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Newsline - October 17, 2006

In an apparent attempt by the Russian authorities to strengthen state control over the energy business on the basis of questionable pretexts, Oleg Mitvol of the Russian Federal Service for the Oversight of Natural Resources (Rosprirodnadzor) said in Moscow on October 16 that LUKoil might lose at least 19 of the 406 licenses it holds for oil and natural-gas fields across Russia, international and Russian media reported (see "RFE/RL Newsline," September 20, 25, and 26, and October 16, 2006). He charged that LUKoil has not developed the fields, adding that "if a company does not have the money, is not in the mood, or does not have the desire to develop a field, they should return it to the state." He summed up LUKoil's failure to drill in one particular field in the Komi Republic with the words: "no action, no taxes, no jobs." The company will have several months to respond to these and other, including environmental, charges. LUKoil is Russia's largest remaining private energy concern. It is headed by Vadim Alekperov, who is one of Russia's richest men and the only top oligarch of Islamic heritage. In February, President Vladimir Putin told Alekperov that LUKoil's plans for expansion abroad help both Russia and neighboring countries (see "RFE/RL Newsline," February 14, 2006). The U.S. concern ConocoPhillips owns 20 percent of LUKoil. Previously, Mitvol targeted only foreign-owned companies on the basis of "environmental" concerns. PM

Representatives of foreign nongovernmental organizations are working apace to meet the October 18 registration deadline under stringent new legislation, RFE/RL reported from Moscow on October 16. Russian and foreign NGOs alike complain that the new rules are not transparent and invite arbitrary interpretation by officials determined to eliminate groups that are critical of the authorities. Many NGOs fear that recent legislation is indeed aimed at shutting them down by imposing taxes, fees, controls, and a maze of bureaucratic paperwork that takes small staffs hundreds of hours to complete (see "RFE/RL Newsline," June 30, and July 19 and 25, 2006). Yevgeny Volk of the Moscow branch of the Washington-based Heritage Foundation told RFE/RL that "the file we submitted contained about 200 pages. We had to present the charter of the organization that set up a representative office, and all founding members of the organization had to give their approval for the opening of a representative office [in Moscow]. Just imagine: Heritage was founded in 1973; we had to find its founders, some of whom are impossible to find. Over the past 33 years, many have gone to the next world, others have lost contact." Volk added that "on a political level, this clearly aims at squeezing foreign representative offices out of Russia. We were openly told, 'If you're not happy, don't file any documents and don't work.' Absolutely no one is interested in having [foreign NGOs] here." PM

Vitaly Churkin, Russia's ambassador to the UN, said in New York on October 16 that his country will not agree to U.S. demands for sanctions against Iran over its nuclear program as long as U.S. sanctions remain in place against Russia's main arms exporter, Rosoboroneksport, and the aircraft manufacturer Sukhoi, news agencies reported (see "RFE/RL Newsline," September 25 and 27, 2006, and "RFE/RL Russian Political Weekly," August 11, 2006). He nonetheless added that he does not "want to make any strong statements to that effect." Churkin noted that Russia seeks to have the sanctions against the two arms companies lifted in any event. U.S. Ambassador to the UN John Bolton told reporters that Churkin has not yet raised the matter with him. Russia opposes serious sanctions on Iran and North Korea while maintaining tough sanctions, including a blockade, on Georgia (see "RFE/RL Newsline," October 10 and 17, 2006). PM

Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Olmert is slated to arrive in Moscow on October 17 to mark the 15th anniversary of diplomatic relations between his country and the Russian Federation, news agencies reported (the Soviet Union broke relations with Israel in 1967 but reestablished them in 1988) (see "RFE/RL Newsline," September 8, 2006). Iran is expected to top the agenda of the three-day trip, along with Syria and the issue of possible diversion of Russian arms exports to Hizballah (see "RFE/RL Newsline," September 7 and 12, 2006). During and after the recent conflict in Lebanon, some Israeli media and politicians charged that Hizballah has successfully used Russian-made RPG-29 Vampyr antitank grenade launchers against Israeli forces. Russia at first denied the charges but later suggested that its export controls might not have been as stringent as it had thought, reported. On October 16, Olmert told the Israeli parliament that "the Iranian threat is a threat to Israel's existence, it is an existential threat to world peace," "The Jerusalem Post" reported. He added that Iran's nuclear capability will "stand at the center" of his talks with Putin. Also on October 16, Russian Middle East expert Yevgeny Satanovsky wrote for RIA Novosti that the history of Russian-Israeli "bilateral cooperation [has been] anything but simple." He noted that today "there is hardly anyone in the Russian elite who has not been to Israel" and that Israel includes over 1 million Russian-speakers among its population. Satanovsky added that many thousands of Israelis live in Russia and that the dynamics of contacts that Israel has with Russia "is comparable only with that [with] the United States." PM

