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Newsline - March 13, 2007

An unnamed "Moscow source" was quoted by all three major Russian news agencies on March 12 as saying that Iran has exploited Russia's diplomatic support over the nuclear issue without making any concessions in return. The source argued that "unfortunately, the Iranians are abusing our constructive relations and have done nothing to convince our colleagues of the consistency of Tehran's policies." He added that "we do not need a nuclear Iran or an Iran with the potential to create [nuclear weapons].... We will not play any anti-U.S. games with [Tehran] if [Iran] decides not to [cooperate with] the [International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA)].... Let them answer [to the IAEA] for themselves." Other Russian officials said on March 12 that Iran is behind in its payments for the Bushehr nuclear power plant, which is continuing to hold up construction (see "RFE/RL Newsline," March 1 and 7, 2007). Federal Atomic Energy Agency (Rosatom) spokesman Sergei Novikov said that "there is no money, and without money it's impossible to build." He gave no indication when Rosatom now expects the project to be completed. Irina Yesipova, a spokeswoman for the Atomstroieksport company, said that it will not be possible to meet the original deadlines for the first fuel deliveries to take place in March and for the plant to begin operations in September. On March 13, Mikhail Margelov, who chairs the Federation Council's International Relations Committee, said that Russian policy operates on pragmatic principles and that the September deadline cannot be met if Iran does not pay, Interfax reported. In Tehran, Iranian officials denied they are behind in payments and suggested that the Russians are holding up the project because of U.S. pressure on Moscow (see Iran below). PM

The Paris-based "International Herald Tribune" wrote on March 13 that "as the EU struggles to achieve a common energy and security policy, the Socialist-led government of Hungary has broken with the bloc by joining forces with Gazprom to extend [the Russian Blue Stream] natural-gas pipeline from Turkey to Hungary" via Bulgaria and Romania. The paper added that Blue Stream will follow approximately the same route as the EU's planned Nabucco pipeline, which would bring gas from the Caspian region to Europe via Turkey. The daily noted that "the immediate advantage to Hungary in joining the Russian project is unclear because Budapest could end up contributing to the construction of competing pipelines." Prime Minister Ferenc Gyurcsany argued in defense of the decision to join Blue Stream that it "already exists" in that it already runs across the Black Sea from Russia to Turkey. He said that "Nabucco has been a...dream and an old plan. But we don't need dreams. We need projects. The single problem with Nabucco is that we cannot see when we will have gas from it." The daily noted that Gyurcsany's Socialist Party is the successor to the former communists and that many in the current leadership reportedly have personal and business links to Russia. The Hungarian oil and gas company MOL signed an agreement with Gazprom in Budapest on June 21, 2006, on extending Blue Stream from Turkey to Europe. Gyurcsany and leading Gazprom officials subsequently reviewed the project, as well as the possible construction of a large Russian gas-storage facility in Hungary. Gyurcsany and President Vladimir Putin discussed the projects during Putin's visit to Hungary earlier in 2006. The two men met five times before that and once the following September (see "RFE/RL Newsline," March 1, June 22, and September 19, 2006). PM

Unnamed officials of the Federal Agency for the Use of Natural Resources (Rosnedra) said in Moscow on March 13 that an investigation has begun of possible environmental violations by France's Total in the Kharyaga oil field in the Yamalo-Nenets Autonomous Okrug in northern Russia, reported (see "RFE/RL Newsline," September 20 and 25, 2006 and February 12, 2007). Alleged environmental concerns have been used against other Western firms to pressure them into selling at least part of their shares to state-run Russian companies. Russian firms are not known for scrupulous observation of environmental legislation. PM

President Putin signed a decree on March 12 reducing the length of compulsory military service from two years to one, starting January 1, 2008, RIA Novosti reported. Those drafted as of January 1, 2007, will serve for 18 months as an interim measure. The two-year term has been in force for almost 40 years. Former Defense Minister Sergei Ivanov refused to abolish the draft completely, as many citizens appear to want. The Russian military is plagued by problems ranging from hazing to poor food and clothing to the forced hiring out of conscripts as laborers or prostitutes (see "RFE/RL Newsline," January 17, and February 13, 14, and 21, 2007). PM

President Putin told the cabinet on March 12 that Russia's Glonass global navigation system must become cheaper and of better quality than the U.S. Global Positioning System (GPS), RIA Novosti reported. "You know what attention I pay to Glonass, and I hope relevant attention will be paid to it" by others, he said. The Federal Space Agency plans to have 18 satellites in orbit by early 2008 and all of its planned orbital group of 24 satellites in operation by the end of 2009. The agency is negotiating with GPS and the EU's Galileo on unspecified joint-use projects. Glonass has both military and civilian applications. PM

The Russian carrier Volga-Dnepr signed a $1 billion contract in Moscow on March 12 with Boeing to buy five new 747-8 long-range cargo aircraft, RIA Novosti and dpa reported. The planes will be supplied in 2007-08, and an additional five aircraft are reserved for delivery in 2010-13. Volga-Dnepr specializes in oversize cargo flights and has the world's largest fleet of Russian-built An-124 cargo jets. Airline President Aleksei Isaikin said the purchase "is an event of great importance, as it promotes our general strategic goal of joining the world's top 20 cargo carriers." Volga-Dnepr is also involved in a joint Russian-Ukrainian project to build the new An-124-100 aircraft, an updated version of the An-124 (see "RFE/RL Newsline," September 20, 2006, and January 8, 2007). PM

