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Newsline - December 8, 2006


MINISTER PLAYS DOWN EFFECT OF MURDER CASE ON U.K.-RUSSIAN RELATIONS
Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov told journalists in Moscow on December that the imbroglio surrounding the recent apparent murder in London of British citizen and former Russian Federal Security Service (FSB) officer Aleksandr Litvinenko has not affected bilateral ties, news agencies reported (see "RFE/RL Newsline," December 5, 6, and 7, 2006). Lavrov said that "on our side, the Scotland Yard investigation [of Litvinenko's death] is not affecting our political relations [with Britain]. I cannot speak for the British side. As I have said before, the attempt to mount some sort of campaign around this case and make it a political sensation is already failing." These comments seem to contradict those he made in Brussels on December 4, when he said that he has warned his British counterpart, Foreign Secretary Margaret Beckett, against anyone's "politicizing" the Litvinenko case. Lavrov added in Brussels that "it is unacceptable that a campaign should be whipped up with the participation of [unnamed British] officials. This is...harming our relations." PM

U.K. AMBASSADOR IN MOSCOW 'STALKED' BY PRO-KREMLIN YOUTH GROUP
On December 8, Britain's "Financial Times" reported that activists from the pro-Kremlin youth organization Nashi have been harassing U.K. Ambassador to Russia Tony Brenton ever since he attended the July 11 session of the Other Russia conference in Moscow (see "RFE/RL Newsline," July 12, 2006). That gathering sought to raise and highlight opposition concerns on the eve of the St. Petersburg summit of the Group of Eight (G8) industrialized countries. Brenton told the BBC on July 11 that one of several people who tried to disrupt the conference called him an "imperialist." Brenton defended the official U.K. presence at the meeting by saying that he favors the "widest possible political debate in Russia." Brenton told the "Financial Times" for its December 8 issue that Nashi activists have been "stalking [him] seven days a week for the past four months, putting him and his family under considerable strain." He called the tactic "deliberate psychological harassment, which is done professionally and which borders on violence." The paper added that this is "a well-organized harassment campaign against the ambassador, apparently waged with the knowledge of the Kremlin, that is a striking symptom of the worsening relationship between Moscow and London." PM

RUSSIA TO LAUNCH ITS OWN MURDER INVESTIGATION
Russian prosecutors said on December 7 that they will soon launch an investigation into the death of former FSB agent Litvinenko and what they called the attempted murder of Dmitry Kovtun, British media reported. Kovtun and his business partner, former KGB officer Andrei Lugovoi, met Litvinenko at a London bar shortly before Litvinenko reported feeling ill on November 1. The interest of the British investigators looking into the Litvinenko affair in Moscow reportedly centers on Lugovoi, who has been hospitalized for radiation poisoning. His condition is unclear. After Russian and British investigators questioned Kovtun on December 7, he too was reportedly taken ill and hospitalized. Interfax news agency reported that he was in a coma and later said that his condition was "critical." But Lugovoi's lawyer, Andrei Romashov, told reporters on December 7 that Kovtun's condition is the same as it was when he spoke to the investigators, mosnews.com reported. Romashov called the Russian media reports about Kovtun's condition "a provocation," the BBC reported. In London, seven employees of the Millennium Hotel, in the bar of which Litvinenko, Kovtun, and Lugovoi met, tested positive on December 7 for polonium-210, the radioactive substance that is believed to have caused Litvinenko's death. PM

SELF-EXILED OLIGARCH, CHECHEN ENVOY ATTEND LITVINENKO'S FUNERAL
Also on December 7, about 50 people, including self-exiled Russian oligarch Boris Berezovsky, a bitter enemy of Russian President Vladimir Putin, and London-based Chechen Republic Ichkeria Foreign Minister Akhmed Zakayev, attended Litvinenko's funeral at London's Highgate Cemetery, where Karl Marx and many other famous people are buried, British media reported. Litvinenko's widow reportedly wanted a nonreligious ceremony, but a Muslim cleric performed Islamic rites in accordance with Litvinenko's alleged wishes, British media noted (see "RFE/RL Newsline," December 5, 2006). On December 8, the Gazprom-owned daily "Izvestia" wrote that the Litvinenko case has revived attention in Britain and Russia on Berezovsky and his activities in exile that are allegedly aimed at violent revolution in Russia. The daily argued that "Berezovsky will be extradited sooner or later," which echoes the remarks of Prosecutor-General Yury Chaika on December 5. Many Russian media outlets have suggested that Berezovsky might have organized Litvinenko's murder in order to discredit Putin. Other observers have noted that those seeking to prevent the truth from coming out in the Litvinenko case will try in coming weeks to muddy the waters by creating diversions and red herrings. PM

