Accessibility links

Breaking News

Newsline - September 10, 2007

NATO Secretary-General Jaap de Hoop Scheffer said in Geneva on September 7 that "for us, a solid, trustful NATO-Russia relationship remains a long-term investment in European, and indeed global, security. It is up to Russia to clarify whether she holds a different view," news agencies reported. He noted that "if we look at Russia's recent behavior, we see that, even after a decade of steady progress, the NATO-Russia relationship remains vulnerable to Cold War stereotypes. We have to get beyond this state of affairs.... We must not allow short-term, tactical considerations to put at risk a long-term, strategic partnership. We must move the NATO-Russia relationship forward." In Viana do Castelo, Portugal, British Foreign Secretary David Miliband said on September 7 that EU foreign ministers meeting there "want a constructive relationship with Russia, but we want responsibility shown by Russia," Reuters reported. He added that the ministers "wanted to be firm but not macho." An unidentified British official noted that ministers shared "widespread concern about a deterioration in Russian behavior" in recent months. PM

The two-day summit of the Asia Pacific Economic Cooperation (APEC) forum ended in Sydney on September 9 with compromise agreements on dealing with climate change and advancing global trade talks, international media reported. World media attention centered primarily on the roles of the United States, China, Japan, and host Australia at the summit. Russia's engagement received slight mention outside the Russian media, except for the huge bilateral trade deals that President Vladimir Putin signed in Indonesia and Australia before the summit began (see "RFE/RL Newsline," September 4, 5, 6, and 7, 2007). After meeting on September 8 with Chinese President Hu Jintao, Putin said that "a great dawn in Russian-Chinese relations" began recently and that "Russian policy towards China will not change in the coming years" (see "RFE/RL Newsline," March 26 and 27, and August 27, 2007, and End Note, "RFE/RL Newsline," March 23, 2006). On September 9, Putin endorsed plans for an Asian-Pacific free-trade zone and thanked APEC leaders who backed Russia's plans to host the 2012 summit in Vladivostok. Aleksandr Medvedev, who is Gazprom's deputy CEO in charge of exports, said in Sydney on September 9 that the fact that PetroChina signed over $45 billion-worth of agreements with Australian firms for liquefied natural gas (LNG) bodes well for Gazprom's prospects in negotiations with China, Britain's "Financial Times" reported on September 10. He said that he has "a feeling that [China's deals with Australia] were based on the LNG market price in the region. China paying market prices is good for our discussions." Medvedev pointed out that "it's no secret that we want to be the biggest supplier of natural gas to the Asia-Pacific region." PM

DID GAZPROM WANT TO BUY DOW JONES? reported on September 10 that Gazprom "held talks [in July] over mounting a rival $5 billion-plus offer for Dow Jones, publisher of 'The Wall Street Journal,' to see off the bid from News Corporation.... It is not known how advanced the talks were, or whether they were conducted through an intermediary.... The fact that the Russian oil major was contemplating a bid underscores Gazprom's and Russia's global ambitions." PM

Former German Chancellor Gerhard Schroeder, who heads the stockholders' oversight body for the projected Russo-German Nord Stream gas pipeline, said at a book promotion gathering in Moscow on September 8 that the proposed U.S. missile-defense system is "unnecessary and politically dangerous," German and international media reported (see "RFE/RL Newsline," March 9 and 12, 2007). He stressed that the project "is perceived as an attempt to isolate Russia, which is not in Europe's political interests. It is Germany's persuade the United States to abandon these plans." Schroeder added that missile defense is "presented as though the plans are the business of [Poland and the Czech Republic] and the Americans. But they concern Europe as a whole." He called on EU members to brush aside "narrow-minded nationalistic interests." Germany's "Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung" on September 10 questioned the propriety of a former chancellor criticizing fellow EU member states and Washington from Moscow. Britain's "Financial Times" of March 6 quoted Czech Prime Minister Mirek Topolanek as saying that "as for the 18 EU member states who host U.S. military bases, it is not up to them to comment on the existence of a similar presence in the Czech Republic." PM

On September 10, Mikhail Margelov, who is chairman of the Federation Council's International Affairs Committee, said that he intends to be a candidate for the presidency of the Parliamentary Assembly of the Council of Europe (PACE) at its January 2008 session, reported. If elected, he would be the first Russian to hold the post. PM

As the parties planning to contest the December 2 State Duma elections refine their campaign platforms, "Novye izvestiya" on September 10 published an article looking at Unified Russia's 2003 election manifesto. That document, the daily recalled, promised a redistribution of profits from the sales of natural resources to benefit the population, a program to make housing affordable for average Russians, and a war on poverty. In the intervening four years, during which Unified Russia enjoyed a huge majority in the Duma, the gap between the richest and poorest has grown, average pensions remain below the poverty line, and housing costs have risen at a faster rate than wages. Analyst Dmitry Oreshkin told the daily that the platforms of the parties are "clear populism." Leonty Byzov, an analyst with the All-Russia Center for the Study of Public Opinion, commented that 70 percent of the electorate considers party platforms empty words that no one pays attention to after the voting. RC

The pro-Kremlin Unified Russia party intends to announce this week the results of regional party primaries to select candidates for the Duma elections, "Nezavisimaya gazeta" reported on September 10. According to unidentified sources within the party, officials are dissatisfied with the results in some regions, including Moscow Oblast, where Governor Boris Gromov rejected the list of candidates dictated by the party's national leadership. The process is particularly painful for Unified Russia because current projections indicate that the party will have 20-30 fewer seats in the new Duma than it has in the current legislature, setting off an intense competition for party-list slots among current Duma deputies. "Ekspert" on September 6 reported that Rostov Oblast Unified Russia leader and Duma Deputy Mikhail Emelyanov intends to switch to the A Just Russia party list. Emelyanov said he was dissatisfied with his proposed place on the Unified Russia list and with the fact that several deputies from Rostov who were elected in 2003 in single-mandate voting have not been included on the current regional party list. "Nezavisimaya gazeta" also reported that Unified Russia will only agree to participate in televised campaign debates against representatives of the Communist Party and does not intend to engage in public polemics with any other parties. RC

