 19.4 billion drams (some $51 million) in subsidies for the unrecognized Nagorno-Karabakh Republic. LF

Meeting with journalists on November 6, Serzh Sarkisian rejected as "laughable" allegations by Armenian oppositionists, including Nor zhamanakner (New Times) leader Aram Karapetian, that they are being pressured by the so-called "power" agencies, Arminfo and Noyan Tapan reported. He ruled out the possibility that in next year's parliamentary ballot, opposition candidates will win all 41 parliament mandates to be allocated in single-mandate constituencies, saying only two or three opposition figures are popular enough to win election in a direct vote. Sarkisian further downplayed the threat posed to Armenia's economic independence by the transfer of major enterprises to Russian ownership, Noyan Tapan reported. He challenged his interlocutor to name a single instance in which Russia has sought to use its ownership of those enterprises "to subject us to political pressure." LF

Experts in both Armenia and Azerbaijan commented on November 6 on the annual rating of corruption perceptions released that day by Transparency International. Armenia ranked in 93rd place in that rating ahead of all other CIS states except Moldova, with a score of 2.9. (On a scale of 1-10, 1 designates those states perceived as most corrupt and 10 those seen as least corrupt.) Georgia ranked 99th with a rating of 2.8 and Azerbaijan 130th with a rating of 2.4. Amalia Kostandian, who heads the Armenian branch of Transparency International, told RFE/RL's Armenian Service on November 6 that its studies show "a grimmer picture." She added that the Armenian authorities have yet to launch a systematic campaign to eradicate corruption. In Baku, Rena Safaraliyeva of the local chapter of Transparency International stressed that Azerbaijan's rating this year has risen, noting that last year Azerbaijan ranked 137th, reported on November 7. LF

Mikheil Gutseriyev's Rosneft signed an exploration and production-sharing agreement on November 3 with Azerbaijan's state oil company SOCAR, the Russian dailies "Nezavisimaya gazeta," "Vedomosti," and "Vremya novostei" reported on November 7. Under the terms of that agreement, Rosneft takes a 75 percent stake and SOCAR the remaining 25 percent in developing the onshore oil fields of Zykh and Govsany, located in the south of the Absheron Peninsula. The two fields have estimated reserves of 12 million metric tons of crude. Rosneft will invest some $150 million in the two fields, of which between 10-15 percent will go to ecological measures. Rosneft's rival LUKoil signed an agreement with the Azerbaijani government in 2001 on developing the two fields with the intention of refining the crude extracted for sale at its chain of gas stations in Azerbaijan, but declined in 2003 to finance an ecological cleanup of the area, according to "Nezavisimaya gazeta" on June 18, 2003, and it finally pulled out of the deal 18 months ago, according to on February 18, 2005 (see "RFE/RL Newsline," September 18, 1998, and January 10, 2001). LF

Bacho Akhalaya, the controversial overseer of Georgia's prison system, alleged on November 5 that officials at the Imereti branch of the ombudsman's office sought to bribe staff at a local penal colony, Caucasus Press reported. Ombudsman Sozar Subar, who has repeatedly criticized Akhalaya in connection with appalling prison conditions and reports of mistreatment of prison inmates, rejected that allegation on November 6. On October 31, NGOs staged a protest outside the Justice Ministry to demand Akhalaya's dismissal, Caucasus Press reported. Also on October 31, three opposition Georgian parliament deputies called for establishing a special commission to investigate persistent claims that prison inmates are subjected to torture, Caucasus Press reported. On November 6, Georgian parliament speaker Nino Burdjanadze tasked the parliament's Human Rights Commission chaired by Elene Tevdoradze with evaluating Subar's criticisms of the prison system in general and Akhalaya's activities in particular, the daily "Alia" reported on November 7. LF