PUTIN CLAIMS 'DEFINITE RESULTS' IN HUNT FOR JOURNALIST'S KILLER
President Putin told Mexican publisher Mario Vasquez Rana, who is also an executive member of the International Olympic Committee and president of the Association of National Olympic Committees, on December 7 that Russian investigators have achieved "definite results" regarding the slaying of journalist Anna Politkovskaya exactly two months earlier, kremlin.ru and mosnews.com reported (see "RFE/RL Newsline," October 23 and November 3 and 16, 2006). Putin did not elaborate, but said he regrets that "certain shadowy political figures" are seeking to exploit Politkovskaya's death for their own purposes. Putin added that "it is sometimes hard for me to grasp the [unspecified] great unfounded proclamations that Russian authorities participated in the murder and that special forces are trying to steer the inquest down the wrong road.... The most professional forces from Russian law-enforcement structures have been called into the investigation and there are already definite results." PM

PUTIN SIGNS LAW ABOLISHING MINIMUM VOTER TURNOUT
President Putin signed into law on December 7 recently passed legislation eliminating the requirement for a 20 percent voter turnout for an election to the State Duma and a 50 percent turnout for a presidential vote for an election to be valid (see "RFE/RL Newsline," November 15 and December 4, 2006). Several opposition leaders have argued that the law will further marginalize their parties and deprive citizens the opportunity to express their will by boycotting elections. Pro-Kremlin politicians say that the legislation brings Russian law into line with that of many established democracies. PM

FINANCE MINISTER SAYS GOVERNMENT SHOULD GET OUT OF BUSINESS
Aleksei Kudrin told the cabinet on December 7 that the government must withdraw from business if it wants its anticorruption campaign to succeed, Interfax reported. Kudrin argued that "obviously, an official will be lobbying the interests of company if he is a member of the company's board.... The government is linked to the automobile and some other industries, but we should reduce the government's stake in the economy faster." President Putin and Prosecutor-General Chaika have called recently for a campaign against corruption. Recent studies by the World Bank, the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD), and the nongovernmental organization Transparency International place corruption in Russia on a level with that in some African countries (see "RFE/RL Newsline," November 22 and 28, and December 7, 2006). Putin has favored the creation of large state-run corporations in key branches of the economy, which Andrei Illarionov, who is a former Putin economics adviser, and the "Financial Times" of June 19 described as a "corporate state." PM

CHECHEN PRIME MINISTER WARNS AGAINST NEGATIVE PRESS COVERAGE OF ADMINISTRATION HEAD
Ramzan Kadyrov's press service released a statement on December 7 warning that journalists who publish materials that negatively depict Chechen administration head Alu Alkhanov may face legal action, according to regnum.ru and the website chechnya.gov.ru. That warning was triggered by the publication in "Nezavisimaya gazeta" the previous day of an article that referred to Alkhanov as "a lame duck" unable to control developments in Chechnya; Kadyrov was quoted as saying that Alkhanov "is successfully fulfilling his responsibilities." On December 8, Kadyrov's press service announced a meeting on December 11 to honor journalists killed in Chechnya. LF

DUMA DEPUTY LAMBASTES INGUSHETIAN PRESIDENT
Bashir Kodzoyev, who represents Ingushetia in the State Duma, has written to President Putin detailing corruption and incompetence within that republic's top leadership, the website ingushetiya.ru reported on December 7. Kodzoyev cited specific instances in which the administration of President Murat Zyazikov has provided Moscow with falsified information concerning basic economic indicators and the use of budget funds, and he cited statistics that register a decline since 2001 in tax revenues, per capita GDP (by 37 percent), agricultural output (by 35 percent), employment, oil production, and industrial output. He further claimed that 1 billion rubles ($38.1 million) allocated from a total of 1.1 billion rubles from the federal budget for construction have been stolen, as have 400 million rubles from a total of 1.1 billion allocated to build new homes for flood victims in 2002. Arguing that "Ingushetia should be Russia's bulwark in the Caucasus and not a new source of instability," Kodzoyev describes the extent of corruption as "a threat to the whole of Russia" and pleads for immediate intervention by the federal center to rectify the situation. Ingushetian Deputy Prime Minister Bagaudin Tsoloyev resigned last month to protest widespread corruption (see "RFE/RL Newsline," November 20, 2006), as did Magomed Kodzoyev, who headed the presidential Public Council, ingushetiya.ru reported on December 8. LF

ARMENIAN OPPOSITION POLITICIAN ATTACKED
Haroutiun Arakelian, chairman of the Ramkavar-Azatakan Party of Armenia (HRAK), was assaulted and beaten in Yerevan late in the afternoon of December 7, Noyan Tapan reported. Arakelian recently harshly criticized the World Armenian Congress and its leader, Moscow-based businessman Ara Abrahamian, according to Noyan Tapan on November 23. LF

