MEDVEDEV INVITES PUTIN TO SERVE AS PREMIER IF HE BECOMES PRESIDENT
First Deputy Prime Minister Dmitry Medvedev, who on December 10 was endorsed by Vladimir Putin to succeed him as president, said on December 11 that he would like Putin to become prime minister if Medvedev wins the election in March 2008, Vesti-24 television reported. "I consider it of principle importance for our country to keep in a high post in the executive branch -- the post of prime minister of the Russian Federation -- Vladimir Vladimirovich Putin," Medvedev said. Under the Russian Constitution, the prime minister becomes acting president if the president resigns or is removed, as happened when Boris Yeltsin resigned on New Year's Eve in 1999 and his prime minister, Putin, took over for him. Medvedev said that when he agreed to run for president, he asked Putin to agree in principle to head the government. He said that since Putin headed the Unified Russia party list in the December 2 Duma elections and led the party to an "impressive victory," naming Putin prime minister would enable the "new legislative and executive branches to work together effectively." When Putin addressed the Unified Russia congress on October 1 and agreed to head the party's list of candidates in the Duma elections, he said that he would consider serving as prime minister if the party won those elections and if a new president were elected with whom he could work. RC
MAINSTREAM POLITICIANS LINE UP BEHIND MEDVEDEV...
Russian party leaders and bureaucrats were quick to comment on President Putin's surprise endorsement on December 10 of First Deputy Prime Minister Medvedev to succeed him as president, Russian media reported on December 10 and 11. Putin made the announcement after meeting with leaders of Unified Russia, A Just Russia, Civic Force, and the Agrarian Party, all of which agreed to support Medvedev. "Each of the parties, in its own way, is realizing its political program by supporting a single candidate," A Just Russia official Aleksandr Babkin said, according to "Vremya novostei" on December 11. "And this shows how the political system in Russia is maturing, and we now have the chance to make consolidated decisions, despite our differences." Pavel Astakhov, head of the For Putin! movement, also endorsed Medvedev, calling him "a multifaceted person who suits the interests of completely different political forces and segments of society." Moscow Mayor Yury Luzhkov, who is also a Unified Russia leader, told Interfax on December 10 that he "completely supports this candidacy." A Just Russia Duma Deputy Aleksandr Babakov told RIA Novosti the same day, "I think society at large supports Medvedev." Federation Council member Yury Sharandin told ITAR-TASS that he believes Medvedev will win the March 2 election in the first round because "the popularity of Vladimir Putin will be transferred this time not to an entire party with an enormous number of people, but to one concrete person." RC
...AS OPPOSITIONISTS DENOUNCE 'OPERATION SUCCESSOR'...
Opposition politicians on December 10 expressed disdain for the process by which a successor to President Putin seems to have been designated, "Vremya novostei" reported on December 11. Communist Party official Ivan Melnikov said, "What kind of parties are these if the decision about what candidate to nominate is made at some sort of 'consultative meeting' and not at a party congress, taking into consideration the opinions of party members?" He denounced Medvedev's selection as "the decision of the bureaucracy and big business." Union of Rightist Forces leader Nikita Belykh shared this opinion. "Our position has not changed: we are against Operation Successor as such, no matter which person is named," he said. "The legitimacy of a president named in such a way will be under considerable doubt." Liberal Democratic Party of Russia leader Vladimir Zhirinovsky said that his party will nominate its own candidate to compete against Medvedev. That candidate is widely expected to be Zhirinovsky himself, although he did not run against Putin in 2004. RC
...AND ANALYSTS COMMENT ON MOVE
"The choice of Medvedev sends a consolidating signal," political analyst Gleb Pavlovsky told "Izvestia" on December 11. "He is called a liberal precisely because of his ability to unite." Institute of Political Research Director Sergei Markov told the daily that Medvedev is a "supermanager who has demonstrated the highest levels of effectiveness." He added that Medvedev has every possibility of becoming the kind of "national leader" that President Putin has become during his presidency. Pro-Kremlin analyst Vyacheslav Nikonov refuted the idea that Medvedev's candidacy signals victory for the liberals. "The balance of forces in the Kremlin is much more complicated, although Medvedev is really considered a liberal," he said. "In carrying out Putin's Plan, Medvedev will have complete independence, but the construct of power will not change much. In my opinion, there won't be major personnel changes." Most analysts emphasized that Putin will continue to play a major role. "Putin will maintain his influence and while Medvedev is entering into his new role, [Putin] will watch and see how Medvedev manages to build consensus within the elite," analyst Dmitry Badovsky told gazeta.ru on December 11. "And then he will decide if Medvedev is succeeding or not. If not, Putin will come back. If everything is fine, it is possible that Medvedev will hang on for four years." Independent analyst Vladimir Pribylovsky told RFE/RL on December 10 that Putin "chose a successor who will take into consideration who named him and, if need be, will give up the throne at the first hint." RC
FOREIGN GOVERNMENTS REGISTER MIXED REACTIONS TO MEDVEDEV'S PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDACY...
White House spokeswoman Dana Perino said in Washington on December 10 that she has no official reaction to President Putin's endorsement of First Deputy Prime Minister Medvedev as a candidate for the March 2008 Russian presidential election, news agencies reported. "We'll let the internal Russian politics play out on that," she added. Elsewhere in Washington, Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice said that the "last thing" she wants is a concentration of Russian political power in the Kremlin, Reuters reported. Without referring specifically to Putin's backing of Medvedev, she argued that "the last thing that you want is no separation of powers among various entities because -- I don't care who is in the Kremlin -- if all power is in that presidency, then you are going to have a problem for democratic development." In Berlin, German Foreign Ministry State Secretary Gernot Erler of the Social Democratic Party (SPD) hailed Putin's endorsement of Medvedev, Deutsche Welle reported on December 11. Erler, who favors close ties between Moscow on the one hand and Berlin and Brussels on the other, argued that Medvedev's candidacy will "strengthen the civil forces in Russia because he does not come from either the military or the secret services. He has his own political profile, which should not be underestimated." On December 11, the spokesman for Chancellor Angela Merkel of the Christian Democratic Union (CDU), which does not generally share the SPD's enthusiasm for Russia, said that Merkel told Putin in a phone conversation on December 10 that she could work with Medvedev, dpa reported. The spokesman noted that it was a routine phone call on international issues. In Beijing, Chinese Foreign Ministry spokesman Qin Gang said at a news conference on December 11 that "we consider Medvedev a good friend of the Chinese people and hail his contribution to the development of relations between our two countries." Qin noted that "Medvedev was Russia's co-chairman of the organization committee" for the recent Year of Russia in China and Year of China in Russia and "did a good job in that position." The spokesman noted that the presidential election "is Russia's domestic affair, and we hope they'll be successful." PM
...WHILE FOREIGN PAPERS TEND TO AGREE AMONG THEMSELVES
Western dailies on December 11 almost uniformly stressed that Medvedev is intelligent, free of obvious ties to the security services, and, by Russian standards, liberal. The papers also tended to note that he is a tough negotiator and a Putin protege. Britain's "Financial Times" commented that the various Kremlin factions are likely to suppress their differences over Putin's successor in an effort to maintain their grip on power. The paper added that "Medvedev will face pressures to stick to the Kremlin's current line: promoting the state's power at home and asserting Russia's influence abroad, especially over its neighbors." Germany's "Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung" noted that Medvedev publicly opposed the concept of "sovereign democracy" that is espoused by many members of the Kremlin inner circle. Medvedev argued that applying any qualifying adjectives to the word democracy serves to cheapen or distort it. PM
FOREIGN MINISTRY SLAMS OSCE REPORT ON RUSSIAN ELECTIONS
The Foreign Ministry said in a statement on December 10 that a recent letter sent by the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE) to Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov is part of a Western propaganda campaign aimed at discrediting the December 2 parliamentary elections, RIA Novosti reported (see "RFE/RL Newsline," December 3, 4, and 6, 2007). Referring to a letter sent by OSCE Representative on Media Freedom Miklos Haraszti, the statement said that "it is absolutely evident that Haraszti's message was part of propaganda attempts to discredit Russian parliamentary elections made by certain forces in the West." The statement described as unfounded Haraszti's charges that Russian law enforcement officials behaved against demonstrators in an "arbitrary" fashion. The statement said the OSCE failed to provide any examples of alleged violence against independent media. "Even a cursory look through Haraszti's letter is astonishing. We are faced with an explosive mixture of unprofessionalism and a drive to see all things relating to Russia in a negative light," the ministry argued. PM
ARE NATO-RUSSIA RELATIONS 'FROZEN'?
