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Newsline - November 15, 2007

The Russian authorities on November 15 permitted an overflight by a German military Airbus plane carrying about 200 German soldiers to a base in Termez, Uzbekistan, en route to Afghanistan, German media reported. Russian air traffic controllers had turned the plane away on November 14 on the grounds that its overflight permit, known as a "diplo clearance," was valid only for November 13. The German authorities postponed by one day the scheduled November 13 flight because of a sand storm in Termez. The "Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung" wrote on November 15 that Russia normally grants a diplo clearance routinely and on short notice, even to planes that are already airborne. German Defense Minister Franz Josef Jung said in Berlin on November 15 that there had been "a coordination problem" and added that there were no political factors surrounding the incident. On November 14, the daily "Kommersant" reported that Russia has extended temporary Siberian overflight rights to Lufthansa Cargo until the end of February, 2008. The Russian Transportation Ministry nonetheless warned in a statement against any linking of matters affecting Russian cargo flights to Germany with Lufthansa Cargo's problems in Russia. German media recently suggested that Russia is trying to bully Lufthansa Cargo into moving its Asian hub from Astana to Krasnoyarsk (see "RFE/RL Newsline," October 31 and November 1, 2, 5, and 9, 2007). "The Moscow Times" wrote on November 14 that the Germans have accepted the hub transfer in principle and are now working out the details with Russia, particularly regarding the modernization of infrastructure in Krasnoyarsk. The Russian authorities are waiting for a firm commitment from Lufthansa before agreeing to spend more than $10 million on new infrastructure or upgrades, the paper added. PM

Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov said on a one-day visit to Ljubljana, Slovenia, on November 15 that "it is unproductive to claim that in searching for the final status of Kosovo there is no alternative to its independence," Russian and international media reported. He did not elaborate. Lavrov also criticized as "impudent and illegitimate" recent moves by Miroslav Lajcak, the international community's high representative in Bosnia-Herzegovina, aimed at speeding up the decision-making process in the Bosnian government and parliament and invigorating the reform effort. The reforms are opposed by leading Bosnian Serb politicians, who consider them a threat to their power (see "RFE/RL Balkan Report," November 12, 2007). Lavrov visited Slovenia for talks with his counterpart Dimitrij Rupel and other Slovenian officials in the run-up to the Slovenian EU Presidency, which begins on January 1 and is expected to pay special attention to Balkan issues. Foreign Ministry spokesman Mikhail Kamynin said in Moscow on November 14 that Russia "is grateful to the Slovenian people for their concern for Russian soldiers buried in 1916 near the Russian chapel at Vrsic pass and to Soviet soldiers who died in Slovenia during World War II," ITAR-TASS reported. He also noted the cordial development of relations between Slovenia and Russia in postcommunist times. In Vienna on November 14, 2007, Lavrov spoke about the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) and its work on the Iranian nuclear issue with the U.S. envoy to the IAEA, Gregory Schulte. Lavrov stressed the importance of "negotiations, of positive incentives," and called on "all participants of the negotiation process to work with a conscientious attitude on the clarification of questions that really exist, and not to replace [this process] by predictions, threats, or prophecies." Schulte stressed the importance of "full disclosure" by Iran. PM

Veteran nationalist politician Dmitry Rogozin, who is expected to take up his new post as ambassador to NATO soon, said in an interview with "Izvestia" of November 15 that he will talk tough in Brussels but is prepared to be friendly during leisure hours, and might even start a NATO football team (see "RFE/RL Newsline," October 25 and November 9, 2007). He said that he will be "tough at the negotiation table, but that approach is required by my country's interests, not my personality." Rogozin added that he already knows "many NATO officials, and they know me as a negotiator." On November 13, the Federation Council's Foreign Affairs Committee approved his nomination to the post. President Putin is expected to confirm the appointment shortly. On November 14, RIA-Novosti quoted a NATO spokesman as saying that the alliance is prepared to work with the new ambassador. PM

Deputy Defense Minister General Vladimir Isakov said on November 14 that the Defense Ministry has taken unspecified "additional measures" to prevent acts of "vandalism" at Russian military cemeteries abroad, Interfax reported. He added that his ministry and the Interior Ministry have sent proposals to President Putin aimed at "preventing developments similar to the ones in Estonia [in the spring], which constituted an act of state vandalism aimed at wiping out the memory of the glorious Soviet Army that freed the world from the Nazi plague." It is not clear how Isakov wants Russia to prevent such developments outside its borders. In the spring, the pro-Putin youth group Nashi organized a blockade of the Estonian Embassy in Moscow after Estonia moved a Soviet-era World War II monument from central Tallinn to a military cemetery. At the same time, Estonia was the target of a massive cyber-attack, which Russia is widely suspected of orchestrating, although it denies any involvement. Russia recently imposed economic restrictions on Estonia (see "RFE/RL Newsline," June 7, July 17 and 24, and August 8, 2007). PM

A new survey conducted by the Levada Center and managed by the InterMedia Survey Institute in conjunction with RFE/RL's Russian Service has found that 65.5 percent of Russians do not believe that the December 2 Duma elections will be "honest," RFE/RL's Russian Service reported on November 15. The poll found that 18.4 percent believe the elections will be conducted honestly. At the same time, more than 65 percent said they think it is important that Russia hold "democratic elections." Forty-eight percent said the results of the elections will be determined either by President Putin or his administration. Despite the low confidence in the elections, nearly 60 percent of respondents expressed some intention of voting, and half of respondents said they expect the elections will lead to improvements in their lives. "People are suggesting from experience that violations, falsifications, pressure on voters are possible," Levada Center Director Lev Gudkov told RFE/RL. "All the research shows a contrast between what people think should happen and what they see in reality." RC

The Communist Party and Yabloko have expressed concern that the police are playing too large a role in the current legislative-election campaign, "Nezavisimaya gazeta" reported on November 15. According to the newspaper, even the Central Election Commission is concerned that police are taking the initiative on election issues, ahead even of local election commissions and prosecutors. "Earlier election commissions first reacted to violations and then police, if necessary, became involved," an unidentified Central Election Commission official told the daily. Police around the country collected information about political parties and activists in the months leading up to the election (see "RFE/RL Newsline," September 19, 2007) and since the campaign began, active opponents of the Unified Russia party have been targeted. The paper documented numerous instances of police harassment of the Communist Party in Omsk Oblast alone in recent weeks. Campaign materials for the Union of Rightist Forces (SPS) party have been seized by police around the country on a wide range of pretexts, with police in one region claiming they wanted to test the newsprint for cocaine, in another saying they needed to check the materials for "extremism," and in a third saying the paper might contain hidden commercial advertising. SPS lawyer Vadim Prokhorov said police in Udmurtia, Kirov, and Bryansk Oblast have visited party activists at their homes, questioning them and seizing campaign-related materials. Political commentator Aleksandr Kynev told the daily the police actions are a sign that local officials understand the importance of achieving an overwhelming result in favor of Unified Russia in the December 2 elections. "They are trying to achieve this using all possible and impossible means," Kynev said. RC