The Moscow regional conference of the opposition Another Russia movement that was scheduled for September 9 was cancelled at the last minute and has been tentatively rescheduled for next week, RFE/RL's Russian Service and other media reported. The main purpose of the event was to endorse a candidate for the 2008 presidential election. Another Russia activist Marina Litvinovich told RFE/RL the congress was cancelled by the owners of the venue, the Sputnik cinema, purportedly because the organizers failed to provide complete information about the event and because the building is undergoing repairs. Organizers hastily arranged a second contract with the Izmailovo conference center but that contract too was nullified by the venue because the Moscow authorities had not given permission for the event. Litvinovich said Another Russia is seeking a venue to hold the event next week: "We are looking for owners who cannot be pressured by the city or federal authorities," she said. Litvinovich said the party has had similar problems holding events in Smolensk and Rostov-na-Donu. "Nezavisimaya gazeta" reported on September 10 that the party has also encountered problems in Nizhny Novgorod, Chuvashia, Chelyabinsk, and Primorsky Krai. RC

Prosecutors in Samara have ordered that billboards advertising a book by Union of Rightist Forces (SPS) leader Nikita Belykh be removed from city streets, "Kommersant" reported on September 10. The advertisements were judged to be a violation of the law on election campaigning, since the Duma campaign has not officially begun. Local activists were dismayed that prosecutors have not paid any attention to advertisements promoting the ruling Unified Russia party, which reportedly adorn schools and public transport in Samara, Tolyatti, and Novokuibyshevsk. According to the report, there is a banner reading, "Unified Russia -- the Party of Putin," hanging across the main avenue into Samara. A Unified Russia spokesman told the daily that the materials in Samara are not oriented toward the campaign and contain only "informational material" because the party "has every right to inform citizens about its current activity and work." RC

Some 4,000 people marched in St. Petersburg on September 9 to protest plans by Gazprom to build a skyscraper near the city center, Russian and international media reported. The event was organized by Yabloko, and Yabloko leader Grigory Yavlinsky and Another Russia leader Garry Kasparov participated. Local Yabloko activist Maksim Reznik told RFE/RL on September 8 that the authorities took several measures to prevent or hinder the demonstration. City officials rejected six proposed routes for the march, Reznik said. "Nezavisimaya gazeta" reported on September 10 that police blocked all entrances to the Chernyshevsky Garden but one and marchers were forced to file slowly through a single small gate and to leave through it as well. Gazprom has proposed building a 300-meter glass skyscraper across the Neva River from the Smolny Monastery. Protesters say the building will be visible from Petersburg's UNESCO-protected historical center and will destroy the city's unique horizontal skyline. RC

Natalya Muradova, a Russian doctor who headed a blood transfusion center in Nazran, was gunned down on the street in a drive-by shooting on September 7, Russian media reported. It was the third attack on ethnic Russians in Ingushetia in two months. Resistance forces subjected a Russian Interior Ministry post in the village of Surkhakhi in Nazran Raion to mortar fire during the night of September 8-9, killing one serviceman, reported. Two resistance fighters and one serviceman were killed and two servicemen wounded in a five-hour mortar attack the same night on an Interior Ministry battalion based on the eastern outskirts of Malgobek. LF

Speaking on September 7 in Nalchik, capital of the Kabardino-Balkaria Republic (KBR), Arsen Kanokov said the number of devotees of "radical Islam" in the KBR is between 500-700, and Interfax reported. He said that although "illegal armed units" no longer exist, "we cannot feel safe" as long as Musa Mukozhev and Anzor Astemirov, the putative masterminds of the October 2005 multiple raids on police and security facilities in Nalchik, remain at liberty. (In a decree dated September 4 and posted on September 8 on the resistance website, Chechen Republic Ichkeria President and resistance commander Doku Umarov named Astemirov acting chairman of the Supreme Shariat Court, replacing Mansur Yovmirzayev.) Kanokov said the circumstances and background of the Nalchik attacks will become known only when the trial of the surviving 59 participants opens, which will be "soon." He added that from meeting with some of them in pre-trial detention he gained the impression that they were young men from rural areas who were "duped." LF

Republic of Ingushetia Interior Minister Musa Medov told Russian media on September 8 that the recent upsurge of violence is linked to the fact that Ingushetia has an 80 kilometer border with Georgia, Caucasus Press and reported. Medov did not accuse Georgia outright of serving as a haven and rear base for Chechen militant formations, who several years ago used Georgia's Pankisi Gorge for similar purposes (see "RFE/RL Newsline," December 21, 2001, February 20, May 31, and September 16, 2002, and 8 and 12 August 8 and 12, 2003). LF

Bako Sahakian was sworn in on September 7 as president of the unrecognized republic of Nagorno-Karabakh (NKR) in the presence of Armenian President Robert Kocharian and several Armenian government ministers, reported. In his inaugural address, Sahakian, a former National Security Service head who polled some 85.4 percent of the vote in the July 19 presidential election (see "RFE/RL Newsline," July 20, 2007), defined as his primary objective building a "viable, socially just, economically developed and politically stable state," capable of protecting the interests of its citizens, including ethnic minorities. He said international recognition of the NKR as an independent state would "give a serious impetus to the pace of our development," and warned that the region's armed forces "will be ready to rebuff any attack on our state and society," a clear allusion to recent threats by Azerbaijani officials of a possible new war. The government of Anushavan Danielian, who has served as prime minister since June 1999, resigned on September 7, according to Mediamax on September 7 as reposted by Groong. LF

In a statement released on September 8, the Georgian Foreign Ministry said the Georgian government has not received from Russia any official proposal to hold bilateral market access talks in connection with Russia's bid to join the World Trade Organization. The ministry reaffirmed that Georgia will support Russia's bid only when Russia meets its primary condition, which is to "legalize and ensure the proper functioning of" two illegal customs checkpoints on the border between the Russian Federation and Georgia's breakaway unrecognized republics of Abkhazia and South Ossetia (see "RFE/RL Newsline," November 28, 2005, February 22, 2006, and January 19 and June 26, 2007). On September 6, Maksim Medvedkov, who is Russia's chief negotiator for talks on WTO membership, said that Georgia has not yet responded to a Russian offer to resume bilateral talks on September 24-30, reported. Speaking in Sydney the same day, Russian Economic Development and Trade Minister German Gref said Russia will not be able to join the WTO before the end of this year, but hopes to do so by the end of 2008. LF

The Georgian parliament endorsed on September 7 by a vote of 133 in favor and one against the new cabinet line-up proposed one week earlier by Prime Minister Zurab Noghaideli, Caucasus Press reported (see "RFE/RL Newsline," August 30 and 31, 2007). The cabinet includes three new ministers: Aleksandre Khetaguri (power engineering), Davit Chantladze (environment and natural resources), and Ekaterine Tkeshelashvili (justice). Former Energy Minister Nika Gilauri takes over as finance minister, former Environment and Natural Resources Minister Davit Tkeshelashvili takes over as minister of labor and social services. Noghaideli told the parliament on September 7 that the government's primary goal is to secure the peaceful restoration of Georgia's territorial integrity, Prime-News reported. Speaking the same day in Adjara, President Mikheil Saakashvili again dismissed as irresponsible and irrelevant opposition criticism of the cabinet composition and its amended program, Caucasus Press reported. He said the new government program is geared towards "strengthening Georgia," and that ministers' actions will demonstratively prove their competence. LF

