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Newsline - October 24, 2007

U.S. Defense Secretary Robert Gates said on October 23 that the United States will proceed with plans to deploy 10 missile interceptors in Poland and a radar station in the Czech Republic but might be willing to delay activating them. "We would consider tying together activation of the sites in Poland and the Czech Republic with definitive proof of the threat -- in other words, Iranian missile testing and so on," Gates said after meeting with Czech Prime Minister Mirek Topolanek in Prague, news agencies reported. According to AP, Gates added, "We have not fully developed this proposal, but the idea was we would go forward with the negotiations, we would complete the negotiations, we would develop the sites, build the sites, but perhaps delay activating them until there was concrete proof of the threat from Iran." Gates said the possible delay in activating European missile-defense sites was among the proposals that he and U.S. Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice made during talks in Moscow earlier this month, Interfax reported on October 23. "We continue to encourage the Russians to partner with us in missile defense and continue our efforts to reassure them that these facilities are not aimed at Russia and could benefit Russia," the news agency quoted Gates as saying. The U.S. Department of Defense's website ( on October 23 quoted Gates as saying he told Czech leaders that another possible way to reassure Russia that U.S. missile defenses in Europe will not threaten it would be to allow Russian observers at the sites. However, Gates added: "Let me repeat for emphasis: Nothing will be done in this regard without the consent of the Czech government." Asked if the Czech government would accept having Russians on Czech territory, Topolanek said, "no comment," AP reported. JB

In an interview with RFE/RL, U.S. Defense Secretary Gates said that both "the Czech leadership" and "the Russian government" were "intrigued" by "new proposals" that he and Secretary of State Rice "put on the table" when they visited Moscow earlier this month "looking for ways for greater transparency to provide the Russians reassurance" over U.S. plans to deploy missile defenses in Europe. Gates said he and Rice made it "perfectly clear" the United States will proceed with negotiations with the Czech Republic and Poland "regardless and, if those negotiations are successful, then to proceed to deploy, or build, these radars and interceptors." He added, however, that Washington "might be willing to sit down and talk with the Russians about not activating the completed systems until the threat was apparent, in other words, until the Iranians or others in the Middle East had flight-tested missiles of a range that could hit Europe, as an example." Gates said that "even President [Vladimir] Putin" has referred to the proposals as "constructive." JB

While Defense Secretary Gates was saying in Prague that the United States might consider delaying the activation of its planned European missile-defense system, President George W. Bush was saying in Washington that such a system is urgently needed. In a speech to the National Defense University on October 23, a transcript of which was posted at, Bush said that the need for missile defense in Europe is "real" and "urgent." Iran is "pursuing the technology that could be used to produce nuclear weapons, and ballistic missiles of increasing range that could deliver them," he said, adding that the U.S. intelligence community believes Iran, "with continued foreign assistance," will be able to "develop an intercontinental ballistic missile capable of reaching the United States and all of Europe before 2015." Bush said that the European missile-defense system will be "limited in scope" and is not designed to defend against an attack from Russia. "The missile defenses we can employ would be easily overwhelmed by Russia's nuclear arsenal," he said. "Russia has hundreds of missiles and thousands of warheads. We're planning to deploy 10 interceptors in Europe. It doesn't take a rocket scientist to do the math. Moreover, the missile defenses we will deploy are intended to deter countries who would threaten us with ballistic-missile attacks. We do not consider Russia such a country. The Cold War is over. Russia is not our enemy. We're building a new security relationship, whose foundation does not rest on the prospect of mutual annihilation." The United States is inviting Russia to join "this cooperative effort" against an emerging mutual threat, Bush said, adding that the radar facilities in Azerbaijan and southern Russian that President Putin has offered for use "could be included as part of a wider threat-monitoring system that could lead to an unprecedented level of strategic cooperation" between Russia and the United States. JB

During talks in Tokyo with Japanese Foreign Minister Masahiko Komura on October 23, Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov said Iran does not pose a "fundamental threat" and reiterated Russia's concerns over U.S. missile-defense plans. AP quoted Lavrov as saying that while a joint U.S.-Japan missile-defense pact addresses a legitimate threat from North Korea, Moscow is concerned over the global reach of U.S. missile defenses. "North Korea poses a fundamental threat, but Iran does not," Lavrov was quoted as telling Komura. While Moscow "understands Japan's missile-defense system is not aimed at Russia," it has concerns over Washington's moves to extend its missile-defense network "on a global scale," Lavrov said. Meanwhile, a Russian Foreign Ministry spokesman said on October 23 that Russia will reply to U.S. missile-defense proposals if they are made officially. Asked to comment on U.S. Defense Secretary Gates' remarks in Prague about possibly delaying the missile-defense system that the U.S. plans to deploy in Europe, the unnamed spokesman told Interfax, "We are prepared to consider any U.S. proposals in this area, but, to this end, we need to receive them through official channels." Lavrov said in Belgorod on October 19 that during talks in Moscow earlier this month, Gates and U.S. Secretary of State Rice "made a number of interesting suggestions that we're looking at more closely." Lavrov added, however, that Russia wants the United States to put in writing the proposals that the two made orally (see "RFE/RL Newsline," October 22, 2007). JB

State Duma Foreign Affairs Committee Chairman Konstantin Kosachyov said on October 23 that U.S. Defense Secretary Robert Gates' remarks in Prague about possibly delaying the missile-defense system that the U.S. plans to deploy in Europe are "welcome" but lack clarity. "The statement of the head of the U.S. military department concerning plans to deploy a missile-defense system is highly symptomatic and can be welcomed, but only as a first step in the right direction, because the appeal to Russia for cooperation is unclear, not concrete, and we don't understand it, bearing in mind that our country has repeatedly put forth its plans for cooperation in this sphere," Kosachyov told Interfax. He added that Gates' statement "testifies to the fact that the widespread aversion to American plans throughout the world has come home to White House strategists, and they are looking for a way out of the situation that they themselves created...without losing face." What is most important for Russia, Kosachyov said, is not to catch U.S. politicians making mistakes, but rather to prevent them from unilaterally violating "the existing system of checks and balances in the strategic sphere and to build a new system for countering threats that is based on a balance of the interests of all countries." JB

Federation Council International Affairs Committee Chairman Mikhail Margelov said on October 23 that Turkish military action against Kurdish militants in northern Iraq might spark a regional armed conflict that could spread beyond Turkey and Iraq into Syria and Iran. "The intention to solve the problem with arms, by means of a de facto incursion into the territory of a sovereign state, can only be condemned," Margelov told RIA Novosti, commenting on Turkey's rejection of a cease-fire offer by the Kurdistan Workers Party (PKK). "Especially since, as we see in the example of the Lebanese-Israeli war, such measures grant only a temporary respite." Margelov added that the shelling of Iraqi territory is worsening the situation in Iraq and that the situation along the Iraqi-Turkish border will improve only when there is a strong central government in Iraq capable of controlling the country. Interfax on October 23 quoted Margelov as saying that neither the Iraqi government nor the United States can provide security guarantees for Turkey, which means that Turkey should help the new Iraqi state system become established rather than launch an armed invasion that would further destabilize Iraq. RIA Novosti, citing the Turkish website "Yeni Safak," reported early on October 24 that Turkish commandos accompanied by helicopters have entered northern Iraq in an operation against the PKK and that Turkish F-16 fighters and artillery are bombing PKK bases in northern Iraq. JB