The United Nations Observer Mission in Georgia (UNOMIG) released a statement on November 7 expressing concern over the joint air-force and air-defense exercises launched the previous day by the armed forces of the unrecognized Republic of Abkhazia. UNOMIG has appealed to the Abkhaz leadership "to desist from actions that could directly or indirectly pose any risk to the normal operation of civilian aircraft." On November 6, Abkhaz armed forces general staff chief Lieutenant General Anatoly Zaitsev told that some 600 servicemen will participate in the three-week exercises. He said UNOMIG was notified in advance of those exercises, none of which will take place on territory designated under the May 1994 Moscow cease-fire agreement as part of a security zone. LF

Robert Kocharian met with Kazakh President Nursultan Nazarbaev in Astana on November 6 to discuss bilateral cooperation, "Kazakhstan Today" reported. Kocharian stressed that Armenia is open to Kazakh investment, Kazinform reported. He said, "We would like this visit to encourage energetic investment activities by Kazakh businessmen in Armenia." For his part, Nazarbaev noted that bilateral trade volume for the first eight months of 2006, a mere $16.8 million, is "a very low indicator that does not correspond to the potential of our countries," Interfax-Kazakhstan reported. DK

A group of 45 members of parliament formed a Constituent Assembly early on November 7 in order to adopt a constitution that reduces the powers of the president, RFE/RL's Kyrgyz Service reported. Earlier that day, President Kurmanbek Bakiev introduced amendments to the existing constitution that opposition lawmakers dismissed as insufficient and of protecting his power. While the legality of convening a Constituent Assembly within parliament to pass a new constitution remained unclear, opposition lawmakers began appending their signatures to the draft constitution. Thirty-four lawmakers had signed the document as of 4 a.m. local time, reported. DK

Kyrgyzstan's government issued a statement on November 7 denouncing opposition lawmakers' attempts to pass a new constitution as an "open intention to seize power by unconstitutional means," Kabar reported. The statement stressed that only parliament can pass a new constitution. The government emphasized that it does not recognize decisions by the "unconstitutionally created Constituent Assembly." Addressing the press in Bishkek on November 7, President Bakiev cautioned his opponents against fostering political instability, saying the existing constitution gives him the right to dissolve parliament. "To me, dissolving parliament is not an end," he said. "I've said that many times. But I have such a constitutional right and if the situation continues like that, if the contradictions between the parliament and the executive are not resolved, what will I have left to do? I cannot indefinitely watch such debauchery. I'll then have to make a decision," RFE/RL reported. DK/JCP

Prime Minister Feliks Kulov joined the president in his criticism of the opposition on November 7, describing the overnight developments as an attempt to force the hand of the authorities, RFE/RL's Kyrgyz Service reported. "This [Constituent Assembly] is a dangerous precedent," Kulov said. "It frightens us because it means that we would leave those who will succeed us at the head of the country and our descendants a very bad record of how legislative decisions were made. This is dangerous. We have no right to accept that. If we allowed that to happen, we would lose political face before the international community. And in the final analysis, the people would not forgive us. This is why I'm against this partisan warfare, against this haste. Even the best intentions in the world shouldn't be accompanied with such illegal moves." JCP

In an apparent concession to opposition demands, President Bakiev dismissed acting Interior Minister Osmonaly Guronov on November 6 and appointed Omurbek Subanaliev to replace him, RFE/RL's Kyrgyz Service reported. Addressing protesters in Bishkek, Subanaliev said that police would not use force against them. He also pledged to remove Bishkek police chief Moldomusa Kongantiev, the brother of Prosecutor-General Kambaraly Kongantiev. But Edil Baisalov, head of the NGO coalition For Democracy and Civil Society and a member of the For Reforms movement, told journalists that the Interior Ministry reshuffle is not a "priority demand," Interfax reported. Baisalov said, "The resignation of President Kurmanbek Bakiev remains the main demand by the decision of the For Reforms movement's headquarters." DK

Throughout the day on November 6, protests continued in central Bishkek, with the crowd growing to as large as 40,000 people in the early evening, RFE/RL's Kyrgyz Service reported. AP reported that the crowd dwindled to 3,000 opposition supporters outside parliament late on November 6 as lawmakers attempted to pass a draft constitution. Many of those people spent the night in yurts and tents set up on the main Alatoo Square. In the afternoon on November 7, a crowd between 10,000-15,000 assembled in support of the opposition. Additionally, a smaller crowd of between 500-1,000 people gathered in support of the "tandem" -- Prime Minister Kulov and President Bakiev. Some small scuffles broke out on November 7 and there were some minor injuries reported. PB/DK