Mikhail Mindzayev, who is interior minister of the unrecognized republic of South Ossetia, on September 7 accused Georgia of planting an improvised explosive device concealed in a mobile phone that exploded that day in Tskhinvali, injuring one man, the website reported. Two separate homemade bombs killed three people and injured two in Tskhinvali a year ago (see "RFE/RL Newsline," July 10 and 14, 2006). Mindzayev said the explosion was a "terrorist attack" intended to destabilize the situation in South Ossetia in the run-up to celebrations later this month to mark the anniversary of the 1991 declaration of independence. Speaking in Tbilisi later on September 7, Georgian Minister for Conflict Resolution Davit Bakradze dismissed Mindzayev's statement as "rubbish," adding that the Georgian state never has, and never will, stoop to terrorist acts. LF

In a speech to university students in Astana, Prime Minister Karim Masimov promised on September 8 that the government will "take measures" to stabilize prices for bread and bakery products, according to Interfax-Kazakhstan. Masimov explained that a cabinet meeting on September 10 will consider "relevant measures" in order "to stabilize the situation." The increase in bread prices, which has more than doubled since last year, has already led neighboring Kyrgyzstan and Uzbekistan to study measures to address similar increases in the prices of bread and flour (see "RFE/RL Newsline," September 4 and 5, 2007). RG

In an official press statement released in Bishkek, the Kyrgyz National Security Committee announced on September 8 that criminal charges have been formally brought against four local citizens suspected of espionage, ITAR-TASS reported. The suspects, charged with collecting and passing classified information "to foreign organizations," include a retired military intelligence official, the chief of an information and analysis department of the Defense Ministry, and a member of the National Security Committee. The announcement follows the detention late last month of a retired officer from the Defense Ministry and National Security Committee on espionage charges, and, in a separate case, the arrest of an employee of the parliament's press office, Jypargul Arykova, and a Chinese national in June, who are suspected of spying for the Chinese intelligence services (see "RFE/RL Newsline," June 22 and 25, 2007). RG

Speaking to reporters in Bishkek, Meilkhan Emilbaeva, the defense lawyer for Almaz Tekebaev, said on September 7 that her client has been tortured by police during his recent detention, AKIpress reported. Tekebaev, the younger brother of opposition deputy Omurbek Tekebaev, is being held in an Interior Ministry detention facility in the southern city of Osh since his arrest for "hooliganism." Emilbaeva also criticized the authorities for refusing her permission to meet with her client since he was first arrested on September 4 following an altercation with the Osh city department of the State Veterinary Service and the Osh city police department. Omurbek Tekebaev, the head of the Ata Meken (Fatherland) opposition party and one of the leaders of the opposition For Reforms movement, was arrested in Poland in September 2006 after heroin was discovered in his luggage by airport police (see "RFE/RL Newsline," September 8, 11, 12, and 13, 2006). A special Kyrgyz parliamentary commission later found that officials of the National Security Service (SNB) were responsible for planting the drugs in his luggage, leading to the dismissal of SNB Chairman Busurmankul Tabaldiev and his deputy, President Kurmanbek Bakiev's brother Janysh (see "RFE/RL Newsline," September 22, 2006). Tekebaev was also questioned by security officials in connection with clashes following several days of opposition demonstrations in Bishkek in April (see "RFE/RL Newsline," April 20, 2007). RG

Participants in a seminar organized by Tajik media outlets in recognition of International Journalists' Solidarity Day called on September 7 for unity amid the "persecution" of journalists and proposed the creation of a new "press council" to "regulate relations between independent media outlets and facilitate the development of freedom of speech," according to the Avesta website. The head of the Journalists' Union of Tajikistan, Akbarali Sattarov, stressed that "unity and solidarity" are essential to "establish communication with the authorities," noting the recent adoption of a new media law that allows courts to jail journalists for up to two years if they are found guilty of libel or insults in their reporting (see "RFE/RL Newsline," August 13, 2007). National Association of Independent Media Chairman Nuriddi Qarshiboev also noted a "poor level of corporate support" among media outlets and journalists. An earlier attempt to forge greater unity among journalists involved the formation of a new organization of journalists aimed at serving as a "bridge" between "young student journalists" and the Tajik media (see "RFE/RL Newsline," August 14, 2007). RG

Police detained several dozen young opposition activists in eastern Belarus on September 8 and 9 to foil their attempt to mark the anniversary of a major historic battle, Belapan and RFE/RL's Belarus Service reported. The planned festivities, with the participation of Belarusian singers and poets, were expected to begin on September 8 on the bank of the River Dnyapro near Orsha, where a 30,000-strong army of the Grand Duchy of Lithuania, led by Hetman Kanstantsin Astrozhski, defeated an 80,000-strong Russian army on September 8, 1514. Since 1994, the Belarusian Popular Front and other opposition groups observe the Battle of Orsha anniversary as Belarusian Military Glory Day. An RFE/RL correspondent reported that some 200 people managed to avoid road blockades and detentions and gathered on September 9 at a village near the battle site. JM

Opposition activist Andrey Klimau on August 1 was sentenced to two years in prison for insulting the president and calling for revolution in an article posted on a website earlier this year, AP and Belapan reported on September 7. "The authorities closed the trial and the verdict became known only after a month," Klimau's wife, Tatsyana Leanovich-Klimava, told journalists. She said she learned of the sentence, Klimau's third in the past 10 years, in connection with an effort to visit her husband, who has been jailed since his arrest in April. She also said he suffered a heart attack while in custody. Klimau, who was a legislator in the Supreme Soviet of Belarus in 1995-96, put his signature under an impeachment motion against President Alyaksandr Lukashenka, following the 1996 constitutional referendum. Klimau was arrested in February 1998 and sentenced in a trial widely believed to be politically motivated to six years in prison on charges of embezzlement and forgery. He served four years in prison and was released in March 2002. In June 2005, Klimau was sentenced to 18 months of "restricted freedom" over his role in organizing an opposition demonstration in Minsk. He was released in December 2006. JM

