FOREIGN MINISTER WARNS AGAINST MAKING ENERGY A POLITICAL ISSUE
RUSSIA SAYS SIBERIAN NUCLEAR-ENRICHMENT CENTER WILL BE OPEN TO ALL
Ambassador to the United Nations Vitaly Churkin said in New York on October 29 that Russia will let all countries use the international uranium-enrichment center under construction in Angarsk in eastern Siberia, RIA Novosti reported (see "RFE/RL Newsline," October 25, 2007). He added that "the center, jointly established by Russia and Kazakhstan, will be open to third countries, without any political preconditions." The Angarsk project is part of Russia's efforts to prevent nuclear proliferation by creating a system of enrichment centers under the supervision of the UN's International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA). The plant will also process nuclear waste for disposal. In 2006, President Vladimir Putin proposed setting up an international system of uranium-enrichment centers to discourage proliferation while making nuclear energy for peaceful purposes available to all (see "RFE/RL Newsline," January 26 and September 19, 2006). PM
OPPOSITION POLITICIAN SAYS WEST LACKS COHERENT POLICY TOWARD RUSSIA
Grigory Yavlinsky, who leads the small liberal Yabloko party, said in Moscow on October 29 that Western countries lack a policy toward Russia that is either coherent or up-to-date, Interfax reported. He argued that postwar policies became obsolete with the fall of the Berlin Wall in 1989 and that current ones "waste time on [issues such as Polish] meat [exports] and pipelines." Yavlinsky called on Western leaders to concentrate on arms-control negotiations and work toward setting up a joint missile-defense system with Russia. He said that the West needs to ponder questions such as: "what kind of Russia would you like to have to deal with in 25 years' time?" Yavlinsky added that Western countries need to realize that Russia is an authoritarian state rather than a democracy. He also stressed, however, that Russians must develop democracy themselves, "for the most part unaided." Estonian President Toomas Hendrik Ilves recently called on Western countries to adopt a policy of "benign neglect" toward Russia. He argued that it is a waste of time to complain about human rights violations there because the Kremlin ignores such entreaties. Ilves also said that the West should ignore Russia's belligerent rhetoric and not respond to aggressive comments by President Putin and his officials. PM
EU-RUSSIA SUMMIT CONTINUES TO ELICIT MIXED REACTION
Several Western human rights organizations and official agencies rejected President Putin's recent call for the EU and Russia to set up a joint body to monitor rights violations, dpa reported from Brussels on October 29 (see "RFE/RL Newsline," October 29, 2007). Dick Oosting, who heads Amnesty International's European branch, said it is "very doubtful" the body would be free from Russian political pressure. The Council of Europe's advisory committee on the protection of national minorities said Putin's suggestion is "not a serious proposal." The Gazprom-owned daily "Izvestia" wrote on October 29 that the proposed "institute will be entirely Russian-funded, and all of its reports will focus on human rights violations in Europe." The paper suggested that Putin's suggestion is an effort at "tit-for-tat democracy, in which a Russian-funded institute will criticize Europe." The business daily "Vedomosti" noted on October 29 that, at the summit, Putin also sought better access to EU markets for Russian companies. European investments in Russia stand at $43 billion, while Russian investments in the EU amount to only $4.3 billion, the paper added. The daily "Vremya novostei" reported on October 29 that Putin called on his EU counterparts to hold their next summit with Russian leaders in Khanty-Mansiisk in Siberia. It is not clear in which capacity Putin extended the invitation, because this is likely to be his last summit as president, a point that several of his hosts noted. But the paper indicated that Putin could still attend as president or in the company of his successor if the summit is held before May, when the next president is slated to take office. The daily suggested that "Putin went on the offensive" on several issues in discussions with his hosts. One was Ukraine's energy needs, regarding which Putin challenged the EU to make loans available to Kyiv to purchase Russian gas. The paper also called Putin's suggestion to set up a joint human-rights-monitoring body "an effective move" that "stunned" his hosts. In keeping with the Russian Putin-era tendency to view international meetings as victories or defeats, "Vremya novostei" concluded that the latest summit was a "victory" for the Russian leader. PM
RUSSIA SHOWS INTEREST IN ARMS SALES, GAS FIELDS IN VENEZUELA
Sergei Ladygin, who is an official of the state-run arms exporter Rosoboroneksport, said in a Russian television interview from Caracas on October 29 that he expects that Russia will soon "double or triple" its current figure of $4 billion in arms contracts with Venezuela, Interfax reported. Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez has emerged in recent years as a well-publicized customer of the Russian arms industry, seeking products ranging from Kalashnikov AK-47 assault rifles to submarines and jet aircraft (see "RFE/RL Newsline," June 28 and 29, July 2, and August 16 and 21, 2007). Also speaking from Caracas, Deputy Prime Minister Aleksandr Zhukov said on October 29 that Gazprom has applied for a license to develop three Venezuelan gas fields, Interfax reported. He added that "Venezuela has promised to consider the application within six months." Chavez said previously that Venezuela wants to buy at least 25,000 tons of Russian-made seamless pipes to distribute its energy products, but Zhukov believes that the South American country will need no fewer than 750,000 tons of the pipes to meet its ambitious goals. He added that Chavez made an exception to Venezuelan legislation requiring Venezuela to own a blocking interest in foreign joint ventures so that a Russian aluminum plant can be built on the basis of 50-50 joint ownership. PM
RUSSIA TESTS OLD MISSILE
On October 29, military officials announced the successful launch of a RS-18 intercontinental ballistic missile (SS-19 Stiletto) from the Baikonur Space Center in Kazakhstan to a target on Kamchatka near the Pacific Ocean, RIA Novosti reported. RS-18s have been in service since 1980, and 100 of them are still in use. President Putin and General Nikolai Solovtsov, who heads the Russian Strategic Missile Forces, recently spoke about plans to modernize Russia's arsenal of missiles, and Putin also discussed plans to update some aircraft and submarines. Putin noted plans to modernize the strategic Tupolev Tu-160 (White Swan or Blackjack) and Tu-95 (Bear) bombers, which were developed decades ago and resumed regular long-range flights in August after a hiatus of about 15 years (see "RFE/RL Newsline," October 19 and 23, 2007). PM
MOSCOW SHARPLY LIMITS NUMBER OF FOREIGN ELECTION MONITORS
