MOSCOW VOWS TO BLOCK ECONOMIC SANCTIONS AGAINST SYRIA...
Foreign Ministry spokesman Mikhail Kamynin said on the sidelines of Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov's visit to Jerusalem on 26 October that Russia will oppose an anticipated proposal to impose economic sanctions on Syria, RTR and other Russian media reported. "Russia will do everything necessary to stop attempts to introduce sanctions against Syria," Kamynin said, according to Interfax. He said Lavrov will participate in the 31 October debate in the UN over the draft resolution, which the United States, the United Kingdom, and France are expected to introduce. VY
...AS FOREIGN MINISTER VISITS ISRAEL
Foreign Minister Lavrov arrived in Israel on 26 October for a "thorough discussion of the situation in Syria and Lebanon, as well as in Iraq" with the Israeli leadership, including President Moshe Katzav and Israeli Foreign Minister Silvan Shalom, ITAR-TASS reported. Shalom vowed ahead of his meeting with Lavrov to raise Israeli concerns over Russian arms supplies to Damascus, MIGnews.com reported. "Syria is already destabilizing the situation in the region and any cooperation with it, particularly weapon sales, could bring more instability," Shalom said. At their joint news conference, Lavrov said Russia wants "the killers of [former Lebanese Prime Minister] Rafiq Hariri to be punished" and he encouraged Damascus to cooperate with the UN investigation into the bombing that killed Hariri and 20 others in Beirut in February, RTR reported. Lavrov disagreed with Shalom, who alleged at the news conference that "Iran is a direct and obvious threat, as it tries to buy time to make a nuclear bomb," RIA-Novosti reported. Lavrov said Russia opposes Tehran's possession of nuclear weapons but that concerns about the Iranian nuclear program should be addressed "by professionals" from the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA). VY
PUTIN CALLS SHANGHAI COOPERATION GROUP AN 'IMPORTANT FACTOR IN WORLD POLITICS'...
Speaking at a meeting of Shanghai Cooperation Organization (SCO) heads of government in Moscow on 26 October, President Vladimir Putin said the organization has become an "influential factor" in global politics, Channel One and other media reported. "The total population of Shanghai Cooperation Organization member countries and observer countries is more than 3 billion people, and during such meetings the leaders of these countries, the heads of the governments of our countries, make and will continue to make decisions that influence the social and economic well-being of an overwhelming majority of the population of our planet," Putin said, according to RFE/RL's Russian Service. Putin added that joint antiterrorism efforts remain a priority for the SCO, and he also equated the recent raids in Nalchik with the unrest in Uzbekistan in May as "examples of the terrorist threat." The SCO comprises Russia, China, Kazakhstan, Uzbekistan, Kyrgyzstan, and Tajikistan, while Iran, India, Pakistan, and Mongolia enjoy observer status. VY
...AS RUSSIAN COMMENTATORS DISMISS WESTERN CONCERNS ABOUT NEW 'ANTI-NATO' BLOC
Duma Foreign Affairs Committee Chairman Konstantin Kosachev (Unified Russia) rejected a recent commentary in "The Christian Science Monitor" suggesting that the Shanghai Cooperation Organization represents an effort to create a new anti-NATO military alliance (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 26 October 2005), gazeta.ru reported. "That publication follows the classical logic of American analysts that everything that happens in the world without their country is directed against it," Kosachev said. Pro-Kremlin Politika Foundation head Vyacheslav Nikonov said contradictions between SCO members like China, India, and Pakistan are so great that talk of a military bloc is impossible now and in the foreseeable future, TV-Tsentr reported. The human resources and economic potential of the SCO make Western concerns understandable, Nikonov said. Twenty years from now, China and India might well become the largest and third-largest economies in the world, he said, adding that nuclear and energy superpower Russia could become the fifth-largest economy in the world. VY
RUSSIA SEEKS GREATER INFLUENCE IN AFGHANISTAN
President Putin's envoy for international organized crime, Anatolii Safonov, has indicated that Moscow wants a greater role for the Collective Security Treaty Organization (CSTO) in stabilizing Afghanistan, MosNews reported on 25 October, citing Interfax. Safonov reportedly said the NATO-led International Security Assistance Force (ISAF) has not provided an "effective solution to the problems of terrorism and narcotics" in Afghanistan. "Russia has repeatedly proposed NATO-CSTO cooperation" in Afghanistan, he said, "but we have not heard a substantive answer from Brussels." ISAF policy has dictated that it avoid involvement in counternarcotics operations, but there are reports that suggest NATO will assume more drug-fighting responsibilities as it expands its presence in Afghanistan. AT
ENERGY MINISTER SAYS RUSSIAN COMPANIES HAVE INVESTED $1 BILLION IN U.S.
