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Newsline - September 11, 2007

President Vladimir Putin said in Abu Dhabi during a state visit to the United Arab Emirates on September 10 that Russia wants to expand its relations with the Arab world, Russian news agencies reported. Putin added that "we are close to this region, we're a neighbor, and we want to expand the geographical scope of our relations in the region." He also said that he intends to be an active president until the end of his term in 2008. Putin noted that "in our country, nearly everyone loves ice hockey. We know the way real professionals play -- till the last second. And so I will work in the same way and do whatever I can so that all the ministers, the whole government, and the [presidential] administration work precisely in this style." Referring to his efforts to dissuade the United States from developing a missile-defense system that would include stationing 10 interceptors in Poland and a radar base in the Czech Republic, Putin said that "we have not lost all chances yet, there is still a certain degree of healthy optimism." He stressed that it is natural for Moscow and Washington to have differences over political and even bilateral trade issues. Putin added, however that "the question is how, with what means, and in what manner we resolve these issues." He said he prefers "compromises and agreements...[to] saber-rattling." Putin noted that he looks forward to going fishing with U.S. President George W. Bush in Siberia. Putin added that "if such contacts did not bring me pleasure, I would not make such offers" as his recent invitation to Bush (see "RFE/RL Newsline," September 10, 2007). In Paris on September 10, U.S. Assistant Secretary of State for International Security and Nonproliferation John Rood said that he made some unspecified "new proposals" on missile defense to Russian Deputy Foreign Minister Sergei Kislyak there, but did not elaborate, Reuters reported. Rood noted that "we're going forward with our discussions with the Poles and the Czechs." PM

President Putin said in Abu Dhabi on September 10 that recently passed U.S. legislation aimed at tightening national-security reviews of proposed foreign investment is a "move away from liberal economics," Russian state-run television reported. He added that "we remember the time when...we were being told from abroad that we should open our economy as widely as possible and offer investment opportunities to foreign companies. Now that we have [done so], other countries, our partners, are taking steps in the opposite direction and effectively closing or creating conditions for closing their markets for investment." He warned that "if matters continue like that, we will have to take corresponding steps to protect our investments." In Berlin on September 10, Chancellor Angela Merkel and French President Nicolas Sarkozy called on EU countries to develop a joint "foreign economic policy" when their leaders meet informally in October, Britain's "Financial Times" reported on September 11. Alluding to controls on market access by such "centralized economies as Russia and China," Merkel stressed that "this is about reciprocity. We are for open markets, but they should be open everywhere" (see "RFE/RL Newsline," July 13 and August 15, 28, and 30, 2007). PM

On September 10, U.S. military officials gave Vladivostok's Pacific Ocean Military and Historic Museum documents relating to the search for and salvage of the Soviet submarine K-129, which sank off Oahu in Hawaii in 1968, Russian media reported. The materials included a videotape of the sea burial of six Soviet sailors found inside the wreck. The submarine was partially salvaged in 1974 by the CIA with the ship "Glomar Explorer." Washington has declined Moscow's repeated requests to supply photographs of the sunken submarine, which split in two during the salvage operation. U.S. experts maintain that the vessel sank as a result of an internal explosion. The Russian position is that it was rammed by a U.S. submarine. The U.S. officials also gave their Russian counterparts a list of nine U.S. reconnaissance aircraft that disappeared over the Soviet Far East during 1951-56 in hopes of obtaining information about the fates of the planes and their crews, which Washington believes were shot down. PM

The State Duma on September 10 passed in its first reading a bill on dividing up the state energy monopoly, Unified Energy Systems (EES), RFE/RL's Russian Service reported. The first two spin-off electricity suppliers have already been officially registered and, according to the bill now under consideration, the restructuring should be completed by July 1, 2008. Under the bill, EES -- which currently comprises more than 70 percent of the country's electrical-generation capacity and most of the distribution network -- will be divided into six interregional distribution-generation companies (OGKs) and 14 "territorial generation companies" (TGKs). The bill does not foresee the privatization of Russian nuclear power plants, most hydroelectric stations, or the country's main national power lines. The privatization will be open to foreign investors and the Italian firm Enel is seeking control over OGK-5, which provides electricity for most of European Russia. RC

The main prosecutor in the case of former Yukos officials Mikhail Khodorkovsky and Platon Lebedev has not been included in the staff of the new Investigative Committee, "Kommersant" reported on September 11 (see "Russia: Powerful New Investigative Body Begins Work,", September 10, 2007). Committee Chairman Aleksandr Bastrykin reportedly excluded investigator Salavat Karimov and 10 other senior investigators from a decree establishing the composition of the new body. The investigators will be given positions within the Prosecutor-General's Office. The Investigative Committee, which began work on September 7, has been billed as an attempt to streamline investigations of major cases and a step toward creating a structure similar to the U.S. Federal Bureau of Investigation. It will oversee investigations involving government officials and Duma deputies. "Vremya novostei" reported on September 10 that 110 of the committee's 60,000 current investigations have been rated "particularly important." The committee will oversee the work of nearly 19,000 investigators, including more than 2,000 military investigators. "Formally this organization is part of the Prosecutor-General's Office," analyst Vladimir Prybylovsky told RFE/RL. "But in fact, if you look at the amount of power he has, Bastrykin is in fact another prosecutor-general. And his role can get even stronger. If [the Investigative Committee] takes over all the other investigative agencies and creates a truly unified Investigative Committee, then it will have enormous power." RC

