PUTIN 'REFUSES TO BUDGE' TO NATO CHIEF...
President Vladimir Putin, Defense Minister and Deputy Prime Minister Sergei Ivanov, and some other top officials discussed NATO's eastward expansion and its recent decision to deepen ties with Georgia with NATO Secretary-General Jaap de Hoop Scheffer in Moscow on October 26, Russian and international media reported. Ivanov said that he "felt and saw" that Georgia is planning to send troops into the breakaway regions of Abkhazia and South Ossetia, a charge that Putin has also made (see "RFE/RL Newsline," October 25, 2006). For his part, de Hoop Scheffer called on Russia to lift at least some of the punitive measures it imposed on Georgia earlier in October. Shortly before the secretary-general's arrival, Deputy Foreign Minister Aleksandr Grushko said that NATO's recent decision to intensify talks with Tbilisi "had been interpreted by Georgian authorities as an incentive to pursue a confrontational policy toward Russia." In his public remarks with de Hoop Scheffer, Putin did not mention Georgia but said only that cooperation between Moscow and the alliance "is developing successfully." The NATO leader commented that "Russia's active participation for the solution of many conflicts is essential." He added that he and his hosts "agreed to disagree" on a number of issues, a point that the daily "Kommersant" stressed on October 27. For its part, "The Moscow Times" argued that "Putin and other senior officials refused to budge an inch -- at least publicly." PM
...AS DEFENSE MINISTER AGAIN SLAMS U.S. MISSILE DEFENSE
Defense Minister Ivanov said in Moscow on October 26 that Russia continues to oppose U.S. plans for deploying a possible missile-defense system in Central and Eastern Europe, Russian media reported (see "RFE/RL Newsline," October 3, 11, and 18, 2006). He argued that "it is the plan of the United States, which is a NATO member, to deploy a third positioning unit of the global antimissile defense system in Eastern Europe. We wouldn't want one to get the impression that this is something we really fear, but this will require certain changes in our plan for military construction and will simply require that Russia take certain precautionary measures." He did not elaborate. PM
PUTIN OFFERS TO 'HELP FRATERNAL' UKRAINE
In his multimedia televised question-and-answer session on October 25, President Putin said that Russia is prepared to help Ukraine if it faces "outside interference" (see "RFE/RL Newsline," October 25, 2006). In response to a question as to whether Russia could help Ukraine resolve increasing ethnic tensions concerning Crimean Tatars on Ukraine's Crimean peninsula, Putin replied: "If the Ukrainian leadership considers it necessary and asks us for help, we will be ready, without immersing ourselves into these [ethnic] problems, without drawing Russia in trying to resolve such problems, to provide assistance to our closest neighbor. [We will help what we call] without exaggeration the brotherly republic of Ukraine, in order to protect it from outside interference, should anybody be tempted [to interfere]." He added that "when I said that, if it were necessary, and if there were a request from the Ukrainian people and the Ukrainian leadership, Russia could guarantee at least one thing -- guarantee Ukraine against interference [by other countries] in its internal affairs. Should anybody be tempted to interfere, I assure you, the presence of the Russian fleet would prove rather useful." He did not indicate who might be tempted to interfere in such a way that the Russian Navy could prevent it. PM
SENATORS TO INVESTIGATE ALCOHOL-POISONING SCANDAL
In addition to the recent declaration of a state of emergency in Pskov Oblast as a result of often fatal alcohol poisoning, the authorities have reported additional scores of deaths and illnesses in Irkutsk, Belgorod, Perm, Volgograd, Amur, and several additional oblasts as a result of consuming wood alcohol or bootleg vodka, news.ru and other Russian media reported on October 27. The current tally nationwide stands at just over 100 dead and up to 2,000 hospitalized in recent weeks. The poisonings appear to involve the drinking both of wood alcohol by homeless people and of poor quality illicit vodka by a larger spectrum of citizens. Some 42,000 people in the Russian Federation died of alcohol poisoning in 2004, which is a rate of five per hour, RFE/RL reported. A recent poll of Russian citizens suggested that alcohol abuse is their second-most-important concern, after housing (see "RFE/RL Newsline," October 25 and 26, 2006). On October 27, Interfax reported that the Federation Council intends to formally query Prime Minister Mikhail Fradkov on the mass alcohol poisonings. PM
NATURAL RESOURCES MINISTER IS REPORTEDLY RICHEST CABINET MEMBER