Mirzoali Boltuyev, head of Tajikistan's Central Election Commission, announced on Tajik television on November 7 that incumbent President Imomali Rakhmonov was reelected to his third seven-year term with 79.3 percent of the vote in the country's November 6 presidential ballot. The runner-up was Olimjon Boboyev, representing the Economic Reform Party, with 6.2 percent of the vote. Boltuyev put turnout at 91 percent. DK

The Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE) said on November 7 that Tajikistan's presidential election lacked real competition, RFE/RL's Tajik Service reported. The OSCE also said there were violations, including multiple voting. "The lack of any serious campaign and credible alternatives undermined this election to a degree that it did not provide an adequate test of Tajikistan's commitment for democratic elections," the OSCE statement said. PB

Some 110 representatives of Belarusian-opposition regional chapters took part in a conference in Kyiv on November 6, Belapan reported. The conference discussed what tactics the opposition should adopt in the run-up to the local elections in Belarus scheduled for January 14. "We have not had [real] elections for a long time. The authorities have already prepared their candidates, and nobody is going to count the votes," Belarusian united opposition leader Alyaksandr Milinkevich said in Kyiv. But Milinkevich simultaneously declared that he will participate in collecting signatures for opposition candidates in the local elections. Milinkevich also said that the conference mulled the holding of a congress of democratic forces in Belarus in early 2007. Milinkevich, who was proposed as a candidate for the March 2006 presidential election by a similar congress of democratic forces in 2005, said he is ready to give up his leadership of the united opposition in Belarus if the new congress elects a "worthier" candidate for this purpose. JM

Some 2,000 mostly older people took part in a march and a rally organized by the Communist Party in Kyiv on November 7 to commemorate the 89th anniversary of the Bolshevik revolution in Russia, Ukrainian news agencies reported. Demonstrators held placards reading "My Fatherland Is The Soviet Union," "We Will Not Surrender To NATO," and "The Russian-Ukrainian-Belarusian Union Will Come To Pass!" "The form of the government proposed by the Bolsheviks and practically implemented by them during the Soviet era is the most acceptable," Communist Party leader Petro Symonenko told UNIAN. Simultaneously, some 300 representatives of Ukrainian nationalistic organizations gathered on Independence Square in Kyiv to honor the memory of the victims of Soviet-era repressions. JM

Srdjan Djuric, the head of the Serbian government's media office, has called for Martti Ahtisaari to resign as the special UN envoy to Kosova's final-status talks, B92 reported on November 6. Djuric accused Ahtisaari of not showing his draft proposal on Kosova's final status to Serbian officials. The draft, widely cited in the media, reportedly proposes a form of conditional independence for Kosova, albeit with international oversight (see "RFE/RL Newsline," October 31, 2006). "Ahtisaari definitely did not get his mandate renewed to secretly write a document regarding Kosovo with the Albanians. Serbia is not aware of one letter of Ahtisaari's document," Djuric said. He added that Ahtisaari is trying to establish "a controlled negotiation" with independence as a foregone conclusion. "No one could ever give Ahtisaari the right to give away 15 percent of Serbia's territory," he said. BW

In an attempt to shore up international support for independence, Kosovar Prime Minister Agim Ceku met on November 6 with Slovak Foreign Minister Jan Kubis in Bratislava, B92 and AP reported the same day. "Kosova's independence must be achieved as soon as possible," Ceku said, adding that the province's authorities will protect the rights of ethnic minorities, including Serbs. "Kosova's virtual independence is a fact...we would however, prefer a UN resolution about that," he added. Kubis said Slovakia will not take a position on the matter until UN envoy Ahtisaari presents his proposals on Kosova's status. Last week, however, Slovak Prime Minister Robert Fico said he is against Kosova's independence because it could spark regional tension, B92 reported. BW

