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Newsline - October 2, 2007


PUTIN TO HEAD UNIFIED RUSSIA'S DUMA LIST...
President Vladimir Putin, addressing the Unified Russia preelection congress on October 1, stated that he will run for the State Duma at the head of the party's list of candidates for the December 2 polls, Russian and international media reported. "Your party can and must become the instrument of social stability; of insuring the effectiveness of the future parliament, of all the government; be the initiator of development, a foundation for the executive organs of government in the fulfillment of its outlined plans," Putin said in his concluding remarks (http://www.kremlin.ru/appears/2007/10/01/1900_type63374type63376type63378type82634_146479.shtml). "Therefore I gratefully accept your proposal to head the list of Unified Russia." In his remarks, Putin repeatedly emphasized that the dominant pro-Kremlin party must "guarantee the stable development of the country." "The time has come when we have every possibility to prove that Russia is truly a great country, a country that its citizens can take pride in and that its neighbors will respect." Central Election Commission member Gennady Raikov told RFE/RL on October 1 that even though he is not a member of Unified Russia, Putin has the right to run on its party list as a private citizen (see "RFE/RL Newsline," September 20, 2007). Putin will not have to serve in the Duma if Unified Russia wins the election; it is common practice for the heads of party lists to relinquish their mandates in favor of candidates farther down the list. The Unified Russia congress continued on October 2, with delegates expected to name the other two people to head the party's list. RC

...AND HINTS THAT HE IS READY TO SERVE AS PREMIER AFTER MARCH 2008
During his concluding remarks to the Unified Russia congress on October 1, President Putin added that he considers proposals that he head the government after his term as president expires in March 2008 to be "completely realistic," Russian and international media. Putin rejected repeated calls from delegates at the conference to amend the constitution to enable him to serve a third term as president. However, he said that he would consider serving as premier if Unified Russia wins the December Duma elections and if a "respectable, capable, effective, modern person with whom one can work" is elected president. Political analyst Gleb Pavlovsky called Putin's statements "a step toward pluralism," saying that after the elections the country will witness the creation of a second center of power within the political-party system, RFE/RL reported. Moscow Carnegie Center expert Nikolai Petrov told RFE/RL that such a development could shift Russia from being a "superpresidential political system" to being a "presidential-parliamentary system." He added that, from the Kremlin's point of view, the advantage of the premiership is that there "are no limitations." Petrov added that until now, Unified Russia has been merely a "technological instrument" that the Kremlin resorted to every four years. However, Putin's statements could begin the process of turning Unified Russia "in the dominating party, with all the positive and negative consequences." The media also speculated that Putin might serve briefly as head of the government until the president resigned, and he then could run for another term as president. RC

UNIFIED RUSSIA ELATED BY PRESIDENTIAL SHOW OF SUPPORT
President Putin's October 1 strong endorsement of Unified Russia and his active participation in the party's preelection congress were enthusiastically received by party delegates, RFE/RL reported. Pro-Kremlin Chechen administration head Ramzan Kadyrov said that with Putin on the party's Duma list, the party will receive 95 percent of the vote, at least in Chechnya. In fact, he said 100 percent of the republic supports Putin: "I am just giving myself 5 percent as insurance," Kadyrov said. Unified Russia polled 79 percent in Chechnya in 2003, the highest in the country. Putin's support for Unified Russia was seen as a blow to the left-leaning, pro-Kremlin A Just Russia party. "A Just Russia is a toll that is not needed anymore," Indem analyst Yury Korgunyuk told "The Moscow Times." Under Russian election law, it is not possible for only one party to form the next Duma. If only Unified Russia breaks the 7 percent barrier for representation, some seats will be allocated to the party that places second. RC

KEY LEGISLATOR SAYS NOBODY WILL 'TWIST RUSSIA'S ARM' ON WORLD MARKETS
Boris Gryzlov, who heads the pro-Kremlin Unified Russia party and is speaker of the State Duma, said in Moscow on October 1 that Russia is ready for a "competitive struggle on world markets and won't let anyone twist its arms," Interfax reported. He stressed that "we won't let anyone intimidate us, either through the [World Trade Organization] WTO or any other way because we are Russia" (see "RFE/RL Newsline," September 27 and October 1, 2007). He noted that "someone is not happy to see Russia on the world market.... For two decades, many have sought to become unaccustomed to Russia's presence and the need to take its legitimate interests into account, [believing that]...it is capable only of selling cheap oil." Gryzlov said that some unnamed people find it hard to adapt to Russia's new role in the world. He argued that one senses it in unspecified "newspaper articles, statements, and attempts to block very important projects. But they can't alter a simple fact, namely that Russia is returning." Gryzlov noted that "our competitors will not welcome our activity. Just look at how the WTO [membership] talks are proceeding. Attempts are being made to twist Russia's arms. Some discriminatory conditions incompatible with our national interests are being put forward. Russia should be prepared for that and should learn to act effectively." In his speech to the UN General Assembly on September 28, Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov argued that the emergence of Russia and other new economic forces in the world has changed the overall political landscape. He believes that only a "collective leadership of leading states" is realistic, mid.ru reported. PM

U.S., CANADA WANT TRANSPARENCY ON RUSSIAN BOMBER FLIGHTS
Major Allen Herritage, who is a spokesman for the North American Aerospace Defense Command (NORAD), said in Anchorage on October 1 that Russian bombers staged at least seven exercises in a buffer zone outside U.S. airspace over the summer, each of which involved from two to six aircraft, AP reported. Herritage noted that U.S. and Canadian fighter jets were dispatched each time. He said the last Russian exercise was conducted on September 19, and that the purpose of the missions appears to be training. In Ottawa, U.S. Air Force General Gene Renuart, who commands NORAD, said that the Russians do not file flight plans with the United States or Canada, Reuters reported. He noted that "there is increased concern any time you have an unidentified aircraft approaching the airspace of either of the two nations.... If the Russians would file a flight plan just to state their intent and [the] general routing that they would be on, that would ease one of our concerns.... Increasing the transparency reduces tension when you're out chasing around after an unknown aircraft." President Vladimir Putin said on August 17 that Russian strategic bombers resumed regular long-range flights after a hiatus of about 15 years. The flights have led to tensions in Russia's relations with Britain, Norway, and Finland, among other states (see "RFE/RL Newsline," September 14, 17, 21, and 25, 2007). PM

EU FIGURES CALL ATTENTION TO 'NEWLY BELLIGERENT RUSSIA'
Former Finnish President Martti Ahtisaari and former German Foreign Minister Joschka Fischer co-authored an article, also signed by about 50 prominent Europeans, in Britain's "Financial Times" on October 2, in which they called for "Europe...to assert itself in the world." The two men noted that not enough attention is being paid in the EU to the political and other costs resulting from delaying the enlargement process, and that this has led to "damage...to the momentum for reform in Turkey and the Balkans." They argued that "this nervousness can also be seen in the EU's attitude towards a newly belligerent Russia. While Russia makes visible use of the threat of a few big sticks (such as control over energy supplies or vetoes at the United Nations), the EU fails to leverage the hundreds of smaller sticks and carrots that it potentially wields, [namely] the fact that it accounts for 60 percent of Russia's trade, 50 percent of its investments, and that European countries provide a second home to many wealthy Russians" (see "RFE/RL Newsline," August 28 and 30, and September 20, 2007).The two men called for increased "European cooperation at the UN, [support for] the commitment to eventual EU membership for Turkey, and...increased incentives -- from visa regimes to trade -- that will draw the EU's immediate neighbors into its sphere of influence." They referred to "multilateralism" and noted that the EU, "unlike other great powers in history...does not project itself by threatening to invade other countries." They called attention to the "Kyoto [Protocol on climate change] and the International Criminal Court," but did not once mention NATO or the trans-Atlantic partnership. PM

