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Newsline - October 31, 2007

Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov paid a brief visit to Tehran on October 30, during which he spoke with President Mahmud Ahmadinejad about Iran's nuclear program, Russian and international media reported. Lavrov later said in a statement that he stressed the necessity of rebuilding trust in the peaceful nature of Iran's nuclear activities in order to bring about a diplomatic solution to the international dispute to which they have given rise, reported. He also criticized the latest U.S. sanctions against Iran over its nuclear program. The German news agency dpa quoted IRNA as saying that Lavrov delivered an unspecified message from Russian President Vladimir Putin to Ahmadinejad. Putin visited Iran earlier in October and reportedly made an unspecified proposal to his hosts regarding their nuclear program. Shortly before Lavrov arrived in Iran, Putin criticized the new U.S. sanctions (see "RFE/RL Newsline," October 17, 19, 22, and 26, 2007). On October 31, the government daily "Rossiiskaya gazeta" wrote that the "secret visit" was an example of "high-speed diplomacy" and came on the heels of Lavrov's well-publicized trips to Harbin and Astana. "The Moscow Times" recalled on October 31 that Putin's recent carefully staged and televised question-and-answer session included "no fewer than three anti-U.S. questions. Iran, by contrast, was respected and honored." But the daily "Nezavisimaya gazeta" warned on October 30 that Washington's tough approach "will only make matters worse." The same paper wrote on October 31 that the United States wants to resolve its disputes with Russia over Iran, Kosova, and the Conventional Forces in Europe (CFE) Treaty in one big "package deal." PM

On October 29, the Russian authorities banned Lufthansa Cargo, which is the freight subsidiary of the German airline Lufthansa, from overflying Siberia en route to Asia, the daily "Die Welt" reported on October 31. The paper noted that the ban came without warning. "Die Welt" added that Moscow justified the ban by saying that Lufthansa failed to pay in full what the daily called the "relatively high overflight and insurance fees" charged by Russia. Germany countered by withdrawing similar overflight rights for Aeroflot and a second, unspecified Russian airline. The two countries' transportation ministries are reportedly trying to find a solution to the problem. Aeroflot has protested to the authorities in Moscow, saying that the imbroglio has badly affected its operations involving 33 weekly flights to Frankfurt, which must now be diverted to Luxembourg, if they take place at all. Lufthansa officials also said that the Russian ban has forced it to make costly detours to reach its Asian hub in Astana. Western airlines have long been critical of what they say are exorbitant Russian fees. PM

Andrei Kurayev, who is a deacon in the Russian Orthodox Church and a professor at the Moscow Theological Academy, was quoted by Interfax as saying on October 30 that the management of the Ford plant in Vsevolozhsk in Leningrad Oblast refused to allow him to tour its premises in clerical attire, Interfax reported. Kurayev added that he is currently giving lectures in that town and was interested in seeing the factory. He said that he was "told that the plant has a multiethnic work force, and it might insult someone if I came in wearing my cassock." He was accordingly told he "should wear ordinary clothes" on his visit. Kurayev stressed that the ban reflects not bureaucratic arbitrariness but an "ideology, a new totalitarian form of censorship in the name of political correctness." He added that there is "a part of this transnational corporation that does not want to take into account the character of our cultural and political climate.... [This shows] disrespect even for its own workers and for the country in which they work." PM

The Moscow city education authorities announced in a statement on October 31 a ban on "Halloween events" in the capital's schools, Interfax reported. The statement noted that the policy has been in force since 2003. The reason for the ruling is because the holiday "includes religious elements, such as the cult of death, the mockery of death, and the personification of death and evil, which contradict the secular nature of state educational institutions." The authorities added that unnamed psychiatrists support the ban on the grounds that Halloween is "destructive to the minds and the spiritual and moral health of pupils." PM

President Putin on October 30 participated in a religious service to remember the victims of Stalin-era repressions, "Trud" and other Russian media reported. Putin became the first Russian leader to visit the memorial to Stalin's victims at the Butovsky Firing Range in southern Moscow, on the site where an estimated 20,000 people were summarily executed by the Stalin-era precursor to the KGB. Putin called the Stalinist terror "a particular tragedy for our nation." Putin added that the development of the country calls for the "constructive, not destructive" "battle of opinions." Arseny Roginsky, an activist with the Memorial NGO, said Putin's appearance at the ceremony was "a positive event." Roginsky added that Memorial has asked the government to cooperate with it in publishing a book about the repressions, creating a museum dedicated to the topic, and introducing the subject to school curricula. "We are waiting from the leadership of the country orders to state organs -- particularly the Interior Ministry and the Federal Security Service (FSB) -- compelling them to do everything possible to locate mass graves in our country," he said. Memorial estimates that there are 800,000 people living in Russia who were either victims of political repression or the children of victims. The FSB has estimated that some 12.5 million people throughout the Soviet Union were repressed during Stalin's reign. In his 1968 book "The Great Terror," British historian Robert Conquest put the figure at anywhere between 12 million and 20 million. RC

Eight people were killed and 40 injured when a bomb exploded in a bus in Tolyatti on October 31, Russian media reported. The case is being investigated by the FSB as a possible terrorist act and reported that a team of investigators is being flown in from Moscow. If confirmed as a terrorist act, it would be one of the worst such incidents in Russia since the September 2004 Beslan school hostage tragedy. RC

The Union of Rightist Forces (SPS) has complained that it is being targeted for particular harassment in the current Duma campaign, RFE/RL's Russian Service reported on October 30 (see "RFE/RL Newsline," October 15, 2007). Recently in Krasnodar, unidentified hooligans threw flour at party Political Council member Boris Nemtsov, while the local election commission in Krasnoyarsk Krai recently seized thousands of copies of an SPS campaign newspaper. Political analyst Aleksandr Kynev told RFE/RL that leaflets have appeared in Krasnoyarsk, Tomsk, and in Leningrad Oblast claiming that the party's workers are infected with HIV, the virus that causes AIDS. He said identical materials of this type have appeared in locations throughout the country. He added that the party was targeted in local elections earlier this year, noting that SPS officially received 6.997 percent of the vote in Leningrad Oblast legislative elections in the spring, just shy of the 7 percent barrier needed to gain seats in the regional legislature. "All these separate incidents don't just happen," Kynev said. "This is a planned campaign." Kynev added that, based on the results of the 2003 Duma elections and local polls in recent years, Unified Russia has adopted a strategy of maximizing the turnout in rural areas and actively suppressing turnout in urban areas, where support for the liberal democratic parties is greatest. RC

