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Newsline - October 12, 2006

Igor Yakovenko, general secretary of the Russian Union of Journalists, told RFE/RL's Russian Service in Moscow on October 12 that the recent killing of critical journalist Anna Politkovskaya "has divided Russia in two" (see "RFE/RL Newsline," October 10 and 11, 2006). On October 11, Lev Ponomaryov, who heads the activist group "For Human Rights," told RFE/RL that Politkovskaya "opposed the authorities and she did cause damage to the present authorities. But in no way did she damage Russia. I am certain of that." He was responding to recent statements by President Vladimir Putin that were critical of Politkovskaya and suggested that her killing unfairly harmed Russia's image. Ponomaryov added that "it is not by chance that we speak of an authoritarian rule [in Russia], especially now that Putin is beginning to have messianic overtones. He thinks that he and Russia are one, and that it is his vocation to save Russia. Unfortunately, he does not hear or accept any criticism." The New-York based Committee to Protect Journalists called Putin's comments "a backhanded attack" that "belies his commitment to justice." PM

Finnish European Affairs Minister Paula Lehtomaki, whose country holds the EU's rotating presidency, told the European Parliament in Brussels on October 12 that Politkovskaya's murder was "a major setback for freedom of expression in Russia," Reuters reported. She added that "this is a terrible crime, which we call on the Russian authorities thoroughly to investigate. We want the perpetrators to be brought to justice, and this is a particularly important test of the rule of law in Russia." She added that the EU will raise the case with President Putin at the October 20 summit in Lahti. But Daniel Cohn-Bendit, floor leader of the Greens in the legislature, told Lehtomaki that the EU treads lightly with Putin because of its dependence on Russian energy supplies. "You talk about bringing the perpetrators to justice, but one of the perpetrators is going to be having dinner with you," he noted. Cohn-Bendit added that "as we saw on television with [German Chancellor Angela] Merkel and Putin [in recent days], we need Putin so much that no one is going to be able to ask him the difficult questions. I think we should negotiate with Putin but we don't have to have cozy dinners with him." PM

President Putin faced questions from Bavarian and other German officials regarding the Politkovskaya murder case during his visit to Munich on October 11, as he had the day before in Dresden, German media reported (see "RFE/RL Newsline," October 10 and 11, 2006). Bavarian Economy Minister Erwin Huber said that the killing "casts a shadow over Russian society as far as democracy, freedom of expression, and the use of violence is concerned, and President Putin owes Bavaria and the world answers." Elsewhere, the head of Germany's parliamentary Human Rights and Humanitarian Assistance Committee, Herta Daeubler-Gmelin of the Social Democratic Party (SPD), said Putin must provide answers about the killing in the next two months or face "the consequences." She is a former justice minister who was sacked by Chancellor Gerhard Schroeder (SPD) in 2002 for her remarks at a closed SPD meeting comparing U.S. President George W. Bush to Hitler. PM

Bavarian Prime Minister Edmund Stoiber told President Putin in Munich on October 11 that he favors setting up a "free-trade zone" between the EU and Russia, the "Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung" reported on October 12. But Stoiber added that "in some strategic industries, there are limits to taking reciprocal stakes. We must both respect each other's interests," "The Moscow Times" reported. Stoiber's remarks on interests "were a clear warning to Putin -- who makes no secret of his wish to invest further in Germany -- that he should steer clear of seeking a strategic investment in EADS after a Russian bank bought 5 percent of it," the daily commented. Putin later told Bavarian businessmen, however, that he does "not understand the nervousness in the press about Russia investing abroad. Where does this hysteria come from?" He added that "the Russians are coming here, not on tanks and with Kalashnikov assault rifles in their hands. They are coming with money, and they deserve to be welcomed and helped in their work." Putin stressed that Russian investors are not "the Red Army, but the same capitalists as you are." PM

In Moscow, the daily "Nezavisimaya gazeta" wrote on October 12 that President Putin failed to achieve his goals in Germany regarding Russia's role in EADS, and that the visit itself was "one of the more complicated foreign trips he has undertaken in recent months." In asking businessmen in Munich to welcome Russian investments, he did not mention that Russia itself increasingly limits the participation of foreign firms in dealing with energy deposits the Kremlin considers to be of "strategic importance" (see "RFE/RL Newsline," May 26, June 21, and August 2, 2006). Furthermore, Putin appealed for more German investments in Russia but did not address foreign investors' worries stemming from Russia's recent blockage of the Sakhalin-2 gas production-sharing agreement (PSA) with Royal Dutch Shell and Japan's Mitsui and Mitsubishi (see "RFE/RL Newsline," September 22, 2006). PM

In a deal brokered by former Chancellor Schroeder, the Russian state monopoly Gazprom announced on October 10 that it has agreed to sponsor the German professional soccer club Schalke 04 for $157 million over a five-year period, German and international media reported. This contract goes beyond even the amount spent by Deutsche Telekom on Bayern Munich, which is $25 million per season. Sergei Fursenko of Gazprom subsidiary Lentransgaz told reporters that Gelsenkirchen's "Schalke has a lot of connections with the German energy sector and a lot of supporters." Schalke has had funding problems on and off for some years and has courted a series of would-be saviors, including the late right-wing politician Juergen Moellemann. Schroeder has close ties to Schalke and is a devoted soccer fan. He once called Putin an "impeccable democrat" and now heads the stockholders' oversight body for Gazprom's planned Russo-German North European Gas Pipeline (NEGP) (see "RFE/RL Newsline," May 26, July 17, and August 24, 2006, and End Note, "RFE/RL Newsline," March 23, 2006). In Moscow, the daily "Kommersant" wrote on October 12 that Gazprom wanted to sign the agreement with Schalke in the presence of President Putin and Chancellor Merkel. She refused, saying that she "did not want to advertise for Gazprom so openly," the daily added. Merkel also questioned the huge sum of money involved, saying "it's too much." PM