Visiting Industry and Energy Minister and Deputy Prime Minister Viktor Khristenko told U.S. President George W. Bush in Washington on 25 October that Russian companies have invested $1 billion in the United States so far this year, according to the Russian Energy Ministry's press service as quoted by RIA-Novosti and other Russian media. Khristenko singled out Severstal, Norilsk Nickel, and LUKoil for mention. "If some people think it is capital flight from Russia, I am totally in favor of such flight," Khristenko, who is heading a delegation of Russian businesspeople and industrialists to the United States, was quoted as saying. Khristenko and Bush discussed bilateral economic and energy-sector cooperation, according to RIA-Novosti. Khristenko also met with U.S. Energy Secretary Sam Bodman and Commerce Secretary Carlos Gutierrez, reportedly telling them that Russian pipeline monopoly Transneft will attract Western investment to build a Far Eastern oil pipeline to Russia's Pacific coast. VY
ANALYST SAYS RUSSIA DOESN'T WANT TO BE 'EUROPE'S GAS STATION'
CIS Institute Deputy Director Vladimir Zharikhin said on 26 October that Russia and Kazakhstan are unhappy with a situation in which 90 percent of their energy resources are exported to the West, strana.ru reported. The center of global economic development is shifting eastward and that is the Shanghai Cooperation Organization's orientation as well, Zharikhin said. "We might like European culture, but Russia's economic interests will be directed toward the centers of accelerating economic growth, namely China and India," Zharikhin said. VY
SWISS COURT SENTENCES AIR-TRAFFIC CONTROLLER'S KILLER TO PRISON
A Zurich court sentenced Russian national Vitalii Kaloev on 26 October to eight years in prison for killing air-traffic controller Peter Nielsen, who was on duty when two aircraft collided over Lake Constance in mid-2002, Russian and international media reported. Russian public opinion has suggested widespread sympathy for Kaloev, whose wife and two children were among the 71 people killed in the air disaster (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 2, 3, 10, and 15 July 2002 and 26 October 2005). The Russian Justice Ministry has announced that it will seek Kaloev's repatriation so that he can serve his prison sentence in Russia. RTR called Kaloev's saga another element of a tragedy "for which Skyguide controllers are responsible." Dmitrii Rogozin, the leader of Motherland party, accused Swiss authorities of a "cover-up" and questioned why they have not punished air-traffic controllers in the case. VY
UPPER CHAMBER APPROVES NEW BILL ON REGIONS...
The Federation Council on 26 October approved amendments to the federal law on prosecutors, Russian news agencies reported. The bill requires the prosecutor-general to present an annual report in person to the upper legislative chamber about his work, according to RosBalt. The vote was 134 in favor with no votes against. The council also confirmed a bill amending the constitutional law on the adoption and formation of new subjects of the Russian Federation, regions.ru reported. The amendments establish norms for merging regions into larger units. JAC
...AND CONFIRMS NEW JUDGES
The Federation Council confirmed the appointment of five judges to the Supreme Court on 26 October, Russian news agencies reported. The five are Anatolii Brizitskii, Viktor Yermilov, Sergei Zelenin, Vasilii Zykhin, and Lyudmila Kalinina. Brizitskii and Yermilov were already Supreme Court judges, but their terms were expiring because they had reached the age of 65, according to RosBalt. Their return to the court became possible only after the adoption of a law raising the maximum age of Supreme Court judges to 70. Zelinin previously worked as a judge in Tula Oblast and Zykhin in Kaluga Oblast. Kalinina had no experience as a judge. Her most recent experience was working on the faculty of administrative law at the Moscow Juridical Academy. JAC
MOSCOW THEATER VICTIMS' GROUP REQUESTS NEW INVESTIGATION
Representatives of a public organization for the victims of the hostage taking at the Dubrovka Theater in Moscow in October 2002 announced on 26 October, the third year anniversary of the event, that they believe as many as 174 people died, Channel One reported. The official death toll is 130. In a survey conducted by the Yurii Levada Center earlier in the month, 82 percent of respondents said they believe either that the authorities have told only part of the truth about the event or that they are hiding the truth. The percentage of people who believe that the government told the whole truth has declined from 9 percent in November 2002 to 4 percent in October 2005. JAC
INTERIOR MINISTER COMPLAINS ABOUT LOCAL POLICE
Speaking in the city of Shadrinsk in Kurgan Oblast on 26 October, Interior Minister Rashid Nurgaliev said that he has visited many regions over the last few months and that data on solving crimes is being falsified everywhere, Ekho Moskvy reported. Nurgaliev said more than half of the police officers in raion and city police stations are under the age of 30, which means they lack the necessary experience for police work. He called the situation in raion-level police departments "catastrophic." According to ITAR-TASS, Nurgaliev also said that the number of criminal offenses committed by police "increases every year." JAC
SUPPORT FOR THIRD PUTIN TERM RISING IN FAR EAST LEGISLATURE
Legislators in Primorskii Krai rejected on 26 October for the second time an initiative that would excise from the federal constitution the ban on presidents serving more than two terms, "Kommersant-Daily" reported on 27 October. The initiative was sponsored by Adam Imadaev, who first offered the bill in September. At the time, he said that he saw the presidency as being suited for Vladimir Putin exclusively. According to the daily, Imadaev's bill fell just three votes short of passage this time and, since he gained five supporters since the previous vote, he might find enough support for the bill on a third attempt. One of the bill's supporters, Leonid Beltyukov, said, "If Peter the Great had had only eight years, he never would have managed to open a window to Europe." The daily claimed that other supporters of the bill do not wish to acknowledge their backing publicly. JAC
BELARUS MAY GET NEW AMBASSADOR
"Kommersant-Daily" on 26 October quoted unidentified sources as saying the presidential administration has found a candidate for the post of Russian ambassador to Belarus in former Altai Krai Governor Aleksandr Surikov. Surikov was defeated by the late comedian Mikhail Yevdokimov in the 2004 gubernatorial election and has since worked as a deputy presidential envoy to the Siberian Federal District. Moscow's last choice for ambassador, former Saratov Oblast Governor Dmitrii Ayatskov, offended official Belarus with comments he made at a news conference in Saratov on 19 July before assuming his post (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 20 July 2005). JAC
ARMENIAN PRIME MINISTER DENIES OPPOSITION PARTY IS DISCRIMINATED AGAINST