The newspaper "Novaya gazeta" wrote on December 10 that the recent meeting of the NATO-Russia Council served only to highlight serious differences between Foreign Minister Lavrov and his 26 NATO colleagues on missile defense, Kosova, and Russia's planned suspension of the 1990 Conventional Forces in Europe (CFE) Treaty (see "RFE/RL Newsline," December 10, 2007). The paper described relations as "very chilly," adding that all the two sides could agree on was to disagree. Regarding the CFE, "Novaya gazeta" noted that "NATO countries insist that its most important aspects are transparency and trust-building measures. Moscow's priorities are military parity and Russia's sovereign right to decide troop deployment numbers and locations on its own territory." The daily "Nezavisimaya gazeta" wrote on December 10 that "the United States has blocked approval of the Russia-NATO cooperation plan for 2008. Washington is making its acceptance of the plan conditional on Russia agreeing to continue compliance with its obligations" under the CFE. The paper quoted Lavrov as saying that the plan is being obstructed by "the absolutely ideology-driven stance of our American colleagues." The daily noted that the main areas covered by the annual plan are "counterterrorism, defense reforms, counternarcotics training for Afghanistan and Central Asian states, theater missile defense, crisis management, and nonproliferation of weapons of mass destruction. The program also covers cooperation on air-traffic control and emergency action plans." "Nezavisimaya gazeta" argued that the "U.S. agenda for NATO's April 2008 Bucharest summit seems likely to add even more tension to relations with Russia." That agenda calls for, among other things, continued eastward enlargement and a discussion of cybersecurity. "That's a nod to Estonia, which has accused Moscow of organizing attacks on its computer systems," the paper noted. PM
STUDY CALLS RUSSIA 'POWERHOUSE OF OVERSEAS INVESTMENT'
On December 11, the Skolkovo Moscow School of Management, which is part of President Putin's national project on education, and New York's Columbia University issued a study in Moscow to show that "Russia has become a powerhouse of overseas investment," AP reported. The study suggests that Russia is the third-largest direct foreign investor among emerging markets, after Hong Kong and Brazil. The top 25 Russian companies in terms of foreign assets have a total of $59 billion in such assets. Most Russian direct investments are in Europe but are increasingly spreading to other continents. According to the study, more than half the foreign assets owned by leading Russian multinationals come from firms dealing with natural resources industries such as oil, gas, and metals. The daily "Kommersant" reported on December 11 that Deputy Prime Minister and Finance Minister Aleksei Kudrin told the Global Investment and Finance Forum on December 10 that direct investments in the Russian economy by nonresidents have increased from $26 billion in 2006 to $45 billion in 2007. He added that the overall growth in investments for 2007 stands at a record 7.4 percent. PM
LAVROV DENIES PUTIN THREATENED GEORGIA WITH 'CYPRUS MODEL'
In a December 9 interview with the Cyprus News Agency, a transcript of which was posted on the Russian Foreign Ministry website (http://www.mid.ru), Russian Foreign Minister Lavrov categorically denied that President Putin ever threatened to split Georgia by imposing "the Cyprus model," presumably meaning formal recognition of the unrecognized self-proclaimed republics of Abkhazia and South Ossetia. Speaking in Tbilisi on November 12, shortly after scheduling a preterm presidential election, then Georgian President Mikheil Saakashvili said Putin made such a threat on the sidelines of the CIS summit in Minsk in November 2006, but did not explain why he waited an entire year to make that threat public (see "RFE/RL Newsline," November 14, 2007). Saakashvili told journalists earlier this year that his talk with Putin in Minsk was "very pleasant." LF
DAGHESTAN INTERIOR MINISTRY SEEKS TO AVERT DESTABILIZATION IN WAKE OF FORMER PARLIAMENTARIAN'S KILLING
Interior Minister Lieutenant General Adilgirey Magomedtagirov convened an emergency meeting on December 10 to draw up measures to preclude revenge killings and destabilization in Untsukul Raion, where former parliament deputy Gazimagomed Magomedov was gunned down in his native village of Gimri late on December 9 (see "RFE/RL Newsline," December 10, 2007). Gimri is one of several enclaves within Daghestan whose inhabitants do not acknowledge the authority of the republic's leadership. The investigation is assessing two possible motives for Magomedov's murder, personal enmity or a clash of business interests, according to kavkaz-uzel.ru on December 10. "Kommersant" quoted "Novaya gazeta" journalist Vyacheslav Ismailov as noting that Magomedov fought on the side of the Chechen resistance during the 1994-96 war but subsequently established ties with the FSB, and was suspected of involvement in the 2002 abduction of Doctors without Borders staffer Arjan Erkel, who was held for 20 months before being released (see "RFE/RL Newsline," August 14, 2002 and April 13, 2004). "Kommersant" also recalled that Magomedov's brother Ibragim was shot dead by fellow fighters of Chechen field commander Khattab who held him responsible for Khattab's death by poison in 2002. LF
CHECHEN PILGRIMS ATTACKED IN NORTH OSSETIA
Several carloads of unidentified young men late on December 6 attacked Chechens en route for Saudi Arabia when the four coaches in which they were traveling halted temporarily in North Ossetia, kavkaz-uzel.ru reported on December 8. Chechen pilgrims say the incident took place in the village of Stary Terek, while North Ossetian police claim it happened close to the memorial cemetery where the victims of the 2004 Beslan school hostage-taking are buried. North Ossetian police have launched an investigation and detained one suspect. Expressing outrage at the attack, Chechen human rights ombudsman Nurdi Nukhadjiyev implied on December 10 that it was part of a broader anti-Chechen campaign tacitly condoned by the Russian authorities. LF
CHECHEN RESISTANCE LEADER HITS BACK AT PARLIAMENT, GOVERNMENT
Doku Umarov has issued a series of edicts in his self-proclaimed capacity as amir of a Caucasus emirate encompassing the vilayets of Chechnya, Ingushetia, a combined Kabardino-Balkaria-Karachai entity, Daghestan, Ossetia, and the Nogai-populated districts of Stavropol Krai, the separatist website kavkazcenter.com reported on December 10. Umarov renamed the Chechen Republic Ichkeria (ChRI) the Nokhchiicho vilayet of that emirate and abolished the post of ChRI president and the ChRI parliament and government. Exiled members of the CHRI parliament voted last month to remove Umarov as ChRI president on the grounds that his proclamation of a North Caucasus emirate threatened and undermined the fight for recognition of the ChRI as an independent state, and they named London-based ChRI Foreign Minister Akhmed Zakayev to head a new government (see "RFE/RL Newsline," October 30 and November 7 and 26, 2007 and "Chechen Leadership in Exile Seeks to Salvage Legitimacy," rferl.org, November 15, 2007). In an interview with RFE/RL's North Caucasus Service, a Russian translation of which was posted on chechenpress.info on December 7, Zakayev deplored the rivalries and disagreements between the various Chechen factions. Asked whether he favors direct talks between the three main camps -- the ChRI leadership, most of whose prominent representatives are in exile, Umarov, and the pro-Moscow administration headed by Ramzan Kadyrov, Zakayev replied that "they are not against it and are focusing attention on that option." LF