General Yury Baluyevsky, who heads the Russian General Staff, said in Tokyo on October 17 that he does not exclude the possibility that North Korea might conduct another nuclear test, ITAR-TASS reported. He added that "it should not be ruled out that another nuclear test will be made, although the purposes of such a move are not clear to me. I have no unambiguous answer to this question." In Moscow, Defense Minister Sergei Ivanov also said that it is possible that Pyongyang will attempt a second nuclear test. He added that the international and Russian reaction to such a move will be "negative" (see "RFE/RL Newsline," October 16, 2006). PM

Moscow prosecutors said on October 17 that they have opened a murder investigation into the death of Anatoly Voronin, the property manager of the Russian state-run news agency ITAR-TASS, news agencies reported. Officials say he was found dead on October 16 in his Moscow apartment with multiple stab and slash wounds. A prosecutor's spokeswoman said there was no immediate indication that the killing was due to Voronin's work. Investigators say they are examining a range of possible motives, including that he was killed over a personal dispute. reported that circumstantial evidence suggests the involvement of one specific individual, alcohol, and unspecified personal disagreements over "delicate questions," but police would not comment. A spokeswoman for the news agency, where Voronin worked for 23 years, called his death "a colossal loss for TASS." PM

The Prosecutor-General's Office confirmed in Moscow on October 16 that police have arrested three suspects in the murder of Central Bank official Andrei Kozlov, news agencies (see "RFE/RL Newsline," September 14, 15, and 18, and October 13, 2006). Prosecutors said in a statement the suspects were "connected to organizing and carrying out" the September 13 killing. It gave no further details. Earlier, Russia's "Kommersant" daily reported that police have detained three Ukrainian citizens on suspicion of murdering Kozlov, who led efforts against money laundering. The paper said the suspects confessed -- one to killing Kozlov, another to killing his driver, and the third to driving the getaway car. It also said the police probe is focused on banks that were threatened with losing their licenses due to anticorruption efforts by Kozlov. The daily "Vremya novostei" earlier reported that the three Ukrainian citizens turned themselves in once they realized whom they had killed and who his enemies, who hired the three, might be. PM

The authorities in Ingushetia resorted to force on October 16 to disperse people who sought to gather in Nazran to honor the memory of slain Russian journalist Anna Politkovskaya, reported. Seven people, including oppositionist Magomed Mutsolgov who organized the demonstration, were arrested and charged with hooliganism. Deputy Interior Minister Musa Medov, who commanded the operation to thwart the demonstration, said he was acting on orders from Ingushetian President Murat Zyazikov. LF

Foreign Minister Vardan Oskanian met on October 16 with leaders of the self-declared Nagorno-Karabakh Republic, according to The Armenian Foreign Ministry press office reported that Oskanian traveled to Nagorno-Karabakh to discus the latest round of peace talks brokered by the OSCE Minsk Group and briefed Nagorno-Karabakh President Arkady Gukasyan and Foreign Minister Georgi Petrosian on his upcoming meeting in Paris with Azerbaijani Foreign Minister Elmar Mammadyarov set for October 24. RG

In an interview with Armenian Public Television, Foreign Minister Oskanian said on October 16 that Armenia and Turkey coexist in peace and noted that the massacre of Armenians in the Ottoman Empire should be considered a political issue, Yerkir reported. Oskanian noted that "taking into account the current political situation within Turkey, the proposal of [Turkish] Prime Minister [Recep Tayyip] Erdogan on the formation of a historical commission is insincere and not serious," and argued that "if a commission of historians is formed nothing will change," as "it will consist of Turks denying the 'genocide' and of Armenians pressing for its recognition." Oskanian explained that "this issue cannot be considered at the historical level with Turks, who themselves politicized the problem," and instead called on Turkey to accept the Armenian proposal to form an intergovernmental commission to address the issue. The comments follow the adoption of a bill in the French parliament that would make any public statement refuting the historical veracity of the "Armenian genocide" a crime (see "RFE/RL Newsline," October 13, 2006). That bill still faces consideration by France's upper house of parliament and must be signed by the French president before going into effect. RG

A small group of demonstrators staged on October 16 a protest in front of the French Embassy in Baku, Turan reported. Organized by the Karabakh Liberation Organization to protest a recent vote by the French parliament to criminalize the denial of the "Armenian genocide," the demonstrators pelted the embassy entrance with eggs, tomatoes, and other foodstuffs. Baku police later broke up the demonstration and arrested some 18 participants after they presented a petition to embassy staff calling on France to close its embassy and end all investment in Azerbaijan. The same group also attempted to hold an earlier rally outside the Foreign Ministry building to protest the arrival of OSCE mediators, but demonstrators quickly dispersed by police (see "RFE/RL Newsline," October 3, 2006). RG

