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Newsline - October 20, 2006

After initially declining to comment on remarks President Vladimir Putin reportedly made on October 18 to visiting Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Olmert in which Putin praised the sexual prowess of Israeli President Moshe Katsav, Kremlin press spokesman Dmitry Paskov admitted to the BBC on October 20 that Putin made such comments. The daily "Kommersant" on October 19 reported of the Putin-Olmert meeting that "after the press was ushered out, and [Putin] apparently thought the microphones had been turned off," he told Olmert: "Say hi to your president. He turned out to be quite a powerful guy! Raped 10 women! We're all surprised. We all envy him!" (see "RFE/RL Newsline," October 19, 2006). The "International Herald Tribune" quoted Paskov as saying the same day (see "RFE/RL Newsline," October 19, 2006) that he was not present when the remarks were reportedly made about Katsav, who may face criminal charges for rape and sexual harassment of several women over a longer period of time. However, when pressed by the BBC in an October 20 interview, Paskov at first argued that "Russian is a very complicated language. Sometimes it is very sensitive from the point of view of phrasing." He sought to question whether the BBC's translation of "rape" was accurate but finally admitted that "these words were pronounced" by the president. The spokesman then said that "these remarks are not to be commented on" because they were "personal remarks for his counterpart and not for journalists' ears." He added that Putin "in no way welcomes rape." PM

It is not clear how President Putin's remarks will impact on his role at the EU-Russia summit on October 20 in Lahti, Finland, international media reported. It will be hosted by a woman, namely Finnish President Tarja Halonen, and Putin's most important opposite number will be another woman, German Chancellor Angela Merkel. "Kommersant" noted on October 19 that Putin displays little sense of humor in public except when others are the butt of it. Symbols and verbal imagery reflecting power and virility have been part of the trappings of the Putin regime, as they were in Soviet times. After Putin called earlier in 2006 for increasing the birthrate, critical journalist Vladimir Rakhmankov dubbed the president "Russia's phallic symbol." Rakhmankov is now on trial for "insulting a representative of the state" (see "RFE/RL Newsline," May 24, June 1, and September 22, 2006). PM

Prime Minister Olmert concluded his trip to Russia on October 20 by appealing to Jews in Moscow to "pack your bags" and move to Israel, reported (see "RFE/RL Newsline," October 17 and 19, 2006). His three-day visit drew attention to Israeli concerns over Iran's nuclear program and the presence of Russian-made weapons in the hands of Hizballah fighters in Lebanon. Cabinet Secretary Yisrael Maimon told reporters that Russian authorities have agreed to exercise greater "supervision over arms exports" in response to Israeli complaints, which the Israeli authorities backed up with evidence. Russia previously denied that its arms exports to countries such as Syria could find their way to third parties. also reported that Israeli military authorities have meanwhile "collected 39 Russian-origin antitank missiles from Hizballah outposts in southern Lebanon," some of which "were still in their original packaging, which identified them as having been manufactured in Russia." In other news, the chairman of Russia's Council of Muftis, Ravil Gainutdin, met in Moscow on October 19 with the parents and the wife of Ehud Goldwasser, one of the Israeli soldiers captured by Hizballah, RFE/RL's Tatar-Bashkir Service reported. Gainutdin said that "we can use our contacts in Palestine and Lebanon to find out if [the captured Israeli soldiers] are alive. I believe the captured soldiers are alive." PM

President Putin is scheduled to join EU leaders in Lahti, Finland, on October 20 for a two-hour dinner meeting, international media reported. noted that the Finnish hosts are anxious to present a "sanitized" version of often divergent views within the EU and a "stage-managed approach" in handling Russia. This reflects an effort to avoid controversy in dealing with a newly assertive Russia, on which many EU members are dependent for energy supplies and which some others court as a "counterweight" to the United States. But the recent killing of critical journalist Anna Politkovskaya raised uncomfortable questions about Putin's Russia at home and abroad, and EU foreign ministers recently slammed Russian policy toward Georgia. Many European critics also charge that the Kremlin is violating international norms and showing aggressive intentions in its behavior over the Sakhalin-2 gas production-sharing agreement (PSA) and other PSAs, as well as in its refusal to ratify in its present form the Energy Charter, which Moscow signed with the EU in 1994 and which would require it to open up access to its pipelines. Daniel Cohn-Bendit, floor leader of the Greens in the European Parliament, recently warned against "having cozy dinners" with Putin. (see "RFE/RL Newsline," October 12, 13, 16, and 18, 2006). PM