WEBSITE CONTINUES TO DISPUTE REPORTED ELECTION TURNOUT IN INGUSHETIA
Magomed Yevloyev, proprietor of the independent website ingushetiya.ru, explained in an interview published in "Kommersant-Vlast" on December 10 how volunteers monitored voter turnout at virtually all polling stations in Ingushetia during the December 2 elections to the Russian State Duma. He repeated his previous estimate that fewer than 10 percent of the electorate cast their ballots, in contrast to the 98 percent claimed by the republic's administration (see "RFE/RL Newsline," December 3, 2007). Yevloyev added that of those who did participate in the vote, some 5 percent voted for Yabloko, which advocates the return to Ingushetian jurisdiction of North Ossetia's Prigorodny Raion. Ingushetiya.ru has received some 5,000 protests from voters affirming that they did not participate in the December 2 vote. LF
ARMENIAN PRESS GROUP CITES 'WORSENING' ELECTION COVERAGE
Speaking at a press conference, the head of Armenia's Yerevan Press Club, Boris Navasardian, released on December 10 a report citing a "worsening" of election coverage by the Armenian media, according to RFE/RL's Armenian Service. The monthly report, which monitors election-related news coverage carried by Armenian Public Television and Radio and six private television channels, stressed that the main broadcasters' coverage of the presidential election has been dominated by "openly promoting" the front-runner, Prime Minister Serzh Sarkisian, and attacking his most formidable opponent, former President Levon Ter-Petrossian. Navasardian noted that broadcasters have demonstrated an "unprecedented" bias against Ter-Petrossian, while consistently providing Sarkisian with "highly positive" coverage. The report further revealed that Public Television and Radio were "particularly active in vilifying" Ter-Petrossian, with the state-controlled H1 TV channel, the most accessible in the country, airing 47 "overwhelmingly critical" reports on Ter-Petrossian in November. Sarkisian's name, by contrast, figured in the news 148 times, almost always in a "positive context." RG
ARMENIAN PREMIER VISITS EUROPE
On the second day of a three-day working visit to Brussels and Strasbourg, Armenian Prime Minister Sarkisian met on December 10 with several senior officials, including EU foreign-policy chief Javier Solana, NATO Secretary-General Jaap de Hoop Scheffer, and Brussels Mayor Freddy Thielemans, Arminfo reported. During the meeting with Solana, Sarkisian noted that Armenia faces "a number of problems," including "the settlement of the Nagorno-Karabakh conflict, normalization of relations with Turkey, and the implementation" of second-generation reforms, and added that "despite frequent belligerent statements by Azerbaijan, there are still good possibilities for" the "peaceful settlement" of the Karabakh conflict. The Armenian delegation is set to go on to Strasbourg on December 11 for talks with Council of Europe Secretary-General Terry Davis, European Parliament President Hans-Gert Pottering, and EU Commissioner for External Affairs Benita Ferrero-Waldner. RG
AZERBAIJANI JOURNALISTS FREED AFTER PARTIALLY COMPLETING JAIL SENTENCE
Ilgar Nasibov, an RFE/RL correspondent, has been released on December 10 from jail in Azerbaijan after serving four days of a 90-day sentence on charges of libeling police in the country's Naxcivan exclave, RFE/RL's Azerbaijani Service reported. Nasibov was sentenced in connection with a letter he sent to Azerbaijan's president complaining about police harassment against journalists in the region (see "RFE/RL Newsline," December 7, 2007). During the court session, the unidentified judge who dismissed the charge and ordered the release of the jailed journalist, sentenced Nasibov to a one-year suspended sentence for libelous comments about local professors allegedly discovered during a police search of his computer. RG
AZERBAIJANI COURT SENTENCES GROUP LINKED TO IRAN
A Baku court on December 10 sentenced a group of 15 people convicted of plotting a coup with the backing of the Iranian intelligence services, RFE/RL's Azerbaijani Service and Turan reported. The prosecutor had asked for slightly higher sentences (see "RFE/RL Newsline," December 3, 2007). The alleged leader of the group, Said Dadashbeyli, was sentenced to 14 years in prison, while the others received sentences of between two and 14 years. Members of the group were first arrested in January and charged with high treason, plotting a coup, possessing illegal weapons, and manufacturing false documents. RG
PRO-GOVERNMENT DEPUTY PREDICTS EASY REELECTION FOR GEORGIAN PRESIDENT
Givi Targamadze, a senior parliamentarian from the ruling National Movement party, said on December 10 that he expects Georgian presidential candidate Mikheil Saakashvili to garner between 60 to 70 percent of the vote in the January 5 presidential election, Civil Georgia reported. Targamadze also criticized the Georgian opposition for "prejudging the election" by assuming it will be rigged, and adding that they are "only concerned with arranging postelection protest rallies." RG
KAZAKH SENATE APPROVES MILITARY TRANSIT ACCORD WITH GERMANY
The Senate, the upper house of the Kazakh parliament, voted on December 11 to ratify an agreement on military transit with Germany, Interfax-Kazakhstan reported. First reached in February, the agreement deals with the transit of German military equipment and personnel by "railway or air" through Kazakh territory as part of Germany's operations in stabilization and reconstruction efforts in Afghanistan. The Senate's approval follows the ratification of the bilateral accord by the Mazhilis, or lower house of parliament, in October (see "RFE/RL Newsline," November 1, 2007). RG
KYRGYZ OPPOSITION PARTY CRITICIZES PRESIDENT'S PARTICIPATION IN RULING PARTY CAMPAIGN
In a statement released in Bishkek, the opposition Ata-Meken (Fatherland) party appealed on December 12 to the Kyrgyz Central Election Commission protesting the participation of President Kurmanbek Bakiev in the campaign activities of the pro-government Ak-Jol Eldik Partiyasy (Best Path Popular Party), according to AKIpress. Citing the legislative restrictions on political campaign activities by Kyrgyz officials, Ata-Meken stressed the "direct violations" by Bakiev in supporting Ak-Jol. Ata-Meken's statement also criticized the extent of media coverage of campaign "events organized by the Ak-Jol party" by state "national television channels." RG
FORMER KYRGYZ MINISTER DEFENDS OPPOSITION FIGURE...
