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Newsline - January 22, 2007

Chancellor Angela Merkel said in Sochi on January 21 that she wants "better order to avoid irritations in the future" following the recent Russian energy dispute with Belarus, German media reported (see "RFE/RL Newsline," January 18 and 19, 2007). Russian President Vladimir Putin said that Russia is "interested in clear rules [on energy supplies], which all must adhere to" but did not specify what that might mean in practice. He added that "we are open to constructive work on the energy dialogue with the [EU].... We hope that our partners will observe the principle of equal rights and mutual respect for each other's interests." He repeated an offer he made in 2006 to set up gas reserves in Germany to make that country a focal point for the distribution of Russian gas in Europe, to which Merkel on January 21 "did not object," reported. He also stressed the need to "speed up work on building a pipeline to the...Pacific...and broaden our capacity to transport hydrocarbons in the north, including in northwest Russia, to reduce our dependence on transit states." Putin was alluding to the proposed Russo-German Nord Stream pipeline. The two leaders discussed the possibility of including other countries, such as Poland and Sweden, in the project, the Russian daily "Vedomosti" reported on January 22. Putin also stressed that any solution of Kosova's status must be acceptable to both Prishtina and Belgrade and "become universal for similar cases" elsewhere. He also called NATO's 1999 intervention to halt Serbian forces' expulsion of ethnic Albanians "a mistake." Merkel drew attention to the January 21 democratic elections in Serbia and noted that Serbs accepted the results of Montenegro's 2006 referendum in favor of independence. The Merkel-Putin talks do not appear to have led to any breakthrough in the various issues holding up talks on a new EU-Russia comprehensive cooperation agreement to replace the current Partnership and Cooperation Agreement, which runs out in 2007. The German daily "Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung" noted on January 22 that the two leaders did not hold any one-on-one talks. The paper added that Merkel was not accompanied by any top-ranking officials of the Foreign Ministry, which is controlled by former Chancellor Gerhard Schroeder's Social Democratic Party (SPD) and takes a milder line toward Russia than does Merkel. In Sochi, she raised several human rights issues, which Schroeder generally avoided when meeting Putin. PM

Colonel General Vladimir Popovkin, who commands the Federal Space Forces, said in Moscow on January 22 that "the placing of a radio-locating station in the Czech Republic and antimissile equipment in Poland is a real threat to us...because our strategic nuclear forces will be visible," news agencies reported. He added that "it is very doubtful that elements of the U.S. missile-defense system in Eastern Europe were aimed at Iranian missiles, as has been stated" by Washington. Popovkin noted that "we cannot be indifferent to this, and are following developments closely." On January 22, the Polish daily "Rzeczpospolita" quoted U.S. Assistant Secretary of State Daniel Fried as saying, "I want to stress that the antimissile system is not aimed at Russia" (see "RFE/RL Newsline," October 3, 11, 18, and 27, 2006). PM

A Russian border-patrol ship seized a Japanese fishing boat, the "No. 38 Zuisho Maru," with six people on board near the disputed southern Kurile Islands on January 21, the BBC reported, quoting a spokeswoman for the Japanese Coast Guard. She added that the fate of those six people is unclear. The Japanese Foreign Ministry has lodged a protest and demanded an explanation. The Russians seized the ship because it attempted to flee after being called on to submit to an inspection of its catch, reported on January 22. The boat was then taken to the port of Yuzhno-Kurilsk, the Russian website added. On January 22, the Russian Foreign Ministry confirmed the seizure of the boat "for fishing within 3 miles [(5 kilometers) of the Russian coast], where fishing is banned," Interfax reported. Relations between Moscow and Tokyo have been strained in recent months, primarily because of a fatal incident involving Japanese fishermen and Russian border police in August 2006 and Russia's behavior in the dispute over the Sakhalin-2 natural-gas project, which affected Mitsui and Mitsubishi (see "RFE/RL Newsline," August 22, September 20, and December 22, 2006, and "RFE/RL Russian Political Weekly," August 11, 2006). The Japanese fishing industry charges that Russian patrol ships have recently been harassing Japanese boats that fished in the disputed waters without incident for years. PM

Russian and Algerian gas officials reached an agreement in Algiers on January 20-21 for cooperation at all levels "from exploration to marketing," reported on January 22. The EU has "already pledged to monitor the deal due to concerns that it may develop into a cartel-like alliance," the Russian website added. Russia supplies about one-fourth of the EU's natural-gas supplies, while Algeria accounts for roughly 10 percent. Some Russian officials have periodically raised the idea of setting up a "gas OPEC," a possibility that other Russian officials have rejected (see "RFE/RL Newsline," June 20, October 31, and November 14 and 25, 2006). PM

Several deputies, most of whom belong to the pro-Kremlin Unified Russia party, submitted a bill to the State Duma on January 18 to ban public marches or gatherings for the two weeks preceding and following elections, "The Moscow Times" reported on January 22. The daily noted that "Public Chamber members sharply criticized the bill [on January 19], and presidential-administration deputy head Vyacheslav Surkov promised later in the day that the bill will be softened. The bill is apparently the latest attempt to make sure that Russia will not follow in the path of Georgia and Ukraine, which saw regime changes brought on by massive protests over fraudulent elections." The paper added that the bill will enable the authorities to "ban a rally or march if they have 'sufficient and preliminarily confirmed' information about planned illegal actions that might take place during the event.... The authorities must first seek court confirmation that any violations of the law are being planned." The deputies withdrew the bill on January 22, apparently for revision in consultation with members of the Public Chamber, reported. PM