State Duma speaker Boris Gryzlov said on March 12 that the pro-Kremlin Unified Russia party, of which he is chairman, will ask Stavropol Governor Aleksandr Chernogorov to step down in light of Unified Russia's less than stellar showing in the previous day's local parliament elections, Russian media reported. In some single-mandate constituencies, Unified Russia polled barely 20 percent of the vote, compared with over 50 percent for its chief rival, A Just Russia. Consequently, A Just Russia is likely to control between 20 and 23 seats in the 50-deputy parliament, Unified Russia - 12, the Communist Party - five, the Liberal Democratic Party of Russia - three, and the Union of Rightist Forces - two. Chernogorov's deputy Anatoly Voropayev was quoted by on March 12 as saying that Unified Russia should support its members in times of defeat, and that it would be wrong to force Chernogorov to resign. on March 13 quoted Chernogorov as saying that the election outcome was the result of vote-buying on a massive scale and that Unified Russia will challenge the results in court (see End Note below). LF

Chechnya's Supreme Court has sentenced Ali Soytekinoglu, a citizen of Turkey, to 23 years' imprisonment on charges of committing a terrorist act in which 14 police officers were killed, and of participating in attacks on military personnel and civilians in Chechnya, reported on March 12 quoting Interfax. No details of those attacks were given, nor is it clear when and under what circumstances Soytekinoglu was apprehended. Soytekinoglu underwent military training in the summer of 2001 in Georgia's Pankisi Gorge, after which he joined the band of militants headed by field commander Ruslan Gelayev, according to Deputy Russian Prosecutor-General Ivan Sydoruk. LF

Police arrested an unemployed man identified as Hayk Israelian on March 7 and charged him with placing and detonating the car bomb that killed State Tax Service official Shahen Hovasepian in Yerevan six months ago, RFE/RL's Armenian Service reported on March 12. Two men arrested shortly after the bombing, one of them one of Hovasepian's subordinates, were eventually released (see "RFE/RL Newsline," September 19 and December 7, 2006). LF

Ambassador Bernard Fassier, who is the French co-chairman of the OSCE Minsk Group that seeks to mediate a solution to the Karabakh conflict, met in Yerevan on March 12 with Armenian Foreign Minister Vartan Oskanian and with Arkady Ghukasian, president of the unrecognized Nagorno-Karabakh Republic (NKR), Noyan Tapan and RFE/RL's Armenian Service reported. Fassier, who visited Yerevan and then Baku last week (see "RFE/RL Newsline," March 8, 2007) briefed Oskanian on his talks with Azerbaijani officials. Oskanian is scheduled to meet in Geneva on March 14 with all three Minsk Group co-chairs and his Azerbaijani counterpart Elmar Mammadyarov. Fassier discussed with Ghukasian the OSCE-mediated talks between Armenia and Azerbaijan and subsequently told journalists that he favors both more frequent contacts between Ghukasian and the co-chairs, and direct NKR participation in the peace talks. He argued that NKR representatives should be present when the region's future status is discussed, Noyan Tapan reported. LF

The faction of the Democratic Party of Azerbaijan (DPA) that supports First Deputy Chairman Sardar Jalaloglu decided on March 12 to quit the opposition Azadliq bloc formed two years ago, and reported on March 12 and 13 respectively. For the past two months Calaloglu has been waging a fierce struggle for control of the DPA with U.S.-based leader Rasul Quliyev. Azadliq was initially unwilling to take sides in that standoff, but on March 6 it announced the suspension of cooperation with the DPA (see "RFE/RL Newsline," March 7, 2007 and "RFE/RL Caucasus Report," March 8, 2007). Nureddin Ismaylov, a press spokesman for Calaloglu's wing of the DPA, told on March 12 that Azadliq's decision was unfair. Quliyev warned in early March in a letter to the heads of Azadliq's other members of the risk of splitting the alliance, but Ali Kerimli, chairman of the progressive faction of the Azerbaijan Popular Front Party that is one of the main pillars of Azadliq, said on March 12 that there is no danger the bloc will disintegrate. LF

The Georgian Foreign Ministry released a statement on March 12 condemning as an attempt to undermine stabilization and reconstruction the artillery attack by Russian military helicopters of villages in the upper, Georgian-controlled reaches of the Kodori Gorge late the previous day, Caucasus Press reported. The statement did not mention the alleged shelling by Abkhaz forces of the same area that Georgian media reported on March 12, and that Abkhaz officials denied (see "RFE/RL Newsline," March 12, 2007). Georgian Foreign Minister Gela Bezhuashvili told journalists in Tbilisi on March 13 that once an investigation by Georgian, Abkhaz, Russian, and UN representatives is complete, he will discuss the incident with his Russian counterpart Sergei Lavrov. The Russian Foreign Ministry denied on March 12 responsibility for the attack, which it described as the direct consequence of the deployment of Georgian forces to Kodori in July 2006. Georgian Interior Minister Vano Merabishvili announced in Tbilisi on March 12 that "until today, our units had orders not to return fire in such cases as we did not want to be drawn into a provocation, but after today's attack I issued orders to return fire because we cannot expose our citizens and government structures to danger," RFE/RL's Georgian Service reported. In Sukhum(i), Sergei Bagapsh, president of the unrecognized Republic of Abkhazia, said on March 12 that the attack demonstrates that the Georgian authorities cannot guarantee security in Kodori, Apsnypress reported. Bagapsh again denied any Abkhaz involvement in the attack. LF

Parliament deputies passed unanimously on March 13 by 160 votes in favor of a declaration drafted jointly by the pro-government majority and opposition factions expressing support for Georgia's aspiration to join NATO, Caucasus Press reported. The statement describes NATO membership as "the best guarantee for security, territorial integrity, and democracy in Georgia." The opposition New Rightists, Industrialists, Conservatives, and Republican Party also backed the declaration, but Shalva Natelashvili said on March 12 his Labor Party will endorse it only after President Mikheil Saakashvili resigns. Also on March 12, Russian Ambassador to Georgia Vyacheslav Kovalenko was quoted by the Russian newspaper "Vremya novostei" as saying in an interview that Georgia's accession to NATO would make it more difficult to resolve the conflicts between the central Georgian government and the breakaway republics of Abkhazia and South Ossetia. LF