Former Foreign Minister Roza Otunbaeva on December 12 defended prominent opposition figure Edil Baisalov against recent criticism of his visit to Kazakhstan, according to AKIpress. Otunbaeva, a fellow member of the opposition Social Democratic Party, said that she is "disgusted" with recent statements by Tursunbek Akun, the head of the Kyrgyz presidential Human Rights Commission, in which he criticized Baisalov for allegedly "fleeing" the country (see "RFE/RL Newsline," December 10, 2007), arguing that he "is too serious a political figure" to be subjected to such unfair criticism. After recently arriving in Kazakhstan, Baisalov was forced to refute reports that he "fled" Kyrgyzstan, explaining that he left the country "legally" and for only a short time on a long-planned visit to Almaty. The Kyrgyz Prosecutor-General's Office recently launched a criminal investigation against Baisalov for allegedly "obstructing elections and inflicting material damage on the state," after he posted pictures of a sample ballot to be used in the December 16 parliamentary elections on his personal website (see "RFE/RL Newsline," December 7, 2007). The Central Election Commission has also rejected his candidacy in those elections (see "RFE/RL Newsline," December 4, 2007). RG
...AS KYRGYZ ELECTION COMMISSION THREATENS TO SUE HIS PARTY
In an announcement in Bishkek, Kyrgyz Central Election Commission Chairwoman Klara Kabilova on December 10 threatened to file a lawsuit against the opposition Social Democratic Party, AKIpress reported. Kabilova vowed to hold the party responsible for the costs of the commission's decision to destroy "all ballot papers" that have been prepared for the December 16 parliamentary elections (see "RFE/RL Newsline," December 4, 2007). During a visit to the printing house in Bishkek where the ballots were printed, Baisalov, a nonvoting member of the commission, said that he witnessed "no precise calculations or control over the number of printed ballots." Kabilova added that the commission will seek a court ruling ordering the party to be held liable for the compensation of damages of some $563,000. RG
KYRGYZ ACTIVIST ACCUSES AUTHORITIES OF ATTEMPTING TO CLOSE PRIVATE TELEVISION STATIONS
Speaking at a press conference in Bishkek, Tolekan Ismailova, the head of the Citizens Against Corruption human rights center, accused the Kyrgyz authorities of attempting "to close down private television channels" ahead of the December 16 parliamentary elections, the 24.kg website reported. Ismailova cited specific examples, arguing that the authorities targeted the Mezon TV channel in Osh by exerting pressure on the station on the grounds that it is in violation of laws requiring it "to broadcast most of their programs in Kyrgyz." A second local broadcaster operating in the southern region of Osh has also been accused of violating the state language law by broadcasting over 90 percent of its content in Uzbek (see "RFE/RL Newsline," November 16, 2007). Osh has a large Uzbek minority. RG
WHO OFFICIALS ANNOUNCE NEW AID TO COMBAT TB IN TAJIKISTAN
At a press conference in Dushanbe on December 10, Santino Severoni, the head of the World Health Organization (WHO) office in Tajikistan, announced that the UN Global Fund to Fight AIDS, Tuberculosis, and Malaria has allocated $17 million in assistance to combat tuberculosis (TB) in Tajikistan over the next five years, Asia-Plus reported. Severoni noted that the new aid package is a significant increase in funding for such programs in Tajikistan and that inadequate information and education and the lack of "adequate health-care institutions" are the most serious obstacles to eliminating the disease in the country. RG
NEW UN CENTER OPENED IN TURKMENISTAN
Turkmen President Gurbanguly Berdymukhammedov presided on December 10 over a ceremony marking the opening of a new UN regional center on preventive diplomacy in the Turkmen capital, Ashgabat, according to Interfax-Kazakhstan. The UN hailed the $2.3 million initiative, the UN Regional Center for Preventive Diplomacy for Central Asia, as formally empowered to "assist the governments of Turkmenistan, Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan, Tajikistan, and Uzbekistan in increasing their potential to resolve disputes peacefully and to prevent conflicts by [holding] dialogues and involving international support in the implementation of relevant projects." The opening ceremony was also attended by Tajik President Emomali Rahmon and the foreign ministers from all five Central Asian states. Berdymukhammedov welcomed the establishment of the UN center and added that it will engage in preventive diplomacy designed to seek an "early diagnosis" of regional problems, including "drug trafficking, trans-border organized crime, and attempts to spread radical extremist religious ideology," ITAR-TASS reported. RG
U.S. OFFICIAL CALLS ON TURKMENISTAN TO IMPROVE HUMAN RIGHTS PROTECTION
Speaking to reporters during a visit to Ashgabat, U.S. Deputy Assistant Secretary of State Erica Barks-Ruggles said on December 8 that she urged Turkmen officials to "take more active steps" to improve human rights protection, and to "cede control" over the Turkmen media, RFE/RL's Turkmen Service and Turkmen Television reported. She also called on the Turkmen government to "review" past prison sentences handed down during the tenure of late President Saparmurat Niyazov. RG
POLISH-BASED TV BELARUS STARTS TEST OPERATIONS
A Polish-based channel called TV Belarus on December 10 began trial broadcasts, Belapan and RFE/RL's Belarus Service reported. Alyaksey Dzikavitski, the head of the channel's news service, said that during the next two months the channel will broadcast for three hours each day, which will then be expanded to 16 hours daily. TV Belarus, which broadcasts into Belarus by satellite, is expected to provide "coverage of events in Belarus, Europe, and the rest of the world." The station was established in April under an agreement between Polish Television and the Polish Foreign Ministry, which provided $5.7 million for the project this year. AM
BELARUSIAN SMALL-BUSINESS OWNERS RALLY AGAINST RESTRICTIONS
Nearly 1,000 entrepreneurs took part in an unsanctioned demonstration in Minsk on December 10 against a presidential decree restricting the activities of small businesses, Belapan reported. Under the decree, starting from January 1, 2008, certain small-business owners will be barred from hiring employees other than three family members. The protest was organized by the unregistered organization For The Free Development of Enterprise. "The year 2008 may become the last year in the history of Belarusian enterprise," Viktar Harbachou, the organization's leader, told the rally. Harbachou warned that 10,000 people in each region might lose their jobs if the restriction comes into force. The protesters adopted and delivered to the cabinet a resolution urging the authorities to consider the legality of the decree and implement the EU's 12 demands for reform, including reform of the independent judiciary and liberalization of regulations governing private businesses. Police officers detained several protest participants. AM
UKRAINIAN PRESIDENT PROPOSES PROSECUTION FOR DENIAL OF HOLOCAUST, GREAT FAMINE
President Viktor Yushchenko has submitted to the Verkhovna Rada a bill criminalizing any public denials of the Nazi Holocaust or Ukraine's 1932-33 Great Famine, RFE/RL's Ukrainian Service reported on December 10. The draft proposes punishment of two years in prison or a fine of 100-300 times the Ukrainian monthly minimum wage, amounting to $9,000-$27,000. Repeat offenders could be imprisoned for four years. The Verkhovna Rada in 2006 recognized the Great Famine, orchestrated by the Soviet regime of Josef Stalin, as a genocide against the Ukrainian nation. AM
EU ACHIEVES 'VIRTUAL UNITY' ON KOSOVA...