An unidentified man punched Tamara Golovanova, a reporter for the Partizansk-based daily "Vesti," in the face and chest there on January 22, leaving her with a concussion and a broken nose, RIA Novosti reported. Her editor said that she was assaulted while taking photographs at a local employment center for an article on alleged violations of employees' rights by the management of an unidentified company. On January 20, television anchorman Konstantin Borovko was robbed and killed by an unidentified group of assailants after he left a nightclub in Vladivostok. His colleagues said that they doubt that the incident was related to his work, but state prosecutors are investigating. The Paris-based organization Reporters Without Borders has listed Russia as one of the most dangerous countries for journalists to work in, along with Iraq and Mexico, the Russian news agency added. PM

The Chechen police are not discharging their duties at the required level of competence, Major General Mikhail Shepilov, deputy commander of the Joint Group of Forces in the North Caucasus, told a meeting of Chechen Interior Ministry personnel in Grozny on January 19, according to RIA Novosti as reposted by Shepilov noted specifically the "unjustifiably low" number of serious crimes solved; the high incidence of illegal possession of weaponry; failure to crack down on extortion, bribery, and other economic crimes; and the "unsatisfactory" performance of the traffic police. He attributed those shortcomings to the low level of professional training. Shepilov singled out for special censure collusion between the police and Chechen resistance fighters. Addressing the same gathering, pro-Moscow Chechen Prime Minister Ramzan Kadyrov said the overall performance of the police, including the percentage of crimes solved, improved in 2006 compared with preceding years, according to the official website But Kadyrov too criticized the traffic police for routinely turning a blind eye to violations, including by government officials. On January 18, reported the launch in Chechnya of a special operation to check whether the drivers of vehicles with special license plates are indeed entitled to that privilege. LF

At a similar meeting in Nalchik on January 17 to review the past year's activities, Kabardino-Balkaria Republic (KBR) Interior Minister Yury Tomchak reported that despite the killing last year of seven armed militants, the arrest of nine more, and the confiscation of quantities of weaponry, the threat of "terrorism" remains serious, and RIA Novosti reported. While concurring with Tomchak about the threat of international "terrorism," Yury Kokov, who is first deputy head of the Russian Interior Ministry's Department for Combating Organized Crime and Terrorism, criticized the KBR Interior Ministry's failure to tackle widespread corruption, noting that in 2006 only 15.8 percent of registered corruption cases were solved, reported. Addressing meeting participants, KBR President Arsen Kanokov lambasted Interior Ministry personnel for soliciting bribes, noting that he receives constant complaints about such demands both from businessmen and owners of enterprises, and on his personal hotline, according to as reposted on January 20 on Kanokov affirmed that "we shall not allow corrupt law-enforcement agency officials, whatever their rank" to exert pressure on the business community or undermine the government's efforts to galvanize the republic's economy. He singled out for particular criticism the traffic police who, he claimed, have established a system of illegal "tariffs" they extract daily from drivers who cross the internal border into the republic. LF

Armenian Foreign Minister Vartan Oskanian released a statement on January 19 condemning, and expressing profound shock at, the fatal shooting in Istanbul earlier that day of Turkish-Armenian journalist Hrant Dink. A Turkish court last year handed down a suspended sentence to Dink on charges of "insulting Turkish identity" on the basis of his efforts to promote discussion of the 1915 mass killings of Armenians in Ottoman Turkey. Armenian newspapers on January 20 criticized the Turkish authorities for not doing more to protect Dink, AFP reported. EU Enlargement Commissioner Olli Rehn said he was "shocked and saddened by this brutal act of violence," while the U.S. Embassy in Ankara issued a similar statement registering shock and sadness at Dink's slaying, according to OSCE Representative on Media Freedom Miklos Haraszti paid tribute on January 19 to Dink as one of the most famous representatives of the Armenian diaspora in Turkey and branded his killing a cowardly act. The Committee to Protect Journalists in a January 19 statement similarly lauded Dink as "one of Turkey's most courageous voices" who "sought to shed light on Turkey's troubled past and create a better future for Turks and Armenians" (see also End Note below). LF

Justice Minister David Harutiunian told RFE/RL's Armenian Service in an interview on January 19 that at present he has no plans to participate in the presidential elections in 2008, in which incumbent President Robert Kocharian is barred by the constitution from seeking a third presidential term. Harutiunian did admit, however, that he will participate in the parliamentary elections in May, but he would not say on the ticket of which party. He further declined to comment on media speculation that he and his extended family have amassed a multimillion-dollar fortune during his nine-year tenure as justice minister. LF