ARMENIAN FOREIGN MINISTER DEFENDS KARABAKH REFERENDUM
In a statement released by his ministry on December 7, Vartan Oskanian criticized the governments of Georgia, Ukraine, and Moldova for "meddling in an issue that does not concern them" by endorsing a statement at the behest of fellow GUAM member Azerbaijan, Noyan Tapan and RFE/RL's Armenian Service reported. The four GUAM member states released a statement earlier this week affirming that the referendum to be held on December 10 on a new draft constitution for the unrecognized Nagorno-Karabakh Republic constitutes a serious obstruction to the ongoing efforts to resolve the Karabakh conflict. That draft constitution defines the NKR as an independent state. Oskanian said that the NKR has built a "lawful, well-regulated internal governance system" and therefore has a legitimate right to a basic law. He said the main obstacle to resolving the conflict remains Azerbaijan's refusal to engage in direct talks with the NKR leadership, its leaders' militant rhetoric, and what he termed Baku's "persistent efforts to sidetrack" the negotiation process under the aegis of the OSCE Minsk Group. LF

AZERBAIJANI PRESIDENT AFFIRMS READINESS FOR 'POLITICAL DIALOGUE' WITH OPPOSITION
Speaking on December 7 at the ceremonial opening of a new headquarters in the northen Khachmas district of the ruling Yeni Azerbaycan Party (YAP), Ilham Aliyev reiterated that "we are always ready for political dialogue," including with opposition parties, zerkalo.az reported on December 8. Aliyev said that such dialogue is in the country's interests, and went on to accuse the opposition of acting in a "destructive" and "uncivilized" fashion. On December 7, zerkalo.az quoted Sardar Jalaloglu, who is first deputy chairman of the opposition Democratic Party of Azerbaijan, as repeating his earlier calls for such dialogue. Jalaloglu said YAP representatives have not yet responded to his offer. Efforts by the OSCE office in Baku to organize such a dialogue in the run-up to last year's parliamentary elections collapsed after three rounds (see "RFE/RL Newsline," May 13 and August 2, 2005). LF

GEORGIAN PARLIAMENT DENOUNCES RUSSIAN STATE DUMA STATEMENT ON ABKHAZIA, SOUTH OSSETIA...
Parliament deputies adopted unanimously on December 7 a statement criticizing as "extremely unfriendly" the two resolutions approved the previous day by the Russian State Duma expressing support for the aspirations of the unrecognized republics of Abkhazia and South Ossetia to independent statehood, Caucasus Press reported (see "RFE/RL Newsline," December 7, 2006). On December 6, Georgian Foreign Minister Gela Bezhuashvili told journalists after consulting with parliament speaker Nino Burdjanadze that the parliament would not issue any official response to the Duma resolutions, which he described as "openly anti-Georgian" and as having no legal force. Also on December 7, Russian President Vladimir Putin said during an interview in Moscow with Mexican media mogul Mario Vasquez Rana that "there is no conflict between Russia and Georgia," but that "the Georgian leadership is doing everything to exacerbate relations between the two countries," Caucasus Press reported. LF

...WHILE ABKHAZ OFFICIALS HAIL IT AS 'BREAKTHROUGH'
Stanislav Lakoba, who is chairman of Abkhaz President Sergei Bagapsh's Security Council, described the December 6 State Duma statement on Abkhazia as a breakthrough on the path to formal international recognition, apsny.ru reported on December 8 quoting the presidential webpage. Lakoba said that he does not think Russia would encounter "problems" if it formally recognized Abkhazia's independence, given that the West does not have a unified policy on the issue. Parliament speaker Nugzar Ashuba similarly termed the Duma resolution "the foundation for recognition of Abkhazia's independence," while Sokrat Djindjolia, a former parliament speaker who now heads the Sukhum(i) branch of the Caucasus Institute for the Development of Democracy, reasoned that simply raising the issue of Russian recognition of the Abkhaz people's right to self-determination means that Abkhazia "is now on the finishing stretch," apsny.ru reported. LF

POLONIUM THAT KILLED FORMER FSB OFFICER 'DID NOT COME FROM ABKHAZIA'
Anatoly Markolia, director of the Sukhum(i) Institute of Physics and Technology, dismissed on December 7 as "stupid" the suggestion made earlier that day in Tbilisi by Greens party leader Giorgi Gachechiladze that the polonium-210 used in the murder last month in London of former Russian Federal Security Service officer Aleksandr Litvinenko may have originated from Sukhum(i), the official government news agency Apsnypress reported. Markolia noted that specialists from the International Atomic Energy Agency have twice visited Sukhum(i) to inspect his institute, in 2001 and 2005 (see "RFE/RL Newsline," September 12, 2005). LF

U.S. EMBASSY VOICES CONCERN OVER DESTRUCTION OF HARE KRISHNA VILLAGE IN KAZAKHSTAN
The U.S. Embassy in Kazakhstan has issued a statement voicing concern over the late-November demolition of houses in a Hare Krishna community in an Almaty suburb, "Kazakhstan Today" reported on December 7. "Irrespective of what caused this incident, the forced resettlement of the owners of the houses in cold weather and the demolition of their property are against the principles of justice and fairness," the statement said. The embassy called on local authorities in the Karasay district, where the 48-hectare farm is located, to "refrain from further forms of aggression against members of the International Krishna Consciousness Society" and to "work toward resolving this judicial conflict fairly, legally, and peacefully." The demolition prompted the OSCE Advisory Council on Freedom of Religion or Belief to issue a statement of concern on November 27. DK