GAZPROM PLEDGES SUPPLIES FOR EUROPE
Jens Mueller, who is a spokesman for the Russian-German Nord Stream gas-pipeline project, said in Berlin on October 1 that Gazprom will use some of the huge reserves in the remote, hitherto untapped Shtokman fields to supply European customers via Nord Stream, the "International Herald Tribune" reported on October 2. This is the first time that Gazprom has confirmed that at least some of the gas from Shtokman will be exported to Europe via the pipeline. Some earlier reports indicated it would be transported in liquefied form to several markets. The speed and extent to which Shtokman will be developed have long been the subject of much doubt and speculation. Mueller added that Nord Stream will start submitting applications for pipeline-construction permits from national governments in November and December. He suggested that "these could be completed by the end of 2008. Realistically, we can start building in 2009. The first pipeline could be finished by 2010." The daily quoted Swedish officials as saying that Nord Stream has not applied yet for permission to build a platform in Sweden's economic zone. In Tallinn, an Estonian Foreign Ministry spokesman was quoted by dpa on October 1 as confirming that Estonia will not permit Nord Stream to conduct a seabed survey in Estonia's maritime economic zone (see "RFE/RL Newsline," September 21, 2007). PM

RUSSIAN FIRMS ALONE TO PARTICIPATE IN SAKHALIN-3
Natural Resources Minister Yury Trutnev told a Moscow press conference on October 1 that the oil and gas fields of the proposed Sakhalin-3 project are "strategic," and hence open to only limited participation by foreign firms, news agencies reported. Long-promised legislation dealing with "strategic deposits" continues to be held up due to disputes between ministries. PM

NASHI LEADER TO HEAD STATE YOUTH COMMITTEE
Nashi youth group founder and leader Vasily Yakemenko is expected to be named to head the State Youth Committee, "Vedomosti" and "Kommersant" reported on October 1. The role and status of the new state committee is still to be determined, as the body was created by a presidential decree only on September 25. Under the decree, the committee is supposed to "create the conditions for ensuring a healthy lifestyle, moral and patriotic education, and the realization of the professional possibilities of young people." "Kommersant" cited an unnamed Kremlin source as saying: "Operative control of the youth campaign project has been transferred to the youth headquarters of Unified Russia -- headed by [Unified Russia Youth Guard leader] Andrei Turchak. And Yakemenko has been entrusted with distributing the money assigned from the state budget for youth." Yabloko youth leader Ilya Yashin told the daily that the Moscow municipal youth committee financed an advertising campaign for Unified Russia Youth Guard using money from the city budget allocated for promoting "youth parliamentarism." RC

INVESTIGATIVE COMMITTEE HEAD SPEAKS ON STATUS OF HIGH-PROFILE CASES
Federal Investigative Committee Chairman Aleksandr Bastrykin told "Izvestia" on October 2 that the case of the September 2006 slaying of Central Bank Deputy Chairman Andrei Kozlov has been "solved." "The accused are acquainting themselves with the case files and will soon stand before a court," Bastrykin said. He said less progress has been made in connection with the October 2006 killing of investigative journalist Anna Politkovskaya, but added that that case will be resolved as well. He told the daily that there are "six versions" of the tragedy under investigation. He confirmed that 11 people have been arrested in connection with the case: four have been charged, five are being held without charge, and two have been released. Bastrykin added that the Investigative Committee will form a group to look into serious unsolved crimes from the past. RIA Novosti reported on October 2 that the committee will look into the unexplained death in July 2003 of investigative journalist and Duma Deputy Yury Shchekochikhin and the 1995 killing of journalist Vladislav Listyev. RC

ANOTHER BILLIONAIRE READY TO GIVE EVERYTHING TO THE STATE
Metals magnate Alisher Usmanov, one of the richest people in Russia, will donate a collection of Russian art that belonged to the late cellist and conductor Mstislav Rostropovich to the city of St. Petersburg, Russian media reported on October 1. Usmanov, who purchased the collection for about $72 million, has decided to donate it to the newly restored Konstantinovsky Palace outside the northern capital. The palace is part of the official northern residence of the president and was the site of the G8 summit in July. Speaking to reporters in Moscow on October 1, Usmanov said: "Everything that I have, I am ready to give to Russia, if it is needed, since I am a citizen of Russia and am proud of that." In July, fellow magnate Oleg Deripaska also told journalists that he is willing to give his estimated $23 billion fortune to the government at any moment. "If the state says we must give up our companies, we will give them up. I do not separate myself from the state," Deripaska told "The Financial Times." RC

DAGHESTAN'S SECURITY COUNCIL MEETS
At an October 1 session of Daghestan's Security Council to discuss the killing early the previous day in the village of Gonoda in Gunib Raion of nine people, including a police officer, President Mukhu Aliyev called for enhanced vigilance on the part of police and security forces, kavkaz-uzel.ru reported (see "RFE/RL Newsline," October 1, 2007). A local clergyman told the website that the Gunoda killers spoke Avar, and were not local people. Addressing a gathering of raion and city administration heads in Makhachkala on October 1, Aliyev downplayed the role of religious extremism in Daghestan and ruled out interethnic tensions as a source of conflict, but at the same time expressed concern that adverse social and economic conditions lead to the alienation of young people and could contribute to a deterioration of the situation in the run-up to the December 2 elections to the Russian State Duma. Aliyev dubbed the 11 fatal shootings of the previous 24 hours retaliation by the armed resistance for the killing of veteran field commander Rappani Khalilov (see "RFE/RL Newsline," September 18, 2007). In an October 2 statement posted on the Chechen resistance website chechenpress.info, the Daghestan jamaat claimed responsibility for two separate killings of Interior Ministry officials on September 30 in revenge for Khalilov's death. Meanwhile Chechen Republic Ichkeria President and resistance commander Doku Umarov has named Khalilov's deputy, Amir Abdul Madjid, to succeed him as commander of the Daghestan Front, kavkazcenter.com reported on October 1. LF

INGUSH ABDUCTION VICTIMS APPEAL TO UN
Magomed Maksharipovich Aushev, who together with his distant cousin Magomed Osmanovich Aushev was forcibly abducted on September 18 in Chechnya, beaten, and then released, apparently on orders from Moscow to his Chechen-speaking masked abductors, addressed a formal appeal on September 25 to UN General Secretary Ban Ki-moon for protection against anticipated reprisals by the security services, the website ingushetiya.ru reported on September 28 (see "RFE/RL Newsline," September 21, 2007). Copies of the appeal were sent to Council of Europe Human Rights Commissioner Thomas Hammarberg, UN Human Rights Commissioner Louise Arbor, and to Russian President Putin and Prosecutor-General Yury Chaika. On October 2, the website kavkaz-uzel.ru quoted human-rights activist Aslambek Apayev as expressing concern that the several hundred people who took to the streets to protest the Aushevs' disappearance may face legal action. LF