Luxembourg Prime Minister Jean-Claude Juncker told Reuters on October 19 that he and other European leaders are concerned that the EU, which is affected by diverging national interests, will not be able to present a united front to President Putin, who will then try to take advantage of those differences. Putin might seek, for example, to play off some of the older EU members in Western Europe against the newer ones in Eastern and Central Europe, which are highly suspicious of Moscow. But the Russian daily "Novaya gazeta" argued that Putin miscalculated in thinking that "European integration based on common values is nothing more than a romantic myth or propaganda bluff, and that Europe's national elites, as in the early 20th century, would be prepared to cut each other's throats for the sake of steel or coal, oil, or gas." By contrast, the daily "Novaya izvestia" suggested that some West Europeans are critical of Finland for inviting Putin because "Europe has failed miserably to work out a common platform for negotiations with Moscow...[and] Putin will see this regrettable lack of European unity. It will only strengthen his confidence in the necessity to seek separate partners in the [EU], which is essentially what Moscow has been doing all along." The daily "Kommersant" wrote that the main problem in the EU's dealings with Putin is that the two sides have a fundamentally different understanding of what democracy is all about. PM

Gernot Erler of the Social Democratic Party (SPD), state secretary at the SPD-run German Foreign Ministry, told Reuters in Berlin on October 19 that the ministry is determined to press forward with its plans to promote German and EU ties to Russia on the basis of an expanding network of interrelationships in the run-up to the German EU presidency in the first half of 2007 (see "RFE/RL Newsline," October 10, 11, 12, and 19, 2006). Erler conceded that "the words of [President] Putin...and the social reality in Russia do not always point in the same direction. This has to do with the NGOs as well as the domestic political climate, which is marked by increasing uncertainty after the recent murders," including that of critical journalist Politkovskaya. Several German and dozens of other foreign NGOs will have to leave Russia as part of the Kremlin's policy of tightening registration rules in what many NGOs say is an attempt to shut them down (see "RFE/RL Newsline," October 17, 2006). PM

The SPD's Erler maintained in his October 19 comments to Reuters that Germany and the EU must establish a network of irrevocable interdependencies with Russia that would make Russia and Europe too dependent on each other to let the relationship slide into conflict. He argued that "we need a situation in which Russia is just as dependent on Europe as Europe is on Russia." He believes that the "window of opportunity" to do so will last until 2008, when Putin's current and presumably final term of office runs out. Former Chancellor Gerhard Schroeder (SPD), who once called President Putin an "impeccable democrat" and brought German-U.S. relations to their lowest point since World War II, now heads the stockholders' oversight body for the planned Russo-German North European Gas Pipeline. Chancellor Merkel's Christian Democratic Union (CDU-CSU) is preparing its own policy paper, which is wary of excessively close ties to an authoritarian Russia, especially at the expense of the trans-Atlantic partnership. PM

The U.S.-based Blacksmith Institute has released a study showing that three Russian towns are among the 10 most contaminated in the world, the daily "Kommersant" reported on October 20. They are Dzerzhinsk, Rudnaya Pristan near Dalnegorsk in Primorsky Krai, and Norilsk. The NGO is involved in clean-up projects in Magadan, Tomsk, and Dzerzhinsk. Russian federal authorities questioned the validity of the survey's findings. Mayor Viktor Portnov of Dzerzhinsk said that the study is politically biased and aimed at discouraging investments there. A Russian Greenpeace spokesman said that the findings do not surprise him but questioned why no U.S. city or town was included in the list. He added that there are "dozens" of American towns as polluted as Dzerzhinsk. PM

The pro-Kremlin Unified Russia party's State Duma faction announced in Moscow on October 20 that it wants the October 22 runoff vote in Dalnegorsk, Primorsky Krai, cancelled following the recent killing of its candidate there, Dmitry Fotyanov, Interfax reported (see "RFE/RL Newsline," October 19, 2006). A faction spokesman said that "the voters [in Dalnegorsk] have found themselves in a difficult situation [following the killing]. The further electoral process has become pointless for most of them." He appealed to the Central Election Commission and prosecutor-general to address the situation. But Aleksandr Terebilov, acting mayor of Dalnegorsk and a candidate for the full-time post, said there that the vote must go ahead, as did the Dalnegorsk Election Commission. PM

The Republic of Ingushetia Union of Writers has written to President Putin to protest the tone and content of a television documentary aired on October 10 by TVTs devoted to the 14th anniversary of the October-November 1992 conflict in which tens of thousands of Ingush were forced to flee from their homes in North Ossetia's Prigorodny Raion, reported on October 18. That district was part of the Chechen-Ingush ASSR until that republic was dissolved following the deportation of Chechens and Ingush to Central Asia in 1944, when it became part of the then North Ossetian ASSR. The writers protested what they termed distorted claims implying that it was armed Ingush who started the fighting in 1992; they also condemned Putin's envoy to the Southern Federal District, Dmitry Kozak, for claiming that unidentified "hotheads" are now demanding that the existing border between North Ossetia and Ingushetia be redrawn. In a separate letter to Kozak, also carried by on October 18, eight Ingush parliamentarians similarly slammed the October 10 documentary as lacking in objectivity. Specifically, they took issue with Kozak's argument that the Ingush should resign themselves to the loss of Prigorodny Raion. LF