The Central Election Commission intends to invite 300-400 foreign election monitors to observe the December 2 Duma elections, gazeta.ru and other Russian media reported on October 29. Moscow invited some 1,200 such observers for the legislative elections in 2003. According to gazeta.ru, the commission felt that the work of some observers in 2003 overlapped. Commission Chairman Vladimir Churov told journalists that the invitations will be issued on October 30. Churov said observers will be invited from the Parliamentary Assembly of the Council of Europe, the Parliamentary Assembly of the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE), the Shanghai Cooperation Organization, and other organizations. Commission member Igor Borisov said the number of observers is being limited because in past elections organizations sent large delegations for the express purpose of finding "formal violations." He claimed the OSCE has sent much smaller teams to monitor elections in the Baltic states, despite the "obvious shortcomings" of elections in those countries. "We don't need helpers in organizing elections like in Africa or Kosovo," Borisov said. "We have an established democratic system." Borisov said the OSCE delegation will be limited to 50-100 observers. Gazeta.ru reported, citing unidentified sources, that the observers will only be allowed to remain in the country for three weeks and they will not be allowed to arrive in Russia before November 10. There are some 95,000 polling stations in Russia. RC
UNIFIED RUSSIA AGAIN REFUSES TO PARTICIPATE IN CAMPAIGN DEBATES
The pro-Kremlin Unified Russia party has officially refused to participate in any campaign debates, claiming it does not want to spend time on empty polemics, gazeta.ru reported on October 30. The party used the same reasoning to abstain from debates during the 2003 Duma elections. The party does not plan to reject the free airtime it is allowed on state television, but intends to use the time to "talk about the priorities of the Putin Plan," party official Andrei Vorobyov told the website. Analyst Dmitry Badovsky said Unified Russia is campaigning to turn the elections into a national vote of confidence in President Putin, and that any discussion of specific issues would deflect attention from that effort. RC
GOVERNORS, MINISTERS DIVIDED ON WHETHER TO TAKE LEAVE DURING DUMA CAMPAIGN
More than 60 regional heads are on the Unified Russia list of candidates for the December 2 Duma elections and relatively few of them plan to take administrative leave in order to campaign, "Vedomosti" reported on October 30. In not doing so, they are following the lead of President Putin, who heads the party's list and who has also stated that he will not take leave to campaign. A spokesman for Novosibirsk Oblast Governor Viktor Tolkonsky told the daily that Tolkonsky will not take leave since "we have many important matters in the region -- the celebration of the harvest, the 70th anniversary of the oblast, and the coming of winter." The daily also reported that St. Petersburg Governor Valentina Matviyenko, Bashkortostan President Murtaza Rakhimov, Altai Republic President Aleksandr Berdnikov, Karelia President Sergei Katanandov, Ulyanovsk Oblast Governor Sergei Morozov, and Marii-El President Leonid Markelov will continue working throughout the election season. Meanwhile, Sverdlovsk Oblast Governor Eduard Rossel, Samara Governor Vladimir Artyakov, Khakasia President Aleksei Lebed, Yaroslavl Oblast Governor Antaoly Lisitsyn reported that they will take leave in order to campaign full-time. Of the three federal ministers on the party's list, only Natural Resources Minister Yury Trutnev plans to take leave. Emergency Situations Minister Sergei Shoigu, Deputy Prime Minister Aleksandr Zhukov, and Agriculture Minister Aleksei Gordeyev said they will continue working. Category A officials -- which includes governors, legislators, and cabinet-level officials, as well as the president -- are not required by law to take leave during election campaigns. Political analyst Aleksandr Ivanchenko told the daily that the refusal of the governors to take a leave of absence is compelling evidence that few, if any, of them intend actually to serve in the next Duma. RC
INVESTIGATORS SEEK TO DETERMINE WHETHER JOURNALIST WAS KILLED BY RADIATION POISONING
The Investigative Committee has reopened the probe into the mysterious July 2003 death of Duma Deputy and investigative journalist Yury Shchekochikhin, "Rossiiskaya gazeta" and other Russian media reported. The case was reopened at the request of "Novaya gazeta," of which Shchekochikhin was a deputy editor. The official cause of death in the case was an unidentified severe allergic reaction (see "RFE/RL Newsline," July 7, 2003); however, from the beginning there have been suspicions that he was poisoned. "Kommersant" reported on October 30 that investigators are comparing the Shchekochikhin case with that of former Federal Security Service (FSB) officer Aleksandr Litvinenko, who was killed by exposure to radioactive polonium-210 in London in November 2006. An investigator with the Interior Ministry, Pavel Zaitsev, told the daily that Shchekochikhin lost almost all of his hair before he died and that his skin was covered in rashes of some sort. RC
OPPONENTS OF GAZPROM TOWER FORCE SECOND HEARING
The Russian Supreme Court on October 29 ordered a municipal court in St. Petersburg to hold new hearings in a civil complaint against the construction of a nearly 400-meter-high office tower by natural-gas giant Gazprom in the northern capital, RFE/RL's Russian Service reported the same day. The local court earlier rejected the suit, but the Supreme Court overruled that decision and ordered the court to hear the case again. The complainants argue that the proposed tower will destroy the historical landscape of the city, which is a UNESCO-protected area. They also argue that the city illegally pledged billions of rubles in support of the project. RC
KARELIA COURT ORDERS LAWMAKERS TO WITHDRAW COMPLAINTS AGAINST GOVERNOR
A court in the Republic of Karelia has ruled against a group of Petrozavodsk municipal lawmakers who recently sent a letter to President Putin asking him to remove the republic's leader, Sergei Katanandov, RFE/RL's Russian Service reported (see "RFE/RL Newsline," September 21, 2007). The court ordered that the lawmakers to withdraw their request and pay Katanandov 200,000 rubles ($8,000) in damages. The lawmakers claimed in their letter that corruption has gotten out of control during Katanandov's six years as president of the republic. The legislators have pledged to appeal the ruling to the republican Supreme Court. Vasily Popov, the chairman of the city council and a signatory of the letter, told RFE/RL that, despite the ruling, he believes the case will make local officials more reluctant to take bribes for at least a while. "I foresee a significant increase in revenues for both the municipal and the republican -- primarily the republican -- budgets," Popov said. RC
CHECHEN PRESIDENT DECLARES SELF NORTH CAUCASUS AMIR
The website chechenews.com posted on October 28 a statement it received by e-mail, signed by Chechen President and resistance commander Doku Umarov, in which Umarov confirms that he has proclaimed himself amir of a North Caucasus Islamic state, the precise extent of which he declines to specify. London-based ChRI Foreign Minister Akhmed Zakayev expressed concern one week earlier that Umarov would issue such a proclamation under pressure from radical elements within the resistance who, Zakayev claimed, have been suborned by the FSB, which intends to retaliate with harsh reprisals across the North Caucasus (see "RFE/RL Newsline," October 22, 23, 25 and 26, 2007). The prospect that Umarov would declare a North Caucasus emirate has elicited concern among representatives of the ChRI government in exile, who warned that doing so would violate the constitution and undermine the legal status of the ChRI. Two prominent Chechen field commanders, Isa Munayev and Sultan Arsayev, have issued statements publicly siding with Zakayev, thereby implicitly distancing themselves from Umarov. LF
DEFENDANTS AT NALCHIK TRIAL SAY THEY WERE TORTURED