SLAIN INGUSH BROTHERS' FAMILY MEMBERS RELEASED
The mother, elder brother, and wife of one of the two Galayev brothers shot dead in cold blood by security forces in the village of Sagopshi early on September 27 on suspicion of belonging to an illegal armed formation were released from detention later that day, kavkaz-uzel.ru reported on September 29 (see "RFE/RL Newsline," October 1, 2007). The fact that the bodies of the two men were returned to their family for burial constitutes an implicit admission that the young men were not militants, since Russian antiterrorism legislation stipulates that the bodies of "terrorists" should be interred in unmarked graves, the location of which is not made known to their families. LF

SPECIAL FORCES TARGET NOGAI BATTALION
Special forces launched an operation in the evening of October 1 against a member of the so-called Nogai Battalion holed up in an apartment building in the town of Neftekumsk, Stavropol Krai, lenta.ru and the Chechen resistance website kavkazcenter.com reported. The militant, named as Urslanbi Shanyazov, was shot dead as he tried to escape from the building after an exchange of fire lasting several hours. At least eight Nogai resistance fighters were killed in a major shoot-out with federal forces in February 2006 (see "RFE/RL Newsline," February 10 and 13, 2006). LF

SLAVS IN ADYGEYA CONCERNED BY INFLUX OF KURDS
The number of Kurds who have settled over the past 15 years in the Republic of Adygeya is so large that in some schools Kurdish children are the largest ethnic group, and a danger exists that the Kurds may demand their own autonomous formation within the republic sooner or later, the website kavkaz-uzel.ru on October 1 quoted Vladimir Karatayev, one of the leaders of the Union of Slavs of Adygeya, as complaining. In 2002, Adygeya had a total population of some 447,000, of whom Slavs constituted 64 percent and Adygs 24 percent. Karatayev claimed that while in 2002 there were only 800 Kurds in Adygeya, the current figure is between 8,000-10,000, most of whom live in four villages in Krasnogvardeisk Raion, in one of which parents are demanding the introduction of Kurdish-language teaching in schools. LF

FORMER ARMENIAN PARLIAMENT SPEAKER DECLARES CANDIDACY FOR PRESIDENT
Former Armenian parliament speaker Artur Baghdasarian on October 1 announced his candidacy for the presidential election set for next year, RFE/RL's Armenian Service reported the same day. Baghdasarian added he will not endorse any other opposition candidate, effectively dashing opposition hopes of putting forward a single candidate on a unified ticket to oppose Prime Minister Serzh Sarkisian in the February 2008 election. The announcement follows a weekend meeting of Baghdasarian's Orinats Yerkir party leadership that -- according to Artashes Avoyan, one of the party's eight sitting deputies -- decided to "participate in the forthcoming presidential election with its own candidate," referring to party leader Baghdasarian. Avoyan added that Baghdasarian will be formally nominated as a presidential candidate at a party congress scheduled for the beginning of November. Baghdasarian served as parliament speaker until he was forced to resign following a conflict with President Robert Kocharian that culminated in the departure of the Orinats Yerkir party from the ruling pro-government coalition in May 2006 (see "RFE/RL Caucasus Report," May 5 and 25, 2006). RG

U.S. AMBASSADOR PLEDGES SUPPORT FOR DEMOCRATIC REFORM IN AZERBAIJAN...
Speaking to reporters at a press conference in Baku, U.S. Ambassador to Azerbaijan Anne Derse affirmed on October 1 that "the main priority of the U.S. in Azerbaijan is to support democratic reform," adding that "we think that the parliament should become independent, free, and the main institute for the democratic development of the country," Turan and ANS-TV reported. Noting the opening session of the Azerbaijan parliament the same day, Derse called on the parliament to adopt the recommendations presented by the Council of Europe's Venice Commission, including measures related to the laws on freedom of assembly. She further stressed that the conduct of "free, fair, and transparent presidential elections in 2008 is the main task" to be addressed by the parliament, referring to the planned consideration of amendments to the country's electoral code and voting procedures. She described next year's election as "a major opportunity" for Azerbaijan and "a necessary step to a higher level of democracy." Derse also discussed the U.S. government's multimillion-dollar project designed to strengthen the Azerbaijani parliament as an institution, explaining that the effort will "create special offices in constituencies to improve the relationships between voters and deputies," according to the day.az website. RG

...AND DENOUNCES VIOLENCE AGAINST JOURNALISTS
In comments during the same Baku press conference, U.S. Ambassador to Azerbaijan Derse on October 1 denounced violence against reporters, warning that "we are very concerned by any reports of beating or unjustified detention of citizens or journalists," according to Turan. Derse's remarks came in response to reports alleging the detention and torture of opposition journalist Hakim Eldostu Mehdiyev in the Autonomous Republic of Naxcivan. Two staff members of the U.S. Embassy in Baku recently visited the exclave to conduct their own independent inquiry into the case. She also said that the U.S. position on the issue remains firm, reiterating that "any violence -- beating, killing or use of force -- against media representatives by government officials is unacceptable," and calling for "each of those cases to be thoroughly investigated and criminals to be brought to justice." The Mehdiyev case also led the Paris-based Reporters Without Borders group to demand his release, citing an unfair arrest after his writing about gas and electricity problems for the opposition "Yeni Musavat" newspaper (see "Azerbaijan Urged To Release Imprisoned Journalist," September 26, 2007, rferl.org). RG

ELDERLY AZERBAIJANI OPPOSITION ACTIVIST TRANSFERRED TO PSYCHIATRIC HOSPITAL
Azerbaijani police transferred on September 30 a 70-year-old opposition Popular Front Party activist, Doctor Alexerov Ismaylov, from his home in Naxcivan to a psychiatric hospital in Baku, according to Turan. The detention of the elderly man followed an incident in which he formally filed complaints about his neighbor, Farid Mammadov, the local police chief in the Sadarak region. Hospital authorities denied all access to the man, turning away both relatives and an unnamed official from the U.S. Embassy in Baku. RG

GEORGIAN OPPOSITION PARTY DEMANDS PARLIAMENTARY PROBE INTO ACCUSATIONS AGAINST PRESIDENT
A senior member of the Georgian opposition New Right party, Mamuka Katsitadze, called on October 1 for the creation of a special parliamentary commission empowered to investigate the recent allegations against President Mikheil Saakashvili lodged by former Georgian Defense Minister Irakli Okruashvili, Rustavi-2 television reported. The opposition New Right party, unlike other opposition parties, does not support the former defense minister but believes the severity of the allegations mandates a formal and independent investigation. Katsitadze noted an important precedent for such a parliamentary inquiry, referring to the case of former Georgian Fuel and Energy Minister Davit Mirtskhulava, whose criminal case was the focus of a Georgian parliamentary commission. Another opposition figure, the leader of the Republican Party, Davit Usupashvili, announced on October 1, following his return from a visit to the United States the night before, that he unsuccessfully sought U.S. support for the former defense minister and official U.S. classification of Okruashvili as a "political prisoner," Imedi-TV reported. Okruashvili was arrested late on September 27 in the office of his recently established opposition For a United Georgia party (see "RFE/RL Newsline," October 1, 2007), two days after he publicly accused President Saakashvili of "corruption and injustice" and "political killings," adding that he could not exclude the possibility that the Georgian authorities will engineer his assassination (see "RFE/RL Newsline," September 26 and 27, 2007). RG

GEORGIAN PRESIDENT BEGINS VISIT TO GREECE
Georgian President Saakashvili began on October 1 a two-day state visit that is to include meetings with Greek leaders and discussions of Greek support for Georgian aspirations to join the NATO alliance, ITAR-TASS reported. Saakashvili met on October 1 with Greek President Karlos Papoulias and Prime Minister Konstandinos Karamanlis, and is to meet later with parliament speaker Dimitris Sioufas and Foreign Minister Theodora Bakoyianni. The official visit was the second by a Georgian leader, following the September 1997 visit by then-President Eduard Shevardnadze. Georgians living in Athens protested the day before Saakashvili arrived, Imedi-TV reported. RG