Fausto Pocar, the president of the International Criminal Tribunal for former Yugoslavia (ICTY), has criticized what he called poor cooperation from both Serbia and the Republika Srpska in bringing war crimes suspects to justice, dpa reported on November 6. In an interview with the Sarajevo-based daily "Dnevni avaz," Pocar warned that the ICTY will not rest until Radovan Karadzic and Ratko Mladic face trial. "We are very disappointed with the fact that six fugitives, especially Radovan Karadzic and Ratko Mladic, have not been arrested yet and transferred to The Hague," Pocar said. He said Serbian authorities have not made any progress in locating and detaining Mladic despite numerous promises and deadlines. Likewise, he said, authorities in Bosnia-Herzegovina's Republika Srpska have failed to make any progress in locating and arresting Karadzic. BW

Bosnia-Herzegovina's tripartite presidency was sworn into office on November 6, international news agencies reported the same day. The three presidency members -- Serb Nebojsa Radmanovic, Muslim Haris Silajdzic, and Croat Zeljko Komsic -- were elected in October and will serve for four years (see "RFE/RL Newsline," October 2, 4, and 20, 2006). "There is no doubt that the citizens of Bosnia are for the admission of our country into the European Union. There are, of course, serious differences about the way and the path for reaching this goal and these differences have to be solved with patience, agreement, and taking into consideration different opinions," AP quoted Silajdzic as saying at the inauguration ceremony. In his speech, Radmanovic said that "Bosnia has to take a giant step forward. The question is do we all know in what direction and how? It is essential that we completely overcome earlier differences." BW

Bosnia-Herzegovina's war crimes court on November 6 opened the trial of Momcilo Mandic, who served as deputy interior minister and justice minister in the wartime Bosnian Serb government, Reuters reported the same day. Mandic is the most senior Bosnian Serb official to be tried for atrocities committed during the 1992-95 war. Prosecutor Behaija Krnjic said Mandic led an attack by Bosnian Serb forces on the police training center in Sarajevo in April 1992, where non-Serbian trainers were detained and brutally tortured. As Bosnian Serb justice minister, he was also alleged to be responsible for three detention camps, two near Sarajevo and one in Foca. Krnjic said he will present evidence proving that non-Serbian civilians held in the camps were tortured and sent to forced labor at the front lines. Mandic's attorney, Milan Vujin, said his client has only limited responsibility for the camps, which were run by the military authorities. In a separate case, Mandic was sentenced last week to nine years in prison for abuse of office at the Privredna Banka (see "RFE/RL Newsline," October 30, 2006). BW

Prosecutors in Montenegro said on November 6 that a group of ethnic Albanians arrested during the country's elections planned to destabilize the newly independent state, AP reported the same day. Prosecutor Vesna Medenica claimed that the group of 14 ethnic Albanian men had "detailed plans for terrorist attacks...aimed at intimidating the non-Albanian population" in a southwestern region close to neighboring Albania. Medenica said the group sought to win autonomy for a small area in southeastern Montenegro where ethnic Albanians are in the majority. The plot, according to the prosecutor, was code-named "Eagle Flight" and was partly financed by ethnic Albanians living in the West. The group, which included three U.S. citizens, was arrested on the eve of Montenegro's September 10 general elections. Amnesty International has called for an investigation into allegations that members of the group were tortured while in police custody (see "RFE/RL Newsline," October 19, 2006). BW

When a Minsk district court sentenced an opposition youth activist to prison for his work with an unregistered organization, it was just the latest step in the inconspicuous, but relentless campaign by President Alyaksandr Lukashenka to eradicate any meaningful dissent in Belarus.

But the isolated autocrat, facing uncertainty over Russian gas supplies, appears to be launching another kind of campaign as well. Lukashenka has recently made several political gestures that may signal his intention to repair his wobbly standing in the international arena.