The SPS has asked the Supreme Court to invalidate President Putin's candidacy in the State Duma elections, arguing that he has repeatedly misused his office for campaign purposes in violation of election law, reported on November 14. The Central Election Commission last month rejected a similar complaint from SPS (see "RFE/RL Newsline," October 24, 2007). The new SPS complaint includes reference to the national campaign of police harassment the party is seemingly enduring, claiming the police actions are "being done on Putin's direct order," SPS Political Council member Boris Nemtsov said. According to the Central Election Commission, the court is required to rule on the complaint within five days. RC

Representatives of the regional For Putin! organizations gathered in Tver on November 15 to form a national organization dedicated to persuading President Putin to remain the country's leader after his term expires in March 2008, Russian media reported (see "RFE/RL Newsline," November 12 and 14, 2007). reported that all foreign journalists had been banned from covering the event. Likewise, journalists from, RFE/RL's Russian Service, the Russian version of "Newsweek" magazine, and the REN-TV network were denied accreditation. Organizers said there was not enough space in the venue for the journalists. The event was being covered by all the state television networks. RC

A new poll by the Levada Center has found Russians uncertain about the current campaign to have President Putin declared the "national leader" following the expiry of his current term of office, reported on November 14. Thirty-five percent of respondents said they either fully support or somewhat support the initiative, while 45 percent said they either fully or somewhat oppose it. Twenty percent remain undecided. The same survey found that more than 80 percent of Russians trust Putin and just 11 percent said they do not. Sixty-seven percent said they want Putin to serve a third term even if it means changing the constitution. Forty-three percent said the presidential administration is behind the For Putin! movement, while 33 percent believe it is a spontaneous popular phenomenon. RC

The Moscow city government has denied permission for the Other Russia opposition coalition to hold a March of Dissent rally in the capital on November 24, ITAR-TASS reported on November 15. The report contradicted statements by Other Russia the previous day indicating the authorities had decided to permit the action, although not at the downtown location requested. The news agency quoted a city official as saying the Other Russia statements were an attempt "to disinform journalists." The official said the city never intended to give permission for a march, but had negotiated with Other Russia about the possibility of holding a rally. Other Russia has also applied to hold a march in St. Petersburg on November 25. However, the coalition is not satisfied with the march route or rally site proposed by city authorities and is insisting on marching down the city's main street, Nevsky Prospekt. RC

The Institute of Applied Mathematics of the Russian Academy of Sciences has hosted a conference to announce the creation of a new academic discipline called mathematical modeling of historical processes, "Nezavisimaya gazeta" reported on November 14. Institute Deputy Director Georgy Malinetsky said the event was making "mathematical history." Malinetsky said the goal of research in the new field is to create analytical and prognostic models of social phenomena. Conference participants predicted that a historical catastrophe can be expected in Russia in the next decade; the country has undergone significant catastrophes in the first two decades of every century since the 1600s (the Time of Troubles in 1610-13, the Great Northern War of 1708-09; the Napoleonic wars of 1812-14, and World War I, 1914-17, and the Bolshevik revolution of 1917). Conference participants also discussed the accelerating disintegration of Russian models of statehood, noting that the Muscovite state lasted 600 years, the Romanov dynasty lasted 300 years, and the Soviet Union lasted just 74 years. The mathematicians predicted that the current phase of Russian statehood will not last longer than 30 years. RC

In an interview with a Chechen television channel, pro-Moscow Chechen Republic head Ramzan Kadyrov has called on Chechen Republic Ichkeria (ChRI) president and resistance commander Doku Umarov to surrender, reported on November 14. Kadyrov said that Umarov should stop ruining innocent lives. He characterized Umarov's proclamation of a North Caucasus emirate that he purportedly heads as "the empty talk of a man who seeks to create unnecessary problems for the people whose interests he claims to defend." LF

Armenian President Robert Kocharian issued on November 13 a decree appointing members of the state Audit Chamber, Arminfo and Noyan Tapan reported. According to the decree, Levon Yolian was appointed to a six-year term as the deputy chairman of the Audit Chamber and Gagik Mkrtumian was named as a councilor of the body for a five-year term. The president also appointed two of his aides, Seyran Avagian and Lilit Gevorgian, as members of the state body for four- and three-year terms, respectively. Armenia's Audit Chamber was established by a December 2006 law that empowered the independent body to "supervise budgetary funds, state and public property" and to oversee state grants, privatization programs, and to receive the annual report of the Central Bank of Armenia. The Audit Chamber consists of five members, serving five-year terms, and a chairman and deputy chairman holding six-year terms. RG

Speaking to reporters in Baku, Azerbaijani presidential administration head Ali Hasanov said on November 14 that President Ilham Aliyev is "concerned about the arrests of journalists in Azerbaijan," Turan reported. Hasanov also commented on the recent arrest of Qanimat Zahidov, editor of the opposition newspaper "Azadliq," but argued that "his arrest is connected with a complaint received by the police," adding that "I think the issue will be looked into objectively." Zahidov was summoned late on November 10 to a Baku police station where he was charged with hooliganism and inflicting grievous bodily harm related to an incident on November 7, in which Zahidov was assaulted near the entry to the Azerbaijan publishing house after a girl screamed that he was molesting her. He was sentenced by a Baku District Court the following day to two months' pretrial detention (see "RFE/RL Newsline," November 13, 2007). RG

Azerbaijani police in Baku forcibly dispersed on November 14 a demonstration by activists of the Dalga (Wave) youth group in front of the Baku mayor's office, according to Turan. Police also arrested 10 of the protestors. The demonstration was organized to protest the municipal authorities' failure to curb the cutting of a significant number of trees in the Azerbaijani capital. The same Dalga group also attempted to stage a "barefoot march" in Baku to demand fundamental education reforms, although Baku police also forcibly dispersed the march and arrested some 20 participants before releasing them later without charges (see "RFE/RL Newsline," September 27, 2007). RG