President Putin on October 23 met in Moscow with the heads of Russia's major towns and cities, Russian media reported on October 24. More than 1,000 mayors and local legislators attended the meeting, which was organized in part by the pro-Kremlin Unified Russia party. Earlier this month, Putin met in Ufa with the heads of all the subjects of the Russian Federation (see "RFE/RL Newsline," October 12, 2007). The mayors invited Putin to head a national council of cities when his presidential term expires, but Putin refused, reported. Putin instead suggested that a presidential coordinating council on local self-government -- which existed under President Boris Yeltsin -- be reestablished. The former vice president of that council, Boris Nemtsov, told that the body was disbanded by Putin as part of his drive to establish a firm vertical power structure and in order to "destroy municipal self-government." Nemtsov, who is one of the leading candidates of the Union of Rightist Forces (SPS) in the December Duma elections, said Putin's offer to revive the council is nothing but an election stunt. He said that most mayors support the left-center A Just Russia party, and Putin is now trying to boost their support for Unified Russia, whose party list in the December elections Putin himself heads. Putin called on mayors to "create conditions so that as many Russians as possible are able to participate" in the elections. According to the website, deputy presidential-administration head Vladislav Surkov, who oversees regional and political matters for the Kremlin, met separately with the heads of most major cities and urged them to focus their efforts on supporting Unified Russia. RC

The SPS has complained to the Central Election Commission, charging that President Putin's October 18 televised question-and-answer session was a violation of election law, RFE/RL's Russian Service reported on October 23. Earlier, the Communist Party announced it will ask the state-controlled television networks to provide its leader with the same opportunity to address voters on national television (see "RFE/RL Newsline," October 23, 2007). SPS official Boris Nadezhdin told RFE/RL the party's complaint is a test for Central Election Commission head Vladimir Churov. "I think Mr. Churov has three choices. First, he could obey the law...and rule that the president, appearing as a state official, made campaign statements and issue a warning to citizen Putin," Nadezhdin said. "Second, theoretically, he could just resign. He could say, 'I, Churov, in this position cannot punish my comrade, the great man by the name of Putin, who, as everyone knows, is always right.' Third, he could act like nothing happened. That would be the most shameful and concrete evidence of the fact that Mr. Churov does not intend to obey the law." RC

Forty-three percent of Russians believe that there is no one in Russia worthy of succeeding President Putin as head of state, a new Levada Center poll has found, reported on October 23. Forty-five percent said another candidate can be found. The same poll found that 60 percent of Russians believe the March 2008 presidential election will not lead to a crisis for the country, while 25 percent fear a possible coup or public disorder. Another poll by the Public Opinion Foundation has found that 63 percent of Russians say they do not support any political party, "Vedomosti" reported on October 23. The same poll found that 68 percent support Putin, while just 22 percent do not. Nineteen percent of respondents said they support Unified Russia, while 44 percent they are prepared to vote for the party. Forty percent said they consider Unified Russia an independent political force, while 38 percent said it is just a political instrument for the president. RC

Another Levada Center poll has found that a plurality of Russians, 35 percent, prefer a return to a Soviet-style command economy, "Vedomosti" reported on October 24. Twenty-seven percent are satisfied with the current state-dominated mixed system, while 19 percent would like to see a free-market system. Forty-eight percent said the country needs a Duma, while 37 percent said that a legislative branch is unnecessary. "For many people the era of the Soviet Union is not a time of the communist ideal but rather a time of stability," analyst Aleksandr Muzafarov told the daily. RC

As many as 14 subjects of the Russian Federation have refused to participate in a state program to resettle ethnic Russians from the other former Soviet republics in Russia, "Gazeta" reported on October 24. According to the Federal Migration Service, only 26 people have been resettled since the program began in December 2006 and a further 74 have received the necessary documentation to do so. Most of those participating have settled in Kaliningrad Oblast, the service reported, adding that a further 3,000 applications have been received. The city of Moscow has offered to provide help in resettling migrants in neighboring oblasts rather than accept them directly. During his recent question-and-answer session, President Putin said the program to resettle migrants is not working effectively. RC

Moscow Mayor Yury Luzhkov on October 24 called for stricter control of migration into the capital, Interfax reported. Moscow "must accept as many migrants as the city's economy needs," Luzhkov said. He added that "40 percent" of all crime in the city is committed by migrants. "If we clean up the current system of migration, then correspondingly the level of crime in the capital will be reduced as well," he said. RC

A woman was killed on October 23 and eight people injured, three of them seriously, when a grenade the woman was carrying exploded in an inter-city taxi traveling from Khasavyurt in northern Daghestan to the village of Dylym several kilometers to the south, Russian media reported. The daily "Kommersant" on October 24 quoted investigators as having concluded from the clothes the woman wore -- jeans, a denim jacket, and high-heeled shoes -- that she was not a suicide bomber. In Makhachkala, three people were injured late in the evening of October 23 when an explosive device detonated, and reported. Police have detained three young men in connection with that explosion. LF

Meeting in Grozny on October 23, representatives of the Chechen subsidiaries of 11 Russian political parties, including Unified Russia and A Just Russia, and 42 local organizations adopted a statement of confidence in Chechnya's leader, Ramzan Kadyrov, and reported. The statement noted Kadyrov's achievements over the past two years in expediting reconstruction in the republic. The gathering further adopted an appeal to President Putin expressing gratitude for his contribution to the "liberation of the Chechen people from terrorism and extremism," his support for reconstruction in Chechnya, and the political backing he provided to Kadyrov's father, Akhmed-hadji Kadyrov. Representatives requested that Putin continue to demonstrate such support for Kadyrov himself. LF

Up to 1,000 people participated in an October 21 demonstration in the town of Tyrnyauz to protest the recent deterioration in the security situation in the surrounding Elbruz district and restrictions on the acquisition of land by rural residents, reported on October 24. Three people have been killed in the area since July in a series of bombings and shootings, which Asker Masayev of the republican prosecutor's office said were coordinated by the North Caucasus resistance, reported on October 10 (see "RFE/RL Newsline," July 26, August 20, and September 13 and 14, 2007). After addressing the October 21 meeting, Zaurbek Kardanov, a member of the local Council of Elders, was attacked by a young man who slashed him in the face and then succeeded in driving away, reported on October 22. In his address, Kardanov took issue with an article in the local newspaper "Baksan" denouncing the Council of Elders as an extremist organization. LF