The EU appeared close to achieving its goal of reaching a consensus on the future of Kosova following a meeting of foreign ministers on December 10. Swedish Foreign Minister Carl Bildt told reporters that there is only "one country who cannot accept" a solution for Kosovar independence without a UN resolution; other foreign ministers identified that country as Cyprus. Luxembourg's foreign minister, Jean Asselborn, said Cyprus's problem with independence for Kosova is "enormous," and there appears to be no prospect of Cyprus aligning itself with the EU; government spokesman Vasilis Palmas told reporters on December 10 that Cyprus views the question of Kosova's sovereignty as "a matter of principle" that it will uphold "even if it remains alone on this point." He said backing sovereignty "would be tantamount to shooting ourselves in the foot." Cyprus fears that a declaration of independence by Kosova could legitimate the creation in 1974 of a separatist administration in the Turkish-populated north of the island. Other countries were also reluctant to back independence without the support of the UN Security Council, but they have now dropped that objection, unnamed officials are reported as saying. Nonetheless, the differences were deep enough for a lunchtime discussion to overrun by a number of hours, the British daily "The Guardian" reported on December 12. "Most...countries would have liked that to be the case," Bildt pointed out, referring to the desire for a Security Council resolution. However, since that is not the case, "we will have to move forward," he told reporters. Efforts to persuade the Security Council to back Kosovar statehood foundered this summer on Russian opposition. The Brussels meeting, which came on the deadline for the latest -- and possibly last -- round of direct talks between Belgrade and Prishtina to be wrapped up, also addressed the practical question of setting up an EU mission in Kosova to assume responsibilities from the UN (see "RFE/RL Newsline," December 10, 2007). The consensus appears to have effectively been achieved before the meeting, with the current Portuguese presidency of the EU and the EU's foreign-policy chief, Javier Solana, expressing the conviction as they entered the talks that -- in Solana's words -- "we will be able to get a position in which members of the European Union will be together, and then taking the responsibility they have to take." AG
...AT CRITICAL JUNCTURE
The EU's newfound near-unanimity still needs to be confirmed by national leaders, who meet on December 14, and it could be sorely tested by Kosovar leaders' demands for speed, and by Serbian and Russian opposition. "The Guardian" observed on December 12, citing an unnamed "senior diplomat," that differences are still substantial enough to ensure that EU leaders will agree only to a "bland" statement on Kosova. Nonetheless, the indications suggest the EU may be closer to achieving its goal of averting a unilateral, unmanaged move by Kosova. More broadly, the convergence of EU positions on Kosova could also boost the emergence of a common EU foreign policy. Just how important unity is was underlined by Britain's foreign minister, David Miliband, who said, "the future of the EU will be decided by how it deals with the big challenges beyond its borders." "Kosovo is in Europe's backyard; it's vital to security," he added. Miliband said in September that "the external policy of the EU was born in the Balkans; it must not perish in the Balkans" (see "RFE/RL Newsline," September 10, 2007). Austria's Ursula Plassnik referred to the Kosova question as a test of "the maturity of European foreign policy." Sweden's Bildt focused more on the past than on the future, telling reporters that the EU "should not go back and repeat the mistakes of the early 1990s when Europe was divided." For his part, EU foreign-policy chief Solana highlighted the importance of the moment for Serbia and Kosova themselves rather than for the EU. "It is clear that the future of Serbia and Kosovo lies in the European Union," he told the German paper "Welt am Sonntag" on December 9. "That's something that both sides agree on." AG
NO NEW DETAILS EMERGE OF ROAD MAP FOR KOSOVA
The meeting of EU foreign ministers gave little additional indication of the next steps that the EU envisages. However, Luxembourg's Asselborn told reporters that in his view it would be best for Kosova to wait to declare independence until after February 3, when the second round of Serbia's presidential election is due to be held. Swedish Foreign Minister Bildt was concerned less about the date of a declaration by Kosova than about its future after independence, arguing that "the real problems are ahead of us." The EU will need "to help and assist Kosovo for a long period of time," he warned, arguing that "we [the EU states] need to tackle massive problems of unemployment, significant problems of corruption, a significant problem of despair among people who don't think they have any future." The head of the UN Mission in Kosova, Joachim Ruecker, said on December 10 that he expects a solution will be found "early in 2008." AG
RUSSIA RENEWS WARNING ABOUT KOSOVAR STATEHOOD...
While EU foreign ministers met to discuss Kosova's future in Brussels, Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov was in Cyprus, speaking to the one EU government that continues to oppose any move toward independence unsanctioned by the UN. Lavrov argued once again that such a move would violate international law, and warned that "those who devise such plans must weigh up the consequences very carefully." He did not indicate that Russia itself would take any action, but instead said that independence for Kosova would "create a chain reaction throughout the Balkans and other areas of the world." Russia has consistently argued for direct talks to last until Serbia and Kosova reach an agreement, and for any such agreement then to be backed by the UN. Kosova and the Western powers argue that all options for a negotiated settlement have now been exhausted, but Lavrov reiterated Russia's belief that there is still plenty of hope that Kosovar and Serbian leaders can strike a compromise, arguing that Serbia has "presented a whole series of specific proposals, compromise proposals" that deserve to be discussed further (see "RFE/RL Newsline," December 10, 2007). AG
...WHILE KOSOVA EMPHASIZES COORDINATED ACTION
As EU foreign ministers were recognizing the failure of efforts to broker a deal on the future of Kosova by backing independence for the UN-administered region, Kosova's leaders were reaffirming their intention to move toward statehood in consultation with the EU. The government's spokesman, Skender Hyseni, told reporters on December 10 that "from today Kosova is starting intense consultations with its international partners with the aim of coordinating steps for declaring independence, and the official demands for recognizing independence." He also said that Kosovar leaders have set no date for a declaration. He added that a declaration of independence is "not an issue of if, but when." While Hyseni also said that Kosova will "follow its own road map," the victor of November's parliamentary elections, Hashim Thaci, underlined in an interview published by the "Financial Times" on December 10 that "for us, recognition is as important as the declaration." The British daily reported that Thaci also said a declaration could be delayed until March. Hyseni predicted on December 10 that a declaration will "certainly be much earlier than May." Kosovar leaders had long argued that Kosova should declare independence within days of the December 10 "deadline" for a compromise deal. There was little indication, though, of impatience by the Kosovar population. Around 3,000 people marked the date by gathering in central Prishtina, but the banners and the speeches were dominated by assertions that independence is the only option, by flag-waving shows of solidarity with allies such as the United States and Albania, and by calls for Europe to unite behind Kosova's independence. There appeared to be little if any anger directed at the government itself. The government has assured the international community that it will preserve peace in Kosova. That commitment was reaffirmed on December 9 in a joint statement by the government and opposition. The statement also stressed Kosovars' "urgent need for clarity about [their] future." AG
BOSNIAN SERBS ELECT NEW PRESIDENT
Bosnia's Serbs have chosen a 76-year-old retired lawyer, Rajko Kuzmanovic, to be their president, preliminary reports suggest. With some votes still to be counted, Kuzmanovic appears to have garnered 42 percent of the popular vote in the Republika Srpska, which is home to most of Bosnia's roughly 1.2 million Serbs. The election was triggered by the death of Milan Jelic on September 30. As was Jelic, Kuzmanovic is a member of the Republika Srpska's -- and Bosnia's -- most popular party, the Alliance of Independent Social Democrats (SNSD). Second place, with 35 percent, was taken by Ognjen Tadic, the head of the Serbian Democratic Party (SDS), the party that led Bosnian Serbs during Bosnia's civil war; and third place, with 17 percent, went to Mladen Ivanic, a former foreign minister representing the Party of Democratic Progress (PDP). There were seven other candidates. Turnout was low, at about 36 percent. The election campaign itself was low-key, but for a while it was uncertain whether an election would be held, as the Republika Srpska's constitution does not stipulate procedures should a president die in office. The position itself is largely ceremonial. AG
RUSSIA'S SERDYUKOV AND HIS GENERALS
President Vladimir Putin's appointment of Anatoly Serdyukov as defense minister in February perplexed many observers because Serdyukov had no previous experience in national security policy. Indeed, he was previously head of the Federal Tax Service, where his mandate was to ferret out tax evasion and corruption within the government. However, it appears that not only has Serdyukov taken his new job seriously, but that it was his previous success that apparently commended him to Putin for this post.