In response to questions from reporters in Baku, Bill Schrader, the head of BP's operations in Azerbaijan, said on November 14 that the oil company has discovered "a potentially significant" reservoir of natural gas in Azerbaijan's offshore Shah Daniz field, Turan reported. He noted, however, that "it was too early" to provide an accurate assessment of the size of the new gas discovery, but added that the new gas deposit, located some 70 kilometers southeast of Baku, may be "the deepest reservoir to be developed in the Caspian Sea." Prior to this discovery, BP's official estimate of the size of the Shah Daniz field reported a total of 629 billion cubic meters, although Azerbaijani officials have repeatedly claimed that the Shah Deniz offshore gas reserves were "nearly twice as large." The Shah Deniz gas field currently produces some 15 million cubic meters of gas daily, of which Azerbaijan retains 5 million and exports 8.2 million to Turkey and 1 million to Georgia. The discovery follows a recent announcement that the implementation of the second stage of drilling in the field may be delayed by one year, from 2012 to 2013, as Statoil-Azerbaijan encountered unspecified problems in drilling a fourth well (see "RFE/RL Newsline," October 3, 2007). Initial gas exports from Shah Deniz were also delayed for several months due to problems with the first well (see "RFE/RL Newsline," February 7 and 8, 2007). RG

Speaking in a televised address, Georgian parliament speaker Nino Burjanadze announced on November 14 that the Georgian government will lift the state of emergency on November 16, Georgian Public Television and ITAR-TASS reported. Burjanadze's announcement confirmed her earlier promise on November 13 in a meeting with U.S. Deputy Assistant Secretary of State for European Affairs Matthew Bryza, according to RFE/RL's Georgian Service. The speaker added that with the lifting of the state of emergency, "we will return to our normal ways of living" and expressed hope for the start of "preelection preparations." She also pledged to ensure "democratic and fair elections in the country" and stated that "the Georgian people will decide how and under whose leadership they want to live." The state of emergency, first imposed on November 7 by President Mikheil Saakashvili, included severe restrictions on the media and imposed an outright ban on both independent and opposition media outlets (see "RFE/RL Newsline," November 8, 2007). The Georgian president also recently set January 5 as the date for an early presidential election. The U.S. State Department, the OSCE, and the EU have all called strongly for an end to the nationwide state of emergency (see "RFE/RL Newsline," November 13, 2007). RG

In comments aimed at diffusing tension over the imposition of a state of emergency, Georgian President Mikheil Saakashvili hinted on November 14 that he may declare a "mass amnesty" for people involved in recent clashes with police during a November 7 demonstration, Interfax reported. The amnesty would apply for those arrested or still detained for "misdemeanors and nonviolent crimes," but, according to the president, would not apply to "those who committed violent crimes or murder, as well as to officials convicted of corruption." Saakashvili added that his order to deploy riot police and their decision to use tear gas, water cannon, and force against opposition demonstrators was "lawful" and necessary to "restore order." RG

A Tbilisi city court ruled on November 14 to grant a motion by the Georgian Prosecutor-General's Office to revoke bail and issue a new arrest warrant for former Defense Minister Irakli Okruashvili, the Caucasus Press and ITAR-TASS reported. According to the terms of the court's ruling, Okruashvili is subject to immediate pretrial detention, a move sought by the Prosecutor General's Office on the grounds that Okruashvili "has not reported for questioning when summoned by investigators." The former defense minister was granted bail by an earlier court decision and was freed after a group of his friends and supporters posted bail of 10 million laris ($6 million) (see "RFE/RL Newsline," November 6, 2007). Okruashvili's defense lawyer Eka Beselia criticized the ruling as "unfounded" and vowed to challenge the decision in Tbilisi's Appellate Court. An unnamed spokesperson at the Tbilisi City Court also said that although Okruashvili is currently in Germany, reportedly undergoing unspecified medical treatment, his criminal trial will officially open on November 16. The 34-year old former defense minister was arrested on September 27 on charges of corruption, extortion, and money laundering, as well as abuse of office while serving as defense minister in 2005-06. RG

Speaking to reporters outside his closed television station in Tbilisi, Bidzina Baratashvili, the managing director of Imedi TV, said on November 14 that the Georgian authorities had stripped the station of its broadcasting license and froze all of its corporate assets, the Caucasus Press reported. Baratashvili added that he received "an official notification" from the Tbilisi City Court, which approved a request by the Prosecutor-General's Office. Imedi TV, one of the most popular television stations in Georgia, was closed and its offices raided by Georgian special forces troops just before President Saakashvili ordered a nationwide state of emergency that banned all independent and opposition media outlets (see "RFE/RL Newsline," November 8, 2007). RG

The leadership of Georgia's united opposition National Council warned on November 14 that it was considering a boycott of the country's early presidential election, set for January 5, Georgian Public Television reported. National Council leader Davit Usupashvili, a senior member of the opposition Republican Party, called on the Georgian authorities to immediately halt their "political terror targeted at both political leaders and ordinary citizens," and noted that "countless numbers of our fellow citizens have been summoned by police." He explained that the opposition demands that the government "ensure the holding of a free and fair election," warning that "otherwise, we will have to think about whether it is worth it to take part in the elections." RG

Unnamed officials from the Russian Defense Ministry claimed on November 14 that Russian forces have completed their withdrawal from the last remaining Russian base in Georgia, nearly one year ahead of schedule, Reuters reported. However, a Russian base remains in the breakaway Georgian region of Abkhazia, in the city of Gudauta. The commander of Russian forces in the Caucasus, Andrei Popov, formally signed documents handing over the Russian military base at Batumi to Georgia, in accordance with a bilateral agreement reached in 2005 for the withdrawal of all Russian forces from the country. RG

Prime Minister Karim Masimov presented a detailed overview of Kazakhstan's latest economic statistics at a cabinet meeting on November 13, Interfax-Kazakhstan and Kazakhstan Today reported. Masimov revised downward, from 9 percent to 5 percent, his estimate for economic growth this year, but at the same time insisted that "there is no threat of financial crisis in Kazakhstan," because "fundamental factors have not changed" despite a decrease in the level of the National Bank's gold and currency reserves, according to the "Financial Times" on November 14. Masimov said that the government expects economic growth of between 5 and 7 percent next year, in light of the high prices of exports, including oil, metals, and wheat. He further argued that "the dynamic development of the export-oriented sectors of the economy will support other sectors of the economy, as well as the development of small and medium-sized businesses." The report also noted an 11.5 percent increase in oil and natural-gas exports for the first three quarters of the year over the same period last year, but cited a decline of about 9 percent in the gold- and silver-mining sectors. RG