Deputy presidential-administration head Vladislav Surkov, who handles elections matters and regional policies for the Kremlin, sharply criticized the SPS and other rightist parties during a Moscow conference, "Vedmosti" reported on October 31. Surkov argued that Russian business interests do not need their own party because "a party that synthesizes the interests of society and business" already exists, apparently referring to the pro-Kremlin Unified Russia party. Surkov praised the role of former U.S. President Franklin Roosevelt, who he said strengthened the regulatory functions of the government and increases state orders on the economy, although he did not create state corporations. President Putin also recently praised Roosevelt's use of state power to lift the United States out of the Great Depression in the 1930s (see "RFE/RL Newsline," October 19, 2007) and Surkov earlier raised the same parallel (see "RFE/RL Newsline," February 9, 2007). RC

Transparency International and the NGO Golos have reported that the two pro-Kremlin parties, Unified Russia and A Just Russia, are conducting illegal campaigning based on state resources on "an unprecedented scale," "Vedomosti" reported on October 31. According to the report, the parties are using ambulances, housing agencies, the police, educational establishments, and other state resources to campaign. The study covered 40 regions beginning in July, even though official campaigning for the races does not begin until November 5. Nonetheless, both parties have made massive use of "indirect or pseudo-social" advertising, including the use of party symbols on buses, ambulances, city vehicles, and the uniforms of city workers. Local and regional officials, including election commission officials, have been documented giving campaign-related speeches. In Sverdlovsk Oblast, the head of the local election commission on October 2 gave a speech in which he explained Unified Russia's campaign platform, which is titled "Putin's Plan." In Bashkortostan, city workers were ordered to dispose of opposition campaign materials "for the sake of cleanliness," while free newspapers delivered by Unified Russia were allowed to remain. City officials in Vladimir distributed items with Unified Russia symbols on them in grade schools, while both parties have been working actively in institutes and universities. Golos has set up a hotline where voters can report attempts to buy their votes. RC

The Central Election Commission on October 31 determined by random lottery the order in which the parties will appear on the ballot for the December 2 Duma elections, ITAR-TASS reported the same day. The order will be: the Agrarian Party, Civic Force, the Democratic Party of Russia, the Communist Party, the Union of Rightist Forces, the Social Justice Party, the Liberal Democratic Party of Russia, A Just Russia, Patriots of Russia, Unified Russia, and Yabloko. The commission also used a lottery to assign airtime on the state television and radio networks. Under election law, each of the 11 participating parties is allowed to one hour of television time and one hour of radio time. RC

President Putin on October 30 named long-time KGB and FSB officer Oleg Safonov to be the presidential envoy to the Far East Federal District, RosBalt reported the same day. Safonov graduated from the KGB's Andropov Institute and worked in the security organs at least during the period from 1982 to 1991. He met Putin in 1991 and worked under him in the St. Petersburg's mayor's office. After Putin became president, he tapped Safonov to work in the State Fisheries Committee and later to serve as deputy envoy to the Far East Federal District. Safonov has also served as an auditor with the Audit Chamber and as deputy interior minister. Safonov replaces Kamil Iskhakov, who recently was named deputy regional development minister (see "RFE/RL Newsline," October 3, 2007). On September 26, the Ingushetian website quoted an unnamed source within the office of the presidential envoy to the Southern Federal District as saying that Safonov was being considered as a possible successor to outgoing envoy Dmitry Kozak, but that Ingushetian President Murat Zyazikov was frantically trying to block that appointment. Former Eurasian Economic Community General Secretary Grigory Rapota was finally named the new envoy to the Southern Federal District on October 7 (see "RFE/RL Newsline," October 9, 2007). RC

In a statement posted on October 31 on the website, Akhmed Zakayev, the London-based foreign minister of the Chechen Republic Ichkeria (ChRI), condemned the confirmation by ChRI President and resistance commander Doku Umarov that he has proclaimed himself amir of the North Caucasus. Umarov confirmed his earlier proclamation in an audio file e-mailed to RFE/RL's North Caucasus Service. Zakayev expressed regret that Umarov, whom he characterized as "a talented and adamant fighter," has caved in to pressure from "provocateurs," distanced himself from his responsibilities as president, and committed a "crime" that undermines the legitimacy of the ChRI. Zakayev said the ChRI government can no longer support Umarov, and should henceforth report directly to the ChRI parliament, as should the armed forces. "We should do everything in our power to prevent a split within the ranks of the Chechen resistance," he declared. LF

The ongoing "preventive" operation launched in early September to avert further killings in Ingushetia has already yielded positive results and will continue at least until the December 2 elections to the Russian State Duma, Russian Deputy Interior Minister Colonel General Arkady Yedelev told journalists in Rostov-na-Donu on October 30, Interfax reported. Yedelev said a comparable operation is being implemented in Daghestan, where he claimed that since the death last month of senior commander Rappani Khalilov, several dozen fighters from Khalilov's group have been "neutralized" (see "RFE/RL Newsline," September 18, 2007). Addressing subordinates on October 29, Ingushetian Interior Minister Colonel Musa Medov said the crime situation in the republic has recently improved, reported. He added that Russian Interior Minister Rashid Nurgaliyev "completely understands" the problems facing the Ingushetian police force. Three days earlier, however, Russian Deputy Prosecutor General Ivan Sydoruk singled out Ingushetia for special criticism at a meeting to assess the crime situation across the Southern Federal District. Sydoruk said the number of crimes committed with firearms in Ingushetia remains high, and not a single source of weapons has been intercepted and blocked. On October 30, the independent Ingushetian website posted what it claimed is a letter from an official within the administration of President Murat Zyazikov. The official, whom the website did not identify, claimed that after Zyazikov paid $4 million plus 100,000 millions rubles ($4.05 million) to Amir Magas, the Ingush commander of the Caucasus Front, to secure the release of his elderly uncle Uruskhan Zyazikov (see "RFE/RL Newsline," March 26 and October 15, 2007), Magas agreed to refrain temporarily from further attacks in return for a further, unspecified payment, rather than risk the Kremlin replacing Zyazikov with "an Ingushetian, [Ramzan] Kadyrov." LF

Mikheil Gorbachev on October 30 dismissed as "lies from beginning to end" the allegations by TV journalist Andrei Karaulov that he planned the assassination of former Communist Party of Azerbaijan First Secretary Heydar Aliyev, Interfax and reported. Speaking earlier on October 30 in Baku at the launch of his book "Ilham Aliyev: I Believe in Azerbaijan," Karaulov claimed that Gorbachev sought to kill Aliyev when the latter was still a member of the CPSU Central Committee Politburo, but succeeded only in driving Aliyev to a heart attack. Aliyev was dismissed from that post, and as first deputy chairman of the U.S.S.R. Council of Ministers, in November 1997. Karaulov claimed that after his recovery, Aliyev sought in vain to persuade Gorbachev and CPSU Politburo secretariat member Georgy Razumovsky that failure to stop the Karabakh war would plunge Azerbaijan into a sea of blood. LF