Police in Yerevan on October 23 detained some two dozen people who sought to persuade passers-by to attend a rally planned for October 26 by former President Levon Ter-Petrossian, Noyan Tapan and RFE/RL's Armenian Service reported. Those arrested included Mikael Hairapetian and Petros Makeyan, the chairmen of the Conservative party and the Democratic Homeland party respectively; David Matevosian, a representative of Ter-Petrossian's Armenian Pan-National Movement; and Nikol Pashinian and Shogher Matevosian, editors of the newspapers "Haykakan zhamanak" and "Chorrort ishkhanutiun." Hrant Bagratian, who served as prime minister under Ter-Petrossian, former Foreign Minister Aleksandr Arzumanian, and former parliament speaker Babken Ararktsian gathered outside the police station where the detainees were being held to demand their release; they were eventually released early on October 24 after Ter-Petrossian personally intervened. "Haykakan zhamanak" reported in its October 23 edition that the authorities are so "scared" of the possible outcome of the October 26 rally, at which Ter-Petrossian may announce his candidacy for the presidential election due early next year, that they have ordered police to find and destroy leaflets distributed by the organizers publicizing it. LF

The opposition Democratic Front parliament faction has begun lobbying deputies to back its demand that the next parliamentary elections be held in the spring of 2008, in line with the constitution, rather than in the fall of that year as decreed by President Mikheil Saakashvili, Caucasus Press reported on October 23. Fifty opposition parliamentarians have pledged their support for the initiative; a minimum of 118 are needed to force a debate on the issue. But Maia Nadiradze, who heads the parliament faction of Saakashvili's United National Movement, told Rustavi-2 television late on October 23 that there are no grounds to bring forward the election date, Caucasus Press reported on October 24. "We have major goals ahead of us. We cannot compromise on this issue, not because it is important for us to remain in parliament a few extra months, but because we are guided by the interests of the country," she was quoted as saying. The holding of parliamentary elections in spring 2008 is one of 10 principles enshrined in the manifesto unveiled last week by the coalition of 10 opposition parties aligned in the National Council (see upcoming "RFE/RL Caucasus Report"). LF

Sozar Subar met on October 23 with Mikheil Kareli, the former Shida Kartli governor, who was arrested last month on charges of corruption, Caucasus Press reported. Subar's office said after the meeting that Kareli is seriously ill and requires medical attention that he cannot receive while in pre-trial detention (see "RFE/RL Newsline," September 14, 24, and 26, and October 3, 2007). Kareli is a close associate of former Defense Minister Irakli Okruashvili, who was arrested on September 27 after publicly accusing President Saakashvili of condoning corruption and seeking the assassination of a political opponent, but was released on bail on October 8 after retracting those allegations (see "RFE/RL Newsline," September 28 and October 9, 2007). LF

Following a meeting in Astana, officials of the state-owned KazakhTeleKom firm on October 22 concluded a multinational agreement with Chinese, Russian, and Uzbek telecommunications operators, Kazakh television reported. The agreement calls for the expansion of telecommunications links between the four countries' networks and includes a protocol forging a new joint expansion of the Kazakh hub connection to Uzbekistan, to be implemented by Uzbekistan's state-owned Ozbektelekom telecommunications company. With the technical expertise of British Telecom, the new partners also agreed to construct new telecommunications lines with Chinese and Russian companies. RG

President Kurmanbek Bakiev on October 23 formally signed the recently modified constitution and announced that new parliamentary elections will be held on December 16, RFE/RL's Kyrgyz Service reported. The ceremonial signing of the new constitution came just minutes after the Central Election Commission certified the results of the October 21 national referendum, in which voters overwhelmingly approved the government's proposed constitutional amendments (see "RFE/RL Newsline," October 22 and 23, 2007). On October 22, Bakiev dissolved the 75-seat parliament, a move necessitated by the new constitution's modifications to the structure of the legislature (see "RFE/RL Newsline," October 22, 2007). The new parliament will consist of 90 deputies, all elected on the basis of party lists, ITAR-TASS reported. RG

In a statement released by the U.S. Embassy in Bishkek, U.S. diplomats on October 23 expressed fresh criticism of the recent Kyrgyz constitutional referendum, saying that it "did not comply with the international standards to which Kyrgyzstan has committed itself," according to ITAR-TASS. The U.S. Embassy statement added that although the referendum achieved some "limited progress," it is "concerned" about reports of voting irregularities, including what it said were "credible reports of ballot-box stuffing and overstated data on the number of votes." On October 22, the head of the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE) Center in Bishkek, Ambassador Markus Mueller, expressed similar concerns over reports of a "high number of irregularities" during the referendum (see "RFE/RL Newsline," October 23, 2007). The U.S. statement closed with a call for Kyrgyzstan to move toward "greater democracy for its citizens by improving the process for its upcoming parliamentary elections." A group of several prominent Kyrgyz civil-society groups and nongovernmental organizations, led by the Coalition for Democracy and Civil Society, on October 22 also criticized the referendum, pointing to "many violations recorded by independent observers," including a "false count of votes, interference of local government officials into the voting process, pressure by representatives of district election commissions, [and] provocations and threats to independent observers in all constituencies," AKIpress reported. RG

Ten independent deputies in the outgoing Kyrgyz parliament announced on October 23 that they are joining the ruling Ak Zhol (Bright Path) People's Party, according to the website. The move reflects a likely shift in the composition of the new parliament, to be elected in fresh December 16 elections, in favor of the pro-government party. RG

A special military court in Bishkek concluded on October 23 the sentencing of former Kyrgyz officials charged in the killings of protesters during a clash with police in March 2002, RFE/RL's Kyrgyz Service and AKIpress reported. The court sentenced two former officials from the southern Jalal-Abad region, former prosecutor Zootbek Kudaibergenov and former police chief Kubanychbek Tokobaev, to five-year prison terms, but suspended two years of the term for each. A third defendant, former First Deputy Interior Minister Sadyrbek Dubanaev, was acquitted altogether. The killings occurred during a clash between unarmed demonstrators and police that resulted in six deaths in Jalal-Abad's Aksy district. RG

Katsyaryna Bychak, a student who campaigned against what she called the destructive redevelopment of Hrodna's historic center, was expelled from Yanka Kupala State University of Hrodna for violating the university's regulations, Belapan reported on October 23. Bychak, a second-year law student, told the agency that she was arrested in May 2006 while trying, along with other young people, to protect a 19th century mill from demolition. "No disciplinary action for my participation in the campaign was taken at the university," she said, adding that officers of the Committee for State Security (KGB) visited her at home and asked questions about the campaign. "The dean dismissed the justification I offered for missing eight days of classes in September and kicked me out," she said. Pavel Mazheyka, a prominent opposition activist in Hrodna, described Bychak's expulsion as "politically motivated." He said the prodemocratic community in the city will help her file an appeal against the expulsion and, if the appeal fails, will assist her in finding an opportunity to study abroad. JM