Kazakh President Nursultan Nazarbaev met on November 14 in Astana with United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) Antonio Guterres, Interfax-Kazakhstan reported. Prior to the meeting, Guterres called on Bakiev "to take steps towards the creation in Kazakhstan of a mechanism for providing sanctuary to refugees" and for the country to become more attentive to "the biggest threat to refugees," which he identified as "the lack of interethnic and interreligious tolerance." The UNHCR official noted that "Kazakhstan is a symbol of tolerance" and said that his visit to Astana was aimed at intensifying "cooperation between the Kazakh government and the UNHCR." In a separate meeting later that day, Kazakh Foreign Minister Marat Tazhin and Guterres signed a cooperation agreement providing measures to protect refugee rights, which Tazhin welcomed as "a legal basis for cooperation" with the UNHCR and as a framework for regulating the activities of the UNHCR mission and establishing the rights of UNHCR staff in Kazakhstan. The UNHCR head also met on November 14 with the chairman of the presidential human-rights commission, Saginbek Tursunov, and discussed a report on the human-rights situation in Kazakhstan, which was prepared this year with the participation of the human rights commission, according to "Kazakhstan Today." The UNHCR has been operating in Kazakhstan since 1995. Guterres arrived in Astana after completing a similar round of meetings with leaders in neighboring Kyrgyzstan, where he presided over a ceremony marking the opening of the first-ever refugee reception center in the region (see "RFE/RL Newsline," November 13, 2007). RG

The Kazakh parliament voted overwhelmingly on November 14 to approve the government's draft state budget for 2008, according to Interfax-Kazakhstan. The newly approved budget includes projected state revenues of $22.3 billion and a planned $24 billion in expenditures, reflecting a $1.7 billion budget deficit, or about 1.4 percent of Kazakhstan's gross domestic product (GDP). The 2008 budget now goes to the president to be formally signed into law. RG

An official from the OSCE office in Osh, Jerome Bouyjou, warned on November 14 that the OSCE is "concerned about the fact that some parties started their election campaign for parliament ahead of the permitted time," in violation of Kyrgyz electoral laws, according to The OSCE official noted that the organization was set to deploy a team of some 200 independent observers to monitor the election for a new Kyrgyz parliament and will deploy another 20-25 long-term international observers. Bouyjou also said that the OSCE hopes that "all mistakes and shortcomings of the previous elections will be taken into account and corrected." According to the Kyrgyz Central Election Commission (CEC), over 50 political parties will field candidates in the December 16 parliamentary elections, which the CEC recently said would cost an estimated 151.5 million soms ($4.2 million), including more than 43 million soms ($1.19 million) for the operation of precinct election commissions (see "RFE/RL Newsline," October 29, 2007). RG

Kurmanbek Bakiev, on the start of an official three-day state visit to Japan, met on November 14 in Tokyo with Japanese Prime Minister Yasuo Fukuda and signed a joint statement on friendly relations, partnership, and cooperation between the two countries, ITAR-TASS and Kyrgyz television reported. An additional agreement was also signed expressing a commitment to "cooperate in all fields, including in the trade and economic fields." Bakiev's visit, timed to coincide with the 15th anniversary of the establishment of diplomatic relations between Kyrgyzstan and Japan, also includes a meeting with Emperor Akihito and other members of Japan's imperial family, the speaker of the lower house of the Japanese parliament, Yohei Kono, and other officials, according to AKIpress. The state visit will culminate in an investment seminar aimed at increasing Japanese investment in Kyrgyzstan. Japan is second only to the United States in providing direct aid and assistance to Kyrgyzstan and, as of 2006, the trade turnover between the two countries totaled 1.265 billion yen (about $11.5 million), with Japan importing sizable amounts of aluminum and nonferrous metals while exporting cars and car parts. RG

The Bishkek city council voted on November 14 to approve Daniyar Usenov as the new mayor of the Kyrgyz capital, Kabar reported. In a secret ballot, the 41-member council voted overwhelming to elect Usenov, with only three votes cast for rival candidate Bolot Kudaybergenov. The election for a new Bishkek mayor was triggered by last month's firing of former Mayor Arstanbek Nogoev by President Kurmanbek Bakiev, who dismissed both Nogoev and Economic Development and Trade Minister Sabyrbek Moldokulov for failing to "adequately respond" to rising food prices (see "RFE/RL Newsline," October 11, 2007). Following the dismissal of Nogoev, Usenov -- a former first deputy prime minister -- was appointed as acting Bishkek mayor by President Bakiev. RG

In comments to reporters in Bishkek, Kyrgyz Finance Ministry department head Ernis Abdurazakov reported on November 14 that trade negotiations with Ukraine are ongoing but expressed optimism that an agreement would be reached shortly, AKIpress reported. The latest round of negotiations began on November 12 after the arrival in Bishkek of a Ukrainian government delegation led by First Deputy Prime Minister Mykola Azarov, with the Ukrainians anxious to win Kyrgyz support for their bid for membership in the World Trade Organization (WTO). Kyrgyzstan is the last remaining country to not sign a bilateral protocol with Ukraine necessary for WTO membership, with Kyrgyz officials demanding a full payment of some $28 million in arrears from Ukraine. RG

Emomali Rahmon assumed on November 14 direct personal control over an investigation of a bombing in the Tajik capital, Dushanbe, that killed one person, ITAR-TASS reported. The bombing targeted a government building in central Dushanbe and detonated in the early morning hours of November 14 (see "RFE/RL Newsline," November 14, 2007). Rahmon was not in the capital at the time, having embarked on a visit to the Khujand region, but was briefed by Tajik security officials, who later characterized the bombing as a "terrorist act." Rahmon ordered security and law enforcement authorities to "conduct a thorough and prompt investigation." According to unnamed officials of the Tajik Interior Ministry, the force of the explosion was equal to about 500 grams of dynamite. Tajik authorities also issued an appeal on November 14 to the public seeking information on the incident, Tajik television reported. The explosion was near the building where the headquarters of the ruling National Democratic Party is located and is only a few hundred meters from the presidential palace. RG

Belarusian Foreign Ministry spokesman Andrey Papou warned on November 14 that Minsk will retaliate in response to the economic sanctions imposed by Washington on Belarus's largest petrochemical company, Belnaftakhim, Belapan reported. The U.S. Treasury Department has frozen any assets under U.S. jurisdiction belonging to the company and its representatives, and forbids Americans from doing business with the company, which it says is controlled by President Alyaksandr Lukashenka (see "RFE/RL Newsline," November 14, 2007). "Under the circumstances of the unfriendly actions on the part of the United States, Belarus will have to respond adequately," Papou said. "The Republic of Belarus regards as unacceptable the application of unilateral economic measures [based on] political motives, which not only have a negative impact on the economy and the sphere of development, but also have a bad effect on international economic cooperation on the whole." Papou also accused the United States of violating a 1994 memorandum under which Washington agreed not to apply "measures of economic compulsion for the purpose of subjecting Belarus to the interests of the United States" in exchange for the withdrawal of nuclear weapons from Belarus. AM