In an editorial published on January 19 in "The Wall Street Journal," Elmar Mammadyarov said the decision late last year by Russia's Gazprom to raise substantially the price it charges Azerbaijan, Georgia, and Belarus for Russian gas is "more than just a market message" and therefore "unacceptable." He said that in response, Baku will stop either buying Russian gas or exporting oil via Russia, despite its "sincere wish" to maintain "a pragmatic, market-driven relationship" with Russia. Noting that Azerbaijan is the world's only Shi'ite secular state, he stressed its "open and constructive relationship with Iran" and the huge importance of the Caspian and South Caucasus region as a potential alternative supplier of oil and gas to Europe. He also stressed Azerbaijan's insistence that all "frozen" conflicts in the South Caucasus should be resolved in such a way as to preserve the territorial integrity of Azerbaijan, Armenia, and Georgia. LF

Azerbaijan's Court for Serious Crimes passed sentence on January 19 on former senior Interior Ministry official Haci Mammadov and 26 other men, including eight former ministry officials, and reported on January 19 and 20, respectively. The accused were found guilty, at the end of a trial that began in early July, of belonging to a gang that over some 10 years committed a series of high-profile killings and kidnappings for ransom (see "RFE/RL Caucasus Report," July 28, 2006). Mammadov was sentenced to life imprisonment, having been found guilty on multiple charges that would carry a combined sentence of 297 years' imprisonment. Nine other men also received life prison terms, including senior ministry official Zakir Garalov, while the remaining 16 members of the gang were jailed for terms ranging from two to 13 years. LF

Eduard Kokoity, who is president of the unrecognized Republic of South Ossetia, met in Moscow on January 19 with Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov, according to a brief communique posted on the ministry's website ( The two men stressed the need for urgent and effective measures to break the current stalemate in talks on resolving the South Ossetian crisis, describing the current deadlock as a destabilizing factor. They registered their shared concern at Georgia's apparent reluctance to sign a formal memorandum abjuring the use of force. In addition, Lavrov hailed the new initiatives Kokoity floated during his meeting in Tskhinvali on December 27 with representatives of international organizations and of the Joint Control Commission tasked with monitoring the situation in the conflict zone. On that occasion, Kokoity offered to cut the strength of his republic's armed forces provided that Georgia agreed to sign the proposed memorandum on the non-recourse to force, and to destroy all fortifications in return for the withdrawal, in line with agreements Georgia signed earlier, of all its unauthorized military formations currently deployed in the conflict zone, according to on January 20. LF

Kazakh Transportation and Communications Minister Serik Akhmetov on January 18 criticized the poor state of civil aviation in the country and pointed to "poor performance" and mismanagement among aviation companies, Kazakh state television reported. Akhmetov cited two deadly airline accidents in Kazakhstan in 2006, with each case involving human error that he said was at least partly due to a "lack of discipline among crewmembers" and poorly maintained equipment. Civil Aviation Committee Chairman Yerlan Koshanov, whose committee grounded Kazakh airlines BGB Air and GST Aero after the EU banned them (see "RFE/RL Newsline," March 23, 2006), added that measures are currently being adopted to improve safety conditions and to impose new inspections of flight equipment and personnel. Akhmetov also stressed that the "endless delays in flights" and the "low quality of service at airports and aboard" flights has led to a marked decline in the country's aviation sector. RG

Kyrgyz President Kurmanbek Bakiev on January 19 resubmitted to parliament his nomination of Feliks Kulov as prime minister, RFE/RL's Kyrgyz Service reported. The move came less than 24 hours after lawmakers rejected Kulov's candidacy (see "RFE/RL Newsline," January 18 and 19, 2007) and has sparked a dispute over presidential authority in light of recent constitutional reforms. Constitutional Law Committee Chairman Iskhak Masaliev immediately said the Kyrgyz parliament would not hold a second vote for at least several days. According to the terms of the revamped constitution, the president has the right to dissolve the legislature if it rejects his nomination three times. Kulov and his cabinet resigned on December 19, triggering a political crisis that led to the adoption of a revised constitution in late December that granted the president enhanced powers. Parliamentary Deputy Chairman Kubanychbek Isabekov warned that Kulov is unlikely to be approved by lawmakers in a second vote, according to Asia-Plus. RG

Lawmaker Murat Juraev proposed to the Kyrgyz parliament on January 18 that civil servants be subject to "corporal mutilations" if found guilty of corruption, AKIpress and the news agency reported. Juraev added that harsh measures are justified by Islamic practice and argued that such punishment should be proportional to the crime; he said that if a civil servant stole 100,000 soms ($2,500), "one finger would be chopped off," while the theft of 1 million soms would lead to "a hand...chopped off." RG

Tajik First Deputy Foreign Minister Saymoumin Yatimov told a news conference on January 19 that Tajikistan is engaged in negotiations with U.S. officials over Tajik nationals being detained at the U.S.-run detention facility at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba, Asia-Plus reported. The Foreign Ministry is seeking a detailed clarification from Washington regarding the exact number of Tajik citizens at the military facility and has requested specific information on their living conditions and any charges that they face. Yatimov said 10 Tajik citizens have been released from the facility to date, but that the exact number of Tajiks still in detention is unclear. RG