Matthias Platzeck, the minister-president of the eastern German state of Brandenburg, met with Belarusian Prime Minister Syarhey Sidorski in Minsk on October 23, Belapan reported. Platzeck told the agency that during the meeting he stressed the need "to balance out the system of basic values in the country to enable the normal development of society." He added that the Belarusian prime minister "confirmed that he is open for such a conversation." After returning to Germany, Platzeck told "Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung" that the situation in today's Belarus reminds him of the former Communist East Germany. "Nothing is prohibited, but everything is made impossible. So we knew that sort of thing too," the October 24 issue of the German daily quotes him as saying. JM

President Viktor Yushchenko told journalists in Kharkiv on October 23 that he wants the planned coalition of the Yulia Tymoshenko Bloc and the Our Ukraine-People's Self-Defense bloc to propose a "qualitatively new policy of relations" with the opposition after they form a new government, Ukrainian media reported, quoting the presidential press service. "I proceed from the assumption that the new parliament will inaugurate its work in the first part of November, when it will form a democratic coalition and constructive relations between the majority and the minority," Yushchenko said. It is not clear when the new Verkhovna Rada, elected on September 30, will be inaugurated. Its opening appears to be contingent on a decision of the Higher Administrative Court, which is currently reviewing complaints from five political parties against the official election results announced by the Central Election Commission (see "RFE/RL Newsline," October 22, 2007). JM

Montenegro's parliament ceremonially adopted the country's new constitution on October 22, three days after it approved the document by a two-thirds majority. The moment was later marked by fireworks above Podgorica, and a formal reception for the country's politicians. One significant group did not, however, join in the celebrations: the country's ethnic-Serbian parties. One, the Serbian List, sat through the national anthem and then left the chamber. Three others -- the Democratic Serbian Party, the People's Party, and the Socialist People's Party -- boycotted the occasion entirely. Instead, the four parties issued a declaration in which they condemned, as reported by local media, "this dummy constitution" and "anti-Serbian document, which deepens divisions in Montenegro." They urged fellow Serbs to join them in protest. "Take Serbian citizenship, continue establishing contacts with and helping Serbs living in other states, protect the eparchies of the Serbian Orthodox Church in Montenegro," they said. "Everywhere and in every situation emphasize the symbols of Serbian identity and in local communities, where we are the majority, display these as the official symbols." Serbs account for roughly one-third of Montenegro's population. Ethnic-Albanian parties also opposed the constitution. AG

Montenegrin police on October 19-20 in searched the mountain resort of Mt. Zabljak for Radovan Karadzic, the Bosnian Serbs' wartime leader, police confirmed on October 22. The police blocked roads leading into the town and also combed a nearby wood. The International Criminal Tribunal for the former Yugoslavia (ICTY), which has indicted Karadzic, has said for much of this year that it has no idea in what country Karadzic may now be hiding, but its spokeswoman, Olga Kavran, told Serbian television on October 22 that the ICTY assumes Karadzic is "in Serbia, the Republika Srpska [in Bosnia-Herzegovina], or that's where his support base lies, and it's where both his close and distant relatives live." Montenegrin authorities have this year questioned and searched the homes of relatives of Karadzic who live in Montenegro. AG

The Serbian authorities searched military barracks and premises in Bela Crkva, in the northern province of Vojvodina, in an effort to find war crimes suspects, Rasim Ljajic, the head of the commission charged with overseeing cooperation with the ICTY, told local media on October 24. Initial reports suggest Ljajic did not indicate that the search was targeted against a specific suspect or based on any lead. In addition to Karadzic, three men indicted by the ICTY remain at large: Goran Hadzic, Stojan Zupljanin, and -- most importantly -- Ratko Mladic, whose continued freedom has particularly held back Serbia's bid for EU membership. On October 17-18, Serbian police searched army barracks in Pancevo, near Belgrade, and Zrenjanin, in Vojvodina (see "RFE/RL Newsline," October 19, 2007). It has long been thought that Mladic is being hidden and protected by members of Serbia's armed forces, but Serbian Defense Minister Dragan Sutanovac said in September that he could guarantee "fully and completely" that Mladic is not now hiding in military facilities in Serbia (see "RFE/RL Newsline," September 14, 2007). The raids come shortly after a relatively poor assessment of Serbia's cooperation with the ICTY by the UN court's chief prosecutor, Carla Del Ponte, and shortly before Del Ponte is due to make a return visit to Belgrade, on October 25 (see "RFE/RL Newsline," October 5 and 16, 2007). Her conclusions will have a major bearing on how the EU develops its relationship with Serbia. Both Serbia and the ICTY have said that Del Ponte's appraisal was not as bad as presented in the media. Del Ponte also told the German weekly "Der Spiegel" on October 15 that she believes there is an "80 percent" chance Mladic will be captured this year, "possibly even in the coming weeks" (see "RFE/RL Newsline," October 17, 2007). AG

Serbia will not be seeking financial support from the International Monetary Fund (IMF) again, Serbian Finance Minister Mladjan Dinkic told officials from the fund at a meeting in Washington on October 22. He indicated that Serbia feels it no longer needs an arrangement with the IMF, pointing out, according to the daily "Blic" on October 23, that "last year we paid back $1 billion to the World Bank and half a billion to the IMF." The IMF will now simply advise Serbia on economic policies, he said. "The talks [on October 22] resembled pleasant chit-chat compared to the heavy negotiations we had three years ago," "Blic" quoted him as saying. Dinkic was on October 21 awarded the title "World Finance Minister of the Year 2006" by the financial publication "Euromoney." The magazine highlighted Dinkic's success in stabilizing the Serbian dinar, rebuilding the banking system, turning a budget deficit into a surplus, and transforming Serbia into one of the least indebted countries in Europe. He also won plaudits for his radical overhaul of the tax system, which included cutting income tax to the lowest rate in Europe. AG

The third-largest ethnic-Serbian party in Bosnia-Herzegovina, the Party of Democratic Progress (PDP), announced on October 23 that it will ask the international community to rescind the extensive powers granted to the international administrator in the country, Miroslav Lajcak, local media reported. The "Bonn powers" conferred on the international community's Office of the High Representative allow Lajcak to sack officials and force through legislation to ensure that the country's postwar recovery is not derailed. Lajcak recently vowed to force through reforms that would limit the ability of government ministers and parliamentary deputies to prevent the passage of legislation (see "RFE/RL Newsline," October 22 and 23, 2007). Lajcak's initiative has aroused a storm of protest in the Republika Srpska, which is dominated by Bosnian Serbs, and elicited condemnation from one of the three parties in Serbia's governing coalition (see "RFE/RL Newsline," October 23, 2007). The PDP's appeal is addressed to the Peace Implementation Council (PIC), a group of 55 countries and international agencies involved in shepherding Bosnia's progress. The PIC is next due to meet on October 30, Bosnian media reported. The PDP has also asked the federal parliament to review laws forced through by high representatives. AG