Mikhail Puzikau, chief of missiles and artillery for the Belarusian Armed Forces, said on November 14 that the army intends to buy Iskandr short-range missile systems from Russia, Belapan reported. Puzikau said that Belarus will purchase the systems at Russian domestic prices and install them between 2015 and 2020 at the 465th Missile Brigade based near Asipovichy, Mahilyou Oblast. Iskandr missiles have a striking range of up to 280 kilometers and are intended to use conventional warheads against small-area targets. Vladimir Zaritsky, the commander of artillery and missile forces for the Russian Ground Troops, said in Moscow on November 14 that Russia might deploy an unspecified number of short-range missiles in Belarus if the United States goes ahead with its planned missile-defense program in Poland and the Czech Republic, RFE/RL's Belarusian Service reported (see "RFE/RL Newsline," November 14, 2007). AM

Ukrainian Defense Ministry spokesman Andriy Lysenko on November 14 denied allegations that Ukraine hosted secret CIA flights, Interfax and RFE/RL's Ukrainian Service reported. Lysenko responded to claims by Giovanni Claudio Fava, the EU lawmaker investigating the CIA's secret operations in Europe, that aircrafts carrying terrorism suspects secretly landed at an air base in Ukraine. "Air bases of the Ukrainian Defense Ministry have never received CIA planes," Lysenko said. "Statements on the matter are absolutely ungrounded and incompetent, and simply look absurd," he added. AM

Ukrainian Foreign Minister Arseniy Yatsenyuk said on November 14 that Ukraine has signed a bilateral protocol with Kyrgyzstan on mutual access to one another's markets, Interfax reported. "The last protocol, which was extremely important for completing the process of Ukraine's accession to the World Trade Organization, has been signed," Yatsenyuk said, adding that there are no remaining obstacles preventing Ukraine from joining the WTO by the end of 2007. Yatsenyuk admitted that the negotiations with Kyrgyzstan were complicated. Kyrgyz officials had initially demanded as a condition for signing the protocol that Ukraine recognize a $27 million debt to Kyrgyzstan, incurred in 1992-93, as the debt of the state, but finally agreed to Kyiv's argument that the debt was incurred by Ukrainian companies. The two sides agreed to drop the issue from their bilateral relations. AM

Ukrainian Premier Viktor Yanukovych on November 14 called on Ukrainian political forces to agree to a compromise in order to convene the newly elected Verkhovna Rada as soon as possible, Interfax reported. "The balance of forces [in a new parliament] is such that neither can prevail [without compromise], and we should finally learn to come to an agreement for the sake of the country and the people," Yanukovych said. He admitted that the first days of the committee preparing for the first session of the Verkhovna Rada suggest that reaching a compromise would be difficult. Yanukovych said that an agreement between Ukrainian political forces is possible if the blocs care about the country's future, but "if they are only interested in posts and offices, then problems will emerge." AM

Serbs in Kosova are continuing their debate over whether to participate in the November 17 general elections, local media reported. The Serb National Council for Kosova says that the conditions for Serb participation have not been met, while others, such as the current minister of communities and return in the Kosova government, Branislav Grbic, said that Serbs must participate to secure a voice in the future of the province. "We need to accept the fact that we are living in a real world in Kosovo, and we think that by participating in the elections we can represent our interests," Grbic said, according to KohaVision TV. "I simply cannot understand the call for a boycott," he added, referring to calls from Belgrade for Serbs not to take part in the vote. According to Kosova's Central Election Commission, only eight Serb parties out of a total of around 30 are contesting the election at the central government level, with more running for municipal offices. TV

A study by the U.S.-based Mental Disability Rights International (MDRI) found that the mentally ill face inhumane treatment in state-run institutions in Serbia, international media reported on November 14. The report is based on four years of research and focused on seven orphanages and two mental hospitals. Researchers found emaciated and dehydrated children and a 21-year-old with Down syndrome who had never been taken out of his crib in eleven years. Children committed to special facilities are likely to remain there for the rest of their lives, the report stated. The report said that "filthy conditions, contagious diseases, lack of medical care and rehabilitation and a failure to provide oversight renders placement in a Serbian institution life-threatening." However, it also recognized the "candor" of the Serbian government in admitting that treatment is poor and institutions understaffed and underequipped. But laws and programs to improve conditions are rarely enforced, not least because of severe funding shortfalls. "I am well aware of how horrible things are," the Serbian minister for labor and social policy, Rasim Ljajic, told "Time" magazine. "I couldn't sleep for three days after my first visit" to one of the institutions. The MDRI report estimates that some 17,200 children and adults with disabilities are institutionalized in Serbia. TV

At a joint session of Bosnia's two houses of parliament, deputies from the Bosnian Serb ruling party tabled a declaration calling for the Office of the High Representative (OHR) to be abolished, Bosnian state broadcaster Radio 1 reported on November 14. The OHR was set up to oversee implementation of the 1995 Dayton peace accords and has extensive powers to intervene in the political process in Bosnia. The declaration stated that high representative Miroslav Lajcak overstepped his duties when he introduced changes to the way Bosnia's central parliament and government work (see "RFE/RL Newsline," October 22, 2007). The declaration stood no chance of being passed, however, since not a single non-Serb deputy was willing to vote for it. The Alliance of Independent Social Democrats (SNSD), led by the prime minister of the Bosnian Serb republic, Milorad Dodik, has threatened a boycott of the central government institutions if Lajcak's measures become law, and Nikola Spiric, a leading member of the SNSD, resigned from his post as the country's prime minister on November 1 (see "RFE/RL Newsline," November 2 and 13, 2007). TV

Albanian Justice Minister Ilir Rusmajli resigned on November 14 amidst allegations of corruption in the prison service, local and international media reported. His resignation follows that of the head of Albania's prison service, Saimir Shehri, the previous day, after presenting reporters with a recording allegedly showing the justice minister's brother pressuring him over a construction contract for a new prison facility. Rusmajli, who denies any wrongdoing, is considered a close adviser of Prime Minister Sali Berisha. TV

Adducing the Chechen Republic Ichkeria (ChRI ) Constitution adopted in March 1992, the ChRI parliament in exile ruled on November 6 that ChRI President and resistance commander Doku Umarov has effectively relinquished his presidential powers by proclaiming a North Caucasus emirate of which he claims to be the leader. A statement signed by ChRI parliament Chairman Zhaloudi Saralyapov and posted on November 6 on affirmed that the authorities of the president and government chairman now devolve upon the Chechen parliament.

Representatives in exile of the ChRI parliament and government responded to the initial rumors of Umarov's proclamation of a North Caucasus emirate with outrage and concern. They not only suspected -- and continue to suspect -- that Umarov has been manipulated in a bid to provide Russia with a new pretext for renewed reprisals against the population of Chechnya and the neighboring North Caucasus republics. They also construed Umarov's action as violating the constitution and undermining the legal foundations of the ChRI as an independent state.