KAZAKH, RUSSIA KICK OFF JOINT URANIUM VENTURE
Kazakh Prime Minister Daniyal Akhmetov on December 7 inaugurated a Kazakh-Russian joint venture in southern Kazakhstan to extract uranium for further processing in Russia, Kazinform reported. An official news report posted on government.kz said that the ceremony coincided with the production of the first ton of ore by the Zarechnoye joint venture. Sergei Kiriyenko, the head of Russia's Federal Atomic Energy Agency (Rosatom) also attended the inauguration. Kiriyenko said Kazakhstan and Russia hope to lead "the world's nuclear market." The Zarechnoye mine is expected to produce 1,000 tons of uranium a year by 2009. Officials say the development of four additional nearby deposits will eventually bring the joint venture's total annual output to 6,000 tons. The Russian company Tekhsnabexport and Kazakhstan's Kazatomprom each own 49.33 percent of Zarechnoye, while the Russian company Atomredmetzoloto and the Kyrgyz Karabaltinsky ore-mining combine each own 0.67 percent each. Kazakhstan is the world's third-largest uranium producer, after Australia and Canada. DK

KAZAKHSTAN, RUSSIA LAUNCH URANIUM JOINT VENTURE
Kazakh Prime Minister Daniyal Akhmetov on December 7 inaugurated a Kazakh-Kyrgyz -Russian joint venture in southern Kazakhstan to extract uranium for further processing in Russia, Kazinform reported. An official news report posted on government.kz said that the ceremony coincided with the production of the first ton of ore by the Zarechnoye joint venture. Extraction of uranium was initially scheduled to begin in April or May 2005, according to Interfax on August 18, 2005, but was delayed after protests by local residents that the mine site was located in a nature reserve. Sergei Kiriyenko, the head of Russia's Federal Atomic Energy Agency (Rosatom) also attended the inauguration. Kiriyenko said Kazakhstan and Russia hope to lead "the world's nuclear market." The Zarechnoye mine is expected to produce 1,000 tons of uranium a year by 2009. Officials say the development of four additional nearby deposits will eventually bring the joint venture's total annual output to 6,000 tons. Kazakhstan is the world's third-largest uranium producer, after Australia and Canada. DK/LF

KYRGYZ PRESIDENT CALLS FOR END TO U.S. TROOP IMMUNITY AFTER FATAL SHOOTING
President Kurmanbek Bakiev said on December 7, one day after a U.S. serviceman shot dead a Kyrgyz citizen at a checkpoint at the U.S. air base at Manas Airport (see "RFE/RL Newsline," December 7, 2006), that he has asked Kyrgyzstan's Foreign Ministry to review a 2001 agreement that grants service personnel at the air base diplomatic immunity, akipress.org reported. The BBC quoted Bakiev as telling U.S. Ambassador Marie Yovanovitch and base commander Joel Reese that "It would be appropriate for U.S. military [personnel] based in Kyrgyzstan to bear responsibility for any illegal acts they carry out in accordance with Kyrgyzstan's laws. " Yovanovitch for her part expressed regret and promised a thorough probe into the Manas shooting, akipress.org reported on December 7. "A joint commission has been set up to investigate the incident," Yovanovitch said. "We are ready to reconsider a procedure in order to prevent such incidents in the future." Yovanovitch said that if the serviceman is found to have committed an illegal act, "he will be tried by a military tribunal." Also on December 7, Kyrgyzstan's Foreign Ministry delivered a note to the U.S. Embassy asking the U.S. government to waive diplomatic immunity for the U.S. serviceman involved and to ensure that he remains in Kyrgyzstan pending the completion of an investigation, akipress.org reported. On December 8, the command of the U.S. facility reiterated that the U.S. soldier was acting in self-defense, RFE/RL reported, citing the air base's official website. DK

RUSSIAN GAS COMPANY HEAD MEETS WITH UZBEK PRESIDENT
Aleksei Miller, head of Russia's state-controlled gas company Gazprom, met with Uzbek President Islam Karimov in Tashkent on December 7 to discuss bilateral cooperation and new joint ventures, fergana.ru and UzA reported. The two noted the increasing Russian-Uzbek gas-sector cooperation, with Russia importing 7.114 billion cubic meters of Uzbek gas in 2004, 8.15 billion in 2005, and an expected 10 billion in 2006. Gazprom will also participate in the modernization of Uzbekistan's gas-transport system, with Gazprom's total planned investment in the Uzbek economy set to exceed $1.5 billion. DK