President Putin told Munich's "Sueddeutsche Zeitung" of October 11 that Russia is sympathetic to the plight of what he described as the victims of Georgian imperialism. He said that "the Ossetians believe that they have been the victims of genocide by the Georgians twice in modern history, namely in 1918 and 1989. The situation is similar with Abkhazia. Whether our Georgian colleagues like it or not, they are regarded in the region as a mini-empire, and that affects us quite directly." Putin went on to say that "Ossetia was partitioned in Soviet times. One part now belongs to Russia, the other to Georgia. This people is as divided as the Germans once were. In the German case, it was the result of World War II. In the Ossetian case, it was the result of the breakup of the Soviet Union." PM

Turning to the present situation, President Putin told the "Sueddeutsche Zeitung" of October 11 that Moscow is "ready to help Georgia reestablish its territorial integrity. But we proceed on the assumption that this can take place only through the expression of the will of the Ossetian people. One cannot force the issue but must use a diplomatic and humanitarian approach." He argued, however, that "the Georgian leadership nonetheless does everything to try to solve the problem through war. The Georgians are arming themselves way out of proportion and thereby break all agreements. Domestic political problems must not be solved through anti-Russian rhetoric and drumming up war hysteria." He did not explain how his desire for a "diplomatic and humanitarian approach" relates to Russia's recent blockade of Georgia, which he and his foreign and defense ministers have defended (see "RFE/RL Newsline," October 3, 4, and 10, 2006). Statements such as Putin's reinforce the image of Russia among Georgians as part of the conflict rather than as a mediator. PM

On October 12, the EU's special representative for the South Caucasus, Peter Semneby, told that "recent events have added weight to the Georgian argument that Russia is not a neutral participant in the peacekeeping arrangements and negotiation formats [for Georgian separatist regions], ...that the current status quo is not tenable, [and] that in fact it's not a status quo, but is gradually deteriorating" (see "RFE/RL Caucasus Report," October 6, 2006). Semneby argued that "Russia, in its relationship with Georgia, as a former imperial metropolis, has perhaps the larger responsibility for reaching out to Georgia." In related news, Georgian Ambassador to Russia Irakli Chubinishvili said in Moscow on October 11 that Georgians living in Russia are "hiding at home in fear," Britain's "The Guardian" reported on October 12. He slammed what he called "absolutely stupid" retaliatory measures on Georgians in Russia. He added that "the Russian government has decided to punish Georgia. They went to real extremes. Georgians and 'suspected Georgians' are being sought out and taken to police stations." PM

Aleksandr Veshnyakov, who heads the Central Election Commission, announced on October 9 that the pro-Kremlin Unified Russia party swept to victory with a total of 244 seats in the legislatures of the republics of Chuvashia, Karelia, and Tuva, in the Astrakhan, Lipetsk, Novgorod, Primorye, and Sverdlovsk oblasts, and in the Jewish Autonomous Oblast in separate elections the previous day, Russian media reported (see "RFE/RL Newsline," August 30 and October 6, 2006). The Party of Life, Motherland (Rodina), and the Russian Party of Pensioners, which are in the process of merging, placed second with a total of 49 seats. The Communist Party (KPRF) finished third, with 31 seats, followed by the rightist Liberal Democratic Party of Russia with seven. PM

Dmitry Oreshkin, who heads the Merkator research group, told Interfax on October 9 that the regional election results were no surprise because Unified Russia has "administrative resources" at its disposal. He suggested that the Party of Pensioners effectively used bread-and-butter issues to take votes from the Communists. "Novye izvestia" on October 10 called the elections "just a facade." The weekly "Argumenty i fakty" commented sarcastically on October 11: "Look who won!" Any attention centered on the division of votes between the three parties that are merging to form a Kremlin-sanctioned "manufactured opposition" to Unified Russia. The Party of Life had 23 seats and the Pensioners a surprisingly strong 19, but Motherland took only seven. The liberal Yabloko party managed to win a place on only two regional ballots but did not win any seats. The party's Senior Deputy Chairman Sergei Ivanenko told "Novye izvestia" that Yabloko might boycott all regional and federal elections from now on. PM

Nikolai Bordyuzha, general secretary of the CIS Collective Security Treaty Organization (CSTO), told a press conference on October 11 that the replacement of the Russian peacekeeping forces currently deployed in Abkhazia, South Ossetia, and Transdniester by an CSTO contingent is "theoretically possible," the Abkhaz official website reported, citing ITAR-TASS. Bordyuzha added, however, that at present there is no "practical need" to do so. He condemned Georgia's policy of alleged "confrontation" with Moscow. The Georgian parliament demanded in July the withdrawal of Russian peacekeepers from Abkhazia and South Ossetia on the grounds that they have failed to comply with their mandate. LF