The parliament's ruling was based on the constitution enacted by the Chechen parliament on March 12, 1992, and intended to supercede the Soviet-era constitution of the Checheno-Ingush Autonomous Soviet Socialist Republic adopted in 1978. The 1992 constitution was amended first in November 1996, following the end of the 1994-96 war, then in February 1997 following the election of Aslan Maskhadov as president in a ballot which the international community and the Russian leadership formally recognized as free, fair, and valid. Further amendments reflecting Maskhadov's imposition in early 1999 of the Shari'a legal system were endorsed at a session of the War Council in the summer of 2002.

The 1992 constitution defines the Chechen Republic Ichkeria as "a sovereign and independent democratic state based on the rule of law and created as a result of the self-determination of the Chechen people." Article 2 describes as "a most grave crime" any attempt by any person or organization to usurp power; Article 69 of that constitution describes the president as heading the executive branch, and also says he may not simultaneously serve as a parliament deputy; Article 72 specifies the oath of office, in which the president pledges to strengthen and defend the sovereignty of the ChRI and strictly abide by its constitution and laws; Article 74 stipulates that in the event of his committing a crime, the president may be relieved of his post on the basis of a vote by no fewer than two thirds of all parliament deputies. Oddly, however, it does not specify who then assumes the presidential powers. Following the deaths of Presidents Djokhar Dudayev in April 1996, Aslan Maskhadov in March 2005, and Abdul-Khakim Saidullayev in June 2006, the vice president automatically succeeded him.

The validity of the 1992 constitution is, however, open to question, as is whether the ChRI is indeed an independent state. On April 26, 1990, the USSR Supreme Soviet enacted a law that upgraded the status of the Autonomous Soviet Socialist Republics (ASSRs), of which the then-Checheno-Ingush ASSR was one, to the level of the union republics, a status that carried with it the hypothetical right the union republics enjoyed to secede from the USSR. Campaigning in Kazan four months later for the Russian presidency, Boris Yeltsin uttered his now legendary exhortation to the leaders of Russia's republics to "take as much sovereignty as you can digest!" The Tatar and Yakut ASSRs wasted no time in taking up that challenge, adopting declarations of sovereignty on 30 August and 27 September, 1990, respectively. And on November 27, 1990, the Checheno-Ingush ASSR Oblast Soviet similarly issued a declaration of "state sovereignty" that defined that republic as a sovereign state that was part of neither the Russian Federation nor the USSR. In a statement posted on the ChRI website on August 17, 2004, ChRI Foreign Minister Akhmed Zakayev argued that it was that declaration, adopted "in complete accordance with the universally recognized principles of international law, and also of the laws in force at that time on the territory of the USSR," that formalized the emergence of the Checheno-Ingush Republic as a sovereign state.

The Checheno-Ingush ASSR Oblast Soviet was forcibly disbanded on September 6, 1991, in the wake of the failed putsch against Soviet President Mikhail Gorbachev. That date is commemorated annually as a landmark on the road to true independence: in his address to the Chechen people on September 6, 2007, Umarov characterized it as "the day on which the Chechen people restored its state independence." The first presidential edict issued by Djokhar Dudayev, on November 1, 1991, reaffirmed the "state sovereignty of the Chechen Republic." At the time, Chechens greeted those developments with jubilation as incontrovertibly cementing Chechnya's separation from the USSR and its emergence as an independent state.

But as Professor Gail Lapidus pointed out in her analysis "Contested Sovereignty," the precise semantic connotations of "state sovereignty" in the Soviet and post-Soviet context, specifically whether that concept implies, or automatically entails, international recognition as an independent state, have never been clarified. Even before the demise of the USSR and the emergence of the Russian Federation as an independent state, Russian politicians tended to use the term "sovereignty" as a synonym for "real autonomy" (as opposed to the nominal autonomy granted to those republics and oblasts under the 1977 Soviet Constitution).

That limited interpretation of "sovereignty" was reaffirmed in the Federation Treaty signed on March 31, 1992, in a clear bid to prevent Russia from falling apart the same way as the USSR had done. Chechnya, however, refused to sign the Federation Treaty, and its leaders subsequently argued that Chechnya was not bound it by, nor by the Russian Constitution adopted in December 1993 which explicitly includes Chechnya in the list of federation subjects. Tatarstan, which likewise declined to sign the Federation Treaty, managed over a period of two years to negotiate its own bilateral treaty on relations with the federal government. That agreement gave Tatarstan far broader powers than other subjects of the Russian Federation, but was inexorably renegotiated after Vladimir Putin succeeded Yeltsin as Russian president in 2000.

Yusup Soslambekov, who served as chairman of the Foreign Affairs Commission of the Chechen parliament elected in October 1991 but split with President Dudayev 18 months later, argued in his 1995 compilation "Chechnya (Nokhchich'o) -- vzglyad iznutri" that insofar as the sovereign Chechen Republic Ichkeria adopted its constitution prior to the signing of the Federation Treaty and the adoption of the new Russian Federation Constitution, it was not legally bound by either document.

Members of the ChRI government and parliament adduce as further proof that Russia formally recognized the ChRI as an independent state two documents signed in Moscow in May 1997. Those two documents are designated "Treaty on Peace and the Principles of Relations between the Russian Federation and the Chechen Republic Ichkeria," signed byYeltsin and Chechen President Maskhadov, and "Agreement between the Government of the Russian Federation and the Government of the Chechen Republic Ichkeria," signed by Russian Prime Minister Viktor Chernomyrdin and by Maskhadov in his capacity as head of the Chechen government. Russia has never formally unilaterally annulled those agreements. But it could be argued that the Chechen Republic constitution adopted in a referendum in March 2003, and which affirms that "the Chechen Republic is an unalienable part of the territory of the Russian Federation," supercedes the 1992 constitution -- even though those human-rights activists who monitored the vote questioned the accuracy of the 85 percent turnout claimed by the Russian authorities.

Even if one accepts the existence of an independent ChRI, however, it could be argued that the November 6 decision by the members of its parliament currently living in exile in Europe to strip Umarov of the post of president violates the 1992 constitution. As noted above, Article 74 of that constitution allows for the ChRI president to be stripped of his powers in the event that he commits a serious crime, but also stipulates that a minimum of two-thirds of all parliament deputies must approve that move. The parliament elected under Maskhadov in 1997, the powers of which Maskhadov extended in 2002 due to the impossibility of holding free elections during time of war, comprised 63 deputies. Some, including its chairman Ruslan Alikhadjiyev, died during the war that erupted in 1999. Some remained in Chechnya and pledged loyalty to the new administration imposed by Moscow; only 10 are currently abroad, first deputy chairman Selim Beshayev told RFE/RL's North Caucasus Service on November 6. Article 69, stipulating that the president may not simultaneously be a parliament deputy, is also problematic in that respect.