Andranik Markarian told journalists on 26 October that the failure to make a government meeting hall available to the opposition Hanrapetutiun party for its congress does not constitute discrimination, Noyan Tapan reported. Markarian said the hall was unavailable on the date requested. Hanrapetutiun Chairman Aram Sargsian, who was Markarian's predecessor as prime minister, opted instead to convene the congress outdoors in central Yerevan (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 26 October 2005). LF
KARABAKH LEADER SAYS WORK ON DRAFT CONSTITUTION CONTINUES
Arkadii Ghukasian, president of the unrecognized Nagorno-Karabakh Republic, told RFE/RL's Armenian Service on 26 October that he anticipates that work on the unrecognized republic's constitution will be completed by the end of this year. It will then be presented to the unrecognized republic's legislature and put to a referendum. He said the composition of the drafting committee should be amended to include representatives of the political parties that first entered parliament as the result of the legislative elections in June. Ghukasian personally chairs that commission, which held its first session on 3 June 2004, according to Noyan Tapan. He also raised the possibility that the draft amendments to the Armenian constitution, which are to be put to a nationwide referendum on 27 November, might in turn necessitate changes to the republic's draft constitution. LF
COUNCIL OF EUROPE, U.S. HAIL AZERBAIJANI ELECTION MOVES
Council of Europe Secretary-General Terry Davis welcomed on 26 October Azerbaijani President Ilham Aliyev's instructions of the previous day aimed at ensuring the 6 November parliamentary elections are free and fair, Turan reported on 27 October (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 26 October 2005). He said the proposed measures "improve the prospects for impartial conduct by the state authorities" during the vote. Davis noted with particular satisfaction the authorities' decision to mark voters' fingers with indelible ink to preclude multiple voting. In Washington, U.S. State Department spokesman Sean McCormack said Aliyev's proposals will bolster the integrity and transparency of the ballot, and he urged the Azerbaijani authorities to implement them as swiftly as possible, Turan reported. In Baku, U.S. Ambassador Reno Harnish characterized Aliyev's instructions as "a new and positive step in Azerbaijan's democratic development, day.az reported. LF
SUPPORTERS OF ONE ARRESTED AZERBAIJANI EX-MINISTER THREATEN PUBLIC PROTESTS...
Rizvan Talybov, who heads the recently created committee to defend the rights of arrested former Health Minister Ali Insanov (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 26 October 2005), told journalists in Baku on 26 October that he believes Insanov's arrest on charges of plotting a coup d'etat was orchestrated by a faction within the Azerbaijani leadership that hopes to oust President Aliyev, Azerbaijani media reported. Talybov stressed that Insanov is one of an estimated 4 million Azerbaijanis whose families were either resettled from Armenia in the 1950s or fled the then Nagorno-Karabakh Autonomous Oblast in 1988-89. He said 5,000 members of that community, which he claimed played a key role in the advent to power in 1993 of Ilham Aliyev's father Heidar Aliyev, have already signed a petition demanding Insanov's release on bail, and he warned that tens of thousands of Insanov's supporters will take to the street in protest if that request is ignored. LF
...AS FATHER OF A SECOND APPEALS TO AZERBAIJANI PRESIDENT
Gusein Yusifov, the father of former Finance Minister Fikret Yusifov, who reportedly informed the authorities of the planned coup attempt in which he implicated Insanov, Economic Development Minister Farkhad Aliev, and former parliamentary speaker Rasul Guliev, has written to President Aliyev to register concern that Fikret Yusifov has not yet been permitted to meet with his lawyers, day.az reported on 27 October. Gusein Yusifov said he has not been able to obtain any news of his son, who is reportedly being held in solitary confinement at a State Security Ministry facility, and he requested the president's help in securing a meeting with his son. LF
SOUTH OSSETIA PROTESTS GEORGIAN EFFORTS TO SOLICIT U.S. SUPPORT IN RESOLVING CONFLICT
Murat Djioev, who is foreign minister of the unrecognized Republic of South Ossetia, told regnum.ru on 26 October that he thinks Georgian Prime Minister Zurab Noghaideli's recent meetings in Washington with top U.S. officials, including U.S. Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice, reflect Tbilisi's lack of interest in resolving its conflict with South Ossetia peacefully. Noghaideli reportedly outlined to U.S. officials earlier this week a revised version of the peace plan unveiled in January by President Mikheil Saakashvili, and is scheduled to present that new proposal to the OSCE Permanent Council in Vienna on 27 October, Georgian media reported. At the same time, Djioev reaffirmed South Ossetia's commitment to seeking a "peaceful and just" solution to the conflict. LF
ABKHAZIA DENIES RENEGING ON COMMITMENTS TO UN
Abkhazia has never made formal commitments to the UN with regard to the opening of an UN human rights office in Gali Raion, the deployment there of UN civilian police, or the use of Georgian as the language of instruction in Gali schools, Caucasus Press on 26 October quoted Republic of Abkhazia Foreign Minister Sergei Shamba as saying. Shamba was responding to a 19 October report to the UN Security Council by UN Secretary-General Kofi Annan. Annan said in that report that "despite earlier positive indications," the Abkhaz authorities have not yet given the green light for the opening of the human rights office, and that orders that teaching in Gali schools must in future be conducted in Russian, not Georgian, have left some schools with only a skeleton staff. LF
ABKHAZ OPPOSITION CALLS FOR CONSTITUTIONAL REFORM
The public political organization Aytayra, which one year ago backed Sergei Bagapsh's ultimately successful presidential bid, has issued a statement calling for urgent reforms of the constitution to enable state structures to address more effectively the problems facing the unrecognized republic, apsny.ru reported on 26 October. The statement listed among those threats unfavorable demographic trends, the high incidence of drug addiction and "dangerous viral diseases," and failure to make any progress in the fight against crime and corruption, including political murders and failed attempts early this year to assassinate Prime Minister Aleksandr Ankvab (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 1 March and 4 April 2005). It noted that Bagapsh's campaign promises included reforming and strengthening the government, but he has not yet embarked on doing so. LF
KAZAKH PARLIAMENT RATIFIES SCO CONVENTION
Kazakhstan's lower chamber of parliament, the Mazhilis, ratified a convention on 26 October on privileges and immunities for the Shanghai Cooperation Organization (SCO), "Kazakhstan Today" reported. Under the convention, SCO facilities and staff will have the same privileges and immunities accorded to diplomatic missions, Deputy Foreign Minister Askar Shakirov told deputies. SCO assets and property will also have tax-exempt status. The convention now advances to the upper chamber of parliament. The SCO comprises China, Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan, Russia, Tajikistan, and Uzbekistan. DK
KYRGYZ PROTESTERS SEEK PARLIAMENT'S DISSOLUTION...