As he did in an interview with "Nezavisimaya gazeta" two months ago, Ramzan Kadyrov again denied in an interview he gave on October 11 to the television channel Russia Today that he aspires to the post of head of the pro-Moscow administration, the official government website reported (see "RFE/RL Caucasus Report," August 18, 2006). Kadyrov said that position entails a degree of responsibility before the Almighty and the population that he does not feel ready to take on, given that the republic head, as guarantor of the constitution, is called upon to provide employment and protect the population from violations of their rights. A poll conducted in early summer 2006 found that only 27 percent of Chechens would greet Kadyrov's appointment as republic head (see "RFE/RL Newsline," June 13, 2006). LF

The mother of journalist Elina Ersenoyeva, who was reportedly coerced into a marriage with radical Chechen field commander Shamil Basayev last year, was abducted on October 6 from the village of Starye Atagi near Grozny, according to as reposted on October 11 by Ersenoyeva was abducted in Grozny in August, one month after Basayev was killed in an explosion in Ingushetia; her whereabouts remain unknown (see "RFE/RL Newsline," July 10 and 11 and August 18 and 28, 2006). LF

A spokeswoman for Prosecutor-General Aghvan Hovsepian said on October 11 that Hovsepian has requested that the Armenian parliament meet in emergency session to lift the immunity of Hakob Hakobian, a deputy from the majority Republican Party of Armenia (HHK), RFE/RL's Armenian Service reported. Hakobian was arrested late on October 8 in connection with an attack on a gas-distribution facility in a village south of Yerevan (see "RFE/RL Newsline," October 11, 2006). Parliament speaker Tigran Torosian (HHK), who according to Noyan Tapan met with Hovsepian on October 10 to discuss the incident, distanced himself on October 11 from Hakobian, saying the HHK "has nothing to do with this affair." LF

Parliament deputy Guseyn Abdullayev on October 10 accused Interior Minister Colonel General Ramil Usubov of having protected from arrest Haci Mammadov, a former senior ministry official who for over a decade headed a gang that perpetrated numerous high-profile kidnappings and murders, reported (see "RFE/RL Caucasus Report," August 18, 2006). Abdullayev argued that for Usubov to remain in his current post would pose a threat to Azerbaijan's security, and he proposed that the parliament should summon the minister for questioning. Speaker Oktai Asadov replied that the parliament is not empowered to do so, but opposition deputy Panah Huseynov rejected that statement as untrue. Speaking to journalists two months ago, Usubov implicitly disavowed any responsibility for Mammadov's criminal actions, implying that the Prosecutor-General's Office failed to react to information provided by his ministry that incriminated Mammadov (see "RFE/RL Newsline," August 14, 2006). LF

The Georgian parliament unanimously ratified on October 10 an agreement on the rescheduling of Georgia's debt to Azerbaijan, Caucasus Press reported. The $16 million debt will be repaid over the period 2007-24. LF

During talks on October 11 with his Azerbaijani counterpart Natik Aliyev, Georgian Energy Minister Nika Gilauri requested an increase in the amount of gas from the Shakh-Deniz deposit to which Georgia will be entitled in 2007, reported. Under the original agreement on the amount of gas Georgia will receive in payment of transit fees for gas exported via the Baku-Tbilisi-Erzerum pipeline, Georgia is to receive gratis 5 percent of the total volume exported, with the option of purchasing a further 5 percent at $55 per thousand cubic meters. That was the equivalent of 60 million cubic meters gratis in 2006 and 200-250 million cubic meters in 2007-08. Agreement was reached earlier this year on increasing the volume of gas Georgia will receive in 2006 to up to 300 million cubic meters. LF

The Central Election Commission released on October 11 the final results of the October 5 local elections in Tbilisi, Caucasus Press reported. The ruling United National Party (GEP) garnered 66.53 percent of the vote, followed by the Conservative-Republican party alliance (12.04 percent) and the Labor Party (10.65 percent). The only other party to surmount the 4 percent threshold for representation on the Tbilisi municipal council was Industry will Save Georgia (6.08 percent). Georgia's Path, headed by former Foreign Minister Salome Zourabichvili, won 2.77 percent. The Labor Party accused the election commission on October 11 of rigging the outcome of the ballot and pledged to contest it in court, Caucasus Press reported. GEP parliament deputy Giga Bokeria claimed on October 10 that the ballot was fair, without violations, and he accused the opposition of seeking excuses for its defeat. On October 11, the election commission scheduled repeat voting in 10 electoral districts, including four in the unrecognized Republic of South Ossetia, in light of procedural violations. LF

Representatives of Kazakhstan's Eastern Kazakhstan Province and China's Xinjiang Uyghur Autonomous Region (XUAR) have signed an accord on police cooperation to fight terrorism and drug-trafficking, Interfax-Kazakhstan reported on October 11. The signing took place during a visit to Kazakhstan by XUAR police official Gong Xinbao, Kazinform reported. Gong met with Eastern Kazakhstan Province Governor Viktor Khrapunov on October 11 to discuss ways to boost cooperation between the two regions. Khrapunov said, "We have ambitious plans, but they might fall through unless we ensure stability, law and order, as well as public security in our territories." DK