President Ilham Aliyev met in Baku on October 16 with Peter Allgier, the U.S. representative to the World Trade Organization (WTO), Turan reported. Aliyev outlined his government's plans for WTO membership and expressed confidence in obtaining U.S. technical support for the process of Azerbaijan's eventual ascension. Aliyev also discussed the development of bilateral commercial, trade, and investment relations with the U.S. official. In comments to reporters after the meeting, Allgier said that "given the political will for Azerbaijan's membership of the WTO, the U.S. is ready to support the country and work on this," Trend reported. RG

Council of Europe Secretary-General Terry Davis expressed concern on October 16 over the Russian imposition of sanctions against Georgia, RFE/RL's Georgian Service reported. Davis said that although the Russian authorities are "entitled" to deport any Georgian living illegally in Russia, he is "concerned" over reports that children are being prevented from attending school in both Georgia and Russia and added that he did "not like" the Russian decision to "stop people sending money to Georgia when they're working legally in Russia." Commenting on the planned independence referendum for South Ossetia set for November 12, Davis criticized the referendum as "a waste of time" and said that "if Kosovo becomes an independent country, I think this is very important that this is not allowed to become a precedent for South Ossetia, Abkhazia, Transdniester, Northern Cyprus, the Kurdish areas of Turkey, or the Chechen parts of Russia." He further added that he believes "in the territorial integrity of all our member states -- that includes both Russia and Georgia, and South Ossetia is part of Georgia." RG

The leader of the Georgian opposition New Conservatives (New Rightists) party, David Gamkrelidze, challenged on October 16 Georgian President Mikheil Saakashvili over the recent UN Security Council resolution on Georgia, Imedi television reported. Gamkrelidze said that the resolution was a "surprise" that "has naturally raised questions among the public" and announced that his party has formally presented a letter to Saakashvili demanding clarification of several key issues. That letter asked the president why he has failed to fulfill the parliament's July decision calling for the complete withdrawal of Russian peacekeepers from Georgian territory and requested that Saakashvili explain why he chose to "ignore" the opposition's "truly constructive proposals for unilaterally ending the Russian peacekeepers' mandate and the necessity of Georgia's withdrawal from the CIS" (see "RFE/RL Newsline," July 19, 2006). He also raised a question over the government's strategy for responding to the planned November 12 referendum on South Ossetian independence and asked what the president would do in the event of Russian recognition of the self-declared Republic of Abkhazia. RG

Abkhaz President Sergei Bagapsh called on October 16 for a new closer, associative relations with Russia, Interfax reported. The Abkhaz leader explained that "even if Abkhazia is recognized as an independent state, it will still remain at gunshot distance from Georgia" and needs "to build associative relations with Russia" as "a guarantor of peace and stability in Abkhazia." Bagapsh further noted that with "Russian peacekeepers on our territory" and the fact that "our main currency is the ruble and all investment comes from Russia," such a deepening of relations with Russia is only natural. But he also stressed that Abkhazia was "open to dialogue with any country." RG

Speaking in Almaty on October 16, David Owen, senior adviser in the International Monetary Fund's (IMF) Middle East and Central Asia Department, lauded strong economic growth in four Central Asian countries, the IMF announced in a press release. Presenting a new IMF report, Owen said: "Growth in Kazakhstan, the Kyrgyz Republic, Tajikistan, and Uzbekistan is expected to average around 8 percent in 2006. This will be the seventh year in a row of growth at this pace or higher -- a sustained strong performance that has nearly doubled the region's GDP in real terms over the past decade." The report noted, however, that the region "remains heavily dependent on volatile oil and non-oil commodity prices." The report urged those four countries' governments to exercise fiscal discipline and carry out structural reforms. Turkmenistan doesn't cooperate with international financial institutions and those institutions don't consider the financial data that it officially reports to be reliable. DK

Justice Minister Marat Kayipov told a news conference in Bishkek on October 16 that amendments to the country's legislation could entail a six-year prison term for calls to overthrow the government using unconstitutional means, reported. The amendments, which are intended to bring legislation in line with a 2005 law on combating extremism, also envision a ban on calls for "extremist activity," whether in the press or in the course of demonstrations. The media NGO Internews released a statement calling the proposed legislation a threat to the development of journalism. Lawmakers are slated to vote on the amendments on October 19. DK

Oibek Olimjonov, a businessman and head of the Uzbek cultural center in Osh, Kyrgyzstan, was shot dead in a cafe in the southern city on October 15, reported the next day. Olimjonov was also a city council deputy. An unknown assailant shot him in the head. Osh police spokeswoman Zamira Sydykova told that an interagency task force has been created to investigate the killing because of its "social repercussions." cited television station NTS as reporting that police are investigating possible ties between the crime and Olimjonov's business activities, although they are not ruling out other motives. Osh is home to a large Uzbek minority and has witnessed ethnic tensions in the past. DK