Shogher Matevosian and Nikol Pashinian, the editors of the opposition newspapers "Chorrort ishkhanutiun" and "Haykakan zhamanak," were summoned on October 30 to a Yerevan district police station, together with three oppositionists, and formally charged with hooliganism or assaulting the police during a standoff in Yerevan one week earlier, RFE/RL's Armenian Service reported. The five were detained by police while marching through the streets in an attempt to inform passers-by about a rally planned for October 26 by former President Levon Ter-Petrossian, who personally negotiated their release (see "RFE/RL Newsline," October 24 and 25, 2007). Lawyer Tigran Ter-Yesayan, acting for Pashinian and the three oppositionists, said they will not give testimony during the pre-trial investigation, but only in court. LF

Russian Defense Minister Anatoly Serdyukov met with President Robert Kocharian, Prime Minister Serzh Sarkisian, and his Armenian counterpart Mikael Harutiunian during a one-day visit to Armenia on October 30, Noyan Tapan and RFE/RL's Armenian Service reported. A statement by Sarkisian's press service said the visit "will give new impetus" to bilateral military ties, which Sarkisian said "stem from our national interests." Serdyukov also traveled with Harutiunian to the Russian military base in Giumri, northern Armenia, in order "to personally familiarize myself with how our servicemen live here, [and] what problems they face." The two ministers also approved a plan for cooperation between their respective ministries for 2008 and reviewed preparations for planned joint military exercises. LF

Human Rights Watch and the Committee to Protect Journalists (CPJ) both issued statements on October 30 criticizing the 8 1/2-year jail sentence for terrorism, inciting ethnic hatred, and tax evasion handed down to Eynulla Fatullayev, editor of the publications "Gyundelik Azerbaycan" and "Realny Azerbaijan," both of which routinely reported and condemned official corruption (see "RFE/RL Newsline," October 30, 2007). CPJ General Director Joel Simon said "this was not a trial but political persecution," and he called on Azerbaijani President Ilham Aliyev to order Fatullayev's release from prison. Fatullayev was sentenced in April to 2 1/2 years' imprisonment for an article he says he did not write. In his closing statement on October 29, Fatullaev described the court system in Azerbaijan as "worse than that of Nazi Germany," but at the same time thanked the prosecutor for having demanded only a 10-year sentence, noting that in some Latin American countries recalcitrant journalists "are fed to crocodiles." The opposition Musavat party issued a statement on October 30 slamming Fatullayev's sentence as "absurd" and a further blow aimed at freedom of speech and the press, reported. LF

President Mikheil Saakashvili on October 30 personally declared Major General Sergei Chaban, the commander of the Russian peacekeeping force deployed under the CIS aegis in the Abkhaz conflict zone, persona non grata, and demanded that he leave Georgia within the next few days, Caucasus Press reported. Earlier on October 30, Russian peacekeepers cordoned off the camp in Ganmukhuri, close to the conflict zone, where young Georgians undergo patriotic training. UN Secretary General Ban Ki-moon three months ago called for the closure of that camp, describing it as a threat to the tenuous stability in the region (see "RFE/RL Newsline," July 25 and 27, 2007). The Russian peacekeepers briefly detained and beat four Georgian police officers, whom Chaban later handed over to the Georgian authories. Also on October 30, Sergei Bagapsh, president of the unrecognized republic of Abkhazia, announced that he has deployed additional troops to the border between Abkhazia and the rest of Georgia in anticipation of a "provocation" from the Georgian side, reported. LF

Nursultan Nazarbaev met on October 30 in Astana with the visiting president of the Asian Development Bank, Haruhiko Kuroda, to discuss plans for expanded cooperation and assistance, Kazakhstan Today reported. Kuroda praised Kazakhstan for its record of consistent economic growth and continued reforms, and welcomed "the role which Kazakhstan plays in [the] integration processes in the region." The same day, Economy Minister Bakhyt Sultanov announced that Kazakhstan's gross domestic product (GDP) expanded by 10.1 percent for the first nine months of the year, according to Interfax-Kazakhstan. In his report to a cabinet meeting, Sultanov noted that growth is expected to continue through the remainder of the year and cited matching increases in exports and consumption as key indicators of projected economic expansion in the future. RG

Daniyal Akhmetov reported on October 30 on the course of Kazakhstan's planned buildup of its naval force in the Caspian Sea and noted the creation of a new "directorate for naval forces" within the Defense Ministry, Interfax-Kazakhstan reported. Akhmetov added that he is "currently working with Russian, Ukrainian, Turkish, and French companies" for the "purchase and production" of navy vessels and ships, "coast-based infrastructure" to service the new navy, and related equipment. The report follows a recent pledge by Akhmetov to build up naval forces in the Caspian Sea specifically to guard Kazakhstan's vast offshore oil fields (see "RFE/RL Newsline," October 25, 2007). Akhmetov also said that a recent agreement on military cooperation with Azerbaijan (see "RFE/RL Newsline," October 9, 2007), which included measures aimed at bolstering naval cooperation in the Caspian Sea, would further bolster Kazakhstan's naval capabilities. Kazakhstan's naval buildup is also part of a broader effort to expand, train, and modernize its armed forces, and conforms to a strategic goal of emerging as an "advanced military power" within five years (see "RFE/RL Newsline," June 22, 2007). Last month, Akhmetov made similar comments on plans to bolster naval forces in the Caspian Sea, including the planned procurement of several large naval vessels (see "RFE/RL Newsline," September 20, 2007) and the expansion of military contacts with other countries such as Turkey and Israel. President Nursultan Nazarbaev has also vowed to purchase "the world's best" weapons and expand the armed forces (see "RFE/RL Newsline," April 24 and May 9, 2007). RG

Kyrgyz Foreign Minister Ednan Karabaev met on October 30 in Bishkek with Robert Simmons, the special representative of the NATO secretary-general for the South Caucasus and Central Asia, Kabar reported. Discussing the next stage of Kyrgyzstan's relations with NATO, Karabaev told Simmons that he welcomes NATO's contribution to the modernization and training of Kyrgyz servicemen and military specialists and added that he hopes that NATO will "speed up the consideration" of five projects presented by the Kyrgyz Emergency Situations Ministry. For his part, Simmons noted that NATO will "support the implementation of projects in Kyrgyzstan" and described the Kyrgyz participation in the planning and analysis process under NATO's Partnership for Peace program as "a positive and huge step forward." Simmons also met on October 29 with Tokon Mamytov, the secretary of the National Security Council, to discuss the "security situation" in the country and to review measures to expand cooperation with NATO, Kyrgyz radio reported. Mamytov stressed Kyrgyzstan's commitment to "living up to its commitments to fighting international terrorism," and said that Kyrgyzstan's recent ascension to the presidencies of the CIS and the Collective Security Treaty Organization will include a priority on seeking greater stability and security in the region. RG

An unidentified journalist was assaulted on October 30 by unknown men in the southern Kyrgyz city of Osh, according to Kyrgyz television. The journalist, working for the private NBT television station in Bishkek, was reporting on corruption involving the alleged sale of illegal medicine. Prominent journalist Alisher Saipov was killed in Osh on October 24 by an unknown gunman (see "RFE/RL Newsline," October 25, 2007). RG