KAZAKH PREMIER WEIGHS IN ON BREAD PRICE RISE
Speaking via video to a cabinet meeting in Astana, Kazakh Prime Minister Karim Masimov denounced on October 1 the recent debate over the sharp rise in bread prices, saying that "over the past week, the issue of how to stabilize bread prices has been utterly politicized, though this is a purely economic issue," Interfax-Kazakhstan reported. Masimov said that bread prices have increased by an average of 30 percent over the past two months and noted that "at the same time, the rise in the prices varied: in some places it has been relatively high, in others low, while somewhere else the prices have stabilized." He added that the highest prices are in the major cities, including Almaty, Astana, Shymkent, and Aqtau. He further warned that although the government is "market-oriented" and recognizes "that bread prices should be determined by the market," this was "an unreasonable rise in the prices" driven by "somebody in the production chain...abusing their monopolistic market position." Masimov then added that he does not exclude introducing a state monopoly over bread production "if we do not see specific measures and cooperation over the next week." The country's largest trade-union association recently warned that it will demand the government's resignation if it fails to alleviate the effects of the recent sharp rise in the prices of basic foods and utilities (see "RFE/RL Newsline," October 1, 2007). RG

KYRGYZ INTERIOR MINISTRY WELCOMES U.S. FORENSIC ASSISTANCE
The Kyrgyz Interior Ministry held a special ceremony on October 2 welcoming the completion of the U.S.-financed project to modernize the fingerprint-identification system used by the ministry's forensic center, AKIPress reported. The ceremony, hosted with the U.S. Embassy in Bishkek, marks the close of a $200,000 project that included the construction of three additional forensic stations in the Osh, Jalal-Abad, and Talas regions. The overall goal of the project is to "facilitate the exchange and search" of fingerprint-profile data between the Kyrgyz law-enforcement community and the U.S. Federal Bureau of Investigation. RG

KYRGYZ DEPUTY WARNS OF IMMINENT WHEAT SHORTAGE
Speaking during a session of parliament, deputy Temir Sariev warned on October 1 that Kyrgyzstan faces a shortage of wheat in the next two months and that "if the government does not take any decisive measures, the situation will become extremely difficult," AKIpress reported. Sariev added that the country has only a "slender store of grain" and the approaching "deficit of flour and wheat will become a critical issue." He further added that the state wheat reserves are limited to only about 2,000-3,000 tons of wheat and suggested that the parliament consider the fact that "Russia is introducing duties for export of wheat." RG

KYRGYZ PRESIDENT CALLS FOR DEVELOPMENT OF 'ELITE' TOURISM
In a speech during a visit to the town of Balykchy in the Issyk-Kul region, Kurmanbek Bakiev called on October 1 for a new effort focused on developing "elite" tourism to cater to the estimated 1 million tourists visiting Kyrgyzstan each year, AKIpress and the 24.kg website reported. Bakiev added that he intends to form a new special commission to "examine pollution-control facilities" and inspect holiday resorts, warning that local officials "will be held personally responsible" for any violations of environmental standards. He explained that the proposal is aimed at shifting from "mass tourism" to elite tourism based on an "ecological balance." Bakiev then said that he is also inclined to support a proposal to impose a three-year ban on fishing at Issyk-Kul Lake to protect the local wetlands and native fisheries. RG

TURKMEN ELECTORAL BODY BEGINS PREPARATIONS FOR LOCAL ELECTIONS
The Turkmen Central Election Commission concluded on September 29 its first session devoted to launching preparations for the December 9 local elections, Turkmen Television reported. The commission resolved to establish two key local offices in the Ruhubelent district of the northern Dasoguz region and in the Dowletli district of the eastern Lebap region, in addition to the headquarters in the capital, Ashgabat. The commission also adopted measures designed to improve the accreditation and certification process for local and national observers and approved the formal schedule of local election campaigning in the regions. President Gurbanguly Berdymukhammedov recently restructured the commission, issuing a decree naming new members, in preparation for both the coming local elections and for a subsequent national referendum on proposed amendments to the Turkmen Constitution (see "RFE/RL Newsline," September 24, 2007). RG

BELARUSIAN GAS-PIPELINE OPERATOR GETS NEW HEAD
Last week, the supervisory board of the Beltranshaz gas-transport company approved Uladzimir Mayorau as the general director of the company, Belapan reported on October 1. President Alyaksandr Lukashenka fired Belatranshaz's former chief, Dzmitry Kazakou, along with the heads of other major state oil and gas companies in July, as Belarusian officials were holding talks at Gazprom headquarters in Moscow over an unpaid gas debt of some $500 million (see "RFE/RL Newsline," July 24, 2007). In addition, the Beltranshaz board named the company's eight-member management, which will include a representative of Russia's Gazprom, Dmitry Annyuk. Under an agreement signed in Moscow on December 31, 2006, Gazprom was to acquire a 50 percent stake worth $2.5 billion in Beltranshaz by June 1, 2010, to form a joint gas-transport company. Gazprom is to pay for the stake in four equal installments between 2007 and 2010. Earlier this year, Gazprom acquired the first 12.5 percent stake in Beltranshaz for $625 million. JM

UKRAINIAN RULING PARTY TAKES LEAD AS VOTE COUNT CRAWLS TOWARD END
With 96.67 percent of voting protocols processed, the Central Election Commission announced on its website (http://www.cvk.gov.ua) on October 2 that the Party of Regions received 34.12 percent of the vote, the Yulia Tymoshenko Bloc 30.85 percent, the Our Ukraine-People's Self-Defense bloc 14.32 percent, the Communist Party 5.35 percent, the Lytvyn Bloc 3.95 percent, and the Socialist Party 2.92 percent. Thus, the opposition Yulia Tymoshenko Bloc, which led during the initial stage of vote counting on October 1, lost its top position to the ruling Party of Regions headed by Prime Minister Viktor Yanukovych. Meanwhile, the Socialist Party has throughout the vote count straddled the 3 percent voting threshold that qualifies for parliamentary representation. "Yet again, we will be forming a government of people's trust and national unity. And this government will be formed by a coalition led by the Party of Regions," Yanukovych told a rally of his supporters on Independence Square in Kyiv on October 1. "We held democratic elections and we must declare firmly today that we are determined to defend our choice and that we will not allow anybody to rewrite the election results," he added. JM

UKRAINIAN PRESIDENT ORDERS PROBE INTO DELAYS OF BALLOT COUNTING
President Viktor Yushchenko said on October 1 that he is concerned with delays in the vote count in Donetsk, Luhansk, Odesa, and Crimea, and suggested that they are deliberate, Ukrainian media reported. "I order law-enforcement authorities to start an immediate investigation into the causes and circumstances of delayed vote-count reports from polling stations," Yushchenko said. "I'm saying clearly and unambiguously to those trying to get into parliament by committing fraud: My actions and words will not be at variance. Those who commit fraud will be punished. Do not challenge the law and your own fate. No one will be able to alter the real will of the voters. I firmly believe in the victory and unification of Ukrainian democracy," the president added. According to the Central Election Commission, with 96.67 percent of ballots counted on October 2, the cities of Sevastopol and Kyiv were the slowest among Ukraine's 27 regions in publicizing official results of the September 30 preterm elections. JM