The government published a list on October 27 of 20 cabinet members' 2005 earnings, news.ru and the state-run daily newspaper "Rossiiskaya gazeta" reported. The wealthiest individual is Natural Resources Minister Yury Trutnev, whose declared income is $7.88 million. Transportation Minister Igor Levitin came in second with $447,300, followed by Information Technologies Minister Leonid Reiman at $417,000. Reiman is the wealthiest cabinet member in terms of real-estate holdings. Economic Development and Trade Minister German Gref trailed the list with an income of $44,700. The last time such a list was published, Levitin led the field with $5 million, followed with incomes of over $1 million by Trutnev and Health and Social Development Minister Mikhail Zurabov (see "RFE/RL Newsline," January 27, 2006). In 1997, then President Boris Yeltsin issued a decree requiring all cabinet members to declare their income annually. As news.ru pointed out, the declarations must be submitted by April 1. Russian media have often asked how some ministers are able to amass large property holdings, for example, on their salaries. PM
PROSECUTORS PREPARE YET ANOTHER CHARGE AGAINST SELF-EXILED OLIGARCH
The Prosecutor-General's Office announced on October 26 that it has launched an investigation into an Internet interview recently given to the daily "Altaiskaya pravda" by self-exiled oligarch Boris Berezovsky, RIA Novosti reported. The prosecutors believe that Berezovsky issued an "open appeal for the forcible change of the constitution...which is a crime under the Russian Criminal Code." Berezovsky, who once had close ties to the Kremlin, fled Russia in 2000 after a falling out with President Putin. Berezovsky received asylum in London in 2003 and argues that he would never get a fair trial in Russia (see "RFE/RL Newsline," March 24 and June 28, 2006). Russian authorities have repeatedly sought his extradition, most recently on the grounds that he advocated violent revolution in some interviews he gave earlier in 2006. Berezovsky maintains that he has simply called for a change of government in Russia on the model of the "colored revolutions" in Georgia and Ukraine. The British authorities have refused to extradite him but have also warned him not to advocate or plan violence against the Kremlin. PM
TOP POLLSTER SAYS THAT ALMOST HALF OF RESPONDENTS KNEW OF SLAIN JOURNALIST
Yury Levada, who heads the respected Levada Center polling agency, told the daily "Novye izvestia" of October 26 that "all the attention focused on Georgia [by the government and the media] isn't really an accurate indicator of Russian-Georgian relations or attitudes to Georgians in Russia. It actually reveals the nature of the times we live in" and the government's attitude toward neighboring countries with independent-minded leaderships. He noted, however, that Russian public opinion can be manipulated. He added ironically that "it is common knowledge in Russia that malicious Estonia and aggressive Georgia are out to conquer Russia and divide the loot afterward." Asked about poll results on the recent killing of independent journalist Anna Politkovskaya, Levada replied that "almost half of respondents knew who Politkovskaya was before she was murdered. At least 48 percent of respondents said that they had either read her articles or heard her speak on radio." President Putin has publicly denied that she was influential in Russia. Levada is one of the founders of the All-Russian Public Opinion Research Center (VTsIOM). He served as its general director until he clashed with the authorities in 2003, resigned, and founded with some colleagues the Levada Center. PM
NATO ADVISERS SAY ARMENIA IN DIFFICULT NEIGHBORHOOD
Armenian Defense Minister Serzh Sarkisian was told by a NATO consulting group on October 26 that Armenia is in a difficult geopolitical position, Mediafax reported the next day. Members of the group pointed out that two of the land-locked country's four neighbors, Azerbaijan and Turkey, have imposed a blockade on it, while the other two, Georgia and Iran, are "in a complicated geopolitical situation," Mediafax quoted a Defense Ministry spokesman as saying. The NATO consulting group included representatives of Slovenia, Lithuania, Germany, the United Kingdom, Latvia, and Bulgaria. DW
PRESIDENT REJECTS INTERNATIONAL CRITICISM OF AZERBAIJANI MEDIA FREEDOM
Speaking to a group of reporters from Western media on October 27, Ilham Aliyev defended Azerbaijan's record on freedom of speech, saying he doesn't "pay any attention" to international criticism, AFP reported. "These kinds of rating, I'll tell you frankly, do not play any significant role in our day-to-day life or in the political process in Azerbaijan and I as a president don't pay any attention to that," he said. Paris-based media watchdog Reporters Without Borders (RSF) recently ranked Azerbaijan 135th out of 168 countries in ranking their performance in protecting the media, and cited the cases of two journalists killed since Ilham Aliyev came to power in 2003. DW
GEORGIAN DEFENSE OFFICIAL PLEASED WITH OUTCOME OF NATO MOSCOW VISIT
Commenting on NATO Secretary-General Jaap de Hoop Scheffer's October 26 visit to Moscow, Georgian Deputy Defense Minister Mamuka Kudava the same day expressed satisfaction with the message sent to the Kremlin. "Georgia has achieved another victory -- de Hoop Scheffer's visit to Moscow during which he gave a very clear and objective message to President [Vladimir] Putin and the Russian government about lifting sanctions against Georgia and the policy Russia is pursuing against us," Rustavi-2 television quoted Kudava as saying. In an interview with Imedi television on October 27, Kudava discussed the withdrawal of Russian troops stationed in Georgia. "It is hoped that the cooperation that we have had with the Russians over the withdrawal of their bases, which you could say was good, will continue in the future on very problematic issues, such as Abkhazia and the Tskhinvali region. It is also hoped that Russia will take those measures the are in its own interests and will promote stability and security in the South Caucasus." MS