Zmitser Dashkevich, a leader of the Youth Front organization, will stand trial on November 6 on new charges, Belapan and RFE/RL's Belarusian Service reported on October 30. Dashkevich is already serving an 18-month term in a correctional facility in Shklou, Mahilyou Oblast, for running an unregistered organization. Under the new charges, authorities accuse Dashkevich of refusing to give testimony in a case against another Youth Front activist, Ivan Shyla. He could face a prison sentence of up to three years. Dashkevich maintains that the Belarusian Criminal Code gives him the right not to testify against himself or those close to him. Dashkevich's trial is to be held at the correctional facility where he is incarcerated. In a related case, the Prosecutor's Office in Mahilyou has charged Artur Finkevich, a Youth Front activist already serving a two-year term for spraying political graffiti, with violating the internal regulations of the correctional facility. AM

Vyacheslav Kyrylenko, the head of the political council of the Our Ukraine-People's Self-Defense Bloc (NUNS), said on October 30 that a single political party will be created on the basis of the bloc, RFE/RL's Ukrainian Service and Interfax reported. "We will make every effort to complete the process this year," Interfax quoted Kyrylenko as saying. The NUNS bloc, which won 72 seats in the newly elected Ukrainian parliament, comprises nine political forces: the Our Ukraine People's Union, the Forward Ukraine! Party, the People's Rukh of Ukraine, the Ukrainian Republican Party Sobor, the Ukrainian People's Party, the Christian Democratic Union Party, the Pora Party, the Party of Motherland Defenders, and the European Party of Ukraine. AM

Yevhen Korniychuk, the leader of the Ukrainian Social-Democratic Party and a member of the council of the Yulia Tymoshenko Bloc (BYuT), said on October 30 that the lack of "elementary discipline" in the ranks of the NUNS bloc threatens the existence of the democratic coalition between NUNS and BYuT in the Verkhovna Rada, Interfax reported. Korniychuk said that in technical terms the coalition was established. "Individual voices have been heard from Our Ukraine members declaring their disagreement with this or that provision of the [coalition] deal," he continued. "Notice that no statements that someone objects to the deal have been made on the part of the Yulia Tymoshenko Bloc," Korniychuk said. "If we or our partners lack some elementary discipline, unfortunately, there is a threat that a democratic coalition may not be put together," he added. AM

Ihor Pukshyn, the deputy head of Ukraine's Presidential Secretariat, on October 30 denied that President Viktor Yushchenko's decision to demote two former security staff was linked to his poisoning in 2004, RFE/RL's Ukrainian Service reported. Yushchenko issued decrees stripping the honorary and military ranks of the former head of the Ukrainian Security Service (SBU), Ihor Smeshko, and former SBU deputy head Volodymyr Satsyuk (see "RFE/RL Newsline," October 30, 2007). Pukshyn said that Yushchenko stripped Satsyuk of his military rank because Satsyuk provided false data on his biography when obtaining the rank. Smeshko was stripped of the diplomatic rank because his "job position does not correspond to the title" of honorary ambassador, Pukshyn added. AM

A Cold War agreement that improved relations between West and East Germany cannot be a model for relations between Serbia and Kosova, Serbia's minister for Kosovar affairs, Slobodan Samardzic, told local media on October 30. Samardzic argued that under the 1972 Berlin Agreement, the two Germanies recognized themselves as different countries and abandoned territorial claims, but "Kosovo is not such a case." "It is a province within Serbia under international UN administration," the news service Balkan Insight quoted him as saying. An alternative interpretation is that the Berlin Agreement effectively recognized East Germany's independence, but did not force West Germany to compromise its legal and political arguments in favor of eventual German unity. Samardzic's comments came after the EU's mediator in negotiations over the future of Kosova, Wolfgang Ischinger, told the German newspaper "Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung" on October 24 that a Berlin-style agreement is being given some attention, and that he would be glad to see statecraft as creative as in 1972, when, as now, Washington and Moscow were on opposing sides. Samardzic also said that the UN Security Council resolution passed in the wake of the 1998-99 conflict in Kosova "does not allow for any agreements that resemble deals between states." The resolution also recognizes Serbia's sovereignty over Kosova, a key argument deployed by Serbia in its effort to block Kosova's bid for independence. Serbian and Kosovar leaders will next meet for direct talks on November 5. AG

Kosova's political leaders have underscored their commitment to a swift move toward independence in the wake of an unconfirmed report suggesting that the United States is considering delaying a decision on Kosova's future until 2020. In comments quoted by the dailies "Koha ditore" and "Express" on October 30, Kosova Prime Minister Agim Ceku said that "if someone has such ideas, my reply would be that even a 12-day delay beyond December 10 would be too much, let alone 12 years." December 10 is the date by which international mediators will submit a report to the UN on the progress of talks between Belgrade and Prishtina. The United States and the EU, along with Kosova, also view that as the deadline for talks to end. Ceku responded similarly sharply to claims that the United States and the EU would, in exchange for a freeze, plow billions of dollars into the region's economy, saying "independence is simply not for sale." His message was also driven home by President Fatmir Sejdiu and another member of Kosova's five-member negotiating team, opposition leader Veton Surroi, who told the news service Balkan Insight on October 29 that "Kosova's assembly should set the independence date before Christmas." AG

The head of the U.S. representative office in Prishtina, Tina Kaidanow, said on October 30 that Washington expects "the determination of Kosovo's status will move to a conclusion as quickly as possible" after international mediators report to the UN on December 10, local media reported. The reports do not indicate whether Kaidanow was responding to the claims, made in an October 29 report by Balkan Insight, that Washington might consider a 12-year delay to the resolution of Kosova's status. The United States has to date been the strongest proponent of an immediate move toward independence for Kosova. Balkan Insight's report was based on information supplied by an unnamed "senior source within the State Department." The proposal, which is reportedly in the draft stage, envisages that Kosova's population, 90 percent of which is ethnic-Albanian, would vote on independence in a referendum on January 5, 2020. "A freeze on Kosovo's political status until 2020 means a period in which to boost Kosovo's economy," the source said, "as it is also foreseen that the EU and the U.S. would inject up to 7 billion euros ($10.1 billion) a year into Kosovo's budget, as a pay-off during this period." Kosova would also be allowed to create a free-trade zone and join international financial institutions. "The U.S. has two options: to recognize, together with a few other countries, Kosovo's independence and to cause thereby many global and regional problems; or to drop formal independence for some years, relaxing tension in the region and boosting Kosovo's economy," the source said. Such a deal would establish a "white peace" in which "nobody would win politically: not the Albanians, the Serbs, Russia, or the West." AG