When the court sentenced opposition Youth Front leader Zmitser Dashkevich to 18 months in prison on November 1, it cited an article added to the Belarusian Criminal Code just ahead of the March presidential election. The article, prohibiting the work of "unregistered organizations," was among a set of amendments introducing harsh penalties for "activities directed against people and public security."

Vintsuk Vyachorka, head of the opposition Belarusian Popular Front, said the sentencing of the 25-year-old Dashkevich was routine for a regime that shuns any notion of democratizing the country's political environment. Dashkevich's case "was chosen as an example to caution others," she said. "There is nothing unexpected in this [sentence], even though it would appear that, confronted with the economic problems that will inevitably worsen next year, Lukashenka could show at least window-dressing liberalism. But he decided not to do that, he decided to continue fighting against the Belarusian people. It is a challenge for all of us."

The Lukashenka regime's repression of its political opponents culminated shortly after this year's March 19 presidential election. Rights activists say more than 1,000 supporters of the contest's two independent opposition candidates, Alyaksandr Milinkevich and Alyaksandr Kazulin, were jailed for up to 15 days.

Fewer prison sentences have been handed down in the seven months that followed, but in cases like Dashkevich's, where penalties were handed down, they were far harsher than before. In July, Kazulin was sentenced to 5 1/2 years in prison for his role in the street protests that followed Lukashenka's overwhelming reelection in the presidential vote. In August, a court sentenced four independent election observers -- Mikalay Astreyka, Tsimafey Dranchuk, Enira Branitskaya, and Alyaksandr Shalayka -- to prison terms ranging from six months to two years. The four were found guilty of being involved in an unregistered organization that "infringes upon the interests and rights of citizens."

Anatol Lyaukovich, temporarily standing in for Kazulin as head of the Belarusian Social Democratic Party, says he believes the government will continue to stifle any uncontrolled public activity in order to prevent a rise in public dissent. Repression, he says, has simply become a way of life for the Lukashenka regime. "The regime has sent yet another strong signal that no unregistered organization has the right to conduct activities here," he says. "It is a warning to both old and young [opposition] leaders that all of them will be there [in prison]. It is the natural logic of a [repressive] regime, which can only become tougher. If it shows a sign of weakness, it will collapse."

But in addition to the usual sticks, Lukashenka has also recently offered a few carrots. Earlier this year, Lukashenka signed a decree making it easier for independent trade unions to register. And in October, a high-ranking Belarusian delegation traveled to Geneva to meet with the International Labor Organization for talks on the observation of union rights in Belarus.

Both were surprisingly progressive moves, and may have been prompted by the plan in Brussels to suspend trade benefits to Belarus under the European Union's Generalized System of Preferences for developing countries.

Minsk has sent other signals of its intention to improve relations with Europe as well. Uladzimir Kanaplyou, speaker of Belarus's lower house of parliament, the Chamber of Representatives, recently held talks in Moscow with Rene van der Linden, head of the Parliamentary Assembly of the Council of Europe (PACE). Belarus is the only European country that is not represented in PACE.

And Lukashenka, while meeting a parliamentary delegation of the Republic of South Africa in Minsk, declared that Belarus is "essentially building a new foreign policy."

Some Belarusian analysts believe that Lukashenka's words may be more than just another empty declaration. They argue that Minsk, anticipating a future of higher prices for Russian gas and cooler relations with Moscow, may be trying to patch up its poor reputation in the West.

So should Lukashenka be taken at his word? Does his promise of a "new foreign policy" mean a thaw in the Belarusian regime?

Opposition leader Milinkevich, who unsuccessfully challenged Lukashenka in the March presidential vote, says no. He says Dashkevich's prison sentence is convincing proof that Europe should not harbor any illusions about whether Lukashenka may democratize his rule.

"This verdict is not only unjust but that it is also a verdict against all of Belarusian youth," he says. "It is another signal to Europe -- a Europe which thinks: 'What if suddenly [Lukashenka changes]? Maybe it's necessary to cooperate with this regime. Maybe it's necessary to leave the door ajar.' But this regime doesn't give a damn about all these proposals and it won't make a single step to meet them halfway. There is no sense in meetings or cooperation with this regime unless it demonstrates at least one single time that it has halted political persecution."