President Lukashenka has signed a decree that will replace the Soviet-era practice of demanding residence permits from citizens ("propiska" in Russian) with equally strict residence-registration rules as of January 1, 2008, Belapan reported on September 9. A person can currently obtain propiska at an apartment owned by someone other than his/her spouse or other immediate relative if there is at least 12 square meters of space available for him or her. The new rules will raise the required space minimum to 20 square meters in Minsk and 15 square meters elsewhere in the country. Earlier this year, Interior Minister Uladzimir Navumau warned that police would intensify punishment against people living in accommodation without residence registration after the new rules take effect, adding that citizens' tipoffs about such violations would be welcome. "The registration system is needed...or else half the nation will be employed in Minsk and there will be only old folks in the provinces," Navumau said in January. JM

Opposition leader Yulia Tymoshenko promised at a meeting with voters in Kherson on September 8 that her eponymous political bloc, if it comes to power following the September 30 elections, will return lost deposits of Ukrainians in the Soviet-era Savings Bank within two years, the "Ukrayinska pravda" website ( reported. "We realize that this is an almost sensational commitment, but we are taking it upon ourselves, basing it on the past six months of analyses and calculations that our team made regarding all means and sources in the country, from where we could take resources to restore justice to depositors who lost their savings in the Savings Bank," Tymoshenko said. "I am perhaps a weaker economist than Yulia Volodymyrovna [Tymoshenko], but I don't see how it is possible to return those savings worth $120 billion within two years," Yuriy Lutsenko, a leader of the pro-presidential Our Ukraine-People's Self-Defense bloc said on September 10 about Tymoshenko's pledge. JM

Vasyl Kuk died on September 9 at the age of 94, Ukrainian media reported. Kuk was the last commander of the Ukrainian Insurgent Army (UPA) in 1950-54. The UPA was a combat force created by the Organization of Ukrainian Nationalists in western Ukraine during World War II to pursue the ideal of an independent Ukraine. It fought Soviet and Polish troops after the end of World War II. "He was struggling for Ukraine until his last breath and was a personification of Ukraine.... Ukraine's faithful son, Vasyl Kuk, will forever stay in our memory as a paragon of loyalty to the people and selfless service to our state," President Viktor Yushchenko reportedly said in a letter to Kuk's family and friends. Despite repeated attempts by UPA combatants, they have not been granted the status of war veterans that would make them equal with veterans of Soviet-led military formations. JM

The EU's 27 foreign ministers vowed on September 8 to adopt a united front should Kosova's Albanian and Serbian communities fail to reach an agreement on the future of Kosova, international media reported. Portuguese Foreign Minister Luis Amado, who chaired the meeting in the Portuguese town of Viana do Castelo, said that "Kosovo is probably the biggest challenge Europe faces," but acknowledged that differences remain and that it is unclear how each individual member state would react if talks were to fail. Brussels believes negotiations should end in December and the overwhelming majority of states believe Kosova should be granted conditional independence. A number of countries have, however, publicly or privately argued that no decision should be imposed on Serbia, which opposes statehood for Kosova. They are thought to include Cyprus, Greece, Romania, Slovakia, and Spain. The EU also moved to quell talk of partition, with several leading EU officials -- including foreign-policy chief Javier Solana and EU Enlargement Commissioner Olli Rehn -- saying that one of the three principles of the talks is that partition will not be discussed (see "RFE/RL Newsline," August 31 and September 4, 2007). Despite the divisions, Swedish Foreign Minister Carl Bildt told AFP on September 7 that the level of unity within the EU is "good, better than it was. Go back a year." AG

Portuguese Foreign Minister Amado also stressed the importance of a unified European position by contrasting Europe's divisions with the stances of the United States and Russia, the other countries mediating talks between Belgrade and Prishtina. "I cannot conceive...that we can, in the end of this process, have a situation where you have a strong position of Russia, a strong position of the United States and a European Union [position] simply doesn't exist," Amado said. "I don't believe we can have any credibility in our foreign policy if that does happen." In the days before and after the summit, a range of the continent's most powerful foreign ministers -- including those of Britain and France -- made public calls for unity, arguing, like Amado, that unity is "key to the credibility of Europe's foreign policy." In an article published by Britain's "The Guardian" and France's "Le Monde" on September 7, Bernard Kouchner of France and David Miliband of Britain argued that "the external policy of the EU was born in the Balkans; it must not perish in the Balkans." The Balkan wars and the intervention in Kosova in 1999 are commonly viewed as having catalyzed the emergence of more joint foreign-policy initiatives. The pressure for a resolute European position was added to by U.S. Principal Deputy Assistant Secretary of State Kurt Volker on September 7, who said, according to AFP, that Washington would "recognize Kosovo independence -- as, we assume, a number of others would as well -- because that is the only stable way forward in the Balkans." Volker's statement prompted Serbian Prime Minister Vojislav Kostunica to say Serbia "is faced with a direct U.S. threat" and to call on the UN Security Council to protect Serbia's sovereignty and territorial integrity. AG

Serbia's defense minister, Dragan Sutanovac of the Democrat Party (DS), on September 7 responded sharply to threats by a senior figure in a coalition party, the Democratic Party of Serbia (DSS), to use force in Kosova. In an interview with the daily "Blic," Sutanovac said, "there will be no unilateral military response" by Serbia if Kosova declares independence, and he warned the man who threatened the use of force, State Secretary for Kosovo Dusan Prorokovic, to "keep his nose in his own ministry" and against "waving an empty gun." In subsequent comments made on Serbian radio on September 6, Sutanovac said Prorokovic's comments did not constitute state policy and that the current debate about NATO is not "beneficial" for the Serbian Army. Sutanovac's statements provide further support for the growing perception that the governing coalition is deeply divided about foreign policy. The DS has been muted in its response to DSS accusations that the United States is seeking to turn Kosova into a NATO puppet state, a silence that initially led some commentators to speculate that the DS was allowing the DSS to voice sentiments that it shares. However, DSS criticism of Montenegro and a call for a debate on Serbia's relationship with NATO have prompted a louder response. While the DS has not adopted an official stance on a parliamentary debate on ties with NATO, President Boris Tadic has warned against harming Serbia's interests, Foreign Minister Vuk Jeremic has said it is imperative to maintain a good relationship with NATO, Nada Kolundzija, the head of the DS's parliamentary grouping, has called the attacks on NATO "damaging," and Sutanovac on September 6 called for Serbia to join both the EU and NATO (see "RFE/RL Newsline," August 21 and September 7, 2007). On Montenegro, one of the DS's top officials, Deputy Prime Minister Bozidar Djelic, has personally apologized to Montenegro while the DSS has not (see below). On a related note, Jeremic on September 6 announced the formation of a nonpartisan advisory committee, the Foreign Policy Council, comprised of party officials, diplomats, academics, and other public figures. AG