Kazakh President Nursultan Nazarbaev met on March 12 with Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak after arriving in Cairo the previous day, Kazakhstan Today and ITAR-TASS reported. The two leaders signed a set of new bilateral agreements on enhanced cooperation in the industrial, public-health, and trade sectors. Bilateral trade totaled just $19.5 million in 2006. Nazarbaev's visit to Egypt was timed to coincide with the 15th anniversary of the establishment of relations and follows a similar state visit to Qatar, where he met with Emir Sheikh Hamad bin Khalifa Al Thani and discussed trade, energy, and economic cooperation (see "RFE/RL Newsline," March 12, 2007). RG

Bermet Akaeva, the eldest daughter of former Kyrgyz President Askar Akaev, submitted her formal application to electoral authorities in Bishkek on March 12 to register as a candidate in a by-election for the Kyrgyz parliament set for late April, RFE/RL's Kyrgyz Service reported. Akaeva is seeking to stand against seven other candidates in the election for the parliamentary seat representing her father's native northern Kemin district that was previously held by her brother Aidar Akaev, who left Kyrgyzstan in 2005. According to Akaeva's lawyer, Kanyshai Mamytova, Kyrgyz election officials have 10 days to rule on her application, AKIpress reported. RG

Speaking at a press conference in Bishkek on March 12, Kyrgyz Deputy Culture Minister Asanbek Sarybaev announced his resignation and his intention to join the opposition, explaining that conditions in the country have not improved since the 2005 election of President Kurmanbek Bakiev, news agency website and ITAR-TASS reported. Sarybaev added that the constitutional amendments that were adopted in January merely restored excessive presidential power and authority that had been reduced by the November constitutional reforms. Responding to a question over the timing of his resignation, Sarybaev said that he was "prepared to join the opposition" in November but "was ill for a long time," AKIpress reported. RG

A newly established opposition bloc announced on March 12 its plan to hold rallies throughout the country beginning on April 9 and culminating in a large demonstration in Bishkek on April 11, RFE/RL's Kyrgyz Service and AKIpress reported. Azamat Kalman, a spokesman for the opposition United Front For a Worthy Future For Kyrgyzstan, which is led by former Prime Minister Feliks Kulov, said the bloc is also seeking an early presidential election and "real constitutional reforms" to end corruption and the "usurpation of power by one person," reported. The opposition movement recently issued an ultimatum demanding that the government introduce sweeping reforms (see "RFE/RL Newsline," March 12, 2007). RG

A statement released by the Kyrgyz Foreign Ministry in Bishkek on March 12 announced that Kyrgyzstan is joining NATO's Planning and Review Process Program (PARP), AKIpress and Interfax reported. Although Kyrgyzstan is already an active member of NATO's Partnership for Peace program, the move represents a deepening of ties with the NATO alliance and allows for greater NATO assistance to bolster the country's military-reform program. Both neighboring Kazakhstan and Uzbekistan are members of the NATO Planning and Review Process program. RG

In an open letter to Tajik President Imomali Rakhmonov published on March 12, former rebel leader Haji Akbar Turajonzoda called for a presidential pardon for all combatants in Tajikistan's 1992-97 civil war, ITAR-TASS reported. Turajonzoda, a former official of the United Tajik Opposition (UTO) and current member of the Tajik parliament, added that a pardon would be a "human step" that would "help unite society," and he argued that "the former participants of the warring sides no longer pose a threat to the security of the country." The proposal is timed to coincide with the upcoming 10th anniversary of the June 1997 peace agreement signed by the Tajik government and the UTO that effectively ended the country's five-year civil war. In a series of five presidential amnesties issued since the end of the civil war, more than 20,000 combatants have been released from prison. RG

A two-day international meeting of Persian-speaking journalists in Dushanbe ended on March 12 with plans to establish a new media association, RFE/RL's Tajik Service and Asia-Plus reported. More than 60 participants from several countries -- including Afghanistan, Iran, Kazakhstan, Russia, the United Kingdom, the United States, and Uzbekistan -- agreed to create a common website to share information and common ideas among Persian-language media. RG

Some 250 small business owners held a rally in a park in Minsk on March 12, protesting the presidential decree that effectively bans them from using hired labor, Belapan reported. In December, President Alyaksandr Lukashenka issued a decree that prohibits sole entrepreneurs from employing people other than three family members as of 2008. According to rally participants, the edict runs counter to the constitution, which guarantees the equality of all forms of ownership and the right to engage in enterprise. The rally adopted a resolution demanding that the president annuls the decree. The resolution also includes a demand to immediately release Mikalay Autukhovich, Yury Lyavonau, Alyaksandr Kazulin, Katsyaryna Sadouskaya, Pavel Sevyarynets, Mikalay Statkevich, Artur Finkevich, Zmitser Dashkevich, and Dzyanis Dzyanisau, who are widely considered political prisoners. JM