Deputy Interior Minister Abdurahim Qahhorov told a news conference in Dushanbe on October 16 that the banned extremist organization Hizb ut-Tahrir and the Islamic Movement of Uzbekistan (IMU) have stepped up their activities in the lead-up to Tajikistan's November 6 presidential election, Interfax reported. Qahhorov said that 48 Hizb ut-Tahrir members have been arrested in the first nine months of 2006. Mahmadsaid Juraqulov, head of the ministry's division for fighting organized crime, said that 15 IMU members have been detained and 15 killed since the beginning of the year, Asia Plus-Blitz reported. Juraqulov noted that while Uzbekistan's government has tried to present the IMU as a regional threat, "Everyone knows it's Uzbekistan's problem today," RFE/RL's Tajik Service reported. Juraqulov said that IMU members use Tajikistan and Kyrgyzstan as a supply base and transit corridor. DK

Communications Minister Said Zubaydov told a news conference in Dushanbe on October 16 that the recent blocking of five Internet sites (see "RFE/RL Newsline," October 10 and 12, 2006) resulted from the testing of new equipment, Asia Plus-Blitz reported. Zubaydov also noted, however, that "there are also sites that contain unfounded information," adding, "In order to prevent this, they will be closed for several hours until the circumstances become known." The report noted that four of the five sites remain inaccessible to Internet users in Tajikistan. DK

Tajikistan's State Statistics Committee announced on October 16 that the country's gross domestic product (GDP) rose 7.6 percent in the first three quarters of 2006 to 6.52 billion somonis ($1.93 billion), Interfax reported. The committee said industrial output grew 6.2 percent to 3.215 billion somonis, consumer goods 7.2 percent to 874.4 million somonis, and agricultural output 8.5 percent to 2.41 billion somonis. Exports increased 56 percent to $1.007 billion and imports grew 28.8 percent to $1.221 billion, it reported. DK

The European Commission on October 16 announced a scholarship program for Belarusian students expelled from universities because of the opposition to the regime of President Alyaksandr Lukashenka, dpa and Reuters reported. The EU is offering scholarships worth 5 million euros ($6.3 million) to give expelled students the chance to continue their studies in neighboring countries such as Lithuania and Ukraine. EU funds will cover tuition fees and living expenses for 170 masters and 35 bachelor programs for new students in the European Humanities University in Vilnius as well as living expenses for Belarusian students already enrolled there. The three-year-program also includes scholarships for 100 students in Ukraine and other neighboring countries. Financial aid will be granted to students who have been accepted by a host university and who have demonstrated that they cannot study in Belarus. JM

Meeting in Minsk on October 16, the Council of Foreign Ministers of the Commonwealth of Independent States (CIS) discussed the agenda of a CIS summit expected to take place in the Belarusian capital in late November, Belapan reported. Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov told reporters that participants discussed issues concerning security, law, and order on the territory of the CIS, draft agreements on efforts to step up cooperation in combating illegal migration, a draft agreement on the protection of people involved in criminal justice, and a draft agreement on the prevention of money laundering and the financing of terrorism. Lavrov and his Belarusian counterpart, Syarhey Martynau, reportedly spoke against some voices suggesting a revision of the CIS charter in an effort to reform the post-Soviet commonwealth. JM

The Russian Economic Development Ministry has denied the charge that it had secretly ordered Russian regional authorities to reduce imports from Belarus over alleged restrictions on Russian exports in the Belarusian market, Belapan reported on October 16, quoting the ministry's press service. Russian State Duma Deputy Anatoly Lokot claimed last week that such an order had been made in a confidential letter signed by Russian Deputy Economic Development and Trade Minister Sergei Sharonov (see "RFE/RL Newsline," October 16, 2006). An official from the Belarusian Economy Ministry also confirmed to Belapan that Russia was not restricting Belarusian imports. JM

Roman Bezsmertnyy, leader of the parliamentary caucus of the pro-presidential Our Ukraine bloc, said at a session of the Verkhovna Rada on October 17 that his bloc is switching to the opposition, Ukrainian media reported. "In the past two months we witnessed a break in Ukraine's domestic and foreign course that was supported by the Ukrainian people during the election of President Viktor Yushchenko. Integration with the World Trade Organization is being ruined, programs of cooperation between Ukraine and the EU have actually been halted," Bezsmernyy said. "Under such circumstances Our Ukraine has left the negotiating process [with the ruling coalition], Our Ukraine is in the opposition, [and] our ministers are leaving the government," he added. Bezsmertnyy appealed to opposition forces in the Verkhovna Rada to set up an opposition confederation called European Ukraine. He did not touch upon the nature of Our Ukraine's future relations with the parliamentary opposition, which was set up by the Yuliya Tymoshenko Bloc last month. JM