Dushanbe Mayor Mahmadsaid Ubaidulloyev announced the dismissal of several municipal officials on January 18, including Deputy Mayor for Transportation and Industry Abdukarim Abdurahimov, for "serious shortcomings" in their work, according to Asia-Plus. Ubaidulloyev also strongly criticized municipal agencies in charge of providing electricity and natural gas for "failing to take adequate measures" to ensure suppliies. Other dismissals included the head of the Dushanbegaz utility, Mansour Sharipov; the chief of Dushanbe's electricity-distribution system, Abdukarim Miraliyev; and several unnamed, lower-ranking municipal officials. RG

Turkmen acting President Gurbanguly Berdymukhammedov announced after a cabinet meeting on January 20 that election observers from the OSCE will be invited to monitor the country's upcoming presidential election, Turkmen television reported. Turkmen Foreign Minister Rashid Meredov added that "agreements [were] reached" with the OSCE and "other prestigious international organizations" on the presence of election observers for the February 11 vote. The attendance of international observers would mark the first time that an election in Turkmenistan has been subject to outside monitoring. The election comes following the unexpected death of President Saparmurat Niyazov in December 2006 (see "RFE/RL Newsline," December 21, 2006). Central Election Commission Chairman Murad Karryyev has confirmed that domestic observers will also be allowed to "carry out a full monitoring" of the six-candidate election and "will assess the level of organization of the campaign and compliance with existing legislation, to ensure complete freedom of choice for citizens and the democratic character of the electoral process." Deputy Prime Minister Berdymukhammedov became acting president in the hours after Niyazov's death and is widely regarded as the front-runner. RG

President Alyaksandr Lukashenka on January 19 pledged that the government will continue to look for ways to obtain cheap energy supplies, Belapan reported, quoting official information sources. "We need to buck up, stop whining, and realize that nobody, including the closest countries, will give us cheap gas and oil. But it does not mean that the leadership of the country will stop fighting for cheaper energy, component parts," Lukashenka said at the inauguration of a new plant in Minsk. Lukashenka stressed that despite higher energy prices, the country's economic growth will not slow down. He also announced plans to modernize "several hundred" companies in the next five years and establish some 300 new enterprises. "This will be a totally new economy oriented above all at the processing of domestic material, the biggest possible substitution of imports and energy saving," he added. Meanwhile, the Statistics Ministry revealed last week that 517 industrial enterprises in Belarus, or 23 percent of the total number, were loss-making in January-November 2006. Moreover, as of January 20 the country's Belnaftakhim oil concern raised prices of gasoline at its refueling stations by an average of 5 percent, RFE/RL's Belarus Service reported. One liter of A-95 gasoline in Belarus now costs 2,100 rubles ($0.98). JM

President Viktor Yushchenko on January 19 vetoed for a second time a bill defining the powers of the cabinet, Interfax-Ukraine reported. Earlier this month the Verkhovna Rada overrode Yushchenko's first veto on the bill, after the opposition Yuliya Tymoshenko Bloc sided with the ruling Party of Regions (see "RFE/RL Newsline," January 16, 2007). Under the constitution, Yushchenko was obliged to sign the law after parliament overturned his veto. But the president maintains that deputies have slightly changed the wording of the bill from the text approved last year, giving the president the right to send it back to parliament again. Meanwhile, parliament speaker Oleksandr Moroz on January 19 denied that the text of the bill has been changed and asked Yushchenko to sign it into law. JM

Troops from the Berkut special-task force and the Ukrainian Interior Ministry have been dispatched to the city of Bakhchysaray in southern Crimea to ensure public security after a drunken brawl on January 20 between several local residents of Tatar and Slavic descent, Ukrainian news agencies reported. According to reports, ethnic Tatar Rustem Ametov was fatally stabbed and two other ethnic Tatars were hospitalized as a result of a brawl that spilled from a local tavern onto the street. Police are looking for Anatoliy Karelin, identified as a 24-year-old man of Slavic origin, who is suspected of stabbing Ametov. The Bakhchysaray incident took place two days after hundreds of Crimean Tatars brawled with workers from a real-estate company trying to evict them from their encampment on a city plot in Simferopol. Six people have reportedly been hospitalized following the Simferopol scuffle and police were sent to protect the disputed land plot. JM

According to an exit poll by the Center for Free Elections and Democracy (CESID), the Serbian Radical Party (SRS) won the most seats in Serbia's January 21 general elections, international news agencies reported the same day. The nationalist SRS won 28.7 percent of the vote and, according to CESID estimates, will receive 81 seats in Serbia's 250-member parliament. President Boris Tadic's pro-Western Democratic Party (DS) came in second place with 22.9 percent and will have 65 seats. Prime Minister Vojislav Kostunica's moderately nationalist Democratic Party of Serbia (DSS) came in third with 16.7 percent and should receive 47 mandates. The liberal G17 Plus party came in fourth with 6.8 percent and should have 19 seats. The Socialist Party of Serbia (SPS), the party of former President Slobodan Milosevic, received 5.9 percent for an estimated 16 seats. The Liberal Democratic Party won 5.3 percent, according to the CESID poll, and will have 15 seats. CESID estimated turnout at 60.4 percent. BW