Dozens of Kyrgyz civic rights campaigners, media representatives, and opposition activists picketed the government's headquarters in Bishkek on October 11 in support of press freedom, RFE/RL's Kyrgyz Service reported. Prime Minister Feliks Kulov met with a delegation of protesters, including parliamentary deputies Kabai Karabekov, Temir Sariev, and Melis Eshimkanov, as well as representatives of the independent television station Piramida, which recently suffered an attack by masked men (see "RFE/RL Newsline," September 29, 2006), news agency reported. Kulov asked the head of the National Communications Agency to loan Piramida equipment so that the station can resume broadcasting. One of the protestors' demands was the reform of Kyrgyz state television. But President Kurmanbek Bakiev told a cabinet meeting on October 9 that he opposes efforts to transform state television into public television, reported. DK

Erkin Alymbekov, deputy speaker of Kyrgyzstan's parliament and a critic of President Kurmanbek Bakiev, was hospitalized with a concussion and bruises after he was attacked by an unknown assailant outside his apartment on the night of October 10, reported the next day. Parliamentary Deputy Temir Sariev told Reuters, "I think [Alymbekov] was beaten because of his political beliefs." Representatives of the Interior Ministry and Prosecutor-General's Office visited Alymbekov in the hospital on October 11 and an investigation is under way. DK

Kyrgyz national gas company Kyrgyzgaz has received official confirmation from Uzbek oil and gas company Uzbekneftegaz that Uzbekistan intends to raise the price of the natural gas it sells Kyrgyzstan from $55 to $100 per 1,000 cubic meters starting January 1, reported on October 11. A spokesperson for Kyrgyzgaz told the news agency that a definite price agreement would only emerge after talks scheduled for next week. The spokesperson noted, "Kyrgyzgaz has a chance to receive fuel at an advantageous price." Uzbekistan recently indicated that it intends to impose a similar price increase on Tajikistan (see "RFE/RL Newsline," October 11, 2006). DK

Tajikistan's Central Election Commission has registered Abduhalim Ghafforov (Socialist Party) and Amir Qoraqulov (Agrarian Party) as candidates in the November 6 presidential election, Asia Plus-Blitz reported on October 11. Central Election Commission Chairman Mirzoali Boltuyev noted that the commission did not register Tavarali Ziyoyev (Democratic Party) because Ziyoyev's supporters failed to gather the requisite 160,000 signatures. Five candidates are now set to compete for the presidency: incumbent President Imomali Rakhmonov (People's Democratic Party), Ismoil Talbakov (Economic Reform Party), Olimjon Boboyev (Socialist Party), and Ghafforov and Qoraqulov. All of the participating parties are thoroughly pro-presidential. The opposition Social Democratic Party is boycotting the election (see "RFE/RL Newsline," September 25, 2006) and the Islamic Renaissance Party chose not to name a candidate (see "RFE/RL Newsline," September 26, 2006). DK

Access to five websites reportedly blocked in Tajikistan on instructions from the authorities (see "RFE/RL Newsline," October 10, 2006) has been restored, RFE/RL's Tajik Service reported on October 11. Khurshed Rajabmahmadov, deputy director of the Communications Regulation Agency in Tajikistan's Communications Ministry, told Russia's Regnum that the websites had been shut down for maintenance purposes. The five websites, which often feature materials critical of President Imomali Rakhmonov and his government are:,,,, and DK

Pavel Krasouski, an activist of the unregistered opposition organization Youth Front, has been charged with involvement in two murders and a rape committed in 1999, Belapan and RFE/RL's Belarus Service reported on October 11, quoting Krasouski's lawyer Pavel Sapelka. "The absurdity of the investigation has reached its apogee: In 1999 my client was 16 years old, at that time he was attending school.... I think this turn of the case was devised with a view to stopping our communication with the press. The investigators most likely think that Pavel will be embarrassed to speak publicly about some sexual matters," Sapelka told Belapan. Krasouski was put in custody on October 5 on suspicion of being involved in two explosions that injured some 40 people in September 2005 in Vitsebsk (see "RFE/RL Newsline," October 6, 2006). JM

Belarus's Vyasna human rights center has said the criminal case against Krasouski is a politically motivated step that is linked to his political and public activities, the Charter 97 website ( reported on October 12. Vyasna demanded an immediate release of Krasouski. Human right activist Valyantsin Stefanovich told the website that Krasouski's case marks a "new stage" in the authorities' struggle against political opponents. "While earlier opposition activists were blamed for offenses punishable under articles of a political character, now they are accused of killings, the organization of explosions, and rapes. In this way the authorities want to discredit oppositionists in the eyes of society. This is an unprecedented case since [Krasouski is now facing a] death penalty or life term in prison. This puts Belarus in the same category with such countries as Turkmenistan and Uzbekistan, where weapons and narcotics are planted on opponents of the regime," Stefanovich said. JM

The Belarusian Prosecutor-General's Office on October 10 announced that it had dropped a pornography-related charge against Latvian diplomat Reimo Smits, Belapan reported on October 11. The charge against the second secretary at the Latvian Embassy in Minsk was brought after police raided his apartment in Minsk on July 25, allegedly seizing videocassettes and compact discs containing pornographic material. A week after the raid, Belarusian Television broadcast what appeared to be hidden camera footage of gay sex, claiming that the Latvian diplomat was involved. The Latvian Foreign Ministry accused Minsk of violating the 1961 Vienna Convention on diplomatic immunity, expelled Dzmitry Krayushkin, the first secretary at the Belarusian Embassy in Riga, and recalled Latvian Ambassador to Belarus Maira Mora for consultations (see "RFE/RL Newsline," August 8, 2006) JM