Five of the 59 young men currently on trial for their alleged participation in the multiple attacks by North Caucasus resistance forces on police and security facilities in Nalchik, capital of the Kabardino-Balkaria Republic, in October 2005 have submitted written statements that testimony they gave while under investigation was extracted as a result of, or under the threat of, torture, and that they signed that incriminating testimony in the absence of a lawyer, kavkaz-uzel.ru reported on October 29. Relatives of the five accused passed the statements to the Kabardino-Balkaria Human Rights center. LF
RAILWAY OFFICIAL DENIES POLITICAL FACTOR IN TRAIN BRAWL
North Caucasus Railways Director Vladimir Goloskokov said on October 29 that the mass brawl on October 26 in the restaurant car of a train traveling from Tyumen to Baku was not politically motivated, kavkaz-uzel.ru reported. Some 25 Azerbaijani passengers were injured in a fight with local Kalmyks (see "RFE/RL Newsline," October 29, 2007). Four participants have been arrested in Kalmykia and face criminal charges, the Azerbaijani daily zerkalo.az reported on October 30. LF
ARMENIAN RULING PARTY DOWNPLAYS FORMER PRESIDENT'S COMEBACK PLANS
The ruling Republican Party of Armenia sees no reason to amend its strategy in the light of the October 26 announcement by former President Levon Ter-Petrossian that he plans to run as a candidate in the presidential election due in early 2008, parliament speaker Tigran Torosian told journalists in Yerevan on October 29, RFE/RL's Armenian Service reported. Addressing thousands of his supporters in Yerevan, Ter-Petrossian harshly criticized incumbent President Robert Kocharian, who is barred by the constitution from seeking a third consecutive presidential term, and Prime Minister Serzh Sarkisian, regarded as Kocharian's most likely successor. The two men were instrumental in forcing Ter-Petrossian's resignation in February 1998. Torosian said the October 26 rally in support of Ter-Petrossian failed to fulfill expectations, and he accused Ter-Petrossian of having "ruined" the Armenian economy during his six years as president. On October 26, Kocharian downplayed Ter-Petrossian's election chances, saying that at least two or three other opposition politicians (whom he did not name) enjoy greater popularity. LF
AZERBAIJAN CLAIMS TO HAVE AVERTED ISLAMIC TERRORIST THREAT
Azerbaijan's National Security Ministry claimed on October 29 to have thwarted a series of terrorist attacks by rounding up a group of "Wahhabis," Azerbaijani media reported. That report led to the closure that day of the U.S. and British embassies and the offices of several international organizations in Baku. In a series of raids in Baku's Sabunchi Raion and Mashtaga on October 27; in the village of Zabrat, 15 kilometers from Baku, and Baku's Khatayi Raion on October 28; and in Ismailly Raion 190 kilometers west of the capital during the night of October 28-29, security forces killed one militant and apprehended at least 17 more, zerkalo.az reported. Among those arrested was an army lieutenant identified as Kyamran Asadov who was said to have collaborated with the militants, providing them with four automatic rifles, quantities of ammunition, a mortar, and 20 hand grenades. Hidayat Orujev, who heads Azerbaijan's State Committee for Work with Religious Organizations and who was quoted on September 28 by zerkalo.az as downplaying the threat posed by "Wahhabis," told day.az on October 29 that the men arrested were criminals who have no religious affiliation, and that the activities in Azerbaijan of "Wahhabis" are coordinated from abroad. In the mid- and late 1990s, the Azerbaijani authorities similarly claimed to have averted several terrorist plots, in at least one of which the military were allegedly involved (see "OMRI Daily Digest," November 7, 1995, and "RFE/RL Newsline," August 28, 1997). LF
AZERBAIJANI JOURNALIST SENTENCED
Azerbaijan's Court for Serious Crimes on October 30 sentenced Eynulla Fatullayev, editor of the publications "Gyundelik Azerbaycan" and "Realny Azerbaijan," to 8 and 1/2 years' imprisonment on charges, which he denies, of threatening terrorism, fomenting ethnic or religious hatred, and tax evasion, day.az reported. Fatullayev is already serving a 2 and 1/2 year jail term on charges of libel (see "RFE/RL Newsline," April 23, 2007). He claims all the charges against him were politically motivated. LF
GEORGIAN OMBUDSMAN DEPLORES ATTACK ON OPPOSITIONISTS
Sozar Subar on October 29 formally expressed his "profound concern" over the assaults the previous day on opposition participants in a rally in Zugdidi, western Georgia, Caucasus Press reported (see "RFE/RL Newsline," October 29, 2007). He characterized that violence as "showing the authorities' intolerance towards the right of all citizens to [attend] peaceful gatherings and demonstrations." Subar pointed out that television footage shows some of the attackers had handguns in their belts, which, he said, suggests they were either police or security personnel. A court in Zugdidi sentenced two men on October 29 to 20 days' administrative detention for their role in the violence and fined five others, kavkaz-uzel.ru reported. Giga Bokeria, one of the leaders of the majority United National Movement, deplored the violence and blamed police for not preventing it, Caucasus Press reported. He appealed to the population not to launch any further attacks on the opposition. Tbilisi Mayor Gigi Ugulava said on October 29 that the city authorities will take all necessary measures to ensure public order is not violated during the planned mass opposition rally in the capital on November 2, prompting Levan Berdzenishvili, one of the leaders of the opposition Republican party, to warn the authorities not to begin a "war" with the opposition, Caucasus Press reported. LF
GEORGIAN PARLIAMENT SPEAKER CLAIMS TURKEY WILL NOT ADMIT ABKHAZ LEADER
Nino Burjanadze announced on October 29 that during her recent visit to Istanbul, Turkish officials assured her that they will not renew an invitation to Sergei Bagapsh, president of the unrecognized republic of Abkhazia, to visit Turkey. That planned visit has been postponed at least twice, once in April 2007 due to Bagapsh's illness (see "RFE/RL Newsline," April 10, 2007), and again last month. Bagapsh was quoted as attributing that most recent postponement to the deteriorating situation in Turkey in light of incursions by Kurdistan Workers Party (PKK) militants based in northern Iraq, according to "Nuzhnaya gazeta" on October 23 as summarized by the BBC. Meanwhile, an Abkhaz-Turkish joint venture to mine and export coal is in jeopardy following the seizure of a Turkish merchant vessel by the Georgian coast guard on October 21, Caucasus Press quoted Abkhaz parliamentarian Daur Arshba as saying on October 25 (see "RFE/RL Caucasus Report," June 13, 2002). On January 31, the "Georgian Times" reported that Turkish businessmen have invested heavily in Abkhazia, illegally exporting coal, timber, and marble. In addition, at least 40 percent of the republic's restaurants are reportedly Turkish-owned. The Abkhaz community in Turkey numbers some 500,000, mostly descendants of people who fled during the 19th-century Tsarist conquest of the western Caucasus. LF
KAZAKH PREMIER WARNS OFFICIALS AGAINST 'ILLEGAL LAND TRANSACTIONS'
Speaking at a cabinet meeting, Kazakh Prime Minister Karim Masimov warned on October 29 that state officials found to be involved in "illegal land transactions" may face immediate dismissal, Interfax reported. Masimov, referring to allegations that government officials have illegally transferred the ownership of land in sensitive "ecological areas around Almaty," named specific "individuals who approved illegal decisions on the allotment of land." Concluding his warning, Masimov named Emergency Situations Minister and former Almaty Mayor Viktor Khrapunov, State Agency for Land Resources Management chief Bakyt Ospanov, and former Almaty Deputy Mayor Yakov Zayats. RG
RUSSIAN FOREIGN MINISTER VISITS KAZAKHSTAN...