CESID program director Marko Blagojivic said a coalition of centrist and pro-Western liberal parties will most likely form the next Serbian government, Bloomberg reported on January 21. Blagojivic said the most likely scenario is a coalition of Tadic's DS, Kostunica's DSS, and G17 Plus. "When you count the results, these three parties will have a majority. They don't have a choice. Either they form a government or we won't have one at all," Bloomberg quoted Blagojivic as saying. Speaking after the election, President Tadic said pro-Western parties vastly outnumber nationalist parties and could form a strong government, Reuters reported. "This is really possible. We have a two-thirds majority in our parliament," he said. Prime Minister Kostunica, whose DSS has often had contentious relations with Tadic's DS, gave no clear hint of his intentions. "Coalition talks are ahead of us," Reuters quoted Kostunica as saying. "We are open. We expect other parties to be responsible." BW

Electoral officials said on January 21 that voting in Serbian regions of Kosova proceeded smoothly, B92 reported the same day. "There are several police and KFOR vehicles in downtown Orahovac," Orahovac Election Commission coordinator Dejan Baljosevic said. "They say they are not there to secure the elections, but they are still there. I believe citizens will turn out in greater numbers in the afternoon." "The Washington Times" reported on January 21 that two U.S. platoons, one Austrian, and one Georgian were deployed to a NATO camp at Leposavic, near the Serbian border, in late December to provide security for the vote. BW

Political leaders and ethnic Albanians marked the first anniversary of the death of Kosovar President Ibrahim Rugova on January 20, AP and B92 reported the same day. "We keep a permanent memory in our hearts and souls for this big man of Kosova, who dedicated his life to freedom, independence, and Kosova's democracy," President Fatmir Sejdiu said after laying a bouquet of flowers on Rugova's grave. Rugova led the Democratic League of Kosova (LDK), the province's largest political party, and was elected twice as the province's president. He died of lung cancer while still in office (see "RFE/RL Newsline," January 23, 2006). BW

The International Criminal Tribunal for former Yugoslavia (ICTY) has scheduled its first and only trial for crimes committed against ethnic Albanians in Macedonia, B92 reported on January 21. The trial of Ljube Boskovski and Johan Tarculovski, who are charged with crimes against ethnic Albanian civilians in the village of Ljuboten, is scheduled to start on April 16. The two have been indicted in connection with an attack by a Macedonian special-police unit on Ljuboten, near Skopje, on August 12, 2001. According to the indictment, seven ethnic Albanians were killed, 14 houses burned down, and more than 100 villagers arrested. Boskovski was interior minister at the time and Tarculovski, his bodyguard, is charged with commanding the attack. Pretrial conferences in the case are scheduled for April 12. BW

The agricultural agency Moldova-Vin has estimated that losses from a Russian ban on Moldovan wines totaled $180 million, RBC reported on January 19. The losses to Moldovan wineries included the estimated value of wines left in Russian warehouses or destroyed after the ban was announced in March (see "RFE/RL Newsline," March 28, 2006). It also included the loss of equipment and property resulting from the ban. Russia lifted the ban at the end of November (see "RFE/RL Newsline," November 30, 2006). BW

For decades, the month of April has been a time for grieving by Armenians and their diaspora, with routine commemorations marking the onset of the mass killings of Armenians in the waning days of the Ottoman Empire. But following the January 19 assassination in Istanbul of prominent Turkish-Armenian writer and editor Hrant Dink, January too has assumed significance.

The death of the 53-year-old Dink, who was gunned down on the steps of the editorial office of his newspaper "Agos," is more than simply a tragic killing. Its significance lies, first, in its timing. The killing coincided with a new sense of optimism, as a significant segment of opinion on both the Turkish and Armenian sides seemed ready to forge a breakthrough in the diplomatic deadlock between Ankara and Yerevan.

This most recent initiative included a new consideration of measures aimed at easing Turkey's longstanding closure of its borders with Armenia and seeking to move each country closer to formal diplomatic relations.

Ironically, there has been a new impetus for reconsidering possible trade relations with Armenia among the most unlikely of circles--- the senior Turkish military leadership. That impetus has stemmed, first, from a realization in Ankara that the blockade and embargo imposed on Armenia in 1993 in order both to demonstrate solidarity with Azerbaijan and to pressure the Armenian government over Nagorno-Karabakh have failed.

Moreover, there was a related recognition that Turkish foreign policy has become far too limited and hostage to Azerbaijan, with little room for innovation and even less for Ankara to seek new policy options.

Those limitations on Turkish policy were further enhanced by the stalemate in mediation talks aimed at negotiating a resolution to the Nagorno-Karabakh conflict. That stalemate compounded mounting Turkish frustration over the burden of subordinating its strategic approach to the region to serving Azerbaijani interests, rather than to meeting Turkish needs.

Additionally, this impetus came in response to the twin threats posed by the rise of a Kurdish proto-state in northern Iraq and a resurgence of Kurdish nationalism in the eastern regions of Turkey.