Many commentators argue that Serdyukov's primary task is to tighten up on financial monitoring of the vast sums flowing through the Defense Ministry and ensure that they are spent on the troops and on procurement, not embezzled by corrupt officials. There is no doubt that prior to his appointment, widely publicized increases in defense spending intended to revitalize the armed forces yielded only meager results. Indeed, they still are meager, but at least Serdyukov unceremoniously sacked some of those who are deemed to be responsible for that state of affairs.
For instance, in May he fired Air Force Commander in Chief Colonel General Vladimir Mikhailov, who was kept on by Putin for three years past his mandatory retirement age. Mikhailov, who was replaced by one of his deputies, Colonel General Aleksandr Zelin, was apparently fired for corruption. But Mikhailov's deputy, chief of the Air Force Main Staff Colonel General Boris Cheltsov, was also fired at the same time and replaced by the commander of long-range aviation (the air leg of the nuclear triad), Lieutenant General Igor Khvorov.
Other generals have also been fired for either visible failures on the job or for what Putin and presumably Serdyukov regard as incompetence. Thus Serdyukov sacked Major General Konstantin Chmarov, the acting commander of the Plesetsk Cosmodrome, because of a widely publicized incident in August in which drunken officers beat a 20-year-old conscript, Sergei Sinkonen, to death. Serdyukov's decisive action is in stark contrast to the negligent and cavalier attitude towards hazing (dedovshchina) that his predecessor, Sergei Ivanov, showed in the face of a spate of similar deeply embarrassing scandals.
More recently, in November, after Putin publicly castigated the military leadership for the fact that many soldiers still live in "stinking slums," Serdyukov fired Deputy Defense Minister Lieutenant General Anatoly Grebenyuk, chief of the ministry's Housing and Settling Service. Likewise, at Serdyukov's request Putin fired General Vladislav Polonsky, chief of the Automobile, Tank, and Armored Vehicle Service, and General Igor Bykov, head of the ministry's Medical Department. Grebenyuk was held responsible for the housing shortage in which some 134,000 servicemen remain homeless, Bykov apparently paid the price for not building a hospital in the Far Eastern province of Kamchatka as requested by Putin, and Polonsky was known for candid comments that damaged the export possibilities for armored vehicles. So it seems that generals have not been dismissed solely for corruption, failure, or dereliction of duty.
Thus we do not know why Serdyukov has reshuffled the entire naval high command. Commander in chief Admiral Vladimir Masorin retired on reaching the retirement age of 60, unlike Mikhailov or Chief of Staff General Yury Baluyevsky, who turned 60 in January. Admiral Vladimir Vysotsky replaced Masorin; Vice Admiral Aleksandr Kletskov was appointed commander of the Black Sea Fleet, and Vice Admiral Nikolai Maksimov became commander of the Northern Fleet. Vice Admiral Konstantin Sidenko will be appointed to command the Pacific Fleet, and Vice Admiral Viktor Madrusin will become commander of the Baltic Fleet. Serdyukov gave as his reason for these reshuffles the need to ensure the navy's future development and to strengthen the combat readiness of naval forces. But obviously this is not very revealing.
Beyond these moves, Masorin has moved to reorganize the Defense Ministry's executive staff and replace Ivanov's men with his own, to Ivanov's clear displeasure. Thus Serdyukov has replaced First Deputy Minister General Aleksandr Belousov and Colonel General Aleksei Moskovsky, chief of the Armaments Directorate, and General Anatoly Mazurkevich, chief of the International Military Cooperation Directorate, and General Reznik, chief of the Military Hospitals Directorate. He also appointed new commanders for long-range aviation and the Airborne Troops.
He has promoted 20 generals to become army commanders, divisional commanders, and chiefs of academies and schools. He successfully added a sixth and seventh deputy minister, and recruited many tax specialists from his former office to help him supervise the army's finances. The seventh deputy minister, Oleg Eskin, will be in charge of information technology and communications, an innovative move that suggests Serdyukov attaches greater importance to that sector than any of his predecessors did. And finally he has promoted his own choice for the Airborne Troops, Colonel General Aleksandr Kolmakov, to first deputy minister, replacing Kolmakov with Lieutenant General Valery Yevtukhovich.
We cannot be certain if there is any overriding political or strategic purpose to these moves. Serdyukov has undoubtedly sought both to build his own team free from Ivanov's control and to distinguish himself in some ways from him. When Putin shuffled the cabinet in September and appointed Serdyukov's father-in-law, Viktor Zubkov, as prime minister, Serdyukov offered his resignation rather than risk accusations of nepotism, only to be brought back by Zubkov in what amounts to an orchestrated demonstration of transparency. Nonetheless, Serdyukov is clearly serious about imposing control over the ministry's expenditures and finances.
It also is unclear how these moves among commanders are related, if at all, to the presidential succession issue that is the alpha and omega of current Russian politics. Neither is it clear if there is a strategic rationale here, although it appears that many of Serdyukov's new commanders are both younger and have greater experience of nuclear issues than the men they replaced. Since Zubkov, and presumably also Serdyukov, are reportedly close to Igor Sechin's faction within the siloviki (people connected with the military, law enforcement, and security organs), the armed forces may now be tending in this direction as well, but again we cannot be certain.
Finally, it also remains unclear just how successful Serdyukov has been in reducing the level of corruption and waste or in reforming the army. Commanders still complain about insufficient procurement, and the campaign to recruit contract soldiers has proven a spectacular failure as there are complaints that they perform no better than do conscripts. In other words, the top brass still resists professional soldiers and appears to be prevailing on this issue.
Serdyukov's appointment also resulted in a greater role for the General Staff under Baluyevsky, which in turn means a further retreat from hopes for civilian, not to mention democratic, control over the military. So perhaps there is a new balance of power between Serdyukov and Baluyevsky. But there are also rumors of Baluyevsky's impending departure from his post. In other words, in Russian defense policy, as in so many other areas of the state, opacity remains the order of the day.
(Stephen Blank is a professor of national security affairs at the Strategic Studies Institute of the U.S. Army War College.)
BRITISH PREMIER MAKES FIRST VISIT TO SOUTHERN AFGHANISTAN...