ALBANIA OPPOSES UNILATERAL MOVE BY KOSOVA
Kosova should not unilaterally declare independence from Serbia, Albanian Prime Minister Sali Berisha said on September 29. "Any unilateral decision or act to proclaim Kosova independent would be counterproductive for Albanians if it is not coordinated with the U.S. government and other countries that have clearly and firmly opted for this independence as the only solution," the September 30 edition of the daily "Rilindja Demokratike" quoted Berisha as telling government ministers. Berisha's position is similar to that held by some in the Kosovar leadership's five-member negotiating team. This is, however, the first time that Albania has come out against a unilateral move by Kosova, whose population is overwhelmingly Albanian in ethnicity. U.S. Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice said on September 24 that Washington has "told the Kosovars that we don't think a unilateral declaration of independence is a very good idea," but less senior members of the U.S. administration have said on several occasions over the past half-year that Washington would back a unilateral move by Kosova (see "RFE/RL Newsline," April 18 and September 10, 12, and 26, 2007). AG

KOSOVAR POLITICIAN SEEKS ASYLUM IN BELGIUM
An ethnic-Albanian member of Kosova's parliament, Ragip Zekolli, has asked the Belgian authorities to grant him asylum, the Belgian newspaper "De Standaard" reported on September 27. Zekolli, who fled Kosova with his wife and youngest daughter to his brother's home in Belgium on September 12, said he has been receiving death threats since 2001 but recently received "several very serious threats," the paper reported. Zekolli is an official in Kosova's Education Ministry representing the Democratic League of Kosova (LDK), the party of late President Ibrahim Rugova. The threats reportedly warned Zekolli he could suffer the fate of Uke Bytyci, an LDK mayor slain in 2002. AG

BOSNIAN POLICE DEAL 'NOT ENOUGH'
A breakthrough agreement on reform of Bosnia-Herzegovina's police forces is "unfortunately...not enough to continue [Bosnia's] Stabilization and Association Process with the European Union," Miroslav Lajcak, the international community's high representative in the country, said on October 1. At least temporarily, Lajcak's statement dashes the hopes raised on September 28 by the last-minute agreement, whose authors, Haris Silajdzic and Milorad Dodik, both said they believed the deal would open the way to a Stabilization and Association Agreement, a first step toward EU membership. Silajdzic in particular has stressed the EU as a factor for his decision, arguing that the deal was "our last chance to catch the train going to the EU." Lajcak and the EU had warned Silajdzic and Dodik, the two principal protagonists in the protracted dispute over police reform, that they must choose between isolation or integration into the EU and gave September 30 as a deadline for an agreement (see "RFE/RL Newsline," September 10, 2007). Lajcak said on October 1 that "we do not have a political agreement that enjoys the support of the required majority and that is in line with the three European principles" for police reform: central control of the police budget, the depoliticization of police operations, and the depoliticization of police administrative boundaries. Speaking of the Dodik-Silajdzic deal, Lajcak said it is "positive" that the two are now taking "the police issue and the future of the country seriously," but said that their "document...leaves some key questions unresolved." On September 28, in its first response to the protocol signed by Dodik, the Republika Srpska's prime minister, and Silajdzic, the Bosnian Muslims' representative on the three-member presidency, the Office of the High Representative urged "everyone to refrain from interpreting the document, as only the European Commission can give an opinion on whether this agreement is in line with the three principles for police reform." AG

BOSNIAN MUSLIM LEADER CRITICIZED FOR POLICE DEAL...
Haris Silajdzic has been accused of betrayal after striking the last-minute deal with Republika Srpska Prime Minister Dodik on reform of the country's police forces (see "RFE/RL Newsline," October 1, 2007). Sulejman Tihic, who leads the country's largest Muslim party, the Party of Democratic Action (SDA), said Silajdzic is "betraying Bosnia for his own interests" following hints that he might be removed from his position by High Representative Lajcak. Another political leader, Zlatko Lagumdzija of the multiethnic Social Democratic Party (SDP), accused Silajdzic of rejecting proposals put forward by Lajcak only to make greater concessions to Dodik. That view was shared by Tihic. Among the two men's criticisms are that, based on their understanding of the agreement, the composition of the country's various police forces will be based on the relative size of the area's various ethnic communities, and that local police forces will not be allowed to cross the boundaries of their particular areas. An SDP official quoted by the news agency SRNA on October 1 also questioned the system of budgeting in the Dodik-Silajdzic deal and the failure to give special status to Srebrenica, site of the worst massacre in Europe since 1945. Silajdzic was also attacked by groups representing Bosnian Muslim victims of the war, including the Association of Mothers of Srebrenica, who, according to local media, said that "Silajdzic signed onto the preservation of an institution [the Republika Srpska police] that the International Court of Justice has held legally responsible for Srebrenica" (see "RFE/RL Newsline," February 27 and 28, 2007). Meanwhile, Republika Srpska Prime Minister Dodik has so far emerged unscathed from the debate about police reform. There has been no high-profile public criticism by other Bosnian Serbs and he has garnered substantial praise. Moreover, his overall position as the dominant figure of Bosnian Serb politics was confirmed on September 30, when he was unanimously reelected as leader of his party, the Alliance of Independent Social Democrats (SNSD), the most popular party in Bosnia. Dodik told local media that his deal with Silajdzic meets his chief objective, the preservation of a distinct police force operating in the Republika Srpska. Some degree of integration is envisaged, however. AG

...AS CROATS WITHHOLD JUDGMENT
Leaders of Bosnia-Herzegovina's third-largest community, ethnic Croats, have so far largely refrained from commenting on the agreement reached on police reform. However, public radio on October 1 quoted Dragan Covic, the leader of the Croatian Democratic Community (HDZ), as saying the deal struck by Silajdzic and Dodik "sends a strange and ugly political message" to Bosnians and to the international community. He expressed surprise that two men "who insisted they would never accept some things, have now accepted them easily in a bilateral agreement," and described it as "bad" that "two individuals...were negotiating and have now made a proposal on behalf of the state, on behalf of three nations." Covic said his party supported the original proposal made by High Representative Lajcak (see "RFE/RL Newsline," August 31 and September 4, 2007). Another party, the Croatian Democratic Community-1990 (HDZ-1990), warned on September 29 that "should this turn out to be an agreement of two parties against a third party, then the Croats will most definitely respond harshly," the Croatian news agency Hina reported. AG

ZUPLJANIN SUPPORTER TARGET OF NEW BOSNIAN POLICE RAID
EU forces in Bosnia-Herzegovina have continued the hunt for Stojan Zupljanin, one of four men still wanted by international war-crimes prosecutors, by raiding the home of one of his suspected supporters. The search was carried out early on September 28 at the home of Boro Pekez, near the town of Gradiska in northern Bosnia. Several days earlier, on September 25, Bosnian media quoted the Interior Ministry of the Republika Srpska as saying that it has proof that Zupljanin visited Serbia and Russia in late 2006. The police official leading the Republika Srpska's hunt for Zupljanin said in mid-September that Zupljanin is currently in the Republika Srpska and that it is "certain" that Zupljanin "will be arrested soon" (see "RFE/RL Newsline," September 18, 2007). This is the fourth publicized raid this year on the home of a member of the network suspected of aiding and sheltering Zupljanin (see "RFE/RL Newsline," February 13, March 8, and June 1, 2007). AG