Several State Duma deputies have left the A Just Russia faction in recent days, Russian media reported on September 11. Most of the deputies are associated with Dmitry Rogozin's former Rodina (Motherland) bloc, and they expressed displeasure that former Liberal Democratic Party of Russia (LDPR) Deputy Chairman Aleksei Mitrofanov was welcomed into A Just Russia last month (see "RFE/RL Newsline," August 30, 2007). Deputy Andrei Savyolev left the party on September 10, "Nezavisimaya gazeta" reported the next day. Savyolev intends to run on the party list of the Patriots of Russia party (see "RFE/RL Newsline," September 5, 2007). Earlier, Deputy Viktor Pokhmelkin left A Just Russia after expressing displeasure that he would not be heading the party's regional list from his native Perm Oblast. The party's Perm list will be headed by actor Valery Zolotukhin. Giving the popular actor such a prominent spot has been seen as a counter to Unified Russia's announcement that its Perm Oblast list will be headed by Natural Resources Minister and former Perm Oblast Governor Yury Trutnev, "Kommersant" reported on September 10. RC

Deputy Aleksandr Krutov told Ekho Moskvy on September 10 that he is leaving A Just Russia because it "has become a vacuum cleaner sucking up all the political garbage." "Nezavisimaya gazeta" reported on September 11 that more members may quit A Just Russia because party leader and Federation Council Chairman Sergei Mironov plans to exclude many current Duma deputies from top spots on the party's list. The daily named prominent Deputies Natalia Narochnitskaya and Nikolai Leonov as among those who might leave the party in the near future ( see End Note, "RFE/RL Newsline," September 7, 2007). "Vedomosti" on September 11 quoted Krutov as saying at least 10 other A Just Russia deputies are preparing to leave the party. RC

Other Russia plans to sue the owners of the Sputnik cinema for refusing to allow the group to hold its Moscow regional conference there on September 9, RFE/RL's Russian Service reported on September 10 (see "RFE/RL Newsline," September 10, 2007). The movement hopes to hold its Moscow conference later this month and has scheduled its national congress for September 30. At that event, Other Russia, which is not registered to participate in the Duma elections, will elect a "people's parliament" and will select a candidate for the March 2008 presidential election. The movement has held regional conferences in 24 regions to date, despite interference from the authorities in many locations. In Cheboksary, Other Russia activists were denied any venue for their conference and met instead in a city park. Longtime human-rights activist and former Soviet dissident Lev Ponomarev compared the regional conferences to the meetings of Russian democrats in the early 1990s. "Those who support liberty and democracy in Russia are participating in these primaries," he told RFE/RL. "They are human-rights activists, civil-society activists, and very often the same people who in the early 1990s came out in favor of freedom and democracy. And now a second wave is going on, they are having a sort of second youth." Other Russia leader Garry Kasparov told RFE/RL that the "task of the opposition is to secure the delegitimazation in the public mind of the process that has in Russia come to be called 'elections.'" RC

The liberal opposition Yabloko party expects to be able to surmount the 7 percent barrier and gain seats in the next Duma, the party's Moscow chairman, Sergei Mitrokhin, told RFE/RL on September 10. However, most opinion polls show the party with a rating of around 3 percent at present. "We have been buried many times," Mitrokhin said. "And still more often those prognoses have proven unjustified." Mitrokhin was quoted in "Nezavisimaya gazeta" on September 11 as saying, "Society understands that without a democratic opposition, the country is heading for disaster." However, he told RFE/RL that "there is a good chance that we will be removed from the elections, just like we were removed [from local elections] in Karelia and St. Petersburg previously because there we had high ratings, on a par with Unified Russia." Yabloko youth leader Ilya Yashin told RFE/RL that he believes the party should boycott the December 2 polls. He described the voting as "some kind of an imitation with the results determined in advance." Yabloko will hold its national congress in Moscow on September 15-16, earlier than all other participating parties. "All the same, we have limited possibilities," Mitrokhin told "Nezavisimaya gazeta." "We have minimal access to the media and we cannot compete financially with the monsters of contemporary politics." RC

The Central Election Commission on September 10 issued a statement informing television networks that they are obligated to present free-airtime campaign materials during prime-time hours when viewing audiences are greatest, reported. The political advertisements must be run in the mornings between 7 a.m. and 9 a.m. or in the evenings between 7 p.m. and 11 p.m. The order applies to televised election debates as well. The website noted that a similar prime-time requirement was not enforced during the 2003 Duma elections, but predicted that this time the commission will be more strict because of the Kremlin's desire to secure a large turnout for the vote. RC

With the dominance of Unified Russia in the upcoming elections seemingly assured, one of the main indicators of whether the public backs President Putin's policies will be voter turnout, Duma Constitutional Law Committee Chairman Vladimir Pligin told RFE/RL's Russian Service on September 9. Pligin noted that although voters will not have the option of voting "against all" candidates and although there is no minimum turnout required to validate the polls, nonetheless voter turnout will be "the most important indicator of the December elections." "If there is a large turnout, that will mean that the population of the country supports the current course, supports the stable development of the country," Pligin said. In a column in "The Moscow Times" on September 11, economist Konstantin Sonin suggested that the Duma elections could become a referendum on whether President Putin should serve a third term. "If United Russia started trumpeting third-term slogans toward the end of the campaign and, as a result, managed to grab more than 50 percent of the vote...that would settle the question of the third-term proposal," Sonin wrote. "Changing [the constitution] would be a lot easier following such an electoral show of support." A Just Russia leader Mironov has already backed the idea of allowing Putin to serve additional terms. RC

Yekaterinburg has formed a municipal analogue of the national Public Chamber, RFE/RL's Russian Service reported on September 9. Thirty-three locals will be entrusted with evaluating proposed municipal legislation and offering nonbinding recommendations. The chamber will be headed by the director of the Economics Institute of the Urals Division of the Academy of Sciences, Aleksandr Tatarkin. RFE/RL reported that the chamber received 20 petitions from local residents in its first week of work, including questions about availability of medicines, social benefits, and communal services. RC