The three powers mediating talks on the future of Kosova -- the EU, the United States, and Russia -- have all criticized the threat, voiced by Serbian State Secretary for Kosovo Prorokovic, that Serbia might use force in Kosova. Through his spokeswoman Christina Gallach, the EU's Solana on September 7 condemned Prorokovic's comments, saying they breached an agreement made by Serbian and Kosovar politicians on August 30 not to use inflammatory phrases. EU Enlargement Commissioner Rehn said on September 7 that he expects Serbian Prime Minister Kostunica to clarify Serbia's position on the use of force before he meets with Solana and European Commission President Jose Manuel Barroso in Brussels on September 12. The U.S. State Department on September 6 said it is seeking clarification about Serbia's position after Prorokovic's "inflammatory and unfortunate" statement. Russia's envoy to talks on Kosova, Aleksandr Botsan-Kharchenko, was also critical. However, in comments made on September 7 and carried by Serbian media, he said that both Belgrade and Prishtina have made "aggressive statements" and described Prorokovic's threat of force as a reaction to Kosovar leaders' threat to "unilaterally declare independence." Kosovar Prime Minister Agim Ceku has called for Kosova to declare independence in December, but has also reiterated that Kosova would not act unilaterally (see "RFE/RL Newsline," August 31 and September 4, 2007). AG

The controversy sparked by Montenegro's refusal to allow a bishop of the Serbian Orthodox Church to enter the country took a dramatic turn on September 7 when Bishop Filaret of Milesevo was hospitalized for complications caused by a hunger strike. Filaret, who began refusing food on August 28, remains hospitalized, but is not in a life-threatening condition. Meanwhile, Serbia's foreign minister and deputy prime minister continued to attempt to shore up relations with Montenegro after Montenegro's ban on Bishop Filaret flared up into a major diplomatic incident. Montenegro lodged an official complaint with Serbia on September 6 after one Serbian government minister, Velimir Ilic, refused to visit Montenegro and an adviser to Serbian Prime Minister Kostunica, Aleksandar Simic, called Montenegro a "quasi-state" (see "RFE/RL Newsline," September 7, 2007). In a bid to defuse the crisis, Serbian Foreign Minister Jeremic made an unscheduled visit to Podgorica on September 8, two days after reportedly apologizing for Simic's comments in a phone call and a day after meeting his Montenegrin counterpart Milan Rocan during a prearranged visit to Belgrade. In Podgorica, Jeremic publicly reassured Montenegrins that Serbia respects Montenegro's independence and sovereignty. Serbian Deputy Prime Minister Bozidar Djelic, who, like Jeremic, belongs to the Democrat Party, also responded, explicitly saying on September 6, "I apologize to Montenegrins." However, there has as yet been no comparable statement by Kostunica or his party, the DSS. The presidents of both countries have also become involved. Montenegro barred Bishop Filaret because he features on a list of people the UN believes has been helping war-crimes indictees avoid capture. AG

Montenegro agreed on September 8 to allow Bishop Filaret to enter Montenegro -- but solely to hold religious services and always in the company of Montenegrin security forces. Filaret's eparchy of Milesevo spans the border. The move, which was welcomed by Serbian Foreign Minister Jeremic, could potentially worsen relations with the EU and the International War Crimes Tribunal for the former Yugoslavia (ICTY). However, Montenegrin television on September 8 quoted Montenegrin Foreign Minister Rocan as saying that the decision was reached after detailed discussions with "the international community" and that Montenegro's concession will not set back its ambitions to join the EU and NATO. The Montenegrin daily "Republika" on September 8 claimed, citing a "reliable source," that officials from both Serbia and Montenegro have unsuccessfully asked the EU and the ICTY to remove Filaret from their blacklist. According to a Serbian television report from September 7, Serbian Prime Minister Kostunica on September 6 called on the EU to help broker a solution to the dispute over Filaret's right to enter Montenegro. AG

The international community's high representative in Bosnia-Herzegovina, Miroslav Lajcak, warned on September 6 that the country's politicians must choose whether they want to lead the country into international isolation or into Europe. "Isolation or integration, today that is your choice and your responsibility," Lajcak said in a 35-minute address broadcast live on state television. He urged the country's political leaders to address the issue of police reform as a separate and distinct issue. "Inclusion of all the country's problems in the process of police reform creates a knot that will be impossible to untie," Lajcak warned. In his strongly worded speech, the Slovak diplomat criticized Bosnia's political establishment for "negative rhetoric, mutual accusations, and the lack of desire to find solutions to burning issues" and was damning about Bosnia's lack of progress, describing the past year as "horrendously bad." "The fact that only one law on the list of conditions necessary for progress in the process of stabilization and association with the EU [has been passed] speaks for itself," he said. He also highlighted the costs of inertia, saying that "in 2006 alone, this country lost $100 million worth of World Bank funding because it failed to satisfy the conditions that were set." He sought to shift local politicians' focus away from constitutional reform, saying that constitutional reform would follow once police reform has been agreed upon. Lajcak did, though, draw some red lines about the constitutional debate, seeking to allay ethnic Serbs' fears that their autonomous region, the Republika Srpska, might be abolished and to forestall the possibility of the Republika Srpska seceding. "The cycle of questioning the existence of this state should end," he said. "No one can secede unilaterally and no one can do away unilaterally with the entities or any other constitutional feature." AG

Bosnia's most stridently opposed politicians made no conciliatory gestures in their response to High Representative Lajcak's speech. Milorad Dodik, the prime minister of the Republika Srpska, castigated Lajcak for leaving before hearing his response, criticized the inclusion of police reform as a precondition for EU membership as an "unjust demand," and said the underlying principles of police reform were "invented" by a Europe that itself "does not have its own standards for police reform." He dismissed the EU's specific demands for reform, saying they are open to interpretation, and argued that "Europe will accept any agreement about reforms by us in Bosnia-Herzegovina." He again highlighted the fundamental red line for Bosnian Serbs, saying it would be an "illusion" for anyone to think that the Republika Srpska would agree to dispense with its own distinct police force. Dodik also disputed that reform of the police and the constitution are being addressed separately, saying, "An end must be put to the practice of changing the constitutional order through certain reforms." Dodik's most outspoken opponent, Haris Siljadzic, the Bosnian Muslim's representative in the country's Presidency, called on Lajcak to name Dodik as the main obstacle to police reform, adding that no progress could be made unless he did so. By not meting out blame, Lajcak and the international community are following the course of least resistance, Siljadzic said. Both Dodik and Siljadzic dismissed out of hand a proposal for police reform when Lajcak presented it on August 29 (see "RFE/RL Newsline," August 31 and September 4, 2007). There have since been some signs of a softening of Dodik's position, such as comments on September 3 carried by public television that Lajcak's talk could be "a good basis [for discussions] even for those who rejected the proposal, and a reason to get together and talk." AG