Protesters demonstrated for a fifth day in Bishkek on 26 October, saying that they now want to seek the dissolution of parliament after the legislature ignored their demand for the removal of Prime Minister Feliks Kulov, RFE/RL's Kyrgyz Service reported. The protesters claim that Kulov was complicit in the death of lawmaker Tynychbek Akmatbaev (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 21 October 2005), a charge Kulov denies. President Kurmanbek Bakiev will meet with the slain legislator's supporters on 27 October, akipress.org reported. The meeting had originally been scheduled for 28 October. On that date, Ryspek Akmatbaev, the brother of Tynychbek Akmatbaev and a reputed criminal kingpin, goes on trial on a double murder charge, ferghana.ru reported. DK
...AS NGOS FAULT PRESIDENT FOR FAILURE TO TAKE STRONG STAND
In a 26 October appeal, a number of NGOs criticized President Bakiev for his failure to take a strong stand on the unrest following Akmatbaev's murder, akipress.org reported. Noting that Bakiev said that there was "nothing terrible" about a demonstration involving "armed individuals who are wanted by the authorities," the NGO representatives told Bakiev, "You should have said that you will not allow the criminal world to dictate its terms to the state." The statement took Bakiev to task for failing to respond to threats against his prime minister. And in a reference to the original date of Bakiev's meeting with Akmatbaev's supporters, the appeal stated: "You are preparing to receive a delegation of the protesters outside parliament on the first day of the trial of Ryspek Akmatbaev, who is accused of committing serious crimes, murders, and assaults. In receiving the accused, you put pressure on the court." The signatories of the appeal included representatives of the Coalition for Democracy and Civil Society, Citizens Against Corruption, and other groups. DK
UKRAINIAN PREMIER IN TURKMENISTAN FOR GAS TALKS
As Ukrainian Prime Minister Yuriy Yekhanurov met with Turkmen President Saparmurat Niyazov in Ashgabat on 26 October, Niyazov asked Ukraine to pay off its debt for 2005 gas purchases by the end of the year and Yekhanurov said that Ukraine would not oppose Russian participation in talks with Turkmenistan on a long-term gas contract, Prime-TASS, Rosbalt, and Reuters reported. Yekhanurov said that Ukraine can pay off its debt in kind by the end of the year if a precise list of goods and services that Ukraine will provide is drawn up, Prime-TASS reported. Niyazov has said that Ukraine has paid only $8.7 million of $484 million owed, Rosbalt reported. Niyazov, who would like to see Ukraine pay entirely in cash for gas, told Yekhanurov that in-kind payments are a source of corruption that is "beneficial to your leaders." For his part, Yekhanurov said that Ukraine is ready to move to cash payments. Yekhanurov noted that the results of negotiations on 2006 shipments will only emerge on 27 October, when his talks with Niyazov are scheduled to continue. DK
BBC SHUTTERS TASHKENT BUREAU FOR SIX MONTHS
The BBC announced on 26 October that it is shutting down its Tashkent bureau for six months and withdrawing local staff in light of continued harassment by Uzbek authorities, Reuters reported. "BBC staff in Uzbekistan have been subjected to a campaign of harassment and intimidation which has made it very difficult for them to report events in the country," BBC World Service regional head Behrouz Afagh commented. In a 26 October press release, the Committee to Protect Journalists (CPJ) condemned "government harassment of foreign media in Uzbekistan." CPJ Executive Director Ann Cooper said, "We demand that President Islam Karimov's government stop harassing the BBC and other media in retaliation for reporting on Andijon." DK
UZBEK PROSECUTORS SEEK LONG SENTENCES FOR ANDIJON DEFENDANTS
Uzbek prosecutors on 26 October asked for sentences ranging from 15 to 20 years for 15 men accused of organizing violence in Andijon on 12-13 May, RFE/RL's Uzbek Service reported. Deputy Prosecutor-General Anvar Nabiev said that the men executed a plan drawn up by outside forces. He said that witness testimony and other evidence presented proved their guilt. All of the men pleaded guilty on the first day of the trial (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 21 September 2005). DK
UZBEK OPPOSITION LEADER FACES EMBEZZLEMENT CHARGES
Svetlana Ortiqova, a spokeswoman for the Uzbek Prosecutor-General's Office, said on 26 October that opposition leader Sanjar Umarov, the head of the Sunshine Coalition, faces embezzlement and tax-evasion charges, RFE/RL's Uzbek Service reported. Ortiqova said the charges stem from the activities of the Umarov-linked companies Neftgaztrans, Ecoil Technologies, and Mississippi. She also rebutted charges that Umarov, who was arrested on 23 October, has been mistreated in custody (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 24 and 26 October 2005). "Investigators have not taken any illegal actions against any individuals accused of crimes, or against Umarov in particular," Ortiqova said. DK
BELARUS TO KEEP DEATH PENALTY TEMPORARILY
Belarus has amended its Criminal Code to temporarily allow for the continuation of the death penalty, Interfax reported on 26 October. "The Criminal Code is supplemented by a provision stating that the introduction of the death penalty is temporary," Interfax quoted a statement from President Alyaksandr Lukashenka's press service as saying. "The death penalty may be applied in Belarus until it is cancelled, as an exceptional form of punishment for particularly grave crimes -- such as premeditated murder in aggravating circumstances," the statement read. Lukashenka proposed the amendments in June and the House of Representatives of Belarus' National Assembly passed them on 26 October. BW
FINANCIAL TIMES LAUDS UKRAINE'S SALE OF KRYVORIZHSTAL...