President Viktor Yushchenko on October 11 said he still hopes that the Our Ukraine bloc will be able to strike a coalition deal with the ruling alliance of the Party of Regions, the Socialist Party, and the Communist Party, Interfax-Ukraine reported. "Breaking up is not an original idea, but the risk that this will happen is very high. Earlier I was an optimist in this issue. Now I'm less optimistic," Yushchenko told journalists in Chernihiv. Answering a question about what will happen with Our Ukraine's four ministers in Prime Minister Viktor Yanukovych's cabinet if the bloc fails to reach a formal coalition accord, Yushchenko said the ministers will have to step down. "There cannot be a place for ministers from Our Ukraine in a government that does not share provisions included in the declaration of national unity," Yushchenko added. Regarding the fate of the defense and foreign ministers, who are appointed by the president, Yushchenko said he will decide on whether to dismiss them depending on "the current political situation." JM

Ukrainian grain traders on October 11 accused the government of blocking wheat exports by hastily introducing export licenses and imposing limits on grain export volumes, AP reported. "The government's decision effectively blocked Ukrainian export of bread wheat and fodder wheat," said Volodymyr Klimenko, president of the Ukrainian Grain Association, which groups more than 60 local and international companies. The government introduced a new licensing system in grain trade in late September, arguing that it must first ensure that the country has enough wheat to supply Ukrainians with bread. The Agriculture Ministry forecast wheat yield this year at 14.4 million tons, down from 18.7 million tons in 2005. JM

During an official visit to Italy on October 11, Boris Tadic pushed for talks with the European Union to be resumed despite Belgrade's failure to capture war crimes fugitive Ratko Mladic, B92, Beta, and international news agencies reported the same day. The EU suspended talks with Belgrade on a Stabilization and Association Agreement (SAA) in May (see "RFE/RL Newsline," May 4, 2006). "I've made a proposal that negotiations [should] continue anyway...under an agreement of collaboration with The Hague," Tadic said, according to AP. During his visit, Tadic met with Italian President Giorgio Napolitano, Prime Minister Romano Prodi and Foreign Minister Masimo D'Alema. "The first priority of the current and future government is to arrest and extradite those indicted for war crimes by the tribunal in The Hague, firstly, Ratko Mladic," B92 quoted Tadic as saying. BW

Also during Tadic's visit, Italian Prime Minister Prodi praised Serbia's efforts to move closer to EU membership, and stressed the country's "central role" in the Balkans, B92, Beta, and international news agencies reported on October 11. "I think Serbia belongs to the big European family. Anything we could do to make this happen, Italy will do," AP quoted the former president of the European Commission as saying. Vuk Jeremic, an adviser to Tadic, said the Serbian president "received the support of the Italian side for the idea of having the stabilization and association discussions continued immediately." Jeremic said that Belgrade is seeking to sign a "conditional" SAA by the end of this year, "along with the obligations that the future democratic government would take finishing cooperation with the Hague Tribunal as its absolute first priority." BW

Cedomir Jovanovic, the president of the Liberal Democratic Party, said he plans to campaign against the passage of Serbia's draft constitution, B92 reported on October 11. "This constitution is a big step backward and a very poor message that says that we are a society that is incapable of defining our vision," he said. Jovanovic added that the constitution was drafted based on what he called a consensus to keep those in power safely in their positions, and for those guilty for the war and repression of the 1990s -- particularly the Serbian Radical Party (SRS) and the Socialist Party of Serbia (SPS) -- to evade responsibility. "Serbia needs reconciliation with the Kosovo Albanians, reconciliation with the Croatians, [and] reconciliation with the Bosnians. Serbia needs regionalization, strong local self-administrations, a free Vojvodina. Serbia needs the emancipation of women. Serbia needs a courageous and independent media," he said, adding that none of these things are enshrined in the new constitution. BW

Forensic experts in Bosnia-Herzegovina on October 11 completed the excavation of a mass grave containing 160 victims of the 1995 Srebrenica massacre, dpa reported the same day. Over the past three weeks, a forensic team from Tuzla exhumed 96 intact bodies and partial remains from 64 other dead. The remains were dug up from the Krcevine mass grave near the eastern Bosnian city of Zvornik. Nearly 3,000 of the estimated 8,000 Muslim men and boys killed in the July 1995 Srebrenica massacre have been identified so far. BW

The Hague-based war crimes tribunal has rejected a request by the Croatian government to appear as a "friend of the court" at the trial of six ethnic Croats charged with committing atrocities against Muslims during Bosnia-Herzegovina's 1992-95 war, AP reported on October 11. "It would not be in the interests of justice to allow a state whose former political and military leaders are mentioned in the indictment as members of a joint criminal enterprise to intervene as amicus curiae," the court ruled in rejecting Zagreb's request. Six ethnic Croats have pleaded not guilty to 26 counts of war crimes and crimes against humanity related to the killing, terrorizing, and imprisoning of Muslims from 1991-94. Croatia's wartime president, Franjo Tudjman, who died in 1999, was also named in the indictment as the driving force behind a plan to create a Greater Croatia. BW