One day after ratifying a Balkan free-trade agreement, Bosnia-Herzegovina's state-level parliament approved the reimposition of a 40 percent hike in duties on dairy and meat products imported from neighboring Serbia and Croatia. The September 6 vote flies in the face of parliament's decision on September 5 to back Bosnia's membership of the Central European Free Trade Agreement (CEFTA), a free-trade zone that now only operates in the Balkans and Moldova (see "RFE/RL Newsline," September 7, 2007). Both Serbia and Croatia are signatories of the CEFTA. Bosnia's Trade Ministry called the move a "direct violation of the CEFTA agreement," the news service Balkan Insight reported on September 6. Bosnia's parliament was hesitant about ratifying the CEFTA after Bosnia's farmers voiced concerns and in the midst of a severe drought, and the head of Bosnia's Council of Ministers, Nikola Spiric, on September 5 promised to outline within 60 days a set of measures designed to soften the impact of the increased competition (see "RFE/RL Newsline," September 7, 2007). AG

For the first time in its 14-year history, the International War Crimes Tribunal for the former Yugoslavia (ICTY) on September 7 met in session outside The Hague, in Sarajevo. The decision to hold a three-day hearing in the Bosnian capital was made in order to hear testimony by Ali Ahmed Ali Hamad, a jailed Bahraini who fought during the 1991-95 with Bosnian Muslim forces. Prosecutors believed that Ali Hamad, who is also known as Ubejda, would be able to provide evidence that Rasim Delic, a general in the Bosnian Muslims' wartime army, failed to prevent troops under his command from raping, torturing, and killing ethnic Serbs and Croats. Ali Hamad was jailed in 1998 for a car-bomb attack in Mostar. AG

Bosnia-Herzegovina's State Investigation and Protection Agency on September 6 seized two Bosnian Serbs suspected of committing war crimes during the 1992-95 conflict, local media reported on September 7. One, Krsto Savic, is a former police commander in Nevesinje and, subsequently, in Trebinje. The other, Mile Mucibabic, is a former rank-and-file officer. They were arrested in Bosnia in the northern border region in which Trebinje and Nevesinje lie. Five days earlier, two other war-crimes suspects were arrested in Germany and in Austria (see "RFE/RL Newsline," September 5, 2007). Fresh details about those cases have not emerged. In another case, the State Investigation and Protection Agency on September 5 confiscated a number of documents at the police station in Kalinovik, days after the arrest of three former Kalinovik police officers for their alleged role in war crimes in the region, which lies on the eastern border between Bosnia's two autonomous regions (see "RFE/RL Newsline," September 5, 2007). AG

The Macedonian government apologized on September 7 for publishing two school textbooks containing images of the Prophet Muhammad, local media reported. The Ministry of Education and Science also said it will withdraw the textbooks, which dealt with the history of the Arabs. At issue is not the nature of the depiction, but the inclusion of any image, since many Muslims contend that the Koran prohibits any depiction of the founder of Islam. Education Minister Sulejman Rushiti said the "unprecedented" decision to include pictures of the prophet was "made by former members of the Education Ministry." The controversy has not brought protesters out onto the streets. During worldwide demonstrations against a caricature of the Prophet Muhammad in late 2005 and early 2006, several hundred Macedonians took to the streets in nonviolent demonstrations. Most of Macedonia's Muslims are ethnic Albanians, who comprise up to one-third of the country's population. AG


Suicide bombings in Afghanistan are escalating and often carried out by men trained in Pakistani religious schools, according to a new United Nations report issued on September 9, AFP reported. The UN Assistance Mission in Afghanistan study said attackers appear to be driven either by anger over the presence of international forces in Afghanistan and the number of civilians killed in their anti-insurgency operations, or by religious zeal. Those motivated by martyrdom were typically recruited at a young age and either persuaded or forced into taking on a suicide mission through the allure of rewards as simple as a cell phone or a motorcycle. Twice as many suicide attacks occurred in the first six months of 2007 as in 2006, and 26 times as many incidents as in 2005, the survey said. Of the 193 people killed in suicide attacks in January-June 2007, 121 were civilians, despite the fact that more than 75 percent of the intended targets of the attacks were Afghan and international security forces. The report was released exactly six years after the first suicide attack recorded in Afghanistan, in which Al-Qaeda operatives killed Soviet occupation resistance commander Ahmad Shah Mas'ud. Since 2006, suicide attacks have become a centerpiece of the Taliban other Islamist antigovernment groups. JC

President Hamid Karzai said on September 9 that he is ready to hold official talks with the Taliban, while denying that his government has already held "formal negotiations" with the Islamic extremist group, AFP reported. In an effort to seek an end to the escalating violence driven by the Taliban insurgency, Karzai told reporters that he will send notice to "an authority that says publicly they are the Taliban" if he has an address or location. Karzai stressed that he hopes someone will come forward with the necessary contact information, adding that his administration has already contacted the Pakistani government for assistance. Karzai's seeming change of heart came only a day after a security scare during a televised speech at a ceremony marking the anniversary of the assassination of mujahedin commander Ahmad Shah Mas'ud, Reuters reported. Defense Ministry spokesman Zahir Azimi said shots were fired outside the stadium, yet it was not clear by whom or if there were any casualties. While Karzai previously has suggested negotiations with antigovernment factions, he has never specifically referred to the Taliban. Karzai also invited the radical and unpopular Hizb-e Islami faction of Gulbuddin Hekmatyar to join the peace process, without mentioning the former prime minister by name. Former leaders recently have urged his administration to sit down with the rebel group, and Hekmatyar, who were removed from power in 2001 following the U.S.-led invasion (see "RFE/RL Newsline," September 4, 2007). As a movement, the Taliban has repeatedly rejected Karzai's calls for reconciliation. JC

Taliban-led violence across southern Afghanistan between September 8-9 left more than 40 insurgents and an international soldier dead, AFP reported. The U.S. soldier was killed by an explosion from an improvised bomb in the volatile Helmand Province, and was the third foreign soldier to be killed in anti-insurgency operations in recent days. Four other soldiers were wounded, according to a coalition statement. The soldiers' names and nationalities were not disclosed. International military planes on September 9 carried out air strikes using "precision munitions" against insurgent hideouts in the Garmser area of Helmand, killing more than 30 suspected militants, a coalition statement said. Taliban fighters also attacked a convoy of the UN's World Food Program (WFP) on September 8, instigating a gun battle with Afghan police in which more than a dozen Taliban fighters and two policemen were killed. The WFP has previously complained over the persistent rebel attacks on their convoys transporting food to civilians (see "RFE/RL Newsline," June 22, 2007). In another incident in Helmand on September 8, a Taliban suicide bomber blew himself up near a parked security vehicle, killing one security guard and wounding two others, the Interior Ministry said. According to an AFP count, approximately 4,000 people have been killed in Taliban-linked violence in 2007. JC