The "Financial Times" in a 26 October editorial lauded Ukraine for its privatization of the Kryvorizhstal steelworks. "This week's auction of Kryvorizhstal steel mill was a resounding triumph for Ukraine's fledgling market economy and much-needed good news for Victor Yushchenko's government," the daily newspaper opined. "It will reassure investors unsettled this year by divisive government debates; it will also reassure Mr. Yushchenko's restive supporters that he has the will to redress the wrongs of Leonid Kuchma's corrupt government." The German branch of the Netherlands-based consortium Mittal Steel purchased a controlling stake in the Kryvorizhstal steelworks on 24 October for $4.8 billion (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 24 October 2005). BW
...AS UKRAINIAN PRESIDENT SAYS WINDFALL WILL BE USED TO BENEFIT ALL CITIZENS
Ukrainian President Yushchenko said the windfall from the Kryvorizhstal privatization funds will be used in a way that benefits all of the country's citizens, international news agencies reported on 26 October. "We are creating a mechanism so that this money is used to benefit every Ukrainian," AP quoted Yushchenko as saying. He specified a number of projects, including modernizing apartment buildings, offering support to villages, and developing high technology and science. Finance Minister Viktor Pinzenyk said the government will also seek to close the budget deficit and pay off debt. Socialist and opposition lawmakers, however, called for Ukrainians who lost their savings in the Soviet collapse to be compensated. BW
UKRAINIAN PREMIER SAYS RUSSIA WELCOME IN GAS TALKS WITH TURKMENISTAN
Prime Minister Yuriy Yekhanurov said on 26 October that Kyiv would agree to Russian participation in negotiations with Turkmenistan on a long-term natural-gas deal, AP reported the same day. "It is difficult to talk about a 25-year contract today, because such long-term plans should be decided in the context of talks with Russia," Yekhanurov said after talks in Ashgabat with Turkmen President Saparmurat Niyazov. Ukraine is trying to reduce its energy dependence of Russia and officials there have expressed concerns about Moscow's meddling in gas deals. Some 45 percent of Ukraine's gas is supplied by Turkmenistan via Russian pipelines. Yekhanurov also promised that Ukraine would try to pay off its $450 million debt to Turkmenistan for last year's gas supplies. BW
UKRAINIAN PRESIDENT WARNS OF RISE IN HIV/AIDS INFECTIONS
Speaking in Kharkiv on 25 October, President Yushchenko warned that the spread of AIDS in Ukraine has become "disastrous" and could get worse unless urgent health-care reforms are implemented, ITAR-TASS reported the same day. "The rates of [the spread of] HIV/AIDS...have become disastrous, and the country needs an urgent health reform," Yushchenko said. He added that the number of those infected has more than doubled in the past five years, and there are now 25 AIDS patients for every 100,000 Ukrainian citizens. BW
SERBIA ARRESTS NINE POLICE OFFICERS FOR KILLING KOSOVARS...
Serbia arrested nine police officers on 26 October for their roles in the 1999 murder of 48 Kosovar Albanians, Reuters reported the same day, citing a law-enforcement official. The bodies of the 48 Albanians were among more than 800 victims found in 2001 buried in pits near Belgrade. "The policemen are suspected of having killed 48 people, including four babies and a 100-year-old woman, on March 26, 1999, in Suva Reka," said a spokesman for Serbia's war crimes prosecutor, who ordered the arrests. Reka added that six of the nine policemen were on active duty when they were arrested. None of them have been indicted by the United Nations war crimes tribunal in The Hague. BW
...AS ANALYST CALLS MOVE AN EFFORT TO SHORE UP SERBIA'S POSITION IN KOSOVA TALKS
Some analysts said the arrests were timed to help Belgrade's position in talks on Kosova's final status that are expected to begin next week (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 26 October 2005), international news agencies reported on 26 October. "The arrests were timed to shore up Serbia's position ahead of the Kosovo talks, [to] show they are dealing with the crimes," said Natasa Kandic, head of the Belgrade-based Humanitarian Law Center, which probes war crimes committed in the 1990s. Serbia's war-crimes court was set up in 2003 and has won praise from Carla del Ponte, chief prosecutor for the International Criminal Tribunal for former Yugoslavia. BW
GUNMEN ATTACK SERBIAN POLICE OFFICERS IN SOUTHERN KOSOVA
In the latest in a series of attacks, gunmen opened fire on a vehicle carrying four Kosovar Serb police officers near the southern town of Kacanik on 26 October, Reuters reported the same day. It was the third attack targeting Serbian police officers in the area in the past two months, raising concerns that an organized campaign might be under way as Kosova prepares for final-status talks. "The car was hit but no one was injured," an unidentified police official told Reuters. "There were three male Serb officers and one female in the car," the official said. BW
LETHAL BIRD FLU STRAIN CONFIRMED IN CROATIA
The European Commission has issued a precautionary ban on imports of live poultry, wild birds, and feathers from Croatia after the lethal H5N1 strain of bird flu was discovered there, international news agencies reported on 26 October. The lethal strain, which has killed more than 60 people in Asia since 2003, was confirmed by a British lab that tested samples from six swans found dead last week in a nature park. The birds tested positive for the H5 subtype on 21 October (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 25 October 2005). Croatian authorities said they disinfected and quarantined the region around the site where the dead swans were found, and all domestic poultry there were slaughtered and incinerated. BW
AFTER LOSING IRAQI REFERENDUM, SUNNI ARABS SET SIGHTS ON ELECTIONS
Some Sunni Arab leaders disputed the official results of the 15 October referendum on the draft constitution on 25 October after the Iraqi Independent Electoral Commission (IECI) announced that the referendum had passed in 16 of Iraq's 18 governorates. And though at least one Sunni leader has called for a new referendum to be carried out in some Sunni-populated governorates, most groups appear to have accepted the referendum results -- if grudgingly -- and are now setting their sights on the December elections.