Arriving in Astana on an official visit, Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov on October 29 praised bilateral relations as "one of the key factors determining the progress of integration processes" within the Commonwealth of Independent States (CIS), according to Interfax-Kazakhstan. Meeting on October 29 in Astana with Kazakh Foreign Minister Marat Tazhin, Lavrov signed a "joint action plan" for cooperation between their two ministries in the coming year, Kazakh television reported. Tazhin also requested that consultations be held "in the near future" concerning the implementation of joint border-security measures, in accordance with the terms of an agreement reached between Kazakh President Nursultan Nazarbaev and Russian President Vladimir Putin during a summit in Novosibirsk earlier this month (see "RFE/RL Newsline," October 5, 2007). Tazhin also expressed Kazakhstan's frustration over the pace of talks on the planned construction of a trans-Caspian natural-gas pipeline, telling Lavrov that there is "a need to speed up" the pipeline negotiations. RG
...AND HAILS JOINT WORK AT KAZAKH SPACE CENTER
During his visit to Astana, Russian Foreign Minister Lavrov also cited on October 29 the joint work at Kazakhstan's Baikonur Space Center as "one of the most significant achievements of bilateral cooperation," and noted that the facility is "operating successfully in the interests" of Russia and Kazakhstan, as well as benefiting "world science as a whole," ITAR-TASS reported. Baikonur is one of the world's leading space facilities and is regularly used to launch commercial and military satellites, as well as supply missions for the International Space Station. Lavrov also welcomed Kazakhstan's recent lifting of a ban on rocket launches from Baikonur, clearing the way for the launch of three Russian global-positioning satellites into space (see "RFE/RL Newsline," October 25, 2007). The Kazakh authorities imposed an immediate ban on rocket launches after an unmanned Russian Proton-M rocket crashed last month after its launch from Baikonur (see "RFE/RL Newsline," September 7 and 11, 2007). Two other Proton rockets crashed at Baikonur in 1999, also leading to suspensions of launches (see "RFE/RL Newsline," July 7 and 8 and November 3, 1999). RG
KYRGYZ PRESIDENT CONSIDERS 'REGULATION' OF FOOD PRICES
Speaking to the heads of each department of his presidential administration, Kurmanbek Bakiev announced on October 29 that Kyrgyzstan's "socioeconomic situation" is under threat by the recent surge in prices for foodstuffs and other staple goods, adding that he is "considering" the "necessity to further regulate price policy," AKIpress reported. Bakiev instructed the officials to prepare "all necessary measures [that] should be taken based on the results" of a forthcoming study of the price rises by the State Tax Committee and the State Antimonopoly Committee. He also noted that a more comprehensive effort is needed to implement his order "to regulate" the increase in prices for flour, flour products and foodstuffs. The price rise led Bakiev to dismiss Economic Development and Trade Minister Sabyrbek Moldokulov and Bishkek Mayor Arstanbek Nogoev earlier this month, after both officials were blamed for failing to adequately respond to rising food prices (see "RFE/RL Newsline," October 11, 2007). Three weeks ago, Prime Minister Almazbek Atambaev also assumed control of a newly formed "food-security" body empowered to deal with the rise in prices. Similarly, neighboring Kazakhstan also ordered law-enforcement bodies to address the alleged manipulation of prices by food companies (see "RFE/RL Newsline," October 23, 2007). RG
KYRGYZ OPPOSITION LEADER ENTERS PARLIAMENT RACE
Former Prime Minister and prominent opposition leader Feliks Kulov announced on October 29 plans to run as a candidate in Kyrgyzstan's December 16 elections for a new parliament, AKIpress reported. Kulov, the leader of the opposition United Front for a Worthy Future for Kyrgyzstan, which was disbanded last month, will be a leading candidate of the party list of the Ar-Namys (Dignity) party. Kulov stepped down as the leader of Ar-Namys 18 months ago (April 5, 2006) The party is set to convene a party congress on November 10 and is expected to confirm Kulov as one of its leading candidates. The Central Election Commission recently registered the opposition Ata-Meken (Fatherland) party (see "RFE/RL Newsline," October 26, 2007), led by fellow prominent opposition figure Omurbek Tekebaev and which recently formed a new alliance with the opposition Ak-Shumkar party in an attempt to field a united party list of opposition candidates for the approaching elections (see "RFE/RL Newsline," October 25, 2007). RG
KYRGYZ SECURITY OFFICIAL ANNOUNCES NEW SUSPECT IN MURDER OF JOURNALIST
A Kyrgyz security official said on October 29 that police have uncovered a possible "new suspect" in the investigation of the murder of prominent Kyrgyz journalist Alisher Saipov, Kyrgyz television reported. The unidentified official said that police now believe that members of the outlawed Islamist group Hizb ut-Tahrir may have ordered the killing. Saipov was killed on October 24 by an unknown gunman in the southern region of Osh (see "RFE/RL Newsline," October 25, 2007). Initial suspicion centered on Uzbekistan, as Saipov often reported on corruption within Uzbekistan and, in recent months, Uzbek state media carried numerous reports about Saipov, who was an ethnic Uzbek, calling him an "enemy of the Uzbek nation" and accusing him of destabilizing the situation in the country. RG
TAJIKISTAN CUTS TAX ON FOOD IMPORTS
At a press conference in Dushanbe, Tajik Deputy Economic Development and Trade Minister Abdughaffor Rahmonov announced on October 26 a 10 percent reduction in the value-added tax (VAT) on basic food products imported into the country, Asia-Plus reported on October 29. The move, seen as an attempt to ease the impact of a rise in food prices that has swept the region in recent weeks, follows the creation of a new state commission empowered to study the "domestic consumer market" and tasked with recommending specific measures aimed at combating the price rise. Rahmonov also claimed that the price increases were exacerbated by "private entrepreneurs" who were "to blame for the price hike," contending that they "have formed an artificial" pricing structure. Meanwhile, the head of the Tax Committee, Hakim Soliev, recently suggested that grain imports should be exempted from VAT altogether. RG
RUSSIAN DEFENSE MINISTER CONCLUDES NEW 'ACTION PLAN' WITH UZBEKISTAN
During a one-day visit to Tashkent, Russian Defense Minister Anatoly Serdyukov and his Uzbek counterpart, Ruslan Mirzaev, signed on October 29 a new "action plan" for bilateral military cooperation for next year, ITAR-TASS and Uzbek Television reported. Mirzaev praised "the present state of military and technical cooperation between Moscow and Tashkent" as meeting "the interests of Russia and Uzbekistan," and further noted Russian assistance as having "a positive impact on the process of reforming the Uzbek armed forces." The bilateral agreement serves as a supplemental accord to the broader 2005 bilateral accord governing military and security ties between the two countries. Uzbekistan has recently stepped up cooperation with Russia and has increased its participation in joint military exercises conducted by both the CIS Collective Security Treaty Organization and the Shanghai Cooperation Organization. There are also 126 Uzbek officers currently enrolled in various Russian military academies and institutes, as part of the annual Russian offer of full scholarships to qualified Uzbek military personnel. RG
BELARUSIAN ACTIVISTS MARK REMEMBRANCE DAY FOR VICTIMS OF STALIN ERA
Activists on October 29 held a day of commemoration for the victims of repression in Belarus under Soviet leader Josef Stalin, Belapan and RFE/RL's Belarus Service reported. The event was organized by a civic committee dedicated to commemorating the 70th anniversary of the execution of around 100 prominent Belarusian intellectuals by Stalin's secret police. The committee, formed in November 2006 and led by geologist Radzim Haretski, historian Ihar Kuznyatsou, and writer Vasil Yakavenka, has called on the Belarusian authorities to commemorate victims at the government level, but the request has been rejected by the State Security Committee (KGB). According to the committee, the Soviet regime in Belarus killed or imprisoned at least 1 million people, 600,000 of whom were sent to labor camps, between the 1920s and the 1950s. AM
UKRAINIAN PRESIDENT STRIPS FORMER SECURITY LEADERSHIP OF RANK
Ukrainian President Viktor Yushchenko on October 29 signed decrees stripping the former head of the Ukrainian Security Service (SBU), Ihor Smeshko, of his diplomatic rank as an honorary ambassador, and former SBU deputy head Volodymyr Satsyuk of his military rank of major general, RFE/RL's Ukrainian Service reported. The honors were granted to the two security officials by Yushchenko's predecessor, Leonid Kuchma. Smeshko was the head of the SBU from September 2003 to February 2005. Satsyuk was appointed the first deputy head of the SBU in late April 2003 and dismissed from the post in December 2004 after Yushchenko, then a presidential candidate running against Kuchma, was poisoned with dioxin. There has been speculation that Yushchenko was poisoned while meeting with Smeshko and Satsyuk at Satsyuk's dacha. AM
OUR UKRAINE LEADER HOPES TO QUASH SPECULATION ON BROAD COALITION