Serbian police on October 29 continued their hunt for Ratko Mladic, the Bosnian Serbs' wartime military commander, by questioning his son and daughter-in-law. Rasim Ljajic, the man responsible for overseeing Serbia's cooperation with the International Criminal Tribunal for the former Yugoslavia (ICTY), told the press on October 30 that Darko Mladic "was held in line with legal provisions that allow an interview of no longer than four hours." Darko Mladic told the news agency SRNA that he was "brought in for informative talks," adding that he had "nothing spectacular to report." The decision to call in Mladic's son comes amid both renewed pressure for Serbia to find Mladic and indications of a heightened effort to find war-crimes suspects. Serbia recently offered a 1 million euro ($1.4 million) reward for information leading to Mladic's arrest, and the Serbian authorities have in recent weeks searched army barracks in three locations, though on no occasion did they say they were looking for Mladic, maintaining that they have no knowledge of his whereabouts (see "RFE/RL Newsline," October 24, 2007). AG

The Sarajevo branch of Bosnia-Herzegovina's most popular party, the Alliance of Independent Social Democrats (SNSD), has warned that the country would have "no future" if the international community's governor-general, Miroslav Lajcak, chooses to "arrange relations in Bosnia-Herzegovina on the model of Sarajevo." According to the news agency SRNA, the SNSD claimed there has been "no room for Serbs" in Sarajevo's executive or legislative bodies and its public enterprises or institutions "for the past 10 years." Lajcak has never suggested a Sarajevo model for the country. However, he has said he will force changes designed to ease the passage of laws and decisions through the federal government and parliament. Bosnia's Serbian leaders have interpreted this state-level change as an attempt to reduce their influence and therefore as a threat to the existence of the Republika Srpska, a Bosnian Serb-dominated entity formed during the civil war and preserved by the Dayton Accords that ended the war. The SNSD's statement about the situation in Sarajevo reflected that stance. "Abolition of the principle of equality of constituent nations in the process of political decision-making and the introduction of the principle of out-voting can only lead to an aggravation of political and interethnic relations," it warned. Lajcak's move has prompted verbal protests from politicians in the Republika Srpska, Serbia, and Russia, demonstrations in the Republika Srpska, and a brief protest stoppage to rail transportation there (see "RFE/RL Newsline," October 22, 23, 24, 26, 29, 30, 2007). The protests have continued despite a deal on the issue of police reform, a breakthrough that could enable Bosnia to take its first step toward the EU (see "RFE/RL Newsline," October 30, 2007). AG

Like the Sarajevo branch of the party, the leader of the SNSD, Republika Srpska Prime Minister Milorad Dodik, appeared to raise questions about the future of Bosnia-Herzegovina on October 30, warning that "denial of the Republika Srpska means denial of Bosnia-Herzegovina." His comment, quoted by SRNA, was part of a speech in which Dodik renewed his criticism of High Representative Lajcak and defended the Republika Srpska against calls for its abolition. In previous statement about Lajcak's plans to accelerate decision-making, and in the long-running dispute over police reform, Dodik has said that the proposed changes are meant to challenge the existence of the Republika Srpska. Lajcak maintains that all his proposals, on the decision-making process and police reform, comply with the Dayton Accords. Lajcak has also reprimanded Bosnian Muslim leaders who argue that the Republika Srpska should be dissolved. Dodik has not called for the Republika Srpska to bid for independence, but his comment in August that nobody can expect there to be no further territorial changes in the Balkans if Kosova gains independence prompted Lajcak to threaten to sanction him (see "RFE/RL Newsline," August 23, 2007). Lajcak has yet to decide whether to lift a threat of sanctions against Dodik and other political leaders for their reluctance to agree on police reform. In his October 30 speech to councilors in the eastern district of Sarajevo, Dodik accused the international community -- represented by Lajcak -- of having a "point of view [influenced by] constant contacts with people from the federal Sarajevo" and said it "does not show any desire to understand what Serbs think about Bosnia-Herzegovina." AG

Hans-Jochen Witthauer, the head of the European Union's peacekeeping force in Bosnia-Herzegovina, EUFOR, raised the specter of war in an interview published by the newspaper "Dnevni list" on October 30. The EU is keeping a "minimum force" in Bosnia "to be capable to intervene if war breaks out again," he said, pinpointing the dispute over the future of Kosova as a source of concern. Fears that a resolution of Kosova's final status could trigger instability in Bosnia was one of the chief reasons given by the international community when, in February, it extended the mandate of the Office of the High Representative by a year, a move that permits it to intervene powerfully in Bosnia's politics (see "RFE/RL Newsline," February 28, 2007). However, EUFOR decided in the same month to cut troop levels from 6,000 to roughly 2,500, a step it delayed in late 2006 amid concerns that the Kosova talks could trigger violence (see "RFE/RL Newsline," February 28, 2007). At the time, the EU's foreign policy chief, Javier Solana, said the EU feels "much more relaxed about the security" situation in Bosnia. EUFOR now has a base in Sarajevo, monitoring posts around the country, and a rapid-reaction force. In March, Witthauer told the daily "Dnevni avaz" that "I do not expect any spreading of possible instability from Kosovo to Bosnia-Herzegovina. If anything does happen, these will be minor isolated incidents." However, he now believes "instability" is apparent "not only in Bosnia but in the whole area of the Western Balkans." NATO has repeatedly said that the security situation in Kosova itself remains stable. A similar message has been given by Macedonia. Ethnic Serbs across the region, though, have warned of instability, pointing to ethnic Albanians and radical Islamists as potential sources of violence. AG

The European Commission will not recommend in a pending report that the EU begin membership talks with Macedonia, Reuters reported on October 30, citing an unnamed EU source. The report on Macedonia's progress toward meeting EU requirements will apparently argue that Macedonia's political problems make it unprepared to begin talks in 2008, as Macedonia hopes. Macedonia's most high-profile political crises this year have been a 16-week boycott of parliament by ethnic-Albanian parties at the start of the year, and a clash between Albanian parties that turned violent both inside and outside parliament in September (see "RFE/RL Newsline," May 22 and 29, and September 27, 2007). However, tensions between the president and prime minister are also deeply problematic, with only limited -- chiefly written -- exchanges between the two men. While the comments are unofficial and the source unclear, senior EU figures have repeatedly expressed concern about Macedonia's performance, and early in the year contended that Macedonia was in fact regressing. The Macedonian daily "Dnevnik" recently quoted the still-unpublished report as highlighting corruption and politicization of the civil service as well as politics as key problems. A negative appraisal would also raise concerns in Macedonia that NATO leaders might not issue Macedonia an invitation to join when they meet at a much-awaited summit in April 2008. NATO's secretary-general, Jaap De Hoop Scheffer, recently moved to dampen Albania's hopes of an invitation, and NATO sources -- again unnamed -- said there is also doubt about the merits of Macedonia joining the alliance (see "RFE/RL Newsline," October 22, 2007). Macedonia also faces the problem that Greece has threatened to veto its bid for both groupings unless it agree to change its constitutional name, the Republic of Macedonia. AG