Outgoing Republic of Adygeya President Khazret Sovmen met on October 19 in Maykop with Duma Deputy Andrei Vorobyov and Vladimir Grebenyuk, both leading members of the pro-Kremlin Unified Russia party, reported. At a subsequent meeting of the Adygeya branch of Unified Russia, Sovmen reaffirmed that he intends to step down, adding that he "has nothing against" Maykop State Technical University Rector Aslancheryy Tkhakushinov, who is the most likely candidate to succeed him. Unified Russia supports Tkhakushinov's candidacy, which is one of three proposed by Kozak to President Putin (see "RFE/RL Newsline," October 16, 2006). On October 17, Sovmen's vice president, Boris Gokzhayev, and his press spokesman Talyy Beretar issued a statement deploring the fact that numerous ethnic and cultural organizations were not invited to participate in the October 2 consultations presidential envoy Kozak held in Maykop prior to drawing up a shortlist of candidates to succeed Sovmen, reported. They argued that the October 2 discussion did not give a comprehensive picture of the political situation or the level of popular support for Sovmen, and urged that Sovmen should serve a second term. LF

In comments published in a newspaper interview, Vardan Oskanian warned on October 19 that Armenia can no longer afford to hold elections that fall short of democratic standards and must "draw the line" in permitting electoral fraud, RFE/RL's Armenian Service reported. The foreign minister added that "everyone must realize that we simply have no more room for holding bad elections because this time the damage to our people would be not only moral but also material," and warned that "political forces would have to be held answerable" for the conduct of the May 2007 parliamentary elections. A free and fair election is widely held to be essential to Armenia's participation in both the U.S. Millennium Challenge Account aid program and within the European Union's Neighborhood Policy initiative for closer ties and deeper engagement. The Armenian Revolutionary Federation-Dashnaktsutiun issued a similar warning last month, threatening to "move into opposition" and withdraw from the ruling coalition if the election results are falsified (see "RFE/RL Newsline," September 13, 2006). RG

Armenian parliament speaker Tigran Torosian met on October 19 with Ambassador Vladimir Pryakhin, the head of the OSCE Office in Yerevan, to discuss the upcoming parliamentary elections, according to RFE/RL's Armenian Service. Pryakhin affirmed that "the OSCE was ready to assist Armenia in conducting elections according to international standards" and offered "to send an observation mission provided an invitation was issued by the Armenian authorities in a timely manner." Torosian welcomed that offer and said that the formal invitation "should be issued as soon as possible." The OSCE official also reiterated the need for greater progress in reforming the Armenian Electoral Code, Arminfo reported. RG

More than a dozen Armenian parliamentarians criticized on October 19 the recent arrest by Armenian security forces of an ethnic Armenian activist from the predominantly Armenian-populated southern Georgian region of Djavakheti, RFE/RL's Armenian Service. The deputies charged that the arrest of Vahagn Chakhalian, a leader of the United Djavakhk organization campaigning for the region's autonomy within Georgia, was politically motivated. He was arrested and later charged with illegally entering Armenia on October 11 just hours after being assaulted by a large group of unknown men. Chakhalian, his parents, brother, and fellow United Djavakhk activist Gurgen Shirinian, were reportedly stopped and attacked as they arrived in Yerevan. Shirinian is said to have also been stabbed in the attack and remains hospitalized with life-threatening wounds. No one has been detained in connection with the incident so far. RG

Pilots representing hundreds of former Armenian Airlines staff accused the government on October 19 of deliberately delaying payment of 190 million drams ($500,000) in back wages owed to them by the now defunct state-owned Armenian Airlines, according to RFE/RL's Armenian Service. The pilots have accused the Armenian government of repeatedly failing to meet its pledges to pay the back wages despite having raised about $500,000 from the partial liquidation of the Armenian Airlines' planes and other assets. The once-profitable airline entered bankruptcy in 2002 after years of purported mismanagement, costing over 1,000 people their jobs. More than one-third of them have yet to be fully paid, with some wage arrears estimated to be as much as 4 million drams ($10,000). RG

Ilham Aliyev signed on October 19 a decree establishing a new state program aimed at expanding education opportunities for Azerbaijani students to study in foreign universities, Turan reported. The decree calls on the Azerbaijani Ministries of Education and Economic Development to develop a detailed state program to provide funding and support for students seeking foreign education within three months. RG

President Aliyev ordered on October 19 that national-security agencies and bodies improve their efforts in "intelligence and counter-intelligence activities" and "combating aggressive separatism, terrorism, and transnational organized crime," according to, as cited by "Baku Today." The president also instructed his cabinet "to allocate the necessary amount of funds from the state budget" for the implementation of improved security efforts, including "the protection of national interests from other threats." RG

The Azerbaijani parliament voted on October 19 to reject a request from Israel to mediate in the case of several captured Israeli soldiers being held in Lebanon, the APA news agency reported. Lawmaker Yevda Abramov said that the decision stemmed from Azerbaijan's need to "avoid undermining its balanced foreign policy," but explained that the rejection of the request "will not damage Israeli-Azerbaijani relations" and noted that Baku's position was "accepted" by the Israeli ambassador to Azerbaijan. RG