The opposition parliamentary caucuses of the Yuliya Tymoshenko Bloc (BYuT) and Our Ukraine on March 13 left the ongoing parliamentary session, protesting against what they see as the parliamentary majority's reluctance to comply with their demands, Ukrainian media reported. "We are leaving this hall because honest politicians should not sanctify what is being done in parliament," Yuliya Tymoshenko told journalists. The previous day, in the presence of President Viktor Yushchenko, Tymoshenko and Our Ukraine parliamentary caucus head Vyacheslav Kyrylenko signed a joint statement, in which they reportedly put forward 17 demands with regard to the ruling coalition and appealed to the president to veto "lobbyist and corruption-breeding" legislation. The two opposition forces propose holding a national referendum to determine the form of government in Ukraine and drafting a new version of the constitution. The statement also includes demands that the Verkhovna Rada immediately confirm the presidential candidates for the post of foreign minister and chief of the Security Service; that the Verkhovna Rada dismiss Interior Minister Vasyl Tsushko and Prosecutor-General Oleksandr Medvedko; and that the government sign direct contracts on gas deliveries with Russia, Turkmenistan, Kazakhstan, and Uzbekistan, thus severing ties with the Swiss-based intermediary RosUkrEnergo. JM

President Yushchenko said during a meeting with representatives of the Yuliya Tymoshenko Bloc and Our Ukraine in Kyiv on March 12 that he will give his support to the idea of holding a nationwide plebiscite on amendments to the constitution if the current conflict between power branches continues, Interfax-Ukraine reported. "I'm a supporter of asking people about the key points of constitutional amendments," Yushchenko said. Yushchenko believes that the 2004 constitutional reform has upset the balance between power branches and he urges the creation of a constitutional commission consisting of lawmakers, prominent public figures, journalists, and lawyers to prepare constitutional amendments. During the meeting, Yushchenko also called on opposition lawmakers to stay in their caucuses and not to join the ruling majority. "There will never be 300 votes [for the ruling coalition] in parliament -- there won't be so many traitors," Yushchenko noted. Parliament speaker Oleksandr Moroz predicted earlier this month that the ruling coalition would soon increase to include 300 legislators, that is, would have a constitutional majority, which would give the government the right to amend the constitution and override presidential vetoes. JM

U.S. Assistant Secretary of State for European and Eurasian Affairs Daniel Fried told journalists in Washington on March 12 that it should not be assumed Russia will veto a UN resolution on the final status of the UN-administered Serbian province of Kosova, RFE/RL reported. Speaking two days after the end of consultations on a UN blueprint on the contested region, Fried said that Russia has voiced "concerns," but that the United States and Russia have worked "very closely and collaboratively" on Kosovo's status over the past several years. He expects that to continue. Fried added that there is still an opportunity to incorporate changes to the plan before its author, former Finnish President Martti Ahtisaari, presents it to the Security Council. Fried's deputy, Rosemary DiCarlo, stressed at the same press conference that Belgrade and Prishtina agree on "80 percent" of the UN plan. Many in Serbia expect Russia to wield its veto, a hope that Serbian Foreign Minister Vuk Draskovic sought to cool on March 9, warning Serbs against "hasty, gambling conclusions" that Russia will scupper the Ahtisaari plan (see "RFE/RL Newsline," March 12, 2007). Fried dismissed one of Russia's and Serbia's key arguments against the proposal, that independence for Kosova would be, as Serbian Prime Minister Kostunica said on March 11, "the most dangerous precedent in the history of the United Nations." "The precedent simply doesn't apply," RFE/RL quoted Fried as saying. "We have said before and we'll say again as many times as we have to, that Kosovo is not a precedent for any other area -- whether that's Abkhazia, South Ossetia, Chechnya, Transdniester, Corsica, or Texas." AG

U.S. Assistant Secretary of State Fried denied media reports that Kosovar Serbs warned him during his visit to the region in early March that they will leave en masse if the UN's plan is approved (see "RFE/RL Newsline," March 12, 2007). "I did not hear the mayors talk about mass exodus. I did not hear threats of violence. I did not hear demands, and threats of disruption," RFE/RL reported. "What I did hear was a great deal of concern about the future, a desire for clarity, a desire for an international presence beyond the status process, and from a great many Kosovo Serbs, I heard strong expressions of support for KFOR [the NATO-led peacekeepers in Kosova] and what KFOR is doing to protect them." He also said that "there is clearly not a great deal of trust, but there is at least a great deal of determination to make the Ahtisaari plan work." Fried underlined that security is a key reason for a swift resolution of Kosova's status. "Delay is not going to bring more stability," Reuters quoted him as saying. "Delay could bring exactly the kind of instability we are worried about," adding that "this is the Balkans, people have guns." Fried told RFE/RL that the international community, Belgrade, and Prishtina face "difficult choices under difficult circumstances," but "we cannot go back to the situation before 1999" and "the status quo is not sustainable, so therefore we must look ahead." Serbia is willing to offer Kosova broad autonomy but insists on retaining sovereignty, while ethnic Albanians are broadly satisfied with the plan, which they believe sets the region on the path to independence. AG

Kosova's parliament on March 12 announced the start of a competition for a national flag and coat of arms, local media reported. Under the terms of a UN blueprint for the province, Kosova would be entitled to many of the institutions and trappings of statehood, including a flag and membership in international organizations, although the draft plan does not talk about independence. The competition will be open for 30 days, making it possible that Kosova will have a flag by the time that the UN Security Council discusses the settlement proposed by special envoy Ahtisaari. The process of consultation on the plan ended on March 10 with no sign of significant compromises by either the Serbian or Kosovar Albanian negotiating teams (see "RFE/RL Newsline," February 5 and March 12, 2007). A competition for a national anthem will be held at a later, unannounced date. The flag and coat of arms will be selected by a committee comprising members of parliament and independent experts. AG