SERBIA BANS NEO-NAZI MARCH
Police in the northern city of Novi Sad decided on September 26 to ban a planned march by a group of neo-Nazis, following protests by Jewish organizations, a range of nongovernmental organizations, and a number of political parties, Serbian media reported (see "RFE/RL Newsline," September 20, 2007). The group, Nacionalni Stroj, called the rally specifically to support Serbia's efforts to retain control over Kosova, but its leader, Goran Davidovic, also said the rally was "a protest against all forms of separatism, sects, and divisions." The scheduled date -- October 7, the birthday of the wartime Nazi leader Heinrich Himmler -- underscored the possibility that the group would also demonstrate its broader agenda. According to local reports, the police invoked laws aimed at halting the spread of racial, religious, or national hatred. In the past year, members of Nacionalni Stroj have been jailed for inciting hatred and arrested for threats against a leading local journalist (see "RFE/RL Newsline," April 16 and May 4, 2007). AG

ETHNIC-ALBANIAN PARTY PROTESTS AGAINST 'STATE TERROR' IN MACEDONIA...
About 1,500 ethnic Albanians on September 28 heeded a call by Macedonia's largest ethnic-Albanian party, the Democratic Union for Integration (BDI), to gather in central Skopje to protest against alleged police violence during a police operation to end a blockade of parliament on September 25 (see "RFE/RL Newsline," September 27, 2007). The roadblock followed a fight within parliament between members of the BDI and another ethnic-Albanian party, the Party for Democratic Prosperity (PPD). It remains unclear exactly why the unrest within parliament spread outside the building, but the BDI has blamed the police. Nine people, including five police officers, were injured during the operation, which a BDI member, Xhevad Ademi, described as "state terror," according to AFP on September 28. AG

...WHILE MACEDONIAN OPPOSITION CALLS FOR MINISTER'S RESIGNATION
In another aftershock from the violent scenes triggered by the ethnic-Albanian parties' confrontation, Macedonia's largest opposition party, the Social Democratic Alliance of Macedonia (SDSM), on September 30 demanded the resignation of Interior Minister Gordana Jankulovska, local media reported. The SDSM did not criticize the police operation outside parliament, but argued that Jankulovska should be held responsible for a subsequent incident in which a television cameraman was beaten by security forces after refusing to hand over footage. He was traveling in a car with two of the BDI's members of parliament. The incident reportedly left the journalist, Igor Ljubovcevski, with two broken ribs. In protest, journalists boycotted a press conference with Prime Minister Nikola Gruevski on September 27. Separately, the news agency Makfax reported on September 27 that police have brought charges against an unidentified man for an assault on a journalist, Lirim Dulovi, during the brawl between ethnic-Albanian parties inside the parliament building on September 25. The few details provided indicate that the man comes from a part of Macedonia predominantly populated by ethnic Albanians. The SDSM called for Jankulovska's resignation in mid-September after a policeman was killed in an ambush by a group of ethnic-Albanian gunmen (see "RFE/RL Newsline," September 10 and 12, 2007). AG

TRANSDNIESTER SAID TO BE 'BALLAST' FOR MOLDOVA
A former adviser to Moldovan President Vladimir Voronin has suggested that Moldova should jettison its claims to Transdniester in order to hasten its entry into the EU. In its September 28 edition, the Russian newspaper "Vremya novostei" quoted Sergiu Mocanu as describing the contested region as "ballast" that could hold back EU membership for 15-20 years. Without Transdniester, which broke away from Moldova in 1992, "we might just be able to jump aboard the last train to the European Union," Mocanu claimed. "Since the Transdniester conflict is no longer solvable, Moldova should recognize European integration as its top priority," he said. "The Transdniester region is not a part of Moldova, and that's a fact we'd better recognize," Mocanu stated, adding that Moldovans now have "more relatives in Italy than on the opposite bank of the Dniester." AG

RUSSIAN PRESIDENT MAKES NEXT MOVE IN 'OPERATION SUCCESSOR'
Has Russian President Vladimir Putin finally shown his hand? Speaking at a congress of the pro-Kremlin Unified Russia party on October 1, Putin dropped two verbal bombshells: that he will head the party's list of candidates for December's elections to the State Duma, and that he will consider becoming prime minister in the future:

"Heading the government is quite a realistic proposal, but it's too early to think about it because at least two conditions must be met for that," Putin told applauding delegates. "First of all, Unified Russia must win the December 2 parliamentary elections. And secondly, a decent, capable, efficient, modern person should be elected president."

Given the financial, administrative, and media resources at the Kremlin's -- and Unified Russia's -- disposal, meeting those two conditions should not pose much of a problem. Analysts say the twin announcements are the clearest signal yet that Putin plans to keep power, in one form or another, after his second term as president ends next year.

Speaking to RFE/RL's Russian Service shortly after Putin's shock announcements, political analyst Stanislav Belkovsky said the president's move solved the succession problem that has been vexing Kremlin strategists for months. "It appears that President Vladimir Putin has decided not to become a world-renowned pensioner," Belkovsky said. "He has decided to stay on for a third term, and even for a fourth, fifth, and sixth. He didn't see any peaceful scenario for the transfer of power in Russia after his departure. He didn't see a possibility for consolidating the elite around a successor. So what has happened has happened."

Putin's announcements fit a scenario Kremlin-watchers have been speculating about for months: that Putin would continue to dominate Russian politics as prime minister after turning over the presidency to a loyal, and weak, successor -- possibly even the man he recently installed as prime minister, the heretofore unknown Viktor Zubkov.

Belkovsky said such a move would mean a complete overhaul of the Russian political system. "It seems to me that the Russian political system has come to a very serious turning point," Belkovsky said. "'Operation Successor' has turned out to be absolutely technical. It is possible that the successor will be Viktor Zubkov. And it will be comfortable for the future Prime Minister Vladimir Putin to work with him."

Olga Kryshtanovskaya, the head of the Center for Elite Studies at the Russian Academy of Sciences Institute of Sociology, says the next steps in the succession plan are becoming clear. Putin, she says, will try to lead Unified Russia to an overwhelming majority -- possibly more than 70 percent of the vote -- in the Duma elections. The State Duma will then amend legislation on the government's powers, giving the prime minister significantly more power.

Specifically, Kryshtanovskaya and others say the so-called "power ministries" -- Defense, Foreign Affairs, Interior, and the Federal Security Service -- will be transferred out from under their current presidential control. "When Putin becomes the leader of the victorious party, they will change the law on government. The power ministries will be turned over to the prime minister," Kryshtanovskaya says.

The way the prime minister is appointed could also be changed. Under the current system, the president nominates the prime minister and the State Duma confirms the choice. Analysts say this could be changed so the leader of the largest party in the Duma automatically becomes the head of government. The idea, says Kryshtanovskaya, is to create a sort of super-prime-minister role for Putin, similar to the post of chancellor in Germany. Putin can then turn over the diminished presidency to Zubkov or another compliant successor.

Some have even suggested that the prime minister's office could be moved to the Kremlin, further underlining where true power lies. "It would be logical that Putin stays in the same office he is working in now," Kryshtanovskaya says. "And this means that there needs to be some serious changes in the law."

One unanswered question is whether Putin would want to keep such a system in place for the long term, or if he might want to return as president in 2012. If Putin wants to make a new, beefed-up premiership a permanent fixture of the Russian political system, then the constitution will need to be changed to reflect this. Most significantly, the clause in the constitution making the president the commander in chief of the armed forces will need to be amended.