Twenty-three boxes of antitank missiles, four boxes of mortar shells, five air-to-ground Wasp missiles, and a rocket launcher are among weapons and ammunition recently found in two villages in the district of Prijedor, in the north of Republika Srpska, the daily "Dnevni avaz" reported on October 21. The local prosecutor, Mirjana Miodragovic-Basrak, did not indicate the suspected provenance of the arms. The villages, Bozici and Brekinja, lie near Bosanska Dubica, a town on the Croatian border. The weaponry was found in a deserted department store and in a stable. AG

The head of Bosnia-Herzegovina's largest gas company, BH Gas, said on October 23 that Russia has threatened to cut off supplies if it fails to pay its bills by November 30, the news agency SRNA reported. Almir Becarevic urged the company's key customers, distributors, to pay up swiftly, warning that it lacks the financial reserves to make up the shortfall created by their failure to honor their bills. The threat has not been confirmed by Russian sources. Becarevic also stated that current demand for gas is three times the projected rate. AG

Milan Mandic, an ethnic Serb convicted of war crimes by Croatia, was arrested at Moscow's international airport on October 20, Croatian media reported. Croatia confirmed the arrest on October 22 and said it will ask Russia to extradite Mandic, who was convicted in absentia in 1994 by a Croatian court. Mandic was sentenced for a range of crimes against Croatian and non-Croatian civilians committed between December 1991 and April 1992 in the village of Bapska, in the Ilok district of Slavonia, in eastern Croatia. Mandic, who is now 49, was a local police chief at the time. The war between Croatia and Serbian separatists continued until 1995. AG

In a wide-ranging exclusive interview with RFE/RL, U.S. Secretary of Defense Robert Gates said the United States is not in a new Cold War with Moscow and that Washington still holds out hope that democracy will take hold in Russia. In Prague to discuss U.S. missile-defense plans, Gates also told RFE/RL that despite rising tensions, the United States can work with Russia on a number of issues.

RFE/RL: Over the past year, Russia has become increasingly aggressive. There's been a lot of saber rattling. There are a lot of conflicts over issues like Kosovo and Iran. I'm wondering if it still makes sense to call Russia a strategic partner of the United States.

Robert Gates: I think our approach should be to consider Russia a strategic partner until and unless it proves otherwise. There has been a lot of rhetoric, but in terms of specific actions so far, the Russians have not taken any irreversible decisions. And they have, in some areas, continued to play a constructive role. So my view is, we should continue to characterize them as a strategic partner. We should continue to work with them where we can. And we should try and persuade them of our point of view in those areas where we disagree.

RFE/RL: Some observers even talk of a new Cold War. You have a long experience dealing with Russia, how would you compare the old days dealing with the Soviet Union and dealing with Russia today?

Gates: We were engaged in a worldwide conflict with the Soviet Union. Often, it was through surrogates. But after all, at a certain point, we were dealing with 40,000 Cuban troops in Ethiopia, 40,000 Cuban troops in Angola. We had Cuba exporting revolution throughout Central and South American with huge Soviet subsidies. We had the Soviets subsidizing antigovernment movements in Europe. We were dealing with the Warsaw Pact, this country wasn't free -- the Czech Republic wasn't free. Neither was Poland, neither were Bulgaria or Romania or any of the others in Eastern Europe. We had an open-ended arms race going on with them. They were spending a huge amount more on their military then than they are now.

So, I mean, it was a very different world, and while some of the rhetoric has been strong, the reality, it seems to me, is that there are areas where we can cooperate and where we are cooperating. And we just don't have anything like the global competition or the global conflict that existed, and where people were worried that we had our missiles pointed at each other all the time. I just think it's a completely different world, and as I told the Wehrkunde Conference in Munich in February, nobody wants a new Cold War. And I don't think the Russians do, either.

RFE/RL: Going along the same lines of cooperation, the United States very much needs Russia's cooperation on a number of issues -- again, Kosovo, Iran, and so on. And, given Russia's authoritarian tilt, this implies on the one hand, that maybe we must work with the leaders in place there. Could you speak to the contradiction between classical "realpolitik" and the U.S. president's "freedom agenda." Is there a contradiction in our policy toward Russia, given the fact that we need Russia so badly?

Gates: No, I don't think so. And I would characterize it differently, actually. It's not just the United States that's dealing with Russia. Kosovo is above all a European matter, it's a NATO matter, it's for all of the Europeans -- the EU, and so on. So it's not just the United States trying to get the Russians to take a particular point of view on Kosovo, but it's all of Europe that is in this. And it's the same way on some of these other challenges that we face where we're talking with the Russians. Their rhetoric in terms of the Intermediate[-Range] Nuclear Forces Treaty [INF], in terms of the Conventional Forces in Europe [CFE] Treaty: these are agreements with all of the states in Europe, for the most part, and certainly in the CFE, and the Europeans clearly are concerned about the INF Treaty.

So, I guess my first problem is, this is not just a U.S.-Russian issue; this is an issue about how Russia is going to interrelate with the rest of Europe. Does Russia wish to be a part of Europe and wish to be a strategic partner with the United States? I think they do. And I think that the increasing business investments, both in Russia and Russia in Europe, can illustrate that that's true. I don't think there's any contradiction with the president's freedom agenda.

The reality is, Russia's a very different place today than it was under the Soviet Union. Is it more authoritarian than we would wish, is there greater limitation on freedom? Yes. But the reality is that it's very different than in the Soviet days. And frankly, as I said in my speech on democracy in Williamsburg a few weeks ago, it takes time to build the institutions of democracy. Just having an election doesn't mean you have a democracy. So these institutions have to grow. And you're looking at a country in Russia that in a thousand years of its history has not had a democracy. So my view is, I think we need to encourage the development of freedom in Russia, we need to encourage the development of democratic institutions, but also think we need to understand that those things take time.

RFE/RL: In encouraging the development of democratic institutions in Russia, does the U.S. have any leverage, any influence? What can Washington do to help from the outside to increase these freedoms?

Gates: Well, we didn't think we had any leverage when we went to Helsinki in 1975, and it ended up playing a major part in the collapse of the Soviet Union and in the liberation of Eastern Europe. So I think that we can't underestimate a certain moral authority. And also, I think, we have to be persistent. After all, our engagement in the Cold War with the Soviet Union lasted almost half a century.

RFE/RL: Russian President Vladimir Putin clearly wants to establish a sphere of influence in what the Russians call the near-abroad, parts of the former Soviet Union. Georgia's bid to join NATO, and to cozy up to the United States, has clearly caused a lot of anxiety and anger in the Kremlin. And I'm wondering: how dedicated is Washington to Georgia's entry into NATO, and conversely, is it conceivable that Georgia could become a bargaining chip in the larger U.S.-Russia relationship?