Thus, opening the Turkish border with Armenia was seen as an effective way to stabilize and economically develop the Kurdish-populated areas along the Turkish-Armenian border. And given the long-stated Armenian offer of normal diplomatic relations without preconditions, there was a convergence of interests between Turkish military and commercial interests, with each sensing an advantage in forging economic ties with Armenia.

Second, Dink's killing reflects a much deeper struggle under way in Turkey today that reflects a dynamic reassessment of both Turkish identity and Turkish secularism. Moreover, the past few years have seen profound shifts in public opinion in Turkey as debate and discourse have become polarized by conflicting visions of Turkey's strategic orientation.

Within this deeper context of internal change, Dink played an important role in contributing to the debate about Turkey's future orientation. As a strong advocate of Turkish membership in the European Union, Dink represented the Western-looking segment of the Turkish political and intellectual elite.

As with the bilingual nature of the Armenian and Turkish newspaper that he edited, Dink personified the duality of Turkish identity -- seeing himself as much Turkish as Armenian and declaring his commitment to improving relations between Turks and Armenians. Dink once broke down during an interview with AP, decrying what he termed as the hatred that some Turks held for him, adding that he could not stay in a country where he was unwanted.

In this respect, Dink's killing was more than simply a fatal attack on an ethnic Armenian: it was the killing of a prominent Turkish citizen. And Dink's life as a Turkish citizen reveals as much about the internal changes taking place in Turkey today as does his death.

Specifically, Dink was individually engaged in his own contribution to the debate over Turkey's future, boldly asserting the historical veracity of the "Armenian genocide" in the face of threats and intimidation. As part of this effort, he was convicted in 2005 of "insulting Turkish identity" on the basis of an article in which he wrote of the 1915 genocide of Ottoman Armenians, and was given a six-month suspended sentence in October 2005 for his boldness.

Both his persecution and prosecution demonstrate the difficult choices facing Turkey on its road to EU membership, well beyond the confines of the Armenia issue.

Thirdly, as tragic as the killing was, it may nonetheless present a new opportunity for Turkey to recognize the futility of the so-called "taboo" on such issues as the Kurdish question and the Armenian genocide. Addressing these two core issues represents more than a question of Turkey confronting with its past, but would actually serve to define Turkey's future.

Judging by the swift and strident official reaction to the killing, with Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan condemning it as a "bullet fired against free speech and democracy," there is some hope that Dink may ultimately achieve more in death to change Turkey from within than he could ever have accomplished in his lifetime.

But the challenge to transform this tragedy into a true turning point for Turkey hinges on the need for Ankara to adopt a new farsighted approach toward both Turkey's past and its future.

President Hamid Karzai said on January 21 that the protection of insurgents fighting in Afghanistan by "certain Pakistani circles" has contributed to continued violence in Afghanistan, Reuters reported the same day. At the opening of a new session of the Afghan legislature, Karzai accused "enemies of Afghanistan" of having "formed terrorist groups consisting of international terrorist networks under the protection of some certain Pakistani circles for martyring mercilessly our children, teachers, and clerics." Karzai called "administrative of the main problems of the government and society" due to the direct link between terrorism, drugs, and corrupt government. Afghan resentment at Taliban infiltration from Pakistan has strained relations between Islamabad and Kabul. Pakistan acknowledges that some militants are crossing its border, but says the continued Taliban insurgency can be blamed on poverty and government corruption. JC

The purported Taliban spokesman who was captured recently by the Afghan authorities has reportedly revealed details regarding the Taliban organization, the Italian website Adnkronos International (AKI) reported on January 19, citing quotes from Afghan security officials in the Saudi newspaper "Al-Watan." Mohammad Hanif, whom officials subsequently identified as Abdulhaq Haji Gulroz, reportedly said the Taliban are organized into three groups that comprise former Taliban regime members, insurgents linked to Islamic extremists in Pakistan, and militants close to Al-Qaeda. Hanif has reportedly claimed that Taliban leader Mullah Mohammad Omar lives in Quetta, Pakistan, under Pakistani intelligence protection, and that former Pakistani Inter-Services Intelligence (ISI) Director-General Hamid Gul organizes and trains Taliban militants in Pakistan to carry out terrorist operations inside Afghanistan, RFE/RL reported on January 18. Pakistani officials have rejected all of those allegations. JC

In an apparent effort to win over local residents and weaken government efforts to expand education, the Taliban has vowed to open its own schools in southern Afghanistan, AP reported on January 21. Beginning in March, the group will provide Islamic education to students in at least six southern provinces, purported Taliban spokesman Abdul Hai Muthmahien told AP in a telephone interview from an undisclosed location on January 20. The schools reportedly will be funded by $1 million allocated by the Taliban's ruling council and will be open first to boys, and later to girls. The former Taliban regime banned most girls from attending school. "The Taliban are not against education," Muthmahien reportedly said. "The Taliban want Shari'a education." Militants have carried out a violent campaign targeting schools in the past five years, destroying 200 schools and killing 20 teachers in 2006 alone. JC