"It isn't clear whether Putin wants to return to the post of president," Kryshtanovskaya says. "If he wants to do so, he needs to keep the constitution as it is, with a strong presidency. If he wants to stay in power in another way, the constitution will get in the way."

(Brian Whitmore is an RFE/RL correspondent based in Prague.)

U.S. MILITARY LAUNCHES 'MOST WANTED' CAMPAIGN IN AFGHANISTAN
The U.S. military spokesman Lieutenant Colonel Rob Pollack said on October 1 said it has launched a new "Most Wanted" campaign offering up to $200,000 for information leading to the capture of top Taliban and Al-Qaeda members, AP reported. Posters and billboards advertising reward amounts ranging from $20,000 to $200,000 show the names and pictures of 12 key terrorist fugitives responsible for roadside and suicide bomb attacks. Internationally infamous figures such as Osama bin Laden and Taliban leader Mullah Omar, who currently has a $10 million reward on his head, are excluded from the list. "We want the people in that area to know who this guy is and know he's a bad guy, and when they spot him to turn that guy in," U.S. spokesman Major Chris Belcher said. The program, in development for weeks, has been launched despite offers of government posts and a seat at the negotiating table from Afghan President Hamid Karzai to Taliban militants in return for efforts to work for peace (see "RFE/RL Newsline," October 1, 2007). JC

TALIBAN HANG AFGHAN BOY FOR HOLDING U.S. DOLLARS...
Taliban militants on September 30 hanged a 15-year-old boy in Afghanistan's southern Helmand Province because he had U.S. dollars in his pocket, police said the next day, AP reported. The rebels packed the boy's mouth with five $1 bills intended as a warning to others that "they would face the same punishment if they were caught with dollars," said Wali Mohammad, district police chief in Sangin district, where the boy was found. District chief Haji Ezatullah said the boy was hanged from an electrical pole for allegedly providing information about Taliban hideouts to government and foreign forces, dpa reported. Taliban rebels fatally shot another man in Sangin accused of being a spy for U.S. troops, Mohammad said, adding that the man was in fact seeking farming assistance and seeds from an international aid program. Elsewhere in Ghazni Province, a tailor was taken from his shop in broad daylight and beheaded in the streets of the town of Liwanai in Qarabagh district, officials said on October 1. District chief Khwaja Mohammad Seddiqi told dpa the tailor, Mohammad Kabir, was sewing clothes for local soldiers. The Taliban also killed a man identified as Gul Dad in Kapisa Province whom they accused of spying, said Taliban spokesman Zabihullah Mujahed. And in southeastern Paktika Province, Taliban militants killed a man "found guilty of giving intelligence to the U.S.-led forces against the Taliban," claimed Mujahed. He did not say how the man, named Kakai Khan, was killed, only that he confessed to "this crime" during the "investigation" prior to his killing. JC

...AS FIVE AFGHANS KIDNAPPED IN SOUTH-CENTRAL AFGHANISTAN
Five Afghans connected to various international aid groups operating in Afghanistan have been taken hostage in the latest round of abductions by either Taliban rebels or criminals seeking ransoms, AFP reported on October 1. Unidentified men kidnapped two employees with the Danish Committee for Aid to Afghan Refugees (DACAAR) on September 30 approximately 50 kilometers south of Kabul, said DACAAR Director Arif Qarain. The two men were on their way home after completing a water-supply project, he added. DACAAR officials were contacted hours later by a man demanding the organization pay the kidnappers some money. Meanwhile, three men driving supply trucks to foreign forces in central Wardak Province were kidnapped on October 1, a local police official said. Taliban spokesman Zabihullah Mujahed claimed responsibility for the kidnapping on the group's behalf, saying the three men were taken because "they are helping the invading forces." On September 29, Taliban militants freed four Red Cross workers the group said it "mistakenly" abducted on September 25 (see "RFE/RL Newsline," October 1, 2007). At the time of their capture, the four were on a mission to secure the release of a German engineer and his five Afghan colleagues kidnapped in July. JC

U.S.-LED COALITION KILLS OVER 20 REBELS
U.S.-led coalition troops together with Afghan forces killed over 20 Taliban fighters on October 1 during a major offensive in Afghanistan's southern Helmand Province, AFP reported. Troops attacked a suspected rebel hideout near the Pakistani border, acting on tips from "credible intelligence sources," a coalition statement said. The militants responded to the offensive with small-arms fire, instigating a battle with coalition troops in which more than 20 combatants were killed. There are no reports of civilian casualties, the statement said. In neighboring Zabul Province, troops killed two more Taliban militants and captured seven others, injuring one, following a quick exchange of gunfire in a rebel compound. A "significant number" of weapons and ammunition was recovered from the compound, according to the statement. JC

SECURITY OFFICIAL SAYS TOO LATE TO STOP IRAN'S NUCLEAR PROGRAM
The "Financial Times" on October 1 quoted Supreme National Security Council Secretary Ali Larijani as saying that Iran's advances in its nuclear program have reached a point where it is "futile" to try and stop activities like uranium enrichment, a key part of the nuclear fuel-making process with potential military usage, ft.com reported. Iran has defied Western demands to stop enrichment and related activities, and says it has a right to make fuel for a civilian energy program. Larijani said he was "surprised to hear suspension is still being" discussed, but that Iran is committed to the implementation of the "work plan" with the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) designed to clarify various aspects of its program. The initiative, he said, is not a delaying tactic by Iran. Larijani said current UN sanctions on Iran intended to curb its nuclear program have had some effect, but less than Western states imagined. "As you see, life goes on in Iran," he said, and Iran can replace goods it cannot import from Western states with others from China. VS

IRANIAN GENERAL DISMISSIVE OF U.S. HOSTILITY
Speaking in Tehran on October 1, Yahya Rahim-Safavi, the supreme leader's adviser on military affairs and former head of the Islamic Revolution Guards Corps (IRGC), urged caution with Iran's "enemies," but said he doubts the United States could open "a new front of war" against Iran, given "its problems" in Iraq and Afghanistan, ISNA reported. He told student members of the Basij -- a militia affiliated with the IRGC -- at the Sharif Industrial University in Tehran that the United States could nevertheless cause Iran "problems" with its forces in the region. He said one of the lessons of Iran's 1980-88 war with Iraq was that Iranian officials and security agencies should not be "naive" in dealing with the enemy. "Our enemies are powerful, forceful...and angry, so we have to be vigilant and retain our readiness against them," he said. Rahim-Safavi said that "America will reduce its forces in Iraq soon, but I predict it will keep its military bases in that country for years." He said he believes the United States would prefer to have a more "obedient" government in Iraq, but has not "found anyone better" than Nuri al-Maliki to run the country. He said he believes Iraq will become a federal state. Rahim-Safavi added that the IRGC has a duty to respond to internal unrest beyond a certain "stage," as permitted by Iran's supreme leader and the Supreme National Security Council. Police and security bodies will respond to lower-level unrest, he said. VS

IRAN'S PARLIAMENT CONCLUDES DEBATES ON PRIVATIZATION BILL
Parliament ended on October 1 its debates on a bill to determine the mechanics of a privatization drive in line with Article 44 of Iran's Constitution, Fars news agency reported. Parliament examined and debated the bill in 16 open sessions over three weeks. The bill explains in 10 chapters and 91 articles how state firms are to be transferred to the private sector. Iranian officials have stated their commitment to the privatization drive, which has been emphatically approved by Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, but parliamentarians have complained of the initiative's slow progress. The deputy speaker, Mohammad Reza Bahonar, said in parliament on October 1 that a specialist parliamentary committee and the Expediency Council, a key arbitrating body, will scrutinize the text in the coming days and determine if it is unconstitutional, Fars reported. VS