A small group of demonstrators staged on October 19 a second protest in front of the French Embassy in Baku, Turan reported. The protest was organized by the Karabakh Liberation Organization in response to a recent vote by the French parliament to criminalize the denial of the Armenian genocide. Group leader Akif Nagi led protesters in a procession to lay black carnations outside the embassy and presented embassy staff with a "letter of condolences" that offered the group's "condolences to France on the end of democracy." The same group held a similar protest at the embassy a few days earlier (see "RFE/RL Newsline," October 3 and 17, 2006). RG

Gela Bezhuashvili reiterated on October 19 Georgia's readiness for dialogue with Russia in an attempt to defuse current tensions, Civil Georgia reported. Bezhuashvili affirmed that "we want to achieve a mutually acceptable outcome as a result of this dialogue, which will be based on our national interests and of course will also be in line with Russian interests." Georgian President Mikheil Saakashvili had earlier said that he is ready to meet his Russian counterpart to solve disputes "in a bilateral format," but the offer was rejected at that time. RG

EU Commissioner for External Affairs Benita Ferrero-Waldner said on October 19 in Astana that Kazakhstan needs to carry out reforms in the coming years in light of its bid to chair the OSCE in 2009, Reuters reported. Ferrero-Waldner said that while the EU would like to support Kazakhstan's bid and it is "high time, 15 years after the dissolution of the Soviet Union, for a Central Asian country to hold the presidency...that cannot be at the expense of the OSCE's core values." Ferrero-Waldner told students at a university, "We are hoping for signals from the highest level in Kazakhstan that the necessary political reforms, for example, to the media and electoral laws and the constitution, would be carried out in the coming years." DK

Rakhat Aliyev, a deputy foreign minister and the son-in-law of Kazakh President Nursultan Nazarbaev, told "Kazakhstan Today" on October 18 that British comedian Sacha Baron Cohen should visit Kazakhstan. Cohen's character Borat, a laughably backward "Kazakh journalist," has previously drawn the ire of Kazakh officials (see "RFE/RL Newsline," November 15, 2005). Aliyev called Borat "a comic character from a satirical program; it's difficult for me to imagine a viewer who would take seriously the pictures he paints." Aliyev said that he would like to invite Cohen to Kazakhstan so that he could see that "our women not only ride inside of buses, but even drive them, that we make wine from grapes, that Jews can freely attend synagogue, and so on." Borat has claimed, among many other bizarre things, that Kazakh women only recently gained the right to ride inside buses and that Kazakhstan's national drink is fermented horse urine. DK

Parliamentary deputy Bolot Maripov told a press conference in Bishkek on October 19 that "Kyrgyzstan will not get $150 million in rent for the [U.S.] air base at Manas," news agency reported. Citing information from Kyrgyzstan's Security Council, Maripov said that the United States will annually pay "$45.6 million, of which $17.4 million is an additional payment for further access to and use of facilities in Kyrgyzstan, including Manas International Airport." Estimating the total benefit to Kyrgyzstan's budget at $60 million-$70 million, Maripov asked, "Where is the $150 million that was discussed during the talks?" AP reported that Evan Feigenbaum, U.S. deputy assistant secretary of state for South and Central Asian affairs, would not say how much the United States pays for its base in Kyrgyzstan. "We are satisfied with the agreement that we have reached on the base," he said. DK

Kyrgyz lawmakers on October 19 voted down amendments to the country's media law that would have mandated prison terms of 5-10 years for journalists who distribute extremist materials, reported. The legislation was recently presented by Justice Minister Marat Kayipov (see "RFE/RL Newsline," October 17, 2006). DK

The French construction company Bouygues has received a $90 million contract to build a facility for Turkmenistan's Khalk Maslahaty, or People's Council, NewsCentralAsia reported on October 18. The facility, with a hall to accommodate the council's 2,507 delegates and guests, will be located in the foothills of the Kopetdag Mountains. The contract is the latest in a series of large projects Bouygues has carried out in Turkmenistan. DK

Islam Karimov dismissed Ferghana Governor Shermat Nurmatov at an October 19 session of the province's council of people's deputies, official news agency UzA reported. In an address to deputies, Karimov noted that poor leadership has led to falling industrial production, lagging foreign investment, and poor cotton harvests. Nurmatov's replacement will be Abduhashim Abdullaev, formerly the mayor of Margilon. Karimov recently removed the governor of Andijon province (see "RFE/RL Newsline," October 16, 2006). DK

Four independent trade unionists at a tire factory in Babruysk on October 19 joined a hunger strike launched by their colleague Alena Zakhozhaya on October 3, RFE/RL's Belarus Service reported. They are protesting what they say is discrimination against fellow union members by the state petrochemical concern Belnaftakhim. Belnaftakhim reportedly refused to register their trade union organization and failed to deliver benefits promised under the terms of a collective bargaining agreement. Meanwhile, the same day a high-ranking Belarusian delegation headed by Deputy Prime Minister Andrey Kabyakou started two-day talks with the International Labor Organization (ILO) in Geneva. The talks focus on the observance of trade unions' rights in Belarus and the country's progress in implementing the recommendations that the ILO gave to the Belarusian government two years ago. JM