U.S.-backed counternarcotics and counterinsurgency operations in Colombia -- the world's largest producer of cocaine -- could serve as a model for Afghan efforts to battle opium and illegal-drug production, AP quoted U.S. Chairman of the Joint Chiefs General Peter Pace as saying on January 19. Pace told reporters in the Colombian capital, Bogota, that the country's campaign to purge certain areas of terrorists combined with investments into social projects and employment programs is a "good model for [Afghan] President Hamid Karzai to consider as he looks at how to reduce the amount of drug trafficking in his country." On January 18, the White House nominated William Wood, U.S. ambassador to Colombia since 2003, to become the next ambassador to Afghanistan, Reuters reported on January 19. Opium production and trafficking account for one-third of the Afghan economy, the State Department said in 2006. JC

President Mahmud Ahmadinejad presented parliamentarians on January 21 with his government's proposed budget for the Persian year beginning in March 2007, setting out some of his plans, defending his economic record, and reiterating foreign policy positions, ISNA reported. He told parliamentarians of plans to build roads and housing in provincial regions from an increased construction-and-development budget and to distribute shares of state-sector companies to segments of the public -- including teachers, nurses, and pensioners. The state is building 20 dams, Ahmadinejad said, while petrochemicals exports are expected to increase "50 the near future," ISNA reported. He said the government is committed to reducing interest rates, ensuring that state subsidies benefit those in need, "control[ling] the market," and protecting domestic manufacturers. He estimated that about 20 percent of Iranians do not have their own homes, which he said is at odds with the "culture" of Iranians and should be rectified. He also said a new law is required to better regulate the housing market. He called a recent increase in home prices "artificial" and said that the Intelligence Ministry will inform legislators of "networks" that engineered such a rise. Ahmadinejad defended his government's record in reducing inflation, cutting expenditures, reducing imports, and boosting sectors like agriculture. Ahmadinejad said his government was the first to buy farmers' produce and pay for it in cash, ISNA reported. VS

President Ahmadinejad defended Iran's right to a nuclear program before parliament on January 21, stressing that no official may surrender or compromise that national right, ISNA reported. He accused "elements" in the country of serving the cause of "enemies" in the nuclear case by giving in to the Western "war of nerves." Ahmadinejad said that Western powers "have elements inside the country" to help them realize their goal of stopping Iran's nuclear program, "but the fact is that they have failed before our nation." He said he responded to a "dear friend" who was concerned over the economic price that Iran might pay due to UN economic sanctions by asking, "What costs have we paid? We have not paid any cost." He said his recent trip to Latin America -- which some critics called a costly exercise -- helped demonstrate to "enemies" that Iran is not isolated. While Western powers were threatening Iran with sanctions, the country managed to absorb $16 billion in foreign investment, Ahmadinejad claimed, without offering a time frame for that investment. "The time for over," he told lawmakers. "Sanctions are for 30 years ago." VS

Foreign Ministry spokesman Mohammad Ali Husseini told reporters in Tehran on January 21 that Iran's formal positions on its nuclear program are consensual positions forged in the Supreme National Security Council and "have not changed," Mehr reported. He said that Deputy Foreign Minister for Asia and Pacific Affairs Mehdi Safari recently visited North Korea "in the framework of the two countries' relations [and a] cooperation document." He dismissed the likelihood of U.S. military strikes against Iranian installations as "provocation and psychological warfare" and added that, as "officials have said, this option has no place in decisions, and it is the media that are fueling it." Separately, Husseini accused "some people" of overlooking the terrorist status in the United States and the EU of the Mujahedin-i Khalq Organization (MKO or MEK), an Iranian militant group with members in Iraq, and of "misusing the little group, although they have them on their blacklist." He was presumably referring to unspecified cooperation between the MKO and U.S. forces. Husseini said that "American policies" have so far prevented MKO expulsions from Iraq, Mehr reported. VS

Supreme National Security Council Secretary Ali Larijani visited Syria on January 21 to meet with Syrian President Bashar al-Assad, IRNA reported. Larijani told reporters after his arrival in Damascus that Iran "wishes the peaceful coexistence of all parties and to maintain stability in the region." He later stated his agreement with al-Assad that there should be stability in Iraq and Lebanon, IRNA reported. In Tehran the same day, Foreign Ministry spokesman Husseini rejected suggestions that Iran meddles in Iraqi affairs, saying that Iran "would never make Iraq a space for settling scores," Mehr reported. Hosseini discouraged Iranians from traveling to Iraq's Shi'a shrines in the coming weeks -- a period of mourning associated with the 7th-century death of the Prophet Muhammad's grandson, Husayn. Husseini said Iran is willing to consider any "request" by U.S. authorities on "regional issues," but he added that "America's program includes continuing and intensifying illegal arrests in Iraq," Mehr reported. The reference was to the recent arrest of Iranians in Irbil by U.S. forces (see "RFE/RL Newsline," January 12, 2007). VS