Serbian President Boris Tadic on March 13 led commemorations of the fourth anniversary of the assassination of Prime Minister Zoran Djindjic. One event -- the laying of a wreath on Djindjic's grave in Belgrade -- was chiefly marked by Djindjic's family and officials of Djindjic's Democratic Party (DS), including Tadic. Prime Minister Vojislav Kostunica, a key ally in opposition and, in power, a leading rival of Djindjic, laid a wreath at another act of memorial in the courtyard of the government's headquarters, the site of Djindjic's killing. Djindjic was one of the key opposition figures in the 1990s and its most Western-leaning, pro-reform figure, and his death, 25 months into a difficult premiership, symbolized the difficulty of transforming Serbia after the wars of the 1990s and the rule of Slobodan Milosevic. Police believe that Djindjic was killed by members of a mafia gang, some of whom also served in a special armed unit created by Milosevic, the Red Berets. Members of the Red Berets have been found guilty of the killing of former Serbian President Ivan Stambolic and of two unsuccessful assassination attempts on another leading opposition figure of the time, current Foreign Minister Vuk Draskovic (see "RFE/RL Newsline," February 20, 2007). So far, 13 people have been arrested in connection with Djindjic's assassination and another five remain at large. However, no one has yet been sentenced. Media reports say "thousands" attended the graveside ceremony. On March 10 and 11, a total of around 2,500 marked the first anniversary of the death of a man whom Djindjic spent most of his political career fighting and whom he was instrumental in toppling, Slobodan Milosevic (see "RFE/RL Newsline," March 12, 2007). AG

UN police on March 12 arrested two close associates of former Prime Minister Ramush Haradinaj on suspicion of laundering money, local media reported the same day. One of them, Jahja Lluka, is also an adviser to current Prime Minister Agim Ceku. The other man, Milazim Abazi, is the director of a local bank, KasaBank. Police spokesman Veton Elshani confirmed that the police have also raided the offices of Haradinaj's party, the Alliance for the Future of Kosova (AAK), of which Lluka is a leader. Details are scant. However, Lluka was responsible for setting up a fund to support the defense mounted by Haradinaj against UN charges that he committed war crimes in 1998-99. Haradinaj has been on trial at the Hague-based International Criminal Tribunal for the former Yugoslavia (ICTY) since March 5 (see "RFE/RL Newsline," February 26 and March 2 and 6, 2007). Local reports suggest the fund has already attracted over $10 million in donations. Prime Minister Ceku was, like Haradinaj, a commander of separatists who fought against Serbian forces in the late 1990s and won Haradinaj's backing when Haradinaj stepped down after the ICTY indicted him. Ceku is not formally a member of the AAK. AG

Milan Jelic, the president of Bosnia's autonomous region, Republika Srpska, on March 12 called for Bosnia's leading Muslim politicians to "apologize to the Serbian people for everything they have said" criticizing the Republika Srpska, the SRNA news agency reported the same day. Haris Silajdzic, the Bosnian Muslims' representative in the three-member federal presidency, and Sulejman Tihic, leader of the Party of Democratic Action (SDA), have suggested that the Republika Srpska is the product of genocide and should therefore be abolished. Jelic said that Silajdzic and Tihic are flagrantly violating the Dayton peace accords that ended the 1992-95 war. Jelic said the authorities in Republika Srpska will soon take specific measures. "Hate-mongering and attempts to ignore the decisions of the International Court of Justice in The Hague result in consequences which warrant sanctions," Jelic was quoted by SRNA as saying. Jelic's comments are the latest in a salvo of exchanges since the International Court of Justice, the UN's top court, ruled on February 26 that the massacre at Srebrenica in 1995 was "an act of genocide" (see "RFE/RL Newsline," February 26 and 27, 2007). One issue that has become a focal point in the dispute, the possibility of a large number of Srebrenica returnees again leaving Srebrenica, eased on March 12, with leaders of the group saying they will delay their departure until April 12, giving more time for their demands to be met (see "RFE/RL Newsline," March 7, 2007). In another sign of the rising tensions between Bosnia's two largest communities, the daily "Dnevni avaz" reported on March 9 that the Serbian Democratic Party (SDS) said that it will vote to reinstate former members accused of war crimes. Those include one of the two men most wanted by the ICTY, Bosnian Serb wartime political leader Radovan Karadzic, as well as Stojan Zupljanin, who remains on the run, and Momcilo Krajisnik, who has been convicted by the ICTY (see "RFE/RL Newsline," March 8, 2007). AG

A member of the election commission monitoring a by-election in the Albanian town of Shijak was shot and injured on March 11, the news agency ATA reported the same day. Marjan Seliagaj, who is 23, remains hospitalized, but his life is not in danger. The election went on regardless, with the country's largest party, the Democratic Party, emerging victorious. However, the vote was criticized on March 11 by the Democrats' strongest opponents, the Socialists. ATA reported that a leading party official, Pandeli Majko, said the result was "illegitimate," as he claimed the vote count was witnessed only by commissioners from the governing right-wing coalition, including the Democrats. The Socialist candidate in the Shijak race withdrew after the vote in protest. Both the attack on Seliagaj, a Democratic member of the election committee, and the dispute over the result will reinforce doubts about the progress of Albania toward democratic standards. A raft of complaints -- reportedly all about the vote count or disputes between commissioners -- mean that full, official results of the local elections have yet to be announced almost a month after they were held on February 18. The newspaper "Koha jone" on 10 March quoted the head of the Central Election Commission, Clirim Gjata, as saying, "even the most remote village or municipality can cause a minimum of three hours of debate in the Central Election Commission and this has, indeed, happened." The commission says over 200 complaints were lodged. The elections were initially hailed as the best in Albanian history by Prime Minister Sali Berisha, a claim subsequently dismissed by observers from the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe, which said the elections fell short of international standards (see "RFE/RL Newsline," February 15, 16, and 21, 2007). AG