During Dashkevich's trial, some 200 young people gathered outside the court building in a show of solidarity. But human rights defender Lyudmila Hraznova says opposition supporters are too scarce to have any effect on the ruling regime.

"Of course, this support is insufficient and local. It is known only to us, while for the remainder of Belarusian society it is a closed book," she says. "People don't know what's taking place in the country, people don't know how many political prisoners have been put behind bars."

Is the opposition in Belarus doomed to disappear altogether, as Lukashenka predicted before the presidential vote in March, or transform into increasingly isolated and desperate groups of dissenters?

Alyaksey Shydlouski, who spent 18 months in prison in 1997-98 for writing antipresidential graffiti, believes that opposition activists have to persevere with their efforts, even if it invariably leads them to prison.

"Nine years ago, I myself was in the same situation [as Dashkevich]," he say. "One needs to hold one's ground and be strong, because prison is prison, it has its own laws, and one simply needs to get used to this prison system and serve one's own term as if nothing has happened."

At present, it appears, the Belarusian opposition cannot do much more than accept Shydlouski's stoical advice.

(RFE/RL's Belarus Service has contributed to this report.)

Pakistani Foreign Minister Khurshid Mahmud Kasuri said he has Dutch support to raise with NATO the issue of building a fence along Pakistan's border with Afghanistan, the Islamabad daily "The News" reported on November 6. The issue was raised during a meeting between Kasuri and his Dutch counterpart Bernhard Bot in Islamabad on November 5. Kasuri requested that NATO finance the building of the fence, which would then be monitored by Afghanistan, Pakistan, and NATO. A spokesperson for Bot told "The News" that the issue of the disputed border between Afghanistan and Pakistan will be discussed at the NATO summit in Riga on November 28-29. According to the report, "Islamabad feels vindicated that the proposal [to fence the border], which came from the highest level and was initially rejected by Kabul, has finally been agreed to." According to a November 6 report in the Karachi-daily "Dawn," the Dutch Embassy spokeswoman in Islamabad said that the issue of putting a fence on the border "came up very broadly" during the Bot-Kasuri meeting. AT

A spokesman for President Hamid Karzai responded on November 7 to the Pakistani statement endorsing the construction of a fence on the Afghan-Pakistani border by saying Afghanistan will "never accept" such a plan, RFE/RL's Radio Free Afghanistan reported. Karim Rahimi said Kabul is "against the creation of any dividing line" or fencing of the border. The previous day, the station quoted Foreign Ministry spokesman Sultan Ahmad Bahin as suggesting Afghanistan would welcome the idea but only if the fence is for stopping infiltration by militants. Ahmad Bahin had warned that such a fence cannot be accepted by Kabul as a formal border-demarcation line, however. Afghanistan has never formally recognized its border with Pakistan (see "RFE/RL Afghanistan Report," August 7, 2003 and July 14, 2006). Kabul has so far rejected the idea of fencing the border in any way. AT/AH

Some residents of the Panjwai and Zaray districts of Kandahar Province have called for the withdrawal of NATO-led International Security Assistance Force (ISAF) troops from their territories after the establishment of tribal councils (jirgas) in their districts, Kabul-based Tolu Television reported on November 6. However, Ahmad Wali Karzai, who heads the council in Kandahar Province, said it is premature to make such a request. "Members of the provincial council of Kandahar and I believe we should wait and see the results of the agreement signed in Musa Qala" district in neighboring Helmand Province, before calling for the withdrawal of ISAF forces from the two districts in Kandahar, Karzai said. British forces serving with ISAF pulled out of Musa Qala district in October in an arrangement with locals, a move that the neo-Taliban has hailed as a victory (see "RFE/RL Newsline," October 18, 2006). "If the agreement [in Musa Qala] proved to be useful, if the tribal elders were really committed to their promises, and if they were strong enough to act upon their commitment," then districts in Kandahar may consider calling for similar deals, Karzai, a brother of Afghan President Hamid Karzai, added. AT