As it stands, Sunni Arab groups are divided between those willing to take part in the elections and those that boycott any participation as long as multinational forces remain in Iraq. That distinction aside, groups are further fractured by ideology and political goals that are weighted by nationalist or religious stands, which have thus far prevented them from forming any real challenge to the more dominant Shi'ite and Kurdish coalitions.
Sunni Arab parties are becoming more organized, though, and can be expected to raise their numbers in the National Assembly after the December elections. Since the next parliament will be responsible for making final changes to the draft constitution before it is ratified next year, Sunni Arabs must, out of necessity, work together to raise their numbers in parliament. The need to strengthen their representation in the parliament may help orchestrate a cohesive Sunni Arab platform.
But can they do it in time? Elections are slated for 15 December and, thus far, more than 197 parties and blocs have registered to take part in the election. Political parties have until 28 October to register.
Three major Sunni Arab groups, the Iraqi Islamic Party, The Iraqi National Dialogue Council, and the Iraqi Peoples Conference, announced on 26 October that they will contest elections as a bloc to be called the Iraqi Accordance Front.
Other Sunni Arab groups such as the Muslim Scholars Association will refuse to take part in the election. The association portrays itself as an advocate for nationalist and more observant Sunnis, and it claims that the political process is illegitimate because it began under the auspices of the U.S.-led occupation. By taking this position, the association has put its future in the hands of the "national resistance" and, whether intended or not, its fate lies with the insurgents who target civilians in pushing for civil war.
This week, the association objected to conditions set down by Prime Minister Ibrahim al-Ja'fari on the participation of his party in the reconciliation conference proposed by Arab League Secretary-General Amr Musa. Al-Ja'fari said that he would support the conference only if terrorist groups and former high-ranking Ba'athists were not invited to the conference.
Association spokesman Muhammad Bashar al-Faydi told Al-Jazeera on 25 October that al-Ja'fari's stipulation was unacceptable. "All of us are against terrorism and consider it a crime regardless of its forms. However, we must differentiate between the legitimate Iraqi resistance and terrorism. Had this differentiation been clear, we would not have a problem with what Dr. al-Ja'fari said," al-Faydi contended.
The Muslim Scholars Association boycotted the referendum on the draft constitution because it claimed the text of the draft, which advocates federalism, would lead to the eventual breakup of the country if Shi'ite Arabs formed a regional government in central and southern Iraq.
Although the referendum succeeded, Sunni Arabs will still have an opportunity to influence the final version of the permanent constitution thanks to an agreement forged earlier this month between the Iraqi Islamic Party and the Shi'ite and Kurdish leaderships that gives the next National Assembly four months to amend the document, after which another nationwide referendum will be held on the permanent constitution.
Sunni Arab groups -- including the Iraqi Islamic Party, which supported a "yes" vote in the referendum -- challenged the vote count in the Ninawah Governorate (Mosul) on 25 October after the IECI said that 55 percent of voters in the Ninawah Governorate opposed the draft; Sunni Arab groups claimed that the "no" vote was much higher.
The 55 percent "no" vote in Ninawah was not enough to overcome the two-thirds threshold (67 percent) needed for the constitution to be defeated by voters in the governorate. If the draft had been rejected in Ninawah, the constitution would have failed according to the terms of the Transitional Administrative Law, which stipulated that the draft would have to be rejected by the majority of voters in three or more governorates to fail. Voters in the Salah Al-Din and Al-Anbar governorates rejected the constitution.
Iraqi Islamic Party Secretary-General Tariq al-Hashimi told Al-Jazeera television in a 25 October interview that his party has objected to the results on the basis that party observers witnessed transgressions by electoral officials in voting centers. He said that while his party supported a "yes" vote in the referendum, it did not support a distortion of the results. "The Iraqi Islamic Party is very careful to have the voters' will respected, whether they voted for or against" the draft constitution, he said.
Asked about allegations of fraud at voting centers, al-Hashimi told Al-Jazeera: "Through [its] observers the party submitted 250 complaints, varying from the performance of IECI employees to issues related to logistical matters, security violations, and objections over the handling of the vote count." He added that his party is upset because the IECI has yet to submit a response to the party's complaints. "We will continue to [object] until the IECI adequately replies," he told Al-Jazeera.