Moldovan Deputy Agriculture Minister Anatol Spivacenco on March 12 announced that Russia has lifted restrictions on imports of Moldovan fruit and vegetables, the Basa news agency reported the same day. Spivacenco said the restrictions, which also affected tobacco, were lifted on March 6. However, all exports must go through one customs point and will be subject to hygiene checks on the border, he said. The restrictions were imposed in May 2005 on the grounds that Moldovan exporters "had not observed Russian and international norms." At the time, Moldovan officials dismissed the ban as politically motivated. Moldovan meat exports were banned at the same time and wine exports subsequently. Those restrictions were also lifted recently, though Moldovan exporters report continued obstacles (see "RFE/RL Newsline," November 30, 2006, and January 29, 2007). Russia used to buy the overwhelming majority of Moldovan fruit and vegetable exports, Basa reported. According to official statistics reported by the news agency IPN on March 10, Moldova's total exports fell 3.6 percent in 2006. Exports to states in the Commonwealth of Independent States, including Russia, accounted for 40.3 percent of the total, down from 50.5 percent in 2005. At $235 million, Moldova's trade deficit with Russia was smaller only than its deficit with Ukraine. AG

Police in Moldova's separatist region of Transdniester on March 12 said they have arrested five leaders of the opposition Communist Party, charging them with disturbing the peace after they tryed to organize an unauthorized protest. Reports by AP and the Basa news agency indicate that Communist Party leader Oleg Horjan, a former presidential candidate, and three other senior party figures were arrested on March 11 while urging passersby to attend a demonstration on March 13 outside the offices of the breakaway region's leader, Igor Smirnov. AP quoted Svetlana Antonova, a senior intelligence officer in the breakaway region, as saying that the government offered the Communists an alternative site for a rally on March 13. Basa reported on March 12 that the media in Transdniester accused Moldova of seeking to destabilize the situation in the region. A political analyst quoted by Basa, Andrei Safonov, said the Communists planned to question increases in the cost of utilities, revisions to the results of some privatizations, and delays in payments of pensions and salaries. According to official figures, the Communists were trounced in the presidential election in December, with Nadezhda Bondarenko, one of the leaders arrested on March 11, polling just 8 percent of the vote. Smirnov was reelected with 82 percent, theoretically extending his rule from 1990 to 2011. March 2 marked the 15th anniversary of the outbreak of war between separatists in Transdniester and Moldova. AG

While the final results are not yet in for the legislative elections that took place on March 11 in 14 Russian regions, the preliminary results point to the outcome most observers expected: an overwhelming victory for Unified Russia.

Indeed, the country's main "party of power," headed by State Duma Speaker Boris Gryzlov, came in first place in 13 of 14 of those contests, averaging 46 percent of the vote, and was outpaced only in Stavropol Krai, where A Just Russia, the newly created second "party of power" headed by Federation Council Chairman Sergei Mironov, came in first among the parties. Unified Russia will be the only party with representation in all 14 regional legislatures.

That the main Kremlin-backed "party of power" dominated the regional elections is hardly a surprise, especially given the changes in the Russian election law that increased the minimum share of votes required for a party to win parliamentary representation from 5 percent to 7 percent, scrapped minimum turnout requirements and barred voters from voting "against all" candidates.

Unified Russia also enjoyed a monopoly on so-called "administrative resources." In just one example, Unified Russia won the right to appear first on ballots in eight out of 14 regions despite the fact that the ballot order was supposed to be determined by chance, the daily "Novye izvestia" reported on February 22. In addition, some political parties charged that the refusal by regional election commissions to register them for the elections was politically motivated: in perhaps the most controversial case, Yabloko was kept off the ballots in its erstwhile stronghold, St. Petersburg. In the end, just four parties -- Unified Russia, A Just Russia, the Communist Party (KPRF), and the Liberal Democratic Party (LDPR) -- were registered for all 14 regional elections.

In what cynical observers might see as an attempt by the Kremlin to create the appearance of genuine political competition where little actually exists, Unified Russia and A Just Russia -- both backed by the Kremlin and unswervingly loyal to President Vladimir Putin -- fought each other bitterly, with A Just Russia declaring its adherence to "socialism" and attacking Unified Russia for monopolizing power and representing corrupt entrenched interests.

According to "The Moscow Times" on March 13, Putin's deputy chief of staff, Vladislav Surkov, pointed to the competition between Unified Russia and A Just Russia -- and the March 11 elections more generally -- as evidence that political pluralism is alive and well in Russia. "A Just Russia competed confidently in these elections, showing that the ferocity of political battle is not waning in this country," RIA Novosti quoted Surkov as saying. "Any democracy is characterized by a steady list of primary players in the political field.... The fact that four parties ran successfully shows that the political playing field has basically been formed." Mironov, for his part, praised his party, A Just Russia, for "having returned real competition to politics," ITAR-TASS reported on March 12. A Just Russia, it should be noted, placed second in St. Petersburg, Leningrad and Vologda oblasts, the Komi Republic and Daghestan.

Opposition leaders, needless to say, saw the elections in a very different light. "Putin's regime needs rigged elections to keep their democratic window, pretending that it still [is] a member of the civilized nations," AP on March 11 quoted Garry Kasparov, the former world chess champion who leads the Other Russia opposition movement, as saying. Yabloko leader Grigory Yavlinsky said in a statement posted on the party's website (, on March 12: "In the system of sham democracy that has consolidated in Russia, elections occupy far from a central place, the multiparty system is restricted. Under the absolute domination by the main 'party of power,' the presence of other parties is allowed, but only loyal ones."