Vasily Lyalikov and two of his sons, identified as "gypsies" (tsygany) were shot dead in their home in the village of Ordjonikidzevskaya late on September 10 by unidentified gunmen who managed to escape, reported the next day. Also on September 10, Russian Interior Minister Rashid Nurgaliyev said that despite the continuing violence in Ingushetia, no more Interior Ministry forces will be sent there. On September 11, Russian State Duma Deputy Sergei Glotov (Rodina) called for convening a session of the Duma commission on the North Caucasus to discuss the situation in Ingushetia, reported. In an interview published on September 10 in "Komsomolskaya pravda," pro-Moscow Chechen Republic head Ramzan Kadyrov rejected Ingushetian officials' insinuations that the gunmen responsible for the ongoing shootings infiltrate Ingushetia from Chechnya, and said President Murat Zyazikov should issue orders to the Ingushetian police "not to compromise with bandits." He added that given orders from the commander in chief, meaning President Putin, Chechen police and security detachments could easily round up criminals and "wipe out bandits" in Ingushetia. LF

Robert Kocharian on September 10 proposed incumbent Aghvan Hovsepian to serve a second term as prosecutor-general, Noyan Tapan and RFE/RL's Armenian Service reported. In line with the constitutional amendments adopted in a referendum in November 2005, that nomination must be confirmed by parliament, and Prime Minister Serzh Sarkisian told RFE/RL that his Republican Party of Armenia (HHK), which controls a majority of parliament seats, will approve it. Parliament speaker Tigran Torosian (HHK) said a period of important reforms has begun at the prosecutor's office and should be carried through to the end. But Vahan Hovannisian of the Armenian Revolutionary Federation-Dashnaktsutiun, a junior partner in the coalition government, said his party has reservations about Hovsepian's track record, and pointed to the failure of law-enforcement bodies to solve numerous high-profile murders in recent years. LF

Former Foreign Minister Aleksandr Arzumanian, who was released on September 6 on orders from Prosecutor-General Hovsepian after four months in pre-trial detention on suspicion of money-laundering, told journalists on September 10 that he will demand that "ludicrous" charge be dropped, RFE/RL's Armenian Service reported (see "RFE/RL Newsline," September 7, 2007). Arzumanian pledged to fight to restore his reputation, and said he will continue his political engagement, but did not comment on the future plans of the Civil Resistance Movement he established last year to campaign for regime change. LF

Azerbaijani press reports that Iranian citizens are currently serving with the Armenian army detachments deployed in the unrecognized republic of Nagorno-Karabakh are absurd, Armenian Defense Ministry press spokesman Colonel Seiran Shahsuvarian told Interfax on September 10. On September 11, the Azerbaijani daily quoted Azerbaijani Foreign Ministry press spokesman Xazar Ibragim as saying that the Azerbaijani Embassy in Tehran has been asked to check whether Iranians are serving in districts of Azerbaijan currently occupied by Armenian forces. LF

Azerbaijani presidential-administration official Novruz Mamedov told RFE/RL's Azerbaijani Service on September 10 that he cannot comprehend why the international community is reluctant to take "concrete political steps" towards Armenia, which he accused of backtracking every time negotiations on resolving the Karabakh conflict reach a decisive moment. Mamedov also said there are no obstacles to a further meeting between Armenian President Robert Kocharian and his Azerbaijani counterpart Ilham Aliyev to discuss a settlement of the conflict. The two presidents have met only once this year, on the sidelines of the St. Petersburg Economic Forum in June (see "RFE/RL Newsline," June 11, 2007), and Armenian Foreign Minister Vartan Oskanian said last week that a further meeting would make sense only if the OSCE Minsk Group co-chairmen make progress during their September 15-17 visit to the region in narrowing the remaining differences between the two sides (see "RFE/RL Newsline," September 7, 2007). Meanwhile, Azerbaijani Foreign Minister Elmar Mammadyarov was quoted by the Azerbaijani Press Agency on September 10 as saying that he sees no point in trying to negotiate a new Karabakh cease-fire agreement, rather than a political solution to the conflict. Mammadyarov further expressed approval for arranging further meetings between representatives of the Armenian and former Azerbaijani communities of the NKR. LF

First Deputy Foreign Minister Mahmud Mamedquliyev, who heads Azerbaijan's negotiating team in talks on joining the World Trade Organization (WTO), told RFE/RL's Azerbaijani Service on September 10 that Azerbaijan has "good economic potential," and the government "has a strong political will" to become a member of that organization. But he stressed that, at the same time, the government is "working hard" to ensure that Azerbaijan secures conditions for doing so that are "acceptable," especially in terms of "reasonable protection" for the services sector. Mamedquliyev listed four distinct elements in the accession process. The first is bringing Azerbaijan's legislation into conformity with WTO standards; President Ilham Aliyev issued a decree in August 2006 that served as the impetus for an action plan comprising the passage of up to 40 pieces of legislation, some new and some amended. The second "important element" is bilateral negotiations on tariffs and services with individual WTO member states. Mamedquliyev said Azerbaijan has successfully completed such talks with Turkey, Georgia, Moldova, and the United Arab Emirates, and is still in talks with the United States, the EU, South Korea, and Japan. The third is multilateral talks on domestic subsidies for the agricultural sector, taking into account unspecified requests for additional information made by WTO member states; and the fourth is talks on specific aspects of Azerbaijan's draft foreign-trade regime, which was submitted to the WTO several years ago. Mamedquliyev said that "of course" Azerbaijan would prefer to join the WTO with the status of a developing country, as doing so would entitle it to continue to provide domestic support to farmers at the level of 10 percent of the value of annual agricultural output. He stressed that Azerbaijan can afford to continue subsidizing agriculture at that level, but negotiations are continuing. LF

Georgian Economic Development Minister Giorgi Arveladze has named Uruzmag Karkusov, who heads the government of the temporary South Ossetian administration of Dmitry Sanakoyev, as his deputy, reported on September 10. Karkusov will coordinate regional development projects, including Georgia's plans for upgrading infrastructure in the breakaway republic of South Ossetia. LF