Yuriy Miroshnychenko, a lawmaker from the ruling Party of Regions, said in the Verkhovna Rada on October 17 that his party is proposing to reinstate the roundtable talks that the president conducted with representatives of major political forces in Ukraine in July and August (see "RFE/RL Newsline," July 27, 2006), UNIAN reported. According to Miroshnychenko, the roundtable should work out a "consensus vision" of the government under the existing circumstances of a parliamentary-presidential political system in Ukraine and put an end to "conflicts in the lobbies" between the president and the prime minister. Miroshnychenko vowed that the ruling coalition led by the Party of Regions is ready for cooperation with President Yushchenko. JM

The Verkhovna Rada on October 17 decided to postpone until November 1 parliamentary hearings on Ukraine's prospects for and problems regarding its entry to the World Trade Organization (WTO), UNIAN reported. The hearings were originally planned for October 18. Parliament speaker Oleksandr Moroz said the postponement does not imply that deputies will not discuss WTO-related bills in the meantime. Ukraine still needs to pass a dozen of laws and sign a bilateral trade accord with Kyrgyzstan in order to be ready for WTO entry. Prime Minister Viktor Yanukovych urged parliament on October 16 to move quickly to pass the legislation that would enable Ukraine to join the WTO early next year. JM

Rospotrebnadzor, Russia's consumer rights watchdog, said on October 16 that it is carrying out checks of all alcohol imports from Ukraine, looking for banned wines from Georgia and Moldova, international news agencies reported. "We have reason to believe there is some sort of agreement between these countries -- including Ukraine, Belarus, and Azerbaijan -- to help these two countries [Georgia and Moldova] enter the Russian market," Rospotrebnadzor head Gennady Onishchenko said in a television interview. In another television interview Onishchenko said a doubling of wine imports from Ukraine is suspicious, adding that all alcohol imports, including vodka, will be probed. JM

Kosovar Prime Minister Agim Ceku on October 16 called for the international community to impose a final-status solution on Kosova, adding that it is the only way to stop a postponement of the process, B92 reported the same day. Ceku said postponing a decision would negate the progress made thus far and could lead to more conflicts in the Balkans. "The people of Kosova expect that the status question, according to the promises of the Contact Group, will be solved by the end of the year. Any kind of postponement would be very discouraging, the credibility of the Kosovar government would be hurt, and instability would result," he said. BW

The Prishtina-based daily "Koha ditore" commented on October 16 that the idea of postponing a final-status decision for Kosova has gained momentum, B92 reported the same day. "Some EU officials will defend the stance that the solution should be reached by the end of the year, while others are defending the stance that it is not good to rush at all costs," the daily wrote, citing unidentified diplomatic sources. "This means that this week, the dilemma regarding the deadlines for determining the status will be solved," the newspaper added. "Koha ditore" added that most of the diplomats it spoke to said the earliest a decision would be reached is February or March. "The Kosovar leaders misread the statements of the Contact Group as a guarantee that the status will be solved by the end of 2006," the daily wrote. UN special envoy Martti Ahtisaari is expected to present his final-status plan for Kosova in November, with plans for a final agreement by the end of the year. But Ahtisaari said on October 3 that the possibility of Serbian parliamentary elections in December could delay a decision on Kosova's final status (see "RFE/RL Newsline," October 5, 2006). BW

Eight soccer fans in Serbia face charges of spreading racial hatred after they abused a black player from Zimbabwe during a match in Cacak, Reuters reported on October 16. Police told the Beta news agency that another 29 were arrested and released and "will answer for disorderly conduct" at a soccer match. During a match on October 14, the fans racially abused Zimbabwean striker Mike Tawmanyera. They wore white hoods with Ku Klux Klan insignia and held banners saying "Go away because nobody likes you" and "The south will rise again." They also raised their arms in Nazi salutes and the game was then held up for 10 minutes midway through the first half for police to intervene and arrest the offenders. BW

The leaders of seven Southeastern European countries signed an agreement on October 16 to cooperate in fighting organized crime and terrorism, AP reported the same day. The presidents of Albania, Bosnia-Herzegovina, Croatia, Macedonia, Montenegro, Romania, and Serbia agreed to a "concerted action to fight organized crime and terrorism," which they described as "two increasingly intertwined threats" in the region. The seven countries pledged to work with the EU and NATO to "further develop the judicial bodies, law enforcement agencies, security and intelligence services, as well as financial detect, monitor, and prosecute perpetrators of organized crime and terrorist activities." BW