Three Afghan workers who were kidnapped near the town of Khost on November 5 were released by their captors one day later, the United Nations said on November 6. But the UN said that the kidnappers continue to hold two Afghan men: an engineer contracted to the International Organization for Migration and the head of a local construction company. The five men were working on a project to build a school near Khost. Afghan police say the kidnappers were from the Taliban movement. AT

Iranian Supreme Leader Ali Khamenei said in a November 6 meeting in Tehran with visiting Belarusian President Alyaksandr Lukashenka that Iran is hostile towards no one and is only looking after its own interests, Mehr News Agency reported. Khamenei said "independent countries" have to have more contact so they can withstand the plots of "the global arrogance." Some countries find it difficult to do this, he said, because their governments lack popular support. Khamenei said Iran and Belarus can expand relations in the trade sector. Lukashenka called for stronger Minsk-Tehran times, and he concurred on the need for strong relations between "independent states." Lukashenka also met with President Mahmud Ahmadinejad on November 6. Ahmadinejad said, "We would like to see mutual cooperation expand rapidly in different technological, scientific, and economic fields," IRNA reported. Lukashenka said Belarus is interested in investing in Iran's energy exploration sector, and he invited Ahmadinejad to Belarus. Moscow's Interfax news agency quoted Lukashenka as saying, "We should exceed this target of $1 billion of our trade turnover." Lukashenka acknowledged some difficulties in banking and trade, although these were not specified, and he voiced confidence that they will be resolved "within the next few months." BS

President Ahmadinejad said on state television on 6 November that the government will move some of the universities in the capital, Tehran, to the suburbs. It is not yet decided whether they will be moved to the east or the west of the city, he said. Khajeh Nasr-i Din Tusi University has several campuses, he said, and this causes problems for faculty, students who must commute, and contributes to the city's traffic problems. Allameh Tabatabai University also has campuses in different parts of Tehran, he said, and Azad University has south, central, and north branches in the capital. Each branch, he continued, has faculties and buildings in different parts of the city. At the end of the November 5 cabinet meeting, Ahmadinejad said two sessions were dedicated to problems of the capital and half the time of three other cabinet sessions dealt with Tehran, state television reported on November 6. BS

Iran has a rating of 2.7 in Transparency International's Corruption Perceptions Index 2006, which the civil society organization released on November 6. Ten indicates a low level of perceived corruption and zero a high level. The number is based on "expert opinion surveys." Finland, Iceland, and New Zealand were in first place with the highest ratings (9.6), and the U.S. was in 20th place with a rating of 7.3. Iran shared 105th place with Bolivia, Libya, Macedonia, Malawi, and Uganda. Haiti ranked at the bottom -- 163rd place -- with a rating of 1.8. BS

Three members of the Basij militia were killed in a November 6 ambush in Kerman Province, Reuters reported, citing ISNA. They reportedly had just freed a hostage, arrested seven of his kidnappers, and seized a ton of narcotics. In related news, six members of Abdulmalik Rigi's Sunni insurgent gang were hanged in Iran, dpa reported on November 6, citing "Etemad." The gang reportedly killed four people, including a policeman, when they attacked a police car. Moreover, they allegedly kidnapped two Germans and an Irishman near the southeastern city of Zahedan in December 2003. The Europeans were released after a month. BS

Thousands of Iraqis demonstrated in several cities south of Baghdad on November 6 in support of the death sentence handed down the previous day to former Iraqi President Saddam Hussein (see "RFE/RL Newsline," November 6, 2006), Al-Sharqiyah television reported the same day. In the city of Al-Hillah, Iraqis cheered the verdict and raised the Iraqi flag and pictures of radical Shi'ite cleric Muqtada al-Sadr. Officials and clerics from al-Sadr's movement and the Supreme Council for the Islamic Revolution in Iraq (SCIRI) attended the Al-Hillah demonstration. In Samawah, approximately 1,000 Iraqis participated in an anti-Hussein demonstration organized by the Badr Brigades, the military wing of SCIRI. Meanwhile, Al-Sharqiyah reported the same day that violent pro-Hussein demonstrations erupted in the city of Ba'qubah, north of Baghdad. Iraqi police reportedly opened fire on the demonstrators, killing two and wounding six. However, witnesses said that the number of casualties was more than 20. In Samarra, 300 marchers yelled slogans praising Hussein, international media reported. "Long live Saddam," they shouted. "We'll sacrifice our blood and souls for you, Saddam." SS