Abkhazia's Public Chamber on September 7 discussed and endorsed a proposal by Deputy Interior Minister Tariel Pachulia to create an investigative body that would not be subordinate to either the Interior Ministry or the Prosecutor-General's Office, and reported. Members argued that creating such a body would contribute to building a law-based state, and appealed to President Sergei Bagapsh to establish a working group that would address the issue. Some council members nonetheless warned that in light of protectionism and the shortage of expert personnel, creating a investigative agency would take time. Also on September 7, Bagapsh met in Moscow for the third time this year with Russian Deputy Foreign Minister Grigory Karasin to discuss the conflict with Georgia, reported. LF

Kazakh Deputy Prime Minister Umirzak Shukeev announced on September 10 the suspension of all rocket launches from the Baikonur Space Center in Kazakhstan during visits to neighboring regions by President Nursultan Nazarbaev, Interfax reported. The announcement modifies an earlier ban on all launches that was imposed after the recent crash of an unmanned Proton-M rocket after its launch from the Baikonur facility (see "RFE/RL Newsline," September 7, 2007). That rocket reportedly crashed only a few dozen kilometers from where Nazarbaev was traveling that day. Two similar incidents, involving the same rocket types, occurred at Baikonur in July and October 1999, while another rocket model crashed in July 2006 leading to the imposition of a similar suspension (see "RFE/RL Newsline," July 7 and 8 and November 3, 1999). The Baikonur Center is one of the world's leading space facilities and is regularly used to launch commercial and military satellites, as well as missions supplying the orbiting International Space Station. RG

Addressing a cabinet meeting in Ashgabat, President Gurbanguly Berdymukhammedov vowed on September 10 to accelerate Turkmenistan's "transition to market relations," ITAR-TASS reported. He called for the creation of "a stable macroeconomic system" and called on his ministers "to more effectively use state property, financial resources, and to raise the educational level of leaders and office employees." He also promised to create "a scientific and research institute of strategic planning," as well as "a higher school of state management," with each capable of attracting "leading scientists and specialists." Berdymukhammedov also announced an official ban on child labor designed to end the practice of using schoolchildren as workers during cotton-harvesting season. A similar ban on child labor was introduced in 2004 by former President Saparmurat Niyazov, but was largely ignored by local officials. RG

A district court in Baranavichy on September 10 sentenced opposition youth leader Pavel Sevyarynets to 17 days in jail and a fine of 620,000 rubles ($290), Belapan reported. Sevyarynets was convicted on charges of resisting arrest, organizing an unsanctioned demonstration, and disorderly conduct. Sevyarynets and 23 other young people were arrested earlier the same day when they arrived at the court to show support for Yaraslau Hryshchenya, a member of the unregistered Youth Front, who was standing trial on a charge of acting on behalf of an unregistered organization. Hryshchenya on September 11 was fined 930,000 rubles ($430), RFE/RL's Belarus Service reported. JM

Some 1,000 owners of small and family firms took part in rallies in Minsk, Homel, and Vitsebsk on September 10 to protest a presidential decree of December 2006, which forbids them to employ people other than three family members as of 2008, Belapan reported. The rally in Minsk adopted an open statement to President Alyaksandr Lukashenka denouncing his decree. "The introduction of the restriction that only three workers may be employed exclusively from among family members is above all aimed against young people and former employees of state organizations and agencies in provinces. The measure will lead to mass reductions and social tensions that will later turn into political ones. Tens of thousands of families will lose their income. The country's budget will lose. The entire country will lose in general," the statement reads. JM

In an interview published in "The Times" of London on September 11, President Viktor Yushchenko said that Russia is refusing to cooperate with the investigation into the plot to poison him with dioxin during the presidential election campaign in 2004. Yushchenko said Russia is the only country that has refused to provide Ukrainian investigators with samples of dioxin produced in its laboratories for analysis. Yushchenko also revealed that the investigation into his poisoning is almost complete. "The investigation knows who, when, where, which substance was used. There are three key people who are now in Russia. Ukraine has filed a request with the Russian Prosecutor-General's Office about returning these people to Ukraine for the investigation. I personally talked to the Russia president about it. Unfortunately, there is no response to this issue whatsoever from the Russian side," "The Times" quoted Yushchenko as saying. JM

The Yulia Tymoshenko Bloc is planning to ask the Prosecutor-General's Office to open a criminal case against parliament speaker Oleksandr Moroz for "using budget funds to convene the illegal session of the Verkhovna Rada" on September 4 (see "RFE/RL Newsline," September 5, 2007), Ukrainian news agencies reported on September 10, quoting Yulia Tymoshenko. Meanwhile, Moroz is planning to hold another parliamentary sitting next week to discuss a draft budget for 2008, which was approved by Prime Minister Viktor Yanukovych's cabinet on September 11. Meeting with representatives of the Socialist International in Kyiv on September 10, Moroz warned them that Ukraine is facing a threat of direct presidential rule or the installation of an authoritarian regime. "This is a very alarming tendency. I would like our colleagues from the Socialist International, who have influence on certain governments, to be aware of this tendency and to explain to national administrations that Ukraine is not as democratic as claimed by certain members of the presidential team," Moroz was quoted by Interfax-Ukraine as saying. JM

Prime Minister Yanukovych told journalists in Kyiv on September 10 that he wants to stay in his job for five years to complete key projects, Reuters reported. "Naturally, I would truly like to work as Ukraine's prime minister for no fewer than five years. That would give us the chance to implement the plans we have today," he said. "We must form a coalition after the election in the shortest possible time and will make every effort to ensure that happens. Our country has no time to start things again from scratch," he added. Yanukovych was prime minister from November 2002 to January 2005 and became the head of the current cabinet in August 2006. JM