And the November 6 decision by the 10 parliament deputies in exile to assume temporarily the presidential powers would seem to contravene Article 71 of the 1992 constitution, which rules that the president is directly elected in a popular secret ballot, and any attempt to elect or appoint a president by any other means, or to usurp presidential power, is illegal and invalid.

While the desire to limit the damage to the cause of Chechen independence from Umarov's declaration of a North Caucasus emirate is understandable, it is not clear why the exile parliament deputies opted for a step that is dubious from the point of view of constitutional law, rather than appoint as acting president a figure with more convincing bona fides -- unless they were unable to agree on such a candidate.

Afghan President Hamid Karzai, speaking at a meeting with village leaders in Kabul on November 13, acknowledged that corruption is rife among government officails, news website reported, citing Reuters. Referring to almost three decades of destruction and war in Afghanistan, Karzai said, "We have seen a lot of misery in this country, but still we have not learned the lessons of our mistakes. The luxurious houses and buildings belong to either government staff or members of parliament." The economic and social divide between rich and poor remains massive in Afghanistan, as seen in the stark contrast between the dwellings of the wealthy few and the slums without public services where the vast majority of people live. After Karzai's frank assessment, a village elder complained that "the government and cabinet members are sucking the blood of innocent people; we can't tolerate the corruption in every government office." Karzai recognized the complaint and called on Afghan officials to serve the country rather than exploit its meager resources. MM

The U.S Geological Survey (USGS) 2007 assessment, released at the annual Afghan-American Chamber of Commerce meeting on November 13 in Washington, D.C., touted the great potential of Afghanistan's natural resources, Bakhtar News Agency reported. The survey, compiled by U.S. scientists in collaboration with Afghanistan's Geological Survey of the Ministry of Mines between 2004 and 2007, assessed untapped deposits of non-fuel mineral resources and their utility in rebuilding Afghanistan's economy. Estimates for copper and iron ore resources were found to have the most potential for extraction in Afghanistan, according to the Afghan Embassy in Washington. Other mineral resources available for extraction in Afghanistan include gold, mercury, sulfur, chromites, and talc, according to the survey. MM

The U.S. Pentagon on November 14 expressed concern over the potential effects of continued political instability in Pakistan on transportation routes that supply U.S. forces in Afghanistan, the Xinhua news agency reported. While the supply lines remain open, despite Pakistani President Pervez Musharraf's declaration of a state of emergency on November 3, the United States is exploring alternate routes should the situation in Pakistan further deteriorate. Defense Department spokesman Geoff Morrell announced that "there are efforts underway right now to figure out contingency supply lines to our troops in Afghanistan if it becomes necessary to alter the way we now support our troops." Morrell deflected a question as to whether the contingency plan indicates a loss of confidence in Musharraf's government, stating, "I wouldn't characterize it as anything more than what it is." MM

Intelligence Minister Gholamhussein Mohseni-Ejei said in Tehran on November 14 that his ministry has evidence that former nuclear negotiator Hossein Musavian passed secrets to the British Embassy in Tehran, Radio Farda reported, citing Iran reports. Musavian is now under investigation (see "RFE/RL Newsline," May 7, June 27, and November 13, 2007). Speaking on the sidelines of a parliamentary vote, Mohseni-Ejei told the press, "I said from the start that [Musavian] placed certain matters at the disposal of foreigners, including the British embassy, against the country's best interests and security." Mohseni-Ejei said he hopes there will be no "pressure" in the prosecution process, referring to President Mahmud Ahmadinejad's comments that some authorities are pushing to ensure Musavian's acquittal. Musavian, considered a centrist politician, was a member of the Expediency Council and an ally of Expediency Council chief and former President Akbar Hashemi-Rafsanjani. Some observers have come to suspect the charges as a bid to discredit the moderately conservative political forces associated with Hashemi-Rafsanjani. Mohseni-Ejei said no one can directly pressure the investigating judge, but "behind Mr. Musavian are currents and critical persons inclined" to see him acquitted. He said Ahmadinejad has not contacted the judge "even once," but "people who want Mr. Musavian acquitted have asked for the judge several times." VS

Iran's parliament has approved President Ahmadinejad's nominees to lead the oil and industry ministries, respectively Gholamhussein Nozari and Ali Akbar Mehrabian, Radio Farda reported, citing Iran reports. The nominations were formally presented to parliament on November 14. Radio Farda stated observers believe the two -- who are currently caretaker ministers -- are presidential choices intended to help Ahmadinejad closely control the ministries. Nozari was approved with 217 votes for and 20 against, and Mehrabian with 174 votes and 49 votes against. The president defended his choices in parliament on November 14, and touted them as fully meeting parliament's criteria for the ministries. Legislators have in the past called for technocrats to take over what are considered technical ministries. VS

President Ahmadinejad met with Chinese Foreign Minister Yang Jiechi in Tehran on November 13, and thanked China for standing up for Iran's rights at international bodies, IRNA reported. He said Iran would do the same for China. On November 12, AFP quoted a Chinese Foreign Ministry spokesman as saying that Yang would urge Iran to respond to the concerns of the international community over its nuclear program. Ahmadinejad told Yang that Iran will remain firm over its nuclear program, while continuing its talks and cooperation with the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA), "Iran" reported on November 14. The daily quoted Yang as saying that his country opposes the United States' "unilateral" bid to intensify sanctions on Iran, and said Iran has a right to use peaceful nuclear energy. Separately, the website on November 14 quoted unnamed sources in Vienna, the home of the IAEA, as saying that Iran may have in recent days rejected a proposed visit by IAEA Director-General Muhammad el-Baradei to Tehran. The Iranian Foreign Ministry has denied the reports, the website added. El-Baradei is set to present the IAEA governing board with a report on Iran's recent cooperation with the IAEA, and reportedly wished to discuss the report with Iranian officials. VS

Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei on November 14 told officials overseeing Iranian participation in the annual hajj that pilgrims going to Saudi Arabia, as well as the host country, must avoid "any grounds for discord" between Sunnis and Shi'as at a time of "international hostility" to Muslims, IRNA reported. "To provoke religious sentiments and prepare the way for divisions is a sin, and those who do this are really helping fulfill the aims of the espionage agencies of America" and Israel, he said. Khamenei said unspecified enemies are working to foment Sunni-Shi'a discord, but that Iran has worked to bring the sects together in Iraq, while its own Sunnis and Shi'as live peacefully together. He said he expects the Saudi government to show by its actions that it appreciates the importance of Islamic unity. Some Iranian pilgrims have reportedly been mistreated by Saudi security agents (see "RFE/RL Newsline," September 11, 2007). Khamenei's representative for pilgrims and Iran's ranking pilgrimage official, Hojjatoleslam Mohammad Mohammadi-Reishahri, said at the same meeting that the Supreme Leader's office has formed a Hajj Strategic Council to provide guidance and training for pilgrims. This year's hajj is due to begin on December 18. VS