RUSSIA LAYS GROUNDWORK FOR PIPING GAS TO SOUTH OSSETIA
The government of Russia's republic of North Ossetia announced on October 27 that a ceremony will soon be held to mark the beginning of construction of a new pipeline to transit gas to Georgia's breakaway republic of South Ossetia, ITAR-TASS reported. The Dzaurikau-Tskhinvali pipeline, to be financed by Russia, is expected to be completed by the end of 2007. Some 163 kilometers of pipeline are to be laid, of which 92 kilometers will be on North Ossetian soil, ITAR-TASS reported. MS
CHINESE COMPANY TO BUY KAZAKH OIL ASSET
China's International Trust & Investment Corp. (Citic) plans to buy the Kazakhstan assets of Canada-based Nations Energy Co. for $1.9 billion, AP and Bloomberg reported on October 26. The deal, which is expected to be concluded in December, involves Nations Energy's Karazhanbas oil field, with reserves of more than 340 million barrels and current production levels of 50,000 barrels a day, AP reported. "The proposed acquisition is an important element in the execution of Citic's oil and gas strategy," Bloomberg quoted Citic Assistant President Zhang Jijing as saying in a statement. Zhang said Citic plans to build a "medium-size" oil refinery in Kazakhstan's Mangistau province. Last year, China National Petroleum Corp. paid over $4 billion for PetroKazakhstan, a Canadian-registered company with oil assets in Kazakhstan. DK
KYRGYZ OPPOSITION READY FOR CONSTITUTIONAL REFERENDUM
A source in the leadership of For Reforms told ferghana.ru on October 26 that that Kyrgyz opposition movement has accepted President Kurmanbek Bakiev's proposal to put constitutional reform to a referendum (see "RFE/RL Newsline," October 25, 2006). Edil Baisalov, a For Reforms member and head of the NGO coalition For Democracy and Civil Society, told akipress.org on October 26 that the movement is ready for a referendum but warned that "attempts to falsify the referendum's outcome will have lamentable results." DK
FINNISH LEGISLATOR HEADS OSCE TAJIK OBSERVATION MISSION
Kimmo Kiljunen, a member of Finland's parliament, has been appointed head of the OSCE mission to observe Tajikistan's November 6 presidential election, the OSCE reported in a press release on October 26. The OSCE mission, which opened its office in Tajikistan on October 9, consists of 12 core members and 14 long-term observers. The mission will also deploy approximately 100 short-term observers to monitor polling stations on election day. DK
TURKMEN PRESIDENT DETAILS GAS DEVELOPMENT PLANS...
President Saparmurat Niyazov detailed ambitious plans for Turkmenistan's natural-gas industry in an address before the country's Halk Maslahaty (People's Council) on October 25, the Turkmen opposition site Gundogar reported on October 27. Niyazov said that the country is pursuing four pipeline projects: a Turkmenistan-Kazakhstan-China pipeline with a capacity of 30 billion cubic meters a year; a Turkmenistan-Afghanistan-Pakistan-India pipeline; a pipeline along the Caspian shore through Kazakhstan and Russia to Ukraine; and a Turkmenistan-Afghanistan-Pakistan-United Arab Emirates pipeline. Niyazov also said that his country plans to raise annual gas production from current levels of approximately 60 billion cubic meters to 250 billion cubic meters by 2030, NewsCentralAsia reported. Niyazov stressed that no privatization of Turkmenistan's oil and gas sector is planned before 2030. DK
...AND SACKS TWO GOVERNORS FOR COTTON-HARVEST LAPSES
At a cabinet meeting on October 25, Niyazov removed the governors of the Akhal and Balkan provinces for their failure to secure an acceptable cotton harvest, turkmenistan.ru reported the next day. Niyazov also ordered prosecutors to investigate Meredkuli Gubiyev, former Balkan province head, and Amandurdy Muradkuliev, former Akhal province head. According to the Turkmen opposition website Gundogar, the Turkmen Prosecutor-General's Office has already received orders from the president to arrest both former governors. DK
BRITISH COMPANY HIT WITH $225 MILLION TAX CLAIM IN UZBEKISTAN
Uzbek tax authorities have presented the joint venture Amantaytau Goldfields, half-owned by British mining company Oxus Gold, with a $224.7 million claim for back taxes, lenta.ru reported on October 26. The claim is being heard in a court in Uzbekistan's Navoiy province. Earlier this year, U.S.-based Newmont Mining closed up shop in Uzbekistan after similar claims against the Zarafshan-Newmont joint venture (see "RFE/RL Newsline," August 4 and October 3, 2006). DK
WORLD BANK TO LEND UZBEKISTAN $40 MILLION FOR EDUCATION
The World Bank's board of executive directors on October 26 approved a $40 million credit to Uzbekistan to improve basic education, the financial institution announced in a press release on its website (http://www.worldbank.org). "The proposed Uzbekistan Basic Education Project has been designed to support a $1.2 billion, five-year program to raise the quality of basic education, which was launched by the Uzbek government in July 2004," uzreport.com quoted Ernesto Cuadra, lead education specialist at the World Bank and task force leader for the Uzbekistan Education Project, as saying. DK