A former spokeswoman for the UN war-crimes tribunal, Florence Hartmann, has accused the United States and Russia of repeatedly preventing the capture of the Bosnian Serbs' wartime leader, Radovan Karadzic, at the behest of Russia. Hartmann also fingered Britain and Germany. In memoirs to be published shortly in France under the title "Paix et chatiment" (Peace and Punishment), Hartmann particularly highlights an occasion in 1997 when former U.S. President Bill Clinton, with the backing of Britain and Germany, convinced the then-French president, Jacques Chirac, that an operation could not go ahead without informing Russia, which, Hartmann writes, was "firmly opposed to Karadzic's arrest." Chirac later, in 2000, told Hartmann that "Karadzic wasn't arrested because of Russian opposition" and that he believed the United States had secretly agreed to shield Karadzic in order to pave the way for the Dayton accords, which ended the war in Bosnia. Hartmann writes that Russia had earlier in 1997 flown Karadzic to Belarus for several months. Hartmann also contends that the United States prevented Karadzic's arrest in 2004. Hartmann, who was the spokeswoman for Carla Del Ponte, the chief prosecutor for the International Criminal Tribunal for the former Yugoslavia (ICTY), also voiced the suspicion that the United States and other Western powers may have been anxious about what Karadzic might reveal about the passivity of UN forces during the Srebrenica massacre in 1995. Del Ponte, who is due to leave her post in December, said in June that Karadzic has "disappeared from the radar screen," and she warned that failure to capture Karadzic and his colleague Ratko Mladic would be "a permanent stain" on the tribunal, which is due to close down in 2010 (see "RFE/RL Newsline," June 19, 2007). AG

The U.S. ambassador at large for war-crimes issues, Clint Williamson, on September 10 dismissed Hartmann's claims, the Bosnian newspaper "Dnevni avaz" reported. In an interview with the paper, Williamson said it could be argued that opportunities to capture war criminals have been missed, but it would be unreasonable and unfounded to draw the conclusion that there were conspiracies. The Croatian news agency Hina on September 10 reported a mixed response within Bosnia-Herzegovina. Rajko Vasic, a senior figure in the largest Bosnian Serb party, the Party of Independent Social Democrats (SNSD), dismissed the allegations as "pulp fiction." "If she knew this, she should have said it then and she would have been remembered as a champion of war-crimes prosecution," Vasic said of Hartmann. Some Bosnian Muslims accepted Hartmann's claims. "Unfortunately, those allegations should be accepted with a great dose of probability," said Bakir Izetbegovic, the deputy leader of the Party of Democratic Action (SDA), the largest Bosnian Muslim party. AG

Unconfirmed reports suggest that police in the Republika Srpska, the Bosnian Serb-demonstrated autonomous region, have in recent days questioned the wife and daughter of suspected war criminal Karadzic. A local television station, Alternative Television, claimed on September 8 that members of Karadzic's family have confirmed that police questioned Karadzic's wife, Ljiljana, on September 3 and his daughter, Sonja, on September 4. The local police chief, Gojko Vasic, would only say that "we are currently processing certain persons seen as parts of a support network of Radovan Karadzic." Police have raided the homes of members of Karadzic's family in both Bosnia and Montenegro this year. AG

A Bahraini who fought in the Bosnian war has claimed in a UN court that Al-Qaeda was hoping to establish a European base in Bosnia-Herzegovina, Bosnian media reported on September 9. Ali Ahmed Ali Hamad, who is serving a prison term in Bosnia for terrorism, said that Al-Qaeda was less concerned with helping Bosnia's Muslims than with establishing a foothold from where it could launch attacks in Europe, local media reported. Ali Hamad was giving testimony in a case against Rasim Delic, a commander of Bosnian Muslim forces during the 1991-95 war (see "RFE/RL Newsline," September 10, 2007). Because Ali Hamad is a prisoner in Bosnia, the ICTY held the hearing in Sarajevo, the first time it has met in session outside The Hague. Ali Hamad said that he and other foreign fighters, or mujahedin, were directly under the command of Al-Qaeda leaders outside Bosnia, but added that the mujahedin "did not carry out a single attack without the cooperation of troops" from the Bosnian Muslim army. Ali Hamad named the mujahedin's leader in Bosnia Abd al-Aziz, who is allegedly a close associate of Osama bin Laden. Local media reported that Ali Hamed commanded 107 soldiers, including 12 Bosnian Muslims. AG

A Macedonian police commander was shot dead on September 10 and two police officers were injured in a gunfight in an area of northeastern Macedonia predominantly populated by ethnic Albanians. The men were reportedly on a midnight patrol near the village of Vaksince when they came under fire. A spokesman for the Interior Ministry, Ivo Kotevski, told the news agency MIA that two of the gunmen were killed. The German news agency dpa reported that another two were wounded. It is unclear how large the group was. The television station A1 reported on September 10 that the group included the brother and two nephews of a convicted terrorist, Xhemail Iseini, who escaped from prison in Macedonia in August and eluded police for almost two weeks before being recaptured (see "RFE/RL Newsline," August 23 and September 5, 2007). The brother, Xheladin, was reportedly severely injured, and one of the nephews, Skender Halili, was killed. According to the news service Balkan Insight, Kosovar police say they subsequently arrested the other nephew, Zaim Halili. Zaim Halili previously publicly threatened violence if Iseini were not released. The government met in emergency session to discuss the security situation in Macedonia, and the parliament debated the incident on September 10. Earlier this month, questions about the level of security were raised after a confrontation with a former guerrilla leader in another part of Macedonia (see "RFE/RL Newsline," September 5, 2007). The government has previously insisted that the security situation in Macedonia is calm. AG

A crowd of up to 200 people on September 7 attacked a police station in the southern town of Gjirokastra after members of an elite police unit killed a fugitive convicted of kidnapping. According to local media and Balkan Insight, police said the protesters burned two patrol cars and hurled stones. The daily "Shekulli" reported on September 8 that police locked themselves in the police station and did nothing to stop the riot, which was eventually dispersed at the urging of a local official. The protesters appear to have descended on the town from the nearby village of Lazarat, where there have reportedly been several armed clashes with police in the past decade and which is policed by elite police troops sent from the capital, Tirana. Lazarat lies in the heart of a cannabis-growing area near Greece. In a report on cannabis growing published on March 30, "Shekulli" described Lazarat, which has a population of 3,500, as "the most problematic municipality in southern Albania." AG

Despite the flurry of activity in recent days surrounding the December 2 elections for the State Duma, the March 2008 presidential succession remains firmly at the center of Russia's political agenda. Indeed, the Duma vote has repeatedly been described as merely an opening act for the main piece of political theater due in the spring.