FORMER BELARUSIAN LEADER SAYS 1991 BELAVEZHA ACCORD WAS COUP DE GRACE FOR USSR...
Former Belarusian Supreme Soviet speaker Stanislau Shushkevich has told RFE/RL's Belarus Service that in signing the so-called Belavezha Agreement on the dissolution of the USSR at Viskuli in Belarus's Belavezha Forest on December 8, 1991, he jointly with Russian President Boris Yeltsin and Ukrainian President Leonid Kravchuk only confirmed that the Soviet Union was already dead at that time. "Those who consider [the Belavezha Agreement the] breakup of the [Soviet] Union are wrong, because the union had already been broken up by the putschists [August 1991 aborted coup leaders] and by [Soviet leader Mikhail] Gorbachev, who did not want to agree to a confederation. We had enough courage to acknowledge that [the breakup] had taken place," Shushkevich said. According to Shushkevich, the subsequent removal of nuclear weapons from Belarus was a more momentous event for the country than the collapse of the Soviet Union. "I think that the main event in my life was that I did everything to unconditionally remove nuclear weapons from the territory of Belarus. This, incidentally, became possible thanks to [the agreement at] Viskuli.... Just imagine Belarus being a nuclear state today, under such a troublesome leadership that does not realize its responsibility for stability in Europe," Shushkevich said. JM

...WHILE LUKASHENKA QUESTIONS SHUSHKEVICH'S RIGHT TO SIGN IT
Belarusian President Alyaksandr Lukashenka said in an interview broadcast on Belarusian Television on December 7 that former parliamentary speaker Stanislau Shushkevich, who was formally Belarus's head of state in 1991, did not have the right to sign the agreement on the breakup of the USSR. "Yeltsin was a president. He could sign something. But our [speaker] did not have that right.... If deputies in the Supreme Soviet had known about that in advance, they would most likely dismissed Shushkevich from his post before his trip to the Belavezha Forest," Lukashenka said. Lukashenka also reiterated allegations that the accord on the dissolution of the USSR was hastily adopted by politicians under the influence of alcohol. "They wrote it in a hurry, and this can be seen from the documents they composed there. But they -- the Russian delegation -- knew what documents to adopt. They scribbled their signatures, drank to that, called the people they needed to, reported or announced that such a country was not existing any longer etc., and began to slowly depart," Lukashenka said. According to Lukashenka, if Moscow had given an order to the Belarusian KGB to arrest Yeltsin, Kravchuk, and Shushkevich at Viskuli in 1991, the order would have been fulfilled "within minutes." JM

BELARUSIAN OPPOSITION LEADERS CALL ON KAZULIN TO HALT HUNGER STRIKE
Prominent opposition leaders, including Alyaksandr Milinkevich, Vintsuk Vyachorka, and Anatol Lyabedzka, have urged imprisoned former opposition presidential candidate Alyaksandr Kazulin to end his hunger strike, which entered its 49th day on December 7 (see "RFE/RL Newsline," December 7, 2006), RFE/RL's Belarus Service reported on December 7. "His death would be disastrous for the democratic movement and could not be of such benefit as he can bring while staying alive and healthy," Milinkevich said. Milinkevich stressed that Kazulin's demand that the UN Security Council discuss the situation in Belarus is unrealistic. "One of his demands -- that the UN Security Council view the Belarus issue -- cannot be fulfilled. The council will not consider such an issue, even the Cuba issue has not been raised there, because there are those who can block it," Milinkevich noted. JM

UKRAINIANS PROTEST HOUSING, UTILITY-RATE HIKES AS DEPUTIES BRAWL IN CITY HALL
Some 5,000 Kyiv residents turned up for a rally in front of the city hall on December 7 to protest the recent decision by Kyiv Mayor Leonid Chernovetskyy to increase housing and utility tariffs sharply as of December 1, Ukrainian media reported. The rate hikes would amount to a more than threefold increase. Deputies supporting Chernovetskyy meanwhile scuffled with deputies from the Yuliya Tymoshenko Bloc (YuTB) during a Kyiv City Council session, after Chernovetskyy refused to put a draft resolution on canceling the higher communal tariffs to a vote. A YuTB councilor was reportedly hospitalized after losing consciousness during the scuffle. Chernovetskyy's supporters in the council blocked all attempts to revise the rate hikes, agreeing only to set up an ad hoc commission to consider the issue. Chernovetskyy reportedly used highly abusive language with regard to his opponents. "I prohibit you from taking the floor in accordance with the rules of procedure because of your hooligan's actions and your brazen mug," Chernovetskyy told Councilor Mykhaylo Brodskyy. "All those who have so far treated Leonid Chernovetskyy as a fool who came to power as a result of fatal misunderstanding, have now seen that the post of mayor was taken by an absolutely inadequate person who poses a threat to the life of normal people," the YuTB said in a statement after the session. JM

RUSSIAN DEFENSE MINISTER VISITS KYIV
Russian Defense Minister Sergei Ivanov came to Kyiv on December 7 to discuss the upcoming visit of Russian President Vladimir Putin to Ukraine by the end of this month, Ukrainian media reported. Ivanov met with his Ukrainian counterpart, Anatoliy Hrytsenko, as well as with President Viktor Yushchenko and Prime Minister Viktor Yanukovych. Ivanov told journalists in Kyiv that Ukraine's potential NATO membership will affect relations with Russia. "Whether we want it or not, this step will certainly have an inevitable effect, one way or another, on our relations, for instance on cooperation in the military-industrial sector. We think this will happen, and not because a malicious Russia will want it to happen. Not at all. This will simply happen for objective reasons," Ivanov noted. JM