The head of Macedonia's Constitutional Court, Mahmut Jusufi, resigned on October 30, citing as his reason the court's decision to ban flying the Albanian flag outside government and public buildings (see "RFE/RL Newsline," October 26, 2007). Jusufi was one of three judges on the nine-member bench to rule against the ban. All are ethnic Albanians. Jusufi told the news agency MIA that he believes the ruling was political and did not take into consideration the Badinter principle, under which decisions on certain issues taken by a parliamentary majority must be confirmed by a majority of those from ethnic minorities. The Badinter principle is a key element in the Ohrid Framework Agreement, which in 2001 ended the six-month conflict between ethnic-Albanian separatists and Macedonia's central government. AG

On October 30, the Republika Srpska parliament voted overwhelmingly to condemn administrative reforms introduced on October 19 by the international community's high representative as contravening the 1995 Dayton peace agreements, which ended the 1992-95 conflict in Bosnia-Herzegovina. The 12-point parliamentary resolution also called for sharply curbing Miroslav Lajcak's powers.

On October 29, the Serbian Movement of Nongovernmental Organizations (Spona) organized demonstrations of several thousand people across the Republika Srpska against the Slovak diplomat's reforms. In addition to carefully printed signs, some of the protesters in Banja Luka carried portraits of Russian President Vladimir Putin.

Lajcak's reforms are aimed at speeding up the decision-making process in the Bosnian government and parliament and invigorating the reform effort. The measures are also designed to stop politicians from blocking the functioning of institutions by not showing up. His move comes shortly before two potentially important events: the October 31 meeting of the Peace Implementation Council, the large international grouping that oversees Bosnia's postwar recovery and which appointed Lajcak; and the publication in early November of the EU's latest annual report on Bosnia's progress.

The high representative introduced the changes in response to the repeated failure of Bosnian politicians to agree on police reform, which is the main obstacle to launching a Stabilization and Association Agreement (SAA) with the EU, which has otherwise been ready since 2006. The SAA is the first step toward EU membership and the possible easing of visa requirements for travel to EU member states, which is of central importance to most ordinary Bosnians. Furthermore, many Bosnians see EU membership as essential for their country's economic development.

On October 28, Bosnian Muslim, Croat, and Serb leaders agreed in principle on a police reform, which would meet EU requirements for a single force, financed from the central budget and ostensibly free of political interference. Currently, the two entities -- the Republika Srpska and the Muslim-Croat federation -- each have their own force, which many consider to be successors to the often shadowy security bodies that date from the war over a decade ago. Republika Srpska Prime Minister Milorad Dodik said on October 28 that "we agreed that a reformed police force must reflect the constitution. This is an attempt to unblock the process of EU integration." After 30 days, the leaders will meet again to discuss constitutional reform and the "details" of establishing a "functional, multiethnic, and professional police force," as Dodik put it.

But the devil is in those details. At stake are the power relationships between the weak central authorities on the one hand and the two entities, especially the Republika Srpska, on the other. When the Dayton agreements were signed, then-Bosnian Serb President Biljana Plavsic convinced her followers that Dayton guaranteed the "sovereignty" of the Republika Srpska -- and Bosnian Serb leaders have operated from that premise ever since.

The international community and Bosnian Muslim leaders, however, viewed Dayton as a stop-gap measure necessary to end the conflict and certainly not intended to be permanent. Western and Muslim authorities foresaw the evolution of Bosnia into a democratic, multiethnic state with an effective central government. Ethnic-Serbian and Croatian politicians feared just such a development, because the Muslims are the largest single ethnic group and could possibly outvote the others. The Serbs accordingly became suspicious of any move that threatened to undercut the sovereignty of their entity, while many Croatian leaders sought in vain to replace the federation with two distinct entities, one Muslim and one Croatian.

Police reform is central to these power relationships and hence has been so difficult to achieve. One proposed model of reform involves setting up new police districts that crossed the boundaries of the two entities. This proved anathema to the Serbs, who saw that model as a blow to their sovereignty as set down in Dayton. Another question involves defining the multiethnicity of the police: is a force multiethnic just because it has a joint overall command like the Bosnian military, even though in reality individual units and their commanders are still determined on an ethnic basis?

Meanwhile, much attention is centered on Dodik. If Lajcak does not withdraw his governmental reforms, which Dodik says will undermine the authority of the two entities, Dodik has threatened to withdraw Serbian officials from all central institutions and take his Independent Social Democrats (SNSD) into the opposition. For his part, Lajcak has suggested that he might use his authority to sack Dodik if the Bosnian Serb leader continues to obstruct. For the international community, much has indeed changed since U.S. Secretary of State Madeleine Albright said about a decade ago that Plavsic and Dodik were "a good ticket" because they were considered a sound alternative to politicians loyal to wartime leaders Radovan Karadzic in Bosnia and Slobodan Milosevic in Serbia.

On October 22, Dodik and Lajcak held a meeting that seemed to ease tensions. But shortly afterwards, the Bosnian Serb leader met in Belgrade with nationalist Serbian Prime Minister Vojislav Kostunica and Russian Deputy Foreign Minister Vladimir Titov, who has acted as Moscow's diplomatic point man in obstructing moves toward independence for Kosova. Following that meeting, Dodik's rhetoric became tough again. Britain's "The Economist" on October 27 quoted Lajcak as saying, "They should either stop [threatening to paralyze the government] or reveal their real intentions." Meanwhile, Dodik has called for Lajcak to go and for his office to be abolished.

Much of the recent discussion hardly seems new. Several informed observers from the region told RFE/RL's South Slavic and Albanian Languages Service on October 29 that Dodik and his followers are displaying familiar obstructionist tactics aimed at keeping non-Serbs from having a say in the affairs of the Republika Srpska and holding up Bosnia's European integration. Eastern Sarajevo's "Dnevni list" of October 30 quoted Rear Admiral Hans-Jochen Witthauer, commander of the EU's EUFOR peacekeeping force, as saying that "if we look into these problems and events, I believe the international community is well advised to keep its hands on the western Balkans."

One aspect that seems to be new is the possible Russian factor. Are Titov (and the Kremlin) encouraging Kostunica and Dodik to stonewall Western diplomatic efforts aimed at promoting the Euro-Atlantic integration of the former Yugoslavia? Does Russia have great-power ambitions in the region that go beyond nay-saying and obstructionism? What lies behind the appearance of the Putin portraits in Banja Luka, which were probably the first pictures of a Russian leader carried by demonstrators in former Yugoslavia in decades?

Despite Soviet leader Josef Stalin's expulsion of Yugoslav communist chief Josip Broz Tito from the Soviet-led bloc in 1948, many Yugoslavs, particularly those from a Serbian Orthodox background, maintained an uncritical admiration for Russia that sometimes bordered on awe. This complex phenomenon is still present and could provide a political basis for expanding Russian influence in much of former Yugoslavia.