Al-Hashimi's party also released a statement on the referendum results on 25 October, saying the reports of a 95-99 percent "yes" vote from some governorates were "unrealistic." The statement criticized those Sunni Arab groups that called for a boycott of the referendum, saying that had more voters gone to the polls the constitution might have been defeated in the Ninawah Governorate. The statement said the Islamic Party supported a "yes" vote in the referendum on the draft constitution as an initiative to help prevent civil war and to "bridge gaps among the sons of the Iraqi people."
Salih al-Mutlaq, spokesman for the National Dialogue Council, told Al-Jazeera television on 25 October that the results are meaningless to his party. Al-Mutlaq accused "state agencies" of stealing ballot boxes in front of the IECI, and said that ballot boxes were taken from Mosul before all of the ballots were counted. "We believe that the results were rigged in Mosul, Diyala, and in most of the southern governorates," he said. He called for a new referendum to be held in the governorates of Al-Diwaniyah, Al-Muthanna, Ninawah, and Diyala.
Meanwhile, Sunni Arab leader Mahdi al-Hafiz told Al-Sharqiyah television that while he agrees with those who question the results of the referendum, Sunni Arabs should not focus on the outcome of the draft but rather on preparing for the December elections. "Undoubtedly, there are many shortcomings in the constitution. I was among those who had reservations on the draft constitution.... Nonetheless, I believe that Iraq has to complete the political process soon so as to achieve positive results in the upcoming elections."
Al-Hafiz reasoned that only political progress will reduce violence in Iraq since "the main parties will be taking part in the parliament and [will have] no serious reason for carrying out acts of violence or turning a blind eye to the parties or the organizations that carry out these acts.
ISLAMABAD HANDS OVER SENIOR NEO-TALIBAN FIGURES TO KABUL
The Pakistani government handed over 14 people who are believed to be senior figures among remnant forces of the deposed Taliban regime to Afghanistan on 26 October, international news agencies reported. Neo-Taliban spokesman Mufti Latifullah Hakimi, who was captured in Pakistan in October and whom Afghan President Hamid Karzai said would be the subject of an extradition request (see "RFE/RL Newsline," October 5 and 6 2005), was among those transferred. Pakistan also handed over Mohammad Yaser, who spoke on behalf of the neo-Taliban and headed the movement's cultural activities, Pajhwak Afghan News reported on 26 October. Afghan Foreign Ministry spokesman Nawid Ahmad Moez told Pajhwak that the men were turned over to Afghan authorities after a formal request was made to Pakistan for their return. Hakimi had designated himself as a neo-Taliban spokesman from Pakistan since the latter half of 2004. AT
AFGHANISTAN TO EXPLORE RAIL LINK WITH PAKISTAN
Pakistan's Railway Ministry has completed groundwork ahead of plans to lay rail tracks from Chaman in Pakistan's Baluchistan Province to Kandahar in southern Afghanistan, the Karachi-based daily "Dawn" reported on 26 October. Ministry officials said the railway will "strengthen bilateral trade relations with Afghanistan...[and] open up opportunities to expand the rail link to Central Asian" states. An Afghan delegation to discuss the project is due to arrive to Pakistan soon. AT
SIX SUSPECTED NEO-TALIBAN KILLED IN COALITION AIR STRIKE IN SOUTHERN AFGHANISTAN
U.S. and British aircraft killed six suspected neo-Taliban fighters in Oruzgan Province on 24 October, AP reported on 26 October. The aircraft were reportedly responding to an attack by militants on a joint Afghan-U.S. patrol in the area in which one Afghan soldier was wounded. AT
RUSSIA SEEKS GREATER INFLUENCE IN AFGHANISTAN
Russian President Vladimir Putin's envoy for international organized crime, Anatoliy Safonov, has indicated that Moscow wants a greater role for the Collective Security Treaty Organization (CSTO) in stabilizing Afghanistan, MosNews reported on 25 October, citing Interfax. Safonov reportedly said the NATO-led International Security Assistance Force (ISAF) has not led to an "effective solution to the problems of terrorism and narcotics" in Afghanistan. "Russia has repeatedly proposed NATO-CSTO cooperation" in Afghanistan, he said, "but we have not heard a substantive answer from Brussels." ISAF policy has dictated that it avoid involvement in counternarcotics operations, but there are reports that suggest NATO will assume more counternarcotics responsibilities as it expands its presence in Afghanistan. AT
IRANIAN PRESIDENT ADVOCATES ISRAEL'S DESTRUCTION
President Mahmud Ahmadinejad told a conference on "A World Without Zionism" in Tehran on 26 October that any government that normalizes its ties with Israel will encounter the wrath of the Islamic umma (community), IRNA reported. He reportedly said a fight between the global arrogance [an apparent reference to the United States] and the Islamic community is under way, and he accused the United States and Israel of trying to sow discord in the Muslim world. He said a world without Israel is possible, according to IRNA. According to AP and AFP, Ahmadinejad described Israel as a "disgraceful blot'' that should be "wiped off the map.'' Afterward, Ahmadinejad told state television that "rescuing [Palestine] from occupation will tip all international calculations to the advantage of the Islamic world." He said Qods Day rallies, which will take place on 28 October, are a sign of support for the Palestinian nation. BS
IRAN-MOSCOW COOPERATION HEADQUARTERS TO BE CREATED
President Ahmadinejad said on 26 October that a special Iran-Russia headquarters will be established to improve bilateral relations between the two countries, IRNA reported. In a telephone conversation with Russian President Vladimir Putin the previous evening, Ahmadinejad said Iran would like to increase bilateral cooperation and expedite the implementation of previous agreements. Ahmadinejad indicated his appreciation of the Russian stance on Iran's nuclear program, and he said he supports the Russian stance on Caspian Sea issues. BS