Much of the analysis of the party positioning as the Duma campaign was officially launched this week focused on who would feature at the top of the party lists for the pro-Kremlin Unified Russia and A Just Russia parties. If the two seeming front-runners at this point -- First Deputy Prime Minister Sergei Ivanov or First Deputy Prime Minister Dmitry Medvedev -- agreed to (or, more appropriately, were ordered to) participate in the Duma campaign under the banner of one or another party, analysts say, it would be a strong indicator of the prevalent Kremlin thinking about the presidential vote in March. President Vladimir Putin is expected to address Unified Russia's preelection congress in October (he addressed a similar gathering in September 2003), and it is possible he could make a surprise announcement then about the party's slate of candidates.

On the other hand, Putin in June threw wide open the speculation on successors when he told foreign journalists that "some governor might get elected." Although this sort of statement might easily be dismissed as posturing for international consumption, it corresponded with other indications from administration officials that the field of candidates is far from limited to two -- and that a surprise may be in the offing. At the same gathering, Putin described his successor as "a decent and honest person with a high level of professional qualities and work experience who has proven himself well and positively either in a region or at the federal level," "Kommersant-Vlast" reported.

The succession process, however, must be handled carefully. Putin's personal approval ratings across Russia remain staggeringly high, and that popularity is a major political asset that the Kremlin planners must manage and leverage. However, opinion polls show the public less wholehearted in its assessment of much of the platform that has come to be called "Putinism." According to a poll issued this week by the All-Russia Center for the Study of Public Opinion (VTsIOM), 56 percent of respondents favor increasing the role for the state in the economy, while 51 percent support Putin's efforts to boost Russia's position in the international arena.

But when it comes to the so-called vertical of power, or the centralization of political power within the Kremlin, public support is much weaker. Of course, much depends on the exact phrasing of the question, but the poll reported that just 26 percent of respondents back increasing centralization, while 30 percent urge increased democratization, transparent elections, and independent media.

Political analyst Dmitry Oreshkin told "Vedomosti" that that 30 percent could grow to 50 percent within two or three years if the government is ineffective. However, it seems even more likely that the proportion of dissenters could grow in the next few months as the Duma campaign unfolds if Kremlin manipulation of the process is too heavy-handed.

The Renaissance Capital investment group recently issued a report entitled, "The Russian Elections: The Investors' Manual," by economist Yekaterina Malofeyeva. The report lays out two possible models for the 2008 presidential transition.

If the Kremlin decides the main goal is to maintain the status quo, then the most likely successors to President Putin are Prime Minister Mikhail Fradkov, St. Petersburg Governor Valentina Matviyenko, and Deputy Prime Minister Sergei Naryshkin, it argues. These candidates are most suitable because they have no known affiliations with business or political groupings and are most likely to receive consensus support.

If, on the other hand, the Kremlin seeks someone who will create an active economic policy, the leading candidates are Russian Railways head Vladimir Yakunin or presidential envoy to the Southern Federal District Dmitry Kozak. These candidates, Malofeyev argues, are most capable of using Putin's strong vertical of power to push forward with state-centered economic development.

Malofeyeva argues that in any event, the main tasks of the next president will be to balance the interests of the country's leading business and political interests, protect the interests of Kremlin-connected businesspeople, and find an acceptable postpresidential role for Putin. She says the selection of a status-quo president could signal that Putin plans to return to the Kremlin in 2012.

Asked to comment on the Renaissance report, political commentator Dmitry Badovsky of the Institute of Social Systems told "Vedomosti" on September 6 that a status-quo president is almost certain since he believes Putin intends to return to power in 2012. However, he said the "pause" between Putin terms could be used to implement some unpopular but necessary reforms that must be carried out in a way that does not harm Putin's personal popularity.

Analyst Alexander Rahr, however, told the daily that Putin himself most likely favors a more aggressive approach that would maintain the momentum of Putinism, especially regarding the expansion of the state's role in the economy. Rahr predicted that Sergei Ivanov, whom he described as "Putin's clone," will almost certainly be the successor.

A suicide attack in a marketplace in in the Gereshk district of Helmand Province killed 28 people and wounded more than 50 others on September 10, AP reported. The district is the largest poppy-growing region in the world and the front line for Western forces fighting the Taliban-led insurgency. Officials are calling the incident one of the deadliest bombings since the fall of the Taliban in 2001. The attacker detonated the bomb, hidden in a motorized rickshaw, near a taxi stand around 6:30 p.m. in an apparent attempt to kill a local police commander. Children selling chewing gum and cigarettes were among at least 15 civilians killed in the attack. District official Abdul Manaf Khan said 13 police officers were also killed in the attack. NATO officials said 13 wounded were taken to a NATO-Afghan base for treatment, and 45 others to the Gereshk hospital. The provincial chief of public health, Enayatullah Ghafari, said the hospital recorded 26 deaths and 60 wounded. JC

Ten members of an Afghan mine-clearing team were released on September 10 after being held captive for a week in eastern Paktia Province, the BBC reported. The 10 were among 13 deminers seized by insurgents on September 6 while the group was traveling in two cars through the province. Kefayatullah Eblagh, head of Afghan Technical Consultants, the independent demining agency for which the abducted men work, confirmed their release. Officials say they are still negotiating with the kidnappers over the remaining hostages, but the two remaining mine clearers and one driver are expected to be freed soon. The identities and demands of the kidnappers are unclear, although Din Mohammad Darvish, a spokesman for the local administration, referred to them as "enemies of Afghanistan," a term typically used to refer to the Taliban. An unidentified Taliban spokesman said the militant group was not behind the abduction. Less than a month ago, demining agencies refused to resume work in Afghanistan's restive southern provinces until both the government and Taliban insurgents guaranteed the security of their mine clearers (see "RFE/RL Newsline," August 29, 2007). According to the UN Mine Action Center for Afghanistan, 19 deminers have been killed in insurgency-linked violence in Afghanistan in the last year alone. JC