BELARUSIAN OPPOSITION LEADER WINS HUMAN RIGHTS AWARD
Belarusian opposition leader Alyaksandr Milinkevich has won the European Parliament's human rights award -- the Sakharov Prize for Freedom of Thought, Belarusian media reported on October 26. Milinkevich was proposed for the prize by the parliament's Delegation for Relations with Belarus, who argued that Milinkevich "succeeded in uniting the opposition forces and expressing the desire of a large part of Belarus society to restore democratic rights and political freedoms in their country." Milinkevich told Radio Racja (http://www.racyja.com) on October 26 that "the whole Belarusian nation deserved this prize rather than me personally." The Sakharov prize was established in 1985 to honor individuals or organizations who dedicated their lives to the defense of human rights and freedoms. The prize comes with a check for 50,000 euros ($63,340). AM
CANDIDATES IN BELARUSIAN LOCAL ELECTIONS TO HAVE SHORT RADIO APPEARANCES
The Belarusian Central Election Commission (TsVK) directed on October 26 that candidates in the forthcoming elections for the regional and district councils will have a five-minute prerecorded appearance on local radio networks, Belapan reported. Lidziya Yarmoshyna, the head of the TsVK, admitted that that candidates in local elections have much fewer campaigning opportunities than candidates for the House of Representatives, who appear on television and publish their materials in newspapers. However, many candidates for local councils often do not even record radio addresses, Yarmoshyna added. The elections for local councils are scheduled for January 14, 2007. AM
BELARUSIAN PASTOR CALLS RELIGION COMMITTEE TO PERFORM ITS DUTIES
Vyachaslau Hancharenka, the pastor of a Protestant community whose members since October 5 have been protesting their eviction from their prayer house, on October 26 called on the Belarusian Committee on Religious and National Affairs to perform its duties and respond to the community's woes, Belapan reported. "The committee should protect people's rights to freedom of conscience and religion," Syarhey Lukanin, a legal expert with the community, told the news agency. Lukanin described the committee's attitude toward the protestant community as "very strange." "The religious affairs committee constantly refers us to some other institutions," Lukanin said, referring to the community's request for the committee's assistance in solving the eviction problem. AM
UKRAINIAN PRESIDENT DENIES CONCESSIONS BEHIND GAS DEAL WITH RUSSIA
President Viktor Yushchenko denied on October 26 that Ukraine made any political concessions to reach a deal with Russia on gas prices, Interfax reported. Ukrainian Prime Minister Viktor Yanukovych announced on October 24 that Ukraine in 2007 will buy Russian gas at $130 per 1,000 cubic meters. The deal caused speculation that concessions had been given to Russia, including the extension of the Russian Black Sea Fleet presence in Crimea. "At the presidential level no political questions were discussed," Yushchenko said, "and I am sure that the government [did not discuss such questions] either." Yushchenko also said that the possible extension of the fleet's presence might be considered by the Yushchenko-Putin Commission, adding that a visit to Ukraine by Russian President Vladimir Putin will be prepared "probably for this year." AM
UKRAINE TO INFORM RUSSIA ON WTO ACCESSION PROGRESS
Prime Minister Yanukovych said on October 26 that Ukraine is ready to inform Russia about its progress on WTO accession, Interfax reported the same day. "The fact that Ukraine and Russia are connected with close trade ties is good ground for informing our trade partner about our intentions while passing decisions on European integration or WTO entry," Yanukovych said, adding that similar actions should be made in sphere of foreign policy. However, Yanukovych stipulated that the government "has acted and will always act on the basis of Ukraine's national interests." Ukraine expected accession to the WTO has been postponed many times -- Yanukovych announced that WTO General Council should consider Ukraine's membership in February 2007. AM
U.S. ENVOY SAYS SERBIAN CONSTITUTION WILL NOT INFLUENCE KOSOVA STATUS
The U.S. envoy to Kosova's final-status talks said on October 25 that Serbia's constitutional referendum will not influence how the breakaway province's fate is decided, international agencies reported the same day. Serbian officials have been urging voters to support a new constitution, which defines Kosova as part of Serbia, in a referendum on October 28-29 (see "RFE/RL Newsline," October 24 and 25, 2006). "What happens to you is a Kosovar matter, and an international matter," U.S. envoy Frank Wisner told reporters in Prishtina, Reuters reported. "It is not a matter of Serbian sovereignty, which changed when the UN agreed on [Security Council Resolution] 1244," he added, referring to the resolution passed in June 1999. Wisner also used language that appeared to suggest that Kosova was heading toward independence. "We are going to pursue independence by the -- sorry -- we are going to pursue final status by the end of the year," he said. BW