It may also be, however, that Dodik's meeting with Titov and the appearance of the Putin portraits are simply aimed at providing some psychological support for Serbs who consider themselves embattled, even if there is not much substance behind the Russian "presence." Reassurance and support are part the aura surrounding Russia among many Orthodox of former Yugoslavia. According to a 19th-century British joke, an English traveler once asked a boastful Montenegrin exactly how many Montenegrins there are. The response was: "with the Russians, 120 million."

Taliban insurgents overran Gulistan district in Afghanistan's western Farah Province late on October 29, instigating a battle that carried on into the next day and left dozens dead, including seven civilians, AFP reported on October 30. One policeman was killed and three wounded, while at least 20 Taliban were reported killed or injured, provincial police chief Abdul Rehman Sarjang said. Local Taliban leaders were joined by more than 400 rebels from neighboring provinces in their bid to take control of the district, Sarjang said. Sarjang told AFP the battle has not yet ended, and that no one has established control of the district. He added that Afghan forces and NATO-led troops are being deployed to help police "retake total control." Taliban spokesman Qari Yusof Ahmadi reportedly said the extremist group has captured the district. ISAF said it was not involved, although NATO troops, together with Afghan police, did conduct a "clean-up" operation in Arghandab district of Kandahar Province in which another 20 militants were killed, police spokesman Sayed Aqa Saqib said. Taliban spokesman Ahmadi claimed the group took control of Arghandab after 30 police surrendered to the militants, but Saqib said the rebels only raided the district outskirts. Although Taliban militants have temporarily seized control of many districts in Afghanistan's volatile south, they have managed to maintain control over only one district -- Musa Qala district in Helmand Province (see "RFE/RL Newsline," October 29, 2007). JC

A roadside blast on October 30 killed the local intelligence chief of Qarghayi district, in Laghman Province, and three of his bodyguards, AP reported. A spokesman for the provincial governor, Nezamuddin, reported the deaths. The news agency did not report the intelligence chief's name. In southern Afghanistan, a combined Afghan-coalition operation on October 29 left 20 Taliban fighters dead and 25 wounded, provincial police chief Sayed Afgha Saqib said. Security forces, including 200 Afghan police, surrounded two villages in the Arghandab district in Kandahar Province, trapping the militants. "We are on the offensive and they are on the defensive," said Saqib, who added that no police were injured in the operation, although another government official, speaking on condition of anonymity, said three officers died. No casualties have been independently confirmed. JC

Kabul police shut down a private security company on October 29 as part of the government's ongoing efforts to weed out security firms that are operating illegally in the capital, Pajhwak Afghan News reported. Brigadier General Alishah Paktiawal, the crime branch chief at Kabul Police Headquarters, said the Siddiqi Private Security Company was operating in Kabul without a government license. Afghan officials from the National Intelligence Department, the counterterrorism department at the Interior Ministry, and the attorney-general's office seized a weapons cache, including 34 Kalashnikov rifles and two machine guns, from the firm in the day-long operation. The government began a major crackdown earlier this month on security firms in Kabul, shutting down two security companies following accusations of murder and robbery (see "RFE/RL Newsline," October 12, 2007). JC

Japan's failure to extend its refueling mission in support of coalition forces in Afghanistan will have no "operational impact whatsoever," a U.S. Defense Department spokesman said on October 30, Reuters reported. Japanese Prime Minister Yasuo Fukuda was unable to garner enough support in parliament to extend the country's support mission to Afghanistan, in which Japan's navy has provided fuel to U.S. and other ships patrolling the Indian Ocean (see "RFE/RL Newsline," October 30, 2007). The final refueling mission under the current mandate was carried out on October 29, just before the mandate expires on November 1. Pentagon press secretary Geoff Morrell said the Defense Department hopes Japan "will continue to support the mission through their refueling efforts," but noted that coalition forces "will certainly come up with alternative means" of refueling if Japan ends the mission this week. According to Pentagon reports, Japan has provided around 7.3 percent of the total fuel consumed by coalition ships since February 2003, although it supplied nearly 20 percent in the first two years of the conflict that began with the U.S.-led invasion in 2001. JC

A NATO investigation into allegations that an alliance air strike on October 21 killed at least 11 civilians found the claims to be "baseless" and "completely without merit," Pajhwak Afghan News reported on October 29. The investigation concerns a bombing raid in the Jalrez district of central Wardak Province (see "RFE/RL Newsline," October 23, 2007). International Security Assistance Force (ISAF) spokesman Major Charles Anthony said the air strikes were called in after troops on the ground identified a large group of antigovernment militants setting an ambush for another group of ISAF soldiers. Villagers reported the deaths of at least 11 civilians to district officials, but an ISAF press release said the investigation "found there was no credible information to support such claims." Wardak Provincial Governor Abdul Jabbar Naeemi confirmed the findings of the investigation, the statement added. JC

An appeals court in Tehran has upheld mandatory five-year and three-year jail sentences for Mansur Osanlu, the head of the Tehran bus drivers' union, and fellow union official Ebrahim Madadi, Radio Farda reported on October 30, citing ISNA (see "RFE/RL Newsline," October 10 and 17, 2007). Osanlu's lawyer, Parviz Khorshidi, told ISNA that Osanlu was convicted on charges of acting against national security and engaging in propaganda against the system, and Madadi on charges of acting against state security. Khorshidi said Osanlu has been transferred from the special security wing of Tehran's Evin prison to an ordinary section. Osanlu was arrested near his house in Tehran on July 10. He has had intermittent trouble with the authorities in recent years because of union activities, aimed at improving the working conditions and professional rights of employees of the state-sector Tehran bus company. The head of the International Transport Workers' Federation, David Cockroft, said on October 30 that the sentence against Osanlu "appalls world opinion" and the treatment he has received "brings shame to the government of Iran." The charges, he added, "would be laughable if they were not so serious," reported. Cockroft spoke of planning a "new wave of protests" abroad against the sentences. VS

Mahmud Ahmadinejad on October 30 dismissed the recent U.S. sanctions against Iran's Islamic Revolutionary Guards Corps (IRGC) and other Iranian entities, saying the measures are "without content" and cannot significantly harm Iran's economy, Radio Farda reported, citing Iran reports (see "RFE/RL Newsline," October 28, 2007). He told a gathering of government-affiliated Basiji militiamen that the United States believes it can force Iran to retreat with the sanctions, and by having its "internal agents" publicly report that "sanctions are having an impact and the people are facing economic difficulties." Ahmadinejad said the United States has failed to bring other states on board in its bid to impose another set of UN sanctions on Iran. He said "we have identified the economic saboteurs and will entirely cleanse them from the economic sphere in the near future," Radio Farda reported. Ahmadinejad also said Iran is interested in talking to foreign parties under "equitable" conditions, but will not negotiate on its rights -- presumably referring to what Iran calls its right to make nuclear fuel -- adding that in Iran is not interested in holding talks with the United States, and does not need to do so. VS