French Defense Minister Herve Morin announced on September 7 that France has decided to send 200 more troops to Afghanistan, and to deploy fighter jets to southern Kandahar Province, where Taliban-linked violence is on the rise, Pajhwak Afghan News reported. Following a meeting with Tajik President Emomali Rahmon in Dushanbe, Tajikistan, Morin announced that France will send 200 new troops, comprised mainly of signal officers and military advisers to train Afghan troops, raising to 1,200 the number of French troops in Afghanistan. Morin also mentioned French plans to redeploy six Mirage fighters from Dushanbe to patrol southern Afghanistan, where coalition forces are battling Taliban militants. The aircraft, scheduled to arrive in batches of three in late September and mid-October, will be accompanied by 150 engineers and air crews and stationed in Kandahar Province. JC

Members of the governing board of the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) met in Vienna on August 10 to discuss Iran's nuclear program, and hear a report on Iran's cooperation with the IAEA intended to answer questions on some unclarified activities of past years, Radio Farda and news agencies reported on September 9 and 10. IRNA reported that IAEA Director-General Muhammad el-Baradei told the session that the IAEA can verify whether Iran's nuclear program is strictly to produce energy, as it has claimed, and that Iran has given it access to sites. He said certain issues have already been resolved, such as Iran's experiments with plutonium, which has military applications. The United States is concerned that a recent agreement between Iran and the IAEA on inspections may not uncover every aspect of Tehran's activities. A deputy head of Iran's Atomic Energy Organization, Mohammad Saidi, in Tehran on September 10 urged unspecified states to "moderate" their positions on Iran's program and "not to stand against the wishes of the international community," IRNA reported. "Unfortunately, in the past couple of days, one or two states" have "irrationally" opposed international opinion, Saidi said. He added that the resolution of questions regarding plutonium was a "notable" success for Tehran. VS

Iranian President Mahmud Ahmadinejad said in Tehran on September 9 that most countries seem to be accepting Iran's nuclear program, except for "one or two countries" that "know nothing about kindness and justice," Radio Farda reported, citing reports from Iran's state broadcasting body. Ahmadinejad told a conference that "the Europeans are correcting their position, eastern countries had clear positions from the start, the nonaligned states were with us beforehand, which just leaves one or two of these countries, and they know nothing about kindness and justice." He said Iran's case is closed, "though you might have some people still saying things for themselves. These are the same people who made pretexts for the [International Atomic Energy] Agency from the start. We are resolving other questions and have a close relationship with the agency." He said Iranians are rational and willing to talk, but not "on their rights." Separately on September 9, Foreign Ministry spokesman Mohammad Ali Hosseini said Iran and Russia are continuing talks on some technical or financial differences affecting the completion of the Bushehr nuclear power plant in southern Iran, Reuters reported (see "RFE/RL Newsline," September 7, 2007). VS

Government spokesman Gholamhussein Elham rejected at a September 8 press conference in Tehran the recent criticism by Expediency Council Chairman Ali Akbar Hashemi-Rafsanjani of the government's failure to adequately implement Iran's "20-year perspective" or development plans. Elham said he noted down the criticisms -- made about two weeks ago in Mashhad, northeastern Iran -- in his notebook and "I was very surprised by these remarks" and claims he said are "baseless," the daily "Etemad" reported on September 9. The daily added that Elham spoke with such vehemence that the press corps became silent for a moment. He challenged government critics to prove "their claim." Elham said the government's progress toward the 20-year plan's goals "has gained momentum." Hashemi-Rafsanjani said two weeks ago that government performance figures did not square with the 20-year plan's "executive indices," presumably the targets to be achieved at intervals, "Etemad" reported. Elham said those who criticize the government's performance in this area should specify exactly where it is failing. He said some government critics "have problems" with Iran's political system, and "have said anything they liked to the government." VS

Mashhad parliamentary representative Ali Asgari urged the state broadcasting body on September 8 to use people's correct titles when reporting on them, and stop referring to Expediency Council Chairman Hashemi-Rafsanjani as hojatoleslam -- a mid-ranking cleric -- when he is an ayatollah, or more senior theologian and jurist, "Aftab-i Yazd" reported on September 9. Asgari told the Aftab news agency that Hashemi-Rafsanjani's position and level of learning in theology are "clear," so referring to him as hojatoleslam is "intended to undermine his position." Asgari deplored how the broadcasting body referred to people it described as less learned as ayatollahs. "This title is not something we can analyze in political terms. Unfortunately, some of the media and [state television and radio] take a political approach here." Separately, former Interior Minister and reformist politician Abdulvahed Musavi-Lari told ISNA in Tehran on September 8 that Hashemi-Rafsanjani is the most qualified person for the office to which he was recently elected, chairman of the Assembly of Experts, the body of clerics that supervises the supreme leader's office, but he observed that the divided vote between Hashemi-Rafsanjani and rival Ayatollah Ahmad Jannati showed a "new and strange" division of opinions among the traditionalist clergy. He said this shows that plurality of opinion has penetrated this most traditionalist sector of Iranian society. He said there has been "a lot of effort previously" to "exclude Hashemi-Rafsanjani from the decision-making arena." VS

Mehrnush Soluki, a documentary film researcher with French-Iranian nationality, has for some six months been prevented from leaving Iran and recently began to sleep in the French Embassy in Tehran, presumably out of fear of arrest, reported on September 6. She told "Le Monde" on September 5 by phone that "I am here as a guest without a home. I no longer feel safe in Iran." Some of the reasons she cited for her fear were a spell in prison in February, "pressures" from Iranian security officials, and "a mysterious accident in late July, when a motorbike ran into her in a Tehran street," reported. She was arrested on February 17 while conducting research for a program on a wave of executions in Iranian prisons in 1988, which "Le Monde" estimated may have killed 4,000-6,000 inmates. Most of those were suspected of being communists or sympathizers or activists of the Mujahedin Khalq Organization (MKO), a militant opposition group based now in Iraq and Paris, and considered a terrorist group by Iran, the United States, and the EU. She was jailed for a month following her February arrest in Section 209 of Tehran's Evin prison -- where security suspects or dissidents are kept -- and slept on the floor in a cell with a neon light kept permanently on. She said interrogators wanted her to confess to being in contact with members or relatives of members of the MKO. She was released on bail, which required her parents to remortgage their Tehran home, but has been prevented from leaving. She sleeps in the French Embassy but goes out during the day, reported. VS