STABILITY PACT OFFICIAL TOUTS SERBIA AS POTENTIAL REGIONAL
Erhard Busek, the coordinator of the EU-led Stability Pact for Southeastern Europe, said on October 26 that Serbia could take on the role of a regional leader in the Balkans, B92 reported the same day. Busek added, however, that Belgrade must first fulfill its obligations to the International Criminal Tribunal for former Yugoslavia and arrest wanted war crimes suspects. "If it overcomes all these hardships, I am convinced that Serbia will have an important role in the region because of its geopolitical position, size, and the fact that Belgrade is one of the major metropolises in the region," he said. BW
REPORT SAYS FORMER TOP INTELLIGENCE OFFICIAL SUSPECTED OF AIDING MLADIC
Aco Tomic, the former head of Yugoslavia's Military Security Administration, is being investigated for allegedly assisting war crimes fugitive Ratko Mladic, B92 reported on October 26, citing a report in the daily "Politika." "I heard that I have to be questioned on November 3, and not only me. There are four more people, but I can only guess who they are," "Politika" quoted Tomic as saying. The daily also quoted unidentified judicial officials as saying that Tomic will be interrogated on November 3. Tomic, who left his military position in March 2003, was detained -- and later released -- following the assassination of former Prime Minister Zoran Djindjic. He was suspected of having links to alleged "Zemun clan" leader Milorad Lukovic-Ulemek, aka "Legija." (see "RFE/RL Newsline," April 30, May 14 and July 16, 2003 and "RFE/RL Balkan Report," March 28 and May 9, 2003). BW
MONTENEGRIN WRITER BEATEN, BODYGUARD KILLED
Jevrem Brkovic, one of Montenegro's leading novelists, was beaten by masked assailants outside his apartment late on October 24, Reuters reported the same day. His driver and bodyguard, Srdjan Vojicic, was shot dead in the same attack. Speaking to reporters at the hospital in Podgorica where he was being treated, Brkovic said the attack was in reaction to his latest book, "A Duklja Lover," a novel about politics and organized crime. "It was the act of killers and mafia bosses who recognized themselves in my latest novel," he said. Brkovic returned to Montenegro in 1999 after fleeing to Croatia in the early 1990s when he fell out with Serbian nationalists. BW
MOLDOVA OPENS NEW OIL TERMINAL...
Moldova opened a new $38 million oil terminal on the Danube River on October 26, dpa reported the same day. The Free Port Dzhurdzhulesht, located at the southern tip of Moldova, links it to international shipping traffic for the first time. "This will enable our country to receive oil shipments from abroad," Moldovan President Vladimir Voronin said at a ceremony marking the port's opening. The facility will be operational "in coming months" with final testing planned for the next 60 days, Infotag quoted Thomas Moser, the project's chief contractor, as saying. Construction on the project began in 1996 and was scheduled to be completed by 1999, but work on the terminal was halted that year due to lack of funding. The Azerbaijani energy company Azpetrol joined the project in 2005 and contributed $27 million of the total cost. BW
...AND ANTICIPATES NEW GAS DEAL WITH RUSSIA
Moldovan Prime Minister Vasile Tarlev said on October 26 that Chisinau plans to sign a new long-term energy deal with Russia by the end of November, RBC reported the same day. Tarlev said the deal will supply Moldova with natural gas for at least a five-year period. The tentative agreement was reached by the co-chairs of the intergovernmental Moldovan-Russian trade and economic-cooperation commission at a meeting in Chisinau. Tarlev did not specify the price, saying that the talks are ongoing. Tarlev also said that the electricity company Moldelectrica plans to review by November 1 Russian proposals to supply Moldova's domestic market and use the country for transit. BW
EU APPEARS SET TO EASE ANDIJON PRESSURE
The European Union announced that it has called for a special meeting with Uzbek officials to decide whether to extend sanctions that followed a bloody crackdown in eastern Uzbekistan. Addressing the European Parliament in Strasbourg on October 26, EU Agriculture and Rural Development Commissioner Mariann Fischer Boel said the meeting will clarify the Uzbek stance and provide a forum for registering EU discontent.
The EU imposed an arms embargo and travel ban on a number of officials after Tashkent rejected calls for an independent investigation into violence in Andijon in May 2005. The European Commission says a meeting between EU and Uzbek representatives in Brussels in early November will determine whether the sanctions should continue for another year.
"In order to enable the member states to obtain a full and comprehensive picture of the situation in Uzbekistan, a Cooperation Council will be held with Uzbekistan in the beginning of November," Fischer Boel said. "Moreover, this Cooperation Council will provide an opportunity for the EU to raise directly with the Uzbekistan authorities at ministerial level our many concerns on Andijon and its aftermath."