According to some observers, the Kremlin wants A Just Russia to succeed, but within certain limits. The daily "Vedomosti" reported on March 13 that while Mironov has vowed that his party will defeat Unified Russia in December's State Duma elections, that goal is not shared by the presidential administration. "According to a source in the Kremlin, the danger in the A Just Russia project is that it will, with populist slogans, stimulate opposition and criticism of the authorities and this could turn into a problem for the election of a new president," the newspaper noted. "Moreover, the next president could confront 'a swampy and hard-to-traverse parliament.'"

For that reason, the Kremlin may actually be happy that despite the relatively good showing of A Just Russia in the March 11 elections, it was apparently unable to supplant the KPRF as Russia's main left-wing party. The preliminary results announced on March 12 by Central Election Commission Chairman Aleksandr Veshnyakov showed that the KPRF won 16 percent -- coming in second place in seven regions -- while A Just Russia won 11.7 percent and Vladimir Zhirinovsky's LDPR came in fourth with an average of 10 percent of the vote in each region.

Perhaps the biggest surprise from the March 11 elections was the showing of the Union of Rightist Forces (SPS). In contrast to Yabloko, which failed to finish in the top five in any of the four regions where it was on the ballot, the SPS, according to preliminary results, broke the 7 percent barrier to win representation in the legislatures of the Komi Republic, Stavropol Krai, and Leningrad, Samara, and Tomsk oblasts, and came close to breaking the 7 percent barrier in Moscow and Orel oblasts.

Offering a possible explanation for the SPS's relative success, the daily "Novye izvestia" wrote on March 13 that shortly before election day, SPS leader Nikita Belykh appeared on the federal television channels "noticeably more often than usual." "Observers tend toward the opinion that access to air time was a kind of payment from the Kremlin for the SPS's loyalty," the newspaper added. "We recall that the SPS, unlike Yabloko, did not take part in the 'March of the Discontented' that took place at the beginning of March in St. Petersburg, although the rightists condemned the harsh actions of the law-enforcers against the participants in the action." The newspaper noted that State Duma Speaker and Unified Russia leader Gryzlov said on March 12 that he is certain the SPS will win representation in the next Duma.

Nine Afghan police officers were killed in Bakwa district of Farah Province on March 12 when their vehicle struck a roadside bomb, international news agencies reported. Farah security chief Sayyed Agha Saqeb told RFE/RL's Radio Free Afghanistan that Bakwa's police chief was among those "martyred" in the blast. There was no immediate claim of responsibility for planting the device. There has been an upsurge of neo-Taliban activity in southern parts of Farah. AT

Nine members of the Afghan "peace jirga" held talks with their Pakistani counterparts in Islamabad on March 12, state-run PTV reported. The "peace jirga" -- officially known as the Jirga for Regional Peace and Prosperity -- hopes to rely on tribes from both sides of the Afghan-Pakistani border to stop terrorism and militancy in Afghanistan and Pakistan, and was proposed by Kabul and Islamabad after Pakistan signed a peace deal with local tribes in North Waziristan in September (see "RFE/RL Afghanistan Report," November 7, 2006). The idea of the joint Afghan-Pakistani meeting was reportedly discussed by Karzai and his Pakistani counterpart, General Pervez Musharraf, in a meeting in Washington in September. The Afghan delegation, headed by Pir Sayyed Ahmad Gailani, met with a five-member Pakistani delegation headed by Interior Minister Aftab Ahmed Khan Sherpao. The two sides discussed the size and composition of the jirga. AT

Afghan police in Kabul have apprehended four Pakistani nationals carrying "propaganda" leaflets, the state-run Bakhtar News Agency reported on March 12. The four unidentified Pakistanis reportedly did not possess proper papers for travel to Afghanistan and remain in detention pending further investigation. Kabul has repeatedly accused Islamabad of backing the opposition fighting the current Afghan government. AT

In a statement issued on March 12, the NATO-led International Security Assistance Force (ISAF) denied reports that had suggest ISAF forces are operating inside Pakistani territory. "These reports are simply false," ISAF spokesman Colonel Tom Collins said. Collins said ISAF is based in Afghanistan to support the government in that country and enjoys a good relationship with Pakistan's government and military. AT

Members of the Iranian parliament's National Security and Foreign Policy Committee met in Tehran on March 12 with the deputy head of the Iran Atomic Energy Organization for international affairs, Mohammad Saidi, to discuss delays in the construction of the Bushehr plant in southern Iran by Russia, ISNA reported. Committee member Kazem Jalali reportedly said at the meeting that this is one of a series of delays in past years and that agreements signed between Iran and Russia in 1995 foresaw the plant as working by 2001. He said such delays have raised doubts in the minds of the Iranian public and "some elites" on the very principle of cooperation between Iran and Russia and would "tip the balance" in favor of those in Iran who oppose this cooperation. "Some elites believe now that Russia is not to be trusted," Jalali said, adding that "there are formulas" for resolving the current delays, "provided" a Russian delegation presently in Iran for talks shows "serious resolve," ISNA reported. He said Iran expects a new UN resolution to be issued against it "in coming days" over its refusal to heed UN demands to stop nuclear fuel-making activities. VS

President Mahmud Ahmadinejad met in Tehran on March 12 with Iraqi Vice President Tariq al-Hashimi and said Iran supports a united and safe Iraq, ISNA reported. He said a free, independent, united, and "advanced" Iraq would benefit all regional states and Muslims, although this was not in line with the wishes of "enemies." "We are more upset than anyone by the present security situation in Iraq," he said, adding that "the enemies of Islam" are using "an organized current" to foment violence and discord in Iraq and "consider these divisions a pretext for continuing their presence." Al-Hashimi agreed that "the presence of occupying forces" is exacerbating conflict between Shi'a and Sunnis in Iraq, and he expressed hope that security will return to Iraq "by relying on the regional and international power of" Iran and with "the cooperation of neighboring states." Al-Hashimi praised Ahmadinejad's "brave positions" in defending Iran's nuclear program. Al-Hashimi met separately with Vice President Parviz Davudi, apparently late on March 11, and the two discussed bilateral ties and trade. Davudi said Iran has set aside a "considerable and long-term budget" in the context of a Higher Headquarters for Economic Cooperation, which is to oversee the implementation of "infrastructure, industrial, and trade projects in Iraq," "Aftab-i Yazd" reported on March 13. VS