Mykola Katerynchuk, the leader of the European Platform for Ukraine, which belongs to the pro-presidential Our Ukraine-People's Self-Defense bloc (NUNS), has rejected any speculation regarding the creation of a grand coalition with the Party of Regions, RFE/RL's Ukrainian Service reported on October 30. Katerynchuk said that nine political forces have initialed "the commitment not to create a coalition with the Party of Regions, the Socialists, or the Communists. We demand an end to any speculation regarding such a coalition," Katerynchuk said. The NUNS bloc and the Yulia Tymoshenko Bloc (BYuT) in mid-October initialed an accord on forming a parliamentary coalition and a new government. BYuT and NUNS control 228 votes in the new Verkhovna Rada -- just two votes more than the number required to pass most legislation. AM
BOSNIAN LEADERS REACH UNDERSTANDING ON POLICE REFORM
Leaders representing Bosnia-Herzegovina's three main ethnic groups on October 28 agreed to principles set by the EU for reform of the country's police forces, local and international media reported. The agreement by the six parties, which together command a majority in the federal parliament, could potentially satisfy the key remaining condition that Bosnia has to meet before it can sign a Stabilization and Association Agreement (SAA) with the EU, a first step toward membership, and could forestall sanctions against Bosnia's political leaders. The agreement was welcomed by the international community's high representative, Miroslav Lajcak, as "extremely useful" and by Krisztina Nagy, the spokeswoman for EU Enlargement Commissioner Olli Rehn, who told reporters on October 29 that "the [European] Commission welcomes the spirit of consensus and compromise that was shown by the party leaders." However, both refused to comment on the details of the agreement before European Commission experts give their assessment. The document signed on October 28 accepts three guiding principles: the police should be managed centrally, funded centrally, and be able to operate free of political interference. The document reportedly does not address the question of unifying the country's various police forces or the borders of police districts, but one of the six signatories, Republika Srpska Prime Minister Milorad Dodik, has repeatedly refused to accept the dissolution of the Bosnian Serb-dominated entity's police force. That issue was one of several that resulted in Bosnia's political leaders failing to meet two recent deadlines, September 30 and October 15. The agreement was also signed by Dodik's chief opponents, Haris Silajdzic, the Bosnian Muslims' representative in the country's presidency, and Sulejman Tihic, the head of the largest Bosnian Muslim party, the Party of Democratic Action (SDA). The deal was eventually brokered by Bosnian Croats, who previously made another, ultimately unsuccessful attempt to end the deadlock shortly before the October 15 deadline. Lajcak has yet to state whether the agreement is enough to persuade him to lift his threat to impose personal sanctions against Bosnian political leaders. AG
BOSNIAN SERBS PROTEST AGAINST 'DICTATORIAL' INTERNATIONAL REPRESENTATIVE
Bosnian Serb politicians on October 29 continued their protest against High Representative Lajcak, voting against amendments proposed by Lajcak to three laws, local media reported. According to the news agency SRNA, the votes by the upper chamber of parliament in the Republika Srpska were described as a matter of principle by Mladan Ivanic, the deputy chairman of the House of Peoples and the leader of the Party of Democratic Progress, the third-largest party in the Bosnian Serb-dominated entity. The message of defiance sent to Lajcak, who has angered Serbs by trying to ease the passage of laws, was also driven home by thousands of Serbs who gathered on October 29 in a series of rallies across the Republika Srpska to demand that Lajcak not use his "dictatorial" and "unnecessary" powers to force through legislation and sack officials. They also called for the return of powers previously transferred from the Republika Srpska to the federal government. The largest rally, in Banja Luka, attracted 5,000 supporters. There was also a rally in Sarajevo, Bosnia's capital. Some of the protesters carried images of Russian President Vladimir Putin, who has backed Serbia in its effort to retain sovereignty over Kosova. In addition, Russia's ambassador to Bosnia has blamed Lajcak for the deteriorating political situation in Bosnia (see "RFE/RL Newsline," October 26, 2007). The protesters also warned they might picket state institutions and call a referendum on independence unless their demands are heeded. Republika Srpska Prime Minister Dodik praised the rallies as a "dignified" call for respect for the Republika Srpska and defense of the entity's "guaranteed rights." The Serbs argue that, as well as reducing their perceived rights, the measures mean they could be outvoted by Bosnian Muslims and Croats. AG
PREMIER'S PARTY WANTS A NEUTRAL SERBIA
The Democratic Party of Serbia (DSS) officially declared on October 28 that it wants Serbia to remain a neutral country, Serbian media reported. "Military neutrality is the best guarantee for peace, while such a policy is the best way for Serbia to develop and progress in line with its own interest, at the same time expressing Serbia's genuine position against any policy of force, endangering world peace, aggression, and war," the declaration reads. The party's leadership has repeatedly criticized NATO, saying the United States wants to turn Kosova into a NATO "puppet state" (see "RFE/RL Newsline," August 16, 20, 21, and 24, and September 4, 2007). Anti-NATO sentiment among the party's members dates back at least to NATO's bombardment of Serbia in 1999, which was part of the alliance's broader intervention to halt the conflict in Kosova. The DSS's leader, Prime Minister Vojislav Kostunica, already on September 15 called for Serbia to "retain full military neutrality" (see "RFE/RL Newsline," September 17, 2007). Serbia joined NATO's Partnership for Peace program in December 2006. AG
MONTENEGRO RETURNS ARTWORKS TO CROATIA
Montenegro has returned three paintings stolen during the Croatian war to the Croatian authorities, Montenegrin police said on October 29. The news service Balkan Insight reported that the three artworks were taken from a Franciscan monastery in the village of Slano, near Dubrovnik. No other details were provided. Montenegro has actively sought to establish good relations with Croatia since it separated from Serbia in mid-2006 (see "RFE/RL Newsline," February 9 and 16, March 5 and 12, 2007). AG
WORLD'S RELIGIOUS LEADERS MEET IN MACEDONIA
Representatives from all the world's major religions and religious groups met in Macedonia from October 26 to 28 in an effort to foster greater dialogue. "We are not here to convert," Macedonian Prime Minister Nikola Gruevski told the 300 or so delegates in his opening speech. "On the contrary, we are here to speak and find a common foundation." AG
ALBANIA'S CHIEF PROSECUTOR UNDER INVESTIGATION
Albania's parliament voted on October 25 to establish a commission to appraise the performance of the country's chief prosecutor, Theodhori Sollaku, who some members of parliament believe has failed to do enough to curb crime and corruption. The motion, which was carried by 72 votes to 35, was backed by the governing party, the Democrats, but opposed by the leading opposition party, the Socialists, who argue that the initiative is politically motivated and compromises the independence of the judiciary. One small party in the coalition government abstained. The Democrats' leader, Sali Berisha, employed Sollaku as a legal adviser between 1992 and 1997 while he was president, but Berisha, who is now prime minister, has long called for Sollaku to be removed, claiming that he has ties to organized crime. The 11-member commission, which the Socialists say they will boycott, is due to submit its findings to President Bamir Topi in a month's time and will recommend whether or not to remove Sollaku from office. Topi, who is also a Democrat, called for Sollaku to resign in late September, but also promised the EU on October 8 that he will not use his presidential powers to remove Sollaku unilaterally. It should be parliament that decides Sollaku's future, Topi said. A similar effort by Democrats in parliament to remove Sollaku in 2006 was foiled by then-President Alfred Moisiu. One factor that has recently fueled the Democrats' long-standing dislike of Sollaku, whose tenure is not term-limited, is his decision to ask parliament to strip Foreign Minister Lulzim Basha, a Democrat, of his immunity from prosecution. Sollaku is investigating controversial road-building contracts signed while Basha was transportation minister, a move interpreted by some as an attempt by Sollaku to forestall his removal (see "RFE/RL Newsline," October 16). Albania ranked 111th in the most recent study by Transparency International of perceptions of corruption, the lowest position of any European state outside the former Soviet Union. AG
IRANIAN ENVOY'S REMOVAL HIGHLIGHTS BATTLE AT THE TOP
Ali Larijani's sudden departure from the post of Iran's top nuclear negotiator has caused consternation abroad and political repercussions at home. Comments by politicians in Tehran indicate that Larijani was essentially forced to resign as Supreme National Security Council secretary on October 20 as he could no longer work with President Mahmud Ahmadinejad.