SERBIA URGES ICTY TO MEET RADICAL LEADER'S DEMANDS
Serbia on December 7 urged the International Criminal Tribunal for the former Yugoslavia (ICTY) to save the life of Serbian Radical Party (SRS) leader and war crimes defendant Vojislav Seselj by acceding to his demands, dpa reported the same day. Seselj went on hunger strike on November 11 to demand the right to choose his own defense team and to unrestricted visits by his wife. Doctors say he could die within weeks if his health continues to deteriorate (see "RFE/RL Newsline," November 13 and December 5, 6, and 7, 2006). The Serbian government issued a statement saying that another "tragic event in the Hague tribunal would be unacceptable." Former Serbian President Slobodan Milosevic and the former Serbian rebel leader in Croatia, Milan Babic, both died in March while in ICTY detention. Milosevic died of a heart attack and Babic committed suicide (see "RFE/RL Newsline," March 6 and 13, 2006). BW

EU WON'T RESUME TALKS WITH SERBIA BEFORE ELECTION
The European Union's foreign-policy chief, Javier Solana, said on December 7 that talks on a Stabilization and Association Agreement (SAA) will not resume before Serbia's general elections scheduled for January 21, B92 reported the same day. Solana met earlier that day with Serbian Foreign Minister Vuk Draskovic in Brussels. Draskovic is pushing for a resumption of the talks before the elections. "There is not much sense in organizing discussions during the election campaign," Solana said. "We will have to wait for a more relaxed moment, after the elections, in order to continue discussion, and I am convinced that this will happen." The EU suspended the SAA talks in May over Belgrade's failure to arrest war crimes fugitive Ratko Mladic (see "RFE/RL Newsline," May 2, 3, and 4, 2006). BW

MONTENEGRO INDICTS 18 ETHNIC ALBANIANS FOR PLOTTING INSURGENCY
Authorities in Montenegro on December 7 charged 18 ethnic Albanians with plotting an insurgency to carve out an ethnic enclave in the country, AP reported the same day. Five of those indicted live in the United States. Police arrested 14 of the suspects, including three of the U.S. citizens, on the eve of Montenegro's September 10 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 and November 7, 2006). Prosecutors allege that the group intended to "use explosives and weapons for terrorist acts aimed at controlling...military posts, police precincts and other important facilities" in an ethnic Albanian-populated part of eastern Montenegro. A defense lawyer for the suspects, Rajko Bozovic, said the "charges were unfounded." BW

BOSNIAN RADIO STATION STARTS INTERNET PROTEST AGAINST DUTCH GOVERNMENT
A student radio station in Sarajevo, EFM, has set up a website allowing people to send e-mail cards to the Dutch government to protest the awarding of medals to peacekeepers who failed to prevent the Srebrenica massacre, AP reported on December 7. The Dutch decision to honor the peacekeepers has already sparked strong criticism from the Bosnian government (see "RFE/RL Newsline," December 6, 2006). "We decided to organize this action because the honoring of those soldiers is more than an embarrassment. It's mocking the victims," said Nermin Cengic, the web designer for the radio station. Since the campaign began on December 3, more than 16,000 e-mail cards, which include photos of bodies in mass graves and mocking messages of congratulations, have been sent to the Dutch government, AP quoted the protest organizer as saying. BW

NEW MASS GRAVE EXCAVATED IN BOSNIA
Forensic experts have exhumed the remains of approximately 180 people from a mass grave near Brcko in northeastern Bosnia-Herzegovina, AP and B92 reported on December 7. The forensics team worked on the grave for a month and collected 105 complete bodies and 146 body bags containing other human remains, Murat Hurtic, the head of the forensic team, said. "According to two documents two of the victims had with them," all the victims were from Brcko and its suburbs and "were killed either in the concentration camp Luke or just picked up from home and executed," Hurtic said. "Some of the skulls had three bullet holes in them," he added. BW

BOMB EXPLODES AT TRANSDNIESTER SCHOOL
A bomb exploded at a middle school in Bendery in Moldova's breakaway Transdniester region on December 7, injuring an unidentified number of students, dpa reported the same day. Among the injured were seniors participating in a school-sponsored military training course. Police investigating the incident described the number of other class participants injured as "numerous." There were no reports of fatalities. This summer, two bomb attacks rocked the Transdniestrian capital Tiraspol. The explosions took place on a bus and a trolleybus (see "RFE/RL Newsline," July 7 and August 14, 2006). BW

THERE IS NO END NOTE TODAY.