On October 19, Poland began deporting a herd of 242 Belarusian cows, mostly heifers, which reportedly for no clear reason broke an electric fence on October 15, swam across the Zakhodni Buh River on the Belarusian-Polish border, and joined a herd on Polish territory, Belapan, RFE/RL's Belarus Service, and dpa reported. Polish border guards and veterinary officials tried, but failed, to persuade the alien animals to swim back home. Now the Belarusian cows are being trucked across the border into their home country ruled by an authoritarian president. The state farm, which owns the herd of border transgressors, will reportedly have to bear the cost of maintaining the heifers in Poland and delivering them back to Belarus. The manager of the farm insists that the herdsmen, aged 50 and 29, should be required to compensate the enterprise for the losses incurred in the incident. JM

Interior Minister Yuriy Lutsenko told a news conference in Kyiv on October 19 that, following a request from President Viktor Yushchenko, he decided to remain in the cabinet of Prime Minister Viktor Yanukovych, Ukrainian media reported. Lutsenko confirmed Our Ukraine leader Roman Bezsmertnyy's announcement earlier the same day that he, following an earlier request from the president, tendered his resignation along with four other ministers belonging to the Our Ukraine quota in the cabinet (see "RFE/RL Newsline," October 19, 2006). "My decision [to remain in the cabinet] has been supported by the prime minister and the Verkhovna Rada head," Lutsenko added. The same day, Yanukovych assured journalists that the withdrawal of the four Our Ukraine ministers will not provoke a government crisis. "The resignation procedure for the ministers representing the Our Ukraine bloc requires this question to be discussed in parliament. I think in the next few days we will select candidates for future ministers from members of the [ruling] coalition," Yanukovych said. JM

The Reform and Order Party (PRP) has decided to join the Yuliya Tymoshenko Bloc, which remains in opposition to the ruling coalition, Interfax-Ukraine reported on October 20, quoting PRP leader Vyktor Pynzenyk. Pynzenyk was finance minister in the previous cabinet of Yuriy Yekhanurov. The PRP, formed in 1997, joined the Our Ukraine bloc after the 2002 parliamentary elections but went into the March 2006 parliamentary elections in a bloc with the Pora Party. The PRP-Pora Party bloc failed to overcome the 3 percent voting threshold that qualifies for parliamentary representation, gaining 1.47 percent of the vote. JM

U.S. State Department spokesman Tom Casey said on October 19 that the U.S. government has changed the official spelling of the name of the Ukrainian capital from "Kiev" to "Kyiv," dpa reported. Casey added that the new spelling is "in keeping with how the Ukrainians themselves pronounce the name of their capital." JM

A series of explosions took place at a Serbian ammunition depot on October 19, injuring at least 20 people and causing damage to several buildings, AP reported the same day. The blasts were caused by 3.5 tons of explosives and ammunition stored at an army barracks near the town of Paracin, 150 kilometers south of Belgrade. "The explosion was triggered by a smaller quantity of explosives that went off outside the indoor storage facility," said Radomir Mladenovic, an investigative judge speaking in Paracin. He added that the authorities have not ruled out sabotage. Interior Minister Dragan Jocic said there was "huge material damage in the whole area of Paracin in at least eight blasts of a range of different explosives." Environment Minister Aleksandar Popovic added, however, that there was no danger of a poison leak. BW

Serbian Sports and Education Minister Slobodan Vuksanovic said on October 19 that he will push law-enforcement officials to seek strict sentences for 152 soccer fans arrested for spreading racial hatred, B92 and UPI reported the same day. "Without fast action and harsh sentences by the courts, we cannot expect peace and order," he said, adding that the state must react so as to prevent racial incidents at soccer and other sporting events. Police on October 18 detained 152 fans of Belgrade's Rad soccer team, 47 of whom were less than 18 years old, on suspicion of spreading racial hatred. During the game against a team from the mainly Muslim town of Novy Pazar, the fans shouted racially charged slogans including: "Knife, wire, Srebrenica" and "Serbia for the Serbs, out with the Turks." On October 14, eight Serbian soccer fans in the town of Cacak were arrested for shouting racist chants at a player from Zimbabwe (see "RFE/RL Newsline," October 17, 2006). BW

Kosova's parliament passed a resolution on October 19 criticizing Serbia's "illegal" plans to hold a referendum on a new constitution in the breakaway province, dpa reported the same day. The Serbian parliament unanimously approved a new constitution that claims sovereignty over Kosova on September 30 and set October 28-29 as the date for a referendum for its ratification (see "RFE/RL Newsline," October 2, 2006). Serbian officials have said they want to hold the referendum in the whole country, including Kosova. "We condemn the holding of such a referendum inside Kosova's territory for the new constitution of Serbia," the declaration said. International official have downplayed the constitution's relevance to the debate over Kosova's future. "This referendum in Serbia has no meaning or bearing on the status of Kosovo, neither at present nor in the future," Joachim Ruecker, head of the UN Mission in Kosova, said after meeting Kosovar leaders. BW