The departure of a prominent conservative politician from a key state position has been viewed by some as Ahmadinejad's latest attempt to strengthen his position inside the Iranian power structure. The fact that a close Ahmadinejad associate succeeded Larijani -- a political heavyweight and potential rival to the president -- lends weight to that hypothesis.
But it seems Ahmadinejad might have incurred the displeasure of Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei by ousting Larijani in favor of Said Jalili. And Khamenei holds ultimate political and religious authority in Iran.
In fact, Khamenei wasted no time in responding to Ahmadinejad's move, immediately naming Larijani his special representative to the talks on Iran's nuclear program, and Larijani was present at further talks with EU leaders in both Rome and Hamburg in the past week.
Larijani is a prominent member of what might be regarded as Iran's political family of traditional conservatives, and long described as close to Khamenei. Larijani also was Ahmadinejad's chief traditional-conservative rival in the first round of the presidential election in 2005. His appointment as secretary of the Supreme National Security Council may have been a compromise choice for a new president who faced pressure from the traditional-conservative camp.
His removal was described as badly timed and unnecessary by Ayatollah Khamenei's foreign affairs adviser, Ali Akbar Velayati. In a country where politicians very rarely criticize each other publicly, Velayati was unusually outspoken, telling ISNA that "it would have been better" for "officials" to use a little self-restraint and resolve their mutual differences privately at a time of great international pressure on Iran. He said "it would definitely have been better" if Larijani had not been replaced.
The reformist daily "Etemad" viewed Larijani's departure as a sign of the continuing decline of traditional conservatives and their increasing exclusion from key positions in favor of "radical" right-wingers allied with Ahmadinejad.
The daily added that Larijani had increasingly shown moderation and pragmatism in the nuclear discussions, and "this was precisely the spirit that clashed with the aggressive and radical spirit of" the president. The change, the daily noted, indicated "the real decline" of traditional conservatives, and it stated that administrative and government changes made so far by the president are "in line with the wishes of radical statesmen. Right now, statesmen who believe in diplomatic methods are losing their position."
Commentator Jafar Golabi wrote in the same paper that the "unification" of the ninth government -- meaning the exclusion of those who essentially disagree with Ahmadinejad's radical current -- has reached a "surprising" level: "experienced factions" in the country "no longer know what to expect or what the country's fate will be," he wrote.
In the press there has been -- as there often is with surprising developments -- a contrast between public postures of reassurance and more honest commentaries.
The pro-government daily "Iran" reported some of the reassuring statements on October 23. It quoted Mahmud Mohammadi, a member of the parliamentary National Security and Foreign Policy Committee, as saying that the Larijani dismissal had no effect on "national strategy." He said it was the "president's right as the head of the Supreme National Security Council to make decisions" on its personnel. Mohammadi said "we all have a duty" to back the president in his decision and "the Europeans" should interpret the appointment of diplomat Jalili as a sign of Iran's inclination to talk and negotiate, not of a hardening of positions.
The daily quoted Tehran-based academic Ibrahim Mottaqi as saying that the Europeans have "a pragmatic approach" and know they are dealing with institutions, not individuals. Another member of the parliamentary committee, Javad Jahangirzadeh, said that with Ayatollah Khamenei's "total familiarity" with the nuclear dossier, strategies are unlikely to change very much.
The reformist daily "Etemad" reported an "extensive wave" of objections among legislators to the change on October 22. The parliamentary National Security and Foreign Policy Committee met in an extraordinary session on October 21, at which legislators expressed concern at the EU's possible negative reactions to the reshuffle, committee member Darius Qanbari said. He commented on the possible reasons legislators had cited in the meeting for the removal: Larijani was an expert on the nuclear issue, he said, and "paid little attention to the president's comments, and this...made the conditions for their continued cooperation difficult."
Others had spoken of an argument between the two at a meeting. Some said that "Ahmadinejad aides had warned" Larijani about his increasing "popularity" due to his perceived successful handling of nuclear negotiations.
Mohammad Reza Bahonar, the deputy speaker of parliament whom "Etemad" described as a supporter of Larijani in the 2005 elections, but who became an Ahmadinejad supporter in parliament, said on October 21 that Iranians' speculation on the matter was in line with Western wishes.
Perhaps for this reason, those involved in the discussion have sought to move on. The president told the press in Tehran on October 24 that Larijani had tendered his resignation many times before. Larijani told the press in Rome on October 24 that Iran is simply a democratic country where officials circulate between jobs, and voiced support for his successor.
But EU foreign-policy chief Javier Solana said after the talks in Rome with Jalili and Larijani that having too large a negotiating team could complicate the situation. He also stated that Larijani seemed more in charge of the negotiations.
In spite of public assurances, Larijani's removal is seen by some as a move by the president to further consolidate his grip within the executive branch, following several ministerial changes.
Ahmadinejad has shown he wishes to implement his own ideas, and prefers compliant administrators to dissenting specialists. The change also reveals some of the political workings of Iran's nomenklatura: it shows that offices or titles do not by themselves confer power. If you are pushy enough, you can get people out, and Ahmadinejad has just pushed a political veteran off his chair.
If one perceives power in Iran to reside in shifting coteries and in perceptions of their power, then Ahmadinejad has for the past two years been placing his associates in key positions and forging his own coterie -- one he hopes will be seen as strong. But every maneuver prompts responses.