Gates: I don't think we should link these things, in the relationship, at all; we'll judge these events on their own merits, these developments. Georgia in NATO, other nations in NATO, have to be evaluated on their own merits. In my view, you don't tie them to other issues; I wouldn't link them at all.

RFE/RL: So you would say there's not a risk of Georgia turning into a bargaining chip?

Gates: I don't think so, no.

RFE/RL: There's concern in Tbilisi....

Gates: We certainly don't intend to let it become one.

RFE/RL: Ukraine also has a growing interest, or a long-standing interest, to join NATO, even if the domestic support is weaker than in Georgia. How do you judge Ukraine's chance to get into NATO in the next years?

Gates: Well, I think that's probably not a near-term likelihood. There clearly is some interest in Ukraine. But there's also, as I understand it, still substantial domestic opposition to it. So I think we'll just have to see how things evolve.

RFE/RL: A lot of analysts think that Russia is creating an alternative security architecture in the world. This came up after there was talk if Serbia loses Kosovo, that perhaps Serbia would cozy up to Russia, and they are saying, "Here's a new architecture, and we invite you to join." Is this a cause of concern in the defense and security community in the United States?

Gates: It's not a concern to me because I don't think it'll be successful, even if they are trying it. Serbia knows that its interests are with the Europeans and with the European Union, not with some kind of linkage back to the East. Russia and Serbia have had a strong political relationship going back well before World War I. Serbia can't have it both ways: it can have a friendly relationship with Russia, but its economic future is almost certainly tied to Europe.

And I think these other countries, it's an open question, in my opinion, whether Russia's actions are intended to -- whether they actually think they can create some sort of an alternative architecture, or whether they're trying to build a bulwark against what they might see as NATO and the Western architecture enveloping them. So whether it's an offensive or a defensive reaction, I'm not entirely sure.

RFE/RL: The Shanghai Cooperation Organization and things like that don't cause concern?

Gates: They don't bother me very much. We can't be terrified and looking over our shoulder every time some other country makes an overture to others about associating with it. We, the United States and the NATO alliance, this is the most powerful alliance the world has ever known, and I don't think we need to be afraid of our own shadow.

RFE/RL: You travel to Germany and the Netherlands in the next days. What is your message for the Europeans? You mentioned that you want to encourage the Europeans to do more, to take over more responsibility, especially with regard to Afghanistan, sending more troops. So, your approach is to bring the Europeans more into play in regards to Russia and to Afghanistan?

Gates: No, it has nothing to do with Russia, the message I am going to have in the Netherlands at the NATO defense ministers meeting is a very simple one and that is that the nations should fulfill the commitments that their leaders made in Riga, in terms of their support in Afghanistan. It is not about us, it's about commitments that were made by the leaders of NATO in Riga and I just want to make sure that everyone understands that those obligations continue. That is the fundamental message.

RFE/RL: On missile defense, how would you assess your visit here in the Czech Republic?

Gates: Well, I think that the Czech leadership was intrigued, as was the Russian government, by the new proposals that Secretary [of State Condoleezza] Rice and I put on the table when we were in Moscow a couple of weeks ago looking for ways for greater transparency to provide the Russians reassurance. Going forward with the agreements, we made it perfectly clear in Russia that we were going to proceed with the negotiations with the Czech Republic and Poland regardless and, if those negotiations are successful, then to proceed to deploy, or build, these radars and interceptors.

However, we also said that if the question is about the threat, then we might be willing to sit down and talk with the Russians about not activating the completed systems until the threat was apparent, in other words, until the Iranians or others in the Middle East had flight-tested missiles of a range that could hit Europe, as an example. And I think the government here, as in Moscow, was taken with it, even President Putin referred to the proposals as constructive.

RFE/RL: The press played up a lot of the so-called chilly reception that you received there with Secretary Rice. Do you think that was more spin, or did you feel a chilly reception?

Gates: Well, first of all, that's inaccurate. The big piece of this was the perception that Secretary Rice and I were kept waiting for about 40 minutes. Well, the reality is that about five minutes past the time for the meeting, we were taken to the room where the meeting with President Putin was to take place, all the press was already in place, we were waiting outside the door, we waited a few minutes and an aide came to tell us that he had had to take an urgent telephone call.

We subsequently were able to confirm that that was the fact, that it was a foreign leader who had called, that it was a fairly important call, and I don't think that either Secretary Rice or I felt that we were impolitely treated or kept waiting in some kind of old Soviet way, if you will, and in fact our meeting with President Putin went about half an hour or 45 minutes beyond the scheduled time, or the allotted time. So I think that we both felt that they were very productive meetings.

RFE/RL: Coming back to the larger picture, how do you see Russia in 10 years?

Gates: Well, one of the things that impresses me is it has been about 18 years since my first visit to Russia in 1989 and certainly in terms of the well-being of the Russian people, materially, they are a lot better off than they were. And as I wrote in my book, I think one of President [Mikhail] Gorbachev's last contributions, and historic contributions, in Russia was that in dismantling the Stalinist economic bureaucracy and in paving the way for democratic change, he really gave the Russian people their future.

And I think that future is still open for the Russian people. My own view is that there will be a gradual increase in democratic reforms and freedoms in Russia. I think part of the problem in Russia was that because the economy collapsed along with the Soviet Union, in the early stages after the collapse of the Soviet Union, in the minds of many Russians democracy became confused with economic disaster, with criminal activities, with activities of the oligarchs and thievery and so on, and chaos. And so an opportunity was lost. And I think now, with stability, with economic growth, with growing prosperity, my hope is that that opportunity that we missed, that the Russians missed early in the 90s will be recaptured and that would be my hope for Russia over the next 10 years.

RFE/RL: Can we recapture it even given the backsliding on democratic reform right now and given the fact that former KGB officers are in power?

Gates: We can't recapture it but the Russians can. And frankly, the role of the KGB today, of the Russian intelligence services, is nothing like what it was in the Soviet period.