Bosnia-Herzegovina's Election Commission announced the final results of the general elections on October 18, dpa reported the same day. Haris Silajdzic will be the Muslim member of the tripartite presidency, Nebojsa Radmanovic will be the Serbian member, and Zeljko Komsic will hold the Croatian seat. In Bosnia's House of Representatives, the lower house parliament, the Muslim nationalist Party of Democratic Action (SDA) won nine seats, Silajdzic's Party for Bosnia-Herzegovina (SBiH) won eight, Radmanovic's Party of Independent Social Democrats (SNSD) won seven mandates, the Social Democratic Party (SDP) and a coalition of Bosnian and Croatian parties took five seats each, and the nationalist Serbian Democratic Party (SDS) won three seats. Five other parties won one seat each. BW

The election commission also announced results for the Republika Srpska and Muslim-Croat Federation entity-level parliaments on October 18, dpa reported the same day. In the Republika Srpska's parliament, the SNSD won a majority with 41 mandates. The nationalist SDS won 11 seats, the Party of Democratic Progress won eight, followed by the SBiH and the Democratic People's Party (DNS) with four each. The Socialist Party and the SDA won three seats each, the Serbian Radical Party (SRS) won two seats and the SDP won one. In the Muslim-Croat Federation's parliament, the SDA won the most seats with 28, Silajdzic's SBiH followed with 24 mandates, the SDP won 17, a coalition of Bosnian and Croatian parties took 16, the Bosnian Patriotic Party took four, the Social-Democratic Union and the Union for Progress won three seats each, the Democratic People's Union won two, and the Bosnian Serb SNSD took one seat. BW

Moldovan officials said on October 18 that the separatist Transdniester region is asking for more time before agreeing to resume negotiations with Chisinau, Moldpres reported the same day. In an effort to restart talks, Russia, Ukraine, and the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE) began consultations with Moldovan and Transdniestrian officials on October 18 in Odesa, Ukraine (see "RFE/RL Newsline," October 19, 2006). Moldpres quoted Moldovan Reintegration Minister Vasile Sova as saying that Chisinau is willing to immediately resume negotiations, but that Tiraspol asked for more time to hold consultations. BW

Our Ukraine has announced that it is switching to the opposition and pulling its ministers out of the government. Our Ukraine leader Roman Bezsmertnyy said in the Verkhovna Rada on October 17 that his bloc's decision to go into opposition was caused by its disagreement with policies pursued by the ruling coalition of the Party of Regions, the Socialist Party, and the Communist Party, which is often referred to as an "anticrisis coalition."

"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," Bezsmertnyy said.

Bezsmertnyy called on opposition parties, both within and outside the Verkhovna Rada, to set up a "confederation" to support the pro-European course championed by President Yushchenko. "Regarding our proposals in today's situation, we call on opposition forces in parliament and outside parliament to form a European Ukraine [opposition alliance] as a confederation, to work out an action plan that would be aimed at creating an alternative to the actions of the anticrisis coalition and the current government," he said.

Bezsmertnyy did not say a single word about Our Ukraine's relations with the Yuliya Tymoshenko Bloc (BYuT) , its former ally in the 2004 Orange Revolution. Both blocs split in September 2005 because of their failure to coexist in a coalition government. And they suffered an even worse failure while trying to form a new coalition after the March parliamentary elections.

The BYuT announced the creation of an "interfactional" opposition association in the Verkhovna Rada last month and made former Prime Minister Yuliya Tymoshenko its leader. So far Tymoshenko has managed to attract only two defectors from the Socialist Party to this opposition alliance.

Meanwhile, BYuT lawmaker Anatoliy Semynoha told RFE/RL's Ukrainian Service that he and his colleagues will readily welcome Our Ukraine lawmakers among their ranks. "Our position is comprehensible. We formed an interfactional opposition union, which has been joined by some Socialists. We are inviting our Ukraine as well. I think that it is necessary for them to join [this union] and start working today without inventing a bicycle [anew]," he said.

However, judging by Bezsmertnyy's announcement on October 17, Our Ukraine is set to reformat the configuration of opposition groups in Ukraine according to its own taste rather than join the Tymoshenko-led group.

Our Ukraine lawmaker Vyacheslav Koval told RFE/RL's Ukrainian Service that his party has not yet made a final decision on how to proceed in the opposition. "There has been no decision on whether to create a confederation or not. But perhaps [such a confederation] is a way for attracting parties outside parliament and creating a powerful opposition. However, this needs to be discussed," he said.

But the chances that Our Ukraine might get together with the BYuT once again, let alone recognize Tymoshenko's leading role in the opposition, are very slim.

Where do these opposition maneuvers leave President Yushchenko? Yushchenko said on October 18 that the five ministers delegated to Yanukovych's cabinet by Our Ukraine should step down in order to be consistent with the position of their bloc. They submitted their resignations to the Verkhovna Rada on October 19, but later the same day Interior Minister Yuriy Lutsenko changed his mind and said he will remain in the cabinet.