Montenegrin President Filip Vujanovic on October 11 formally appointed Zeljko Sturanovic as prime minister, AP and dpa reported the same day. Sturanovic, currently justice minister, was chosen after incumbent Milo Djukanovic announced he will not seek a new term in office (see "RFE/RL Newsline," October 5, 2006). Montenegro's 81-member parliament must vote on Sturanovic's candidacy at its next session, which has not yet been scheduled. The vote is largely a formality, since the coalition led by Djukanovic's Democratic Party of Socialists holds a majority. Sturanovic will then have 60 days to propose a cabinet. Vujanovic praised Sturanovic as an "exceptional professional who enjoys the deepest public respect" and added that he is "confident he will perform his duties for the benefit of Montenegro and all its citizens." BW

The Russian and Moldovan Foreign ministries have resumed consultations on the conflict in breakaway Transdniester, ITAR-TASS reported on October 11. Deputy Foreign Minister Grigory Karasin visited Chisinau on October 11 and held a one-on-one meeting with Moldovan President Vladimir Voronin. He also held talks with First Deputy Prime Minister Zinaida Greciana, who co-chairs the Intergovernmental Commission on Trade and Economic Cooperation, ITAR-TASS reported. Karasin was also scheduled to travel to Tiraspol to meet with Transdniestrian President Igor Smirnov. Citing anonymous sources, ITAR-TASS reported on October 11 that Moldovan and Transdniestrian officials have agreed to a meeting on October 18 in Odesa, Ukraine, to discuss resuming stalled talks on the breakaway region. Russia, Ukraine, and the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE) proposed the meeting. BW

The past month has seen three high-profile killings in Moscow: Central Bank official Andrei Kozlov, crusading journalist Anna Politkovskaya, and most recently, Aleksandr Plokhin, a manager with Vneshtorgbank, Russia's second-largest bank. All three crimes are widely viewed as contract killings reminiscent of the wave of killings that characterized the "Wild West" period in Russia in the 1990s.

Russia under President Vladimir Putin seemed a safer place compared to the 1990s -- when the killing of politicians, businessmen, and bankers seemed to be an almost daily occurrence. But that impression, carefully cultivated by the Kremlin, has now come under sharp scrutiny following the recent wave of apparent contract killings of leading figures in Russian banking and independent journalism.

Precise statistics are hard to come by. But some observers argue the recent string of killings does not change the fact that, overall, high-profile contract killings have diminished since peaking with the 1998 slaying of human rights advocate and State Duma Deputy Galina Starovoitova.

"Really high-profile contract killings are much rarer now than they were 12 or 15 years ago," says Mikhail Tukmachyov, who presents "Chrezvychainoye proisshestvie" (Emergency Event), a program on crime on Russia's NTV. "But this may have less to do with the authorities' success in tackling criminality than with the fact that authorities in our country have already divided the money between them. Many criminal groups have made up and found ways of coexisting more or less peacefully."

Still, hired killings of low-profile targets, such as gangsters, appear to continue unabated. At a 2004 conference on crime in Moscow, Valentin Stepankov, then deputy secretary of the Security Council, estimated that in 2003 alone, organized crime gangs were responsible for some 5,000 contract killings across Russia.

As for high-profile victims, many observers say that the killings over the past month of two banking officials as well as of reporter Anna Politkovskaya show that contract killing remains a common means of settling accounts, eliminating competition, or suppressing media criticism of government policies.

Politkovskaya controversially exposed Russian military atrocities and human rights abuses in Chechnya. Many foreign observers are pointing the finger over her killing at the highest levels of the Kremlin.

In Brussels on October 11, Member of the European Parliament Daniel Cohn-Bendit of Germany's Green Party said that Politkovskaya's slaying was further proof that freedom of speech is under fire in Russia. And he urged German Chancellor Angela Merkel, who met with Putin on October 10, to hold the Russian leader to account when she and other EU leaders dine with him at a summit in Finland next week.

"Anna Politkovskaya had been invited twice by the Green faction. She was twice in the European Parliament. She told us about the situation in Chechnya and about the situation of the freedom of expression in Russia," Cohn-Bendit said. "Someone has said the ones responsible [for her killing] shall be called to account. You [Merkel] will be having dinner with the [one] responsible!"

Anders Aslund makes a similar accusation. A top economic expert on Russia, the Swedish-born Aslund minces no words in implicating the Kremlin in not only Politkovskaya's death but also that of Andrei Kozlov, the former Central Bank deputy chairman who led efforts to stamp out money laundering at banks before being gunned down on September 14.

"What we are seeing today in Russia is huge corrupt deals within state companies," Aslund said. "And if you have the big corrupt deals within state companies, then you have contract murders."

Following Kozlov's killing, Putin created a ministerial-level task force to fight economic crime and appointed former Labor Minister Gennady Melikyan to succeed Kozlov as bank regulator.

Speaking to RFE/RL by phone from Kyiv, Aslund called Melikyan the worst man for the job because of his reputation as bland and unaggressive. Aslund also accused Putin of essentially moving to dismantle the tough inspection system set up by Kozlov, whose committee had withdrawn more than 50 banking licenses.