A spokesman for the Kurdish regional government, Dr. Khalid Salah, called for the postponement of former Iraqi President Hussein's execution until after an outcome is reached in the Anfal trial, the Kurdish Peyamner news agency reported on November 5. "We are happy with the verdict, but the execution of Saddam Hussein should be postponed until after the court reaches a decision in the cases of Anfal, chemical bombardment, the Fayli Kurds, and the marshlands, southern Iraq, and until after the court sentences the accused," he said. The Anfal campaign was an anti-Kurdish campaign by the Hussein regime in 1987-1988 in which over 100,000 Kurds were killed and thousands more disappeared. Salah also warned that enforcement of the Al-Dujayl verdict would increase tensions and harm the process of Iraqi national reconciliation. Iraqi President Jalal Talabani, who is opposed to capital punishment, also said that Hussein "must be tried for all of his crimes before being punished," AFP reported on November 6. SS

Members of Saddam Hussein's defense team accused the Iraqi Special Tribunal of being politicized and biased against their client, international media reported November 6. In an interview with Al-Jazeera satellite television the same day, Curtis Dobler, a member of the defense team, said that the court is inherently illegitimate because the United States is occupying Iraq illegally. "This court was certainly political. It was the court of the U.S. occupiers who occupied the country illegally. Under international law, such a court cannot be internationally recognized under similar circumstances," he said. Lead defense lawyer Khalil al-Dulaymi said that his client has expected the verdict for a long time because the court is trying to seek revenge and stir up discord among Iraqis, Reuters reported. Al-Dulaymi said he will appeal the verdict, even though he expects the appeals process to also be biased against Hussein. "My experience with this court shows that there is no benefit to gain from appealing because this court is political; nevertheless, we will appeal," he said. SS

Iraqi police in Kirkuk announced on November 6 that they have arrested a leading Islamic Army in Iraq member, Al-Iraqiyah television reported the same day. The commander of the Kirkuk suburbs police department, Colonel Sarmad Qadir, said that his department captured Burhan Wasfi Mahdi, who was involved in attacks against Iraqi policemen and soldiers, as well as multinational forces. Qadir also said Mahdi was involved in the murder of Ibrahim Khalaf, a chieftain in the Al-Bakarah tribe in Al-Huwayjah, two months ago. SS

Iraq has reportedly asked Norway to help it train and rebuild its navy, the Norwegian newspaper "Oslo Dagsvisen" reported on November 3. Iraq wants Norway to offer assistance to help train its sailors in the fields of logistics, intelligence, and the laws of war, as well as providing Iraqi officers with leadership training. The request was originally made by the Iraqi defense attache in The Hague to his Norwegian counterpart. The Norwegian Navy has subsequently requested guidance from the Norwegian Defense Ministry on how to proceed with the matter. "I have no knowledge that we have received such a request before. Iraq is not a NATO country or some other ally. That is why we have asked for guidelines from the [Defense] Ministry," Ketil Steine, the head of information of Norway's Joint Naval Staff, told the Norwegian daily "Bergensavisen." Norway has previously helped train Iraqi police. SS

Iraqis waiting for fuel rations in the Kurdish city of Al-Sulaymaniyah clashed with police, Peyamner reported on November 5. Dozens of people who were waiting in front of the Sarchinar Gas Company said they were unable to obtain their fuel rations after waiting in line for hours, and many became angry. Details were unavailable, but several people were reportedly injured in scuffles with police. The Sarchinar director said the amount of gas the company had was insufficient and some people were sent home empty-handed. SS