If Prime Minister Yanukovych replaces these ministers with people from his party, President Yushchenko will lose a considerable leverage tool in the government. In such a case there will be only two pro-Yushchenko ministers in the cabinet -- Foreign Minister Borys Tarasyuk and Defense Minister Anatoliy Hrytsenko, who were appointed directly by the president.

But Yanukovych may decide against such a solution. There have already been proposals from the Party of Regions to give Yushchenko the right to fill these five ministerial posts with "nonparty professionals."

This seems to be a coldly calculated gesture of goodwill toward the president whose powers have been significantly trimmed in favor of the legislature and the prime minister by a constitutional reform enforced in January.

The anticrisis coalition falls 60 votes short of the 300 votes required to override a presidential veto over legislation. Therefore, by giving Yushchenko the right to nominate more ministers to the cabinet, Yanukovych may want the president to share responsibility for the cabinet's decisions, despite the withdrawal of the pro-presidential Our Ukraine from it.

In other respects, however, the failure of the Orange Revolution camp to form a ruling coalition after the March elections could spell big trouble for Yushchenko. Yanukovych is firmly set to take away as many prerogatives from the president as constitutional loopholes will allow him.

Yanukovych has recently refused to implement several presidential decrees, arguing that they were not cosigned by him, as stipulated by the constitution. He is also questioning in the Constitutional Court Yushchenko's right to appoint regional governors without coordination with the government.

In addition, pro-Yanukovych regional councilors reportedly passed no-confidence motions against more than 70 oblast or district administration heads. Yanukovych is demanding their dismissal, arguing that under the constitution a no-confidence vote supported by two-thirds of lawmakers is sufficient to oblige the president to sack the head of a district or oblast administration.

Thus, having taken a firm grip on the central government, Yanukovych now appears to be determined to dismantle the network of presidential loyalists in the provinces.

Could such a turn of events push Our Ukraine and the BYuT toward reassessing their positions regarding each other? BYuT lawmaker Semynoha believes that it may. "Regarding the opposition and its future, I am convinced that there is no other scenario for Our Ukraine than actually joining the united opposition in the Verkhovna Rada and jointly building democracy in our state," he said. "If they fail to do it today, they will do it later. Time, voters, and necessity in our situation will simply force them to do it."

But Ukrainian voters will have the chance to discipline their politicians no earlier than in 2009 and 2011, when the country will hold presidential and parliamentary votes, respectively.

Therefore, in the short term, Ukraine will most likely witness confrontation not only between the government and the opposition represented by the BYuT and Our Ukraine, but also between the opposition blocs themselves.(RFE/RL's Ukrainian Service contributed to this report.)

Hamid Karzai expressed his "deep regret" at the "unfortunate" killing of civilians who died in two separate bombing raids conducted by the NATO-led International Security Assistance Force (ISAF) in southern Afghanistan, according to a press release from Karzai's office on October 19. According to reports "the enemies of Afghanistan" took shelter in Ashogha village on October 18 in Kandahar Province where, during an operation against them conducted by ISAF, nine civilians were killed and 11 others were injured, the release stated. In another incident on the same day, insurgents took shelter in the village of Tajikan in Helmand Province. A bomb attack against them resulted in 11 civilians reported killed. "I have mentioned this several times in the past that every effort should be made to ensure the safety of civilians and that inflicting harm on them is not acceptable to us," Karzai said in the press release. Karzai urged ISAF to "take maximum caution" during their military operations. AT

Two Afghan children and a Royal Marine were killed and five Afghan civilians and two British soldiers were injured when a suicide bomber targeted ISAF forces in Lashkargah, the provincial capital of Helmand, on October 19, international news agencies reported. Mohammad Yusof, purportedly speaking for the Taliban, said the same day that "a Taliban fighter, Abdul Naser, carried out the suicide attack" that killed more than 15 troops, among which several were British," the Peshawar-based Afghan Islamic Press reported. A website purporting to represent the Islamic Emirate of Afghanistan -- the name of the country under the Taliban -- claimed on October 19 that a "heroic mujahid" named Abdul Naser carried out a suicide attack in Lashkargah, killing 10 soldiers, including British "occupiers." The website carries a picture of the alleged bomber and a scene showing burned-out vehicles. AT

While some countries have responded positively to requests for more troops to be deployed with ISAF in Afghanistan, NATO is "not entirely there yet," Secretary-General Jaap de Hoop Scheffer said in London on October 19, Reuters reported. Though Poland has responded significantly to a NATO call for reinforcements in the face of unexpectedly intense fighting in southern Afghanistan with a pledge to send 1,000 troops to Afghanistan early next year (see "RFE/RL Newsline," September 15, 2006), few others have. In addition to Poland, Scheffer listed the Czech Republic, Denmark, Romania, and Canada as having offered additional troops. AT

The Norwegian government decided on October 18 not to send additional forces to southern Afghanistan as requested by NATO, Xinhua reported on October 19. An unidentified Norwegian source said that additional troop deployment in Afghanistan is "not going to happen now, but the possibility of sending extra forces later is still open." The leader of Norway's Conservative Party, Erna Solberg, regretted that her country's "foreign and security policy is governed" by domestic judgments, the Oslo daily "Aftenposten" reported on October 18. The left-wing parties in Norway's coalition government have opposed further deployment in Afghanistan. AT