During an official visit to Berlin on October 16, Prime Minister Nikola Gruevski said Macedonia seeks to join NATO by 2009 and the EU by 2013, dpa reported the same day. "We are very dedicated to continuing the process of EU integration and NATO integration," said Gruevski, who was in Berlin on his first official foreign visit for talks with Chancellor Angela Merkel. Gruevski called on the EU to next year set a date for starting negotiations with Macedonia to join the 25-nation bloc and said Macedonia should become a full member in "six or seven years." Last week, European Commission President Jose Manuel Barroso said it is not yet possible to give Macedonia any timetable for EU membership. "We are too small a country to be a problem...we only have 2 million people," Gruevski said. BW

Speaking at a meeting of the GUAM Parliamentary Assembly in Chisinau on October 15, Moldovan parliament speaker Marin Lupu called for the current peacekeeping arrangement in Transdniester to be changed, Moldpres reported the same day. Lupu said current conditions in the breakaway region are different than in the early 1990s, when Russian peacekeepers were deployed there. "The format is old and we are open to dialogue," Lupu told reporters. It was the second comment by Lupu at the GUAM (which is comprised of Georgia, Ukraine, Azerbaijan, and Moldova) meeting that is likely to anger Moscow. Also speaking on October 15, he said that Moldova will not recognize a planned independence referendum in Georgia's separatist pro-Russian South Ossetia region (see "RFE/RL Newsline," October 16, 2006). BW

At the office of the French medical nongovernmental organization (NGO) Medecins du Monde, in central Moscow, employees are waiting for a crucial last batch of documents to arrive from Paris.

These documents will join the thick file that Ismael Shihab El Din, the office head, hopes to submit to Russia's Federal Registration Service on October 18 -- the deadline for foreign NGOs to reregister or close down.

"We had to gather a lot documents, including the passport numbers of the founding members," he says. The registration service has "one working day a week, Wednesday, so there will probably be a lot of people next week. We'll have to get up at the crack of dawn. Of course, this is preventing us from functioning normally for a certain time."

Like many staffers at foreign NGOs in Russia, Shihab El Din has spent much of the past few weeks putting together his group's application for reregistration.

It's been no small feat. The list of documents that NGOs have been asked to submit is massive. In addition to providing passport data and home addresses for founding members, each group must present a document that confirms the NGO's charter grants it permission to operate in Russia.

Gulnara, a member of the Medecins du Monde staff in Moscow, pulls out a paper from a bulging plastic folder. The reregistration procedure, she explains, has been fraught with confusion from the start.

"According to this form, for example, only seven documents need to be submitted," she says. "But when we consulted a lawyer, he gave us a much longer list, so we had to gather many additional documents. At first we didn't even know we had to reregister. When this process started, no one called us, we didn't receive any official notification to come and reregister."

Andrew Somers is the president of the American Chamber of Commerce, which, in addition to reregistering itself, has offered advice to other NGOs going through the process. He says collecting the documents has been particularly challenging for small organizations.

"The application contains a number of obligations to get notarization, and so on and so forth. So I imagine that this is the main problem, and if you are a smaller organization it's harder to organize this kind of transfer of documents abroad, finding out how to get something apostiled, getting it back in time, making sure it's accurate," Somers says. "This is a very formalistic society, and there are a lot of formal obligations that make you wonder why they're there. But they're there, and you have to fill out the form."

To help dispel the confusion surrounding the new law, the chamber has organized several meetings between foreign NGOs and Anatoly Panchenko, the deputy chief of the Federal Registration Service department in charge of NGOs.

It's not clear how helpful these meetings have been. During one last month, Panchenko urged NGOs to speed up their registration. He complained that many organizations had submitted what he called "repulsive" translations of their paperwork into Russian and had made mistakes while filling out certain forms.

The Russian government released its registration requirements in June, six weeks after passing new regulations restricting the work of foreign NGOs. Those NGOs who chose to reregister have had relatively little time to compile their dossier.

The Moscow branch of the Heritage Foundation, a respected policy-research institute based in Washington, has already filed its application. Director Yevgeny Volk says the procedure has consumed vast amounts of time and effort.

"The file we submitted contained about 200 pages," he says. "We had to present the charter of the organization that set up a representative office, and all founding members of the organization had to give their approval for the opening of a representative office [in Moscow]. Just imagine: Heritage was founded in 1973; we had to find its founders, some of whom are impossible to find. Over the past 33 years, many have gone to the next world, others have lost contact."

Those NGOs whose charter makes no specific provision for opening an office in Russia have had to amend their charter to comply with Russia's new NGO law, adding to the deadline pressure.

The law has been widely criticized for giving the state too much control over civil societies. Like many NGO leaders, Volk cautions that the bill may be used by the government to crack down on foreign groups whose activities it disapproves of.