Iran and the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) resumed talks on Iran's nuclear program on October 29 in Tehran, agencies reported. The talks began as international parties remain at odds in assessing the aims of Iran's nuclear program, with IAEA chief Muhammad el-Baradei saying on October 28 that there is no evidence yet of Iranian bomb-making activities, while France and the United States say there is, Reuters reported. The talks, which last through October 31, concern Iran's use of P1 centrifuges and its interest in the much faster P2 centrifuges, both used to enrich uranium in the atomic fuel-making process. Western states warn that Iran's nuclear-fuel production could have military applications. Javad Vaidi, a deputy head of the Iranian Supreme National Security Council, represented Iran in talks on October 30 with IAEA deputy-head Olli Heinonen, IRNA reported. Vaidi later presented parliament's National Security and Foreign Policy Committee with a progress report on the talks. Committee member Kazem Jalali said Vaidi told parliamentarians Iran has given the IAEA "full and comprehensive" information on the centrifuges, IRNA reported. VS

Hojjatoleslam Hadi Qabel, a member of the reformist Participation Front, was released from prison on October 28 or 29, after posting bail of over $50,000, ISNA reported on October 29, quoting Qabel's son Ruhollah Qabel. The special clerical court in Qom, which tried him on unspecified charges at a closed-door trial, ordered his release on October 28. Qabel's son said that he was not given access to a lawyer. Qabel has previously been jailed for criticizing Iranian Supreme Leader Ali Khamenei. VS

Iranian forces shot dead seven "armed bandits" near the town of Khaf, in the eastern province of Khorasan-i Razavi, on October 28, "Kayhan" reported on October 30. The shooting was apparently part of a wider operation that led to drug seizures and the capture of more traffickers, the daily stated. Police, reportedly acting on a tip-off about a gang of armed men who had entered the country, ambushed them in a hilly area called Baghak near Khaf, killing seven and taking in 135 kilograms of opium. In an apparently related operation, police arrested members of two drug-trafficking gangs further south in Sistan va Baluchistan province, also on October 28. Police arrested seven suspects in that operation and confiscated 380 kilograms of opium and two vehicles. VS

Foreign Minister Hoshyar Zebari told reporters in Baghdad on October 31 that Iraq is working to curb the movement of fighters from the Turkish-Kurdish separatist group Kurdistan Workers Party (PKK) inside Iraq, Reuters reported. "There is an increase in checkpoints to prevent the PKK from getting food and fuel. There are measures to prevent them from reaching populated cities," Zebari said. He added that Iraq is working to secure the release of eight Turkish soldiers taken hostage by the PKK last week. KR

Kurdistan regional President Mas'ud Barzani told reporters at an October 30 press briefing in Irbil that Turkey's dispute with the PKK must be resolved through dialogue, Kurdistan Satellite Television reported. Barzani was speaking following an emergency session of the regional parliament to discuss the crisis. He condemned PKK violence, and addressing Turkey and the PKK, said: "We are not part of the war with the PKK and should not be made part of it. If you both insist on war, we are not part of it. Do not bring the war to the [Iraqi] Kurdistan region. If you are going to adopt peaceful solutions, we will offer all we can to help you." KR

At the same October 30 press briefing, Barzani criticized Turkey for refusing to hold dialogue with the Kurdistan regional government. Asked what message he would send to Turkey, the Kurdish leader said: "We are not the enemy of Turkey. We extend a hand of friendship to Turkey. But we will not accept the language of threats" from Turkey. "There is no need for threats; they will lead nowhere." Barzani added that the Turkey-PKK conflict has raged for 23 years. "The Turkish people should ask its own army: Why has [the conflict] not been brought to an end after 23 years?" Referring to Turkey's warnings over Kurdish designs on Kirkuk , Barzani said, "We hope the PKK is not just an excuse and that there is no other motive behind" Turkey's threats to move into northern Iraq. KR

Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan on October 30 accused Kurdistan regional President Barzani of aiding and abetting the PKK, Anatolia news agency reported. "Barzani should assume a clear attitude," Erdogan told reporters during a reception in Ankara marking the Day of the Republic. Referring to Turkey's refusal to hold dialogue with the Kurdistan regional government, Erdogan said: "Turkey's interlocutor is the central government of Iraq, not Barzani. Therefore, we are talking to Baghdad." Continuing, he said: "Iraq is not at peace with itself. How can it be at peace with its neighbors?" The Turkish military continued to shell suspected PKK positions in southeastern Turkey on October 30, Reuters reported, and Turkey has up to 100,000 troops stationed along its border with Iraq. Turkish media reported that 150,000 troops are now on the border. Meanwhile, the Turkish daily "Milliyet" reported that commercial traffic through the Habur Gate has slowed to about 400 vehicles a day, down from 1,000 vehicles. The daily reported that drivers are refusing to go through Syria in order to enter Iraq via the Al-Rabi'ah border crossing in western Ninawa Governorate due to the security risks of driving through Mosul. KR

The Sunni-led Iraqi Accordance Front issued a statement on October 30 criticizing the parliament's confirmation of two ministerial nominees, saying a vote should not have been held, due to the lack of a quorum. Front spokesman Salim al-Juburi claimed that the October 30 vote was not the first time parliament voted without a quorum while deputy speaker Khalid al-Atiyah was overseeing a session. Parliament approved Prime Minister Nuri al-Maliki's nomination of Ali Husayn al-Bahadili to head the Agriculture Ministry and Salih al-Hasnawi's nomination to head the Ministry of Health. They will fill portfolios left vacant by the resignations of six ministers aligned with Shi'ite cleric Muqtada al-Sadr earlier this year. Al-Bahadili served as agriculture minister in the transitional government under former Prime Minister Ibrahim al-Ja'fari. He holds a Ph.D. from the University of California and is not affiliated with any political party. Al-Hasnawi is the head of the medical college in Karbala, where he also heads the doctors' union. According to media reports, he is not affiliated with any political party. KR

Multinational forces will transfer responsibility for security of the Al-Basrah Governorate to Iraq in mid-December, Prime Minister al-Maliki announced on October 30. Al-Maliki made the announcement while speaking at a ceremony marking the transfer of security in Karbala Governorate to Iraqi authorities (see "RFE/RL Newsline," October 30, 2007). British officials praised the announcement. "We are delighted that the government of Iraq has announced its intention to transfer security responsibility," British Defense Secretary Des Browne and Foreign Secretary David Miliband said in a joint statement issued on October 30. "This confirms the strategy of transition announced by the [British] Prime Minister [Gordon Brown] earlier this month and is firmly in line with the coalition's progressive handover strategy across Iraq," the statement continued. The transfer of authority will mean that British forces based in four southern governorates will be on overwatch status. Britain currently has some 5,200 troops based in southern Iraq, but appears set to withdraw completely by the end of 2008. KR