Aid workers on October 22 said that the Afghan government and UN humanitarian agencies must provide assistance to tens of thousands of people in western Ghor Province within the next month in order to avert mass displacements, the UN's Integrated Regional Information Network reported the next day. A Rapid Food Needs Assessment (RFNA) conducted this month by the UN and other agencies found that 45 percent of Ghor's 635,000 residents are suffering from acute food shortages, primarily due to a 70 percent drop in crop production because of unfavorable weather conditions. The result is a drastic rise in food prices -- such as a 115 percent rise in the cost of wheat flour -- leaving close to 40 percent of farmers in Ghor unable to purchase enough food. Without sufficient food assistance, people in the Taiwara, Pasawand, and Shahrak districts in particular "will have to abandon their houses and...migrate to Herat and Kandahar Provinces," said Ghulam Yahya Rasoli, the head of the provincial department of the Afghan Red Crescent Society. Afghanistan's National Emergency Response Commission announced October 8 that over 20,000 metric tons of food aid will be delivered to 18 provinces before the winter season, but more than 14,000 metric tons are required just to meet the current needs of the most vulnerable families in Ghor. Aid agencies say the remaining 6,000 metric tons will not be sufficient for the other provinces. JC

Afghanistan's political parties on October 22 demanded that the government allocate 70 percent of parliamentary seats for members of party lists, while underlining the need for a credible and transparent census before the parliamentary and presidential elections next year in order to ensure the polls' accuracy and fairness, Pajhwak Afghan News reported. Leaders of some 73 political parties came together at a consultative meeting organized by the legislative commission of the Wolesi Jirga, or lower house. Participants deliberated issues of electoral law and the active participation of political parties in the upcoming elections, saying only 30 percent of parliamentary seats should be for "national personalities." Several party representatives expressed strong dissatisfaction with previous elections, including one participant who described the current parliament as being in "anarchy" due to lack of political party representation. Abdul Baqi Ansari, leader of the Hezb-i-Nukhbagan party, alleged that top-ranking government officials and some lawmakers consider themselves above the law. Saeedullah Saeed argued that several candidates from different parties fear voicing their concerns about previous elections due to threats from warlords. The legislative commission intends to seek the opinions of other political leaders on how to conduct general elections if they need to be postponed due to the lack of security in Afghanistan. JC

A gun battle between U.S.-led troops and rebels in Afghanistan on October 23 left one child dead and four others wounded, AFP reported. ISAF soldiers opened fire on a nomad tent after a gunman inside the tent shot at the troops in Jaldak, a city about 250 miles south of Kabul, spokesman Major Chris Belcher said in a statement. The soldiers then found the child's body and four wounded children inside the tent, and took the wounded children for treatment at a nearby medical center. Troops also detained five militants and three other people in the operation. Meanwhile in Ghazni Province, an Afghan interpreter was killed when a bomb hit a coalition envoy, coalition spokesman Master Sergeant Chris Fletcher said. Other soldiers were injured when a second bomb struck troops who came to secure the vehicles involved in the first attack, Fletcher said. The ISAF did not release the names or nationalities of the soldiers. JC

President Mahmud Ahmadinejad returned to Tehran from Armenia on October 23, apparently cutting short a two-day visit there, Radio Farda reported, citing reports. His early departure meant that he did not address Armenia's parliament on October 23 as planned or lay a wreath at a memorial for hundreds of thousands of Armenians murdered by the Ottoman Empire in the early 20th century. He cited "unexpected events" in Tehran as the reason for his return, Radio Farda quoted an aide to Armenian President Robert Kocharian as saying. RFE/RL separately quoted an Armenian official as suggesting that Iran's Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei might be ill, a report not confirmed by other news sources. Tehran-based analyst Sadeq Zibakalam told Radio Farda on October 23 that nothing critical seemed to have happened in Tehran, and that the problem was probably the planned visit to the Armenian memorial. Zibakalam said the president may have left to avoid a diplomatic entanglement; he noted that placing a wreath at the memorial would have offended Turkey, which rejects Armenia's description of the of World War I-era massacres as genocide, while refusing to lay a wreath would have offended Armenia. Radio Farda reported that Ahmadinejad on October 22 avoided any specific mention of the killings; he reportedly said only that "Iran condemns any crime against humanity." VS

Ali Akbar Velayati, a former foreign minister and current foreign policy adviser to Ayatollah Khamenei, on October 22 criticized as badly timed the recent removal of Ali Larijani as Supreme National Security Council secretary, Tehran newspapers reported on October 23 (see "RFE/RL Newsline," October 23, 2007). His comments echoed criticisms by several other politicians. "It would have been better had it not happened," Velayati told ISNA. He said Iran's nuclear program is at a sensitive point, and it is not entirely clear from official explanations why Larijani resigned now. Velayati praised the work done so far by Larijani and his predecessor, Hasan Rohani. President Ahmadinejad, however, has been critical of the methods of the nuclear team led by Rohani. Also on October 22, Expediency Council member Mohammad Hashemi told the Aftab news agency that the resignation was due to differences between Larijani and Ahmadinejad, noting that the two had publicly contradicted each other the previous week. He said that while Larijani told a gathering on October 17 that Russian President Vladimir Putin brought Tehran a special message or proposal during his visit for the Caspian region summit, the following day "Ahmadinejad said Putin had no message other than a message of peace and friendship." Hashemi said Larijani's departure has narrowed the "circle of executive officials," suggesting that leadership roles are increasingly held by those close to Ahmadinejad. VS

The two countries have agreed on a deal to export Iranian gas to Pakistan through a pipeline that has come to be known as the Peace Pipeline, "Etemad" reported on October 23, quoting the head of the National Iranian Gas Export Company (NIGEC), Nosratollah Seifi. The agreement does not envision extending the pipeline to India, as suggested in earlier negotiations. Seifi said on October 21 that Iranian and Pakistani negotiators have drafts of an agreement to be signed by their respective oil ministers and heads of state. He added that senior state officials will decide on a date for the agreement to be signed. "Etemad" quoted reports from Pakistan stating that without India as the third party to the project, Pakistan may buy more gas from Iran to ensure the pipeline is economically viable. The daily quoted an unnamed Pakistani oil ministry official as stating Pakistan's readiness to buy 142 million cubic meters of gas from Iran daily, instead of the initially projected 89 million cubic meters. VS

Emad Hosseini, a member of the parliamentary Energy Committee, told ISNA on October 22 that parliament in the coming days will debate a draft bill to regulate the signing of gas export contracts by the state and imposing parliamentary supervision of such contracts. Hosseini said some committee members believe that what officials are touting as contracts are often nothing more than agreements. Iran's only binding legal contracts, he said, are currently with Turkey, the United Arab Emirates, and Armenia, to which Iran is committed to sell 43 million cubic meters of gas daily. Agreements with Pakistan, India, and European states are not yet "fixed," Hosseini said. Energy Committee chief Kamal Daneshyar told ISNA the same day that the committee is considering a proposal for a Comprehensive Iran Gas Exports Bill. It was not immediately clear if that bill is the same as the one mentioned by Hosseini. Daneshyar said Iran must first gauge its own domestic consumption levels and demand before exporting gas "if there is an excess," and then only at "suitable" prices to neighboring states. He said "gas exports must be minimized. Because exporting gas in crude form means exporting employment and state revenues...and the country's impoverishment." VS