NATO CONVOY HIT BY SUICIDE BOMBER IN SOUTHERN AFGHANISTAN
A suicide car bomber struck a NATO convoy on December 7 in the southern Afghan city of Kandar, killing two civilians and wounding 11 more, AP reported. The dead and injured civilians were sent to a local hospital in Kandahar, said Najibullah Khan, a doctor at the hospital. The bombing was the seventh suicide attack in Kandahar Province since November 27. No NATO troops were injured in the blast, said Squadron Leader Jason Chalk, a NATO spokesman. Almost daily attacks plague Afghanistan's southern provinces, where the central government wields little power. RR

KARZAI: 'TERRORISM' A MAJOR OBSTACLE TO POSITIVE RELATIONS WITH PAKISTAN
Afghan President Hamid Karzai said on December 7 during a meeting in Kabul with Pakistani Foreign Minister Khurshid Kasuri that attacks by "terrorists" infiltrating Afghanistan through Pakistan are severely weakening relations between the two countries, AFP reported. "The president emphasized that the Afghan people desire to have strong and friendly relations with Pakistan. However, the continuation of violence perpetrated by terrorists from across the border [is] a major obstacle," Karzai's office said in a statement. The Afghan government regularly accuses Pakistan of allowing Taliban insurgents to use the tribal regions along Pakistan's western border as a safe haven for attacks inside Afghanistan. Kasuri is in Kabul on a three-day visit to seek a solution to the escalating violence this year in southern and eastern Afghanistan. RR

UN WARNS OF 'GRAVE THREAT' TO AFGHANISTAN RECONSTRUCTION
The UN released a report on December 7 in Kabul saying reconstruction efforts in Afghanistan face a "grave threat" due primarily to the Taliban insurgency, narcotics, and corruption, Xinhua reported. "The spread of [the] insurgency...linked with the illegal drug trade, coupled with corruption and failures of governance and the rule of law, collectively pose a grave threat to reconstruction and nation-building in Afghanistan," said the report, written by a UN Security Council mission to Afghanistan. The report follows a fact-finding mission in Afghanistan that took place from November 11-16 that included meetings with President Karzai, senior NATO commanders, and civil society officials. Progress on reconstruction in Afghanistan in 2006 "has not been as rapid as had been hoped," the report said, adding "The confidence of the Afghan public in its new institutions and processes [is] being tested." RR

DISTRICT CHIEF GUNNED DOWN IN WESTERN AFGHANISTAN
Abdul Zahir, chief of Gulran District in Herat Province, was shot dead on December 6 in an ambush by suspected Taliban gunmen, the Afghan Interior Ministry reported on December 7, AFP reported. Zahir was killed in his car and one of his bodyguards was wounded while traveling to the provincial capital, Herat, Interior Ministry spokesman Dad Mohammed Rasa said. "The enemies of Afghanistan carried out this attack," Rasa said, using the Afghan government's usual description for the ousted Taliban movement and its Islamist allies. Also on December 6, armed men attempted to kill Mohammad Mubeen, the chief of Barmal District in eastern Paktika Province bordering Pakistan, but Mubeen escaped unharmed. "Our Barmal district chief was attacked by the enemy but he was not hit," provincial Governor Mohammad Akram Khapalwak said. RR

IRAN WANTS TURKEY TO CONTROL FEMALE IRANIAN VISITORS
The Iranian government has called on Turkey to enforce rules for Islamic clothing for women -- the hijab -- at hotels in Anatolia that are frequented by Iranians, Turkish newspapers reported on December 7, according to Radio Farda. Should Turkey fail to comply with this demand, the newspapers continued, then Iran will no longer permit direct flights to Anatolia. The Iranian request came during Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan's meeting with First Vice President Parviz Davudi in Tehran during the first weekend of December, Radio Farda reported. Davudi told his guest that one million Iranians visit Turkey every year, and he went on to express concern that images of scantily clad Iranian beachgoers have appeared in the Turkish media. BS

IRAN REACTS TO IRAQ SURVEY GROUP RECOMMENDATIONS
Iranian Foreign Minister Manuchehr Mottaki said during a December 7 visit to the Netherlands that the United States does not need to negotiate with Iran or any other country regarding Iraq, state television reported. Mottaki was reacting to the Iraq Survey Group report that was released in Washington the previous day and which recommended U.S. interaction with Iran and Syria in an effort to resolve the violence there (see "RFE/RL Newsline," December 7, 2006). Mottaki said, "It appears that at least some American officials have realized the errors in their policy in Iraq." Mottaki described his solution: "The Iraqi issue will be resolved by the withdrawal of the American military forces." Prior to the report's release, Iranian Supreme National Security Council Secretary Ali Larijani said in Dubai that a withdrawal of "occupation forces" from Iraq would be seen favorably, "The Washington Post" reported on December 6. Subsequently, a "triumphalist" Larijani said, "Iran would definitely extend the hand of assistance and would use its influence to help solve the problem." Larijani said the U.S. should recognize Iran as the primary regional power. BS

IRANIAN FOREIGN MINISTER CHALLENGED BY IRAQI DIPLOMAT
Iraqi Ambassador to the Netherlands Siamand Banaa took exception to Iranian Foreign Minister Mottaki's December 6 comments, AP reported. Mottaki said while in Holland that "the U.S. administration so often refers to Iran's nuclear capability as a threat against regional and international peace." It is the United States, however, that invaded Iraq without the UN Security Council's approval, Mottaki continued, and "set off the most dangerous security challenge in the Middle East." He also said the U.S. military presence in Iraq is behind the violence there. Banaa pointed out that Iran benefited greatly from the ouster of former Iraqi leader Saddam Hussein, and he encouraged Mottaki to "avoid cynicism and hypocrisy." Banaa dismissed Mottaki's analysis and encouraged him to avoid joining "the 'America is always wrong' brigade." BS