Grand Ayatollah Hussein Ali Montazeri, one of Iran's most prominent dissident theologians, criticized government slogans, radical postures, and "useless" expenditures in a recent speech and asked the Ahmadinejad government to promise less and do more for Iranians, Radio Farda reported on January 20. Montazeri was reportedly speaking at a recent commemoration service in Qom, Radio Farda reported. Montazeri was set to succeed the late Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini as Iran's supreme leader in the 1980s but fell out of favor following his criticism of state policies. He reportedly said in Qom that Ahmadinejad's government has wasted money. His son, Ayatollah Ahmad Montazeri, told Radio Farda on January 20 that government slogans are isolating Iran and earning it enemies. "Everyone is worried by an American attack" in which Iran would suffer "the greater harm," the younger Montazeri said. He suggested that Iran suspend its nuclear-research activities to ease international pressure, Radio Farda reported. VS

Radical Shi'ite cleric Muqtada al-Sadr said on January 21 that his political bloc will end a two-month boycott of the Iraqi parliament, state-run Al-Iraqiyah television reported the same day. "Now that these national and legitimate demands have been met, we announce our return to the government and the Council of Representatives," said Baha al-A'raji, a member of al-Sadr's political bloc. "We will attend today's session and the brother ministers will resume their work to serve the Iraqi people." On November 29, the al-Sadr bloc announced the suspension of all participation in the government to press their demand for a timetable for the withdrawal of U.S. forces and to protest the November 30 meeting between Prime Minister Nuri al-Maliki and U.S. President George W. Bush in Amman, Jordan (see "RFE/RL Newsline," November 30, 2006). During a news conference, parliament speaker Mahmud al-Mashhadani praised the news and said a parliamentary committee will be formed to discuss the boycott. "This is a new beginning," al-Mashhadani said. "We want to say to the world that an Iraqi solution for Iraqi problems is the key, and others must support these solutions." SS

Iraqi special forces, backed up by U.S. troops, arrested Abd al-Hadi al-Darraji, a top aide to radical Shi'ite cleric al-Sadr, in Baghdad on January 19, international media reported the same day. The U.S. military issued a statement that did not mention al-Darraji by name, but described him as a suspect who "allegedly leads various illegal armed-group operations and is affiliated with illegal armed-group cells targeting Iraqi civilians for sectarian attacks and violence." However, Nasar al-Rubay'i, a representative of al-Sadr's political bloc, described the arrest as a "provocation," state-run Al-Iraqiyah satellite television reported on January 19. An adviser to Iraqi Prime Minister al-Maliki, Sadiq al-Rikabi, said the arrest was not coordinated with the government, Al-Arabiyah satellite television reported January 19. "I do not think the arrest of Sheikh al-Darraji is part of the security plan," al-Rikabi said. "I would like to explain...that al-Darraji's arrest was not conducted in coordination with the Iraqi political leadership." SS

The U.S. military announced that 24 U.S. soldiers were killed on January 20, making it one of the bloodiest days for U.S. forces in Iraq. In the worst incident, the military said a Blackhawk helicopter crashed northeast of Baghdad, killing all 12 people on board. The military said an investigation is under way to determine the cause of the crash. In the southern city of Karbala, a Provincial Joint Coordination Center was attacked by an armed militia group that killed five U.S. soldiers and wounded three. Brigadier General Vincent Brooks, deputy commander in Baghdad, said the center was attacked by grenades and small-arms fire while a meeting was taking place to discuss security precautions during the Shi'ite religious festival of Ashura. Four soldiers were killed in separate incidents in Al-Anbar Governorate, and three other soldiers were killed in separate attacks across Iraq. According to the U.S. military, the 24 troops killed was the third-highest total for a single day since the war began in March 2003, eclipsed only by 37 U.S. deaths on January 26, 2005, and 28 on the third day of the U.S. invasion. SS

President Jalal Talabani on January 20 called for direct talks between Syria and the United States, Al-Arabiyah satellite television reported the same day. "I personally will seek to give a true picture about Syria's intentions and policy to the U.S. administration, and I will seek to encourage our American friends to have a dialogue with Syria," Talabani said. He also stressed that Iraq will never be part of any attempts to attack Syria or Iran. Talabani was in Damascus for an official six-day visit with the Syrian leadership to enhance security and economic ties. A joint statement issued by Talabani and Syrian President Bashar al-Assad stressed that the security of the two neighbors is interconnected and condemned all forms of terror, the Syrian news agency SANA reported on January 20. Furthermore, the statement called for maintaining Iraq's unity and sovereignty, and for setting a timetable for the withdrawal of multinational forces from the country in accordance with UN Security Council Resolution 1546. Talabani said that al-Assad "showed strong interest in meeting the requirements of the Iraqi people and an insistence on achieving security and prosperity in Iraq." SS

Iraqi police on January 20 arrested three Iranians in the northern city of Mosul, KUNA reported on January 21. The men reportedly entered Iraq without any official documents. The police chief of Ninawa Governorate, Major General Wathig Abd al-Qadir Al-Hamdani, said the three were arrested at a checkpoint east of Mosul and that an investigation is under way to determine how they entered Iraq. On January 11, U.S. forces raided a building in the northern city of Irbil for which Iran had requested consular status and arrested five people (see "RFE/RL Newsline," January 12, 2007). On January 18, government spokesman al-Dabbagh said the five Iranians detained during the raid are not diplomats and declined to provide any further details (see "RFE/RL Newsline," January 19, 2007). SS