Dissident Akbar Ganji, who was jailed in Iran in 2000-2006 for writing about rights violations and the state's alleged murders of dissidents, has criticized Tehran for supporting foreign armed groups while refusing to tolerate any opposition at home. In an opinion piece published in the "Los Angeles Times" on November 12, Ganji urged Iranians to demand the release of jailed dissidents. He said that Iran's backing for Hizballah in Lebanon, or the group formerly known as the Supreme Council of the Islamic Revolution in Iraq, shows its support for the right to take up arms against a government. But Iran itself "has stifled all dissent...shuttered all opposition media outlets," tolerates no nongovernmental bodies, and dismisses, jails, or exiles teachers who demand back wages. Ganji stated that Iran's government barely tolerates party politics, and accuses parties of seeking power, which he said is normal in free and democratic countries. He wrote that Iran's government is based on "quotas" for various political, military, or religious factions receiving a share of state offices and powers. There are "reverse quotas" for regime opponents and critics, he said, who are deprived of social and political rights. He said all those not in prison "have a moral duty" to loudly protest the detention of all political prisoners. VS

The Sunni Waqf (Endowments) Office ordered the Baghdad headquarters of the Muslim Scholars Association closed on November 14, and pulled the plug on the association's radio station, Umm Al-Qura radio. Security forces raided the headquarters, located within the Umm Al-Qura Mosque compound, and ordered its employees to vacate the building, Iraqi media reported. Waqf head Abd al-Ghafur al-Samarra'i told reporters outside the mosque that it is unacceptable that the Muslim Scholars Association and its media outlets support Al-Qaeda in Iraq. "We hope that the [association] will not stand by Al-Qaeda. We want it to stand by the sons of the Iraqi people," who have risen up against Al-Qaeda, he said. The association "does not have the right to stand in the way of each and every Iraqi who has risen up against those who have brought nothing but killing," he said. He added that it is impermissible for their television channel, Al-Rafidayn, to use the term "so-called" when referring to the awakening councils formed by Sunni tribesmen across Iraq to fight terrorists. "The tribes have risen up and so have the mosque-goers.... When they rise up and confront the criminals, the association regrettably stands by Al-Qaeda. Al-Qaeda kills while the association justifies its actions," al-Samarra'i added. KR

In a statement posted to its website on November 15, the Muslim Scholars Association contended that its headquarters were stormed by private security guards working for al-Samarra'i, who, the association claimed, was under the influence of Iraqi political leaders. The association has criticized and worked to delegitimize every post-Hussein government in Iraq. "There are political moves behind the armed storming operation and the coercive confiscation of the association's building," the statement claimed. "Many political sides have incited the Sunni Waqf to carry out the storming operation. Those sides share the belief that the association's calls for liberating the country and preserving its unity impede their own schemes." The statement called on al-Samarra'i to apologize for the raid and return control of the compound to the association. The statement also appealed to the Iraqi Islamic Party to weigh in on the issue. Association spokesman Muhammad Bashar al-Faydi told Al-Jazeera television in a November 14 interview that national guardsmen assigned to the Waqf carried out the raid. KR

President Jalal Talabani told the Cairo-based "Al-Ahram" newspaper in an interview published on November 14 that Shi'ite Grand Ayatollah Ali al-Sistani has advised the government not to carry out the death sentence against former Defense Minister Sultan Hashim Ahmad al-Ta'i. The minister was convicted of crimes against humanity for his role in Saddam Hussein's Anfal military campaign, which killed an estimated 180,000 Kurds. Talabani is staunchly opposed to the death penalty and has said he will not sign an execution degree. Meanwhile, Vice President Adil Abd al-Mahdi criticized statements by Prime Minister Nuri al-Maliki that the Presidency Council is violating the constitution by refusing to sign the decree. Abd al-Mahdi contended that the decree, upheld by the Iraqi Court of Cassation on September 4, has yet to be forwarded to the Presidency Council (see "RFE/RL Newsline," September 5, 2007). KR

Tribal leaders in Ninawah Governorate have asked that the death sentence against former Defense Minister Hashim be repealed, Al-Sharqiyah television reported on November 14. In a statement addressed to Iraqi, Arab, and international figures, the chieftains said Hashim carried out his duties as a professional officer. They described him as having no political loyalty to any side, implying that the former general was not a tool of Saddam Hussein's regime. The statement called on Prime Minister al-Maliki to revoke the death sentence, saying Hashim has always been known for his patriotism and integrity. KR

Vice President Tariq al-Hashimi commended Prime Minister al-Maliki's call for a general amnesty, Al-Sharqiyah television reported November 14. In a letter to al-Maliki, al-Hashimi said: "The steps taken by the Council of Ministers to uphold the amnesty were well received by Iraqis in general and by human rights advocates in particular. In addition, this [decision] constitutes a generous response to the appeals made by the innocent who have been languishing behind bars for periods that are not permitted by the law or the constitution." Al-Hashimi said that he hopes the detained will be released in time for the Eid Al-Adha holiday, which begins on December 20. Al-Maliki told reporters at a November 11 press briefing in Baghdad that government leaders "feel that we are now strong, that those in jail had been misled, and that when they are released they will go to their communities and kinfolk, who will this time prevent them from going back to terrorism.... Therefore, I asked the Legal Department about this and spoke on this at the Political Council for National Security, and there has been an agreement by all that those who were misled or those who committed certain violations should be granted an amnesty. Of course this would certainly not include those who were prosecuted because of murder, bombing, and similar crimes." KR

Iraqi lawmaker Mithal al-Alusi has resigned from the committee charged with investigating clashes between rival Shi'ite groups in Karbala during a religious festival last month, state-run Al-Iraqiyah television reported on November 14 (see "RFE/RL Newsline," October 23, 2007). Al-Alusi said he was frustrated by the apparent lack of commitment from other committee members, who have failed to attend scheduled meetings. Al-Alusi said he contacted committee members by email and only one or two members out of nine responded. On November 13, he said, "we notified most of the committee's members who were attending the Council of Representatives session that we would hold a meeting" the following day. "As scheduled, I went there. After waiting for more than 40 minutes, only one member of the committee was there. Therefore, I am tendering my resignation," he said. Al-Alusi said the committee members should approach their work with professionalism. "I have to tender my resignation because I am not and will not be a tool of any political or non-political side in this committee," he added. KR