Fischer Boel said the EU will decide whether to extend the sanctions by November 14. Although she conceded that the situation in Uzbekistan remains desperate -- with rights activists constantly harassed or imprisoned -- Fischer Boel indicated the EU is unlikely to add any new sanctions to the existing list. "Despite this bleak picture, nothing is to be gained by cutting off all channels of communication to Uzbekistan," she said.
In a resolution adopted on October 26, the European Parliament rejected calls for extending the visa ban or expanding it to President Islam Karimov and other present and former Uzbek officials. Those individuals include the current ministers of interior, defense, and justice, as well as the prosecutor-general and recently ousted governor of the Andijon region.
But while parliamentarians urged the EU "to make a considered decision with a view to improving future relations with Uzbekistan," they said they think the embargo on arms sales and military transfers should be maintained.
The call for Cooperation Council with Uzbekistan appears to mark a step back from the full list of sanctions agreed by the EU in October 2005 -- which included a ban on all political-level contacts. In late August, a delegation of EU officials accepted an invitation to visit Tashkent. The head of the EU delegation, Finnish diplomat Antti Turunen, told RFE/RL after the visit that the Uzbek government is "to a certain extent open to discuss on expert level the events that took place in Andijon." Brussels has so far maintained its demand that Uzbekistan allow a full and independent international inquiry into the Andijon bloodshed before all sanctions can be lifted.
Earlier this week, another EU delegation, headed by the newly appointed EU special representative for Central Asia, Pierre Morel, also visited Tashkent. Morel met with Uzbek Foreign Minister Vladimir Norov, and is likely to have agreed details of the upcoming meeting. In comments to RFE/RL's Uzbek Service, a spokeswoman for EU foreign-policy chief Javier Solana described the purpose of Morel's trip.
"We want to evaluate the process that is currently [under way] in preparation [for] the meeting with the Uzbek authorities in Brussels," spokeswoman Cristina Gallach said. "Therefore, Ambassador Morel's diplomatic trip was [intended] to assess the situation there."
Germany, which next holds the rotating EU Presidency, has indicated that it wants to develop a new EU strategy for Central Asia. Foreign Minister Frank-Walter Steinmeyer is expected to tour Tashkent and the other four Central Asian capitals before Germany takes over the EU in January. Germany maintains an air base in Uzbekistan, at Termez, that serves as an important logistical hub for its operations in Afghanistan.
The EU has identified Uzbekistan -- along with Kazakhstan and Turkmenistan -- as a key target in its efforts to reduce energy dependence on Russia.
EU Energy Commissioner Andris Piebalgs, who was in Kazakhstan in May, told RFE/RL at the time that the EU would "never negotiate" human rights concerns to gain energy concessions.
(Ahto Lobjakas is an RFE/RL correspondent based in Brussels.)
DOZENS OF CIVILIANS FEARED KILLED IN NATO RAID IN AFGHANISTAN
Officials in Afghanistan are investigating the possible deaths of 60 noncombatants during NATO operations in southern Afghanistan this week, AFP reported on October 26. The alliance said at least 48 insurgents were killed and four civilians wounded during heavy fighting in Kandahar Province on October 24 but added that it had "credible reports" of further noncombatant casualties. Major Luke Knittig, a spokesman for the NATO-led International Security Assistance Force (ISAF), said 60 dead bodies were discovered but that it is "very unclear" whether they were civilians or insurgents. One Kandahar government official said 80-85 civilians were killed in fighting; another said at least 60 died. A villager, Karim Jan, said 60-70 died. "Very sadly, civilians continue to get caught up in these engagements with tragic results," Knittig said. If confirmed, those figures would represent the highest known civilian death toll in a Western forces operation since the U.S.-led invasion in 2001. JC
SIX GERMAN SOLDIERS UNDER INVESTIGATION FOR AFGHANISTAN SKULL PHOTOS
The German Army has identified six soldiers suspected of desecrating a human skull in Afghanistan, AFP reported on October 26. In an interview the same day, German Defense Minister Franz Josef Jung told German television network ZDF that "four [of the six] are no longer in the army...[and] we will take the appropriate steps against the other two." Deutschlandfunk German radio reported that one of the men admitted to playing and posing with a skull while stationed in Afghanistan. The men may have taken the skull from a cemetery south of Kabul, according to the Defense Ministry. The affair, which began on October 24 when "Bild" newspaper published photographs of the soldiers posing with the skull next to their vehicle, has outraged Germans and sparked international condemnation of the soldiers' conduct. Prosecutors are investigating charges of disturbing the peace of the dead, a possible three-year sentence in Germany. JC
INTERNATIONAL COMMANDER SAYS NATO PRESENCE NEEDED IN AFGHANISTAN FOR ANOTHER DECADE