The reputed leaders of the MKO, Masud and Mariam Rajavi, have along with four chief collaborators been transferred to Jordan "in coordination with the Americans," and may be allowed to set up an office there, "Aftab-i Yazd" reported on September 10, citing the Young Journalists' Club, an Iranian agency. The report claimed that they are now under Jordanian protection, and King Abdullah II is showing his hostility to Iran, Shi'a, and the Iraqi government by giving refuge to the Rajavis, as it has to Saddam Hussein's daughter. The MKO seeks to topple Iran's government, and cooperated in the 1980s and 1990s with Saddam Hussein, who allowed it to establish a base in Iraq. The head of the Iranian parliament's National Security and Foreign Policy Committee, Alaeddin Borujerdi, told the Young Journalists' Club on September 9 that "we are investigating" reports that MKO members and leaders are leaving Iraq and unspecified European countries for Jordan, "Aftab-i Yazd" reported. He said Jordan's government has "unfortunately shown in its recent initiatives that it is moving in line with the divisive actions of the Americans and the Zionist lobby." VS

The Iraqi Front for National Dialogue announced on September 8 that it has ended its boycott of the Iraqi parliament after the bloc's leaders said the government met its list of demands, international media reported the same day. Among the demands were that funds be allocated to help resettle the millions of displaced Iraqis who have fled their homes due to the sectarian violence, and that more time be given for all parties to discuss the proposed oil law. The front, with 11 seats in the 275-member parliament, was one of the last boycotting groups to return to the Iraqi legislature, although 17 of 40 ministerial positions in Prime Minister Nuri al-Maliki's cabinet are still vacant due to walkouts and resignations. However, the front's leader, Salah al-Mutlaq, told Al-Jazeera satellite television in an interview from Amman, Jordan, that he doubts the current government's ability to solve Iraq's problems. "We need reconciliation, and this government cannot make reconciliation. We need a liberal government and this government is not liberal one," al-Mutlaq said. "Without such a government, the violence will people will lose hope if nothing changes on the political side." SS

During the opening of an international security conference on Iraq security held in Baghdad on September 9, Prime Minister al-Maliki vowed to take the necessary steps to restore security and eradicate terrorism in Iraq, state-run Al-Iraqiyah television reported the same day. "Baghdad is determined to restore normal conditions and fulfill the will for victory against those who arouse problems and difficulties in the face of our political plan; meaning the terrorist organizations, Al-Qaeda, the gangs of the former regime, the militias, and the outlaws," al-Maliki said. In addition, he said he hopes that the conference will lead to enhanced cooperation between Iraq and its neighbors. "This conference is a meeting to support Iraq and to establish the best brotherly relations among our states in the service of our peoples and countries, to continue with the work and to face the problems that affect stability, prosperity, and security," al-Maliki said. The conference was attended by 22 delegations, including Iraq's neighbors, representatives from the five permanent members of the UN Security Council, and the Group of Eight leading industrialized countries. SS

Also at the September 9 international security conference in Baghdad, Foreign Minister Hoshyar Zebari criticized Iraq's neighbors for interfering in its internal affairs, the BBC reported the same day. "Many countries say they support Iraq's stability and integrity, but at the same time are interfering in a number of different ways," he said. "We need to say those interfering in Iraq's affairs must lay their hands off this nation and leave it to decide its own destiny away from terrorism," he added. He did not identify any country by name, but he called on neighboring states to control their borders to prevent insurgents from infiltrating Iraq. "There should be an active and practical contribution to controlling borders and banning terrorist and criminal infiltrators from getting into Iraqi territory. Efforts should be exerted to tighten the noose on terrorism," Zebari said. He warned that if Iraq's neighbors fail to do so, "the fire that terrorists and criminals are setting in the land of the two rivers [Iraq] will extend outside it." SS

President Jalal Talabani voiced on September 7 his opposition to the execution order for former Iraqi Defense Minister Sultan Hashim Ahmad al-Tai, international media reported the same day. At a news conference in Al-Sulaymaniyah, Talabani said al-Tai should be spared execution because he engaged in unofficial contact with the Kurdish community under the regime of former President Saddam Hussein. "I have reservation in implementing death sentences regarding Iraqi Army officers, especially Sultan Hashim," Talabani said. "We were urging him to work against the government, so how can I now vote for his execution? I will never, ever do that," he added. Talabani also rejected media reports that al-Tai, former deputy director of operations for the Iraqi armed forces Hussein Rashid Muhammad, and Ba'ath Party official Ali Hasan al-Majid were to be executed on September 8 for their roles in the killing of more than 180,000 Kurds during the Anfal military campaign in 1987-88 (see "RFE/RL Newsline," September 7, 2007). Talabani has repeatedly expressed his opposition to the death penalty and previously he has deputized Vice President Adil Abd al-Mahdi to sign execution orders on his behalf. According to Iraqi law, the president and the two vice presidents must ratify any execution order. SS

The U.S. military announced on September 9 that it killed the alleged mastermind of the Sinjar bombings during a September 3 operation near Mosul. The military said it killed Al-Qaeda in Iraq's emir of Sinjar, Abu Muhammad al-Afri, also known as Abu Jasim, who it said was one of those responsible for the August 14 truck bombings that targeted the mostly Yezidi community, killing more than 500 people (see "RFE/RL Newsline," August 16, 2007). "This doesn't bring back the hundreds of innocent Iraqis who were killed in the vicious Ninawa bombings, but the death of Abu Muhammad al-Afri does bring justice to many families," U.S. military spokesman Major Winfield Danielson said. SS

President Talabani's office issued a statement on September 9 urging radical Shi'ite cleric Muqtada al-Sadr to transform his militia, the Imam Al-Mahdi Army, into a social and cultural institution, the independent Voices of Iraq news agency reported the same day. The statement was issued after a meeting between Talabani and a member of al-Sadr's political bloc, Baha al-Aaraji, of which no details were provided. Talabani expressed appreciation for al-Sadr's decision to freeze all activities of the Al-Mahdi Army and restructure it. He also urged the Iraqi government to free all of al-Sadr's followers who were arrested by Iraqi security forces during the unrest in Karbala, but were found not to have participated in the fighting. On August 28, al-Sadr's militia clashed with Iraqi security forces during a Shi'ite pilgrimage that left 52 people dead and more than 200 injured (see "RFE/RL Newsline," August 29, 2007). SS