IMAM SHOT IN SOUTHWESTERN IRAN
A Friday Prayers leader from Ahvaz, in the southwestern Khuzestan Province, was shot and injured by an unidentified cyclist on September 29, Radio Farda reported the next day, citing Iranian media reports. Sheikh Samir Dor-Kavandi, the main preacher at the Khatam Al-Anbia Mosque in Ahvaz, was shot while walking home, and had to be hospitalized for an operation, district Governor Abdulaziz Fadami told ISNA on September 29. Fadami said the cleric's condition has stabilized. This is not the first shooting of a local cleric in Ahvaz (see "RFE/RL Newsline," January 26 and August 22, 2007). The district with a sizeable Arab population and has been the scene of ethnic tensions and bombings in the past two years. Iranian officials have blamed separatists or "sect" members for violence in the area. VS

RIOT POLICE CONFRONT IRANIAN STRIKERS
The authorities in Khuzestan Province decided to send riot police to the Shush district on October 1, in response to an ongoing strike by sugar factory workers there (see "RFE/RL Newsline," October 1, 2007), Radio Farda reported. The strike and demonstration by workers of the Haft Tapeh firm was in its third day on October 1, and the number of protesters has apparently increased from 1,000 on September 29 to 2,500. Local journalist Abolfazl Abedini told Radio Farda the authorities have sent riot police from Ahvaz and other main towns in Khuzestan, and that more were due to be sent the next day, in a bid to end the strike. Abedini said workers were prevented from gathering outside the Shush district governor's office on September 30 as they had the previous day, but that "hundreds" of them blocked a road junction between the towns of Ahvaz and Andimeshk. They gathered outside the governor's office on October 1 however, and dispersed peacefully at noon. An unnamed worker told Radio Farda that some strike leaders have been "threatened" by phone, and gone into hiding. VS

U.K. PRIME MINISTER VISITS IRAQ
Prime Minister Gordon Brown arrived in Baghdad on October 2 for meetings with Iraqi leaders, RFE/RL's Radio Free Iraq reported. Following a meeting with Iraqi Prime Minister Nuri al-Maliki, Brown told reporters that Britain plans to withdraw 1,000 more troops from Iraq by year-end, and will study further possible withdrawals next year. Al-Maliki said Iraq will be ready to assume control over security in Al-Basrah by that time. According to British media, Brown is considering cutting the British contingent in Iraq by between 2,000 and 3,000 troops by spring 2008. Some 5,500 British troops are currently based in Al-Basrah. Brown is reportedly slated to travel to Al-Basrah for meetings with British commanders later in the day. KR

IRAQI HEALTH SPOKESMAN UPDATES CHOLERA SITUATION
Health Ministry Undersecretary Amir al-Khuza'i, who serves as spokesman for the ministry's anti-cholera campaign, told reporters on October 1 that 2,839 Iraqis have tested positive for cholera thus far, Iraqi media reported. Al-Khuza'i said 12 people have died from the disease, which continues to spread across northern Iraq. RFE/RL's Radio Free Iraq reported that 100 people contract the disease each day in Kirkuk Governorate. The World Health Organization (WHO) said last week that cholera "has spread to 25 districts of northern Iraq and four districts in southern Iraq and across the center of the country." It estimated that more than 30,000 people have fallen ill with acute watery diarrhea, with less than 10 percent contracting cholera. "The case fatality rate is 0.52 [percent] and has remained low throughout the outbreak, although it continues to spread across Iraq and dissemination to as yet unaffected areas remains highly possible," the September 25 WHO statement noted. KR

IRAQI OFFICIAL SAYS WESTERN PROVINCE SECURE
Deputy Interior Minister Tariq Yusuf al-Dulaymi said on October 1 that Al-Anbar Governorate has witnessed a noticeable improvement in security, state-run Al-Iraqiyah television reported the same day. Al-Anbar's capital, Al-Ramadi, "is completely secured. Checkpoints are set at the entrances and exits to the city. Police patrols are present 24 hours a day," al-Dulaymi said, noting that families displaced by violence in the governorate have begun to return to their homes. Al-Dulaymi said the ministry will work to assist returning families. In the event that peoples' homes are inhabited by squatters, the ministry will evacuate them and compensate the displaced. He did not say how the families will be compensated. Al-Anbar Awakening Conference chief Ahmad Abu Rishah met with Prime Minister al-Maliki on October 1 in Baghdad to discuss ongoing efforts to maintain security in the governorate. Abu Rishah told Al-Iraqiyah in an interview following the meeting that his tribe remains committed to fighting Al-Qaeda. He also noted that al-Maliki pledged continued economic support for the governorate. KR

IRAQI LEADER PLEDGES GOVERNMENT AID IN REBUILDING BABIL
Deputy Prime Minister Barham Salih led a delegation to Babil Governorate on October 1 to convene a reconstruction and development forum, RFE/RL's Radio Free Iraq reported the same day. Salih, who is Iraq's former planning minister, told reporters that the government has allocated $41 million to revitalize the governorate, which is one of the country's most deficient in terms of services and economic capital. He said the government will offer soft-term loans to the poor and displaced. Iraqi media reported that local government representatives, tribal leaders, and several ministers attended the forum. State-run Al-Iraqiyah television reported on October 1 that Babil chieftains have formed a salvation council similar to the Al-Anbar Salvation Council to work on restoring security and driving terrorist elements from the governorate, which lies just south of Baghdad. KR

TURKISH CHIEF OF STAFF WARNS IRAQ ON VERGE OF FORMAL SPLIT
Turkish Chief of Staff General Yasar Buyukanit said on October 1 that Iraq may soon split into three separate regions, a phenomenon that will ultimately threaten Turkey, the Anatolia news agency reported the same day. During his keynote speech marking the opening of the academic year at the Turkish War Academies, Buyukanit argued that "Iraq is rapidly moving towards a confederation. Division in Iraq is very close. An independent sate in [the] north of Iraq would not only be a political threat, but also a security threat to Turkey." "Turkey must look at [the] north[ern region] of Iraq from a political, military, and psychological perspective. Turkey must watch closely the formation in northern Iraq," he added. KR

HUMAN-RIGHTS ORGANIZATION WARNS OF PLIGHT OF PALESTINIANS IN IRAQ
Amnesty International said in an October 1 report that Palestinian refugees living in Iraq are one of the most vulnerable groups in the country. "They are being hunted down, abducted, tortured, and in some cases, killed without any effective steps being taken to protect them," said Malcolm Smart, Amnesty's Middle East and North Africa program director. Smart noted that Palestinians, many of whom have taken refuge at camps along Iraq's border with Jordan and Syria, "also face great obstacles in seeking refuge" abroad. He said Iraq's western neighbors "are extremely reluctant to allow Palestinian refugees to enter their territory, and there is now a pressing need for other countries to resettle those most at risk." According to Amnesty, some 320 Palestinians were killed between 2003 and the start of 2007. The Palestinian Liberation Organization has provided Amnesty with a list documenting 500 Palestinians killed in Iraq. Many Palestinians received preferential treatment under Saddam Hussein's regime, and have reportedly been targeted by Shi'ite militias in retaliatory attacks since the fall of the regime (see "RFE/RL Iraq Report," October 6, 2006). Amnesty has called on coalition forces and the Iraqi government to take steps to protect Palestinian refugees in Iraq. KR

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