A NATO presence will likely be required in Afghanistan for another decade, the commander of the Combined Forces Command in Afghanistan U.S. Lieutenant General Karl Eikenberry told the Asia Pacific Summit by satellite on October 26, according to AP. "We cannot win this in a year. We cannot win this in two years," Eikenberry said from Vienna. Eikenberry told business and government leaders attending the conference that despite a need for more troops, the allied presence is greater than any rebel force. "There is no place in Afghanistan that we will not dominate," he said. "The U.S. will maintain its role for the rebuilding of the army, although it's hoped NATO will expand its role." While the Afghan National Army has increased from virtually zero to 35,000 troops since 2002, peacekeeping forces have struggled to establish an Afghan police force due to overwhelming corruption among its members. JC
INSURGENT KILLED BY OWN BOMB IN AFGHANISTAN
A suspected insurgent was killed by his own bomb when it exploded on a highway in southeastern Afghanistan on October 25, AFP reported the next day. Police believe the man was either a suicide bomber wearing the explosives on his body or in the process of planting a roadside bomb along a route that is regularly patrolled by Afghan and foreign troops. "We found a dismembered body at the blast site on an empty road" leading to the Pakistani border, Khost criminal-police chief Colonel Mohammad Yaqub told AFP. Suicide bombings, roadside blasts, and other attacks on Afghan and foreign troops and government installations have increased dramatically in Afghanistan during the past year. JC
SENIOR IRANIAN OFFICIALS CHARGED IN DEADLY 1994 BOMBING IN BUENOS AIRES...
Argentinian prosecutors have charged leading Iranian statesmen and Lebanon's Hizballah militia with the bombing of the AMIA Jewish center in Buenos Aires in 1994, AFP and AP reported on October 25 (see RFE/RL Iran Report," November 10, 2003, and "RFE/RL Newsline," November 14, 2003). Chief prosecutor Alberto Nisman issued a statement accusing Iranian leaders of planning the bombing in 1993. Hizballah has close ties to Iran's government. Prosecutors have asked a federal judge to issue arrest warrants for Iran's then President Ali-Akbar Hashemi-Rafsanjani and his intelligence and foreign ministers, Ali Fallahian and Ali-Akbar Velayati, among other suspects, AP reported. Separately, the public prosecutor in Rome asked for a life sentence at an October 25 court session for a former Iranian diplomat accused of orchestrating the murder of another former Iranian diplomat-turned-government-opponent, Radio Farda reported (see "RFE/RL Newsline," May 12, 2005). The court is examining the 1993 killing of Mohammad Hussein Naqdi, a case in which diplomat Amir Mansur Bozorgian is a suspect. Neither he nor an attorney were present at the latest session, Radio Farda reported. VS
...AS MINISTRY REJECTS CHARGES
Foreign Ministry spokesman Mohammad Ali Husseini on October 26 rejected the charges by "certain Argentinian judicial agents" of official Iranian involvement in the 1994 AMIA bombing and repeated the oft-stated Iranian stance, that Iran is a victim of terrorism, IRNA reported. Iran "is itself a victim of various terrorist activities and has borne heavy human, material, and moral costs," he said. Husseini said previous irregularities in Argentina's investigations into the bombing, and the acquittal by a British court of Iran's then ambassador in Buenos Aires, Hadi Suleimanpur, showed " the claims made about" Iran's involvement in the bombing are "baseless." The "new publicity," he said, is "being fanned within the framework of the political hostility of Zionists" and designed to sow discord between Iran and Argentina and offset "the anti-Israeli atmosphere" after recent "violations" against Palestinians and Lebanese. Husseini said Argentinian officials must "move away from past mistakes, and make reasoned and firm evidence the basis of any statement of opinion," IRNA reported. VS
IRAN PREPARES FOR CENSUS
Iranian authorities are preparing to carry out the country's sixth nationwide census from October 28 to November 27, IRNA reported on October 26. Officials reportedly expect new surveying methods to give the count a 99.8 percent level of accuracy. Households will answer 26 questions chosen "with international advice" from 900 relevant questions used in similar measurements. The survey is expected to cost $40 million and will be carried out by 88,000 people, with the final results expected in March 2007, IRNA reported. President Mahmud Ahmadinejad told a gathering of officials and statisticians involved in the project on October 26 that "precise and scientific planning" are necessary for the government's stated plans to "implement justice and build the country," IRNA reported. "A correct response to the country and the people's needs requires correct and comprehensive information and figures," Ahmadinejad said. VS
FORMER IRANIAN SECURITY AGENT SIX YEARS INTO JAIL SENTENCE FOR REVELATIONS ABOUT DISSIDENT KILLINGS
The Student Committee of Human Rights Reporters of Iran reports that Intelligence Ministry official Reza Malek has been held in Tehran's Evin prison for six years now for having revealed parts of a report on the murders of dissidents in the late 1990s by Iranian security agents, Radio Farda reported on October 26. The group reports that Malek was given a 12-year prison term for disclosing excerpts of an 80-page report on the killings, which included the stabbing deaths in their home of prominent critics Darius and Parvaneh Foruhar. Malek is reportedly in Evin's section 209, where political prisoners are kept. A group of political inmates in the Gohardasht prison in Karaj, a city outside Tehran, have issued a statement expressing concern over the condition of prisoners in Evin's 209th wing, Radio Farda reported. Their statement reports that unspecified detainees in the 209th wing are on hunger strike or "in an unsuitable condition." It called on the UN Human Rights Council to send inspectors there, Radio Farda reported. VS
IRAQI DEATH-SQUAD LEADER EVADES CAPTURE...