Mohammad Khatami, Iran's president from 1997 to 2005, has urged Iran to play a moderating role in regional affairs, and to pay a "price" to avert an international crisis for itself over its nuclear program, Radio Farda reported on March 12, citing media reports. Khatami initially made his remarks at an unspecified date to an Iranian economic daily "Sanaat va Toseeh" (Industry and Development). He said Iran should pay this price "bravely" to "enter negotiations" and thus ultimately assure the future of its nuclear program. Western states want Iran to stop nuclear fuel making and related activities, citing their potential bomb-making applications. Khatami separately told a gathering of pressmen in Tehran on March 12 that while negotiations with the United States were considered a taboo in his presidency, "the taboo is now broken" and this could allow "the resolution of problems while paying a lesser price, and with due regard for national interests," ISNA reported. He said success in any such talks would require courage, foresight, and good will, without specifying if these were needed on both sides. VS

Reformists met in Tehran on March 12 to discuss current affairs at the "Peace for Peace" seminar, held in the offices of the reformist Participation Party and intended to mark the anniversary of the March 2000 shooting of reformist politician Said Hajjarian, ILNA reported (see "RFE/RL Newsline," September 12, 2003). Hajjarian is confined to a wheelchair as a result of the shooting and did not attend. He sent a paper that was read out, saying Iran's nuclear program has placed the country in a state of "armed peace" with Western states. "We are continuing uranium enrichment, but the country is in a state of suspension," he wrote, adding that the economy is stagnant and "unemployment, corruption, injustice" are evident in Iran. The "centrifuges are spinning but the economic wheel has broken down," he wrote. He added that Russia is waiting for the next UN resolution to be issued against Iran before deciding on proceeding with the Bushehr plant. He wrote that "even Chinese banks are no longer working with us." He added that while officials insist Iran's nuclear program is a national right, "perhaps the most important right being violated here is the right to progress." Party member Mohammad Reza Khatami deplored the shooting, carried out by right-wing vigilantes, as an example of state violence. Violence by those in power, he said, is "neither comprehensible nor justifiable," ILNA reported. VS

Prime Minister Nuri al-Maliki told a meeting of Iraqi governors in Baghdad on March 12 that security forces operating in the governorates should be on guard against terrorists who have fled Baghdad, Al-Iraqiyah television reported the same day. Al-Maliki asked the governors to cooperate "with all other executive agencies in their respective governorates in order to develop a plan similar to the Baghdad law enforcement plan so as to impose the law in these areas." He also called on governors to make full use of their budgets in order to speed reconstruction efforts. In years past, the governorates did not spend all of the money allocated to them because of security conditions. Al-Maliki reportedly said the funds will be withdrawn by the federal government if they are not used. KR

U.S. General David Petraeus, the commander of U.S.-led forces in Iraq, told U.S. ABC News in an unedited interview published on its website on March 12 that it is indisputable that Iran's Qods Force is training Iraqi Shi'ite insurgents. "There's no doubt that some elements are from Iran and we don't know who is ordering it and that's immaterial...there are elements of the Qods Force and other elements from Iran who have been training [insurgents] who have been coming into Iraq," he said. Petraeus added that there are encouraging signs that some Sunni insurgents are ready to join the political process, saying, "They want their place at the table." He said that there are viable Sunni leaders emerging from places like Al-Anbar Governorate and he expects Prime Minister al-Maliki and other members of the cabinet to reach out to Sunnis in meaningful ways in the days ahead. Asked if the war can be won, he said, "To win, it's up to the coalition and the Iraqi security forces to provide a window of opportunity for the Iraqi political leaders to win this war." Petraeus said the Baghdad security plan is unfolding on schedule and there are mildly encouraging indicators that the situation is improving. KR

The Iraqi Army is making progress toward taking over military security for Al-Basrah City, according to a March 12 statement by the U.K. Defense Ministry. The statement said Iraqi forces have begun moving into their new barracks at the Shatt Al-Arab Hotel, which is the current home of the 1st Battalion of the Staffordshire Regiment. The regiment will continue its military assistance role, "training and mentoring the Iraqi security forces, allowing them to grow in capability and confidence," the statement said. The ministry noted that "a number" of successful operations have been carried out by Iraqi security forces across the governorate in recent weeks. KR

Iraqi Kurdish Judge Ra'uf Rashid Abd al-Rahman has denied media reports that his son was killed in Baghdad in recently, according to a press release posted to the Patriotic Union of Kurdistan website on March 12. Abd al-Rahman was reported to have fled Iraq to seek asylum in Britain following the alleged assassination (see "RFE/RL Newsline," March 12, 2007). He served as the chief judge in the Al-Dujayl trial that sentenced Saddam Hussein to death. KR

The Kurdistan Region government posted official versions of Iraq's draft oil and gas law in Arabic and in English on its website on March 9. "Old and inaccurate translations of this vital draft law have been circulating in the media in recent weeks. By publishing the original Arabic and the authoritative English translation together, we hope to make the picture clearer for potential investors in Iraq," said Ashti Hawrami, the region's natural resources minister and representative to the national Oil and Energy Committee (see "RFE/RL Iraq Report," March 2, 2007). KR