Two people, one of them a young boy, were injured on September 9 when their passenger vehicle struck a roadside land mine in the Aab Band district of Afghanistan's southern Ghazni Province, Pajhwak Afghan News reported. Aab Band district chief Maulvi Allah Dad told Pajhwak that the two were traveling in a taxi cab en route to the district capital, Ghazni city, when the vehicle hit a land mine in Asghar village at approximately 8:30 a.m. Provincial police chief Brigadier General Ali Shah Ahmadzai told Pajhwak the child was in satisfactory condition following the incident, but the adult was seriously injured. Ahmadzai blamed Taliban militants for planting the mine, although the extremist group has not claimed responsibility for the attack. Residents of Afghanistan's southern provinces, where the Taliban control several districts, have recently complained over the growing threat of land mines to civilians already dealing with persistent violence from decades of war (see "RFE/RL Newsline," August 28, 2007). JC

Unidentified criminals on September 9 set fire to a middle school in the Balkh district of Afghanistan's northern Balkh Province, Pajhwak Afghan News reported. Balkh police chief Abdul Rauf Taj told Pajhwak that miscreants set fire to the school tent around midnight. Officials are investigating the attack on the school, where 1,200 students take classes, but there have been no arrests. One tent of the school was completely destroyed, but the fire was contained with the assistance of local residents before spreading to other nearby school tents, Balkh district chief Timoor Faiz said. The foundation stone of a building for the school was laid about three weeks ago, Faiz said. Attacks on schools and students are on the rise in Afghanistan, although violence in the relatively calm north is less common. According to the Ministry of Education, 187 students, teachers, and Education Ministry staffers have been killed and an equal number of schools have been burnt down in the past year. Another 350 schools in the restive southern provinces have been forced closed due to the persistent insecurity in the region (see "RFE/RL Newsline," September 7, 2007). JC

Supreme National Security Council Secretary Ali Larijani told state television in Tehran on September 9 that "enrichment suspension by Iran is an old and unacceptable subject," and "nobody can ignore the Iranian people's rights regarding nuclear energy," IRNA reported on September 10. He was referring to uranium enrichment, a key part of the nuclear fuel-making process with potential bomb-making applications. He cited "America's stubbornness, unilateralism, and obstructions" in Iran's case, which he said will achieve nothing. "The Americans are in a strategic confusion in the region," he said. He added that a recent agreement between Iran and the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) is an "important step" that could "resolve the nuclear issue" if the "other side" shows "sincerity." This agreement, he said, has put all the outstanding issues of concern to the IAEA "on paper" and determined "the time each matter should be done, and with which mechanism. All of this was written down and there is nothing ambiguous left." Larijani said that in the agreement, if the IAEA's questions are answered, "Iran's case can become routine and pursued through" the Nuclear Nonproliferation Treaty and its safeguards agreement. He said that "if they really want to resolve the issue, they can" normalize Iran's case. VS

Muhammad Raad, a pro-Hizballah member of Lebanon's parliament, said in southern Lebanon on September 10 that the recent violation of Syrian airspace by Israeli jets could be a prelude to an attack on Iran, IRNA reported. He said the Israelis are planning "for striking Iranian installations, even for future years," but "the Iranians are not afraid of Israel's threats." Damascus claimed on September 6 that Israeli jets dropped bombs on Syrian territory, in what Syrian Foreign Minister Walid al-Muallim called "a deliberate and hostile attack," Reuters reported. Israeli jets were reportedly fired at by Syrian defenses and dropped "munitions" inside Syria, though Israel has not commented on the incident, AP reported on September 9. Raad said, "Israeli fighter-plane operations on the Syria-Turkey frontier up to the Kurdish areas of northern Iraq are to pave the way for striking at Iranian installations," IRNA reported. He criticized unnamed Lebanese politicians -- presumably supporters of the pro-Western government of Prime Minister Fuad Siniora -- for denouncing Iran as "the first danger to the region's systems" and not protesting against "Israel's hostile acts." VS

Iran's ambassador in Riyadh, Mohammad Hosseini, urged Saudi officials on September 9 to curb "Sunni religious extremists" who he said are harassing or insulting Shi'ite Iranian pilgrims visiting Mecca and Medina, Lebanon's "L'Orient le Jour" reported on September 10, citing IRNA. Hosseini reportedly contacted the head of the Saudi Consultative Council, Sheikh Salih bin Abdullah bin al-Humaid, to request measures against "ignorant people and deviants in holy mosques." He also requested moves to prevent "any form of insults against Iranian pilgrims." The Middle East, he said, is at a "fragile and sensitive" juncture that could lead the "Muslim community toward a profound division," reported. An unnamed Iranian state pilgrimage official told IRNA in Saudi Arabia on September 9 that another group of Iranian pilgrims was fingerprinted in Jeddah airport the previous day (see "RFE/RL Newsline," August 30, 2007). He said it was the third time in the last two weeks that Iranian pilgrims were fingerprinted. IRNA quoted another Iranian pilgrimage official, Hamid Habibi, as saying that "half the people who were fingerprinted were students. Saudi officials have not given a clear...answer on their measure." VS

The construction of a highway between Tehran and holiday resorts on Iran's northern Caspian coast threatens the destruction of ancient forests with unique vegetation and tree types, Radio Farda reported on September 7, citing Iranian environmentalists. The road, construction of which began 11 years ago, will shorten the current four-to-five-hour journey time to under 1 1/2 hours, and some 4 million drivers will likely use the motorway every year. It could also eliminate one of the last remaining extensive woodland areas in Iran. Environmentalist Ismail Kahrom told Radio Farda that the forests that would be destroyed are of the Hyrcanian type, containing deciduous trees so ancient as to be classified ancestors of European forests. He said the area of forests south of the Caspian Sea has been reduced by half in the past 35 years and "probably there will nothing the next 30-35 years. These forests produce water and air for us. Beneath them are water resources used by Iranians." Radio Farda quoted an unnamed deputy head of Iran's Environment Organization as telling ISNA at an unspecified date that only one of the highway's four sections complies environmental-protection norms. In some parts of the planned highway, a 5-kilometer zone extending from the road is already subject to land price inflation and real estate speculation, Radio Farda added. VS