In addition to making Larijani his special representative to the nuclear talks, Ayatollah Khamenei has ensured that Larijani retains an institutional position as his representative on the Supreme National Security Council, as he did with his predecessor Hasan Rohani.
Khamenei may also be inclined more toward Ahmadinejad's political rivals -- the mainstream conservatives/political center grouped around Ali Akbar Hashemi-Rafsanjani -- to ensure some equilibrium. The traditional conservatives themselves have been consulting in preparation for parliamentary elections set for March. Larijani could return to electoral activity and compete against Ahmadinejad's radical conservatives in that context.
Deputy parliament speaker Bahonar said on October 25 that the "fundamentalists," or traditional conservatives, hope to make use of Larijani. "We are trying so that he will enter parliament, and we believe Larijani should be in parliament," ISNA reported him as saying. Larijani may be down for now, but he certainly is not out as the battle between the supreme leader and the president continues.
JOINT AFGHAN-NATO OPERATION LEAVES 30 TALIBAN DEAD
More than 30 Taliban militants were killed on October 28 during several hours of fighting with Afghan and NATO troops in southern Oruzgan Province, AFP quoted provincial police chief Juma Gul Himat as saying. An Afghan Defense Ministry statement, however, put the "terrorist" death toll at 50. Following an intelligence tip concerning a suspected Taliban hideout in the village of Baluch near Tirin Kot, the provincial capital, joint forces launched an attack and called in air strikes to destroy Taliban positions. Himat said the dead militants' bodies were left behind on the battlefield "under dust and rubble." Defense Ministry spokesman General Zahir Azimi said 25 suspected militants were wounded and 13 others arrested in the operation. On October 27, coalition troops killed 80 Taliban in neighboring Helmand Province after militants tried to ambush a joint Afghan-coalition patrol (see "RFE/RL Newsline," October 29, 2007). International forces continue to carry out operations in Afghanistan's volatile south in efforts to break the Taliban's hold on the region. JC
TEENAGE SUICIDE BOMBER KILLS THREE CIVILIANS, POLICEMAN IN SOUTHERN AFGHANISTAN
Three civilians and a policeman were killed on October 29 when a suicide attacker blew himself up near a police convoy in Helmand Province, AFP reported. Five other civilians and a police officer were wounded in the attack, which took place in the provincial capital, Lashkar Gah. The attacker detonated his explosives next to a taxi, but the target appears to have been a nearby police convoy, AP quoted provincial police chief Mohammad Hussein Andiwal as saying. An Afghan Interior Ministry statement said the attacker is believed to have been a teenager. Taliban militants control at least one district in volatile Helmand Province, Afghanistan's largest opium-producing region and a hotbed of insurgency-linked violence. JC
UN OFFICIALS DEMAND END TO ATTACKS ON AID WORKERS IN AFGHANISTAN
The top United Nations official in Afghanistan, Tom Koenigs, on October 29 called on Taliban militants and criminal gangs to stop attacking aid workers and humanitarian convoys so that they can deliver food to millions of vulnerable Afghans before the start of winter, AP reported. Koenigs, the head of the UN secretary-general's special representative for Afghanistan,, said insurgents and criminal gangs in Afghanistan have killed 34 aid workers and abducted 76 more this year. "The attacks on humanitarian aid must stop," Koenigs told reporters in Kabul, noting that continued attacks threaten the welfare of Afghans in the most inaccessible communities. Rick Corsino, the country director for the UN World Food Program, reported a sixfold increase in attacks this year, primarily in the south, and said the attacks have halted food deliveries over the past six weeks (see "RFE/RL Newsline," June 22 and July 12, 2007). He added that nearly 5 million Afghans depend on food assistance, and reiterated the importance of reaching the 400,000 Afghans residing in mountain areas within the next six weeks to avert potential mass displacements (see "RFE/RL Newsline," October 24, 2007). "Reaching the people is not a political issue -- it is a humanitarian priority," Koenigs added. JC
JAPAN FINISHES MISSION IN AFGHANISTAN BEFORE SCHEDULED END OF MANDATE
Japan has completed what is likely to be its final refueling operation in support of U.S.-led coalition forces in Afghanistan before its mandate there is set to expire, AP reported. The agency quoted an unidentified Japanese Defense Ministry official as saying that no further ships will be refueled after this week, despite efforts by new Prime Minister Yasuo Fukuda to prioritize legislation extending the mission beyond the November 1 end date. Since the U.S.-led invasion of Afghanistan in 2001, Japan has refueled coalition warships in the Indian Ocean, but opposition parties in parliament have blocked a vote extending the mission. Reports that Japan supplied more fuel to U.S. forces than officially reported have prompted accusations that Tokyo has also supplied fuel to ships heading to Iraq, and not just those supporting operations in Afghanistan (see "RFE/RL Newsline," October 4, 2007). If true, the operations could be interpreted as violated the country's constitution, which forbids Japan from directly engaging in war with other states. JC
IRANIAN MINISTER SAYS U.S. POLICY OF SANCTIONS HAS 'FAILED'
Foreign Minister Manuchehr Mottaki said in Damascus on October 29 that sanctions are "America's failed policy," IRNA reported. He was speaking at a joint press conference with his Syrian counterpart Walid al-Muallim, and apparently reacting to recent sanctions the United States has imposed on several Iranian agencies and citizens (see "RFE/RL Newsline," October 29, 2007). He said the United States has effectively imposed sanctions on Iran for the past 28 years and yet failed to curb Iran's expanding cooperation and economic ties with other states. Iran is making cars now, both at home and in some other countries, he said, and cannot be sanctioned when it has "15 neighbors and good relations across the world." Mottaki said the United States is entitled to stop its own companies from doing business with Iran, but other countries, he said, have shown they are not willing to follow suit. He said there is no precedent to U.S. moves to subject another country's armed forces to sanctions, and rejected the "false claim" of Iranian involvement in the killings of U.S. troops in Iraq. "The Islamic republic has no role in the killings of American soldiers and is greatly saddened by these events," he said. VS
NOBEL LAUREATE WANTS 'POLITICAL' SANCTIONS ON IRAN
Iranian jurist and Nobel Peace Prize winner Shirin Ebadi told the French daily "Le Figaro" on October 27 that it is not logical for Iran to refuse to halt sensitive nuclear activities such as uranium enrichment when the world is asking it to, Radio Farda reported on October 28. She said Iran cannot place itself behind a "wall, and say we have no contacts with the world." She expressed concern over the possibility of a U.S. attack on Iran, and said Iranians are "resistant" and would defend themselves, but she also disapproves of economic sanctions, which she said hurt ordinary people. She urged "political sanctions" and said there is "significance" in curtailing ties or contacts with a "dictatorial regime." She also criticized what she termed the West's relative negligence of the human rights issue in Iran, which she attributed to its focus on Tehran's nuclear program. VS
IRANIAN OFFICIAL SOURCES UNSURE ON OIL REVENUES