The Tehran Public and Revolutionary Court issued a statement on October 22 explaining the recent arrest of rights activist Emadeddin Baqi, apparently in a bid to refute reporting by certain newspapers, "Etemad" reported on October 23 (see "RFE/RL Newsline," October 15, 16 and 18, 2007). The judiciary stated that Baqi is now serving a one-year prison sentence on charges of engaging in publicity against Iran's political system and "activity in favor of antisystem groups." The sentence was issued on November 22, 2003, but was suspended for five years and then challenged by the Tehran chief prosecutor, the judiciary stated. The prosecutor -- presumably chief prosecutor Said Mortazavi, although his name was not given -- said Baqi's "numerous offenses" make him undeserving of a suspension ruling. Mortazavi's initiatives led to the Tehran Province Appeals Court's definitive reversal of the suspension on December 6, 2004. The report did not explain why Baqi was forced to start serving his sentence this month in particular. The judiciary added that Baqi has deposited bail worth over $50,000, while the judiciary is investigating separate charges of engaging in publicity against the system and revealing confidential or classified information, "Etemad" reported. VS

The police chief in the southeastern Sistan va Baluchistan Province and head of the Fath security or police base there, Mohammad Ghaffari, told ISNA on October 23 that three "terrorists" who entered the province "to assassinate religious dignitaries" were arrested near the town of Zahedan. Ghaffari said they were arrested after several operations carried out in cooperation with Intelligence Ministry operatives, local tribesmen, and members of the public. He said "these people were affiliated with little political and terrorist groups, and we have taken...arms, ammunition, and documents from them." It was not clear where the three men came from, but drug dealers and other criminals are known to move between the province and neighboring Pakistan. VS

Iraqi Foreign Minister Hoshyar Zebari announced on October 23 that his country will do everything it can to help Turkey combat Kurdistan Workers Party (PKK) fighters based in northern Iraq, international media reported. Zebari's comments came during a joint news conference with his Turkish counterpart, Ali Babacan, in Baghdad. "We agreed that the position we should take is a common one to fight terrorism. We will not allow any party, including the PKK, to poison our bilateral relations," Zebari said. "We will cooperate with the Turkish government to solve the border problems and the terrorism that Turkey is facing through direct dialogue," he added. For his part, Babacan said that Turkey will continue to maintain its strong political, economic, and cultural ties with Iraq. "We do not want to sacrifice our cultural and economic relations with Iraq for the sake of a terror organization," Babacan said. On October 21, PKK fighters ambushed a group of Turkish soldiers inside Turkey near the border with Iraq, killing 12 soldiers and wounding 16 (see "RFE/RL Newsline," October 22, 2007). The incident has prompted fears that Turkey might launch a military campaign in northern Iraq. On October 22, the PKK offered a conditional cease-fire with Turkey if Turkish forces refrain from attacking PKK positions and drop plans to carry out cross-border operations (see "RFE/RL Newsline," October 23, 2007). SS

Iraqi Prime Minister Nuri al-Maliki's office issued a statement on October 23 announcing that all PKK offices in Iraq will be closed and the rebel group will not be allowed to operate in the country, Al-Sharqiyah television reported. Al-Maliki referred to the group as a terrorist organization and stressed that Iraq will do what it can to limit the PKK's activities. Meanwhile, Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan said Ankara is considering whether to impose trade sanctions on Iraq over the October 21 PKK ambush, international media reported. Erdogan said Turkey has been assisting Iraq with water, fuel, and food, and cannot overlook the cross-border raids. "We may impose some sanctions with respect to some goods we export to Iraq," Erdogan said. "To have this organization based in the northern part of a country that we help is something that we must consider," he added. SS

A new audiotape purportedly from Al-Qaeda leader Osama bin Laden, released by Al-Jazeera satellite television on October 22, calls on Iraqi insurgents to unite against U.S. forces. In the recording, bin Laden excoriates insurgents for being lax and placing tribal loyalties above their faith. "My brother mujahedin in Iraq [deserve] praise and commendation for your good-heartedness and humbleness.... You have done well in carrying out one of the greatest duties that few people could carry out; namely, the duty of repelling the enemy. Some of you, however, have been late in carrying out another duty, which is also one of the greatest duties; namely, the duty of unifying your ranks as Allah wants." He also warned his followers to be on the alert for hypocrites who have infiltrated into the ranks of the mujahedin. SS

Radical Shi'ite cleric Muqtada al-Sadr issued a statement on October 23 calling on members of his Imam Al-Mahdi Army and the Iraqi police to stop fighting each other, Al-Sharqiyah television reported. He said the internecine fighting only sows divisions that benefit the occupation. "Members of the Al-Mahdi Army, I beseech you, in the name of your holy sites, not to assault any Iraqi on the pretext of self-defense and not to kill any Iraqi citizen, whom you love," al-Sadr said. On October 22, clashes erupted between members of the Imam Al-Mahdi Army and Iraqi police forces in the southern holy city of Karbala, leaving eight people dead and dozens injured. The clashes began after al-Sadr's militia allegedly attacked an Iraqi police patrol (see "RFE/RL Newsline," October 22, 2007). SS

The U.S. military announced on October 23 that one of its helicopters launched attacks in the northern city of Samarra on October 23, killing 11 people, and acknowledged that some of those killed in the attack were civilians. The military said that suspected insurgents were seen placing improvised explosive devices (IEDs), and that after U.S. forces engaged them, they ran into a nearby house where the helicopter targeted them. U.S. military spokeswoman Major Peggy Kageleiry expressed regret at the deaths of civilians, but blamed insurgents for endangering their lives by using the house for cover. In a differing account, police and residents of the town of Dijla, located near Samarra, said that a U.S. helicopter fired on a group of three farmers. Two were initially killed and one survivor ran into his home, where other residents had gathered. According to accounts given to Reuters, the helicopter destroyed the house, killing 14 Iraqis. This is the second report in three days of a U.S. military operation leading to Iraqi civilian deaths. On October 22, the U.S. military said it had killed 49 criminals in the Al-Sadr City neighborhood of Baghdad, but local residents said many of the victims were women, children, and elderly people (see "RFE/RL Newsline," October 22, 2007). SS

The interior ministers of countries neighboring Iraq gathered in Kuwait on October 23 for a one-day meeting to discuss boosting Iraq's stability and security, KUNA reported. "The agenda of our meeting today is the fruit of the aspirations we have for our Iraqi brothers and our wishes for them to live in stability and harmony," Kuwaiti Interior Minister Sheikh Jaber al-Mubarak al-Hamad al-Sabah said. Saudi Arabia's Interior Minister Prince Nayef bin Abd al-Aziz warned that failure to support Iraq would strengthen terrorist groups that threaten the entire region. "Any failure in standing by Iraq will give the opportunity to terrorist concentrate on Iraq and convert it into a launching pad for their criminal activities," Prince Nayef said. Iraqi Interior Minister Jawad al-Bulani called on his counterparts to help prevent insurgents from trying to enter Iraq from neighboring states, and urged then to clamp down on the transfer of "suspicious funds and donations" being sent to insurgent groups in Iraq. SS