"On a political level, this clearly aims at squeezing foreign representative offices out of Russia," he notes. "We were openly told, 'If you're not happy, don't file any documents and don't work.' Absolutely no one is interested in having [foreign NGOs] here."

As of October 12, the Federal Registration Service had granted reregistration to just 80 of the roughly 500 foreign NGOs currently operating in Russia.

(Claire Bigg is an RFE/RL correspondent based in Moscow.)

Afghan Attorney-General Abdul Jabar Sabet has dismissed two officials in two northern provinces, the Pajhwak Afghan News reported on October 16. Sabet dismissed Gol Rahman, chief prosecutor of Samangan Province, on October 16 on charges of corruption, while ordering the arrest of an unidentified official in Balkh Province. According to Sabet, his office has received complaints against the two officials and, after an investigation, he has ordered disciplinary action against them. Promising to continue his "anticorruption jihad," Sabet said that more arrests are to be expected in Balkh. As part of the anticorruption actions ordered by President Hamid Karzai, Sabet has already dismissed and/or arrested several officials in the western Herat Province and in Kabul (see "RFE/RL Newsline," October 5, 6, and 13, 2006). AT

Sayyed Hosayn Anwari has demanded that the courts order the execution of the killers of Abdullah Khan, a member of the Education Monitoring Commission who was killed by his kidnappers, Herat-based Radio Sahar reported on October 16. Abdullah Khan was reportedly abducted for ransom, which his family paid, of around $10,000, but the kidnappers still killed the hostage. Anwari requested that the "esteemed court and the prosecutor's office" sentence the culprits "to a punishment that is based upon Shari'a law. They have to be executed." An unidentified member of Herat's prosecutors' office told Sahar that several criminals in previous cases have been sentenced to death according to Afghanistan's punishment law. The relationship between the new Afghan system of justice -- which remains disorganized -- and Afghanistan's punishment law, which dates from the 1970s, is unclear. AT

President Karzai has ordered an investigation into a case in which one person was killed and anther wounded in the northern Badakhshan Province due to a "NATO fire incident," an October 15 press release from Karzai's office said. After speaking with the Badakhshan Governor Abdul Majid, Karzai "instructed the relevant authorities" to carry out an investigation and report to him. AT

Pakistani Prime Minister Shaukat Aziz has said that cross-border movements by terrorists between Afghanistan and his country have been "reduced dramatically" since the September peace agreement between Islamabad and tribes in North Waziristan (see "RFE/RL Afghanistan Report," September 12, 2006), PTV reported on October 16. Aziz said that Islamabad was satisfied with the North Waziristan agreement and is looking to forge similar deals with other tribes along the Afghan-Pakistani border. Pakistan is also trying to put into place "modern, computerized border stations" so that people moving in the otherwise semi-open border "have their passport or some sort of travel pass" checked, Aziz said. The agreement between Islamabad and the Utmanzai tribe in Waziristan has been criticized by Kabul as giving the neo-Taliban a free hand in the area. AT

Expediency Council Secretary Mohsen Rezai said in Tehran on October 16 that he considers the imposition of "mild" sanctions against Iran over its nuclear program "not unlikely" in the coming weeks, ISNA reported. But he added that China, Russia, and "even Western states" might not enforce them. He said the permanent members of the Security Council and Germany are agreed on "some form of mild those approved for North Korea, which does not include an oil embargo or foreign exchange revenues." Sanctions, he said, would be "symbolic" and aimed at maintaining U.S. prestige, since Iran has effectively pushed the United States to a "dead-end" with its resistance. "I think [sanctions] will not be successful," Rezai said, adding that they would likely last but a few months. "A hesitant resolution will be issued imposing sanctions...on the one hand, and insisting on the continuation of talks on the other," ISNA reported. He said Iran has withstood worse sanctions and would change its trading partners. VS

Kamal Daneshyar, the head of the parliament's Energy Committee, said in the southwestern Ahwaz on October 16 that "oil sanctions against Iran are like oil sanctions on consumer countries," ISNA reported. Iran would suffer, he admitted, but the sanctioning countries "that are mostly consumer countries" would suffer "10 times as much." He said if Iran's 2.5 million barrels of oil per day are taken out of the global market, "it is true that Iran no longer has oil revenues, but the price of oil will rise to $150 a barrel." Iran, he said, could meet its own needs "through domestic production" and would "guide society toward self-sufficiency." He added, separately, that the Oil Ministry has approved in principle the construction of an oil refinery in Khuzestan Province, "in an area between the Amidieh and Mahshahr districts." Construction would cost about $3 billion, he said, and will be privately financed, ISNA reported. VS