With Iranian crude oil selling at record prices, reportedly just over $77 on October 29, Radio Farda reported that state sources seemingly disagree on the value of Iran's oil revenues for the first six months of the Persian year since March 21. The broadcaster quoted Mohammad Ali Khatibi, the deputy head of the National Iranian Oil Company for marketing, as telling Mehr news agency that Iran earned more than $30 billion in the first six months of the Persian year, and might earn up to $60 billion in the year to March 20, 2008, with current high prices. He said Iran earned about $51 billion in the year to March 20, 2007. However, these figures differ from those cited by the Central Bank and reported by Fars news agency for the first semester of this Persian year -- a little over $25.6 billion. This seems unusual, Radio Farda observed, as the Central Bank figure included petrochemical and gas-related exports, while Khatibi's higher figure was for crude oil exports only. Paris-based academic Fereidun Khavand told Radio Farda on October 29 that he believes the lower figure for oil exports to be more accurate, and said Iran currently has a very disorganized statistics system, especially relating to areas such as foreign investment figures, inflation, and economic growth. He said petrochemicals or oil-derived products are cited by some bodies in Iran, such as customs, as part of the country's nonoil exports, while Iranian officials and OPEC sources also differ on the level of Iran's crude production. VS
IRAN HANGS TRAFFICKERS, RAPISTS
Iranian authorities hanged two drug traffickers in Kerman in southeastern Iran on October 28 and two rapists in the southern port of Bushehr, IRNA reported. The two traffickers were convicted of killing the police chief of the Mahan district in Kerman Province, Mohsen Jafarabadi, on September 7, and were caught with arms and 1,400 kilograms of opium. The rapists were 21-year-old Behruz Zanganeh and 22-year-old Ali Khorramnejad; they were hanged in the main prison in Bushehr. They were apparently part of a six-man gang that raped and "harassed" a girl in the April-May period, and whose members were all given death sentences. Another member who was considered the chief culprit in the case, Mohammad Pejman, was hanged on May 29, and three others are awaiting execution, IRNA reported on October 28, citing the Bushehr provincial judiciary's public relations chief, Keramatullah Qasemi. VS
U.S. HANDS OVER SECURITY RESPONSIBILITY FOR KARBALA TO IRAQIS
U.S. forces handed over security responsibilities for Karbala Governorate, south of Baghdad, to Iraqi authorities on October 29, making it the eighth of Iraq's 18 governorates to revert to Iraqi control, Iraqi media reported the same day. At a handover ceremony, Prime Minister Nuri al-Maliki described the transfer as "historic" and said he expects Iraqi security forces to eventually take control over all of Iraq's governorates. State-run Al-Iraqiyah television quoted al-Maliki as saying: "We must continue with what we are doing. This is what we wish and ask of the military and security commands in the army, police, and other services. We ask them to work earnestly in the security field so as to build the military forces and assume the security file in the remaining governorates." U.S. Major General Rick Lynch said the Iraqis are ready to assume full responsibility for the governorate, which holds the shrines of two major Shi'ite saints, Imam Abbas and Imam Husayn. However, he stressed that U.S. troops would remain ready to step in when needed. For months, Karbala has been the site of clashes between fighters from Muqtada al-Sadr's militia, the Imam Al-Mahdi Army, and Iraqi security forces. The bloodiest occurred on August 28, when 52 people were killed during a Shi'ite religious festival (see "RFE/RL Newsline," August 29, 2007). SS
IRAQI FORCES FREE KIDNAPPED TRIBAL CHIEFS
Iraqi Defense Ministry spokesman Major General Muhammad al-Askari said that Iraqi forces on October 29 rescued eight of the 11 tribal leaders abducted by gunmen the previous day, Al-Sharqiyah television reported. "We have rescued eight of the hostages and are working to free the others. We killed four of the kidnappers," al-Askari said on October 29. He also indicated that one tribal leader was "martyred" and his body was later found. The U.S. military issued a statement the same day saying that Arkan Hasnawi, a rogue member of the Imam Al-Mahdi Army with links to Iran, was behind the abductions. "Arkan Hasnawi's actions clearly demonstrate he has chosen to dishonor Muqtada al-Sadr's cease-fire order and that he has joined forces with Iranian-supported special groups that are rejecting Muqtada al-Sadr's direction to embrace fellow Iraqis," the statement said. The 11 tribal sheikhs, who were affiliated with the Diyala Awakening Council, were abducted in the northeastern Al-Sha'b district of Baghdad on October 28 after a meeting with one of Prime Minister al-Maliki's advisers (see "RFE/RL Newsline," October 29, 2007). SS
SYRIA, IRAN CONDEMN PKK ATTACKS ON TURKEY...
Syria and Iran on October 29 condemned the recent attacks against Turkey by Kurdistan Workers Party (PKK) fighters based in northern Iraq, KUNA reported the same day. The condemnation came during talks between Iranian Foreign Minister Manuchehr Mottaki and his Syrian counterpart Walid al-Muallim in Damascus that focused on the rising tensions along the Iraq-Turkey border. "The PKK terrorists threaten not only Turkey but also Iran and Syria," Mottaki said. "The terrorist operations from the north of Iraq create a destabilizing effect throughout the region," he added. For his part, al-Muallim stressed that Syria and Iran are pursuing a political solution to the PKK problem. "The Iranians have initiated efforts, which complement those of Syria, because we want to give a political solution a chance," al-Muallim said. Tensions along the border increased after PKK fighters killed 12 Turkish soldiers in an ambush on October 21 (see "RFE/RL Newsline," October 22, 2007). SS
...AS PKK LEADER SAYS NO ONE CAN ARREST GROUP'S LEADERS
Abd al-Rahman al-Chadirchi, a leading figure in the PKK, told the Kurdish daily "Aso" on October 29 that no one can arrest the leaders of the PKK, and he denied the existence of any PKK bases in Iraq. Chadirchi said: "The PKK has no bases in the Kurdistan region [northern Iraq], nor in southern and central Iraq. PKK officials are not based in the cities; they are based in the mountains on the Iraqi-Turkish border. Nobody is able to arrest them and hand them over to Turkey." Turkey has reportedly given the names of several PKK leaders who it believes are hiding in northern Iraq to Iraqi authorities and has demanded that they be arrested. Meanwhile, Iraqi National Security Minister Shirwan al-Wa'ili issued a statement on October 29 saying that Iraq is incapable of moving its forces to act against the PKK in northern Iraq because those forces are too occupied battling terrorist groups throughout the country. SS
SUICIDE ATTACK ON POLICE STATION IN CENTRAL IRAQ KILLS 30
A suicide attack on an Iraqi police station in the city of Ba'qubah, capital of the central Diyala Governorate, on October 29 killed 30 people and wounded more than 20, international media reported the same day. Diyala police chief Major General Ghanim al-Qurayshi said a suicide bomber wearing an explosive belt and riding a bicycle blew himself up among a group of policemen at the headquarters of the 2nd Regiment in central Ba'qubah. Elsewhere in the Diyala Governorate, near the village of Gsarin, local police found 20 decapitated bodies, one of them believed to be of a tribal leader. No other information was provided by Iraqi security officials. SS
U.S. GENERAL WOUNDED BY ROADSIDE BOMB IN IRAQI CAPITAL
The U.S. military announced on October 29 that a roadside bomb wounded Brigadier General Jeffrey Dorko in northern Baghdad, international media reported. Dorko, commander of the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers Gulf Region Division, suffered non-life-threatening shrapnel wounds from the attack and was evacuated to Landstuhl Regional Medical Center in Germany, where he was said to be in a stable condition. He is the highest-ranking U.S. soldier to be injured in the Iraq war since the U.S.-led invasion in 2003. SS