"[Putin] says that we need to strengthen bank inspection, after which he demolishes bank inspection," Aslund said. "Both institutionally, by setting up this committee, giving the Prosecutor-General's Office the main responsibility for fighting money laundering -- that is, taking away responsibility from the very decent Central Bank. And secondly, by appointing the weakest person [Melikyan] going in the Central Bank to run the bank inspection responsibilities that remain."

At a news conference with Merkel in Dresden, Putin pledged that Politkovskaya's killers will not go unpunished. But he also appeared to dismiss speculation her slaying was politically motivated, saying her "ability to influence political life in Russia was extremely insignificant."

Aslund believes Politkovskaya's killing is clearly unrelated to the killings in the banking sector. But it has come about in the same political climate.

"What is related is the general sense that the top officials can do anything, that they're allowed to do anything," he said. "And of course, it was very striking that Putin did not say a word about this, or the Kremlin didn't say a word about this, until Putin was pressured by it in Germany. So he didn't volunteer any comments, suggesting that this [killing] is OK."

On October 11, EU officials said they would raise Politkovskaya's killing with Putin at their October 20 summit in Finland. Finnish European Affairs Minister Paula Lehtomaki, whose country holds the EU's rotating presidency, called the 48-year-old journalist's slaying "a major setback for freedom of expression in Russia." She called the case "a particularly important test of the rule of law in Russia" and urged Moscow to bring the perpetrators to justice.

(RFE/RL Moscow correspondent Claire Bigg contributed to this report.)

Trying to defuse the controversy which has resulted from comments made by the NATO-led International Security Assistance (ISAF) commander, British Lieutenant General David Richards, who suggested that 70 percent of Afghans could eventually support the Taliban if the security situation in Afghanistan does not improve within six months, Mark Laity, NATO spokesman in Kabul, issued a statement on October 11 saying that Richards actually said that "the Taliban do not have the support of the people." Reacting to Richards' comments on October 7, Afghan President Hamid Karzai's spokesman said on October 10 that Afghans will not support the Taliban (see "RFE/RL Newsline," October 11, 2006). According to Laity, the commander of ISAF believed that the next six months have to be used for effective reconstruction and development to ensure the continued support of NATO's efforts. The quotations from Richards that appear in international news reports differ from Laity's comments on the subject. AT

Under the chairmanship of President Karzai a number of Afghan cabinet members met in an extraordinary session in Kabul on October 11 to discuss counternarcotics policies, the state-run Radio Afghanistan reported. "The mechanisms of implementing the national counternarcotics strategy and activities carried out" thus far needs to be assessed to "discover weaknesses," Karzai told the meeting. The participating ministers, which included ministers of interior, counternarcotics, finance, rural development, economy, education, and agriculture were tasked to present their suggestions and proposals for a reinforced counternarcotics program within two weeks. AT

Sayyed Mohammad Amin Fatemi expressed his deep concern about the mortality rates among mothers during delivery in Afghanistan, Herat-based publication "Pagah" reported on October 10. Fatemi said that Afghanistan has the highest maternal mortality in the world, a ratio of 1,600 deaths among women per 100,000 live births. According to the minister, the problem is worst in rural areas where women lack a good understanding of pregnancy and hygiene. As a remedy, the Health Ministry has developed health counselors in various locations in Afghanistan to provide guidance to pregnant women. AT

Afghan security officials have detained two Pakistanis for alleged involvement in bombing attacks in the Kandahar and Helmand provinces in southern Afghanistan, Ariana Television reported on October 11. A press release issued by the National Security Department of Afghanistan indicated that the suspects have plead guilty. In a separate case, security officials in the northern Baghlan Province arrested a Pakistani national on charges of kidnapping a teenage girl. AT

Mahmud Ahmadinejad told a crowd in the town of Shahriar outside Tehran on October 11 that Iranians have decided to firmly defend Iran's "nuclear right," and he denounced "bullying" by foreign powers trying to curb Iran's nuclear program, agencies reported. "A few countries are forcefully imposing their wishes when they have no right to interfere. Even the [UN] Security Council has no right to interfere," ISNA quoted him as saying. What makes "four or five countries" consider themselves "the equivalent of the international community," he asked, presumably referring to permanent members of the Security Council. Their "frowns" and "empty threats" cannot block Iran's "progress," he said. VS

"Why," Ahmadinejad asked, do Western states want Iran to "halt the fuel cycle? Where is the danger? Are 164 centrifuges more dangerous than your bomb-making factories.... Why should you have enrichment activities but not us?" Uranium enrichment could allow Iran to make nuclear bombs at some stage. Ahmadinejad said the same day in Robat-Karim that Western claims that if "Iran makes may deviate...and make nuclear bombs" are a pretext to "stop Iran's progress." He scoffed at threatened sanctions: "They threaten...we will not give you parts," though "our nation attained nuclear technology" in spite of existing import restrictions. "Now you wish to deprive us of parts, let us see where that goes," he said. VS