Tehran police chief Morteza Talai has reportedly submitted his resignation amid conflicting reports that he is resigning either to run as a candidate for upcoming local council elections or to protest the violent arrest of a Tehran cleric and his supporters, RFE/RL's Radio Farda reported on October 16 (see "RFE/RL Newsline," October 10, 2006). Fars news agency reported on October 9 that Talai resigned, as required by the law, to become a candidate for municipal elections in December. However, a letter cited by Radio Farda from a deputy head of the Intelligence Ministry to the head of clerical affairs at the office of Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei that was reportedly published on October 15, states that Talai had threatened to resign if the state acted against Ayatollah Hussein Kazemeyni-Borujerdi, who differs with the regime over religious affairs. Separately, one of Kazemeyni-Borujerdi's followers, who was arrested and then released on October 10, told Radio Farda on October 16 that "we have no accurate reports of Mr. Borujerdi's situation," though authorities have interrogated his supporters and told them to shun the cleric. Muhaddaseh Saberi told Radio Farda that "in the interrogations they presented Mr. Borujerdi as a corrupt individual." VS

Kamran Baqeri-Lankarani said in Tehran on October 15 that his ministry has identified more than 13,000 Iranians as infected with HIV, the virus that causes AIDS, but that the real figure for infections is likely between 60,000-70,000 "in the worst-case scenario," IRNA reported. He said AIDS is still a disease restricted to specific groups in the country, but "if we do not act against it with care, it could become a generalized disease." He said that even the highest estimate for infections "is not so [high] compared to many neighboring countries." He added that more state money is needed for HIV and flu-related treatments in the country, amid the rising price of some pharmaceutical products. VS

The Iraqi Special Tribunal announced on October 16 that sentencing in the Al-Dujayl trial of Saddam Hussein and seven co-defendants is expected to take place on November 5, Iraqi media reported the same day. The trial was set to resume on October 16. Prosecutor Ja'far al-Musawi said that should the court complete its review of the evidence and any subsequent investigations by that date, the verdict and sentences will be issued on that day. Hussein and the others are on trial for their role in the killing of 148 Shi'a from the town of Al-Dujayl following a botched assassination attempt against Hussein there in 1982. KR

Imad al-Farun, brother of the chief prosecutor in the Al-Anfal trial, Munqith al-Farun, was killed in Baghdad on October 16, international media reported. Al-Farun, who worked as a legal adviser to Iraqi National Congress head Ahmad Chalabi, was shot dead in front of his wife at their home in west Baghdad, AP reported. The Al-Anfal trial resumed on schedule on October 17, but without the participation of defense attorneys, who continue to boycott the trial. KR

Koichiro Matsuura, director-general of the UN Educational, Scientific, and Cultural Organization (UNESCO), condemned the "ferocious and systematic attacks" on journalists and media outlets in Iraq, the UN announced on October 16. UNESCO is the UN organ responsible for monitoring and defending press freedoms. "The international community and the authorities in Iraq must take determined action to support the media in this appalling struggle over freedom of expression, a basic human right that is the cornerstone to all human rights," Matsuura said. "The reconstruction of a democracy and the return to peace and rule of law in a country that has suffered so much violence and oppression over decades depend to a significant extent on the ability of both public-service and independent media to carry out their work," he added. Matsuura cited at least four attacks on media workers and media outlets this month. KR

The Council of Representatives issued a statement condemning the behavior of the Al-Sharqiyah news channel and called on Prime Minister Nuri al-Maliki's office to take action against it because of the station's coverage of parliament's approval of the law on regions last week, Al-Sharqiyah reported on October 16. The news channel claimed in its report that the law would lead to the breakup of Iraq, and said the votes of four parliamentarians from the Iraqi National List were responsible for the passage of the law (see "RFE/RL Newsline," October 12, 2006). Parliament speaker Mahmud al-Mashhadani told Al-Sharqiyah on October 16 that the statement of condemnation was issued at the request of the four parliamentarians. Al-Mashhadani said he considers Al-Sharqiyah a "moderate, objective" news channel. "We believe that the best solution is to expedite the issuance of a press law to organize the relationship between the various state institutions and the press," he added. The government previously ordered the Iraq offices of the Al-Arabiyah news channel closed for one month in September, saying the news channel adopted "a policy that incites sectarianism and promotes violence" (see "RFE/RL Newsline," September 8, 2006). KR

Jordan has reportedly decided to send the Palestinian refugees who fled violence in Iraq to Canada, Ramattan news agency reported on October 16. Some 280 Palestinians have been stuck on the border between Iraq and Jordan for months, after the kingdom refused them entry. Jordan is home to the largest number of Palestinian refugees in the region. Palestinians in the West Bank reportedly criticized the decision, and called on Palestinian President Mahmud Abbas to ask Jordan to reverse its decision, Ramattan reported. KR