People across Iran participated in Qods (Jerusalem) Day rallies on October 20, news agencies reported. The previous day, President Mahmud Ahmadinejad said in the Tehran Province town of Islamshahr that "the existence of the Quds-occupying regime" is the biggest problem facing mankind, state television reported. "It is a bogus regime.... It is the root of discrimination, oppression, and bullying in the world." He added "We have said repeatedly and our nation has said repeatedly that this regime is illegitimate in its very foundation; it is forged, it has been imposed on nations of the region and it cannot survive." After ranting in this vein and then flinging accusations at the United States for its support of Israel, Ahmadinejad turned to the nuclear issue and said Iran will not forsake its perceived rights. BS

Brigadier General Ahmad Reza Radan has been selected as the new police chief in Tehran, IRNA reported on October 19, citing the daily "Seda-yi Edalat." Radan succeeds Morteza Talai, who resigned so he could participate in the December municipal council election. Radan served previously as a police chief in Khorasan Razavi Province. BS

Human Rights Watch (HRW) on October 19 called on the Iranian government to immediately cease restricting student activists' attendance at universities, reported. In a report titled "Denying the Right to Education," HRW noted that the government has barred 12 students, and that another 54 were allowed to resume going to school only after pledging not to engage in political activities. HRW asserted that the Ministry of Intelligence and Security is behind the campaign, and in the last year the judiciary has given more than 20 students prison sentences. Another 32 students have been suspended by their universities, and 10 student associations have been banned or suspended. BS

Iranian newspapers have carried an increasing number of reports about runaway girls over the last few years, Radio Farda reported on October 19, and female police officers are tasked with dealing with these girls in the environs of the shrine of Imam Reza in Mashhad. Many of the girls sleep in the open, Radio Farda reported, and some have taken to prostitution. It was reported that some girls as young as 9 years old have been found as runaways. BS

Leaders from Iraq's Sunni and Shi'ite religious communities began talks in the holy city of Mecca, Saudi Arabia, on October 19 to seek ways to halt the sectarian violence that has plagued Iraq since February, international media reported the same day. The meeting, held under the auspices of the 57-member Organization of the Islamic Conference, is to culminate in the signing of a "Mecca Charter" on October 20, which forbids sectarian killings, displacements, and attacks on places of worship. A draft of the document, obtained by UPI, included 10 clauses backed by Koranic verses and explanations, calling for an end to sectarian violence. The draft emphasized "the vital necessity to adhere to national and Islamic unity and protect it against divisions and attempts to drive a wedge between Iraqis." Asked about the conference, Iraqi Prime Minister Nuri al-Maliki said he hopes it will boost Iraq's national reconciliation efforts. "A conference like that in Mecca, whereby Shi'ite and Sunni clerics are to attend, is deemed to be a support to efforts at home to find common ground for dialogue," AFP quoted him as saying. SS

A source at the office of Grand Ayatollah Ali al-Sistani in Al-Najaf said on October 19 that the religious leader has decided not to send a representative to the Mecca conference, Al-Arabiyah television reported the same day. However, the source said that al-Sistani "supports and blesses the Mecca conference," which is being convened to "reach an end to the bloodshed in Iraq." Similarly, radical cleric Muqtada al-Sadr also declined to send a representative, though he also expressed support for the conference. "I support all the conferences that go in line with the interests of Iraq, though I would have preferred it to be held in Iraq," he said, AFP reported on October 19. SS

A Kurdish witness at the October 19 session of the Anfal trial described how Iraqi government forces bombed northern Iraq with chemical weapons, the BBC reported the same day. Abdallah Sa'id recalled how in April 1988 he saw people in his village screaming and infected by chemical weapons. "We loaded children, women, and other people infected with chemical weapons onto three trucks and fled to another village," he said. Then he said Iraqi forces stopped the trucks, arrested the passengers, and took them to detention centers in southern Iraq. At the detention center, Sa'id described how he and other prisoners begged a prison guard for water and were told: "We cut off the water so you die -- you come here to die." The court was adjourned until October 30, coinciding with the holiday ending the holy month of Ramadan. SS

On a visit to Australia on October 19, Iraqi Oil Minister Husayn al-Shahristani said Iraqi forces could be ready to take over security operations from U.S.-led coalition forces "by the end of 2007, or perhaps 2008", AP reported the same day. Al- Shahristani said that Iraqi forces now control over half of the country, but stressed that Iraq still requires assistance from the international community to fight a terrorist threat that could eventually spread around the world. "We expect the international community to stay with the Iraqi people in this war against international terrorism because if these people are allowed to succeed, God forbid, in Iraq, then they'll be a threat to the whole world," he said. Al-Shahristani is the first member of the Iraqi government to visit Australia and said he is there to thank the country for its support for Iraq, where Australia currently has 1,300 troops. SS