U.S. PRESIDENT SAYS NEW DIRECTION IN IRAQ NEEDED
George W. Bush said during a December 7 news conference in Washington with U.K. Prime Minister Tony Blair that a new approach in Iraq is needed, international media reported the same day. A report by the U.S. bipartisan Iraq Study Group, which was released on December 6, described the situation in Iraq as "grave and deteriorating" and called for the United States to change its primary mission in Iraq (see "RFE/RL Newsline," December 7, 2006). Bush said he is open to the suggestions made by the commission. "I thought that made a lot of sense. I've always said we'd like our troops out as fast as possible. I think that's an important goal," he said. Bush expressed disappointment at the slow progress made in Iraq and reiterated his opposition to direct U.S. talks with Iran and Syria, one of the key recommendations of the Iraq Study Group report. On December 6, White House spokesman Tony Snow said during an interview on CNN that Bush may unveil a new strategy for Iraq by the end of the year. "We're hoping to have all that pulled together so that maybe by the end of the year the president can announce a new way forward," he said. SS

BAGHDAD, IRAQI KURDS FAIL TO AGREE ON BUDGET, OIL LAW
Kurdish region Prime Minister Nechirvan Barzani said on December 6 that no agreement has been reached with the Iraqi central government concerning the Kurdish region's budget and oil law, Salah Al-Din Kurdistan satellite television reported on December 7. Barzani was speaking in Irbil after returning from Baghdad, where he held meetings with Iraqi Prime Minister Nuri al-Maliki and Oil Minister Husayn al-Shahristani to discuss how much the Kurdish region will be allocated from the national budget. "The government was intending to grant 13 percent from the budget to the [Kurdish] province, but we told them that was not enough. They should grant 17 percent," Barzani said. Regarding the oil law, Barzani said that Baghdad should clarify how much the Kurdish region should receive from the country's oil sales, while at the same time the Kurdish regional government should have the freedom to sign separate oil contracts with foreign companies. "If we had reached an agreement on the budget, the oil law, and the share of the provinces from oil sales, that would have been a major achievement," Barzani said. SS

IRAQI RELIGIOUS FIGURES MEET IN OSLO TO DISCUSS SECTARIAN STRIFE
Iraqi Shi'ite, Sunni, and Christian leaders gathered in Oslo, Norway, on December 7 to discuss ways of ending the sectarian violence in Iraq, Al-Jazeera satellite television reported the same day. The meeting, sponsored by the World Conference of Religions for Peace, called on the Iraqi government to build a balanced military to ensure the security of all Iraqis; urged an end to all bloodshed in Iraq; rejected any attempts to brand fellow Iraqis as infidels; and stressed the difference between terrorism and legitimate resistance. "This conference reflects the deep humanitarian spirit of the religious leaders, including the Sunnis, Shi'a, Christians, and from other faiths. The conference expressed its rejection of this dirty war," said Jamil al-Rubay'i, a representative of the Islamic Al-Da'wah Party. On October 20, approximately 50 Iraqi religious leaders gathered for a similar meeting in Mecca, Saudi Arabia (see "RFE/RL Newsline," October 23, 2006). SS

WITNESSES DESCRIBE CHEMICAL ATTACK ON KURDISH VILLAGE
During the December 7 session of the Anfal trial, two Kurdish doctors gave testimony to the court describing treating victims of a chemical attack in 1987, international media reported the same day. One of the doctors said, "On April 16, 1987, I saw many planes hovering in the sky as I was standing outside my clinic" and soon "there was a strange smell" similar to "apples or garlic." Shortly afterwards, he recalled seeing "dozens of women and children walking with their eyes red, many were vomiting blood." Another Kurdish doctor said he treated men, women, and children for serious body burns and blindness from an alleged chemical attack on the village of Bargalu. "I treated a man whose entire body was full of chemical bubbles, but he died a few days later," he said. A security alert at the entrance to the Green Zone prevented defense lawyers from entering the fortified area for two hours and delayed the start of the trial. Chief Judge Muhammad al-Uraybi adjourned the trial until December 18. SS

ELEVEN U.S. SOLDIERS KILLED IN SINGLE DAY IN IRAQ
U.S. military officials announced that 11 soldiers were killed on December 6, making it one of the single deadliest days for U.S. soldiers in Iraq, international media reported on December 7. U.S. military spokesman Lieutenant Colonel Christopher Garver said five soldiers, all members of Task Force Lightning, were killed by a single roadside bomb blast in Kirkuk Governorate. Details of the six other deaths were unavailable. The 11 deaths brought the number of U.S. soldiers killed since the beginning of December to 30. SS

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