On the same day that Afghan and foreign troops claimed success in retaking the town of Musa Qala from the Taliban in Helmand Province, British Prime Minister Gordon Brown on December 10 visited the main British base in Helmand, Camp Bastion, to boost morale among the soldiers fighting the insurgency, Afghan and international media reported. "I want to thank every one of you for what you have done [on] the front lines against the Taliban," Brown told the soldiers. "It is one of the most difficult of tasks. It is the most testing of times and it is one of the most important of missions, because to win here and to defeat the Taliban and make sure we can give strength to the new democracy of Afghanistan is important to defeating terrorism all around the world." Brown arrived in southern Afghanistan after a stop in Iraq. He also met with Afghan President Hamid Karzai in Kabul, and pledged Britain's full support "over the next few years". He did not indicate when Britain will begin to reduce its current troops level of about 7,800 servicepeople, most of whom are deployed in Helmand Province. At least 40 British soldiers have been killed in Afghanistan this year and 86 have died in the country since the fall of the Taliban in 2001. Also in Afghanistan, British Defense Secretary Des Browne told the BBC on December 10 that NATO commanders' requests by for additional troops and resources in Afghanistan are not being met, and appealed for "additional support" from allied countries. "We continue to discuss with our allies and our friends across the international community who can help provide the additional support that that military effort needs," Browne said. He acknowledged that "the insurgency is still strong in parts" of southern Afghanistan. Referring to the success of a recent joint military operation to dislodge the Taliban from Musa Qala, Browne said, "I believe that over this winter again, we will see another significant shift in our ability to create security, which I hope the Afghans can then take advantage of." He added, "This is going to be a long-term project." MM
NO DECISION FROM AUSTRALIA ON EXTENDING DEPLOYMENT IN AFGHANISTAN
Australian Defense Minister Joel Fitzgibbon on December 9 rejected news reports that Australia will extend its troop deployments in Afghanistan, saying that no commitment has been made to extend the mandate, which expires in August 2008, Australian and international media reported. Fitzgibbon made the statement after news reports quoted the Dutch government as telling its parliament that Australia will join the Netherlands in extending troop deployments in Afghanistan until 2010. Fitzgibbon is scheduled to travel to Edinburgh for a meeting of defense ministers from "Regional Command South," the coalition grouping that directs military operations in southern Afghanistan, to discuss the issue. Australia has some 900 troops in Afghanistan, most of whom assist in a Dutch-led reconstruction operation in the southern province of Oruzgan, a former Taliban stronghold. MM
WATCHDOG WARNS OF DEEPENING CORRUPTION IN AFGHANISTAN
Integrity Watch Afghanistan, an independent research group, on December 9 released a study warning that corruption permeates the Afghan government and "poses a danger to the nation's efforts at stability and security," Pajhwak Afghan News reported. The report, based on a survey of the Afghan public in eight provinces, warns that "a 'bazaar economy' has developed where every position, favor, and service can be bought and sold." The deepening culture of corruption is described as ranging from officials' daily demands for bribes to get things done to civil servants' buying and keeping their positions. The study concludes that "public perceptions of widespread corruption result in disenchantment with the government." MM
IAEA INSPECTORS RENEW NUCLEAR TALKS IN IRAN
Iranian officials and a team from the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) began talks in Tehran on December 10 intended to clarify aspects of Iran's nuclear program, Reuters reported. The talks are part of a program of cooperation and clarification the two sides agreed on last summer. This round of talks is to focus on the source of traces of highly enriched uranium -- which could be used in the production of weapons -- found by IAEA inspectors at a Tehran technical university. EU foreign-policy chief Javier Solana, who has negotiated with Iran on behalf of Western states about its contested program, said in Brussels on December 10 that the EU will not change its policy toward Iran for now and could continue the "dual-track approach" of incentives and the threat of more sanctions to induce Iran to cease enriching uranium, Reuters reported. A recent U.S. intelligence report concluded that Iran probably halted its suspected weapons program in 2003 (see "RFE/RL Newsline," December 4, 5, and 6, 2007). VS
JOURNALISTS DETAINED, CONVICTED IN IRAN
Adel Mazari, the editor of the weekly "Sobh-i Zahedan," based in Zahedan in the southeastern Sistan va Baluchistan province, was summoned to court on December 8 and sent to jail, apparently after a complaint by the provincial governor's office over an article, Radio Farda reported on December 10, citing Iranian media. Mazari is charged with "inciting opinion" in its reports, the daily "Etemad-i Melli" reported. Citing unnamed sources, Radio Farda reported that the provincial governorate's complaints may be related to a recent report of police killing a 12-year-old Baluchi girl in the area. A Tehran court separately sentenced on December 10 the editor of the banned daily "Entekhab" and its website to four months in jail and a fine of a little over $100 for "inciting opinion with false reports" and insulting the Ansar-i Hizbullah, a right-wing militant group. It was not immediately clear when the alleged offense occurred; "Entekhab" was one of Iran's more conservative dailies. Radio Farda also reported the arrest in western Iran on November 26 of journalist Omid Ahmadzadeh. He wrote for the weeklies "Didgah" and "Nasu" based in Sanandaj in the western Kurdistan Province. Purported Intelligence Ministry agents searched his house on November 26 and took him to an unknown place, Radio Farda reported on December 10. VS
IRANIAN LEGISLATOR UPSET OVER PRESIDENT'S DOHA VISIT
Ahmad Tavakkoli, the head of the parliamentary research center and one of Iran's more prominent conservative politicians, has written to President Mahmud Ahmadinejad to criticize his recent visit to Doha, Qatar, to attend a summit of the Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC), Radio Farda reported on December 9, citing Iranian news agencies (see "RFE/RL Newsline," December 5 and 6, 2007). Tavakkoli complained that Ahmadinejad went to Doha not because he was invited, but after a request to the GCC by the Iranian Foreign Ministry, Radio Farda reported, adding that this contradicted assertions by officials. The visit was presented in Iran as an unprecedented diplomatic happening. Tavakkoli asked why the Foreign Ministry asked for an invitation when the GCC habitually ends its summits by reiterating the United Arab Emirates' claim to three disputed Persian Gulf islands. He wrote that the claim was repeated this time -- a day after Ahmadinejad addressed GCC rulers -- in a communique that did not fail to mention that the Iranian president was not invited. He also criticized what he termed an overenthusiastic response by Iranian officials to the recent U.S. National Intelligence Estimate on Iran's nuclear program, saying this gives credibility to "such reports." This is "clearly not in our interest," Tavakkoli continued, as "the next report with greater credibility can be drafted against us." VS
MURDERER HANGED IN IRAN
Authorities hanged a man convicted of murder at an unspecified date inside the prison in Qazvin, northeast of Tehran, "Iran" reported on December 10. He had been convicted of strangling his 20-year-old sister-in-law in January 2000, apparently following a family feud. She was pregnant when she died, "Iran" reported. VS
MILITANTS DEMONSTRATE OUTSIDE JUDICIARY IN TEHRAN
While other media have reported on the antigovernment demonstrations in Tehran University in recent days, the pro-government daily "Iran" has reported a demonstration outside the judiciary in Tehran on December 9 by about 500 students and members of the state-affiliated Basij militia. They were protesting against the judiciary's allegedly poor response to corruption and its handling of the case against Hossein Musavian, a former diplomat accused of spying (see "RFE/RL Newsline," November 28 and 30, 2007). The gathering included right-wing parliamentarians, politicians, and representatives of the Basij from four Tehran universities, "Iran" reported. Tehran representative Mehdi Kuchakzadeh addressed the crowd and asked if the judiciary received a "passing grade" in its fight against corruption in recent years. He asked what judiciary chief Ayatollah Mahmud Hashemi-Shahrudi has done to improve the "wreck" Shahrudi said the judiciary was when he took it over (see End Note, "RFE/RL Newsline," August 23, 2007). Another legislator, Elias Naderan, said the judiciary has been weak and "delayed" the fight against corruption. Tehran's chief prosecutor, Said Mortazavi, also addressed the crowd and said he has ordered an interrogator handling Musavian's case to "put aside everything" to process it. He said the fate of the case will be clarified in a month. His speech concluded the gathering and demonstrators then dispersed, "Iran" reported. Shahrudi has intermittently provoked the ire of conservatives for his apparently moderating legal and political positions. VS
IRANIAN MINISTER RESIGNATION RUMORS PERSIST
Speaking to Fars news agency in Tehran, Finance Minister Davud Danesh-Jafari rejected on December 9 reports of his resignation. He said the rumors may be due to current changes in the cabinet (see "RFE/RL Newsline," December 7 and 10, 2007), which he described as normal. Separately, ISNA reported on December 9 the removal in northeastern Iran of the Mashhad district governor, Hasan Movahedian, who said: "I did not resign and have not retired. Provincial administrators decided to name someone else in my place," adding that it would be wrong "if I said I am happy to be leaving." ISNA did not elaborate on the reason for his removal. Reformist parliamentarian Qodratollah Alikhani said on December 9 that "these changes are not good for the country," and reappointments in the Ahmadinejad government are "sometimes not normal" and show that "it lacks stability," "Aftab-i Yazd" reported on December 10. Another representative and member of the parliamentary National Security and Foreign Policy Committee, Reza Talai-Nik, called on December 9 for more transparency in the changes, and said "fundamentalists" or conservatives are currently "seriously" concerned by the frequency of reappointments, "Aftab-i Yazd" reported. VS
IRAQI FOREIGN MINISTER POINTS TO POLITICAL, SECURITY PROGRESS
Foreign Minster Hoshyar Zebari told reporters at a December 10 press briefing in Baghdad that Iraq issued a formal request on December 7 to extend the UN mandate in Iraq for another year. "One of the important reasons which led to an improvement in the security situation was the professionalism of the Iraqi armed and security forces in implementing the security plan, but our armed forces and security services still need more training, rehabilitation, and sometimes cleansing so that they will be trusted by all citizens," Zebari said. "Therefore, extending the mandate of the multinational forces will be [for] the last [time]. We will end the situation which existed during the past four years." He noted that British forces will hand over authority over security in Al-Basrah Governorate to Iraqi forces on December 16. Zebari said progress made on the security front must be followed up with political reconciliation and economic development. Regarding his ministry's work, Zebari said Iraq now has 75 diplomatic missions throughout the world, while some 233 diplomats were trained by host countries this year. Zebari also cited better regional cooperation on security, saying it helped stem the flow of foreign fighters to Iraq. Asked about reports that Turkey will issue a general amnesty to the Kurdistan Workers Party (PKK), Zebari said: "We consider this a positive statement. We support any effort made to calm down the situation and resolve things peacefully." Following the press briefing, Zebari left for Damascus for meetings with Syrian officials. KR
IRAQI SECURITY OFFICIAL SAYS GOVERNMENT TO LAUNCH LARGE-SCALE BATTLE AGAINST AL-QAEDA...