Hassan Rohani, Iran's former chief nuclear negotiator, urged Western states to "forget the...the Security Council and engage in serious talks" with Iran to resolve differences over its program, Fars reported on October 11. Rohani is Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei's representative on the Supreme National Security Council and heads the Expediency Council's strategic research center. Unconditional talks, he said, could yield "a two-way solution." He said that "suspension or sanctions are not something Iran accepts," and advised against pushing the dispute toward "just two choices, sanctions or suspension," when the West's fear is bomb proliferation and Iran has repeated "that is not what it wants." He said Iran has a "solution" if bombs are the only concern, but he said the United States blocked a previous "formula" approved by France and Germany allowing enrichment inside Iran. He said Iran wants self-sufficiency in nuclear fuel. "If the West stops threatening, there is a very great possibility of reaching an agreement," he said. VS

Interior Minister Mustafa Pur-Mohammadi said in Tehran on October 11 that his ministry will not permit "the electoral atmosphere to become infected or anyone' rights to be violated" during campaigning for seats on the municipal council and Assembly of Experts scheduled for December (see "RFE/RL Newsline," October 6 and 10, 2006), IRNA reported. The "experts" are clerics who supervise the work of Iran's supreme leader. Pur-Mohammadi was speaking after the deadline for registering candidacies for the Assembly of Experts polls. He said candidates must not subject each other to verbal abuse. "On voting day, about 1 million people will be used directly" beside security personnel, he said, and "we shall use the help of the armed forces to assure complete security across the country." The Guardians Council, a body of senior jurists, has one month now to determine which of the 495 registered aspirants meet the required conditions to be candidates, he said. Registrants include Expediency Council chief Ali Akbar Hashemi-Rafsanjani, Guardians Council Secretary Ayatollah Ahmad Jannati, judiciary chief Ayatollah Mahmud Hashemi-Shahrudi, and his predecessor, Mohammad Yazdi, IRNA reported on October 11. VS

Unspecified agents surrounded the home of a prominent member of a group of Sufis, or Islamic mystics, in Qom on October 10 and forced him to leave town, RFE/RL's Radio Farda reported on October 11. The expulsion of Nur Ali Tabandeh of the Nematollahi Gonabadi order of Sufis follows previous aggressions against the group in Iran, including damage to one of their shrines in Qom, member Mustafa Azmayesh told Radio Farda (see "RFE/RL Iran Report," February 22, 2006). "They have started a very strong wave against Sufis," he said, including the daily publication of hostile pamphlets in Qom and "speeches against Sufism, and especially the Gonabadi order." Separately, dissident journalist Akbar Ganji told Radio Farda on October 11 that he has informed UN High Commissioner for Human Rights Louise Arbour of varied rights violations in Iran, including censorship, expulsions of dissident students and academics from universities, and violations against religious minorities. He was in Geneva to receive the Marin Ennals Award for Human Rights Defenders. VS

Gunmen stormed the office of a new Iraqi satellite channel in the Al-Zayunah district of Baghdad on October 12, killing at least seven people, international media reported. The Al-Sha'biyah channel has not yet begun broadcasting, but was conducting test transmissions. Witnesses said the gunmen, some of whom were dressed in police uniforms, arrived in about six vehicles, the station's executive director, Hasan Kamil, said. Two guards and five employees were killed, many while they slept. It is not uncommon for journalists working for television and radio stations to sleep overnight at work due to security concerns and nighttime curfews. KR

The Council of Representatives approved a law on the establishment of autonomous regions by a vote of 141 to none on October 11, RFE/RL's Radio Free Iraq reported the same day. Several parliamentarians attempted to prevent a quorum by walking out of the session ahead of the vote. The law sets mechanisms for the establishment of federal regions similar to the Kurdish region beginning in 2008. Sunni Arabs parties, as well as the Shi'ite-led Al-Fadilah party and supporters of Shi'ite cleric Muqtada al-Sadr, are opposed to federalism, and argue that it will lead to the eventual breakup of the country. The Iraq-based Al-Sharqiyah satellite channel blamed deputies from Iyad Allawi's Iraqi National List for "allowing" the bill to be passed. The news channel criticized the deputies for ignoring pleas by protesting parties to boycott the vote, saying the deputies -- Mahdi al-Hafiz, Hamid Majid Musa, Mufid al-Jaza'iri, and Safia al-Suhayl -- changed Iraq's future by voting in favor of the law. KR

The Turkoman Front representative to the Kirkuk Governing Council, Ali Mahdi, was allegedly beaten by police while protesting the visit of an Iraqi parliamentary committee delegation responsible for overseeing the implementation of Article 140 of the Iraqi Constitution that calls for the normalization of Kirkuk, Kurdish media reported on October 11. Mahdi was reportedly taking part in a demonstration against the implementation of Article 140 when Kurdish police beat him, "Hawler Post" reported. A statement posted to the Patriotic Union of Kurdistan's website said that Mahdi was thrown out of a meeting with the committee on October 10. The website also contended that Turkoman demonstrators tried to attack Kurdish journalists covering the demonstration. The claim has not been substantiated. KR

Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan said he warned U.S. President George W. Bush about the status of Turkomans in Kirkuk should Article 140 be implemented, the Turkish daily "Milliyet" reported on October 12. Erdogan made the revelation during comments to his party's central executive committee on October 9. "I told Bush: 'If Kirkuk's status changes, there will be many problems there. You will regret it,' Erdogan reportedly said. He said he stressed his government's opposition to giving Kirkuk any special status. Turkey is a staunch supporter of Iraqi Turkomans and has supported Turkoman efforts to maintain a presence in the oil-rich city. KR