IRANIAN LEGISLATURE WILL BACK TRADE EMBARGO
Conservative Hashtrud parliamentary representative Mohammad Shahi-Arablu said on 26 October that the legislature will back the executive branch if it decides to ban imports from South Korea and the United Kingdom, Mehr News Agency reported. Goods from these two countries and others that voted against Iran in a September International Atomic Energy Agency governing-board resolution are reportedly facing difficulties entering Iran, and Iranian officials have been unclear on whether or not a trade ban is in place. Shahi-Arablu said Iran spends some $20 billion on imports from the 22 countries that voted against it, out of a total of $38 billion in imports. BS
DISSIDENT IRANIAN JOURNALIST ALLEGEDLY BEATEN
Masumeh Shafii, the wife of imprisoned dissident journalist Akbar Ganji, said in a 26 October announcement that her husband was beaten by judiciary officials when he was in Milad Hospital, Radio Farda reported on 26 October. She claimed that officials demanded that he renounce his Manifesto of Republicanism and his communications with dissidents Ayatollah Hussein Ali Montazeri and Islamic intellectual Abdolkarim Sorush, and that he agree to remain silent after his release. Masumeh Shafii said her husband refused, so the officials beat him in three different sessions on one day. She said he is currently in solitary confinement and his food and medicine intake is restricted. BS
THREE SUNNI-ARAB PARTIES FORM COALITION FOR IRAQ'S DECEMBER ELECTIONS
The Iraqi Islamic Party, Iraqi National Dialogue Council, and the Iraqi Peoples Conference announced on 26 October that they will participate in December parliamentary elections as a coalition list named the Iraqi Accordance Front (Jabhat Al-Tawafuq Al-Iraqiyah), RFE/RL's Radio Free Iraq (RFI) reported the same day. Iraqi Peoples Conference Secretary-General Adnan al-Dulaymi told reporters during the 26 October announcement in Baghdad that the door is open for other political groups to join the coalition. Meanwhile, National Dialogue Council spokesman Salih al-Mutlaq said in an interview the same day with Al-Arabiyah television that the council is divided in its decision to join the coalition, saying that the members who pushed to join it support the idea of a coalition for Sunnis only. The majority of members, he claimed, would prefer to join a coalition that is not sectarian-based. "The majority of the National Dialogue Council insists that the list is a national list that includes Iraqis from Al-Basrah to Al-Sulaymaniyah," al-Mutlaq said. "There is no room for us to be narrow-minded and focus on a sectarian bloc or entity, because this constitutes great damage to the country's interests. We know that we may lose some votes. However, the national project must succeed." KR
AL-SADR SUPPORTERS TO ALIGN WITH SUNNIS IN AL-ANBAR FOR IRAQI PARLIAMENTARY ELECTIONS
Supporters of Shi'ite cleric Muqtada al-Sadr will run alongside Sunni Arabs in the Al-Anbar Governorate on an electoral list in the December elections, Al-Sharqiyah television reported on 26 October. Al-Sadr representative Abbas al-Rubay'i said in a 26 October statement that National Assembly member Fattah al-Shaykh will set up a bureau in the governorate for the joint list. Al-Shaykh told Al-Sharqiyah that eight Sunni Arabs will run on the list. The news channel did not report how many al-Sadr supporters will be on the list. Al-Sadr supporters who took part in the January elections ran as independent candidates. Parliamentarian Qusay Abd al-Wahhab Abbud al-Suhail, another al-Sadr supporter, told RFE/RL in a 14 October interview that al-Sadr supporters intend to align with Sunnis in the December election (see "RFE/RL Iraq Report," 14 October 2005). KR
FORMER IRAQI PRESIDENT'S LAWYERS DECLARE STRIKE
The defense lawyers for Saddam Hussein and his seven co-defendants announced in a 26 October statement released in Amman that they have boycotted sessions of the Iraqi Special Tribunal in protest against the killing last week of their colleague, Sa'dun al-Janabi, RFI reported. The lawyers said they will not return to work until the Iraqi government meets their demands for security protection. The statement was signed by Hussein's attorney, Khalil al-Dulaymi. "Due to the extreme deterioration of the security situation in Iraq, and the repercussions facing the Iraqi defense team and their families, we are ceasing all dealings with the court until the situation is reversed," the statement read. It called on the United Nations to provide security for defense attorneys. The defense previously rejected the Interior Ministry's offers of security protection, saying it did not trust the ministry (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 24 October 2005). KR
UN SAYS MORE THAN 2,000 COMPANIES PAID KICKBACKS TO FORMER IRAQI PRESIDENT
The UN-appointed Independent Inquiry Committee investigating allegations of fraud surrounding the oil-for-food program has determined that more than half of the 4,500 companies that took part in the program paid illegal kickbacks to Saddam Hussein's regime, nytimes.com reported on 27 October. Three investigators spoke with the website about the report, which is due to be released publicly on 27 October. The report is expected to detail the names of companies and individuals that took part -- both deliberately and inadvertently -- in the illicit transactions that amounted to some $2 billion in profit, washingtonpost.com reported on 27 October. The report is expected to name 3,000 companies suspected of either profiting from the program or of paying illicit surcharges. Committee Chairman Paul Volcker said the investigation, which will be concluded with this, the final report, points to the need for "some pretty thoroughgoing reforms at the UN," nytimes.com reported. KR