Iraqi and U.S. forces conducted a raid on Baghdad's vast Shi'ite neighborhood of Al-Sadr City on October 25 to seize a suspected Shi'ite death-squad leader, international media reported October 26. "Special Iraqi Army forces, supported by coalition advisers, conducted a raid authorized by the government of Iraq in Sadr City, Baghdad, to capture a top illegal armed group commander directing widespread death-squad activity throughout eastern Baghdad," the U.S. military said in a statement. Reports indicated that at least 10 people were killed and dozens injured as U.S. forces called in air strikes after coming under attack. In an interview with Reuters on October 26, Iraqi Prime Minister Nuri al-Maliki said the target of the operation was Abu Dera, who is suspected of killing and kidnapping dozens of Sunni Arabs. Dera, sometimes dubbed "the Shi'ite al-Zarqawi" after slain Al-Qaeda in Iraq leader Abu Mus'ab al-Zarqawi, is believed to be a rogue member of Muqtada al-Sadr's Imam Al-Mahdi Army and at odds with al-Sadr. Al-Maliki indicated that Dera escaped during the raid. SS
...AS IRAQI PREMIER CRITICIZES OPERATION
Nuri al-Maliki said during a news conference on October 26 that although he backed the October 25 raid in Al-Sadr City, he denounced the heavy-handed tactics used in the operation, such as the use of air strikes. "I said we agree on arresting wanted criminals and we do not care whether they are Sunnis or Shi'a, but that was not an arrest operation," he said. "Do you send in planes to arrest one person?" He added that the raid was an example of a continuing lack of coordination between Iraqi and U.S.-led forces. Falah Hassan al-Sanshal, the head of the Al-Sadr bloc in the Council of Representatives, said: "We condemn this criminal and cowardly action. We ask the Iraqi government to give us a suitable explanation to what happened today," Al-Iraqiyah television reported on October 25. SS
IRAQI PREMIER EXPECTS PEACE WITHIN SIX MONTHS
Prime Minister al-Maliki said on October 26 that the violence in Iraq could be under control within six months if the United States gave him more control over Iraqi forces and provided them with more weaponry, Reuters reported the same day. "We agree our forces need work but think that if, as we are asking, the rebuilding of our forces was in our own hands, then it would take not 12-18 months but six might be enough," he said. Al-Maliki expressed frustration that as prime minister and commander of the Iraqi forces, he "cannot move a single company without coalition approval because of a UN mandate." SS
IRAQI SHI'ITE SHRINES CLOSED AFTER REPORTS OF THREATS
Iraqi security force sealed off Shi'ite shines in the holy cities of Al-Najaf and Karbala amid fears of an imminent attack on the last day of the Eid al-Fitr festival, Al-Arabiyah television reported on October 26. Local authorities said they received information that "terrorist elements wearing explosive belts" had infiltrated the city center and were planning to blow up the shrines, including the revered mausoleum of Imam Ali. "We had information that Al-Qaeda is preparing a plan to carry out attacks on holy sites in Al-Najaf," Al-Najaf police chief Colonel Abd al-Karim Mustafa told AFP. Visitors who came to celebrate the festivities were told to immediately leave the city. The Al-Najaf deputy governor and other local officials said the closure will continue until further notice. SS
U.S. MARINE PLEADS GUILTY IN DEATH OF IRAQI MAN
Private First Class John Jodka pled guilty on October 26 to charges of assault and obstruction of justice in a case involving the kidnapping and killing of an Iraqi civilian, international media reported the same day. Jodka became the second defendant to plead guilty in the April 26 death of 52-year-old Hashim Ibrahim al-Awad in Al-Hamdaniyah and he is one of eight originally charged in the killing. On October 6, Navy medic Melson Bacos pled guilty to kidnapping and conspiracy and sentenced to 10 years in prison, but under a deal with prosecutors, he will only serve one year. Prosecutors accuse the eight of dragging al-Awad from his home and shooting him, then staging a cover-up to make it look as if he was an insurgent who was planting roadside bombs. Jodka faces a maximum sentence of 15 years in prison when he is sentenced next month. SS