The U.S. commander in Iraq, General David Petraeus, said during congressional testimony on September 10 that the strategy of the U.S. troop surge is achieving positive results, international media reported the same day. In testimony before the House of Representatives' Armed Services and Foreign Affairs committees, Petraeus indicated that the number of "security incidents" has dropped in eight of the past 12 weeks and the overall number of civilian deaths from the conflict has fallen by 45 percent since December. "The military objectives of the surge are in large measure being met," Petraeus said. "In recent months, in the face of tough enemies and the brutal summer heat of Iraq, coalition and Iraqi security forces have achieved progress in the security arena," he added. In addition, he indicated that the number of U.S. troops could be reduced to pre-surge levels -- to approximately 130,000 troops -- by the summer of 2008 without jeopardizing recent security improvements. SS

In his September 10 testimony, General Petraeus warned of a premature withdrawal of U.S. forces and stressed that success will take time, international media reported the same day. "The situation in Iraq remains complex, difficult, and sometimes downright frustrating," Petraeus said. "I also believe that it is possible to achieve our objectives in Iraq over time, although doing so will be neither quick nor easy," he added. For his part, U.S. Ambassador to Iraq Ryan Crocker expressed optimism that "a secure, stable, democratic Iraq at peace with its neighbors" is still attainable, but acknowledged frustration with the lack of political progress made by the Iraqi government. "I do believe that Iraq's leaders have the will to tackle the country's pressing problems, although it will take longer than we originally anticipated because of the environment and the gravity of the issues before them," Crocker said. Prime Minister Nuri al-Maliki and other Iraqi leaders "face enormous obstacles in their efforts to govern effectively." SS

During an address to the Iraqi parliament on September 10, Prime Minister al-Maliki announced that despite negative reports, his government has made significant progress on several fronts, state-run Al-Iraqiyah television reported the same day. "We have succeeded in preventing Iraq from slipping into the abyss of the sectarian war that threatened our beloved Iraq. Despite distortions created by some local and foreign parties, important successes have been made on the ground," al-Maliki said. "The government has organized conferences to strengthen national reconciliation, including a conference for Iraqi tribes and another for political forces," he added. He also noted that the security situation in Iraq has improved, highlighting a 75 percent drop in violence in Baghdad and the surrounding areas. However, he cautioned that Iraqi security forces need more time to take over security responsibilities from the U.S.-led coalition. "Despite the obvious improvement in the security situation, we are fully aware that we still need to exert more efforts and time for our armed forces to be able to assume the security issue from the multinational forces in all the Iraqi provinces," he said. SS

Judge Munir Hadad, a member of the Iraqi High Tribunal, said on September 10 that three former officials from the regime of Saddam Hussein will be executed without a presidential decree because of the scale of their crimes, international media reported the same day. Hadad stressed that the Iraqi Constitution and the tribunal's mandate are clear that the death sentences cannot be commuted and the punishments must be carried out within 30 days. Article 71 of the constitution states that a special amnesty against the death sentence can be granted, except for those charged with international crimes, terrorism, and financial and administrative corruption. The tribunal convicted former Ba'ath Party official Ali Hasan al-Majid, former Defense Minister Sultan Hashim Ahmad al-Tai, and Hussein Rashid Muhammad, the former deputy director of operations for the Iraqi armed forces, of genocide, war crimes, and crimes against humanity for their roles in the 1987-88 Anfal military campaign that killed more than 180,000 Kurds. The execution "does not need a presidential decree. Genocide and crimes against humanity are considered international crimes," Hadad said. On September 7, President Jalal Talabani said al-Tai should be spared because he engaged in unofficial contact with the Kurdish community while he was serving the former regime (see "RFE/RL Newsline," September 10, 2007). SS

In a September 10 interview with "Al-Quds Al-Arabi," Dr. Abu Muhammad, a leading figure in the Iraqi Ba'ath Party, said statements made by former Iraqi Prime Minister Iyad Allawi that representatives of his party met with U.S. officials are false. Muhammad stressed that the aim of the Ba'ath Party and other "resistance groups" is to drive out the occupation and liberate Iraq. He said Allawi made these claims in the hope that "his occupation masters would appoint him the head of a new disgraceful government of occupation agents to grant the occupation a longer chance to stay." Muhammad leader added that this scenario represented a clear act of desperation by the United States, which he claimed is frantically scrambling to save itself from imminent defeat at the hands of the nationalist resistance. On September 6, Allawi acknowledged that he held secret meetings with Ba'ath Party leaders and U.S. officials in the hopes of creating an opportunity for the Ba'athists to join the political process (see "RFE/RL Newsline," September 7, 2007). SS

The Pentagon is allegedly planning to build a military base near Iraq's border with Iran in an effort to curb the alleged flow of weapons from Iran, "The Wall Street Journal" reported on September 10. Major General Rick Lynch, the commander of U.S. forces in central Iraq, said that the base would be located about 7 kilometers from the Iraqi border and house approximately 200 soldiers. The paper also reported that the Pentagon plans to build fortified checkpoints on major roads leading from the Iranian border to Baghdad, and to install X-ray machines, as well as explosive-detecting sensors, at the Zurbatiyah border crossing. "We've got a major problem with Iranian munitions streaming into Iraq," Lynch said. "This Iranian interference is troubling and we have to stop it," he added. The United States has regularly accused Iran of fomenting violence in Iraq by arming and training Shi'ite militias. U.S. military officials have also said that some of the weapons originating from Iran have killed and wounded dozens of U.S. soldiers. SS