National security adviser Muwaffaq al-Rubay'i told Al-Sharqiyah television on December 10 that the government is planning to launch a large-scale operation against Al-Qaeda in the area between Mosul and Kirkuk. Al-Rubay'i noted that the security situation has vastly improved throughout the country, and a decisive victory against Al-Qaeda is at hand. "I can say the final defeat of Al-Qaeda is imminent.... We are now preparing for one last battle to face Al-Qaeda in the suburban areas of Kirkuk, Ninawah Governorate, and some other areas. We are planning carefully for this battle, which will strike a deadly blow to terrorism in Iraq," he said. KR
...AS IRAQI GENERAL SAYS 10,000 AL-QAEDA FIGHTERS ARRESTED THIS YEAR
Iraqi military spokesman Brigadier General Qassim Ata al-Musawi told the London-based website "Ilaf" in an interview published on December 8 that security efforts over the past year have led to the arrest of more than 10,000 members of Al-Qaeda. "We dismantled most of the [Al-Qaeda-affiliated] groups. We penetrated their database and uncovered their intelligence methods. All of their activities are exposed now," Ata said, referring to security operations since the launch of the surge in February. While many of the fighters were from neighboring states, the majority of those arrested were Iraqis, he said. "The Iraqis are not ideologically affiliated with Al-Qaeda. They joined in exchange for financial payment," Ata said, adding that Iraqis were paid to provoke sectarian tensions. He added that militias have "infiltrated government institutions," and "the state has now given us instructions to place them under surveillance." Asked whether Iran supplies Al-Qaeda with weapons, Ata said: "Al-Qaeda has other non-Iranian sources of weapons. We know where they originate and their types. It is the organized crime gangs that use Iranian weapons." Ata credited the surge launched in February to the increase in security. "As a military man, I can see that the situation is improving. The security forces have achieved very important results and restored normal life to [Baghdad].... We can expect that all of Baghdad's neighborhoods will be secure and stable within the next few months." He noted the situation in the governorates is also improving. KR
KURDISH REGIONAL SPOKESMAN DISCUSSES OIL DISPUTE WITH IRAQI GOVERNMENT...
Jamal Mustafa, a spokesman for Kurdistan regional government (KRG) Prime Minister Nechirvan Barzani, told Al-Sharqiyah television on December 10 that a delegation headed by Barzani arrived in Baghdad earlier that day to work to resolve the ongoing dispute with Baghdad over the region's signing of oil contracts, which the central government has said are illegal. Mustafa said the KRG maintains that it has signed oil-exploration agreements in accordance with the Iraqi Constitution and law. "The aim of the oil contracts is to secure as much investment as possible in Iraq, and the entire world knows that the Iraqi people from Al-Basrah to Zakho badly need electricity, water, job opportunities, hospitals, schools, and other services and facilities," he said. "As oil is the basic commodity in Iraq, do we not invest in this precious resource to get financial revenues and meet the needs of the Iraqi citizens...? Let us look to the future, refresh the economic life of citizens, and meet the Iraqi people's needs instead of making accusations and entering into personal, political, and party polemics." Oil wealth is an Iraqi national commodity, rather than a Kurdish commodity, and therefore cannot be sold or exported without the consent of the federal government in Baghdad, he added. KR
...AND PESHMERGA BUDGET
Prime Minister Barzani will also call on Baghdad to approve the federal budget for the Kurdish peshmerga militia, Mustafa told Al-Sharqiyah on December 10. Media reports last week indicated that the peshmerga are quitting in record numbers, citing a lack of pay. Some peshmerga claimed to have gone two months without being paid. Others complained their monthly salary was half that of Iraqi Army officers. "The Kurdistan region's guard forces are not armed forces of an independent state," Mustafa said. "They belong to a federal region affiliated with the new Iraqi state and are part of the overall defense system and policy. This issue cannot be subject to any discussion so long as we all agree that these forces are part of the Iraqi armed forces and the Iraqi defense policies." KR
IRAQI POLICEWOMEN ORDERED TO HAND IN THEIR WEAPONS...
The Iraqi Interior Ministry has ordered all female police officers to turn in their weapons for redistribution to male officers or face having their pay withheld, the "Los Angeles Times" reported on December 11. The order, issued late last month, is seen as an attempt to drive women from the police force because of religious and cultural norms. U.S. Army Brigadier General David Phillips, who led the effort to recruit female police officers, said the ministry's claim that the weapons were needed for men is false. There are more than 8,600 pistols in storage in the ministry's Baghdad warehouse, and another 120,000 are due to arrive in the coming months. Policewomen interviewed by the daily said they have been relegated to desk jobs in recent months. Meanwhile, men assigned to desk duty have been allowed to keep their guns. Phillips said one ministry official told him: "Females are taken care of by men in this country. They are not out there being police officers." KR
...WHICH MAY IMPACT SECURITY ON THE STREET
The absence of women officers on the streets will pose a problem for security, as female officers are routinely used to search women during security searches and raids, U.S. officials acknowledged. The number of female suicide bombers has also increased, with five since the start of the year and two in the last month. Moreover, female officers have also complained that they are unable to protect themselves both on- and off-duty without their weapons, the "Los Angeles Times" reported. Brigadier General Phillips said the U.S. military graduated 1,000 female officers in 2004. Since the Iraqi government assumed responsibility for recruiting and training officers in 2006, the number of female recruits has dropped to nearly zero, the daily reported. Phillips said a handful of women are on duty in Al-Anbar Governorate, paid by the U.S. military. "When we stop paying, they stop getting paid," he said. Iraqi law still prevents women from advancing to commanding-officer levels, he added, and women have complained to him about limited opportunities for advancement and harassment by male colleagues. Interior Ministry officials could not be reached for comment. KR